First mosque opens in Outer Hebrides despite opposition from the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing)

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The first mosque in the Outer Hebrides opened on the 11th May, marking the first time the islands’ small Muslim community has had a dedicated place to gather and pray. Previously the community has worshipped in their homes. The mosque has space for meetings, separate areas for men and women to worship, and a small mortuary for preparing bodies for burial, meaning that the deceased no longer have to be washed in garages. It will play a key role during the Islamic month of Ramadan and its organisers have stressed their desire to help the wider community learn more about Islam[1].

The islands’ Muslim community dates back to 1945. It currently numbers around fifty people, which is down from around eighty people in the 1980s, but has risen recently after refugee families from Syria were resettled in the area[2].

The mosque was created out of a semi-derelict property in Stornoway in just under four weeks using money from well-wishers, which amounted to more than £59,000. Aihtsham Rashid, a mosque-builder from Leeds, spearheaded the project and called it a “historic moment”, suggesting he might think of building one in the Shetland Islands next. He says the project is helping to “build bridges here in Stornoway and all over the world”, and commented “People should forget wanting to become footballers, they should build mosques – you get more attention, and you raise money for good people as well”[3].

The mosque has drawn criticism. The Free Church of Scotland (Continuing)[4], a Presbyterian denomination called it a “most unwelcome development”[5]. The Church had urged its congregations to pray that “no mosque will ever appear” after the planning for the mosque was allowed to go ahead. Rev David M Blunt of the Presbytery of the Outer Hebrides said in a press release at the end of last year that Islam was “incompatible with, and indeed a threat to, our religious and civil liberties … The oppression of Christians and the reduced status of women under Islam are well-known, as is the willingness of some of its followers to spread its influence by violent means”[6]. He said that the building of the mosque would allow “Islam … to promote itself in our midst through public worship, despite its beliefs and practices being alien to the religious convictions of the vast majority of our community”[7].

Despite this, the JustGiving page for the project had the fastest rate of donations ever seen, according to Rashid, with donations coming from all over the world[8], and the grand opening of the mosque was attended with warm wishes and donations from curious islanders[9].

[1] McLaughlin, 2018.

[2] McLaughlin, 2018.

[3] McLaughlin, 2018.

[4] FCC, 2018.

[5] McLaughlin, 2018.

[6] Fish, 2018.

[7] Rudgard, 2018.

[8] Reporter, 2018.

[9] McLaughlin, 2018.

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Sources

FCC. (2018) ‘Welcome’. [online] http://www.freechurchcontinuing.org/. [Accessed 14 May 2018].

Fish, I. (2018) ‘The first mosque in the Outer Hebrides will open this year after a crowdfunding campaign raised £56,000 just days after being set up’. [online] 9 April. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5592397/The-mosque-Outer-Hebrides-open-year.html. [Accessed 14 May 2018].

McLaughlin, M. (2018) ‘Outer Hebrides gets its first mosque’. [online] 12 May. https://www.pressreader.com/uk/i-newspaper/20180512/281517931761950. [Accessed 14 May 2018].

Reporter. (2018) ‘The UK’s most northern mosque to open next month in the Western Isles’. [online] 7 April. https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/islands/western-isles/1449458/mossque/. [Accessed 14 May 2018].

Rudgard, O. (2018) ‘First mosque in the Outer Hebrides to open this summer despite Presbyterian church praying it is never built’. [online] 8 April. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/04/08/outer-hebrides-have-first-mosque-summer-despite-free-church/. [Accessed 14 May 2018].