Monday, April 9, 2012

POV: WTF? Will They Change?

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

"...the lack of grace by the surly keepers of the Cheraman Juma Masjid was jarring..."

I can hardly be described as a critic of Islam, since I've always been constructively supportive of its world-class religious traditions and its admirable moral values, and of Muslims in general. 

However, I must say I was spectacularly discomfited by the reception and attitude of the individuals involved in the Cheraman Juma Masjid; the oldest mosque in India and in Kerala's Kodugallur district. On one of the last days of my The Oracles of Kerala Photo Expedition/Workshop™, I decided to take my group to visit and photograph this historical mosque.

We were coming from an indescribable "high" from photographing the Bharaini festival of the Oracles, (not too far away from the mosque itself) for two solid days, and where we had been welcomed by the excitable crowds of worshippers, helped by self-appointed guides, and always smiled at. Not once was I (or to my knowledge, anyone else in our group) treated brusquely or rudely.

Not so at the venerable mosque.

I was brusquely gestured at by the security guard to go to an empty office...directive that I ignored. He wasn't pleased, and was nonplussed when I asked him if he was a Muslim. He wasn't, and the question stunned him long enough for me to continue walking towards the mosque itself....leaving him scratching his head.

The women in our group wore the required head scarves, but were prohibited from entering the main hall of the mosque, and shunted to a dingy side room where there was nothing to see.

Our driver, a Muslim himself, was roughly scolded by a couple of Islamic scholars who were passing through because he was removing his shoes where he shouldn't have. Actually, his "trespass" was about two inches in.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

Now, here's my take on this. The Cheraman Juma Masjid is the oldest mosque in India and worthy of  pilgrimages and visits by Muslims and non-Muslims for its venerable history and status. It's also in dire need of donations and of funding. One would think that the peptic keepers of this moque would exude charm, hospitality and proffer a welcome mat to all visitors the hope of donations.

But no. Quite the opposite.

So here's what I would tell the keepers of this mosque, and beyond. Fatimah, the favorite daughter of the Prophet of Islam, prayed alongside him in Mecca. His wife, Khadija, was a self made business woman. To treat women of whatever persuasion as inferior is anti-Islamic and in direct contradiction to the actions and values of the Prophet himself. They can disagree all they want...they can risk a collective apoplexy...but that's the truth.

Here's what I would tell the two scholars who chided our driver. I would tell them that God is all forgiving, and it would have been more in keeping with Islamic traditions to be gentle if someone made an unintended mistake. And minding their own business would be even better, since it would avoid having others like me chiding them for wearing unkept beards, and lecturing them on real Islamic values.

How could I explain to the members of my group why we were welcomed with no discrimination at Hindu religious gatherings, but faced with surliness and boorish behavior at the Cheraman Juma Masjid?

I couldn't.

So the question of this post is pertinent. Will these delightful young boys who were so pleased to see us, and excitedly pose for us at the nearby Islamic medresa, change when they get older? Will they also be surly and unwelcoming to non Muslims?

And if yes, why?

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