YEMENI IN BRITAIN
ZAOIA's and the building of Britains first purpose built Mosque.
'Zaoia/Zaoias'(which literally translates into 'corner') was the name given to converted buildings which were used by Yemeni migrants to pray. The first zaoia allocated to the community was on Cuthbert Street but upon the areas re-development the council offered a site on Laygate as a temporary measure. The community aimed to build something permanently sustainable and the first attempt made to establish a purpose built Mosque was located behind present-day Commercial Road. The Mosque foundations, roof and part of a wall were built before building stopped to be recontinued where the present day Mosque is located on Laygate Lane.
"I remember it first started being built on Commercial Road, just on the corner,it started to be built there but for some reason it wasn't continued to be built there. It was a big deal to the community because the community funded it. It was what they wanted."
"It would have made a massive difference to the community because it would have brought the community properly to Laygate and that was what they intended it to do." - Aminah Hasan
Since its completion, the Mosque has opened 5 times a day for prayers. Many see the Mosque as a centrepoint for the Arab community in Laygate which continues to hold excellent relations with local councils, and services. Tyne and Wear Fire Service for instance, visit every year during the holy month of Ramadan. The Mosque also hosts and gets involved with various interfaith events around the region. To this day, the Mosque welcomes visits from local schools, organisations and individuals interested in developing their understanding of other faiths.
An example showing a letter from Tynemouth College dated 1975 saying how the students enjoyed their visit and asking to bring another group.
A well documented event at Al-Azhar Mosque was the visit of boxing world heavyweight champion Muhammed Ali in July 1977. He came to the Mosque to have his wedding to Veronica Porsche blessed and this single event brought crowds to the doors of the Mosque and inevitably raised its profile within the South Shields Community.
The following photographs of that visit have been made available by South Tyneside Libraries with the permission of the Mudditt family who own the pictures
Islamic Schools in South Shields
"Acquire knowledge, and learn tranquillity and dignity" - Omar ibn al khattab.
Early 20th Century
One of the earliest schools with children of nationalities including Carribbean, English and Yemeni
All generations of the settled Yemeni community have aimed to preserve their traditions with the implementation of schools. These schools were not limited to any specific race and often taught Islamic studies, Arabic and where required, English.
In 1988 the money was raised to open a purpose built schoolroom next to as opposed to inside of the Mosque. In addition, a bus was bought to bring children to the school therefore opening up the opportunity to those unable to travel into the Laygate area. The school was attended by people from a mix of ethnicities, evident of the shift in migration to South Shields. Increasingly, Bengali children began attending the school as well as English, Yemeni, Somali, Egyptian and Iraqi children.
"Anyone of any age or race is welcome to attend the school" - Gazette article dated December 13th 1988 to advertise the opening of the new school building next to the Mosque. © The Shields Gazette
Heart of the community and 'Last of the Dictionary Men'
As with the boarding houses, an important point of contact for the Yemeni community has always been Al Azhar Mosque in Laygate, South Shields.
Academic and filmmaker, Tina Gharavi brought technology and storytelling to the heart of the Yemeni community when putting together an oral history project focused on the 13 remaining 1st generation Yemeni seamen which culminated in an exhibition in 2008.
Gharavi commissioned Yusef Nabil, a celebrated Egyptian photographer, to undertake portraits of the men. The exhibition included these handtinted images, oral history Tina had recorded of the men, as well a further film also called 'Last of the Dictionary Men'.
Her exhibition was displayed alongside another documentary on Muhammad Ali's visit to South Shields in 1977 called 'The King of South Shields'. The show opened at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, then travelled to several cities in Yemen, first opening in the capital in Sana'a, and later returning to the UK in 2013 in London where it closed.
Additionally, a book was published about the work which had captured the stories of an almost lost generation and brought this unique and vital story to the world.
Much of Tina's work took place in the Mosque in 2008
At the Mosque
The Exibition Launch