imes are difficult and they are most difficult for Muslims. You may get some indication of just how difficult they are by the fact that many mosques in the UK held an ‘open day’ recently, welcoming people of other faiths and even those who proclaim themselves to be of no faith, to enjoy samosas and pakoras while they were briefed about the basic tenets of the Muslim faith and answered questions from their visitors. They were shown how Muslims pray, many of them watching the congregation at Zuhr or Asar prayer, how ablution or ‘wadhu’ is performed before prayer and explained why Muslims always point in one direction while saying their prayers.
The Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking, the first purpose built mosque in the UK, welcomed some 400 visitors on the day and the Finsbury mosque, which at one time time, when the Egyptian cleric Abu Hamza was its imam, would probably not have won too many popularity contests, also received hundreds of visitors. The mosque, with its new imam, is now considered a model of community relations.
Many questions were asked among which the most frequent was concerning the position of women in Islamic society and why was it that that they were not allowed to pray alongside men. But by and large, the atmosphere was one of fun and enjoyment with women having an opportunity to have henna patterns done on their hands and to try the hijab. At some mosques shwarma wraps were sold at the bargain price of £1 while tea, coffee and sweets for kids were given free of cost – as were copies of the Holy Quran and a red rose as a symbol of friendship.
In a country in which street parties are supposed to be one of the big fun days of the calendar, all this went down very well. The number of mosques which took part in this very welcome initiative were perhaps no more than 150 while the total number of mosques in the UK is around 1750, so it was only a small percentage but the response it received was in excess of all expectations. Many white people who visited mosques on the day said that they had come to show solidarity with their Muslim compatriots who were under tremendous pressure both in the United States and Europe.
Perhaps the highest profile visitor that the day attracted was Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn who made a very effective statement challenging the ‘demonisation’ of Muslims aimed directly at US President Donald Trump. Addressing the ‘man across the Atlantic’, Mr. Corbyn pointed out that ‘drinking tea together is far more effective than pouring concrete to build walls to keep each other apart.’ Muslims were ‘being demonised by some people’, he added, and went on to say that visitors who were coming to mosques on the open day were expressing support for an inclusive society which respects all faiths and all religions.
MrCorbyn added: ‘Over the past few weeks, there’s been some awful language used in many parts of the world. Awful language degenerates into awful actions. Those awful actions end up in the deaths of wholly innocent people as happened in Quebec.’ The incident in Quebec in which six people were killed in a terrorist attack on a mosque, is one about which the US President has so far chosen to remain silent.
Notwithstanding the effort being put in by mosques in many western nations to educate the host community about the true nature of Islam, the wave of xenophobia and Islamophobia sweeping the west will not go away any time soon. A majority of people in as many as eleven European countries are said to back the measure introduced by President Trump, for all practical purposes banning the entry of Muslims from seven Muslim countries into the US. The current ultra-rightist wave is actually a function of declining education standards in many western countries. Very few have the ability to distinguish between facts and fiction, between news and propaganda.
The ultimate story in this regard came to the fore during a major political programme on BBC television. The background to this story is the myth that the EU had banned bent bananas from being sold, a myth that many believe in despite the fact that bananas are naturally bent and sold in virtually every grocery shop in the UK. Actually, the EU had made a rule in 1994 stopping shops from selling bruised and battered fruit in which they banned the selling of bananas with ‘abnormal curvature’. Like so many things about the EU, what exactly was meant by ‘abnormal curvature’ was left unexplained and conveniently vague, allowing the myth to gain currency.
The political show has a panel of people who answer questions from a wide audience.
One woman in the audience, who revealed she had decided to vote for leaving the EU at the last minute, confessed that what ultimately swayed her was the fact that she liked bendy bananas and not straight ones! It is that sort of education level that has downgraded democracy hugely in both the US and the UK and the remedy may be a long