by LAUREN CODLING
A LOCAL community in the Outer Hebrides is set for Ramadan with the opening of the Isle’s first mosque last Friday (11).
The Stornoway Mosque opened on the Isle of Lewis after efforts by supporters across the country and worldwide. Funding to build the mosque surpassed the original £50,000 mark in just four days, and to date more than £95,000 has been raised.
Abdul Ghaffar, 62, has been a Stornoway resident for more than 25 years and said the support has been “unbelievable”.
“We are all very happy, it is difficult to express the feeling,” Ghaffar told Eastern Eye. “As a community, we have been waiting for so long and then it all happened so quickly, within weeks… it was mostly just happiness.”
Over 200 people joined the inauguration of the mosque, including people from all faiths and ba-ckgrounds. Donations of food and snacks were made, including celebratory cakes provided by local organisation, the Hebridean Biscuit Company.
“It was more like a street party than anything else,” Ghaffar said. “It was such a mix of people, a wonderful atmosphere.”
The Muslim population on the island totals nearly 80 people, including a number of Syrian refugees. Although the community has lived on the Isle since the 1950s, a place of worship was never erected.
Individuals had to pray or hold religious events in their houses or in community centres.
Traditional Muslim burials were not able to take place and it took several days for an imam from the mainland to conduct funeral prayers.
The derelict building had been unused for more than 60 years. It took around four weeks for the building to be converted into a mosque.
Mo Ali, 39, a consultant in Leeds who helped to set up the social media and funding pages for the mosque, said the idea came when Aihtsham Rashid, 39, his best friend and leader of the construction project, was contacted to help.
“[Rashid] had heard stories about the community – people who passed away without Islamic burial and with no facilities there,” Ali explained. “Since we set up the funding, the response and support has been overwhelming.”
He confirmed individuals from all diverse backgrounds donated money to the cause – one local woman who wished to stay anonymous donated £500 to show the Muslim community that the Isle is a diverse community.
Although the group had initial concerns over safety after threats were made by far-right groups, Ali and Rashid confirmed there was no problems at the launch.
“I knew if there were protests, it would be under control,” Rashid said. “I showed love all the way through.”
The mosque has an open-door policy, so locals can visit the mosque and learn more about the religion.
There is also a wide range of literature and a family room available.
Ghaffar believes the newly-erected place of worship will play an important role in uniting the Muslim community.
“It was difficult to get all of our community together because sometimes people don’t like to visit each other’s homes,” he explained. “But now having a centre, having a mosque, will bring the whole community together.”