Visiting Whitechapel as a youngster
Contributed by Sarah Milne, Survey of London on June 3, 2017
Sufia remembers mid-20th century Whitechapel:
Whitechapel had a sense of culture when I came to Whitechapel when I was younger. It was okay to be Bangladeshi here. We came to visit my uncle just outside the Whitechapel boundary from Yorkshire. My mum felt very at home here coming from Yorkshire. I remember being excited by going to a cinema on Commercial Road to watch a Bollywood movie. There was lots of Bangla media around: newspapers, the latest fashions, events. You could dip in and out of the culture. I felt part of it.
The first time I heard the call pray was very memorable. It was like we were in a foreign country. You could see how different cultures were mixed together in London and it was okay. You heard of stories of racism but as a younger person visiting it wasn't something I thought about. The best thing was Whitechapel Market, it had everything that no one else had in Yorkshire!
I moved to the area later in life. My two daughters were born in the London Hospital before we moved out to Poplar. Since 1997 I've been working at the Wapping Centre(?), with women and Bangladeshi community in particular. I found that there was so much culture on our doorsteps but women were not coming out of their houses to engage with it. So I worked in various local centres to encourage women to be confident in different ways and to be part of the community. More recently I've been working at the Maryam Centre.
Mahera Ruby on how the Maryam Centre serves women
Contributed by Survey of London on March 9, 2018
Mahera Ruby, an academic and community activist, grew up in Whitechapel. Here she reflects on what the Maryam Centre provides for the women who use it.
'The Maryam Centre [is] one of our key achievements. We have a women’s project, Maryam Women’s Services now but it used to be called the Women’s Link. That used to be based at the mosque. So the mosque had two entrances: the women’s entrance and the men’s entrance. Even though women could still come in to use the services, I think they still felt a bit [uncomfortable] if they were coming in for, say, domestic violence or whatever troubles they were facing. With the Maryam Centre, it’s wonderful because they have [a] totally anonymous entrance.
There’s a gym there, there’s the prayer space. And because it’s separate, very separate entrance, I think women feel much much more comfortable accessing those services. There’s counseling available now. So those kinds of services [have] been great for those women. But also for classes, so there’s a lot women’s classes that take place.
Personally, I feel we could’ve done better. The Maryam Centre could have been better utilised. I would have loved to have had that ground floor hall to be ours too. [And] the lovely entrance, rather than us having that little entrance on the side. But we are working towards it.
Because at the moment I feel it’s a bit sad that sometimes we may have to share the lift with people who have passed away in coffins. It’s a good reminder, but it’s not the nicest thing to experience.
[The women’s prayer hall is on the 2nd floor] the whole floor. And it is nice, it’s quite nice. But I miss the gallery [the women’s prayer space in the 1985 East London Mosque building], because I think [there] we were at the heart of the mosque. Here, we’re a Centre.
It does feel separate. A lot of people like it, I mean, women do prefer that because in this area, this is the only women’s centre. We used to have Jagonari across the road, we don’t have that anymore. So in terms of women’s services, this is one of the community-sensitive, culture-sensitive services. And we do get referrals of other cultures and faiths too, so it’s not just restricted to Muslims.</span>
[The Maryam Centre] really did make sense [as] the usage by women [was] increasing. The gallery just wasn’t [enough to] contain the women and the numbers, particularly Friday prayers, tarawih prayers, and it was becoming quite impossible. So I think it just made sense that women needed a bigger space. And [the] Maryam Centre was born.'
Mehera Ruby was in conversation with Nishat Alam and Shahed Saleem on the 19th January 2018 at the East London Mosque