A London Orthodox synagogue hosted an “extremist” Muslim cleric who has previously called for jihad against Jews in Palestine.
Concern was raised after news that Catford and Bromley Shul – an affiliate member of the United Synagogue – hosted influential imam Shakeel Begg, together with Christian religious leaders, at an event in mid-July.
Begg is head of Lewisham Islamic Centre and regularly preaches to thousands of members, but in 2013 he sought to sue the BBC for defamation, in a High Court case concluding in October last year, after ‘Sunday Politics’ presenter Andrew Neil labelled him “an extremist preacher… with extremist positions”.
Begg denied this but was unsuccessful at trial, the judge instead finding that he “promoted and encouraged religious violence,” after considering a selection of Begg’s speeches from 2006-11.
The court noted Begg’s fondness for quoting Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia from 1993 until his death in 1999, who was a primary driver of the fundamentalist Salafi-Wahabi Islam.
The judge said Begg quoted bin Baz “without equivocation” in saying that “solidarity amongst Muslims means making jihad against the Jews and fighting the Jews in an Islamic Jihad until the Territory [Palestine] goes back to its proper people”.
The judge added that this was “encouraging offensive jihad against Jews to recover Palestine and return it to the Muslims”. Begg’s lawyers, however, maintained that this is not what Begg meant, and that he had spoken of jihad in a different context.
The killers of slain soldier Lee Rigby attended mosque at Lewisham, and Mr Justice Haddon-Cave warned in his October judgement that Begg was in a position to “plant the seed of Islamic extremism in a young mind”.
However, the shul’s leadership had earlier defended Begg, with Reverend David Rome, an acclaimed Chazan, speaking on Begg’s behalf, recalling the imam’s “significant inter-faith work,” while Gerald Rose, a retired schoolteacher, spoke of Begg’s “valuable work with different schools, including Jewish schools”.
Rome, together with Reverend Stewart Myers of South London Synagogue, spoke alongside Begg and other religious leaders at Catford in July, in an event titled ‘Religious Symbols in Faith.’
It was hailed by shul chair Joe Burchell as “proving yet again the benefit of being part of all communities in South London, an example that other synagogues in north-west London might like to follow”.
However, community members this week vented their anger and asked why the synagogue was associating with Begg, given his past comments.
“Yet again the Orthodox Jewish community has proudly given a hescher to supposed interfaith ‘partners’ who in fact espouse some of the worst forms of extreme Islamism,” said Londoner Jacob Lyons, a member of another US-affiliate shul.
“Our community’s naïve support for people and organisations such as these helps them to mask their underlying messages of violence and terrorism. It hence poses a danger not only to the community, but to the public as a whole. The Orthodox rabbinate would better spend its time and energies focused on the promotion of Jewish life rather than politics.”
David Kaplan, Director of Community Services of The United Synagogue said: “Catford and Bromley are an Affiliate community and so the decisions they take are independent of the United Synagogue. We would always advise our shuls to exercise discretion when hosting speakers and to take advice where necessary.”
Catford and Bromley synagogue have been approached for comment.