The Charity Commission issues regulatory ‘guidance’ to Walthamstow charities Miftahul Jannah Academy and Masjid-E-Umer Trust after complaints about the content of their youth programmes

In the autumn of 2021, complaints were made to the Charity Commission about two Waltham Forest Muslim charities, the Miftahul Jannah Academy and the Masjid-E-Umer Trust (which runs Walthamstow Central Mosque).

At the centre of the complaints was ‘Islamic scholar’ Muhammad Patel, who had taught young people at both charities from 2008 onwards, with live recordings of his weekly lectures then being posted on the web for posterity. 

Mr. Patel’s comments about the Taliban, armed jihad, and Jewish perfidy appeared to fall foul of Charity Commission guidance.

Moreover, he also had instructed his class in ways which seemed to be deeply corrosive of social cohesion, for example mocking ‘so-called human rights’, stating that ‘as a general rule’ women are less intelligent than men, damning homosexuality as ‘unnatural’ and ‘reprehensible’, and, perhaps most pernicious of all, contending that true Muslims must hold ‘the Kuffar’ (an offensive term for ‘non-believers’) at arms’ length, or risk annihilation:

‘All believers…You must only take Muslims as…your close friends, your bosom friends…Otherwise they [the Kuffar] will destroy you…Because they will not give up until they corrupt you…they will love to harm you terribly…they can’t hide their enmity of Muslims and Islam…But that which they hide in their hearts is even greater…these people look like your friends but they are not your friends…these people can never be your friends’.

Scroll forward a year, and the Charity Commission has delivered its verdict:

‘The Commission first engaged with the trustees of Miftahul Jannah Academy and Masjid-E-Umer Trust in September 2021 and October 2021 respectively, to seek their response to a number of concerns that had been raised – both directly with the Commission and also as reported in the press. Such concerns included…statements made by the individual Muhammad Patel. 

Throughout the course of our subsequent engagement, over a period of several months, the Commission sought further detailed information and assurances from the trustees. In June 2022 the Commission issued regulatory advice and guidance to the Charities under section 15(2) of the Charities Act 2011, which set out a number of actions to be addressed by the trustees. Having assessed all of the information available to us and, giving regard to the action already taken by the trustees in response to the concerns raised, the Commission determined that no further regulatory action was required at that time. The Commission does however intend to follow up with the Charities to ensure their compliance with our regulatory advice and guidance, and to assess whether the trustees are effectively discharging their legal responsibilities and delivering against their Charity’s objectives’. 

For the Charity Commission to act in this way is a definite plus. On the other hand, its unwillingness to release details about the nature of the trustees’ ‘assurances’ and ‘actions to be addressed’ is disappointing, and leaves several important questions hanging in the air.

The Miftahul Jannah Academy and the Masjid-E-Umer Trust had, and have, a high profile locally, and Mr Patel’s lectures were made openly available. 

It’s established, too, that it was only because of external complainants that the Charity Commission eventually became involved.

This inevitably focuses attention on the two charities’ trustees, their other staff, and the parents of the young pupils. Were they unaware of what was going on? Were they perhaps hoodwinked? Or did they think that Mr. Patel’s more controversial comments were trivial or inconsequential?

As a previous post on the same subject pointed out (see links below), this kind of episode also prompts reflexion about what LBWF can do to help prevent a repeat.

There is no doubt that any intervention will have its difficulties. LBWF has finite resources. Even if many will find his views distasteful, Mr. Patel, like other religious zealots, is entitled to freedom of speech, and whether he has crossed any legal red lines may not be easy to establish.  Councillors with faith affiliations are likely to spring to his defence. And so on. 

Yet, that accepted, LBWF certainly does have sufficient powers to take action if it so wishes. Most important of all, it has a statutory duty to safeguard the borough’s young people. More broadly, it also can underline that it has adopted various policies promoting social cohesion and actively discouraging hate crime, has regularly disseminated them in public, and has a legitimate expectation that they should be heeded.

However, possessing powers and exerting them are obviously two different things, and historically the Labour hierarchy running LBWF has tended to give religious institutions, Muslim or not, a free pass, presumably for fear of antagonising their adherents, and thus losing voters.

A previous post documented a revealing interaction with a branch of the Wesleyan Church in Leytonstone (again, see links below) but of greater significance here is the uncomfortable fact that even while, according to The Times, Mr. Patel was telling his young audience about the ‘wretched’ and ‘dirty’ qualities of Jews, a quick Google search shows that LBWF was providing Borough of Culture funding to run a ‘Masjid-E-Umer Trust Cycling Fun Day’.  

On the basis of precedent, therefore, the chances that LBWF suddenly will become more interventionist are slim. 

Nevertheless, it is only fair to point out that when contacted about the Charity Commission investigation shortly after it was made public in October 2021, LBWF Leader, Cllr. Grace Williams, told this blog:

‘I, too, was shocked by that article in the Times. The behaviours described do not accord with the values of the Council or my own personal values.

I can confirm that Council has never funded or supported this organisation and that Officers have been in close and coordinated contact with the Charity Commission, and other interested partners, since publication of the article. We expect to receive the Charity Commission report shortly. 

The Council will then consider the report and respond in a comprehensive and proportionate manner, using any safeguarding powers we have, appropriately and as required’.

That Cllr. Williams was apparently unaware of the ‘Cycling Fun Day’ is discouraging though not unexpected. 

But of much greater importance is the matter of whether subsequently LBWF has taken the steps she believed were necessary.

It will be interesting to find out.

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