My posts of late seem to have become rather church-centric. It's perhaps not that surprising, considering the sheer number of fascinating churches in London, so today, by way of a refreshing change in form, I shall mention a mosque. I noticed on my east end walk last Sunday, that I have started using the word 'anomaly' quite a lot to describe things when I'm talking to groups. Mainly because London is positively brimming with anomalies, so aside from purely liking the sound of the word, it also regularly encapsulates exactly what I'm trying to explain. This mosque I'm about to tell you about, fits incredibly snugly in to the 'anomaly' category. It's called the Brick Lane Jamme Masjid, and you'll find it on the corner of Brick Lane and Fournier Street, right in the heart of Spitalfields.
As you can see, I managed to pick the one clement day we've had so far this year to take the photos. So, if you're familiar with the east end, you'll perhaps know that historically, Spitalfields has a long association with various immigrant populations that have settled in London, spanning centuries. The building which houses the Jamme Masjid is a Grade II listed English Heritage site and has catered for the religious needs of pretty much every wave of immigrants that have passed through the area, currently serving the largest concentration of Bangladeshi Muslims in the country.
The buildings first incarnation was way back in 1743 as a Protestant Chapel, when it was known as the 'Neuve Eglise' (New Church) for the Huguenot's who began arriving in the late 1600's, to escape persecution in France. In 1809 it became an Evangelical chapel promoting Christianity amongst the Jews, which evidently had limited success, as ten years later it became a Methodist Chapel. Then, in the last couple of years of the 19th century it became a Synagogue and remained so until the Jewish population of Spitalfields, many of whom had arrived from eastern Europe, began migrating to north London after the Second World War. This coincided with an influx of predominantly Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh and east India and the building which had closed, re-opened as a mosque at the end of the 1970s.
For this reason, and rather unusually for a mosque in the UK, the Jamme Masjid has a Latin inscription written above a sundial which adorns the south facing wall on Fournier Street. It reads 'Umbra Sumus' (We Are Shadows) which in itself, considering the populations that have lived in the area, and particularly with the wealth of the City of London literally eating away at the much poorer borough of Tower Hamlets (I'm thinking of Norman Foster's intrusive office building that in its construction, recently demolished half of the old Victorian Spitalfields Market) is quite poignant.
As well as being a place of worship, the mosque promotes educational activities for local Muslim youngsters, and has four classrooms used by the Evening School for teaching children to study the Quran and Islamic studies. The many Muslims who worship here also seem to be proud of their mosque's unique history and work hard with English Heritage to maintain the building's historical elements, whilst ensuring it meets 21st century technological standards and their own religious and educational needs.
Now hopefully, you can see now why I might use the word 'anomaly' to describe this particular building. It also pretty much single-handedly manages to encapsulate the rich immigrant history of the area in one fell swoop.
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