Monday, 28 August 2017

Message of Love Mercy and Solidarity at Interfaith Iftar Party

Interfaith Iftar Evening at the ICC:
The Message of Love, Mercy and Solidarity

Dr. Mozammel Haque

An Interfaith Iftar and Dinner Evening was organised by the Islamic Cultural Centre, London, held at the Conference Library Hall of the Centre, in the evening of Tuesday, the 20th of June 2017. The evening party was attended by more than 130 representatives from 12 faith and religious communities, besides the representatives from various faiths, the Metropolitan Police, local Member of Parliament Karen Buck, MP and community leaders. The diplomatic delegation was represented by Ambassador Dato Aminuddin Ihsan, Ambassador of Brunei Darussalam in London, Mr. Abdulmomen bin Mohammed Sharaf, Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia and representatives of the Embassy of Indonesia, Turkey and Pakistan.

The Iftar Evening was started with the recitation from of the verses of the Holy Qur’an by Sheikh Khalifa, head Imam of the centre followed by Dr. Ahmed al-Dubayan, the Director General of the Islamic Cultural Centre who welcomed the guests.

Welcome address by Dr. Ahmed al-Dubayan
 Dr. Ahmed al-Dubayan expressed his happiness to see everyone again. He enquired Why we have arranged this event today? And answered promptly that this event was arranged well before all the sad incidents which have recently occurred and we insisted not to change the date of this event as it’s better to meet in the hard days. He said, “We planned this day today before all these incidents what happened have not happened at that time. And we kept it as it was; and decided not to change it. Because we would like to meet more in the hard days inviting you today to share with us this fasting month of Ramadan, to know something about us; about our fasting month of Ramadan for those who do not know.”

“To share good times together; in the Arabic tradition; the Arabs say when you share someone with food and drinks that means that you are friends forever. We are friends, close friends and I hope this friendship will really be ever lasting and will remain long run always,” said Dr. al-Dubayan.  

Ramadan the Month of Mercy and Solidarity
Dr. Al-Dubayan said, “Ramadan is the month of mercy, it is the month of solidarity with other people. Fasting is a kind of worship. The Qur’an tells us the fasting was also a charity in other faiths before. We fast by the orders of Allah and also at the same time to remember those who are poor and do not have enough food to feed themselves. Ramadan is the month when every Muslim must look after their parents, spouse, children and neighbours.”

Ramadan the Month of Generosity
He continued, “Ramadan is the month of generosity and being generous. Every Muslim is asked to be more generous than before. Being generous is one of the good manners and behaviours in Islam. And the Qur’an and the Tradition of the Prophet (peace be upon him) has praised about this a lot. In Ramadan it is more confirmed and be precise; come together and share all this this evening together.”

This evening for sharing love, mercy and solidarity
Dr. al-Dubayan pointed out that today we have come together to share the meaning of love, mercy and solidarity with each other. He said, “This evening is the evening of love, mercy and solidarity and I am sure that there are not only in Islam but there are also in all other religions. All those representatives of other faiths are with us in this evening of today know that these are in their faiths.”

He remembered all the sad incidents which occurred in the United Kingdom in the past few months including Manchester Arena, London Bridge, Finsbury Park Mosque and the Grenfell Tower and stressed that these incidents clearly showed how much we need to work together and that the message must be delivered by all the faith groups to the wider society who are ignorant of their own faiths and also to those who mislead innocent people.

Sad and terrible days last few weeks
“Lot of problems come here. The problems always come from the followers themselves. They do not practice the teachings in their daily lives. We have terrible days in the last two weeks or three weeks from one incident to another: from the terror attack on the London Bridge, from the awful attack in Manchester and then again back to London; then the fire on the Grenfell Tower which is also regretful incident and then recently the terror attack on the Finsbury Park Mosque. That shows really how much we need to work together; that shows how much we need the massage from the faith groups to be delivered to the wider society; that shows how much really people are ignorant of their own faiths. And that shows how much we really need to deliver the message to those who misleads innocent people from the right path,” said Dr. Al-Dubayan.

Dr. al-Dubayan mentioned the sign of
Sharing many things in common
Dr. al-Dubayan mentioned that coming together today at the Islamic Cultural Centre would be a sign for us all that we can share together, live together and like each other. This message should be spread among the younger generation. He said, “Today I would like it to be a sign for all of us that we can share together; we can live together; we can like each other; we have many things in common; we can be friends; we can be neighbours; we can be colleagues also; we can live together; And this is the massage I wish really every leader and every faith here today and those who are not with us here today try to spread the message among the younger generation. The young generation must understand faith in the right way.”

Need to spread the true meaning of
Peace and solidarity to young generation
It is highly important to reach out to the young generation and spread the true meaning of peace and solidarity. Dr. al-Dubayan said, “Can we return back those manners and those values that we share all together. This is actually the message that we should really bring together. I want the new generation to see this.”

“The young generation must understand faith in the right way. We from all the faiths and backgrounds have gathered here to celebrate peace and solidarity and this indeed is a great example that we can live together peacefully. We really hope InshaAllah that this may bring some positive change in the younger generation and that would be able to do something better for the society,” Dr. al-Dubayan said and added, “Role of organisations around us in the society - the faith organisations, the religious organisations - is really badly needed now more than any time before.”

Advanced technology and its impact
Dr. al-Dubayan pointed out the advanced technology cannot be controlled and due to many false information in the media the young generation are not able to identify reliable sources of information and sadly many of them get carried away by the false information. He said, “Evil is everywhere. Now with the advanced technology you cannot control the flow of information; it is going everywhere in every house, every room, in every head of young generation. The problem is: young generation cannot distinguish or know exactly what sources are reliable; they just read something; and they think it is true. Very good example of that is what happened in the fire in the Grenfell Tower a few days ago last week; lots of rumours and really fake news spread in the social media and again the attack in the face book spread over and over. This is for this generation is a source of information, regardless whether it is a reliable source or not.”

Dr. al-Dubayan also mentioned about Islamophobia. He said, “Islamophobia will do exactly what anti-Semitism did once 70 years ago and we all know the story. We don’t want actually Europe and specially this lovely country where Muslims have more rights and succeed more than any other country. We don’t want in this country and in Europe face what we call may be the Islamic questions like the 19th century what they call that time the Jewish questions. Something dangerous. And things coming down like a drop of water if somebody does not speak up really this; this drop of water becomes the one day and it will take us all away.”

Religious organisations responsibility to bring
back reliable sources to the young generation
Our responsibility as a religious organisation is to work together with the authorities try to bring things back to the reliable sources and try to spread the real message of peace.

Dr. Al-Dubayan concluded his speech with a hope that this gathering may bring love, mercy, good relation and good intention from the Islamic Cultural Centre to everyone present and to show what Islam truly says. He said, “I hope this gathering today bring us the meaning of love, mercy and good relations, good intentions from our hearts to all of you. And to show you a model about what Islam says about other people. And I belief your presence here with us today is one of the good examples and evidence that we have.”

Finally, he thanked all the respected guests for attending and honouring the Islamic Cultural Centre with their presence.

Member of Parliament for Westminster
North, Karen Buck, MP
Member of Parliament for Westminster North, Karen Buck, MP, started by addressing the gathering saying “Assalamualaikum good evening. I have seen many honoured guests. I would be very brief. We want to hear warm messages of support from everyone gathered here this evening. I want to say how proud and grateful I am for the works of the Regents Park Islamic Cultural Centre and for Dr. Dubayan and for bringing us together this evening and we see representatives here from mosques, temples, churches synagogues. They are the visible sign of their communities that can be reached out to each other and we shall also see many voluntary organisations and institutions of civil societies and police representatives here.”

Speaking about the month of Ramadan, MP Buck said, “As Dr. Dubayan said it is the holy month of Ramadan to renew our commitment; and to reach out to each other to get to know each other and to continue a dialogue that is even more important in hard times than it is in normal times.”

“The main goal of our meeting is that we believe in God and that religion has great value in our daily lives and that spiritual values are important to all,” said Karen Buck, MP.

Karen Buck MP also pointed out that the United Kingdom had witnessed a number of sad events recently, but said that she was very happy that the community stood together in a cohesive and solidarity and that it was not and would not be divided. She also mentioned the incredible courage and incredible unity of human kind in these last few weeks. She said, “just returning from the horror in Grenfell Tower in the constituency I used to represent I know well they have been coming together from every faith community, from every corner of the civil society, gathering donations, organising fund raisers, putting money out, reaching out, giving support to those affected and many many young people quite spontaneously wanted to be involved in helping and that is absolutely an wonderful thing to see and something we want to continue.”

Karen Buck also reiterated that “the messages of love, hope and unity that we hear tonight and that would bridge not just between faiths but also between many faith communities and of no faith, whether they are of the institutions or individuals. But I think also as a bigger challenge and a bigger task that we need to recommend ourselves too.”

“The message of love and unity we all will be celebrating tonight,” Karen Buck MP. said.

She also thanked the Islamic Cultural Centre and its Director General Dr. Ahmed al-Dubayan for their efforts and services to strengthen relations between Muslims and other religions in Britain.

Chief Superintendent David Stringer
of the Metropolitan Police
Chief Superintendent David Stringer of the Metropolitan Police said that Islam is a religion of tolerance, co-existence and cooperation, and those mosques and religious centres bear responsibility for portraying this true and true message of Muslims and society. He also stressed that the police stand in the service of all religions, called on the importance of dialogue between religions to remove the misconceptions and fear of the other in society and this in turn will reduce the crimes of hatred against the other.

Talking about the tragic incidents took place in the United Kingdom, Stringer said, “It’s a difficult time; it’s a difficult time for London; difficult time for the emergency services. What we have seen is a small number of people seeking to divide us. What I have seen personally is a large number of people, the vast majority of people, working together, standing together and demonstrating visibly sometimes in some events we have to put on like vigils, like the services of hope visibly standing together and supporting each other. The vast majority of people of this country and the city would not be divided and we will absolutely stand together.”

He also said, “Please maintain that stand please maintain your vigilance. He also mentioned about the security around mosques and the places of worship. “We are absolutely determined during this month at this time to keep people safe. We are determined with your support to keep London safe and to keep faith communities safe but we depend on you for community intelligence and for help us to keep safe.”

Venerable Stephen Welch, Arch Deacon of
Middlesex, Representing the Bishop of London
Venerable Stephen Welch, Arch Deacon of Middlesex, representing the Bishop of London extended all the “warmest possible greetings.” He mentioned, “I had a little distraction in the last few days because of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. “What I have seen in the shadow of what’s gone on there is quite remarkable. Large numbers of people between faiths and between no faiths just turn out to work as community in response to an enormous tragedy.”

“I think in a gathering like this one can always sense the tangible depth of faith that is here and what can be achieved from that depth of faiths by broader and more open and more passionate collaboration in so many ways for the good of London,” Venerable Welch said and added, “I cannot believe my eyes in the different way; in response the way people of all faiths and none have had responded to the enormous challenge there and I have seen the community and the sense of common response care experience of grief and tragedy was beaten and mingles with hope.”

He said for us there is much to do in together; much to do in educating those young people; rooting the young in the deepest and fertile fruit of human society and civilisation. “Peace be to this house this evening. May justice rein our spirit and may love be in all our hearts. Thank you very much.” (20:15-22:16)

Gillian Merron, Chief Executive
of the Board of Deputy of British Jews.
Gillian Merron, Chief Executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews said, “I am here on behalf of the Jewish community across the United Kingdom. I want to wish you all the Happy Ramadan. I want to begin with some thoughts others have done on the awful attack on Muslims in Finsbury Park. We utterly condemn this act of terrorism. All good faithful people all good people should stand together in joining and rejecting hatred and violence from wherever it comes.”

“Hatred of people because of their religion has no place in our society,” she said and added that the divide between Muslims and Jews can only be bridged by getting to know one another, much better. With that in mind I look forward to making new friends this evening as I have done already. On behalf of the Jewish community thanking you for inviting me to break fast with you and Ramadan Mubarak.”

Father Stephen Wang
Dean of Marylebone Church
Father Stephen Wang said, “I am here as University Chaplain. I am here as Catholic Dean of this area around Regents Park and also on behalf of the Catholic Church and the Bishop of that people, just to share the sentiment of those people how good it is to be together this evening.”

He talked of the commonality, friendship and commonness. “We talk a lot as people of faiths; we share so much; we dialogue; we recognise what we have in common; we also recognise what we don’t have in common sometimes. And both of them are important. That underlining everything that genuine human friendship which we believe comes from human heart. That unity comes not from the human heart but from the gift as we say; as we believe that the gift of unity is in those deeper values that we share,” Stephen Wang mentioned.

 Father Wang also said, “We are standing in the middle of the crisis but without being overwhelmed by it. And I hope and I pray meeting this evening is the testimony of that desire in ourselves, in our communities and in our friendship together and that comes from our love for God and love for each other.”  

Pheriza Gan Kotwal , Zoroastrian
Trust Funds for Europe
Pheriza Gan Kotwal from Zoroastrian Trust Funds for Europe first talked about the meeting of SACRED (Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education in Schools) where she launched Zoroastrian manifesto and syllabus this morning. 

She spoke of love and peace and said, “There is no question of preaching peace and love.” She also talked about how much we have in common. For example, she said Muslims wear hat; in our religion, even small child of two or three years, men women or children wear topes; so all have topes she also showed Zoroastrian manifesto; prayer book which is Avasta in Latin or Greek.

His Grace Bishop Angaelos Coptic Orthodox Church
Bishop Angaelos of Coptic Orthodox Church said, “It is a wonderful time to be standing together;  we do not only gather here during the month of Ramadan; we don’t only gather in the wake of numerous terror attacks; only a few days ago; we also meet today which is world refugee day and it is a day that culminates quite a lot  of challenges we are speaking about: basement, marginalization, terrorism, alienation things which have regrettably been around our world, certainly about centuries but even more tragedy past decades when we are supposed to be in a different time, in a different development with international agreements, statutes and treatises which apparently safeguard our rights.”

He also mentioned, “This is time for our religious leaders to take ownership of the space. It is time for us to increase the legitimacy of our messages that will never ever come through the tribalism. It is only when we are able to stand with our Muslim community or indeed in other times with Christians, Baha’is, Yazidi’s or people of no faith at all. It is only then we can truly find the absolute perfect space for our faith.”

“Our biggest enemy is not each other,” said Bishop Angaelos and added, “Our biggest enemy is secularism that shows that at best we are irrelevant and at worst we are complicit with it what are happening and for that reason it is time – the fact is that it has happened over the centuries, over the past decades or over the past years does not mean it must continue on our watch. Gathering like we have today at Scotland Yard, like we had yesterday at Finsbury Park, like we have tonight at the Islamic Cultural Centre, this is going to speak louder than any terrorist action; but at least to be genuine.”

The Coptic Orthodox Church Bishop also said, “In this melting pot, in this diverse community we live in, we are each other reality; we are each other’s present; and we are certainly each other future.”

Tricia Hillas Revd Canon
St Pauls Cathedral Church.
Tricia Hillas Revd Canon of the St. Paul’s Cathedral Church expressed her gratefulness for the kind invitation to be at the Islamic Cultural Centre and “the warm welcome and the depth of your generous hospitality”. She said, “In this evening, in this holy night, in this holy month, in this holy meal, you set before us gracious hospitality.”

She also mentioned, “Hospitality of venue, hospitality of mass wonderful food. Hospitality of time to be together and to be with you and most of all sharing of what is important to you and of you which expresses that deepest generosity which is of the heart.  And the hospitality of the human heart points to the merciful hospitality of the divine heart itself. And there are few things more significant and more holy than opening one’s doors and eating together.”

This was followed by many speeches by all representatives of religions from Jews, Christians, Buddhists and Hindus. All thanked the Centre and the Islamic Community and offered their condolences to the victims of the attack in Finsbury Park London and the victims of the fire in Grenfell Tower London and thanked the police and emergency services and the British government for their full support and service. The representatives stressed the importance of interfaith dialogue to promote cooperation and understanding between religions and society and the importance of condemning terrorist attacks that could not divide society. He thanked all the Islamic Cultural Centre and its Trustees for the invitation and hospitality during the occasion.


Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Hajj - The Fifth Pillar of Islam

Hajj: The Fifth Pillar of Islam

Dr. Mozammel Haque

ISLAM IS A PRACTICAL RELIGION which lays down a complete code of life. Its training starts from childhood. The final pillar of Islam or the Fifth Pillar of Islam comes after the successful completion of the first four pillars of Islam. The training of five times prayer every day started from the local Masjid, meeting with local people, with neighbours five times every day.

But the ultimate objective or the summum bonum of Islam is establishing peace and harmony in the whole universe, and for that reason, it makes various provisions for creating peace and harmony in the lives of mankind as well as in the universe. Peace and harmony can be achieved only when there is solidarity and universal brotherhood among human beings. Islam preaches this concept and puts it into practice through the unique annual assemblage of the pilgrims during Hajj.

The institution of Hajj in Islam is quite extraordinary and unparalleled. It is only Islam that has made the annual assemblage at one place, Makkah, an obligation for the capable Muslims from all corners of the world. In other words, it may be called the World Muslim Congress. This assembly has many distinctive features which no other gathering has and no other religion stipulates. The concept of unity and brotherhood is embedded in Islam in such a way that one is truly amazed to see millions of Muslims dressed in two white sheets of cloth gathered at one particular place, i.e. in Arafat during a fixed time on certain fixed days in the year. All human and man-made barriers and distinctions are demolished during that assembly.

We shall deal here with the aspects of unity and universal brotherhood which, besides others, are quintessential among the concepts of Hajj. First, let us take universal brotherhood. This universal brotherhood emanates from the following basic concepts and is demonstrated in a most authentic and brilliant manner here on this occasion:

Adam is the first man from whom all human beings have sprung up;
Abraham is the father of monotheistic religion;
Acceptance of all prophets as prophets of God;
Belief in all revealed books of Allah.

Thus, this acceptance of Abraham as the patriarch of the concept of Tawheed and recognition of the continuity of Prophethood from Prophet Adam to the Last Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him all) and having faith in all revealed books keeps up a chain of faith known as Islam throughout the world. This binds the whole humankind into a bond of brotherhood whose genealogical father is Adam and the spiritual father Abraham. Thus Muslims believe in the continuation of the human race on earth. There are no conflicts and controversies in the monotheistic religion decreed by God. All Muslims (those who consciously and willingly surrender to the Will of the Creator) belong to this Ummah and therefore constitute a fraternity of faith. This is one way the Hajj conveys the message of universal brotherhood.

This aspect of universal brotherhood can also be noticed during Hajj when Muslims come from remote corners of the world and congregate in Makkah in the vicinity of the House of God, i.e. Baitullah. Though they might have come from the east or west, north or south, and all differences in colour, language, race and nationality notwithstanding, they find their oneness on the basis of their faith in One God, One Qiblah, One Book and One Prophet.

The practical training for this universal brotherhood starts from the local or neighbourhood level with the five times daily prayers in the mosque, which gets enlarged with the Friday prayers once a week. The circle is again made substantially larger during the Eid prayer, and it becomes internationalised transforming into a global gathering once in a lifetime. So, as I mentioned at the beginning, the concept and training in universal brotherhood, which reaches its peak, starts from the very childhood at the local level.

As regards unity, Islam, first of all, removed all man-made bonds and barriers bringing all human beings into one global family tracing their genealogical origin to common parents and biological chemistry to one element, i.e. clay. Almighty God has laid down in the Holy Qur’an, “O Mankind, We have created you from a male and a female.” (49: 13) This establishment of absolute equality on the basis of their ancestral origin and biological composition removes all artificial differences between man and man.

The enforcement of the concept of Muslim brotherhood is the greatest social ideal of Islam. Islam places emphasis on unity and unifies mankind on the basis of one God, one Book - the Qur’an, one Qibla - the Ka’aba and one leader - the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The Noble Prophet’s mission was to establish unity and peace throughout the world. The Islamic concept of unity transcends all other forms of unity based on territory, geographical boundary, linguistic and ethnic affinity. He united Muslims on the basis of faith, which is the Oneness of God, Islam.

On this vital concept was based the Prophet’s sermon in his last pilgrimage, which shows that Islam cannot be completely practiced until this ideal is achieved. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) unified and cemented the Muslim Ummah under the banner of La ilaha illallah Muhammadur-Rasoolullah by establishing the first-ever Islamic state in Madina, which later on took the shape of a grand Caliphate. Under the Caliphate the Muslim Ummah was unified and integrated. Thus the first concept of universal and worldwide unity was demonstrated by Prophet Muhammad more than fourteen hundred years ago having been guided and inspired by God for establishing unity and peace in the world.

Islam is essentially a community and group-oriented religion. So, the practical lesson in unity and equality first starts within the family, then in the neighbourhood, especially through the institution of five daily prayers in the mosque and still on a larger scale in the locality, during weekly Friday prayers, and then in much larger gatherings in the two Eid prayers and ultimately in the international or global gathering during Hajj. This very characteristic and feature of Islam demonstrates the universality of this religion and its heavenly origin which transcends all worldly barriers of race, colour, class and nationality.

Pilgrimage is the best occasion to bind again the loose threads, tighten them on the basis of belief and in the presence of God and frustrate the nefarious machinations of the enemies of the Ummah’s unity.

Another aspect of Hajj is making sacrifice in the way of God for the cause of Islam. As Islam itself is a religion of sacrifice, its different pillars also contain the same features and characteristics. It is a known fact that the Islamic or Hijra calendar starts with the month of Muharram and ends with the month of Hajj. The first month of the Islamic calendar, Muharram, is the month of sacrifice – a sacrifice made by the grandson of Muhammad, Hussain ibn Ali, who laid down his life at Kufa in the cause of Islam and its ideals. Similarly, the 12 months of the Hijra calendar, the month of Hajj, marks the remembrance of the sacrifice made by the Prophet Ibrahim for the sake of God and His Pleasure.

The Patriarch, the first Prophet of monotheistic religion, Islam, the Prophet Ibrahim was ready to sacrifice his most loved one for the sake of God. He loved his only son, Ismail, more than anything else. God asked him to sacrifice Ismail. Ibrahim was going to sacrifice Ismail, in the way of God by His Order. The Holy Qur’an explains the story of Ibrahim and his son Ismail thus:

Then when (the son) reached (the age of) (serious) work with him, he said: “O my son; I see in vision that I offer you in sacrifice. Now say what is your view.” (The son) said: “O my father; do as you are commanded; you will find me, if God so wills, one practising patience and constancy.” So when they had both submitted their wills (to God), and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (for sacrifice), We called out to him, “O Ibrahim; you have already fulfilled the vision; thus indeed do We reward those who do right.” (37:102-105) The Qur’an says: “And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice.” (37:107)

The sacrifices made by Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail for the love of God left an indelible imprint on the history of mankind. This sacrifice is still remembered and re-enacted during Hajj. Ibrahim left a glorious record of sacrifice to please God.

In modern times, sacrifice is symbolised by an act of slaughtering a camel, cow or lamb for the sake of God during the days of Eid-al Adha, i.e. starting after the Eid prayer till the sunset on the third day of Eid. Sacrifice is a strongly recommended Sunnah of the Prophet and was introduced in the second year after Hijra. The purpose of sacrifice is to remind oneself of the great sacrifice of Ibrahim.

The sacrifice of life and wealth in the way of God is the zenith of a man’s belief. God says: “By no means shall you attain righteousness unless you give (freely) of that which you love; and whatever you give, of a truth God knows it well.” (Al-Qur’an 3:92) This means that when something, which has been held so dear, is sacrificed in the way of God one may hope to secure God’s Pleasure. The verse tells us that to attain righteousness one has to sacrifice things, but to attain it in perfection one has to sacrifice things, dearer to one.

Every sacrifice and every effort is to be aimed at seeking God’s Pleasure. That God be pleased with us is the real capital of our lives and it is to win this pleasure that everything should be sacrificed. In the words of the Qur’an: “Surely my prayers and my sacrifice, my life and my death is for God alone, the Lord of the Universe.”

In the modern age, the pilgrims, when they start their journey to Makkah for performing Hajj with only two white sheets on their bodies leaving behind their wives, children, kith and kin and their wealth and properties, they practically exemplify their act of sacrifice for the love of God.

Hajj is the greatest training and practical demonstration of the spirit of sacrifice and the spirit of Jihad in the way of God. It shows that Islam does not end with giving some utopian ideals for the human life. It is not only a religion; it is the guidance for the whole mankind to shape their lives in this world and hereafter. That’s why God makes provision for the teaching and training of humankind in every quality through practical implementation.