THE first mosque to be built on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides, thanks to more than £50,000 raised by a public appeal, has been welcomed by clergy in the Scottish Episcopal Church.
A Muslim builder from Leeds, Aihtsham Rashid, was contacted last year by the small Muslim community in the town of Stornoway, on the island, which includes Syrian refugees, to start work on a new mosque.
Planning permission was approved by the Western Isles Council in August, despite opposition from the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing).
Mr Rashid issued a public appeal last week to raise £50,000 to make the building watertight before Ramadan in May, the Muslim month of fasting. By Wednesday, the appeal on the fund-raising website Just Giving had exceeded £60,000.
Mr Rashid wrote on the page: “The Muslim community who have been resident from 1945 have been trying for a long time to get planning permission for their very own mosque. Against all odds and opposition from the Free Church of Scotland they have now been granted permission to build.
“I’m humbled at the support from all over the world. Please don’t stop, I need to cover running costs. Any money left over will go towards making the mosque self-reliant.”
The Priest-in-Charge of St Peter’s, Stornoway, part of the Scottish Episcopal diocese of Argyll & The Isles, the Revd Terry Taggart, said on Tuesday: “I am delighted that the Muslim community will soon have a place to worship, and I will celebrate with them when it opens.”
The congregation had already welcomed Syrian refugee families with activities and English classes, he said. “All are welcome in our community.”
The Bishop of Argyll & The Isles, the Rt Revd Kevin Pearson, echoed Fr Taggart’s welcome on Tuesday, saying that he had witnessed the Christian message of love and care to people of all faiths and none in the community. “I applaud the work that Fr Taggart and members of his congregation are doing to ensure that locals and new residents can work and live alongside one another in harmony and good will.”
The Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) expressed its opposition, in September, after planning had been granted. The Revd David Blunt, who is pastor at the Isle of North Uist and Grimsay Free Church (Continuing), wrote on the church website: “Our main concern is with the religion of Islam itself.
“If a mosque ever opens, Islam will be able to promote itself in our midst through public worship, despite its beliefs and practices being alien to the religious convictions of the vast majority of our community.
“Islam is wholly inconsistent with the teaching of the Word of God in Holy Scripture, which is the only rule to direct us. It is opposed to the Christian religion as confessed by the Church historically since apostolic times, and as established by law in our land since the Reformation.
“Islam is also incompatible with, and indeed a threat to, our religious and civil liberties.”
One donor to the project, Martin Spencer, wrote on the Just Giving page on Monday: “Good luck with this. I am an atheist, with an Anglican Christian upbringing, but when I saw the ridiculous bigotry from the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) about your project I was keen to donate.”
The 2011 census suggested that there were 61 Muslims and 20,452 Christians in the Western Isles at that time.