Do I REALLY look like a paedophile, asks mosque decorator sacked for fighting criminal vetting checks.
Aisha Darwish’s sitting room is full of Korans. There are Korans on stands, crimson and gold in reverential velvet covers and silk sheathed volumes of the Hadith in impressively framed displays. The motifs on the curtains are elaborate sprawling quotations from the Sura, the cushions on the sofa have patterns of swirling Islamic abstract art - even her teapot is illustrated.
Sitting in one corner is Aisha, modest in full black Niqāb.
‘Do I look like a paedophile?’ she asks, angrily. ‘Of course I don’t. It’s ridiculous. I’ve got four children, 11 grandchildren and I’m as innocent as the day is long. So why should I have to prove that I am not?
‘Why do I have to show my bank statement and my passport to some official? Why should they see how much I spend on my Rupali account, for goodness sake?
‘If people don’t trust me after 15 years, then the world’s gone crazy.’
Bismilla! For the benefit of anyone who’s been stuck in a snowdrift for the past couple of weeks and missed what this row is all about, here’s a quick reminder.
Aisha Darwish’s, 64, is a Mosque decorator from Leeds who has taken a heroic stand against pointless Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks - a legal procedure designed to stop potential paedophiles from working with children or ‘vulnerable adults’, in which they are checked for any past convictions and cautions.
She’s been decorating mosques for 40 years and is chair of the Leeds Mosque Decorators’ Guild. For the past 11 months, as a point of principle, she’s refused official demands that she and her 50-strong guild (who she describes as ‘modest Muslim women over a certain age’) undergo criminal record checks.
Matters reached a head last week when an official contingent from the Mosque’s ruling body, chosen from the congregation, went to Aisha’s home on the outskirts of
Leeds. They told her to quit her work with the guild. She was furious, particularly since it was just months before the highlight of their decade, the Leeds Islamic Art Festival.
‘They say I offered my resignation but that’s rubbish. I was fired. It felt like I was back at my madrassa, being carpeted by the headmaster.’
The whole row started in January when Aisha and her mosque decorating ladies were told they had to undergo the criminal records checks. The team of volunteers who wear smart green sashes and welcome visitors to the mosque at the south door had already agreed.
As had the team of guides who work in the prayer hall, the Monuments Guild members who run around with feather dusters as well as the women behind the exhibition desk.
But the mosque-decorators were having none of it.
‘I’d never heard such a load of old rubbish,’ explains Aisha, adding with a smile (I guess): ‘Most of the exhibition desk ladies need Zimmers to move about, for goodness sake.
Aisha and her mosque decorating ladies were told to undergo criminal vetting in January. Twelve months later, she has now been sacked
Of course, some are able-bodied, but most are divinely ancient. In fact, nearly all the mosque volunteers are of a certain age and have worked here for decades. It’s crazy to suddenly turn on them. It’s a bit like how the Gestapo worked.
‘But the trouble with the Muslims is that they’re like sheep: they’re told what to do and they just do it.’
But not Aisha. By the Prophet (peace be unto him!), no!
Unlike the other volunteers who’d meekly acquiesced, she asked why the checks were necessary. After all, mosque-decorators don’t work with children or ‘vulnerable adults’.
The official explanation was like something from a comic spoof: the mosque-decorators share a toilet with the young Koranic scholars and, without checks, it was possible that paedophiles could infiltrate the decorators’ guild.
Aisha rolls her eyes in despair. ‘Yes, we do share a loo with the scholars. But we’re not even there at the same time. The only day in the entire year we overlap is Ramadan when they share a special service.
‘Sometimes, pupils from the madrassa attend morning prayers. But we don’t touch them! We’re far too busy to be chatting! If they’re going to screen us, they should screen the congregation, too.’
Inspired by The New Criterion.