Gillingham: Multi-million pound mosque construction work steps up

The construction of a new mosque worth £5m will head into its next phase of development in Gillingham on Monday.

Work officially began in June of this year with £1m spent so far on purchasing 0.68 acres of land and building underground pillars about 21 meters deep.

Kent Muslim Welfare Association’s current mosque on Canterbury Street has been deemed to be in a “dilapidated condition” and not fit for purpose.

Anwar Khan, Coordinator of the KMWA, said: “It’s a mega project. It took about 12 years of lobbying support and acquiring the land and to obtain planning approval.

“The current building is in a dilapidated condition and cannot be extended or improved”.

Around £500,000 will next go towards the cost of the basement and foundation.

Medway Council approved the plans for a new mosque in 2014 and faced protests from right-wing groups such as Britain First who campaigned outside the council offices.

However, Mr Khan has received support from local authorities.

He said: “We work closely with local authorities and various organisations who are working against racism and religious hatred.

“Kent Police are actively building strategies and taking actions against the elements of hate. They took Britain First to courts and got a lot of restrictions on their activities.”

The new mosque, which will be on Railway Street, will include a gym in the basement, a retail unit mini super market and a cafeteria, which people can use in between prayers.

Volunteers for the KMWA have recognised the need for a modern facility and see it as an opportunity for better community cohesion, especially for young people.

Ajaib Hussain, 55, from Rochester, said: “The mosque is a service for the community, not just a five-time a day prayer thing. It’s a place for community interaction.

“We have a very diverse community and a growing population. There’s first and second generations of people who have different expectations”.

When visiting the current mosque recently, Mr Hussain was surprised to learn there was no internet access.

Mr Hussain added: “Any change is an opportunity – Hopefully both in the building and the thinking behind it”.

Muazzam Qureshi, 37, also from Rochester, said: “A mosque is a university for learning and teaching.

“It is very important that in this day and age with fast growing life in the modern society that we should build an open house for people who want to learn things without being questioned, without eyebrows being raised. We are just humans.”

Fundraising has been essential to maintain work and volunteer Ajaib Hussain knows it has been demanding on people’s pockets, but has seen many contributions.

He said: “It is challenging when people are contributing to charities so regularly. A lady gave a few of her bangles and it was worth thousands.”

KMWA are hopeful the new mosque can be a centre for both Muslims and non-Muslims, which might include a permanent exhibition to show an understanding of Islam.

With work to continue next week, KMWA have said the work is so far on schedule and aim for the new mosque to be completed in three years.