The Austrian Consul, Agal & Christmas


No, it’s not Edinburgh Central Mosque’s Lawrence of Arabia. It’s actually Mr. John Clifford, Honorary Consul of Austria for Scotland who came to visit us today. You’re probably wondering by now: how on earth do the other parts – the Agal and Christmas fit into the picture? Well, it goes like this. John called us sometime midweek describing a “ring” worn around a “headscarf” and was seeking advice on how to acquire one.

“Could you please send us a picture John so we can see how we can help?” was our reply. “I might as well send you a picture of the king of Saudi Arabia, he wears one.” John’s words cleared up all the haziness for us. Straight away, I said: “John, you want an Agal.” To his relief and my convenience, I had an Agal lying around in my office drawer. “I even had the full robe! We made an appointment for the Honorary Consul of Austria to come in and pick up this distinctly Arabian package. No questions were asked over the phone, but of course, I was dying to find out more about this rather interesting request.

This is where Christmas comes in! And we found the story quite touching and moving. John has been invited to a Christmas event, and instead of attending with the prescribed Santa hat, he thought why not add a touch of authenticity and creativity by adopting – as close as possible – the mode of dress of the people of the region that the Messiah Jesus was born in! Now, of course we were going to welcome John with Arabian coffee and have a good chat especially when he just shared his idea.

John has a keen interest in interfaith, and this wasn’t the first time he would cross the borders of two or more religions. He shared with us that last year, he actually gave the grace at the 73rd annual dinner of the Consular Corps in Edinburgh borrowing from the Muslim tradition. The public reaction, he told us was of course very mixed, but the Austrian Ambassador in London loved it because he, as then Head of Cultural Affairs in Austria actually organised the celebrations of the centenary of Austria’s official recognition of Islam as a religion in 1912 – Europe’s first country to do so.

We went on to discuss contemporary European politics, Brexit, immigration and the challenges facing our communities. In this world of complex problems, we need to be able to come together, learn from one another and see the things we share. The meeting was therefore a highlight of our day, and we certainly hope for further occasions where we can come together and learn more from one another. Nice one John of Arabia!

The Power of Youth: Addressing our Human Social Challenges


When you start a week discussing youth issues at a local governmental level and then actually have some twenty plus youth coming to your space to provide, as well as benefit, from your services, that’s not a bad week at all!

On Saturday night, the 10th December, two residential care officers from Edinburgh City Council brought five ‘unaccompanied minors’ to our Youth Chillout Session. They were helping to settle them, so they came to see what facilities we had to offer. All five had been through the Calais Jungle before being finally given resettlement leave by the UK Home Office. “They have all been through a lot!” the officers remarked a number of times. They were in the process of ‘assessing’ before being allocated foster families to help their integration in Scotland.

It is a new case for Edinburgh’s City Council and they are certainly learning as they go along. Language and cultural barriers were key obstacles. “We spend most of the day with them using sign language” said Karen. It was therefore to the relief of both the officers and kids that they walked into a place mingling with youths who spoke their languages and came from their countries of origin. One of the children the officers were really worried about started to come out of his bubble. “He eats just chips” Karen’s motherly tone asserted.  The sight of her face lighting up as the young man tucked into pizza with the others was simply breathtaking! The children were however well mannered the officers outlined.

Karen and Niko however had years of experience working with youth. We were interested in the broader picture and wider challenges facing Scottish society, and especially Edinburgh. We were taken aback hearing how kids “thrived” and “blossomed” in Care instead of their homes because at least they were secured a safe space and three meals a day! Deprivation in households was a major problem affecting the welfare of children. A city where children cannot attain their full potential because of poverty should concern us all because they are the future generation.

The exchange made us ask: how could we contribute our quota to solving these social problems whether it be a result of the migration crisis or problems entrenched within Scottish society? What could we offer to help the city especially when it appears that the council is scaling back on some of these projects? The officers highlighted fostering and mentoring as two key areas which the Muslim community can help with. We can certainly help with things like language, diversity and cultural sensitivity insights for both council and would-be foster families to aid the long-term relationships being forged. Whatever the case, we want to be a partner in creating safer more cohesive communities because a city where all children can reach their full potentials is a gift to the whole world not just to Edinburgh.

Caritas Award Students from St. Augustine’s School


This afternoon (11 December 2016), our Imam and Aid worker held a meeting with five zestful young people from St. Augustine’s High School. The Head of the school’s RE department and the Caritas co-ordinator got in touch with us when one of the pupils asked about the possibility of getting involved in Mosque activities as part of their Caritas Award. “The Pope Benedict XVI Caritas Award encourages and promotes the ongoing faith journey of young people. It recognises that some are already active and committed within their homes, schools, and Faith communities and it invites others to respond to God’s call of love. It supports and celebrates the faith witness which young people give within their communities. The Award had 3 elements: Theological reflection, 20 hours of loving service within the pupil’s Faith Community and 20 hours of loving service within St Augustine’s.

So today, our Aid worker and Imam met with the enthusiastic students. We outlined from the start that we wanted this to be a mutually fulfilling venture: we wanted to learn from them as much as we hoped they would gain insights from their involvement. We discussed their interests and passions, trying to match them with the various areas of work the mosque conducts:  Foodbank, Youth Chillout, Health & Wellbeing focus group, Mother & Toddler group, Gardening, New to Islam Support Circle, The Mosque School – Arabic madrasah for kids 5-12yrs, Mosque Tours/visits, Social Media engagement, Foundation Islam Course, Student of Knowledge Course, Adult Arabic Course – Level 1A and the various collections/activities which take place after the Friday congregational prayers. We told them that we didn’t just want to be ticking boxes here, rather “loving service” has such depth to it that it had to be linked to doing something one was passionate about and deeply cared for. The youth are our future, and we want to listen to them so that together we can walk along the journeys they take to fulfill their talents and ambitions.

What do we Teach at our mosque?


We teach a living, breathing Islam. We know the importance of building one’s faith and religion upon good, constructive foundations which come to life in everyday reality. This is why we decided to provide structured courses of learning to the already existing circles of study at the mosque.

sisters-tuesday-circle-beforeThe ‘Sisters’ Circle’ had been running for over a decade – maa.shaa.Allah! In recognition of the importance of women and education, the mosque consulted the sisters to see how the circle’s framework could be adapted to offer a structured programme of study to the sisters.

We came up with ‘Foundation Islam’ – a course of study combining flexibility and practicality with progression. Students are offered four-week courses on the essential Islamic sciences: Aqidah (Creed), Fiqh (Jurisprudence), Tafsir (Qur’anic Exegesis), Hadith, Sirah (the Prophetic Biography) at gradual progressive stages. Each course is assessed at the end of the four weeks before a new module is introduced. This enables the students to learn in manageable bite-size chunks as they build on their knowledge of Islam. Although the modules build on one another, breaking them into four-week chunks grants students the flexibility to join and rejoin the programme at any point since there is no ‘long-haul’ study. You get from the overall programme the number of courses you consistently attend!

sisters-foundation-islam-2We have so far covered two courses: the first was the ‘Methodology of Seeking Knowledge’ and the second – which we have just concluded – was ‘Introductory Aqidah’. The sisters sat their assessments this evening and the main picture of this post shows them taking in some calories before the test.

The test is of course not mandatory, but we believe that learning should be assessed for both the student and teacher’s sake. A bit of cake always helps! The next course of study is ‘Living Islam in the West: Challenges & Opportunities’. Since we started the ‘Foundation Islam’ course for women on Tuesdays at 6.30pm, the men requested a similar programme. We responded by offering them the ‘Student of Knowledge’ class on Thursdays at 6.30pm. The course content and design is the same for both.

We want to create a community of knowledge through creating a ‘living breathing’ study programme which can be accessed by anyone from anywhere. In beginning to achieve this, we plan on compiling the notes of study, sharing them online and editing them as we go along. Please stay tuned.


Investing in Our Future: The Mosque School


Last Sunday, the 20th of November 2016, we opened the doors for children of the community to attend the Mosque School. A total of 47 students aged 5 to 12 years were registered by their parents to attend the school to learn Arabic, Qur’an and Etiquette.

It may be asked: why does a mosque in Scotland teach children Arabic and Qur’an? Our answer is: if we want to raise the next generation of youth confident in belonging where they are, and with their religious identity, we should make sure they have the tools to correctly understand their often misunderstood religion. And it just so happens that the language which this religion originally communicated in is Arabic! It’s a language with 300 million speakers, officially spoken in 22 countries, and has at least 11 words for love. Languages connect humans!

In the first week, all the attending students were assessed to determine their Arabic language levels and abilities. The assessment results enabled the school administration to organise the students into three classes taking into account age in combination with Arabic language competency. Currently, the school has a young beginners’ class, an intermediate level and a relatively advanced class.

The primary goal of the Mosque School is to equip the students with the language skills to be ‘conversant’ with the language of the Qur’an – the Book of their religion: reading, writing, speaking and recitation. The school also has an equally important role to meet the student’s social needs of being in an environment where they can feel comfortable with their Muslim identity, make friends and learn about the diverse cultures of the Muslim world.

20161127_124512Many parents have emphatically made the point that some of their own childhood experiences with Islamic schools (Madrasahs) had been negative. Some outlined being ‘scarred’ by some of the experiences to the point that affected their identities as Muslims relating to Islam. We don’t want this to happen in our school. For this reason, we are teaming up with education practitioners in Scotland to help us design our classes so that they teach Islam in as positive, fun and rewarding a way as possible for our children.

We have currently reached our limit for new enrolments to our school. However, inquiries can be sent to [email protected]

Being Human in Faith: Exploring Hopes & Fears


On Thursday evening November 24, we participated in an innovative theatre workshop to explore how families and communities respond to religious conversion. The event was part of the ‘Being Human’ festival which is a yearly “national forum for public engagement with humanities research. The festival highlights the ways in which the humanities can inspire and enrich our everyday lives, help us to understand ourselves, our relationships with others, and the challenges we face in a changing world.”

The theme for the 2016 festival was ‘Hope & Fear’. Amidst the 300+ events organised by over 70 universities and research organisations in 36 towns and cities across the UK, came the invitation to participate in the ‘Transformations in Faith: Exploring Hopes and Fears’ theatre workshop in Edinburgh.

20161124_190147The theatre workshop had two main parts to it. In the first session, the participants went through a series of exercises where they ‘expressed’ their thoughts, feelings and emotions through actual ‘body language’ and performance. The interesting rationale behind this approach was that: using words in ordinary speech to express how we feel does not always reflect how we actually feel. The exercises in the first session therefore prepared us for the second part where we actually began addressing situations involving the theme of religious conversion.

Why did we participate? Well, to learn of course. We live in a world of complex challenges, and religious conversion is certainly something that we as an Islamic institution frequently encounter. Whilst some convert to Islam, we see others leave the religion. We therefore went along to understand ‘being human’ when faith and spirituality cross religious borders. We learnt many things, like: the importance of listening to what others have to say and “disagreeing with respect” – someone may well have full conviction in one path, but they need to recognise that others may well have theirs.

20161124_202015The eye-opening workshop was concluded by a ‘themed meal’ provided by the World Kitchen Team. The participants discussed food choice, religious identity and conversion to end the rich and meaningful event where a mix of people from all faiths and none came to learn from each other and discuss the challenging issues of religion, identity and faith.

Serving a City of Sanctuary & Compassion: The Edinburgh 2050 City Vision


Edinburgh Central Mosque participated in two ground breaking events this week inspiring it to express its new vision as a mosque actively and creatively serving a “City of Sanctuary & Compassion.”

The problems we face as a global humanity cannot be solved at the same level of thinking which created them in the first place. We recognise the need for initiative, creativity and hybridity in bringing solutions to the table.

“In 2016, we are a successful city where population is growing … and whose strong economy and quality of life is recognised across the world. With this vibrancy and growth come many challenges …  increased inequality … pressure on our city infrastructure and environment, we know that the city needs to adapt and change again … This is why the city is embarking on a project to develop a vision for 2050. Developing this vision will involve residents of all ages, businesses and groups from all sectors coming together to agree the type of city we all want Edinburgh to be.” The City of Edinburgh Council.

The first of the two events occurred at the beginning of the 2016 Scottish Interfaith Week on Tuesday 15th November. The occasion was a ‘Religious Leaders and Faith Representatives meeting’ at Edinburgh City Chambers with the aim of exploring the potential proposal of Edinburgh becoming a ‘Compassionate City’ as its 2050 vision. It included a presentation by Professor John Gillies ‘Edinburgh as a compassionate city; where faith and science come together’. Representatives of faith communities shared their stories of fruitful engagement with their neighbours of other faiths and non-faith and how that strengthened compassionate community engagement. The meeting gave useful insights into identifying ways in which the faith communities and their leaders could contribute to Edinburgh realising its 2050 vision.

The second event was ‘Mapping Sanctuary in Edinburgh’ supported by: The City of Edinburgh Council and City of Sanctuary Edinburgh on Saturday 19th November. The occasion was a “sharing of information, learning about what is happening and exploring ideas for working together to welcome refugees and asylum seekers in Edinburgh.” Networking and exploring what’s on the ground were key to the event. Participants from various organisations and communities ‘mapped’ all the places, services and initiatives within the various parts of the city that welcome and support refugees and asylum seekers – places where one could go to seek help and feel part of the community.

20161119_1144471 Some of the themes which emerged from the ‘mapping’ and discussions included: Befriending, Mental Health, Health & Wellbeing, Housing, Language and making Information available, Work & Employment, Enabling healthy diversity, Food, Children & Young people, Sport, Leisure & Recreation.

As a community, we thought: instead of waiting for 2050 to come, why not embrace the vision right now? How are we going to be a mosque serving a City of Sanctuary & Compassion? We aspire to do that through a dedicated ethos of serving Edinburgh through our space, our facilities, in our outreach activities and especially through knowing and understanding each other.

Collecting Our History: The Tapestry of Heritage Project


 “Let those present among you inform the absent” words uttered by our Prophet Muhammad – prayers and peace be upon him – teaching this nation the importance of handing down history across the generations. The Muslim population of Edinburgh is very much alive in this welcoming city. We wish to collect some of its important history especially in relation to the building of the city’s central mosque. We are therefore glad to cooperate with the ‘Tapestry of Heritage’ project in recruiting volunteers and research interns.

We would like to invite those interested in being a part of making history to a meeting at Edinburgh Central Mosque on Sunday 9th of October at 1.45pm (after dhuhr) about this exciting project.

The Tapestry of Heritage project is being co-ordinated by Carrie Alderton at the Edinburgh Inter-Faith Association and aims to investigate the history of different religions or faith communities in Edinburgh with an overall aim to show how religious communities, especially minority religious communities, play a vital role in the current social fabric of Edinburgh and its history.

As a part of this initiative, Edinburgh Central Mosque is specifically looking to compile the history of the Mosque and we are looking for research interns to gather this information in tandem with the Tapestry of Heritage project.

Carrie Alderton and Yahya Barry, the Imam of ECM will be present at the meeting to discuss it in more detail. We wish to encourage members of the community from all backgrounds and walks of life to attend – whether interested specifically in researching the history of Edinburgh Central Mosque or more generally in researching the history of the Edinbugh Muslim community.