Imam Adeel Shah told My London prejudices exist both inside and outside of London’s Islamic community
- 07:00, 9 APR 2022
A 27-year-old imam is encouraging people to speak to Muslims and visit mosques before casting judgement on the whole community. Adeel Shah, who is one of the youngest imams in the country, travels around the UK and is involved in leading worship at the largest mosque in western Europe – Baitul Futuh mosque in Morden, South London. He was born in Pakistan but has lived in the UK since he was six months old.
He told MyLondon islamophobia in the UK is often rooted in fear of the unknown and is encouraged by negative headlines in major news organisations in the UK. Shah said: “If you just look at headlines about Muslims all you see is terrorist. I know if I see ‘terrorist’ in a headline, it means a Muslim is involved. If a similar act if carried out by someone else it’s described in a completely different way.”
He believes both the media and the public have a responsibility to combat unconscious bias and fear of the unknown. He told MyLondon everyone should be willing to have conversations with Muslims and that as people we all have more in common than we think.
He described attending a solidarity movement after the Westminster Bridge terror attack in 2017 and being confronted by a man at the scene. Adeel said the man asked him: “Why are you here?”. Shah began talking about Islam’s meaning and all the charity work his Muslim community has done in the UK. He said the man was shocked at Shah’s reaction and, after ten minutes, admitted he had lived in London for nearly 10 years but had never spoken to a Muslim before.
The imam told MyLondon: “This is why when people are worried about Muslims or Islam, I wish they would actually come down to the mosque and have a look, speak to Muslims, see how we pray and where we pray. I think it would eradicate a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings. A mosque is a house of prayer. Anyone is welcome. We have classes here, even weddings. People are more than welcome to come whenever they want.”
Islam values helping others and contributing to charity. Adeel told MyLondon the UK’s Ahmadiyya community has raised more than £2.5 million for UK causes, as well as planting thousands of trees, delivering PPE to frontline workers and helping hundreds of families struggling to feed their children.
The Baitul Futuh mosque in Morden has at least a dozen security gates which are used for large events at the mosque. This is partly due to fears around Ahmadis’ safety in the UK. The mosque can accommodate up to 15,000 worshippers and at large events huge marquees have to be used outside in addition to the main mosque to accommodate everyone wishing to attend.
The mosque has a creche so that mothers can participate in prayer while their children play, as well as huge open spaces for worshippers. The mosque was closed for much of the pandemic and is not yet back to full capacity. Muslims can pray at home or at their mosque. Shah said: “No-one should jeopardise their health. Even after the government allowed worshippers back into the mosque we still said that older people, vulnerable people and children should pray at home.”
When asked about trends in islamophobia and hate crime within London, Shah said: “I don’t have a straightforward answer but I would say that if we were to associate the KKK or the IRA for example with the Christian religion there would be no peace.”
Adeel Shah belongs to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community which originated in India. Although there are two main sects in Islam, Sunni and Shia, there are many other sub-sects with some different beliefs and values. The Ahmadiyya community believes that a prophet or Messiah Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was chosen by God and walked the earth from the late nineteenth century. But just like the majority of Muslims, their beliefs are centred around the Quran, Six articles of Islamic Faith and Five Pillars of Islam.
The current head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community is the fifth Caliph – His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad. He has addressed both the EU and Scottish Parliaments and is worshipped by Ahmadis across the world.
But despite this Adeel told MyLondon that Ahmadiyya Muslims often face prejudice from other branches of Islam. Adeel said: “Even in Pakistan, a Muslim country, you cannot say I am an Ahmadiyya Muslim because you can be imprisoned for up to three years. And if you are killed, everyone just turns a blind eye. We are considered heretics.”
There is a derogatory term used to describe Ahmadis by those who believe the community are “heretics” – Qadiyani. Adeel told MyLondon about a shop in Tooting which displays a sign reading: “We don’t deal with Qadiyanis. Enter Islam first before you enter our shop.” He also described being given an anti-Ahmadiyya flyer when he was in Year 8, warning Muslims not to associate with the Ahmadiyya community.
In 2016 an Ahmadi shopkeeper was brutally murdered in Scotland just because he was a member of the Ahmadiyya community. 40-year-old Asad Shah was stabbed to death outside his shop in Glasgow by Sunni Muslim Tanveer Ahmed who drove over 200 miles from Bradford to kill Asad Shah.
Adeel Shah said: “Every single religious people has an element of people who misconstrue, misunderstand, misrepresent. But it is up to us to correct that narrative.