Like “Brexit” or “Remain”, people differ about whether the issue is “Islam as a political/theological issue” or “Muslims as people”. Some Christians are more about a perceived mandate to defeat Islam, rather than the Great Commission to win Muslims. I’ve just moved house to an area with a well-established diaspora community – I’m noticing Muslim “people” rather than Islamic “politics”.
Pakistanis first came to the UK during the closing days of the British Raj. The people of the Mirpur Valley were given a British passport in exchange for their house. The authorities wanted the valley to flood it and create a dam.
In this way Mirpuri Pakistanis arrived as economic migrants, taking up factory jobs Anglo-Saxons didn’t want but the British economy needed. These areas became known as ‘mosque and mill’ towns of which Preston was one of the earliest. This is why Interserve workers were here as much as 30 years ago, as Ministry Among Asians in Britain (MAB) – a response to the new reality.
It feels poetic that my wife and I have recently moved to the area, which makes Preston station, a regular commuter haunt for me.
The devout Muslim
At the start of Ramadan, I was walking down the platform when two young men passed me, holding hands and wearing skin-tight jeans, no doubt intended to show off their “assets”. The open display reflected our social climate after the same-sex marriage legislation. This couple were as evidently wrapped up in each other as they were defiant of any social opinion that disagreed with them.
I mention them because they walked on proudly past two bearded young Muslim men wearing matching white prayer cap and galabiyya prayer gowns. They were definitely devout – even Sallafi –with a repressive ideology. My mind went to the gay night club shooting in Orlando as I watched this contrast of ideologies interface with one another in public space. Were the devout guys on the list of 2,000 Islamist Muslims in Britain that are on the radar of the intelligence services? What was their reaction to gay pride?
The traditional Muslim
On another occasion in Ramadan, I was leaving Preston station when I passed a middle-aged Pakistani guy, again with white prayer cap, greying beard and wearing a brown shalwar khamees (baggy trouser suit). He was leaning against the wall chatting by mobile in Urdu. It was getting close to sunset and the time for iftar (break-fast) was approaching. What was going through his head as he watched the hoard of commuters passing him?
I rarely act on impulse with a Muslim I don’t know – but – I felt compelled to stop and slap him on the back and wish him “Ramadan i’karim”; the official greeting in Arabic, the language of Islam. It literally means “Ramadan is generous” (i.e. it gives a lot in reward if you fast); in a social situation it means simply “Happy Ramadan!”
Now the interesting part; the Pakistani guy flinched as I reached out to touch him. Was he about to be assaulted? He then looked startled as I greeted him. Was I a Muslim or not? He then realised I came in peace. He visibly relaxed; smiled back; then thanked me. “It’ll soon be time to eat” I added to which he smiled and agreed. A momentary connection with the grace of the Christ he is yet to know. Muslim people need that connection, rather than the usual polite-disdain or sullen suspicion. It’s an authentic starting-point for gospel transmission.
The integrated Muslim
Moving house (especially when down-sizing) involves charity shops and/or ebay where the most delightful young couple bought our kitchen table. In their twenties and from a Pakistani background, they were decent, fair-minded, trendy and distinctively Lancashire (in accent, mind-set and affability). They brought with them their gorgeous baby son – Muhammed Zain.
They got me thinking – in the aftermath of the decision to ‘Brexit’ – which will become the Euro-Islam? Will it be the zealously ‘devout’, or the live-and-let-live ‘traditional’ or the culturally ‘integrated’? Let’s work and pray until a 21st century spiritual expression of Islam becomes the preferred future for Muslims everywhere.
It’s time to pray!