Peace be with you
All over the world, at the core of every Muslim community, is the mosque.
An elegant hip roofed building in Hastings, originally built for the Church of Christian Science, serves that purpose for the 500 or so Muslims living in Hawke’s Bay.
Islam is the fastest growing religion with nearly two billion followers in over 60 countries, comprising 25% of the world’s population. And wherever they may be, Muslims are called to prayers five times a day with the same chant.
God is Great
Ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah
I bear witness that there is no god except the One God.
Ashadu anna Muhammadan Rasool Allah
I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
Testimony of Faith, Shahadah, is the first of the Five Pillars of Islam.
Traditionally, the call to prayers is chanted atop a minaret, from which a beckoning voice reaches the most ears, and these high towers, often of exquisite architecture, are a powerful symbol of Muslim devotion in following salaat, prayers, which is second of the Five Pillars of Islam.
In Hastings there’s no minaret. The call is made inside the building, and as I discovered when my interview with Baghdad-born Abdul Al-Alansari came to an end, there’s now an app that alerts devotees via their mobile phones.
“In Iraq,” Abdul said, “a town like Havelock would have three or four mosques and Hastings size would have six or seven.” Salaat is built into the fabric of Islamic culture. “You might be having a coffee at a cafe, be at home or work.” But when the call to prayers comes, “You see streams of people walking to the mosques.”
Before prayers, ablutions are performed. It was on my third visit that a recent convert from the Cook Islands took me through the ritual. We’d met after prayers on my first visit. When I asked him for an interview he declined, but he said he would point out other people I should speak to.
One was a young Maori man elegantly dressed in white and black. I introduced myself, and gave him a copy
of the latest BayBuzz.
Earlier I had sat with the five members of the mosque committee of five different nationalities, including current secretary, Uzbekistan-born Djavlonbek Kadirov. They said they would consider my request for help in doing a story. I was to return a week later.
The Maori Muslim said he didn’t trust reporters because the Hawke’s Bay Today (3 November 2014) article headlined ‘Hawke’s Bay Muslim backs Isis’ misrepresented the opinions of Te Amorangi Kireka-Whanga.
“Supporting an Islamic state is not the same as supporting what ISIS are doing,” he said. And he told me Te Amorangi’s family had been hounded by the media, upsetting the children to tears, and distressing everyone. Detectives had visited homes.
When I returned for my second visit the elders had made their decision. They would assist me as long as my story wasn’t negative, and they asked I avoid politics, but that request was implausible given the current situation.
The war in Syria and Iraq against ISIS has reached New Zealand, and the Government says 30 to 40 Muslim Kiwis are on a watch list of radical sympathisers, requiring emergency legislation – Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill 2014 – to increase the power of the SIS to surveil without warrant.
45,000 Muslims live in New Zealand, and that 0.001% of their number can taint the lives of the vast majority of peaceful, law-abiding citizens is more a reflection of the hysteria whipped up by the media, than the reality of any threat.
Malaysian-born Thahirah Jalal was living in London during the 9/11 attacks and she told me, “I got extreme reaction from people. Total strangers were abusive to me. I couldn’t understand how people could be nasty to me when they don’t know me.” On the other hand, she said, other people expressed their understanding that the behaviour of 16 radicalized extremists was not a reflection on Islam.
Nineteen-year-old Hastings Boys’ High student, Shimul Islam, who was born in Bangladesh said, “A lot of boys ask me about being Muslim and I answer as well as I can, and hopefully break the barrier that the media has created between the truth of Islam, and what is portrayed. I just want everybody to know the truth of Islam and hopefully one day the barriers will be broken.”
Egyptian-born Hany reinforced Shimul’s sentiment when he said, “Islam never hurt anyone. People misunderstand Islam. Like the word ‘jihad’. ‘Jihad’ means to fight or struggle with yourself. Inside not outside. You killing what is bad inside you. If you’re stealing, and stop, that is jihad. If you drinking or taking drugs, and stop, that is jihad.”
At the Mosque, my Cook Island guide, who goes by the name of Junior, takes me through the ablutions ritual. We sit on low stools in front of a long stainless steel trough with taps fixed to the wall, and he shows me how to first wash the right hand, then the left. Next the forearms up to the elbow, then the head, and neck, and feet. Lastly he cups water in his hand, taking some into his mouth and a little up his nose. Each cleansing is performed three times with each hand.
Inside, fifty-plus men form lines. They are facing in a precisely calculated westerly direction which, if you walked, would be the shortest direction to Mecca, the holiest site of Islam.
Each man briefly cups his hands behind his ears. Djavlonbek said this gesture meant, “I’m throwing everything away – putting everything behind me – moving everything back in singular devotion to Allah during prayer.”
Somalia-born Farah Abraham leads the prayers, and three times the participants kneel and touch their foreheads to the ground.
Outside, Junior introduces me to a Pakistani man, immaculately dressed, with a stern expression on his handsome face. “Why should I talk to you?” he said after I introduced myself. I told him I was interested in Islam and people’s stories, not politics, which wasn’t entirely true. He spotted my duplicity, and said, “I’m not convinced. How can I trust the media?”
So I told him how fascinated I was to learn that the black box structure, Ka’aba, which is a core symbol for pilgrims to Mecca, is covering a hut built by Abraham, and his son Ishmael.
Hajj, pilgrimage to Mecca, is the fifth Pillar of Islam.
“There have been 124,000 prophets,” he said dismissively. But he went on to explain that in Islam, the Quran is the final word of God passed down through Muhammed, who is the last prophet in a lineage that includes all the Old Testament prophets. He named some. Adam, Abraham, Noah, Moses. And after saying each name he said, “Peace be with him.”
“And Jesus?” I asked.
He frowned. “Yes, Jesus, peace be with him, is a prophet (of Islam).”
That Jews, Christians, and Muslims share many of the same prophets and holy sites show they have much in common. But this is not what is played out politically in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and the escalating war of West meets East, on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq.
As Abdul pointed out, most wars are a fight over resources and trade, and he said, “When it comes to history it just needs a single person to create chaos. It happened in Germany with Hitler, and in Iraq it happened with Saddam, and in Iran with the Ayatollah Khomeini. It was nothing to them to throw all those millions into the fire of war. Same with the Americans. It needed someone as crazy as George Bush to invade Afganistan and Iraq.”
Certainly, one of the unforeseen chaos’s of the US/UK invasion of Iraq in 2004 was the emergence of Al-Qaeda, which had no presence in Iraq under Saddam. He was loathed by Osama Bin Laden because his Baath party was Communist, and Saddam more atheist than Muslim.
ISIS was spawned from Al-Qaeda, and now New Zealand has joined the fight to halt their plans to establish an Islamic state, a caliphate, from Syria to the Mediterranean Sea. And our Government is taking measures to monitor and control Kiwi Muslims from joining ISIS, or perpetrating violence at home.
I witnessed one aspect of police engagement when I was invited to a meeting having no idea they would be there. Five uniformed and two civilian-suited police sat around a table in a pleasant room with comfortable couches and lots of embroidered cushions. And the only thing of interest I heard, before I was told my presence wasn’t wanted, was a conversation about the French satellite contracted to track passports through their imbedded chip.
The hostess of the house, Jameela, was profusely apologetic that I might feel offended. Even more so, she was indignant a policeman told her husband “to hurry up” with showering and changing after his day’s factory work. “He’s the man of the house and they’re our guests,” she said.
Her husband, Hany, soon came out of the bathroom. He and Jameela exchanged a knowing look, and Hany said, “I know, I have to bite my lips.” But instead of joining the meeting Hany sat down beside me, and said, “We can talk now.”
I first asked about the police, “They come to see how they can help with our local converts,” Hany replied.
And for half an hour he told me his story of meeting Jameela in Cairo and marrying, and of coming to New Zealand as a chartered accountant, but finding his qualifications unrecognized, he worked in orchards and processing plants. “A Muslim man will do any sort of work to support their family, except work with alcohol or pork, and of course not sell drugs … we don’t believe in WINZ … men should work.” And he told what being a Muslim meant to him.
More people were arriving at the house as we spoke, and I recognised Junior and the young Maori man I’d met at the Mosque among the visitors.
When Hany decided it was time he joined the meeting, I stayed and talked with Jameela, and her daughter and niece, all dressed in flowing gowns with covered heads, the familiar dress of Muslim women.
Two babies played together on the floor, older children watched TV with the sound turned down, and while the women cooked they told me about the charity they established just over a year ago.
“It’s called Bayt Sadaqa or House of the Charity.” Zakaat, support of the needy, is the third of the Five Pillars of Islam.
“We get support from FIANZ (Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand) and people donate food and clothes. Look,” Jameela said pointing to racks of neatly hung clothes filling half the room. “And the garage is all taken up. We use a lot of our own resources.”
The meeting was running an hour over schedule and the women of the household lamented their food getting cold. A bain-marie especially set up for the occasion didn’t work. But, when at last we all gathered to eat, the feast of six different dishes was superb, especially the Egyptian-style moussaka.
One of the police, a high-ranking officer from Wellington, told me the meeting went well, and its purpose was to communicate face-to-face with the Muslim community about their concerns.
Later, a cop from Napier, whose sweet tooth saw him take second helpings of an enormous strawberry meringue, and sticky coconut pudding, looked around at police and Muslims sharing food and talking, and said, “This would never have happened when I first joined.” And he echoed what the officer from Wellington had said, that Police are working hard at being proactive by reaching out to the different communities for dialogue and cooperation.
Before I leave I arrange with Jameela and Hany to return on the weekend. I want to ask them about Ramadan, the fourth Pillar of Islam, which is the month of devotion when Muslims don’t eat or drink from sunrise to sunset.
In the meantime another headline in Hawke’s Bay Today (28 November 2014) has the Muslim community in the spotlight again, and Jameela texts to say she can’t meet up; she needs to give time to her family and her health is suffering.
Te Amorangi Kireka-Whanga has posted on his Facebook page, and the Today story begins; “A Hawke’s Bay Muslim man is calling on ‘souljahs of Allah’ to make their way to Hastings and join him in forming the Islamic State of Aotearoa.”
Maybe the reporter is too young to recognise that ‘souljah’ isn’t a new word for jihadist, but comes from the Bob Marley song ‘Buffalo souljah’, and while Te Amorangi has opinions unpalatable to many, until he breaks the law, he is entitled to express himself as he pleases. And no doubt he is being closely monitored by police.
Freedom of speech is a fundamental right of our democracy, and in these unsettled times for our Muslim community, it’s important to remember that the opinions of a few do not represent the vast majority of peaceful followers of Islam in Hawke’s Bay.
Peace be with you
Student, 19, born in Bangladesh
“I guess people just need to be more aware about Islam. It’s about etiquette. Even if your neighbors are not Muslim we are taught to treat them with the utmost respect. If you see they don’t have something and you can help them then you give to them. As neighbours they have rights upon you. Doesn’t matter they aren’t Muslim, you still have to talk to them and care about them. It’s all about brotherhood in our religion
It doesn’t matter who you are or what is your position in society, whether you be poor or rich, I only see someone as better than me when they are more righteous than me; when they are more God-conscious than me. When I know someone has better etiquette than me, then I can say, they are better than me, otherwise we are all equal.
It’s not just a Muslim brotherhood. Everyone is brother to everyone in humanity. We have to look at the big picture and it’s not about he’s Muslim and he’s not Muslim. We should all be brothers in humanity and strive for the common goal of peace in all the world.
A lot of people think woman is subservient (in Islam) but that is not true. The Prophet always consulted women in making decisions, and so it is the same today.
The Prophet was asked by a companion, who should I respect most among people and the Prophet said your mother. Then he asked who after that, and the Prophet said, your mother. The man asked, who after that, and the Prophet said for the third time, your mother.”
Senior Lecturer in Marketing at EIT, 39, born in Uzbekistan
“I grew up under the Russian Communist education system, but Perestroika started in ‘85, and those times were really good. Before that we weren’t allowed to practise our religion. My grandfather would pray and read the Quran but he wasn’t allowed to teach us. If he taught us anything it had to be in secret otherwise he would get into trouble. We weren’t allowed to study the Quran. We didn’t know how to pray.
But with Perestrioka there was freedom to learn and follow our religion. Things became very liberal, until Gorbachev left office, then many things went back to the old totalitarian system.
I came to New Zealand by chance. After I finished my Masters [Salford University, England] I went back and taught marketing in Bukhara. I was always interested to do a doctorate and talking to my professor in the UK, Richard Varey, he said he was coming to New Zealand to teach. He got a professorship at Waikato, and he said you should come. When I got the application form everything was in English and Maori and I assumed English was the second language and most people would speak Maori.
Before I finished my PhD I got a job offer from EIT to teach marketing and now I’m involved in the Masters of Applied Management programme.
My reason for coming was for education and New Zealand is a peaceful and safe country. Now my kids are more Kiwi than Uzbekistan.
We are the only family from Uzbekistan [in HB] but we don’t feel isolated because we are part of the Muslim community. The Muslim community has become our
Lead radiologist in HBDHB cancer services, 61, born in Iraq
“I was 27 when I left Iraq in 1979. It was a golden age in my country. I’ve never lived anywhere since that is better than Iraq in the 70s regarding infrastructure and the main provisions, like education and health. Both were free.
My basic medical training was in Baghdad and post-graduate study in Dublin, and after working in several cities in Ireland I moved to the UK, and different countries in the Middle East – Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and then came to New Zealand in 1990.
Yes, I intended to go back to Iraq but unfortunately by the time I finished studying it was the Iranian-Iraq war. If I’d gone back then I would have had to go to the front line to fight. Then after that war there was the Gulf crISIS, and then the invasion.
Yes, there’s great sadness in me about what happened to my country. We were a rich country, not only oil, but agriculture, and our civilization is ancient. The Sumerian era was the beginning of writing (5000 BC). But because we are such a rich country, empires from the East and West have always fought for control of Iraq – the Romans from the West, Persians and Mongolians from the East, all fighting for this rich piece of land. And it’s still going on.
The Americans destroyed the infrastructure in Iraq. Americans are very good at destroying, but not so good at rebuilding. Two million Iraqi police and army were stripped of their jobs, and replaced with what? Iranians now control the streets of Baghdad.”
Asset Intelligence Specialist at Unison, 35, born in Malaysia
“I like to place myself globally. I’ve got a world-class degree [Masters, Oxford, England; PhD, Canterbury, NZ] and it’s important I work in a world-class company like Unison. They’re leading technology, very forward thinking.”
Women are encouraged to cover their heads because they don’t want to be deemed as an object of beauty. It’s about modesty. We only cover in public but not in the home. I have worn hijab since I was a girl so it’s ingrained in my personality.
When we marry we don’t have to change our name. There’s no change of ownership. Woman are unique individuals and in Islam it’s the man who gives a dowry to the woman.
When Islam was established – we call it Jahilia, the ‘age of ignorance’ – they treated women very badly. It brought shame to have a girl and they buried babies alive. The Prophet gave status to women, and when you read how in some Muslim countries women are oppressed, that’s cultural, to do with that country. It is not Islam.
When I won [Young Engineer of the Year], obviously judges didn’t see me as a Muslim woman, they see me for my own merits. And in Tokyo [representing New Zealand], I forget the fact of being Muslim. I was just being myself and they elected me as one of their three leaders [from 65 delegates from 32 countries]. Now I’m actively involved with the International Electrotechnical Commission who write standards for the world.
In Tokyo there was an African girl but she was representing Norway, and there was a guy from the UK with a different accent. He was Polish. And I think that’s how the world is becoming now, becoming a global community.