My Thoughts and General Advice regarding the nature of Dialogue.

“If viewpoints and other promulgated opinions pertaining to Islam are to be challenged, which opens the doors for dialogue to occur, this should be done according to the ways (sunnah) of the Prophet and in a post-primary school fashion that doesn’t diminish the dignity of an individual. Likewise if ideas and thoughts are to be disseminated by individuals (and correspondingly questioned), in the interest of transparency, credence and accountability one’s identity should not be withheld. This is something for some members of the Muslim community to ponder in their course of dealings with the wider society…but most importantly with ourselves.”

 

– Nusrat Lodda, May 15th 2014

Are some members of the Muslim Community becoming “unmosqued”?

The term “unmosqued” is a colloquial term used for those who, identify themselves as Muslims and still affiliate with Islam, but have never or recently become detached from the mosque and the mosque culture. This term is also referred to those Muslims who have stopped participating in the mosque, mainly (but not exclusively) due to the disappointments experienced as a result of the attitudes of some of its members. This is not to imply that these individuals do not pray or observe other Islamic mandates, ultimately Allah knows best as to their internal state, it is just the case that the mosque may not play a very focal role in their lives anymore.

Although no official Islamic organisation or body has actually compiled statistics or quantitative research as to the amount of people who have become unmosqued, many relate their experiences via social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook with blogs and articles featured in leading newspapers such as The Huffington Post. Additionally there had been a documentary entitled “Unmosqued” filmed and released in the US detailing the experience of some Muslims who feel unmosqued.

Sadly, this seems to be an issue that is also present in the British Muslim community and not as often discussed in comparison to the American Muslim community. The reasons as to why it is the case that some members of our Muslim community have become unmosqued, is something that cannot be put down to one single issue, rather it is something that is multifaceted and needs to be explored objectively. It is also an issue with its reasons differing from person to person on its own set of circumstances.

The attitudes and conduct of regular mosque attendees has often been cited as one of the many reasons contributing to a generation of people becoming unmosqued. For example, some have been inundated with instances of some regular attendees of the mosque (whether consciously or subconsciously) asserting a superiority complex over those that they may deem ‘less practicing’. This can become more apparent, especially among sisters, where one sister does not observe the hijab and may be made to feel inferior to those who do. Similarly, even amongst those who wear hijab or niqab, there may be issues made about how one may wear their hijab as opposed to another – thus the debate on modesty commencing and rearing its ugly head once again. In relation to brothers, there is the age old “beard vs. non-beard” issue that some may have. This is mainly illustrated when a brother who may make a valid contribution on a contentious topic, or even just simply walk in to perform ablution and prayer, receives stares and criticism from some members of the mosque due to the fact that he may not have beard or not wear traditional Islamic dress. So the way somebody dresses adds more validity to their point? In both scenarios given, this further alienates those who are trying to become more practicing of the faith as they feel that they have nothing to offer the masjid, but also may deter others from wanting to contribute to such discussions as a way of gaining knowledge.

“Mosque politics” is also something that is turning many away from having a feeling of belonging to religious institutions. Mosque politics manifests in various forms such as culture taking precedence over religion. Examples of this are demonstrated when it comes to decisions such as who will be elected on the next committee and of what ethnic background. This is also seen where some members of the mosque may speak languages other than English and in some cases form cliques in accordance to ethnicity and race. From the perspective of those who do not belong to the given ethnicity or speak the particular language, those who are converts and the youth can feel a sense of isolation from their fellow siblings in faith and may be less inclined to go to the mosque. The wider implications of this can lead to some rethinking whether the religion they became part of is as accepting as they thought.

Equally young people may develop the idea of the mosque being only for older people, and therefore something that the youth can only become a part of when they get older. What sort of message does this transmit to our youth? For many of these people the masjid is meant to be a haven for where they can seek comfort, spiritual help and unity but instead becomes a place synonymous with division, control and negativity.

The attitudes some members of the mosque hold towards women contributes to some women becoming unmosqued. In some British mosques there have been complaints about the inadequate prayer facilities for women, in some cases women’s prayer space are restricted to smaller than average rooms sizes or sometimes no space made available for women to pray. Some women have related extreme instances where they have been turned away. There is the general consensus amongst Muslims that Friday congregational prayers for Taariq ibn Shihaab (may Allah be pleased with him) according to which the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Jumu’ah is a duty that is required of every Muslim in congregation, except four: a slave, a woman, a child or one who is sick.”(Narrated by Abu Dawud, hadith no. 91067). This hadith is declared authentic (sahih) by Bukhari and Muslim.

However, while this is the case, this should not preclude Muslim women from having a space provided for them by members of the Mosque and neither should they be turned away. These practices are more culturally orientated as opposed having any Islamic basis, and are therefore contrary to the teachings of Islam. Correspondingly, the exclusion of women from the mosque often results in women being silent and absent figures in the Muslim community. The resonating effect this may have upon the perceptions of young Muslim girls is that they may internalise the idea that they should not and cannot have a functional role within the mosque and the Muslim community at large.

Imams can, to a lesser extent, be instrumental in fostering an environment for some people becoming unmosqued. Some imams have a reluctance to tackle issues that affect the community they serve and the international Muslim community at large. While there  is an appreciation that some topics may be taboo causing awkwardness and discomfort, it does not negate the fact that these are issues that affect members of the Muslim community. These should be discussed in order to facilitate reflection and dialogue needed to solve the problem. Imams within many communities across the world are instrumental in creating a sense of cohesion, and by tackling culturally taboo topics and addressing the problems the members of the Muslim community experience this can make the mosque a more inclusive place.

The problem of people becoming unmosqued in the British Muslim community is something that, hopefully after reading this, should ignite dialogue in trying to ameliorate this issue and help both the disconnected and the attached reconnect once again.

Bridge the Gap.

 

Our Future of Today, We Must Think Anew! : An Open Letter to the Youth, Teachers & the Wider Society

Dear Tomorrow,

I am writing to you because I value you, believe in you and have faith that with persistent efforts you can have the capacity to overwrite the wrongs of our forefathers – but most importantly overwrite the personal pasts that may continue to affect your present state. Within each and every one of you there lies a potential, a seed waiting to be watered, a key waiting to unlock a door or a chain waiting to be broken.  Among life’s biggest failures are not those did not have dreams, but rather those that had them but did not have the courage and determination to pursue them – indeed that is a great loss. Having said this, I come from a generation where although dreams may be evident, they are yet to be actualised. Why? Because we have been indoctrinated to believe that the main (and perhaps only) way to be successful is through the conveyor belt of going to university and getting a degree in order to be guaranteed “a really good job”. One of the modes of thinking we need to change is our notion of success, of which is often (although not exclusively) attributed to tangible gains such as wealth and fame. It is a shame that there are many in this generation that look up to the celebrities on the cover of magazines and the ones engaging in acts of debauchery, all in the name of reality television in the hope of making a name for themselves. Success does not and should not only be epitomised by these individuals, but rather I encourage you to widen your thinking and to reflect upon how you define your idea of success as opposed to what is socially constructed.

Education occurs in various forms, and so school is only one way of attaining it – if anything school is a very institutionalised, entrenched and rigid way of doing so. But what many people seem to disregard is the deficiencies of the school system.  During my time in school, I realised that school was a place that committed one of the biggest acts of genocide: the genocide of innovation, creativity and alternative/autonomous thinking. If you think it is a generalised blanket statement or a diatribe against the education system, let me proceed to explain and analyse – perhaps this will provoke you to reflect.

When I was in school I observed the failure of many teachers to truly realise the individual worth of each student, in the midst of being engrossed in target setting (exceeding expectations not always corresponding in reality) and extra assignments in order to maintain high ranking positions in the league tables, they failed to acknowledge other alternatives and possibilities beyond a marking criteria. They did not see that my innovative answers, ideas and concepts extended beyond that, instead confining my work to a set marking criteria and ignoring the effort exerted. It was only a few years ago that I was in your place, I was told that I was wayward, had special needs and that I should “be realistic with my options”. Really what they meant is that I should aim for something mediocre and stick at it as they did not believe I could actually exceed their expectations. If I had listened to the teacher that did not see my worth, I would not have proceeded with the process of becoming what I am today.

 

Conversely, that is not to say that there were not any encouraging and inspiring teachers present, I did have teachers that encouraged me to explore and foster a climate for free and alternative thinking to flourish. I thank the few teachers I had such as my English teachers throughout years seven to thirteen, making me realise my love for language, originality and conceptual analysis. Likewise I express my gratitude to my History teachers for awakening my political awareness and reasoning capabilities that question the narratives told from a certain perspective. Similarly, they made me reflect on how despite many life lessons we as a people rarely seem to learn from our pasts.

The sociology teacher, who embraced me for my quirky and eccentric nature, will never be forgotten. She was an important reminder of the diverse and dynamic nature of society, encouraging me to ponder as to who or what constructs society’s “norms”. Perhaps I continue to break many of the conventions. Last, but no least, the religious teachers I encountered especially in the realms of philosophy and ethics. Their teaching of various beliefs and arguments for and against the existence of God, not only reaffirmed my belief in a Creator, but further propelled me to actively propagate and defend Islamic Monotheism.

However when your worth is measured according to a single letter, which may result in you being limited to certain positions in life, this does not do anything to ignite your passion for learning – rather it can foster a climate of hopelessness and desolation. So because your classmate in an exam was able to remember an equation or fact minutes or seconds earlier, which may result in them being offered that ever coveted university place or job, it makes them a more eligible candidate than you? How many times have you tried to memorise an equation, facts about Henry the VIII or master literary techniques for an English Language exam only to never use these again in your life?

Unfortunately, it has become a normalised practice and a part of educational culture to memorise things, not always for the genuine love of learning, but rather to attain a certain grade only for it to be later discarded after the invigilator screeches “PENS DOWN!”. Marking schemes and template answers have created a climate where conformity and obedience result in many people not being able to critically think about the world around them. Turning a blind eye in the name of ignorance to the oppressive and hypocritical practices that are operative in the society we live in. It keeps us in this mind set where we limit our thinking and ideas to those endorsed by our teachers and society. This is further exacerbated while in the pursuit of higher education; debt becomes an inevitable consequence further enslaving many young people who, become so absorbed in finding ways to repay their debt, they have the disciplinarian culture firmly embedded making them unlikely to consider how to change society.

In these economic times, one of the most important aspects that should be more emphasised is the need to be innovative and entrepreneurial as opposed to being the perpetual employee. It is often said that if you do not build your own dreams somebody will hire you to be build theirs, instead of being a follower I endorse leadership, determination, creativity and innovation. Brand yourself, stand out and break the mould!

My sincere advice is that you should never let a grade define who you are, your worth and destiny is determined by much more than a transcript. Do not limit yourself to the expectations of others nor let their expectations become a reflection of your self-worth. Rather I implore you to never give up on the goals and dreams you have, always bear in mind that there is no set route to success rather there are many avenues and roads to be travelled and explored in order to get there (road trip anybody?). The words “You can’t!” should always be rebutted by the response “Says who?”, bearing in mind nobody else has the power to limit your progress; as the only limits imposed upon are those you put on yourself. If I had known back then what I know now things would have been different, I would not have let fear and the negative opinions of others hinder me from going for the gold.

 

Remember this is your life, broaden your horizons and explore the vast plains – THINK ANEW!

 

Yours Sincerely,

Sister Nusrat.

Should Nationalism and Anti-Black racism be an issue to be concerned about in the British Muslim community?

Racism and nationalism is one of the many callous and challenging aspects of human behaviour that can affect people individually, and whole communities and nations collectively. Particularly for those living in societies that are racially and ethnically heterogeneous, many people living in countries that are more racially homogenous may assume two things: firstly, that living in a country that is more racially diverse means racism is not likely to be a problem thus fostering a climate for peaceful co-existence to occur. On the other, there are some that assume that living in a racially plural society may make the propensity for racism and discrimination to permeate.

The root of racism is built upon the foundations of having a superiority complex over another due to one’s ethnicity or race, and therefore assuming that this makes one better than another.

Perhaps the earliest demonstration of such mentality can be found in the story of Prophet Adam (peace and blessings be upon him) when Satan refused to prostrate, because he believed that due to being made of fire – something aluminous – made him more worthy than Adam who was crafted from clay. Racism is an age old issue that even in today’s so called modern world affects various nations and peoples, which manifests in various forms irrespective of socio-economic background or gender. While history shows the problems incurred in trying the ameliorate the issue of racism and nationalism, the teachings of Islam derived from the Sunnah (ways) of the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) and Quranic text has addressed such problems early on. This is exemplified in various aspects of the Qur’an and famously in the Prophet’s last sermon.

Centuries have passed since the last sermon, but it seems the issue is something that continues to resonate within the British Muslim community. While many agree that discussing racial prejudice and nationalism is somewhat a subject that can cause awkwardness and discomfort, by refusing to acknowledge this issue exacerbates the situation resulting in the problem still not being solved.

 

Confronting the Issue

On Wednesday 12th February 2014, there was a Twitter discussion (which was also featured on al-Jazeera’s “The Stream” segment) initiated by the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative in the USA under the hashtag #BeingBlackAndMuslim. The discussion was on the issues and problems experienced by Black American Muslims in the American Muslim community, with contributions to the discussion made by many people all over the world including the UK, Middle East, Asia and mainland Europe. Perhaps the reason as to why this discussion was spearheaded by the American Muslim community is because it is a challenging issue that American Muslims face and demonstrate more of a willingness to talk about.

The discussion was vital in highlighting the issue as many recounted experiences of racism being displayed in many ways. For example, Black American Muslim male contributors’ related experiencing racism through stereotyping and name calling (terms such as “abeed[1]” were commonly cited). This was more pronounced amongst those males who were converts to Islam, and were assumed to have converted to Islam in prison or through the Nation of Islam (NOI). This was also experienced when making enquiries for marriage, in which many were turned down by virtue of their race. This sort of stereotyping within the American Muslim community normalises the notion that Islam is only sought by black men in times of adversity and identity crisis, as opposed to seeking clarity and spirituality. Likewise it reinforced the long-held stereotype of black men as being synonymous with criminality and incarceration.

Black female Muslims related experiences of racism particularly when it came to marriage. Some stated instances of not receiving as many marriage proposals as their white and Hispanic counterparts as well as feeling marginalised by the American Muslim community. Again, this was largely attributed to stereotypes of black women (especially those who appear assertive) as being ‘loud’ or the ‘angry black woman’.  Human Rights advocate and political blogger Dawud Walid joined the discussion tweeting: The most marginalized person in the American Muslim community is the Black female Muslim.”

 

Should this concern the British Muslim community?

The issue of inter-Muslim racism and nationalism is something that should concern the British Muslim community as this problem affects many of its members, but what are even more disconcerting are the responses of justification that are used to provide an alibi for such un-Islamic behaviour. While there is no such basis for racial superiority in Islam, to some extent these practices have been normalised within certain cultures of the Muslim community such as the caste system based on skin colour hierarchy and using this as a benchmark to decide how others should be treated. This is further exacerbated with the promotion of fair skin and Caucasian features as being the epitome of beauty, and the products marketed (both legitimately and illegitimately) in order to achieve this. If anybody within the Muslim community should be judged it should not be upon the colour of their skin but rather their level of taqwa (God-consciousness).

Also the fact that some religious institutions such as mosques are informally referred to as being for a certain ethnicity or race is quite sad as it fosters a climate for nationalism to become more apparent, often at the expense of alienating some members of the Muslim community.

 

Responses to Anti-Black Racism and Nationalism

The responses to the issue are quite mixed of which may differ between persons; therefore it would not be fitting to conclude that there is one general response. However, among the various responses to the issue of nationalism and racism is the common one of denial. This is usually demonstrated through the use of various pieces of Islamic text, Prophet’s last sermon and of course not forgetting the all-time favourite of citing Bilal (RA) as the exemplar for racial plurality. Although discrimination is something contrary to the teachings of Islam, this does not seem to correspond with the actions of some Muslims. Using the examples mentioned to deny the fact that racism is an issue dividing the British Muslim community is turning a blind eye to the oppression faced by fellow brothers and sisters in the deen in favour of appeasing the sensitivities of those who are guilty of such behaviour.

These sorts of responses are not helpful in tackling the problem rather they serve to hinder dialogue in trying to ameliorate the situation, therefore allowing the problem to continue. Perhaps the most constructive approach to the problem is not to deny its existence, but to adopt a sense of unity in tackling it. The foundations for this lie in building awareness and placing an emphasis on how Islam is universal and not allowing one’s personal or cultural sensitivities to take precedence. In addition, some focus should be made in religious sermons, schools and by community figures to discuss this issue further and educate the rest of the community on the contributions made by historical figures in Islam who were of various racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Considering all the issues that Muslims, not just within Britain, but on a worldwide scale have to endure such as the media vilification of Islam and the systematic oppression of fellow Muslims in the Muslim world you would assume that unity should be more widespread. And rightly it should, as exemplified in Allah’s statement in the Qur’an:

“The believers are nothing else than brothers (in Islamic religion). So make reconciliation between your brothers, and fear Allah, that you may receive mercy.” – Surah Al-Ĥujurāt, verse 10.

Unless we act upon the above verse, the problem will be yet another centrifugal force which serves to create more disunity in the Muslim community – with cycle and the chains of ignorance unbroken.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Abeed is an Arabic term in Arabic meaning “slave”. This is usually used in an insulting context people of African origin to attribute stereotypes. The term can also be used to describe black people in general.