Amid rising opposition to the opening of a Muslim community center and mosque in a heavily Jewish London neighborhood, a leader of the British Jewish community expressed the desire for good relations between the Jews of the neighborhood, Golders Green, and the major Muslim institution planned there and deplored anti-Muslim prejudice.
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Marie van der Zyl, vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, issued a statement on Tuesday saying that her organization had been in contact with representatives of the new Hussainiyat Al-Rasool Al-Adham Community Center and was "heartened to hear about their commitment to opposing anti-Semitism and extremism," adding: "We, in turn, told them that we stand firmly opposed to anti-Muslim hatred, from whichever quarter it comes. While there are legitimate concerns around planning that should be addressed, we deplore the uninformed and prejudiced comments about this application, including from a small number of members of our own community."
The Islamic center is slated to open next month at the Hippodrome, a former concert hall in the heart of the north London neighborhood. Nearly 5,700 people signed an online petition urging municipal officials to investigate possible bylaw infractions by the center, which has received all the required permissions following the building’s purchase earlier this year. The petition does not mention the religious dimension, citing instead potential “disruptions” to traffic, as well as parking and air pollution.
But below the surface, the planned mosque has touched off an acrimonious exchange among those who welcome the new center, with its capacity of 3,000 visitors, and those who fear it. Some opponents worry that the mosque could lead to friction between British Jews and members of the Muslim minority.
Members of the Jewish community who researched Hussainiyat Al-Rasool Al-Adham, a largely Iraqi and Iranian Shi'te congregation, found no ties to the Iranian regime or extremist incitement, an expert on Islamism who ran some of the checks told JTA on Tuesday. “If anything, this is a pro-Jewish group,” said the source, who spoke anonymously.