Yesterday I spent an enjoyable and at times fascinating hour and a bit in the company of a couple of people I’d met through an event at work earlier this year. Three blokes sitting down in a coffee shop and having a chat shouldn’t really be worthy of comment, but it is perhaps a sign of the times and the society in which we live that I feel that I want to document the fact that my companions were members of our local Muslim community.
From a religious (and arguably philosophical) standpoint, I am situated very comfortably astride the proverbial fence. I was raised within the Church of England, but class myself as agnostic – although I apparently lean towards theism... who knew?! I certainly don’t disbelieve in the concept of “God”, I simply don’t know, but the beliefs I do have are borne from personal experience and I am perfectly comfortable with my feelings towards religion in general. I’m also more than capable of respecting those who have a faith, but having worked alongside some of the Muslim community, and given the general media profile of Islam, I wanted to delve beneath the newspaper headlines and find out a little bit more.
In a sense, it’s actually disappointing that I’m writing this at all. The Muslim population in this country is small in percentage terms, but it is the actions of the few who commit atrocities in the name of Islam that grab the headlines, and undoubtedly influence public opinion. So for those Muslims here in the north east who spend time within their extended communities trying to challenge stereotypes and break down barriers, the task is difficult by definition – but seeing the human reaction to the shocking events in Woolwich and hearing how twelve months of hard and positive work can be undone in one horrific moment, well it does make you stop and think.
Imran, Zak and I chatted through things as diverse as the origins of the universe and the sixth Article of Faith, as well as Star Wars and Doctor Who! I mention the sixth Article (or Pillar) because I found this part of the conversation so interesting. The sixth and final Article relates to “fate”, or predestination – Imran and Zak called it the “Decree”. Essentially (and I hope I get this right) for a Muslim, it relates to the ability for free will to still exist in lives and a world where all events are predetermined and known to Allah. Take religion out of the equation and you basically have the concept of compatibilism – that philosophical fence on which I like to rest my reflective body, and the parallel between my own ideals and a religion about which I know very little was a real surprise.
At no point was I made to feel uncomfortable for my lack of under-standing (despite being so far out of my depth) and my own points of view were totally respected. I left with the same beliefs I’d had when I arrived, but with a small, but real insight into the faith that guides the lives of two people I’m glad to call friends.