Sustainability and Spirituality: Levenshulme’s Eco-Mosque

In 2003 the Muslim Bohra community of Levenshulme started thinking about replacing their makeshift prayer hall – a former Maternity & Child Welfare Centre in an old Methodist chapel – with a brand new mosque. However, fitted with solar panels, recycled wood, reclaimed stone, under-floor heating and other energy saving measures this wasn’t your average mosque, but an eco-mosque.

Opened in 2008, the new building was the culmination of a lot of hard work, curiosity and a belief that it is possible to create a mosque which positively impacts both the community and the environment. At the time, the mosque’s opening was reported in both the local press and amongst international Muslim and environmental publications. Mustafa Abdulhussein, vice-president of the mosque, told the Manchester Evening News at the time of the mosque’s opening that “We had been using the building as a makeshift mosque for many years, then about five years ago we started thinking about building a new structure. The eco-element arises out of what a mosque is meant to be. It is meant to be friendly in every aspect, which includes being friendly to the environment. We should set an example and having eco-friendly features makes those congregating there aware of the issues. It hasn’t really been any more costly than if we were to do it any other way and there is a much greater gain to be had with a mosque which creates its own energy.”

He also added that “The building is two completely different architectural styles – one side is inspired by modern Mancunian architecture, with glass and zinc, and the Mecca-facing side uses traditional materials like stone.”

In 2010, Abdulhussein told Manchester Radical History’s Arwa Aburawa that initially green concerns were not on the agenda when the mosque was being built. “It started off with us saying that we should have some solar panels as green buildings are encouraged and we had to have some green aspects by law. So I looked into it and got more interested with the green aspects and although I wouldn’t call the mosque completely eco- it’s really a step towards a fully eco mosque.”

Learning To Care For The Environment

The new mosque was fitted with solar panels, under-floor heating which is efficient as most of the congregation sit on the floor, infra-red sensitive taps so water isn’t wasted and energy-efficient lighting. The eco-mosque was also built using sustainable wood, reclaimed stone and an energy-efficient glass façade with allows natural light in. Abdulhussein explained, “the glass retains the heat in the cold and in summer it creates an environment which requires less heating. When I started I was not aware that such glass even existed!”

In fact, it has been a learning curve for all the community, which is discovering the ‘green’ aspects of Islam. “All the issues that are important today such as the issue of global warming and polluting- all these aspects are very much within Islam’s concerns, in fact there are imperative, a requirement for us to think about,” explains Abdulhussein. “A lot of these things don’t get taught about any more although I’ve noticed that in the last twenty years there has been a change and Muslims (like any other ethnic or religious groups) are also learning to think about environmental issues.”

Abdulhussein also noticed that the younger members of the congregation had particularly embraced the green aspects of the mosque as it showed that their faith recognised modern day issues. The concept of ‘Khalifa’ or stewardship is rooted in Islamic thought and states that mankind has a responsibility to protect the whole of humanity and the planet. However, Abdulhussein admits that it it still up to the Muslim community to take environmental awareness seriously. “To be frank Muslims have a lot to worry about, the political agenda is dominating the Muslim world and issues that ought to be at the forefront of our thoughts are pushed to one side. It all depends on how seriously imams take the issue,” he says.

Building Bridges Between Communities

The eco-mosque in Levenshulme, which is known as ‘Al-Markaz Al-Najmi’ mosque, has also been praised for helping to build bridges between different communities. “When a mosque is built in an area the standard reaction is ‘not another mosque’, there are concerns about parking and disruption,” says Abdulhussein. “So when we decided to build the mosque we wanted it to be different because if the community can’t get behind it then what’s the point of building a mosque? If we want to build a house of worship then it has to benefit the entire area- that was our aim from the beginning… For example, we try to make sure that the mosque parking never disturbs the neighbours- we police it ourselves. We make sure that the neighbours have our number in case there is a problem of any kind and what we have found is that in return they look after our mosque. When we have trespassers in the mosque surrounds who are not meant to be there we tend to get residents ringing us up to tell us- they look after us in many ways.”

In 2010, the Bohra community also donated over £50,000 to Levenshulme Inspire, a local community centre also based in a former church, which will include a stylish café, social housing apartments and space for clubs and local groups to meet. Inspire was due to open in October 2010. Abdulhussein explains that this is just part of the Muslim community’s contribution to the locality and its future development. In fact, he adds that all mosques should be integrated with their communities and also positively contribute to their environment. “I really do feel that if there was some organisation in Manchester which could influence the building and design of mosques then they really should encourage them to bring in some of the measures that we did- both in terms of eco-friendliness and community-friendliness,” he emphasises.

Article by Arwa Aburawa