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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 June, 2004, 00:56 GMT 01:56 UK
New Muslim centre opens its doors
East London Mosque
The new centre is next to the East London Mosque
A Muslim community centre - one of the largest of its kind in western Europe - has opened in London.

The London Muslim Centre in Whitechapel aims to teach women and young people job skills and how to balance work with their role at home.

The six storey building can hold 10,000 worshippers but 15,000 have been attending the centre's inauguration.

It hopes to improve dialogue between Islam and other faiths, and has a gym, a library, crèche and classrooms.


The centre is an extension to the East London Mosque which has been serving the local Muslim community for a century.

Members of the public raised some £4m for the centre, many sponsoring bricks with their names on.

But in a spirit of modesty the names are on the inside of the bricks - invisible to the eye.

Funding also came from bodies including the European Development Fund, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Surestart and the London Development Agency.

Mosque leaders said: "This uniquely British Muslim centre will bolster London's reputation as a vibrant and diverse international city."

Nsheila Ahmed
There's so much interest in Islam at the moment that I think this will be a good thing to help people find out about it
Nsheila Ahmed, law student

The centre was opened as Friday prayers took place, led by one of Islam's most renowned Imams, and celebrations will continue throughout the weekend.

Worshippers had come to hear Sheikh Abdur-Rahman al-Sudais, the controversial Imam of the Ka'ba, Islam's holiest mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

He told the thousands gathered the new centre was an example of how the British Muslim community had "taken great steps towards achieving community cohension".

"Muslims should exemplify the true image of Islam in their interaction withother communities and dispel any misconceptions portrayed in some parts of the media," he said.

"Muslims should remember that throughout this long history Islam has carried the message of building communities, not isolating themselves."

With many unable to enter the new centre, some worshippers took to praying on a street behind the mosque using prayer mats and even newspapers.


Nsheila Ahmed, who is a 20-year-old law student from Waltham Forest in east London, said: "I pray in the mosque here because it's convenient for my studies and has a large section for sisters.

"There's been a lot of talk about this new centre, so we've come to have a look and to listen to the Imam.

"There so much interest in Islam at the moment that I think this will be a good thing to help people find out about it."

The centre, which also has conference rooms, completes an array of buildings that include social housing, religious services and community projects.

The block of buildings also includes one of the East End's oldest synagogues, built in 1899.

"The opening has created such fervour."

The Borough of Tower Hamlets, in which the East London Mosque resides, was the poorest in Britain last year and it has the highest Muslim population in the country.

Many are of Bangladeshi origin who suffer from high unemployment and low educational skills.

The centre already provides government officials with classes in Islam and Muslim culture and will mount exhibitions of Islamic art and host interfaith discussions.

The BBC's Mark Easton
"Events like today offer grounds for optimism"

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