The First Mosque in the Channel Islands

The Channel Islands are a cluster of islands off the coast of France in the English Channel. Jersey is only 9 miles long and 5 miles wide but is the biggest island in the Channel Islands. When I accepted the opportunity to work in Jersey for a 6 month placement, it had not occurred to me to research if there was a mosque on the island.

However, during my first week I was starting to miss praying in congregation so I began researching if there were any mosques in Jersey. There was an article by the BBC in November 2013 stating that there were plans to convert a church into a mosque. However, I couldn’t find any further information about the mosque. Therefore, I was starting to wonder if the plans had fallen through due to local opposition or due to a lack of funds.

In a last ditch attempt to find a place of prayer, I went to a Bangladeshi restaurant and asked if there were any mosques nearby. To my amazement, the waiter told me that was a mosque just around the corner from the restaurant! I walked down narrow streets with terrace houses on either side. At the end of Poonah Road I could see an imposing building with elaborate gold colour decorative features around the windows. This building was different from the other properties in the area.

I walked to the front of this building and was overwhelmed by the height and beauty of the structure. There was a large square porch which had a flat roof that was resting on four circular columns. These columns were decorated in a Greek style and painted turquoise. There were two large windows either side of the porch and three identical windows above the porch. Two rectangular columns rose along the edge of the facade. “Methodist Church” was engraved in the centre directly above the edge columns. Resting above the edge columns was an acute isosceles triangle. The triangle had a white circle in the centre with two small triangles either side. The facade had a lovely symmetry and had features which bared resemblance to the Acropolis in Athens.

Front view of the mosque

I entered the building and came across a large hall with a wooden floor. There was a raised platform at the front of the hall and a seating balcony overlooking the first floor. You could also see the organs in the corners of the second floor which would have been played during a Sunday Church service. At this point I was still sceptical if this building was actually a mosque. However, some brothers walked in and directed me to the prayer area which was to the rear of the main hall.

Upon witnessing the prayer area, my spirits were lifted. There was a traditional red patterned carpet and Arabic calligraphy on the front wall. It was a simple room but it was beautiful because it was an unexpected surprise. There were also several book shelves which displayed Qurans and pamphlets about Islam.

Prayer area where the Sunday School used to be

History of the building

Methodists are a sect of Christianity from within the Church of England. Hugh Bourne and William Clowes in Staffordshire founded the Primitive Methodist branch in 1809. They arrived in Jersey in 1823 and built a church in 1839 on Aquila Road which served as their main base. The church was originally called the Primitive Methodist Chapel.1

Worshipers outside the church in 1914-2

In 1857 a Sunday School was built to the back of the Church. It is a rectangular shaped building and has a separate entrance from the side of the building. The Church was renamed Aquila Road Methodist Church. From the 1970s there was a steady decline of the Methodist movement in Jersey. The Aquila Road Methodist Church amalgamated with another church in the area in 1992.3

In 2009, the owner of the building allowed the Muslim community to use the top floor for Jummah prayers. In 2012 the building was put up for sale and the Muslim community gained support from the locals to purchase the building and convert it into a mosque. The building when brought was in a poor state; the roof and windows were leaking, ivy had grown on one side of the exterior wall, and the plaster of the interior walls was crumbling away.

It took nearly 2 years for the building to be renovated which included wudu (ablution) facilities on both floors and a kitchen on the first floor to use for community events. The new roof and windows made the building water tight. The exterior building was originally pink with gold columns. However, it was repainted in cream with turquoise columns and gold for the ornate features around the windows. The building is more appealing to the observer and the blend of colours used adds elegance to the building.

Not just a place to pray

The mosque is used so the 5 daily prayers can be prayed in congregation. The mosque is attended by brothers from all around the world including Madeira, Mauritius, Trinidad and Guinea-Bissau. This demonstrates that Islam is a global religion. The bottom floor is for the brothers and top floor for the sisters. It is also used as a madrasa every Sundays for the children. They learn things such as the etiquette of eating, Arabic and stories of the Prophets.

The mosque also holds open days where they invite non-Muslims and the wider community to visit the mosque. There are also regular social events such as bowling which bring the Muslim community together. This mosque is not just a place for prayer; it acts as a community centre and provides a platform for the Muslims to grow together, both socially and spiritually.

If you are visiting Jersey, then visiting this mosque should be high on the list of things to see. This building is historic because it is the first ever mosque in the Channel Islands. The Muslim community have restored the once derelict Church which has stood in Jersey for over 150 years.  They have maintained the character of the building and are using it for its intended purpose; to glorify and praise God.

 

 

References

1- Jeremy Lake, Jersey Heritage Trust, Methodist Chapels in Jersey: History and Context

2-http://myprimitivemethodists.org.uk/page_id__168_path__0p2p61p.aspx

3-http://www.methodistcentre.je/about-us/history-st-helier-methodist-centre/

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