The London Islamic Cultural Centre (ICC) is refusing to appoint any Egyptian imams in a move that Egyptian community leaders in the UK have described as a “very serious precedent.”
The Saudi management of the ICC, which hosts the biggest mosque in the country, has refused to give UK authorities permission to issue entry visas to Egyptian imams, Ahram Online has learned.
One Al-Azhar source said: “ICC Director-General Ahmad Al-Dubayan did not give his consent to the British consulate in Cairo to issue visas to two [Egyptian] Al-Azhar candidates to work as imams in the mosque.”
The new restrictions mean that, for the first time in decades, there will be no Egyptian imams at the ICC.
The ICC is one of the biggest Islamic centres in Europe. The land on which it and its associated mosque were built was originally donated by George VI to London’s Muslim community in 1944 in return for a site in Cairo on which an Anglican cathedral was built.
According to a decades-long agreement among Islamic countries, Saudi Arabia is in charge of ICC management while Egypt is responsible for religious affairs. ICC imams used to be supplied by Egypt’s Al-Azhar or the Egyptian Ministry for Religious Endowments (awqaf).
The last Al-Azhar imam to be appointed to the ICC was Sheikh Mohammad El-Salamony, whose tenure was terminated by Al-Azhar in 2009.
Al-Salamony lost his eyesight after being assaulted by a young Irish man inside the mosque in 2007. Al-Salamony later filed a lawsuit against the ICC, which refused to take responsibility for the attack. El-Salamony’s lawyer has argued that the attack would not have occurred had the ICC’s security system been working properly.
Due to the ongoing legal dispute, El-Salamony has refused to leave his accommodations within the ICC, insisting on his right to stay put until the court issued a verdict on the matter.
In a statement, the ICC hinted that delays in the appointment of new Imams to replace the blind sheikh had been due to El-Salamony’s failure to comply with its request to evacuate the premises.
Meanwhile, the ICC has appointed a number of Saudi-educated Asian imams.
The only Egyptian imam currently serving at the ICC is self-contracted sheikh Khalifa Ali. However, Ali was forced to go on sabbatical after Egypt’s religious endowments ministry refused to renew his ICC appointment.
Ali told Ahram Online that the ministry had refused the ICC’s request to extend his appointment. “There was no explanation for the ministry’s decision,” he said.
Mostafa Ragab, an Egyptian community leader in London, strongly criticised the move.
“The central mosque is without an Egyptian imam or sheikh for the first time in decades,” Ragab told Ahram Online. “This is a very serious precedent.”
He went on to urge Al-Azhar to bring “this unacceptable situation” up with the Saudi authorities.
Al-Azhar officials are currently reviewing the ICC issue in order to provide a report on the matter to Al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmad El-Tayeb.
“I’m sure the Grand Imam will raise the issue with the religious affairs authorities or the Saudi foreign minister,” an adviser to El-Tayeb told Ahram Online.
Ragab, for his part, stressed the matter’s urgency.
“I’m sure the Grand Imam will find a way to discuss it with Saudis,” he said. “The issue demands intervention by a high-level authority, such as Egypt’s Al-Azhar.”
The ICC board of trustees includes representatives from Qatar, Saudia Arabia, Morocco, Iran, Oman, Syria, Pakistan, Bahrain, Malaysia, Yemen and Jordan, as well as Egypt.