From Southall to Southfields, a London Pilgrimage

Sometimes it pays to grab the opportunities as they present themselves and so a chance conversation with my youngest granddaughter in which she mentioned learning about “those people in the Bible who were forced to leave their homes and go off into the desert” reminded me of a longstanding promise. Way back when this one was just a baby my son had asked me to take his children to visit a synagogue, a mosque and a Hindu temple and so, inspired by Rosie’s apparent burst of interest, I decided that the time had come. Well, for two of my grandchildren at least; a trip to London with a full itinerary meant that it would have been impossible to take them all (and get them all home in one piece).

In the space of three and a half days we visited:

The Sikh Gurdwara in Southall (London’s answer to the Golden Temple)

The Fazi Mosque in Southfields (at nearly a hundred years old, the first mosque in London)

Westminster Cathedral (magnificent Roman Catholic cathedral in the Byzantine style)

The Chinese New Year celebrations in Soho (the largest Chinatown in the western world)

The Bhudhapadipa Temple in Wimbledon (a masterpiece of Thai religious art)

The Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden (the largest Hindu temple outside of India)

Complex scheduling made it impossible to visit either St Sophia’s Greek Orthodox cathedral or the nearby New West End synagogue in Queensway. Another disappointment was finding that the Bell Tower at the cathedral was closed for refurbishments and that we wouldn’t be able to go up and enjoy the London panorama. No one can say that Grandma doesn’t pack a lot into her study tours but Lilah, the ten-year-old, was completely sanguine about it all and her reaction to any missed items on the list was “we have to leave something for next time”. The six-year-old only drooped a couple of times (as in the picture where you can see her sitting exhausted on the marble flagstones with her kitty) but her delighted cry of recognition as we finally drove up to the icing sugar turrets of the “Indian Princess Castle” showed that she could still muster some enthusiasm.

Despite collecting a lovely selection of posters, leaflets and souvenirs (and extra copies for their schools), I can’t expect the girls to remember the details of religious observance for five of the six great religions of the world. It is enough that they were aware of the way in which I had had to take different days of the week into consideration, that there were different dress codes and different types of food served, that some places of worship are decorated only with calligraphy and that it is definitely not alright to wander off and explore what is going on inside a confessional booth. I must admit to having chosen to show off some of the most visually attractive buildings in my repertoire and, moreover, those where I felt we would be assured of a warm welcome.

Afterwards, when we discussed it a few days later, it was these welcomes that they remembered best. In spite of all the magnificent architecture and exquisite decoration we had seen, it was the kind offer of ice creams and a specially arranged lift back home to Aunty’s house that we received from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community that my girls will never forget. What a serendipitous introduction to Islam for two little British girls! An invitation to the forthcoming International Peace Conference for Grandma was not to be declined either.


Categories: Britain, London

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