Today is Friday and the mosques will be full – of sheep.
Friday is not a day of rest for Muslims, rather it is a day when we gather together. Although Muslim men are advised to pray in a group in the mosque, life does not always allow the necessary time away from work. However, most Muslim men and women (although it is not compulsory for women) will manage to get to the mosque todaywhere a weekly sermon (khutba) is given by the Imam (leader).
Since 9/11 and the so called “War on Terror”, Muslims have been under constant surveillance and oppression. Nowhere is this more so than in Muslim lands – many of which are now in the process of revolution and reform and of overthrowing Western backed dictatorships – which saw Islamic institutions under the iron fist of the rulers.
It would be wrong to assume that here in the UK, we have anything like free speech either. These last few years, mosques have been under pressure to keep their Imams off the subject of what is termed “politics”. Friday sermons regularly teach us how to be well-mannered, how to perform ritual ablutions but mostly how to go home after prayers and keep your head down. If people in Afghanistan or Somalia are being killed by drones, or our brothers and sisters in Palestine are bombed and oppressed, it’s ok to send them some money through a charity but only if it is Charity Commission approved. The most you will hear any Imam saying is “pray for them” which is fine but really not enough. There has to be action as well.
By such a strategy, over 2 million Muslims in the U.K are rendered helpless and ineffective. Mosque committees are usually made up of people who have no qualifications to lead a community, often chosen to represent the ethnic bias of a particular community and are mainly concerned with elevating their own status and increasing their local business interests rather than caring about what is good for the congregation. Many U.K. Muslims worry that they might be sent home to their country of origin if they open their mouths on issues which affect us. And this is not such an unreasonable fear. You only have to look at the case of Abu Qatada who has not been charged with any crime in this country yet the government is desperate to deport him to Jordon. Theresa May was in Jordon this week to discuss how to return Abu Qatada there, even though the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the U.K. cannot deport him. If you are a Muslim, the laws mean nothing as those who have been subject to extraordinary rendition, torture and imprisonment without trial will tell you. Case reports are available to read on Cageprisoners.
Not only are Muslims afraid, they are also confused. During the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, many Muslims from round the world went to fight to liberate the country. For this, they had the full backing of the West and they included Bin Laden and his fellow fighters. Some of them stayed in Afghanistan to help with its rebuilding and some moved north to Chechnya and fought the Russian invasions there. There were Muslim commanders who were real heroes, leading men into battle with weapons bought by the donations of Muslims around the world. One of those great leaders was Samir Saleh Abdullah al Suwailen known also as Commander Khattab. A Saudi who fought in Afghanistan and Chechenya against the Russians and who died not in battle but by a poisoned letter from the Russian F.S.B. delivered by a treacherous double agent.
Many British Muslims have not heard of Khattab because the madrassas and the Imams would not dare to mention him in their talks which will be confined to heroes of Islam who died 1400 years ago. Where, we ask, are the Salahuddins of our day as we wait for someone to show leadership.
After 9/11 the Americans invaded Afghanistan along with N.A.T.O. and the foreign fighters started to fight alongside the Afghan resistance against yet another invading army. This time though they were not categorised as “freedom fighters” liberating Afghanistan, but as “terrorists”. Many were killed and some were captured and tortured in Baghram, subject to extraordinary rendition, and some no doubt ended up in prisons such as Guantanamo.
A lot of Muslims living in the U.K. and U.S.A. have fled their own countries because of wars and occupation i.e. Palestinians, Afghans, Iraqis and Bosnians. Others escaped oppressive western-backed dictators (previously) such as Mubarak (Egypt) and Ben Ali (Tunisia). Now it is becoming clear that Muslims living in the west are the subject of government oppression and spying. This is especially controversial in New York at the moment, where it has been revealed that the New York Police Department has, on a daily basis, been spying and keeping records of Muslims – even those who lead very ordinary lives. Here in the U.K. the Prevent strategy encourages spying on Muslims in Universities. British police have pretended to become Muslim and spied on people, even gaining entry to their homes as friends, Mosques are full of C.C.T.V. cameras and people have even gone undercover to record talks held in women’s circles.
In this environment of oppression and lack of freedom of speech there is little chance to channel legitimate grievances on human rights abuses taking place against Muslims in Palestine, Afghanistan etc. We really need good leaders but sadly, leadership is not something taught in Muslim mosques or communities. If we had good leaders who could channel the frustration and legitimate grievances of the people and work for our interests in a productive way, perhaps it might be possible to find effective means to better our situation both here and overseas. The youth especially need leaders they can believe in and trust, and who they can feel are able to represent the interests of the Muslims. In Islam there is no separation between politics and religion. What is happening to us here and in Afghanistan or Palestine, is all part of our life as Muslims. We feel the pain for our brothers and sisters and we need to be able to find effective means of helping them in their plight. Sending money to help the devastated, or learning about our religion in order to claim to be better Muslims are simply rituals not backed by actions and will not solve the real problems.
There is one organisation called MINAB which claims to regulate and train leaders, but from their website it looks as though they are more concerned with combating terrorism and with training those Imams, brought by some mosques from third world countries who don’t have a clue about the law or society here. Talking about integration is a joke when many Muslim youth are so integrated that they have joined gangs and are prolific drug sellers. MINAB looks too much like it serves the government rather than the people.
We need Imams who are real leaders and not just paid slaves.