The first building you see as you approach Morden’s Baitul Futuh, one of the largest mosques in Western Europe, is adorned with silver lettering that reads “Love for all, hatred for none”.
This is the motto of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a revival movement founded in 1889 that seeks to emphasise, among other values, peace.
I am here to meet 25-year-old Adeel Shah, one of the youngest Imams in Britain. An Imam is an Islamic leader, and Adeel studied for seven years to take on the role.
As an Imam, Adeel leads his community in their efforts to raise money for charity and help those in need.
“We do litter picking, blood drives, tree planting. We visit the sick and elderly in care homes and hospitals,” he says. “Every November we’re at supermarkets and train stations collecting for the Royal British Legion, the Poppy Appeal.
“Last year, we held a fundraising event that we do every year, and raised £1 million for 10 British charities.”
Community is at the heart of the Ahmadiyya mosque. Not only is the mosque itself funded and run by volunteers and donors, but so are its radio and TV stations.
Every year, the mosque hosts the National Peace Symposium, an event where up to 1,000 guests – including political and religious leaders – gather to promote and propose a means to achieving world peace.
In addition to leading charitable work, Adeel considers it his duty to work to foster understanding between Muslims and the wider community.
“The seven years of studying focus on comparative religion, and then developing qualities that we can use when we go into communities to become assets and cause cohesion,” he explains.
“We also do interfaith programmes; we invite our local neighbours, different religions, or even those with no religion, to come and speak together. We try to find ways in which we can build bridges.”
Tolerance and community cohesion is desperately needed. Research has found that racism has risen significantly since the Brexit referendum, and between January and December of last year, the Met Police recorded 1,175 Islamophobic hate crimes.
“Islamophobia isn’t the norm in the UK,” Adeel says. “There are pockets of areas where you might find Islamophobia, but those areas can be challenged by education. Because education always breeds tolerance.
“You need education that allows bridges to be built – and the bridges are probably already there, it’s just that once you make that contact and communication, the bridge automatically connects.”
After the 2017 Westminster Bridge attack, during which an Islamist terrorist injured 50 people and killed four, Adeel and others in his community attended a vigil wearing T-shirts that read “I am a Muslim, ask me anything”.
He recalls a passer-by angrily asking him why he was there, but after a discussion about Islam and Ahmadiyya Muslims’ role in the community, the man ended up hugging him.
“But after the hug, he said something which was really eye opening – scary, in fact,” Adeel tells me. “He said ‘I’ve been living in London for nine or 10 years, and this is the first time I’m speaking to a Muslim’.”
Adeel tells me he doesn’t blame people for being fearful of Islam, saying that those who get all of their information from media coverage are bound to be scared.
“Fear sells, and the media is selling Islam as a fear at the moment. But when they see what we’re doing, I’m sure they’ll get a different impression.”
“We’re working day and night trying to spread the peaceful message of Islam – the word Islam itself means peace,” Adeel adds. “You can’t have peace with terrorism, it’s an oxymoron. They don’t go with each other.”
I ask him what he’d like people to understand about Islam.
“Islam is a peaceful religion,” he says. “It’s not a religion to be fearful of at all. The doors of our mosques are always open, and our arms are always open as well.”