Saturday, November 25

Can't Cook. Won't Cook. Don't Know How to Cook Click for more info

This was my first Radical Middle Way lecture. Borne out of that Islamic Task Force thing the Government held shortly after the London bombings, The Radical Middle Way has been hailed as a success (albeit only by those involved) so I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. What better than to attend a talk about marriage? Not that I cherry picked this, of course; I've just been too busy to attend the others. Ahem.

Unfortunately, the talk failed on a few counts. Logistically, the organisers had totally underestimated the numbers that would attend, meaning we had to endure a bit of a squeeze before moving to another, bigger, lecture room that was still too small. I could have told them that a talk about marriage and relationships would have been popular, but then this was a minor failing and they did good facing it.

But I go to talks for the content and not the seating capacity. Billed as an open, honest and informal discussion, we were supposed to discuss the real life problems facing Muslims and nuptials. We were going to deal with free mixing, dating and arranged marriages. We were supposed to talk about the practical problems before, during and after marriage. You can probably tell by my language that we didn't really do any of that.

The beginning was like an episode of Goodness Gracious Me. We had all the cliched jokes made at the start, about how people are using MSN to chirps (and I use that word only because it reflects the attitude of the talk), how girls were seen as being too demanding and how guys still wanted a wife that will cook and clean. Some people found this funny; I reckon it was funnier five years ago when it was first said. I mean hey: move on people. Still this was only the introduction; perhaps things would get more interesting once the floor was opened up?

Our host, Dr Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, did say that he had originally envisaged this being a debated between 40 people or so; a bit more intimate than the 300 or so that had actually turned up, so perhaps that was the problem. Again (and I'm getting as tired of saying this as you are probably of reading it) the audience didn't help with some asking some especially inane questions ("Isn't it a good thing to go back home for our wives?", "Isn't it really about communication?" and even "How does usury effect the finding of a suitable partner?" were some of the gems tonight). I managed to ask my question, something about whether the real problem we have is the forcing of marriage down the throats of people who might not actually want it, but Dr Abd-Allah seemed to have forgotten to answer it.

But no, despite the audience, the real problem was Dr Abd-Allah himself. Now it pains me to say this because, under any other circumstance, Dr Abd-Allah would have been a brilliantly fine speaker. In fact, he did say some genuinely insightful and fresh things today; they just had very little to do with the subject matter at hand. Add to that the way he spent up to twenty minutes answering a single question (which I'll remind you most of which had been pretty inane) and you end up with a very frustrating evening. Again, perhaps the size of the audience was a problem; this might have worked out much better with a smaller group with more one to one talk time.

I'll say again that I think Dr Abd-Allah is really good, especially at teaching his audience common sense of an irreligious nature ("One of the most important things for a successful marriage is to always, always defend your wife against your parents"). My biggest regret of this evening is not having had the chance to see him deal with another topic, since it was clear I might have had quite a lot to learn from him.

However with respect to marriage and the problems some Muslims are currently facing with them, today was unfortunately a bit of an wet fish. Shame, that.