Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Islam: London Marks a Birthday

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Islam: London Marks a Birthday

Article excerpt

Herded by yellow-jacketed police, the procession, some 3,000-strong, surges through Walthamstow. It is the Sunday before Milad-un-Nabi, the anniversary of the Prophet's birth, and many mosques have banded together for London's largest Muslim event.

Under long green banners displaying Arabic and Urdu, rows of men in tall lambskin sweep up from the Jamia Mosque in Lea Bridge Road, interspersed with Routemasters full of elderly imams. Children run alongside, and shopkeepers rush out to offer soft drinks, sweetmeats and milk pudding.

Linked to others in Bradford, Oldham and Birmingham, the march is a means for Muslims to demonstrate love of the Prophet, but it is also a political gesture. It is the first Milad-un-Nabi since the Danish cartoon controversy, and the procession has been organised by the Muslim Action Committee, set up in February to campaign for "global civility" and to call for tighter controls on the European press.

In the front row of marchers is Imam Ghulam Rabbani, of the Lea Bridge Road mosque, who has won widespread loyalty among British Muslims since arriving from Denmark six years ago.

Even within the Muslim community, though, the occasion is the subject of debate, and British mosques and message boards host arguments about it that go to the heart of one of the deepest divides in global Islam. When a young girl calling herself Sunni Sister signs in to an MPAC (Muslim Public Affairs Committee) talk board to ask whether it is wrong to celebrate the Milad, she is bombarded with densely argued posts laced with allusion and Koranic quotation. …

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