The mosque is tired… our imams are clueless
Just before his passing, the late Cardinal Carlo Martini spoke damningly about the Catholic Church. As a Muslim, I feel digging behind his statement unearths a wisdom which many British imams will find hard to swallow. The Cardinal’s remark is relevant to Muslims who are dogged by the same servility to tradition and spiritual malady plaguing Christians.
While prayer rows in mosques may compare favourably with church attendance, the Cardinal was singing from the same hymn sheet as British Muslims, many of whom are disillusioned by an enfeebled Muslim scholarship. Speaking as a practising Muslim, discontent with faith is largely owing to the inadequacies of traditional Islamic scholars and shares the same logic and causality with the Cardinal’s public undressing of the Roman Catholic Church and its arrested progress.
From my experience, scores of British imams are not keeping tuned in to the frequencies of rank and file Muslims. Consigned to the cosy confines of mosques and a few honorifics, complacency has beset their existing order. As priests must accept culpability for the diminishing appetite to church life, imams must also concede how they’ve become a spent force in the imagination of many Muslims. Though I consider myself devout, I can testify to how my initial hunch for faith was sapped by a dwindling segment of out of touch mullahs, mired in pointless intra-faith polemics. In this sense, I empathise with estranged Catholics who chide the principle of papal infallibility and find no spiritual gusto in condom-condemning scholars obsessed with birth control. It’s common for a Muslim’s experience with religious stasis to derive from their dissatisfaction with reactionary imams, who are bogged down with the very inanities that are at the heart of what they see as Christendom’s alienation with the papacy.
Another reason I feel some Muslims are losing faith in the clerical enterprise is due to the perception that religious hubs in the Muslim community are mere delivery systems for status quo rationalities. I’ve lost count of the number of times I read cautions on mosque notice boards reading “No politics in the mosque”. Although Christ’s “rendering unto Caesar” has been the subject of protracted debates in Christendom down the centuries, many an imam’s spin on this maxim has often meant a lack of interest or indifference to political affairs.
Historically, mosques were the loci of public calls to action and the points of assembly to express grassroots grievances. It’s pathetic to see this piece of history overturned. Just look at the inability of Muslim religious leaders to chalk out a progressive path for British Muslims in the aftermath of 7/7 and the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. The strident Islamophobia and raft of draconian anti-terror measures has undermined the confidence of the British Muslim community in the government and criminal justice system. The perception that Muslims are being unfairly policed and singled out by the security services has naturally left them agitating for inspired defenders of the faith, and media-savvy representatives to quash the rising Muslim antipathy. Imams and mosque leaders are best suited for this function, yet so many can be seen shuddering at the politically-charged climate, appeasing the status quo and not keeping abreast of current affairs.
Friday sermons provide the best opportunity to reclaim their torch-bearing status and launch a spirited defence against anti-Muslim sentiment. Yet time and again, the weekly address proves to be a wasted opportunity. A recent example would be the EDL’s march through Walthamstow which barely registered a mention at a Friday sermon in a mosque nearby the site of the demonstration. Instead the imam’s plea to be quietist and apolitical failed to revive an audience’s flagging interest and missed the boat completely. When a community is still reeling from the shock of a far-right march across the heart of their neighbourhood, the silence of imams and their apparent reluctance to adapt with a climate replete with Muslim references is; in my view, a glaring omission from their CV. It becomes impossible to benefit from their erudition when they choose to remain fatefully oblivious to the reality on the ground.
Tiresome tracts and an inability to deliver captivating homilies force many out of the spotlight. As a result, they’re upstaged by the pandemonium generated through the more rogue elements in Muslim communities, which exploit the leadership vacuum and provide meaty content for columnists. As mosques are instrumental in the emergence of a moderate mindset, imams ought to wrest back the monopoly on dissent which extremists have arrogated to themselves. To restore a calculating worldliness and practicality which is conspicuously lacking in the Catholic clergy, titillating the jaded palate of worshippers is as important now as it has ever been.
In contrast with Christians, Muslims are often cited as examples for how religion can claim an ambiguous advantage, even in the midst of Britain’s trenchant secularism. If they are to live up to this billing and survive the papacy’s slide into abyss, then imams have a duty to breathe new soul into a culture which desperately lacks a higher calling. Until then, Muslims will join the swelling ranks of Christians, who are enduring the cruel irony of the world’s stewardship passing into the hands of ungodly forces.Tagged in: Cardinal Carlo Martini, catholic, Imam, islam, Islamophobia, vatican
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