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UK imam's alleged input in school prayer ban case denied by mosque

Headteacher said imam of London Central Mosque told her pupils could make up missed prayers later in the day, an issue contested among Muslim scholars
Muslims kneel at London's Central Mosque in Regents Park during Friday's prayers on 15 July 2005 (AFP/Carl de Souza)
Muslims kneel at London's Central Mosque in Regents Park during Friday's prayers on 15 July 2005 (AFP/Carl de Souza)

London Central Mosque has denied that one of it's imams said it was permissible for Muslim students to defer obligatory afternoon prayers, after court documents from a recent legal case over a school’s ban on prayers had shown the alleged input of the mosque.

The opinion on prayer deferrals, which is contested by some Muslim scholars, caused controversy among British Muslims. 

On Tuesday, the UK High Court ruled that a prayer ban imposed by Michaela Community School in northwest London was not unlawful. 

A British Muslim student filed the legal challenge on the grounds that the school’s policy was discriminatory and "uniquely" affected her faith due to its ritualised nature. 

Justice Thomas Linden concluded that the prayer ritual policy was "proportionate" and its aims and ability to achieve them "outweighs" any "adverse effects" on the rights of Muslim pupils at the school.

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The judge added that the pupil could perform "Qada" prayers for missing prayers earlier in the day "to mitigate the failure to pray within the allotted window."

In March last year, students at the school began praying in the school’s yard using blazers to kneel on, following the imposition of the ban. 

According to the written ruling, the school's founder and headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh said she had spoken with an imam at the London Central Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre (also known as Regent’s Park Mosque) about the permissibility of making up missed prayers.

The document stated: “Ms Birbalsingh argues that… observant Muslim pupils who miss the Duhr prayer can make up for it later in the day, including by praying at the Brent Civic Centre if they wish.

“She says... she also spoke with the Imam at the London Central Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre who agreed with this view and offered to speak to any Muslim parents who had doubts on this point.”

On Thursday, London Central Mosque published a statement stating that it disagreed with the judgement and that preventing Muslim's praying was "a violation of the religious and human rights". 

https://x.com/iccukorg/status/1780844666759369200

"The London Central Mosque was not involved in, and was not asked to be involved in this court case in any way whatsoever," it stated. 

The mosque said it explained to Birbalsingh that Muslim students needed to pray in the allotted time for prayer.

On the issue of praying later, it told the school that in the summer, the time between Duhr (noon) and Asr (afternoon) prayers was further apart, and therefore the Duhr prayer can be delayed to its final prescribed time. 

"We made it clear that in the winter it would NOT be possible to pray later as times are much shorter."

Calls for mosque boycott

Birbalsingh describes herself as having “small-c conservative values”, and is as the self-styled “strictest headmistress” in Britain. 

There are different interpretations on the issue of Qada prayers, with some Islamic scholars stating that obligatory prayers can only be missed in exceptional circumstances. 

'Regent’s Park Mosque imam advised the Tory government’s darling to ban prayers. This mosque is working to undermine our community'

- Salma Abla

The London Central Mosque, first established in 1977, is one of the largest Muslim places of worship in London, accommodating several thousand worshippers. Its iconic golden dome can be seen prominently from nearby Regent’s Park. 

Its apparent involvement in the legal case had been criticised by a number of British Muslims on social media. 

“Not one Muslim should step foot inside this mosque,” said one user. “Full boycott.” 

Another user, Salma Abla, wrote: “Regent’s Park Mosque imam advised the Tory government’s darling to ban prayers. This mosque is working to undermine our community. We need to flood their lines again & call for [a] boycott of this mosque. I want zero people praying behind an imam who sold us out to Islamophobes.” 

The mosque came under criticism last month after it hosted British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on the first day of Ramadan. 

Several worshippers described the visit as a "betrayal" by the mosque over Sunak's support for Israel during its ongoing war on Gaza. 

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