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Statement from Birmingham Central Mosque

Posted on: 01 February 2016

Statement of Birmingham Central Mosque

For over 40 years. Birmingham Central Mosque has played a pivotal role in the lives of British Muslims living in the West Midlands and the UK.

It has welcomed and hosted Muslims from various ethnicities, cultures and both male and females from the different schools of thought within the Islamic tradition, thus embodying the Quranic verse which sets out the beauty of diversity: O mankind, we have created you ... into nations and tribes that you may come to know one another [and not deny one another]" (49:13).

In keeping with the spirit of this Quranic verse, Birmingham Central Mosque has also worked closely with diverse faiths that make our city and country a great place to live.  We have worked with our Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Sikh Leaders as well as of other faiths under the umbrella of the Faith Leaders Group and the Highgate Inter-Faith Group, particularly over addressing significant issues such as prejudice and intolerance, racism and discrimination.  This work continues in an atmosphere of acceptance, tolerance and mutual respect, all of which are hallmarks of our city and its people.  We welcome all those who wish to visit and work with the Mosque, and we continue with our desire to contribute positively to the community and beyond. 

At present, Birmingham Central Mosque provides several services that meet the differing needs of our communities.  These services include running supplementary classes for boys and girls, offering a marriage bureau, as well as serving as a place to register civil and religious wedding ceremonies and dealing with the issues of marriage counselling, divorce services and funeral services and poverty (running Food Banks).  The Mosque also receives requests from several organisations, including Women’s Groups, to have joint events in the Mosque.  However, on occasions, it is not possible to accommodate all these requests.

In the last few days, allegations have appeared in the Press regarding the Mosque and three of its trustees; the Chairman Mr. Muhammad Afzal, the Vice Chairman Mr. Mohammed Sarwar and the Secretary Mr. Niaz Ahmed.  These allegations relate to a meeting that was held between Ms. Shaista Gohir and Ms. Shahin Ashraf of the Muslim Women’s Network UK (thereafter MWN) and the aforementioned trustees on 18th December 2015.  As Ms. Gohir states in her letter, the meeting was held to discuss the possibility of MWN hosting an event at the Mosque in relation to forced marriage.

As far as the Mosque is concerned, we feel that the meeting was held in a cordial and respectful manner.  It is the case that Ms. Gohir and Ms. Ashraf discussed the possibility of holding a joint event on the issue of forced marriage.  It is a fact that they suggested paying for the use of Mosque facilities on the basis that the Mosque would carry out administration tasks including providing the attendees, sending out invitations, as well as providing religious scholars for the event and making provisions for refreshments.  However, we informed Mrs. Gohir and Ms. Ashraf that whilst we were happy for the event to take place on Mosque premises, that due to our limited capacity we could not carry out the administrative tasks required for this event.  Instead, we suggested that we were happy for MWN to host the event by themselves within the Mosque.  It is, therefore, false for Ms. Gohir to state that this was because the Mosque did not recognise forced marriage as an issue within the community.

Following these discussions, Ms. Gohir asked us if MWN could hold an event on the issue of domestic abuse, which she again suggested could be done as a joint venture with the Mosque.  Our response was to request a plan from MWN of the proposed event and we asked if they could subsequently contact us regarding this.  We are saddened that following this meeting, we did not hear back from either Ms. Gohir, Ms. Ashraf, or any other representative of the MWN.  Instead, the first response we received from MWN regarding this matter was in a complaint letter via the Press on 28th Jan 2016; some six weeks after the meeting took place.

During the meeting when discussing the issue of forced marriages, it is a fact that the trustees mentioned that they had not come across any cases of forced marriage in their dealings at the Mosque.  However, to suggest that Mr. Afzal and the other trustees were dismissive of and denied the issue of forced marriages is categorically untrue.  On the contrary, the Mosque acknowledges the very real nature of forced marriages and its prevalence within society today; an issue which affects individuals no matter their class, race, religion or level of education. We would also like to point out that in our monthly magazine, we ourselves have spoken out against forced marriages and strongly believe that it has no place in Islam nor in society.

The Mosque respects MWN, as well as other organisations, who have displayed a long-standing commitment and worked tirelessly in tackling forced marriages, domestic abuse and other ills, which need to be challenged in our communities.  As such, neither Mr Afzal nor the other trustees have ever sought nor have they denied the problem of forced marriages either during the meeting held on the 18th December 2015 or at any other time. 

In respect of domestic abuse, we would also like to make clear that the Mosque has worked closely with various women’s organisations and individuals over the years, for example the Amirah Foundation since 2011, to advance women’s rights and also in supporting victims of domestic violence.  This work continues today under the Chairmanship of Mr. Afzal and the board of trustees.  Moreover, we have also worked closely with Ms. Ainah Khan who is a prominent and much respected Family Law Solicitor; Ms. Khan has often referred cases to our divorce services.  Hence, we are surprised and saddened by the allegations made by Ms. Gohir that the Mosque and its Chair sought to minimise the serious issue of domestic abuse. 

We strongly refute the allegations made by Ms. Gohir that Mr. Afzal made light of the fact that women are less likely to suffer domestic abuse than men.  We would also like to state that the allegations Mr. Afzal sought to link domestic abuse as an issue specific to Christianity, and claims that the basis of this is due to drunkenness, are completely false.  The Mosque acknowledges that domestic violence is an issue which is prevalent in all sections of the community and that it is not specific to any one race or religion.   To simplify it in such a manner would also be to deny the complex and multi-faced nature of domestic abuse in itself.  The Mosque also believes that there can never be any justifications or mitigating factors made for perpetrators of domestic abuse.  We support all victims of domestic violence unconditionally, regardless of their background, and will continue to do so.  As mentioned previously, the Mosque works closely with the Faith Leaders Group, with whom we share positive relationships and respect for all faiths.  It is categorically untrue that Mr. Afzal or the Mosque would denigrate any other religion or make any racial slurs against people of other faiths.

The Mosque recognises that the issues of domestic abuse and forced marriages are long-standing and substantial, and that Mosques can play a key role in helping to address this within Muslim communities and beyond.  We further believe that domestic abuse and forced marriages have no place in any civilised society and we condemn them in the strongest way possible.  We believe that the best way to combat these problems is to create dialogue with communities and to discuss such issues in an open, honest and transparent manner. 

We would like to take this opportunity to reiterate our respect of organisations such as MWN and Amirah Foundation and others, especially as they work in addressing complex and often hidden issues within the Muslim communities and beyond.  We recognise that there is still further work to be done to address these issues, and that more needs to be done and should be done.  Birmingham Central Mosque is a place of worship and tranquility for Muslims and all faiths alike.  We host events for all faiths and serve the community, and this has been the ethos of the Mosque for decades.  Therefore, we would like to extend our invitation to these groups as well as the aforementioned organisations to help and work with us, not only in the cause of advancing women’s rights, but also in creating a more cohesive and empowering society.

 

Mohammed Sarwar

 

Vice Chairman, Birmingham Central Mosque