Our visit to the Finsbury Park Mosque this past Friday brought new challenges to our class as we were faced with theological beliefs that contrasted those of other speakers we had met with so far.
The mosque’s infamous past with known extremists such as Abu Hamza, who controlled the mosque from 1997-2003 preaching militant Islamism has clearly driven Mohammed Kozbar, the mosque’s new leader, to rebuild and convey a different and more positive message than before. Kozbar explained to us that after the mosque reopened in 2005, they have strived to bring the mosque to the community.
Among the many events and activities they hold in line with this mission, I particularly liked that they regularly hold open houses for the neighborhood, as well as various schools, to come and see the mosque for themselves and actually meet those who worship there. Kozbar believes that it is important for neighbors to know each other. If people were to invest in neighborly relationships, particularly with Muslim neighbors, he feels that people would not form bad ideas about them — to which I would largely agree. He stresses not judging an entire group based on just a few people, which I feel is important to reiterate. This idea of relationship building is in line with similar rhetoric we heard from Carla Powers when asked what she feels will effectively combat Islamophobia.
Kozbar’s statements that “Muslims make mistakes when they isolate themselves from community” and “we have to live with each other” challenge this stereotype we often hear that many Muslims have no interest in integrating or participating in the respective societies they are immigrating to.
In regards to Kozbar’s more conservative viewpoints concerning topics such as same-sex marriage, abortion, and where females pray in the mosque, I feel that it was valuable to be exposed to ideologies that contrasted the more progressive views we had heard over the course of this trip so far. He also made a point of noting the parallels between his views and those of many Jews and Christians, saying that it was not only Muslims that can possess these sentiments. Hearing from several Muslims has proved to us that they are not one homogeneous group but one with diversity, nuance, and differing interpretations. Kozbar’s beliefs alone are nuanced and complex. This has proved that it is difficult to make assumptions about an entire population given the diversity within the religion itself.
As journalist Myriam Francois told us yesterday, the test for liberals is how tolerant you are of those who are not liberal. Meeting with someone at the Finsbury Park Mosque was a true test on this front. Even though some of us may not have entirely agreed with his theology, it brought us a lesson in acceptance and the true diversity of Muslims across the world.