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Community welcomed... Imam (leader) of the Mataura Masjid (mosque) Zamberi Bin Matyunus says the community is welcome to visit. PHOTO: MARGARET PHILLIPS

A church in Main St, Mataura, has changed its religion, having been converted into a mosque.

The former Anglican church was bought by the Ashburton Muslim Association in an auction in May.

The imam (leader) of the Mataura Masjid (mosque) is Zamberi Bin Matyunus, who is is originally from Malaysia but is now a New Zealand citizen.

Mr Matyunus lives in Mataura with his family.

About 25 families were involved in the mosque, Mr Matyunus said.

Mosque families came from a wide area including Gore, Mataura, Wyndham, Tapanui, Lumsden and Roxburgh, Mr Matyunus said.

Mosque members came from various walks of life, including farm workers, electricians, doctors and workers in the meat-processing industry.

Mr Matyunus said the association paid cash for the building.

Once people in the wider Muslim community learned about the plans to buy the church, donations came flooding in.

Muslims prayed five times a day, he said.

He had studied the Koran, the central religious text of Islam, in countries around the globe, including India, the United Kingdom, United States and many Arab countries.

The mosque was open to the whole community.

He was willing to help people in the community with needs, he said.

“It doesn’t matter your religion. We’re not fanatics.”

The mosque was one of seven in the South Island.

The nearest other mosque was in Invercargill, he said.

The Rev Gary Griffith-Smith, of Gore’s Holy Trinity Anglican Church, said the Mataura church used to be a stand-alone entity in its early days, then latterly it was part of the Gore and district parish, before being closed three years ago.

Declining attendance prompted the closure, Mr Griffith-Smith said.

“We were down to about three people,” he said.

Those people decided to attend services in Gore.

It was decided to sell the church because of the issue of ongoing maintenance.

Issues regarding ownership had to be sorted out before the church could be put on the market, he said.

New place of worship.. .The church in Main St, Mataura, will now be used as a mosque. PHOTO: ASHLEIGH MARTIN