UK mosques open their doors as Jeremy Corbyn sends message to Trump
By Islamophobia Reports
UK mosques open their doors as Jeremy Corbyn sends message to Trump
As hundreds of Islamic centres across the country welcome visitors, Labour leader warns against 'demonisation' of Muslims
Jeremy Corbyn has challenged the "demonisation" of Muslims and sent a message to Donald Trump that "drinking tea together is far more effective than pouring concrete to build walls to keep each other apart".
The Labour leader delivered what he called a "very gentle message to a man across the Atlantic" as he spoke at Finsbury Park mosque in north London, one of more than 150 that opened their doors on Sunday to allow people of other faiths or of no faith to take tours and ask questions about Islam.
Muslims were "being demonised by some people", he said, but visitors to the mosque's open day were expressing "support for an inclusive society and support for a society which respects all faiths and all religions".
"Over the past few weeks, there's been some awful language used in many parts of the world. Awful language degenerates into awful actions. Those awful actions end up in the deaths of wholly innocent people, as happened in Quebec," Corbyn said in a reference to the deaths of six people in a gun attack on a mosque in the Canadian city.
Hundreds of people visited Finsbury Park mosque, which gained notoriety as a centre of radical Islam in the late 1990s when the Egyptian cleric Abu Hamza became its imam. In 2005, the mosque underwent a change of leadership and is now considered a model of community relations.
Jahed Ahmed, a member of the mosque, told visitors it was "a community centre, a safe haven for everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim". London, he said, was "an amazing community of ethnicities, religions and backgrounds. We all live together and it's very important we work together".
For five hours, Ahmed and other members answered questions such as: why do Muslims all face the same way when they pray; why do men and women pray separately; how hard is it to fast during Ramadan?
"We want our community to be outward looking, not insular," Ahmed said. "Our mosque is as much yours as it is ours."
Among those listening were police community support officers and firefighters from nearby a fire station. "We have a good relationship with the mosque," said Stephen Johnston-Keay, a community police officer "I'm new to the borough, so I'm keen to look around and meet people."
Gail Phillips said she had come to show solidarity. "There's such a lot in the media vilifying them, and everything that's going on in the US. it's important that we recognise they're part of our community."
Her views were echoed by Paul Dennehy, who said he wanted to "show solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters who are under pressure here and in America".
Wearing his Jewish kippah, Steven Derby, the director of Interfaith Matters, a north London charity, took selfies with the mosque's chairman, Mohammed Kozbar. "There is too much dividing us. I have come along to show friendship," he said.
An exhibition in the conference hall explored questions about Islam, as children had their hands hennaed and women were offered the chance to try on a hijab. Shawarma wraps were offered at a bargain £1; tea, coffee and sweets were free. Visitors were handed a goodie bag containing a copy of the Qur'an, sweets and a red rose as a symbol of friendship.
Camille, a member of the mosque who was performing the Muslim ablution ritual before praying, said she would like to see open days held moreoften. "There is so much fear in the world. We are being dehumanised. But we're all the same," she said. "It's really sad what's happening to my community. And things are going to get worse."
At the Neeli mosque, Abida Ashraf was among a small army of volunteers answering questions about her religion. What are those little jugs for by the loos? "To clean ourselves with water after we go," she said, explaining Islam teaches that the condition of the body affects the condition of the spirit.
Why do you say "peace be upon him" after you talk about the prophet Muhammad? "It's to show respect; we are taught to do so from our holy books." And perhaps the most common one: why are the men and women kept apart? "Many women just feel more comfortable praying without men," she said, as a trickle of white visitors helped themselves from a buffet of samosas, Pringles and mini-millionaire shortbreads.
At some mosques, the women are shunted off into a dingy backroom, but at the Neeli the sisters insisted on having the airy top floor beneath the transparent blue domes that give the mosque its name ("neeli" means blue in Urdu). On Sunday, it hosted an exhibition explaining everything from why Muslim women cover their heads to the importance of the Virgin Mary to Islam.
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Jill Randall, a sculptor from Bacup, in east Lancashire, had fancied a nosy about. "I've been to a mosque before, but it was in Istanbul," she said. "I came here with no preconceptions. It's nice to realise how much we have in common." Rachael Gee had come from nearby Shaw. "I've just always wanted to look inside a mosque," she said.
Imran Ahmed, the mosque secretary, said the Neeli was proud to open up to the wider community. "We are not a fifth column. We want to live side by side. We don't want them to fear us. They have nothing to fear. This is the ideal opportunity to reach out and educate people," he said, after a tricky theological discussion with Mark Coleman, a local vicar, about the Islamic belief in predetermination – the idea of divine destiny, that God has a plan for everyone.
The Neeli has been praised for its forward-thinking initiatives and sermons condemning child sexual exploitation, but it has also been in the headlines for the wrong reasons: in 2015, one of its worshippers, the son of a Labour councillor, was arrested apparently trying to get to Syria.
It was Lorraine Watkins's first time in a mosque. "I've come to increase my knowledge and I've found it very enlightening," she said at the Iqra mosque and community centre.
Watkins, a retired post office worker, is a regular at St Patrick's, the Roman Catholic church up the road. "At these very difficult times, it helps if people of different faiths can try to understand each other. We've got to find ways of living together."
Watkins was one of scores of visitors who took advantage of the mosque's open day. People of all ages, from babes in arms to retirees, were invited to attend a talk, ask questions and share food and drink.
Gunhild Bergene Moss, a freelance project manager, took her three daughters aged one to eight. The two older children loved doing Islam-themed word searches and having their hands hennaed, she said. "It's been a lovely, welcoming event."
Husband and wife Suzanne and Peter Norton said they had often visited mosques while on trips abroad. "But never at home," said Suzanne, who enjoyed trying on the hijab. "It felt lovely."
One of the organisers, Fozia Rafiq, said such events were important. When she does outreach work in local schools, she does a word association game. "When I say Muslim, a lot of the time children say terrorist. I don't judge them for that."
Mohamed Shameem, a committee member, said: "We already get non-believers coming in and just sitting for prayers. We want to open all the time for believers and non-believers. That is what we are working towards."
One of the Muslims meeting and greeting the public at the Belfast Islamic Centre during its open day had reason to fear both Donald Trump and Islamic State.
Dr Raied Al-Wazzan has lived in Belfast since 1990 and works for a business that supplies cameras to Nasa. "Because I am from Iraq, I would be banned from entering the US if I had to go on business," he said.
And while he feels "100% at home" in Belfast, his thoughts turn daily to his family in Mosul. "I am here to tell people in Belfast and Northern Ireland that Isis poses more of a threat to real Muslims than anyone else," he said.
He pointed out that there were up to 6,000 Muslims living in Northern Ireland from 42 different countries and representing all branches of the Islamic faith.
"One of the things that is great about this centre is that all Muslim believers, such as Sunni and Shia, can worship here. They might say different prayers, but we worship together. That is a good thing in the context of Northern Ireland, a place which I love," Al-Wazzan said.
Outside the Islamic centre on Wellington Park in south Belfast, Lesley McCue said she was encouraged by the attitude at the mosque over her questions on gay rights.
"During the Q&A, I raised the issue of LGBT rights and they said that faith was an entirely personal issue and that they would not judge anyone because of their sexuality. They were prepared to face these questions full on, which I found refreshing," McCue said.
Walking into the enormous men's prayer room of Glasgow Central mosque, Aaron and Brodie Rourke, aged eight and five, gasped as they caught sight of the arch-shaped windows and star radiating across the inside of the dome. The boys and their parents, Martin and Barbara Rourke, had removed their shoes to enter the hall that can accommodate 1,300 worshippers standing shoulder-to-shoulder along a series of white lines.
Jawad Khursheed, a volunteer guide, explained the five pillars of Islam and answered questions on Eid. Darren and Isabel Deakin had brought their children Elijah, four, and Daisy, two, because, having passed the mosque many times, they wanted to know what went on inside. "I am not a believer," said Darren, a painter and decorator, "but with everything that's happening at the moment, it seemed like the perfect time to come and have a nosy."
Katherine Mackinnon, who works with refugees in the city, said: "It must be a challenge for Muslims in the current climate. They shouldn't have to promote themselves, but in the light of shameful US policies, this is a brilliant way to let people see there is a lot misinformation going around."
Glasgow politicians, including the MSPs Johann Lamont and Annie Wells, and MPs Alison Thewliss and Chris Stephens, were told about the mosque's social projects: school visits, day care for the elderly and a food bank.
Communicating a positive image may be particularly important to Glasgow Central mosque, which recently experienced negative publicity as a result of an internal power struggle between traditionalists and reformers. But it is also a fightback against a general rise in Islamophobia.
"The world feels very fragile at the moment," Lamont said. "Some of it is about creating an 'other': people you don't know, people you don't understand and then, presumably, it's easier to hate people. I think it is important to send a message that says wherever people of faith come together, we will support them."