By Jaafar Jaafar
In the past few days, I have been observing some of my prayers at former United Reformed Church, located on Chelmsford Avenue in a somnolent area of Southend, Essex in the United Kingdom.Trekking for about two miles from my hotel, braving the cold sea breeze as it bruised past me, I arrived at the Edwardian era sanctuary. The 105-year-old building, like most of its peers, is still radiant. From the outside, two ‘major’ changes were made. The signage of the new occupants and the Latin cross, whose stump is still visible — giving the phantasm of crucifix.
As I stepped onto the arcade, a large 19-century wooden door greeted me. My friend Rabiu Ismail Mukhtar had to help struggle with the rustic knob before the door opened. “You have to turn it right to free the latch,” a worshipper standing in the porch said, showing us how to free the hasp in future.
The United Reformed Church was sold to Essex Jamme Masjid Trust at the cost of £850,000 (about N250 million) in 2007. According to Europe News, “[t]he church was put up for sale when dwindling congregations led to the merger of four United Reformed churches, creating the Eastern Southend United Reformed Church organisation, based at the main site in Bournemouth Park Road.”
In a news report published on its website on August 1, 2008, with the title ‘Church Converts to Islam’, the former occupants of the building held their last service in February 2006. “Later that year the church property section submitted a planning application for it to be converted into a three-storey block of 14 flats,” reported the medium.
According to the report, “after the plan was refused by Southend Council it was put on the market. It was bought by the Muslim association to meet the demands of a growing Muslim population in the borough.”
The report further revealed that the Muslim group, which is currently based at Milton Road, in Westcliff, has outgrown the premises, thereby welcoming the larger space the church building provided.
As I placed my shoes into the shoe shelf/rack, I glanced around the building. The nave, the aisle and the chancel now merged together and formed the fully-carpeted ‘harabah’ where we formed the ‘sahu’.
But the nonchalance of Europeans toward religion is making the Muslims feast on the spoil. Writing in Gatestone Institute website in January 2012, Soeren Kern, a Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos (Strategic Studies Group) said in Germany, the Roman Catholic Church has announced plans to close up to six churches in Duisburg ‘due to falling church attendance.’
He said all the six churches have now become mosques.
Quoting Zentral institut Islam-Archiv, a Muslim organization based in Germany, Kern revealed that “there are now more than 200 mosques (including more than 40 mega-mosques), 2,600 Muslim prayer halls and a countless number unofficial mosques in Germany. Another 128 mosques are currently under construction”.
So far there are over 1,700 registered mosques in Britain, a number of which converted from churches due to the waning number of worshipers. According to Christian Research, which carryout research on religious trends in the UK, about 10,000 churches have been closed in Britain since the 60s.
But it’s important for one to highlight how liberal and tolerant the Europeans are in their domains. A typical culture relativist wouldn’t mind whatever object one worships as long as one respects his belief. The paradox is in Nigeria, where religion sows the seed of discord. And when the seed grows, it is then used to ferment crisis. CAN and JNI will be bickering, barking at each other. The thugs will be fighting, killing each other. In Nigeria, we understand our religions inside out and sometimes practise upside down.
Now, due to the obvious decline in faith leaning in the Western countries, religion is becoming as outmoded as the steam engine. The negative consequences of this is the rise in debauchery and crime.
Since they are not atheists (forget what it means), the Europeans practise one religion — human rights, the principles of which they adhere to religiously. They hardly violate one’s right to worship, as long as their ‘religion’ is not desecrated.
How can a church building be converted to mosque in Nigeria or a mosque be converted to church without going for another civil war? How can a church and a mosque share the same building (like in Heathrow Airport) in Nigeria without altercation that may lead to bloodshed? I believe all of the two major Nigerian religions abhor corruption. Why can’t we be extremists in fight against corruption? Why can’t we cohabit, respect our values and live the 21st century life?
Jaafar Jaafar is a wrote from Southend, Essex, England