I entered the work communal “faith room” for the evening prayers, I was greeted by the look of a perturbed, shocked brother. Sitting down across the wall, one leg stretched and the other between his legs. A placid look of defeat and shock greeted me. I solemnly shook his hand. An air of unease was spread around the place. A terrorist had killed a few people around the corner from us, at Westminster. As Muslims, whenever something like this happens, we’re generally left in disbelief.
“Asalaamu Alaikum, How are you?”
“I’m fine, how are you?”
“Things are strange bro, and they’re getting stranger.”
I knew what he meant. He wasn’t talking about his job or his personal life. I’m not a particularly physical person, but I sat down right next to him. I could see resignation in his eyes, as if he was a teardrop away from a storm.
“I see not future in this country – I have to move away, my children they’ve got nothing left here”
“It’s okay, look, Londoners are used to this, they’ve been through far worse, they’re not so quick to hate.”
“I don’t get it, who was this guy? Why did he did do it? It’s dodgy, I don’t think he did it, something doesn’t feel right. The timing is off”
I stopped and sighed. The same lines that every Muslim says whenever there’s a terror attack. Conspiracy theories are always at our door.
I had to read to my prayers as it was sunset. So to comfort him, I told him that we need to teach our community the core of the message. By our tradition we are people who started off being expelled from their homelands and became new immigrants into a new city. We never raised a hand in attack when we were being attacked. In fact, in the early days of Islam when we were a handful, we lost everything. The town of Makkah (Mecca) ostracised the new Muslim community so much, that many people left Islam, and those who remained, remained with a loss of status, money and poverty. To seek refuge, we left the city to start anew. So, be patient. Don’t be angry. This world is merely a place of shiny things, that will one day pass when no light is left in the eyes or when we die.
It made me realise, why we are so disparate of accepting that a Muslim can do something like taking life in the most violent way. We do have a minority that is capable of doing these things. The hijacked Islam that is Salafi/Wahhabi Islam, can be made directly responsible for these things. So why do we immediately disassociate ourselves from these people and go down the rabbit hole of unsubstantiated secret agendas?
However, the disbelief we have isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually quite positive in a way. We can’t believe it, because we can’t understand it – no human being can.
I believe that most Muslims are not aware of their tradition, inside and out. No decent amount introspection, constructive criticism has gone into it. It may shock the reader to learn that most Muslims would probably pray 5 times a day, but rarely read the Quran and have little knowledge of the Hadith, let alone all the wondrous works of the classical age on theology and critical thought. As far as they know, you pray, you fast, you go to do Pilgrimage and you do charitable works. This of course, has a flip side. When they actively start to practise Islam at an educational level, they’re immediately hounded by the version of Islam that is most abhorrent, due to the mass publication, media and presence of the oil funded Saudi Wahhabi movement. This inevitably leads the small minority who do want to understand the faith better, only to become myopically minded and rigid in their belief system.
So the problem isn’t a case of Muslims condemning terror. We’re the biggest victims of terror in our countries, of course we abhor it.
Secondly, Mosques in the UK have a wide spectrum of beliefs, from Wahhabis, Salafis, Brelvis, Shia and non-denominational. However, the common thread between them all is a passive, almost lazy approach to activism. You would be very hard pressed to find the terror suspects we know. Young, converts, loud and militant. In fact, the UK mosques are largely populated, by old retired men who see the mosque as their solace and social interaction place. You’d be hard pressed to find any young people there outside of Friday and special occasions. No wonder, the young people reject mainstream mosques and splinter into their own sub cultures.
Unfortunately, when these radicals started to gain some prominence within the mosques, they were thrown out by the trustees. The Mosques never tolerated anyone else speaking. This was a reaction to inheriting the largely Indo-Pak cultures of the Mosques and controlling their own narratives of Islam, which were cultural expressions. So, the crazies were disregarded and found a place on the streets or home-made mosques. We had no idea what they were doing, nor did we care. I say unfortunately, because had we engaged in a dialogue, perhaps we could have changed their minds. Instead, we let this parasite grow into radical salafism, al mahijroon, hizb u tahrir and other fanatical groups.
This is what partially led to us not knowing who these people are or controlling them. This is what led my work fellow, who echoes a thousand other voices into the realm of conspiracy.
We have much to learn. Every time you hear an Islamophobe quote strange things to us from the Quran or Hadith, our immediate reaction is one of three things.
a. ‘No, Islam is a religion of peace’ – as if that’s going to win friends and influential people
b. It wasn’t us.
c. What about the bombs you drop on us? Isn’t that terrorism?
Often, the truth is more nuanced. We do have problems within the tradition that need to be addressed. Everybody is fighting for their vision of ‘Islam’. Everybody thinks they are right. However, we don’t need to go that far.
All the while, the terrorist wins by committing terror close to home. He has succeeded in fomenting division, hatred and his aim of bringing the terror ‘home’.
For once, let’s embrace everyone who is hurt inside. Let’s engage with a smile. Let’s be the peace we deem to aim for in our lives.