Islamic scholars maintain that, for Muslims, living in a Muslim country is always preferable to living in a non-Muslim one. The reasons are self-explanatory. Our recent failure at attempting to arrange a space for the boys to pray at school is a case in point.
When the question of our transfer to Geneva first arose, one of my first concerns was whether or not the school would allow the boys to leave every Friday to offer salah at the mosque. Most people with whom I discussed my intention to solicit permission for the boys to pray at the mosque each Friday, told me straight away that they thought it would be an impossible feat to pull off. This included my British Pakistani friends as well as a few European ones. But another friend who I happened to discuss this with suggested an alternative. She felt that though the boys leaving every Friday afternoon could be construed as truancy in a legal context, it might be more effective to ask for a small space within the school where both boys could pray together. Since this friend is a teacher at a British school, I concluded this was probably the best plan and decided to request the school to assign a small space for prayer that the boys could use each Friday.
The boys enjoy praying and derive a sense of peace from it. It was Mac to whom it first occurred to ask to be allowed to pray every afternoon if we were to ask for a space to pray at all. It sounded logical – if the school were to provide a space for Fridays, perhaps that space could be made available for the remainder of the week too. In any event, it would strengthen our position, giving us room, in case our request was declined, to ask for space at least on Fridays.
Since it is a Catholic school we hoped for a positive reply to our request. Notices were being sent out by the school to parents at this time, asking them if they wanted their children to participate in catechism. We hoped that an institution, favourably inclined thus towards religion, would react well to our request. But secretly, I had premonitions of the school adopting an unsympathetic stance towards followers of what has been, for centuries, a rival faith.
Schools nowadays seek to keep parents at as much of an arm’s distance as possible. We have been instructed here, as at previous schools, to begin discussions through, what the school considers, to be the proper channels. Mac’s form teacher and Zazi’s class-teacher have been identified as our first points of contact at the school in all matters. I wrote both of them emails, since there is no possibility of a walk-in discussion. Even appointments must be sought through email. They promised to discuss the matter with their heads-of-departments and get back to me. Both came back with negative responses. Mac’s teacher cited supervision as a legal requirement, which could not be arranged, were the boys to be given a space to pray. Zazi’s teacher apologized for the apparent non-availability of any space at all since classrooms are kept locked during break-time when Dhuhr was likely to be.
This prompted me to put Plan B into action and I replied to both ladies, asking for time and space at least on Fridays to allow the boys to pray. A couple of days later I received a reply from the head of the secondary section of the school. He apologized about the school’s inability to fulfill my request citing the ‘large number of special requests’ that had been received by the school from the parent body.
I decided to try one last time and wrote back asking him, since the school was unable to provide suitable facilities, to allow the boys to accompany BH to the mosque every Friday afternoon instead. I offered to see him in person if he wanted to discuss the matter further. I am still awaiting a reply.
This is why it is preferable for Muslims to live in an Islamic state. They are at liberty to practice their religion as they see fit. Public holidays and, the very structure of the week, takes into account occasions and events important to them. It does not take superhuman effort to make small things like Friday prayers and Eid celebrations possible. Here, the few Pakistanis we know are planning to keep their children home for the upcoming Eid so that they can engender some sense of a centuries-old religious celebration they hold dear in their hearts. Regularly now, I come across status updates by various Islamic scholars on Facebook, urging Muslims to place the liberty to be able to live their lives in accordance with the tenets of their faith higher than the opportunity to make more money. Food for thought.
And then when there is a mandatory Diwali celebration at school, complete with a week or so of social studies lessons to establish background, the attempt to feign multi-culturalism strikes me as truly hypocritical.