Edinburgh is bristling with excitement and expectation as we enter into the final week of the Edinburgh Festivals. Much of the literary and artistic talents on display will, over the next few months, be witnessed in other parts of Britain as scouts and agents sign-up the most promising new acts. But there is also something else creative afoot in Edinburgh that could also very productively be emulated across the length and breadth of Britain. Edinburgh's central mosque, the King Fahd Mosque, and Islamic Centre of Edinburgh are this year holding their biggest ever annual Discover Islam festivities.
Discover Islam is a month-long exhibition of cultural events and presentations aiming to allow people of other faiths and traditions to develop insight into and experience aspects of Muslim life as lived in modern-day pluralist Britain.
The exhibition consists of works of fine art, models of mosques, visual displays detailing the basic beliefs of Islam and a video presentation explaining the Qur'anic account of the origins of our universe. In addition, two interactive computer terminals allow visitors to access various Islamic multimedia resources.
A Year 7 class from a local school produced a display for the exhibition that particularly caught my attention. The (infamous) events of September the 11th 2001 prompted the class teacher to arrange a visit to Edinburgh mosque, which was subsequently written up as a class project. Many of the comments made by the children were really heart warming. For example, the atmosphere inside the mosque was described as being `calm', `peaceful', `quiet' and relaxing'. Others commented that although not religious themselves, inside the mosque they felt `close to God' and `calm and at peace'.
Refreshingly (and I mean that quite literally!), an 'Arabic coffee day', a 'mint tea day' and a 'traditional foods from Muslim cultures day' have been arranged. Having attended one of these days, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and quantity of food available, which had been generously donated by local restaurants and members of the local community. Even more surprising was the steady stream of local and festival visitors that flowed through the doors of the mosque on a hot and sunny Saturday afternoon and the relaxed and convivial atmosphere in and around the mosque precincts.
Public lectures and presentations have been arranged for weekends throughout the month. For example, this week we were treated to the short but moving accounts of three local young men who have recently embraced Islam with each highlighting ways in which they felt their life had been enhanced since entering into the fold of Islam.
Edinburgh mosque is no ordinary building in terms of its architecture. It is a stunning castle-like building, which blends in well with the historic monuments that characterise the old city. The events of this weekend have however demonstrated to me that it is not only in its external appearance that this mosque differs from many others in Britain. What really distinguishes it is its openness, genuine warmth and the way in which it, in this city still affectionately referred to as the 'Mecca of Europe', is attempting to connect with its local community.
Dr Sangeeta Dhami