On Whitechapel Road in the heart of the East End stands the East London Mosque.
For most of the 15,000 ordinary Muslims who pray there each week, it is simply a place of worship. For many, it provides valuable social facilities, and creche and outreach services.
But for a small number, the mosque is the headquarters of a secretive, fundamentalist political network. The Islamic Forum of Europe is dedicated, in its own words, to changing the “very infrastructure of society, its institutions, its culture, its political order and its creed “¦ from ignorance to Islam”.
The mosque and IFE are inextricably intertwined. Dr Mohammed Abdul Bari, the chairman of the mosque, and its vice-chairman are former IFE presidents.
The director and imam of the mosque are trustees of the group. Of 22 IFE trustees in recent years, only five have not also been trustees or officeholders of the religious centre.
The mosque calls the IFE a “social welfare organisation” and the IFE presents itself as committed to “community cohesion” and “tolerance”.
But the undercover reporters discovered that it was also a sophisticated political group with a structured rank system and hardline goals.
Prospective recruits must attend training. One undercover reporter was told that she would have to take an exam and swear an oath of allegiance and ordered to keep her membership of the IFE a secret.
The reading list for the recruits’ training course consists of the key works of the revolutionary political creed known as Islamism, which advocates the overthrow of secular democratic government and its replacement by Islamic government.
The key text, Let Us Be Muslims, by Syed Mawdudi, a high priest of Islamism, instructs recruits: “The sacred duty of Muslims “¦ wherever you are, in whichever country you live, you must strive to change the wrong basis of government, and seize all powers to rule and make laws from those who do not fear God.”
This newspaper obtained an official transcript from the two-day annual training camp held for the IFE’s youth wing, the Young Muslim Organisation UK, held in Leicestershire last June. In one talk, Muhammad Rabbani, a trustee of the youth wing, told the recruits: “Our goal is to create the True Believer, [and] to then mobilise these believers into an organised force for change who will carry out dawah [preaching], hisbah [enforcement of Islamic law] and jihad. This will lead to social change and Iqamatud-Deen [an Islamic social and political order].”
The nature of that Islamic social and political order in Britain was made clear when Mr Rabbani said: “Whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers.” He instructed the recruits to “protect yourselves” from music, television and “free mixing with women in that which is not necessary”.
Another speaker, Shaikh Abdullah Zainal Abideen, told the trainees: “Victory is for Islam and Muslims”, stressing the importance of “distinguishing “¦ who the enemies are, both from outside the circle of Islam and within the circle of Islam”.
Mr Abideen attacked key moderate Muslims for “flirting with the West and the media to convince them that we are “˜good peaceful Muslims’”.
He said they were examples of “deviation” who would go to hell. Another IFE document said: “IFE’s primary work is in Europe because it is this continent, despite all the furore about its achievements, which has a moral and spiritual vacuum.”
Azad Ali, the IFE’s community affairs coordinator, was filmed by the undercover reporters stating: “Democracy, if it means at the expense of not implementing the sharia, no one’s going to agree with that.”
The IFE is not itself a violent organisation. None of its members is known to have been personally implicated in any terrorist act and it has, apparently sincerely, condemned terrorist attacks in London.
However, the IFE appears satisfied to host speakers who advocate hatred and violence. Several of its senior officials, including Mr Ali, until recently defended Anwar al-Awlaki, who is blamed for inspiring at least three terrorist attacks, including September 11 and the attempted underwear bombing in Detroit.
Several IFE activists and officials, including Mr Ali, support Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organisation by the British and American governments. Mr Ali advocates the destruction of Israel, justifies the killing of British troops in Iraq, believes al-Qaeda is a “myth” and has praised Osama bin Laden’s mentor, Abdullah Azzam.
The mosque also insisted it was tolerant and liberal. Its assistant general secretary, Shaynul Khan, claimed it was “at the forefront of promoting integration [and] cohesion”. Dr Bari has promised: “If I hear of a specific preacher inciting hatred, I will ban him from the mosque.”
The investigation by this newspaper has established that far from being “banned”, hate and extremist preachers regularly appear at the mosque. It has hosted at least 27 of them over the past three years, and at least 18 of them over the past year alone.
They included Murtaza Khan, who said at the mosque that any woman who used perfume was an adulterer; Bilal Philips, named by the US government as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing; Hussein Yee, who said September 11 was a conspiracy of the Jews; and Mr al-Awlaki, whose last video talk at the mosque, on Jan 1, 2009, was advertised with a poster of New York under bombardment.
The mosque claimed it was a neutral host and welcomed all-comers. However, it officially hosts some extremists — for example, in August 2008 Mr Philips was invited to give Friday prayers.
Some moderate Muslims have claimed they were not welcome at the mosque. Maajid Nawaz, the director of the Quilliam Foundation think tank, said he was refused permission to appear there for an Institute for Public Policy Research event in November 2008. “They [the institute] were told that my views were unacceptable,” he said.