There is probably no more appropriate symbol of Britain’s freedom of religion situation than the London Central Mosque. For America, we can learn much here regarding extremism on the one hand and interfaith acceptance on the other. London Central Mosque was built in 1990 with money donated by the king of Saudi Arabia. It was the most radical in Europe. Richard Reid, the infamous shoe-bomber, had passed through its doors; so had Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called twentieth hijacker, and Ahmed Ressam, the Algerian terrorist who was arrested shortly before the millennium for plotting to blow up Los Angelus International Airport. British police raided the mosque in January 20013 – inside they discovered such sacred items as forged passports, chemical-protective suits, and a stun-gun.
Young men in the mosque were radicalized and taught “Takfir.” Takfir was a concept developed by Islamists in Egypt in the 1970s, a theological, scripture sleight of hand designed to give the terrorists a sacred license to kill almost anyone they pleased in order to achieve their goals of imposing “sharia” and restoring the Caliphate. Its primary target was other Muslims. A secular Muslim leader who did not rule by sharia could be killed under takfir for having turned away from Islam. So could a citizen of a secular Islamic state or a Muslim residing in a Western democracy. To takfiri, democracy is heresy, for it supplanted the laws of God with the laws of man; therefore, Muslim citizens of a democracy were apostates and could be put to the sword. It was the concept of takfir that gave Osama bin Laden the religious right to fly airplanes into buildings and blow up embassies in Africa, even if many of the victims were Muslims. It gave the Sunni terrorists of Iraq the right to kill anyone they wanted to in order to prevent democracy from taking root in Baghdad. And it gave Muslim boys born in Britain the right to blow themselves up on London subways and buses, even if some of the people they were taking to Paradise with them happened to be other Muslims who wished to remain on earth a little longer.
The good news in this story is that London Central Mosque made a big turn- around. In 2008, the moderate Khalifa Ezzat was appointed as the Head Imam of the mosque. His work, teaching and leadership in healing has been formidable. Khalifa participates in the annual interfaith weeks. In November 2016, Khalifa took part alongside 150 faith leaders from 12 different faiths, members of parliament and embassy representatives promoting the free practice of faith, forgiveness, humility, kindness and compassion.
In June 2017, Khalifa was the opening speaker in an interfaith lftar at London Central Mosque welcoming more than 130 representatives from 12 faiths and religious sects, the Metropolitan Police, members of parliament and community leaders. They stood in solidarity, remembering recent disturbances including Manchester Arena, London Bridge, Finsbury Park Mosque and the Grenfell Tower that were remembered specifically and stressed the importance of all faiths to work together in order to prevent innocent people being misled into violence and hatred.
On this Easter weekend in America, many Christians reach out to their moderate Muslim friends and openly discuss acceptance, forgiveness, interfaith cooperation and the principles of the Sermon on the Mount expressed in both faiths. After all, Christ was well recognized by Mohammed.
Let there be no doubt, extremism is not going away in either faith. One decade in Islam it may be called Al Qaeda, the next ISIS. It may come from Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia or somewhere else. It may come from a Christian government in attack and retribution or some Christian sect. But the majority of both faiths can take the model of moderates and humanists and join together in peace, and from that joinder prejudice, ignorance and violence will be countered.
At last count in 2010, there were 2,106 mosques in the United States, an increase of 74% since 1970. As of 2017, there were an estimated 3.45 Muslims living in the country.