11 March 2024

The mosque in Wolverton
is the largest and newest
mosque in Milton Keynes

The Central Jamia Mosque in Wolverton was converted from an old post office building in 1995 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

The Muslim fasting month of Ramadan began last night, on the evening of Sunday 10 March, and today has been the first day of fasting. Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting, prayer, reflection, and community. The annual observance of Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and lasts 29 to 30 days, from one sighting of the crescent moon to the next.

In the days immediately before Ramadan, I visited the Central Jamia Mosque at 14-16 Church Street in Wolverton this week. It is the largest and newest of the Sunni masajids or mosques in Milton Keynes.

It was converted from an old post office building in 1995, with just one main room and an initial capacity for 350 people. Since then, the mosque in Wolverton has gone through many phases of development and progress. As the Muslim population of Wolverton grew over the past 30 years, the mosque has seen much structural change, extension and improvement, inside and outside.

A second larger room, the Shaikan Ahmed Alfarsi Hall, was built in 2003, bringing the capacity of the masjid to close to 1,600 people – 1,450 in the men’s section and 150 in the women’s section upstairs.

The mosque has a fairly large wudu area and also provides facilities for funeral preparation and body-washing. The small car park in the grounds has about 25 spaces.

Inside the Central Jamia Mosque in Wolverton, the largest and newest of the Sunni masajids or mosques in Milton Keynes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Most Pakistanis living in Milton Keynes originate from the Azad Kashmir area and speak Punjabi, Mirpuri and Urdu. The Pakistani community in Milton Keynes is well dispersed, but there is a significant concentration in Wolverton.

At first, the khutbah or sermon was delivered in Urdu, reflecting the large Pakistani community that lives in Wolverton and the surrounding areas. However, an ever increasing number of non-Urdu-speaking Muslims have been living in the area, and the khutbah is now delivered in both Urdu and English, and English is the mosque’s primary language used.

The Central Jamia Mosque is a hub for the Muslim community in Wolverton. As it has grown and developed, it has become a welcoming and inclusive place of worship for a diverse community, fostering a sense of belonging and unity.

Nūr Academy is a children’s madrasah attached to the mosque. It has a full curriculum that includes Quran recitation and memorisation, Islamic law, prophetic biography and Islamic creed.

The Shaikan Ahmed Alfarsi Hall was built in 2003, bringing the capacity of the masjid to close to 1,600 people (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Central Jamia Mosque is open to visitors throughout the year. It welcomes a large number of visitors from schools, colleges, universities and other institutions wishing to find out more about a mosque and about Islam.

The other Sunni mosques in Milton Keynes include the Milton Keynes Islamic and Cultural Association at South Row in central Milton Keynes, the Jamee Masjid in Bletchley and the Islamic Centre in Coffee Hall. The Shia Muslim community is served by the Zainabiya Islamic Centre in Granby, Bletchley, and there is also an Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Milton Keynes.

The mosque in Granby is in traditional style, with a dome and a minaret, but the other mosques are in buildings converted from other uses.

I have visited a variety of churches throughout Milton Keynes over the past two years, I have a long association with the synagogue, and I have been to the Japanese Buddhist monastery and pagoda at Willen Lake for a number of events, including the annual Hiroshima Day commemorations.

With the frightening rise in antisemitism, Islamophobia and religious hatred, it is important that we all get to know our neighbours well, and to reassure them of their valued place in our society and culture. Ramadan offers suitable opportunities to engage with our Muslim neighbours.

Ramadan offers suitable opportunities to engage with our Muslim neighbours (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Lent with
early English saints:
27, 11 March 2024,
Alfred the Great

King Alfred the Great with his harp … a carved image on the west façade of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

We are more than half-way through the Season of Lent, which began on Ash Wednesday (14 February 2024), and yesterday was the Fourth Sunday in Lent (Lent IV), also known as Laetare Sunday and Mothering Sunday or Mother’s Day (10 March 2024).

Throughout Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on the lives of early, pre-Reformation English saints commemorated in the Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship.

Before this day begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, A reflection on an early, pre-Reformation English saint;

2, today’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Alfred the Great (right) with other Anglo-Saxon kings on the west façade of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022; click on image for full-screen viewing)

Early English pre-Reformation saints: 27, Alfred the Great

Alfred the Great (899), King of the West Saxons, Scholar, 899, is commemorated in Common Worship on 26 October with a lesser festival.

Alfred was born in the year 849. As the king of the West Saxons, he effectively brought to an end the constant threat of Danish dominion in these islands. He came to the throne at the age of 22 and, after establishing peace, he set about bringing stability to both church and state.

He gave half of his income to founding religious houses which themselves acted as Christian centres for education, care of the sick and poor and respite for travellers.

He was a daily attender at Mass and translated many works into the vernacular. He evolved a legal code based on common sense and Christian mercy. His whole life was marked by the compassion of Christ. He died on 26 October 899.

Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine (John 4: 46) … the miracle at Cana depicted in an icon in the Lady Chapel in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

John 4: 43-54 (NRSVA):

43 When the two days were over, he went from that place to Galilee 44 (for Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honour in the prophet’s own country). 45 When he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the festival; for they too had gone to the festival.

46 Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 Then Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’ 49 The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my little boy dies.’ 50 Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. 51 As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. 52 So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.’ 53 The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ So he himself believed, along with his whole household. 54 Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.

The theme of the Lent reflections in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is inspired by the JustMoney Movement … torn and ragged banknotes in a tin box outside an antiques shop in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Monday 11 March 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Lent Reflection: JustMoney Movement.’ This theme was introduced yesterday by Matt Ceaser, Movement Builder, JustMoney Movement.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (11 March 2024) invites us to pray in these words:

As yesterday was Mothering Sunday, we thank you Lord for all who are mothers and all who mother. May you surround them with your blessings and help them know how appreciated they are.

The Collect:

Merciful Lord,
absolve your people from their offences,
that through your bountiful goodness
we may all be delivered from the chains of those sins
which by our frailty we have committed;
grant this, heavenly Father,
for Jesus Christ’s sake, our blessed Lord and Saviour,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord God,
whose blessed Son our Saviour
gave his back to the smiters
and did not hide his face from shame:
give us grace to endure the sufferings of this present time
with sure confidence in the glory that shall be revealed;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

Merciful Lord,
you know our struggle to serve you:
when sin spoils our lives
and overshadows our hearts,
come to our aid
and turn us back to you again;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday: Saint Edmund the Martyr

Tomorrow: Saint Dunstan of Canterbury

Old Greek coins in a tin box outside an antiques shop in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org