Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Dr. Syed Aziz Pasha - A leader dedicated to Islam and Muslim

Dr. Syed Aziz Pasha: A leader
dedicated to Islam and Muslim

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Dr. Syed Aziz Pasha, born in Madras in South India, graduated from Madras University in 1950 and went on to study Law. He was enrolled as an advocate at Madras High Court; however, he decided to leave and go to study further in America, where he obtained his LL.M. from Wisconsin University in 1960 and SJD (Doctorate in Juridical Science), equivalent to PhD in the United Kingdom from New York University in 1963.

He came to the UK in 1965 and was persuaded to stay by a religious scholar as there was a need there to organize the British Muslim community. In 1970 he founded the famous Union of Muslim Organisations of the United Kingdom and Ireland, an organization that has been actively engaged to enhance the position of Muslims in UK and Europe.

Two years ago, in January 2005, Dr. Pasha was awarded an OBE by the Queen for his contribution to the Muslim community and multicultural harmony. Dr. Pasha was also honoured in 2006 by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and the London Islamic Cultural Centre (ICC) for his lifetime services to the Muslim community in Britain. Last November, 2007 the Global Peace and Unity (GPU) 2007 also awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. Pasha.

Dr. Pasha is such a great personality and a dedicated Muslim leader to the service of Islam and British community that I was enthralled to write a profile on him after interviewing his personal opinion and comments on several issues of the Muslim community in this country.

Interview with Dr. Syed Aziz Pasha
To pray and practise Islam in a non-Muslim country and to help other Muslims to do right is the passion of Dr. Pasha’s life. Speaking about the passion of his life, Dr. Pasha said, “My life is conditioned upon following the principles of Islam daily in my daily life. The most important thing which I found was prayers five times a day and Friday congregational prayer in a mosque. So when I went to America I was able to pray five times in my room but I was worried about Friday congregational prayers.”

President of the Muslim Students Association (MSA)
of the Wisconsin University
In order to have a place for Friday congregational prayer, Dr. Pasha began to gather the Muslim students coming from different parts of the world. “In the University of Wisconsin, there were about 200 Muslim students. I made contact with some of them and found positive response from them for the proposal for a congregational prayer. There was no Mosque no facilities. I approached a brother from Indonesia, a scholarship holder. He had a very big hall in his apartment just like a Mosque. In America, the apartments are luxurious, very big. So I suggested him to let his hall for Friday prayer. He was delighted to accept.”

Dr. Pasha was elected as the President of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) of the University of Wisconsin in 1958. He negotiated with the University to get a hall in the students union where the Muslim students can make their Friday prayers. “We got the permission, Alhamdu Lillah.”

Founder-member of Muslim Students
Association of USA and Canada (MSA)
Dr. Pasha is one of the founders of Muslim Students Association of the United States and Canada (MSA) which developed as the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). Speaking about the founding of the Islamic Council of North America,

Dr. Pasha came to London in 1965. He found Dr. Muhammad Hoballah, Director of the Islamic Cultural Centre and Regents Park Mosque. Dr. Pasha met him in Washington. The Director introduced Dr. Pasha to Dr. Al-Gayoushi, the Assistant Director of the Islamic Centre, who gave him the facilities to organize Muslims. Dr. Pasha formed an Ad hoc Committee to convene a conference of Muslim organizations in the United Kingdom.

UNION of Muslim Organisations (UMO)
Speaking about the formation of the Union of the Muslim Organisations of United Kingdom and Ireland, (UMO), Dr. Pasha said, “First national conference of Muslim organizations was convened at the Islamic Cultural Centre in 1970. Nobody knew me, nobody knew anybody. But they know Islamic Cultural Centre. Muslim organizations responded to our call, read the constitution and we formed the Union of Muslim Organisations of the United Kingdom and Ireland. It was July 19, 1970. Alhamdu Lillah, we carried out with 38 founding members of the Union. Since then we never looked back. Each year the number increased and is increasing. There were only 200 Muslim organizations recognized in the United Kingdom. Now there are nearly a thousand. The UMO’s Membership is 216 Muslim organizations at present.”

After the formation of the UMO, the first priority was to find a suitable place which will be the Headquarters of the UMO. The Director of the Islamic Cultural Centre suggested we move to our own premises as the trustees of the Islamic Cultural Centre are the Muslim ambassadors of all the Muslim countries. Ibrahim Bawani suggested, ‘Dr. Pasha in this country nobody will give you money for Headquarters; the only man who will give you is King Faisal.’”

Dr. Pasha travelled to Saudi Arabia to ask King Faisal for help. “King Faisal was so happy to know that we formed a Union of Muslim Organizations in the United Kingdom and Ireland. He said, ‘This was my dream. I can give you anything you want. King was in such a happy mood that he promised 250,000 pounds to build a UMO Centre.’ 250,000 pounds at that time in 1970, was today equivalent to about 5 million pounds,” said Dr. Pasha.

After coming back to London, Dr. Pasha met the then Saudi Ambassador at the Saudi Embassy in London. In 1980, Saudi Arabia and Iraq helped to buy a property which became the Headquarter of the UMO.

Motto of UMO
Speaking about the motto of the UMO, Dr. Pasha said, “If you see our Constitution, it says, ‘Hold fast to the rope of Allah and be not divided.’ This is a great opportunity for Muslims coming from various parts of the world to demonstrate the potentiality of Islam as a uniting force, as a cohesive force. It will eliminate discrimination on whatever grounds; race, colour or ethnicity – all this is taken care of in the Islamic faith, because the Holy Qur’an is very clear: All humanity comes from Adam and Eve and Adam came from dust. Exactly what our Prophet (peace be upon him) said in his farewell message on the Mount of Arafah. So the motto of UMO is to achieve unity of the Muslim community and to promote Daw’ah.”

Achievements and Demands of UMO
Speaking about the aims, activities and achievements of the UMO, Dr. Pasha mentioned about getting the permission to build Mosques, to have time-off for prayers, funding for Muslim schools, representation of Muslims in the British Parliament, outlawing religious discrimination and incitement to religious hatred, official holidays for Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha and application of Muslim Family Law.

Permission to build Mosques
Dr. Pasha said, “The first thing I did was to write to Mr. Roy Jenkins, MP, the then Home Secretary, asking him to advise Local Councils to grant planning permission to build mosque in each area of this country. So, Alhamdu Lillah, we succeeded: the Home Secretary wrote to all local authorities to give positive response to the Muslim community’s demands for a Mosque.”

European Convention of Human Rights
Lord Irwin, the then Lord Chancellor, succeeded in getting Parliament’s approval to have this incorporated into the British Law. Article 9 of this Convention guarantees freedom of religion to all citizens of Europe under which we are claiming our religious rights, said Dr. Pasha.

Funding for Muslim schools
Speaking about the third achievements of the UMO, Dr. Pasha said, “Thirdly, we wanted funding for Muslim Schools. Catholic and Church of England Schools receive state funding; Jewish Schools also get state funding. So we succeeded in getting state funding for Muslim Schools. The first one was the Islamia Primary School of Brother Yusuf Islam; and then al-Furqan School in Birmingham. Now, Alhamdu Lillah, there are now 7 State-funded Muslim Schools out of a total of about 120 schools.”

Representation of Muslims in British Parliament
Speaking about the fourth achievement of the UMO, Dr. Pasha said, “UMO organized and held so many meetings in Parliament and so many fringe meetings in the party conferences – in the Conservative Party and the Labour Party conferences. We put forward UMO’s demands for representation of Muslims in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords. We succeeded, Alhamdu Lillah. There are four Muslims in the House of Commons and five in the House of Lords. This number is not sufficient. This number is not commensurate with our numbers. We have got more than two and a half million Muslims. Accordingly, we should have more than 35 Muslims in the House of Commons and more than 25 in the House of Lords. We are demanding and we will continue.”

Religious Discrimination and Incitement to Religious Hatred
Speaking about the next demand of the UMO, Dr. Pasha said, “Our next demand was for a bill which will outlaw religious discrimination and incitement to religious hatred. This Labour government promised and fulfilled the promise but, unfortunately, this bill was watered down, not to our expectations. I hope the next Parliament will continue our demand that this should be strengthened on the same lines as the Race Relations Act of 1976 to make it a criminal offence to discriminate against Muslims in employment and incitement to religious hatred.”

Blasphemy Law
“Law of Blasphemy applies to Christian religion only. Lord Scarman of the then Law Commission said this is not right. This is a multi-cultural multi-religious society. All religions should be treated equally,” said Dr. Pasha.

Holidays for two Eids and
Application of Family Law
Dr. Pasha said, “So far our demand is to have official holidays for Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha for the Muslim Employees and the application of Muslim Family Law. This is our very very important demand. Britain, being a multi-religious society, the Muslim community must have the right to practise the tenets of Islam. In our religion, the Muslim Family Law is obligatory and it deals with personal matters only. It is not affecting other people’s rights.”

Dr. Pasha also mentioned his personal views and opinions on some of the major issues of the Muslim community in this country, such as integration and cohesion, Hijab and Muslim education.

Integration and cohesion
“People are speaking about integration, cohesion and all this kind of things. We say, we are all for integration, but not for assimilation. Because Islam is a religion, is an ideology, and a way of life. We cannot abandon our cultural and religious values in order to achieve integration. We are integrated but we have got our own religious cultural identity. That means there will be no assimilation, not to subscribe to it,” said Dr. Pasha and added, “But integration, we are fully to it because we believe Islam is a religion for the whole of mankind and Allah has categorized us as the best Ummah.”

Dr. Pasha said, “I will suggest Suratul Ahzab, which says, ‘O Prophet, Tell your wives, your daughters and the believing women to cover their bodies with Hijab; because this will be a source of identity that they are Muslims and this will also be a source of protection against evil doers. This is Order from Allah the Almighty. There is no choice for the Muslims here. The women are following the Order of Allah the Almighty, not my order or the order of the husband or order of anybody else. Allah the Almighty has made modesty of a woman a requirement for their entering into the Paradise. It is for their benefit and for wide morality in society. Therefore, wearing a Hijab is compulsory for the protection of woman and for the protection of man as well to protect their modesty. Allah has created man and woman and He knows which is good for the human society.”

Dr. Pasha mentioned, “State funding to Muslim Schools will only increase the capacity of Muslims to communicate with non-Muslims. Muslim Schools will not be a ghetto schools; Muslim schools will open its doors to non-Muslims because Muslim schools will create their places for the Muslim children to inculcate the Islamic ethos and to build up their community in accordance with Islamic values while following the national curriculum. They will follow the National Curriculum.”

Dr. Pasha said, “Interfaith, I think, is very useful institution. I have been myself member of the World Council for Religion and Peace. I have been a member of the Executive Committee of the United Nations Association of Religious communities and I think this is a useful Forum to eradicate misunderstanding about different religions and other peoples religions,” said Dr. Pasha and added, “At the same time, it is my humble request to those people, Muslims, who are participating in this interfaith, not to be politically correct in their approach but to state clearly what Islam stands for. We are not offending anybody but we are only trying to put the case of Islam in its total perspective.”

Dr. Pasha said, “They are saying, Jesus took the last supper with wine. There is no proof of this. Whichever is intoxicating, which removes your senses of discriminating right and wrong is forbidden. But if they are drinking it is their problem. We are not trying to criticize anybody. But we will not drink alcohol ourselves. But we will be part of multi-faith dialogue. We will explain the true benefits of interfaith. We will say, Moosa (peace be upon him) and Issa (peace be upon him) - both of them foretold the coming of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) very clearly in their Books – Torah and Injeel. In the Bible, it is said clearly that after me a prophet will come whose name is ‘Pericletos’ (meaning the Praised ones) but clearly mention in the Bible of Barnabus as ‘Mohamana’ in Aramaic language."

Published in The Muslim Weekly, London

24 March 2008

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