Monday, February 9, 2009

Peace be with you

I’m not sure I’m going to be able to do this religion thing chronologically readers. Now I've started looking into it, I don’t actually know which religions came first. I know, for example, that Christianity, Islam and Judaism are really ancient; they go all the way back to old testament times. But whether or not one came before another I’m not really sure. Even Wikipedia doesn’t seem clear.

So let’s have a look at Islam now, which is a religion that’s been getting a lot of press in recent years, not all of it good. The way it gets portrayed on the news and in television programmes, you might be forgiven for thinking that Islam is an angry religion, concerned mostly with blowing stuff up. But if you’re like me you’ll want to investigate it for yourself first, and not just dismiss it as a lot of bad tempered men from the middle east. Look beneath the surface of most things and you’ll find surprises. Did you know, for example, that there are a lot of Muslims in Africa?

Think of Islam and you might picture the men from America who all wear bow ties and glasses. Or you might think of Abu Hamza, who’s a radical cleric with one eye, a beard and hooks for hands (he sounds more like a pirate than a man of religion! Yaaarrrrrr! I’m Cap’n Hamza and you can walk the plank me hearties!!!! Lol.). Or you might think of Cat Stevens.

Once a great pop star, with a string of hits to his credit, including Matthew and Son, Moon Shadow and Morning has Broken, which is a bit like a hymn, Cat’s not dead, as many people believe. He’s just changed his name because he’s now a Muslim. These days he goes by the name Yusuf Islam. He liked the religion so much, he named himself after it! I guess back in the day he must have really liked his cat, too.

This seems to be one of the central pillars of the Muslim faith; if you want to take it up you have to change your name. Perhaps they do this because they want to deter time wasters, the kind of people who don’t take Islam seriously enough. It’s a bit like those Japanese gangsters – or are they Chinese, I can’t remember – who have to cut off their little finger in order to join the gang. You’ve really got to want to be in that gang, I guess.

Same deal with Islam. Think about it: if I had to change my name, I’d have to tell the bank, my mobile phone carrier, the doctor’s, the dentist, even the vet who looks after my cats, Matthew and Steven. And their surname is the same as mine on the forms, so they’d have to change their name too. Though thinking about it maybe Steven already has muslim tendencies.

Joining Islam is clearly not something to be taken lightly. Some people say: what’s in a name? But it’s part of who you are, you can’t just go around changing it willy nilly. Mind you, there are lots of people who don’t use their real names. I used to work with someone who’s called Joe. But he’s really called Rodney, he just didn’t like the sound of Rodney. Neither, apparently, did UK Hip Hop Gangsta Superstar Roots Manuva, whose real name is also Rodney!

A name change can work, though. I think we’d all agree that a certain legendary pugilist sounds better as Muhammad Ali than he did as Cassius Clay. On the other hand, Cat Stevens is a much better pop singer name than Yusuf Islam. Sorry, Yusuf, but it is. And Rodney Manuva? I don’t think that would be a very good name for rapster, would it!

So before I can decide whether I want to join the Muslims (which can also be spelled ‘Moslems’) I have to decide whether I want to change my name. I wonder what my Mum would say if I went home and told her I’d changed my name to Mr Islam??!!! She’d probably head straight for the sherry! Lol.

Even if I did want to change my name, say to Mohammad like the great Ali, I’d have to figure out how to spell it. There are 14 different variants apparently, and it’s the second most popular boy’s name in Britain, according to The Times Online, the website of the Times newspaper. And given that non-Muslims, or the Infidels, which is their technical term for us lot, generally don’t name their boys Mohammad – however it’s spelled – that means there are lots of Muslims in this country, and we all have to get along together whether we’re infidels or not!

I’m finding this research really helpful in terms of how I see my fellow man. But, back to the matter in hand, or in hook, if you’re reading this Cap’n Hamza!!

Apart from the naming issue, Islam seems to be similar in many ways to Christianity, itself not unlike Voodoo, as we’ve discussed. Muslims believe in God and God had a prophet called, you guessed it: Mohammad. That name has been popular for some time, clearly. They have a holy book called the Koran, which I think might be written backwards, which is unusual and exotic, to say the least!

Islam is closely associated with Arabs and the Middle East, although not all Arabs are Muslim and, as we’ve seen, not all Muslims are Arabs. When I was a nipper in the 1970s, grown ups used to call us kids cheeky little Arabs. But thankfully political correctness has put a stop to that!

One other thing that’s worth noting about Islam is that a lot of Muslims don’t seem overly fond of the Jews. Sadly there are huge tensions in the Middle East, as anyone who watches the news will know only too well. The problem appears to be Jerusalem, which is an important city for Muslims, Christians and Jews, so they’re all a bit territorial. Generally, though, the Christians just seem to get on with things, it’s the Muslims and the Jews that do the scrapping.

“Don’t even go there!” I hear you cry! But we journalists mustn’t shy away from contentious issues, our job is to report the truth, and shed light where once there was darkness.

Here’s another thing about Islam that I personally once found a bit annoying: There are very strict rules about prayers. You have to pray several times a day at specific hours and you have to do it on a mat that’s pointing towards Mecca, which is a holy city in Saudi Arabia, and not the bingo hall in Tooting! So you have to be facing East when you pray over here. Once I had a taxi booked to pick me up from the Airport and he didn’t turn up. When I called later to complain I was told that the driver had to stop on his way to the airport to get out and say his prayers. And that made him really late. Now I’m all for tolerance, I really am, but I booked a taxi. They should have sent an atheist and let the Muslim guy work in the controller’s office on a swivel chair so he could turn to face Mecca at a moment’s notice. Some people just don’t have a problem solving mentality, I guess.

So, I don’t think I’m going to go for Islam. No offence to any Muslims, but I want to keep my name as it is and, while I respect the faith, which is clearly ancient and culturally important, the strict prayer regime wouldn’t fit with my hectic journalistic lifestyle. It’s been great finding out about it, though, and next time I walk by the Mosque, I’ll give them all a wave.

Newsdesk out!

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