LONDON: An annual event that sees hundreds of mosques across the UK open their doors to the wider community is going virtual due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Under normal circumstances, Visit My Mosque day is a campaign that supports over 250 mosques across the UK to hold open days for tens of thousands of visitors, and is facilitated by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).
But this year, people of all faiths and none will be able to enjoy a virtual tour of a dozen mosques on June 19-21 from the comfort of their homes due to the lockdown in the UK.
Although places of worship reopened for individual prayer on June 15 in England, mosques have decided to remain closed due to the congregational nature of prayers held in them.
Most are busy preparing prayer spaces to ensure that social distancing guidelines are adhered to when they do reopen to worshippers.
Participating mosques will give people virtual tours of their premises and present some of the activities they have been involved in during the lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Mosques up and down the country have been involved in various initiatives to help Muslims and non-Muslims alike cope with lockdown restrictions and make people’s lives easier during unprecedented times.
These include delivering free personal protective equipment (PPE) to frontline workers when there was a shortage of such equipment and dire need for it, and cooking hot meals for people who are self-isolating or classified as vulnerable.
“This year’s Visit My Mosque campaign will welcome visitors digitally through virtual mosque tours across the weekend of June 19-21,” Hassan Joudi, the MCB’s mosque affairs coordinator, told Arab News.
“It will showcase the work of mosques during lockdown, share their role in daily Muslim life and look ahead to a post-lockdown future.”
The aim of the campaign is to “foster further budding friendships and conversations between Muslims and their non-Muslim neighbors which will continue in the months and years to come,” Joudi added.
Mosques in London, the Midlands, northern England and as far afield as the Scottish Highlands are participating in the virtual weekend.
Al-Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Center (MCHC) is based in West London, and will be opening its doors to virtual visitors on June 21.
It was heavily involved in the response effort following the Grenfell Tower fire that devastated its local community in June 2017, and recently commemorated the third anniversary of the tragic incident by decorating the premises with green hearts and fairy lights.
Asma Maguz, 52, is the mosque’s liaison officer and will be delivering the virtual tour with her colleagues. She told Arab News that the center has “never been busier” than during the pandemic.
“We’ve been running a food bank and have a partnership with charities including Age UK and Penny Appeal,” Maguz said, adding that the mosque has been buying essential food items and distributing them to about 160 households in the community during the pandemic.
“We’ve been getting calls from single mums who can’t go out, vulnerable people who are shielding from COVID-19, and women over 65 who’ve had accidents or are ill and can’t go out. So we registered all of these people who can’t be registered under Age UK due to their age,” Maguz said.
“On Sunday, we’ll be giving a tour of the mosque itself and highlighting our services, events and activities” she added.
“We provide a free legal service every Friday for those who need it. It’s provided by a practicing lawyer who is part of the community, and this has continued online during the lockdown.
“We also provide a counseling service that was launched after the Grenfell Tower fire as many survivors were understandably traumatized by the incident. We’ve continued this service online and over the phone during the pandemic as people need counseling now more than ever.
“All of our services and activities are free because we aim to serve the community. We’re also providing antibody testing in partnership with private doctors at the center. We started by testing our staff and their families, and we’ve now started testing members of the community. We’ll show people where this testing takes place at the mosque during the tour.”
Al-Manaar mosque also runs a homeless shelter for people of all faiths every Tuesday during winter.
An average of 15 homeless people seek shelter at the mosque. They are provided with a comfortable place to stay, access to hot meals, breakfast the following day, and packed meals for lunch and dinner.
“We’re given a list of homeless people by the West London Day Centre in coordination with Westminster City Council,” Maguz said.
“These people stay at the mosque and are provided with hot meals, a new sleeping bag and hygiene kits with all the essentials they need.”