Friday, 11 September 2009

And The Squabbling Has Begun!

Here we are again in the last ten days of Ramadan and the Muslims of East London are engaged in the traditional practices of fasting, praying and squabbling! Unusually, there was no disagreement this year over the starting date for Ramadan and it seems that all communities began fasting on the same day. This should mean, God willing, that we will all celebrate the festival of Eid ul Fitr on the same day, too, and we might avoid the farcical scenes I witnessed a few years ago in the North of England where members of the same household celebrated Eid on different days!

So what are the Muslims squabbling about this year, then? Well, it all revolves around whether the Eid prayers (Salatul Eid) should be offered in the mosques or out in the open in a public park. One of the Muslim associations in the London Borough of Redbridge is seeking permission for congregational prayers to be offered in Valentine's Park, asserting that this is 'the true Sunnah of the Prophet (Peace be Upon Him)'. This proposal has immediately drawn critical comments from a number of Muslims who believe that such an overt display of Islamic religiosity might simply stir up Islamophobic feelings in the more extreme sections of society. Very quickly the debate has descended into mud-slinging and the trading of insults, with accusations of thoughlessness on the one hand and an inferiority complex on the other being tossed around.

Essentially, both parties in this dispute are wrong, and not because of the opinions they hold but because of the way they arrived at these positions. One of the principle aims of the Shari'ah is 'to maximise benefits and minimise harms' to society. So, before reaching a decision on the issue of Eid prayers the Muslims of Redbridge should have asked themselves, 'What are the likely harms and benefits to come out of such an action?' And in order to answer this question, they should have had some discussion or correspondence with councillors and the residents who would be most affected by this action. It might well be that local non-Muslims have no objection whatsoever to the prayers being held. On the other hand, they may have concerns about parking and traffic congestion. Typically, though, no such discussion has taken place and opinions are held based purely on how people 'feel'. As with most issues, Muslims will have a much stronger argument against the Islamophobes and racists if they can demonstrate that they have consulted widely and considered the opinions of others before taking action.

Most of these squabbles could easily be avoided by some civilised chats over a cup of tea (after sunset, of course!)

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