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Meet the British Army veteran turned pro-mosque campaigner

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It’s hard to miss Ian Durrant’s house in Lincoln.

A Union flag and the cross of St George flutter 20ft (6.1m) high in his front garden.

Ian says they’re there “because I’m a veteran and I’m proud to be English”. But he admits the flags sometimes give off the wrong impression.

“Someone came to talk to me, and he said, ‘Congratulations on flying the flag, what are you going to do about those bloody Muslims?’ I said, ‘Are you National Front?’ ‘Yes I am, brother,’ he said. So I advised him – using army language – to get out of my garden.”

 

A decade of waiting

With its towering facade, jade green dome and glistening gold crescent, Lincoln’s first purpose-built mosque is already settling into the city’s skyline.

 

n a few weeks the £2m ($2.9m) building will open – more than a decade after its first planning application was submitted to the council.

Ian was one of the mosque’s most vociferous opponents. The former soldier – who served for 25 years in the army – set up a group trying to stop the application.

But he says his reservations were about traffic.

“There was no parking, there would have been nearly 90 cars, and the building only provided 12 parking spaces.”

‘We’ll burn the mosque’

However, things then got nasty. The site where the mosque was planned to be built burned down in unexplained circumstances.

On three separate occasions, groups including the English Defence League (EDL) and East Anglian Patriots marched through the city centre.

Participants shouted chants like “Burn the poppy, and we’ll burn the mosque”.

 

Worried that his campaign against the mosque was being hijacked by anti-Islamic groups, Ian felt compelled to act.

“We had a letter campaign in the press against the EDL, asking people, ‘If you see them, turn your back on them and walk away.’ And they did,” he says.

Rumours flying

Lincoln’s Muslim population is small compared with cities such as Leicester or Birmingham, but it’s long outgrown its current mosque. On Friday – the most important day of the week in Islam – it has to rent a larger community hall to accommodate about 250 worshippers.

 

After the mosque’s initial planning bid failed, a subsequent application at a former dairy site was approved. This placated people like Ian who had been unhappy about the original location, but others were still sceptical about the mosque’s intentions.

Tanweer Ahmed, chairman of the Lincoln Islamic Association, says there were rumours flying around that the new mosque would have “loudspeakers doing the call to prayer five times a day – and some thought we would try and get rid of the local war memorial”.

In reality, he says, local Muslims simply wanted “to feel comfortable”.

So he decided to act – by knocking on every door in the area.

Safety worries

“A lot of people welcomed us – but a few people were not happy. We were giving them leaflets, and they were throwing them straightaway into the bin,” Tanweer says.

Even Muslim people questioned his moves.

“My wife was saying, ‘Why are you doing that?’, and my children were worried that someone could harm me. Some of my colleagues were also worried about safety. And there were some that just didn’t want to do it.”

 

Focusing on the future

Tanweer will be relieved once the mosque opens. But he knows his job isn’t over.

Last year’s terrorist attacks have created a sense of unease among Muslims in the city. Tanweer himself has been verbally abused, and the old mosque has been pelted with stones.

He thinks the Muslim community needs to continue engaging with locals to prevent any more trouble. He hopes the new mosque can help by offering space within the building for non-Muslims to run activities, such as children’s clubs or exercise classes.

“A lot of people don’t know what happens in the mosque, so if they’re using the mosque on a regular basis, they will feel much more comfortable building a relationship with us,” Tanweer says.

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