When a small team from iERA entered the sleepy town of Dewsbury, they found it a bit eerie, lots of men in long robes and women with covered faces. What they found however, when they broke through the ice was a pleasant surprise.
Dewsbury is a town in the metropolitan borough of Kirklees, in West Yorkshire, England. It is to the west of Wakefield, east of Huddersfield and south of Leeds. According to the 2011 census the Dewsbury urban sub-area had a population of 62,945, 19,942 (34%) of which are Muslims, predominantly of an Indian or Pakistani origin. 1
Being the first place Muslims settled when they first moved to Dewsbury from the 1940’s onwards (to meet a labor shortage in the cotton mills)2 Savile Town is now the Asian hub of this sleepy town. Naturally, this is where we met up with the local community at the Islam Dewsbury Centre on Friday 31st October 2014 to get a better understanding of the people, their town and their experiences living and growing up in Yorkshire.
After the evening prayer, Mohummed Umar Sayed, a Dewsbury native and member of iERA gave a short reminder about his great grandfather who first settled in Dewsbury in the 40’s and the importance of interacting with the community in sharing the simple and beautiful message of Islam. Salahuddin Patel also delivered a moving reminder, as he shared his journey to Islam having been born and raised a hindu. The talk had a profound impact on the gathering with the key message being that only through practicing and sharing Islam can we find happiness, not only for ourselves, but for our wider community and society.
The following morning, Saturday 1st November 2014, our team were back at the Islam Dewsbury Centre to deliver an interactive workshop on how to present the message of Islam in a clear and compelling way. We also talked at length about how Muslims as a community should not isolate or shut themselves away from the society, but should in fact be agents for good through positive social activity, something which is central to Islamic teachings.
In the afternoon, our team, along with a fired up and motivated group of locals from the morning workshop headed down to Dewsbury’s award winning town centre. There, they joined up with the existing team, also called Islam Dewsbury, who have been active in sharing the message of Islam in the town centre for the last three years.
The Islam Dewsbury dawah team have one of the largest and best organised dawah tables with a vast array of literature for the passerby to take away and read more about Islam. They are very well known, respected and have the full support of the local community. Whilst we were there, a local resident had donated over a hundred packs of biryani and bottles of water for the team to distribute free in the spirit of love and community.
Throughout the day, biryani and books in hand the team distributed all the food, over a hundred lunch boxes with many residents coming back for more!
More than that, at least three people embraced Islam with the team. One lady wanted a copy of the Qur’an after a brief chat with the team so that she can learn more about Islam as her partner was Muslim. After having a brief conversation with a member of the team, going through what Islam is, understanding that Allah is our creator, that He sent us guidance in the Qur’an and an example of that guidance to follow, the Prophet Muhammad upon whom be peace, she made that courageous decision, of her own fruition, to become a Muslim.
Overall the day was very blessed with the team staying out sharing the message of Islam till just before Maghrib (evening prayer).
Following on from this weekend activity, breaking the silent divide in the community, iERA are planning on following up with the local Muslim community to organise a local exhibition in the town centre about Islam and other events to help them continue their engagement with the wider society.