Year 1 undergraduates study a module on Islam. A key part of the course is to meet, talk with and learn from followers of the faith, to get a real life, contemporary understanding of what it means to be a Muslim in 21st Century Britain.
First up we met Yunus Chasma who is a follower of the Sufis. One of the students, Luke commented about what he had learnt:
Sufism is an essence without form. It is independent from everything, and is free from the shackles of religion. Pure Sufism is finding the fullness of knowledge from God, where the worshiper sees God alone in all that he contemplates and at the same time feels a total and ecstatic sense of his presence.
“When the individual self is lost, the universal self is found”. The soul can directly communicate and become united with God, so that a Sufi can be the perfect man.
The following week we had a question and answer session with four Muslim RE PGCE students: Aisha, Shabana, Nasira and Zaleka. The discussion was wide ranging from fasting to prayer, to arranged marriage and even Beyoncé! What was great was to be able to first hand hear about the variety of interpretations of Islam. Athe visitors were able to show how though this answers weren’t always the same they were all Muslims.
The final experience was a day in Preston Muslim Girls High School and the Quwattul Islam Mosque where we met a number of practicing Muslims and had some fantastic experiences.
The day began with Riyaz Timol who is currently completing a PhD at Cardiff on contemporary British Islam. He explained how King Offa had interacted with Islam as early as the Eigth Century, that the first UK Mosque was opened in 1889 in Liverpool and that a large expansion, mainly through Post World War II post colonial immigration meant that there is now close to 2000 mosques. Religion and culture are frequently intertwined within the immigrant community. For many Muslims their religion is just an extension of their culture. For example, arranged marriage is a cultural phenomenon contra to Islam based on the Hadith. FGM would be another example. He spoke about the rise in Islamophobia since 9/11. He suggested that much ‘extremism’ is political grievance dressed up as religious rhetoric. In Riyaz’ experience Imams base their teaching on Qur’an and are not radicalising agents. He recommended a free online course that he is involved in delivering, Muslims in Britain: changes and challenges: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/Muslims-in-Britain
Zahra Patel gave us a perspective of a British Muslim woman. She started wits some group work, asking what does society say about women in connection with religion, education, work and home. She pointed out that at Eton, the uniform gives the boys a proud identity. Zara wears a niqaab for the same reasons. But she is not just “the girl in the niqaab” she is the girl who loves football, pizza and watching Rafael Nadal!! She is a feminist, and not in any way the oppressed woman the media would paint her as.
We were then treated to a delicious vegetable biryani, before going over the road to the Quwattul Islam Mosque to observe the zuhr prayers, an inspiring experience, before meeting the Imam.
Imam Ismail explained he is the leader of Salah, but there is no priesthood in Islam. His other roles include marriage ceremonies, funerals, teaching the children in the madrasah, mediating disputes and dispensing advice. On a Friday he gives a khutbah, a sermon which is written by the imam in response to the perceived needs of the congregation one week this is in Urdu, the next in English. Women are allowed to the mosque , but this mosque doesn’t have facilities due to the cultural heritage of the mostly Gujerati congregation. He explained that Men and women must worship separately because there would be the possibility of distraction if they were together.
Waqaus Ali, our host then took us on a tour of the Mosque, explaining many of the beliefs and customs associated with the faith, including wuzu, giving zakat and sadaqah, and of course prayer.
We then had a chance to meet a number of year 10 pupils from the school and talk to them about various important aspects of the faith, including the Qur’an, Muhammad and the five pillars. This was really fascinating, being able to hear such eloquent young members of the Islamic faith.
The day ended with a plenary feedback activity, where it was clear that the students had learnt much from the many Muslims they had been able to meet and discuss with. These experiential learning opportunities are key features of the course and will enable the students to complete their assignment, but also to teach Islam with conviction on their school placements.