IN the spring of 2008, an announcement was made that one of Wrexham’s most iconic buildings was to close its doors in a matter of weeks.
The place in question was Wrexham Miners’ Institute, for many, a place to go and meet friends but also a symbol of the region’s industrial heritage.
But, despite protests and opposition, the institute did indeed close.
Two years on the sprawling structure was in a sorry state. Such was the neglect that the once manicured grass of the adjacent bowling green had grown to more than a foot in length.
Eventually, a group of people bought the building with the intention of preserving it for use as a place of worship and education.
The group is the Wrexham Muslim Association and the Institute is to be the Wrexham Islamic Cultural Centre.
While the majority in Wrexham have welcomed the move, it has also sparked widespread debate.
In most cases the discussion simply stems from curiosity – an interest in what the group’s intentions for the historic building are.
There have, however, been some more controversial views and opposition voiced on Facebook groups.
It was against this background that Dr Ikram Shah, chair of the Muslim Association and Dr Farookh Jishi, the Association’s secretary invited the Leader to their new mosque to find out what their plans for the future really are.
“The extreme reaction we didn’t expect,” said Dr Shah, a retired consultant who began working in Wrexham hospitals in 1967.
“The majority of people, the other faith groups whom we have always worked with very closely, the council as well, have all been very pleased.
“The worry is that people are being misled, people whose fears are being made worse unnecessarily, who are being deluded into thinking that their heritage is going to be lost and that is not the case.”
The Wrexham Muslim Association has been a registered charity since 1995 but has been in existence for some 20 years.
Until last year, the group had its base at Glyndwr University.
However, expansion at the university meant that this base would be no longer available and, for the past year, they have been limited to the use of a hall at Rhosddu Community Centre on a Friday.
Dr Shah explained that, as Sunday is an important day for Christians, for Muslims Friday is a day of special significance.
But day-to-day worship is also important and, in particular, the holy months, such as Ramadan.
The group decided that hiring a hall once a week was not sufficient. A permanent base in the town was needed.
“We’d saved a good, solid base over the past 20 years,” Dr Shah explained.
“This was mainly from donations that people had made of £1 or £2 at a time on Fridays and in prayers and that money had never been touched.
“Ninety per cent of the money has come from the community. People have given what they can and have called upon friends and relatives.
“On top of that, we have had some interest free loans – Islam prohibits interest on loans so that no ‘shark’ can take advantage of people and to protect the poor. If someone in your family is sick and needs treatment, you might need to borrow money. In Islam, interest on that money is banned so no one can take advantage.
“People have given us this money and the trustees have signed an agreement to say that we will pay it back.”
After 20 years of having no permanent base, Dr Shah and his fellow members are understandably very excited to have finally secured their mosque.
But what is the association’s plan for a building which is considered an important part of the area’s heritage?
The facade is the same as it was and, Dr Jishi emphasises, will remain so – the ‘Wrexham Miners Institute’ sign, he says, will also be retained.
The only noticeable difference is that the grass on the bowling green has been cut.
Inside, in the downstairs function room, the only difference seems to be that a
carpet has been put down to allow for extra people.
Removing our shoes, we move upstairs to the prayer room.
But for the addition of carpet and a few clocks that show prayer times – Muslims pray five times a day - it looks very much the same.
The room has been divided by a curtain – one area for the men, the other for the women. This segregation, Dr Shah says, is designed to minimise distractions.
Both Dr Shah and Dr Jishi are keen to emphasise that their intention is not to change the building, simply to secure it, after it has been empty and to use it.
Dr Shah estimated that between 20 and 25 people would attend the mosque daily with about 200 coming on a Friday and a larger number on special festival days.
Parking and increased traffic has been a concern to many people but the Muslim community has already been asked to look at other ways to get to the centre or to park in one of the nearby public car parks.
Other than prayer, what will the new mosque be used for?
According to Dr Jishi, the room downstairs will be used for Arabic and Koranic teaching for children and teenagers as well as adult learning classes.
The centre will also provide a meeting place for social gatherings for interfaith groups as well as Muslims.
School visits will also be encouraged.
The group are conscious of the building’s heritage and intend to designate a section of it to house an exhibition or display on the history of mining.
They intend to contact the National Union of Mine Workers to discuss this at the earliest opportunity.
Dr Jishi, who is still a busy consultant at the Maelor hospital, where he has worked since 1983, is particularly glad to have the new base.
“For the first time we have an address,” he said. “Until now everything came to my house and people would ring me asking ‘Is this the mosque? I need some advice’.”
See full story in the Leader