Havering Islamic Cultural Centre heart of Islamic community

PUBLISHED: 15:00 07 November 2015

Tariq Lone, Mohamad Rafi, Salim Shahzad and Mohammed Saleem at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Romford

Tariq Lone, Mohamad Rafi, Salim Shahzad and Mohammed Saleem at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Romford

Vickie Flores/Archant

After noon prayers on a Friday, a stream of people quietly leave Havering Islamic Cultural Centre.

“We have between 350 and 400 people who come to pray here on Fridays,” said Tariq Lone, chairman of the centre.

The centre, Waterloo Road, Romford, is at the heart of the borough’s Muslim community, which committee member Mohamad Rafi, who has lived in Havering since the 1980s, has seen change and grow.

He said: “What we have seen over the last two or three years is people being pushed out of other boroughs into Havering.

“The Muslim population in this borough has increased and this is still going on.”

“We are now definitely short of space,” said Mr Rafi. “Sometimes we have to put sheets outside for people to pray.”

The most important prayers of the week, known as Jummah prayers, are held on a Friday. The centre has to organise two midday prayer sessions, because one is not enough to fit everybody in.

Mr Rafi explained many people who attend come from neighbouring boroughs but work in Romford town centre.

Havering Islamic Cultural Centre, which does not identify itself to any specific branch of Islam, is attended by people of more than 20 nationalities and welcomes anyone “as long as they are peaceful and cause no trouble,” said Mr Lone.

Men and women pray separately and use different entrances but once inside, everyone is equal as Islam has no hierarchy.

For more than 30 years, Muslims in Havering have gathered together to pray. In 1982, a small community of about 15 people established the centre as a charity and prayed in a member’s house, in Princess Road.

As the community grew, about 100 members started to rent a room in a community centre, in Albert Road, for Friday prayers.

But over the years, the community centre became too small and members contributed from their own pockets to buy the building in Waterloo Road, where the centre was established in 2007.

Mr Rafi told the Recorder it was “very difficult” when the centre opened, and members did not feel they were getting much support from the rest of the community.

But he said things had started to change. At the end of last year, the centre was granted planning permission for an extension of the ground floor at the front of the building to provide more prayer space.

Havering Islamic Cultural Centre is not only a prayer space but defines itself as “a social centre” for the Muslim community and anyone interested in learning more about Islam.

Faith groups from different religions, schools and other community organisations have become regular visitors.

“The centre is open to anybody and anyone is most welcome to come to see how we pray and what we are doing,” said Mr Rafi.

“People can come in to talk to us or sit and listen to sermons and prayers. People shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions – we won’t be offended.”

From Monday to Thursday, the centre organises workshops to learn Arabic and how to read the Quran and every week about 100 children attend after school.

On Thursdays, a senior citizens groups uses the centre as a social space to catch up over a cup of tea.

“For Muslims, the whole world is a prayer space, as long as it is a clean space. So for a Muslim, a mosque is anywhere you can pray,” said Mr Rafi.

“People come here for help, advice and support.”

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