Outside the Bond Street mosque
Islam: dispelling myths?
By Rachel Sloane
My visit to Ipswich mosque comes at a time when the faith is regularly portrayed as inspiring terrorism and the wearing of the veil by muslim women has been questioned by a government minister. Muslims admit to feeling frustration about their image.
It must also be frustrating that few people seem prepared to learn about your beliefs and try to understand that the vast majority of believers are peaceful and law-abiding.
At Friday prayers I arrived in Bond Street in Ipswich to see a couple of hundred men emerging from the mosque, laughing and gossiping. Many were wearing traditional clothing. They cheerfully pointed me in the direction of Mahbab Alam Shamin, who's the chairman of the mosque.
First I should explain about the mosque. Don’t imagine minarets, impressive domes and inspiring towers – the mosque comprises several rooms that were once part of a fire station plus a portable building. Bursting with the 400 plus men of many nationalities, many often end up kneeling on mats in the car park to pray.
Pilgrims in Mecca, Saudi Arabia
The rooms are similar to many in run-down churches or village halls in that they're badly in need of decoration and modernisation.
Plans on the wall reveal the ambitious project to replace the old fire station with a modern community centre and eventually a proper mosque. £750,000 is needed to get the first phase completed – and fundraising is underway.
The faith of Islam is the second largest religion in the world with over one billion followers. There are over 1.6m in the UK and around 4,000 in Suffolk. Although there are several types of Muslim, they all believe that there is only one God, whom they call Allah.
According to Muslims, God sent a number of prophets to teach mankind how to live according to His law. These prophets include Jesus, Moses and Abraham who are respected as prophets of God.
They believe that the final Prophet was Muhammad. There are five basic Pillars (or rules) of Islam – the declaration of faith, praying five times a day , giving to charity, fasting, and a once in a lifetime visit to Mecca, where their religion began in the 7th Century with Muhammad living between 570-632 AD.
I had many questions to ask the men and the first was – where were the women? Why was the mosque a totally male preserve?
"It is sad," said Fotik Miah, who's the co-ordinator of the mosque. "But physically we don't have any space for women in this mosque. We are hoping that when we build the new mosque we will have a designated area for women and it will be a family congregation."
I had arranged to speak to Faha Makhdum, a graduate from Ipswich, now working for the Pakistani High Commissioner, to ask her about this very question: "There are many mosques in England and a lot of them do accommodate women.
"I have been to the Ipswich mosque. I was in my late teens and I felt that I was being accommodated for, but you have to remember that as a Muslim girl I chose not to go to the mosque at times because a Muslim doesn't have to go to a mosque specifically to pray.
"Obviously it is encouraged but it's more a community-sticking-together type of thing. In Islam you can pray on the floor – anywhere – on the grass or in a park."
Faha says the current debate over women wearing the veil or hijaab exaggerates its importance: "Statistically only about 0.3% of Muslim women wear a veil. I personally don't wear it, but I support those who choose to wear it. Absolutely."
Back at the mosque I asked the men what it was like to belong to a faith that is so often portrayed in a negative way that is not in accordance with the beliefs they actually have.
Nural Islam Choudrey, who's the assistant secretary, says it makes him very sad: "This is a very, very peaceful religion. We have been brought up to respect our elders, respect other human beings, respect other beings and we are not even allowed to kill an animal for no reason.
"To turn on the telly and see massacres happening and being blamed on our religion, we feel as though our religion has been hijacked and our identity had been taken away from us.
"People like Abu Hamza have actually been thrown out of their mosques and don't represent Islam."
"My son who is only eight, he watches TV and sees all these things and he says 'Dad, that's not Islam. These people are not Muslims.'
last updated: 12/06/2008 at 10:02
Have Your Say
CALLEN [The Voice]
James Li - Cot
CALLEN [The Voice]
The Suffolk man who campaigned against the slave trade