Nine members of Capel Ladies’ club spent an instructive, interesting and illuminating evening at the Ipswich Mosque in Bond Street on 16 May. There are 10,000 Muslims in Suffolk, and this mosque is one of three for those Muslims who live in Ipswich.
We ladies were greeted by Nurul Choudhury, the Mosque secretary, his daughter, Shoomi and Sister Henla Khan. Shoomi said that visitors from other faiths were always welcome as it was an opportunity to share their religion. At the start of the visit, we removed our shoes, and most of us sat on the floor in the main prayer room to witness men praying. Men and women wash to purify themselves before praying five times a day. Call to prayer is transmitted to all Muslim households in Ipswich. We were told that Islamic beliefs are the words of God given to the Prophet Mohammed, the final messenger, unchanged since they were given and written down in Arabic in the Holy Koran 1,400 years ago.
The Imam, the most learned man at the mosque, is the one who most accurately reads or recites the Koran, which has 114 chapters, the shortest of which has just three verses, while the longest has 300 verses.
There are Five Pillars of Islam, which are the five obligations that every Muslim must satisfy in order to live a good and responsible life according to Islam. The Shahadah, core belief in one God, Allah; Salat, the performing of ritual prayers; Sawm, fasting for 30 days from dawn to dusk during the month of Ramadan. Shoomi said that breaking the fast was like Christmas every evening when all the family gathered together! Zakat, the fourth pillar – the paying of a charity tax to benefit the poor and needy; and finally the Hajj, the obligation to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam’s most sacred site in Saudi Arabia, at least once in a lifetime.
Being a Muslim, we were told, is a complete way of life, disciplined and structured. Pride is forbidden and the Islamic framework is respectful, kind, merciful and compassionate. Respect is given first to women, then to parents, then to children. Muslim women, Shoomi told us, are certainly not second-class citizens. Nurul emphasised this by saying: ”If you educate a girl, you educate the world. Education is the duty of all Muslim men and women.”
After refreshments, our visit ended with a return to the prayer room to hear the Imam recite the evening prayers. It was a fascinating glimpse into what it means to be a Muslim.
We left the mosque having been made to feel most welcome and with a further invitation to visit for those of our members who had been unable to attend that evening.