Introduction: Tying the Camel

A famous story

There is a famous story about a certain pious pilgrim. One evening, on his long journey towards Makkah, he arrived slightly late at the encampment where he was due to spend the night. The other pilgrims were already praying. He got down swiftly from his camel and immediately joined the prayer. His camel meanwhile wandered around the encampment, disturbing everyone else and generally making a nuisance of itself.

The man’s fellow pilgrims objected. He retorted that his personal relationship with his Creator was a greater priority than mundane matters such as tethering camels. ‘No,’ came the reply from the other pilgrims, ‘First, tie your camel!’

There is a similar story from the Prophet’s own time. One of his followers maintained it was unnecessary to tether his camel, for he trusted in God. ‘Indeed,’ said the Prophet ‘Trust in God – but tie your camel first’.

These and other such stories have fostered a range of reflections over the centuries, depending on the immediate context in which they have been recalled. Here and now, at the start of this resource pack for young people of Muslim background in modern Britain, they recall a rough-and-ready distinction between consciousness of and trust in God on the one hand and the practicalities of personal responsibility and human relationships on the other.

Ideally, of course, these two sets of priorities should not compete with each other, let alone conflict. On the contrary, they should be seamlessly intertwined, each indistinguishable from the other. Islam, it is often said, is a total way of life, with all its parts interdependent. The fact remains, though, that sometimes a choice between them has to be made. When this is the case, it is often tying the camel, so to speak, that comes first – the ethical, legal, socio-economic and administrative practicalities of relating to, and living with, other human beings, whether face-to-face or through the institutions of society. It is through such tying of the camel that one truly lives in full God-consciousness.

Be that as it may, this resource pack is about tying the camel. Those for whom it is intended, however – parents of young people, and teachers and youth leaders who work professionally with young people of Muslim background – may well wish to integrate its use with activities that are more obviously spiritual and religious. For example, they may wish to integrate it with the kinds of educational approach developed and advocated by the ICE (Islam and Citizenship Education) Project, or the Nasiha Citizenship Foundation created under the auspices of the Bradford Council of Mosques.

In addition to complementing mosque-based education, the pack is intended to complement and contribute to citizenship education programmes in mainstream schools.

Mosque-based education and school-based education can be pictured as two intersecting circles. This pack is intended to support the area where the two circles overlap. It is not intended to provide a complete programme on its own.

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