Fact check: Are British Muslims building a mosque in London’s iconic Trocadero?
Right-wing newspapers are going wild with frenzy about a three-storey mosque in the iconic Trocadero in London’s Piccadilly Circus. Aside from the obvious point — why is this even seen as a problem in 'tolerant' Britain? — let's dig into the story to find out the truth behind all this.
The Aziz Foundation - the charity behind the plans to open a prayer space - took a swipe at the papers for using 'misleading headlines.'
The group said the headlines either suggested that the entire Trocadero building is being converted into a mosque or that a three-storey mosque is being constructed.
Neither of those things is true.
The headlines sparked absurd talking points among right-wing commentators and fuelled Islamophobic and bigoted comments on social media.
"The outpouring of hatred online and in social media posts highlights the danger such ill thought through headlines create," said the Aziz Foundation in a statement.
"This hatred translates into real life consequences including attacks on individuals and on mosques, and the media creating hate fuelling headlines needs to consider their involvement more carefully.
"Clearly some in the media feel that being critical of the Muslim community or knowingly creating headlines that will provoke anti-Muslim hatred is far more productive than reporting on the many positive initiatives."
So, what is the truth?
Westminster Council granted planning permission on 30 May this year for the upper and lower basements and ground floor to be used as a place of worship and community centre.
The area only represents 1.5% of the Trocadero.
There are no plans to construct anything new, only the existing basement will be given a new purpose. And it is earmarked to open only during weekdays between 11am-7pm, meaning not all prayers would be performed.
The site was last used as a small two-screen cinema which opened in the mid-1980's (the Metro Cinema) and the unit has been vacant since 2006. And for those now lamenting the loss of SegaWorld, arcades and bungy drops — the entertainment centre closed in 2014. The only thing left in the nineteenth-century building is the Zedwell Hotel.
The maximum capacity of the prayer space is 390 people, which is far fewer than the 1000 earmarked in the original application in 2020. That application ground to a halt following a backlash from far-right groups.
Communications agency Concilio is working on the project with Aziz Foundation. Its co-founder put up a LinkedIn post about how it was “shocking and depressing to experience the vitriol and hate thrown at the original planning application that was submitted.”
“The far-right launched a social media campaign and generated thousands of hate-filled comments against the proposal. Wading through the Westminster planning portal to read through the comments was a depressing experience and one that affected the team,” said Concilio director Nick Dines.
“We are all used to objections but this vitriol was something different and nothing we had experienced before – a real eye opener into the abuse some in society face,” he added.
There is currently a shortage of prayer places for Muslims living and working in the West End, particularly for women.
Westminster Council policy is to support new community facilities "where there is an identified present or future need."
The local mosques, including Goodge Street and Soho Mosque, are in favour of the additional prayer space since they have also expressed concern about the limited area available for worshippers.
"Despite concerns raised on noise grounds, given that queuing is unlikely to occur, and that the main hall is located at basement level, any noise associated with the use of the site as a prayer and community centre is expected to be well contained within the building itself and noise breakout is not anticipated," said the Westminster planning permission document about the prayer space.
Muslims part of British society
The Piccadilly Community Centre will be a great addition to the area and a symbol of London's diversity and inclusion.
This space will not only be used for prayer but will also champion and represent community cohesion and interfaith solidarity. It will hold interfaith events, classes and the space and will be available for use by the local community.
"The Centre will provide an indispensable place for the Muslims who work, visit and live in the area and for whom prayer forms a cornerstone of their life," said the Aziz Foundation.
"While the Centre will provide an area for prayer, it is also anticipated that this development will nurture much needed interfaith dialogue and in turn bring faith communities and community groups together utilising available space," it added.
"As a Foundation, we are proud to support the Piccadilly Community Centre, its prayer space, local community initiatives and interfaith work."
Image credit: Mark Hillary, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons