Muslim cleric ordered to pay back thousands of pounds
A Muslim cleric has been ordered to pay back thousands of pounds to sponsors of a new mosque he never intended to build.
Imam Miah Rahman promised to use the cash to build the place of worship in Brentwood, because the congregation were having to use a local community hall.
But angry donors were left empty-handed when the proposals were shelved two years later and the money mysteriously vanished.
One woman had helped collect more than £84,000 for the project and two doctors handed over more than £15,000.
But when they demanded their money back Rahman argued that the cash was intended as 'gifts' and had been used for other Islamic purposes, Central London County Court heard.
He said the cash was for general work supporting Islam in and around the town.
Judge Nigel Gerald found that Rahman and his co defendant Mohammed Edoo, had never had the intention or ability to set up a mosque in the community.
He said that they had counted on the complainants not being willing to go to court against an imam.
He said: "It seems to me quite clear that these defendants hoped the claimants would cower, rather than face an imam in court.
"But the claimants were made of sterner stuff, being truly committed to the fulfilment of their article of faith."
He added that money had been donated for a specific purpose and that that purpose had not materialised.
He said: "It failed sometime before July 14, 2008. There was no intention to successfully bid at the auction, because the money had already been spent.
"These defendants have no intention or ability to carry out the original intent.
"Money was raised for a specific purpose and it has been misapplied.
"It was a game of roulette they were playing, they lost."
A total of 13 claimants brought the case against Rahman and Edoo, who was also involved in raising the funds.
All were then practising Muslims living in and around Brentwood and Billericay.
Sidra Naeem, who was then working as a Sunday school teacher, told the hearing she helped collect more than £84,000 for the project.
A handful of people who filled out forms explicitly stating they were providing cash as loans under Islamic law, totalling around £10,000, were later reimbursed - but others were left out of pocket.
"Most of these people who signed these forms didn't want the money back if the mosque materialised," she said, describing two big fundraising drives in 2005 and 2007.
"It's because the mosque didn't materialise that they wanted it back.
"It was a year later that we found out the mosque wasn't there. It was after that when there was quite a big uproar in the community, that people started asking for their money back."
The court heard "probably hundreds" of others gave money in other ways without filling out the loan forms.
Following a complaint by Dr Reshma Rasheed, a local GP who had given £1,500, police investigated both Rahman and Edoo on suspicion of fraud, but decided against a criminal prosecution.
Mrs Naeem said: "Once the mosque dissolved lots and lots of people started asking me for the money back. I'd obviously handed it to Mr Rahman.
"People were up in arms.
"I didn't know what to do. I was not in touch with Mr Rahman as I was told he had moved abroad.
"A lot of people did try and they were refused; they can't have their money back."
Rahman began campaigning to have the mosque built in October 2005, encouraging Muslims to donate money in a series of lectures, and in leaflets.
Local worshippers were initially enthusiastic about the idea, and began digging deep to contribute cash for the project.
By the summer of 2007, a 1.4 acre former garden centre in Brentwood had been found as a possible location, but Mr Edoo was outbid at auction the following year.
Soon after, angry donors began demanding their money back, realising the money they had donated was not being used for the purposes of acquiring a mosque.
In defence documents submitted to the court, Rahman and Edoo said the funds were gifts, and did not meet strict criteria for a loan under Islamic law.
But they conceded that the money had been donated with the understanding that it would be put towards a community mosque.
They claimed that they still had the intention of opening one and stated that the money should be left with them so the project could be completed in the future.
The court was also told that Rahman and Edoo had been using the same fund they misused to pay their legal fees. This is believed to be in the region of £30,000.
Rahman and Edoo denied breach of trust, but the judge found against them and order that they pay back a total of £32,415.73 with five per cent compound interest to be applied from July 2008, and £55,000 in costs.
Their assets were also frozen pending repayment of the sums ordered.