Plan to open mosque in Trocadero in London sparks objections

Harriet Sherwood
Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

A plan to convert part of the famous Trocadero building in Piccadilly Circus in London into a mosque has sparked objections from people who say a place of worship in an area noted for its bars and nightlife is inappropriate.

The Aziz Foundation, a charity that offers educational grants and scholarships to Muslims, has applied to Westminster city council for permission to convert the basement and ground floor of the Trocadero into a place of worship and a community centre.

The Trocadero is owned by Asif Aziz, the chief executive of Criterion Capital, which manages a £2bn property portfolio across London and the south-east. The businessman set up the Aziz Foundation in 2015.

According to the foundation, the mosque proposal would “serve the Muslim community who live and work in the West End and provide community space to those of all faiths and none”.

The basement of the Trocadero has been empty since 2005, it added. The prayer space would be open on weekdays between 11am and 7pm and would be likely to attract fewer than 100 people except for Friday prayers, “which will attract near-capacity attendance” of 1,000.

“This space is needed because there is a lack of capacity for Muslims to pray in the West End at the moment and currently no dedicated prayer space for women,” the foundation said. A separate “contemplation room” and cafe will be open to everyone.

There is a lack of capacity for Muslims to pray in the West End

Aziz Foundation

Many of those objecting to the plan have described the proposal as a “mega mosque”.

Social media has been used to encourage people to lodge objections as part of Westminster council’s consultation process.

A video posted on Friday by The Iconoclast, an anonymous white nationalist vlogger, urging people to oppose the plan because of the dangers it posed to the “native people of this country”, triggered a surge in objections to Westminster council.

One comment posted on Westminster council’s website by “a concerned londoner and english citizen” said a mosque was “totally incongruous with the nature of the area, which had remained a site of culture and entertainment throughout our history. There are no other places of worship in the area and imposing a mosque would change the character of this area beyond recognition”.

Another said: “I think it’s a travesty that we should sacrifice a building that was built before our time in such grand detail to Islam, which is not the religion of this country.”

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A number of objectors said the presence of large numbers of Muslims in the area may make LGBT people living and socialising in nearby Soho uncomfortable, and that a mosque would “change the culture” of the area.

But there has also been support for the plan. “As a disabled Muslim who works in central London and a stone’s throw from the Trocadero, finding a mosque wherein which to pray that is accessible has been fraught with problems as it is always overcrowded in the smaller mosques.

“Yes the location of the mosque causes controversy amongst the locals, however, as far as Muslims are concerned we want a place to worship, not incite hatred,” said one.

Another said the mosque “will help regenerate the area and showcase London’s multicultural diverse nature, highlighting to visitors from around the world that it is an inclusive and welcoming city to all faiths and cultures”.

Westminster council’s consultation on the proposal closes on 28 May, and a decision is expected later this year.