I begin as our close friend and neighbour flies off to a life in a new country. For them the growing hatred of Muslims expressed in our midst had reached its pinnacle and they decided that their future was not with Britain. We watched as they packed their bags and then we waved goodbye reluctantly. Not long ago, another friend – a history teacher by profession – announced his defeated observation amongst friends: ‘Now I know how the Jews felt in the nineteen-thirties,’ he said.
There is a low mood amongst friends these days; a kind of fear permeating our conversations. The days of condemning terrorism – with which we could all agree – seem distant memories now; today the institutions and personalities dearest to Muslims are under attack. Voices of moderation are labelled as voices of extremism, and so we all now feel under threat. The reassurance once felt – that a clear distinction had been made between terrorists and the rest of us – has disappeared. The ever narrowing definition of a moderate Muslim and ever widening description of the extremist causes little less than despair. Suddenly all of us who practice our faith are extremists and thus a legitimate target for the wrath of right wing, left wing and liberal commentators alike. There is something telling in my friend’s emigration to a hot, unfamiliar country.
Exhaustingly, Muslims are perpetually the focus of attention in television programmes and newspaper articles. The modern anthropologists subject us to a bizarre public examination, never tiring of their quest, as if there were no Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists or Jews in the country. How many more programmes must we see on women turning to Islam or women choosing hijab, and how many more series on the radicalisation of Muslim youth or documentaries quizzing the eccentric white convert? Whether positive or negative, the attention is becoming suffocating. And it is all a distraction, taking us away from the keys of our faith. Negotiating all the talk of conversion, hijab, women, terrorism and the permissibility of this and that, one wonders what happened to the focus of our faith. All these philosophical acrobatics ignore the focal point of our lives. Distracted by politics and emotion, all mention of God appears to be some way down the list in the topics of our discourse.
The main principle of Islam is not that we should not eat pork, although some Muslims would give that impression. I once only learnt three things from some early Muslim acquaintances: Muslims do not eat pork, they only eat halal meat and they do not drink alcohol. No mention of God at all.
The Arabic word Islam means the submission or surrender of one’s will to God. A person who does this is known as a Muslim. This is why Muslims believe that the religion of all the prophets was Islam and that all of them were Muslims. The first principle of Islam is encapsulated in the Arabic phrase, ‘La ilaha ill-Allah.’ This is a testimony of faith which states that there is nothing worthy of worship except God. Allah is the Arabic word for God, as seen in Arabic and Turkish translations of the Bible. The two oppositions to this principle are that a person refuses to worship God at all and that a person worships others as well as God. The latter harks back to the first commandment, that ‘The Lord your God is One God.’ The oneness of God is concept that is known as Tawhid and it is one which affects all aspects of the Muslim’s belief and worship.
A Muslim declares his or her faith by witnessing that none has the right to be worshipped except God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God. By these words, Muslims reject the worship of anything other than God. This means that they will not worship idols, rivers, rocks or a person. By these words they recognise that they have a direct relationship with God, the Creator of all things. The second half of the statement indicates belief in the Prophethood of Muhammad, upon whom be peace. This belief means that one believes in and follows the guidance which he taught. The first part of this declaration of faith, however, indicates that if a person were to worship Muhammad, they would not be considered a Muslim.