For a decade I’ve lived along the road from a mosque, a fairly rare being in Scotland where we have comparatively low migration compared to say London. It’s an old shop front with smoked out windows. It’s nice to know your local community and I’ve been into the church at the other end of the street plenty of times for garden parties, concerts, meetings and Scouts. But I could never find an excuse to go and visit the mosque, a local community that can’t communication within itself is a potentially dangerous thing so I was pleased to find a Facebook page and ask for a visit.
I was met with a friendly young man who invited me in. I took off my shoes as asked and was shown around, there’s a couple of main rooms in it and each had half a dozen boys in a class learning Arabic from an Iman. The decor was simple enough if a bit dated. They spoke Urdu to each other and the junior Iman gave me a long shake of the hand while the children, who seem to go to the same primary school I went to, were very friendly and asked about which footballers I knew.
Invited into the back room I met the chair of the mosque, an older man with a well maintained beard, and got a cup of tea. He said this was everyone’s mosque, not just for Muslims. He showed me some security videos of the prayer from last Friday, it looks like a cross between a yoga move and the hokey-cokey and he said it was indeed exercise for the body. He gave me a copy of the Quoran in English and recommended I watch a TV channel called Peace TV of which he seemed to be a big fan. He explained how jihad was any struggle but using violence with guns is forbidden in Islam, only states can do that.
He showed me the timetable for prayer, 5 times a day at varying times depending on sunrise and set. He showed me their washing area to clean feet, hands and face before prayer and said it was very important to be clean for prayer, although if you don’t pass air or go to the toilet or urinate between prayers you don’t need to clean yourself again.
He said that men and women pray separately, when I asked why he used the idiom of if you put cheese next to a fire it will melt. Women have to cover the heads with a scarf and their hands, I didn’t ask why men didn’t have to do the same. He said that men and women shouldn’t look each other in the eye. Girlfriends aren’t allowed in Islam and men can only have up to four wives he continued. These wives can be at the same time but you have to treat each of them equally in every respect, he wasn’t sure if anyone in Edinburgh did this, it wouldn’t be legal but in Islam marriage is a simple arrangement he continued. Having multiple wives is ok because there are more women in the world than men.
He said that it is now far more common to be gay or lesbian, that 30 years ago if you asked a room full of people only one would be ok with it, but now almost all would. Eventually everyone might be gay and lesbian and then there would be no more humanity, this is why it’s not allowed in Islam. He said, and this would apparently shock me, that he thought in 50 years time society would consider it ok to have sex with children. This seemed to be a strong concern oh his. He continued that there was even a bill in the London parliament last year to allow fathers to have sex with their daughters. I assured him this was untrue and there was little danger of that happening and the change in attitudes over the last 30 years was incredible and a great thing but he continued to go on like this. I tried a different topic and asked if they had a testimony to the earth which is the major problem for the next 50 years, he said yes indeed and that if you invade your neighbour you are not allowed to steal their crops. This wasn’t exactly what I was after. Time up I shook hands with all and they said I should come back for a curry at Ramadan.
So a slightly surreal meeting, it feels that, like most religious people, they are very happy to have visitors and talk about themselves but not so interested in the wider world, but it was mostly just one guy I got to talk to and I would have liked to speak to more younger members. A curry at Ramadan sounds good.