Sunday, 8 November 2009

'Let's be fair, which one of us is more immoral?'

Music of the day: Tum Ek Gorakh Dhanda Ho - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

It is impossible for the average London Muslim to be ignorant of the Regent's Park Mosque, also known as the London Central Mosque. Founded some sixty years ago in response to the efforts of Lord Headley and that Indian Croesus, the Nizam of Hyderabad, this rather beautiful mosque is an early gesture of friendship from London to the Muslim world. It commemorates the deaths of a vast number of Indian Muslims in the British war efforts, and is a token of the British government's (dubious) respect for a dissatisfied minority population in its Empire.

If only the matter had ended there.

Unfortunately, a mosque, like any other building, requires a substantial amount of money. The London Central Mosque did not spring up mysteriously one night, like the little picturesque house of God on my street in Lahore, untainted by the sweaty hand of some gritty benefactor. Much of its funding sprung from the oil wells of the Middle East. And therein, friend, lies the problem.

While strolling casually from the elegant interior of the LCM, I decided, on a whim, to enter the little book-store located on the premises. For anyone familiar with pre-Musharraf Pakistan, think 'Karachi airport duty-free'. Several shelves were stacked with scents, little mystic symbols and various curios to which I paid scant attention. The majority of the space available was of course bedecked with brightly coloured books and pamphlets. There was Islam for Children. A shelf full of it. There were the obligatory leather bound Qurans and books of Hadith. There were biographies of the Prophet (but not the much praised work by Martin Lings, which is, according to the shop assistant, full of 'inaccuracies'). And in one of the lower shelves, the inquisitive eye will also find the section of General Vitriolic Writings. In this nether section I came upon a whole series of books - 'The Reality of...'.

I selected 'The Reality of Shiism.' From the reverse of the book, allow me to reproduce a selection of catch phrases.

'the fact of the Shiite deviation from the straight path'
'perverse tenets'
'Irani Shi'ites and their so called "Islamic Revolution"'
'turmoil, injustice and barbarism'
'abyss which seperates the Shi'ites from the Muslim majority'
'deviant sect'

I decided to interrupt the shop assistant's attempts to educate a young girl ('where is God? Here? There? In Heaven?') and asked him if he didn't consider this to be a particularly offensive book for a large number of Muslims.

'Which part of it is offensive?'
' about "perverse tenets", to start with?'
'What does that mean?'
'You don't think that might be offensive?'
'I don't know what it is.'

To clarify for what readers this post may attract, the bearded shop assistant was white, English and seemed reasonably educated. I decided not to comply with a definition, and thereby give him the opportunity to inquire if it was not an accurate description of the Shia faith. I instead moved on to one of the other choice quotations. By this time we had been joined by a customer, who genially suggested that the author must be a scholar of some sort, and as such be more informed than us. Part of his basis for this conclusion was, I believe, the prefix of 'Sheikh' in the author's name.

'Besides,' my fellow customer noted, after following me to the section where I displayed, in scarce suppressed horror, the General Vitriolic Section's wares, 'they're right. There is only one path. Al the others are wrong.'

How is it that the Muslim world feels justified in raising its rusty scimitar at the first sign of a Danish Prophet-depicting cartoon, but will freely justify hate mongering in its own book stores against members of its own religion? How is it that millions upon millions of Muslims the world over complain bitterly of unfair airport checks and the visa trouble when every Pakistani Ahmedi must classify himself as a non-Muslim on his passport, voiding any right to enter Mecca in fulfilment of pilgrimage?

People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, and hypocrites most certainly should not preach.

For anyone who wants a look at the 'Reality' series, I submit:

There was also a 'Reality of Sufism', if anyone's interested. The title of this post is a reference to one of my favourite Khayyam quatrains:

O Mullah, we do more work than you,
Even drunk, we are more sober than you
You drink the blood of people, we that of the grape
Let's be fair, which of us is more immoral?