On Monday 12 August, I visited Glasgow Central Mosque. It was a very interesting visit and I learned a lot. I continue to be very critical of the way some Islamic theology manifests itself in society. I am likewise concerned by the silence of the intelligent Left in the UK to challenge Islam’s demand for respect.
However I was pleased to speak with one of the thoughtful Committee Members who showed me round.
Every year on ‘Islamophobia awareness month’, I always make a point of writing to various papers to point out that the non-word ‘Islamophobia’ actually can actually be levelled at anyone who is critical of the Islamic ideology. I think this is a dangerous precedent to set. How can we level weighty accusation of racism against anyone who is found to be critical of a particular ideology?
Unfortunately the liberal intelligent left media has been almost completely silent on this important topic, and seems to be charging ahead with its cultural relativist position. Richard Dawkins learned this to his cost recently, when he tweeted some uncomfortable truths about the fruits of the Islamic tradition.
However, a recent meeting with Maryam Namazie forced me to examine my approach to the issue of militant Islam.
Maryam is a fierce critique of the worst aspects of militant Islam, including the disgraceful treatment of women and children, intolerance of gay people, and barbaric acts of capital punishment. Yet, at the same time, she manages to make the distinction clear between individual Muslims and Islamic fundamentalism. An important distinction, and important to get right.
I’m reminded of an excellent talk by Prof. Ted Cantle at the National Secular Society Conference last year, in which he explained the dangers of trying to define people along religious and cultural boundaries alone.
Back to my visit however. I was prompted to contact the Mosque after the rise of far right groups, such as SDL and EDL, UKIP etc., showed that creating dividing lines in society does not improve situations. Whilst I understand people’s fear and anxiety, I truly believe that far right groups in the UK are fanning the flames of intolerance.
I had to reach out, and reassure myself that these ‘Muslims’ weren’t all bad.
After emailing the Mosque, I got an email back inviting me in.
I headed over after work, very pleased with myself as I had remembered to bring a change of socks, prepared to remove my shoes out of respect.
I was shown into a large office, with a mish-mash of furniture, and two or three large door-faced men with incredible beards. At this point my younger-faced tour guide showed up and introduced himself.
Everyone seemed very casual, and hardly noticed me at all, however by this time I was approaching tachycardia, terrified of making a religiously based insensitive remark.
My guide was disarmingly laid back, he showed me around the outside of the building and the courtyard. I commented on the Arabesque architecture, and the minaret. My guide explained that they didn’t use it, as it would likely annoy the neighbours.
I asked about relations within the local community, imaging that there must be tensions. But no, apparently not. It seems as though even my visit was a fairly boring occurrence, and not the important cross-cultural bridge building exercise it had become in my head.
My guide showed me around inside, the large prayer hall and various libraries – all of which stocked only one book of course!
During my visit the prayer hall was occupied by one or two quiet worshipers, perhaps on their way home from work.
I did challenge my tour guide on the segregation of male and female worshipers. It was explained to me that women had to be segregated, in order that they men aren’t distracted – a likely excuse! I didn’t push my hosts good manners further by asking about what the Quran says about how to treat Women.
On the whole, I found the whole experience, and I think Maryam Namazie sums up the situation well when she says: