In her regular column highlighting local projects, charities and services, Link4Growth volunteer Debra Oakaby visits a local mosque ahead of Ramadan
Waltham Forest has a significant Muslim population, at 21.9 percent – the eighth highest proportion in the UK according to the last census.
Given this demography I decided to find out more about Ramadan, the annual Muslim month of fasting starting on 7th June. I paid a visit to Waltham Forest Islamic Association (WFIA) at Jamia Masjid Ghousia, in Lea Bridge Road, which has been at this site since 1978. It was my first visit to a mosque.
I met Abdul Majid, vice president, and Muhammed Ilyas, general secretary, who are both volunteers. I learned about the five pillars of Islam, two of which were directly relevant to my visit; giving Zakat, and fasting during the Holy Month of Ramadan. This is a time when scholars recite the Qu’ran, and there can be as many as three thousand Muslims attending evening prayers here.
Muslims fast from dawn until sundown, enabling them to empathise with those who go hungry, and deepen their spiritual life. Imam Khurram Rafiq joined us and explained that during Ramadan people become more “God conscious” physically, mentally, spiritually and socially. As a result they are better placed to practise their faith throughout the year.
Central to the teaching of Islam is the belief that everything belongs to God, and for Muslims who are eligible, a charitable tax called Zakat is payable. This is paid annually and normally during Ramadan, when greater rewards can be attained in the hereafter.
WFIA is self-funded and a registered charity. According to JustGiving, the online giving platform, British Muslims gave £200,000 in Zakat donations in 2012, and some of the beneficiaries were non-religious organisations such as Cancer Research UK and British Heart Foundation. They also cite ICM Research, which found: “Muslims give more than twice as much per capita than the average Briton.”
WFIA organised a public opening of its fast in Walthamstow town centre during Ramadan last year, distributing food to passers-by and specifically inviting the homeless to share in the breaking of the fast.
Muhammed showed me a video clip of the event where he publicly denounced terrorism, emphasising that Islam is a religion of peace. He said: “If anyone is in any doubt about Islam come and find out how clean and peaceful we are.”
Keen to counter misconceptions about Islam, I learned that WFIA invites people to visit the mosque through organised open days twice a year. In addition, they have hosted many school visits, welcoming more than 600 students in the last year.
Abdul recounted a recent visit from a school in Walthamstow and the great feedback he had received. He told me: “We firmly believe we are part of the community and the best way we could give back was to organise a monthly breakfast club for the homeless to help the most vulnerable and needy people in the local community.”
Eid, which marks the end of Ramadan, is being celebrated on 8th July.
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