issue 61 vol. 6 July 2018
THE 4TH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON SHI‘I STUDIES FAITH
HOW TO EMPTY OURSELVES PLACES
THE ‘FOOL’ VIZIER’S RETREAT
Issue 61 vol. 6 July 2018 islam today magazine is a monthly magazine published by the London based Islamic Centre of England. It focuses on the activities of the communities affiliated to the Centre, reflecting a culture of openness and respect towards other religious communities both Islamic and non. The magazine is available in paper and digital format.
Editorial team Mohammad Saeed Bahmanpour Amir De Martino Anousheh Mireskandari Layout and Design
The Allamah Tabatabai Award 2018
Shi‘a scholars discuss guidelines for an effective work
On Emptiness; Christian perspective
How to Empty Ourselves
The 4th International Conference on Shi‘i Studies
Lessons in Learning by Batool Haydar
Art by Moriam Grillo
Suffering and Unity: An Islamic Perspective
Popular theology Vs Perpetual teachings
The ‘fool’ Vizier’s retreat
Information Article Submissions www.islam-today.co.uk Follow us on:
Publisher The Islamic Centre of England 140 Maida Vale London W9 1QB Tel: +44 20 7604 5500 ISSN 22051-250
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“Giving Hope Together” Conference – Italy
by Hujatul Islam Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali
Islamic College – London
Islamic Centre of England
Castel Gandolfo Rome - Italy, by Hujatul Islam Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali
by Abbas Di Palma
Travel Guide to Muslim Europe by Tharik Hussain
Children Corner by Ghazaleh Kamrani
List of Events What & Where
The Allamah Tabatabai Award 2018
Registration for the Allamah Tabatabai Award 2018 is open now
The award aims to recognise students who excel academically, awarding them for their achievements. By equipping them with life skills and giving them the necessary support, the award helps to nurture their academic, spiritual and personal growth in order to ensure that they are able to become successful in all aspects of their lives. All GCSE and A-Level students withthe minimum requirement grades will receive a certificate, entry to the mentoring scheme and a subsidised international trip (minimum requirement grades are available on www.ataward.co.uk). In addition to these prizes, the top three students at both GCSE and A-Level will receive cash prizes totalling over £1000. As well as the prestigious A. T. Award, a range of cash prizes and subsidised trips, each participant is also assigned a mentor that helps them with their academic journey, offering advice and guidance. The mentoring scheme is a key aspect of the Allamah Tabatabai Award, providing students
with support during crucial years of their lives. One previous winner said: “The mentoring scheme has introduced us to current experts in the industry, being an invaluable step forward into networking.” Being named after one of the greatest scholars in recent history, the award provides a role model for students. It is narrated by Ayatullah Jafar Subhani that Allamah Tabatabai, the author of the famous Tafsir Al-Mizan (an exegesis of the Qur’an), was completely dedicated to his studies and research. He serves as an inspiration to students of all ages, showing them how seeking an education can help them get closer to God. AT Award encourages all students to seek knowledge and prosper in their areas of interest, allowing them to reflect on God’s creation and further develop their own
personal relationship with God.
For more information and to register, please visit our website: www.ataward.co.uk
Shi‘a scholars discuss guidelines for an effective work
The 26th Annual meeting of UK clergymen, community leaders and teachers, was held on the 12th May 2018 at Islamic Centre of England in London. This year’s theme was: ‘The role of ethics in the success of religious propagation’.
he meeting started by the host, HIWM Sheikh Ja’far Ali Najm, greeting participants, followed by recitation of the Holy Qur’an by Mr Sayed Masumi. The first speaker, HIWM Dr Seyed Fazel Milani, Imam of Al-Khoei Islamic Centre, referred to the sermon of the Prophet Muhammad(s) about the month of Ramadan and explained that the most important mission of scholars in the month of Ramadan is to deliver Islamic education from the pulpits. He also cited a hadith from Imam Ali(a), pointing out that anyone who seeks to teach divine religion to others, must first start with himself, acting on the things he’s preaching. In fact, action is more effective than giving suggestions and is one of the best ways of promoting Islamic values. The second speaker, HIWM Sheikh Ali Alemi, chairman and Imam of the Islamic Universal Association of London, emphasised that the holy month of Ramadan is about sympathy, kindness and understanding and one of the main problems of life today is the lack of moral values. Referring to the life of the Prophet and the Imams, he explained that the ethical implications of their lives were mainly based on actions rather than theoretical preaching. Citing verse 164, chapter 3 of the Holy Qur’an, he
mentioned that among all the verses regarding ethical issues addressed to the prophets, the most important verse has been revealed to the Prophet Muhammad(s). He highlighted that only practical ethics are accepted by Islam. The meeting continued with a talk by HIWM Seyed Alireza Razavi, President of the European Council of Shi‘a
Ministers, expressing the importance of learning science and education in the lives of people, and use of these abilities to build a healthy society. He said all religious leaders are responsible for all decent or corrupt social behaviour and morality. He said people always regard clerics and religious leaders as guides for their theoretical and practical ethics. Mr Razavi added that the
month of Ramadan is an opportunity for clerics to teach the proper ways of life and the moral and behavioural needs of the people. He stressed the significance of educating the younger generation as the most important group of communities in the field of moral and ethical issues and called for the assistance of the clerics to help parents in this regard. HIWM Seyed Najm al-Hassan, as the fourth speaker, mentioning a quote
our own morality, and in the true sense, show spiritual characteristics in our actions and practices. He defined the greatest responsibility in the holy month of Ramadan was to explain the ethics and practice of the Imams to the community. The final speaker, HIWM Dr Muhmmad Ali Shomali, head of the Islamic Centre of England, expressed his thanks to the attendees and stressed that the main goal of this gathering was sympathy and consonance. By
why we always research and study all the sciences but neglect the science of ethics. In today’s world, morality is needed in every aspect of society. There is no area of human life unless it has to be regulated by moral principles and values, such as environment, business, medicine, education, information technology and social media. He emphasised that it is the duty of clerics and religious leaders to observe morality in directing all their actions and religious missions and guiding the community. Referring to a narration from Imam Sadiq(a), he highlighted the need for scholars whose face and faith remind people of God and the hereafter. Dr Shomali added that one of the aims and objectives of these types of meetings is to promote a practical implementation of ethics in society. Referring to the moral decline of some deviant people in Islamic societies, he recalled the incident at Imam Husayn Mosque in South Africa and asked how one could accept that a Muslim, under the banner of Islam, attacks a mosque and the Muslims inside? Unfortunately, these acts among Muslims is an indication of the moral decline of some Muslims, and it is the duty of religious leaders to take part in establishing morality and moral values in communities so that Islamic societies do not witness such unethical catastrophes. The speaker added that the scholars should take the lead and not let some inexperienced or shortsighted people cause division and discord among the community or cause confrontation with other communities.
from Imam Khomeini, “People are our blessing”. It means that it adds to the responsibility of clerics and religious leaders towards people and society. He added that people always look at the ethics and moral practices of clergy rather than their speech. This means that we should start with improving
emphasising the issue of ethics in society and religious moral values, he added that for a Muslim and especially religious clerics and leaders, the most important issue should be attention to ethical values, practising those values and promoting them among society. Dr Shomali raised the question of
He concluded his speech by expressing his hope that the month of Ramadan would be a month for the development of moral values and acting upon those, and wishing that I mam Mahdi(atf) guides all Muslims. The meeting ended with Q & A session.l By Fatimah Mohammad
The followings are two reflections from a Christian persp emptiness, held at the Focolare Centre for Unity in Welw
mptiness is a very rich concept in Christian spirituality. One of the most famous passages in the New Testament about emptiness is from St Paul, where he speaks about Jesus emptying himself for our sake: Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Let this mind be in you all, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. But he emptied himself, taking upon himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in the form of a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Therefore God highly exalted him and gave him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2: 4-11)
experience it. It simply means we’re human. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, we were actually created with this emptiness that literally nothing in this world can fill. Chiara Lubich often uses the expression of making yourself ‘one’ with the other; that is empty yourself in front of each person you meet. And as God can onlyfill our life where we give space to him, she also used to say that ‘we only have what we lose’. Emptiness’ is therefore not a negative concept in Christianity but implies a fullness from a different source. Personally, the most striking passage in the New Testament, for me, regarding this emptiness and fullness at the same time is the dialogue Jesus had with Nicodemus in the gospel of St John:
St Augustine of Hippo’s famous saying is that ‘Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.’ That is to say that we experience restlessness (emptiness) until we allow God to fill us.
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’
One of St John of the Cross’s central themes is the concept of ‘Nada’ (emptiness). This doesn’t mean we’re doing something wrong when we
Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born
of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said: ‘How can this be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel, but you do not know these things?’ (John 2: 1-10) Jesus here explains that to ‘be born again’, to be born of water (conversion and forgiveness) and the Spirit (allow God to be the ruler of our hearts), is a condition for every human being in order to be able to see and enter the Kingdom of God. And this is not an exclusive Christian message but a description of the human condition as such. In fact, Jesus wonders how it is possible that Nicodemus, a Jewish leader, could be unaware of this deep human truth. In other words, we human beings are all called, without exception, to recognise our wretchedness, our restlessness, our emptiness and be converted from our empty ways of life. We are all called to accept God’s forgiveness and allow the emptiness, be filled with the mercy of God, with God himself. Only then, will God be the king on the throne of our hearts, and our emptiness will be filled with a fullness so that our joy will be complete (John 15: 11).l
by Rumold van Geffen
PTI N E SS
pective, presented during a discussion on the subject of wyn Garden City in the UK
hiara Lubich often used a strange Italian phrase: ‘Farsi uno’ which we translate as ‘make yourself one’. Odd both in English and Italian but actually beautifully expressive of ‘putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes’. This way of empathy is based on the writings of St Paul: ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep’ (Rom 12.15). It is true love and involves emptying ourselves of all the riches we have inside us, in order to take on board the needs of the person next to us. The pirates’ hat I had an experience of this soon after meeting the Focolare spirituality. I was helping my brother Trevor run his guest house in Eastbourne. His wife had left both him and their five year old son. I stepped in to help him cope, with both running a business and parenthood. One day I was feeling particularly heavy. I can’t remember why. Perhaps it was the fact that Trevor’s marriage had failed. Maybe I felt trapped? I was at university and this was the holiday period, when I could have been travelling… Suddenly my little nephew Alan, ran into the room. He had a beautiful smile on his face and he was clutching a sword and a pretend plastic pirate’s hook. ‘Uncle Paul, Uncle Paul make me a pirate’s hat!’ At first I was going to dismiss him and tell him I was too busy but he was so enthusiastic I melted. I quickly found an old newspaper, folded it into the
triangular shape of a pirate’s hat and drew a skull and crossbones on the front. He was thrilled. I placed it onto his head and he ran away screaming pirates’ curses… I suddenly realised that I was happy. It was such a contrast to my previous mood. I was taken aback and realised that love had set me free. By emptying myself I had received the fullness of joy and of peace. It was an experience that remains with me forty years on, as if it had happened yesterday. The
Over the last few years I have had the privilege of working with Sarah Finch, an actress who shares the spirituality of the Focolare. We have collaborated on various quite ambitious theatrical projects. Two years ago we were writing a play to perform at UNESCO in Paris. It was called ‘The Return of the Little Prince’ and a sequel to the original book by Antoine De Saint-Exupery. I would write the first draft of a script and then we would meet up and develop it together. It is a great partnership: I bring writing skills and she brings a wealth of experience of the theatre. However, our experience has been more than this. We always try to be empty in front of one another – to be prepared to give our ideas but then to lose them. Early on we established a few ground rules to help keep us on track:
To really listen to the other person and try to understand what the other is saying ‘beyond the words used’ No idea is a stupid idea. This gives space for ‘newer and even better’ ideas to be born. Many times we have been amazed at how creative ideas have blossomed ‘beyond our imagination’
To speak in ‘truth’. In other words to fully give our ideas and not hold back on our own perspectives. This is quite hard to do because sometimes it is easier to pretend that we agree with something and therefore avoid ‘creative conflict’ which can be enriching. It means believing in the love of the other – but also being detached from our own ideas. I think this develops over years of working together and demands great sensitivity.
Being prepared to apologise and start again when we’ve not lived the above!l
by Paul Gateshill
To put love first so that it is God who gives us his light
How to Empty Oursel The following speech was presented by Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali at the Focolare Centre for Unity in Welwyn Garden City in the UK
his topic might not seem to be a common way for Muslim ethicists and spiritual masters to discuss spirituality. I tried to find something similar like a direct translation but was unable to do so. Nevertheless, we have ideas that resonate with this topic. When it comes to our relationship with God, most of us find ourselves unable to understand or acknowledge our absolute poverty and emptiness before God. Normally, we talk to God and think of God as a person like us but bigger; for example, a master. We thus try to set the terms of our relationship with God. For example, I think it is better to work for God because He is generous and rich, etc. Nonetheless, I am still thinking of myself as someone who has the right and the position to get into a one-to-one relation with God in the sense that we are like two equal partners in this relationship. Unfortunately, many religious people hold such views. The reality is that we are too little before God to think of ourselves and God in such a relationship. On the contrary, we are like a shadow for God; thus, how can a shadow start negotiations with the real Being? In addition, the problem is that with our limitations we somehow restrict this affiliation; one can only get what he has prepared for. Consequently, if you have restricted expectations and limited understanding of what you can get from this relationship, then you will get less. For example, if I think a shop only sells sweets then I will only
buy sweets from there. I will not buy other things. Or if I think my teacher can only teach one subject I will not ask him to teach me other subjects. Therefore, we restrict our relationship with God based on what we think it can do for us and what God can offer us. We even go further and restrict the means of giving. For example, if I am working on strengthening my spirituality, I think that my spirituality comes only from prayer or when I go to the mosque or the shrine. Many times I think of this scenario, that I am going to the shrine in Qum and I am supposedly late or just in time to catch the salah, the prayer in the shrine. Then, I see a lady on the road carrying a child and asking for a lift. So, I may say if I was not in a rush I would have certainly given a lift to this lady, not knowing that perhaps my shrine is now going to be built by giving a lift to this lady. Hence, I am limiting God’s generosity to what I am going to do, not thinking that maybe God has something bigger for me planned on the other side of the road. This scenario actually happened to Moses when he was taking his family in the dark, and perhaps cold, night. Moses was very worried about the safety of his family, but he saw a fire on the side of the road. The Qur’an states that he told his family to stay, “I will go and check, maybe I can take some fire or maybe there is a guidance.” So, he went to the side of the road and saw the fire, and actually from there God started speaking to him. Therefore, if Moses limited himself to this road and just looked in front of him, even if he looked 100 km away, he would have
missed the opportunity which was on the side. For this reason, I think we should always look for opportunities from 360 degrees around us. Consequently, emptiness in regards to our relationship with God means to first know our poverty, do not limit your relation with God, do not limit what God has to offer, and do not limit the means, the time, and the people through whom God is going to give to you. Be empty, but here empty means to be open; sometimes emptiness is nothingness, but this emptiness means maximum openness and maximum capacity for receiving. Another aspect of emptiness is regarding my relationship with people. Indeed, it is extremely difficult to have a association with people which is not shaped by some kind of judgment or prejudice; even if it might be positive prejudice, it is still a kind of prejudice. Perhaps you think I am worse than I am or I am better than I am, but whether you think I am worse or better, it is not me. Let me be myself. Thus, it is very difficult to be able to have encounters with people while we are empty like a mirror. An expression found in Islamic narrations is that a believer should be like a mirror for another believer. A mirror does not add anything to you, nor does it reduce anything from you. It corresponds 100% to what you are. So, if we can empty ourselves and make ourselves a mirror then people can see themselves in us and we can also see people as they are. Not only that, you can even help them understand themselves as they are.
A famous story in Persian spiritual literature states that a king was building a corridor which he wanted painted and decorated in the best way possible. He called for the best paintersartists of the world. He gave each group one side of the corridor and they put curtains all the way from the beginning to the end of the corridor so that either group could not see what the other one was doing. It was truly a competition. The onlookers saw that one group of artists were taking lots of paints and brushes and working day and night. However, the other group just took sandpaper, but no paint. When their work had finished, the curtain was removed. The first group, the one with the paint and brushes, had painted a breathtakingly beautiful picture and the second group had the same exact painting, but they had not used paint. They had polished the corridor with sandpaper, making it like a mirror.
The moral of the story is that we need to empty our hearts from any ego, selfish ideas, and prejudice. If we manage to do so, then it will start shining. Muslim spiritual teachers state that the first step is takhliyya, (to evacuate). The next step is tahliyya, (to decorate). Here you perform good deeds; finally, tajliyya, (to shine). Evacuate, bring good deeds, and then shine. Thus, we should try to become like a mirror in our associations with people. Of course, it is easier said than done, especially when it comes to our relatives. When it comes to our relatives it is really difficult to become a real mirror for those we live and interact with. Indeed, it is still difficult to do so with those who do not live with us and just want some pieces of advice; nevertheless, it is still manageable. Great practice is required in order to become a truly objective mirror of other people. A very important concept is the concept of fairness. In my opinion, one of the signs of people who are
at a very high level of closeness to God is that they are fair. However, what exactly is fairness? Perhaps the following example can clarify it. Imagine two parties have a dispute and they go to court. However, the judge happens to be the relative of one of the parties. Will the other party then accept that court? Obviously, they will not, because the judge will be biased. Thus, fairness means that I must be so unbiased that I would not take any side. So, it is not the relative who is the judge, but I am the judge. You are bringing someone to the court where you are the judge; you are one party of the dispute as well as the judge. It is extremely difficult to be fair because every day we become the judge; we have issues with our friends, neighbours, colleagues, in fact, everyone. I bring them to the court where I am the judge and, at the same time, I am one part of the debate and dispute. Consequently, here fairness needs maximum emptiness from the ego to be an unbiased judge over yourself. So, I think those who can be fair are at a very high level of nearness to God. When Imam Sajjad was asked about some of the most important aspects of Islam, one of the things he mentioned was being fair to others. My last point is regarding an important aspect of emptying ourselves in regards with people, and that is conversation because I think a great part of our interpersonal affairs are based on our words and conversations. Good conversation is extremely important for human beings. Furthermore, in our conversations we need to be able to listen to people. If I think that I already know what this person is going to say, then I will not listen; obviously, that is not a good approach. Perhaps I may not say anything and listen politely, but practically when I am listening to this person, as soon as he or she opens his\ her mouth I think that I already know what is going to be said. Sometimes we
do not listen carefully to the words, but already make our judgments. It is similar to a doctor who has already written a few sample prescriptions regardless of what you tell him about yourself. Hence, this prejudgment occurs many times with those with whom we have dealings, as we have already given them a file in our mind. We do not permit them to have a chance to be different from what is already registered in that file; even if we have hours of conversation we just find more evidence to support whatever is previously written. In fact, we are the ones interpreting everything in the same manner. Consequently, to be empty here means to really allow that person to speak as if it is for the first time. It would be a great exercise in humbleness and controlling emotions if we can make our relationships with people such that we always give them a fresh chance and not view them as criminals who need to defend themselves. If I am not clear, I can ask questions and give that person more of a chance. However, I should be so respectful to that person that I let him write his own description in my memory, not that I write most of it and then ask him to fill in the blanks. Therefore, it is very important to give people a chance. Unfortunately, many times we behave to the contrary. However, God is not like this. Although He has all the knowledge about us, God always lets us talk to Him. There is even a saying in our hadith that God says He loves the cry of the sinners more than the glorification of the worshippers and the righteous. God sees value in their voice, but we are not like that. We only love the voice that praises us, and do not listen to the one who does not. There are numerous areas in which we need to work on emptying ourselves. When we empty ourselves we actually enlarge our capacity and give God more of a chance to decide what He wants to give without limiting Him.l July 2018
The 4 International Conference on Shi‘i Studies th
iming to provide a broad platform for scholars working in the field of Shiʻi Studies, the Islamic College, in partnership with the Islamic Centre of England, organised its annual conference, between the 5-6 of May this year. For the last four years the calendar of The Islamic College has been marked by an academic event growing in popularity: The International Conference on Shiʻi Studies. Normally scheduled for the first week of May, the conference represents one of the academic efforts of The Islamic College, a wellestablished academic institution, based in North London, offering undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in a variety of Islamic Studies programmes both in-house and distance learning validated by Middlesex University. Joining resources with the Islamic Centre of England, The Islamic College put together the fourth event of this kind, bringing together, for two days, an array of national and international academics specialising in Islamic Studies and more specifically Shi‘a Islam. Like many conferences of this kind the International Conference on Shiʻi Studies requires months of preparation and coordination, a task that was entrusted to the College’s Research and Publications department headed by Sheikh Mohammed Ali Ismail.
Spanning over two days, this intensive showcase of research and studies related to Shiʻa Islam provided the opportunity
for accomplished as well as upcoming academics and students in this field to interact with each other both formally and informally. A total of nine different panels (five on day one and four on day two) reflecting the variety and topics and disciplines, were organised to facilitate, in an organic way, the presentation of all papers submitted. The programme began at 9.00 am with opening remarks by Sheikh Mohammad Ismail who gave some
background to the activities of the Research and Publication department after welcoming both delegates and the general public. This was followed by a further introduction to the activities of the College by Dr Isa Jahangir, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the College. With an average of four speakers per panel followed by Q&A sessions, strict timekeeping was of the essence. Naturally some topics generated more discussion than others. The list below provides a full view of the range of topics provided.
The first session of the first day cover two panels entitled; Qur’an Studies and Texts: Past and Present. All seven research papers were based on some form of textual analysis varying from Qur’an to classical texts relating to Shiʻi theology and fiqh (jurisprudence). The second session of the day was divided into two panels focused of the ritual aspects of Shiʻa Islam with papers exploring the meaning and impact of rituals and ceremonies related to the commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn(a), such as Ashura and Arbaʻeen. A third panel dealt with art and literature related to the Shiʻa world with speakers from the UK, Italy and Egypt who looked at works of literature, art and architecture that appear to have Shiʻa influence. The second day of the conference saw panellists discussing more contemporary issues related to Shiʻa Islam. Authority in Shiʻism, Political theory and contemporary thought, Shiʻism in South Asia and Shiʻism worldwide, were the names of the planned panels with speakers from Canada, Denmark, Germany, Indonesia, Pakistan, UAE, and USA. Authority in Shiʻism was bound to generate extra interest with discussions ranging from the authority of Imami Maraji’, the interaction between Shiʻi clergy and the community to historical relation between Al-Azhar and Shiʻism. The second session of the day was dedicated to the more theoretical
aspects of contemporary thought with papers on Shiʻism and Democracy and on the role of Al Akhund Khurasani in the Constitutionalist Movement in Iraq and concluding with the more theoryladen paper of Dr Paya who critically looked at the theoretical system proposed by 15th century Shiʻi scholars on the concepts of ethics and justice. The remaining panellists of the last day focused on themes related to the Shiʻa communities in specific geographical areas. The named panels were: Shiʻism in South Asia and Shiʻism worldwide. The following are the titles of the papers presented in these two panels: The case of Gilgit-Baltistan Ismailis in Karachi, Pakistan, The Quṭb Shahi era and the contributions of Mir Momin Astrabadi in the spread of Shi‘a Islam in the Deccan, Navigating identity: An overview of the Shi‘a Hazara community in London and the Midlands, The study of Shiʻism in Denmark, The role of supplementary schools in shaping the Islamic identity of Muslim youth (a UK based research). The programme of the Fourth International Conference on Shiʻi
Studies came to an end with a keynote speech by Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali, director of the Islamic Centre of England (co-sponsor of this event). Sheikh Somali expressed his happiness at the success of the conference and hoped that it will grow in strength to become a major hub for anyone involved in Shi’i Studies. He also stated that it is the intention of the organisers to have this annual event in two parts, one conducted in London and the other in Qum in the near future. Dr Shomali then elaborated on the concept of “Religion and the People of the Book as seen in the Qur’an”, an ongoing research that he is currently conducting with other Christian and Muslim scholars. In his talk Dr Shomali underlined the idea that divine scriptures are a reality of the same message and the followers of these scriptures have more in common than they think. He ended his talk with an exhortation to ‘walk the path of truth all together’.l The proceedings of the first three Annual International Conferences on Shiʻi Studies (2015, 2016, and 2017) are available for purchase, as individual books, from The Islamic College.
Life & Community
Batool Haydar gets schooled in the little-charted area of unschooling
he month of Ramadan is a time of reflection and I’ve had plenty of that to do in the past four weeks! Those of you who follow my articles may be aware that my major concern as a parent revolves around providing my daughter with the necessary experiences she requires to develop a stable, positive character.
is very little I remember taking away from my actual classes. In recent years, as I have worked with children and youth, I have witnessed the huge changes that social media and the internet have brought to our lives. The impact an online presence has on the mind and heart of a young person leave indelible marks that literally last a lifetime.
We’ve been quite firm with the ‘no-technology’ policy and don’t regret that one bit. However, since she passed her third birthday, I’ve found myself having to answer the same question every single time I share her age: “So, is she in school yet?” (No, she’s not.)
Do I really want my child to have to deal with cyberbullying, peer pressure, fashion brainwashing and all the other marketing tripe she will be bombarded with, more so because she is a female? I’ve been having discussions around the same issues over and over again during this month (because Ramadan is when we all manage to catch up for the whole year’s lack of real life interaction, isn’t it?). All of them in some way or another accused me of being over-protective, told me I was stunting my daughter’s social skills and doomed her to be at best a literary recluse if I continued down the path of homeschooling.
I was never really a ‘motherly’ kind of person, but one thing I have always known is that if I ever had children, they would be homeschooled. And this was from way back when the term was barely known, let alone understood. Coming from a strong academic background, I knew I loved education, but having been forced through a secular, structured system of learning, I also know how much I disliked the way I was taught. My best learning came from out-of-school hours and there
The question that floored me over and over again, obsessing my conversations with God, was ‘How will she know what real life is if you don’t send her out
into the world?’ There was an element of truth in this sincerely concerned query. How indeed? Did I really think I could provide every experience she needed all by myself? That was when I began to search for the genuine answers. The ones that would keep me firm on my decision, because if I didn’t have those, then, in all honesty, I would have to put her in a school before the end of the year. Ramadan is only just over, so I don’t have any comprehensive theories, but I have decided on a couple of things. For those of you considering keeping or taking your children out of school, I’m hoping this might help provide a few more thinking points on which to base your decision, God willing. What is real life? This was the first thing to tackle. I want my daughter to first and foremost be genuine. I want her to experience life and understand the good and the bad in it. I want her to be fully aware, especially as a Muslim, that the state of affairs in the world is far from ideal and that her responsibility - from birth - is to do something about that. I want her to know that she can get the best grades and be an
IN LEARNING honours student, if she wants to focus her energies on that, but that those letters and numbers will not count for one bit in the Hereafter if they do not involve and are not aimed at gaining nearness to God. Because that is the reality of life: we are here to succeed for the aakhira )the afterlife) and the success of this world is a mere bonus for those who get it. I recently watched a BBC documentary on how the 11+ exams impact schoolchildren and their idea of whether they will be successes or failures in life based on their marks. Whether it is the academic pressure or the social impact, I donâ€™t think that any school system really prepares a child for the real world as we consider it. Personally I want an integrated education for my child where there is no need to separate what you learn in school from what you learn at home/madrasa/ mosque. The conflict between these different ideologies are a challenge for us as adults and I would rather she have a solid
foundation that seamlessly incorporates God into everything (as He truly is) until she is old enough to explore concepts and ideas on her own. Having figured out the answer to that, I found myself better equipped to then deal with the next issue: What does she need to learn about real life as I have understood it? Well, Islam tells us to let a child play for the first seven years, so really, thatâ€™s all she needs! There are plenty of theories about unschooling radical or otherwise - as well as child-led or delight-directed education. I doubted every one of them, because how does a child learn without being taught? Are they expected to receive inspiration?
English. She - who has been rebelling every encouragement to pick up a pen and make a mark on a piece of paper - watched me write a four-word sentence on her whiteboard, erased it and then copied it out from memory while I gawped like a goldfish. So if there is one lesson I have taken away this Ramadan, it is that if you decide to do something within the boundaries of Islam and solely with the intention of seeking nearness to God, then no matter how controversial it may seem compared to the normal framework in place, He will support and help you, stepby-step until you reach Him. And that is the true education of real life!l
With an independent-minded child on my hands, this has been my biggest worry. How will I teach her if she doesnâ€™t want to sit down and learn from me? Then three things happened. She attended four one-hour toddler sessions and went from knowing only her mother-tongue to now being almost equally fluent in
Art as process
wo years ago, I shared that I was beginning my training in Art Psychotherapy. This is the practice of using art and creativity, both right brain activities, to explore and overcome early memory and experience also stored in the right side of the brain. In Art Psychotherapy art is used as a vehicle to look at, objectively, the unconscious processes displayed in the art made. This practice serves as a way to explore an individual’s unseen reality, or unthought known, by looking at how it may manifest outwardly.
The two years spent studying psychodynamic theory and practically engaging with clients in both community and forensic settings and has been an incredible experience that has led to much understanding of how the unconscious frames our every waking moment. The last few months, in particular, have been a time of intense learning for me and resulted in new outlooks on life. Not simply because I have now completed my master’s but because the learning has begun to inform my day to day life allowing for
Playing with feeling
an opportunity to create the art on display rather than just observe it. To touch rather than just look.
The psychoanalyst and artist Adrian Stokes described art therapy as the cake that survives being eaten. Meaning although satisfaction is achieved the cake or work of art remains. In other words, even when an element of destruction occurs there is something of worth and even beauty that continues to exist beyond the initial act of consumption.
To explore this idea further, for my end of year degree show I created a durational installation that explored how art is perceived. I did this by offering visitors
Green Deen “‘The Green Deen Project’ aims to reconnect to the integral relationship between nature and the Islamic teachings of spirituality and tending to the Earth. Through deepening our connection with the Earth we deepen
Using clay as the basis of this experiment visitors were invited to interact with it in whatever way they chose. Hand tools were available in case the cold wet sensation of the clay was off putting and wet wipes if they chose to get their hands dirty. What resulted was a reflection of the ideas, feelings and expression of a number of people who visited the space. The clay served as a blank canvas on which each individual reflected some truth about themselves often unbeknown to them, a free association of sorts.
the containment of psychodynamic training within my spiritual practice. The following articles reflect this learning through the art I produced, public participation and my interaction in other projects. They touch on art’s ability to bring people together, offer therapeutic support and promote positive messages that in turn inform society. Moriam Grillo is an international awardwinning artist. She holds Batchelor degrees in photography & film and Ceramics. Moriam is also the founder of the Butterfly Project.
Art therapy has taught me that we are governed by pure, unconscious processes in ways that elude us. This installation was an opportunity to witness how we are with ourselves and with others.
Clay is a neutral material which responds to touch leaving impressions that remain to testify for those that have passed by. As a metaphor this offers many points of reflection, for example, the dialogue that takes place between strangers who may never meet but respond to each other’s impressions and are changed by the experience. our love and relationship with God and the Prophet Muhammad(s). As Muslims, our relationship with the Earth is an integral part of our belief and Divine connection.” - Sakina Le Noir, Cofounder, Rabbani Project In the Spring I attended a women’s retreat organised by the Rabbani Project called
Pearls of Islam. Under the guidance of sisters Rabiah and Sakina, the three day event was a chance to spend time in nature with the intention of seeking nearness to God by retreating from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It was a time of creative endeavour, using the imagination to consider the
sacredness of mundane things in order to cherish and appreciate our Creator through prolonged reflection on what He has created. This in turn, created points of reflection where we were encouraged to consider how Divine Attributes exist in all things.
Singing qasida in reverence of the Prophet and group dhikr was experienced alongside frottage, collage and sketching. Stillness was the key. For in stillness we connected with our inner truth enabling us to see beauty in all things. It was a reminder of God’s love of beauty and how art offers a transactional relationship with beauty through the making and the beholding of it. More than anything this retreat was a time to connect with like-hearted women and share spiritual endeavour and creative expression. From a therapeutic point of view, companionship encourages well-being as does the ability to express oneself without judgement.
Community “We are far more united and have more in common than that which divides us.” - Late Jo Cox, MP Last year I was approached by members of a parish council in a small, predominantly white market town in the East of England to facilitate a tile making workshop as part of the Great Get Together, an initiative started to encourage community cohesion after the death of the MP Jo Cox. All members of the town and surrounding areas were encouraged to attend and make a tile that would appear on the installation.
The church in question had experienced an incident the previous December where local people had become frightened at the sight of a hijab-wearing woman in the church. While she had simply entered the church to admire the stained glass windows, her presence had caused feelings of fear and notions of terror in the local community. The result led to the cancelling of the carol service and a boycott by parents who did not want their children attending the church for fear of what they thought was an impending terror attack. The councillors had organised the workshop to dispel negative perceptions and encourage a greater understanding of cultures by creating a piece of art that paid testimony to this. The finished work consists of two large pieces and three smaller octagons. The eight sided polygon is a symbol used in all Ibrahimic faiths. In architecture it is seen in the Dome on the Rock in Palestine and the Basilica in Rome. “The number eight is important in many faiths; in the Jewish faith it is a symbol of salvation, rebirth and regeneration. The octagon has long been used as a symbol of Christian faith. Octagonal churches have been built since the Byzantine period to modern times across the world. John Wesley, a founder of Methodism,
expressed the wish that “all churches should be built of this shape if the ground allows.” - Sue Bentley, Parish Counsel
The mural is the culmination of tiles made and decorated by the local community with illustrations handpainted by local schoolchildren. The finished piece entitled ‘Many Yet One’ hopes to reflect our shared commonalities reflected by the coming together of many for one common goal. “The two windows reflect both the beauty of sacred Islamic art and the shape and form of the stained glass windows at the church. The grouting reflects the lead of the windows in contrast to the warm and vibrant colours of the tiles.” - Sue Bentley, Parish Councill July 2018
Suffering and Unity:
Presented at the open session of the conference: ”Together to give hope. Christians and
e are living in an important period in the history of humanity where we witness many suffering. However, we also see many signs of hope. Meetings such as this are a great sign of hope, as hundreds of people from all over the world and from Islamic and Christian backgrounds are here under one roof with united hearts. I remember the first time I was here with my wife and two sons in 1999, we had people then whom we do not have today, Chiara, Natalia, and Imam W.D. Mohammad. We also had a meeting with Pope John Paul II. So, we remember all those souls who gave their life for unity and suffered for humanity. Indeed, blessed are those who suffer for humanity. Today I would like to share a brief account of the Islamic understanding of suffering. Suffering is part of human life in this world. We cannot expect a life without misery and difficulty. If you want a perfect life, then you have to wait till you go to Heaven. In this world there is no perfection. Right from the beginning, God told Adam to be careful with respect to Satan. The Qur’an in chapter Taha, verse 117 states, “We said, ‘O Adam! This is indeed an enemy of yours and your mate’s. So do not let him expel you from paradise, or you will be miserable.’” God said to Adam, “This is an enemy of you and your wife. Do not let him send you outside heaven, otherwise you would suffer.”
Therefore, our suffering started when we came to this world. Of course, when I say this world I do not mean this planet, but the physical and worldly life that we have in this stage of our life. Similarly, God says in the Qur’an: “Certainly We created man in travail” (90:4).
If you want to train commandos you would not send them to five-star hotels, but to forests and you would reduce their food and sleep in order to train them. Likewise, God wants us to train, cultivate our will and acquire virtue. Therefore, it is actually serving our
We have created man in hardship. The numerous limitations and interactions in this life cause suffering; for example, an innocent person could carefully be crossing the road, but a careless driver can come and hit him. He did nothing wrong, but it is unavoidable. Farmers are happy when it rains, but the homeless are not happy because they suffer. Yet, it is something that we cannot avoid in this world of limitations, interactions and cause and effect. What other people do affects us, while what we do affects other people. Therefore, lots of interactions may make scenarios that have positive or negative impacts upon us. Then, we have to remember that we are also free because God has given us free will. Thus, sometimes we make mistakes; mistakes and problems can happen out of our control or sometimes as a result of our unwise decisions. For instance, if we have not studied well when we were young in adulthood we cannot get a good job. Thus, it would bring some kind of suffering to me and my family. We cannot completely avoid suffering in this world. Moreover, it is important to have these difficulties for the purpose for which God has created this world.
purpose to be in a world where we are challenged and sometimes stretched. Suffering is not necessarily a sign of being disliked by God. When people saw that the Prophet Ayyub (Job) was suffering, some judged him by saying that he must have done something bad so God was now punishing him. This is certainly not the case. Although it is true that we suffer because of
An Islamic Perspective
d Muslims on the march with the charism of unity” Castel Gandolfo Rome - Italy, 20th April 2018
Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali our mistakes, it is not always the case. Consequently, to suffer is not necessarily a sign of being disliked by God. On the contrary, it is actually possible to be a sign of being liked and favoured by God. Therefore, one must
but to have no problem is also not a sign of being loved by God. There is no such implication that not being poor or ill is an indication of being liked by God. Indeed, the Qur’an tells us that when it comes to giving worldly gifts, God is more ready to give worldly gifts to the people who are not faithful. The Qur’an says: “... had it not been that the faithful people would have lost their faith, He would have given so much wealth to the people who denied and rejected Him that they would have made silver roofs and ceilings for their houses” (43:33). Thus, God has no hesitation in giving worldly blessings to everyone, especially to the people who only think about this world and the people who have nothing else. God is happy to give wealth; so, we should not think that people who have fewer problems are necessarily favoured by God.
be able to discern if he is suffering because he has done something wrong so that one can change his behaviour or whether the cause was out of his control. To be healthy, rich, or powerful are also not necessarily signs of being favoured by God. In fact, they may sometimes be signs of the opposite. Not only is suffering not a sign of being disliked,
It is possible that those who suffer are very much loved by God. Once Prophet Muhammad was asked, “Who are the people who have the greatest suffering and calamities befall them in their life?” The Prophet said, “The prophets and messengers face the greatest challenges in their life,” and then he said, Those who resemble the prophets the most would receive challenges the second-most.” So, depending on your rank you are supposed to be ready to be challenged by problems.
Imam al-Baqir says that if God really loves someone, the person might be beset by calamities. He prayed to God, “Please remove these calamities;” God says, “My servant, I can be fast in removing your problems, but if I save it for you and do not respond quickly it would be better for you.” We understand from several hadiths that on the Day of Judgment when people see what God gives them for their suffering, they would wish they had endured more. Someone who has lost his/her parents especially in childhood who comes to know how God protects, loves and awards orphans, would accept his situation more wholeheartedly.The same goes for a person who suffers physical hardship due to illness. If one does not suffer at all, one should worry. If someone never faces tragedy and always has full protection everywhere, one should know that there must be something wrong. Once the Prophet was invited by someone so he went to that man’s house and just before the meal was served, the Prophet saw a hen walking on the wall and laying an egg. The egg dropped and stood on a nail in the wall. It did not crack, which was unusual. The host realised that the Prophet was surprised. He said, “O Messenger of God! Are you surprised? By the one who has raised you as a prophet, I have never had any tragedy in my life.” Perhaps he thought God was favouring him that he had no problems. The hadith states that the Prophet did not eat, but stood up and said“ So God has July 2018
left you to yourself if you do not suffer at all.” It means that God no longer cares about you. God is most generous in His rewarding of the patient. When it comes to rewards the Qur’an tells us that God is very generous. Many adjectives describe the reward from God: ajrun kabir (great reward), ajrun karim (generous reward), and ajrun ghayru mamnun (reward without being accounted). The Qur’an tells us that God rewards good deeds ten times more; it is the minimum, not the maximum. “Whoever brings virtue shall receive [a reward] ten times its like (6:160).” God does not multiply the punishment; yet, when it comes to reward for good actions the minimum is ten times more. For example, if you give to charity, God says it is like a seed which multiplies into many more seeds. and then even more. Indeed, He is very generous, but there is something exceptional for the people who suffer and remain patient. In this case God does not state how many more times He rewards them, God says: “Indeed the patient will be paid in full their reward without any reckoning (39:10).” God will reward them without measure for He has special treatment in store for them. This verse truly depicts the power of suffering. I say to people if you have a problem, perhaps in marriage, business, community, or with neighbours, children, or parents, first ensure that you are not responsible. Unfortunately, we usually look for others to blame; we hardly look at ourselves. Our first assumption is that others have imposed that suffering on us. We have to question ourselves first.
A believer has to be doubtful about himself (al-muminu zaninun bi nafsih). We love ourselves so much that we can easily deceive ourselves; we cannot see our own problems. If you are convinced that you have done nothing wrong then look at your actions again and again, as it is not sufficient to only look once at ourselves to find the problem. Only then, if you sincerely find no fault of your own but are still suffering, be grateful that there is an opportunity for you to rise toward God. You have to be thankful so that you can achieve much more.
Suffering can help with respect to unity. Suffering is one of the greatest tools for achieving humbleness and humility. A beautiful hadith states that sometimes in the knowledge of God a person is capable of reaching a certain position, but his actions are not enough to raise him to that position. Therefore, it is through suffering that he can reach that position. Hence, some spiritual people have actually prayed to God to make them ill and poor so they could suffer. However, the Prophet and our Imams teach us not to ask and volunteer for suffering, but to be ready for it when it does come. There is a very inspirational story about a young person from the city of Balkh, Afghanistan. He asked Bayazid Bastami (d. 261/874–5 or 234/848–9), a spiritual master, his definition of ascetism. Bayazid replied, “When God gives us blessings we thank Him, and when He does not give us blessings we are patient.” If we are ill or poor, we are patient, but if He gives us we are
grateful. This young man replied, “This is what dogs do in our city. When we give them food they are thankful and when we do not give them food they do not attack us, they remain patient.” This Sufi master was very humbled and asked, “So, what is your definition of gratitude?” The young person said, “When God gives us we give to others and when He does not give us we thank Him.” The master learned a lesson that day. Hence, if suffering comes you should actually be grateful; of course, not if you bring it upon yourself or others. In one of the passages that we pray to God while in prostration, we say,“All praise is due to You, the way that people who are grateful for [their] suffering praise You.” I want to praise You in the way that people who are grateful for their suffering praise You; I do not want to praise You just like someone whose stomach is full and then he says, “Thank you God for giving me food.” I want to praise You God like someone who has nothing to eat and then says thank you, like someone who knows the value of poverty as he knows the value of being rich. Suffering can help with respect to unity. Suffering is one of the greatest tools for achieving humbleness and humility. Unfortunately, when everything is right we tend to take things for granted and think that we do not need God anymore. If I have a good job and enough money coming in every month to pay my bills, I do not need to worry; “Indeed man becomes rebellious when he conssiders himself without need (96:6-7).” If we have no problem this does not mean we are totally free from need. It is suffering which makes us humble. When you have an ill person at home or when you have problems in society you feel that you have limits and you have
to accept the realities of life. You do not become like Pharaoh, Nimrod, or Hitler; rather, you become very humble. Undoubtedly, the greatest obstacle for unity is arrogance; arrogant people cannot be united. The late Imam Khomeini used to say
even two scholars in one city cannot be united. Therefore, suffering is a very important tool for humbleness. When you suffer you may have a better understanding and empathy for other people who suffer. if you are ill, not only do you understand people who are ill,
example, someone who is ill feels for someone who is poor, because by suffering our hearts become soft and we can better sense the problems of others. The hearts of those who do not suffer for sake of others, slowly become hard and then they become inattentive to the problems of people. So through our suffering we can be united with others who suffer too. When we suffer we see that many things lose their significance and many barriers disappear. Suppose you are a Muslim mother and your child is ill in hospital and next to you is a Christian mother whose child is also ill. Will you say that I am a Muslim and she is a Christian, so we have nothing in common? Or on the contrary, your common suffering makes you united. Even if other people mind their differences these two would never quarrel over it. They will help each other so that they can better serve their children. For example considering the Syrian refugees who have lost their homes. Does it make a difference whether they are Muslims or Christians? You cannot go through that hardship and still partition people; yes, when you feel strong, when you are behind the pulpit or on the minbar, and you have thousands of followers, then you may make distinctions. However, when you are a refugee, a homeless person, an ill person, or someone in difficulty, you understand the suffering of others and you cannot make those distinctions. Thus, suffering is not necessarily a bad thing; rather, it can actually be one of the best experiences that we have in our life and a great tool for unity. Thank you very much. l
that if 124,000 prophets live together they will be united, but sometimes
you may even better understand people who have other kinds of suffering. For July 2018
Popular theology V Abbas Di Palma warns about introducing cultural practices when offering pastoral care
hen we speak about orthodoxy and heterodoxy in relation to a particular faith, it is not to point out the subjective responsibility of those who failed to accept the objective truth of a religion, or to denigrate those who have objectively broken a certain tradition with good intention.
As a matter of fact, cultural and popular religious practices represent understandings and manifestations of specific geographical areas that, although not necessarily in contrast with the religion, should not be confused with the religious tradition itself. ‘Tradition’ is derived from the Latin term ‘tradere’ meaning ‘to transmit, to convey’.
Indeed God knows what is in everybody’s heart and “what his soul whispers to him” (Qur’an 50:16). Similarly, when religious and intellectual criticism have been directed towards certain cultural or popular rituals, the aim is not to offend those who want to practise them in good faith while not being aware of the theological deficiencies in such rites.
Only when religious facts and their realities in their purest form are fully transmitted can we call them religious traditions, otherwise they would be cultural traditions or popular customs.
It has always been a difficult task for scholars to translate the lofty meanings of religions for the common folk. Such meanings are often filtered by people’s hearts and that is why popular expressions of religious devotion are often mixed with cultural and even folkloristic elements.
That is because the religious tradition, inclusive of immutable truths beyond time and space, has been preserved by the teachings and the continuation of rightful imams, undistorted, altered or affected by personal inclinations. On the contrary cultural traditions are a type of ‘secular thinking’ (from the Latin seculum indicating worldly and temporal) in the sense that they are ‘added into history’. Apart from cultural tendencies, sometimes theology itself has also been
subjected to popular expressions. As religious truths need to be conveyed to the people, they also need to be presented in a language that is understandable to them. This is the origin of the pastoral care engaged by scholars trying to guide their congregations to the right path. Pastoral care implies morally supporting the people in their daily activities, filling the gap between their worldly and divine affairs and guiding them towards goodness from the state they find themselves in. In other terms pastoral care enables people to have access to the complex theological truths that otherwise would remain limited to scholarly circles or exceptionally pious individuals. Here, a problem arises when the constancy of the religious tradition in pastoral care is affirmed but not proven de facto. Words and advice given during pastoral care are not truths in themselves and may not correspond to truths at all. In some cases there can be a significant gap between ‘what is said’ and ‘what is’. If we take the definition
Perpetual teachings of truth as; ‘what conforms thought to reality’ and falsehood as ‘what does not conform thoughts (and the words expressing it) to facts’, the theory of continuity cannot necessarily be claimed. It is important therefore to conform our intellect to reality because truth is what it is and not what we like. Throughout history many religious scholars place an emphasis on the duty of translating the content of revealed truths into a language closer to the contemporary mentality, just like the duty of preservation and transmission of the holy truth. This implies dynamically adapting theology to cultural situations with the pastoral aim of ‘understand people and make them understand’. Pastoral theology consists of applying the religious principles to practical cases especially in relation to the members of a community. Some scholars committed to this practice try to apply universal principles of religion according to the needs of modernity. The risk of doing so is the introduction of a subjective language and relativistic
ideas, paving the way for the influence of a secular approach towards religion. What needs to be understood is that religious principles are considered absolute certainties and therefore infallible in their essence, and this is something that cannot be claimed by ordinary pastoral teachings. Therefore, what we define as pastoral teachings do not stand as religious tenets and cannot be passed as part of the creed. It is the prophetic message as expressed in the Qur’an and the established prophetic traditions, unanimously accepted, that should form the basis for any pastoral, cultural or popular praxis. In applying religious theology to pastoral care, we should not deny the objectivity of faith. Such objectivity has been preserved in the religious tradition by God’s will and it is universal. No one should interpret the divine revelation according to personal whims or personal conjectures but rather it should be preserved objectively. It means that the interpretation
of the revelation is bound by its preservation. While we all interact with the revelation, by studying it and preserving it, it must be understood that we should distinguish between subjective and objective truth. Prophets and holy imams do not subjectify the revelation, as their task is not to reveal a new doctrine but to serve, assist and preserve it. It wouldn’t be correct to impose a subjectivity to the revelation by making principles out of pastoral care or cultural practices. As the full relevancy of the principles is established, pastoral care and cultural practices should conform to the religious truths. This was the case with the holy Imams who lived in the past. Reflecting their lives in our lives is therefore a means of protecting our faith both in our hearts and in our daily routines.l
Hujjatul-Islam Abbas Di Palma is an Italian convert, graduated from the Hawza Ilmiyya of London. He holds a MA in Islamic Studies and is currently lecturing at The Islamic College - London.
Travel Guide to
Muslim Europe With travel writer and European Muslim heritage specialist Tharik Hussain
The ‘fool’ Vizier’s retreat
estled at the foot of Shara Mountain in a typically serene location on the outskirts of the town of Tetovo is the idyllic complex of the Arabati Baba Tekke - the finest Sufi lodge in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). It is also a place shrouded in mystery, legend and controversy.
tells him “If you will be a ‘sersem’ (fool) then go!” Hence the reason the revered baba is known as Sersem Ali Baba and his lodge as Sersem Tekke - the ‘Fool’s Lodge’.
The oldest part of the tekke, home to one of the world’s most mysterious ‘Islamic’ sects, the Bektashis, dates back to the 16th century. Legend claims it was founded when a wise old Baba Bektashi spiritual leader - made his way to Tetovo to meditate in seclusion at the foot of the beautiful mountains. The Baba was in fact an Ottoman Vizier called Ali Baba. He was also the brother-in-law of none other than Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The exact reasons for his arrival are mixed up in two quite different narratives. The first claims he had a powerful dream that made him give up the luxurious trappings of palatial life for a monastic one. In this version, Suleiman is angered by Ali Baba’s decision and reportedly
In the other version, Ali Baba’s sister, who is married to Suleiman, falls foul of the Sultan and as a result Ali Baba is banished to Tetovo where he starts his tekke. Whatever the truth, Sersem Ali Baba’s tomb sits at the heart of the tekke’s historic centre in a dilapidated round house made of red brick and wood. It is surrounded by the tombs
of all the other Bektashi Babas since, including Ali Baba’s disciple Harabati Baba, whom the tekke is named after today. Most of the modern complex is the result of 18th and 19th century additions that were funded by local governor and dervish, Recep Pasha and his son Abdurrahman Pasha. The result is a unique complex of richly ornamented pavilions, fountains, guest quarters, dining room, dervish dwellings and a mosque, all of which are surrounded by a high wall with gun slits - hinting at the tekke’s need for protection through the ages. Most recently, the tekke was set on fire by guerrillas in 1948 and again during the communist period in 1992 when all religious activities were banned, and the tekke was used as a tourist complex with parts of it converted into a hotel, restaurant, museum and discotheque. It was returned to the Bektashi community in 1995 following a sit-in by the late Babas, Tayyar Gashi and Tahir Emin, though the controversy didn’t stop there. In 2002, members of the national Sunni group Islamic Community of
Where in the world: The Arabati Baba Tekke sits on the western outskirts of the town of Tetovo, off the road R1206, close to where the winding R1209 heads up into the mountains. Macedonia - ICM - seized the tekke, claiming it belonged to them as custodians of the nation’s Muslim community. Today the two groups occupy different sections of the beautiful complex, which is home to the following stunning historic monuments: The mosque, which the Sunnis call the Ibadet Hane Mesci, is a beautiful square building with a wide porch. The Bektashis knew it as the Kubeli Meydan - Turkish for ‘domed square’. The dome is a ‘blind’ wooden one, viewed only from the inside, which has ornate vegetal motifs. The entire interior has now been painted a neutral white by the Sunni occupants. Next to the mosque is the Blue Tower or Fatima’s Tower. This stunning wooden Ottoman structure is said
In and out: The best way to visit the lodge is to fly into is an elegant two-storey International Airport Skopje and head west past the square structure built on capital Skopje to Tetovo. By car this journey takes around a solid stone base, with an hour - there are no public transport options direct from the most ornate sections the airport. However, buses run daily from central Skopje reserved for the wooden to Tetovo and take about 45 minutes. upper floor where across the top are delicately Top tips: The Arabati Baba Tekke sits at the foot of the painted friezes. Coloured mountains where the country’s most popular ski resort a bright blue, the tower is located. Those visiting the tekke shouldn’t miss the is modelled on a classic opportunity to combine it with some very reasonably chardak – a primitive priced skiing in Popova Sapka. labourer’s structure that allowed the breeze to flow freely whilst offering shade residential Ottoman architecture and splendid views across the land. anywhere in the Balkans. In all likelihood it also served as a defensive watchtower for the tekke. Then there is the Meydan, a decorated open veranda, painted in an explosion Near the main entrance is another of colourful patterns that evoke marvellous piece European baroque styles. This was of Ottoman where the resident Baba would a rc h i t e c t u re ; historically receive his guests. The tekke’s centrepiece however, is the Sadirvan or fountain. Sitting regally in the middle of the lodge within a beautiful wooden structure that is divided into two parts, this monument embodies the deeply spiritual heart of this monastic space. One section contains the sixsided marble fountain and the other, which is slightly elevated, is reminiscent of a Buddhist meditating platform and is where the dervishes traditionally performed their rituals. The two parts are separated by an exquisitely carved door and sheltered by a richly decorated and gilded ceiling. To sit inside it, in the shade of mountains engulfed in clouds, is to understand why so many wish to lay claim to
to have been built by Abdurrahman Pasha for his daughter Fatima - hence the name. Fatima was affected by tuberculosis and her father hoped that by living on the grounds of the tekke she might be cured of the affliction. It
the Misafir Hane or ‘traveller’s guesthouse’.It is also made of wood and dates from around the early 18th century. With two floors and a quaint wooden terrace covered in beautiful wood carvings of floral motifs, it is one of the finest examples of classic
this stunning lodge.l Tharik Hussain spends much of his time travelling across Europe in search of the continent›s fourteen centuries of Muslim history. You can follow his work at: www.tharikhussain.co.uk
God’s blessings Lessons from the Nahj ul-Balagha series
Dear Children, Assalam Alaikum
s you know, Imam Ali’s(a) words of advice in the form of sermons or letters have been gathered in a book called Nahj ulBalagha. Here, in Children’s Corner, we try to select some of these and share them with you so we can all familiarise ourselves with his words. In sermon 110 Imam Ali(a) refers to the importance of the Qur’an as the word of God and suggests to us; “To learn the Qur’an, as it is the most wonderful of all
conversations. To think about its words and learn it, as it is like the Spring season of our hearts, when everything comes to life again. To heal our hearts with its beauty. To read it beautifully and in the best of manners as it is the best of speech and the most realistic of all explanations.” Again in sermon 199, Imam emphasises the importance of prayers as an essential way to show our love for God. He asks us to form a close friendship with our
prayers, and to be faithful to them, and to perform them a lot [within our ability], and to try to find nearness to God through our prayers. Imam Ali asks us to be grateful with what we have and to pray to God to receive what is good for us and in abundance. In sermon 143, Imam Ali reminds us of God’s essential blessing - water. Water can be considered as one of the most important blessings of God. There are countries in this world whose people suffer due to lack of water; their food is limited as they cannot grow sufficient food for themselves. So it is essential that we appreciate this blessing and do not waste it. Imam Ali says: “O God, send us Your rains, Your bounty, Your provision, and Your mercy. Give us water in a quantity that would benefit us, satisfies our thirst, and makes the land green with grass, and
that all that has died may grow again. A rain which brings plenty, produces delicious fruits, waters the fields, flows in the valleys, dresses the trees with vegetation, and keeps our life expenses low. God surely You are able to do whatever You will.” In one of his letters Imam Ali(a) reminds us that lack of sustenance does not necessarily make you a weak person - sometimes those whose wealth is limited have stronger personalities. He says: “Remember, that wood of the tree which grows in the desert, has the strongest of fibres, while the flourishing greenery has the softest of barks. The bushes of the desert which only rely of rain water make a lasting fire and are slow in dying off. (Letter 45) Until next time!l
Illustrator Ghazaleh Kamrani
What & Where Through July Tafseer of the Holy Qur’an Conducted by: Shaykh M S Bahmanpour Venue: Islamic Centre of England, 140 Maida Vale, London W9 1QB Time: Every Friday starting at 7.30 PM
Through 27 July A Short Course on Sahifah al-Sajjadiyah This course is designed for students of all religions who are keen to learn about the great treasure of truth and divine knowledge after the Qur’an and Nahj al- Balāghah. Well-renowned scholars Dr Shomali, Dr Jahangir, Sheikh Mirza Abbas, Dr Bahmanpour, Ghulam Abbas Lakha, and Dr Agili will deliver lectures on the importance, role and validity, social impact, and psychological dimensions of al-Ṣahifah al-Sajjadiyah. Venue: The Islamic College, 133 High Road, Willesden, NW10 2SW Time: Fridays, 6.30 PM - 8.30 PM No Fee, but registration is mandatory.
Through 1 August The God Debate: Science, Religion and Philosophy This course aims to familiarise students with the main arguments for God’s existence, their relative strengths and weaknesses, and possible atheist counter-arguments to them. It will look at the contributions made by leading proponents of both theism and atheism and take into account the latest relevant scientific theories. Conducted by: Alexander Khaleeli Venue: The Islamic College, 133 High Road, Willesden, NW10 2SW Time: Wednesdays, 6:00 PM– 9:00 PM No Fee, but registration is mandatory. 5 July
Exhibition launch: Masked Faces: Untold Stories from the ArabianPersian Gulf
Manami Goto, a PhD student at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, presents this new exhibition for summer 2018 on the female face mask, part of the traditional but disappearing material culture of the Arabian-Persian Gulf. Through the presentation of material collections and photographs of masked women, this exhibition intends to shed light on the women in the region and their intimate and unique relationship with their masks. Venue: Institute of Arabic & Islamic Studies, Stocker Rd, Exeter, EX4 4ND Time: 5.30 PM - 7.00 PM More info: http://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/
7 July Reclaiming The Mosque
Time: 11.00 AM - 4.00 PM Registration fee: £20 Fundraising target: £250 More info: ttps://www.eventbrite.com
8 July The Colour Run 2018 Take the first step towards making your dreams a reality as you cross the start line and enter a magical 5km world, with an all-new Cloud Foam Zone, unicorn mascots and awesome new colours at the classic ‘Colour Zones’. Islamic Unity Society Aid is aiming to raise £10,000 in funds. All the money raised will go to the construction of a second school in Pakistan which will impact 300 students in Layyah, Pakistan.
Islam requires us to treat women with dignity in all spaces, private and public, so join IIDR as they learn how to reclaim this position in all, not just some, of our mosques. Register now and study with the learned Prof Jasser Auda in-person at our London venue, or online from wherever you are in the world.
Venue: Wembley Park, London, HA9 0WS Starts: 11.00 AM Entry: Free if you raise above £200 More info: https://www.ius.org.uk/ event/2018/07/color-run-2018/
Venue: London (TBC) Time: 9.00 AM - 6.30 PM Fee: £45 / £29 (Online access) More info: https://www.iidr.org/
As the world’s leading platform for live debate, Intelligence Squared are keen to promote debate and public speaking skills amongst the next generation. For the fifth year running we are joining forces with the social business Debate Mate, an organisation which has had extraordinary results training school students to develop confidence through debating.
7 & 14 July HHUGS Sisters Bootcamp 2018 A sweat-breaking, muscle-aching boot camp of fun, energy and total dedication! Enjoy a comfortable female-only environment and day of fitness hosted by qualified instructors from Safari MMA. HHUGS (Helping Households Under Great Stress) invites you to join sisters for a fun, active and energetic boot camp for a great cause. Venues: 7th - Streatham and Clapham Juinor School, Sports hall, Wavertree Road, Streatham Hill, SW2 3SR 14th - Grenfell room 1, Al Manaar, the Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre, 244 Acklam Rd, W10 5YG
10 - 12 July The Art of Debate
Venue: Latymer Upper School, King Street, Hammersmith, W6 9LR Open to: Students of Year 5-11 Fee: £325 More info: https://www. intelligencesquared.com
13 July Srebrenica: stories of courage This July marks the 23rd anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. City Circle pays its respects to survivors and
remembers the victims with an event titled ‘Acts of Courage’. Acts of courage in times of war help us to understand how communities resist regimes that seek to spread fear and division. They also sow the seeds of possibility for peace and reconciliation. During the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, ordinary people undertook acts of extraordinary courage.
‘The Rohingya Crisis – A People Facing Extinction’
Fashioning the Achaemenid elite: dress and identity in ancient Iran, c. 559–330 BC
Venue: St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, 78 Bishopsgate, EC2N 4AG Time: 6.45 PM - 9.00 PM Age restrictions apply: Under 16s not advised due to content More info: http://www.thecitycircle.com
Venue: IHRC Bookshop, 202 Preston Road, HA9 8PA Time: From 6.30 PM More info: http://www.ihrc.org.uk/
14 July Rumi’s Cave Book Club Rumi’s Cave’s next book for the book club is “In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story.” The book is a memoir of the author’s childhood in Palestine, her experience of the 1948 Palestinian exodus, and adolescence in London before becoming a doctor. Venue: Rumi’s Cave, 26 Willesden Lane, London, NW6 7ST Time: 3.00 PM - 5.00 PM More info: firstname.lastname@example.org
Join IHRC for an evening with Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari to discuss ‘The Rohingya Crisis – A People Facing Extinction’ and the larger crisis that is facing the persecuted community.
20 July Human Rights in the 21st Century This interdisciplinary postgraduate conference aims to look at how human rights work in a changing world, including how human rights are being developed in the context of things such as technology and how human rights may be expanded to take account of developing issues (such as reproductive rights, refugees and the climate) as well as how the very purpose and impact of human rights may be changing. Venue: University of Birmingham, Birmingham, B15 2TT Time: 10.00 AM - 6.00 PM More info: https://hs3829.wixsite.com/ humanrights18
British 10K - Islamic Help
The iconic British 10K, returns to the streets on Sunday 15th July 2018. It is the ultimate tour of Central London, where runners pass by iconic landmarks including Trafalgar Square, the Embankment, Big Ben and more. Sign up now and help raise vital funds for Islamic Help.
The event’s main purpose is to raise awareness about Palestine and there will be areas of the event dedicated for you to learn about Palestine. We will have seasoned travellers to Palestine talking about their experiences and answering questions.
Venue: Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA Time: 7.00 AM - 4.00 PM Registration: If you raise £200, registration is free. More info: https://www.islamichelp.org.uk
In this lecture Professor Lloyd Llewellyn Jones from Cardiff University explores the form and function of the clothing of the Achaemenid nobility at the time of the first Persian Empire. Venue: BP Lecture Theatre, British Museum Time: 6.00 PM - 7.00 PM Free, booking essential 4 August
Neither the desert nor the sown: the towns of the Arabian Gulf from the 18th to the 20th centuries In this lecture Professor Robert Carter, UCL Qatar, will explore the origins, urban character, economic bases and people of the Gulf towns, using a range of historical, archaeological, geographical and anthropological approaches. Free but booking essential. Venue: British Museum Time: 6.00 PM - 7.00 PM
5 August Goals for Gaza Football tournament and family fun day in support of raising funds for Medical Aid for Palestine (MAP) Venue: Dome Football, Weston St, Bolton BL3 2AL Time: 10.00 AM - 6.00 PM Fee: £50 per team More info: 07834 485014/01204257080
There will also be fun activities and food stalls. Venue: Market Place Shopping Centre, Bolton, BL1 2AL Time: 10.00 AM - 5.00 PM Entry: Free More info: https://www.mcevents.org.uk/
Disclaimer: islam today does not necessarly endorse or recommend any of these events. Their contents and individuals or groups involved in them. We are not responsible for changes to times, fees or venues. Further information should be sought direclty from the organisers.