Welcome inside: Mosques across the UK opening their doors to all

It was the third annual Visit My Mosque day which was set up by the Muslim Council of Britain

Eve Dugdale
Eve Dugdale - Special to Al Arabiya English
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In the light of recent events you wouldn’t blame mosques in the western world for closing their doors and not wanting to invite strangers in to have a look around.

But no, on Sunday February 5, mosques across the UK did the exact opposite and invited anybody who was interested to come in and have a look around to find out what goes on.

It was the third annual Visit My Mosque day which was set up by the Muslim Council of Britain to provide a platform for Muslims to reach out to fellow Brits and explain their faith and community beyond the headlines.

More than 150 mosques took part – almost double the number that took part last year and many faith, civil and political leaders also took part.

Speaking at the launch of the event in Manchester, Muslim Council of Britain Secretary General Harun Khan said he hoped the initiative would become a ‘great British institution’.

And Shafiq Siddiq, the General Manager at the British Muslim Heritage Centre (BMHC) said he was really pleased to see a large turnout at the event he helped organise.

The centre opened its doors to more than 200 visitors who popped along to enjoy an exhibition about Islam, Arabic calligraphy workshop, a Stories of Sacrifice exhibition about the contribution of Muslims during World War One and the chance to ask questions about Islam – all served up with free refreshments!

Shafiq said many of the people who participated in the day had never stepped foot in a mosque before but their feedback was fantastic.

He says: “For many of the visitors, it was their first time ever visiting a mosque or Islamic Centre. Many of them mentioned it was great when they heard we were holding the event, as they felt that such events help strengthen community cohesion, so they came along wanting to show their support.”

While the US has seen a surge in hate crimes after Donald Trump was elected as president with women having their hijabs ripped off and death threats being made, Shafiq says it’s essential Brits work together maintaining relationships and striving to better understand each other.

He adds: “I feel that such events as the Visit My Mosque day are important to help counteract much of the right wing rhetoric that we now see being spread. The only way for communities within society to live together peacefully, is for them to better understand each other through personal interaction, rather than relying on the rhetoric that is often portrayed in the media.”

And Shafiq’s not the only one who believes in the power of sitting down together and getting to know your neighbours. The leader of the British Labour party Jeremy Corbyn spoke at the London launch of Visit My Mosque and explained how bad rhetoric results in acts of hate. With a particular note to Donald Trump he said: “Drinking tea together is far more effective than pouring concrete to build walls.”

Some of the mosques that took part in the open day used the occasion as a chance to celebrate the charitable and social projects they had undertaken.

For example, Glasgow Central Mosque runs a regular blood donation drive in partnership with the NHS, while Jamia Masjid Al-Medina Mosque in Middlesborough hosted a Boxing Day feast for the homeless in December.

One of the visitors to the British Muslim Heritage Centre’s Visit My Mosque Day, Barbara Warrington said she was surprised at how welcoming organisers and community members were.

She said: “I am a Christian and I see churches as places that welcome all in society but I didn’t think Mosques were until I visited. That was an assumption I had made. But me and my husband were made to feel very comfortable and we learned a lot about Islam. It was very interesting.”

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