Builders answer Islam's growing call to prayer

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As attendance figures at the Church of England continue to dwindle, Islam is addressing the opposite problem. Between 80 and 100 mosques are to be built in Britain by the millennium, according to architects involved in their construction.

Unlike most of the 1,000 existing mosques, which are converted warehouses, churches or community halls, the new ones feature traditional Islamic domes and minarets. The designs, such as that for one in Rochdale, which is based on Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, adhere to the Eastern model, with grand entrance and fountains, marble and chandeliers inside.

"If you stand outside any of the new ones and and blink, all of a sudden you will think you are in the Middle East, Far East or Indian subcontinent," said Abta Al-Samarraie, one of the architects at Bullen Consultants, in Bradford, which is involved in building 12 of the new mosques.

The change in Britain's landscape reflects a significant shift in attitude towards Muslims by the country's local planners, added Mr Al-Samarraie. "Local authorities are becoming more relaxed about mosques making more of a statement now," he said. The architects' biggest constraint is height, according to Mr Samarraie. "Sixty feet is about the upper limit," he said. "Ideally, they would be as tall as possible so they could be seen from some distance. But the buildings will be in proportion, so they will look right."

Each mosque will hold an average of 2,000 worshippers at any one time. The cost of each place of worship is between pounds 1m to pounds 3m, money which comes from modest donations by Britain's million-strong Muslim population. Extensions or refurbishments will also take place at 160 existing mosques.

Twenty of the new mosques will be built in London. Tenders are sought for a pounds 3m five-storey mosque in Tower Hamlets. Shamsul Haque, the local imam, welcomed the plan because it would absorb the growing numbers of worshippers.

In contrast, the number Church of England churches - 16,000 - has dropped by about 800 in the past 25 years. However, 450 new churches have been built at the rate of 15 to 20 a year over the same period. In the Roman Catholic Church, the number - 3,760 - increased by four in 1994/5, according to the Catholic Media office.