.بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
There are an estimated 1.7 billion Muslims in the world today:
In terms of population, Islam is the second largest global religion.
In terms of practice, Islam is the most practised religion.
And how our Deen* is practised: overall, the core principles and customs are the same, between Muslim and Muslim; Muslim family and family, community and community. We pray, we fast, we give charity (and so on)…
But there are some differences, some particularities: we belong to various “nations and tribes” [Qur’an, (49:13)] and, in spite of any differences in terms of race or lineage or otherwise, “the most noble of [us] in the Sight of Allah is the most righteous [cognisant of Allah] of [us].”
At the East London Mosque, it seems very commonplace to see Air Forces (Nike trainers) on the shoe-racks, and people wearing fur-lined hooded puffer jackets. Sometimes with blue carrier bags: Whitechapel Market is quite close by. People, in general, speak in certain ways, if they are from certain areas. Will take to eating different things, overall. [We are affected by other places and people; we also influence other people, and places].
Historically, and arguably even today, there are/were distinctions between even the people of Makkah, and the people of Madinah. Perhaps the Muslim community around East London Mosque is fairly different to that around, say, London Central Mosque.
Cordoban masjids probably look quite distinguishable from mosques in Turkey, or in Bangladesh. [Though, ultimately, the spirit, the essences, of these places remain consistent, as well as certain central features].
And maybe: Muslim Londoners, on the whole, are somewhat distinguishable from Muslims who are more native to Cambridge.
Typically, wherever there is a substantial Muslim population, you will find a masjid or two. Halāl grocery shops and restaurants. Islamic bookshops, clothing shops…
Cambridge town is famous for being a quintessentially British university town with picturesque buildings overlooking bucolic natural scenery; it is also home to the gorgeous, beautifully simple and thoroughly ecologically inspired Cambridge Central Mosque:
Inside, shoes, as per usual, must be left at the door: specifically, on the shoe-racks. There is a café space on one side, where lessons in Islamic learning seem to take place frequently.
Outside: a tranquil fountain, and some benches. Under the ground: a car park.
The women’s prayer section on one side, and the men’s section on the other. Lofty (sustainably-sourced) timber structures, which sort of come to resemble the trees of a forest. And it is thoroughly beautiful, how the sunlight softly trickles in… (minimising the need to use electrical lighting, during the day).
In addition to that, at this masjid, “a natural ventilation system maintains the air flow and air source heat pumps balance the temperature inside.” [Source]
“Recent years have seen mosque designers drawing more on Islam’s in-built environmentalism, which promotes human stewardship of the planet. In Morocco and Jordan, it’s now common to see solar panels on mosque roofs.”
Simplicity: an unobstructed path to Allah. Finding oneself part of the natural world, the cosmos, which bows down to, and is in ever-remembrance of Him. Diagonal shelves of uniform Qur’ans (Mus-hafs). Gold inscriptions upon crimson, bound magnetically…
A room designed for mothers and their children. Ablution rooms (complete with automatic taps, hand-dryers, and even feet-dryers!), recycled rainwater that is used for flushing toilets, and the finishing touch of a tropical plant in the middle of all the ablution taps.
Something I have noticed about masjids, collectively, is how much children seem to love them: East London Mosque and the one near Regent’s Park in London. The Holy mosques of Makkah and Madina. Istanbul, and the rest…
You’ll find children, running around, their laughter contrasting with the silent solemnities of their parents’ prayers. They are also known to copy what they see… A Qur’an on a holder; prostrating on the ground; making new friends…
Muhammad (SAW) loved spending time with children too. He taught the people how honourable it was, for example, to kiss and hug one’s own children (at a time when some men considered it a sign of ‘masculinity’ and masculine pride to deliberately refrain from doing so). He sat with and comforted a little boy whose pet bird had passed away. He understood. He taught us that it is part of being a Muslim, to show respect to one’s elders, and lovingkindness to the young.
[Upon walking into Cambridge Central Mosque, my four-year-old cousin Dawud, in his adorable yellow coat, went right into the minbar* and prostrated there. He also enthusiastically prayed on a green prayer mat — this little boy who made Du’a for his grandma when she was sick, and who likes to ask questions, including about Islam — and then ran around.
A child’s prayer, and his smiles and laughter, are some very precious things indeed, Allah hummabārik. What a blessing children are; what a blessing it is, to be.].
In Muhammad (SAW)’s time, he (SAW) had a date palm that he would deliver sermons beside; the tree cried when he, that mercy for the worlds, passed away. He (SAW) spoke from (from what I know) a wooden minbar, made by a women’s carpentry business. Muhammad (SAW) lived in harmony with the natural world, and this famous mosque in Cambridge town successfully conveys this same essence, in my opinion.
Before one of the congregational prayers, the Imām of Cambridge Central Masjid encouraged us to pray as though this is going to be your last prayer. Because we simply do not know which Salāh will be our last, and/or subsequently at which masjid the Janāzah prayer will be prayed for us. [Will you be in London? Or in New York? Rome, or Agadir?]
Hearing the words of the Qur’an being recited by what sounds much like a sincere heart: a subtly profound thing indeed. “Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest.” [Qur’an, (13:28)]
Masjids* feel like home. Our hearts find rest there; we are reminded of Truth there. This masjid, being beautiful and serene, is conducive to a very Islamic environment. At once serious, and friendly. Gorgeous, and simple. Moroccan Muslims, Indian Muslims, Danish, Bengali… Side by side, shoulder to shoulder.
Oftentimes, in these lives of ours, we find that we are presented with dichotomies: there is, for example, male and female. Old, and young. Rich and poor.
‘Nature’ and human civilisation. Material/physical, and spiritual/metaphysical. Modernity and tradition, and so forth. A most beautiful thing about Islam is its unifying nature: before the One who created the universe, the male and the female are different how we are different, but we are the same as worshippers. Old and young; rich and poor: side by side, shoulder to shoulder.
‘Nature’ and human constructs, too. Modernity and tradition. Deen and Dunya: things vary, somewhat, between place and place, time and time. This Deen of ours is, at once, so very established and solid. And, yet: we are adaptable [read: rainwater harvesting and solar panels; Air Forces at the masjid. Contactless donation points] and we try to live in harmony with the space and time around us, and, still, as ourselves. Islam is a living tradition. We consider our circumstances; we consider Islamic laws and principles. And each Muslim’s life, overall, will be different from the next Muslim’s:
A Senegalese Muslim who lives in Portugal and, say, runs his own business. An Indian Muslimah who lives in Cambridge, and cleans her local masjid. Five times a day, each day, they wash themselves, in the same way, and pray, more or less in the very same way.
[We find that we are surely many, while He, Alone, is One.]
While in Cambridge, we had our evening meal at a Halāl restaurant nearby. “Is the food Halāl?” my dad enquired.
“110% Halāl,” the brother taking our order (a calm and gentle-seeming man) reassured us. And then I noticed that there had been a Halāl sticker on top of the door… and on the left window, and on the right one.
At that restaurant, my little cousin Dawud expressed that he really wanted a milkshake. And his parents told him that he could have one, but later. But Dawud really wanted a milkshake, and he wanted one now!
My dad had been having lassi, at this restaurant, which had been served in a milkshake glass. And Dawud thought that that had been milkshake. It’s not milkshake, he was told, but, truly: sometimes we really have to try things for ourselves, to know: what they are, in reality, and what they are not. So an extra straw was brought over, for my little cousin.
“No more, thank you.” Dawud had said something along these lines, upon trying the salty lassi (a yoghurt drink) that his mind, and understandably so, had convinced him was milkshake. He didn’t like it: it had not been what he had expected it to be.
A lesson here, surely: for when we are convinced by images of things, approach them, and then discover them to be the mirages that Allah has already told us they are. In Dunya, the grass is really not greener elsewhere. Deceptions are everywhere; only the Truth is true. [I quite like this new metaphor, for when, say, Dunya starts to look really appealing all over again, or for when you start comparing yourself and the things in your life, to others:
That’s not a milkshake, even though it might look so much like one. It’s a salty lassi, in actuality!]
And, on the topic of trips and travelling, I think people travel, for example, for different reasons:
Some are lured by the perceived ‘excitement’ of certain sorts of trips, which seemingly promise to grant us ‘paradisiacal escapes from reality’, for as long as we are there. [But nothing of ‘the Life of this World’: neither the amusements and diversions, the adornments, the boasting and rivalries, the competitions in wealth and children. See: Qur’an (57:20)] can or will save us. And we take ourselves — in our entireties. Fears and tears and all — wherever we go.
Some trips, we find, are calmer; much more Islam-friendly. We find nice mosques, and nice food. Have meaningful conversations with family members; enjoy some refreshing rest, in clean and comforting hotel rooms; get to absorb some of the sunshine joy of young children. Play, learn, love, heal.
As Muslims, on our journeys, we do not forget who we are, as Muslims. In fact, we hope that our actions — including our travels — are always purposeful, and that – in certain ways or in others – they make us better. Continued remembrance: one of the weightiest objectives, for the believer.
Cambridge town also comprises a number of museums and such, which are curated and maintained by Cambridge University. We visited the Botanic Garden: a lovely collection of all sorts of plants, from plants that are designed for rainforest environments, to those that are designed more to grow atop mountains. Creation truly is fascinating: all its many, many facets.
“Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth,
and the alternation of the night and the day,
and the [great] ships which sail through the sea with that which benefits people,
and what Allah has sent down from the heavens of rain, giving life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness and
dispersing therein every [kind of] moving creature,
and [His] directing of the winds
and the clouds controlled between the heaven and the earth
are signs for a people who use reason.“
— Qur’an, (2:164)
While in the Garden, my uncle pointed out something along the lines of, this is probably one of the few places where, if Muhammad (SAW) had been alive today, he’d find contentment.
[A nice way of looking at things, when we are presented with different circumstances and happenings, and tests: what would he (SAW) likely have done?]
While in the Botanic Garden’s gift shop, it hadn’t been anything plant-related that had caught young Dawud’s eye: instead, he had found himself almost immediately enamoured with… a colourful umbrella! He got so excited upon hearing that he could have the umbrella that he ran out of the shop with it without it having been paid for, leaving an endeared saleswoman smiling and chuckling. [Note: the umbrella was paid for afterwards. Stealing is undoubtedly Harām*.]
“My umbrella! YAY! My umbrella!” And, bonus: it had cars on it, and he loves cars!
Although it hadn’t been raining, Dawud had his coat hood up, and his wellies on [he is something of a country kid] and his umbrella open. It keeps him warm, he confidently explained.
[Oh, to be a child again: so excited and fulfilled by those things that we may now dismiss as being ‘little’. Thankfully, it is possible to reconnect with those purer, younger, and more optimistic and grateful versions of ourselves! Alhamduli Llah*.]
To love what we love, confidently. Of course, kids are more immune from judgement, if they do things that are perceived to be a little strange: a child loving his new umbrella so much is just cute.
I think, often, as we grow older, though, social pressures start to rise. We find we must sacrifice certain things, in favour of what we love. The practice of Islam, for example: we Muslims love our Deen.
And maybe this means that sometimes people say abrasive things. And/or look at us a little funny; treat us a little different. We have to sacrifice some time for prayers; contentedly give up, say, validations from certain people as a result of certain other religious pursuits. All good though, Alhamduli Llah: it can be quite a struggle sometimes, but there is sweetness therein. Because we love these things: our love for our Creator is greater (and He returns what we have given up for His sake, with better) and this makes those sacrifices honourable, in the end.
My little brother, also, for example, had been encouraged to wear a blazer jacket, on top of his jumper and jeans, while on this trip. To fit in a little more with the ‘Cambridge aesthetic’, maybe…
He looked so cute, Allah hummabārik. But in spite of the compliments he’d received on account of the blazer, he insisted that it doesn’t suit him: “I’m a sporty kid!”
He didn’t like that outfit, and it didn’t really speak to him: it only spoke to what others would praise him on account of. The next day, my brother wore something that expressed who he knows he is: an Adidas hoodie and tracksuit set. And he did his hair the way that he likes it. I respect that.
I found it quite admirable. Authenticity. Of course, we have to consider things like others’ feelings, as Muslims. But harmony can be found, I know, between what other people want — their feelings and sensitivities, and what we ourselves authentically love and want for ourselves too. The balance can be found: between arrogant, stubborn, immoral and emotionally insensitive solipsism, and scattered, people-pleasing, weak, validation-addicted losing – and sometimes simply never really knowing – ourselves.
[How much do you love a thing? Are you willing to sacrifice certain other things, for it?
If yes, then know that that is proof of your love. You’ve declared your beloved thing as being more important than other considerations: the gain, as you have contentedly decided, is more valuable than the necessary loss.
And this is precisely what the servant of Allah:
male or female,
Asian or African,
cleaner or aerospace engineer,
seeks to do every single day.]
“And [yet], among the people are those who take other than Allah as equals [to Him]. They love them as they [should] love Allah . But those who believe are stronger in love for Allah.”
— Qur’an, (2:165)
* Deen — comprehensive way of life, including laws.
* Masjid — place of prostration, i.e. mosque.
* Alhamduli Llah — All praise is for Allah.
* Harām — prohibited (by Allah, in Islamic law).
* Minbar — pulpit from which sermons are delivered.