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Suleymaniye the Magnificent

Suleymaniye the Magnificent

Issue 7 Sept / Oct 2004

Opened in 1997, Suleymaniye is one of six mosques in and around the UK established and run by the UK Turkish Islamic Cultural Centre Trust which is currently looking to establish another branch by the end of this year. The UK Turkish Islamic Cultural Centre was established in 1983 and its first building was the Valide Sultan mosque in Clissold Road. The objectives of the charity are to advance religious understanding, Islamic education, health, the relief of poverty, sickness and distress and all related needs amongst the Turkish and Islamic communities.

The construction of Suleymaniye mosque began in 1995, and after opening to the public it has become a source of pride and inspiration for Muslims in the area with visits from Prince Charles as well as being featured on the BBC. Once inside the mosque, the visitor is struck by the abundant beauty, cleanliness and order. The mosque and prayer area is marked with quasi-Ottoman architecture with Iznik patterns of green and sky blue adorning the ceilings and walls. These contain organic motifs and floral patterns which are used in Islamic art to symbolise paradise. The stunning jade green pillars and red carpet are lit up by a huge glass chandelier which fills the interior with a light and peaceful ambience. Adding to this splendour and harmony is the focus of the verses from the Qur’an rendering the oneness of God inscribed on the walls in intricate Arabic calligraphy, preparing the Muslim for prayer while simultaneously acting as a reminder to the purpose of worship.

The Secretary of the Suleymaniye mosque, Mr Yahya declares education to be the main aim of the mosque, “Education is the first aim, it is our priority.” Indeed, Suleymaniye has a boarding school in its upper floors, which is home to 100 students. These students attend state schools, and then return to the mosque where their classes continue. In Suleymaniye, they are taught Qur’an, Arabic and some National Curriculum subjects such as Maths, Science, English, and IT. There are also Turkish language and cultural classes. The classrooms contain rows of desks while colourful posters are displayed on the walls, a well-kept library with many books and tables for study, a large computer room with internet connection and finally the stylish and modern cafeteria with an emphasis on ‘free meals’ for all students. School support lessons are also provided for the boys as well as social, cultural and leisure school trips making education as varied and dynamic as possible. Aside from the boarding school, the mosque gives full-time classes on religious education in summer and regular Islamic and Turkish language lessons at weekends and public holidays. Although the Islamic Turkish community is involved heavily in the mosque, this is not at the exclusion of other ethnicities. “We always welcome other communities,” Yahya explains. His point is proved by some of the regular visitors who pray at the mosque. Fuad, who is of Somali/Arabic origin commented, “Some people say let us go to the Bengali mosque for example, but it doesn’t have to be like that. The mosque is first for Allah and then for all brothers and sisters.”

Another regular visitor is Shabbir of Asian origin who meets up with, “Brothers from different backgrounds: Nigerian, Turkish and so on.” He also talks of his joy at being able to hear the call to prayer from his place of work. “It sounds so very beautiful,” he enthuses. The services provided for the Muslim community by the Suleymaniye mosque encompass the needs of all Muslims across ethnic boundaries and ages – from birth to death. An Islamic funeral service, Qurbani, religious and civil marriages are all provided. Suleymaniye boasts a well-stocked library containing a range of books for sale, including those by Harun Yahya, the renowned Turkish Islamic writer, as well as Islamic tapes / CDs, frames and souvenirs. In addition, the mosque has two separate wedding halls with a capacity of up to 400 guests.

The Mosque strives to provide for the needs of the Turkish and the Muslim community as well as wider society. It does this by organising drug, alcohol and smoking cessation sessions - a recent seminar to discuss the problems of drug abuse was attended by a Turkish actor and attracted hundreds of people. Family health advice, child care, help for the disabled and advice on teenage issues also feature along with job training and IT training which are available via the education department.

Mr Yahya points out that the mosque has positive links with the non Muslim community. “We have school groups coming in almost every week to find out what Islam is.” It is a popular landmark known locally as “the Rocket” and local people often come in if they want to learn more about the religion, with the staff at Suleymaniye happy to receive enquiries from anyone.

Taking all this in, one can understand Mr Yahya’s unique response when asked what the mosque represents to him. “It is like Noah’s ship - everyone is welcome to come in and shelter.” Suleymaniye mosque remains one of the most beautiful mosques in London, providing for the needs of the growing Muslim community with a subtle appreciation of contemporary aesthetics entwined with the beauty of a rich Islamic heritage.

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