Ajmal Masroor, The Circle

Saudi Funded Mosque in the heart of London sacks me!

Yesterday I received a phone call from the Goodge Street Mosque, also known as The Muslim World League London office. It was one of the staff members who wanted to talk to me about something urgent, I could hear in his voice a sense of hesitation as well as disappointment. I was not sure what to expect especially as it was a Saudi funded centre and in a week where a massive furor has erupted between Turkey and Saudi regime over its role in the disappearance of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, @JKhashoggi who was a Saudi royal family insider, close ally and advisor but recently turned a vocal critique of the crown prince and his unethical activities in the guise of reform.

He was a columnist at the @washingtonpost @KarenAttiah and the news of his disappearance has been reported across the world including Channel 4 @Channel4 ‏, BBC @BBCWorld @BBC ‏, Sky News @SkyNews ‏, The Economist @TheEconomist , Al Jazeera @AlJazeera_World ‏, Turkish TV @TRTTelevizyon and many other news outlests.

I was attentive to his voice. I was very curious to know what he was about to tell me.

He said, “I am afraid I have bad news to give you. You are no longer one of the Imams of this mosque but you are welcome to come and have tea or coffee with me and my colleague.”

I said, to him, “are you saying I am fired?”

He said, “you may put it like that but those are not my words.”

I asked him to give me the real reason. He said, “I am only obeying orders, my duty is to pass on the message.”

I said, “has this got anything to do with my recent blog post where I criticized the Saudi Royal family as despotic, illegitimate and at the mercy of USA’s military protection?”

He said, “I do not know!”

I said to him, “I know this has come from the top. It is a shame that your director does not have the courtesy to call me to give me the news directly. However, I am grateful to you for your polite words. Please tell the director that firing me will not make his kings activities ethical or right and certainly he will not get away with it on the Day of Judgment.”

I have been fired from the Goodge Street Mosque at the orders of the Saudi government who fund that centre and run it like their own fiefdom. This is no coincidence that I have been fired when bigger and more influential people including journalists, academics and Islamic scholars are facing Saudi death squads for their principle stance.

We already know that the crown prince Muhammad Bin Salman is silencing all his oppositions or critiques at home by locking them up and internationally by threatening them. I am not a Saudi citizen but I have personally experienced their reactions to any forms of criticism. The Saudi Royal family believe that they are beyond criticism and everyone must bow down in submission to their family’s divinely ordained right to rule and absolute authority. For those of you who know me you would know that I am not afraid of speaking the truth and facing up to a tyrant and in that spirit, I have never accepted Al-Saud family as a legitimate ruler of Saudi Arabia. After 22 years of service to the congregation at the Goodge Street mosque I was given the marching order yesterday, 9th October 2018.

I started thinking about the fate of Saudi Journalist. My wife has already warned me about the possible impact of my outspoken nature but she has always encouraged me to remain loyal to truth and justice. I was thinking about the fate of Mr Khashoggi fiancée who was waiting outside when he went inside the consulate to get paperwork for his upcoming marriage. He never came out!

The Turkish investigators have accused Saudi Arabia of executing Jamal Khashoggi inside the consulate in Turkey. They have stated that they have clear evidence of the journalist going in to the consulate but never coming out. There are only two possibilities, he is alive but has been kidnapped and taken abroad or he has been killed and his body has been disposed. The Turkish President Tayyab Erdogan has placed the onus on Saudi Arabia to demonstrate that he actually left their consulate.

A few years back when I was in Saudi Arabia performing Hajj and attending a conference of Muslim scholars in Makkah, I wrote a piece for the Guardian newspaper about the Las Vegas style hyper development and lamented at the desecration of Islam’s holiest site Makkah by the grotesque clocktower that overshadows the House of God. I was reprimanded for my criticism and was even asked to write a piece praising the royal family and its then supreme ruler, King Abdullah. I told them that I would never do that. I would always speak the truth and stand for justice and fairness. I felt their wrath while I was in Hajj and I was given a hard time when I returned.

The current director of the centre has taken me to his office for a strong word at least five times in the last five years. Each time he has asked me to stay away from commenting about Saudi Arabia. I told him that I would not be able to comply with his request as it contradicted with my conscience and my principle of speaking the truth. However, we compromised and I promised to not speak against the Saudi royal family from the pulpit of the Goodge Street Mosque but I will speak about the Saudi royal family, any kings or prime ministers or any other topic outside the centre anytime I want. If he disliked my views, he will not bother me with it. That was an agreement I made three years ago, I kept my side of the agreement but he violated it several times. I can sympathise with him, he was simply obeying orders.

I used to run a counselling service from a dedicated room in the centre since 2010 but it was taken away from me. The excuse given was that the Saudi authorities have made a policy that only Saudi projects would have the right to use the office space in the building. I was gob smacked at their blatant racism and unfairness. They were running a mosque and centre in the heart of London but only allowing Saudi projects to run from it.

Every Friday about a thousand worshippers would attend the Friday prayers and hundreds of worshippers attend the mosque five times a day, A handful of these worshippers are Saudis and yet their policy was to only run Saudi projects. I vehemently opposed it, criticized it internally and challenged the director about their racist and unfair policy but to no avail.

When I was asked to join the mosque to lead Friday prayers once a month some 22 years ago I made my position very clear. I told them that I will speak the truth, I will address contemporary political and social issues and I will offer spiritual solutions to our everyday issues. I will not be muzzled or censored by anyone. If I make factual mistakes I must be corrected and I would be more than willing to retract and correct my mistakes. However, I will not shy away from criticizing the Saudi Royal family or any other regimes in any part of the world.

I have survived at that centre for 22 years with that agreement but the crown prince Muhammad Bin Salma who claims to be the reformer of Saudi Arabia and the modern face of the kingdom is totally intolerant of any criticism. He is not a reformer at all, he has displayed his true as a brutal dictator even before formally taking the role of a king. He is young and if he becomes the king, his reign of terror and authoritarianism would last for decades sadly. That would not only be a sad news for Saudi Arabia but would be a terrible development for the Muslim world.

I will continue with my work as an Imam speaking the truth and addressing issues of global justice and fairness from the pulpits and if all pulpits are closed to me, I will continue to speak up from the street corners. The Muslim community living in London and praying at the Goodge Street Mosque need to make up their own mind about how they deal with the Goodge Street mosque and its administration but for a centre that is in the heart of London, it is a disgrace that it is simply an extension of the despotic, illegitimate and dictatorial regime of Saudi Arabia.

Imams are the role models for our society. Imams should speak the truth and never be afraid of its consequences. No management of a mosque or government of a country should have the right to deprive the community of their Imams right to freedom of speech from the pulpit so long as the Imam is not inciting racial hatred or calling for violence. Imams must be able to address and express their views on social, economic and political issues from the pulpits and offer spiritual solutions. I am grateful to God for giving me the strength to continue in this way without fear. I pray other Imams would do the same.

In the mean time I am happy to declare that my 3rd Friday of the month has now become available for other mosques. And I will continue my struggle against tyrants, despots and illegitimate regimes in all parts of the world.