Preston Mosque, located a few short kilometres’ drive north from Melbourne’s CBD, is one of Australia’s most famous and most loved masjids – and a true icon of Australian Muslim history.
Officially known as the Umar bin Khattab Mosque, it is owned and run by the Islamic Society of Victoria (ISV), a community organisation with the vision of providing Islamic services to the Muslims of Victoria – as well as providing the wider community of Australia with a better understanding of our beautiful religion of Islam.
The ISV was established in the 1950’s, led by the late Sheikh Fehmi Naji El-Imam (a man of great vision who was later appointed Grand Mufti of Australia), and under his guidance, the Preston Mosque was built in 1975: Victoria’s first full-scale mosque, at 90 Cramer St, Preston.
Preston Mosque: History
The large-scale Preston Mosque was the first in Victoria to conduct ‘full’ Islamic funerals, as well as hosting weddings, weekend school classes and community events.
But while it remains Victoria’s most patronised masjid – serving over 800 people per day, with upwards of 1,000 attending Friday prayers, the consensus over recent years – until recently – had been that Preston Mosque had lost its way, after going through some well publicised turbulent times.
Indeed, current ISV president Tarek (Nasha) Khodr basically had the presidency ‘thrust’ upon him – and it is through the hard work and determination of Tarek and his current board – and the subsequently formed Renovation Committee – that Preston Mosque is on its way back.
Tarek Khodr is very much a straight shooter – what you see is what you get – and definitely the right man to be at helm in guiding Preston Mosque beyond its troubled times.
“I’m very much hands on and have been a frontline volunteer at the Mosque for many years,” Tarek said when I caught up with him late last week.
“I love to be hands on for the sake of Allah, for the love of Islam and for the love of the Preston Mosque.
“Over the years, I have worked in most of the voluntary roles here and even after becoming president, I continued my job of taking around the charity box, as it has given me the chance to meet new faces and to listen to other people’s problems, first hand.
“I try to help people with all my heart, rather than having them think that they will have to go elsewhere for assistance.”
For three to four years, Tarek was responsible for funeral services at the Mosque and it was a role he performed with great dedication, sincerity and compassion.
“The funeral services….yes, that was an incredible job,” Tarek reminisced.
“When I got those phone calls at night and learned of people passing, I made it my duty to treat the deceased as if they were my own father or mother or brother or sister.
“I realised that Allah was rewarding me to do this job, and that it was also my responsibility to look after the deceased’s relatives if they were also my own – to show them compassion, to help them to become more relaxed and comfortable – and to help ease their pain.
“It definitely made me more mature in how I do things and also made me wiser, more patient and more mindful of the hereafter and the rewards I would get, Inshallah.”
In Tarek Khoder, the ISV and Preston Mosque could not have a more devoted leader.
“I am so passionate about this Mosque – it’s my second home and admittedly, it’s hard to juggle all my other commitments around it….but the Mosque must always come first as it is the House of God.
“Our vision is to restore Preston Mosque to its former role as a service provider, to bring back the originality of the Mosque and to educate the wider community, as this is everybody’s mosque.
“In the past six months, we have a new brand, a new mission, a new vision and a new level of transparency surrounding donations made to our building fund, including voluntary annual audits.”
There is an old saying that an organisation is only as good as its Committee or Board of Directors, and Tarek has an excellent Team on the main Committee supporting him, headed by Vice President Mohammed Mohtadi.
The pair are suitably skilled and experienced, also possessing great morals, great values and the best of intentions.
Mohammed Mohtadi recently recalled the halcyon days of Preston Mosque.
“I grew up around here, was married here and learned Arabic and the Qur’an here,” he said.
“Large community events were held here but although we still have a connection, time is a killer and sadly, the Mosque has not evolved the way we all would have liked.
“I want my children and their children to feel that beautiful connection that we used to have to come to the Preston Mosque.”
The remainder of the ISV Committee are a wonderfully talented and diverse group of individuals committed to seeing Preston Mosque not only return to its ‘former glory’ but to scale even greater heights – and in doing so, the current office bearers are ensuring the intentions of the original founders are being honoured.
To this end, an approach by Tarek Khodr in 2019 to a remarkably successful, young Muslim businessman to assist the ISV Committee has proven to be a ‘master stroke’.
Moustafa Fahour OAM was actually born and raised in Preston, going on to hold key executive positions with some of the world’s well known banks, at a relatively young age.
In 2015, aged just 32, he received the Order of Australia Medal after founding Australia’s first Islamic Museum and in 2015, he was selected as one of the World’s Most Influential Arab Men under the age of 40 by Arabian Business.
Most of Moustafa’s time between 2012-2019 was spent in Dubai as an Executive and most recently Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of one of the world’s largest contracting companies in the Middle East, with over 40,000 employees and billions of dollars in turnover.
“I had already been aware that the Preston Mosque was experiencing tough times even before I returned to Australia last year following my tenure in Dubai,” Moustafa explained.
“The Mosque has always held a place close to my heart as I spent much of my youth there as my father was a devoted volunteer.
“The late Sheikh Fehmi El-Imam OAM, Preston Mosque’s founder, was a family friend and a confidante; he also was my marriage celebrant whose talks are emblazoned in my mind.
“Moreso was his unreserved approval, support and love for the idea I had back in 2010, which was to establish the Islamic Museum of Australia (IMA).
“Working overseas, I would often get pangs of nostalgia with regard to Preston Mosque and when I became of aware of issues compromising the memory of Mosque and its future, I felt overwhelming unease and decided to do something about it when I returned to Australia permanently.
“I received an approach from Tarek Khodr – originally through my father, as the pair were good friends – to assist and support the Mosque, and I wrestled with the idea for some time.
“But one day it dawned on me that God was granting me the privilege to help one of His houses.
“I decided I could no longer sit back and not help.
“I wanted current and future generations to experience its legacy so I decided to take Tarek up on his offer and embrace the challenge.
“We had a job to do, and we had to do it well.
“I stressed on Tarek how ‘big’ I am on governance, process and policy and his reply was: ‘bring it on!’
“Our goal is to protect the people who love this Mosque, to change its culture and give it a new vision and a new mission.
“We want to provide the best possible Islamic services to the Muslims of Victoria and to educate the general public on Islam.
“The $4.5m upgrade which is our vision focuses not only on the refurbishment of the Prayer facilities, but also on educational upgrades – classrooms, offices, function room, cafeteria and library.
“The Mosque will not only be a place of prayer at its core, but one which provides services and also can connect people to other service providers in the community.
“Preston Mosque has a wonderful history and loyal supporters and to this end it would be remiss of me not to mention Committee member Jamal Mohammed, who is responsible for running the day to day operations of the mosque.
“Without Jamal, all plans, strategies and ideas are useless….it is Jamal and his team of volunteers that make these things happen.”
Moustafa Fahour OAM is the chairman of the formidable ISV Renovation Committee which also includes Tarek Khodr, Mohammed Mohtadi, Hass Dellal AO and Azmeena Hussain.
Key responsibilities of the Renovation Committee include:
- The design, marketing, fundraising, tender and build of the renovation;
- Accounts to be Audited by Tier 1 or 2 external accounting firm and held in trust by approved third party;
- Community engagement and information sessions;
- Transparent and arm’s length process.
Click Here: > Approved Plans
“The Renovation Committee has redeveloped a vision statement that builds on Preston Mosque’s enduring mission to serve and remains faithful to the vision of its forefathers,” Moustafa says.
“We have a deep sense of hope, expectation and anticipation for a bright future for Preston Mosque.
“Recognising its potential for development, we now have refreshed branding and construction plans, stretching our imaginations to create an extraordinary design that will serve the community well into the future.”
Already an established author of ‘The Journey’, a book about his much loved Islamic Museum of Australia, Moustapha is also currently in the process of writing a book about the Preston Mosque.
“This book won’t just be a historical account but a timeline of what this Mosque means to people.
“Everyone I speak to has an affiliation with the Mosque hopefully my book will be seen as a memento of the Mosque’s entity to serve as a community institution.”
There is no doubt that 2019/2020 has been a difficult 12 months for all Australians, due to the effects of the bushfires and COVID-19.
As previously referenced, recent times have not been kind to Preston Mosque either.
But with intelligent, committed and resilient men like Tarek Khodr, Mohammed Mohtadi and their colleagues leading the way, the ISV will soon have a blessed, new complex that the Muslims of Australia can all be justly proud of.
To support and donate to this great initiative, please click here: https://isv.org.au/fundraising/