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I’m a Muslim, but I’m just a normal boy - my heroes are Muhammad and Ronaldo!
MAHBUB Islam, 21 and Azharul Khalique 18, are both young Muslims living in Southend.
The lads both have a fantastic sense of humour, which must be a handy tool when it comes to dealing with the 21st century stereotyping that often surrounds anything to do with Islam.
Mahbub, known to friends as Mabs. and Azharul. known as Imran, watch popular TV shows like everyone else. They listen to music, socialise with their mates, look after their family, play football and do pretty much all the things others their age do.
The exception of course is that they don’t go out and get wasted on a Friday night – as alcohol is prohibited in Islam.
Mabs is studying for a pharmaceutical studies degree at Brighton University and has high hopes of becoming a scientist. Imran is studying for a diploma in business and finance at a local college then plans to go on to university and pursue a career in banking.
The friends even have their own soccer team, known as Real Madras, which is made up of members of the local Islamic community.
Mabs, who cites his two ultimate heroes as the Prophet Muhammad and footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, said: “I suppose we just want to get across the message we are normal people.
“We were born in this community and we care about it and the people in it, and that means Muslims and non Muslims.
Imran and Mabs don’t wear distinctive Islamic clothing, however Mabs sometimes wears a Muslim prayer cap known as a Kufi.
He says: “I wear it when I want. To be honest I’ve got it on today because my hair’s a complete mess underneath.”
So what do the lads think is the biggest misconception about being a Muslim in the 21st century?
Mabs says: “Probably that we are secretive.
“People think we meet behind closed doors to get up to all sorts of strange things. We don’t!
“It’s almost funny because it’s so wrong but it does get upsetting to think people are assuming all sorts of things about you that just aren’t true.
“Anyone who wants to is welcome to come along to our mosque and find out more. Our door is always open.
“If people want to know something about our religion like why we wear certain things or pray like we do they need to just ask us in a polite way and we’ll tell them.”
Are there any other myths that need putting right?
Mabs says: “Yes, loads – another one is that we are all the same. So when these fanatics commit these atrocities they think it represents what we all are thinking.
“It’s so wrong. We are just as disgusted as the rest of the world, we are just as horrified.
“These people who commit these crimes are in our view not Muslims. They have taken something and twisted it to suit their own gain.
“Islam is a very peaceful religion. There is a saying in the Koran that he who kills one person basically kills the entire world. That’s what we believe and how we live our lives.”
Mabs added how prayers are always said for the victims of terrorist atrocities within his mosque.
“People would know that if they asked us or came along and saw for themselves,” he said.
“I think people get put off coming to a mosque for a visit because they assume they aren’t allowed. They assume we are a very strict religion and all we do is pray. Again, that’s not true.
“Yes we pray five times a day for five minutes, so that’s what 25 minutes out of your day? That’s hardly spending all day praying.
“Islam is more flexible than people think.
“For example, say I am on the train on my way to university, I can’t start praying in the middle of the carriage so I will do it as soon as I can later.
“As a Muslim the onus is on you to pray because you want to, not because you are made to. Islam is a way of living your life, not just a religion you follow blindly.”
As for train journeys, in the aftermath of 7/7 do Mabs and Imran ever sense any hostility while they are travelling?
Imran said: “I’ve had that a few times when I’ve been on the Tube and you can see people looking at you in a suspicious way.
“Very occasionally I’ve had people swap their seat so they’re not next to me, but in London you don’t get too much stuff like that happening as it’s such a big city.
“It’s more about the looks you might get. Of course I never would but sometimes you kind of want to say ‘It’s ok I’m not going to blow you up! I’m just trying to get to work!”
So what’s the best thing about being a Muslim?
Mabs said: “Islam is about looking after your loved ones, no matter what we are there for each other.
“We don’t move out at 18 and then never see our parents again. Family life is very important.”
Imran adds: “For me it’s that everyone is equal – whether you are a millionaire or are poor we are all the same in Islam.”
As usual, Mabs and Imran, who are members of the mosque in Chelmsford Avenue, Westcliff, embrace at the end of prayers.
Mabs says: “It’s something we do at the end of our prayers to show our love and support for each other,” said Mabs.
So does this affectionate custom have a special name?
“No,” laughed Imran, “We just call it a hug like everyone else!”
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