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The Aziziye Mosque: One of London's most stunning mosques Open in fullscreen

Sophia Akram

The Aziziye Mosque: One of London's most stunning mosques

The building was converted by Turkish Cypriot architect Oktay Hamit in 1983 [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 June, 2019

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See in pictures: The Aziziye Mosque in Stoke Newington is thought of as one of Britain's most stunning mosques.

Maybe it was to establish a literal "movie mecca" for North London patrons with a penchant for moving pictures in the early 20th century. As the Apollo Picture House from 1913 had a distinct orient feel to it – two domes sat on either side of the broad quad building, complete with minarets emerging from their centres.

The picture house didn't last, but it was maintained as a mecca for film, including as a hub for Kung Fu and adult screenings, while undergoing a number of refurbishments and name changes – it later became known as the Ambassador Cinema and then the Astra Cinema – before it eventually closed in 1983.

The Aziziye Mosque in Stoke Newington is thought of as one of Britain's most stunning mosques. Muslim Londoners know it well too, for its popular restaurant, one that gets pretty active around the fasting month of Ramadan for iftar.

There's also a halal butchers at the north of the building but it is its unique facade that makes it standout and is a mark of the area's vibrant migrant community, a stone's throw from trendy Dalston. Fortuitously, the exterior remained as it was and the building was reinvented as the Aziziye Camii, a mosque that is so far having a solid run.

The building was converted by Turkish Cypriot architect Oktay Hamit in 1983 after the demise of the Astra, who covered the exterior with decorative and traditional ceramic Iznik tiles. The interior too had Ottoman embellishments, down to the chandeliers, although this reportedly took more than a decade to complete with many of the materials imported from Turkey.

Financially backed by other British Turks, the mosque is run by the UK Turkish Islamic Association and is often cited as being frequented by North London's Turkish Cypriot community.

The mosque has decorative and traditional ceramic Iznik tiles [Sophia Akram]

The interior has Ottoman embellishments [Sophia Akram]

While Turkish settlements in the UK including in east London, are traced to the mid 19th century with the settling of lascars – sailors from eastern nations who served on European ships from the mid 16th to mid 20th century – Turkish Cypriots arrived in Britain in the 1950s.

These communities, like other migrant communities in Britain, grew through a process of chain migration. During the earlier years, according to the writer Humayan Ansari, the community used an old converted Victorian house as a makeshift mosque.

Religion actually wasn't paramount in terms of the community's priorities, at least no more than integration was or the centering of education, social and welfare issues. The UKTIA, however, emerged in 1979 and started to provide education "in accordance not only with the 'tenets and doctrines of Islam' but also with the traditions of Turkish culture'", according to Ansari.

In any case, the Aziziye's formation tapped into the connection between ethnicity, language and religion and was welcomed by Turks less keen on attending a non-Turkish prayer house

In any case, the Aziziye's formation tapped into the connection between ethnicity, language and religion and was welcomed by Turks less keen on attending a non-Turkish prayer house.

As was told to Ansari, that while "it is a good feeling being with the [Muslim brothers] you don’t really enjoy the prayer because you just pray and leave. No socialising, nothing. But when I started praying with our Jama'a [congregation] I felt while religious commitment had increased, the institutionalisation of Islam had consolidated, if not heightened, awareness of shared ethnicity".

Even though the mosque's inauguration was one that welcomed all ethnicities, it took on a distinct Turkish identity, and even the hutbe (sermon) was delivered in Turkish.

The building was reinvented as the Aziziye Camii [Getty]

Many of the materials imported from Turkey [Sophia Akram]

Fast forward to present day, however, Mete Coban, a Labour Councillor for Stoke Newington, says that the mosque isn't just there for the Turkish community.

"The mosque has played an integral role in bringing different parts of the community together," he said speaking to The New Arab, stressing that there's no segregation within the mosque and the congregation is made up of everyone whether Turkish, Kurdish, South Asian, Arabic or other.

Coban also points to the other religious institutions in the area and the interfaith activity between them.

"I know the mosque has worked with the church when they were providing shelter for the homeless," says Coban and it tries to keep itself open for non-Muslims as well as Muslims through events like open days. Coban also helped organise an iftar at the mosque attended by London Mayor Sadiq Khan last year.

Even though the mosque's inauguration was one that welcomed all ethnicities, it took on a distinct Turkish identity, and even the hutbe (sermon) was delivered in Turkish

Hamit's creation isn't the only Turkish mosque in London though as prior to the Aziziye Camii, Masjid Ramadan, otherwise known as the Shacklewell Lane Mosque, was converted from a Synagogue in the 1970s and later, in the 1990s, the Suleymaniye Mosque in east London was a purpose-built building, like most of the mosques in Britain.

The Aziziye's unusual beginnings adds a provocative twist to the community's history but more widely mosques play an important part of English history, dating from the 19th century England's first mosque was the Shah Jahan in Woking.

Arguably Churchill helped bolster the Muslim's presence in England via the Islamic place of worship as it was the Churchill war cabinet that authorised the acquisition of a site to build a mosque in London in 1940. This was later used to build the London Central Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre in the 1970s, also known as the Regents Park Mosque.

"What was significant was that the book The British Mosque - An Architectural and British History was commissioned by Historic England, which is an acknowledgment of the importance they play in British history," Shahed Saleem, the book's author, told The New Arab.

"Mosques are ultimately significant for the communities they serve," says Saleem explaining that communities form around new mosques as people move to be closer to them.

There are 2.7 million Muslims in Britain according to the last census and mosque attendance is on par with that at the Church of England, Saleem found, making them "an established part of the urban fabric of Britain's towns and cities."

While mosques do not define Muslim identities within Britain they are a physical representation of the Muslim presence, their domes and minarets a key signifier.

But Aziziye's appeal reaches beyond the local North London community, attracting Halal foodies for a little slice of Istanbul.

"Aziziye is an oasis right on your doorstep," says Adam Najak owner of the Halal Food Gastronomy blog along with his wife Summeyah.

Turkish lamps and private booths low to the ground with cushions and a slightly raised tabled characterise the restaurant.

"The interior definitely takes me back to when I was in Turkey," said Najak adding that the main asset to Aziziye is 'authentic food.'

"When you enter, you're greeted by the incredible CAG kebab, horizontally stacked fresh lamb that rotates over hot coals and cooks it", recalls Najak and with the masjid right above you, he adds, there are no concerns about missing Salah.


You can visit the Aziziye Mosque and its restaurant and shop at 117 - 119 Stoke Newington Road, London N16 8BU, United Kingdom.


Sophia Akram is a researcher and communications professional with a special interest in human rights particularly across the Middle East. 

Follow her on Twitter: @mssophiaakram

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