Focus on religion: How Preston’s Muslims cope with faith, youth and the challenge of extremism

Quwwat UI Islam, Peel Street, Preston
Quwwat UI Islam, Peel Street, Preston
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Muslim communities in Preston admit they have no problem getting followers to attend the mosque – some even worship there five times a day.

But they still share many of the other challenges which other faiths face in arguably the most diverse multi-cultural centre in the whole of Lancashire.

Ali Amla

Ali Amla

The biggest – and it is one few religions around the world have managed to successfully address for decades – is how do you connect with young people?

“That’s an issue right across the board with all religions,” confessed Ali Amla, vice-chairman of the Preston Faith Forum.

“I regularly have conversations with leaders of other faiths and it is one of the main challenges we all face.

“How do we engage with a young population?

“Islam has tried to meet the needs of young people. There has been a shift in teaching styles from Urdu to English. Slowly some mosques have begun to use youth leaders. A number of different mosques have had youth events, like pizza nights to engage youngsters.

“But all religions have the same challenge. How do you make a traditional faith relevant for young people?

“Young people have a desire to be more spiritual without the strings of religion. They want to find God, but in their own way. It’s about creating the space to allow that.”

Attendances at Preston’s 12 mosques are high, in stark contrast to the turn-out for Catholic and Church of England congregations in the city.

The “vast majority” of worshippers go at least once a week, usually for Friday prayers.

“Numbers vary, but Muslims have an opportunity to go to the mosque five times every day for the five daily prayers,” explained Ali.

“Only a very small percentage will go five times a day because of their working pattern. I would say a larger percentage, say about 30 per cent, would probably go once or twice a day.

“But the vast proportion would probably go at least once a week.

“At the average mosque on a Friday, anywhere in Lancashire, you will struggle to find a place unless you get there very early.”

Connecting with youngsters isn’t the only hurdle facing Islamic leaders in the city. They also have to work out how to integrate women into worship.

Only one of Preston’s dozen mosques can accommodate women wanting to pray. The vast majority of females still worship from home.

“The lack of provision for women in the mosque is something, to be honest, I’m quite ashamed of,” added Ali.

“Only the New City Mosque in North Road has designated prayer space for women. This is a traditional Indian sub-continent thing. Mosques are very much a place for men and more of them need to create space for women.

“One of the things I often hear, particularly from younger women professionals, is that they are at a point where they are crying out for prayer space.

“I believe that the number catering for women in the future will increase and they will also start becoming more family-friendly.”

Here we speak to Ali Amla about how extremism effects the bridges he builds in the community.