Saturday, 28 April 2012

Three-Day International Hajj Conference
at the British Museum

Dr. Mozammel Haque
The three-day major multi-disciplinary academic conference on Hajj, organised by the British Museum, with the assistance from the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), University of London, held at the British Museum from/on 22-24 March, 2012. There were 12 sessions and 29 lectures in three days of the conference. The conference covered many aspects of Hajj, including literature, history, archaeology, pilgrims’ journeys, art, architecture, and photography and material culture.

Opening Address: Importance of Hajj
The opening address on the importance of Hajj was delivered by Professor M.A.S. Abdel Haleem of the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS). In his address he highlighted the centrality in the Hajj of the worship of God alone, which accentuates the spirituality of the experience. Performing Hajj is the lifetime ambition of even the poorest villagers to make the journey, to join the whole community of pilgrims, past and present, to actually see the Ka’abah, towards which they face in all their daily prayers, and affirm the essence of their faith: One God, one Kibla, one Kitab, and one religious community, the Ummah.

Professor Abdel Haleem said, “Hajj connects Muslims historically throughout the generations as well as geographically to other Muslims around the world at any particular time. This is one of the most unifying elements in the Muslim communities, Ummah and it’s a journey that makes a huge change in the spiritual and social life of the pilgrim.”

The Hajj has grown from only two people, Abraham and Ishmael, going round the Ka’abah, to now, when we have about 3 million pilgrims. Whatever the numbers, the faith that drives the believers guarantees that the Hajj will continue, even within the restrictions in space and time, as long as there are Muslims. From this faith have developed all the aspects of the Hajj shown in the British Museum Exhibition. The phenomenon provides fertile ground for the continued proliferation of religion-historical-cultural studies as exemplified in the programme of this conference.

History of Hajj is the history of continuity
Professor Hugh Kennedy Professor of Arabic at the SOAS, in his paper, “The History of the Hajj, c.630-1250” introduced some general points about the History of Hajj. He said, Hajj is an extraordinarily remarkable long living event in the sense that Hajj as we know that the Muslim Hajj begins with the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Prophet himself sets the pattern for all subsequent Hajjis but it is continued without no any interruption; ever since every year as far as we know Muslim has performed the pilgrimage.

Professor Kennedy also observed, “The whole pattern of the Hajj or the whole history of the Hajj is the history of continuity but at the same time is a history of change, development and alteration.”

Patronage by women for infrastructure
Development-Dhar Zubaida
Professor Kennedy also mentioned about the Infrastructure development project during the Abbasids period. He said, “The Dhar Zubaida was series of forts and signs and above all water supplies and water systems that would guide and help the pilgrims across this desert. It was by far the biggest infrastructure project developed by the early Islamic Caliphs. And it is interesting that it was patronage by the women above all.”

Land and sea transportation
The Hajj was for many centuries a focal point for the many merchant travellers who found this event an opportunity to trade with other fellow Muslims from different lands. Both land and sea transportation had their advantages and disadvantages. Professor Dionisius A. Agius, Professor of Arabic and Islamic Material Culture at the University of Exeter, in his paper, “Cargo-Pilgrim vessels of the Red Sea in medieval Islam: perception and reception” discussed the various eyewitness accounts of Muslim writers.

Charles LeQuesne, an independent scholar, in his paper, “Hajj ports on the western coast of the Red Sea,” presented an overview of what is known of the key historic ports used by pilgrims travelling across the Red Sea from Africa. It examined the similarities and differences between the key harbours of Tur (in the Sinai), Suez, El-Qusayr, Aidhab/Halaib and Suakin.
Islamic contact with West Africa:
Malian Emperor Mansa Musa’s Hajj
Dr. Sam Nixon, Post-doctoral researcher at the University of East Anglia, in his presentation on “The Pilgrim returns: West African rulers and their Hajj-inspired grand schemes (AD 1000 to the modern era),” talked about the Islamic contact with West Africa. In the earliest centuries of Islamic contact with West Africa the ideas of central Islamic lands which filtered through to West African rulers were often highly selective and radically different from orthodox Islam.

From the 11th century West African rulers formed increasingly stronger ties with Islam and it is from this time that we have the earliest account of a ruler making the Hajj themselves. Throughout the centuries into the modern era a series of monarchs made their way to Makkah. The voyage across the Sahara from West Africa and into Arabia would undoubtedly have been a life changing experience, and it is clear that many of the West African rulers who made the journey were hugely inspired by it to change their own society. Dr. Nixon charted the most famous of these rulers and their Hajj-inspired works, including the religious, political and material changes which were undertaken in their society.

Speaking about Islam in West Africa, Dr. Nixon mentioned about Mansa Musa, the Malian emperor in the 14th century. He said, “Most famous Mansa Musa during his Hajj travelled to Cairo, brought huge amount of gold and spent in Cairo and that stabilised the Egyptian economy.”

There was a long series of Malian rulers went to pilgrimage prior to Mansa Musa. What makes Mansa Musa special was his contribution to monumental architecture in the Islamic tradition and mosque building on his return journey and the palace architecture at Niani (Malian capital). Dr. Nixon mentioned, He built this architecture in his palace. Mansa Musa’s promotion of the town Timbuktu as the greatest trading town which was never been known in that region and also promoting as a centre of Islam in West Africa to the level which was not really been seen previously. It included the famous University of Sankore and associated with it the tradition of gathering manuscripts copying took place in West Africa. This has given a great respect to Mansa Musa in West Africa.

Caliphs built Khans, Mosques, Forts
Andrew Petersen, senior lecturer in archaeology at the University of Wales Trinity St. David in his presentation on “The lost fort of Mafraq and the Syrian route in the 16th century by. The Ottoman conquest of Syria and Egypt” said, The Ottoman Sultan Selim I between 1515 and 1517 marks a turning point in the history of the region. The Ottomans showed their commitment to the revival of Syrian Hajj route by providing it with a number of facilities including khans, mosques and forts. One of the first Ottoman buildings within the newly conquered territories was the fort at Mafraq built under the orders of Selim I sometime between 1516 and 1520.

Mehmet Tutuncu, Chairman of Research Centre for Turkish and Arabic World, Haarlem in Netherlands in his presentation, on “The Ottoman inscriptions of the Hajj route from Damascus,” described the Ottoman Sultans role in building khans, mosques and forts. In 1517 the Arab provinces became part of the Ottoman State. Ottoman Sultans carried from these time the honorific title of Khadinul Harameyn (servant of the holy sites). They started building and restoring forts and water-reservoirs for the travellers’ pilgrims to Makkah performing the Hajj. In the Ottoman Hajj buildings many inscriptions were written.
Derek Kennet, senior lecturer at the Durham University, Andrew Blair, PhD student at the Durham University and Brian Ulrich, Assistant Professor at the Shippensburg University are conducting The Kadhima Project: mapping trade and pilgrimage routes in early Islamic north-eastern Arabia. The Kadhima project is investigating Sasanian and Early Islamic settlement to about 1000AD in the territory of modern Kuwait. Beginning with nomadic coastal trading sites in the Sasanian period, the project has been able to track the development of sedentary occupation in the later 7th and early 8th century along the coastal ‘Tariq Munkadir’ to al-Yamamah and the Hijaz (as reported by al-Bakri and others). Much of this is clearly oriented towards trade and pilgrimage into the interior of Arabia, as is demonstrated by the high levels of soft-stone cooking pots that are probably of Hijazi origin.

Sami Abd al-Malik, Director of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt, in his presentation on “The Inns (khans) of the road of al-Hajj al-Misri during the Mamluk and Ottoman Period: a historical and architectural study,” spoke about the role of khans and their beginnings, its architectural plans, and how they work. During the early period of Islamic conquest until the end of the Fatimid period, we find that the majority of installations constructed for water and religious purposes. One of the oldest khans was constructed on this road in Yanbu and was described by Al-Maqdisi in the tenth century AD. The road architecturally flourished during the Mamluk and Ottoman periods. The security and commercial facilities were the most important features of the road.

These khans were constructed to save the secretariats and the funds of the traders and pilgrims, and to save grain crops for the pilgrims, and to keep them safe, and they acted as khans for traders and castles to maintain security, but this was due to the peoples and the soldiers of the Mamluks who took turns guarding each year with another group coming from Cairo, a system which continued in the Ottoman period.

Mercantile Activity associated with Hajj
Dr. Marcus Milwright from University of Victoria, Canada, in his presentation on “Trade and the Hajj: Archaeological and Historical Perspectives,”reviews the evidence for the varied mercantile activity associated with the Hajj, with a particular emphasis upon the Mamluk (1260-1516) and Ottoman (1516-1918) periods in Greater Syria.

Depictions of Qur’anic Verses
Professor Jonathan Bloom at Boston College, in his presentation on the “Depictions of the Holy Architectural ‘influence’ and the Hajj”examined a few characteristic concepts in Islamic architecture, such as the nine-bay mosque plan, the use of multiple minarets, and decoration with muqamas, to suggest that the pilgrimage to Makkah played a previously-unacknowledged role in the development of Islamic architecture in medieval times.

Sheila Blair at the Boston College, USA, in her presentation on “Inscribing the Hajj,” said the Qur’anic verses describing the Ka’abah as the first house of worship and pilgrimage to it as a duty owed to God (Qur’an 3:96-98) is the text most frequently associated with Makkah and the Hajj. Her paper traced the evidence, both written and visual, for the use of these verses from Abbasid times onward on the Ka’abah itself, the Kiswa or covering for it, and other objects associated with it such as keys and pilgrimage certificates, as well as on buildings erected in the Islamic lands.

Travellers and Pilgrimage Accounts
Professor Nile Green at the UCLA presented on The Steam Hajjis: Urdu and Persian Travelogues from the age of Industrialisation and Michael Wolfe provided a survey of a number of 20th century Muslim Pilgrims to Makkah, all of whom wrote books about their Hajj experience. As a point of departure and for contrast, Mr. Wolfe started with Arthur Wavell (in Makkah, 1908), the last of the non-Muslim Hajj adventurers. His presentation then proceeded to consider the experience and writing of Eldon Rutter (1925), Muhammad Asad (1927), Harry St. Jean Philby (1931), Evelyn Cobbold (1933), Hamza Bogary (1947), and Jalal Al-e Ahmad (1964).

History of Kiswa for the Ka’aba
Maria Sardi from Benaki Museum spoke on “Weaving for the Hajj under the Mamluks.” The Mamluk Sultans of Egypt and Syria held the prerogative of offering the Kiswa for the Kaaba in Makkah as protectors of Sunni Islam and Hejaz from 1250 to 1517. An annual ceremony was organised in Cairo for the departure of the pilgrimage caravan: The display of the Kiswa, the parade of the Sultan’s palanquin (Mahmal), the litters of the Sultans’ senior wives following the Hajj, which were covered with silk brocades, manifested the might of the Mamluks and their piety. The few surviving examples (e.g. the earliest extant Mamluk Mahmal), contemporaneous Arabic sources and traveller accounts, was used to illustrate the splendour of the woven items associated with the Mamluk Hajj, as well as the religious and political messages they conveyed.

Nahla Nassar, Curator of the Nasser D. Khalili Collections, in her presentation on “Dar al-Kiswah al-harifah in Kharanfash: Its artisans and their work,” spoke about the production of Kiswa. The production of the Kiswah of the Ka’abah – the set of textiles sent yearly by Egypt to the Makkan Sanctuary – moved to a new factory established by Muhammad Ali Pasha in 1817. Known originally as warshat al-Kharanfash, it consisted of a complex of workshops that were well equipped with modern machinery and several hundred looms for weaving various types of cloth, including the black self-patterned drapes of the Ka'aba. One section, the qism al-zarkashah, was responsible for embroidering the hizam of the Ka’abah and a sitarah for its external door, another for its internal door and a third for the minbar of the Makkan Sanctuary, as well as a Kiswah for Maqam Ibrahim and a sitarah for its maqsurah.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the name of the factory was changed to maslahat al-kiswah and it was devoted exclusively to the production of the Makkan textiles, and by the 1920s – under its new name of dar al-kiswah al-sharifah – to their embroidery. A large number of artisans were involved in the embroidery; many started out as young apprentices and worked there for over 50 years. Calligraphers such as Abd Allah al-Zuhdi, Mustafa al-Hariri and Muhammad Ghazlan, designed the inscriptions which were then embroidered with fine-gauge silver and gold-plated silver wire (mukhayyash). The last kiswah sent by Egypt to Makkah was made in 1962.

Mohammed Hessein Al-Mojan, researcher in the Islamic Civilization and Arts, Saudi Arabia in his paper on “the Kiswah of the Prophet’s Mosque at Madinah,”spoke about the history of the emergence of the kiswah of the Prophet’s room and Mosque and the diversity of its parts. The kiswah of the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah emerged during the Umayyad or Rashidi era and the first part that was visible is the covering of the pulpit. There are different historical accounts about the first to make the platform’s livery, whether Uthman ibn Affan, or Muawiya ibn Sufyan, and it was said, Ibn Al-Zubayr. The beginning of the clothing of the Prophet’s room was by Khaizran who is mother of Harun al-Rashid when she dressed the walls with silk. The first full kiswah of the room was by Al-Hussein ibn Abu Hija who was the relative of Al-Saleh Talaea in the reign of the Abbasid Caliph Al- Mostadhae Be-Amr Allah (566-575 AH/1171-1180 AD), and it was of white silk with jamats “medallions” of yellow and red silk, and the belt of red silk on which was written Al-Yassin.

Two years later Al- Mostadhae dressed the chamber walls by a kiswah of violet silk with white silk jamats “medallions” wrote: Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman, Ali, and wrote on the model name Al- Mostadhae. Then the Caliph Nasser Le-Din Allah sent a new kiswah made from black silk with white silk jamats. Then a third covering was sent by the mother of Caliph Nasser Le-Din Allah. The cover of the doors of the Mosque appeared in the Abbasid era when clothing abounded on the doors of the Mosque, and they became their own covers in the Mamluk era.

Accounts of Hajj and Holy Places
Dr. Muhammad Isa Waley, part-time Lead Curator at the British Library, London in his paper on “Prosaic verse, poetic prose: Two accounts of Hajj and Holy places,” presented two accounts of Hajj and Holy Places. The best-known description in Persian verse of the Hajj and the Holy Places of Islam is the Futuh al-Haramayn of Muhyi (Muhy l-Din) Lari. This text, composed in the 16th century for a ruler of Gujarat, exists in almost twenty manuscripts that are notable for their colourful stylised illustrations. Some are known to have been produced in the Hijaz, and were probably made and sold as souvenirs for Pilgrims.

Dr. Waley made a comparison of Futuh al-Haramayn with the Tuhfet ul-Haremeyn, Yusuf Nabi’s account of his own pilgrimage. Nabi (1642-1712), a famous Ottoman writer, composed this work in prose, occasionally adding verses for ornament. His poetic genius, however, shines through the entire text, which evokes far more strongly than Muhyi’s the whole experience of pilgrimage: the travelling, expectations, sights, rituals, and emotions associated with the greatest moments of many believers’ lives. In this presentation, passages from each work was analysed and compared.

Dr. Waley’s own thoughts of Hajj
According to Dr. Waley, both the works deserve further study and translation. But before he concluded his presentation, he left his parting thoughts which are worth mentioning. He commended the Hajj Exhibition and the Hajj conference. He also said that those who perform Hajj have own memories and views. It is hardest to capture or exhibit inner meaning of rituals. The common threads in five pillars of Islam are: surrender, emptying out, giving in order to be purified and filled, Shahada (Submission to the Creator and Final Emissary), Salat (bowing, prostration), Siyam (Emptying, purifying), Zakat (paying, purifying), Hajj (visit “empty” House, stand on “empty” plain)), worshippers perform Hajj (etc.) from duty, lovers do from love.

Imam Bonjol (1796-1864) prayer book
Professor Jan Just Witkam from the University of Leiden described the prayer book of Tuangku Imam Bonjol (1796-1864), with texts in Arabic and Malay. The imam is now one of Indonesia’s heroes and his portrait is on the 5000 RP banknote. His illustrated prayer book, which comes from Sumatra (1814), shows, among other things, images of Makkah and Madinah. The prayer book is not a pilgrim’s guide, and the Imam never went on pilgrimage, but the images in the prayer book show an imagination of Islam’s Holy Land. These images of Makkah and Madinah stand in an iconographical tradition, which in one way comes from the Middle East (choice of subject), and in another way are typical for South East Asian book illustration (style and techniques). These different avenues were explored and the two iconographical traditions were treated within their religious, intellectual and art historical context.

Organising Hajj-going from Britain
Dr. Sean Mcloughlin, senior Lecturer in Religion, Anthropology and Islam at the University of Leeds is conducting research on Organising Hajj-going from Britain. His paper begins the task of tracking changing patterns of Hajj-going and its structure and organisation in England, especially in the last two decades. The research is based on mainly on interviews conducted in late 2011 with a small sample of representatives from the two main British Muslim pilgrim welfare organisations: two tour operators and their guides; UK government and trading standards. The research also draws on interviews with 30 pilgrims in different parts of England and an online survey of around 200 pilgrims. Overall, the paper reflects the general dynamics of an increasingly commercialised and regulated Hajj-going in late modernity, both in terms of the opportunities that this presents for tour operators and pilgrims but also in terms of meeting various challenges in the UK and in the Holy Places.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Islamic Education in The UK: A View to The Future

Islamic Education in the UK:
A View to the Future
Align CentreDr. Mozammel Haque

A discussion on the Islamic Education in the UK: A View to the Future organised by the Islamic Society of the University of Oxford, held at Jesus College, Oxford, on 6th of March, 2012. Professor Tariq Ramadan gave a lecture on this important topic.

Professor Ramadan at the very start said that we must start with three points: the main framework, objectives, principles and then end of objectives. “We are attempting to promote the principles framework and the objectives; but very often we want to do exactly the same as what is taught by other systems and simply add the word ‘Islamic’ and they are happy in the competition when the Muslims are doing as good as the other,” mentioned Professor Ramadan.

Professor Ramadan explained that for him, the first point is not simply to integrate within the current system, but more rather to contribute to the system for the better. He said, “Let us agree to disagree from the very beginning and identify the added-value and principles that we need to understand, promote and translate in our lives”

The second point, Professor Ramadan said, is to restructure how one can deal with the issues of good intentions and hope. “I have seen too many people having the good intention to have Islamic schools. Yet good intentions can destroy unless we identify the right way of achieving them,” said Professor Ramadan and added, “This is something that we learn from the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) life. The Prophet (peace be upon him) was always asking God to help him but he did not forget to think when comes to implementation and to ask the people around him, even non-Muslims, people from other faiths, to help him to go the right way. I rely on God but I need human intelligence and human agency anywhere in the West.”

People researching and working on education are developing new theories, trying for the best to devise a better. “If we neglect this new research and theories in the name of the fact that Muslims have the right principles, is this right? Having the right principles yet not deriving the right methodology is wrong because there is no way to understand the principles unless one understands how to implement such principles within a specific context,” argued Professor Ramadan.

Principles - the context and evaluation
Professor Ramadan talked of the principles, context and evaluation. He said that we need to evaluate; we must be positive. “To be a good Muslim is always to strive to have a good knowledge. This must relate to the principles, context and environment - where and with whom you are living and what you want to achieve there. In the name of the principles, one must consider the context within which you are living and then draw your conclusions, evaluate. We need to evaluate, we need to assess where we are,” said Professor Ramadan.

Speaking about the achievement over the last 25 years; Professor Ramadan said, “I would say that we must be positive of this because over the last 25 or 30 years what the Western Muslims, the European Muslims have achieved is great. Does it mean we should be happy with it? We should be happy with the constructive and critical ways and consider what must still be improved in the whole process.”

Some of the principles that we must rely upon
First The Tawheed
Professor Ramadan said, “Let me consider some of the principles which are important for me when it comes to Islamic education, the principles which we must rely upon. I think that it comes to the beginning of the revelation that we have really to understand the Oneness of God – Tawheed is essential. When God is talking to the Prophet (peace be upon him) the first dimension on which He (God) is relying about Himself Rabbul Alamin, the Rab is not exactly the way we translate it into English saying Lord.”

Professor Ramadan said, “In Rab there is the root of Tarbiyah; the Educator. He (God) is taking the Prophet (peace be upon him) and saying I am your educator; now this is the way I am taking you from here and now I want you to go there. So on the way towards Truth, on the way towards Me, on the way towards being close to Me, I am your Educator and you are going to be educated; and through this process you are yourself going to be the model. So you are the best example, because the Educator is God. So the Tarbiyah is essential.”

Upon what dimensions is this Tarbiyah based? Professor Ramadan said, “Allah is talking about Himself Ar-Rahman and you know how much the Prophet (peace be upon him) loved this Surah – Surah Ar-Rahman. Talim twice here between Allamal Qur’an. He taught Qur’an, the recitation and the revelation. He Created the Man and then Allamahul Bayan. He taught him how to express himself. Coming from God with this understanding in the Revelation and being able to be speak out be twice Allama. So Talim here is essential, is not only knowledge.”

Three dimension, Al-Ilm, Fahm and Fiqh
Professor Ramadan said, “So there is this dimension of Al-Ilm and wa-Faham. So, Al-Ilm which is the knowledge that you acquire and Fahm is what you understand from that knowledge which you have acquired. This is something which is the Dimension of Al-Ilm, al-Faham and we have a third word which is Fiqh. In fact, Fiqh is deep knowledge; and deep knowledge is the knowledge of the understanding of the revelation and the implementation of this revelation in your time, in your place to remain fit.”

Professor Ramadan continued, “So there are three dimensions, Ilm, Fahm and Fiqh. These three dimensions are important but that is still not enough; because as it was said, very often when we start talking about this; we think and in our system today very often when you speak about understanding, you speak about mind; your heart is understanding and this is a dimension which is so important in anything relating to spirituality.”

Principles: Mind, Heart and Body
Speaking about the principles of Mind, Heart and Body, Professor Ramadan said, “That in any Islamic education based upon the Islamic principles when you educate the mind, you educate the heart. This is something what we know and any teacher knows that you always get a better knowledge when you love the teacher. Mathematics, for example, is always easier when you love the teacher! So this is why the Messenger was loved; he was loved and he was the best teacher. At the same time, it is clear that there are limits - because we love you. You learn to teach us how to learn; in him we understand that it is out of love that we respect him though our mind is ready to respect because our heart is open to love.”

“This is the meaning of education but still this is not enough; it is not only this. Today we should also consider what we are acquiring from behaviour, psychology - it is not only your mind, your heart or even your body. Teach your body from everything that we have in our prayer. There is something which is hardly you educating the body. Now we have physical education; there is something which is deep in the way you are using and training your body to be closer. For example, the way you say salam, the way you greet people, the way you serve them - your body is learning and understanding something and this comes from psychology, anything relating to the relationship with your body, heart and mind,” said Professor Ramadan.

He continued, “It is a comprehensive approach; never neglect the body if you want the spiritual education; anyone who is just talking about your heart and saying that this is spiritual is missing the point; because what we learn from the Prophet (peace be upon him) is exactly this: Connect the mind with the heart with the body and understand that when the body is ready it is sometimes the body opening your heart, not always the opposite. These are the three dimensions of the principles that we have in Islamic education and it is part of something which is related to the meaning of things as you are saying education is mainly about meaning."

Basic Islamic Education: Food for Mind, Heart and Body
What would you like to achieve? “Understanding the meaning through al-Ilm, Faham and Fiqh is the very essence of the very simple part of the Hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him), when you get it right;” said Professor Ramadan and added, “If every dimension of the human being is right - your mind, heart, body - they have their voice and you must be very cautious to gear to every dimension of your being it’s right. So your mind must acquire the knowledge as much as your body must have food, as much as your heart used to get love and all these dimensions are part of the education. You will never achieve peace which is the very essence, the high objective of Islam; you will never achieve peace if you do not understand that education is all about being balanced; first the balance is to recognise that you have needs and then it is for you to look for and discover the answer to these needs.”

“This is part of what we must explore from the basic Islamic Education and this is why in considering human beings, in considering our children, it is the very meaning of dignity. To give dignity - give me the food for my mind, the food for my body and the food for my heart. Educating is all about this,” said Professor Ramadan.

Conception - Three Basic Rights, Basic Dignity
Having noted these principles of food for mind, body and heart there are three points which follow on from this. Three conceptions of basic rights and basic dignity. Professor Ramadan said, “When we are talking about this, these are the basic rights of any human being, any family, any Muslim-majority country, any community we must consider this: The respect of the basic rights, giving the dignity, the basic dignity to the human being.”

1) Autonomous: Giving Education to Walk Without
“What is the first consequence of this? The first is what we should do at one point in my life I am going to be autonomous; I am going to be mukallaf, mukallaf means without my father, without my mother, without my teacher, I am going to be asked by God; and you must teach me how to be autonomous, as the French philosopher noted, ‘I am not teaching you to think like me; I am teaching you to think without me.’ This concept is essential - that education is that I am giving you the means to walk without me, at one point on the Day of Judgement you are not going to return to me, you and I will be alone,” said Professor Ramadan.

He also argued, “Autonomy is something which is essential in our education; yet how can one be autonomous knowing only the text and not the context. For the protector, for example sometimes in considering Islamic schools, and also even within our families, we as parents protect our children in a way that when they are outside in the world they are not equipped to face the realities. So they are not autonomous, they only pretend to be just to please us. Yet when someone just pretends to be autonomous to please the authority, everything is lost. The authority and his or her way of teaching autonomy is wrong - it is not effective this way.”

“Autonomy is essential; are we today educating our children, boys and girls, to be autonomous, where autonomy means not only to be able to make the correct decisions but where autonomy is spiritually strong enough to face the challenges of this life today with their heart, their mind and their body,” said Professor Ramadan.

2) Knowledge of Context:
The second point connected to being able to be autonomous, is giving the knowledge of the context. Professor Ramadan argued, “If you only count Islamic education; if you know the Qur’an; if you know the Hadith; and you are not reading the world. By the way, the first revelation, when you start understanding the beginning of the revelation, when it is said to the Prophet (peace be upon him) IQRA iqra is read, it is not only read the text, then wal qamar; it all the world, it is changing your understanding of the world; these are signs. So we must understand the world within which we live as much as we must understand the Book. The Book is there to help us understand the world and we must look at the people around us.”

Professor Ramadan said, “I think that this is where our Islamic education in the West is to learn about the West. Learn about society, people and what it means to be autonomous in Britain now, today, not in Egypt 25 years ago, not in Sudan and other countries. This is the context”.

3) Valued Outside
Talking about Islamic schools, Professor Ramadan said, “Out of the Islamic schools in Britain, or wherever you are, if you have Islamic schools that are isolating our boys and daughters in a space where they are good there but not valued outside there is something wrong. In fact, I need to get the knowledge when I go outside to have a value; people are looking at me exactly when we are all like this. We must stop having idealistic hopes such that you are going to be a good Muslim, to get the good Islamic knowledge. I need to be valued; I need to have a value in the society. Good education is giving me a value.”

Which kind of added-value do we give to our young generation in Britain? What will you contribute; what will you give to this society; what is the value that you have as a human being, while raising these questions, Professor Ramadan said, “The only ‘I am visible because I wear the headscarves, I am visible because I have beard’, this is the opposite of getting value.”

Some of the Principles to Promote Islamic Education
1) Freedom
Professor Ramadan said, “Freedom is essential in Islam - many of the scholars when they talk about the fact that the Angels were prostrating in front of Adam (peace be upon him) for two reasons: First is knowledge and second is that it was free. He is a free human being. Adam was free; so he is free. This freedom is essential; we need to educate our children in a way they are free.”

“My first concern is freedom - not freedom to speak or freedom to move, more rather it is freedom of what you want to be, how you want to be - it is to be assertive, to be at one with your own values. You might not be free. You think you are free to follow, but I am free not to follow; I am able to say I don’t like it because I am educated to try to find my right answer. I think that we must be serious about this concept. Muslims are not serious about the question of freedom,” argued Professor Ramadan.

He maintained, “Freedom of what you want to be; how you educate your children to be get with this spiritual trend is important here. Then you also have the freedom to speak and freedom to ask questions. This is something which is missing very often in our mosques. Our Islamic education is all about ‘You listen. Listen because I am giving you the Qur’an, giving you the Hadiths’.”

2) To Question
Professor Ramadan said, “This is why I think we must also understand that if you want the right education in the West, or in Britain for example, you devise a course. You are not teaching the students to ask questions because all questions are legitimate, you call the students.”

Referring to the use of the internet today, he said, “We avoid questions about behaviour, about sexuality. How am I being protected if you are hiding the questions that are in my mind? I am colonised with questions and yet you pretend that these questions are not there. The only answer to my question is Aujubillah haram. Haram is not helping me. I am surrounded with all these questions so please don’t put me in a situation when I feel this is attracting me, where I feel I am wrong or I am a bad guy.”

“So start with normality and try to go to spirituality; from natural to spiritual; but not from bad. You cannot be at peace with this; visible thinking starts with this; firstly we must have the courage and secondly we must be active,” said Professor Ramadan.

Critical Thinking
1) Active - Ability to Speak Out, to Write; The Need for Writing; To be Effective
Professor Ramadan said, “With this freedom the second requirement is to be active; as it was said to be active means to be able to speak. We need to teach our children, our people, our students to speak out - we need to teach them also to write. I think that we need this writing for it is not only read, it is to write. To be effective and have value within our society, we must speak in order to be heard and write in order to be read.”

“It was also said to serve, which is exactly to serve as a contribution. I don’t like all this business about integration; integrate our school into the system; all this for me is awful. For example this school should contribute - yet you are what you give, the education which is helping our children to give; to give with your mind, with your heart and with solidarity,” argued Professor Ramadan.

But once again if you want to serve the society; Professor Ramadan enquired, “If you want to serve in Britain what do you know about the history and legacy of this country? What do you know about the critical questions that the British, the fellow citizens, have? You need to know these questions and this is I say that we must reconcile ourselves.”

“Many Muslims say that they respect other religions so the first respect to have is at least to learn about the other religions, to read about it. Yet what do you know about Christianity, Buddhism or other religions?” enquired Professor Ramadan and maintained, “It is a two-way process. We live in the West yet we are not doing the job as such and we are not teaching this two-way process - we must acknowledge and recognise that at the very least the knowledge of both us and the others is part of this process.”

2) Spirituality: Putting Meaning into Action
Speaking about spirituality, Professor Ramadan said, “For me when I speak about acting here, spirituality means action. Just to feel that you are close to God means that in anything that you do you put meanings into your actions. Never forget this, when you start by saying Bismillah Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim, put meanings in actions. The objective of this is to satisfy God and serve the people and the best way to satisfy HIM is to serve the people. This is spirituality - this spirituality is not only to pray during the night. As I always repeat: Pray during the night in order to serve the people during the day - this is the way you serve God and yourself. By the way by serving and praying, this is the connection.”

3) Education is about Love
Professor Ramadan suggested that education is about love. “The last point also comes from education. I would like to highlight two points relating to this - I really mean that education is about love. Firstly you have to learn how to love your own parents, your family, your children and secondly you also have to learn how to love your society. When we consider ourselves in this country for example, how many Muslims (those who were either born here or who came later in their lives) already look at Britain and consider the people as ‘my’ own people and refer to them as ‘my’ people. This sense must come from the heart, not the mouth - you may say ‘I care about you and I care about this society’ but is this really the case? Whilst you may speak about it, how do you actually put your words into action,” argued Professor Ramadan.

“In our mosques, in our schools we keep on repeating us versus them. You can speak about this when it comes to morality but not when it comes to building a society,” said Professor Ramadan and mentioned, “All the Prophets (peace be upon them all) and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the last one, when checked and oppressed, he had to leave them and when he returned and he said, ‘My people, you are my people; and I am serving you even against your will. Why, because He (God) told me to do so. So I am serving him against your own will. You know why? because you are acting against your own benefit’. So the point for us in relation to education is for us to love the society that we live in, love the people and somehow translate this concept into our education system.”

Professor Ramadan concluded “There is one central theme here and that is that in order to share something with your society, you need to learn and teach about the arts - this includes beauty, poetry, tastes and culture because engaging with all these dimensions is a way of translating our love for our societies and our people in a non-verbal, a deeper way. Since the more that you celebrate beauty the more that you celebrate the Creator of beauty. All this can be summarised in one sentence such that ultimately education is about teaching and educating courageous people - those who are free, ready to speak out, ready to be assertive and courageous enough to be able to show the people around them their needs. The need of love could be perceived as a fragility and weakness, yet the most courageous people are those that admit that they need and those that say that they love. So the only right question to ask today might be: How many courageous people are we educating in our schools?”