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     Volume 4 Issue 71 | November 18, 2005|

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Straight Talk

An Unusual Visit to the Mosque

Nadia Kabir Barb

IT was an interesting sight that greeted us when we got out of the car and walked towards our destination. There were people milling around and chatting to each other and there were a group of children playing football in the courtyard. You may be thinking that this is not a particularly unusual scene that I am describing. However, it may surprise you to know that I am actually describing the scene in the courtyard of the London Central Mosque in Regents Park. We had promised the kids that we would take them to the mosque to have a look around and that particular day being the 27th day of Ramadan, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to keep to our word. In a way we were trying to kill two birds with one stone. As I mentioned, we had been meaning to take the children to the mosque for a while but had not got around to it and also our eldest daughter had an assignment from school to visit a synagogue, church, temple or mosque for part of her Religious Studies Course.

Thankfully as it was a Sunday afternoon, we didn't have the mad rush that seems to be part and parcel of the rest of the week. We bundled the kids in the car and drove all of five minutes down the road to our local mosque which happens to be the London Central Mosque situated in the heart of Regents Park. The Islamic Cultural Centre which includes the London Central Mosque was established since 1944 and was officially opened by King George VI in November 1944. According to the history of the mosque "The 2.3 acres of site adjacent to Hanover Gate in Regent's Park, was presented as an unconditional gift from the British Government to the UK Muslim Community in Britain to enable the latter, to build a mosque and an Islamic Cultural Centre, to conduct the affairs pertaining to their faith. A Mosque Committee comprising various prominent Muslim diplomats and Muslim residents in the United Kingdom gratefully accepted the gift which was intended mainly as a tribute to the thousands of Indian Muslim soldiers who had died defending the then British Empire, which at the time, had more Muslim inhabitants than Christians." However, the mosque was finally built in 1977! Since then the golden dome of the mosque has become an integral part of the landscape surrounding Regents Park.

Sadly the golden dome no longer looked as impressive as it had done when I first saw it as a child. Years of rain and wind had diminished the glittering gold monument. We went into the main hall of the mosque and found even more people inside. The children were keen to see the area where the prayers were performed so we took them closer to the large auditorium. Having been for the Eid prayers the previous year, my son was happy to point out to his sisters where he had said his prayers and what they had done. Suddenly, out of the blue a young gentleman appeared and asked us whether the children wanted to go inside to take the hall and offered to take them in. But they declined the offer as they uncharacteristically seemed to have been overcome with shyness. He then told us to feel free to walk around and show the children various parts of the mosque. The children pointed out a sign which said "Iftar" on it and as it was too early in the day we were not able to stay and break our fast with the other people there. We wandered around and found ourselves in the mosque bookshop. I was keen to pick up a book or two for the children to teach them a few Du'as and a book on how to say prayers. As if by magic the gentleman we had met earlier materialised and showed us the area where I would be able to find the books with the translation and transliteration of the prayers I was looking for. It was nice to see the children browsing and picking out little booklets that they thought would be informative or interesting for them. When we finally decided on what to buy the kids were delighted to receive a bar of chocolate from the bookseller. A gesture that was totally unexpected and accepted with much enthusiasm.

Due to the fact that the mosque is not just a place of worship but a place of learning as well there is an extensive school education system as it incorporates an Education Advice Service, A Weekend School and a Nursery. There is also a Library and The Islamic Cultural Centre is said to have the largest and oldest Islamic reference library. The mosque also performs marriages -- mine being one of them. In fact I recall the Egyptian Imam who performed our marriage being exceptionally jovial and utterly unlike the Mollahs we come across back home.

Contrasting to our mosques in Bangladesh, women are allowed to say their prayers inside albeit in a separate area but not just for Eid prayers. They are welcome at anytime and also play a major role in the activities pertaining to the mosque. It was also wonderful to see children at ease and playing around outside. There was none of the "hush-hush" factor that people always associate with a place of worship. As we walked back to the car my husband commented that there was a really nice atmosphere in the mosque and had a feeling of community spirit about it. I felt like running outside and saying, "Come and see, not all of us are rabid fundamentalists and not all of us are circulating anti-western propaganda."

As we drove back home, the kids were happily pouring over their newly acquired books and I was able to feel the satisfaction of having kept my promise…

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