Saturday, April 11, 2009

Scottish Islam - does it exist?

A few months ago I took a new Scottish Muslim convert to the mosque in Dumfries for Friday prayers. The address before prayer was entirely in Urdu, except for a few incoherent English words thrown in whilst glancing at the unexpected white faces in the small crowd, never as much as even half a sentence though, making the content completely incomprehensible for the non-Urdu speaker. Having said that, understanding Urdu did not help much either, since the subject matter was almost completely irrelevant to living in Britain. This was followed by a brief sermon in "Arabic", made up only of standard phrases commonly used as a framework for this purpose over the centuries and fleshed out with nothing else. The experience felt very foreign and, except for the compulsory nature of attendance at Friday prayers, a complete waste of time.

Having visited again over Easter I suggested we try Glasgow Central Mosque instead who could not possibly be as backwards as this. We were in for a major surprise. The experience was not only foreign, but completely outlandish. Sure enough, the purpose-built mosque has all the modern fittings and is kept meticulously clean. Nonetheless, we wished afterwards we hadn't made the journey. The service started with an address in Urdu, as if that was the lingua franca of Scotland. Part of this was then translated into English, none of which contained any references to the lives the attending worshippers live in Britain. Then followed a run-of-the-mill Arabic sermon read from a script which, whilst coined in flowery poetic language, made no reference whatsoever to current affairs or the situation of Muslims locally or anywhere else in the world. It was what followed after the prayer, however, that made the event memorable.

During prayer a couple of babies could be heard crying from the sisters' gallery at the back. Of course, nobody likes to hear children cry, but they do. I find it infinitely more bearable than the various musical tunes emanating from mobile phones during prayer at most mosques around the world. But for the Imam it was just too much. After completing the prayers he made an announcement that it was an outrage for women to bring children to the mosque and let them cry in order to disturb the brothers' prayers. I am told this wasn't the first time such an announcement was made. But for the first time there was an unexpected response: instead of bashfully dropping their heads and feeling guilty for having come to the mosque, one of the sisters made her way right through the crowd of male worshippers leaving the mosque in order to question the Imam on his wisdom. Imported Imams, even the younger ones, do not like their perceived authority undermined, and she was eventually persuaded to leave the men's prayer hall. Together with an entourage of other women and their male relatives, who had since caught up with them, she made her way to the Imam's office, demanding to speak to him and challenge him on having so publicly insulted the mothers of the crying children without first bothering to establish what might have happened to cause the little ones to cry. After all, mothers don't delight in their children's tears. Nor would they mind if the mosque's concern for their children extended to providing creche facilities, which would immediately solve the problem.

Outside the Imam's office the mosque administration sprang into action. It would not be possible to speak to the Imam. He was too important to be summoned, you would have to go to him. She tried, she said. No, not her, a man would have to speak to him on her behalf, it was not acceptable for a woman to speak to him. Just like in Pakistan, said another young woman, and hastily added for not wanting to be perceived as racist that she was of Pakistani origin herself. Then why don't you go back to Pakistan retorted a bouncer guarding the Imam's office, looking not much over twenty in age. I suggested he join the BNP, they love young Asians arguing their case.

Much of what was said during the continuing discussions made me wonder whether time had stood still for this insular mosque over the past few decades. Islam may have made progress in Britain and Muslims may have come of age with regard to facing up to the modern world, but all this must have happened outside the mosque. The saddest thing was that the mosque did not try to preserve some pristine version of ancient Islam but a distorted form of Pakistani male chauvinism dressed up as religion. In spite of being turban-clad they did not follow the example of the prophet Muhammad, peace be with him, in any respect. Numerous authentic reports about his actions and words (Ahadith) indicate that he displayed a caring attitude towards both children and women, which was betrayed by those who thought to take his place in defining Islam in Glasgow. He prolonged his prostration because one of his grandsons had climbed onto his back. At his mosque in Madinah men formed the first row and women the back row, with children placed in the middle, so they did attend. It was reported that any slave girl of Madinah could take him by his hand to ask him about any concern of hers and he would not move on until her request was fulfilled. And what about the old woman who got up in the middle of a public meeting to challenge the caliph Umar for wanting to restrict the amount of dowry given for marriage. She did not send her husband or brother to have a quiet word with the ruler of the Muslims, she confronted him in public with her understanding of the Qur'an, and he immediately conceded at having made an error of judgment. No such humility in the Glasgow Imam - his staff eventually suggested a later appointment could be made, one woman only, accompanied by a man through whom she would speak.

In his admonition to the attending mothers he had also misinterpreted the Hadith that the prophet had shortened congregational prayer on account of a child crying. According to the Imam and a Pakistani scholar he quoted the child had not been at the mosque but at a nearby home and the prophet had shortened the prayer to allow the mother to return home early. Should I suppose it was customary in those barbaric days to leave little children alone at home whilst going to the mosque to pray? And what about the prophet's advice to bear in mind when leading prayer that there are weak, ill and old people in the congregation, how should we twist this message to get rid of the nuisance of children?

Maybe we should bar women altogether from attending mosques, although there is a Hadith forbidding this. And also bar the ill and the disabled. And young people. And anybody with their own opinion. And non-Urdu speakers. To leave only old first-generation Pakistani men. That way Islam will have a bright future undisturbed by dissenting voices or crying children. And it will grow firm roots in Scotland and last forever. Or maybe we should give up on the mosques and take our Islam elsewhere. Both, of course, would negatively affect the size of the mosque donations after Friday prayers, a problem the Imam and his protective team still need to resolve somehow before they can pray in peace.


At 12 April 2009 at 09:08, Anonymous Brian Barker said...

Hello Dr Mustaqim

Interesting mention of Urdu, and the language problem in Scotland, when English is supposed to be the International Language.

I see that President Obama wants everyone to learn another language, however which one should it be?

The British learn French, the Australians study Japanese, and the Americans prefer Spanish. Yet this leaves Russian, Mandarin Chinese and Arabic, out of the equation.

It is time to move forward and discuss the subject of a common, non-neutral international language, taught worldwide, in all schools and in all nations.

I would personally prefer Esperanto.

If you have a moment have a look at A glimpse of the language can be seen at

At 12 April 2009 at 15:09, Blogger Adam O'Connell said...


First of all I totally disagree with that comment. Why would we want an artificially constructed language taking precedence on the world's socially constructed languages?

We speak different languages for a reason, to learn about each other and reflect upon ourselves.

Anyway, Mustaqim brother,
This goes on in England too... Even at University Jumuahs! I'm a lapsed white convert in Birmingham... and to be honest I'm starting to feel like converts of all races should just keep to themselves... Cos we should we climb someone else's mountain?

At 15 April 2009 at 10:30, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Flying Imam
Thy does a great injustice to Pakistanis
Mosques around the world are run by some "invisible group of obnoxious individuals". what you have described happens around the world with languages & ethnic groups changing.
i am sure you will be chuckling to yourself reading the text below:
I had no idea of the “western pyramidal hierarchal system” aka reforming Islam in the mosques. I first spoke to my friend the Imam of the central mosque and told him of my ideas of social + community programs.
Ah for that you will have to speak to the administration. I have advised only to help with spiritual matters. So I phoned the mosque (mostly Arab + Mahgreb, built by the cursed house of saud) asking for an appointment – no joy
I sent a fax asking for an appointment – no joy
I went in person asking for an appointment – no joy
But when the Usraeli want innocent Muslims for their false flags – the mosque administration had no problem. People were phoned and asked to come to welcome the “Imam of Washington-speaking English with an American accent” (you do know what they say about the King of Jordan and his American accent? His credibility is nil, nada, niente, because of his Usan accent. Present at this welcome meeting were the American Embassy (non-Muslims) + cia goons who “ran the welcoming” –names, addresses, photographs.
What had the Washington Imam to say?
I go to the White House
I tell Bush when he is wrong
America has punished the torturers and rapist of Abu Ghraib he lost me when he started about bush administration
30 mins of lies after which madaline Albright madame lookalike whisked him away to the Muslims of the next European capital for their evil ideology.
I found out that there was a library in the mosque that brothers studying to be Imam wanted to use. I, a female asked why our brothers were being denied the use of the library, what is the use of the library if not for that use.
I was told that if I did not stop asking questions, the Friday prayers facilities would be denied to the Muslims.
I have been informed by those in the know that the host country refused ANY & ALL community progs + actions in the mosques and they even want to stop the Friday prayers! The mosque is another embassy for the disposal of the host country for their evil ideology.
What is better an Urdu sermon or an English speaker liar insulting your intelligence

At 15 April 2009 at 11:48, Anonymous Osama Saeed said...

Dear Dr Bleher,

I had no idea that was you on Friday. I tried to intervene during the shouting you were receiving in the courtyard after the prayer.

I can assure you this is not typical of the situation in Scotland, and to be fair, this is not much different from the good majority of mosques in England either.

Since the jummuah last week, a number of folk have brought up what happened. A lot of people were horrified by it. It wasn't just what you described above (any rebuke if made should by sunnah be gentle), it was the mockery that went with it i.e. that the congregation should raise money to look after the child. The point you make about the creche emphatically answers that though.

On the other side, I would query why the mother's prayer couldn't just have been broken in order to attend to the baby, but I understand that some schools of fiqh, including possibly even the imam's, don't allow this.

In summary though, things move forward amongst Muslims sadly not because of the mosques, and often in spite of them.

At 16 April 2009 at 11:03, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article!
As a person living in Glasgow and attending Glasgow Central Mosque you have hit the nail on the head. This has been a huge problem in the community espescially with the "older generation" of people from Pakistan. The problem with Glasgow and its muslim community is that there is no diversity at all, you are either Pakistani or Pakistani. The village mentality is passed down from generation to generation and there is no sign of progression.
Having been to Jummah in other countries one thing is common, the sermon is said in its local language and there is a purpose and a meaning to the individuals who are there is attendence.
With so many people converting to Islam it is a shame that they are all missing out on the Jummah expereince since everythin is done in Urdu.
Time to grow with the times and not get stuck in the past. The old village mentality will get us know where.
Hopefully this will open some eyes into how backwards our (glasgow) community is.

Great blog!

At 16 April 2009 at 12:10, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally disagree with this article. I witnessed everything that happened last Friday at Glasgow Central Mosque. This account has been twisted. Alhumdulilah Islam does exist in Scotland. The Imam did not say women are not allowed to come to the mosque, nor did he say that children are not allowed to come. The point that was made is that why bring young babies(under 2years old) to the mosque when you know they are going to cry and disturb the congregation. You go to the mosque for peace not to hear babies screaming every week at Jummah. I found it extremely difficult to concentrate when the baby was screaming. It is not fardh for women to read Jummah so if you don't have a babysitter there is no harm in reading at home. Glasgow Central Mosque is one of the largest mosques in the UK and it has just recently extended the space for sisters to pray so how can you say that women are not welcome? You have taken everything that was said by the Imam out of context. I sense that you have a problem with the fact that the Imam is of Pakistani origin. Let me remind you that there is no place for racism in Islam. For the one who slanders the Ulema there is nothing but destruction in this world and the hereafter.

At 19 April 2009 at 11:08, Blogger Saira said...

This reply is not intended to attack anyone or critisise. My intention is to highlight that there are always two sides to every story.

I understand your concerns regarding pakistani orgin imam- and women in mosques with their children.

I wish to briefly answer some of your concerns.

I understand that the imams of certain mosques are not as well connected with current affairs, and what is actually happening in the Britain. This makes their sermons somewhat weak and less inspiring to their audience, as well as the language barriers posing a problem.

The imams we have yes are mostly of Pakistani orgin and are not so to say the British Asian but someone who is imported for the purpose of being an imam in our mosques here in Britain.

I would like to raise the question of why the Muslim Scottish Men (i.e the ones born and raised in this country) are not taking up the positions of being Imam???

I can suggest a few answers
Perhaps because they are too busy becoming doctors, engieers, lawyers, accountants the list is endless. Or perhaps being an Imam; there is not enough job satisfaction with it, or not enough money. Maybe parents are not pushing their sons towards an imam career pathway etc etc

So what are the mosques of this country to do? When scottish born muslim men themselves do not wish to study and become an imam?

Even if there are some scottish imams perhaps they are not qualified enough that the mosques feel that they can take up the leadership role of imam. As everyone is well aware an Imam's responsibility is very difficult to forefill and even if you have the islamic phd you may not have the right characteristics of being an imam. (no offence)

The issue regarding children crying during prayers.

I acknowledge that women and children should be allowed in the mosque. And the sister whose baby was crying on the occasion below, must have had a valid reason for the disruption.

I have seen this myself on more than one occasion. Mothers can be very negligent with their children and allow them to run around and cause mischief and havoc during the prayer times. The mosque is not a creche or a playground for children. I have been disturbed many times during my prayers being with the women. This is why I understand the mens concerns with crying babies.

I personally feel that every mother knows her own child and if she feels that her child will cause disruption then she should try and avoid bringing that child to the mosque until they are perhaps a little older.

As women we should not just consider our "womens rights" of being in the mosque. But we should also consider other peoples rights and the fact that it is more compulsory for men to attend congreational prayers as opposed to the women. I feel this is a easy option presented by islam for women to adopt and stay in their homes with their young babies, afterall they will be obtaining the same reward as a man who attends the mosque anyway.

And for all the women who cry out "where else do we go if we cant attend our local mosque to learn about islam etc". To all those sisters there are plently of other muslim events,circles, talks that you and your children can attend. Is it really that important that you attend the mosque during prayer times when you know you will obtain the same reward praying in your home?

As I said earlier I do not wish to offend or critise anyone with this reply.


Saira Qayyum

At 22 April 2009 at 14:01, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scottish Islam is alive and kicking...just not necessarily in the Masjids

At 30 May 2009 at 20:53, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the following link, people are discussing your article.

Your feedback will be appreciated.


Post a Comment

<< Home