By Rod Webb

Open day at Hastings Mosque on Sunday 3rd March was part of the fifth annual #VisitMyMosque Day, where mosques opened their doors to the general public ‘for tea, refreshments and an insight into the day-to-day life of the Muslim community’. 

That was almost three weeks ago, but Imam Yusef Ismail pointed out that the opportunity to visit was not limited to once a year. He said you can approach any member of the congregation and ask to be shown around – or you can just ring the mosque and ask for a tour. 

The aim of these events is to allow the local community to see what goes on inside a mosque and to understand its role in Muslim life; it’s a zchance to interact and engage with other cultures to encourage deeper cultural and religious understanding. Another key aim is to emphasise the important part Muslims play in the local community.

The event was organised by the East Sussex Islamic Association and supported by Hastings Borough Council. In a short talk, Cllr Nigel Sinden, Mayor of Hastings thanked the mosque and all those attending, saying: “When we get to know people in our town, they are no longer strangers.” Others giving talks were the deputy mayor, the mayor of Bexhill, a local police inspector as well as Imam Yusuf.

Visitors experienced traditional Muslim hospitality with generous amounts of Asian and Middle Eastern food. There was also an opportunity to dip into Muslim culture by trying temporary henna tattoos and even experience what it was like to wear a burka.

One visitor was struck by how uninhibited and relaxed the local Muslim community was, for example being happy to perform prayers while visitors watched. “There was no sign of pretention,” he said.

“At the same time, there was a feeling of entering very different territory. In one corner a man was reciting in Arabic. It was a real cultural transition, and a real insight into the variety of St Leonards.”

He also talked about some of the things he discovered during his visit such as the ritual performance of Wudhu, the cleansing that Muslims perform before prayers. “There’s a dedicated washroom in the Mosque for the ritual cleansing,” he said in surprise.  Another thing that stood out was “the strange angle of the carpet in the main hall”. He only realised later that this was to ensure that worshipers faced Mecca when praying. And his final comment: “It was great to go along.”

Imam Yusuf was very pleased with the event suggesting that it was the best yet with around 100 visitors. He was particularly pleased that many people came who hadn’t been before. “We want people to know that we are part of the community,” he said, “not some alien group”.

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