Tucked away in semi-industrial street in Canadian, the Ballarat Mosque is only obvious if you can pick out the new building behind a worn-out cottage.
The mosque itself is a simple building and the first permanent Islamic house of worship in Ballarat.
With that in mind it has been given a fitting name by the Islamic Society of Ballarat: Masjid Abu Bakr Siddiq.
Abu Bakr Siddiq was the first leader of Islam after the Prophet Muhammad and one of his closest followers, so the name was voted in by the committee as a reflection of its place as the first mosque in Ballarat.
Abubakr Ahmed is a year 12 student from Mount Clear College and a regular attendee of the mosque.
He said having the space – with the mosque and house in front for Sheikh Abdul Khaliq Mahmood – had made a big difference to their community and was excited to share it on Saturday.
VIEW PICTURES OF THE MOSQUE HERE
“We hope to soften people’s hearts, when they meet in this blessed place,” he said.
Mr Ahmed said the mosque had strengthened the community.
“If (someone) is not attending, people ask around, ‘where is he?’, ‘is he ok?’,” he said.
“When you can come and pray five times a day the community is close.”
Before the mosque was opened in May 2015 Ballarat Muslims celebrated their holy day – Friday – and holy festivals at Federation University, either in the prayer room or function rooms.
Sunni Muslims pray five separate times a day; the first before sunrise and the last well after dark.
In Sunni-majority countries the call to prayer rings out every time to let the faithful know when to pray. In much of Australia’s closest neighbour Indonesia dawn is announced by the prayer (although sun-seekers in Hindu-majority Bali avoid this).
Ballarat does not have a minaret and society members say there are no plans to build one, and the call to prayer is only played inside the mosque as people are getting ready to pray.
Now after being open for almost a year the mosque attracts around 100 people to Friday prayers.
Islamic Society president Dr Ahmed Naqeeb said this was a mix of locals, visiting workers and tourists.
“(People have come to Ballarat) just because they Google it and have found the mosque,” he said.
“They say ‘we found there is a mosque, and we want to see how you are practising here.”
Former Islamic Society committee member Ahmad Azab said they had lots of people from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, as well as various African and Middle Eastern countries.
Like any congregation it is a broad range of people, from students at FedUni to GPs and other health professionals and workers in Ballarat for the day, Dr Azab said.
He gave The Courier a tour of the mosque during the week.
Walking in from Ellsworth Street the proximity of the neighbours is clear – they get on well with them Dr Azab said – but once inside the red brick building itself it could be anywhere.
The land itself is perpendicular to Mecca (which Muslims must face when praying) so the building fits nicely at the back of the property.
Before the congregation prays they have to complete their ablutions, and to this end there are specially-built bathrooms for men and women.
The prayer space itself is simple. The whole interior, including the curtained-off women’s area, has a thick red carpet and the view avoids the surrounding scrap yards, looking onto the trees of Canadian state forest.
The Bendigo Mosque planning process has brought on reflections on multiculturalism and Australia’s aim of a shared and broad society since the 1960s.
Violent demonstrations and almost laughable court challenges to the Islamic centre have hurt Bendigo’s image as a modern regional city.
But Dr Naqeeb, whose son is studying there, said it was only a minority that was causing trouble.
“If you see (Bendigo people) they are not different to (us) in Ballarat,” he said.
“I’ve been to Bendigo many times and they know I’m Muslim...the people of Bendigo are most welcoming.”
Dr Naqeeb said the troublemakers were “just trying to divide people” and annoy the police by making them turn out to separate them from counter protesters.
In Februry the protesters flagged a High Court challenge after their case was rejected by the Court of Appeal.
While the imbroglio may have meant the Ballarat group has kept quiet until now they will be showing off the mosque proudly on Saturday.
The multicultural make up of the congregation will be reflected in the food on offer – a barbecue with lots and lots of biryani on the side.
Dr Naqeeb said the Ballarat Interfaith Network had been supportive of the society and its aim to open the mosque’s doors to Ballarat.
Margaret Lenan Ellis from the network said it was a good chance for people to learn about Islam.
“We look forward to it being a really sociable event, and hope that people of goodwill come along,” she said.
On the mosque, she said it was about time the Islamic community had a permanent place of worship.
“It’s certainly a very necessary addition to our religious community,” she said.
“The fact that it is a very small, modest mosque, means they will be easing the mosque into our community.”
Ballarat Mosque open day: Saturday, April 16, 12pm to 3pm. 116 Elsworth Street East, Canadian. Free event, with food and a lecture from Sheikh Waseem Rizvi.
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