On May 25th, the Islamic Centre of England (ICE) closed its doors amid an investigation by the UK Charity Commission. The Charity Commission also put in place an interim manager, Emma Woody, who is not from the faith community and was given authority over the other trustees.
TMJ News exclusively spoke with political analyst and active community member, Mohammad Ali Araki, on the Charity Commission’s history of targeting the Islamic Centre of England.
Araki first spoke of his experience in the Centre and its role within London.
“This is a center that stands out from a few different aspects, one of which is it welcomes different people from different nationalities. The Centre plays an important role within the Shia community in London because of the services they provide and how central it is within London.”
This point is significant given the Charity Commission characterized the Centre as solely an “Iranian center.” But such a designation is not accurate given community members come from diverse backgrounds. He mentions that the Charity Commission’s investigation of the Centre is “clearly politically motivated and they are not honest about it as well.” He explains the chain of events leading to the current situation today.
Araki recounts that initial tensions sparked between the Centre and the Charity Commission when community members protested the foreign policy stance of western powers amidst the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani on January 3rd, 2020.
“The courtyard in front of the Islamic Centre was packed completely and I’ve never seen it that packed. People were upset and shouting out slogans against the tyrants of our time.”
The Charity Commission took more than six months to send an inquiry regarding the vigil. Araki says,
“This is a community center and the Charity Commission says they have to benefit the community. If the Charity Commission really cares about the community then they should check and see what the people want.”
Araki also speaks of two organizations that have been targeting the Centre, The Henry Jackson Society and the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. These think tanks have repeatedly attempted to target the Centre under the premise of it being “connected to terrorism.”
In September 2022, in the events following Mahsa Amini’s death, protests in Central London took place, many of which specifically targeted the Islamic Centre of England. Araki recounts that the Arbaeen procession held by the Centre was targeted by rioters, some of whom carried blades and skewers. Community members were targeted in which “one of the boys was injured in his face with a wooden stick, I saw myself, and another lady was stabbed…we also had ladies where the hijab was pulled off.”
The British police failed to diffuse the situation by allowing the rioters to continue vandalizing and targeting community members, he said. The Charity Commission provided no protection to the community after it was repeatedly targeted nor did it step forward to hold anyone responsible, Araki highlights. To add on, the Charity Commission, rather than coming after the violent rioters, decided to target the Centre for holding a lecture where the rioters were referred to as “the soldiers of Satan.”
Araki notes that Kasra Aarabi from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change initially pushed this agenda forward and the Charity Commission was influenced by this.
The Charity Commission also specifically targeted the Islamic Centre of England for uploading speeches of Iranian Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei on its website, noting some speeches were “too political.” Araki explains that this stems from the “biased approach of the Charity Commission,” as many community members follow Sayyid Khamenei as a religious leader and benefit from having access to his speeches.
“The community is the main beneficiary based on the words of the Charity Commission. What the Charity Commission wants is the Islamic Centre to serve the benefits of the community that suits their agendas.”
Rather than serving the interests of the community, the Charity Commission has shown its alliances with serving the interests of imperialist agendas under the British government. It is clear that because the community of the Islamic Centre of England is firm against the foreign policy interests of the British government, the Charity Commission has targeted the Centre. Araki explains that religious figures like the Pope of Vatican have political meetings, yet the Commission points the finger specifically at religious leaders like Sayyid Khamenei, showing “their islamaphobic face.” In light of the Charity Commission’s move, Araki notes that the community is more resilient than ever in protest.
“The Islamic Centre of England will be liberated from the occupation of the British Government and if the Charity Commission wants to act on their own words and beliefs, they must listen to the message and voice of the community.”
The community members have been meeting every Thursday for protests and communal recitations such as Dua Kumayl. A letter was also compiled to the Charity Commission at the end of May and signed by various community and faith leaders protesting the imposition of the interim manager and speaking against the Commission’s unjust and unqualified role to determine what religious communities should be discussing.
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