After flying in from Copenhagen (and being stuck in Heathrow Airport for 2 hours) we made it to London, our final destination, on Tuesday. Our class went out to dinner in small groups and then most of us turned in early after a long day of traveling.
Class activities began with a slight miscommunication on Wednesday, as the the group we were meeting, Tell MAMA, was under the impression that they were only meeting with one of our professors! After much confusion, we found a last minute meeting place and had a discussion about the work that they do and the polical climate in regard to muslims in the UK. Tell MAMA is an anti-hate organization which keeps watch of and tracks anti-muslim hate crimes in the UK and uses this data to help shape policy. They have been as influential as getting the British government to ban known white supremacists Richard Spencer and Pamela Geller from entering the country.
In the afternoon, we made our way to Westminster Palace to meet with Lord Ahmed. Lord Ahmed was the first muslim to be appointed to the House of Lords in 1998. He talked to us about his experiences in parliament as a muslim man as well as some of the policies he has worked on, including advocating in favor of Brexit. This is different from what many of us expected, but is a great example of the diversity and difference of opinion among muslims across the world and reinforces the notion that Islam is not static. After our meeting with Lord Ahmed, we were able to sit in on a session of parliament before finishing up for the day.
To start off our second day in London we had the privilege of meeting with journalist Carla Powers, author of the book “If the Oceans Were Ink” which we read prior to departure. The book follows her yearlong journey studying the controversial text of the Quran with friend Sheikh Mohammad Akram. As a secular American woman learning from a madrasa (Islamic educational institution) trained sheikh, the friendship seems unlikely. However they learned from each others’ differing worldviews, diffused stereotypes, and found similarities between the Islamic and Western societies that have long seemed irrevocably divided.
Powers offered us interesting insight into this idea the media portrays about the muslim and Western worlds as non-compatible. She claimed that “there is no muslim world” and prefers the term muslim communities, as ‘muslim world’ contributes to this rhetoric that there are two cultures mutually exclusive to one another.
An important question she responded to was “What will it take?” in regards to eliminating the issue of Islamophobia. Relationship building among individuals, muslims with non-muslims, is what she feels will humanize those who are so often ostracized. Even though this work may not reap instant results, it is what will get the job done.
Tomorrow we will be visiting the Finsbury Park Mosque as well as the Muslim Welfare House in that same neighborhood. Check in later for more!
-Annie & Stefan