The Columban IRD team welcomed visitors from Hong Kong, Sainiana Tamatawale (from the Lay Missionaries Central Leadership Team), and Brian Vale (Vicar General of the Columbans), by paying a visit together to the second purpose-built mosque in the United Kingdom. Birmingham Central Mosque was constructed in 1969 and opened to the public in the early ’70s, becoming one of the most recognised religious buildings in the city and a place where dialogue with people of diverse faiths occurs.
In 2001, the Central Mosque was the site where local Rabbi Leonard Tann stood shoulder to shoulder with Muslim leaders after they had received abusive calls in reaction to the atrocities of 9/11. This significant encounter gave rise to the Faith Leaders Group, along with other interfaith initiatives supported by Columbans, such as the Highgate Interfaith Forum, which meets there every month.
The local faith guide, Tahir Alam, showed us the magnificent building that can accommodate up to 4,500 worshippers every Friday. The group also had the chance to meet Nasreen Akhtar, the Faith Guide who was trained by a project supported by the Columbans (The Faith Encounter Programme). She shared information about the hundreds of school visits she guides every year and how fulfilling the experience of sharing her faith with others was.
The group also met there with colleague and friend Mahmooda Qureshi, a local Muslim faith leader, who spoke about work promoting community cohesion and dialogue among diverse communities. Mahmooda reflected with us about the tensions created locally as a result of the painful and tragic ongoing events in Israel and Gaza.
Providentially, Archbishop Bernard Longley was paying a friendly visit to Central Mosque on the same afternoon, so our visitors Sai and Brian had the chance to say hello to him. Imam Mohammed Assad and Chairman Mr. Muhammed Afzal also greeted and welcomed us.
We were delighted to show our visitors some aspects of the work the Columbans have done over the past decades to promote life-giving relations among people of different cultures, all faiths and none.