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Sikhs open temple as Hindus keep looking for base
5:00pm Friday 20th September 2013 in News
OXFORD’S Sikh community had struggled for more than 40 years to find a permanent home but last year they opened the city’s first temple.
The group had been moving from venue to venue, beginning at a house in Headington and at one stage using Cheney School.
In 2010 they were ordered to stop using their home of four years – a three-bedroom house in Marston – because they did not have planning permission to use it as a place of worship.
They were refused retrospective permission by Oxford City Council and, after the Sikhs appealed, the Planning Inspectorate upheld the decision, citing traffic, road safety, noise and disturbance to residents among his concerns.
But last year, the community won permission to convert a former plumber’s merchant unit in London Road, Headington, into a temple – known as a Gurdwara.
The community, called the Sri Guru Singh Sabha group, now has up to 60 worshippers attending prayer sessions.
Pargan Singh, a member of the group, said: “We were lucky that we found a partner to buy this present building that we have got for our temple.
“The difficulty was as we are a small group we could not afford the going rate for properties in Oxford.
“The other problem is that in the 45 years I have been in the UK, every temple that has sprung up apart from private ones has always been funded by councils.
“There should be a provision from the council for small groups to help them set up a place.
“It is not just a place of worship, it is a place for people to congregate and discuss their social issues and what is going on in the community.”
The city’s Hindu community has spent the last five years raising money to open a temple, and so far £80,000 has been donated.
They hope the figure is enough to put a deposit down on a property in or around Oxford but as yet have been unable to find anywhere suitable.
Members of the Oxford Hindu Temple and Community Centre Project are currently renting halls and venues for short periods around the city.
Chairman Gyan Gopal said: “We are looking for a property now but we have not found one.
“We have decided not to look at somewhere near residents because of parking and so on. That is what happened to the Sikh temple in Marston.
“We have decided to look for a property on an industrial estate. They are quite reasonable. You can have activities on in the evenings and there is lots of parking.”
The group hopes to raise between £200,000 and £400,000 to buy a long-term lease.
Since fundraising began in 2008 £80,000 has been raised.
Mr Gopal, from Abingdon, added: “We are more or less ready to move into a premises. We are hoping within the next two years we should be able to do something.
“The benefit is that the community will have a place to worship.
“Quite a lot of immigrants have come over in the last 10 years and they are sometimes lost and the only friends that they find are the ones at work.
“It is good to meet and see other immigrants, and a place of worship provides that for people to get together.
“But it will not just be for the Hindu community.
“Members of other communities can come and learn about our culture too.”
Asked about the main difficulty in opening a temple, Mr Gopal said: “We have had zero help from the governmental authorities – from the local county and city councils.
“We have asked if there are any properties that are going cheap to think of us. In the past there used to be multi-faith support, but we are 30 years too late.”
Mosque faced arson threat
TAHIRUL Hasan said he was “on top of the world” when he was granted planning permission to open a mosque in Chipping Norton.
But then the landlord of the property received a threat that the building would be burnt down if the mosque went ahead, and he was forced to pull out.
Mr Hasan, pictured at the property, has since enlisted the help of Prime Minister and Witney MP David Cameron.
However, so far the search has been in vain and Mr Hasan – a Chipping Norton town councillors – and the 30-strong Muslim community still use the Town Hall for prayers.
He said: “We can only use the Town Hall on Fridays and we need to pray five times a day. This is the problem.
“Everyone is currently praying in their own place every day but in Islam we should be doing it in one place together, so we are not able to keep up the faith.
“We need a small place that we can use for 10 or 15 minutes for prayer five times a day. I have been looking everywhere but I cannot find anything.“I have lived in Chipping Norton for 25 years and everyone is nice and friendly but there are a few idiots.
“I was on top of the world when we received planning permission. But they only made one phone call and we lost everything.”
Asked what next, the member of Chipping Norton Town Council said: “We will see what Mr Cameron does for us.” Mr Cameron said: “I was greatly disturbed to learn of threats following the council’s decision to grant permission for a prayer room for the local Muslim community. I have since met Councillor Hasan and I will continue to assist him with his proposal.
“Chipping Norton has an excellent record of supporting the rights of minority groups. I hope this will continue.”
Muslims fear people see them as risk
A SENIOR Islamic scholar has warned that fear of the unknown among the county’s residents is hampering efforts by minority religious groups to set up places of worship in Oxfordshire.
Dr Hojjat Ramzy, right, who founded the Oxford Islamic Information Centre 10 years ago, made the warning after a number of groups told the Oxford Mail of their struggles in finding somewhere to pray and come together in the county.
Sikh, Hindu and Muslim groups across the county have had to fight to find places of their own, coming up against planning problems and even receiving threats.
Issues such as a lack of parking and concerns about noise from worshippers have caused applications for new temples and mosques to be rejected by councils in the past.
But Dr Ramzy said: “It is not racism, it is fear.”
And he urged groups to communicate with their neighbours.
He said: “Everybody has the right to have their own faith and to practise it in a safe environment.
“But if you want to do something for the first time, it is difficult because people are worried.
“When we wanted to open the first Islamic school in Oxford, people were worried because they had never seen an Islamic school before.
“They were thinking it may be something from Afghanistan that we were bringing here.
“When we talked to them and explained what we wanted to do and what the benefit would be for the Muslim community and the community at large, they said it was a good idea and consequently they started to support us.”
Oxfordshire is famous for the beautiful churches that scatter the countryside, but minority faiths are struggling to find their own places of worship.
A planned mosque in Chipping Norton fell through after the landlord received a threat that the building would be burnt down if the project went ahead.
But other groups have successfully managed to open places of worship for their community.
The 2011 census revealed, of a population of 151,906, the city of Oxford had 10,320 Muslims, 2,044 Hindus and 434 Sikhs – compared to 72,924 Christians and 48,954 people with no religion.