Tuesday, 2 November 2010
Listen to the Rhythm of the Falling Rain
On a much happier note - about a zillion times happier - I attended a launch dinner and talk on Monday evening heralding Waltham Forest's Islam Awareness Week. I was invited because I'm involved in community affairs.
This took place in the evening. From 9:30 am until I quitted at 3:30 pm, from exhaustion and deep,deep frustration, I had been (unsuccessfully) trying to build one end of my jigsaw greenhouse. I went home and opened a bottle of wine - to have in my bath as I allowed the stresses and strains of the day to drain away in preparation for my date with the Imman. Except the glass turned into a near bottle. Which, when I think about it, is rather ironic (or good forward planning) since I wouldn't be imbibing the fermented juice of the grape at the mosque.
I arrived at Noor Ul Islam to be greeted by young women wearing head scarves, none were fully veiled. We were offered drinks. After a few minutes we were called to order and invited to sit at the tables. I joined a table with a Rabbi, thinking that he'd have some insight into Islam. On the head table were the usual dignitaries, the Mayor, the leader of the Council and the Portfolio Holder for Community Safety and Cohension ( that's a political appointment). Also on the head table was the leader of the Mosque, the secretary of the Waltham Forest Council of Mosques, and a tall bearded English looking man.
That was Abdur Raheem Green, an Islamic scholar. It was he that delivered the talk "What is Islam and what do Muslims believe." I learnt that Islam meant submission ( unto God). Abdur's thesis, if I can paraphrase it, is that we all have to submit to authority, society, others either willingly or otherwise . Submission to Allah was not only natural it was rational. Submission to him negated our need to submit to others. It was thought provoking, except I am wary of pedagogues and I felt I was being sermonised to.
By way of light entertainment, we had a karate demonstration by a group of lovely kids. They were all dressed up in their white karate suits, except one small smiling boy. No doubt his mother forgot to wash it for him.
The most alarming happening was a demonstration of how Muslims pray. I have no idea what was behind the inclusion of this item which involved all those who hadn't prayed in the Mosque that day to line up on a mat facing East and, led by the Imman, recite a series of prayers. All this was explained to us but I still found it quite disturbing. I put that down to the stock pictures we see of massed ranks of Muslims praying in huge mosques.
Next was the question and answer session. From what little I had read, I was impressed by Islam's emphasis on the use of rational thinking to understand the "mind" of Allah. Right from the start Islam had placed great store by the use of the intellect. The Arabs rescued much of the Classical World's scientific and philosophical wealth. Because of this emphasis the Arabs explored and expanded algebra and geometry, acting as a conduit for radical mathematical ideas to flow from India and further East.
I made the observation about the emphasis on rational thought in Islam and contrasted this with the importance in the secular world of this method of discovery and suggested that using similar tools Islam and the West reached completely different views of the world. I wondered whether there was any scope for a reconciliation.
Abdur Green, I think, suggested that the West's perspective was faulty and that confronted by the complexity of the world and its beauty the only logical conclusion was that of a creator (Allah) who put it all in place. I claimed that my appreciation of the beauty, transcendence and ineffability of life was no less great and that I believed that our "God Given" ability to fathom and explore the complexities and mysteries of this life didn't need a Creator.
At one point I said "I can't let you get away with that",but otherwise it was a pleasant exchange. So it came as a surprise when later someone said they thought I risked being thrown out for my impudence.
Then came the meal. Lamb and chicken curries (I had both), rice, spinach and chickpeas with Naan bread. It was stonking. I was chuffed that Abdur Green joined me and we spent 20 or so minutes arguing back and forth. We ended up agreeing that many of us are lost; except whereas Abdur saw Allah as his rock which anchored him and gave him his direction, I wanted to trust my own compass; even if at times it meant being very lost!
I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. I didn't get to speak to the rabbi. I came away feeling that there was much that was familiar - rather like the Catholic Church before Pope John X XIII and the Second Vatican Council. But much was extremely new!
I just think we in the West must not be so defensive: It's as if we've lost our way, our confidence and because of that I believe Islam looks threatening and unfathomable. But shouldn't be, should it?