11:50AM, Tuesday 07 February 2017
"In reality every day is an open day," declared the secretary of Maidenhead Mosque as he welcomed visitors to the second annual Visit My Mosque day on Sunday.
The open day was part of a national #VisitMyMosque initiative organised by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and aimed at providing an insight into the daily life of the mosque to promote a better understanding of Islam.
Imaam Hashmi welcomed everyone into the packed room at the building in Holmanleaze with the traditional Islamic greeting 'As-salāmu ʿalaykum' (peace be upon you).
He explained the greeting and the correct reply, 'waʿalaykumu s-salām', are a reminder of a Muslim's commitment to God and to bring peace to the world.
He said: "We are privileged to have you all here today and we are hopeful that you will leave today with a better understanding of Islam."
The Imaam reminded everyone that Islam has been around for about 1,500 years, and said the problems we face today are 'political problems, not religious ones'.
"We cannot let the minority misrepresent the message of Islam," he added.
Guest speaker Sister Jumana told an engaging tale about a travelling merchant who only found his fortune thanks to the kindness of strangers.
Speaking after the event she said: "I think storytelling is a great way to connect with each other.
"You realise the importance of listening as well as learning to tell.
"I think the arts and culture are important for bringing people together."
There was a Q&A followed by afternoon prayer, an exhibition, a kids' group and members of the women's committee painting henna tattoos.
Rebecca Reeves, from Cadwell Drive, attended the event with her husband and two children.
She said: "I thought it is important to bring my kids here and let them see for themselves, and everyone has been so welcoming."
Women's committee members at the mosque said they felt the media was responsible for spreading negative stereotypes.
One said: "People think just because of a hijab we're oppressed, but I feel liberal and free."
Another added: "I hope today has helped change that perception."
Saghir Ahmed, secretary of Maidenhead Mosque reiterated that the main message of Islam is one of peace and tolerance.
He said: "It's reassuring at times like this to see the support of the wider community.
"Just because the minority are louder, it's even more important people aren't just taking their information from the media.
"Come in and speak to us directly, we're always happy to answer any questions."
After the Q&A visitors were treated to a spread of food and drinks and several volunteers were on hand to answer any questions about the exhibition and any misconceptions people may have had.
Shalpal Kahn, volunteer and trustee, talked about the importance of working towards 'synthesising a British Islam'.
He said: "Other religions have been around in Britain much longer and some faced similar challenges to what we face today.
"The hope is that in the future Islam can overcome these negative perceptions and be treated the same as any other."
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