Archive for June, 2010

MECO conference 2010, Oxford

June 15, 2010

Bismillah.  I attended this on Saturday 12th June 2010 and spoke on “Does the Muslim World Need A Scientific Revolution?”  Main points: we need to be more analytical/contextual about tafsir, hadith, fiqh etc. Plus reflections from a Muslim viewpoint on the 9 main effects of the Scientific Revolution in the West according to Prof. John Henry in his book, The Scientific Revolution & the Origins of Modern Science, Palgrave, 3rd ed, 2008. These 9 points are in the 1st two pages of the book and are enough, you can skip the rest of the book if you wish. And you can read those two pages & more for free on Amazon’s Look Inside feature!

Other speakers

Amina Wadud spoke via video-link in the morning before I got there. Merryl-Wynn Davies was there, nice to finally meet a childhood heroine who is often confused with Mariam Davis, another convert from the same era.  Merryl-Wynn is currently running the relaunch of the Muslim Institute as a Fellowship / Learned Society with journals, conferences, workshops etc.  Jeff Mirza the comedian was there: Jeff is his stage name & he’s an East Londoner. No relative of Shazia Mirza.

Asghar Ali Engineer: India passed a new law against domestic violence recently; a senior Muslim leader said that they’d “…  deprived us of our God-given right to hit our wives.”

There was a fascinating presentation on evolution by Dr. Shanavas of the USA. Darwin must have known of William Draper’s work, the US chemist, & of the evolutionary novel Hayy b. Yaqzan by Ibn Tufayl, since several English translations were widespread at that time. Draper wrote roughly that Christian theologians were too constrained, and should learn from “Mohammedan societies that developed & are comfortable with evolutionary ideas.”  If this analysis is correct, Darwin’s theory had many ingredients from Muslim thinkers (Ibn Miskawayh, Jahiz, Rumi, Ibn Tufayl, etc.) and is effectively an Islamic theory.  Rather ironic!

Hassan Mahmoud the Bangladeshi film-maker gave away DVDs of his film Hila about the oppression of women in the name of Sharia.

The “hijabis” there thanked me for defending their right to wear the headscarf, since a veiled woman can be a symbol of God. (God is veiled by creation & our egos.) Several of the revert sisters there had removed the headscarf after many years of wearing it since they felt it was counterproductive.

I politely challenged the total Hadith-rejecters there such as Edip Yuksel. His view is strongly based on seeing his mum, who he feels was buried alive in Turkey by being forced to wear a burqa, not having a real life & totally dependent on her husband. There are many weak, fabricated & problematic ahadith but the Hadith-rejecters throw the baby out with the bathwater, and I told them that.  They are keen to assert the primacy of the Qur’an over the Sunnah.  At the other extreme, some of the Ahl al-Hadith said things like, “The Sunnah rules over the Qur’an, and not vice-versa.”  (They meant in the sense of the Sunnah conditioning the general verses of the Qur’an, usually in fiqh matters.)

For me, the relationship between Q&S is best understood by Imam Shafi’i’s statement, “Everything that the Prophet SAWS said or did is what he understood from the Qur’an.” (I first read this in a book by the late Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazzali rahimahullah.)  Furthermore, others amongst the Salaf said that “Every sound hadith can be traced back to the Qur’an.”  Only people well-grounded in the Qur’an and the Sunnah can understand this in detail.  A clear grasp of the Spirit of Islam and its general principles is also required.  This is also why some of the early Malikis said that “Ahadith were misleading for all except the people of understanding (fuqaha’).”

Yuksel was wearing a “www.19.org” T-shirt and I told him that I, like many of my generation, were initially very excited by Rashad Khalifa’s “Numerical Miracle of the Qur’an” theory based around the number 19 in the 1980’s.  He guessed that we became disillusioned later.  Yuksel is currently based in Tucson, Arizona and had known RK for a year.  He confirmed that RK had indeed claimed to be a Messenger of Allah, and that it was a jihadi cell that had assassinated him in 1990.  This cell seemed to have links to the first WTC bombing, and therefore some in the FBI regard the killing of RK as the first jihadi attack in the US.

The young revert sisters from Atlanta, Melissa Robinson & Kelly of the American Islamic Fellowship were interesting. “Going to gender-segregated mosques perpetuates misogyny. An expensive new mosque there has a lattice screen for the sisters, whose prayer-area is effectively a birdcage.”

Raheela Raza was there from Toronto, a grey-haired woman from Toronto.  She’d led the Friday prayers at MECO the day before.  Highly-controversial, of course, since the overwhelming majority of jurists have been opposed to women leading a mixed congregation.  However, exceptions have been Imams Tabari & Abu Thawr, and it is even said, one of Imam Shafi’i’s (female?) teachers and Ibn Taymiyyah.

Raza grew up in Pakistan and owes much to that country, although she is worried that Islam there is dominated by extremism.  She recited a moving poem about women’s rights in Islam at the conference – “I am a woman. Celebrate me.”  In conversation, she mentioned that the TV series, “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” had helped  enormously to shatter misconceptions about Muslims in Canada and show them as decent human beings with a sense of humour.  (Muslims in the UK should take note, especially given the results of the YouGov survey last week about public perception of Muslims here.)  She also said that the actress who plays the “gorgeous hijabi” in the series appeared in a game-show wearing a micro-skirt, to the total confusion of many kids watching.

Milan Sulc was there.  I remember his presentation at the Islam & Science conference @ Wembley Arena around 1995. Science in the Qur’an stuff. He saw deep-sea oceanic waves in the ayah of “waves upon waves” in Surah Nur. Also Prophet Solomon’s winds that “travel a month’s distance every morning & evening.” His explanation was that if you compare earth & moon circumferences and motions, you find that our atmosphere travels the same distance in half (or quarter?) of a day as the moon does in a month. I’m not too convinced by the latter explanation.

On the way back, I got to Oxford train station at 10.45pm.  The train stopped at Didcot due to engineering works.  A rail replacement bus took us to Reading.  There were two beautiful Arabian horses from Thames Valley Mounted Police outside Reading train station.  Got on the 12.13am Reading-London train but it didn’t move because the train in front had hit someone, a suspected fatality (a drunk, suicide or kid playing on the line?) and the Reading-London line was closed.  We eventually reached Paddington at 2am after the reopening of the line and two night buses later, I was at Leytonstone station.  An ambulance was parked outside, probably from our Whipps Cross Hospital nearby.  The two-man crew asked me if I had seen anyone lying on the floor in the street or the station subway, since they’d had a call for someone.  I hadn’t.   An invigorating walk later, I got home with dawn spreading (past 3am), birds singing & foxes loitering.  After such a journey, it was easier to do the dawn prayer with a feeling of gratitude rather than simply duty.  Alhamdulillah.

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Seminar on Judaism

June 15, 2010

Bismillah. Received today from the Dialogue Society:

Dear Friend,

Please find below details of a seminar being held tomorrow at the Dialogue Society. I wondered whether it might be of interest to you, members of your organisation or other contacts. Please do circulate it to anybody who might like to hear about it.

Warmest regards
Frances Sleap
Intern
Dialogue Society

Seminar: Understanding Judaism
By Judith Fox, Islington SACRE
Wednesday, 16 June 2010 18:45
At the Dialogue Society
402 Holloway Road, N7 6PZ, London
Free and open to the public (registration required)
Refreshments will be served

Abstract

This course will look at Judaism from a variety of different viewpoints, promote questions and seek answers for some of the following:

• A review from Adam and Eve to the present day
• Jewish literature, teachings and commentary
• The principal tenets of Judaism
• The impact of the Enlightenment in Europe
• Jewish life in Great Britain today
• The immigrant experience
• Family and communal life
• Integration, assimilation or community cohesion?

Biography of Judith Fox

Judith Fox graduated in Economics and Sociology from the London School of Economics. She has worked as a social researcher, as an economist and analyst of the construction industry, and edited a specialist economics magazine. Her voluntary work has covered the welfare of learning disabled people, a hospital for geriatric and psychiatric care, and she currently chairs Islington’s standing Advisory Council for Religious Education, which advises the local authority on RE, and is an active member of Islington Faiths Forum. She has also been a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

She also is an executive and personal coach, specialising in helping professional people to achieve their highest potential.

FORTHCOMING

Wed, 23 June Seminar:
Understanding the Baha’i Faith
by Sarah Perceval

Tue, 29 June Seminar: God and Community Cohesion – Help or Hindrance? by Canon Dr Alan Billings

Venue Information
Address: Dialogue Society, 402 Holloway Road, London, N7 6PZ

Phone: +44 20 7619 0361
Nearest Tube Station: Holloway Road (Piccadilly Line)
Buses: 43, 153, 271, 393

Following Abraham, peace be upon him

June 12, 2010

Bismillah. From the Christian-Muslim Forum:

This is the most recent news item posted on our News and Events page.

* Following in the Footsteps of Abraham – A Retreat for Men *

This was a very successful, enjoyable and spiritual event, living up to our expectations and the confidence of the Inlight Trust in providing the funding. Men from across the country, including Wales, converged on St Deiniol’s Library from Birmingham, Brighton, Burnley, Dorking, Leighton Buzzard, London, Manchester, Merthyr Tydfil, Nottingham and Rochester.

Tony Aylward, a Baptist from Rochester, wrote the following account.

Reflections on the Men’s Retreat

I went on this retreat with great expectation as I believe God wanted me to be there. It was entitled ‘In the Footsteps of Abraham’ and my hope was that it would inspire my thinking on male spirituality and also renew my contact with Muslims following my departure from Leicester. It was a small gathering of 13: 6 Christian and 7 Muslims and was led by Symon Hill and Abdullah Trevathan. We looked at 3 areas:

• The life of Abraham in the Qur’an and Bible
• Dealing with conflict
• Being Male

We shared worship in the form of meditation/reflection using Muslim chants from the Sufi tradition and Christian ones from Taize and Iona.

When we drew up a list of Abraham’s character from our scriptures, we discovered that many of them were the same. Key ones from both texts which we identified were:

• Spiritual wayfarer
• Absolute faith
• Friend of God

One major difference in respect to Abraham was that in the Muslim tradition all prophets are without sin whereas in the Christian tradition only Jesus is without sin and so the prophets are flawed people. We spent some time thinking about Abraham the Absurd, defining ‘absurd’ as not normal or ordinary. As people of faith we are called to be an extraordinary people. By being together as Christians and Muslims for this retreat we were being absurd. We were challenged as to whether we had become to cosy in our faith and not therefore taking risks. Are we going through the motions of faith without it really affecting the way we live our lives?The conflict resolution sessions were very helpful in enabling us to think about the root causes and not just the reasons people often give for their positions. We looked at a diagram that required us to think about where we were in relation to personal goals as against relationships when dealing with an issue of conflict. Although compromise in some cases is the only way we were encouraged to try problem solving the issue to see if there is a better way for the parties involved. I was not alone in finding how ready as a group we were to accept the very different issues between our faiths. Perhaps that said more about the participants who were more focused on areas of agreement.

The final session on male identity caused the most discussion as we completed a questionnaire expressing how important certain criteria were to our identity. What was striking for me was the relative passion that people gave to particular headings. We considered whether our responses would have been the same had there been a woman present, for which the majority view was that it would. The question of what are male characteristics is a problem area when it comes to looking at male spirituality. Draw up a list and there will be people who disagree with you. I am a firm believer that at times this is because men may not like a particular trait or they believe they do not portray it. The walk we had on the Saturday afternoon was a wonderful demonstration of a male trait in action. We had identified of Abraham that he was focused and indicated that this was a male attribute. On the walk we talked, mainly in pairs but on occasions in single file. We maintained a brisk pace rarely stopping to take in the creation around us. We even managed to be blissfully unaware of ‘Private’ notices. Now that is what I call focused!

Overall it was a great experience of men sharing the journey of faith. For me the translation of the Muslim chant, “La ilaha ill’allah” as “There is nothing but God; there is only God,” called me to refocus my life on the things of God. To daily ask the question, “What will God do with me today rather than what will I do today?”

Tony Aylward

What Next?

Many thanks to all who took part, the retreat leaders and Tony for his reflections. We would like to hold another retreat and have an invitation to an Islamic retreat centre in Spain. If you are interested in being involved in exploring Christian-Muslim men’s spirituality please get in touch.

We are also organising a women’s retreat for London-based Christian and Muslim women on 31 July/1 August in Kent. Please contact us for more details.

An event for everyone: Friends and Neighbours, 30 June/1 July 2010.

Julian Bond
Director
Following in the Footsteps of Abraham
Christian Muslim Forum
70 South Lambeth Road
Vauxhall
LondonSW8 1RL
Telephone 0207 820 0444
http://www.christianmuslimforum.org

Company Registration 5461960
Registered Charity 1114793

Prince of Wales’ speech on Islam & The Environment at Oxford

June 10, 2010

Bismillah.

The Prince of Wales gave a speech in Oxford on Islam and the Environment yesterday. The full speech can be found at – http://www.princeofwales.gov.uk/speechesandarticles/index.html

Summary:

http://www.princeofwales.gov.uk/newsandgallery/news/hrh_makes_a_speech_about_islam_and_the_environment_707124419.html

9th June 2010

The Prince of Wales was in Oxford today to deliver a speech on Islam and the Environment at Oxford University’s Sheldonian Theatre. Bringing together two important strands of His Royal Highness’s work over the last three decades, faith and the environment, The Prince delivered the speech to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, of which he is Patron.

The central point of the lecture was the realisation of the damage which Mankind is doing to the environment and the importance of taking steps to halt it, before it is too late. He pointed out that one of the many issues of commonality between the World’s great faiths is a strong focus on protection of the environment – God’s creation. The Prince encouraged people of faith around the World to reconnect with their sacred teachings on this issue, saying that all the great faiths are rooted in an understanding of the fact that man is a part of nature, not apart from nature, and must always live within nature’s means and limits.

Detailing Islam’s teachings on this theme, The Prince noted that the Qu’ran describes nature as possessing an “intelligibility” and teaches that there is no separation between man and nature because there is no separation between the natural world and God. The Prince pointed out that this teaching is also evident in Judaism and in his own faith, Christianity. He noted that this understanding is particularly well expressed in the writings of Islamic poets and scholars, and Western poets too like Wordsworth.

In trying to draw attention to what unites faiths, rather than what divides them, The Prince said there are more similarities than differences in the approaches of different faiths.

Encouraging good relationships between all faith communities – by pointing out these similarities and common themes – has been a part of The Prince’s work for over 25 years.

In a speech at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies in 1993, The Prince identified the importance of the need for greater understanding between the West and Islam, and he today began his speech by reaffirming the need to help minority communities and faith groups integrate into British Society.

The Prince’s final point was that it is wrong to see tradition and traditional wisdom (of the kind seen in the teachings of the great faiths of the world) as backward looking. His Royal Highness believes traditional wisdom can blend with modern needs – that far from being backward-looking it is, in fact, visionary.

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