Interview with Abdal Hakim Murad (Tim Winter)
What are your observations about Ramadan in England?
In some British towns Ramadan is very noticeable. In cities like Leeds and Leicester, Muslims are over a quarter of the population, and everyone knows about the fast. I live in Cambridge, where the community is smaller, although we still have around six hundred people attending Tarawih prayers at our mosque each night. This crowd is getting bigger and we are raising money for a larger mosque.
How is Eid celebrated in England? Are there organized any specific events due to Eid?
In Cambridge we hire a sports hall on the day of Eid. Around three thousand people attend, men women and children. After the prayer and the hutbe people greet each other and there are sweets and other food on offer. Students go to a well-known Internet cafe after the prayer. Then we have in the evening an Eid banquet, and a few days later there is a special day for children.
What are the reactions of the non-Muslims to the Ramadan and Eid celebrations?
Where I live most people are not aware of Ramadan and Eid at all. But Muslims who go to work but don't eat or drink during the day are of course asked many questions. Generally people respect Muslims for making such a big and faithful sacrifice.
What are the difficulties of fasting and celebrating the Eid in a non-Muslim country?
Of course the working day is as long as usual. Tarawih prayers may finish at 11PM, and then everyone rises to eat before Sabah prayer, so often people become tired. For the Eid, most employees are allowed at least one day's holiday if they request it.
Do such special days and times like Ramadan, Eids, and Mawlid influence the relations of the Muslims with the society they are living?
England is a very secular country, and the concept of fasting is strange to most people. However there are many non-Muslims who have their own ways of fasting, usually for health reasons or because they follow alternative health regimes. Those people often become very interested in Islam when they learn about the fast and how important it is in Islam.
Is there any tension between the non-Muslims and Muslims in England? What do you think about the relations of the British Muslims with the rest of the society?
Not everyone in the U.K. is clear about the difference between orthodox Muslims and extremists. So we have to work hard to explain the true message of Islam. In some ways things are getting easier.
Can we discuss unity among British Muslims?
Most Muslims in the U.K. are of foreign ancestry. This makes the community very diverse. At Friday prayers in Cambridge we have over fifty national groups in attendance, including Muslims from China, the United States, and Central Asia. Of course they don't agree on every issue, but at least they come together and prayer together, which is the most important thing for a religious community.
What is the general interest to Islam in England, is there any increase? If so, what do you think the reasons are?
People are interested in Muslims because of negative media coverage of extremism. Sometimes that leads to a real interest in the religion, and even to conversion. There is no doubt that conversions are rising all the time.
What is the reason of the need for a new mosque in Cambridge?
We have a website, http://www.cambridgemosqueismoving.org/ which explains what we are doing. The present mosque is much too crowded. And in a major university city Islam deserves a beautiful and impressive building, particularly because many people who come to the mosque are highly-educated.
Do Muslims fulfil their tasks as they must in order to help the non-Muslims overcome their prejudices?
There is a new generation of British-born Muslims which is much better able than the older generation to explain the real meaning of Islam. Slowly the prejudices are being challenged and overcome, although we have a long way to go.
Finally, as a different subject, what do you think about the perception and approach of Islam to aesthetics? What is the place of Islam in modern arts and the place of Islamic arts in the modern world? How can the ban on depiction be explained in this context?
Islam holds that everything in the world should remind us of God. Modern art is based on a materialistic understanding of the human soul, which it believes to be driven by lower passions. So there can be no successful combination of Islam and modern art. Instead, Muslims cultivate and develop their own traditional arts, which are now a major cause for Western people to take an interest in Islam. The ban on depiction is an important obstacle to decadence, as artistic decadence always starts with the image of the human form.