A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of visiting the Madina Masjid in Sheffield, taking a group of undergraduate students as part of the social science Achieve More week. I'd never been inside a mosque before despite visiting a couple, so was genuinely excited to be shown around. Our tour guide, Zahid, showed the group the facilities, starting with the wash rooms where he showed us how Muslims performs their ablutions before prayer.
The mosque had a small library with a collection of books for children learning Arabic (among others, I'm sure), as well as several copies of the Quran. Zahid showed us an edition with beautiful calligraphy which I didn't dare handle or take a photograph of, but I did take a photograph of one of the editions in the classroom:
After the library Zahid showed us the main prayer rooms. These were laid out so prayers face the Kaaba in Mecca and were ornately decorated, with the upstairs prayer room housing an immense gold chandelier:
The Islamic calendar is based on the moon and the times of daily activities are based on sunrise and sunet, so the times and dates of key events (such as prayer) do not align with a consistent time and date in the Gregorian calendar. As the Gregorian calendar is dominant in most Western countries (and the sun rises and sets at different times depending on the season!), the prayer room listed all the prayer times for the coming week:
The visit was truly fascinating as I didn't (and still don't) know much about Islam so to glean an insight into the daily practices of local Muslims was eye-opening. I don't personally practise any religion, but I have at least some understanding of Christian religious practice through participating in English culture and tradition, but the practice of Islam was a relative unknown to me. Seeing rituals like ablution (wudu) performed brought these to life in a way that simply reading about them can't.
Muslims and Islam are, sadly, often the subject of misunderstanding, suspicion, and even outright hostility in many Western societies, so I thought this was a great experience offered to visitors of the masjid. Of course, in an ideal world, mosques shouldn't need to raise awareness and help alleviate social tensions, but one step at a time I guess.