A member of Banbury Mosque is inviting groups to take tours of the religious centre to learn the truth about Islam and help bring the community together.
Ansar Hussain was born, raised and educated in Banbury and has called it home for his entire life. His story, however, is a complex one which has ultimately resulted in a devotion to Islam and a desire to spread its humanistic principles within his home town.
From the outside looking in Ansar grew up as a Muslim but, as he explains, this was nothing more than a label given to him. He said his understanding of Islam and its values was no more cemented than that of children who attend Church of England schools yet have little grasp or adherence to the Christian faith.
As a pupil at Banbury School, Ansar experienced bullying and name calling and as a result identified himself with others of similar ethnic background.
Now, through his understanding of Islam, Ansar recognises that this need to form peer groups during school years can lead to anger and resentment. He said it is these feelings that can be later nurtured and ultimately given life via extremism – not just through a religious avenue but by any means that legitimises anger and hatred.
The recent ‘Yes’ vote in the Brexit referendum gave credence to this notion as police statistics indicated a rise in hate crimes and racial abuse after the result was announced.
Ansar believed that voting yes to leave Europe no more makes you suddenly turn racist than Islam suddenly produces terrorists, but the underlying hate and fear that already existed within a person is somehow made acceptable under the right conditions.
Sitting with Ansar in his Banbury home you quickly learn that his motivations to educate children about his religion are far from a fire and brimstone damnation of all non-Muslims, but are an erudite, philosophical set of reasoned standards to live by explained in real life situations that belie his 39 years of age.
He began the tours of Banbury Mosque two years ago and says he welcomes all and every question from the inquisitive minds of visiting pupils, from why he wears the clothes he does to ‘the elephant in the room’ – extremism.
His quest to make Banbury a more accepting and integrated town go far beyond creating links to people outside his religious sphere. He offers advice and guidance to the town’s large Muslim community, some of who feel the same anger and isolation he felt until he became a student of Islam in his mid-20s.
He is candid and intelligent enough to realise that racism is a human problem that knows no colour or ethnic boundaries. He says African people can be racist, as can Asian communities, Nordic people or bankers from Swindon, and it is this cycle of fear and hate that is slowly breaking towns and cities into clearly defined areas.
In one example, he explained, whilst attending a leadership meeting at a school with representatives from Oxfordshire education, principals, police, and Asian leaders, the school felt the Asian pupils had segregated themselves from the general population and they didn’t really know what to do.
Ansar, speaking from experience, asked: “Why do you think they have segregated themselves?” He told them that the pupils have been isolated, not because they felt superior to the other children but because they felt picked on, weakened and were just gaining the strength to cope through a common understanding.
Ansar also acts as a mentor to Muslim youngsters who become members of the mosque. Under his guidance every aspect of a young person’s life is monitored to ensure that respect for all living things and themselves is both nurtured and encouraged and disrespect, racism and fear are cast aside.
This, he says, goes far beyond the scope of what a school can provide or teach.
Attendance and grades are the cornerstone of a school’s measurement of the success of a child’s education but it will show no interest in the music they listen to, the computer games they play or vices that teens will often embrace. None of this goes on for the young people under Ansar’s guidance, and violent music and video games are quickly deterred.
In recent times Ansar has started to reach out to Banbury area school teachers, again with the desired goal of educating the educators in the true meaning of Islam and the Muslim community.
He has seen with his own eyes, and by their own acknowledgement, that some religious studies teachers know little about the religion other than what they read in books. He hopes that correcting these untruths and misinformation can lead to more knowledgeable generations.
Ansar will continue to reach out to his fellow Banburians while he and his family enjoy pizza nights, big time boxing matches and football games, just like the rest of us.
To contact Ansar about the tours, one-to-one meetings or to invite him to your work or school email him at firstname.lastname@example.org