Revealed: Labour’s Rochdale by-election candidate has helped raise millions for extremist mosque

Azhar Ali is a trustee of a mosque where preachers have voiced support for terrorists


Labour candidate for Rochdale Azhar Ali launches his by-election campaign on February 7 (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Labour’s Rochdale by-election candidate, Azhar Ali, is a trustee of a mosque where preachers have voiced support for terrorists and attacked Zionism as the result of “totalitarian brainwashing”, the JC can reveal.

The mosque, which has received millions of pounds in cash fundraised by Ali, last month hosted preacher Asrar Rashid, who told worshippers that Hamas and its allies would “boot out” the Jews from all Israel and urged them to support the Houthis as part of the “axis of resistance”.

Rashid also attacked the government’s proscription of Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist organisation, adding that Sir Keir Starmer was “just as draconian as the Tories”.

In the past ten months, the Sultania mosque in Brierfield – said to be the biggest in Lancashire – has hosted other speakers who have urged parents to “de-programme” their children if they were taught about LGBT issues at school, attacked “liberalism, modernism and feminism”, and claimed modern education amounts to a form of “totalitarian brainwashing” that causes some to think that “Zionism is a valid philosophy”.

The party’s selection of Ali to fight the 29 February election following the death of the sitting Labour MP Tony Lloyd raises fresh questions about Starmer’s commitment to fighting extremism in the party.

Two Labour MPs, Zarah Sultana and Apsana Begum, delivered speeches at last weekend’s anti-Israel march where protesters called for an intifada and expressed support for the Houthis. MP Kate Osamor has had the Labour whip withdrawn after comparing the “genocide” in Gaza to the Holocaust on Holocaust Memorial Day.

Ali is facing a determined challenge from George Galloway, the former Respect party leader, whose campaign is focused on attacking Labour’s support for Israel in the current Gaza war.

Ali, the Labour group leader on Lancashire County Council, confirmed via his spokesman that he has been a trustee of the mosque for many years, and helped raise millions of pounds to rebuild it.

As recently as February last year, Ali was described in a social media post by the mosque that included his phone number as one of its two “service coordinators” who could advise on membership. In the past he has happily publicised his connection to the mosque, which is in his home town.

“Proud as a Trustee to show Lord and Lady Shuttleworth around the £4 million Sultania mosque in Brierfield this lunchtime,” he tweeted in February 2015. Later, in August 2017, he led a reception committee that welcomed then-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn at the mosque.

However, on Wednesday his spokesman told the JC that Ali plays “no part” in its management and does not support extremist views. Nevertheless, it is understood that he has no plans to resign as a trustee.

​In his inflammatory sermon, Rashid said that Israel was a “white, settler colonial entity” which wrongly deemed Palestine to be its land. He compared the Jewish state to Algeria when it was a French colony, saying: “France occupied Algeria for over 150 years, but today Algeria is independent. The settler colonial entity should not think now that Palestine belongs to it, because in the same the way Algeria booted out their settler colonial entity, the resistance will boot out the settler colonial entity that we have in Palestine.”

He added that his audience should “expect imminent victory”, claiming that the Israelis were cowards and the letters IDF stood for “Israeli Diaper Force”. Rashid said: “They call themselves a defence force, but many times when their fighters have been killed, they have been found wearing Pampers.” But they were, he added, “guilty of genocide”.

He repeatedly used the term “axis of resistance”, a phrase coined by Iran to describe its terrorist proxies Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis. He went on to encourage support for the Yemeni terror group because they fighting “the Zionists”.

As for the proscription of the jihadist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, he said it showed Muslims “have been passive for too long”, and needed a “battle plan”.

Ali has never made any secret of his support for the Palestinian cause. He accused Israel of “genocide” during its conflict with Hamas in 2014, and during the 2021 war spoke on a platform with speakers who called for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

In October, he was one of 38 Labour councillors in Lancashire who signed a letter to Starmer saying comments the Labour leader had made about the war had provoked “fury” and “outrage”.

Starmer had said in a radio interview that Israel had the right to cut off power and water to Gaza. Although he later clarified this by stating he had been discussing Israel’s broader right to self-defence, the letter Ali signed said this “fell short of the community’s expectations”.

Afterwards Ali told local reporters that he wanted Starmer to oppose the British government’s support for Israel and to demand an immediate ceasefire.

Ali’s spokesman told the JC: “He is a trustee of at Sultania Mosque, but has no part of the day to day management committee, nor does he support the views from extremist preachers.”

“Azhar Ali was a senior government adviser on national security issues after the 7/7 bombing and has worked closely with interfaith organisation, including the Jewish Board of Deputies to root out antisemitism in communities.”

“Azhar’s politics is about uniting communities rather creating division, that is what he will do in Rochdale.”

The JC spoke to the mosque administrator, who said he did not wish to make any comment on Rashid’s sermon or those given earlier by others.

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