More than 150 UK mosques opened their doors on Sunday for the third annual Visit My Mosque day, an event aimed at fostering a better understanding of Islam.
It came after Donald Trump banned people from seven Muslim-majority countries and all Syrian refugees from entering the US. Many saw the open days as an opportunity to counter rising Islamophobia.
We asked those who attended and hosted events in Britain what they got out of the day.
Emma Woodcock, 43, from Derbyshire: A man said: ‘We will stand with you.’ There was spontaneous applause
I had a vague intention of attending our local mosque in Long Eaton but, to be honest, in simpler, calmer times I might not have bothered. However, very troubling things have been happening around the world. I didn’t manage to go on any of the anti-Trump marches, so I thought: “This is something I can do to challenge the negativity.” I had my concerns. I pictured my partner and I turning up as the only visitors to spend time with a disinterested group of strangers. Or I worried that they might expect us to have come armed with lots of intelligent questions.
The guy was talking about the overlap between the Bible and Qur’an. I had no idea about this
As it happens, we turned up half an hour after the start of the open day, and could barely fit in the place. The guy at the front was talking about all the areas of overlap between the Bible and Qur’an (for example, Muslims believe in Jesus and revere Mary). I had no idea about this. We listened to him talk for a short while. He set up this mosque as somewhere for the local taxi drivers to worship between shifts. He invited questions from the many visitors and answered them with humour and enthusiasm. Another guy arrived shortly after us and introduced himself as a first-generation Irish immigrant. He said he had arrived in the UK 50-odd years ago and suffered a great deal of prejudice. He told the assembled group: “I’m an atheist now, but I wanted to come here today because I know what it is to be treated with distrust. I want to thank you for inviting us here today, and to show you that you’re not alone. We will stand with you.” This was pretty much exactly what I would have liked to say (apart from the Irish immigrant part). There was a spontaneous round of applause.
Kumail Versi, 29, from London: We had a local rabbi come down and reverends from Anglican and Methodist churches
I was part of the organising committee at my local mosque Shia Ithna’ashari Community of Middlesex in Harrow. We’ve been working on this event for some time. It runs every year but there was more awareness this year. We even had Ben and Jerry’s advertising about it. The number of mosques participating has also jumped up from 80 to 150 this year compared with last. We put up posters about it and messaged all those who often attend our mosque. As in other years, we got local leaders involved; we had a local rabbi come down and reverends from Anglican and Methodist churches.
On the day itself, we had prayers at the beginning so those who wanted to could find out what we do. We are redeveloping our site at the moment (the Salaam Centre) so it was also a good chance to update people on that.
We had a lot more people than last year – 70 came, compared with 45 last year and around that number the year before. Numbers were up this year partly because we advertised it better. We sent out more reminders on social media, etc. We have started to build better ties with local churches as well, which helped. Also, the Muslim Council of Britain’s Visit My Mosque website was revamped this year and was more user-friendly.
People seemed to enjoy themselves and it was a great way for us all to get together and share stories
People seemed to enjoy themselves and it was a great way for us all to get together and share stories. One of our community members talked to someone from a local church who lives in a house that used to be their school. It was an amazing story, it’s crazy the connections people can make.
Harrow is very diverse and there are less fears about different religions here. We work hard on integration and there was no negativity or animosity on the day. It was a great experience.
Rabbi Danny Bergson, 38, from London: The development of open communities is vital for building better societies
I was asked to speak as a guest speaker on social action as it relates to faith communities in a mosque in Harrow. The open day is important for fostering better understanding. It also helps to develop genuine friendships. To work on what unites us as opposed to what divides us. The development of open communities is vital for building a society built on hope and faith.
Rachel Serlen, 34, from London: The organisers went to a lot of effort. I appreciated that
I went to visit a mosque, the Dar Al-Islam Foundation in north London. It was lovely. From the balloons tied to the front gate to the platters of pastries and chocolates, the organisers had gone to a lot of effort. I appreciated that.
I’ve been struggling with a sense of powerlessness over Trump’s anti-immigration policies. I am from America but now live in London. I’m also concerned by the rise in hate crime in Britain since the EU referendum. I want to live in a diverse community, a place where differences are respected. The open day was a good example of how this can be achieved. I tweeted about how much I enjoyed the open day. I got a number of likes and retweets, but also some negativity. It was eye-opening. Every time a nasty comment came in it felt like a bucket of cold water was being emptied over my head.
Shana Begum, 32, from Bolton: The mosque told me that they had received a lot of negativity since 9/11
My family is Muslim but I am not particularly religious. I consider myself a spiritual person with lots of different beliefs, but I don’t strictly follow any religion. I heard about the event through my local news site and it got a lot of negativity online. I thought: “This is ridiculous!” so I decided to go down on the day with cakes. I know it can be a bit alienating to meet very religious people – especially if you don’t have faith – so I thought my presence would be good.
It was great. The local people who run the mosque did their own tour and answered questions, but I also answered people in an honest way. People, for example, talked about female genital mutilation. I explained that this is more of a cultural thing than a religious one.
People from the village areas, such as Westhoughton, also made an effort to come down, which was great. It’s impressive they travelled all that way as there is no mosque in their area. These regions can also be less multicultural and have more of a mentality that Islam is bad, so it was great to see them.
Muslims are just normal people. That’s how they should be treated.
We need more open events like this. They let people see that mosques are not scary and opening our doors allows visitors to feel they know more what goes on inside. Muslims are just normal people. That’s how they should be treated. We have the same problems as everyone else and are a peaceful bunch. It’s a shame because I know that Muslim communities have experienced issues. The mosque told me that they had received a lot of negativity over the past few years, really since 9/11. They said they now accept it as the norm. This negativity includes people leaving pork outside and even smashing windows. It made me sad to hear. But I know that this comes from a misunderstanding. That’s why coming together like this is so positive.
Barbara Taylor, 64, from Suffolk: I don’t know other religions doing anything like this but more should
I went to the mosque in Ipswich and they were gathering people as we arrived and giving us a tour around the mosque. There were lots of classes going on inside with small children learning the Arabic alphabet or a verse of the Qur’an. It was impressive to see. We had tea and biscuits, which was nice, and a young man talked at length about Islam. He was very enthusiastic and charming.
In the current climate I wanted to show my support. I have no suspicions and concerns about Muslims.
They said we could contact them any time if we had questions. I went to show solidarity. In the current climate I wanted to show my support. I have no suspicions and concerns about Muslims. I learned about Islam years ago. I don’t have a faith myself but I defend other people’s rights to have one. I value the fact we live in a multicultural society and if people want to follow another religion then it’s up to them. My only thought is that people who go along to these events are people like me, who are not suspicious. I wonder if those with concerns will turn up. Having said that, it’s an excellent idea and one I’d never heard of before. It’s a good chance to ask questions. I don’t know other religions doing anything like this, but more should.
Hamza Berat, 34, from Southampton: This isn’t a new initiative but Trump has helped us get more publicity
As the representative of Southampton’s Turkish community, I was involved in Visit My Mosque day as an organiser and coordinator. We supported the event as a family. My wife and I were helping with visitors, guiding people on mosque tours and getting questions during the day. Also, our Turkish community fully supported the event and we are grateful to the mosque that they have been very helpful, responsive and cooperative.
This open day event – not a new initiative yet it took time to get publicity until Trump – has been important for Muslims. It’s great to see that our neighbours, friends, colleagues are actually with us. Sometimes Muslims sadly feel isolated due to negative looks, insults, physical and verbal attacks. It has sadly become normal to abuse a Muslim online or offline nowadays. This open day has just made us realise that we have a supportive, tolerant and fantastic wider community in Southampton. You couldn’t imagine how sincere and genuine people’s reactions were towards us. Non-Muslim friends benefited in that they got to see a new space and learn about Islam, but I think we Muslims benefited more. The open day has helped us gain confidence thanks to the kind, encouraging and sensitive manner of our lovely friends.