Didsbury Mosque, Manchester, was one of the faith venues in the North West of England to open its doors to the wider community at the weekend for the annual Visit My Mosque day.
From 12.30, a steady stream which rapidly grew to a tidal wave of local people came to see what are the mysteries beneath the minarets in their midst. Or in the case of Didsbury, behind the stained glass windows. The building was originally built in 1883 as a Methodist Chapel, becoming a mosque in the 1960’s.
Anna Fryer, her husband and two primary aged children were enjoying samosas in the mid afternoon throng. Anna is the Lib Dem candidate for the Didsbury East ward. Whilst pleased to be looking around, she wondered about access to mosques year round.
“It is incredibly welcoming here. The disconnect is that we see (through the media) this religion as separate and different in some ways. Whereas we might have more of an understanding if we could access the places of worship more often,” she told Aboutislam.
In fact, Didsbury Mosque opens its doors every Sunday afternoon to anyone interested in paying a visit. The signs outside are not as effective as door to door canvassing, a note for all UK mosques to take into account.
The day in its third successful year is drawing support from politicians such as leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, who again attended his local mosque. Local businesses including Subway had provided the food for guests at Didsbury.
Visitors entering the vast wooden front doors were met by Muslims from Somalia, Tunisia, Pakistan and some of the growing number of British converts to Islam born and raised in Greater Manchester.
Jenny and Simon, a professional couple, had interesting and technical questions about salah [prayer] timings and the meaning of Al Fatihah the opening verses of the Qur’an and the start to every prayer cycle.
Simon told Aboutislam he was pleased to “now know what’s going on inside this mosque. Next time we drive past, we can look at the building and think, ‘ah we know what people are doing inside there right now.”
Jenny said: “There is a load of nonsense about isn’t there (on the news)? So it’s nice to just come in and balance that out a bit.”
Sarah Morgan is a ceramicist from Chorlton. She had come with her friend India, both felt moved to attend by the negative political and media campaigns targeting Muslims in Europe and the US.
At Maghrib, the artist stood behind the rows of women as they bowed and prostrated in prayer.
Afterwards, she told Aboutislam: “I liked the feeling of women being united, of supporting one another. I found it moving and powerful. People knowing what to do. Today has given me a further insight into what Islam actually means and I’d certainly like to find out more.”
Children from all parts of the community had their faces painted as flowers and tigers, their hands decorated with elaborate henna. Old and young, asked questions of Muslim neighbors, feeling relaxed enough to do so.
Alicia, from Northenden, is a sixth form student at Manchester High School for Girls, who describes herself as a “non practicing Catholic.” She and her family came to “show solidarity with our community”.
Alicia was surprised and impressed by elements of Muslim worship. She told Aboutislam: “You guys have so many prayers! I admire your dedication. I have Muslim friends at school and I’ve seen them pray but I didn’t know they had other ones as well. That takes dedication’. Her message to anyone who feels nervous about going to a mosque for the first time is ‘Just come do it. They are so lovely and it’s really interesting as well you learn so many new things.”
Taking off shoes at the door was something which Martin, a language assistant from Manchester High School for Girls felt, gave a sense of intimacy.
One specific element of Muslim tradition and understanding was mentioned by all those interviewed by Aboutislam. It is an element that Christians in particular expressed having admiration for.
The Ummah, a single community of believers bound together by ties of religion.
“The idea of this community which comes together is a universal message we can all learn from,” said Anna Fryer.
More needs to be done, in the next twelve months to reach further into the community, beyond the generous Christians, good-hearted charity workers and middle class families who attended so widely at the weekend.
The Muslim community must encourage and enable those who live in social impoverishment across the UK, to interact and access local mosque facilities.
Some mosques, like Didsbury already offer free health screenings to local residents. But do the poor realize those who live beyond the plush residential streets in the neighborhood. Yesterday’s demographic turnout showed that as unlikely.
In the time of Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, the poor were fed, children educated, women respected and the whole community served by the mosque.
Mosque committees should use this weekends success to continue or to kick start projects to support the elderly, feed the hungry and help poor families, whatever their faith. And in the meantime, letting more local people know they are welcome to visit at any time, is a good start.