ASTONISHED Muslims were left overwhelmed as hundreds of curious visitors discovered what life following the Islamic faith was really about.
Mosques from across the area threw open their doors over the weekend as part of a national open day to shine a light on one of the world’s most practised religions
The community events were seen as a vital way of dispelling hurtful myths about Islam, which has seen Muslims increasingly targeted by hate groups across the UK.
And the Muslim community was left heart-warmed by the response of people from across the Portsmouth area, who attended events in their droves.
At the Al Mahdi Centre, in Fontley Road, Titchfield, the religious site was overwhelmed by visitors, with its car park struggling to fit everyone in.
Imam Sheikh Fazle Abbas Datoo gave an impassioned speech. In it, he praised all those for attending and urged them to work to help unite Britain’s ‘fractured’ community, one that is rife with hate, racism and Islamophobia.
‘There are a lot of misconceptions about Islam and Muslims in Britain today,’ he said. ‘At a time when the country is polarised by Brexit, hate crime is on the rise and Islamophobia – the dislike or prejudice against Islam or Muslims – is increasing, there is a big danger in judging things we don’t really understand.’
Speaking after the event, he added he was stunned by the turnout to the day, which was the first time the site had held such an event.
‘We are truly delighted and amazed with the wonderful attendance in this febrile Brexit atmosphere,’ he said. ‘The event demonstrates that all faith, not just Islam, have the energy to reach across divides seek a common cause.’
Visitors took their shoes off and women, following Muslim customs, covered their heads as they entered.
They were also shown traditional Muslim prayer ceremonies and had a chance to meet members of the community.
Among those attending was Susette Wood, 72, of Hayling Island, who was with four people from St Mary’s Church on the island.
She said: ‘It’s been a wonderful experience. It’s been a real privilege to be able to come here today.’
Reverend Susan Allman, of St Peter’s Church, in Titchfield, was also among those attending the event on Saturday. She said: ‘Today has really helped to break down a lot of barriers and misconceptions people have. This has been a place of such warm hospitality.’
On Sunday, dozens of people – including Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan, and Portsmouth Lord Mayor Councillor Lee Mason – packed into Portsmouth Central Masjid, in Somers Road North, Landport, to join the worship centre’s own open day.
Members of the Mosque’s leadership spoke about ‘opening the doors’ to the community and allowing them to ‘understand more about Islam’.
However, when approached by The News, the mosque declined to comment about the open day.
But Labour MP Mr Morgan was quick to praise the worship site for ‘opening its doors to build bridges with Portsmouth’s communities’.
‘It was a pleasure to show support for the important open mosque day with fellow residents from across the area,’ he said. ‘Diversity is our great city’s strength.’
The UK has almost 3.4m Muslims in it.