It took almost a decade for councillors to approve a new mosque in Dudley, after the initial proposal was launched in 2007.
The years brought far-right protests, a series of high court battles that resulted in lost decisions for both Dudley Council and Dudley Muslim Association, and a rejection of a larger proposal in 2011.
Kurshid Ahmed, from Dudley Muslim Association, noted that the plans had divided parts of the community.
“One must remember the Muslim community in Dudley is an integral part of the wider Dudley community and have rights to a place of worship… as any other community,” he said.
A look at the Census reveals that Dudley’s Muslim population has increased since 2001. But it remains the largest religious minority (4.1 per cent or 12,902 residents). Christianity remains the dominant religion in the region (63.5 per cent of residents) yet the number of residents not disclosing their faith is higher than the Muslim population (6.3 per cent). So the argument for a larger mosque is not unreasonable.
At the council’s development control committee, prior to approval, the Committee chairman, Cllr Qadar Zada said: “No-one has said much more than just about the mosque, very few times have I heard about the enterprise and training centre in one of the most deprived wards in Dudley.”
Labelling the approved proposal a ‘mega-mosque’ is sensationalistic and ignores how non-Muslims benefit from the plans. Focusing upon the size of the mosque and minaret potentially feeds into far-right paranoia of what constitutes a ‘mega-mosque’.
The redevelopment includes an enterprise and education centre, a sports centre, a two-storey car park and the mosque benefits from three prayer rooms.
Another example of problematic reporting is found in today’s online edition of the Express & Star (November 12). The image (cropped to highlight just the mosque) distorts the entire proposal. It takes the reader several paragraphs to learn of the sports and community facilities.
Other councillors raised opposition to the mosque as went against the ‘historical character’ of Dudley. In the end, the plans were approved at a vote of 5-3. Supporters of the mosque packed out the town hall as a small protest took place outside.
Britain First made their presence felt outside amid a visible police presence. A video captures their deputy leader Jayda Fransen (a candidate in the Rochester and Strood by-election) shouting: “You guys won’t get your mega mosque if we bury a pig on the grounds of it….Let’s see you worship upon ground that is infested with swine….you are going to stand on swine infested ground and worship your false prophet are you?”
Public opinion in Dudley was not uniform in rejection or approval – the council received 885 letters of rejection and 370 in support – but a petition in favour of the proposal was handed to the council with 1,718 signatures.
After years of campaigning, bluster and arguments on both sides, only a High Court judgement will determine if building work will start. Dudley Council is bidding to buy back the land, a decision opposed by Dudley’s Muslim Association.