Influential British Muslim dies at age 92

SHAFAQNA – Hafiz Patel, one of the most influential Muslim leaders in Britain, has died. He was reported to be 92.

Mr Patel was the leader in Britain and Europe of Tablighi Jamaat, a global Islamic missionary movement that encourages Muslims to be more religiously observant.

Huge crowds of mourners attended his funeral in Dewsbury on Friday.

A Muslim community organisation in Bradford called Mr Patel a “pioneer of Islamic identity in Britain”.

News website Islam21c reported Mr Patel had died on Thursday at the age of 92.

He had set up a seminary for imams and Islamic scholars in Dewsbury in 1978.

Ishtiaq Ahmed, from the Bradford Council for Mosques, said: “We are all very saddened and shocked by his death. He will be missed by thousands in Britain and Europe.

“He was a pioneer, a visionary when it comes to the Islamic identity, and the place of the Muslim community in Britain.

“He established Dewsbury in West Yorkshire as a centre for European Muslims in Britain as far back as 1978. He also was a strong believer in British home-grown Islam.”

Conservative missionary leader

Every week large numbers of Muslims from around the world converge on an Islamic centre in Dewsbury. They are “tablighis” – lay people taking time out to do missionary work.

The man responsible for attracting them to this corner of Yorkshire is Hafiz Yusuf Patel. He was invited to Dewsbury in the 1960s by local Gujarati Indian Muslims who wanted a religious guide.

Such was his influence that the popularity of the Tablighi Jamaat movement grew across the UK. Dewsbury became home to the movement’s European headquarters.

Despite Hafiz Patel’s importance, and the success of his organisation, little is known about the Tablighi Jamaat by outsiders.

Its media shyness, and the fact that some convicted terrorists have spent time in it, fuelled suspicion. But the organisation’s preaching is apolitical and strictly non-violent.

The Tablighi Jamaat has done much to give Islam in Britain its conservative character and that perhaps is the most significant part of Hafiz Patel’s legacy.

BBC religious affairs correspondent Caroline Wyatt said Mr Patel was one of the most important figures in making Tablighi Jamaat (which means society for spreading faith) a global movement, particularly in spreading its work throughout Europe and the Americas.

The organisation was founded in India in 1926 and is closely linked to the conservative Deobandi school of Sunni Islam.

Estimates for its global membership today range from 12 million to 80 million, with European members thought to number at least 150,000.

The group’s plans to build what became known as a “mega mosque” in Newham for up to 9,000 worshippers at a time, near the Olympic Park in Stratford were rejected in 2015 by the Department for Communities and Local Government after a long-running planning battle.

More than 250,000 people signed an online petition opposing the plans for the mosque in 2007, claiming to represent “the Christian population of this great country England”.

They said the mosque would cause “terrible violence and suffering”.

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