The call to prayer ... and a new job

Muslims turn mosque into a centre to help the unemployed
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They may be just emerging from prayer, but their minds are already turning to work. The unemployed among 3,000 Muslims attending the East London Mosque in Whitechapel can now register for jobs when they worship. They are being asked to give their names, describe their skills, the job they want and the training they need. Details will be passed on to training schemes and large employers.

The initiative, which began last week, is pioneered by The East London Communities Organisation (Telco) in an attempt to make sure that more employment in Dockland's vast construction schemes is available to local people.

Telco is one of the new broad-based citizens' action groups that have sprung up in inner cities in recent years and aims to win 20 per cent of construction jobs for local people.

Throughout the summer, schools, churches, YMCAs and community halls will also be opening their doors to register job seekers. They are all keen for jobs on the Royal Docks development, the Millennium site at Greenwich, the Jubilee Line extension, Canary Wharf, the development of new bank premises on the eastern outskirts of the City of London and sundry other schemes that promise to turn the area into Europe's biggest building site.

Iqbal Hussain, 22, who lives with his parents in Stepney, is one of the hopeful who has registered at the East London Mosque. He graduated last year with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Westminster. Like many attending the mosque, his family is Bangladeshi and he has failed to get a local job, despite the economic boom in the area.

"Construction companies want apprentices straight out of school and say I'm overqualified. The only way to get in at my level is through graduate recruitment schemes, which I missed out on." Mr Hussain currently earns pounds 100 a week as a part-time sales assistant.

However, a lot of those registering are unskilled and poorly educated. Altafur Rahman, 20, is a part-time youth worker, who arrived from Bangladesh three years ago. He said: "I've not been able to get on any training course suitable for me. The one I did join was in customer service training but it had to close for lack of funding."

The decision to use the mosque to register people for work has caused controversy among the congregation.

Mueenuddin Chowdhurry, vice-chairman of the mosque, the oldest in Britain, said: "I have explained to people that the mosque is not only a place of worship. It has been a vibrant community centre since the days of the Prophet Moham- med. We are concerned about housing and unemployment among our people and we realise that the only way we can do something about it is if local institutions find common cause. If not, we will continue to be be marginalised and ignored."

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