Sunday, 22 August 2010

Sun, Sea and Sand in Miami Beach...Floods in Pakistan...Mosque in New York

Ramadhan Greetings to everyone from Miami!

The last couple of weeks have been quite hectic for me with my move from upstate New York's Gorges Ithaca to Florida's hot and humid South Beach! I'm feeling rather blessed as a Glasgow boy to wake up every morning to an ocean view (below right)! But I'm not here to sun at the beach...I've taken up a Visiting Assistant Professor in Islamic Studies position at the University of Miami, ranked at number 47 in the US News College Rankings in the USA. (Picture of the beautiful campus to right) I'm humbled to begin a new chapter of my academic career at such a prestigious university and excited to be joining a world renowned department of Religious Studies. In the fall I will be teaching two courses on 'Introduction to Islam' and 'Introduction to Asian Religions' and very much look forward to beginning classes on Wednesday 25th August. I was at a new faculty orientation yesterday and the buzz of excited new students was quite heart warming.

At the orientation day we were told about the prospect and emergency procedures involved in Florida's infamous 'hurricanes'. It is quite a scary thought when one looks back at the history of hurricanes in the region, some not too bad but some totally wiping out everything in sight. But the prospects of a hurricane are in no way comparable to the floods that are taking place in Pakistan at this very moment.

I am pleased to see the efforts of our Scottish government in helping the unfortunate flood victims of Pakistan. The UK and USA has pledged significant amounts to help the victims of this natural disaster that has come at the time of the blessed month of Ramadan. But I have been baffled to see the slow response of the fortunate for the unfortunate as it seems that the very mention of Pakistan conjures up all the extreme images of the Taliban and its Mulla’esque ilk to blur the vision of our humanity and in turn the beauty of Pakistan. It is time for us Scots to dig deep in our pockets, wherever we are, and start realising and extending our vision of what it means to say ‘We're a' Jock Tamson's Bairns’.

Another issue of the day is the Mosque planned to be built near Ground Zero in New York. One must not forget that there was a Mosque inside the twin towers and that Muslims died also in this terrorist attack. The building of a Mosque cannot become a symbol of anti-Islam/Muslim bashing yet on the other hand Muslims must bear in mind the pain and sorrow that the family and friends who lost loved ones in the attack feel every day. The bridge between Islam-haters and Muslim siege mentality needs a bridge to be built between them, a bridge that sees them accepting each other as a fellow human being who bears the same pain, suffering and happiness. For me a place of worship needs to bring peace, tranquility and stability to any given community. A Church, Mosque, Synagogue, Mandir, Gurdhwara that offers a community such things should be welcomed with open arms and if they are to become the bastion of hatred and exclusivist preaching then I truly believe that our societies and communities do not need them.

Some have compared the ease in which Muslims can build places of worship in the USA as opposed to the difficulty that Jews and Christians have in building Churches and Synagogues in Saudi Arabia or other Muslim countries. I think it is unacceptable that there remains a lack of religious freedom in Muslims countries and this must change! I think it is unacceptable that religious minorities are under attack in some Muslim countries and this must also change! But such a comparison again upholds a monolithic notion that all Muslims have some form of ties to Saudi Arabia and in turn are being labeled as upholders of the extreme Wahabbist movement that controls much of what Saudi Arabia is today! It disregards the rights of born and bred American Muslims or British Muslims who have a right to the freedom and liberty of any American or Brit (or Scot;) and disregards the sentiments of Muslims who just want to lead a beautiful life and world around them.

I'm also an open advocate of equality in the Mosque where women need to be given a presence to the extent that I would like to see Mosques that allow women to lead prayers. I'm not saying 'do away' with Mosques with male leaders, but the time is right for female Imams to show their faces at the pulpit. So I wonder to what extent new Mosques will be a bastion of change or really just 'same old, same old'!

In the current climate there remains, unfortunately, widespread ignorance about Islam and Muslims and until we are not able to see and understand that Islam is diverse and Muslims are not a monolith, we may continue this cycle of using symbols, such as Mosques, Minarets, hijabs, burqas as a way of fermenting all those ill-informed media hyped understandings of this world faith that is easily seen as ugly but requires us all to make a bit more effort to see its beauty...are we up for the challenge?

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