It’s fairly common these days for the word ‘Islamic’ to be followed by that second word ”Fun…’ but continuing with the additional …‘damentalism’ tacked on the end, usually on the front of a newspaper, and going on to tell us why we should all be afraid. Which is a shame. The notion of a group of deeply committed individuals pursuing and promoting Islamic Fun and making headline news instead strikes me as far more important.
It’s also, in my humble opinion, far more honest in describing the daily reality for the overwhelming majority of Muslims.
I took my son William to the Inverness Mosque Open Day on Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago. The Open Day is a regular occurrence held to allow anyone interested in Islam, or who simply wants to find out what goes on in a Mosque, to pay a visit. William was very keen as he’s currently studying world religions with his Primary 4 classmates. But as we entered he quickly spotted the table groaning with food, and the multicoloured array drew him in like a moth to a flame. He was gone! The food was freely available but large colourful signs made clear that any donations received would go towards supporting Syrian refugees.
The fundraiser was the initiative of a group of the Mosque’s young people who had prepared the signs and who were buzzing with excitement at the response from visitors. They were revelling in the experience of seeing their idea become a reality, and anxious to find out later in the afternoon how much money they’d raised!
William loaded a plate and began a geographical exploration of the flavours on offer, the myriad complex tastes reflecting the various nationalities that frequent the Mosque. I glimpsed him from time as he darted to and fro, having found a playmate, a young lad whose family come from Mauritius.
I’d been sidetracked before I got anywhere near the table of food, as I detoured to a table where henna tattoos were being applied, but had then been waylaid by two wee girls who wanted their photo taken, and which I’d knelt down to do. Once they saw themselves on the camera’s LCD they started to giggle and insisted on having a go themselves, and my large DSLR with its very expensive wide-aperture wide-angle lens went off on a little ramble with them for a few minutes.
William returned and asked if he could look at the very elaborate copy of the Quran that was on display and one of the young people obliged. I sat with one of the Mosque committee whom I’d met on several of my previous visits. I remarked that the Open Day seemed to be busy, and asked how he found being a Muslim in Inverness given the current antagonism towards Islam in general:
“I came from Pakistan 35 years ago, first to England for a spell then moved to Inverness. I had some English but my wife couldn’t speak any, and she found it hard at first. But people were very friendly when we arrived, and they still are, I find Highland people very open and supportive, and they’ve been very positive about our Mosque…”
He pointed to a young man who had slowly come into our field of view and was smiling as he watched the children playing in the prayer area, and quietly explained “…he’s just arrived from Pakistan, has very little English but is slowly learning. It can be hard if you can’t make yourself understood, people forget that language is a bridge, it lets you find out what you have in common with others. And of course for that to happen you also need to be prepared to be open and to talk to people….” …and we’d have carried on the conversation but the wee girls had found me again and insisted I take some more pictures…
There was a digital projector in one of the alcoves running on loop showing slides about Islam and I suggested to the girls we take some photos using the coloured projection light. To grab their attention I showed them how to do shadow puppets with my hands and they squealed with delight as my ‘ostrich’ slowly ‘ate’ the fingers of my other hand, but trying to get them to stay still was a nightmare so I simply grabbed frames as they posed for only a moment, then spun, occasionally danced and nearly always giggled.
Then they were off again, spinning and rolling around the carpet, exuberant and happy. Small bundles of chaos! But one of the girls regularly and with great deliberation interrupted her acrobatics, stopping abruptly to kneel, her tiny figure completely still amidst the mayhem as she briefly offered a prayer. It was a beautiful reminder that although using this space to have fun, the children recognise it as a place for reverence and observance, and their small devotions seemed to ‘fit’ there perfectly.
In the annexe the young women were counting the day’s donations, and quite astonished to learn that they’d managed to raise in excess of £600! They were delighted that the day had been busy, with a constant stream of visitors visiting the Mosque, many for the first time, but that this had also resulted in a significant donation to charity, and would make a real difference to other people’s lives, filled them with immense pride.
It had grown dark outside and it was time for William and I to go, as the event was coming to an end, so we bade everyone farewell, and stepped out of the warmth into the cold Highland night. What struck me about the event was…how very ordinary it was, overwhelmingly friendly, but ordinary. Just a group of people in a small community celebrating their faith, sharing their food and letting their children have fun.
And that need for fun, is a fundamentally important one. William, an 8 year old who can start a dance with his own shadow, who can in a matter of seconds draw a complete stranger into a game of ‘tig’ and whose ability to critically determine the fun potential in any given situation is acutely honed, remarked with the wisdom of a seasoned funster : “Daddy I’m quite tired, that was really good running about in the Mosque. And that boy I met, Rizwan, he showed me a new game on his tablet. I think I ate too much but I had a lot of fun!”
“Rise of Islamic Fun……….. in Inverness’ …well, call me a sentimental old fool if you like, but that’s a headline I think we in the Highlands should be immensely proud of.
This is Part 3 of an occasional series focusing on Inverness Mosque, the most northerly Mosque in the UK.
Part 1: Tales From The Mosque
Part 2: The Sheltering Space