Tuesday Thought - with Farooq Siddique
I THOUGHT I'd written a pretty innocuous column last month. Not so. Despite the overwhelming response I received from "ordinary Muslims", applauding my "bravery" for getting it "spot on", others were ominously concerned for my safety: "be careful, you've stirred up a hornets' nest".
The day after publication, a rock was thrown through my car windscreen – whilst parked off road, behind a closed seven-foot high gate.
Nevertheless, the "column and the rock" kicked off a vociferous debate within the Bristol Muslim communities. I couldn't go anywhere without hearing comments on it. True to form, those with the most negative views hadn't even read it.
But, a ray of hope; in an interview (about my column) to Lapido Media, Mufti Fiaz Rasool, former Bristol Imam, said that he too "was frustrated with most mosques' lack of relevance", but I was wrong to just blame the Imams. "Mosque management committee members" he said, "deliberately hired ill-trained imams from South-Asia who were ignorant of British life, and then kept them financially poor and uneducated. The management could then continue to run the mosque according to local political motives, often those taking place along biraderi [clan] lines".
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He adds that when he first came to work in Bristol, he was "isolated from British life and often too poor even to buy a newspaper".
Imam, I couldn't agree with you more. I appreciate your openness, but more importantly, your willingness to speak it publicly. Here's hoping the Home Office is listening too.
So, what of those "employers" the Imam referred to? Well, they were also eager to comment. A committee member who (naturally) wished to remain nameless of the Council of Bristol Mosques (presumptuously named considering it comprises less than half of local mosques), said that they were more concerned that my "profile as a writer" meant that I was "becoming the de-facto spokesperson for Muslims". If any proof were needed that our "leaders" are obsessed with mind-boggling pettiness, there you have it! While they obsess over my profile, the list of challenges facing our communities grows.
But, poorly trained Imams aren't the only issue, nor are the poorly managed institutions that hire them; or the community groups equally flawed or the personality cults now flourishing in the leadership vacuum, because it's about more than just a crisis of leadership now. A disengaged Muslim public, unwilling to challenge, must now also share responsibility.
The Prophet Muhammad said; "The cure for ignorance, is to question". But, our natural curiosity to question, to analyse or rationally interpret what we are told, or to even offer polite query, seems neutered. It may be out of fear; rocks through windows are not helpful when searching for a clear view out of them. But we have to persevere; rise above the fear of abuse, character assassination or violent responses from people so deluded by their own self-righteous piety that they openly disregard the humanity and reason of the very faith they declare such unswerving loyalty to. To give in to their antics is irresponsible. They thrive in dark corners, but they can be overcome when exposed to the light of public debate. It's wrong to think that discussing our issues openly weakens our communities. On the contrary, it strengthens us.
I'm a simple columnist with my own views. I don't represent anyone nor do I aspire to. But, I will not be intimidated nor threatened. Put down the rock and talk to me. Persuade me by force of argument. My opinions are forged by 22 years of experience working at the forefront of the Bristol Muslim "communities"; I recognise that we are each independent of the other, with unique heritage, characteristics, cultures, traditions, challenges and dynamics – but all yearning for a better understanding of our faith; from within and without.
The debate about Islam and Muslims in this country is being had publicly without us. Isn't it high time we joined that debate ourselves?