'We can open doors and hearts with #VisitMyMosque 2022'
Islam Channel columnist Zara Mohammed tells us about how opening mosque doors to the general public can help change perceptions around Islam and Muslims in Britain
We can sometimes underestimate the power of an invitation; an opportunity to share a cup of tea, a smile, and a chat, a chance to get to know one another and challenge commonplace misconceptions, biases and prejudice.
This September, the Muslim Council of Britain will be celebrating the return of its Visit My Mosque (VMM) campaign - the biggest national mosque open day event in the UK. After having participated in VMM virtually since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year, mosques across the UK will be opening their doors once again and welcoming in local communities for in-person open day events.
I remember my own experience of volunteering in my local mosque during one such event. I met a wonderful family, and they told me they had walked past the mosque for 28 years and never gone in, not sure what a mosque was or what happened inside. But that day, they had brought the entire family as they felt it was so important for their kids to learn more about Muslims in their class and in their community. They enjoyed the day; taking home balloons, a calligraphy bookmark and having enjoyed the refreshments (samosas!) provided.
What did I learn from that day? That hearts and minds are best changed in places where we can come together freely and in good conscience, share more about ourselves and truly listen to one another.
British Muslims are now in their 3rd generation in this country, with 50% under 25. Mosques are as much part of our British landscape, our history and our communities, even more so than before. The vital role and position of mosques in our society was most recently highlighted through their extraordinary COVID-19 response, with mosques converting their halls into vaccination centres, running foodbanks and leading on mutual aid initiatives for the wider communities of which they are a part.
The power of Visit My Mosque day
Despite this exemplary work, we continue to see Muslims subject to the highest proportion of religiously motivated hate crimes, all set against the backdrop of a pervasive, and normalised, Islamophobia.
According to the UK Home Office’s figures from 2020-21, 45% of all hate crime offences in England and Wales targeted Muslims. A YouGov Poll commissioned by the Muslim Council of Britain in 2018 found that almost 70% of Britons hadn’t seen the inside of another faith’s place of worship, and almost 90% hadn’t been inside a mosque. VMM is a step towards changing that, and with it, the grossly skewed perceptions around Islam and Muslims.
We often get feedback from participating mosques; people have many questions about Islam, why women wear the headscarf, why we pray 5 times a day and why the mosque is so important. Questions around shaking hands and access to spaces for women are also commonplace. Considering just how long Muslims have been in Britain, it's important to assess why wider society lacks in understanding about Islam, why misinformation about Muslims and Islam remains so pervasive, and how we can create opportunities to address this.
This is precisely why the MCB founded and launched VMM in 2015, with only 20 participating mosques. We recognised the need to bring together mosque communities to share a message rooted in Islamic ethos, one of welcome, warmth and peace. Whilst the likes of Trump and his ilk have been busy building their walls, Muslim communities have been opening their doors.
The power and impact of VMM goes beyond encouraging society to visit a mosque, it is part of shaping and changing the national conversation around Islam and Muslims in Britain. One that is constantly tarred with a negative brush. This campaign is about providing local communities with a chance to create their own narrative, and for the wider communities of which we are a part to see with their own eyes, and assess with their own hearts, who and what British Muslims are about.
And so, we share this invitation with everyone - have you invited your friends, colleagues and neighbours to a VMM event? Is your local mosque taking part? Join us in a day of shared unity, plenty of tea and lots of conversation (we also promise balloons and highly encourage samosas).
Visit My Mosque is to be held on the 3rd & 4th of September. This year’s theme is ‘welcome back, welcome in’, inviting the entire community into our mosques for the first time since the pandemic began.
How to get involved
Here are three ways you can take part in the campaign:
1. Invite your friends and colleagues
Whether it's your neighbour next door or your work colleague in another town, invite them all! VMM is taking place across the country. You can use the handy tool on the VMM website to point people to their local participating Mosque. If your local mosque isn’t participating, why not reach out and ask them to sign up?
2. Post about it on social media
Help build the interest and excitement around VMM by posting on social media and sharing information. Remember to use the hashtags #VisitMyMosque and #WelcomeBack. Tag the MCB on Twitter and Instagram so we can share all your lovely moments.
3. Volunteer in your local participating Mosque
Volunteers at VMM always talk about the atmosphere and real sense of achievement in being part of such important work. From giving tours to restocking the tea cups or just being on hand to have a friendly chat with visitors, every role is important and Allah (SWT) will reward every effort, inshAllah.
Find out more about the campaign.
Mosque leaders! Whether your mosque is affiliated to the MCB or not, you can still register to take part in VMM 2022.