“Islam is the only ideology that can change the whole of mankind,” he tells the worshippers in the sun-bleached street. “We’ve been instructed to fight for Islam.”

 

Abu Hamza is a controversial and fiery preacher, condemned by government ministers and communal leaders alike. To the TV cameramen waiting for an extreme aside, he is a novelty turn.

 

To most Britons, he is simply famous for a hook attached to the end of an arm that was partly blown off in Afghanistan. These days Abu Hamza keeps it firmly hidden in a pocket.

 

It was widely reported in the international media that the so-called “shoe bomber” Richard Reid and “20th hijacker” of 9/11 Zacarias Moussaoui, both attended sermons here.

 

Surprising

 

In February, Abu Hamza was himself ousted from his clerical position by the Charities Commission, and the mosque was subsequently raided by the Metropolitan Police.

 

Given all this, it is surprising that the gathering on the street is so diverse.

 

Iraqis in London resent British
occupation of their country

A man who gives his name as Ibrahim says that Abu Hamza is bringing shame on all Muslims. But he still listens to his oratory, and speaks in measured tones when asked about the mood in Britain’s Muslim community this Ramadan

 

“It is one of disappointment and anger at what is happening in Iraq,” he says, “absolute anger, there is no other word for it.

 

“But the Quran tells us that Allah will always help patient people, so we can do nothing but pray and be patient. We are powerless.”

 

Draped in a keffia and standing over two metres, Abd al-Rahman, a 39-year-old cockney security guard looks anything but powerless. He tells me that his prayers have been with the people of Baghdad.

 

“America and Britain are in Iraq just for the oil,” he says, “there never were any weapons of mass destruction, everyone knows the war was illegal. All we can do is to pray for our brothers that Allah may guide them through.”

 

Inner reflection

 

Ramadan is a time for inner reflection, spiritual devotion and increased prayer but it has also been associated with political change, according to Dr Yaqub Zaki, the deputy director of the Muslim Institute, a religious think tank.

 

The demolition of Palestinian
homes by Israelis stirs anger

 “The first victory of Muslims in the battle of Badr took place during Ramadan as did the 1973 war between Egypt, Syria and Israel.”

 

There is little doubt that the atmosphere among sections of the British Muslim community this Ramadan is highly charged.

 

“The mood among the young people is more militant than ever before because of the ongoing crises in Iraq and Palestine,” Dr Zaki says, his Scottish brogue lilting gently. “I think a new generation of politically aware Muslims is emerging.”

 

 “On TV, they see the destruction of Palestinian homes in Gaza and ‘selective assassinations’ by the Israeli army which may just be indiscriminate slaughter. They feel indignant as their governments are doing nothing in the face of such outrages.”

 

Twin feelings

 

These twin feelings - of anger and powerlessness – seem to be creating a passionate but strangely stoic mood, which is nowhere more evident, than among London’s émigré communities.

 

At the Iraqi Community Association Ramadan celebrations in Ravenscourt Park, the table is laid with traditional dishes such as burik and qubba, while families dance to the traditional Iraqi folk music played on stage.

 

Talib Hassan, from Nasiriyah, has been in Britain for 13 years but says he is feeling unsettled. “I find it difficult to stay focussed on Ramadan because I’m always thinking of my family in Iraq and the future of my country,” he tells me.

 

“It is such a different atmosphere there, where people sit outside for iftar and everyone is friendly. We miss that, we really do.”

 

“I find it difficult to stay focussed on Ramadan because I’m always thinking of my family in Iraq and the future of my country”

 

Talib Hassan,

Briton from Nasiriyah

Other Iraqis who have been in the country more recently, have less glowing memories. “When we think of our families, we realise how lucky we are to be here,” says Manar, a 21-year-old student from Baghdad.

 

“Everyone is unhappy about the situation there and Ramadan is the worst time. You can’t even enjoy the holiness of the month or go out with your friends, because your mind keeps going back to your people.”

 

Like many London-based Iraqis, Manar feels some inner conflict at celebrating Ramadan in a country that is occupying a Muslim nation.

 

“We have to respect the country that has removed Saddam Hussein. But you can’t deny that they are now occupying us and we can’t do anything about it. It is difficult. We can’t fight them here, so we try not to talk about it.”

 

Emphasis

 

Manar’s brother, Omar, blames the British media for tensions, which he says are now affecting their parents. “If there’s a bombing, the emphasis is always on how many Americans or British have died,” he says. “What about the civilians who lose their lives?” 

 

Omar believes that such coverage spreads ignorance, but he will not pass blanket judgement. “You can’t blame people for what their government is doing,” he says. “Public opinion here is not reflected in what the government does, so it should be viewed as separate.”

 

Back at the Finsbury Park mosque, when Abd al-Rahman is asked what will happen if governments continue to ignore the anger of British Muslims, his answer is uncompromising.

 

“America and Britain are not the controllers of the world,” he says coldly. “If Allah sends down thunder, there is no man who can stop it.”