Saturday, 8 September 2012

Speak English!

One issue that has plagued the Muslim community in the UK for the last 30years is that, in many Mosques, the Imam will give his sermon in their first language (often Urdu, for example) even though they know that this is a second language for an increasingly large section of the congregation and that these people may well struggle to understand what he is saying.

Most worryingly, converts to Islam or Muslims from other parts of the world such as Africa are left completely unable to understand what is being said - and may, as a result, look outside the mainstream Muslim community for guidance. This can be a bad thing.

In Nottingham, some mosques are exlusively Urdu language, some exclusively English language and some a mixture of both.

BFTF happened to be a mosque on a particular day when it was important that all of the congregation understood an announcement that was being made, ans was dismayed to hear it being said in Urdu. [NB: It is worth pointing out that this is a pretty good mosque, where the majority of the sermons and announcements are in English]

BFTF decided to send an email about this to an Imam there who has a particular responsibility for converts (and so should be keen for an much as possible to be said in English) :
. . . Given that this was one of the most important announcements of the year, and that there were converts who cannot speak Urdu in the congregation, I find this unacceptable. In addition, many of the Pakistani youngsters did not understand what was said. I know this because I overheard one of them explaining what had been said to his friends.

It would have taken 10 seconds to repeat the announcement in English and the failure to do makes a mockery of Karimia's attempts to support the convert community. I have two questions:

1) Why was this important announcement only made in Urdu.

2) What measures are you going to put in place to ensure that any future announcements are also made in English.
Somewhat to BFTF's surprise, the Imam emailed back within 24hrs saying :
...The answer to your first question why does it happen?
I am sure it was mistake from the Imam.

The answer to your second question how to avoid this?
a) I will talk to our Imam about this matter.
b) I will make aware all the Imams in our fortnightly Dawah meeting.
c) suggest them to put written announcement on the door of the masjid. I hope I have given you sufficient answer.
But BFTF still found himself sending this the next Thursday:
I understand that there was an announcement. . .that some child was taking peoples shoes and leaving them on the stairs -and that if it was found out who this child was, they might get banned from the mosque. Unfortunately, the announcement was made in Urdu so many of the children did not understand it, or only understood it in part.
And this on a Friday a week later :
There was an announcement after [late evening prayers] on Friday regarding a complaint that had been recieved regarding the noise people were making when leaving the mosque and that people should take care to respect their neighbours. Unfortunately, the announcement was in Urdu, so many youngsters simply did not understand what was said - certainly they were just as noisy as usual when leaving the masjid. Nor would any converts, or Arab Muslims have understood what was said. It would have taken just a few seconds to repeat this announcement in English.
And this on Saturday :
There was an announcement after [late evening prayers] today regarding [two forthcoming events] Unfortunately, both announcements were in Urdu so will have been missed by a significant section of the youngsters, as well as converts and arabs. It would have taken just a few seconds to repeat the announcements in English
BFTF happened to be in an informal meeting/meal with a group including another Imam at the mosque and pointed out that these Urdu announcements were not being understood. He replied that this point "was taken on board". The next day heard an announcement, in Urdu, saying that people were making too much noise when leaving the mosque in the evening.....


  1. Why don't you act like a proper grown up and politely request a meeting to discuss the matter - rather than appearing to hide behind petty, meddling emails.

  2. Peter, thank you for your comments. In response I would say that :
    a) I have discussed this with them (indeed the post gives one example of this.
    b) They know exactly who I am.
    c) Far from being someone who whinges from sidelines I volunteer my time at this and other mosques.
    d) The aim of the post is to show that - contary to media portrayal - the Muslim community has people (both volunteers and Imams) who are trying to move in the right direction but are thwarted by institutional inertia just like in other communities.
    e) I assure you that for young Muslims the fact that sermons are in Urdu is not at all a petty issue.
    f) I have taken care not to identify the mosque concerned, because I don't want to give them any public grief.
    g) If you prefer to only read upbeat posts, I would recomment you search for "Himmah" on this blog. They are doing some great stuff.