Life as a Muslim in Prague
How is life in Prague for a Muslim? I have been asked this question a lot since I moved here. “Life is good”- that’s the simplest and most generic answer I can give. It’s a rather complex “good” though, because to be honest, in the current political climate of the world, being a Muslim is not easy.
It’s rather hard to keep your morals and religious integrity as a Muslim while living in a place like Prague, since Prague is a city of vice. It’s the playground for international partying; water is more expensive than alcohol, sex is not taboo and most drugs are decriminalized. It’s every person’s dream.
I’m a moderate Muslim - I don’t drink or do drugs or have pre-marital sex, I’ve never tried to impose my beliefs on anyone, I’m a fun-loving individual, and on top of that I’m a proud Mancunian (i.e. from Manchester). Trust me when I say that we were born to have fun. I love to integrate myself socially in all aspects, so a lot of my spare time here is spent in Prague’s numerous quaint bars, pubs and clubs, where I have witnessed amazing things and created life-long memories.
For me integration is the key. Just because you can’t drink or “fraternize” with a girl doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time. This is exactly the stage in which Muslims in Prague struggle: when I tell Czechs that I don’t drink, I automatically get looked down on and almost treated as a pariah. Unfortunately, this is the case for most Muslims. A barrier is created and most Muslims seclude themselves, which is rather sad. I’m lucky that the friends I have made here have never pressured me to try anything that’s prohibited by my religion, nor have they pushed me out of my comfort zone.
Unfortunately, such tolerance is not exhibited by others, so a lot of my Muslim friends have succumbed to peer pressure as well as to the pressure created by the Czech Republic’s drinking culture. It’s a lifestyle they are not accustomed to. Stories like theirs are rather depressing for me, since one should never lose one’s moral principles and integrity just so that they can be accepted.
Since the collapse of communism, the Czech Republic has become notorious for its shunning and distrust of religions, in particular Islam. Religion has been replaced by a strong element of atheism. From what I understand, the concept of religion is a “fool’s game” in the new Czech Republic. The media has painted a rather crude picture of Muslims, in light of the “war on terror”, as hedonistic, long bearded men in a cave, plotting the demise of the Western world. Unfortunately this is the picture most seen by Czechs.
It’s every Muslim’s responsibility to deplore the radical elements within our religion and to show our compassion as human beings. I’d like to use this platform to tell the people of Prague and Czechs that the acts committed in our name by so-called Muslims horrify us just as much as they horrify you. However, the distrust of Muslims here has led to us being demonized. A prime example of this is an event held in Prague every year calling for the removal of Muslims from the Czech Republic. Unfortunately scores of individuals turn up to these events to show support, regretfully these rallies are hijacked by fascist and neo-Nazi groups preaching racial intolerance and hatred, with many innocent people being attacked or verbally abused. This is unnerving, to say the least, but it just shows that every society has its “bad eggs”.
I have always felt the Muslim community must make changes within itself to make it more accessible to other non-Muslim members of the community. This would eliminate any fear or apprehension people have. We need to be more inviting and less closed off. This is a simple fix, the mosque is no one’s property; any man or woman, regardless of faith or creed, is able to enter. Go and see for yourself. The misconceptions about Muslims are shrouding our true nature and these misconceptions must be squashed. A common issue between most religions, not just Islam, is the concept of passing judgment. We get so caught up with other people’s actions, we forget our own obligations. This is one of the quarrels I feel non-Muslims all over the world have with Muslims. There is no such thing as a perfect person, everyone is flawed, especially Muslims. Imperfection is beauty, it is humanity.
As a proud and practicing Muslim, I am delighted to say that necessary steps needed for our integration into Czech life are being fulfilled; a great example of this is that sermons read at every prayer in all 6 mosques in Prague are spoken and written in various languages such as Czech, English, Russian and Turkish. This is a remarkable feat which epitomizes integration. The rest is up to the Czech nation.