UK mosques open their doors to the public
London - “Visit my mosque and you’ll get to know me better,” one smiling Muslim worshipper said, inviting non- Muslims to his mosque. With the Islamic State (ISIS) dominating the headlines and anti-Islam Pegida protests being organised in the United Kingdom, it is a simple but powerful message.
More than 80 mosques across Britain opened their doors to visitors on February 7th as part of the Visit My Mosque Day initiative, which aims to demystify Islam at a time when there are more Muslims in the United Kingdom — 3 million and climbing — than ever before.
The initiative has become something of an annual event and is facilitated by the Muslim Council of Britain, the country’s largest Muslim umbrella body with more than 500 affiliated national, regional and local mosques, charities and schools.
Writing in the Guardian newspaper, Remona Aly, director of communications for the Exploring Islam Foundation, clarified the central place that mosques hold in Islamic life. “In Arabic, mosque or masjid means a place of prostration and is essentially a place for worship. But historically a mosque encompassed much more than this, providing health services and education, an epicentre for community life, a venue for performing marriages, as well as a social halal knees-up,” she wrote.
“I’ve driven for many years past London Central Mosque wondering what is inside but when I got an email telling me there was an open day I decided to come today and visit,” David from Hendon in North London said.
London Central Mosque, perhaps better known as Regents Park Mosque, is one of the British capital’s largest mosques thanks to its central London position and iconic golden dome. It can accommodate as many as 5,000 worshippers. It is only outstripped by the mammoth East London mosque, which can hold about 7,000 worshippers and is the largest mosque in Europe.
Hundreds of people attended the open day at east London, which has one of the most diverse populations in the country. Visitors were invited to observe prayers and participate in a question-and-answer session with mosque officials.
Despite the media obsession with ISIS, questions focused on more general aspects of Islam, “In terms of Islam practice-wise, there are five pillars… This is something you may have heard elsewhere,” Shafiur Rahman, director of the Jibreel Institute at the East London mosque told visitors.
Why do Muslims grow their beards? Why do Muslim women wear the hijab? What is the difference between Sunnis and Shias? These were the types of questions visitors asked, alongside more penetrative queries regarding terrorism and the poor image of Islam in the media.
“It was a very interesting place. I went along more to see the building and how the mosque factors into the lives of the local community. It was good to hear from the imam and some of the people who know the mosque well,” visitor David Chalk said.
“I like the idea of the open days as a way of throwing open the doors to the community but it’s a shame that there has to be a kind of defensive aspect to it on account of how Muslims and Islam are inaccurately perceived around the world right now.”
Mosque officials were keen to stress that their doors are always open. “The majority of mosques have open doors so you can walk in at any time. Today, we’re just making that extra-special effort by putting on an event but we welcome visitors throughout the year,” Tanvier Ahmed of the outreach team at Darul Isra Mosque in Cardiff, which was also taking part in Visit My Mosque Day.