Visiting the Newcastle Central Mosque, 5 February 2017

As part of the national event, Visit My Mosque Day, members of the Newcastle Unitarians visited the Newcastle Central Mosque on 5 February 2017, where we were made very welcome. We enjoyed learning more about Islam; here’s what church member Ben MacLeod had to say about the visit.

“I found our trip to Newcastle Central Mosque a wholly positive experience. It felt very reassuring to discover how many ways Islam overlaps with our own Unitarian faith and philosophy, a fact that had previously escaped me. The majority of my preconceptions about the attitudes of British Muslims and the atmosphere inside a mosque were debunked; both the people and place were very warm and welcoming, and many of the Muslims I spoke to were glowing with simple kinship and the shared values of common humanity, a feeling which I often receive from the Sufi poetry of Rumi.

A young man, a fairly recent convert, spoke to us extensively about Islam and invited us to interrogate him broadly, an offer that we quickly took up, with questions ranging from things as simple as “why do we take our shoes off in the mosque?” to the more difficult “How do you know that the writings of the prophet Muhammad were divinely inspired?”

Our guide did not shirk away from any of these questions and regarding the more challenging ones, I found his answers to be very substantial and logically sound. Even if I didn’t personally agree with them, his beliefs seemed well-founded on reasoned arguments.

At another table, a doctor spoke to us about the various healing foods mentioned in the Quran and told us his personal experience of the Ramadan fast, something that many non-Muslims view with a mixture of incredulity and respect. He admitted that, although the fast brings about great clarity of body and mind, he does miss his morning coffee.

However, I didn’t come away from this visit entirely without reservations. I would say that I did still notice a degree of tension, of separation in the roles of men and women, but this fact isn’t isolated to Islam in my experience, with Sikhism and Judaism separating men and women during worship, for instance.

The only other element of the day that I personally found uncomfortable was the choice of informative videos being played on a large screen in the attic room. A number of the views aired in the films I saw differed with my own personal interpretations and the style of at least one of the videos was reminiscent of the type of slick and modern videos employed by evangelical Christian groups to attract young converts. However, the mosque themselves had not made any of these videos, as far as I’m aware, and these are simply my own views.

That aside, it was lovely to see a thriving, vibrant religious community opening their doors to those of all faiths and none. Our visit to the mosque gave me a renewed sense of optimism that perhaps an annual Access to Unitarianism Day or festival at our own church could revitalise our local following.”