Sheikh Nuru Mohammed hails from Ghana but these days, he is the imam or resident head at the Al-Abbas Islamic Center in Birmingham, United Kingdom. About one in five people who live in Birmingham are Muslim, making it one of Europe’s most religiously diverse cities.
Religious diversity still does not spare the Islamic community the resentment of many who hold onto the idea that Britain is being Islamized to destruction. Inherent in that thought is that Islam and British identity are at odds or that is no room for positive syncretism.
Mohammed understands this and the responsibility it places on Muslims in Birmingham and the UK to be the best they could be. So, on behalf of his center, Mohammed opened up the mosque he heads to become a COVID-19 vaccination center. Al-Abbas was the first Islamic congregational premises to do this in the entire United Kingdom after the government rolled out a national vaccination program.
“We are the first mosque in the UK to open our doors for people to receive their jabs,” he told AJ+, and so far the response in his community has overwhelmed him. “I see people come in from all walks of life. White people. Asians. Black people. You just name it!”.
He was moved to take the initiative after he realized the level of misinformation that had spread about the virus last year.
“Fake news caused some damages within our communities and across the globe. And so we thought: why should we allow something which had no base to override something which is based on scientific evidence,” he explained.
Britain has so far recorded nearly 158,000 deaths since the first reported case in January of 2020. That is out of more than 17.8 million infections, many of whom have recovered. Mohammed and his community were personally hit by some of these deaths.
“Last year (2020), we [Al-Abbas] lost more than 18 people. Out of these 18, maybe one wasn’t corona [related]. I was burying people week in and week out. So this is serious. It is not a joke,” he added.
About 2,000 people according to Mohammed, are vaccinated weekly in his mosque. He was understandably pleased by the opportunity that has presented itself for inter-faith and inter-cultural communications, citing the story of an old woman, “70 years to 80”, who stepped into a mosque for the first time to take her dose.
“Another inspiration is to motivate the Black and ethnic [minorities] to go for their jabs because we [Black, Asian and Middle Eastern Britons] suffered a lot. We lost a lot of people.”
But he is also of the view that the initiative constitutes a service to humanity which “goes hand-in-hand” with service to God.