Archive for February, 2013

A 13th-century Moroccan Sufi on the Hadith of the 73 Sects

February 24, 2013

Bismillah.  An important explanation of what is meant by “What I and my Companions are upon” in the hadith of the 73 sects, a phrase often abused nowadays by un-Islamic, sectarian mindsets.  With thanks to Arnold Yasin Mol for digging this out.

In the tafsir by the 12-13th century Moroccan Sufi, Abu al-’Abbas al-Subti, he makes a very interesting exegesis on Qur’an verse 16:90 and the famous 72-sects Hadith. Through Asbab al-Nuzul he sees that 16:90 was revealed about the brotherhood pact between the first Muslims from Mecca (Muhajirun) and the helping community in Medina (Ansar) through which they obliged each other to share everything equally. The word ‘adl (عدل) in 16:90 means ‘equal value/weight/justice’, and so al-Subti understands that true justice means sharing everything equally among everybody. Later he sees that the famous 72-sects Hadith (72 Muslim sects go to Hell, 1 sect is saved) which is abused by many groups and sects to declare themselves the ‘saved sect’ and all others as condemned, was said the day after the ‘equal sharing pact’ was made, and thus equal sharing is what the Prophet and the first Muslims followed. The Hadith isn’t about following detailed sectarian rules concerning creed and ritual; to be saved is to share equally among mankind.

“I found a verse in the Book of God that had a great effect on both my heart and my tongue. It was, ‘Verily, God commands justice and the doing of good.’ I pondered this and said [to myself], ‘Perhaps [finding] this is no coincidence and I am the one who is meant by this verse.’ I continued to examine its meaning in the books of exegesis until I found Gharib at-Tafsir, which stated that [the verse] was revealed when the Prophet established brotherhood between the Emigrants (Muhajirun) and the Helpers (Ansar). They had asked the Prophet to establish a pact of brotherhood between them, so he commanded them to share among themselves. In this way, they learned that the justice commanded [by God] was through sharing. Then I looked into the saying of the Prophet: ‘My community will be divided into seventy-two sects, all of which will be in the Fire except the one followed by me and my companions,’ and found that he said this on the morning of the day that he had ordered the pact of brotherhood [to be established] between the Emigrants and the Helpers … So I understood that what he and his companions adhered to were the practices of equal sharing (mushatara) and favouring others (ithar). Then I swore to God Most High that when anything came to me I would share it with my believing brethren among the poor. I followed this practice for twenty years, and this rule affected my ideas to the point where nothing dominated my thoughts more than uncompromising honesty (sidq).”

[translation: Vincent J. Cornell, “Realm of the Saint: Power and Authority in Moroccan Sufism”]

Cornell also mentions that to Abu ‘l-‘Abbas, every act of human mercy (rahma) evoked a merciful response from the all-merciful God (ar-Rahim). He summed up his theory of reciprocity with the maxim: “[Divine] Being is actualised by generosity” (al-wujud yanfa’ilu bi ‘l-jud).

City University and the Islamic Society Prayer Room

February 22, 2013

Bismillah.  UPDATE 24/2/13: Some readers have reasonably asked about more recent activities of City Isoc – the signs are not encouraging.  One commenter below mentions that, in November 2012, the Isoc hosted a preacher known for his extremist views.  The “Muslim Voices on Campus” (MVOC) group also promoted an event addressed by a Hizb-ut-Tahrir speaker just 3 days ago (the speaker was opposed to gender-equality and freedom, both of which are fundamental maqasid of the Sharia, understood in its most generous sense as opposed to the narrow reading that dominates much of contemporary Muslim thinking).  Furthermore, MVOC now have a lawyer representing them: no surprise that it is Saghir Hussain, who worked for the Awlaki-supporting CagePrisoners group for many years and also closely-advised the extremist group that took over Al-Tawhid Mosque in 2011-12, as detailed elsewhere on this blog and admitted by the man himself during the 2012 Islam Channel discussion on the topic.  Hilariously, Hussain is promoting “freedom of expression” on campus whilst denying it at mosques, where he supports takeovers by fanatics.  Furthermore, extremist Muslim groups have no right to continue spouting fascist views and support for terrorism yet scream “Islamophobia!” and retreat into victimhood and a siege-mentality when others, including Muslims, very reasonably oppose their excesses!

Bismillah.  According to City University, they withdrew Friday Prayer facilities for Muslim students in November 2012 after the Islamic Society (ISoc) failed to respond to several letters, over a period of several months from Summer 2012, requesting a list of Friday preachers and the topics or contents of the sermons.  The issue has only appeared in the media today, 3 months on, because of a new campaign by Wasif Sheikh of “Muslim Voices on Campus,” who incidentally pulled out of a live radio debate with me tonight on the BBC World Service radio station, for reasons unknown to me – Newshour went ahead by interviewing just me.

Rather ridiculously, some people have today tried to blame others for the University’s drastic decision, which they would easily reverse if the Isoc co-operated, rather than recognise the root of the problem: the  extremist activities of City University Islamic Society and its President, Saleh Patel, 2009-10, some of which are detailed below.

(Patel’s father and two uncles were part of the extremist group that forcibly took over Al-Tawhid Mosque in 2011-12 – we still await the decision of the Charity Commission’s investigation into that case.)

The extremist activities included promoting the terrorist preacher Anwar Awlaki and threatening two of the university lecturers after they criticised the Islamic Society’s disgraceful behaviour:

1) Islamic students at top university ‘are preaching hard-line extremism,’ terror experts warn (Daily Mail, 18/10/10)

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1321264/University-urged-action-Islamic-extremists.html

2) Claims of Islamic Extremism at London University (LBC Radio 18/10/10)

http://www.lbc.co.uk/claims-of-islamic-extremism-at-london-university-31352

3) Islamic extremism, intimidation at London’s City University  (Jewish Chronicle 18/10/10)

http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/39929/islamic-extremism-intimidation-londons-city-university

4) The report on Islamic extremism at City University London, and how it will affect student relations (18/10/10)

http://jonrossswaby.com/20101018-city-university-isoc-islamic-extremism/ (link no longer available)

5) James Brandon: Exposing Islamic extremism on British university campuses – and what we can do about it (Conservative Home 30/10/10)

http://conservativehome.blogs.com/platform/2010/10/james-brandon-exposing-islamic-extremism-on-british-university-campuses-and-what-we-can-do-about-it.html

6) Storm over extremist preachers (City Inquirer, 18/11/09)

http://cityinquirer.com/?p=1156 (link no longer available)

7) City Islamic Society defends radical preacher and threatens the Inquirer (City Inquirer, 2/1/10)

http://cityinquirer.com/?p=1787 (link no longer available)

8) Rosie Waterhouse: Universities must take action on Muslim extremism (The Independent, Thursday, 18 March 2010)

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/higher/rosie-waterhouse-universities-must-take-action-on-muslim-extremism-1922730.html

9) Rosie Waterhouse: Will the voice of moderate Muslims be heard at City?  (The Independent, Thursday, 1 July 2010)

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/higher/rosie-waterhouse-will-the-voice-of-moderate-muslims-be-heard-at-city-2014822.html

Some of the highlights from the above episode, exposing the ignorance and superficial understanding of the extremists involved, are:

1) The counter-extremism think-tank, Quilliam, said they had evidence of the president of City University’s Islamic Society, (ISoc) openly preaching extremism during a prayers held on the campus during the 2009/10 academic year, led by the president, Saleh Patel.

They said the president, Saleh Patel, was recorded saying:

When they say to us ‘the Islamic state teaches to cut the hand of the thief’, yes it does!

And it also teaches us to stone the adulterer.

When they tell us that the Islamic state tells us and teaches us to kill the apostate, yes it does!

Because this is what Allah and his messenger have taught us and this is the religion of Allah and it is Allah who legislates and only Allah has the right to legislate.

When a person leaves one prayer, one prayer intentionally, he should be imprisoned for three days and three nights and told to repent.

And if he doesn’t repent and offer his prayer then he should be killed. And the difference of opinion lies with regards to how he should be killed not as to what he is – a kafir or a Muslim.

When they say to us that Islam was spread by the sword, and there is no such thing as jihad, we say to them ‘no’. Islam believes in defensive and offensive jihad. The Qur’an is the proof, as is the Sunnah.

According to students interviewed for the report, the actions of leading members of the ISoc made members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Society (LGBT) feel “scared.”

Some Jewish students felt “intimidated”, and the group’s actions forced ordinary Muslim students to adopt hard-line Islamic practices which led to some Muslim students publishing an open letter complaining that their religion had been “hijacked” by the ISoc.

Report author Lucy James, said:

“It is deeply shocking that such extremism is being openly promoted on a university campus in central London.”

2) Rosie Waterhouse (1/7/10):

A colleague, Paul Anderson, wrote an article on his blog saying universities were secular institutions and supporting my stance against the potential promotion of violent extremism on campus (although he was not in favour of a niqab ban).

In May, while on holiday overseas, I received a text message from Anderson saying my photograph and his had been posted on the Islamic Society website together with a diatribe accusing us of being Islamaphobic and harbouring “outright hatred” of all Muslims. To me, this was a deeply disturbing and palpable threat. I contacted Anderson and the acting vice-chancellor, Professor Julius Weinberg, to instruct the Islamic Society to remove my photograph and the offending article.

Anderson telephoned the Islamic Society president Saleh Patel. He explained how upset I was at this perceived threat, and wanted the items removed, but Patel refused. When I returned to university, I felt all eyes were on me. To my distress, the Islamic Society continued to refuse to remove my photograph or the article. They might not have contained any overt personal threat but they were intimidating, at the very least.

It took almost two weeks and the intervention of the vice-chancellor, the students’ union and, eventually, the police before my photograph and Anderson’s were removed. The article stayed. Relations deteriorated and the Islamic Society was deregistered as a recognised society of the students’ union. Their website has been taken down.

“Such extremism can create dangerous divisions on campuses and, if not tackled, may even lead to terrorism.”

3) In April 2009, City Islamic Society organisers invited three radical Islamist preachers to address the society’s annual dinner, with the “brothers” and “sisters” segregated, and the latter forbidden to ask questions. One preacher, Anwar al-Awlaki , was to speak by video-link from Yemen, because he was banned from Britain for alleged links to terrorists. But the then vice-chancellor Malcolm Gilles intervened and the video-link was banned.

The above evidence speaks for itself.  Over the past decade, dozens of British university graduates have been convicted of terrorist offences, including several ISoc Presidents, the most notorious one of which was the 2009 “underpants-bomber.”  Clearly, universities cannot allow Isocs and Friday Prayers to continue to promote hate-preachers and terrorism-sympathisers.  (The “Birmingham 3” terrorists convicted yesterday included a graduate of Aston University.)

Here is the poster advertising the scheduled talk in April 2009, i.e. less than four years ago, at City Isoc via tele-link by Awlaki, the late Al-Qaeda preacher:

awlaki-city-u-4-09-300x211

And here is a post on the City Isoc website from December 2009, i.e. just over three years ago only, in praise of Awlaki and the “Al-Qaeda soldiers”: awlakicityisoc

The answer to the current impasse is quite simple: the Isoc needs to co-operate with the university authorities, who are concerned about the welfare of all their students, including the Muslims.  The Isoc should be able to ensure and guarantee that the vicious activities of 2009-10 are not repeated, in which case the university would surely reinstate the Friday Prayer facilities, since all UK universities are required to cater for the religious needs of all their students, and many universities provide very generous prayer-rooms for Muslim students.  I pray that the City University and its Isoc are granted the honesty, humility and courage to make the right decisions and arrive at a win-win situation for all sides.

Islam and Science Workshop – London 2013 – A Summary

February 22, 2013

Bismillah.  This is a cross-post from http://www.quilliamfoundation.org/events/islam-science-workshop-2013/

Quilliam, in association with the Université Interdisciplinaire de Paris, the American University of Sharjah and Muslim-Science.com, organised and hosted an international workshop entitled “Islam and Science: A Reasoned Approach” for students and young researchers, 18th-20th January 2013 at the Institute of Education, University of London, UK.

The participants consisted of 23 people selected by submission of essays on Science-Religion topics and/or their suitability as “disseminators of ideas” following on from the workshop. These 23 participants included three people from France, the USA and Egypt. There were a total of seven speakers at the workshop: three from the UK, two from France and one each from the UAE and Pakistan.

Introduction – Friday 18th January 2013

The workshop began with a screening of the 1-hour documentary film, Science and Islam – Dialogues for the 21st Century, which was produced by the Université Interdisciplinaire de Paris and featuring interviews with 22 leading scientists, theologians, philosophers and thinkers about the interfaces between religion and science in general, and focusing on Islam in particular.

This was followed by a presentation by Ehsan Masood, author of the BBC series-accompanying book, Islam and Science: A History, a presentation entitled Ibn Sina (Avicenna) – The Man Who Knew Everything, about the life, work and influence throughout Islamic and Christian history of this early Muslim polymath. A lively discussion followed about Ibn Sina’s philosophy and methodology and the scientific rationalisation of miracles.

Saturday 19th January 2013

Prof. Jean Staune (Université Interdisciplinaire de Paris) started with presentation on Science and Religion in the World today & New Paradigms of Science, in which he summarised the major developments in 20th-century science such as relativity and quantum theories in physics, Godel’s theorem in mathematical epistemology, and De Duve and Conway-Morris’ ideas of direction, non-randomness, and convergence in biological evolution. He showed how these “new paradigms” have influenced the discourse in “Science and Religion”, and how this field has become a growing academic discipline in its own right with chairs at Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard. This was followed by Prof. Nidhal Guessoum (American University of Sharjah), who gave a general overview of the main topic, Islam and Science, showing why “modern science” (particularly “methodological naturalism”) poses a challenge for traditional religious views and discussing the various contemporary Muslim responses to the challenge, ranging from Nasr’s “Sacred Science” and Sardar’s “Islamic/Ethical Science” to Salam’s “Universal Science”, ending with his own “Averroesian Harmonization.”

Yasmin Khan (former curator at both the Science Museum and the British Library) spoke on The 1001 Inventions Exhibition at the Science Museum, London: Engaging the Public in a Multicultural History of Science, a behind-the-scenes look at the challenges of commissioning the most successful touring exhibition in the history of the Science Museum, with a screening of the exhibition’s central 15-minute film, 1001 Inventions and The Library of Secrets, starring Sir Ben Kingsley as Al-Jazari.

Dr. Athar Osama (of Muslim-Science.com) complemented the day’s philosophical, theological, historical, civilisational and public-outreach themes with a sobering presentation on Science Policy in the Muslim World Today: Challenges and Prospects, focusing on governmental public policy and investment in science education and research and an analysis of the funding and work of COMSTECH, the OIC’s arm for science and technology.

Sunday 20th January 2013

Dr. Jean Staune gave a fascinating presentation on the Theories of Evolution. The philosopher of science showed multiple lines of evidence that evolution is an indisputable fact, but one that should not be confused with Darwinism. Based on the research of leading palaeontologists such as Conway-Morris and on the work of Nobel laureate De Duve and others, Staune insisted that the current Darwinian theory of evolution is incompatible at best, and presented ideas implying that evolution is a process leading, sooner or later, to beings like us with a consciousness of their own existence and the ability to seek God.

This was followed by a joint presentation on Islam and the Theory/Fact of Evolution by Prof. Nidhal Guessoum and Dr. Usama Hasan (Quilliam). The presentations included theological and scriptural arguments supporting evolution as well as a history of evolutionary ideas within Muslim civilisation since the 9th century CE from Al-Jahiz and the Brethren of Purity through to Rumi and Ibn Khaldun, a history recognised by a number of historians, Muslim and non-Muslim ones. Also covered was the acceptance of biological evolution by 19th/20th-century Muslim theologians such as Husain al-Jisr (nicknamed “the Ash’ari of our times” by Afghani), and ‘Abd al-Sabur Shahin, a well-known scholar of Al-Azhar. Current Muslim resistance to scientific facts was illustrated with historical precedents of misreading the Qur’an to make inflexible but erroneous assertions about scientific matters, such as Ibn Kathir and Shanqiti’s insistence that the earth was created before the heavens, Suyuti’s insistence that the earth is flat and Ibn Taymiyyah’s assertion that cattle (sheep, goats, cows and camels) were created in heaven (which would imply that modern-day followers of Ibn Taymiyyah who insist that humans were created in heaven and descended from there must also believe the same about those four species of mammals).

The sessions by Staune, Guessoum and Hasan illustrated well the irony that whilst modern biology, built on evolution, has succeeded in mapping the entire human genome as well as the DNA of thousands of other species, and new fields emerge such as astrobiology and the origin-of-life research looking at deep-sea volcanoes, many Muslims (and Christians) continue to debate whether or not evolution (including that of humans) is a fact, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence.

Dr. Bruno Abdelhaq Guiderdoni (Director of the Lyon Observatory) gave a fascinating presentation on Islam & Cosmology: Yesterday and Today, based on the mind-boggling discoveries of modern astronomy, including the existence of exo-planets in earth-like habitable orbits around stars other than the sun. In his lecture, Dr. Guiderdoni stressed the need to read the “Book of Nature” along with the “Book of God” and to maintain the inseparability of science and ethics. The discussion included topics such as the possibility of a multiverse and the question of extra-terrestrial intelligence and life-forms.

Dr. Guiderdoni’s emphasis on ethics led nicely to the session by Dr. Usama Hasan on Islam, Science and Ethics, in which he presented the theory of Maqasid al-Sharia (The Universal, Higher Objectives of Islamic Law) as an Islamic framework for ethics suitable for “Universal Science.” The framework is based on the Islamic principles of justice as minimum, compassion as maximum, promoting benefit and avoiding harm. The theory was illustrated with reference to ethical questions around family planning, abortion and organ transplants.

The workshop concluded with an open and long discussion session involving all participants, further exploring the ideas presented at the workshop and possible next steps to take the exciting conversations forward.