How Muslim community has grown in 'peaceful' Ipswich
PUBLISHED: 07:30 08 April 2019
For our latest look at multiculturalism in Ipswich, we met with representatives of the town's Muslim community.
The Muslim community of Ipswich has grown significantly over recent years, encouraged by the town’s “peaceful, friendly” atmosphere.
Around 400 worshippers gathered for last Friday’s afternoon prayers at the Bond Street Mosque, filling the building to near capacity.
In the 80s when the former fire station opened as Ipswich’s first mosque, just a small roomful of worshippers would gather.
“It was very run down and dilapidated and our community was very small,” said mosque secretary Fotik Miah. “Gradually, over time, because Ipswich is such a peaceful and friendly place, the community grew.
“Now, as you can see, while it’s nothing compared to London, Birmingham or Manchester, we’re a much bigger community.”
Mr Miah said that when he came to Ipswich from Bangladesh, as a young boy in the ‘70s, there was no mosque or halal food, but now the Muslim community’s needs were far better served.
“From my own personal experiences, every time I’ve moved away and come back, the community seems bigger and better and we have more facilities,” he said.
“Now we’ve got kebab shops selling halal food, butchers selling chicken and lamb, all varieties of fruit and vegetables; all of these things are catering for the community.”
The changes have also seen more mosques open, first in St Helen’s Street then Argyle Street. A further project to convert the Rose and Crown in Norwich Road was halted in November 2017 due to structural problems with the building.
Most recently, plans were submitted to convert the former Mulberry Tree pub into a community centre with prayer facilities for the Kurdish community.
Mr Miah said there were good relations between the various mosques. Although the Imam behind the Norwich Road project was of the Shiite faith, whereas the Bond Street mosque’s Imam is Sunni, Mr Miah said the different schools of thought were not in conflict.
“During the Prophet’s time, there were 20 different schools of thought,” he said. “When he saw these varieties, he didn’t see them as reasons for conflict, he saw it as flexibility within the religion. If you become inflexible, then you fail to grow so the diversity in our faith is a blessing.”
While the opening of new mosques has, at times, provoked concerns in Ipswich, Mr Miah said the community was generally supportive.
At a recent mosque open day, Ipswich MP Sandy Martin said he was proud to represent a town where people from different faiths got on with each other.
Mr Miah said he shared that view, highlighting the support offered in the aftermath of the recent terrorist murders at a mosque in New Zealand.
“The Quakers, who have a church up the road, came with banners saying ‘what hurts one, hurts us all’ in a statement of solidarity,” he said,
“We also had a church elder from Hadleigh, mums with prams, all offering to stand guard while we prayed.
“I said, ‘we’re not scared, I’ve lived in Ipswich all my life, but I’m very grateful that you’ve come’.
“They had come to show support and solidarity and that’s something that hits you right in the heart.”
Mr Miah said the redevelopment of disused buildings in Ipswich should be welcomed, rather than criticised.
“I’ve seen so many places in Ipswich that have been shut for so long,” he said.
“The Odeon cinema is a major iconic building and it had been empty for so long, no one wanted it, so I’m very happy that the Hope Church is moving in and putting the building to use,
“Similarly, with the Mulberry Tree, I’m happy it’s being used rather than left empty.
“Around here, there are entire roads that are empty, buildings have collapsed because they’ve been derelict for so long.
“We as Ipswich people should be focussing on making this town a happy, vibrant place, we shouldn’t be looking to blame people.
“We need to maximise what we have, make it grow, make it flourish, make it the best it can be.
“England has always had immigrants and that has been one of its strengths,
“I know there’s a lot of feeling now about whether we want more economic migrants, my feeling is we need more entrepreneurs like Lord Sugar, Bill Gates, or Richard Branson.
“We want to attract more people like that. I don’t care if they’re black, white, or any colour, if I can tempt people from Japan, or India or China, I’m all for it. I want to see England grow and particularly Ipswich grow, and if someone can come and make it grow then we should be welcoming them.”