New Mosque in Taihape - sanctuary for weary travellers

From Voices, 3:30 pm on 22 June 2015

Before the centre was established in 2014, Muslims used to pray by the train station or behind the main public toilets. The mosque serves the general population of the North Island as they travel State Highway One -  Constable Saifudin Abu, Taihape

There's a new mosque in the township of Taihape and it can proudly call itself the highest Islamic Centre in New Zealand at 440m above sea level. It was initiated by Constable Abu after he encountered many travel-weary Muslims stopping to pray along busy State Highway One and built by the community of Taihape.

Lynda Chanwai-Earle meets the locals and visits the new mosque to learn more.

Prayers 5 times a day, Saifudin is the local Imam too

Prayers 5 times a day, Saifudin is the local Imam too Photo: RNZ/Lynda Chanwai-Earle

ASSALAMUALAIKUM, We are pleased to provide a centre for Muslims to stop, pray and rest in the middle of North Island along the busiest road, SH1.Taihape has long been used by Muslims traveling from Auckland, Hamilton and Taupo to Wellington or Palmerston North ... We pray that you fully utilise the facility and treat it like your own home and Insha Allah, more Islamic Centres like Taihape will sprout on smaller towns around the country. We hope to see you in your next journey! JazakAllah Khair   Ad-Deen Mosque

Followers of the Islamic faith need to pray five times a day. This can be a challenge if you are traveling the long stretches of State Highway One that threads its way down the North Island.

Constable Saifudin Abu recognised the need for a Mosque after he encountered many travel-weary Muslims praying on the side of the road or sometimes behind the public toilets in Taihape.

A traveling Muslim is known as Musafir, in Arabic, the word safar means to walk, to travel to any distance. In religious terminology it means to set off with the intention of walking a distance of at least 3 days, so a person who sets off with such an intention is called a musafir or safari (traveler).

Initially Saifudin invited many back to his home where they were welcomed by his wife and children and given space to pray in comfort but word got around and soon Saifudin was inundated with calls. There is only one family of Muslims living in Taihape; Saifudin, his wife Siti Khalijah and their three children.

That was when Saifudin decided to initiate the building of a new masjid in Taihape, to provide sanctuary for the traveling faithful to pray and cook halal food together and rest before the next leg of their journey.

The brand new masjid, the Ad-Deen Mosque — opened in December 2014 as part of the Taihape Islamic Centre in Taihape. 

Saifudin tells me that the mosque was funded by FIANZ (The Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand) as well as donations from mosques around New Zealand. They had reached their funding goal within 2 months of appealing.

And what about the Taihape locals? What did they think about a new mosque being built in their township? I join Saifudin as we walk his beat around the township. He's known affectionately as "Din" to the locals and it was the locals that embraced the project in the first place and then the locals who helped to build the mosque.

Marion Bennett owns the Bennetts Furniture Shop in the centre of Taihape:

It's added such a huge dimension to town. Just to learn about the different religion ... we thought we were a closed community but we're not. Different is just different and its just learning.

Bennetts are also Taihape's local funeral parlor and dry-cleaners. Every business in Taihape doubles up on their services, the local plumbers are also a volunteer fire service, the school receptionist is the local lifeguard. "In Taihape we like to put things out on the street and make things open. You are always welcome - that's what Din does with the mosque."

Bennetts provided the carpet laying services for the mosque and it was a unique job. "The carpet is very special," Saifudin tells me, "It has been imported from Saudi Arabia and has a particular pattern on it to help people pray toward Mecca, the carpet costs more than the mosque itself."

The mosque benefited from a lot of voluntary services. Saifudin's colleague Constable Lomaz is also a builder. Constable Lomaz built the wahdu (washing) area in his free time.

Saifudin himself is a local constable along with six other colleagues in the Central North Island regions, but in regards to the mosque, he must also act as Imam and conduct the call to prayers among other duties.

The opening ceremony on the 6th December 2014 coinciding with Taihape's Santa Parade. I asked Marion if she attended the opening. "Oh definitely!" says Marion, "I attended both openings, the informal one and the official one. Most of the community turned up. There was a great crowd, about 300, and the Santa parade was co-incidentally on the same time - it was so festive, invited Muslim guests in all their amazing cultural dress joined  the Santa Parade down the main street of Taihape and everyone was dancing and singing."

The opening included the unveiling of a Mosque plaque and a traditional feast, Saifudin tells me that catering students volunteered their services to make a halal feast for the special occasion.

The Mosque proudly claims to be the highest in New Zealand at 440m above sea level. It's not only a place of worship for followers of Islam, it's also a centre for information and education and now Ad-Deen Masjid a place of sanctuary for the travel-weary musafir.