More than bricks and mortar

Recent months have seen a sudden upsurge in devotion to the Christian faith amongst followers of the British National Party (BNP) and the English Defence League (EDL). In June the BNP chimed against the Islamic colonisation of Britain, seen in the widespread conversion of churches throughout the land: the Central Mosque of Brent; the former Forest Gate Church; Peckham’s St Mark’s Cathedral; West Didsbury’s Albert Park Methodist Chapel; Oldham’s Glodwick Baptist Church; and 250 year old Brick Lane Church in London’s Spitalfields (once a French Protestant church, a Methodist chapel, a synagogue and now a Bengali mosque). All of these churches — and many more — have fallen to the Islamic invasion.

The BNP are not alone. As the EDL prepare to descend on Manchester on 10 October to protest against Islamic extremism, a video has appeared on the internet, making a rallying cry for England’s Christian heritage.1 In his video entitled, ‘EDL: Defending our heritage & birthright – Manchester Oct 10th 2009’, Lionheart of Luton, Paul Ray, builds a picture of a nation under siege. While it begins with headlines captured from the Daily Mail and the Express to illustrate how Muslims receive special treatment — whilst England’s natives suffer at their hands — this is another ode to the churches of England.

‘Manchester England,’ reads a slide midway through the video, ‘The destruction and desecration of a Christian Church and graveyard to make way for a Mosque’. The slides intersect a video showing a tracked Komatsu digger moving earth within the grounds of Longsight’s St John’s Church. The next slide reads:

Are yesterday’s politically correct Church leaders irrelevant to us in todays United Kingdom? Psalm 81:9 There shall be no foreign god among you; Nor shall you worship any foreign god.

In this video, the EDL has messianic pretensions, likening church leaders to the corrupt Pharisees of old, but they would rather not share the Christian message here. Instead, invoking the book of Samuel, they turn to an earlier saviour for inspiration. The EDL is David to the Muslim Goliath in England’s midst:

The Saul generation of Church leaders is coming to an end with the emerging David’s poised to take their place. Please show God where you stand and pray for the United Defence Leagues and their members

The video from St John’s is followed by newspaper clippings about the resignation of Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali — the only bishop, we are told, who grasped the extent of the threat of Islam to British civil society. Nobody mentions Kenneth Cragg these days, while the intellectually brilliant Rowan Williams is dismissed as some sort of loony. And so it is left to the EDL to defend Christianity, not just from the Muslims, but also from parish priests, pastors and impotent Bishops:

The David generation leaders are already in place and speaking the truth on-behalf of His people
Are you one of them who is willing to stand against the Islamification of this Christian land?

A little probing reveals that the source of the video showing building contractors working on the church site is a BNP supporter, who posts the full version on YouTube entitled, ‘Saint Johns, Christian Graves Desecration’2 with the description, ‘Graves desecrated at Saint Johns Church in Longsight, Manchester, England as Church is converted into Mosque.’ The BNP itself has an article featuring both the video and further photographs on its website.

There is a problem, however. When I researched the history of St John’s, Longsight, I found that it was decommissioned in 1999. Neighbouring St Agnes — ‘in this place will I give peace,’ inscribed above its entrance — now houses the abandoned church’s statue of St John the Evangelist in its nave. It has taken the BNP and EDL an entire decade to lament the loss of this historic place of worship and its descent into disrepair.

Of course, the key issue riling the nationalists is the desecration of the site. But here again there is a problem. A quick enquiry with the City Council reveals that St John’s Church is a Grade II listed building, which means that it is considered nationally important and of special interest.3 To make any changes to such a building requires the owner to apply for building consent.

Lo and behold, we discover that planning permission for a 16 space car park in the church garden was granted early in 2007. In the intervening period, the owners have spent £50,000 repairing the building, which now houses Dar-ul-Ulum Qadria Jilania mosque and Islamic Centre. A photograph on the BNP website clearly shows that the graveyard has been carefully preserved, although the picture has been tagged, ‘grave-in-front-OF-DIGGER’, since the work in the church garden can be seen in the background.

It turns out that the graveyard has not been touched at all. But if it had been, should we not expect the BNP and EDL to be enraged whenever a graveyard comes under the developer’s gaze? Locals certainly protested when a builder obtained planning permission to redevelop a derelict chapel in Coedpoeth, Wrexham, which included plans to build luxury flats and a car park on top of approximately 100 graves in 2007. But as far as I can tell, the BNP did not join their protests.

The truth is, the redevelopment of graveyards is a fairly common occurrence in the United Kingdom. Rehoboth Baptist Church in Horsham, for example, has just completed construction of a seven space car park and garden of remembrance on its former graveyard. Planning permission to remove the headstones without disturbing the actual graves and to block pave part of the site was granted in 2005. The BNP and EDL, of course, will not be protesting about this car park on this graveyard.

And that’s the problem. The BNP and EDL wish to use the redevelopment of church buildings as ammunition against Britain’s Muslim population, but the facts do not support them. Reading their literature, you would imagine that hoards of Muslims were running amok throughout the land, confiscating church property at the expense of lively congregations. Nowhere is the reason for church closures mentioned — ironically for people that speak of a David Generation, a term commonly employed by those concerned with conquering the personal Goliaths of the ego, there is no introspection here.

Nor are the numbers of closures put in context. For while seventeen hundred Anglican churches have been made redundant since 1969, there are still over 48,500 churches of different denominations serving their communities nationwide. Moreover, over the same period, The Church of England opened more than 500 new churches, while continuing to maintain over 16,000 others. If, as some claim, there are now seventeen hundred mosques in the United Kingdom, this is still only 3.5% of the total number of churches in the country (interestingly the Muslim population of the UK is a similar proportion of the whole).

If Muslim worship appears to be more visible than that of the Christian, it could only be because the Muslim still views the Friday Prayer as England’s Christians viewed Sunday Worship one hundred years ago. Even a believer on the borders of his faith still feels duty bound to put on his Friday-best once a week. But it would be misleading to suggest that seventeen hundred mosques have sprung up in place of the seventeen hundred Church of England buildings closed over the past forty years, for Anglican churches have covenants conferred upon them which usually prevent them from being used by other faith communities. While BNP leader, Nick Griffin, has claimed that Church of England buildings are being turned into mosques, ‘up and down the country,’ it is actually rather hard to find any. The closest I can find are a couple of gurdwaras utilised by the Sikh community.

If my own experience reflects a wider trend, I would suggest that only a handful of mosques in Britain are of great note. Converted houses, rooms above shops, disused warehouses and hired halls in multi-cultural centres are all included in the number of mosques in Britain. The Archbishop’s cubbyhole under the stairs for private prayer would not seem out of place in our sometimes ramshackle collection of prayer halls. Nevertheless, it is true that Muslims have bought former churches — notably redundant Methodist chapels which seem to be in great supply.

So the BNP and EDL have a point? Well I don’t think so. While ranting about St John’s, Longsight, they completely ignore St George’s, Hulme, a Grade II listed building built in 1823 which has been converted into a place of residence, a mere two and a half miles away. But why should this surprise us when they also ignore the conversion of former churches into restaurants, gyms, pubs, nightclubs, shops and private apartments? Brixton’s St Matthew’s church is now the Mass nightclub, which promises revellers loud music, all night dance and expensive spirits. O’Neill’s on Muswell Hill Broadway, housed in a grand old church, offers cheap food and Guns ‘n’ Roses. Cheltenham’s St James’ is now an Italian restaurant. St Luke’s in Heywood, Lancashire, located 14 miles from Manchester City centre, has been turned into a huge family home, featuring six double bedrooms. And for between £250,000 and £500,000 you too can own one with estate agents listing hundreds of former chapels, rectories and churches, already converted or waiting to be converted, with planning consent already obtained.

If the BNP and EDL were genuinely concerned about the loss of historic places of worship and the demise of their Christian heritage, they would say to their members, ‘Look, churches are closing all around us because we don’t use them. We need to start making Sunday special again.’ That task, however, would entail asking their followers to take personal responsibility for their lives: that only ten percent of British Christians regularly attend church cannot be blamed on the mainstream political parties, on multi-culturalism or political correctness. It certainly can’t be blamed on the Muslims.

But the likely response of such people would be to say, ‘Don’t bring religion into this.’ Though they claim to be defenders of the faith, they are in fact like the utilitarian jihadis who dispense with the boundaries of religion, claiming that the end will justify the means. Like those who ignore the prohibitions of their faith, the BNP and EDL ignore the message at the heart of the religion they claim to hold dear. When Jesus — peace be upon him — was asked which were the greatest commandments, Christians believe that he replied:

“The first commandment is this: Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”4

If this message is unclear to those of the David Generation, Jesus — peace be upon him — is reported to go on to say, ‘But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’5 And if they insist on bringing, ‘I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword,’6 let them read it in context: Jesus — peace be upon him — knew that most of his people would reject his teachings, which would divide both families and communities. His was a vision of a just society: he overturned the tables of the moneylenders in the temple, he promoted fair treatment of the poor and forgave his enemies. In the context of his time, many of the parables appear as much an assault on the social injustices of his society as messages for spiritual growth.7

More famously, perhaps, we have the Beatitudes: blessed are the are the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the hated, the meek, the merciful, those pure in heart, and the peacemakers.8 A worthy message indeed, but one clearly lost on those self-declared champions of Christianity in Britain, the BNP and EDL.

Last Thursday, twenty Muslim gravestones were pushed over and a number were broken at Manchester’s Southern Cemetery on Barlow Moor Road.9 It is not possible to say at this stage who was responsible and what motivated them, but the Police are treating it as a racially-motivated crime. It is not inconceivable that it was a revenge attack for the alleged desecration of Christian graves at St John’s, Longsight — a mere ten minute, four mile drive away.

Love your neighbour as yourself? Love your enemy as yourself? Blessed be the peacemakers? I will leave you to draw your own conclusions about the authenticity of the nationalists’ new found faith, and where it is liable to lead us.

  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWcGOt4btwY (spiritofstgeorge)
  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Z6o5Ccwb0A (SuperAceofDiamonds)
  3. Listed buildings in Manchester by street, Manchester City Council — http://www.manchester.gov.uk/info/514/listed_buildings_register/1908/a-z_of_listed_buildings_in_manchester/18
  4. Gospel of Mark 12:29-31
  5. Gospel of Matthew 5:44
  6. Gospel of Matthew 10:34
  7. See for example Jesus the Prophet: His Vision of the Kingdom on Earth by R David Kaylor, John Knox Press, 1994
  8. Gospel of Luke 6:20-23 and of Matthew 5:1-14
  9. Manchester Evening News, 2 October 2009 — http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/s/1153293_muslim_graves_targeted_in_hate_attack

16 thoughts on “More than bricks and mortar”

  1. Assalamu alykum wa rahmatullah,

    Jazakallah khayr for the article. Spot on.

    Wouldn’t you agree with me though that wherever you go you’ll find some people who blame all their problems on the outsider / alien / foreigner / immigrant, in short the other but in reality they only have themselves to blame? i.e. it’s a problem resulting from one’s ego?

    And Allah knows best.

  2. Thank you for an insightful and well-researched article. I find it a little futile trying to locate logic behind the hate-messages spewed out by groups like the BNP and EDL, as they don’t have to be coherent or even true to achieve their aim of generating hate and fear. Having said that, I’m still grateful you took the time and trouble to refute and expose the truth of this particular myth.

  3. Very good research. I’m from Malaysia, and I didn’t realize that these things are happening at UK. This is sad, indeed. People need to be informed about this.

  4. I am writing an article for the uni media website around this subject and might link to your article. Very well written.

  5. Well Tim, from the comments above, it appears that the Muslims are happy to agree with their dhimmi. Will you now pay Jizaya, or do you think this article is your contribution?

    If you are not islamophobic, it’s because you haven’t been paying attention. Islam is a religion of peace until there are more of them than of us, then it goes back to being a religion of the sword. Kindly pay attention to the sword on the Saudi flag. Do you think that they are kidding? Are they mild little fabians like you? Where did the cash for the conversion come from? Most of it wasn’t from England. Go ahead, you are pretending to be a journalist, track the money.

    From my experience, most moslems are actually okay people one-on-one. The problem is the minority who actually buy into the 7th century kill the kufr trip: remember that Hitler took over Germany with less than 15% of Germans identifying Nazi. The Ku Klux Klan in my country decided who would and would not be president back in the 1920’s with a similar percentage, and were only demolished because of the leader’s personal failures.

    My muslim friends go along to get along, and the monsters will hide amongst them. What percent in Afghanistan supported the Taleban? What percent in Iran supported the Ayatollah Khomeinei? Saddam Hussein said that he only needed five million Iraqis to support him to control the country, and he was right.

    Fortunately for you and your fellow travellers (yeah, that’s a code word), the BNP has almost 25% support in England. Unarmed as they are, with the compromised MSM against them, they are your best defense, for now. But keep decrying them. Perhaps you will manage to help your new masters defeat them. Remember the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1918? How the True Believers were lined up against the wall?

    The BNP and supporters will be the second to die. You will be the first. The crocodile will not eat you last.

  6. I’m not sure who hasn’t been paying attention. I pay zakat.

    Two points:

    1. As Dar-ul-Uloom Qadria Jilania in Longsight is a Barelvi institution I find it highly unlikely that they accepted any money from Saudi. Many Barelvis are very critical of Saudi, denouncing the Salafi movement as non-Sunni, while many Salafis in turn consider the Barelvis a heretical group. Barelvi institutions are known for turning down loans from individuals in Saudi Arabia for ideological reasons. When you say that most of the money was not from England you need to prove it, because in my experience that is exactly where it comes from.

    2. It seems peculiar that you liken Muslims to Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan, while supporting the BNP, given that the latter’s leader called the Jewish holocaust “a mixture of Allied wartime propaganda, extremely profitable lie, and latter witch-hysteria”, while its deputy leader was filmed making Hitler salutes at a white supremacist cross-burning ceremony. Its links with the European National Front — not to mention David Duke and Don Black — are well documented.

    If you feel compelled to decry your alleged destiny as ahl al-dhimmah, should you not also decry the fate of non-whites under BNP rule? For, according to its policies, the BNP would deport anyone not born in Britain, make non-whites second-class citizens and outlaw mixed-race relationships.

    On the one hand you have a Muslim state’s obligation to protect a non-Muslim’s life, property and freedom of religion, while requiring their loyalty and the payment of the jizya in place of zakat: this is abhorrent. On the other hand you have a political party that stands opposed to any form of racial integration between British and non-European peoples: this is perfectly acceptable. Why the double standards?

    The BNP is not the saviour of England.

  7. I agree with much of what you have written and, like you, I was sceptical. However if you look at the satellite image on Google Maps and the Street View you’ll see that there was a row of headstones lying flat on the ground like a path, running along the west side of the church and it seems they have now gone. Given this is a Grade II listed building I question why those couldn’t have been preserved, maybe located somewhere else in the grounds? Perhaps they have been saved and are waiting to be re-layed? Time will tell.

  8. Hi Gary, thanks for the references. Unfortunately, with my eyes, I can’t quite make out that they are headstones, on either Google Maps or Street View, but I take your word for it.

    That said, the removal of headstones that have already been removed from their proper place is not grave desecration. If anyone is answerable, it would be those who deemed it appropriate to the use them to construct a footpath—in which case a lot of churches in England are going to be in trouble too, as this is a quite common practice.

  9. I’m more interested in the preservation aspect. Things like this connect us with the past and Longsight has lost more than enough of its history. Once the headstones have gone the people who are buried there are invisible.

    On the matter of whether the stones were moved, this photo from 1968 shows headstones near that west wall of the church, so possibly at a later date they were laid flat on top of the relevant graves?

    Photo from 1968

    It isn’t unusual for headstones to lie flat both inside churches and outside and for people to walk over them and for that to date back to the time when the person was first buried or for it to have been done later. So I don’t think putting the stones flat over the existing graves would be an issue.

    If I remember correctly there are many headstones lying flat at the front of the church (alongside St. John’s Road), with some that aren’t, and they have been like that at least since the 1980’s when I lived around there.

    As for whether the ‘path’ was made of headstones. One of the YouTube videos has a shot which shows the name and inscription on one of the broken stones. Obviously these videos have to be treated with caution due to the agenda. But if that name can be matched to the records of someone who was buried at St.John’s then it seems pretty clear that headstones that were there have been broken up on the site and I’d suggest they were probably part of that path.

    I’ve had a response from the planning department and will write more on my website.

  10. While I have no time for this false religion, I think the shoulder of blame lies squarely with the Church of England. Our dear Archbishop I would aquaint as the anti-Christ’s prodigy. How any church leader could condone running sharia law alongside our own common law is indefensible, when that medieval law denigrates women to so many hardships and second class citizenship. No other religion should be allowed to preach on the site of another’s religion or ideology such as islam.

    1. You may find that your dear archbishop is a learned soul you should treasure, since there is a body of evidence to show that the development of common law was influenced by classical Islamic law. See for example, The Islamic Origins of the Common Law by John A Makdisi, June 1999, North Carolina Law Review 77 (5): 1635-1739

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

5 + 5 =