Ramadan commemorations at the Anwar-e-Madina mosque have a distinctly local flavour thanks to the contribution of two young clerics.
Imaam Labeeb Rabbani, 24, and madressah teacher Rizwan Zahoor, 36, represent an increasing trend toward home-grown talent filling preaching and teaching positions, breaking with the tradition of bringing in ‘ready made’ imaams from abroad.
Labeeb was born in Bradford, where his father was on the committee of the local mosque, which led to him becoming increasingly involved in activities there.
He said: “I began by attending evening classes, then weekends, and eventually decided this was what I wanted to do. Following that decision, I completed a six-year course at college, studying the spiritual and practical aspects of becoming an imaam.
“When you’ve grown up here, you have first-hand knowledge of the local community, how people think and what the issues affecting them are, so it’s much easier to respond to them.”
This deeper understanding of the Ravensthorpe community is something Rizwan also believes is a big advantage in his work teaching some of the 400 young people who attend the mosque and neighbouring madressah.
He said: “Although I was born in Pakistan, I’ve lived over here for 32 years so I have first-hand experience of being a British school kid.
“I can remember myself that after seven hours at school you’re not always ready for too much learning afterwards, so we try to keep the evening classes to about 40 minutes of teaching. We have to balance what we do here with what the kids are doing at school.”
During Ramadan, one of the main themes of their work with young people is to make them aware of the value of food and drink, not to take for granted something which is in short supply in many parts of the world.
More generally, they aim to teach the universal values of respect and tolerance and to alert their young charges to the wider issues they may face as they grow up.
Both Labeeb and Rizwan see their long-term future being in Ravensthorpe.
Labeeb said: “I intend to stay here, see the young people grow up and maybe teach two or three generations.”
Rizwan added: “We want to train other people to do what we do – only better!”