Thousands of people have attended Friday prayers at the Baitul Futuh mosque in south London to mark its reopening, almost a week after substantial parts of the complex were gutted by fire.With an acrid smell of smoke still hanging in the air, regular worshippers were joined by representatives of other faiths, community leaders, local councillors and members of the police service. The prayers were broadcast to 200 countries and translated into seven languages.
The fire raged through the mosque – which claims to be the biggest in western Europe – last Saturday, destroying two community halls and offices. Seventy firefighters were called to the blaze, which took 24 hours toextinguish. The main prayer areas of the mosque in Morden escaped damage.Two youths were arrested on suspicion of arson. One, aged 14, was bailed pending further questioning; a 16-year-old was released with no further action. A Metropolitan police spokesman said the investigation was continuing, but there was “nothing to suggest this was a hate crime”.
The mosque belongs to the Ahmadiyya community, which has up to 100 million followers worldwide, but is considered heretical by orthodox Muslims because it follows Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as the messiah and a prophet who came after Muhammad. Ahmadiyya followers are subject to persecution in some countries, including Pakistan.
“The history of our community over the past 100 years in the UK was stored here and it is all lost,” said Imran Uddin of the mosque’s management team. “But the support locally has been unbelievable, from all sides of the community. It’s really touching.”
A local synagogue offered office space and messages of goodwill were received from orthodox mosques.
Construction of the mosque was completed in 2003 at a cost of £20m, raised largely from small-scale donations. The community has about 35,000 followers in the UK.
“When we bought the land, there was clear apprehension,” said Uddin. Far-right groups campaigned against the mosque, warning of jihadism. “There was so much heat generated, there was an atmosphere of fear. The contrast between then and the reaction to the fire now is really striking.”
The mosque’s motto, emblazoned in huge letters at the entrance, is “Love for All, Hatred for None”. “This encapsulates the ethos of our community – we live this, it’s not just a slogan,” said Uddin.
The cost of repairing damage from the fire is estimated to be at least £2m.