'We've got to have a dialogue': Ilford Mosque defies protesters by holding Holocaust exhibition
PUBLISHED: 15:00 22 January 2019 | UPDATED: 17:23 22 January 2019
An Ilford mosque hosted an exhibition to celebrate the heroic Albanian Muslims who saved Jews during the Holocaust - defying protesters' calls for its cancellation.
Faith leaders and politicians were among 70 people who attended the Love Your Neighbour exhibitiion at Eton Road Mosque on Sunday, January 20.
Three protestors gathered outside the mosque calling for the exhibition to be boycotted as it is backed by Yad Vashem – Israel’s official Holocaust memorial – whose museum is based in Jerusalem.
“To my surprise, after all these nasty emails and telephone calls and hostility to call the event off, it really went well,” said mosque chairman Bashir Chaudhry.
“Not only did it go very well - it opened all of our eyes.”
He spoke of how Ilford South MP Mike Gapes, who he considers to be an expert on the Holocaust, said “he never knew, until today, the Albanian Muslims’ sacrifice and contribution to save the Jews in their homes and take such a huge risk”.
The exhibition’s original hosts – the Markaz El Tathgheef El-Eslami, based in the Golders Green Hippodrome – cancelled the event days ahead of its initial January 6 run.
A statement attributed to The Markaz, shared on Twitter, said it “did not know of the international connections some organisations had”, asserting that the mosque is a “community hub” with “no connections to any foreign government and stays well clear of anything political or perceived to be political”.
Bashir, chairman of The League of British Muslims, stepped in to host the event.
“Yes, there are issues, but we have still got to have a dialogue,” Bashir said.
“We cannot cut ourselves off completely – at the end of the day we have got to get together to discuss issues and come to some sort of positive solution.”
He added: “I am glad that I took the risk. Redbridge is a leading beacon in community cohesion and respect for everybody.”
Among those attending was Redbridge Council leader Jas Athwal, Fiyaz Mughal of Faith Matters, Vivian Aisen, director of public at the Israeli Embassy; Sara Khan, lead commissioner for countering extremism; and Rabbi Wollenberg who represented Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirviz.
Addressing the audience, cllr Athwal said: “I am so moved by the stories I have read today.
“The courage and compassion displayed by so many Albanian Muslims during the horror of the Second World War is inspiring and I only wish more people could know of their incredible acts of self-sacrifice and bravery.”
“This exhibition tells an important story one which has so often been overlooked.
“I was astounded myself to find out that almost all Jews living within Albanian borders during the German occupation were saved thanks to the overwhelming support they received from Albanian Muslims.”
He said he is currently exploring options for making the exhibition more accessible, including relocating it temporarily to Redbridge Library, in Clements Road.