Saddam's Mosque in England
In the heart of Birmingham, England there is a mosque called "Saddam Hussein Mosque". Although the name has been changed from the outside, it remains engraved in English and Arabic on alabaster inside the mosque.
It was inaugurated in April 1988, the same time the Anfal campaign began in Iraqi Kurdistan by the Iraqi regime that destroyed thousands of villages and killed tens of thousands of civilian Kurds.
"I was shocked when I learned about this mosque." said a Kurd living in the city.
Before the Iraq war began in 2003, the name of the mosque glittered in big golden letters on the outside. Now, it has been changed to "Birmingham Jame Mosque".
Built with red bricks, the mosque looks over Birchfield Road. In the unique Islamic style, four arches stand in the front. There is a golden dome on top of the mosque, next to a tall minaret.
A shelf for shoes is positioned next to the stairs that lead to a hall on the second floor from one side and to an arch from another, where a small shop and some corridors could be seen in dim light.
Between the shop and the staircase, there is an inscription in Arabic and English on a big alabaster stone on the wall that reads:
In the name of God the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, The mosque of President Saddam Hussein, The decision to build this mosque was made by President Saddam Hussein, the president of the Republic of Iraq and it was carried out in 1988.
We were busy taking photographs of the alabaster stone when a number of worshipers wearing Pakistani white dresses passed by us. They were suspicious about our presence. It seemed they wanted to know the reason for our visit.
I walked towards one of them who was an elderly man. "I want to speak to the Imam," I said.
He pointed towards the stairs and said, "He is upstairs."
There was a group of worshipers near the stairs and when I walked by them, I tried to appear friendly by smiling and greeting.
I asked for the Imam's office again. The pointing fingers, one by one, led me to the Imam. The first thing we heard from him was that "photography inside the mosque is prohibited. You can go and take photos outside."
I went on asking questions and explained that I was a journalist. He led me upstairs to his office, which looked more like a governmental office. Another man followed us and stood next to the Imam while he sat behind his desk, as if he was waiting to get a stamp on his documents from a bureaucrat.
The Imam said, "We have an official spokesperson. We can not give any statements. This is his phone number, you can contact him." But I managed to start a conversation after all.
"This is a Sunni mosque," he told me. "President Saddam Hussein allocated two million British pounds to its construction. It was opened in April 1988."
The word April echoed in my head. I wondered what secrets lay in his building a mosque here, while he was massacring the Kurds in Iraq.
It is said that a charitable Pakistani man named Hazretima Qazi took the request to the embassies of Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Iraq in London. At that time, the war wounds between Saddam's Sunni regime and Khomeini's Shiite regime were still fresh, and Britain had good relations with Saddam. The former Iraqi president donated two million pounds to the project, prompting the mosque's administrators to name it after him for his charitable work.
The two men took us downstairs to the small shop inside the mosque. They showed us an old picture of the mosque carrying its previous name and handed over a folder that contained details of the charitable works of Saddam in Britain, Senegal, Australia, Canada, Mali, and Sri Lanka.
A worshiper, who heard our conversation, joined us, before he stopped to pray for the soul of Saddam and wish victory to the Mujahideens [insurgents in Iraq].
"The Iraqi Shiites wanted to take this mosque back from us," said the man, "but they did not succeed." Two other worshipers agreed with him by nodding their heads.
Later on we called Ahmed Qazi, the son of Hazretima Qazi, who is now the mosque spokesperson. Qazi denied that attempts had been made by the Iraqi government to take back the mosque, but confirmed the "existence of a group of Shiites who wanted to do just that, but thanks to God it did not happen."
He added that the mosque is registered with the United Kingdom government as a formal institution, and no one can take it from them.
Regarding changing the name of the mosque, the British media reported that the building was repeatedly attacked by local people, leading to a name change in 2003. Despite these and other aggressions--threatening letters were also sent-- and Qazi told Rudaw, "We changed the name because it was necessary for official paper work."
The Kurds of Birmingham say they knew of the mosque under its former name. "When I first heard of it, I did not like it and was worried and amazed," said Dilzar Ahmed, a 34-year-old Kurd from Erbil living in Birmingham. "When I think about it, I remember all that we went through at the hands of Saddam."
Ahmed added, "It's all because of him that we're here. Now he is still here with us."
Hajar Ali, 21, from Kalar, said, "It was normal for me when I first heard about it. I expected to see such things in European countries."