It has been two years since I visited one of our town’s three main mosques, on the occasion of its grand opening. I wrote about it at the time (see here). Thanks to a friend, who had received an invitation to attend an open evening last night, I was able to join him and other guests, get a guided tour including observing one of the prayer times, meet some of the principle players including the head Imam, have a useful and amicable conversation on matters relating to Islam and the mosque and enjoy a sit down meal (for which I award 10 out of 10). This is my first visit since that occasion two years ago, although I have visited the nearby mosque since then.
As folk who read my blog will know, I am interested in Islam and the implications this has on our culture and in engaging with Muslims based on friendship. I do so both as a community activist and a (Christian) gospel preacher. Rather than elaborate on these themes, I will focus on what happened last night. I didn’t do a count but I reckon around 12-15 folk attended as guests and one of the leaders acted as our guide, as well as spending time with some of the other leaders. What they have achieved converting a dilapidated church complex is amazing, with more improvements in the offing. Our guide was pleased to point out that this was done through voluntary donations and that in the near future the mosque would be debt free. One interesting statement was that they considered the mosque building to be a community asset to serve the locality and that the members were keen to be fully involved in the local community.
The atmosphere was congenial and the talk was informative and well presented. While I knew many of the basics of Islam, I still learned something new. As far as the Imam was concerned, Islam is principally about peace (something we all need) and submitting to the will of God (a basic requirement). He went on to talk about the five pillars of Islam and some of the practical ramifications this had on members of his congregation. In case people who read this don’t know, these are the pillars (adapted from a Wikipedia article):
Shahada: is a declaration of faith – there is only one God (Allah) and Muhammad is God’s messenger.
Salat: is the Islamic prayer. Salat consists of five daily prayers according to Muslim law.
Zakāt: or alms-giving is the practice of charitable giving based on accumulated wealth.
Sawm: fasting – during the month of Ramadan. (Ramadan this year is from 6th June until 5th July).
Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca (once in a lifetime).
There then followed a short discussion on some of the implications the above had on Muslim folk and to respond to questions.
Part of the reason for the evening was to help the Mosque build bridges to the local community. One issue of concern was that neighbours could be disturbed (as happened in the past), especially during Ramadam, when more disturbance was inevitable. This is not made easy given the mosque is situated in a densely populated area with limited nearby parking. Discussion on neighbours concerns were amicable but maybe these were not entirely resolved, but I was impressed by the Mosque’s sensitivity on this matter.
As I say, it was a pleasant and productive evening and a useful one for making contacts. I sensed though our engaging was at a fairly basic level and there is scope to go a lot deeper. I believe there is an open door for the surrounding community to engage with the Mosque on the basis of friendship. According to recent Census results, Southend’s Muslim population rose from 2000 to 3000 between 2001 and 2011 (in a town whose population is 170,000). The need for harmonious relations and for those of different faiths to get on together is all too apparent. I hope in the months ahead this will take place but it needs effort and commitment both by those who endeavour to extend the hand of friendship but also by the Mosque itself to take up invitations that have been made.