From the viewpoint of Abu Saif:
The Inter-Civilizational Youth Engagement Program (IYEP) has given me lots of ideas about many things. A lot has to be analised and be shared with readers.
Overall, I'm impressed with the participants' quality. Every one who had applied for the program needs to write a composition to state why he/she is interested in joining programs like this and it is followed up by an interview with the participant through the telephone.
Without a doubt, the assessment yield in the most suitable participants and I'm amazed by the youths' high level of knowledge about issues that are discussed in this program until Karen Armstrong herself learned lots of new stuff that she asked the participants' permission to use those ideas in her talks and writing.
Without a doubt, the Q & A session and the program itself have shown that the 50 IYEP participants are the great leaders of the future and may God (Allah s.w.t) extend my age to see it become a reality.
However, our excitement and happiness with new experiences has been marred by a certain embarassing incident, especially to Islam.
On the second day of the program, we have planned visits to the Hindu and
Plans have been made for quite some time and lots of activities have been organised.
What impressed us most is the
The same eagerness was shown by the
In the program organising stage, the Catholic Church looks nervous. Through the discussion before the start of the IYEP program, there are some worries and we understand it because of the current issues in
The dialogue session was pretty good.
We have reminded the participants a few times to not raise their voices while in the church to maintain the quiet surroundings. The quiet surroundings are very important for a Catholic Church. Well, young people are young people. The IYEP this time around yields participants who have lots of issues to discuss about in the church but the church people are really open-minded and just smiled at the behaviour of some of the participants.
After the visit was over, we felt eager and cheerful heading the mosque.
When we arrived at the mosque, there was no one there to greet us.
The security staff on the other hand complicated things further because they did not allow the participants to use some of the toilets.
Alhamdulillah (All praise for Allah), a technician handed us a video clip to be shown to the participants. We had to do everything ourselves and we feel bitterly dissappointed as the 10-minute video clip is only eager to show the architecture aspects of the mosque. There is nothing in the video clip that touches about Islam that acts as a stepping stone and a solid base for a mosque.
The Q & A session was handled by the IYEP committee.
The uncomfortable surroundings did not stop there.
The 50 participants are ready to enter the mosque and the girls have worn their headscarf and the hijjab that was provided.
"Stop! Non-Muslims can only reach to this point!", one of the security staff shouted. "Do not mar the pureness of this mosque!, he continued.
All the participants were shocked. I myself had already felt pain in my ears because of that.
"Sir, we have already discussed with the Imam about this visit since a bit more than a month ago." explained one of the IYEP committee members.
We tried to call the Imam, but it is really unfortunate as the Imam had already went back. There are officers who gave excuses that the Imam went back because we came after office hours while the Imam has to be ready before coming back to the mosque that night.
There are other officers that gave other excuses that the Imam is busy settling some things with his children!
What really hurts us most is that our effort to get an explanation from them was answered with insults and high pitch voices (shouting).
"You handed in the letter late, right?", one of the mosque staff tried to falsely accuse us.
"Do not simply make false accusations. Refer back to the letters and the telephone calls that have been made. Count how many days, how many weeks , how many months!" I'm starting to blow my top with their attitude and behaviour.
"Whatever it is, non-Muslims CANNOT enter the mosque. That is the rule!" one of the ustaz raised his voice.
"Whose rules? The rules of the religion? What I know is, Rasulullah s.a.w (Prophet Muhammad) accepts all kinds of humans into the mosque. Q & A in the mosque. Even the Arab Bedouin peed at the wall of the mosque but Rasulullah s.a.w did not prevent them from visiting the mosque. Which rules you are standing by?" I tried to find an explanation.
"I went to the Hindu and Buddha Temple and also the Catholic Church... I felt easy and happy by their hospitality. But when I come to my own place, this mosque... I feel hurt by the way the mosque ill-treated visitors. We are not WALK-IN TOURISTS. We have already do business with the mosque for a long time about this visit." I'm still not satisfied.
My hand is already cold holding back my anger.
Assuming that the visitors couldn't enter the mosque, the mosque staff should have explained this issue in a civilized way but we were insulted and when I say it, I really mean INSULTED.
"The problem is that you came after office hours. That's why no one came to welcome you to the mosque." said one of the staff.
"We did not came by surprise. It's already from the start that we agreed that this visit will be on evenings like this. The sick padre can ask the other officers' help, but can't the Imam get a replacement?" I'm getting fed-up with this but I tried not to repeat during my 20's approach where in cases like these, I would have let out words that are more rough and insulting.
"Now, everyone feels happy to go to the church, the Hindu and Buddhist Temple, but got insulted at the mosque. IF PEOPLE ARE NOT INTERESTED IN ISLAM, PEOPLE WHO RENOUNCE ISLAM, WHO ARE YOU TO BLAME FOR THESE THINGS? Try to speak to me... I'm a Muslim whose feelings are hurt and what about the other people!" I'm trying to control my emotion inside me.
A lot of excuses were given. Finally, they said that they are following orders from the top management to not allow non-Muslims to enter the mosque.
"Oh, the top management. If it comes from the top management, just say from the top management. Don't say that it is the rule of Islam, because Islam is not like that.", I continued to explain.
"Why do people do bad things or say bad things inside the mosque? Because no one in this mosque wanted to answer questions and treat the visitors nicely. Like today!" I said.
I became sad because of this.
I felt that it was not worth it to pursue this issue for any longer as the time had already struck 6.15p.m.
There was a lot of issues that was debated during the 20-minute ordeal between me and the mosque officers.
During the sharing moment of the participants at the hotel that night, this issue had resurfaced. I had to make a justification so that the honour of Islam does not go down the drain as a result of bad behaviour by the Muslims at the mosque itself.
"I'm hoping that the incident in the mosque today, would be a positive lesson for each of us. Even though we had many ideal solutions to offer, we have to admit that people out there are far from ready to accept changes in attitude about religion. In order to achieve our dream, we must first be able to think positive and learn to differentiate between the custom and widespread misunderstanding among the people, with the true Islam that is so far away from what we have seen today." I tried to calm down the participants.
I tried to share my experience with the participants about my approach when being an Imam at the Belfast Islamic Centre in Northern Ireland.
I hope this little effort will manage to recover the true Islam's images among the participants that has been made bad by the people at the mosque in the evening.
Karen Armstrong has had more success in lifting the image of Islam compared to the "talks" and the attitude of the Muslims themselves.
I cried alone in the hotel room thinking about the shameful incident that happened in the mosque.
From Abu Saif's viewpoint in the true story above, let this be a lesson to all Muslims so that we will be able to lift the true image of Islam and not ridicule the beauty of Islam like what the people in the mosque did.
Until then, Assalamualaikum. (Peace be upon you)