Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Islam spreads, not by Force, but by Good Behaviour

Islam spreads, not by force
but by good behaviour

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Islam spreads, not by force as alleged, but by good behaviour, Akhlaq in Arabic. You can win hearts by sweet words, not by harsh words which destroy your credibility because unkind words hurt the hearts of the people which you are keen to win. Da’wah is not as simple as people consider it so; because it is something to deal with heart, feeling, love, affection and psychology. One can knock down the house of friendship in one second which has taken years to build. That’s why, the small piece in the human body, the tongue, is very important in the whole body; it can take you to the Heaven or drop you in the Hell-fire.

There is one person, I know, though he is a scientist by profession, loved by everybody, from the King at the top to the man on the street, the poorest of the poor, at the bottom, due to his Akhlaq. People say about him that “he is a Rajul Saleh, the good man.”

He is Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef, Professor of Geology, at King Abdulaziz University, former President of King Abdulaziz University, ex-Secretary General of the Muslim World League (Rabita Al-Alam Al-Islami), former Deputy Chairman of the Majlis-e-Shoura of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and presently, the President of the World Muslim Congress and Secretary General of the International Islamic Council of Dawah and Relief (IICDR). He travelled most of the countries of the world; met and discussed many issues with the Vatican Pope and with the Secretary General of the United Nations. This is the Akhlaq we have to cultivate.

I used the word, Akhlaq, in the beginning; because it is a word which stands for a very wide and broader meaning. It conveys the combination of the words, gentle tongue, soft heart, fellow feeling, love and helping attitude, in short, good conduct and good behaviour. There is a proverb in English, courtesy costs nothing. This is one thing which we have to learn when we want to do Da’wah.

However, Da’wah is still considered to be the responsibility of every person, in the narrower sense of the term, which means you have to call people to do good deeds and restrain people from doing harmful or wrong deeds. In that sense, no doubt, Da’wah is easy but it involves many things such as negotiation, communication and engagement and to do this sort of things one needs proper education, training and experience. That’s why, one of the speakers at a recently held international Da'wah Conference at Hilton Paddington, Dr. Abdullah Hakim Quick emphasised on three things: Talim, Tablig and Tatbiq. Basic knowledge on Qur’an and Sunnah and some education and training is essential which requires at least spending some of their time on that. Not only that, it also needs some training on how to communicate with wisdom, tact and patience.

After saying all this as an introductory remark, I would like to report what the most distinguished and renowned scholars of the world have to say about engagement and how to do Da’wah and what are the essential requirements and mechanism of Da’wah. Before I start to report that, I must have to say and acknowledge my gratitude to Sir Iqbal Sacranie without whose efforts, it is quite impossible for me to report this. So I am grateful to him. I expect our younger generation to learn from their elders.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie
While speaking about the issue of engagement, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the former Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain and presently Chairman of Muslim Aid, said at an International Da’wah Conference in London on 16th of January, 2011: “I will talk on the policy of engagement as a part of the work related to Da’wah. The very basic concept of engagement within the Muslim community and outside must always be paramount in ensuring it meets the criteria of the message of Holy Qur’an and supported by the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him). i.e. the Qur’an and Sunnah need to be the pivotal in that engagement. Once this is being clear then I think it is sufficient to meet, to discuss with any part of the society.”

Mentioning about the Muslim population of the UK which is about 3%, just over 2.5 million and the responsibility to convey the Message of Truth, of Islam to the wider community, to the wider society, Sir Iqbal enquired, “How can it be done?” and replied, “Of course this evening we are listening the distinguished scholars and they will go into depths. We are going to hear from them the key topics – how it is being done effectively in different parts of the world or in the West and in the Muslim countries.”

Muslims have been living in this country for the last 40 years and some of the brothers would have experienced in some way or other that we are not being recognised as who we are; of our faith; said Sir Iqbal while mentioning about the issue of identity and added, “We are usually being recognised as non-White persons, as part of the Black community; as part of the Asians, of the Sub-continent. But the issue of faith does not come in; that is realised much earlier just before the formation of the Muslim Council of Britain, i.e. look as we are. But how one judges a person; the one’s actions, the one’s deeds; but what motivates this actions or deeds; but, of course, the issue came in, it’s the issue of faith.”

“Faith plays a key role in terms of how you behave in the society and how you interact and what benefit you want to achieve for the welfare of the society at large." said Sir Iqbal and mentioned, “Surely, it was about time to reflect and it is crucial that the recognition of faith comes in. And that was the question of religious affiliation.”

After narrating the long story about the immense discussions, deliberations, meetings and conferences, Sir Iqbal mentioned, “The one aspect which became so important is to address the need of understanding of what the faith is all about.”

After narrating the whole story of the recognition of faith as a fact, Sir Iqbal said, “The message coming out is that through that engagement, through the wider society, through the people of power whether the Government, the Councils or the people of other faiths; once you could mention them that our faith is not a religion that causes harm but a religion that is for the betterment of mankind and how that is come in.”

The next question which Sir Iqbal mentioned which is absolutely important, which I have mentioned in my introductory remarks “that is absolutely vital and that is the message the way we convey ourselves; the behaviour. The time God Almighty told Moses when you meet Pharaoh you have to be conveying the Message of Islam to be very gently and in proper manner. The tradition of the Prophet (peace be upon him) when he was with the Jews and the Nasarah how did he engage to convey the message across. These are the practical examples that one’s beliefs is important for us putting into our daily lives when we engage.”

“At the present time we are experiencing the concern that we see from certain sectors from the media, from the neo-con the extreme brand is to denigrate deliberately our faith by coming up with the examples of the situation of Denmark, of Cartoons, some articles that vilify our beloved Prophet; they come with different ideas and games,” mentioned Sir Iqbal and said, “This is the time Insha Allah, the Message of Deen has come out with very positive way and constructive way as we see through IERA. This will automatically bring out the better understanding.”

Dr. Abdullah Hakim Quick
The next speaker, renowned Da’wah worker, spoke extensively on how to engage. Dr. Abdullah Hakim, Historian, Lecturer and Media Consultant, said, “It is an invitation; it is just giving of a message, it may be a discussion, or but no one understands that is coming out from the field and really looking back at the Seerah of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and those great duwat of Islamic history it is that the Sheikh has said that Da’wah is encouraging people to goodness and guidance; calling to the good and forbidding the evil in order that you manage yourself to get the best and would be happy and enjoy the life of this world and the Hereafter.”

Foundation of Da’wah laid by the Prophet
(Peace be upon him)

“So really Da’wah is not just a specific engagement, it is a whole process and we need to be giving it to look Da’wah as a process and the best example of that is our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). So we got from the Seerah and from a series of Duwat who led all the people of Da’wah coming from Madinah,” mentioned by Dr. Abdullah Hakim and said, “They were engaged in three major activities: right from the beginning. This is the establishment of the foundation of this encouragement.”

Dr. Abdullah Hakim mentioned, “The first great activity done by the Prophet (peace be upon him) was the establishment of the House of Allah and by establishing the House of Allah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) was establishing, we will call today, the all-purpose Islamic centre. So within this structure there was not only Islamic prayer but there was education, there was dialogue, there was engagement, there was even political town hall meeting going on within this structure. So the essence of Da’wah is coming out of the House of Allah the Almighty which is the centre of the community.”

“The second great activity done by the Prophet (peace be upon him) was to strengthen the relationship of the believers one to another. This is really important, because people who enter Islam need to enter into community where there is Islam and brotherhood. So the Prophet (peace be upon him) established this relationship between the believers and bringing them together; they shared their livelihood, they shared their lives. So they became living collectively, they could take in people who were coming from outside,” mentioned Dr. Abdullah Hakim.

Dr. Abdullah Hakim continued, “The third major activity was strengthening the relationship between Muslims and people of other faiths; and Prophet (peace be upon him) laid down in this case the Covenant of Madinah and this was the first time that a powerful majority group recognised the relationship of minority people within the structure. So the people of other faiths, the Jews of Madinah was allowed to stay within their religion and they were part of the society with their rights and responsibilities like the Muslim themselves.”

So with these three great activities, Dr. Abdullah Hakim maintained, the Prophet (peace be upon him) established the basis of this encouragement of humanity looking first to the Creator within ourselves and then keeping that relationship with other faiths.

While narrating how the foundation of Da’wah laid by the Prophet (peace be upon him) Dr. Abdullah Hakim also mentioned that there is another definition of Da’wah which is “Da’watul Islamia”. “It is something, the real Da’wah; the process of Da’wah the whole picture is to spread the message to the people, to teach them what it is and to put it into practice in real life. So it is not just words; education involved in it; it comes into culmination through practical application in life itself,” said Dr. Abdullah Hakim.

Mentioning the background of Da’wah, Dr. Abdullah Hakim said, “The Prophet (peace be upon him) sent companions for Da’wah. In his Farewell Pilgrimage Sermons at Arafat over 100,000 people, Prophet (peace be upon him) was telling them those are present ‘you should take this message to those who are absent’. So most of his Companions died outside Hejaz. They spread Islam to different parts of the world. This was not done intellectually. It was an engagement; an interaction with society.”

Spread of Da’wah to al-Andalus
Then Dr. Abdullah Hakim narrated his recent experience of the discovery of the spread of Da’wah and which is one of the best example for Europe itself. He found this recently in another journey that took him to Andalus, to Spain and Portugal. He stated, “That the leader of Muslims in North Africa, Musa ibn Nusseir, responded to the call of the monotheistic Christian people and Jewish people who were being persecuted in the Iberian Peninsula. He responded to this call and Tariq ibn Ziyad went across and engaged with those who were in oppression and became victorious. As Tariq and Musa went through the country the people opened up their doors. No resistance; historians looked at why is this?”

“It is not because of large army; it is not because of terrible weapons; it was because they were establishing justice; they were lowering taxes; and they were also recognising people from where they were. So the Jewish people were allowed to stay on their faith. Christian people were allowed to stay on their faith; and what is interesting of this point of history is that it is about 40 years period of total freedom inside the Iberian Peninsula the people have not known for centuries,” mentioned Dr. Abdullah Hakim and said, “Within that 40 year period people realised that they needed direction; they really needed to understand what are the message they brought to us; who are the people who are leading Islam and this is where the great leaders claim should be recognised, should be written in golden letters in our history, is Abd-ar Rahman ibn Mu’awiyah ibn Hisham.”

Abd-ar Rahman ibn Mu’awiyah ibn Hisham was the last of the great Umayyyad’s leaders whose mother was from North Africa from Berber people. Dr. Abdullah Hakim said, “When we look at his life, we find during his period that he ruled he was able to not only establish Islam as a way of life; but thousands of people actually embraced Islam on his hands. And I was shocked to find out at the society that majority of people who accepted Islam and was practising Islam in al-Andalus; they were not Berbers, they were not West Africans, they were European peoples who embraced Islam.”

Tabliq, Taleem and Tatbikh
The question then comes why they embraced Islam? Why they changed their life-styles? Dr. Quick said, “Remember the principles, Tablig, Taleem and Tatbikh. It is reported that he did not locked himself away at the palace; he would go down to the streets and would feed the poor, would interact with people; he would attend funeral prayers, he was concerned with the people within his society itself and one of his first acts was to bring water into the city.”

“Abd-ar-Rahman made his capital Cordoba and one of his first acts was to bring about water into the city. Through the use of aqueducts he brought in water, which developed irrigation and he begun to change the quality of lifestyle of the people. The presence of running water, of fresh water is crucial point in raising the standard of living of people of any society,” said Dr. Quick and mentioned, “It is also reported that following this he negotiated with the Christian people of Cordoba. He did not take over their Cathedrals that used to be the temples; he bought the Cathedrals for 100,000 dinars. He bought from Christians who allowed him to establish in other places the places of worship in the other parts of the city. He lifted taxes of the people within the society; established Masjids as an educational centre and a spiritual centre. It is interesting because this man was penetrating inside. This is the real Da’wah.”

The next major act he did is through education. “Abd-ar-Rahman established educational institutions for young people in society; he tried to help all young people in the society to learn to read, write and study arithmetic and also those who were Muslims and those who were interested to study the Qur’an and Hadiths. So education was encouraged,” said Dr. Abdullah Quick and mentioned, “He also encouraged trades. People should learn trades and he increased types of trades that the people were learning. Not only the normal trade that we get in the society, but he introduced paper-making; glass-blowing, porcelain development and weaving. He took the society into another stage and gave opportunity to the people of employment.”

Welfare of the People
Dr. Abdullah Quick said, “Purification of water; education, employment, selfless leader who would come down and engaged with people. We find that he developed beautiful gardens, he opened up public baths; he established Madrasahs within the society. We find following this, he also engaged in mass agriculture. So he encouraged Muslims to be involved in agriculture and they studied lands and introduced those fruits and vegetables which would be suitable for the climate of al-Andalus. He also introduced peaches, pomegranates, grape fruits. So the society begun to bloom; he raised the status of the people and they were being engaged in another level.”

“He did not compel the Christians or the Jews to accept Islam. As one of the followers of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) he developed toleration. It is reported that this was one of the greatest periods of Jewish literature. The great Jewish scholar, Mamum Maimonides, lived during this period. The Christian Kings and Queens sent their children to Toledo, Granada, Seville, and Cordoba; for higher education and through this higher education and advancement made by Muslims during this period, Europe actually became renaissance. We understand now with the re-analysis of history this was not actually the dark ages of Europe; it was actually the golden age,” said Dr. Abdullah Quick and added, “This is not Moorish history in Spain; it is European history; and it is important for us to understand that many of the great scholars of the period would have accepted Islam, not through compulsion but through upgrading their lives.”

Dr. Abdullah Quick also mentioned, “Islam was spread by people showed a superior form of living; highest standard of living; tolerance of other people; God-consciousness in the time when people were losing their faith. So this is a beautiful example of Da’wah in its essence. Remember the first definition, when you look at the word Khair in Arabic, goodness; it is not goodness that is something which is opposed to bad. It is the general welfare of the people. So we understand from this that the process established by the Prophet (peace be upon him) which was taken on by the scholars, by activists, by great leaders moving to the outer world. This is the real process of Da’wah. This is the process whereby the words become actions; people begin to see that the problems they are facing in the society at their pointed time can be solved by submission to the Creator of the Heavens and the earth.”

Islam has gems of Wisdom
Dr. Abdullah Quick said, “As a basic, the Talim, Tablig and Tatbikhs, spreading the message to the people; getting them to understand, educating them, opening up our doors, providing resources to the society to understand what Islam really is and finally the Tatbikhs, that is practical application of Islam in dealing with the real problems of the societies. Today’s world is going through tremendous crisis, we are in economic recession; we are facing with our families, alcoholism and illegal drugs destroying our population. Racism is on the rise; confusion is alive within people on the concept of Creator; there is rise of magicians; there is rise of cults in societies; there is spiritual vacuum; and so Islam has gems of wisdom. And it is really for Muslims for those who are holding this message, these beautiful gems of wisdom, to first put into our own lives and then encourage people, not through force but through active sincere engagement.”

Launch of a Report on Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime

Launch of a Report on Islamophobia
and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime

Dr. Mozammel Haque

The Report on “Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: UK Case Studies 2010” was launched under the auspices of Cordoba Foundation at the London Muslim Centre, London, on Tuesday, 23rd of October 2010. This is the second research of the European Muslim Research Centre (EMRC). Though it is a report, it is quite substantial report. This Report on Islamophobia was sponsored by Al-Jazeera Centre for Studies at Doha, Qatar. Its representative, Dr. Rafiq Abdussalam who is head of Research at the Al-Jazeera Centre for Studies at Doha, came straight from Doha, Qatar, to attend the launch of the Report.

Dr. Rafiq Abdussalam
Dr. Rafiq Abdussalam, who is head of Research at the Al-Jazeera Centre for Studies which is a Think-Tank related to Al-Jazeera Network, said, “We are sure that the European Muslim Research Centre is doing a great job not only for the Muslim community but also for the whole of Britain, a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society and I think this institution is doing a great job at the right time mainly in the context of Islamophobia, the rise of discrimination, the rise of hate, rise of Islamophobia.”

Dr. Abdussalam also maintained, “I think the EMRC is doing an excellent job for the co-existence; for building bridges between religious society and the minority and for the cosmopolitan Britain.”

Professor John Esposito
The next speaker, who has flown a few hours ago from Washington DC, was a very well-known scholar. He delivered a keynote speech at the meeting. He is Professor John Esposito, a University Professor and Director at the Georgetown University. He is Professor of Religion and International Affairs and Islamic Studies at the Georgetown University and the founding Director of the Muslim-Christian understanding. He specialised in Islam, Political Islam and the Impact of Islamic movements from North Africa to South East Asia. Professor Esposito is the recipient of the American Academy of Religion Award 2005 for the public understanding of religion and the Pakistan Quaid e-Azam Award for the outstanding contribution in Islamic Studies; in 2003.

Islamophobia – its background
Professor Esposito started with comparing the word Islamophobia in USA with that of UK, vis-à-vis media in UK and USA. He said, after the 9/11 incident, what I notice with major American media, with those people saying to me how this happened? “This whole idea of Islamophobia? It is unlike in UK where the phrase Islamophobia was used first in 1997. Islamophobia was first major used in media until 2001 when Time Magazine asked whether America was Islamophobic?.”

Islamophobia – a Social Cancer
But talking about reality, Professor Esposito said, “This study shows very very clearly that one can no longer deny actually the existence of the problem which I call the social cancer in Europe; the Americans call Islamophobia. But the extent to which it functions in our society, I think, what is important today is not just talking about new entry of immigrants, political parties in terms of constituencies, that in fact, as a result of presence of Islamophobic language, political commentators. It becomes part of our popular culture.”

Media coverage of Islamophobia
Referring to the coverage in the media of the Islamophobic statements, actions, hate crimes etc, Professor Esposito said, “it is not documented in many places; in America major media has not covered the denunciation of the action terrorism, following 9/11 or 7/7, right down even today; the major events such as the imams message or the common word; you do not get such kind of coverage.”

So what is the problem? “The problem is that the media gives coverage of “the existence of Muslim extremism; the existence of all Muslims terrorists; but what happened is a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the population of the Muslims in the world is simply equated with the popular mentality with a threat that is coming from majorities. It is interesting about this that when you look at the actual coverage which I am doing as I do prepare very carefully,” said Professor Esposito.

The Islamophobes
Talking about how the reality is unfolded, Professor Esposito said, “If you really take a look at the reality: how the reality is unfolded? The Islamophobes, the political commentators etc. and my beloved Melanie Phillips and so many others and so Daniel Pipes in America etc, - they can say what they want to say and it’s reported and most of all it’s not contextualize. No one say, wait a minute; let’s take good look at the person or what their track records in term of what they are saying about Muslims; what is their backgrounds? How true it is?”

Media coverage of Gallup World Poll
Professor Esposito mentioned that there has been significant polling done as now in Europe and in America and spoke particularly about the Gallup polling. “Gallup not only studied in Europe but it studied in America. And we can face of so too often like Islam is particularly violent religion; most Muslims are not loyal; Most Muslims are not integrated etc. One can lay out hard data to demonstrate; but yet that data is more often that does not come true.”

Professor Esposito also questioned about the coverage of that message such as: the message extremists they issue false fatwa begin by this what does the mainstream Islam represent? And on the other hand, what would be an extreme interpretation and who can legitimately give fatwa and who cannot give fatwa and then you can have for the first time in the history the common word because of the globalisation and the communication ability to mobilise Muslim religious leaders across the world against the state of that. But how much coverage occurs of that?”

On the other hand, Professor Esposito mentioned, “you can have the most Islamophobic statements made some of which has no basis in reality; who make statements by people who does not represent the entire community, or anybody, but that will make the headline.”

To challenge the reality, to face the fact
“So the part of our challenge today is to face the fact by them,” said Professor Esposito and maintained, “We now have to challenge the society, to face the fact. This is something; and does affect both the image of the west and which can be exploited by terrorists overseas as well as within America. And equally, my point of view, it does affect the civil liberty of a significant portion of our population, something that we like to look on other way.”

Educated people
“I am very happy to be here but the reality is wherever I am either in Europe or in America; it is not the question of the media that is here; it is the question about media that are not here. It is not the question about the people or the audience or their profile or whether they are here; the question is the people or the audience that are not here,” said Professor Esposito and added, “Until we respond to Islamophobic attacks or statements, do we realize that the hate speech does lead to hate crimes.”

Peter Oborne
The next speaker was Peter Oborne who is the Daily Telegraph’s chief political commentator; a prolific political commentator, television presenter and author of the Rise of Political Lying, published in 2005; the Triumph of Political Class in 2007

Continental attack on Islam and Muslims
Oborne said, “Europe has an ugly history of taking out, of manifesting its socio-economic problems by attack on minorities and it does seem to have no question of minorities being chosen.” Continental Europe’s choice of minority attack is now Islam and Muslims.

Britain has fabulous history of tolerance
Oborne then referred to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s remarks and said, “I think Angela Merkel’s remark was chilling deeply coming through the record Germany has in its treatment of minority. It is not just there. We have got episodes in Greece. We have got in Spain and I take comfort, being living in Britain. We have. Fabulous history of tolerance, freedom of liberty; of welcoming minorities. So I do feel we will not follow Europe down the ugly path of, may be, the intense path; but I do think, nevertheless, there are dangerous things happening in Britain too.”

Problem of media narratives
Referring to the Report which is voluminous, Oborne said, “That is why this volume is extremely valuable and an extremely important and I think we have to be alert, we have to educate, as John Esposito has said. I agree that the commentaries the newspapers, the journalists, there is a problem of media narratives. The British press is not really interested in this subject. I can put this What John Esposito is saying is like creation of stereotypes, the vilification of minorities, the use of language is very curious, it appears from nowhere. Extremists, radicals. But it is an odd word.”

We need to find out why
Oborne also said, “I was very distressed by the failure of Sayeeda Warsi. She has done a very good thing, wonderful thing as a first Muslim cabinet minister as a matter of pride I think I do. But the fact that she was asked to or told by the Downing Street not to attend the Global Peace and Unity Conference here few weeks ago, was bad. We need to find out why not.”

Foreign policy
“Anybody, who does not, anybody who does speak out, who does celebrate their identity; celebrate their religion; is somehow treated as Britain shameful doctrine; very shameful doctrine because it is so powerful; it is very powerful in the press. It is very hard to confess; but it is very un-British. Sorry un-British. We have a fabulous record over the centuries enabling different races to celebrate themselves and there is liberal authoritarianism, as no history of Britain and we are total country; we have to make this argument. I am going to stop.”

Dr. Robert Lambert
Dr Robert Lambert, one of the authors of this report; the co-Director of the European Muslim Research Centre at the University of Exeter and a part-time Lecturer at the Centre for Studies on Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews, said, “The evidence on which we report on specific threats to Muslims; violent threats by then relatively young man, is overwhelming and compelling and yet probably for the reason we heard from both of our previous speakers; we will have to do more to prove it,. We will be publishing further report next year, I think, we will have specific report on threat to mosques. I think; violent to mosques and Muslim/Islamic institutions in this country is a serious issue, is a priority research concern for us. In our recommendation, we say to the Government, we say to the police chief. This has to be taken seriously.”

Some dreadful accounts
Dr. Lambert narrated some dreadful authentic accounts. He said, “Some of the Muslim elders lost some of their whole life savings into the building and running fair local Mosques. And they have suffered intimidation, torture, solitary attacks. In many cases they have big attacks; petrol bombing; mosques have been seriously damaged and in other cases, they had on-going vandalism. In many mosques they have given up. Fixing the windows. You know, look what the point is for them up.”

This problem is not going away
Dr. Lambert maintained, “We are actually clear that politicians and senior police officers in this country should have gone to the grassroots level before things get even worse. If you are there going every day to the isolated mosques in the market town in the suburb of the country and you got the English Defence League dropping leaflets into the mosque; you got excrements coming from the letter box; you got pig-heads suddenly arriving over night.”

Dr. Lambert said, “I think, it is fair to say that London is still the target for that kind of media we earlier referred to. Andrew Gilligan will be disappointed if he is not mentioned, again in this context, to mend his business to criticise East London Mosque, Islamic Forum for Europe, London Muslim Centre, anything that has connection where we are today.”

“It is because of the works of the East London Mosque, Islamic Forum for Europe, London Muslim Centre; because of your fantastic youth projects that we have only just begun to highlight in this report. People say why it should be ten-year long. Well, we are not going away. Sure if the problem diminishes within ten years we will be happy to turn our attention elsewhere. But we have to be clear that reductions of hate crime here are the results of partnership work.”

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

God is Omnipresent in Our Lives and Throughout the Universe

God is Omnipresent in Our Lives
And throughout the Universe

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Whether people believe in God or in the existence of God or not, the divine’s presence is eternal, universal and all-pervading and God will remain timelessly present in our lives and throughout the universe. Having said that, I have to acknowledge that there are some people who question the existence of God, who debated the presence of God. Non-believers or atheists have every right to believe in whatever ism or ideas they wish to believe in. Atheist Christopher Hitchens, terminally ill with cancer, recently challenged the former British Prime Minister Mr. Tony Blair to a televised debate in Canada about God.

Before the debate, the Canadian organizer arranged for a poll. The Ipsos poll, conducted in last September, found that Europe was the region most doubtful about the benefits of religion, with just 19% in Sweden agreeing that it was a force for good. At the other end of the scale, in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, it was seen as a positive force by more than 90% of those questioned in the 23-country poll. Within North America, it is reported, there was a pronounced divide. In Canada only 36% agreed with the positive view of religion whereas 64% saw it as a negative force – figures almost exactly the reverse of those in the US.

Televised debate between Tony Blair
and Christopher Hitchens
A Televised debate took place in November 2010 between the former Prime Minister Mr Blair, Catholic convert, and Mr Christopher Hitchens, atheist and columnist. Mr. Blair defended religious faith as a force for good in the world during the televised debate. He argued that faith is a force for good.

During the debate, which was won by him by two to one, Mr. Blair, 57, who became a practicing Christian while studying at Oxford University, said: “It is undoubtedly true that people commit horrific acts of evil in the name of religion. It is also undoubtedly true that people do acts of extraordinary common good inspired by religion.”

Mr. Blair also told the 2,700-strong audience in Toronto, Canada the good done by faith-based organizations, including the millions of lives saved in Africa and care for the mentally ill, disabled and destitute, adding: “The proposition that religion is unadulterated poison is unsustainable. It can be destructive; it can also create a deep well of compassion and frequently does.”

Religious debate panel
In the week that atheist Christopher Hitchens challenged Tony Blair to a debate about God, Anushka Asthana, The Observer’s Policy editor, based in Westminster, conducted a religious debate with a panel of five leading thinkers, asking do we need a deity? The panelists were former Liberal-Democrat MP, Evan Harris; deputy director of the Muslim Institute and freelance journalist living in London, Samia Rahman; Labour MP for Dagenham Mr. Jon Cruddas; former editor of the Catholic Herald as well as former deputy editor of the New Statesman, Cristina Odone and a philosopher AC Grayling who has written a number of articles about the worth of religion including one for the New Statesman entitled The Empty Name of God.
Anushka Asthana enquired what would a world without religion look like? The Observer carried the whole religious panel debate in one of its Sunday issue in the middle of November 2010. Replying to this, Cristina Odone said, “"I must stress here that I embrace the concept of religion as faith rather than simply a structure like the Vatican or a synagogue. When I think of religion I think of the injunctions that it has given its followers. Repair the world, a Jewish commandment. Love thy neighbour as thyself, the most famous Christian commandment. And look upon charity as something that you must do every day that the sun rises, which is a Muslim injunction.”
She also mentioned, “When I think of religion I think of the injunctions that it has given its followers. Repair the world, a Jewish commandment. Love thy neighbour as thyself, the most famous Christian commandment. And look upon charity as something that you must do every day that the sun rises, which is a Muslim injunction. I think without such wonderful exhortations, our spirit would be the poorer and so would our society.”
Jon Cruddas replied, “I agree I think the generic element of all religions is the search for compassion. That’s quite a good departure point in terms of how you live your life..the search for virtue in our world.”
Even Harris said, “the real question is, ‘What would the world be like without organized religion’? Everyone has beliefs – it’s not reasonable to suggest that people wouldn’t have beliefs, mystical or otherwise. I think I’m with John Lennon on this, that it would be much better place in terms of peace.”
Samia Rahman said, “"I see religion and the practice of religion as often an extension of [an] individual's personality and their existing thoughts and beliefs and their characteristics. And so I see this oppositionality between belief and non-belief as almost a moot point. We have shared values. Religion offers many people a framework and a moral compass and they navigate through the framework and through the guidelines that their religion offers them and they come to their own conclusion and their own way of living.
"So I do have difficulty with the dichotomy between belief and non-belief and I think we can look at the intersections and where we do agree and gain something from that, rather than constantly positioning ourselves as the other," she mentioned.
Religion for Peace UK Lecture by
Oliver McTernan at the House of Lords
During the National Inter Faith Week from Sunday 21 to Saturday 27 November, 2010, many events, meetings and seminars were organised by different organisations. The Religion for Peace also organised a meeting at the House of Lords, on Wednesday, 24th of November, 2010 where the Religion for Peace UK Lecture entitled “Has Faith a Role to Play in Shaping Public and International Policy?” was delivered by Mr. Oliver McTernan, Director of Forward Thinking, London.
Referring to The Observer’s Religious Debate on Sunday: “Is religion a force for good or would we be happier without God?” and also a similar debate ran by The Economist online a few weeks ago, Mr. Oliver McTernan said, “Problem I find is the people involved in the public debate often frame their arguments in terms of unhelpful caricatures of the other. As a consequence we very often end up with a clash of perceptions rather than a more insightful understanding of the core issues and legitimate concerns that exist between believers and non-believers.”
“Many secular intellectuals think that the real “clash of civilisations” is not between different religions but between superstition and modernity. This has been the underlining argument of a succession of bestselling books attacking religion and arguing that faith has no place in the public arena—Sam Harris’s “The End of Faith”, Richard Dawkins’s “The God Delusion” and Christopher Hitchens’s “God is not Great—How Religion Poisons Everything”. They argue with such passion that it reflects a religious intensity,” mentioned Mr. McTernan and said, “Another characteristic of such debates is very often a flawed logic: particular episodes or positions too often lead to general conclusions. An element of truth is so often made into the whole truth.”
Mr. McTernan said that if we are to have an enlightened and constructive debate on the role of faith in shaping public policy “we have to understand the motives and the genuine concerns of those who would argue that religion should be relegated to the purely private sphere of life,” he said.
In this connection, Mr. McTernan referred to an article in the Economist published in 2007, where the editor, John Micklethwait argued that part of that secular fury against religion playing any role in the public sphere, especially in Europe, comes simply from exasperation. He quoted, “After all” he wrote, “it has been a canon of progressive thought since the Enlightenment that modernity—that heady combination of science, learning and democracy—would kill religion. Plainly, this has not happened. Numbers about religious observance are notoriously untrustworthy, but most of them seem to indicate that any drift towards secularism has been halted, and some show religion to be on the increase. The proportion of people attached to the world’s four biggest religions—Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism—rose from 67% in 1900 to 73% in 2005 and may reach 80% by 2050”.
Mr. McTernan continued to quote Mr. Micklethwait who argued that what made their concern even greater is that from a secularist point of view, the wrong sorts of religion are flourishing, and in the wrong places. “In general, it is the tougher versions of religion that are doing best—the sort that claim Adam and Eve met 6,003 years ago. Some of the new converts are from the ranks of the underprivileged (Pentecostalism has spread rapidly in the favelas of Brazil), but many are not. American evangelicals tend to be well-educated and well-off. In India and Turkey religious parties have been driven by the up-and-coming bourgeoisie.”
Mr. McTernan fully endorsed John Micklethwait’s analysis
“One of the main obstacles that prevents a more enlightened public debate on the role of faith shaping policy is the gap in understanding exists between the western political/social thinking and the diverse faith communities within Europe. The post enlightenment social/political mindset is profoundly secularist and as such only reluctantly tolerates religion provided that it is seen as a purely individual and private affair. On the other hand believers feel themselves under attack and retreat into uncompromising hard line positions on social and moral issues,” said Mr. McTernan and added, “It has been said that the combination of Westphalia and the Enlightenment have been ‘a double whammy for religion’”.
Mr. McTernan also said, “The Enlightenment, the secularists argue, challenged the old religious certainties, making science the new paradigm of understanding the world. Religion lingers on as a comforting myth for those who need support in times of personal crisis but having been relegated from the mainstream to the backwaters it has ceased to have any impact on the social or political life in modern society.”
Mr.McTernan mentioned, “Thinkers like Marx, Freud and Durkheim who helped to shape modern political and social theory were greatly influenced by the projection theories of the Greeks that saw the gods as nothing other than an objectification of human needs and desires. Religion they argued is a social construct, the product of particular social conditions which when changed will eradicate the need for religion. Marx looked on religion as an economic tool, an ideology that legitimised social oppression. For Freud it was a psychological illness that perpetuated the need for security. For Durkheim it was society worshipping itself.”
“If this is the historical and philosophical framework that shapes current western social political thinking the simple message people of faith need to get across today is that religion matters and needs to be recognized as a genuine motivator in their lives and needs to be respected as such,” said Mr. McTernan and added, “This can only be achieved if there is a major paradigm shift in the way in which the secular and religious worlds relate to one another.”
Referring to our contemporary multi cultural faith society as Britain is today, Mr. McTernan said, “religious leaders need to challenge the fears and prejudices that have so often driven the relationships between the diverse traditions as well as the wider society, leading to suspicion and at times negative perceptions of one another, and to focus within their respective faith communities on those teachings that at least implicitly acknowledge the right of others to believe and to act differently. To uphold and to defend the right of others to make truth claims, different from their own, and to act upon them, provided that these are not detrimental to the rights and well being of others, would be a significant step in addressing the clash in understanding that now exists between believers and wider society.”
Mr. McTernan said, “The prime purpose of religious dogmas, worship, laws and community is to enable people to discover the transcendent – the divine presence- in the midst of the contemporary human experience. These are props, as it were, that are meant to point the way or sharpen our awareness of God’s presence in our lives. Only when people reach the mystical level of belief are they able to deal with the plurality of life without feeling threatened.”
Mr. McTernan maintained, “The political decision makers also need to reassess the marginalized role relegated to religion in the past. There is a real and urgent need to pay genuine attention to the religious values and concerns that shape people’s political thinking and actions.”
“That said I believe it is equally important that the political decision makers respect the boundaries between secular and religious life. No government should presume the right to interfere in matters of belief or to promote one theological interpretation to the detriment of others. These are internal matters of faith and should be respected as such,” said Mr. McTernan and added, “In Britain recently we have witnessed a deeply worrying trend with government ministers openly promoting what they judge to be a ‘moderate’, and therefore presumably a more politically acceptable, brand of Islam. It is almost as if we are slipping back into a Westphalia mode of thinking that gives the ruler that right to determine the faith and practices of his subjects. This lack of understanding and respect for the need for boundaries on both sides can only cause greater suspicion and tension within a society.”
Mr. McTernan also said, “There is a clear need to promote at every level of political decision making a dialogue aimed at promoting awareness and understanding that can help to reshape the secular mindset that tends to dismiss religion as a backward and repressive phenomenon.”

“Whether we regard ourselves as secular or religious, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or indeed a non believer, we share a common responsibility for the security and well being of the whole of humanity. None of us can afford to ignore the challenge of allowing events on the ground to create the level of polarization that could so easily allow the flawed theory of a clash of civilizations becoming a reality. At the global and national level we need to create space for a real and genuine dialogue,” said McTernan.
Mr. McTernan mentioned, “Our Western secularist way of thinking has great difficulty in comprehending how religious belief can profoundly shape peoples’ political and social values as well as their identity. In the West we have grown to separate a spiritual identity from a communal identity. The ‘believing but not belonging’ phenomenon observed by the American social scientist Robert Putnam is inconceivable within most of the religious traditions represented here tonight.”

McTernan said, “To believe is essentially to belong to a community. Any outside interference therefore in the community’s structures or governance risks being perceived as an attack on the faith itself. The failure to give sufficient attention to this fundamental fact that faith and community cannot be separated can lead to the deep suspicions of a government’s intentions. The boundaries between the responsibilities of government and the responsibilities of the faith community need to be recognised and respected by both sides.”