Saturday, 18 December 2010

Celebration of National Inter Faith Week

Celebration of National
Inter Faith Week

Dr. Mozammel Haque

National Inter Faith Week took place in England and Wales from Sunday, 21 November to Saturday, 27 November, 2010. It is the second year that this Week was held to strengthen good inter-faith relations at all levels; increase awareness of different and distinct faith communities in the UK, in particular celebrating and building on the contribution which their members make to their neighbourhoods and to wider society, and increase understanding between people of religious and non-religious belief.

National Inter Faith Week
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (CLG), Eric Pickles, kicked off the National Inter Faith Week by urging everyone to get involved in inter-faith activities and make connections with people of different beliefs. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said, “Inter Faith is the perfect opportunity to celebrate the fantastic practical work of faith communities – and also to recognise that it’s when they pull together in a shared endeavour that they can make the biggest difference in their community.”

“Collaboration builds stronger understanding and helps people to concentrate on the values they hold in common – without ever losing their unique strengths,” Pickles said.

As well as aiming to strengthen bonds between people of different faiths, Inter Faith Week also sought to increase understanding and collaboration between people of religious and non-religious beliefs.

The Rt. Revd Dr. Alastair Redfern and Dr. Manazir Ahsan, Co-Chairs of the Inter Faith Network for the UK, said, “Good inter faith relations and practical cooperation between different faith communities are vital to the wellbeing of our society in the UK. Faith communities have enormous amount to offer to their local communities and to national life: working both independently and together in ways which respect their distinctiveness.”

“Inter Faith Week shines a light on the rich possibilities of mutual engagement and offers a chance for encounter, learning and practical engagement. We are delighted that hundreds of organisations, such as faith groups, schools and institutions of further and higher education, local authorities and emergency services are planning events,” they said.

Events and Projects
Among the events and projects being arranged to mark the Week were: dialogues and debates; school activities and youth faith forums; inter faith football; exchange visits between places of worship of different faiths; faith and social action projects; special focus events on topics such as faith in the workplace, faith and family; aging and spirituality, spirituality and health, faith and disability, faith and the Big Society, freedom of speech, and compassion and social justice.

It also included a national photography competition, plays, arts and music festivals; story telling evenings; faith trails and interfaith walks visiting different places of worship; an interfaith exhibition on science and religion; bring and share meals and ‘faith and food’ events; inter faith salsa; youth evening exploring faith and diversity through film and tree planting.

ICC hosted and MINAB celebrated
National Inter Faith Week
The Islamic Cultural Centre (ICC) hosted and the MINAB (Mosques & Imams National Advisory Board) organised an Inter Faith Seminar entitled “Faith & Phobia in Modern Britain” which was held in the Library Hall of the Islamic Cultural Centre, London, on Sunday, 21st of November, 2010.

Fuad Nahdi, the Executive Director of the Radical Middle Way and a Senior Fellow at the Muslim College, London, was the keynote speaker. Besides the keynote speaker, the meeting was also addressed by Revered Canon Guy Wilkinson, the Secretary for Inter-Religious Relations to the Archbishop of Canterbury; Rabbi David Hulbert, Rabbi of Bet Tikvah Synagogue, Berkingside; Sudarshan Bhatia, President of The National Council of Hindu Temples and Harmander Singh, who was awarded an Honorary Fellowship for outstanding achievements in community development and champions a range of issues concerning injustice, identity and social policy.

While opening the Seminar, Dr. Ahmad al-Dubayan, the chairman of the MINAB’s Inter Faith Committee and the Director General of the Islamic Cultural Centre, said, “It’s great privilege and honour for me, for MINAB and the Islamic Cultural Centre. It is a day actually, when we talk about dialogue, interfaith, connections, relations and we believe these are really very important. Dialogue and relations between the faith followers is of course not something new. I am sure that in the histories of all the religions we will find many examples of relations, dialogue and connections between the faith communities.”

“But nowadays it is more important, I believe, than any other time in the past. Why?” enquired Dr. al-Dubayan and immediately replied, “Because the world now is of course attending a new history with advanced technology, more connections, more communications, and the societies now are more closer and getting closer day by day, more than any other moment in history. With more connections and more relations, of course, there is always understanding, and good relations are really needed. I think this is really a moment and this time we need to establish something for the future now.”

While speaking about the importance of religion in the present century, Dr. Al-Dubayan mentioned, “Many political analysts have made reports and books have been written, all saying that it will be next century that we can call “The Century of Religion”. Since the last decade of the last century, of course, everybody has realised that the issue of religion has been raised everywhere in the world.. Many countries and nations are starting to get back their identities and to think again about their faiths and their religions. This means that religion is really coming back to play its role in society and communities everywhere. I believe also the Church and the Vatican can talk about this point because they ask for more of a role for religion within societies and communities in the world.”

“But when we talk about religion, we must also say which religion and how we build interfaith discussions and dialogue for followers. There is a lot of understanding but also a lot of misunderstanding, a lot of interpretations and a lot of misinterpretations around us, in all the faiths and in all the communities, mentioned Dr. Al-Dubayan and said, “These interpretations and misunderstandings never really move from the path unless we have positive dialogue among the followers, trying to get rid of some of the stereotypes and the pressure of history, by starting a new era, a new time rather than being caged by history.”

Speaking about the role and importance of Media, Dr. Al-Dubayan mentioned, “When we talk about interfaith dialogue, only a few religious people are talking about it, such as Imams, Priests, Rabbis and Monks. But now interfaith is an issue of Media and this is good and bad at the same time. It’s good because it brings interfaith to the fore and into the public as an issue for everybody to think about. But at the same time it’s very very bad because the Media has become recently the only source of how we understand others as a reliable source. Muslim communities have really suffered a lot, perhaps more than anyone else in the Media because of interpretations and misquotations and trying to represent it as Islam.”

Dr. Al-Dubayan said, “if we, alongside the other faith followers, do not try really hard to raise our voice, there will be no way in the futurev for better understanding and for better light to come to our homes.”

Speaking about MINAB as the biggest organisation in the Muslim community in the UK, Dr. Al-Dubayan mentioned, “It’s really been a mission from day one to concentrate and give dedication to the interfaith relations; to always open doors and ways for others, to listen to them and give them a chance to listen to the Muslims.”

Dr al-Dubayan hoped this event today is a “step in the right direction to do more work and create more chances to think about interfaith dialogue.”

Communities Secretary hosted
Inter Faith Week Reception
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles hosted a reception for faith leaders and faith-based community activists to mark Inter Faith Week (22-27 November) on Thursday, 25th of November, 2010 at Admiralty House, London. The reception provided an opportunity for Ministers, members of faith communities and local activists to network, strengthen relationships and forge new links with one another.

The reception was addressed by Rt. Revd Dr. Alastair Redfern Bishop of Derby, the Co-Chair of Inter Faith Network for the UK, reminded by saying that this faith is collateral and we contribute to the society for its development. “Let me tell you the faith landscape is a very complex society. Therefore we have to work hard for the betterment of the society,” he said.

Dr. Redfern mentioned, “We have national network, regional network and of course, we have lot of local activities. Recently, National Inter Faith Week, which the Government is again supporting,. is an opportunity to make all kinds of witnesses to be made; all kinds of relationships to be explored; and all kinds of engagements with the local communities and the focus of this particular gathering is to celebrate the local work and offering some interfaith works.”

Dr. Manazir Ahsan, the Co-Chair of the Inter Faith Network for the UK, while addressing the reception, said, “This is the second celebration of the Inter Faith Week. Last year, we had very colourful seminars, conferences, courses along with interfaith dialogues and so on and so forth. This year as well I am grateful to CLG and particularly the Secretary of State Eric Pickles, for hosting today. There are varieties of activities taking place and I am delighted to say that some of them have already participated and others I am looking forward to see. These include the meetings, seminars, workshops and exhibitions and exchange of visits between places of worship and faith and food events and interfaith learning events and schools; faith trails and interfaith works, arts and music activities and civic events and etc.”

Dr. Ahsan also mentioned, “This celebration is not only a one week celebration. This gives us an opportunity to explore how we can engage in more work. The work has been done locally, regionally, nationally and even internationally so important that we learn lessons and we try to support them.”

Dr. Ahsan also said, “The spiritual wealth which the faith communities have if we gather together they can do wonders indeed. I hope, our gathering this evening will be a great source of inspiration for all of us, for all faith groups and we will like another pledge that we will one to one work together, whatever challenges we face , whatever opportunities we encounter and I do hope that we work together and in fact then we will achieve our goal.”

Dr. Ahsan also mentioned that we are going to listen not only lectures , especially the input of the younger generations which is very important and I believe there are three or four members from Liverpool, and they will be able to give us a wonderful experiences of interfaith works.

Communities Minister
The Communities Minister, Andrew Stunell, mentioned that during the Week he had the opportunities to take part in number of interfaith events and observed, “They are all of high quality and great interest to me.”

The Minister also mentioned that we are looking at various opportunities to work with faith groups as being some kind of problem-solving forums. “We are very keen to make sure that those links are strengthened and we have very positive relationships with you and elsewhere.

Speaking about engaging fully with the faith groups, the Minister said, “We want to show very clearly that we do appreciate the works the faith groups do.” He also added, “It is not just the Churches, Mosques or Synagogues or Temples; it’s the people go to them and make contribution to the civic society and we hope that to be valued, appreciated and developed. So we are looking forward to develop that relationship between the government and the faith communities.”

“Of course, faith communities do a tremendous amount of spiritual work for their local communities. Of all the work you do individually as individual or religious institution, we can get more, we can do more; or we would be more effective being together,” Mr. Andrew Stunell, M.P. said and added, “We need to share our understandings, we need to share our experiences, and develop, knowledge and friendship with each other. But it is also very important indeed that we work together in our approach in society and the government together is very keen indeed to help you to play an active party what we call it a Big Society.”

Speaking about the Big Society, the Minister said, “We have got a Big Society in places. But what the Big Society is all about? - The best of society in civic action. We do available and active throughout the country. It is about to make sure that every community can prosper; every community can sense participation and fulfil it.”

“So Inter Faith Week is a very opportunity to celebrate the work you have done. It is going two years and done excellent work and looking forward what happened in the future. It gives chance to recognise our common values and develop partnership and get on with things together and I am looking forward very much to see some of the presentations which will follow illustrate and give us few surprise to the future,” the Minister concluded.

Interview with Communities Secretary
I have the opportunity to interview Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, M.P. who said, “I was brought up in a large Muslim community in the area. I do not believe that certain bombers; they are not typical of your children, not typical of Muslim with whom I grew up with, still common friends.” The Communities Secretary also mentioned, “What we have to concentrate now is that we have to look to those things which unite us.”

“If we see every Muslim as a potential terrorist, that route leads to madness,” observed Communities Secretary.

“Big societies take part in faith communities, but goes beyond that faith communities;” said the Communities Secretary in an interview with me and added, “I want to tap into the pastoral side of the religious communities and to try and get into a kind of inter lapping way in which we can address a number of social issues together.”

Replying to my question about Big Society, Communities Secretary Mr. Pickles, M.P. said, “Our role is to look to the pastoral side and also to remove boundaries and barriers; and barriers to cooperation, barriers to creativity.”

“We want to ensure that your whole creative efforts can go into those things that they are important in the pastoral side about delivering and sister helps to the wider community and in particular to the vulnerable world,” said the Communities Secretary.

MCB celebrated Inter Faith Week
The Muslim Council of Britain held a Seminar on Inter faith dialogue and engagement on Wednesday 24th November at the House of Lords in Westminster as part of the National Interfaith Week 2010 celebrations. Dr Manazir Ahsan, Chair of the Inter Faith Relations Committee of MCB stated that “Partnership should not be only face to face and side to side, but heart to heart as well”.

Lord Sheikh of Cornhill, who hosted the event, said “Let’s have a nice civilised discussion and dispel misunderstanding”. He highlighted the importance of inter faith interaction and went on to say “I believe there is more similarity than difference between faiths”

Mr Brian Pearce, Former Director of the Inter Faith Network for the UK expressed his deep appreciation of the Muslim Council of Britain’s commitment and contribution to inter faith work. He also commended MCB’s excellent brochure ‘Celebrating Faith’ publicised to mark the event and the week. His talk was followed by a speech by Mrs Trupti Patel, Vice Chair of the Hindu Forum of Britain who said “Treat as you would like to be treated and respect as you would like to be respected. Let us work together and let us pray together, let us accept what God gave together”.

Professor Tariq Ramadan ended the evening by delivering the keynote speech on “Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) Role in Inter Faith Relations”. He highlighted many occasions during the Prophet’s (pbuh) time where he showed equality and fairness in diversity. The Prophet (pbuh) “taught us about diversity”. Tariq Ramadan stated that “Through this life, tolerance is not enough, tolerance is a rational positioning. The very meaning of tolerance is suffering the positioning of the other” (For the elaborate keynote speech of Professor Tariq Ramadan on Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) Role in Inter Faith Relations, see the earlier despatch in this blog).
Dr Harriett Crabtree, Director of the Inter Faith Network, who rushed all the way from North England to join the meeting, highly commended the MCB’s contribution in the Inter Faith Field.

Farooq Murad, the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain said “Creation is the family of God. We need to take care of all the things as it is very much our responsibility”. He encouraged discussion as a ‘faith community’ and added “Lets work together on all our communities”. He stated, “Let us all close our eyes and realise one thing, that we are all part of the same family”.

To commemorate the event, the MCB launched a special publication under the title, Celebrating Faith, which highlights the MCB’s continuous work towards developing inter faith relations and also includes narratives of MCB affiliates about their contribution towards inter faith activities.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Role of Prophet Muhammad Peace be upon him in Inter Faith Relations

Professor Tariq Ramadan on Prophet
Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) Role in
Inter Faith Relations

Dr. Mozammel Haque

On the occasion of Inter Faith Week 2010, The Muslim Council of Britain’s (MCB) Interfaith Relations Committee celebrated the week by organising a meeting at the House of Lords on Wednesday, 24th of November, 2010 and Professor Tariq Ramadan was invited as a keynote speaker to lecture on “Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) Inter Faith Relations”.

Dr. Tariq Ramadan is a Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at the University of Oxford, Oxford, UK. He has been involved in interfaith dialogue for 25 years and he is among the leading Islamic thinkers in the West, with a large following around the world. Professor Ramadan has written an exceedingly beautiful book on the life of the blessed Prophet, entitled The Messenger: The Meanings of the Life of Muhammad (Penguin: London, 2007).

Messenger’s life
Professor Ramadan at the very beginning of his speech said that for us, as Muslims, it is very important to come back to the essence of religion and for us, the best example is our Messenger, Peace be upon him. He said, “For us, as Muslims, the best example is the Messenger peace be upon him and to come to this essence is to come to the Seerah which is not only the verses of the Qur’an and the message but the way he understood and implemented during his life. For us, all the Muslims, the Messenger’s life is an example, and we have to follow up the footsteps of the Messenger, to be witnesses; because at the end of the day he said something which is important.”

Faith should be visible
“We are all talking about faith; we are all celebrating faith; it is important. We very often speak about faith is something which is in our hearts;” said Professor Ramadan and added, “but when you follow the Messenger faith should be visible; it should be visible. Prophet came with revelations to make faith visible into our understanding but also of behaviour. So this is why it is important for us to understand that.”

Final message, diversity is our faith, our destiny
Professor Ramadan mentioned, “From an Islamic viewpoint, it is very important to understand what he said about the previous scriptures, about the previous Messengers and messages. The final Messenger is saying that it is not the only message; the final message and the Messenger respects all the Messengers. This is something which is central to the last Messenger who is telling you that you have to deal with diversity. Diversity is your faith; diversity is destiny and after diversity you have to learn first to understand and know yourself and to know the other. The verse quoted here means, ‘We made you tribes and nations for you to know each other.’”

Professor Ramadan also mentioned, “In between the conflict and knowledge there is humility. Diversity to understand that you do not understand the whole truth. Truth does not belong to you but you belong to Truth. You are trying to express the Truth. You can get that understanding from the very beginning and it is very important thing. Then also for our consistency out of this behaviour to get another understanding what the message is saying about other traditions; for other religions and for other messengers, it is very important.”

Tolerance is not enough
Professor Ramadan said that when he went through Prophet’s life and he wrote Book on “The Messenger: The Meaning of the Life of Muhammad”, he just realised two or three things which he put into two main important lessons; “first one is that through this life what you get is that tolerance is not enough; tolerance is a rational positioning; is that I tolerate your presence with my mind because I have no means to remove you from the picture and the very essence of tolerance is suffering of the presence of the other.”

Accept the Will of God
“This is the very meaning of tolerance from the Islamic viewpoint; you will find exactly the same in Christianity, in Judaism, in Hinduism and in Buddhism. You have to even accept beyond that,” said Professor Ramadan and added, “The acceptance is to accept the Will of God and God wants the diversity. He wants the diversity as your destiny; so you have to go from acceptance towards respect and the difference between acceptance and respect that you have to personally committed to this presence of the other, meaning respect is based on the knowledge of the other.”

Knowledge, listening and talk
It is important to understand every single step of the Prophet’s life. Professor Ramadan said, “It is not only to accept what God is showing but your deep acceptance through the spirituality to go towards knowledge, to know the other and to know the other is not for you to talk only but is for you also to listen, based on knowledge; listening what the people has to say. Dialogue is not I talk and you listen that talk; but I will listen.”

We have a message, There is one God
Professor Ramadan reminded the stories of Moses. According to the Qur’an, when Moses is facing the Christians, they are asking him: are you going to speak first or us? Show me what you have to say. Professor Ramadan said, “Even in the dialogue, the very beginning is to listen. So we get this overall understanding. When we come to the life of Messenger here we have message and we have behaviour. We have a way of dealing with it; we have a witness of this; we have an example and we have a model. What is important here is for us, that the Prophet peace be upon him was repeating and that comes a new message, what was coming before and for us the essential thing that was there that there is one God, the one God, it is the central, the Tawheed. This is why it is understood Ahlul Kitab, the people who were following Book that was revealed, are following this very message that there is one God.”

There is meaning in our life
“And there is one God means that there is meaning in our life. Professor Ramadan wanted to stress on this. He said, “Very often in our interfaith dialogue, Islah, life has a meaning. We are coming from God and to Him we are going back; so it means that we have a responsibility to keep this meaning. When Prophet peace be upon him came to Madina, what he did in Madina? In Madina when he was dealing with society is not just doing the is doing in the night is to change during the day. So there is a connection here between the spirituality and faith in action.”

Seerah of the Prophet – humility
What teaching we get from diversity? From this diversity what should we do and why it is important? Professor Ramadan said, “The first teaching of diversity that we had is the important of Seerah of the Messenger, the Prophet peace be upon him is really humility; is at the same time to belief that you have the Truth and you follow the Truth; because you are the believers and that this is the Truth that He is the Truth. So following something that I deeply belief in Truth but the Truth is telling me there are other religions and the other ways; so you have to deal with this diversity that it will help you to be better yourselves.”

“Someone telling us I am not learning despite of respecting, despite of their differences because they are different, your differences help me to be better. So the fact that you are helping me to know who I want to be,” said Professor Ramadan and added, “So the difference is an asset, as it could be if you don’t have faith, if you don’t have some understanding, something could be a liability, a problem and a challenge per se.

Confirmation of faith
Then Professor Ramadan mentioned some of the teachings we learned from the very beginning is that when the Messenger was first trying to get them answer; he left the people and went to Hera and he was asking God to give him an answer. “The first confirmation just after the first revelation that there is something what you are saying right, there is something what you got;” mentioned Professor Ramadan and said, “So confirming the very essence of faith and saying something that you will never and we should never forget, because something you are coming with Truth, as oath and love and you are going to be loved by people. Face animosity, face enemy. We have to be clear on that. We should spread peace knowing that some responses as we can see today are not outgoing with full of love. So this is the starting point.”

Face animosity, face enemy
Professor Ramadan also reminded, “It’s a Christian telling to a Muslim, the last Messenger that the people are going to reject what you are coming with because some people are moved by interest, money, power. Know that your responsibility: if you are coming with meaning is to resist this obsession of power, this idolatry. Idolatry is exacting this. So you got this from the Christian. The Messenger did not understand at the beginning; he said: ‘Are they going to reject me?’ He said, ‘yes, this is the fate of the Messenger.’ So it’s a Christian teaching and just telling that you are following the steps of a long tradition.”

Question of meaning
Then oppression really and eventually came and after the oppression, what did the Messenger say and what did he do? Professor Ramadan said, “Wahi, this revelation, this inspiration coming from God, ‘Go to the Christian ruler; he is working with justice,’ saying to the Muslims it is not a question of love; it is a question of meaning, go and he will protect you; because he is a believer and he is acting as a just ruler.”

Halful Fadul Pact
Professor Ramadan mentioned another agreement, Halful Fadul pact which was made before the arrival of Islam. Professor Ramadan said, “Remember that when after years the Prophet got the revelation he said one day I was in a home and in this home was a jadal; we had a pact - the pact of the future, the Halful Fadul. It was all about justice; it was before Islam; but if now myself as a Muslim, I had to come back to this Pact, I will come back to it; why? Because it was before Islam but it is Islamic principle; telling you that it was not you follow only what is coming from your religion, because some principles are coming from outside; they are rooted in your tradition but coming from other people.”

Principles are principles from wherever they come
“You can find them in Christianity, you can find them in Judaism, you can find them in Jewish, Christian people, Hindu people, Buddhist people and even non-religious people and non-believers sometimes they abide by principles that you will find them what we are losing; this diversity could help you and this is what he was saying about Halful Fadul telling to Muslims: be careful principles are principles from wherever they come,” said Professor Ramadan.

Asking the Christians to come
Professor Ramadan mentioned some of the things which need education and understanding. He said we can get this from the life of the Prophet peace be upon him. He said, “We can get this teaching from his life and then also some of the stories that we had asking the Christians to come and the verse was just quoted now, Ya Ahlil Kitab, O, People of the Book, come to the common world; we have to talk and we want to listen. Then access is this that there is one God; but let us come together. It was said in some of the Traditions that you pray within the Mosque. It was allowed that the prophet and there was discussions mainstream is saying it happened this respect towards Christianity; and look at this because you are referring Khalifa Omar to Jerusalem and al-Quds; he refused to pray in the Church; why?”

Prophet allowed Christians to pray in Mosque and
Omar refused to pray in Church
Professor Ramadan narrated, “The Prophet peace be upon him welcomed the Christians and he let them to pray within the Mosque; but when Omar went to al-Quds he refused to pray in the Church and he said people after me win here and they will agree to destroy the Church; sending the message that we value the very essence of what the Church is, he knew human beings. The human beings are sometimes distorted memory and distorted respect. Here we have again story coming with someone who was Companion of the Messenger and telling us how we have to act and more than that.”

Madina Agreement with Jews – equality
Then Professor Ramadan also mentioned about the Madina Covenant with the Jews. He said, “When the Messenger arrived in Madina and he said to the Jewish tribes that he wanted to come into a common agreement; equality, respecting them; la ikraha fith deen; I am not going to convert people; respect who you are; so we have a common agreement. So this would be something which has to do with the rule of law; that we abide by the same law; same rights and the same duties at the same time.”

Political struggle
“Even after this, in some of the struggles with some of the Christians or Jewish tribes, the Messenger was able to differentiate between political reasons and the essence of mutual respect protecting some of the Jewish tribes while having problems with other tribes but he was not confusing,” mentioned Professor Ramadan and said, “It is very important for us not to confuse political struggle and not respecting the freedom of religion of the other. So I think this is something which is coming from his life and to end with this example in Madina and this is very essence of diversity and equality.”

Self-critical is important
Professor Ramadan said, “Self-critical is important. We are not coming back to the past to forget the failures of the present; we are coming back to the past to know our responsibility to change the present; it is the past to change the present and it is not the past to forget the failures of the present. This is something which is quite important in the critical thinking that is very important as Muslims.”

Secular society
Speaking about secular society, Professor Ramadan said, “We have to reach out, we have a responsibility to reach out within our society and to stop of talking about secular society which is not concerned with religion. Secular society does not mean that there is no religion; secular society means there is a neutral space where we respect each other, it is not disappear. So the people who are transforming a secular society into an ideology of secularism you have to disappear; it is dangerous for all of us.”

Love and Family
Then Professor Ramadan mentioned about his experience in South America when he met people who are connected to the Roman Catholic Church. Professor Ramadan said, “We are talking about love. If you love God, at the end of the verse is, God will love you. When you look at the Messenger and the Prophet, peace be upon him, it is all about loving God. It is just to serve Him because he loves Him. We have to come with this.”

Professor Ramadan also spoke about family. He said, “Come back to the centrality of family and I don’t know what you feel about this; but Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, we all care about the very essence of family life in our society and its future. We are following into the footsteps of people who told them: be careful about your wives, your husbands, your kids.”

Superficial of understanding of Religion
Professor Ramadan mentioned his dialogue recently with someone who wrote a book saying God is not Great. “Which kind of meaning? What are you attacking?” said Professor Ramadan and added, “Sometimes it is very much a question of people of misunderstanding and the very superficial of understanding of religion. People sometimes are rejecting religion because they have a very superficial understanding and we have to come to our principles to say this.”

Final word on Interfaith
Professor Ramadan said the final word on interfaith dialogue is “We have to work on this. Interfaith dialogue is not speaking about the common values, it is to put in the middle, challenges, projects and we have to be involved together and to come us together with our respective values.”

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Unparallel Successful Hajj 2010

An Unparallel Successful Hajj 2010

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Hajj 2010 was a record-breaking unparallel successful Hajj on many fronts: extraordinary turnout of pilgrims, major multi-million riyals developments including the Mashair Train and Al-Jamarat Bridge. The organisation, in terms of health, security, accommodation and transport, was also outstanding. Massive future developments are also under way which will see Makkah transformed into one of the most advanced cities in the world.

Hajj is one of the faith’s five pillars which require Muslims to undertake the pilgrimage to Makkah at least once in their lifetime if possible. World’s 1.6 billion Muslims obliged by religious duty to attempt the trip to the Holy cities but the host Saudi Arabia is only able to accept about 2.5 million a year due to the space in the surrounding areas of the holy places. Although the formal Hajj rituals only span five days, most go for a minimum of two weeks and some for up to two months, travelling to Madinah as well as to Makkah. However, beyond all the facts and figures, Hajj is an extraordinary spiritual exercise for all those seeking it.

Record number of Pilgrims
This year, Hajj 2010, there was an unprecedented number of pilgrims coming to complete the Holy Pilgrimage, as prescribed by Prophet Ibrahim and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them). The General Statistics Department announced that there were officially over 2.7 million pilgrims on Hajj this year, according to a report run by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA). This year’s Hajj drew a record 1.8 million foreigners from diverse regions of the world like Nigeria, Russia and Indonesia and the remaining 989,789 were from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, most of them residents. This is apart from the illegal pilgrims coming for the Holy journey. This was unlike last year when many pilgrims were kept away over Swine Flu fears.

Prince Naif , the Saudi interior Minister, said, it is reported, that close to 1.8 million pilgrims arrived in the Kingdom, the highest number ever recorded. The figure included 977,583 males representing 54 percent of the total, and 822,018 females representing 46 percent of the total of pilgrims. This was an 11 percent increase – 180,746 pilgrims – compared to last year. A total of over 1.6 million pilgrims came by air, 117,363 by land and 12,916 by sea, from 181 countries, reported in the press.

India, this year, sent about 175,000 pilgrims, Indonesia 220,000 pilgrims, Pakistan 160,000 and Bangladesh sent 94,000 pilgrims this year. 200,000 or more Saudi citizens and residents also joined this year Hajj.

Mashair Train in Holy sites
The operation this year of the multi-billion Riyal Holy Sites Train, also known in Arabic as the Mashair Train, reduced the traffic on the roads by a staggering 3,000 buses, according to the Hajj Committee at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI). So, the most significant and high-profile development for Hajj this year 2010 was the completion of the first phase of the SR.6.5-billion Holy Sites Train, also known as the Mashair Train or Makkah Metro Train. The Train operated without any incident on the first two days of Hajj.

The Chinese-built dual-track light railway, with an initial nine stations, connects the three holy sites of Mina, Muzdalifah and Mount Arafat – areas that see massive congestion during the five-day pilgrimages will replace 4,000 buses previously used for Hajj. On Sunday, 14th of November, 2010, the Mashair Train, also known as Makkah Metro, rolled out to serve pilgrims, a move which is likely to see a major reduction in traffic congestion. This year Hajj 2010 the Mashair Train has already effectively tackled “unbearable” traffic jams at the holy sites.

The SR.6.5-billion train project was only operated at 35 percent of its full capacity at the moment in the first phase. When the project is complete, there will be 20 trains operational carrying up to 72,000 pilgrims an hour. They are estimated to transport more than 500,000 pilgrims an hour. The Train will eventually be linked to Makkah. It is also reported that the Train’s project has contributed to the development of Muzdalifah and also made it possible for several pilgrims to spend the night there.

The Train initially will run only from Mina, to the east, and on to Muzdalifah and Mount Arafat further east. The nine-trains can transport 30,000 pilgrims an hour.
Completion of Al-Jamarat Bridge
The completion of the top level of Al-Jamarat Bridge has also considerably eased the movement of pilgrims from the Tent City to perform the ritual of stoning of the devil. The stoning of the devil ritual at the massive Al-Jamarat Bridge started without any incident in the early hours of Tuesday, the 16th of November. The Saudi authorities also provided more than 124 free electric vehicles to take the sickly and elderly pilgrims to the Al-Jamarat Bridge.

It is reported that The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs allocated 124 free small electric ‘golf’ carts to serve the elderly handicapped and pilgrims with special needs at the entrance to the Al-Jamarat Bridge. Each vehicle accommodates 14 pilgrims, moving them to throw pebbles and returning them to their camps.

Accident-free Hajj/Healthcare
Everyone declared this year’s Hajj a resounding success. Hajj 2010 took place this year without any major incident. This is due to the organisation, in terms of health, security, accommodation and transport, which was outstanding.

This year’s Hajj was given a clean bill of health. There was no outbreak of epidemic diseases and that the vast majority of pilgrims enjoyed good health. The Ministry of Health, it is reported, mobilized all its physical and technical resources to provide the highest standards of healthcare and to maintain the well-being of the Guests of Allah so that they could perform their religious duties with ease, comfort and peace of mind.

The Ministry of Health has implemented a number of preventive measures, including setting health requirements and updating them regularly based on scientific evidence and endorsement by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The Ministry has also ensured early detection of infectious diseases by implementing a strict surveillance process at all ports of entry for pilgrims arriving by air, land or sea.

The Saudi authorities during this year’s Hajj have an extensive network of hospitals and health centres, staffed by thousands of health workers to treat pilgrims. The Ministry of Health disclosed that there are 24 Health Ministry hospitals – seven hospitals in Makkah, 10 in Madinah, four in Mina and three in Arafat, with a total capacity of 4,005 beds. The Undersecretary of the Ministry, Dr. Muhammad bin Hamza Khushaim also said that 144 health centres in Makkah, the holy sites and Madinah were made readied for pilgrims. Of these, 127 health centres were in Makkah and the holy sites – 31 centres in Makkah, 46 in Arafat, 28 in Mina, six in Muzdalifah and 16 centres at the Jamarat Bridge. There were also 10 health centres at the Grand Mosque and its courtyards. The Secretariat of the Holy City of Makkah has assigned 12 pharmacies in Mina to provide medical services to the pilgrims.

Red Crescent Air Ambulances
Five air ambulances of the Red Crescent were flying over the holy sites as part of emergency services for the pilgrims, said the Director of the Saudi Red Crescent Air Ambulances organization’s air operations. A total of 140 personnel, including crew and medical staff, were ready 24 hours a day, with aircraft equipped with two beds and a mini emergency room. The aircraft was in a position to land at six hospitals with helipads, including Al-Noor, Hira, King Abdullah Medical City, Mina and Arafat, in addition to two other pads on the Jamarat Bridge.

A New Hajj Lab
The Saudi Health Ministry purchased for Hajj a world class laboratory that can detect over 10,000 viruses and other micro-organisms with its state-of-the-art technology. According to Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeah, Saudi Minister of Health, the equipment can identify all kinds of microbes, bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. He said the laboratory will be essential in its bid to keep pilgrims healthy during Hajj, it is reported. A total of 135 consultant doctors in various rare specializations was on duty around the clock during Hajj.

The Saudi Ministry of Health for the third year set up a special toll free call centre for Hajj pilgrims needing information and advice on health issues. The number to call was 800-249-4444.

Security measures
Over 50,000 security officials were deployed on the roads leading from Makkah to Mina to oversee the safety and security of pilgrims this year’s Hajj, according to a report carried by the Saudi Press Agency. There was top-level security at the Grand Mosque this year for Hajj, with over 8,000 male and female officials on duty, according to the Commander of the Grand Mosque’s Security Forces. Security officers had also helped in guiding pilgrims to the upper stories of the Grand Mosque, especially during the second and third days of Tashreeq when hundreds of thousands of pilgrims poured into the Holy Haram to perform the Farewell Tawaf.

Saudi-trained barbers at work
Over 100 Saudi graduates of the Vocational Industrial institutes, an affiliate of the General Organization for Technical and Vocational Training, who attended an intensive training course in hair shaving and haircuts, participated in this year’s Hajj in the “Safe Shaving Program”. Makkah Mayoralty allocated a special area for the young barbers who rendered their service to the pilgrims at “Al-Baiya Yard” west of Al-Jamarat Bridge in Mina.

More than 6,000 labourers provided with 1,000 cleaning machines and 46,000 containers were working to keep the holy sites clean, said Director General of the Cleaning Administration at the Makkah Mayoralty.

More Women Scout Guides Next Hajj
The number of women guides will be increased for the next Hajj, according to Prince Faisal Bin Abdullah, Minister of Education. He said women scouts played a crucial role during Hajj. For this reason he wants to double the number in future. He added that plans are being drawn up to convert the scout society into a civil body, as ordered by the King. He said the King’s decision will contribute to the development and progress of the society which currently has 125,000 members. He also said it is a ‘noble mission’ and sends out a strong message to society, particularly the children about the value of voluntary work.

Million Meals on Arafat Day
The “Ishan wa Al-Takaful Al-Ijtima’i” – Good Deeds and Social Solidarity – Society in Makkah provided pilgrims with one million meals on Arafat Day, according to the charity’s director general. Each meal consisted of a bottle of water, fruit juice, baked bread garnished with cheese and dates, a pack of biscuits, and a napkin and waste container.

Future Developments Plan
Massive future developments are under way, which will see Makkah transformed into one of the most advanced cities in the world, as outlined by Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, Governor of Makkah. Makkah is also expected to see massive new developments over the coming years. The plan includes removing slums and old buildings around Makkah and replacing them with a new generation of housing and hotels. Saudi authorities also plan to build new hospitals and improve transportation and communication structure, said the Governor’s deputy, Abdulaziz Al-Khedheiri.