Sunday, 8 August 2010

Hidden Histories

Mosques in the UK have generally been pragmatic affairs. The communities that established them were often constrained by their resources and usually opted to establish mosques that met the immediate needs of their community.

The choice of location of a mosque was usually influended by three factors, geographic location, size and cost. The history of the buildings was not given much thought. That said, it's an interesting journey to look into this history, and often the discoveries it yeilds can hold important reminders for modern communities.

About a week ago, I spent a few hours in the Glamorgan Records Office, looking into the history of some local mosques in Cardiff. One mosque in particular attracted my attention as it is a mosque close to my own heart as well as many of the Muslim community in Cardiff - Dar-ul-Isra, on Wyeverne Road.

Dar-ul-Isra, meaning 'The House of the Night Journey', is a relatively new mosque, being established in the early 1990s. It was formerly a Parish Hall for St. Andrew's and St. Teilo's Church. Recently, it was renovated with the addition of two new floors - it's grand opening was only a few days ago (7th August 2010). I did hope to post what I found before it opened, but for various reasons this wasn't possible.

For a Muslim, worshipping in a mosque that was formerly a church or chapel adds to the sacredness of the location. A verse in the Quran states: -

"For had it not been that Allah checks one set of people by means of another, monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, wherein the Name of Allah is mentioned much would surely have been pulled down. Verily, Allah will help those who helps Him. Truly, Allah is All-Strong, All-Mighty. " Surah 22, Verse 40

God mentions the sacredness of monastries, churches, synagogues and mosques together - they are all places of reverence and of holiness. There are numerous other verses and Prophetic sayings which attest to this fact also.

Thus the Muslim sees a mosque that was formerly a church or chapel as preserving the sacrednesss of the location. However, it must still be a difficult experience for a Christian, to see a church or chapel turned into a place of worship for another religion. I hope that Christians will see, as Muslims do, that mosques preserve the sacredness of the Church building (saving it from the fate of being turned into a bargain goods store, as was the case for one unfortunate church) and that this shared history can be a source of unity for the two communities.

Back to Dar-ul-Isra.

The original plans for the building can be seen below.

The plans state that the building was for a Parish Hall comissioned for the Rev G L Richardson MA of No. 7 Park Grove.

Parish Halls, as I understand them (and I could be very well wrong, as I haven't looked into this in much depth) were not so much places of worship, but places in which other community needs were met. The equivalent of a modern community hall.

The stamp mark dates the plans to 9th April 1910. Interestingly, the renovations to Dar-ul-Isra were completed in August 2010, marking pretty close to 100 years since the building was first constructed.

In 1915, further plans submitted to build a Scout's Hall behind the Parish Hall.

The Scout's Hall was comissioned for the 4th Cardiff Troop Boy Scouts. Today, the Scout's Hall is still called the Scout's Hall, and used as a Scout's Hall (this time, for the 1st Cathays al-Huda Scout's group, a Cardiff based Muslim Scout's group). The Scout's Hall was brought by the Muslim community several years after the mosque.

Few changes were made to the building there on in, and a picture from 1959 attests to this.

And even after the Parish Hall was brought by the Muslim community to serve as a mosque, only minor changes were made. The above picture, and that below, taken from 2008, are remarkably alike.
The biggest alternation to the building no doubt happened when Dar-ul-Isra was renovated in 2009-2010. Two new floors were added and several adjustments to the interior layout. The picture below is from its grand opening.

I would, ideally, love to look deeper into the history of Dar-ul-Isra, as well as other mosques in Cardiff which offer very similar stories.

For the time being, I want to end with the (summarised and paraphrased) sentiments of Tim Winters, who remarked at a lecture he delivered in Cardiff at how British Muslims, mosques and Islam often continued and preserved British tradition and history and how Muslims, ostensibly portrayed as 'the other', were more indigenious in Britain than anywhere else.

I should thanks to the Glamorgan Records Office (who asked me to thank them) and Aunty Hasnah Khalid who provided the photos of the renovated Dar-ul-Isra.

I would also request that if anyone has information on the history of the local mosques in Wales, to email me. Particulary old photographs which are very difficult to come by.

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