When I read the Mirror article it made me laugh but the Guardian took things to another level. People were making allegations that the brothers had intimidated people. These allegations were backed up in print by the Police. Would they be backed up in court? I and the Mets security camera have definately filmed a lot of hot-headedness but most of what I had seen was between journalists and masked Muslims. What had been happening whilst I was away?
I called Jamal who assured me that it was all lies. Feeling a bit better I called Mr. Abdullah. He denied it all.
“You’ve been up there with us for many months you know how it is. They’ve been trying to push me out the whole time.”
“But I’ve also seen your brothers in masks jostling with the media, how do you know some of them didn't act outside of your control?”
I repeated a few of the Guardian allegations to him. He was adamant that it was all lies.
"When you accept a leader in Islam you do what they tell you, no one would have followed anyone home to beat them up."
I wanted to meet up to film. But where? I suggested one of the cafes Muslim Cypriots frequent in South london.
"I wont set foot in them. They are full of drug dealers."
I asked if we could film at Hajj's place. He asked me to call him. Had they fallen out?
I called Hajj and he said that he had dropped out of the whole thing months ago. He had advised Abdullah to compromise with the trustees, he couldn’t stand the bad atmosphere up there. When I put the Guardian allegations about intimidation and violence to him he said
“I don’t know and I don’t want to know.”
Hajj wasn’t happy to film at his and wherever Abdullah was, they didn’t want me to know about either. This worried me slightly as Hajj and Jamal were the people who had made the most effort to reach an understanding with me over the last two years.
Could the guys have been beating people up? I wanted to believe Abdullah. It seemed to me over the last two years that one of his biggest failings was his uncompromising honesty, but in the background I saw pictures of unruly masked Muslims who didn’t trust me and were advising against working with me even after the colossal effort I have made over two years to understand their side.
I finally met Abu Abdullah about 10 pm on Thursday in the same fish and chip shop they had taken me to over a year ago wearing exactly the same sunglasses he had been pictured in on the front cover of the Mirror. He refused to take them off throughout the interview.
“Wicked sunglasses.” I told him. I came straight to the point.
“You had better be telling me the truth about all this. I don’t want to waste my time if you are just a bunch of bully boys.”
He assured me he was telling the truth.
“Look you’re going to have to take your sunglasses off. If you want anyone to believe you they want to see your eyes man.”
“If they want to vilify me and accuse me looking like this then this is how I will defend myself. I’m not here to make anyones life easier.”
“Oh, I know that.” I told him.
This was the first time I had seen him since last November when we had arranged a meeting to talk about filming a serious documentary, which he had pulled out of at the last minute because I hadn’t phoned to confirm.
“You know I’m going to have to go quite hard on you if you want to defend these allegations.”
“You do what you have to do. I am telling the truth.”
I put my headphones on and switched on the camera, hopeful that the sound of sizzling chips wouldn’t encroach to much.
I asked him to repeat the events of the last week. He told me how their caretaker had called him when a group of people had turned up to take over the Mosque. The Police were inside and barred him from entering the Mosque. There had been no trouble and after an argument he left.
I asked him if they had enforced their will by violence and intimidation, which he denied. I repeated Kamal Helbawy's allegations that people were afraid to go and pray there because of him and his friends. He said that all were welcome to pray there. I was struggling over the questions because I couldn’t read the hastily written notes I had made from the internet only half an hour earlier.
Abdullah hadn’t read the Guardian article, but particularly wanted to address what was written about him in the Mirror.
“You know that I don’t believe that the British people are filthy. I never said that. I was talking about the Politicians. They know that.”
"Do you remember the guy from the Mirror?" I asked.
"Yes and I suspected him." he answered.
“When I arrived at the mosque you preached against people with facial piercings on three separate occasions. I've got facial piercings.Were you threatening me?” I asked.
“No. no. In Islam it is my duty to teach. If someone comes who is doing something wrong I have to tell them.” He faltered slightly looking really apologetic. I was aware that away from his mosque, in a South London chippy we were just two British people sitting across a table talking.
“But your tone is quite angry Mr. Abdullah...” I tried to look at his eyes behind the glasses.
"Just because of the way I say things doesn't mean that I am threatening normal people. My threats are to the people in power..." he sort of tailed off. I'm going to have to ask this one again as it seems to me that its the way Abdullah preaches which is so unacceptable to "Normal BBC society."
"Listen, even my friends on the so called "left-wing" of the media ask me why I am doing this story. They think you are a bunch of nutters. Are you a bunch of nutters?"
"No. We believe in the Koran as it was revealed to the prophet..."
"You preached that a small group of Jewish paedophiles run the planet. Do you understand how crazy that sounds to most people?" I asked.
"In is writtern in their scriptures in Sanhedrinn..."
"That was all written along time ago. Jamal told me that Mohamed maried someone of nine years old, Mr. Abdullah"
" Im not prepared to talk about that until you understand more about Islam."
We didn't get into an arguement but came a bit close.
“You preached from Leviticus 20 that homosexuals should be killed, Mr. Abdullah. Do you advocate Gay bashing?” He looked genuinely hurt that I had asked the question.
“No. Not at all.”
"If I didn't like that and wanted the government to pass a law banning people from preaching from that part of the bible, do you think I'd have any luck?" I asked.
"You may well do."
"And you'd go to prison defending your right to preach from that particular part of the Bible?"
"I may well have to."
"How do you feel about being British?"
“I like Britian, I am British. I am a Muslim first and British second but I am not a threat to the British People. You know that.”
How about what it said in the Mirror about you “Hailing the honourable brothers in Guantanamo Bay?”
“That is true. In Guantanamo Bay Muslims are being held without trial. They are my brothers. I believe that they are innocent.It is the duty of all Muslims to stand up for their brothers who are oppressed all over the world. It is not a choice for Muslims.”
I read more from the Guardian to him:
A senior member of the mosque told the Guardian that he had been surrounded and punched unconscious inside the mosque about a month ago. "I went inside, they just ran at me, I was circled and punched. I woke up after a few seconds, I just walked out. This is not Islam, you can't tell them anything, you will be bullied and attacked."
“Lies. Garbage. It would be totally Haram for me or any Muslim to do any of that.”
“Listen Mr. Abdullah, you preached on many many occasions that the truth would stand clear of all falsehood. Is this the truth?” I asked.
“Yes. Everything I told you is the truth.”
We spoke a bit more about the possibility of a proper documentary with complete access. He said he would be unhappy to do it if Hajj was involved. I told him that I wasn’t really happy to continue without Hajj as he had always been the most friendly person to me of anyone I had met in Finsbury park.
" You asked me them questions like you were a copper." said Mr. Abdullah.
“Look, I am just a film maker. These are serious allegations. I am interested in what people believe and I have no reason to twist people’s words. If this works out for me I want to go to the states to make a film about Republicans.”
“ Do you think they would entertain you? “ he asked.
“ Why not? You did.” I replied.
Abu Abdullah smiled and left still wearing his huge multi coloured mirror shades. It never occurred to me that maybe someone had hit him.
I took my camera home. The next morning I looked through what I had. The tape had jammed every few seconds and the sound was unintelligible. As my thoughts of rushing my tape to channel 4 news faded I imagined how Abdullah complete with shades would be received anyway. I also wondered if this was now my opportunity to try and convince him to turn to my "religion" as he had made so much effort to convert me.
“Coming to a trance party Mr. Abdullah?" In his shades he looked like he was on his way back from one.
Full of nerves I headed up to the Mosque to film.
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