Darcus Howe finds frenzy at the mosque

On a visit to Brixton Mosque, I found frenzy, fist fights and zeal without knowledge

I want to write what I know of our local home-grown suicide bombers, but first let me declare an interest. Mrs Howe's maiden name was Leila Ramadhan Hassan. She grew up in East Africa a devout practitioner of Islam. John Howe and Ashley Howe are my brothers. They live in Trinidad and are converts to the Muslim faith. My last son, Amiri, was conceived in Trinidad 20 years ago and has been a Muslim from the age of two. His mother, Wardah, his sisters Keleke and Kanza and his brother, Masani, are practising Muslims. Wardah's husband, Hassan, is an Islamic scholar.

A couple of years ago, I recorded, in these pages, that Hassan was shot through with bullets in a dispute within the Jamaat al-Muslimeen, an organisation comprising mainly converts who seized power in July 1990 in Trinidad, after conflict with the then government. The military leader of the insurrection was Bilal Abdullah, Wardah's brother and my son's uncle. Only days ago I returned from Trinidad, where I was engaged in a two-and-a-half-hour radio discussion with Bilal about the insurrection on its 15th anniversary.

Recently, I gave evidence in Hassan's and Wardah's application for asylum. It was granted because the judge said that he believed my testimony, and that my expertise on the issue was impeccable. Such knowledge had enabled me to convince Channel 4 to finance a documentary on the movement of black Brixton towards Islam. That was ten years ago.

It began with a few, but the Muslims were able to convince a mass of youths willing to break with the drift to unemployment and criminality. Their parents were mighty pleased by the new religious discipline their children adopted. Among them, too, were some bussing intellectuals who got a platform for their thoughts - a platform they would not have had elsewhere.

With cameras and sound crew in tow, I visited the mosque on Gresham Road, Brixton, a spit away from the police station. Race relations experts, activists and the police had been pleased by what they interpreted as a pacification of black youth, but I saw otherwise and said so. As my old granny would have commented: "Zeal without knowledge is a runaway horse."

The mosque was all frenzy, made so by factions inspired by Middle Easterners who discovered fertile ground in Brixton. Islam knew no race nor nation, said the proselytisers. There was a fist fight one day because the presiding imam was alleged to have given his Friday Khutbah (sermon) by fax from Saudi Arabia. The converts were caught up in this frenzy, having brought to the mosque their naked selves and the anger that informed their search for something new. This is the background for the likes of Richard Reid and Germaine Lindsay.

What is to be done? The military mischief has to be defeated militarily and then some kind of reconciliation sought among young blacks and Asians. Spare a thought, though, for Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian who died by careless hands.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 01 August 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Why Britain is great