From The Telegraph U.K.
Qatar donates £1.5m for mosque after intervention from Jack Straw
Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, has helped secure a £1.5m donation to a mosque in his constituency from the Emir of Qatar.
By Duncan Gardham, Security Correspondent
Published: 2:37PM BST 11 Oct 2009
Mr Straw wrote a letter of introduction for his friend and political ally, Lord Patel of Blackburn, who wanted to persuade the emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, to spend £1.5m, half the total needed to build the five-storey mosque.
The gift came after Mr Straw, then leader of the Commons, accepted free first-class flights and accommodation for himself and his wife for a four-day trip to the emirate in April 2007. He declared the trip in the MPs’ register of interests.
Liberal Democrats in Blackburn, Mr Straw’s constituency, claimed the Labour party had used the donation to the Bicknell Street mosque in order to garner votes from local Muslims.
Concerns over foreign funding have led Italy, France and Spain to introduce checks on the sources of foreign money used to build mosques.
Professor Anthony Glees, an expert on the influence of Islamic groups, said: “I think it’s a matter of grave concern that our institutions should receive unregulated funding from individuals and organisations about which we know practically nothing.”
Haras Rafiq, co-founder of the Sufi Muslim council, said large foreign donors expected mosques to reflect their beliefs, and this was squeezing out moderate Muslims. “This has been a huge problem for the last decade. Some of the biggest mosques and institutions in the UK have been funded by foreign money and have been proven to be portraying extremist viewpoints.
“Money speaks and we need to ensure that the money is not coming from the wrong people.”
The Emir of Qatar has an image as a pro-western reformist and moderniser and his country is the base for a significant US military presence.
However Qatar has also provided aid to Hamas and offered support to the extremist Muslim Brotherhood and to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan who has been indicted for war crimes in Darfur.
The emir, who seized power from his father in a bloodless coup in 1995, is the founder of the controversial al-Jazeera television channel which includes among its presenters Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has praised suicide bombings and is banned from the UK.
Like Saudi Arabia, which also funds a number of mosques across Britain, Qatar follows the fundmentalist wahhabi form of Islam.
Mr Straw was moved from his job as foreign secretary in 2006 amid claims that he had upset President Bush with his views on the Middle East.
Lord Patel, a former businessman who is chairman of Blackburn’s central mosque, said Mr Straw gave him “a reference letter” and added: “It was a general letter introducing me. He is a Blackburn MP and he wrote that as a Blackburn MP.”
Mr Straw’s spokesman said: “Jack is entirely comfortable with his role in this. He is proud of his efforts to support all sections of the community in Blackburn. He does not know whether his trip to Qatar, in his role as MP for Blackburn, had any bearing on the donation to the mosque.”