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Last Updated: Friday, 28 May, 2004, 12:11 GMT 13:11 UK
Abu Hamza and the mosque
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online commuity affairs reporter

The Finsbury Park mosque
Abu Hamza continued to hold Friday prayers outside the mosque
Finsbury Park Mosque has long been linked with radical cleric Sheikh Abu Hamza.

And since January 2003, the mosque has been closed and boarded up.

Despite being subsequently banned from preaching at the north London mosque, Abu Hamza had continued to hold Friday prayer meetings on the street outside, sometimes preaching to up to 150 supporters.

That, combined with media attention on the building, has led to a frustration - if not wider anger - at the way ordinary Muslims feel their places of worship have become linked with security fears.

Whatever the actions of those attending, a mosque is a place of worship, they say. But without a doubt, Finsbury Park Mosque became synonymous with Abu Hamza as he exerted more and more control over it.

While some mosques tend to be frequented by Muslims from just one ethnic background, Finsbury Park, once one of the largest in the country, had reflected the character of its diverse neighbourhood.

Clerics and trustees

Mosques are not run by their clerics. Committees of ordinary worshippers take care of its affairs, leaving clerics to preach at Friday prayers.

Abu Hamza's continued unauthorised activities prevented the proper use of the mosque and was damaging its reputation
Charity Commission report
It is this division between authorities and clerics which has been at the heart of the Finsbury Park controversy. Did Abu Hamza wield influence out of proportion to his role?

That was the Charity Commission's view. It began investigating in 1998 after reports that the mosque's trustees felt intimidated and unable to oversee the weekly collection of donations.

Secondly, several people, including Abu Hamza, were effectively living within the mosque.

The trustees had launched a legal action to regain control and an out-of-court settlement allowed Abu Hamza to give two out of four Friday sermons. In return, the trustees regained access.

But this was later changed to allow Abu Hamza to give three out of four sermons.

So the Charity Commission began looking more closely at events.

It found Abu Hamza had abused his position within the mosque and was using it for his own political reasons.

Despite their attempts, the trustees had not regained control. Ordinary worshippers, offended by Abu Hamza's presence, stopped attending.

Abdul Kadir Burkatulla, one of the trustees, later told the BBC that Abu Hamza had bullied the staff.

"He used intimidation, verbal abuse and even physical use of force to exclude trustees, to bully them and intimidate them to surrender to certain of his demands.

"They have been threatened verbally and even assaulted in the mosque to the extent that they are too frightened to speak."

Suspension and removal

Shortly after the 11 September attacks of 2001, the Charity Commission received a tape of a sermon given by Abu Hamza on the first Friday after military action began in Afghanistan. The tapes were being sold in the Mosque shop and via the internet.

Investigators concluded the sermon was of such an extreme political nature that it conflicted with the mosque's charitable status and started proceedings against the preacher.

Prayers outside: Friday sermons after ban

It found Abu Hamza had not followed instructions to remove references to the mosque from his website, Supporters of Shar'iah, and he was considered the main figure of the mosque.

Abu Hamza was suspended - but throughout 2002 he continued to give sermons and organised a meeting at the mosque to mark the first anniversary of the 11 September attacks, against the wishes of the trustees.

The trustees told the Charity Commission they did not have the means to legally remove Abu Hamza. But when the premises were boarded up in January 2003, they did finally regain control. They then closed it until they could raise the funds to repair it.

A month later, the Charity Commission banned Abu Hamza from the mosque - warning him that should he return he would face possible imprisonment.

Profile: Abu Hamza
27 May 04 |  UK

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