Belfast Muslims call for new mosque

By Rahila Bano
BBC Asian Network

image captionThe mosque is often overcrowded during Friday prayers at Belfast Islamic Centre

Muslims say they desperately need a new purpose-built mosque in Belfast.

About 5,000 followers of Islam live in the city, but their main centre of prayer is a large Victorian house in south Belfast.

About 200 people regularly attend congregational Friday prayers, when every room in the house at Wellington Park is crammed full.

Northern Ireland's Muslim population has more than doubled over the last decade or so.

There has been an influx of professionals and students from more than 40 countries.

image captionBelfast Islamic Centre is located in a large Victorian house in south Belfast

Although they have raised more than £650,000 for new premises, they have not been able to find a convenient location.

One of the regular attendees, Mohammed Shakir, said: "You can't find a place to park; it's a residential area.

"People are praying everywhere - believe it or not, they even pray on the stairs."

The mosque trustees have been looking for an alternative site for more than a decade.

Dr Saleem Tareen, the recently elected chairperson of the centre, said: "It saddens me when people come and can't find a place to pray, or if children come and they don't find the place adequate.

"I certainly don't want that to continue."

Plans to build the region's first purpose-built mosque in Craigavon, County Armagh, were shelved ten years ago, after complaints from locals that it would open the door to militants and result in noise pollution.

image captionIt can be difficult to find a place to pray

The group's attempts to find new premises have been supported by Northern Ireland's first assembly member from an ethnic minority.

Anna Lo, who is an Alliance Party MLA for South Belfast, said: "I know they are very specific about which area they want to be based in.

"South Belfast is very popular and house prices are expensive, so this is a difficulty for them - they will need to raise more money."

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