Bismillah. We often go as a family to Regent’s Park Mosque (RPM aka London Central Mosque) for prayers around Easter, since it’s a rare Friday with schools and offices shut, no congestion charge for driving around the city centre and the car parking in the park being at holiday rates: just over half the normal rate at £1.40 per hour rather than £2.40, significant when you wish to stay the whole day.
Approaching the mosque from inside the park, we noticed several police vans parked around the corner. Unusual, since there are normally only a couple of police officers outside the main entrance of the mosque in Park Rd.
Being a public holiday, the mosque congregation was much larger than usual, perhaps by 50%. We could only find parking near London Zoo and walked back, past the usual armed officers guarding Winfield House, the US Ambassador’s residence, literally a stone’s throw from the mosque’s rear entrance. On the way, I told my 7-year-old son about the Islamic tradition that spiritual reward earned for travelling to mosque is proportional to the effort required, even measured by the footsteps taken: several hadiths speak of this in a literal commentary on Qur’an (Surat Y.S. 36:12), “We write down their traces: everything have We recorded in a Clear Source.” When a particular tribe in Medina wished to move closer to the Prophet’s Mosque since they walked daily to it five times a day for prayers, he (pbuh) had replied, “Stay in your homes: your footsteps are written in tomes.” (Diyarukum, tuktabu atharukum) Ibn ‘Uthaymin once commented that the equivalent of a footstep for a car or bike was a wheel revolution.
The mosque was full, so we listened to the sermon after squeezing into the main courtyard, also full, all the way back to the car park: I counted about 40 rows, with about 40 people per row, hence over 1500 males here. The main hall holds at least 2000 males, plus the women’s sections and basement halls were all full, so I estimate at least 5000 worshippers. It’s always nicer to pray in the open air when the weather is nice, as it was on Friday: God’s wonderful dome beats any man-made one, even if it’s golden. As the Prophet (pbuh) said, “The entire earth has been made a place of worship.”
Islamic tradition demands that worshippers listen to the imam’s Friday sermon in absolute silence, which is why we easily heard the sounds of protesters, who must have been close to the main entrance. The Azhar-trained imam, Sheikh Khalifa Ezzat, had chosen his topics carefully, and probably in response to some of the protests, about which the mosque must have been informed by police: in both Arabic and English, he preached about justice (quoting Ibn al-Qayyim: “God upholds just societies and destroys or allows the self-destruction of unjust ones”) and condemned the evil crimes of sexual grooming gangs, although the latter wasn’t a great topic for a very family-oriented congregation. Listening to an Egyptian imam preaching about just society in a courtyard with one or two thousand people, I thought of Tahrir (Liberation) Square.
Straining to hear the imam’s soft-spoken voice, even through the loudspeakers, was made more difficult by the loud chants of “E, E, EDL” and rendition of “Jerusalem” (accompanied by music) by William Blake coming from the other side of the main gates. I spotted one leader of a Muslim fascist group in the courtyard, and feared trouble. The irony was that many of us British Muslims would be quite happy to sing “Jerusalem,” although not in mosque, where the ascetic atmosphere is quite rightly one of worship and devotion that transcends even spiritual music and song. Furthermore, Blake is possibly England’s greatest mystical poet (as well as Shakespeare, judging by Martin Lings’ phenomenal book about the latter), and arguably would have felt at home with the Remembrance of God in a beautiful mosque inside one of London’s prettiest Royal Parks. As the Prophet (pbuh) said, “God is beautiful and loves beauty.”
Prayers after the sermon were also disturbed by chants and another musical score that my teenage son told me later was something called “Hearts of Courage” that he liked from school.
I have uploaded short video extracts of the sermon accompanied by the sound of protest, here:
Others have uploaded videos of their protests. Had I been alone, I would have gone over to see the rival protests, but there was potential for serious trouble and we took no chances with our 7-year-old twins. Furthermore, we had come to mosque for inner and outer peace, not for childish, angry protests. Police sirens also disturbed prayers, but their helicopter crew had the courtesy to only bring their noisy flying machine over once prayers were over. The chopper slowly flew above Park Rd later towards Baker St – we learnt afterwards that this to police those marching for a mediaeval Caliphate and Sharia, dutifully protected by Western freedom of expression and the “kufr (infidel) law” that they so despise providing dozens of police to keep the peace at our collective taxpayers’ expense. (The truth is, of course, that Western and Islamic law have the same basis: justice and mercy, so such protests are misplaced.)
Of the 5000 Muslims at mosque, no more than about 1% joined this march. We are the 99%. Alhamdulillah.
As ever with Friday prayers at RPM, hundreds of families streamed into the park afterwards. My wife told me about journalists trying to interview worshippers. There were a couple of Orthodox Jewish families also in the park, no doubt fresh from celebrating Passover and enjoying the sunshine before the Sabbath later. I hope they didn’t feel intimidated by the hundreds of Arabs and Muslims – I don’t think they were.
There were long queues for cake, ice-cream and boating lake tickets. Tulips were in full bloom in a gorgeous array of colours. We saw a heron amongst the ducks and swans, and came across a RSPB stall with birdspotting telescopes (spotting scopes), and got to see two different triplets of baby heron chicks nesting in the trees of the boating lake. We also saw a number of delightful ducklings snuggling up to their Mother Duck. We imagined the excitement of these herons and ducks at their new arrivals, remembering our own when our babies were born. “Every crawling creature in the earth, and every bird flying with its two wings, comprise communities and nations like your human ones. We have not omitted anything from the Record: then, to their Lord, shall they be gathered.” (Qur’an, 6:38)
We joined the RSPB as a family: they have no fixed fee, only a suggested donation of £5-10 per month: you get a membership pack with gifts and benefits including free entry to their nature reserves around the country. I encourage others to do so also, here: http://www.rspb.org.uk
After a 3-hour walk around the park, we came across a young, well-intentioned masked Muslim man on a bicycle, wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt. He was from “London Anti-Fascists” and had been riding around in an anti-EDL op, and asked whether we had had any trouble. Nice of him. I should have asked him why LAF don’t take on Muslim fascists who avowedly want a global totalitarian theocracy and to execute any dissident or non-conformist.
So come on please, EDL-ers and Caliphaters: please stop being at each other’s throats and let’s have civilised interaction rather than offending each others’ sacred symbols, such as by disturbing prayers or abusing the bases of Britishness. And let’s all help with forming trust, mediation and reconciliation, that we may yet build Jerusalem and Medina in England’s green and pleasant land.
Usama Hasan, https://unity1.wordpress.com