MP calls for Charity Commission investigation into plans for Muslim school

All donations to Islamic Help appeal should be returned, says Gordon Prentice

The Charity Commission should immediately intervene to ensure that a poverty relief charity returns donations given in response to a fundraising appeal to build a 5,000-place boarding school for Muslim girls in Lancashire, according to MP Gordon Prentice.

Prentice, the Labour MP for Pendle, where the school would be built on the seven-acre site of an old mill, lodged an early day motion in Parliament on Monday claiming that Birmingham-based Islamic Help had acted outside its charitable objects in launching the appeal.

The EDM, which has so far attracted five signatures, also says that a local lawyer, Afzal Anwar, whose firm dealt with the purchase of the site, issued a press release saying the plans had been altered to include a sports centre and a commercial village to house start-up businesses.

It calls on the charity to "spell out its precise intentions forthwith" and says the commission should "take immediate action to return donations to those who contributed to the appeal expecting that their money would help to pay for a 5,000-place boarding school for Muslim girls".

But when contacted by Third Sector, Anwar denied he or his firm had anything to do with Islamic Help. He said Prentice had attacked him only because he was the prospective parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats in the constituency.

Pendle Borough Council had voted unanimously to turn down any application for a 5,000-girl Muslim school on the grounds of community cohesion, said Anwar.

He said he had told the charity its idea was a "nonsense and a non-starter" and had recommended it consider doing something "good for the community" such as providing sports and commercial facilities.

But Zaheer Khan, fundraising manager for Islamic Help, said a school still formed the core of the charity's plans for the site and that it had already altered its objects to include the advancement of education. "That is the reason we bought the land," he said.

He said the charity would also consider Anwar's suggestions as additional projects that would help regenerate the area. The board running the school would look into the charity law aspects of the proposals, he added.

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said: "The commission is aware of Mr Prentice's early day motion and we are in touch with him regarding this matter. We remain in contact with the charity and have requested further information from the trustees to clarify their intentions."


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