British Muslim Heritage – Panel Discussion – 10th May

‘British Muslim Heritage’ was a seminar hosted by the MCB ReDoc (Research & Documentation) committee on 10 May 2018 exploring the role of documenting heritage of mosques and Muslim communities.

A brief event summary is given below.

 

Sadiya Ahmed, Founder of Everyday Muslim

Sadiya gave an overview of the challenges faced by a Muslim archiving activist in placing the documentation of heritage higher on the priority list of Muslim communities. The challenges include a lack of understanding of what heritage is, perception of Muslims communities as inward-looking, the length of time required to develop, finance and deliver archive-related projects, and a lack of relevant experience of archivists to carry out the necessary work. There also exists cultural illiteracy to attaching anything which carries the word Muslim which constrains options in terms of funding. The importance of creating an archival cultural amongst Muslim institutions (not just mosques) was discussed. Finally, Everyday Muslims will be hosting a conference in October 2018 on documenting mosque heritage.

Shahed Salem, Author of The British Mosque: An Architectural & Social History

Shahed outlined how material he unearthed in the dusty archives of several mosques were instrumental in the writing of his landmark book. Example were provided of East London Mosque’s construction, and how the various planning and architectural options considered by the local community during the 20th century shows the changing thinking of the role of mosques in British society. Other examples were given of Gloucester Mosque and Maidenhead Mosque. Maintaning and showcasing archives of Muslim institutions is fundamental to enabling Muslim histories in Britain to be written, and it’s only through this that we can then become part of the heritage story of this country

Abdoolkarim Vakil, Lecturer of History at King’s College London

Abdoolkarim gave context to the ‘politics of heritage and belonging’ as a vibrant area of academic study and activist involvement. The notion of places of memory in the condensing of historical events was discussed, as was the process of recognition of heritage moving from the intellectual elites to the masses through statues, monuments, street names, the media and other means. Successful initiatives such as the British Museum’s ‘Hajj Exhibition’ and the ‘1001 Inventions’ have been instrumental in how Muslims conceive of the concept of heritage. The importance of bringing the Black, Arab and White community’s perspectives on heritage, in addition to the South Asian perspective, was also discussed. The Heritage Minister Michael Ellis’ announcement of several mosques being granted or upgraded to listed status grade II or grade II* in March 2018 was mentioned as a key milestone in the journey of recognizing Muslim heritage in Britain.

Panel Discussion – key points

– Every mosque should have a box where one copy of every flyer they have given out is kept. This is easiest way to start preserving heritage!

– When designing architecture of new mosques, the buildings need to speak multiple languages e.g. Masjid Al-Hikmah, uses local granite and colour/themes of Aberdonian buildings, but with Islam-inspired geometric patterns.

– How do you sell the concept of preserving heritage to mosques? ‘Archive’ & ‘Heritage’ are alien words to most mosque trustees and management committees, better to start with easier-to-understand concepts like a box for your leaflets, photos of previous events etc. We must make it relatable!

– A key quote from the event that sums up the importance of heritage: “Unless a people see themselves reflected in the story of that nation, they can never truly see themselves as part of that nation” Stuart Hall, Jamaican-born cultural theorist.

 

The MCB welcomes suggestions for further events or seminars to organise. Please get in touch at [email protected]