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British town votes to change a church to a mosque

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  • British town votes to change a church to a mosque


    CLITHEROE, England: On a chill night this winter, this pristine town adjacent to royal estates in some of England's most untouched countryside gave permission for a former Christian church to become a mosque.

    The narrow vote by the municipal authorities marked the end of a bitter struggle by the tiny Muslim population to establish a place of worship, one that will put a mosque in an imposing stone Methodist church that had been used as factory since its congregation dwindled away 40 years ago.

    The battle underscored Britain's unease with its Muslim minority, and particularly the infiltration of terror cells among the faithful, whose devotion has challenged an increasingly secular Britain's sense of itself.

    Britain may continue to regard itself as a Christian nation. But practicing Muslims are likely to outnumber church-attending Christians in several decades, according to a recent survey by Christian Research, a group that specializes in documenting the status of Christianity in Britain.

    More devout and conspicuous than ever in both the halls of power and in working class neighborhoods, Britain's 1.6 million Muslims (about 2.7 percent of the population) are at once alienated and increasingly assertive in their aspirations.

    In Clitheroe, the tussle involved a passionate young Muslim professional of Pakistani descent coming up against the raw nerves of tradition-bound locals.

    "We've been trying to get a place of worship for 30 years," said Sheraz Arshad, 31, the Muslim leader here, his voice rattling around the empty old Mount Zion Methodist Church that would become his mosque. "It's fitting it is a church: it is visually symbolic, the coming together of religions."

    Population 14,500, with a Norman castle and an Anglican church established in 1122, Clitheroe is tucked away in Lancashire County, and people here liked to think they represented a last barrier to the mosques that have become features in the industrial towns that encircle them.

    But Clitheroe had not bargained on the determination of Arshad. A project manager at British Aerospace, he is the British-born son of a Pakistani immigrant, Mohamed Arshad, who came to Clitheroe from Rawalpindi in 1965 to work at the cement works on the outskirts of town.

    When Arshad's father died in 2000, leaving his efforts to establish a mosque for the approximately 300 Muslims unfulfilled, his son took up the challenge.

    "I thought why should I be treated any less well," Arshad said. "One quarter of my salary goes in tax, too. I was driven to do the mosque."

    In all, Arshad and his father made eight applications for a mosque, including buying an out-of-sight modest terrace house on the edge of town. Arshad said he tried to buy land from the council but was rebuffed.

    Often there was booing at the council meetings and cries of "Go home Paki!" he said.

    The official reasoning for the authorities' rejections was generally on the ground that a mosque would attract outsiders, meaning Muslims, to Clitheroe.

    Letters to the local newspaper, The Clitheroe Advertiser and Times, warned that what had happened to Blackburn and Preston, two bigger industrial towns in Lancashire County, with substantial Muslim populations, would happen to Clitheroe.

    Arshad's winning strategy was organization, and a demonstration that he was a moderate Muslim who could take part in all the town's affairs.

    He formed an interfaith scout group - Beaver Scouts - that marked many kinds of religious occasions, including the Taoist and Jewish New Year. He established the Medina Islamic Education Center as an interfaith adult group, and persuaded the local council to allow the group to chair a key committee. He organized a series of lectures on global conflict that attracted important academics to this well-educated town.

    On the night of the vote last December 21, the Ribble Valley council chambers overflowed with 150 people. The police were poised outside. The vote was seven to five in favor of the mosque, and there was no violence.

    "I went in resigned to the fact we would lose," Arshad said. "In the end it was very humbling."

    The church's demarcation as a place of worship in the town's planning records helped carry the day for the mosque, said Geoffrey Jackson, chief executive of Trinity Partnership, a social welfare agency, and a Methodist who backed Arshad.

    So did Arshad's demeanor. "He's a top lad, with a Lancashire accent, born and bred here, and educated at Clitheroe grammar," said Jackson.

    But the fight is hardly over. Since the vote, some opponents have smashed a few windows in the church building, and beneath the official vote lies a river of resentment among those who fear that the broader patterns in Britain will eventually come here.

    "There was so much opposition," said Robert Kay, a driver who ferries people around the countryside. "The people who were for the mosque were those who were not going to end up with it on their doorstep."

    The Mount Zion Methodist church where the mosque will now be housed was turned into a factory for making scarves for export to the Middle East in the 1960s, when practice of the Christian faith in Britain had already begun its decline.

    Today, Britain has fewer than 500,000 practicing Methodists, and only about 6 percent of Christians here attend church regularly, according to Peter Brierley, executive director of Christian Research.

    The number of Britain's Muslims who regularly attend Friday prayers is not precisely known, but most agree that Muslims in Britain are far more devoted to their religion than Christians.

    The symbolic encroachment of Islam at the pinnacles of British power is already clear. At Oxford University town residents recently, and unsuccessfully, fought the building of a Center for Islamic Studies, and in the House of Lords the number of Muslim members has gone from none to seven during the decade of Labor government.

    In working class neighborhoods, the differences between the white British and the immigrant Muslim Asians, who began arriving in significant numbers from former British colonies in Pakistan and Bangladesh in the 1970s, are stark. Contemporary Britons are marrying less and bearing more children out of wedlock; many Muslims, who put stock in intact families, find those trends disturbing. The alarming rate of alcohol consumption among white Britons sets the two groups apart, too. In Blackburn and Preston, increasing numbers of neighborhoods have become exclusively Muslim.

    Even as devotion among Christians wanes, the growing influence of the conservative Wahabi school of Islam is more and more visible among women who wear black robes and cover all but their eyes.

    In Blackburn, the constituency of Jack Straw, the Labor leader of the House of Commons, there are 30,000 Muslims among a population of 80,000. But in a tell-tale sign for the future, the number of Blackburn children 10 years and younger is evenly divided between Christian and Muslim.

    It is these demographics, and the visibility of Blackburn's 40 mosques, many of them relatively new, juxtaposed alongside the ancient Christian church spires, that frightened the opponents of the mosque in Clitheroe.

    As Arshad makes plans for renovating the church building, the Christians of Clitheroe are taking stock.

    At the Anglican Saint Mary Magdalene Church, where the first stone was laid in the 12th century, the congregation has dropped to about 90 people on Sunday and the average age is 75, said the vicar, Philip Dearden. Christenings are now rare, and he has only seven weddings booked for the year, down from 30 a while ago.

    "Lancashire is the last place to see secularization in Britain," Dearden, 64, said. "We're seeing it now quite drastically. People don't have a conscience about religion, they don't come anymore."

    As for the look of the new mosque in Clitheroe, there will be no obvious changes to the exterior of the building, although the cross at the top will come down. Women will be welcome to pray in the main prayer hall, "not in a cubbyhole in the corner," he said.

    And finally: "We don't want a dome. That looks pretty in Egypt and Turkey, but in a market town in England it looks like a big onion. There will be no external call to prayer. What matters is what goes on inside."


  • #2
    many more churches have either turned to mosques or libraries . it is better than stay empty .
    Friendship

    [60:8] GOD does not enjoin you from befriending those who do not fight you because of religion, and do not evict you from your homes. You may befriend them and be equitable towards them. GOD loves the equitable.

    [60:9] GOD enjoins you only from befriending those who fight you because of religion, evict you from your homes, and band together with others to banish you. You shall not befriend them. Those who befriend them are the transgressors

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    • #3
      LOL - Nes I love your (totally non-partisan of course ) statements



      V

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      • #4
        I saw on Canadian TV that 3 synagogues has been given by the Rabin to Immam for a mosque conversion
        A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.
        By: George Bernard Shaw

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