Hussein revered at mosque named for him in England WAR IN THE GULF


BIRMINGHAM, England -- When the Muslim faithful in England's second-largest city answer the call to prayers today, their supplications for peace will be in a mosque named after the man who precipitated the gulf war.

The gold-domed Saddam Hussein Mosque stands on Trinity Road, opposite the Anglican church that once dictated the character of the surrounding Victorian row houses.

The changing face of England has made the Birmingham suburb of Aston a center of Asian immigrants and the Muslim faith.

"Saddam Hussein is a good man," said Altaf Hussein, a white-bearded elder of the community. "If they kill him, he is going to paradise. Anybody who kills him will go to hell. Many here feel the same way as me."

Until Iraqis funded the mosque here in 1981, the local Muslim community met in two houses.

"What did the local government do for us?" asked one Muslim. "We have problems with marriage, with the culture, with all sorts. But they did nothing. Saddam donated for this mosque so we could pray."

A mosque named after the Iraqi president has inevitably attracted more than its share of attention.

Four youths tried to burn it down shortly after the invasion of Kuwait. There have been other attempts to vent anti-Iraqi spleen, but police have stepped up surveillance and security of the mosque the Iraqi president helped build for $3 million.

Mosque elders, sensitive of their location in the heart of a country that has lost 15 of its sons in the gulf, have decided on public silence.

Hazratmia Kazi, the mosque's president, told one visitor before discretion became the order of the day that local Muslims were not acting unpatriotically by worshiping under Saddam Hussein's name.

"We are all British Muslims. Our first allegiance is to our government," he said.

Privately, mosque leaders now tell you that they want to remain neutral, that the community itself is split on the rightness of the war, and that their prayers are for peace worldwide rather than for any particular region.

There has been talk of changing the provocative name, but the feeling is that Mr. Hussein's past generosity should continue to be recognized, whatever his current activities.

"It is just a name. Some people attack the mosque because of its name, but once the gulf has cooled down, nobody will notice it," said Ma Mir, a halal butcher who uses the mosque. "In a couple of years, everybody forgets Saddam, but we will still be living in this street."

Mr. Mir said that he was relieved yesterday to wake up and find a cease-fire in place in the gulf but that he was still troubled by instability in the region.

"You know what will happen, what I'm thinking? Nobody will be in peace in the whole region, the whole world, because as far as I'm thinking the Arabs are never going to forget this thing, and they are going to try and do bad things in every place, every embassy," he said.

"They destroyed Iraq. And what have the people of Iraq done? What about the public in Iraq? No electricity. One side is supposed to be helping humanity, the other side is destroying humanity. Where is the justice?"

There will be no peace in the region, he asserted, until the Palestinian issue is solved.

"The Jews caused the Second World War, and they will cause the third world war. In the same way they controlled Germany before Hitler, that's the way they are now controlling America," he said. "No matter what Saddam did, unless the Palestinian problem is solved, there can be no peace."

Three, if not five, times a day, Mohammed Arshad goes to the Saddam Hussein Mosque to pray.

"The Arabs, for 500 years they won't forget this [war] happened," he said. "They can't do much because they are weak, but whenever they get the chance they will try to hurt the British and Americans. Whenever they get the chance, they will do something, I'm sure of it."

He continued: "Maybe you say Saddam is bad. I don't think he is bad. Maybe he is wrong. Maybe he wasn't so educated and wise, but he has tried to deal with the people. He is no money grabber. He is no greedy person, like the Saudis or the emir of Kuwait. He is not making palaces. There should be some justice. Rich people should give money to the poor.

"Iraq has done wrong. Saddam has done wrong. But it doesn't mean someone else can do wrong. You should have tried to put it right by the peace process, not by force. Force makes things worse."

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