The UK’s largest mosque calls for ceasefire in Israel-Hamas conflict despite local MP’s voting abstention

Morden’s famous mosque has encouraged its supporters to call for the Ceasefire now campaign, despite its local MP abstaining from the ceasefire vote.

The Baitul Futuh mosque, the self-titled biggest in Western Europe, is encouraging its community to hold politicians to account and attend marches following its local MP’s abstention from the recent ceasefire vote. The mosque, which serves South London’s Ahmadiyya Muslim community, also has a number of members who currently have family trapped in Palestine.

Since the attack on October 7, the Mosque has heavily advocated for a ceasefire and has hosted a number of events that have attempted to bring south London’s Muslim and Jewish communities together. Usman Shahzad Butt, who serves as the Imam for the Southfields Ahmadiyya mosque, told the local democracy reporting service (LDRS): “We are on the side of ceasefire now and peace.”

“There has to be representation for peace over taking sides and deciding who’s right and wrong. That’s not important, right now we need to know the facts, and they are that innocent people, men, women and children, are dying. We have to stop that. We were one of the first communities to first call for a ceasefire.”

“That is why the prayers for peace event was held on November 5, where we brought members of local synagogues and the Church of England together. Even saying the word ceasefire was a dirty word, there were some groups that were rightly angry about the situation. However, the conversation has moved on since then.”

The Ahmadiyya community also has its own charity that is currently accepting donations for victims of the conflict. However, according to Mahmood Rafiq, a city worker and regular volunteer at the mosque, its efforts are being stifled by the absence of a safe humanitarian corridor. He said: “Our community has an established charity called Humanity First. That charity provides unconditional aid across the world. I know at the moment there are some difficulties in getting aid out to the people that need it, but the charity is working day and night to do all it can.”

The Imam also spoke of his irritation with the way mainstream media and the public repeatedly ask members of his community if they condone Hamas. He told the LDRS: “When we are asked this, the narrative is spun in a way that depends on whether we condemn them or not. Of course, no sane person would say they’re within their right to do so. We condemn any killing of any kind and believe any group of any kind that does this is wrong.”

“We want to strive for balance, but we’ve always said what Hamas did on that day was against Islamic teachings. You have to acknowledge the whole historical situation, and there is so much nuance in this. Calling for a ceasefire was our fire step. We have now moved on to release our calls for action. It’s straightforward and we feel balanced. It acknowledges that what Hamas did was wrong; it also calls for all hostages to be let go.”

During last Wednesday’s parliamentary vote on whether to back a ceasefire, 231 MP’s chose to abstain. The MP for Morden and Mitcham, Siobhain McDonagh, was one of them. When asked whether he agreed with her decision, the Imam said: “I think all leaders, not just Siobhain, have a responsibility to know that if they are not acting in the right way the end will be global destruction. They need to look further than what is happening right now.”

“Of course everyone has their own individual choices, but I think they need to keep this message in mind. If you’re a leader in any capacity, your responsibility is huge and if you don’t push towards peace then you have to understand that we are staring at world war three.”

Alongside its spiritual interest in ending the conflict, the mosque also has a personal connection to the events in Israel and Palestine. According to Mahmood, the mosque has a number of families that have relatives currently living in Palestine. Mahmood told the LDRS: “They are very concerned about their families’ safety, and it is a concern that is constantly top of mind for them. Unfortunately, some members have lost close family members. Trying to stay in touch and get updates is hard due to the conflict and internet connectivity.”

The mosque, situated on London Road next to Morden train station, was completed in 2003 at a cost of £15 million. This money was raised entirely from donations of Ahmadi Muslims. The mosque can accommodate a total of 13,000 worshippers, many of whom arrive from the nearby Modern tube station or adjoining Modern rail station.

Its presence in the community has had a sizable impact on Modern and its surrounding areas, as the Imam told the LDRS. “I was born and raised in Tooting and Morden used to be such a different area. There was no real excitement or buzz about this place. Over the years it has grown and grown. This area now caters to us and our food. You could say Tooting has come to us.”

Mahmood added: “The council sees a lot of advantages to having us here. As the Mosque has built up the community has grown. Originally there might have been three to five Muslim families around here, this actually used to be quite a heavily BNP voting area. Now there are thousands. The mosque certainly draws people in.”

In the past the mosque has also been used for a number of non-faith related activities, including as a vaccination centre during COVID. Its large halls also regularly host educational and sporting events. Mahmood described their presence in the community as “a win-win for the council.”