This afternoon I attended a meeting at the Montefiore Institute organised by Muslims Friday Prayer, a combined effort of Ghosia Muslim Society Crawley and Minhaj-ul-Quran International Crawley. Having been a Three Bridges county councillor, I know the Institute well but this was the first time that I had visited it in its capacity as a Mosque.
The meeting was in part an opportunity to celebrate the end of Eid and in part a chance to try and discuss with non-Muslim members of the local community the areas of overlap with Christianity and the ways in which violence is out of line with Islamic teaching. The meeting commenced with a talk from Imam Habib Qureshi, going into the theology in detail. While the talk was interesting, in some ways it was the subsequent question and answer session which really made me think, not so much for the wording of the questions themselves but what lay behind them.
One question stood out in particular. In response to Imam Qureshi’s statement that those who followed violent action were not real Muslims, one gentleman asked how ‘we’ could tell the difference from a ‘real’ Muslim and one of the people who refers to themselves as a Muslim while committing atrocious acts. This is the sort of question which I know many people who share my politics instantly bristle at, presuming intolerance lies at the heart of the question, but we need to look deeper. Here is a man who has given up a Sunday afternoon to attend an event at a local Mosque and he’s asking how to he can discern between those whose behaviour pose a threat to his life and those whose values do not. His question isn’t powered by a hatred of difference but out of fear and a lack of insight that he genuinely wants to have.
Fear will never find a resolution through hatred nor can it be beaten back by political correctness, by accusing people of racism. Fear can only ever be overcome through love, through openness, through working to build bridges.
To my mind there was a poetic element to the location of the event. The Montefoire Institute was built as a gift to the community from the Montefoire family, a family of Sephardic Jews who owned large amounts of the land on which Crawley now stands and now it hosts one of our town’s Mosques. Community stretches well beyond faiths. When I look at Crawley I don’t see a Muslim community and a Christian community, or a Hindu community, or Sikh community, I see one community with many different shades and colours. That’s part of the beauty of our town: we draw strength from our diversity.