Charity bankrolling London Ramadan lights funded extremism-linked group

The Aziz Foundation is funding a media watchdog run by the Muslim Council of Britain, which is boycotted by the government


Ramadan lights on Oxford street in central London, UK

The charity that funded London’s Ramadan lights is bankrolling a media watchdog run by a group which is boycotted by the government over its alleged links to extremism, the JC can reveal.

The lights in Oxford Street and between Piccadilly and Leicester Square were switched on before Easter by London mayor Sadiq Khan, who described the presence of Jewish and other faith leaders as a sign of “hope” amid rising hate in the capital. 

The event was attended by Board of Deputies vice-presidents Edwin Shuker and Amanda Bowman, as well as interfaith activist Laura Marks.

Yet the charity behind the lights, the Aziz Foundation, funds the Centre for Media Monitoring, run by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which has been boycotted by the Conservative government since 2015.

The current deputy chief of the MCB praised Hamas’s founder during a visit to Gaza as a “holy warrior” and has hosted a cleric who compared Jews to pigs and monkeys.

The MCB’s deputy general secretary, Mohammed Kozbar, visited the grave of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in 2015 when he travelled to Gaza and met leaders of the terror group.

At the time, Kozbar praised Yassin as “the master of the martyrs of resistance, the mujahid [holy warrior] sheikh, the teacher”.

In addition, the Aziz Foundation supports an “Islamophobia Response Unit” that was originally set up by Muslim Engagement and Development (Mend), a campaign group accused in the Commons of extremism.

The Response Unit is now an independent organisation. One of its current trustees has called Israel a “terrorist state” that should be shunned like North Korea.

A spokesman for the Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “The Aziz Foundation owes its donors, the Charity Commission and the Jewish community an explanation of why it is funding such divisive organisations, some of whose staff have views that are beyond the pale.”

Launched in 2018 by the MCB, the Centre for Media Monitoring aims to study how “mainstream media reporting of Islam and Muslims is contributing to an atmosphere of rising hostility towards Muslims in Britain”.

The CMM features prominently on the Muslim leadership body’s website.

Last month, the CMM held a reception in Parliament to launch its report on coverage of the Gaza war.

One of the speakers was Dr Ghada Karmi, who had earlier described the Hamas attacks of October 7 as “wonderful” in a TV interview with Workers Party MP George Galloway. Karmi said it was admirable that the Hamas fighters “exploded this whole rotten structure”.

The official boycott of the MCB dates back to 2009, when the Labour government severed all ties after its then-deputy leader Daud Abdullah signed the “Istanbul Declaration”, which said the “Islamic Nation” should “carry on with the jihad and resistance against the occupier until the liberation of all Palestine”.

The ban was lifted that same year but reinstated by the Conservatives in 2015.

Ministers ordered a further crackdown on government contact with the group in October after The Telegraph revealed that MoD officials had been seeking help from the MCB to identify and “endorse” suitable Muslim armed forces chaplains.

The Aziz Foundation is financed and chaired by property billionaire Asif Aziz. He is also a member of the board of the Mosaic Network, a charitable initiative founded by King Charles in 2007.

Aziz owns properties in the area, including the Trocadero, where he hopes to build a mosque and Muslim community centre.

His foundation, whose income is more than £2 million a year, declared its support for the MCB’s Centre for Media Monitoring (CMM) in a recent report about its “social impact” from 2019-23. It said the CMM was trying to “change the narrative surrounding Islam and Muslims” by scrutinising media coverage.

The Aziz Foundation’s impact report revealed it also funds the Islamophobia Response Unit (IRU), which “supports people affected by Islamophobia” by providing legal advice and ensuring that victims’ voices are heard.

Now an independent charity, the IRU was set up and run by Mend until 2021. Speaking in the Commons last month, Levelling-Up secretary Michael Gove said Mend was one of five organisations that officials were assessing to see if they fitted the new government definition of extremism.

Gove said Mend gave “rise to concern” for its “Islamist orientation and views” and that it was a “divisive force within Muslim communities” that could “cause real harm to them”.

Since October 7, one of the IRU’s three trustees, Ibrahim Khan, has posted calls on X/Twitter for sanctions against Israel and for it to be made “a pariah state just like North Korea”. On 14 November he posted that Israel was a “terrorist state” that was “illegally occupying and stealing land”.

But under British law, Khan wrote, “I would be imprisoned for expressing support for the main (previously elected) entity that violently resists Israel” – a reference to Hamas. This, he went on, meant the Foreign Office were “liars” when they said they wanted peace.

In another post, Khan said he accepted that Hamas had committed “atrocities”, but “when you selectively curtail free speech especially when Hamas’s enemy is illegally occupying Palestine and murders 10k in three weeks, you can never get to peace”, because “no one makes peace with a gagged man”.

Asked about its support for the CMM and IRU, the Aziz Foundation told the JC: “For the record, The Centre for Media Monitoring and the Islamophobia Response Unit do not have allegations of extremism against them.” It did not respond to further questions.

A spokesperson for the Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “We are alarmed at the Aziz Foundation making donations to such controversial organisations. The MCB has long been boycotted by the government, and its Deputy Secretary-General, Mohammed Kozbar, who was concerningly cited in a recent report on extremism, reportedly praised the founder of Hamas as ‘the master of the martyrs resistance’."

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