I hesitated before posting this, infact I wrote it off-line earlier so that I could think about it before I posted it. Well, I’ve thought about it.
On the face of it, it should have been a simple post; a conclusion of earlier posts regarding the friend who found a marriage partner via the web; a post that would say that they got married last weekend in a simple but dignified ceremony; that the food was delicious and that at this very moment they’re probably gazing at the sublime Alhambra whilst they’re on their honeymoon. Actually, I can still say that because it’s all true.
Yet, I still hesitate and the reason is because of the Tottenham Ayatollah! In case you don’t know, or just need a little reminder, I’m referring to Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammad, the Syrian born Imam and head of the Al-Muhajiroun movement. A figure much vilified by the press and perhaps more damningly by Trevor Phillips, the recently appointed, (a New Labour gift it should be added), head of the CRE. Why did I hesitate? – because I’m paranoid that’s why and if there are any CIA/MI5/Mossad/Smersch web spiders crawling over this site then would you kindly piss off! I love everyone and wouldn’t hurt a fly – unless the fly was about to eat my hydroponically grown Afghan heroin which I sell in order to buy blackmarket Iranian plutonium.
Anyway, imagine my surprise, sitting in the segregated hall, (not unusual but rare at muslim weddings these days), waiting for the Imam to turn up and begin the ceremonies when I see a vaguely familiar, well-fed looking figure enter and assume the central position beside the groom at the head table.
“That’s Bakri isn’t it?”, somebody next to me asked,
“Yes! it’s him”, I reply as the cobwebs got blown out of the way by the storming realisation.
True, my friend had said that his future bride was quite religious, after all it was one of the qualities that attracted him to her but I hadn’t expected this! Apparantly, wedding ceremonies are part of the controversial Imam’s day job and this explained the presence of this outspoken celebrity cleric.
He conducted the ceremonies in English – which was a refreshing change – and he went on to describe the process and purpose of the various elements of the ceremony. Interspersed with these informative bits were anectdotes and observations that were sometimes quite funny – I hadn’t expected that! This was a man who knew how to work an audience.
One of these anectdotes he offered up while he was telling us about the procedure for asking brides whether they want to get married. He told us that after he’s asked the groom if he wants to marry the bride, the Imam and two witnesses would make their way to where the bride was and ask her whether she wants to marry the groom. At this point Imam Bakhri told us about a wedding in Stoke he had recently officiated at where, when he asked this question, the bride replied that she did not want to marry the groom and that she was being coerced by her family. When he heard this the Imam had told the gathered wedding guests that the marriage could not take place but that they should stay and enjoy the food anyway as it would have been a sin to waste it! The point of this anectdote was that he always insisted that a bride’s father was not present when this question was asked and that marriage in Islam should always be between two freely consenting adults.
As anectdotes go I thought that it was mildy witty statement of an often overlooked requirement of muslim marriages.
Even so, I could not help but remember that this man who was bringing the bride and the groom together with the hope that they would go on to create life, was the same man who, it’s alledged, called on muslims to kill Tony Blair, George Bush and Pervez Musharraf … Oh and crucify muslims who fight in the US or UK armed forces!
Why would this man say these things? perhaps he did it to court controversy and get headlines in the papers, afterall, ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’ and he certainly likes publicity. Or, maybe he was the focus of media hysteria and was constantly being mis-quoted and mis-represented. Well, whatever the case, I had had an opportunity to judge for myself.
Bizarrely, I have to conclude that when it comes to Islam in the lives of muslims, the Imam is relatively progressive – it’s just when it comes to Islam in the wider context that he sounds like a total nutter!