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Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Listen to the Rhythm of the Falling Rain

A day is a long, long time. In the last 24 hours I have suffered the indignation of finding out that I'm pretty crap at DIY. I am not in a sane state at the present time  to detail my misadventures with my greenhouse; that will have to await some later date. Suffice to say that friends have gathered around having witnessed the despondency and terror that surrounds me following my attempts to put the bloody thing together.

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?


Layclerk said...

DIY = Don't Involve Yourself

Barry Coidan said...

And there I was, Dear Layclerk, expecting something profound about religion or something similar!

Layclerk said...

Nah, I'm pretty shallow!

Anonymous said...

I am not threatened by different beliefs on a personal level because I want to find out what is true rather than defend some particular view. But I my feel more literally 'threatened' by a belief that I feel will do harm in the world.

I am a fan of Sam Harris. I agree With him that religion in its present common forms causes war and other evils. And I agree with him that some religions are innately morea harmful than others due to their particular doctrines, mythologies and practices. But I think that for British people to get the collywobbles at all things Islamic is ridiculous: we arguably have more to fear from American fundamentalist Christians, or from the nihilism that has sprung up in secular Western states. The New Atheists, except, in my opinion, Sam Harris, have nothing to offer in the way of values or meaning. People need this. So long as the atheists cannot articulate anything genuinely profound or meaningful about human existence, people like your man Green will continue to turn to arbitrary idols in books.

And a child can defeat his reasoning: who made God? God = the world = oneself = time = eternity. Some form of Pantheism/Animism is defensible; this stern, prohibitive creator-monarch in the sky is patently ridiculous.

I think the Sufis have the interesting ideas in the Islamic world; the Sufis are their mystics, like the Meister Eckhart and Madame Guyon of the Christian world.

Barry Coidan said...

Dear DG, "collywobbles" what a cracking expression.

Hasn't religion always been a cover for ambition/murder/genocide/conquest. I just think it rather unfair to blame a set of beliefs that are genuinely held by many fair minded, loving and compassionate people who are just like you and I.