Islam: The truth beyond the myths and misconceptions
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Recently I was invited to the Baitul Futuh Mosque in Morden, South London. Situated on the side of the busy street it’s hard to miss - the palace-like features and grand architecture cast a shadow over the town.
Built in 2003, the mosque is the biggest in Western Europe. It was opened in 2003 by his Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, who is the current Caliph and spiritual leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community.
Baitul Futuh Mosque in Morden, South London / Image Credit: Ruby NaldrettExploring other cultures...
I grew up in a small Christian community, which has been under Conservative leadership since before I was born (with the second most votes going to UKIP). Anything I learnt about other religions was brief and passing during a RE lesson at school, with a teacher who also taught several other subjects.So, everything I learnt about religion - consciously or subconsciously came from the negative stereotyping of older people around me and the sensationalist headlines in the British press. Since moving to London and becoming more submerged in other cultures I have become a lot more tolerant and open-minded of the people around me. Growing up all I knew about Muslims was what I saw on the news - all these people were killed in New York and London because of a group of them, so they must be bad right? Wrong. I couldn’t be more wrong, and I am truly mortified for ever thinking differently, but to lie and say I have always been “woke” would be untruthful, and this is a negative ideology that has been born through the Twitter ‘cancel culture’.
St Michael's and All Angels church, Southwick, West Sussex / Image Credit: Robin Webster
Imam Noor Hadi and his Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad /
Image Courtesy of Noor Hadi
The men's prayer area at the mosque / Image Credit: Ruby Naldrett
The idea that women and men aren’t equal in the eyes of Islam could not be more untrue. The women at Baitul Futuh have just as an important role to play as the men. I meet one of the female leaders giving a young girls school a tour around the mosque, and I’m given hope for the future when one of the young girls smiles broadly and raised her hand: “Islam means peace”, she says.
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The mosque has a separate area for men and women, but this isn’t a form of segregation, in fact, the women here like to pray together – away from the men. It’s a time to be around their sisters, daughters and friends, and they, of course, have a good old chat once the praying is over.“We strongly believe that both genders should be given equal access and equal space within mosques,” explains Noor. “In essence, we believe this promotes and supports the empowerment of both men and women and enables them to thrive within society.” Adversity as a young Muslim man... I breach the topic of adversity, something I, as an able-bodied white woman, rarely face. White privilege is being talked about in the open more recently, but it’s still somewhat of a taboo subject. Have you ever had somebody openly choose to not sit next to you on the tube because of the way you look? This is something Noor has faced multiple times.
“There are times where I feel someone may avoid sitting next to me on public transport, or awkward stares whilst shopping with my mum or sister. Checking the news or social media on a day to day base can sometimes also become exhausting, especially when stumbling upon terror attacks which have nothing to do with the peaceful teachings of Islam.” However, in his job as an Imam Noor has decided to take the negativity and make it positive.For example, after the Westminster terror attacks, he took to the streets wearing a shirt that read ‘I’m a Muslim, ask me anything’. “I take confrontations or other such incidents as an opportunity to break down stereotypes and engage in a dialogue which would otherwise never have happened,” he says. He’s clearly an incredibly strong individual, making it his mission to better educate people on Islam as a religion. He is brutally honest with me, and we talk openly for hours about his life inside and outside the mosque. I meet his brother, who works in the mosque’s own TV station (it also has its own radio station, a library, a restaurant and a shop) – there’s a sense of family here that you can feel from the minute you walk in; a warmth from the people who have suffered from so much unnecessary hatred. A few days before my visit was the Christchurch shooting; a few days later mosques in Birmingham were vandalised. It hurts my heart that these kind people have to face this. I want to help but I’m not sure how. So I ask Noor what can be done to educate people better on the true side Islam – the one we don’t see in the red-top newspapers. “We can better educate people about Islam by first creating a more trusting and mutually respectful environment of shared human experiences," he says. "When this happens and people come to know about who Muslims are and what we represent it will dispel many of the fears and concerns of the people. Muslims should be a walking-talking portrayal of the beautiful teachings of Islam. The media plays a huge role in shaping public opinion; we need to see more positive coverage of ‘good’ stories about Islam and Muslims.” Noor is right, the negativity surrounding the religion is almost entirely in our hands to change - and if this article and my visit to the mosque open the eyes of just one person, then it's done its job. Lead image credit: Ruby Naldrett