LONDON – Whitechapel, London’s East End, is where legendary Asian restaurants, spice, and clothes markets nestle amongst English pubs and trendy art galleries creating a unique multicultural environment.
Each summer, along with locals and tourists, the area buzzes in a special way, thanks to a project on the roof of East London Mosque.
Khalil Attan 46, is the Mosque’s beekeeper. Yes, you read that right, beekeeper. IT Senior Consultant, Khalil, his wife Salma and their children tend an expanding colony of indigenous honeybees inhabiting hives on the roof of the mosque.
Attan spoke to AboutIslam.net on the project and his inspiration to begin something so unusual at an urban mosque.
Quran Creates A Buzz
“Our initial aim was to bring people back in touch with nature. Within our Islamic faith we should be thinking more about nature and the environment,” he told AboutIslam.net.
In 2011, Attan was first inspired by the Holy Qur’an’s mentions of the special insect in the eponymous chapter, ’An-Nahl’ to take positive action. The Mosque committee saw the benefit in the project and offered the roof space to accommodate a single hive of some 60,000 bees.
However, Attan had another, personal reason for his interest in honey in particular.
“I used to really suffer in the summer months with hayfever,” he said.
Hay fevers most common symptoms are a runny nose and swollen eyes. These are caused by an allergic reaction to pollen in the air, dispersed by wind-pollinated plants. Sufferers can experience at least three weeks of symptoms during a high pollen count.
Some people believe honey can reduce hay fever symptoms as a result of the process called immunotherapy. During immunotherapy, the individual is exposed to a small amount of the substance they are allergic to. With hay fever that substance is the pollen from plants, dispersed into the air.
“With local honey, which hasn’t been finely filtered, that honey will have more local pollen and with a lot of people, it is this local pollen causing hay fever symptoms,” Attan believes.
In their roof environment overlooking London, the mosques bee colony has grown year on year. Summer 2018, there are an estimated half a million bees living in seven hives.
The colony is now a local attraction to the degree that there is a specially built viewing area for visitors which holds up to 30 people at a time.
The decline of the honey bee is a global problem. Bees have even left one area in Sichuan province of China. This has meant farmers must ‘hand pollinate’ crops, a method that is extremely labor intensive and cannot be compared to the unique service bees used to provide.
A single hive can pollinate approximately three million flowers in one day, while a human can only pollinate up to about 30 trees a day.
Meanwhile, in East London, the mosque’s bees are providing pure, organic, local honey of the quality Attan needed to try an experiment on himself.
Could eating the sweet substance every day affect or even ‘cure’ his hay fever?
There has been a lot of discussion on whether or not local honey can help hayfever. There remains a lack of scientific evidence on the matter. In 2002, the University of Connecticut conducted a study which found honey had no impact on hayfever symptoms.
Whereas a later study in 2011, published in Malaysia found that when eaten in large quantities, honey could help hayfever symptoms.
Attan takes a teaspoon of honey each morning in a glass of lukewarm (not boiling) water, on his toast too. He believes that it is this which has virtually removed all symptoms of his previously debilitating hayfever.
“Now I’ve been having honey from our own hives for the past eight years it has subsided until now I take nothing (no medicine) but the honey. Eating that honey has desensitized me to the pollen issues.”
On the roof of East London’s vast house of worship, a colony is buzzing with beneficial activity. Bees are essential pollinators, assisting plants, fruit, and vegetables to spread over the earth and to continue to grow. Honey’s benefits to mankind, revealed by the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him), are still being discovered, 1400 years later and include antibiotic potential.
The Qur’an states: “And the Lord taught the bee to build its cells in hills, on trees, and in (men’s) habitations; then to eat all the produce (of the earth), and find with skills the spacious paths of its Lord: their issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colors, wherein is healing for men…”
To find out more about this project or beekeeping: https://www.facebook.com/khalil.attan
Arrange a visit to view the hives @londonmuslimcentre.org.uk or call: 0207 650 3024