Across the great divide

ukim_peterborough08:20 Tuesday 19th May 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: Around 180 people attended a discussion in Peterborough last night, aimed at improving relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. Teachers, police officers, NHS staff and schoolchildren were among non-Muslim attendees at the Holiday Inn’s Thorpe Wood hotel last night. The event was called The Answers to your Questions, and it was organised by the Masjid Khadijah and Islamic Centre. Our reporter Tom Horn went along to listen to the discussions.
TOM HORN: A flyer for last night’s event at Thorpe Wood in Peterborough reads “it’s an unfortunate fact that past and recent world events have caused some ill feelings towards Muslims, and to misunderstanding of the true Islamic faith.” Organisers of the discussions no doubt had several headlines in mind.

NEWSREADER 1: Mosques in Peterborough will come together this weekend to discuss how the community can continue to prevent extremism. It comes after Charlie Ebdo atrocities in Paris after which the Government wrote to mosques.
NEWSREADER 2: A leading Muslim community activist in Peterborough says most terrorists citing Islam as their motives are divorced from the community.
TOM HORN: The conference I attended aims to answer questions from non-Muslims that may not have been asked for fear of falling on the wrong side of political correctness. Chair Amir Suleman told me he understands why people in Peterborough have questions.
AMIR SULEMAN: If you just look at the media in general, unfortunately it’s just filled with negative images and soundbites of so-called Islam. ISIS for example, horrific acts, obviously we condemn what they do and what they stand for. Nothing to do with Islam.
TOM HORN: These people who arrived to join the discussion told me why they wanted to attend.
VOX 1: Well I’m a midwife and I do lots of ante-natal education. What I really want to do is be able to get into the Asian women and talk to them about ante-natal education, because they don’t come to any of the sessions at the Hospital.
VOX 2: I’m from a Christian culture, and obviously I’m interested in the Muslim culture, and trying to break down some of these barriers that seem to be there and understand each other.
VOX 3: I converted to Islam about thirty years ago, and I’ve always tried to be as open as I can be in trying to inform people who are not Muslim about Islam.
TOM HORN: What followed was three hours of their questions being answered by influential and high-profile London imam Ajmal Masroor.
AJMAL MASROOR: Even if we were to go literally to the Quran, do we find a word or a sentence that encourages violence? I am standing here saying no. Believe you me, jihad is not only war, because there is nothing holy about war. That which kills, destroys, maims, how can it be holy? Britain has moved far away from a God-centred society to more secular.There is nothing called God-centred society. But Islam espouses that very much.
VOX 4: Tonight hearing him speak I found absolutely amazing, and it’s really made me think I want to go out and make sure when I hear people talking about the Muslim community in a negative way, that they don’t understand the issues, and actually if they listened more about what Muslim religion meant and what it was about then actually they’d be really positive about it.
VOX 5: I thought it was an incredible event and can only do good for Peterborough.
VOX 6: I believe what he said is right. They’ve got to work together to be able to overcome any prejudices.
TOM HORN: The aim was to improve bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims. Shortly after the event’s conclusion Chair Amir Suleman told me he felt this had been achieved.
AMIR SULEMAN: The British values and Islamic values, I think that’s a really really important area to focus on in terms of how can we go forward from the situation of perception of Islam as it is today. How can communities work together, bond together, form unity? If people take away that particular topic and the responses that were given today, I think it’s been a success.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Tom Horn reporting there from the events yesterday evening. Well joining me now is Faisal Mahmood, who’s the Chairman of the Masjid Khadijah and Islamic Centre. So Faisal, do you feel that the event went well?
FAISAL MAHMOOD: Well after listening to those comments, I didn’t hear everything yesterday, but it definitely did. I’m so happy with all the comments and that’s exactly the type of reponses we were hoping for.
DOTTY MCLEOD: What were the kind of questions that people did ask yesterday.
FAISAL MAHMOOD: Some of them were very difficult questions. Not all the questions got answered. The ones that didn’t get answered, they’ll be published in a paper, published on a website and emailed out to the delegates. But some things were simple things like what happens in a madrasa, or why do women have to wear a certain type of clothing. So there were all kinds of questions relating to those three main topics that we selected.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Do you think that this is a really useful kind of event? Because those are the kind of questions that, for whatever reason, whether people are worried about appearing racist or appearing politically incorrect, or just appearing daft, they don’t always want to ask, do they?
FAISAL MAHMOOD: No that’s right. It works both ways as well. I think the important thing is rather than holding back, it’s always important to ask. Things that are bothering you, or things that are concerning, or things you’d just like to know, generally we just like to know certain things, so why not ask? And I’m sure there’s plenty of people that would like to give the answers to those questions.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And do you have plans to hold more events like this?
FAISAL MAHMOOD: Yes definitely. They might not be in that same format, but we’re planning things in different formats. Because we don’t want to keep repeating the same thing over and over. But the important thing is there’s that process of engagement. And that engagement has to be two-ways, not only non-Muslims asking Muslims questions, but I also feel Muslims should be asking people of other faiths or no faith questions as well. And it’s important that we learn to talk to each other, rather than avoid each other.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Faisal, thank you for your time this morning. Faisal Mahmood there, who’s the Chairman on the Masjid Khadijah and Islamic Centre in Peterborough.