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The East London Mosque: 100 years of co-operation

East London Mosque

By Boc Ly
BBC London

Adherents of a multi-faith society looking for a good news story about Islam could do a lot worse than spend an afternoon at the East London Mosque.

Its Eid festival, to mark the end of Ramadan, is also being used to kick-start the celebrations for its centenary year, and in that 100 years, it has acquired no little amount of wisdom.

"We have a history of working with people of other faiths and with people of no faith," says Shaynul Khan, the East London Mosque's assistant executive director.

"We are very keen to ensure that our issues remain local. Although there are things that happen across the globe whether in Palestine or Chechnya which affect us, and there is a humanitarian angle to all of this, we can't be overly emotional about some things.

Shaynul Khan
Shaynul Khan of the East London Mosque

"We've been here a long, long time. We have made a really important contribution over the years, in terms of how society is, the cohesion and goodness that is there. We still have our part to play."

Docklands

It was because of the area's proximity to the docks that led to the necessity of a Mosque.

The merchant ships coming in at Docklands carried a lot of sailors from the Middle East, particularly from Yemen and the South Asian continent.

These workers would occasionally meet and worship together.

London Mosque Fund

It was Syed Ameer Ali, the first man from the sub-continent to be appointed to the Privy Council, who in 1910 mooted the idea of creating a fitting place of worship for sailors and other travellers who came to Tower Hamlets.

TELLING THEIR OWN HISTORY
Hamzah Foreman, is now a volunteer at the East London Mosque, but was previously employed to do centenary and archive work.

He tells BBC London about the Mosque's plan to open up their archive.
Eventually, we are hoping that a database will be set up with all the documents on it. People will be able to come in and peruse them and some put online.

We have between 40 and 45 boxes of documents all relating to the Mosque and the people who have been involved through its history.

Quite a few were non-Muslims and they were quite high ranking in British society, such as Theodore Morrison, S. F. Newcombe and Sir John Woodhead.

In a nutshell, the whole story of this Mosque from 1910 onwards has been one of co-operation between Muslims and non-Muslims.

That tradition is maintained today. We have fantastic relations with a number of non-Muslim organisations.

To achieve this goal, the London Mosque Fund was set up, and involved many British establishment figures, academics and ex-colonial civil servants. In short, it was a partnership between non-Muslims and Muslims.

For many years, the Mosque had no real base. It hired town halls and other community centres as and when required.

In 1935 the Mosque moved to Kings Hall on Commercial Road and by 1941 it had bought and renovated three houses on the same street for its first proper home.

Relocation

However, its first proper home would not prove to be a permanent one.

In 1975 the Greater London Council made a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) on the Mosque in order to proceed with the widening of the A13.

In return, the East London Mosque was given land and temporary facilities on its current location on Whitechapel Street.

It would be another 10 years before the current Mosque, with a Dome and Minaret with the ability to call for prayer, was built on the site.

Population growth

"My father came here as a steelworker in the 1960s; we, the family, came to join him in the mid-70s. There are many similar stories," says Shaynul Khan.

"So there was a boom in Muslims in Tower Hamlets and the Mosque is a big attraction for people when they arrive somewhere new."

The influx of workers, and their families, from the sub-continent had a huge effect on the East London Mosque.

By the time the purpose built Mosque was built in 1985, it was already bursting at the seams.

In November 2001, Prince Charles helped to lay the foundation of the £10.5m London Muslim Centre adjacent to the Mosque itself. The majority of the funds had been raised by local people and the centre opened in 2004.

THE MARYAM CENTRE
Maryam Centre
The next chapter of the East London Mosque's story will be written when the nine-storey Maryam Centre opens on a plot just behind the Mosque in the second half of 2011.

The centre, named after the mother of Jesus, will have facilities aimed solely at women.

It will have have fitness gyms, clinics, offer education, domestic violence support and have counselling rooms.

Outreach

Today, the East London Mosque regularly hosts 23,000 worshippers a week. During the recent month of Ramadan over 250,000 people passed through its doors.

Measured by size of congregation, Shaynul Khan says the East London Mosque is the largest in Western Europe.

Over the last century it has evolved beyond the founders' original aims.

"Services are delivered to meet the needs of the community. Trying to get people into jobs, employer-specific training, scouts groups for young people and initiatives around health, we provide domestic violence counselling and talk to women who may be abused in their homes.

"The Mosque's function has become very holistic," says Shaynul. "More than just for prayers."




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