Remona Aly
Friday 30 January 2015 The Guardian

Tea, Citizen Khan and other good reasons to visit your local mosque

This Sunday, mosques across the UK will be flinging open their front doors to fellow Brits, inviting them to pop in for a chat over some tea and cake. Visit My Mosque day is part of a national initiative by Muslims to reach out to the public following recent tensions around radicalisation and terrorism.

With more than 1,600 mosques in Britain there is great potential to open up better understanding and break down those pesky barriers over a Viennese whirl. In Arabic, mosque or masjid means a place of prostration and is essentially a place to worship. But historically a mosque encompassed much more than this, providing health services and education, an epicentre for community life, a venue for performing marriages, as well as a social halal knees-up.

As a report by the University of Essex found that Muslims in the UK feel more British than their fellow citizens, what could be more British than inviting you around for a nice cuppa? Here are five reasons to visit your local mosque. Think of it as less of a “breeding ground” and more of a “feeding ground” as you swing by your local. And do remember to send a letter to Eric Pickles when you’re done.

More tea, Imam?

Listen to a sonorous call to prayer

The call to prayer – or adhan – is a beautiful expression of Islamic belief, but it often runs the risk of being impaired by a dodgy PA system. Occasionally some muezzins, bless them, don’t realise that a microphone amplifies sound, so they belt it out like they’re live at Wembley. However, this call/yell to prayer is an endearing experience that is part and parcel of the UK mosque experience up and down the country. Just don’t tell them about Bose.

Meet a real community leader

This is an opportunity not to be missed: having an “Islam means peace” chat with a Citizen Khan-type character (complete with knitted tank top) is all you really need to break down stereotypes. Oops. OK, they’re not all middle-aged, Asian, self-elected committee board members. Honest.

See a ritual washing area like no other

This is an interesting experience that Muslims go through every day which you may like to see. Muslims perform a simple ritual ablution before prayer that includes washing their face, hands and feet in an act that purifies and prepares them to have some one-on-one time with God. But entering a mosque’s WC can be like wading through the Rivers of Babylon. Getting that foot in the sink has been known to be called a jihad (struggle). The water can drip off those Muslamic toes and on to the floor, and even though Muslims are instructed not to waste water, it’s not all their fault – the water pressure can be on the high side owing to some radical mosque plumbing.

Witness a congregational prayer

A good time to go down your local is for one of the five congregational daily prayers. While it’s probably best to avoid the dawn prayer, seeing a group prayer at a more peopled time like sunset is actually a great example of the diversity among Muslim communities. It’s a bit like watching a rugby lineup, with all different shapes and sizes standing together as equals on the same team.

This article originally appeared in The Guardian on 30 January 2015. To view it click here.