Faithcommunities in Preston are coming together all week in a bid to strengthen relations between people of different religions. In the second of a five-part series, civil servant RIYAZ TIMOL tells reporter KARL HOLBROOK what it is like to be a Muslim in the city today.
Islam is no stranger to the limelight.
A constant stream of international events, from the Danish cartoon controversy to the Quran burning furore in America earlier this year, keep the religion in the headlines - but not always for the right reasons.
But what people don’t realise is that we Muslims have much more in common with the larger community than they might think.
First of all, it is important to get one thing straight - we believe in God and it is the same God worshipped by Christians and Jews alike.
Allah is simply the Arabic word for God. Even Christian’s in the Arab world refer to God as Allah.
We also believe and revere the biblical prophets including Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses and, of course, Jesus.
However, what Muslims also believe is that God’s final revelation came to the Prophet Muhammad in Arabia around 600 years after Jesus. This revelation is known as the Quran.
But sadly, despite the many common beliefs shared between Christians, Muslims and Jews, a minority of extreme views have begun to drive a wedge between our communities.
It is imperative we counter this by acknowledging our shared values and work together for the common good, which is why I am involved in the 1st Ethical Charitable Trust, which aims to foster interfaith cohesion.
My parents - who are sadly no longer with us - came to Preston from the Gujarat region of India to work in the textile mills in the 1950s. It was a very different world then and people knew far less about Islam.
As a result, Muslim communities became relatively isolated. You’ve got to remember than they couldn’t speak the language and racism was a lot more overt back then.
But these days it is different. There are around 10,000 - 12,000 Muslims in Preston today and at least 10 mosques. We are an active and vibrant community - but as a community need to do more to fight against the negative stereotypes.
We are not outside the larger community, we need to show people that we are an active part of it.
Many Muslims today, including myself, were born here, went to school here and see ourselves as British. The idea of being a Muslim isn’t exclusive from our British identity - I am both and I love both aspects of my identity equally.
Most Muslims are the same but our religion has been hijacked by the few whose extreme views are abhorrent to the rest of us.
Muslims, like any other faith groups, believe first and foremost in peace and harmony.
Some of the central tenets of the faith are empathy and charity. Whenever there is a major catastrophe around the world, the Muslim community in Preston, and elsewhere, come together to help.
During the Pakistan floods and the Haiti earthquake earlier this year and the Cumbrian floods last year, my mosque on Clarendon Street raised tens of thousands of pounds for the relief effort.
Just last week, the 1st Ethical Charitable Trust, of which I am a part, organised a feast for the homeless at the Salvation Army in Preston to coincide with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
The holiday, which means “Festival of Sacrifice”, is held to commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son to God. It is a story shared in the Christian Bible.
Thankfully the tensions seen in some parts of the world aren’t really seen in Preston.
That said, it is still crucial that more Muslims in society stand up and show the wider community what we are really about. It is also crucial that the larger society read past the negative headlines.
It is through mutual understanding, interfaith initiatives and greater dialogue that we will see that what unites us is far greater than what divides us.
* Riyaz Timol, 28, is a freelance writer, researcher and consultant to the 1st Ethical Charitable Trust, a charity that encourages social and religious cohesion. In his professional life he is a full-time civil servant. He is also a founding member of thinkBRITE Services, an organisation providing outreach and awareness sessions on Islam. He is currently working on his first book about British Muslim identity. To celebrate inter-faith week, Madina Mosque, in William Henry Street, Fishwick Parade, will be open to the public today from 4.30pm-5.30pm.
* There are around 1.26 billion Muslims in the world today. More than 1.6 million live in Britain.
* The word ‘Islam’, in Arabic, means ‘peace’ and also ‘submission’ (to the will of God).
* There are different groups of Muslims such as Sunni’s, Shi’ites and Sufis.
* Muslims believe in one God, and they believe in the same God that Christians and Jews do.
* Muslims pray five times a day facing Mecca.
* During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims abstain from eating during daylight hours.