Posts Tagged ‘The Sectarian Milieu’

Tolerant Muslim Preaching and Complaints of Misrepresentation in ‘Among the Mosques’

June 25, 2022

I’ve started reading Ed Hussein’s Among the Mosques, his account of his journey through Muslim Britain looking at its culture, differences, and values. He did so by going to the mosques and other Muslim cultural and religious centres in Dewsbury, Manchester, Blackburn, Bradford, Birmingham, Cardiff, Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow and London. While there, he met and talked to ordinary local people as well as the worshippers at the mosques, hearing their views and concerns. It was met with a storm of controversy when it came out because he talked about the conversations he’d had with Whites,, who’d suffered from racism, bullying and assault from Muslims in their areas. This was angrily denied, and a people went on Twitter to claim that the area he was talking about wasn’t Muslim but a posh White district. But the critics were talking about a different area from that visited by Hussein, and the book states this. The controversy seems to show the inability of some on the left to deal with the reality of anti-White racism by ethnic minorities.

But I don’t think the book does present a biased image of British Islam. Yes, in some areas, such as Dewsbury, the Islam practised – Deobandi – is austere and based on a theology of cultural separatism, in which Muslims are called to create and maintain a separate cultural and religious identity in preparation for the emergence of the caliphate. In other areas and mosques, the preaching and observance is more relaxed. Manchester’s Central Mosque is Barelwi, a sect based on the teachings of a 13th century Indian Sufi preacher. Their worship includes music, song and dance and the imam’s address was about interfaith tolerance as shown by Mohammed’s example.

Hussein writes

‘The imam continues to develop his theme of the need to change and improve ourselves based on our love for the Prophet. He encourages us to study the life of the Prophet Mohammed and how he acted towards people, even his enemies. Each time his name is mentioned the congregation again kiss their thumbs. The imam talks about the Prophet’s compassion, his kindness to his enemies, his message of co-existence with the Jews, Christians and pagans in seventh century Medina.

‘Are we such model citizens? Do we make our Prophet proud? he asks rhetorically, raising his hands with an exaggerated shrug like an Italian.

He quotes:

Qad ja’akun nur. Certainly a light has come to you.

That light is the prophet and the Qur’an, asserts the imam. ‘Are we radiating this light? Do our neighbours and friends in this country see us as carriers of love? The Prophet is shifa, he is healing. Has he healed our lives?’ (p. 46.) This isn’t that far from the various Anglican and other Christian clergymen in this country also preaching about the need for tolerance and love to heal ‘broken Britain’.

Earlier in the chapter he meets with a Muslim woman, Faiza, and her husband, who has come to the meeting as a chaperone as Muslim women may not meet strange men unaccompanied. She wears the niqub, and tells Hussein that she has reported three of her work colleagues to the HR department because they think she’s an extremist for doing so. She also talks about how the Muslim community in Manchester has been misrepresented thanks to the wretched suicide bomber at the Ariane Grande concert.

”One of the suicide bombers, Salman Abedi, was from a mosque in Didsbury here in Manchester,’ Faiza explains, adding in exasperation: ‘We have almost seventy mosques in this city. Yes, twenty-nine innocent kids died. And over a hundred were injured. For what crime?’ she shrugs. ‘One suicide bomber – one salafi – caused the incident, but what about the hundreds of Muslim taxi drivers who immediately took the injured to hospital? The drivers didn’t charge for this, but just offered their compassion and help. And why do we forget all the Muslim doctors and nurses at the hospital>’ Faiza is speaking passionately but intelligently.’ (p. 38). Elsewhere in the chapter he describes how all the mosques in the area condemned the bombing, but this wasn’t reported in the press coverage. And other Muslims tell him that they tried to warn the authorities six times about Abedi but were ignored. It’s a familiar story I’ve heard about other Muslim extremists – the congregation at the local mosque were worried, and attempted to alert the authorities only to be ignored.

I haven’t finished the book yet, but it seems to me that Hussein is trying to present a fair picture of British Islam. Islam, like most other religious, isn’t a monolith but composed of a number of sects, which may differ considerably in their theology and practise. Indeed, the title of one book we had in the library at College on Islam was The Sectarian Milieu. There are serious issues and challenges from some of the more austere sects, which reject mainstream cultural values and integration. And Muslims are like everyone else – human beings -, and so may have their own prejudices and biases. And some are no doubt racist thugs and bullies, just like some Whites.

These issues have to be squarely addressed, not denied, or distorted so that all British Muslims become tainted due to the actions of violent extremists. If we don’t do this, then it’ll be left to the real bigots and Islamophobes like Tommy Robinson and the EDL.