Ismaili community ‘pleasantly surprised’ by Worcester Park Tavern consultation

An Islamic group proposing a community centre in the abandoned Worcester Park Tavern have been “pleasantly surprised” by the feedback they received during a public consultation.

The police were poised and ready on Saturday for a rumoured protest at 2pm. However, the protest never took place and the Ismaili community say the majority of people who turned up on Friday and Saturday wanted to engage with them.

Shaheen Verjee, 34, is a member of the Ismaili community in north London, attends the Ismaili community centre in Finchley, and runs her own clothing business.

As a community volunteer she helped in both events and said: “On the whole we were pleasantly surprised. There were obviously a few people who came in having made up their mind and some people who quite clearly said ‘I don’t like Islam and I don’t want you here’ but that was very few.

“The main concerns that came up were about traffic and parking. People were also keen to understand to what extent it will be available to the local community. We were very keen to say people are happy to come to our centre.

“We are trying to make clear we are a very open community – we do believe in being inclusive.”

Ms Verjee’s community centre in north London take part in Mitzvah Day, a day of social action, with her community’s local synagogue and Catholic church.

Her family moved over from Kenya in the 1960s and she was born, raised and educated here – which she said is common for the Ismaili community.

She said many of the first generation work in the city or as doctors with the community having a large emphasis on education and voluntary work.

One question many people ask is what the difference between a mosque and an Islamic community centre is.

Ms Verjee explained that rather than praying five times a day their centre will only have meditation once a day, in the evening. The group look to the Aga Khan as their Imam (leader in a mosque) and they have ministers who preside over meditation who can be male or female.

There is no call to prayer and men and women meditate together, on separate sides, in the same room.

The community handed out comment forms during the packed-out consultation events over the weekend which will be returned to them by October 21 and considered before the group puts in a planning application.

Surrey Comet, 17 October 2013