A visit to Derby Jamia Mosque
PUBLISHED: 00:00 22 January 2016 | UPDATED: 17:53 29 April 2016
Pat Ashworth visits a place of peace
BACK in the 1950s and 60s when the older generation of Pakistanis first came to Derby, in order to establish the first mosque they gifted their moderate incomes and travelled to other cities for donations. In a terraced house on Dairyhouse Road, it would have been invisible and unremarkable amongst its neighbours. Over half a century later, the red brick building with its green minarets that has arisen from these foundations is a towering presence on Rose Hill Street in Normanton.
Today, there’s an excited crowd of visiting schoolchildren surging through the entrance gates, a not unusual sight as 7,000 children a year come here on cultural visits from schools all over the area. I’m here at the invitation of the secretary of Derby Jamia Mosque, Nazir (Naz) Hussain. He’s a Derby man, born and bred in the city, and his father came over in the Sixties to work at Ley’s Foundry, one of the biggest malleable iron castings foundries in the world.
‘He was there for 25 years,’ Naz says with respect. ‘I went to watch him at work once and gosh – what can you say? It was a punishing job that I could never have done.’ The scale, noise, heat and dust of that giant foundry was evoked in an exhibition that was part of the Format international photography festival in Derby in 2013, a reminder of this city’s pedigree as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.
I’ve taken off my shoes, as is the custom, and on a cold day, my toes are curling with pleasure at the underfloor heating of the tiled entrance hall. It feels a bit like a hostel or a school, with a whiff of disinfectant and neat rows of black shelves for deposited footwear, but the sign asking for mobile phones to be switched off before entering the Prayer Hall – on the grounds that ‘No call is more important than the call from Allah’ – marks it out uniquely as a place of worship.
There’s a pronounced absence of seating on and around the vast sea of carpet marked out with a domed pattern of individual prayer mats. In this giant space, there’s an absence of anything, really, with none of the images, monuments, artefacts or stained glass found in many older Christian churches. But there’s a commonality in many respects with the mega-churches. For space and serious numbers are what counts: this hall and the ones replicated on floors above will regularly accommodate 2,000 at the weekly Friday Prayers, and up to 4,000 during a major festival such as Eid. At such times, ‘every corridor is full, and we have to have two different sermons at different times.’
Clocks display the regular prayer times. Verses from the Holy Quran decorate the walls, written in Arabic with an English translation – ‘so that anyone coming in can read what it says, not just Muslims who speak a certain language. That’s very important for community cohesion.’ A man is hoovering the acreage of carpet in one hall, a task I think must have a lot in common with painting the Forth Bridge.
It’s warm and comfortable in the small library, a peaceful environment for study. Postman Pat and Bob the Builder feature in the brightly coloured mural of a sloping corridor that leads to the day nursery, a reminder of all the things that cross cultural boundaries. Women have their own dedicated prayer space overlooking the big hall (and have the added convenience of a lift). There are numerous classrooms here. The mosque is registered for marriages and also has its own mortuary and attendant provision for funerals.
And all this is self-funding, ‘voluntary contributions given in the name of Allah for the upkeep,’ says Naz, whose elected position is itself voluntary, as are those of all the other committee members. ‘I love Derby and I love this mosque,’ he says with warmth and enthusiasm. ‘There’s no two ways about it. That’s why I spend a lot of my time here. I’m always trying to better the whole community.’
We have made the tour in the company also of the Chief Imam of the mosque, Hafiz Fazal Ahmed Qadri, a learned man who has held this position for 30 years and who has English-speaking imams as part of the team. He came in 1983, just before the present mosque, a phased development, opened, and now he is witnessing both the renovation of the Dairyhouse Road mosque, the continuance of a 1996 mosque on Porter Road and the planning of another new mosque, on Village Street. As people get more prosperous, they move out to a wider area in a bid to improve themselves. It is the way of things and as they philosophically say, ‘We have to move with the changing times.’
There’s a lot of emphasis here on education, particularly of Muslim children, who learn both Quranic and Islamic studies. Naz emphasises, ‘Most of all, we teach them how to apply Islam within the current environment, in the country they live in, taking on board British values and the law of the land. That is so important.’ So too, he says, are inter-faith activities which include regular dialogue with the Christian churches (and most notably with Derby Cathedral) and regular discussions with NHS staff, the universities and public bodies such as the police. The mosque has collected and donated food for, among others, Derby’s homeless people. People in the local community are frequently invited in to hear and question speakers, as part of an outreach programme that also embraces visiting schools. ‘We are trying to teach the peaceful message of Islam. There are a lot of misconceptions out there to override,’ he observes.
Our visit was arranged long before the terrorist attacks in Paris in November of last year, prior to which imams from mosques all over the UK had issued a ruling of denunciation and disassociation from all acts of terrorism. ‘Our job here is to break the barriers down,’ he says, both he and the Imam at pains to emphasise that democracy is one of the main principles of Islam. ‘The perception that Islam is selective or closed-minded is wrong. We want to reinforce the principle of opportunity and fairness for everyone, for women as well as men and whatever your race or the colour of your skin.’
I put on my shoes and take my leave before the chattering tide of schoolchildren overtakes me. We shake hands. The parting message is one of welcome, if that isn’t too much of a paradox. ‘Nothing is behind closed doors here. We’re open to the whole public. Feel free to come and visit us at any time.’
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