A splinter group of worshippers are calling on those responsible for the day to day running of their mosque to modernise, however senior figures have labelled the campaign ‘disingenuous’.

The Friends of Harrow Central Mosque (FoHCM) group are calling for ‘free and fair’ elections after trustees decided to ban a prayer group for women, hiked membership fees from £5 to £20 despite a 500-strong petition, declined to have sermons done in English and are being accused of closing off the mosque to the non-Muslim community.

Behind-the-scenes discussions have been going on between the elders of the mosque, in Station Road, Harrow, and the campaigners over the past 18 months but have proved unproductive.

Harrow Mosque is first in London to be Fairtrade  

Charity sector worker and FoHCM campaigner Usman Azam, 27, of Rayners Lane, said: “All communities and organisations have their troubles, and obviously it is always ideal to deal with these things internally.

“The reason we have gone public is that we feel frustrated after 18 months of seeking to resolve these problems. It has not got anything to do with power mongering. If that was the case then we would not be calling for free and fair elections.

“What is important is that both parties have agreed to engage in a mediation process.”

The group have called for five changes to be made by the elders of the mosque.

  1. Free, fair and impartial elections
  2. A 90 day grace period for people to register for membership
  3. Membership fee to revert to £5 as per the petition signed by 500 people
  4. Membership register to be independently verified and all free members and conflict of interests to be declared
  5. Elections to be supervised by an independent and impartial body

Mr Azam added: “[It is] important is that we would want us to be able to look at the mosque and to be able to call it a real community hub where all are welcome, not just a Muslim centre.

“Of course, the leaders of a religious community need to be in touch with, in our case, Islamic heritage and law, but they also need to be aware of the modern environment and to be in touch with reality.

“What you see in the mass media are myths or exaggerations which portray the wrong image, so there are questions that the media need to ask themselves, but for us locally, by being more open, and being inviting to the wider community, we can address this head on ourselves.”

One of the grievances at the five-floor mosque, which is the only purpose-built mosque in Harrow, is that the trustees which banned the Sister’s Tafseer circle, which had been active for eight years, without notice.

A worshipper at the mosque, Arusha Afsar, one of the women who attended the now-banned Sister’s Circle, wrote on a Facebook post criticising the trustees: “Allah only knows how much effort and investment we have put into the masjid [mosque] and now we are the ones being thrown out.”

In an online statement on the mosque’s website, it is stated that organisers of the Sister’s Circle refused to disclose the speakers and activities of groups, required by the rules set out by the mosque.

Responding to the campaigners, general secretary Rizwan Mirza told the Observer: “What we are striving for here is stability, not change. There is a massive amount of work being done here that a fringe group are undermining, which is unfortunate.

“We have engaged our community in charitable work for St Luke’s Hospice and our work with the Sufra food bank, and truth be told these are the issues we are concerned with, alongside harmony and peace, while they are looking to point people in another direction.

“We are the first mosque in the country to host its local police commendation awards, and were also given Fair Trade status also, so our connection to the wider community is there for all to see.

“With the membership fees, the truth is that we are in £500,000 of debt which they do not appear to be interested in, and yet during Ramadan our worshippers donated £200,000 which I believe is an incredible sign of faith in what we are doing.

“There will be elections at the end of the year. We are regulated by the charity commission so it is disingenuous for them to call for elections which are already taking place.”