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Friday 14th August 2020
Interview

Tuesday, July 28th, 2020

Al Madina mosque in Barking is one of the largest mosques in London. It has also been recognised as one of the best mosques in the country. Currently, Ashfaq Siddique who is the Secretary to the Trustees is on the lookout for a faith leader to front the project. Here he answers some questions about the mosque, its activities and its plans for the future.

Can you describe your mosque and its activities? 

We are a large mosque, located in the heart of Barking, East London. Our weekly footfall is twelve thousand. We have a three building complex which includes the mosque, an onsite Ofsted registered school and a community centre housing an onsite restaurant and take away, a bespoke womens’ centre, a sensory room (which is in planning stage), a tuition centre and a home-school and a community food club.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your role in the mosque?

I have worked as a law enforcement officer in a career spanning three decades alhamdulillah. I was involved in community policing, undercover work, surveillance, and hostage and crisis negotiation. I have dealt with some of the most serious crimes and so recognised the importance of having an institution that can help the community and especially its youth. I have been working with the mosque for 33 years and am now the Secretary and trustee of the mosque. Alhamdulillah I am very blessed to have a team with me at the mosque which covers a wide variety of skills that we need: We have an IT networking consultant, teacher, an NHS front line worker, a warehouse assistant, a retired accounts clerk, a retail support worker and a complex manager.

How many people attend jumah prayers? 

Approximately 3500. On Eid day we cater for approximately 19,000/22,000 people in a five- hour period over four prayer sittings.

What services do you offer?

Alhamdulillah we have put together a very comprehensive plan of services that we offer to the community. Some of the services we offer include:

CounsellingMadrassaCommunity food clubTouch gloves boxing
Bereavement support groupQuran classes Graveyard programmeTang soo do martial arts
Parenting coursesTajwwed classesRichard House hospiceBody blaze circuit training 
Mothers and Toddlers groupsTafsir classes 100 families projectMindful movement 
Pensioners luncheonStudy circles Water projectYoga
Ladies tea clubPath to Salvation diplomaHouse builds projectMMA
Community advisory serviceSacred text Alim course Pornography addiction projectArchery
Nikah servicesProphet of Mercy purdah gatheringsFood & Welfare supportTennis 
Mortuary service Lady Aisha girls secondary school Cricket
Square Circle Mediation servicesHome-schooling project Badminton
Sensory projectNexGen youth club Table tennis club
   Cycling project
   Interfaith sports programme

How have you tried to improve the mosque?

We have tried to emulate the Prophetic model by making the mosque a hub for the community – by community we include non-Muslims and we have worked very hard to create a centre where Muslims and non-Muslims come and spend time side by side.

One way we have done this is to have numerous non-Muslim service providers.  

Additionally, we have taken a holistic approach and cater for the many needs of communities beyond just the religious. In addition to the spiritual needs of our congregation we cater for their emotional and mental health through our extensive talking therapies programmes and the physical needs through our extensive health and sports activities. We do not shy away from tackling taboo subjects which impact upon our communities or the social ills which affect us. We reach out to the disenfranchised and marginalised in our communities because we believe that they are the most in need of our support. We are proud of the fact that despite our extensive and diverse work on site, a great deal of our work also takes place off site and within the community. 

What is your hope for the mosque?

During the current pandemic we have taken a lead role. We were entrusted as a locality lead with sole responsibility for the vulnerable and shielded amongst 37,000 residents in three ward areas and we were one of only four emergency food storage and distribution sites for the vulnerable amongst the boroughs 212,000 residents. Since the beginning of the pandemic we have dealt with 13.7% of all the boroughs applications for support from vulnerable and shielded residents which I believe is a laudable effort for one organisation alone.  We don’t believe in standing still or resting on our laurels. We always strive to improve and enhance the offerings we make available for our communities. Our hope is that we will continue to develop our footprint amongst all communities and be viewed as a genuine and respected partner in our locality.

What is unique about your mosque?

Al Madina mosque was nominated as a fivestar gold standard Beacon mosque in 2018. This is an acknowledgement of the work of everyone in our team. More importantly though, it opens Al Madina up to greater interest from other communities and members of the public and allows us to enhance our service portfolio and allows others to learn from us as to how best to enhance what services they offer their communities.  

Our model of mosque services has been acknowledged as unique at governmental level and internationally where we have presented our achievements to international audiences, guiding others to strive to achieve similar standards. In 2018 we were also awarded the best youth service and in 2019 best womens’ service and best welfare programme. Whilst we do not seek accolades we have tried to use this recognition positively by supporting other mosques to improve their services.

Here are some details about projects we run:

The HIVE Womens centre 

The Hive Womens Centre is a centre run by women for women. It is an inclusive and safe space for women locally that has such a comprehensive offering of activities and services. It is run by Muslim women of diverse ethnic, professional, spiritual and social backgrounds. This enables them to truly understand and connect with women across our diverse and multi-cultural borough, and beyond. The Centre is succeeding in improving the social inclusion of women who for far too long have remained, voiceless and excluded from the community.

Next Generation Youth Club NGYC

NGYC is a youth club with dedicated volunteers and a comprehensive programme. We provide a safe space where young people aged 11-16 can learn, develop and be empowered, building friendships and gaining knowledge in a fun and educational environment. We are committed to nurturing and encouraging the young leaders of the future.

We run 3 core modules as part of this youth club:  

Faith & Practice

Taking inspiration from stories from the Quran and Sunnah, young people are encouraged to consider how the values, morals and lessons learnt, are applicable to in their daily lives.

Conversations

Exploring topical issues and challenges affecting young people today, our members have a unique opportunity to reflect on their own experiences and express their views and opinions.

Motions

We organise fun activities where our young people are able to get active and/or express their creativity by engaging in recreational activities from arts and crafts to sports and games.

Al Madina counselling 

Our professional counselling service, now in its 10th year, deals with the whole myriad of social ills ranging from domestic violence and abuse, rape, forced marriage, substance abuse, incest, depression, alcoholism, gang related issues, radicalisation and anxiety to mention a few. This confidential service is immensely successful and offers real respite and support to those who often suffer in silence 

SquareCircle Mediation 

Square Circle Mediation (SCM) is our in-house service specialising in providing mediation services to settle disputes. Our independent, professionally trained and accredited mediator panel helps resolve all types of disputes e.g. Family, Community, Workplace, Civil and Commercial. At SCM, mediators come from diverse professional backgrounds, legal and non-legal and are accredited according to national standards. Our mediators offer a skill-set and an expert approach that helps both parties focus on the real issues of the dispute and assists them reach an amicable solution.  

Welfare 

We also have programmes that support hundreds of children in Gambia with food and education, the poor in Tanzania with food parcels, we have purchased an ambulance in Pakistan for the Edhi foundation, we have financed and overseen water projects in Pakistan, Indonesia and Tanzania as well as built homes for the homeless in Pakistan, India and Indonesia. We have worked to help restore the sight of hundreds of people through cataract eye operations and helped prevent many others from going blind. We have subsidised the education of theological scholars of the future and supported various orphanages and welfare projects around the world.

Al Madina Sports programme  

We have a very wide ranging sports programme whose overall aim is to promote personal development through one-to-one and team engagement facilitated by experienced trainers and mentors. By personally developing and supporting the youth engaging in the sports programme, the organisation has been able to provide them with the confidence and ability to engage in positive activism within the community and be empowered to speak out and be resilient to many things including extremist rhetoric.  

Our youth programme is exciting and designed to identify, train and deliver tomorrows leaders. Through our inclusive sports delivery we have been able to access not only the disillusioned and disenfranchised youth within the Muslim community but also those from diverse communities who have been welcomed into our family and today make up the rainbow of participants engaging without barriers.

Education

Al Madina has an established educational pathway which caters for the needs of the young all the way to the elderly. Two of our flagship programmes are:

The Path to Salvation diploma

This course aspires to make authentic classical Islamic knowledge as widely accessible to 21st Century English speaking Muslims, and comprises a uniquely comprehensive and inclusive curriculum that covers all essential Islamic knowledge in a methodical and systematic fashion. The course is now in its eighth year and hundreds of students have graduated and continue to do so.

Sacred Texts Alim Course

This five year long advanced theological course covers a multitude of subjects ranging from the core Islamic sciences such as Qur’anic exegesis (Tafsir), Hadith, Fiqh, and Usul, to the auxiliary sciences such as logic (Mantiq), rhetoric (Balagha) and aspects of Mathematics, Astronomy and Western Philosophy. Students are examined on each science, and only students who meet the required competency are allowed to continue onto the next stage.

Sensory Room

We are also developing a sensory room in order to provide a range of physical and mental stimulus including stimuli designed to encourage physical movement / activity for children with physical disabilities, developmental delays and sensory impairments. It will also be for children with acute physical and mental disabilities where we will aim to utilise interaction with sensory stimuli to help them develop their sight, sound, touch and hearing, as well as encouraging independence, through engagement with activities that support both physical, as well as cognitive development. We will also use access of the sensory project to improve interaction between the borough’s diverse communities by opening access to the sensory room to all young children across the borough, a borough which has had a significant history of social /racial tensions as a result of far-right extremism and increasingly in modern times, politico-religious extremism causing local anxieties. 

Would you welcome committees from other mosques to visit you so that you can show them around your institution and explain its various activities?

Yes, we would be delighted to introduce other committees to our work and project. We welcome anyone who is interested to get in touch with us through our website. Sharing our knowledge and experience to the benefit of others is for us a sadaqah.

What are you looking for in the imam for your mosque?

I hope I have been able to provide an understanding of our outlook and approach. If I have been successful in doing that then any prospective Imam will be able to identify where and how they can fit into our mosque and community – more importantly how and where they can help improve our work further. We have a realistic approach as to how much an Imam can do  or how much he should be called upon to do. We employ a number of Imams to lead the daily prayers and some outreach work such as in interfaith, visiting the sick and representing the community at events. Our immediate need is for an Imam to lead the Jummah prayer and to play a pastoral care role to the wider community. For example, we are partnered with a children’s hospice where 70% of children receiving end of life support are Muslims and we would want our Imam to play a more prominent role in supporting the children and their families. I believe we are a unique mosque in that we offer such a myriad of services and some are intimidated when they see what we have achieved. However, we are looking for a person who can help us take the next step, someone who can bring new ideas to the table, and someone who will challenge us to do better. We want someone we can learn from and someone who we would employ as our lead Imam. To the right person, who shared our vision, we would offer a blank canvas for them to paint it as they saw fit – in return they will find a dedicated and committed team which has a blazing passion to serve Allah’s creation.

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