The BaabUlilm Cenre opens its doors for the day to reach out and reassure
Visit My Mosque was the idea of the Muslim Council of Britain, or MCB, which is a national organisation made up of mosques from across the country.
We at Baabulilm are participating because it’s the perfect excuse to do something we already do – inviting local people who aren’t Muslim or don’t know many Muslims into our mosque to talk, meet and dispel some misconceptions. Our mosque has a diverse congregation and we welcome visitors.
It’s also an important opportunity to have a frank discussion about some complex issues that are sensationalised in the press.
Dr Mohammed Raza Bhamani the master of ceremony (MC) for the day welcomed about 60 guests on a bitterly cold afternoon. “Fox News, I hope you’re listening,” he said, to laughter. He explained the purpose of the day – to open the mosque to the north-east Leeds community to “present a more balanced view” of Islam than is often given by the media and politicians.
The centre’s resident scholar, Syed Hadi Hassan, explained how ideas such as forgiveness and caring for others irrespective of creed made violent attacks completely at odds with the core principles of Islam.
The mosque has held regular events open to all communities since opening more than 10 years ago, but Syed Hadi Hassan said they had becoming increasingly significant in light of extremist violence. “In this atmosphere, it is of paramount importance because there are many misconceptions going around. People of the UK are really confused about whether there is something wrong with the teachings of Islam or whether these individuals are using the name of Islam badly.
“We want the world to understand that they are not a part of Muslim Ummah [community] and they are completely alien to Islam and its teachings. It is a beautiful, peaceful religion.”
Syed Hadi Hassan fielded questions on social media on how the concept of jihad has been warped, and when the talks were completed, the visitors were taken on guided tours of the mosque.
“It’s frustrating, but we need to do it and we need to do more,” said Rasool Bhamani, president of the centre. “The problem we’ve got is that the media and politicians talk about radical Islam and Islamic terrorism. What that does is generalise a whole community. By doing that, we’re actually causing divisions in the community and hence, although it’s frustrating, we have to do it to ensure these negative aspects are not associated with the religion.”
Hassan said Baab ul-Ilm worked closely with local synagogues – there is one next door – and churches as part of an inter-faith forum to increase understanding of other religious communities in Leeds.
Jo Hill, 58, a Roman Catholic, said she had heard about the event on the radio and had come to show solidarity with fellow people of faith who were being stigmatised. “I do feel very, very sad. When you see these tragedies happening, it’s not the Muslims. It’s fanatics.”
It was her first visit to a mosque, she said, and more events like it would help increase people’s understanding of Islam. “I don’t think people have any imagination of what the faith is like. I couldn’t even recognise this as a mosque – I went to the building across the road,” she said.
“It’s terrifically important, said Tony Pickles, 66, also a Catholic. “There should be more of this so we can break down barriers and blind prejudice. Some people are ignorant and make judgments and that’s wrong.”
Hill believed attacks like those in Paris increased Muslims’ fear they would be targeted. “My friend says that whenever something happens, she’s abused on the buses into Leeds, and that’s so sad, so to open up like this is a really good idea. It’s terrible because they are just ordinary, God-loving people, and God has nothing to do with the terrorism that’s gone on.”
That sentiment was shared by Helena, who had come along to understand the core principles of Islam. “What came across today was exactly the same as what Jesus Christ taught, which is to love thy neighbour as thyself. It just seems to me that religions are being taken over for political means and the real message is being distorted.”