Anthony Russell and Clare Cowen are pleased to report on their recent visit to the Lewisham Islamic Centre. The visit occurred on Sunday, 7 February, in response to a nationwide invitation from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) for local communities to interact with practising Muslims. Russell is founder of The Chandos, and author of “Evolving the Spirit – From Democracy to Peace”. Clare went representing the Brockley Society, to show support for the local Muslim community.
According to Russell, “I was drawn there because the Chandos Foundation, which I founded, has worked to encourage Britain’s very diverse Muslim community to occasionally speak with a single voice. As an umbrella organisation, the MCB can provide statements of clarification in the face of a
regularly hostile national media.”
He continued, “Problems are compounded by a government that may talk of integration and understanding, but regularly acts to make matters worse for the Muslim community. For example, in December the government released its Muslim Brotherhood Review, which suggested a lack of cooperation by the Muslim Community and connections with the Muslim Brotherhood of which the
community was itself quite unaware.”
Dr. Shuja Shafi, Secretary General of MCB asked why the government could not have consulted them before releasing a report they considered so full of inaccuracies. Subtle anti-Muslim rhetoric has led to a threefold increase in violence against Muslims in the weeks following the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris.
Mr. Russell wrote “It is critically important that each of us; politicians, civil society and faith leaders stand together in unity and defy the terrorists who wish to divide us. While violence and prejudice are not restricted to terrorists, fortunately Lewisham has an impressive record of standing by minorities and showing solidarity and respect for all people.”
The community at the Centre was described as kind and very polite. Tea and snacks were offered and the visitors were provided with a tour of the mosque and the opportunity to ask any questions.
The mosque serves 2,000 members, British-born and from many different countries, living in Lewisham and surrounding areas. Services are in English. Their Olive Tree School is an
independent primary school, covering key stages 1 and 2 of the National Curriculum, while the Young Muslim Academy is an after-school and weekend programme to assist young children to learn more about Islam, the Arabic language, and what it means to be a Muslim.
Other services include scouts, a football club, a lawyer’s surgery, female counselling and Wing Chun self-defence. The mosque holds interfaith events with local churches and synagogue.