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Canterbury mosque in Giles Lane blocks radical preachers from London, reveals Muslim leader Raschid Sohawon

By Gerry Warren

A Muslim leader has rejected a plea from radical preachers to speak to young members of the faith at a Canterbury mosque.

Raschid Sohawon revealed he was forced to turn down the request after quizzing the trio, from London, about the message they wanted to preach.

He was speaking in the wake of calls for America to carry out air strikes on terror organisation Isis, which is marauding through Iraq and making a call to arms to British Muslims to join them.

Raschid Sohawon outside the Canterbury Muslim Cultural Centre

Mr Sohawon fears any renewed bombing in the Middle East could whip up anti-West feelings among young members of the faith in the city.

But he said he would try to dissuade men from his mosque in Giles Lane who might be considering signing up to the jihad.

The 61-year-old Mauritian, who used to manage the immigration detention centre at Dover, fears the image of Islam is being distorted by the focus on extremists and factions trying to take over Iraq.

He said: "Five men with their faces covered holding guns and threatening violence on an internet video do not represent five billion Muslims.

"The problem is that their negative and misleading interpretation of the religion is being focused on and I will not tolerate it or extreme views at the mosque.

"We had three preachers from London who wanted to come to our mosque, but when we quizzed them and found out what their radical message was, both I and the Imam said 'No thanks'.

"But I do worry that if the tensions escalate and there are reprisals here, that could lead to our own members being attacked."

British Muslims Reyaad Khan and Nasser Muthana in a jihad recruitment video

Mr Sohawon said the Canterbury Muslim Cultural Centre has a growing membership of around 250 people, of which nearly half are young men aged between 21 and 25.

He said: "We also have members from 17 countries and really do not get involved in political discussions.

"We had three preachers from London who wanted to come to our mosque, but when we quizzed them and found out what their radical message was, both I and the Imam said 'No thanks'..." - Raschid Sohawon

"But I do understand how some Muslims feel they are being targeted by the west and we have members with families in Iraq who they are naturally worried about.

"If America begins bombing in Iraq again, I fear that will only open another can of worms and create more feeling of Muslims being under attack, because there are bound to be innocent casualties.

"I can't stop people thinking that but all I would say to anyone thinking of going to Iraq to fight for an organisation like Isis is 'What are you fighting for – to replace one evil with another?'"

Mr Sohawon was speaking ahead of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month which is a time of fasting, prayer but also charitable giving.

He added: "We are a peaceful mosque and focus on the positive aspects of Islam, which is about prayer and being good citizens and neighbours.

"During Ramadan, we will raise around £4,000 locally which will go to relieve suffering in Muslim countries and disaster zones."

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