Tuesday Thought with Farooq Siddique
AT the start of the new year, the Bristol Muslim communities were visited by a very special guest from Jerusalem; the Imam of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. It is the third holiest site on earth for Muslims located next to the iconic golden Dome of the Rock.
I had the honour to speak to him when he made a surprise visit to my home. His stature was impressive and he was clearly well versed in the teachings of Islam but, what enthused me most was his simple humanity. A humanity that is forged on the anvils of a people suffering a 65-year oppression and loss of statehood, is truly humbling. There is a clear vision, an eagerness to rise above the petty and mundane.
Our local Imams though, appear to focus only on the petty and mundane; with fiery sermons far removed from daily reality.
For all their goodwill and knowledge they have proven wholly ineffectual at reaching out to the world around them. They prefer instead pointless topics for discussion. Gems like dream interpretations, horoscopes, the workings of the jinn (other-world beings), celebrating (or not) the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, debating the virtues of different head coverings or the length of the trouser leg above the ankles, halal ringtones (honestly?) and other favourites like "to Eid or not to Eid".
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With our self-professed clergy so pre-occupied with such mind-boggling banality is it any wonder that a recent survey found 75 per cent of the UK considered Islam a threat and incompatible with the British way of life?
Anti-Muslim prejudice is increasing; 60 per cent of reported hate-crime is now against Muslims. The media is redefining noble Arabic terminology by lazily adding an "ist". "Islamist" now simply means 'terrorist". Such a unanimous, unashamed linguistic association of Islam with pure evil is beyond comprehension. That "Jihadist" such a lofty ideal ("Jihad" means "to struggle to do good") has been belittled to playground level name-calling is heart breaking.
Our proverbial home is on fire (in some cases literally). Yet, our Imams are in the living room arguing about what to watch on TV and who controls the remote.
I beseech you, implore you to focus on the real issues in your sermons. Hand on heart I can say to you it really doesn't matter whether for example, women can visit graveyards or not. The Prophet Muhammad said: "make things easy and do no make them difficult, cheer the people up by conveying glad tidings to them and do not repulse them."
I asked the Imam from Jerusalem for advice on a deeply personal issue. He gave me a simple answer. But then he paused; "We must consider the impact of your decision on others." He said. "Let me return to Jerusalem and discuss your issue with the other Ulema (scholars) there."
This is the humanity and human experience that proves elusive for our local imams. It is overwhelming enough for me that the Imam from the Holy city of Jerusalem, found me, in Bristol, in my own, personal moment of need. Like a light piercing through the dark clouds, through him, God has addressed me directly: "I am here, I am close." But to hear that voice, our hearts have to be open and devoid of the banal and mundane.
Be that Imam. Be the Imam through which the voice God can be clearly heard by all around you.