That is me…with an ACTUAL MUSLIM!
Shocking, isn’t it?
One thing I absolutely did NOT expect to encounter during a visit to my local mosque was a devout follower of Islam rocking the exact same fashion palate of orange/white as I, a devout follower of Rioja…
There were many more shocks to be had at the Visit My Mosque event yesterday…
Despite being repeatedly told that most muslims (especially the fellas and especially the Asian fellas) are rampant murderers, my family and I voluntarily went inside their local place of worship (aka place of radicalisation) where the only dangerous thing happening was the level of spice in the complimentary pakoras.
It was RADICALLY erm…ordinary.
In fact, it felt like any church of any faith I have ever been to, except for:
- Mosques are WARM. There are plentiful radiators and the floors are all plushly carpeted because the praying is done there.
- The decor is better. Aside from the lovely carpets, the walls are adorned with beautiful and informative pictures about Islam. Plus there is no fella getting barbarically murdered on a cross beaming down at you from every angle.
- You take your shoes off. This makes you instantly feel more at home.
- The food is better. Pakoras and flatbreads with houmous instead of luke-warm tea and stale biscuits.
- The crowd is younger. The atmosphere is vibrant and very familyish.
While Gwyneth supervised youngest tearing up and down the carpeted hall along with all the other kids, me and my muslim twin got chatting. He revealed that:
- He was raised an Irish Catholic but has never been happier than since his conversion to Islam ten years ago.
- He totally digs Jesus, as do all muslims.
- He also kinda digs Trump…yep, he loved The Apprentice and says there are worse things to worry about in the world right now.
- No, he’s never come across any radicalisation. Muslims are peaceful people.
Shockingly no mention of bombs or wanting to wrestle me into the hijab.
The brilliant thing about this encounter was that despite knowing many muslims, none are close friends, and so I would consider it rude to ask directly about their faith. You don’t sidle up to a dad in the playground and say, ‘lovely weather innit and are you all secretly planning violent jihad?’ That social discomfort creates a huge gap of ignorance which can lead to intolerance and worse. Being expressly invited into a mosque for the express purpose of asking questions closes that gap. It is community out-reach at its finest. And the place was packed with people like me, asking questions, seeking answers, eating pakoras.
Towards the end of my chat with my twin, he said how he wishes his lovely Irish Catholic mum would convert to Islam. He’d love to share his worship with her. And though I didn’t ask him, I feel sure he believes that I too could find true fulfilment in his religion. In this, he is no different to many other religious people.
My Grandfather was a vicar. He was hugely respectful of other religions. On holiday, he would make a point of dragging my dad and his sister to services of other faiths, a bit like a chef on their day off eating in other restaurants. Seeing how others do it. Enjoying being the receiver of service instead of the giver. Yet he also came from a long line of missionaries who dedicated their lives to (and published many books about) saving heathens in foreign lands with Christianity. He deeply believed that his was the True Faith and that belief in God was the way forward for us all.
He died before I was old enough to discuss religion with him, but I know it’s something we could never have shared, something me and my muslim twin can never share. I am not religious and I never will be. In this, we are different. But that doesn’t mean we are automatically divided.
Back in the big carpeted room, youngest was still squealing and running up and down…
To one side, three people began praying, their bodies moving from standing to kneeling with their faces pressed against the floor, arms outstretched in front of them. Yet nobody told the children to stop. The people prayed and the children played. We felt welcome, relaxed. Youngest didn’t want to leave.
Finally, we put our shoes back on and drove the short distance home, through this city suburb where we live; a suburb where most of our streets inhabit a wide range of folk, ditto our schools and hospitals and places of work; a suburb where our corner shops sell pakora, polish black bread, Branston pickle and pints of milk.
And like a pint of milk, we are, for the most part, homogenised; our unlike elements (our religion, skin colour, sexuality, wealth) blend together to create one shared community.
We only turn sour when our differences are given greater weight than our similarities.
Peace be upon you…
P.s. Yes, I am tweeting that pic of me and my muslim twin to POTUS!