Archive for April, 2014

A Good Friday? Protests, Prayers and Peace at the Park – 18 April 2014

April 20, 2014

Bismillah. We often go as a family to Regent’s Park Mosque (RPM aka London Central Mosque) for prayers around Easter, since it’s a rare Friday with schools and offices shut, no congestion charge for driving around the city centre and the car parking in the park being at holiday rates: just over half the normal rate at £1.40 per hour rather than £2.40, significant when you wish to stay the whole day.

Approaching the mosque from inside the park, we noticed several police vans parked around the corner. Unusual, since there are normally only a couple of police officers outside the main entrance of the mosque in Park Rd.

Being a public holiday, the mosque congregation was much larger than usual, perhaps by 50%. We could only find parking near London Zoo and walked back, past the usual armed officers guarding Winfield House, the US Ambassador’s residence, literally a stone’s throw from the mosque’s rear entrance. On the way, I told my 7-year-old son about the Islamic tradition that spiritual reward earned for travelling to mosque is proportional to the effort required, even measured by the footsteps taken: several hadiths speak of this in a literal commentary on Qur’an (Surat Y.S. 36:12), “We write down their traces: everything have We recorded in a Clear Source.” When a particular tribe in Medina wished to move closer to the Prophet’s Mosque since they walked daily to it five times a day for prayers, he (pbuh) had replied, “Stay in your homes: your footsteps are written in tomes.” (Diyarukum, tuktabu atharukum) Ibn ‘Uthaymin once commented that the equivalent of a footstep for a car or bike was a wheel revolution.

The mosque was full, so we listened to the sermon after squeezing into the main courtyard, also full, all the way back to the car park: I counted about 40 rows, with about 40 people per row, hence over 1500 males here. The main hall holds at least 2000 males, plus the women’s sections and basement halls were all full, so I estimate at least 5000 worshippers. It’s always nicer to pray in the open air when the weather is nice, as it was on Friday: God’s wonderful dome beats any man-made one, even if it’s golden. As the Prophet (pbuh) said, “The entire earth has been made a place of worship.”

Islamic tradition demands that worshippers listen to the imam’s Friday sermon in absolute silence, which is why we easily heard the sounds of protesters, who must have been close to the main entrance. The Azhar-trained imam, Sheikh Khalifa Ezzat, had chosen his topics carefully, and probably in response to some of the protests, about which the mosque must have been informed by police: in both Arabic and English, he preached about justice (quoting Ibn al-Qayyim: “God upholds just societies and destroys or allows the self-destruction of unjust ones”) and condemned the evil crimes of sexual grooming gangs, although the latter wasn’t a great topic for a very family-oriented congregation. Listening to an Egyptian imam preaching about just society in a courtyard with one or two thousand people, I thought of Tahrir (Liberation) Square.

Straining to hear the imam’s soft-spoken voice, even through the loudspeakers, was made more difficult by the loud chants of “E, E, EDL” and rendition of “Jerusalem” (accompanied by music) by William Blake coming from the other side of the main gates. I spotted one leader of a Muslim fascist group in the courtyard, and feared trouble. The irony was that many of us British Muslims would be quite happy to sing “Jerusalem,” although not in mosque, where the ascetic atmosphere is quite rightly one of worship and devotion that transcends even spiritual music and song. Furthermore, Blake is possibly England’s greatest mystical poet (as well as Shakespeare, judging by Martin Lings’ phenomenal book about the latter), and arguably would have felt at home with the Remembrance of God in a beautiful mosque inside one of London’s prettiest Royal Parks. As the Prophet (pbuh) said, “God is beautiful and loves beauty.”

Prayers after the sermon were also disturbed by chants and another musical score that my teenage son told me later was something called “Hearts of Courage” that he liked from school.

I have uploaded short video extracts of the sermon accompanied by the sound of protest, here: and here:

Others have uploaded videos of their protests. Had I been alone, I would have gone over to see the rival protests, but there was potential for serious trouble and we took no chances with our 7-year-old twins. Furthermore, we had come to mosque for inner and outer peace, not for childish, angry protests. Police sirens also disturbed prayers, but their helicopter crew had the courtesy to only bring their noisy flying machine over once prayers were over. The chopper slowly flew above Park Rd later towards Baker St – we learnt afterwards that this to police those marching for a mediaeval Caliphate and Sharia, dutifully protected by Western freedom of expression and the “kufr (infidel) law” that they so despise providing dozens of police to keep the peace at our collective taxpayers’ expense. (The truth is, of course, that Western and Islamic law have the same basis: justice and mercy, so such protests are misplaced.)

Of the 5000 Muslims at mosque, no more than about 1% joined this march. We are the 99%. Alhamdulillah.

As ever with Friday prayers at RPM, hundreds of families streamed into the park afterwards. My wife told me about journalists trying to interview worshippers. There were a couple of Orthodox Jewish families also in the park, no doubt fresh from celebrating Passover and enjoying the sunshine before the Sabbath later. I hope they didn’t feel intimidated by the hundreds of Arabs and Muslims – I don’t think they were.

There were long queues for cake, ice-cream and boating lake tickets. Tulips were in full bloom in a gorgeous array of colours. We saw a heron amongst the ducks and swans, and came across a RSPB stall with birdspotting telescopes (spotting scopes), and got to see two different triplets of baby heron chicks nesting in the trees of the boating lake. We also saw a number of delightful ducklings snuggling up to their Mother Duck. We imagined the excitement of these herons and ducks at their new arrivals, remembering our own when our babies were born. “Every crawling creature in the earth, and every bird flying with its two wings, comprise communities and nations like your human ones. We have not omitted anything from the Record: then, to their Lord, shall they be gathered.” (Qur’an, 6:38)

We joined the RSPB as a family: they have no fixed fee, only a suggested donation of £5-10 per month: you get a membership pack with gifts and benefits including free entry to their nature reserves around the country. I encourage others to do so also, here: http://www.rspb.org.uk

After a 3-hour walk around the park, we came across a young, well-intentioned masked Muslim man on a bicycle, wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt. He was from “London Anti-Fascists” and had been riding around in an anti-EDL op, and asked whether we had had any trouble. Nice of him. I should have asked him why LAF don’t take on Muslim fascists who avowedly want a global totalitarian theocracy and to execute any dissident or non-conformist.

So come on please, EDL-ers and Caliphaters: please stop being at each other’s throats and let’s have civilised interaction rather than offending each others’ sacred symbols, such as by disturbing prayers or abusing the bases of Britishness. And let’s all help with forming trust, mediation and reconciliation, that we may yet build Jerusalem and Medina in England’s green and pleasant land.

Usama Hasan, https://unity1.wordpress.com

Saliba lecture: “Late Arabic Scientific Commentaries” (includes online link)

April 17, 2014

Public lecture event organised by Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation on Friday 4th April 2014.
After the reception and the opening words, Mr. Sharaf Yamani, member of the Al-Furqan Board of Directors, gave a short brief on Al-Furqan’s work and efforts in uncovering and studying the Islamic written heritage.
The keynote speaker at this public event was Professor George Saliba, Professor of Arabic and Islamic Science at Columbia University in the city of New York. His lecture on “The Role and Originality of Late Arabic Scientific Commentaries” was very well received.
In his lecture, Professor Saliba gave an insightful view on the scientific importance of the commentaries – with a special focus onthe field of astronomy – produced between the thirteenth and the sixteenth century, the period considered to be “the Late Classical Period” of Islamic civilisation. He demonstrated that particular commentaries that were produced during this period, did not only produce new scientific thinking, but also produced a level of astronomical mathematical sophistication that could outmatch any of the earlier works that were produced within the Islamic civilisation, and could, in some instances, even outmatch the contemporary scientific works that were produced in Europe at the time.
According to Professor Saliba, the main reasons why late commentaries have not received the scholarly attention they deserve and are still wrongly considered to be mere copies of previous works, are:

1. Late commentaries are very difficult to read: the text on the page is often very dense and small.

2. They often lack illustrations: it is very difficult to find a scribe (nasikh) that was also an illustrator (naqqash). Today there are very few examples of manuscripts where the illustrator and the copyist are the same person.

3. There is still an imposed traditional misconception that considers that, after the classical or golden age of Islam, there is nothing worth studying in terms of cultural products.

The lecture was followed by several questions from the specialised and distinguished audience regarding various aspects covered by Professor Saliba.

To watch the recorded lecture, please click on the following link:
Thank you once again for coming to the event. We will inform you of future Al-Furqan events and hope that you will be able to join us.
Best wishes,
Sali Shahsivari, Managing Director
Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation

Usama Hasan, https://unity1.wordpress.com

Ramadan in the summer at high latitudes – by Sheikh Ahmad Kutty

April 15, 2014

Bismillah. An interesting fatwa published last Ramadan (July 2013). Parts of Ramadan will be in midsummer for the next few years, so this discussion will continue.

I’d add the following notes:

1) According to Ibn Kathir, in his Tafsir under 2:187, Tabari narrated from several Successors (Tabi’in) that fasting only becomes obligatory at sunrise. (In my view, this is based on, and a logical extension of, the difficulty of defining “dawn” precisely – when the sun appears, there is no argument!) Ibn Kathir adds that in his view, “No person of knowledge can remain stable on this view, since it contradicts the unequivocal text of the Qur’an.”

2) Does anyone have the text of Mustafa al-Zarqa’s fatwa cited below? As quoted, it says that fasting at high latitudes in the summer can follow clock timings from more temperate latitudes, ie to end fasting before local sunset.

U.H.

http://www.onislam.net/english/shariah/contemporary-issues/islamic-themes/453299-sunnah-and-determining-the-times-of-fajr-and-imsak.html

Determining the Times of Fajr and Imsak
By Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, Senior Lecturer, The Islamic Institute of Toronto

Conclusion

(Since the day hours are excessively long, such rigidity when determining imsak can be viewed as only dampening one’s spirit about fasting.)

In light of the above incontrovertible evidence, it should be rather easy for us to conclude that relying on astronomical dawn to determine the time of imsak is unwarranted, and that we cannot go wrong if we consider the nautical dawn, if not the civil dawn, as the starting time of imsak and beginning of fajr. Furthermore, there is no basis for compelling people to start the imsak way before fajr, for, as it has been clearly demonstrated, the companions were in the habit of standing up for fajr soon after finishing their suhur.

Furthermore, it has been clearly demonstrated from the Sunnah and the practices of the pious generations that the time of imsak and fajr is not determined by minutes, seconds, or degrees, but by sufficient latitude, ease, and flexibility. Hence, there is no compelling reason for us to insist on the astronomical definition of dawn.

Still another point to note: When we consider the above statements and reports carefully, it is clear that their approach to the issue unravels another fundamental principle of jurisprudence. This has been often phrased as “That which is certain cannot be removed by doubts.” When we apply this principle to the issue at hand, since the night precedes dawn, that is a certainty, as such, it cannot be ruled out until we can clearly determine that the dawn has arrived.

Closely allied with the above is the importance of taking into account our own times and circumstances. No one can doubt we are living at a time where Muslims are showing increasing complacency and are slipping away from the practice of Islam. Moreover, since the day hours are excessively long, such rigidity when determiningimsak can be viewed as only dampening one’s spirit about fasting.

We saw all of the above leniency and latitude as pointed out above were demonstrated in standard time zones like those of Makkah and Madinah. So one might legitimately ask: By applying a far more stricter rule in calculating the time of imsak, are we trying to prove to be more pious than the Prophet’s companions and successors, and end up causing greater and greater hardship for people, who reside in less than standard time zones?

In this regard, therefore, let us recognize that the juristic traditions in all of the acceptable schools of jurisprudence have taken into account the circumstances of people and countries, for they knew too well that Shari`ah is based on tangible maqasid (higher purposes) and masalih (benefits). They also understood that the function of an `alim (scholar) is to render ease where there is difficulty. Long ago, Imam Sufyan Ath-Thawri said, “A true scholar is one who finds (based on sound principles) an easier way for people, because as far as making things difficult is concerned, one need not have any knowledge to do that!”

It is perhaps pertinent to mention here that, according to one of the great jurists of the Hanafi school of the twentieth century, the late Shaikh Mustafa Az-Zarqa, Muslims living in time zones where daylight hours are unusually long may base their times for imsak and iftar on the regular timetables followed in Makkah and Madinah.

If this is the inference of an eminent Hanafi jurist, coming as he is from a long lineage of authentic representatives of the Hanafi school, how can we be faulted for going by a time-table which calculates the Fajr in a slightly flexible manner?

As a final word, it would be wise to remind ourselves of the dire warning of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), “There are among you those who simply drive people away from Islam.” (Bukhari and Muslim).

I pray to Allah to guide us to the straight path, make us instruments of guidance and gather us all under the banner of the seal of prophets and messengers.

Usama Hasan, https://unity1.wordpress.com