A Muslim community centre criticised for being housed inside a mosque linked with ‘terrorist attacks’ won praise from an MP after hitting back against negative press coverage.
The Al Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre, which is operated out of Al Manaar Mosque, in Kensington, defended itself after the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) think tank published an investigation into extremism at the mosque.
The HJS investigation linked the mosque, a focal point of support for survivors of the Grenfell tower fire, to Mohammed Emwazi, the Islamic State executioner known as ‘Jihadi John’, as well as 18 other Islamic extremists.
In a statement, Al Manaar said: “We call on the media to report stories with integrity and ethical journalism so as not to affect our work that serves a community grieving from the Grenfell fire tragedy. The community is at the forefront of much of what we do.”
Al Manaar also came under fire from the HJS investigation for allegedly misogynistic statements made by its Imam, Samer Darwish, in which he suggested women ought not to pray when menstruating, and that women who listened to music might become strippers.
Al Manaar’s statement defended Darwish, claiming his comments were taken out of context.
Following Al Manaar’s response, a Henry Jackson Society spokesman said: “The investigation upon which the Telegraph article was partially based, included 63 evidential sources, findings from two prior peer-reviewed reports and hours of Imam Darwish’s public comments.
“Imam Darwish is responsible for his own words and any embarrassment at their exposure could suggest the speaker’s own recognition of their troubling tone.”
In February 2018, Al Manaar Mosque – pictured above – clarified its position on extremism after reports emerged of its worshippers joining extremist groups in Syria.
A spokesman said: “We regularly hold workshops and conferences to guide our youth and community. We are committed to promoting community cohesion and ensuring access to the real teachings of Islam that prohibit extremism and wrong-doing.”
Up to 3,000 people visit the mosque each week, according to its website.
Labour MP for Kensington Emma Dent Coad defended the heritage centre. She said: “I have supported Al Manaar for over 12 years, and visit regularly. Indeed, I have commended Al Manaar to successive Bishops of Kensington as an excellent example of how our religious institutions can be mobilised to work in our communities – and they have concurred.
“Their doors are always open. They were among the first to help with the Grenfell Tower atrocity, they fed, clothed and gave survivors somewhere to sleep. They feed the homeless and have facilities for both men and women to sleep safely in very cold weather.”
When visiting the mosque for an Iftar meal in June 2018, Jeremy Corbyn praised its Grenfell counselling service.
He said: “Al Manaar Mosque is a great example of how in times of hardship it is in each other, in our communities, where we live side by side, that we can find solidarity, strength, and support for each other.”
The heritage centre, whose kitchen was visited by Meghan Markle just days before the release of the HJS report, cited its Hubb Community Kitchen, and its charity cookbook ‘Together’, as examples of its community activism in the wake of the Grenfell fire.