A new place of worship has opened in Westover and Bridgwater, with it’s historical tradition of welcoming a wide variety of religions through the centuries, can now proudly add a Mosque to it’s collection. However, after last weeks frontpage reporting of it in the Mercury, with phrases like ‘council cash handouts’ and subsequent alarmist postings from right wing bigots on social media led to a frenzy of misinformation , Westover councillors immediately contacted the new Islamic Cultural Centre in Friarn street to pay a visit, call for calm and understanding and to get the facts.
Cllr Brian Smedley, who organised the visit, said “When the Quakers left the Friends Meeting House this year the Moslems asked to move in. One religion swapped places with another . For 20 years there have been Moslems meeting to pray in Bridgwater and they take their place alongside Catholics, Methodists, Baptists and the rest, only now with a dedicated place of worship as is their right in British society where everyone has the freedom to worship or not as they choose. I’m as happy to welcome this establishment as I am to welcome any other religion and I utterly reject the intolerance of the bigots who have been posting their appalling attacks on the Moslem community on the social media. I will also say I’m incredibly proud of the decent people of Bridgwater who stood up for their fellow citizens and confronted these hate mongers. The important thing now is for people to show respect for other peoples points of view and learn to trust each other within our community.”
Appeal for Tolerance and Common Sense
Many of the hostile postings on the Social media sites came from organised right wing groups such as the EDL and supporters of Britain First who target Islamic groups. “By the end of the night however they were clearly in a minority and the supporters of tolerance and understanding had won the argument on the net” explained Cllr Smedley adding “Most local people appealed for calm, tolerance and common sense and I really appreciate the stance taken by those people to reject the awful stuff that was being put up there and show the vast majority in the town are decent, caring and welcoming people”
Bridgwater Police are taking the facebook attacks very seriously and are investigating possible incitement to racial hatred by some of the people posting. Sgt Chris Walls said “Any report of hate crime is taken very seriously by us and will be investigated thoroughly. “ Victims of hate crime are asked to call 999 in an emergency or the non-emergency incident number 101.”
Cllr Smedley added “The Islamic Cultural Centre had applied to Sedgemoor District Council for a Grant – as is it’s right. It was awarded £2,500, the same as other community churches in the area who applied. This money is put into a small grants budget at the start of each year for community groups to apply for and is awarded or rejected by a panel of councillors. The group have also put in a bid to the Town Council for a further grant which will be up for discussion next week. It is quite right that any group wishing to access public money should have the right to make a bid for it, present it’s case and then be treated equally with other groups who make similar bids.”
Reject those who say to Kill
Mohamed Miah, showed the ward delegation around the mosque today and explained the background. “We are a small community and we’ve been in Bridgwater for 15 to 20 years and we’d simply like somewhere to meet to pray. Eventually we would like to welcome schools here to see what we do and to see that Islam is a peaceful religion . This is a listed building and we don’t intend to make any changes to it. We will simply carpet the floor and paint the walls in a light magnolia colour.”
The Bridgwater congregation numbers about 40 and the nearest other Mosques are in Taunton and Weston Super Mare . Mr Miah said “Currently we are just doing Friday prayers but eventually we would like to be able to pray 5 times a day here.”
Nine year old Morgan Edwards, who lives in Friarn street, joined the group to ask her own questions about the similarity and differences between the Koran and the Bible and about the Prayers that Moslems say.
Mr Miah, welcoming her into the inner sanctum of the Mosque, told her “Islam recognises the same prophets –Mohamed, Moses, Jesus, and so on. We pray many times a day to constantly show our love of God. Our prayers are about how to live a good life. Our hopes are for peace and our prayers reflect our inner feelings. We believe in living together peacefully and reject those who say to kill. This can be manipulated and taken out of context.”
Morgan’s mother, Liz Edwards, who is involved in the local Neighbourhood Watch, said she was happy to work with a Mosque in their street saying “You’re part of our community and we’re part of yours” .
An opportunity to break down prejudice and fear
Mr Miah said “We want the people of Bridgwater to get to know us and to integrate. We live and work in the town as well. I have been here for 10 years and it’s a very nice place to live. My kid’s go to school here and will grow up here. When we are ready we will have a website so people can communicate with us. We will invite school trips here and the Imam will speak to them and answer their questions, explain the verses. Of course we can’t stop people having their opinions but we’re not as bad as we are portrayed in the media. We live peacefully.”
Cllr Kathy Pearce said “There are extremists in all walks of life. This is an opportunity for us to find out more about each other and to break down prejudice and fear.”