In which I speak with Dr. Ezra (the English equivalent of his given name.)
Dr. Uzair S___ is a medical doctor, a general practitioner from South Africa. He appeared to be in his 30s, dark-skinned with short hair and glasses. He was, by contemporary Canadian standards, well dressed and pleasant-looking. He is married with two children, he told me, a girl and a boy, 3 and 1 years old respectively. The 3-year-old is already learning about the Qu'ran; Uzair said that she attends the mosque's weekly madresa, the Islamic equivalent of Sunday School.
Uzair also spoke briefly of the social life surrounding the mosque, saying that there are monthly potlucks that many families attend, where the emphasis is not as explicitly spiritual, and the community gathers to speak of life in general, visiting and strengthening social bonds. When asked about his wife's relationships, he also said that she spends time with other ladies from the mosque, and sometimes attends playgrounds with other mothers of young children.
Uzair told me some of the basics of their community and their beliefs. He explained that the juma service, or “gathering” was considered of highest importance, obligatory for the men to attend, and between twenty and fifty people attend each week, some coming from out of town. More women and families do attend the Friday services, though it is not required of them, but Uzair hypothesized that many do not come because they feel more comfortable praying in their own homes. He called the prayer process “pour[ing] your heart out to God”, and explained that there were special ablutions to be performed before prayers, which was explained to me in a more in-depth manner by one of my later interviewees.
Uzair spoke to me of the Qu'ran, and that the Muslims see it as God's word as revealed to the Prophet Mohammed in approximately 700AD. The Prophet is said to have memorized the words that were later transcribed. “Not a single word has changed” he told me, it is “pure”, the “exact word of God” and to change even the smallest thing, even a comma, is considered a very grave sin. The Qu'ran was written in Arabic, and children learn to read it from their school days, either in an Islamic school where all subjects are taught through an Islamic worldview, or by supplemental education from their parents or the mosque.
In addition to the Qu'ran, Muslims read the Hadith, which is composed of stories and principles based on the life of the prophet. It was written retrospectively by scholars who gathered data and interviewed the Prophet Mohammed's peers, and it is sometimes very personal, including the way that he spoke to his wives and children. Uzair, as a doctor, explained that the Prophet's life is a prescription for the Muslim believer, a template upon which to base their lives. Islam, he told me, is less of a belief system and more a way of life. Islam, he said, literally means “submission”, and is essentially focused around submission to the will of God as demonstrated by the Prophet. Islam started in Saudi Arabia, and spread, Uzair said, because of people noticing that the believers were honorable in their communities. Islam dictates how believers interact with the world around them; they are to be at harmony with the world and people of different beliefs. While Muslims do believe in heaven, hell and punishment for sins to be meted out on Judgement Day, they also believe that deeds dictate eternal outcome, and that they are to “let God judge”. Islam counts all men equal, he says, and the white loincloth worn during pilgrimages to Mecca reflects that – that all men approach God naked and poor.
As to their relations towards those who do not believe as they do, the Muslims call Jews and Christians “People of the Book”, believing that all three religions believe in the same God, but interpret that in different ways. Muslims believe in much of the Old Testament, and several of the prophets are respected across religions, and they believe that Jesus was a great prophet, but not the Son of God. Many differences in Islam also come up between those of the Sunni and those of the Shi'a belief systems. Uzair explained that while the Muslim community in [town], being Sunni, believes that Mohammed is the true prophet of God, and the final prophet, the Shi'a believe a disciple of Mohammed's holds that distinction, but the core values of Islam remain the same.
Uzair emphasized that Islam is at its heart is a very peaceful religion. When I asked him what he thought about the terrorist stereotype and some of the Western misunderstandings regarding Islam, he expressed disappointment and noted that “God has been used as a weapon”. Certainly this has not only been done by those calling themselves Muslims, but other religions as well: the Catholic Croats in Bosnia, the medieval Christians in the crusades, and Uzair brought up the example of the Dutch Reformed Church and apartheid in his home country of South Africa. He emphasized that such things are a very poor reflection of true Islamic belief, and nothing the Prophet or God would ever have condoned. I thanked him for his time and knowledge, he left, and then I began my next interview.
Want to start at the beginning? Part I is here.