Labour MP honoured extremist imam for his work in the community

Damien Egan reacts after winning the Kingswood parliamentary by-election on February 16
Damien Egan after winning the Kingswood parliamentary by-election on February 16 - PHIL NOBLE/REUTERS/REUTERS
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A newly promoted Labour MP repeatedly appeared with a radical Muslim preacher and conferred awards on him and his mosque despite a High Court judge labelling him an “extremist”, The Telegraph can reveal.

Damien Egan, the MP for Kingswood in South Gloucestershire, praised Shakeel Begg’s mosque as a “source of guidance, community and friendship” when he was the Labour Mayor of Lewisham – a position he held until January.

Mr Begg was found by a judge in 2016 to be an “extremist Islamic speaker” who had “encouraged religious violence”.

His mosque, the Lewisham Islamic Centre (LIC), has meanwhile railed against Israel as a “Zionist entity” and claimed Western politicians with a “twisted colonial mindset” have an “insatiable appetite for death and destruction” of Muslims deemed “fit for culling”.

Mr Egan entered Parliament in February after winning the Kingswood by-election. Before that, he served as mayor of the London borough of Lewisham between May 2018 and January 2024.

Last week, he was promoted by Sir Keir Starmer to the post of parliamentary private secretary in Labour’s shadow education team.

Long association

While serving as Mayor of Lewisham, Mr Egan had a long association with Mr Begg, the chief imam of LIC.

Mr Begg sued the BBC after it described him as an extremist in 2013, but Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, who oversaw the libel action, found in favour of the broadcaster in 2016.

The judge found him to be “an extremist Islamic speaker who espouses extremist Islamic positions” and said he had “promoted and encouraged religious violence”.

He also said that Mr Begg was “something of a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ character”, presenting a “(benign) face to the local Lewisham and inter-faith community and another (extremist) face to receptive Muslim audiences on chosen occasions”.

Earlier this month, Michael Gove, the Communities Secretary, highlighted Mr Begg in Parliament when setting out the Government’s new definition of extremism.

He said Mr Begg was an example of someone with “views that are clearly extreme” who had “nevertheless benefited from state engagement, endorsement and support, and furthermore exploited that association to further their extremist agendas”.

Despite the High Court judgment, Mr Egan appeared with Mr Begg at a number of events at LIC, including at “community iftars” during Ramadan in 2022 and 2023.

Preacher shows off certificate online

In 2022, Mr Begg received a certificate signed by Mr Egan as a finalist in the Mayor of Lewisham Awards for “voluntary contributions”.

The LIC also received a 2020 Mayor of Lewisham “humanitarian award” for its work during the pandemic. On LIC’s website, Mr Begg can be seen proudly sporting the certificate, which carried Mr Egan’s signature.

The mayor wrote to Mr Begg in April 2020 thanking LIC for “all your support over the last year” and encouraging him to get in contact “if Lewisham Council can support you during this time”.

He also provided a testimonial – which is still on LIC’s website – saying the centre had “made our borough proud” with its Covid response and describing it as a “source of guidance, community and friendship”.

The website also carries a testimonial from Ellie Reeves, the Labour MP for Lewisham West and Penge, who said the LIC “does absolutely brilliant work” and “I am proud to support them”.

In addition to the 2016 High Court finding about Mr Begg, both he and the LIC have made a number of controversial comments in the aftermath of the October 7 Hamas attack and Israel’s subsequent military action in Gaza.

In the weeks after Oct 7 – and while Mr Egan was still mayor – Mr Begg called for Muslim countries to “intervene” to “stop the genocide of Palestinian Muslims”.

Labour ‘hasn’t changed one bit’

On Oct 26, the LIC published a press release that referred to the “Zionist entity known as the State of Israel”, describing it as an “inveterate oppressor”, “racist” and “apartheid” state and calling for “Muslim nations – particularly wealthy ones – to intervene to end the carnage”.

Another press release published by the LIC earlier this month used inflammatory language to describe Western supporters of Israel.

It said: “Are you horrified by this masterclass in civilian mass slaughter and the continuing slavish support for Israeli police towards Palestinians by those of that twisted colonial mindset with its insatiable appetite for death and destruction when the victims are deemed ‘inferior and uncivilised’ or otherwise Muslims fit for culling?”

Jonathan Gullis, deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, said: “These shocking revelations once again reveal that the Labour Party has not changed one bit.

“Sir Keir should urgently investigate the actions of the man he has recently promoted to his shadow team.”

‘Inflammatory language was being used’

Mr Egan told The Telegraph: “As mayor, I sought to use my role to engage positively with all faith groups – Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim. I wanted to build bridges and bring people together.

“The LIC is the largest mosque in Lewisham and there were events, such as Eid and Ramadan, when I would visit to meet members of the community. I think that was an important thing for a mayor to do.

“Following the publication of the press release on October 26, a week after we had met and I had stressed the need not to inflame community tensions, I personally felt let down. It was clear that inflammatory language was being used in bad faith, and the only thing for me to do was to step back from my engagement with Imam Begg.”

Mr Egan said that he had no role in the selection panels for community awards and that all nominees – of which there were more than 100 – were given “finalist” certificates.

Mr Begg and the LIC were contacted for comment.

Lewisham Council said: “We work with organisations which engage with the many different groups within our community, and faith organisations of all kinds are a very important part of that.

“There are a significant number of Muslims in Lewisham and the Lewisham Islamic Centre as a body supports our efforts to increase and sustain community cohesion.”

Ms Reeves was contacted for comment.

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