I went to Zazi’s class today to give a talk on ‘Praying in Islam’. The class are learning about Islam this term. As soon as I found out I emailed Zazi’s teacher to volunteer giving a talk and showing objects like a janamaz, a tasbeeh, a topi, etc. Last night I had a brainwave about making a Power Point display so I could include pictures of the Ka’abah etc. Initially I had just planned to ask Mac to print me a good photograph to take in. But this idea seemed cooler – with the added advantage of giving me the opportunity to save paper.
The presentation could not be played! The USB cable could not be connected because the one Mrs. S had at school could only fit into her Apple device. After much fiddling and twiddling, she tried to open and save some of the photos I wanted to show the class from the internet directly onto her laptop. The talk went well enough. It was surreal to hear the azaan being played in Zazi’s classroom. With my new hormonal take on life, I can now extract myself from my body and hover above a scene, taking in what unfolds beneath me. It was beautiful. Mrs. S appeared taken, and the children sat still with the azaan filling the room. Here it is for you to enjoy.
When Zazi performed two nafils before his classmates, I smiled inwardly. We have been shrugged off, our children refused permission to pray Juma at school. And here was Zazi, praying as everyone watched him, with interest, the teachers hushing down even the slightest sound.
I went on to show the children prayer mats. I had one traditional one, with a tapestry of the Ka’aba. I took in another one with a geometric design so I could make a reference to Islamic art. Mrs. S was very pleased to see this one because, as she told me, the class had been looking at geometry in Islamic art this week. But when I unfolded the third, a Kashmiri mat, embroidered all over with flowers and with a gigantic pink mehrab framing the whole mat, the oohs and aahs became audible. Such a moment of pride. I finished off by showing tasbeehs made from sandalwood, aqeeq and lapis lazuli.
The gentleman who followed after me was supposed to give a talk on the Quran and the mosque. He was Turkish. He spoke surprisingly good English. And his talk was well-planned, with a presentation saved on a memory stick. I decided to hang around and listen to what he had to say. For some reason, he felt that the main point he should be making is how similar Islam is to Christianity and Judaism. He began with an anecdote about a trip he made to Jerusalem! He followed this up with a brief recount of the five pillars of Islam commenting that all religions essentially urge human beings to be good, therefore no religion is right or wrong. They all strive towards the same goal of teaching humanity how to live and die in the best manner, but employ varying modes of getting to it. At other significant points in the talk he relegated events in Islamic history to the status of legend and myth, claiming ‘legend had it’ that Abraham had built the Ka’aba.
When did we become apologists for our religion? When did we decide that whenever we speak of it we must point up its similarities to other dominant religions in the world? When did we stop taking pride in it? I’ll tell you when. This is the consequence of the worldwide hounding that Muslims are going through right now. This is the consequence of the War on Terror. This is the aftermath – the middle-of-the-road Muslims, ‘the moderates’, feel they must dissociate themselves from the ‘bad guys’, the ‘fundos’. One gentleman on Facebook forever refers to the hardliners as ‘Mulls.’ These more ‘liberal’ Muslims, for lack of a more descriptive word, feel they must announce, as the dad today did, that they are not ‘very religious people’ and wear this self-defined ‘secular’ identity as a badge of honour. Mr. A went so far today as to say he had been to Saudi Arabia several times but had not wanted to ‘go the extra mile’ and do Hajj! This is the state of ‘moderate’ Muslims today. Iblees must be smiling smugly right now. The first step is dissociation and an insistence on the similarities between the Right Way and the Others. The next steps are easier taken. We bring up our children with a vaguer and vaguer realisation of how they differ from their peers until our own beliefs are diluted enough for us to accept a luke-warm performance of ritualistic worship as satisfactory. And this sort of worship has an even shorter expiry date.
What did the Prophet do? The Prophet reflected on how Christians and Jews use bells in their places of worship to call their followers to worship and decided that Muslims must have a different call to worship altogether. He established the azaan. The Prophet observed that Jews and Christians observed the fast of Ashura to commemorate the victory of the Israelites over the Pharaoh. He reflected on how much dearer Moosa should be to believing Muslims and commanded them to fast on Ashura as well but make the distinction of adding on an additional day either immediately before or immediately after the fast of Ashura so as to differentiate themselves from Jewish and Christian custom. So why are we, his followers, so anxious to merge in rather than stand out?