Every week I attend a madrasa in an east London mosque. I'm not Muslim, I go as a teacher. All the other tutors teach the Qura'an, but I teach art and design and indirectly, English language and general knowledge. When I describe this activity, I am greeted with incredulity from my own community where madrasa is a dirty word, friendly mosque is an oxymoron, and teaching belongs to proper teachers.
I did not set out to teach at a mosque because it was a religious environment but because it was the most direct channel to a closed community...It was my friend Riaz who set me on this path. He was a refugee from Kabul. I might not have felt sympathetic except that Riaz is an impressive man and I was ashamed of Britain's war policy. In time, Riaz suggested I offer free classes in the Pakistani community. "I'm British, I'm not Pathan now and all those women and children need modernising", he said. "They need to come out of the darkness to appreciate the life here, they need to break the barrier where they're living. It's not Islam: it's all culture and people's emotions."
I've never regularly attended church, yet I have been to this mosque, my mosque, more times than I can remember. It's a place where I sometimes feel spiritually transported. As I busy myself on the carpet sorting colours and papers after what is always an exhausting class, I am soothed by the azan of evening prayers, the haunting and sometimes pained invocations to the Almighty. I feel my humility, and then realize this is my act of worship, my submission, my Islam. Forget the fact that only men take part in communal prayers, I am a token Christian discreetly trafficking through the men's space with my bags of materials, pretending I'm not really there. I am there, I am accepted, and this is all that matters.
Quoted from: Crossing the Divide by Allegra Mostyn-Owen, Reader's Digest June 2009.
"She is not a Muslim, but has been an important part of our attempts to deradicalise our young people. Allegra provides a positive message that something is being done for our community."
-- Minhaj-Ul-Quran Mosque President Istiyaq Ahmed.
More about Allegra Mostyn-Owen.
Her work with the madrasa students.