Lincoln Tan

Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Imam banned in 'extreme Islam' row

Tension between factions at mosque has seen security stepped up

Sheikh Abu Abdullah.
Sheikh Abu Abdullah.

A Muslim imam accused of teaching "extreme Islam" has been barred for a second time from his Auckland mosque sparking a row between worshippers.

Security guards were called at the end of 12.30pm prayers at the Avondale Islamic Centre yesterday to remove supporters of Sheikh Abu Abdullah, a Salafist imam, from the prayer room where they were seeking support for a "mosque takeover".

Police vehicles were also stationed within the car park at the Blockhouse Bay Rd mosque, and outside, as prayers were conducted in the centre's main prayer room.

Sheikh Abdullah, 50, said the trespass order issued on Monday barring him and all members of his family - including his seven children - from the mosque for two years was unexpected and came as a shock.

He denies that his teachings or views were extremist despite following the Salafi strand of Islam, which is associated with strict and puritanical approaches to the religion.

Two years ago Mr Abdullah, originally from Egypt, was also barred from the same mosque and was arrested and kept in a police cell overnight for breaching a trespass order obtained by the New Zealand Muslim Association (NZMA), which runs the centre.

Most of the other worshippers at the mosque and association board members follow the Hanafi or Shafi'i strand of the faith.

Firoz Patel, chairman of the association, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The centre's vice-chairman, Iqbal Ismail, said he was not informed about the latest decision to ban Mr Abdullah, and had also not been able to contact anyone from the association.

"We don't know why he is being trespassed all of a sudden and that's what we've been trying to find out," said Mr Ismail.

He said the association had accused Mr Abdullah of being an extremist, but he did not believe they had evidence to back their claims.

"New Zealand has its own laws, and if there was any substance at all to the claims then the police would have already acted," Mr Ismail said.

Supporter Shamel Wanis is leading a call to have the imam reinstated and for members to take over control of the mosque from the association.

However, as he began speaking towards the end of prayers, nearly a third of the worshippers walked out.

When he and others calling for a new committee to be set up did not stop talking after 10 minutes, security officers were called.

One worshipper, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisal from Mr Abdullah's supporters, said he was pleased the former Qatar imam was no longer at the mosque.

"I believe in moderate Islam, where we live in acceptance of all other religions, but the sheikh teaches that there can only be one religion for mankind and that promotes intolerance and hate," he said.

But Mohammed Selim, a mosque member for seven months, said he found Mr Abdullah to be a "good leader" and a "peaceful guy".

"I do not accept or believe that there is any truth behind what they say about him, or that there is any reason to trespass him," Mr Selim said.

"The mosque is the house of Allah, not the NZMA, and everyone who wants to pray to Allah should be allowed in."

Ongoing tension between the two factions has resulted in stepped up security at the mosque since 2012.

- NZ Herald

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