543. The Man in Blue – Open Masjid day in Southall

On Sunday the 1st of February it was Open Masjid (mosque) day. I knew that this was not something that all masjids had signed up to, but I wanted to go to the local mosque anyway in view of the bad news from France and Belgium recently, showing that I knew that not all Muslims are with Islamic State.

Together with a friend I went to Montague Way and on our arrival it was soon clear that no arrangements were made to receive non-Muslim visitors. A man spoke to us and I explained what we had in mind and he told us to sit in the wudu (ritual washing) area and wait for a committee member.

When I tried to explain that if he came to the Gurdwara he would receive a different treatment, he made it clear that he had no reason to ever do so.

After that I decided to leave, as it was obvious to me that we were not welcome and that the concept of people of other faiths visiting the masjid was alien to him and to a few other people who by then joined in the conversation.

I have to stress that the people we spoke to were not rude, and also that there are enough ignorant people amongst people of other faiths than Islam.

I am convinced that the way forward for multi-cultural societies is to have more dialogue, more visits to each other’s places of worship, more saying to people of other faith: this church/gurdwara/mandir/masjid/synagogue/vihara is also your church/gurdwara/mandir/masjid/synagogue/vihara.

And it is even more wonderful when communities work together on projects in their local area. There is nothing better than cooking together, cleaning up a park together or bring food and warm clothing to the homeless together.

It is good when ‘faith leaders’ meet, but that should result in meetings of the ordinary members of those communities.

I remember a group that came to the Belgian gurdwara where I did seva for three years. One of the members of that group refused to enter the premises.

In the UK an enlightened Human Resources department of an establishment with many clients of non-Christian backgrounds sent new employees as part of their training on a tour of west-London to visit a mandir, a masjid and a gurdwara.

In this case none of trainees refused to enter the Hindu or the Sikh place of worship. But about one third of them did not want to enter the masjid.

There is a lot of work to do, on the level of ‘faith leaders’, on the level of local government and amongst the grassroots of all faiths. I do not think that all faiths are the same, but we have enough in common as human beings, as people who want to live a life based on ethics, to make dialogue and cooperation fruitful.

Central Jamia Masjid, Montague Waye, Southall UB2 5PA