DISCLAIMER: You can see ELM lectures online. No radicalisation, I promise.
My local mosque is the East London Mosque (ELM), one of two pretty big mosques in London. A while ago, the New York Times did a thing, and they had a video of ELM depicting it as some extreme, far removed from humanity, cult-like organisation whose only purpose was to brainwash its East London community into extremists.
Well, something like that anyway.
And, you know what? Poor timing, on the New York Time’s front. I was just getting to grips with the self-consciousness that comes with being a Muslim, and disassociating myself from whatever was depicted about Muslims on the media. I’d finally realised that being a Muslim didn’t mean I was everything the news depicted Muslims to be. Before anything, I am myself, and I’d really like to see someone depict me perfectly.
Yet as the news edged closer and closer to home the self-conscious and insecure Mahima came back in full throttle. It’s kind of hard not to when people you’ve never met (and presumably white, why are they all presumably white, presumably middle class, presumably paying ninety quid to get therapy for their arachnophobia) start telling you, oh by the way, that the place you’ve been attending every odd Friday was infested with terrorist sympathisers.
Get a bloody grip.
Reading that article was pure embarrassment, now that I think about it. It’s even worse considering how many people take single stories like that seriously (including myself, worryingly). Although the news depicts itself as objective, it is very much so simply opinion. I was reading a piece on Brain Pickings the other day that described this perfectly.
Emerson laments the ease with which we accept the judgments and opinions of others as objective truth while dismissing our own — a lamentation all the timelier a century and a half later, as the 24-hour media cycle feeds us ready-made opinions under the guise of objective news.
— Maria Popova, Brain Pickings article: ‘Trust Yourself: Emerson on Self-Reliance as the Essence of Genius and What It Means to be a Nonconformist’
Single stories don’t just appear in the news (although I guess it’s more dangerous there, because you think it’s factual, and realise you’ve been pulled a really good one). Chimomanda Ngozi Adichie did a thing, and oh, how about Monica Ali’s Brick Lane: that’s her goddamn Brick Lane thank you very much. It sure as hell ain’t mine, nor is it the Brick Lane of all of the Eastern Europeans who like chilling here now. Damn.
It bugged me, when the New York Times did a thing on my area, on my imperfect mosque. And especially more so when recently there was a glorious Friday in which I learnt that I could have faith in my imperfect mosque.
Every Friday our local imam (religious leader) or guest speakers give the Muslim community a lecture on Islam and the various aspects of living as a Muslim. On that fateful Friday we had guest speaker Dr Yasir Qadhi invited to give us a lecture on The First Khutbah in Medina.
To give some context, Dr Qadhi was referring to when our Prophet Muhammad migrated from his home town of Mecca to Medina because of the high levels of persecution the early Muslims were facing when Islam was founded in the world.
Dr Qadhi talked about ‘Hadith Salam’, the narration of the time dubbed “salam”, or peace as it is commonly known in English and the reason it is called Hadith Salam is because it is about peace, it is narrated by Abdul Salam (the servant of peace), and ends with peace.
To give context to the narration: Muhammad got kicked out of Mecca because of lots of persecution of the new Muslims, and as a result he migrates to a new town called Yathrib (now known as Medina). People welcome him there, but only about 15% of the population is Muslim, the rest are Jewish mainly, and some Christians I believe.
The Narration of Peace
- He is first greeted by a Chief Rabbi called Abdul Salam who had predicted his (the Prophet’s) coming from some various Jewish religious texts. This man said that just one look at the Prophet’s face, and he knew that the man was telling the truth.
- The Prophet, it is then narrated, goes on to address everyone, “Oh people,” – note here, he isn’t saying “Oh Muslims” (15% of pop.) but here he’s addressing everyone.
- He says four things, three instructions and one promise.
- Greet people with peace (improve and maintain your relations with people)
- Feed the hungry (be a social activist)
- Pray during the night (keep your worship private)
- Promise: you will get to Jannah (heaven) if you do all these things
- He said this to everyone, not just the Muslims
Why I Simply Adored This Lecture
The Friday speaker was American, and is the Dean of Academic Affairs at the Al-Maghrib Institute and he had some criticisms to make about our participation in our community.
I’m talking about a predominantly Bengali and South-East Asian community at these ends. If there’s one thing you should know it’s that we don’t take well to criticism, regardless of where it’s from.
And so I was absolutely beaming when he criticised our community because we don’t greet each other with peace, regardless of whether we know the person personally or not, from the purest part of our heart wishing the person peace, and avoidance of harm in that statement.
He questioned our part as social activists. And I really like this point because he is saying that the first Muslims were the “charity people”, they were the social activists, they were the people who fed the hungry. If you look at the chapters of the Qur’an which were revealed in Mecca (in the infancy of Islam) they are all about what duty we have as Muslims to help improve our society and offer aid:
It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces Towards east or West; but it is righteousness- to believe in God and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfil the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God-fearing.
— Yusuf Ali translation, Qur’an 2:177
This statement about the series of groups we should spend our wealth on is repeated during various parts in the Qur’an.
He criticised our community: he said that if the first Muslims were such good-doers, and active participants in society, the helpers – why aren’t we? He made a point about integration, and am I glad he did. People both Muslim and non-Muslim have been talking about social integration into society and although I am skeptical (um, sorry, but every time people want to integrate they have to deal with the gazillion people who read the news, the reliable news too, and believe Muslims are similar to aliens. Bad, hate-mongering aliens. Also: PUBS. I love and recognise the greatness of their social element but I can’t enter them.
That’s what I say to “social integration”, plus it takes two to tango. And despite all that spiel I do believe social integration is absolutely imperative, and try my hardest to be integrated even though I don’t fully know what that means (I mean I live here, I participate in society, do you want me to become an MP too? What else should I do?).
REGARDLESS. We can integrate ourselves. And such a gigantic mosque has really kept to itself despite the show of integration (they work with the police, with counter-terrorism agencies, with the NHS too I think) that the actual community of Muslims are never taught to open up their community more freely and more regularly to everybody else. When we raise money we focus on raising money for people who need it outside of the UK, and yeah, they do need it, but if we are supposed to be the helpers and social activists and give back to our community, then the mosque (and we) need to do more to raise funds for areas here. In our community. To enrich it, to help the poor here, to help relatives who need it, to maybe have a grant system ourselves for people who request help, a network to give zakkah (compulsory alms for the poor) to people who need it in the UK.
Dr Yasir Qadhi stated that we are instead a community about worship. We like worship, we pray five times a day, the regular Imam tells us to pray some more, to ask Allah to help us, to fast in Ramadan and on other days (perhaps the other days is because we all need to lose weight, urban cities have up to a third of people obese – flippin’ guacamole). And the speaker criticised this, saying that yes we should definitely worship, but our worship should be private. It should be our calling. And it shouldn’t be a priority of the mosque’s to discuss. The mosque hardly does anything else.
AND THIS IS THE GOOD BIT.
The speaker sat down. Everyone thought it was the regular time for the speaker to sit down at the end of the lecture and we all pray — but then he got up again. TO THE SURPRISE OF THE CHAIRS OF THE MOSQUE COMMITTEE! He said that he doesn’t like to do this when he’s on another land, but instructs us to address problems in our community openly. He talked about the atrocity in Brussels and how it was an atrocity.
The mosque doesn’t do this kind of stuff unless the police ask them to. They like to leave everything ambiguous.
Even with news of the genocide of Shias (a different section of Islam) and the news of the awful and horrific beheadings and the suicide bombs in Iraq and other Middle Eastern places-
They said nothing. They didn’t engage with politics, but damn, they talk about guiding young Muslims but young Muslims are the most vulnerable to hatred-inspiring rhetoric. They should have said something. The mosque should have stepped up to its duty and helped guide our community through the troubling times by yes, engaging with the politics of it all. And if you don’t say anything of course, people who are already half-convinced will only have to be encouraged, there is no means to discourage them with the authority in their home land.
AND SO, THAT SPEAKER WAS THE DON.
It was the fame of this imperfect mosque that allowed for this speaker to engage politically with the Muslim audience in a way that aligns with peace, love, and compassion for all humanity. We’re people, we have ulterior motives (to get rich, or die tryin’), and these motives have nothing to do with hate. So stop doing the thing, and start listening, please.
Because finally, finally, someone said something. They finally said something specific and unambiguous, and gave us advice. He said that the Brussels attack was an atrocity, he said that ISIS is to be condemned for its actions and is never, ever, EVER Islam! He talked about the Letter to Baghdadi which NO ONE KNOWS OF. This open letter could potentially stop Muslims from being brainwashed and snatched from their lives to join a terrorist organisation and experience conflict upon conflict and be wound up in hatred.
It isn’t fair.
I wish ELM’s famousness had called him here sooner. I wish that so much.