19 March 2013

The church that's opened its doors to Islam

By Helen Lawson

PUBLISHED: 12:33 GMT, 18 March 2013 | UPDATED: 16:02 GMT, 18 March 2013

A Scottish church has become the first in the UK to share its premises with Muslim worshippers.

St John’s Episcopal Church in Aberdeen now welcomes hundreds of Muslims praying five times a day in their building as the nearby mosque was so small that they were forced to worship outside.

The minister of St John's, Rev Isaac Poobalan, has handed over part of the church hall to Chief Imam Ahmed Megharbi and the imam has led prayers in the main chapel.

Rev Poobalan, right, said he would not be true to his faith if he did not offer to help his neighbours with their overcrowding problem. He said: 'Praying is never wrong. My job is to encourage people to pray. 'The mosque was so full at times, there would be people outside in the wind and rain praying. 'I knew I couldn’t just let this happen - because I would be abandoning what the Bible teaches us about how we should treat our neighbours.'When I spoke to people at the church about the situation, someone actually said to me this was not our problem, but I had seen it with my own eyes, so it was a problem. Rev Poobalan said: 'They were out there praying and the snow came on for the first time in winter, it was really hard to watch.

'When they were doing the prayer they had their hands and feet exposed and they were sitting on on the pavement, which is very rough. 'You could even see them breathing because it was so cold and I think when I saw that, the visual impact was such that I just couldn't walk past. 'It felt wrong, mainly because the church is next door, it's a big building and it remains empty on a Friday lunchtime which is when they need the place most as that's when they are at their busiest. 'We had something we could offer and they were just standing out in the cold and I said to my congregation "we need to do something".'

Rev Poobalan said he wanted the move to help build bridges between Christians and Muslims after some initial resistance from his congregation about the move. He said: 'It's a move that is so basic and fundamental. It has nothing to do with religion - it's all based on human need. 'The religious divide shouldn't divide us as people. 'But I anticipated there would be some opposition as it's strange and new and there was some natural anxiety in the beginning. 'But once people realised that there is more commonality between us. 'I certainly hope, wish and pray that this will help relations between the two religions. 'When I spoke to the imam there was some hesitation on their part too, because this has never been done before. 'But they took us up on the offer and it has been a positive relationship.'

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