issue 52 vol. 5 October 2017
Making Muharram matter F AI T H & L E AR N I N G
C H R I S T I AN M U S L I M F O R U M T W I N N I N G E V E N T S U N N I AN D S H I â€˜ A B R O T H E R S I N F AI T H T R AVE L T O I R AN
F AI T H :
T H E B L E S S I N G O F AN H O N O U R AB L E F AM I L Y October 2017
issue 52 vol. 5 October 2017
islam today magazine is a monthly magazine
Sunni and Shi‘a brothers in faith, travel to Iran
UK Shi‘a scholars and preachers discuss ways to present Islam
Making Muharram Matter
The Blessing ofan Honourable Family
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
by Fatima Muhammad
Exploring Contemporary Muslim Art, Culture and Heritage in Britain The Place to Be Heritage by Moriam Grillo
by Batool Haydar
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by Kubra Rizvi
14 A short summer course on Interfaith Engagement: In Theory and Practice
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Publisher The Islamic Centre of England 140 Maida Vale London W9 1QB Tel: +44 20 7604 5500 ISSN 22051-250 Disclaimer: All information in this magazine is verified to the best of the authors’ and the publisher’s ability. However, islam today shall not be liable or responsible for loss or damage arising from any users’ reliance on information obtained from the magazine.
20 The Protestant Reformation: state versus church? by Revd Frank Julian Gelli
Moldovan Military Masterpiece 22 Mimar’s Travel Guide to Muslim Europe by Tharik Hussain
and the day ofAshura 24 Karbala Children Corner by Ghazaleh Kamrani
26 What & Where Listing ofEvents
Sunni and Shi‘a brothers in faith, travel to Iran
The following is an account of a recent trip to Iran undertaken by the delegation included fourteen Sunni scholars and leaders and two Shi‘a scholars from London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. Report by Dr Muhammad Adrees
y experience of this journey to the Islamic Republic of Iran started with a mild anxiety and fear. By the way the media constantly portrayed Iran, in the back of my mind, I was going to a country where the health services would not be up to international standards, the people uneducated and sectarianism rife. I travelled with a group of scholars from different Islamic schools of thought. Everyone was an expert in their own denomination. I personally have a basic level of knowledge of Islam but my heart is full of respect for all the scholars. I was eager to learn from everyone in order to understand how I might be able to bring the Ummah of my beloved Prophet closer together. Our journey from London to Tehran was very comfortable and enjoyable. We landed in Tehran in the early hours and travelled to an excellent hotel. Our first meeting was in Tehran with the Vice President to the University of Religions and Denominations (URD), Dr Yahya Jahangiri, who gave us an overview about the university. It was very impressive to know that this university produces scholars in all denominations of Islam and they provide guidance to Muslims all over the world. Unity of Muslims across the world was the main theme of the meeting. The Pakistani delegates of the group were keen to
know more about Iran’s stance with regards to oppressed Kashmiri citizens. There were also questions about Iran’s involvement in the Syrian conflict and a dialogue on the ways of improving Pakistan - Iran bilateral relationship. Later during the day, we visited the world’s sixth tallest tower, the Milad tower, and also took in some Iranian architectural sights. Some of my friends in the UK had told me that in Tehran the Sunni Muslims have no mosque and they are not allowed to practice Islam in accordance with their tradition. It was a pleasant surprise when the coach driver parked the coach in front of the three-storey Sadeghiyeh mosque in the west of Tehran. The Imam, Maulana Aziz Ahmed, led the evening prayer and our hosts joined the congregation too. Molana Aziz informed us that on Friday his mosque is attended by two to three thousand worshippers. He also said that there were at least fifteen similar Sunni mosques in Tehran alone. In addition, there are about two hundred small places providing education and prayer facilities to Sunni Muslims. Our meeting with the head of Iran's Hajj mission, Hujjatul Islam Maulana Qazi Askar was informative and this was a moment of happiness for all of us when he broke the news that this year 86,000 (16,000 Sunni Muslims and 70,000 Shi‘a Muslims) would be going on the Hajj pilgrimage from Iran. Our hosts were very hospitable and served us fruits and Iranian tea. We had a tour of the Holy Qur’an Museum where we saw some very old pictures of the Holy Kaaba. The visit to the Palace of the deposed last Shah of Iran made me realise that the impressive buildings and expensive furniture he owned had no effect on lifting the nation. However, the visit to the simple but respectable accommodation of the late Imam Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took my thoughts to the time of Iranian Revolution when the great leader led the nation to its destiny. There was a clear message that simplicity, spirituality and
honesty, not wealth and power, win hearts and minds. We also met with Seyyed Hassan Khomeini (the grandson of late Imam Khomeini) I found his personality very impressive. Our host for lunch was the former ambassador to Pakistan Hujjatul Islam Seyyed Siraj Uddin Mousavi. Later, on the way to the City of Qum, we visited the shrine of the late Ayatollah Khomeini and offered our fatiha (prayer). We were very excited to travel to the city of Qum and felt blessed to visit the shrine of Lady Fatima Ma‘suma (the sister of Imam Ali Al Raza(a)) . The shrine was crowded with people showing their love and respect for the progeny of the beloved Prophet Muhammad(s). We also visited the Qum Historical Museum. Our afternoon meeting with the head of the Islamic Centre of England, Hujjatul Islam Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali proved very productive. We discussed diversity as a strong tool in serving the communities in the UK. Issues such as moon sighting in Ramadan, finding ways for Muslims residing in the UK be able to have the same day for Eid, the permissibility of using scientific calculations to determine the Eid days, were discussed. We then visited the University of Religions and Denominations and met with the University's Chancellor, Hujjatul Islam Syed Abul Hassan Nawab. We received a copy of the Fatawa (religious edicts) issued by renowned and respected Shi‘a scholars on the prohibition on disrespecting the companions and the wives of the Holy Prophet Muhammad(s).
Our evening meeting in Qum took place at the seminary of Imam Musa Kazim (a). We also met with Hujjatul Islam Dr Mohammad Hasan Zamani, Vice-Chancellor for International Affairs at Qom Seminary as well as other personalities. The representative of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei for Kurdistan came to meet us at the same place. He explained how this institute is working to bring unity to the Muslim Ummah. The delegation also travelled to Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan province, via Hamadan. We took in the natural beauty alongside the good quality motorways. Our next stop at Hamadan was a well-designed restaurant at the top of a hill. I got a chance to enter a small hospital and was impressed by the cleanliness and relatively quiet emergency department. After ten hours, we reached Sanandaj. We were advised to be ready in the morning to have a meeting in the library of Ayatollah Khamenei with Sunni scholars. The Sunni scholars talked about their positive quality of life and freedom to practice their rituals since the foundation of the Islamic Republic of Iran. We were then taken to visit a 300year-old Sunni Friday prayer mosque. The mosque has a chain at its door and in the past, if someone entered the mosque via that door he or she would be protected by the state authorities. The mosque’s Chief Imam is a great scholar who delivered a beautiful sermon during Friday prayer. Once we completed the prayer we noticed that the respected Shi‘a Muslim scholars were also
present in the congregation and that it was the first ever Friday prayer that had been marked together by Sunnis and Shi‘as from Iran and the UK in this great mosque. We were invited to the biggest university in Kurdistan where we met with the Governor of Kurdistan. It was amazing to know that Kurdistan has a literacy rate of around 90 percent, up from 30% since the Islamic Revolution. The journey from Sanandaj to Kermanshah airport by coach was a pleasant trip underneath a clear morning sky. We passed through the beautiful dry and green mountains across lands with very well designed irrigation systems. From Kermanshah airport, we flew for 90 minutes and landed in Mashhad. I was excited to visit the holy shrine of Imam Reza(a) where I expected to experience spiritual enlightenment. My heart and mind felt blessed at the shrine. For the duration that I was permitted to stay near the shrine of this great Imam, my soul filled with comfort and spiritual upliftment. At the dining area, I observed thousands of visitors being served food in a respectful way. I have not seen such discipline anywhere in the world. Adjacent to the compound to the holy shrine stands the university, funded through donations made by visitors to the shrine. We stayed in
Mashhad for two nights and also enjoyed our visit to the Qur’an Museum and a traditional Iranian gym. The gym participants were enjoying a traditional exercise class. We left Mashhad with heavy hearts and prayers hoping to be able to visit this blessed city again. I was also happy to learn from various people that the non-Muslim minorities also enjoy their rights in the same way as Muslims in the Islamic Republic of Iran. We flew back to Tehran and four of us managed to go to a shopping centre and see a few areas of this beautiful city. The level of cleanliness was good, public transport including trams were available at all times. The food was of good quality and economical. In summary, I enjoyed every minute of this spiritual and academic tour to the Islamic Republic of Iran. I would encourage other Muslim countries to organise similar tours to improve understanding across borders and lead to harmony and mutual respect. I learned how the Shi‘a Muslims and Sunni Muslims can stand shoulder to shoulder to bring peace and unity among the Muslims in Iran. Diversity is our strength and minor differences between Islamic denominations should never be allowed to divide us.
UK S h i ‘ a s c h o l a r s a n d pr e a c h e r s d i s c u s s w a ys t o p r e s e n t I s l a m
he 25th annual meeting of UK Ulema (clergymen), community leaders and teachers, was held on 16 September, prior to the commencement of the month of Muharram and commemorations of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (a). The title of the discussion was ‘the effective strategic approach in promoting Islam in the West‘. The first speaker, Hujjatulislam Sheikh Alemi, chairman of the Islamic Universal Association of London, considered the promotion of Islam as one of the fundamental concerns for scholars and clergymen. He highlighted the four strategic approaches as per the Qur’an and traditions of the Prophet as: the promotion of Islam itself; the characteristics of preachers; the content of the promotional material, and the method of preaching and its effectiveness. While stressing verses of the Qur'an, he explained that there are no better words to invite people to the path of God. He also underlined that the piety of the preacher is one of the most important factors and that this feature represent the character of every prophet, who all acted upon the message they preached. Furthermore, Sheikh Alemi said that speakers and preachers should be very cautious about their use of words. He also explained that the event of Ashura and the testimony of Imam Husayn (a) are a vast sea of resources that should be used in the promotion of Islam. The next speaker Ayatollah Dr Sayyid Fadhel Al-Milani, said that considering all the challenges that the Muslims face today, especially in
Hujjatulislam Sheikh Alemi, chairman of the Islamic Universal Association of London
Ayatollah Dr Sayyid Fadhel Al-Milani Dean of International Colleges for Islamic Studies, London
the West, meetings such as this are useful, as they can provide an opportunity to share each other's experiences. Undoubtedly, today's most important challenge is Islamophobia, fuelled by a cruel and negative image of Islam that has been created in the West through the media. He explained that we should produce our discourse based on the necessities of time and place. Dr Milani identified Muslim youth problems as another important subject among the Muslim communities in the West and stated that leaders and heads of communities have forgotten their duties towards the youth. “Youth’s problems range from addiction, heresy, immorality and disregard for social laws…” he said. He underlined that the commemoration of the event of Ashura is a great opportunity to bring the message of Imam Husayn(a), which is; the promotion of good and forbidding the evil. The meeting continued with the address of Hujjatulislam Seyyed Hashem Mousavi from Iran who conveyed the warm greetings of Ayatollah Khamenei to the audience and his wishes for the good health and success of all scholars and activists working in presenting the message of Islam. Hujjatulislam Mousavi highlighted the importance of understanding the audience when preaching Islam. Preachers must recognise the necessity of different strategies with regards to addressing the local population and others.
Hujjatulislam Mousavi requested that speakers, activists and preachers extend the area that they cover in presenting Islam and try to engage positively with natives of the countries in which they preach. He urged on offering new and up-to-date contributions in all areas, such as politics, women's rights etc. He also pointed out that these should be presented in different formats, depending on the time and the place. With the approach of the month of Muharram and its commemorative programmes, scholars, preachers and head of communities should avoid division in their talks and should create unity and harmony with their messages while employing a coherent method and language. The event continued with statements and suggestions from other scholars followed by a final address by Hujjatulislam Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali. Dr Shomali, the head of the Islamic Centre of England, thanked the scholars for attending the meeting and stressed the importance of this gathering. He said that religious propagation is not only about making a speech or writing material but also making sure that the message reaches its intended audience. Today it is barely possible to find a book in major bookstores or in the public libraries that the Shi‘a Ulema have written about Shi‘ism. He compared this with the success of the propagation of e.g. Buddhism and said that presently there exist a large number of books in English about Buddhism in the market and considerable number of people in the West including famous or well
Hujjatulislam Seyyed Hashem Mousavi, from the office of Iran’s Supreme Leader
Hujjatulislam Dr Shomali The head of the Islamic Centre of England
educated people have become interested in Buddhism. This shows that Buddhism’s promotional message is reaching people’s hearts and minds. Hujjatulislam Dr Shomali explained that God’s message should be presented in such a way that attracts audiences and makes them feel that they can relate to it and they actually need it. He then considered two types of promotional strategies in the West and said that none should be sacrificed for the sake of the other. The first strategy is to work with the Muslim community in the West, in which we are still at the beginning. In this area, other religious and cultural minorities with a longer history are still suffering from secularisation and other problems. Although it will take many years to reach to their position, one should not ignore this fact, and we should make the young Muslims in general and Shi‘as in particular, proud without feeling belittled. The other strategy is to work on building bridges and to promote dialogue and outreach programmes. Despite their theological differences, believers in God have common concerns and they should unite around the Common Word and work together. There are also areas that one may work with people of good will, even if they have no particular faith e.g. for preservation of environment.
Hujjatulislam Ali Borhan
The gathering ended with a recitation by Hujjatulislam Ali Borhan recalling the event of Karbala and the Day of Ashura. Report By Fatima Muhammad
Exploring Contemporary Muslim Art, Culture and Heritage in Britain
ast month I attended a conference organised by the Muslims in Britain Research Network. The event invited artists, creative producers and academics to explore contemporary Muslim Art, Culture and Heritage in Britain. The day consisted of a wide range of lectures, presentations and panel discussions relating to issues such as how Muslim art should be defined to a range of discussions and debates which questioned how we as Muslims should brand ourselves in the modern world. I was inspired by the imaginative ways scholars and artists alike chose to convey their faith through creative means as well as how they used their spiritual practice to develop common ground with others. Dr Abdul Aziz Ahmed gave an informative presentation on popular youth culture and how rap has become a vehicle to testify one’s faith, an encouraging fact at a time when the index for the younger generation expressing religiosity is in decline. PhD candidate Mirina Paananen has spent many years in the Middle East researching the recited Qur’an and the Islamic musical tradition. In her talk, ‘The Mosque Choir: Engaging with Muslim choral heritage’, she discussed among other things, how statistics show that choirs help to improve the quality of life in deprived communities. A senior lecturer at the University of East London, Rula Al Abdulrazak, spoke about the power of story in
making our narrative known to the wider public, an act that also develops a sense of familiarity and trust. With this she encouraged the younger generation to write, recording our cultural heritage for posterity. Playwright and co-editor of Critical Muslim, Hassan Mahamdallie, encouraged us to look at how other disenfranchised groups have used the Arts as a platform to convey their angst at the injustices in society and an opportunity to counter negative stereotyping by destabilising authoritarian power through free expression. Lead organiser Mobeen Butt expressed that his intention when developing the event was to take the conversation back to 1976 and the World of Islam Festival which was held in Britain, at a time when Islam was celebrated. Although much has changed since then, the underlying motive of the conference was to inquire as to where we go from here. At a time when presenting the beauty of Islamic Arts and heritage is an imperative, our commitment to promote the Arts is stifled by a need to progress academically away from the study of humanities. The unfortunate truth is that the younger generation and many before them have not been encouraged to develop creative skills. Instead many are steered towards careers that rely on studying maths and the sciences. This lack of appreciation for the Arts has left us out of touch with the concept of beauty and how it relates to tawhid, a core principle of our faith. Every heart understands beauty making it a powerful way to connect
with those of other faiths or none. The conference provided a timely platform to consider such ideas and new ways in which this cultural capital can afford us greater sway in these challenging times. By discussing Muslim art, we mean the art that people in Britain who identify themselves as Muslim are producing, rather than Islamic art, conversations were able to explore how the movement could develop as an art form in its own right. Muslim artists want to use their craft to highlight issues, express themselves and create beauty but there is a worrying lack of opportunity and development. Funding is thin on the ground but more importantly the mentoring of new creatives is desperately needed as is the necessity for audience development and the consolidation of understanding as to quality over quantity. The recognition of selfinvestment, that goes into producing artwork and the need to support creative development.
Whilst the conference set the premise that Muslims are producing art, not enough is getting through to the mainstream. The opportunity to explore how this could change gave hope to many artists who have spent their careers facing one closed door after another. A decade ago the Arts Council was the main funder of the Arts in the United Kingdom. Now funding bodies such as the Aziz Foundation and Amal are creating greater opportunities for Muslim artists to find financial backing to develop projects. And in the current climate, this movement to create a more positive image of Islam is much needed. “Our history and heritage haven't been allowed to be passed down. Our culture and arts have been disorientated and placed mainly under ‘Asian Arts' - classical dance, bhangra and Bollywood or Middle Eastern arts where the spirituality and religion are stripped away and the politics are played. We need to create a new narrative.”- Mobeen Butt Mobeen believes that art and culture provide a means of communication, an alternative platform to share stories, celebrate contributions to society and challenge misconceptions and stereotypes. With a rising generation of young British Muslims using artistic forms such as music, film, literature, photography, poetry and comedy to express themselves, there is hope for the future. As well as celebrating the diversity of British Muslim identity, these artists and cultural producers explore difficult issues and help bridge divides between communities. This new possibility creates exciting opportunities but also uneasy tensions as to where this expression can fit into the traditional canons of western visual art and popular culture in Britain.
Where are we now? While we need to come together and focus on ways to share and develop our cultural heritage, we also need to demand our rights for creative spaces, resources, funding, access, as well as develop the skills necessary to professionally execute this dream. What Mobeen hopes for next is action. That the 120+ people in attendance feel less isolated and are affirmed in the belief that they can pursue a career in the arts beyond the boundaries they may have experienced in the past. What is also important is that they reach out to one another
forming collaborations which develop them as individuals and the Arts as a whole. This, he feels, will be a catalyst for something bigger, more structured and better formulated. And perhaps by 2026, we can celebrate the 50th anniversary of the World of Islam Festival with British Muslim artists and cultural producers at the helm. The Place to Be
The Muslim Museum Initiative The Muslim Museum Initiative is an online resource which explores the 1400-year relationship between Britain and Islam and celebrates the arts, culture and heritage of Muslims in Britain. The initiative works with heritage, arts, culture and educational institutions to help individuals explore, engage and feel inspired by a shared past, present and future. It also provides expertise to organisations wanting to engage Muslim communities and explore elements of Islamic culture and Muslim heritage in Britain. For more information visit www.muslimmuseum.org.uk Heritage
The World ofIslam Festival Opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1976, this event presented 6,000 objet d’art from 32 Muslim nations and 162 seminars by scholars and academics over six weeks. Most of the major cultural institutions in the UK were involved including the BBC, British Museum, V&A, Science Museum and the then Commonwealth Institute.
For more information visit www.everdaymuslim.org Moriam Grillo is an international
award winning artist.She holds Batchelor degrees in photography & film and Ceramics and is currently studying for a masters in Art Therapy. Moriam is also founder of the Butterfly Project.
Faith Batool Haydar reflects on
how parents can inspire their children with the message of Karbala
y the time this article goes to print, the world will have moved on. It will have moved on from the horrific stories of children being beheaded and men being shot while seeking freedom. The haunting images of thousands of men, women and children, mere bags of skin and bones staring out through our screens will have faded, blotted out by the passage of time and overshadowed by our own more immediate needs. The word 'Rohingya' will have been filed away alongside ‘Palestine', ‘Afghanistan' and ‘Syria', to be pulled out when there is another increase of violence in any of these areas. We will have moved on and we will have left behind what by now has become ‘history'. The fleeting nature of time has never been more obvious to me than now. Two and a half years into this journey of parenthood, I can only look in disbelief at photos of my daughter from just a year ago. Memories I was sure I would never forget can only be refreshed by the visual proof of the pictures we snapped, and even then with disbelief. Was she really that small? Did she really not know how to properly put together words? Was she that clumsy in her attempts to walk, eat or do any of things she now does with ease? She is creating history before my very eyes. Hers as well as mine. I wonder often what she will remember of these days and what I will remember
Maki n g
M A R R A H U M M a tt e r
of them. Where will our memories match and where they will differ? Then something happens that reminds me that these memories will add flavour to our lives, but they will not matter. Not in the big picture. This is one of the traps of parenthood that I find myself falling into often: thinking that my life, my child, these moments are what life is about. Thinking that our history, or rather the history we are choosing to make, will make a difference simply because it is ours. History is brutal in what it chooses to preserve and what it forgets. Taking my own family as an example, I only know vague details about my grandfathers, yet one was a political freedom fighter and another was a pioneer scholar in the birth of a global community. How much less will my children know of their ancestors? It takes a mere few years for a normal life to vanish - even amongst those who knew it well. And yet, there are some whom history not only preserves, but reveres. People who seem to be etched into the very timeline of history, holding it together, saving it from falling into chaos and guiding it towards its inevitable end with dignity. Every year, when Muharram comes around, we remember the epitome of all heroes, a man whose actions God took the responsibility of sanctifying from the
start to the end of time. Husayn ibn Ali (a) is a man who defies explanation. No matter how much we try, the strength of his patience, his conviction, his bravery and most of all, his unshakeable faith are beyond comprehension. We ask why and how, but we inevitably step back and have to admit that it was only possible because he was who he was. The people that I spend a lot of time wondering about though are those who accompanied him, especially the mothers and children. There was something about these women that I feel I need to understand and incorporate into my life. Their personal strength and loyalty aside, how did these women instil such a strong love for Islam in their children? And at such tender ages as well! It is all well and good for me to think (and hope!) that I would send forward my child to defend faith and leader if called upon, but can I be sure that my child would go forth willingly and eagerly as well? How did my parents pass on this love to me? Was it their doing at all? The more I wonder about how to teach my children the right lessons and how to guide them to the right path, the more I realise that all my plans involve mere actions. I can show them how to perform the outward actions, but how can I educate them
about the inner inspirations? It is one of the ‘aha' moments scattered along the path of parenthood: the realisation that you are not really in charge. We can prepare - and we must. We have to refine our selves, our attitudes, our thoughts and words. We can set an example and encourage our children to follow. But this is simply a framework. The journey of exploring and discovering their beliefs must be their own. We all have a clear memory of that one experience or series of experiences when we saw the Hand of God at work in our lives. It was that time when we however fleetingly - felt the presence of the Divine. The search for that spark is what keeps us going, that desire to find it and use it to light the fires of Love within our hearts. Our children too have to find that spark for themselves. And it may not happen on our watch. It may well be long after they have left our care. We may never
see our efforts bear fruit, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't plant as many seeds as we can. Some of the best of those seeds are the practices of ‘aza (lamentation). The famous tradition: “Surely, there exists in the hearts of the believers, with respect to the martyrdom of Husayn (a), a heat that never subsides" alludes to the fact that remembering Karbala is one of the ways to keep the heart alive and receptive to intense experiences. When we watch the oppressed in the world, our hearts break. Yet, it is the best way to bring to mind the horrors of the day of Ashura. In our current times, with the revival of the ‘super hero phenomenon', it is all too easy to gloss over the reality of what fighting injustice looks like. The only idea of revolution our children have is the silver screen version where the battle has awesome SFX and the good guys always survive
to walk off having saved the world. This easy version of sacrifice is what most of our kids will be willing to endure if they are ever called upon to stand up for justice. Unless we describe to our children what suffering truly looks like from a young age, unless we challenge them about their responsibility and their role in changing the situation, they will never be ready to join the Imam of their time. They may shed tears and carry banners extolling the virtues of the children and youth who stood shoulder to shoulder with the veterans on the plains of Karbala, but they need to then spend the rest of the year sacrificing time, energy and material wealth fighting for the rights of their brothers and sisters, sharing in their pain and allowing it to disrupt their lives. Then, perhaps then, history may deem it fit to remember them. And us as their parents.
The Blessing of an Honourable Family
oday there are 7.5 billion human beings on the planet, but when we categorise them so that we can understand them, we think of nations, races and religions. In fact, this global family began with Prophet Adam and Lady Eve. Likewise, Islam, the world’s fastest growing religion with nearly two billion adherents worldwide, began with the family of Prophet Muhammad(s) and Lady Khadija. Furthermore, the Ahlul Bayt (the People of the House) are models for us not just as individual Infallibles, but as a family unit. Indeed, if we ponder upon humanity, it is the family unit that is the universal basis for society and civilisation. It is the family that can mould and inspire the community, the nation, and the world. In Karbala, Imam Husayn (a) made the ultimate stand for truth and justice; however, he was not alone. The role his family played in the events of the Day of Ashura and its aftermath has remained a paradigm through the annals of time. The myriad of lessons which Karbala has offered, from revolutions to spirituality, cannot overlook the fact that Karbala centers around the institution of the family, albeit a special family that made the ultimate sacrifices in the way of God. Although the family structure may seem insignificant compared to that of nations and continents, it is indeed the family that is the root or foundation of society. Stronger families will inevitably result in stronger societies; if a civilisation is to succeed, the family must succeed. Sadly, today we are
Kubra Rizvi reflects on the
role of family in light of the great sacrifice of the family of Imam Husayn (a) witnessing the deterioration of society because the family structure has disintegrated. Unfortunately, this fact is true for Muslims as well as nonMuslims. Besides divorce, other factors which weaken the family structure include domestic and child abuse, and even loss of ties with family members. It is no surprise that Islam has laid great emphasis on the institution of the family; its formation is highly encouraged while its breakdown is greatly discouraged. Furthermore, maintaining good relations with relatives is obligatory, and severing ties with them is considered a major sin. Apart from spiritual benefits, having good relations maintains the unity of the family and offers confidence that there are people who are always ready to extend a helping hand in times of need. Moreover, it creates peace of mind and contentment of heart. On the contrary, severing ties creates strife and conflict, shattering the unity of the family. Some of the benefits of loving relatives and doing good to them are that one’s life is prolonged, his sustenance is increased, his home and family prosper, and the pangs of his death are eased. Many perspectives are offered for the importance of families. From the economic point of view, families provide prosperity and refuge from poverty. The sociological perspective argues that families provide one with
necessary rules and values, which enforce law and order. It has been observed that those who have not been brought up in a family that enforces rules may have difficulty functioning in society because they do not know how to act properly. A psychological perspective would advocate the functions of a family in the support and development of the individual; for example, its effects on a child’s education and personality. The religious point of view, which includes the perspective of Islam, is that the family completes the spiritual journey to God. The family assists one in getting closer to God. Consequently, the family in Karbala, even the sixmonth-old baby of Imam Husayn (a) , played a great role in completing the mission of Imam Husayn (a). Imam Husayn (a) gave great importance to his family members, and glimpses of that love are manifest in the tragic events of Karbala. His family included his loving and loyal brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, cousins, nephews, and nieces. A tradition from Imam Husayn (a) states, “One who desires that his life be elongated and his sustenance be increased should maintain family ties.” When God commands Prophet Moses to go to Pharaoh, he asks God to appoint his brother, Aaron, as his helper, “Strengthen my back through him" (Qur’an, 20:31). Similarly, Imam Husayn (a) keeps his family informed of important matters. Abbas(a) is seen at each juncture, ready to serve and assist in any way possible, whether it is preparing the caravan, setting up the
tents or fetching water. For this reason, at his noble martyrdom, Imam Husayn (a) exclaims that his back has been broken. The women and the children fulfilled their roles in Karbala, while staying in their respective spheres. The women and children did not fight with swords, but with patience, nobility and eloquence. Lady Zaynab and Lady Umm Kulthum consoled all the women and protected everyone, even the ailing Imam Zaynul Abidin (a). In those harshest of times, in those direst circumstances, they did not lose their faith in God or in each other. The children always looked to their aunt for deliverance. When the enemy wanted to enslave the daughter of Imam Husayn (a) , when Yazid wanted to kill Imam Zaynul Abidin (a), when the children were missing, Lady Zaynab was there, standing firm like a pillar. There is no parallel for the love of this brother and sister. Of course, she was mourning her Imam, but we remember the love of a sister for her brother, the patience of an aunt saving her nephew
from a burning tent and a courageous mother who refused to shed tears for her sons. Imam Husayn (a) truly loved each and every single member of his family, and it is extremely heartbreaking when we realise how difficult their loss was for him. On the martyrdom of his beloved son Ali Akbar, he cried that the light of his eyes had been extinguished. When Ali Asghar was martyred, Imam Husayn (a) could not bear to inform his wife, and walked seven times back and forth holding his baby. He was often heard saying that he did not like the house without Rabab and Sakinah, “By your life! I cherish the house in which there are Sakinah and Rabab, I love them both and spend most of my wealth upon them, and there is no reason for censure in that. I shall not let them be neglected all throughout my life, until I am buried beneath the earth.”
is afflicted with a loss, be it a family member or a community struck by bombs, it is Imam Husayn (a) who is remembered. His sister’s grief and pain, his orphaned daughter’s wails, and his brother’s unfailing loyalty continue to offer solace to the oppressed worldwide. Each sigh during Ashura and its aftermath has become the pillar and strength for all families until the end of time. As we commemorate Karbala again, our families and communities should reflect upon the values taught by the family of Karbala. Hopefully, with a greater understanding and application of Islam’s advice for families, we can mend not only our families but society as a whole.
Kubra Rizvi is an Honours Psychology graduate from Loyola University Chicago. She writes and lectures on various religious topics.
Karbala offers us many lessons and paradigms. Even today when someone October 2017
'Wings of Unity':
Theory and practice Christians - Muslims Interfaith Engagement Fiera di Primiero, Italy 25-30 August 201 7
Sitting on a bus headed towards the little township of Fiera di Primiero where our course on interfaith dialogue would be held, little did we know that we were about to embark on a life-changing experience, a journey on which we would get glimpses of God’s love and His potential plan for establishing unity on earth around the Oneness of His being. For roughly six days, 17 Catholics and 23 Shi‘a Muslims, including university students, seminarians, and professionals from all parts of the world, gathered in the picturesque valley of Northern Italy, just beneath the Dolomite Mountains to attend a summer programme that emerged after the second series of dialogue entitled Wings of Unity. Sponsored by the province of Trent, the programme was organised by Sophia University Institute of Loppiano, Italy - an academic institute established by the Focolare Movement, represented by its president Professor Piero Coda - in conjunction with the Islamic Centre of England (ICE) in London, represented by its director Hujjatulislam Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali. Strangely enough, even though we had come for an interfaith dialogue, in part to understand and befriend our Christian brothers, most of the Shi‘a participants, including myself, spent the first night mainly getting acquainted with members of our own group. On the dinner table, each group was happy to converse among themselves, a fact that would dramatically change as the shared bonds around the unity of God grew in the coming days. The next morning, the dialogue officially began. Professor Piero Coda asserted the significance of the municipality of Primiero as the birthplace of Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare Movement. He described this course as one that is made up of both theory and practice; the goal was not only to understand theological perspectives of both faiths on the unity of God but to also
experience a sample of that unity together in the coming days. Dr Shomali then explained the thinking behind this initiative. One of the driving forces was the verse of the Qur’an which reminds us that God guides those who do their best to seek Him, he explained. To truly seek God, one cannot be satisfied with searching for the Truth within the scope of his own school of thought. Rather, a careful and sincere study of all sources is a must. This idea was welcomed by Professor Piero and the joint initiative of the dialogue was born. They named it Wings of Unity, with wings symbolising complementarity and coordination for the shared goal of flying towards God. The day’s highlight was a keynote lecture by Professor Coda on the epoch-making novelty of the culture of unity. He reminded us that everything in life is a gift from God and so is the unity we shared amongst ourselves. But as much as unity is a gift, it is also a lifetime commitment. Professor Coda said that we are experiencing a shift in interfaith dialogue. After a long period of religious conflicts, a new era is potentially emerging in which each religion sees itself as a colour of the rainbow, with its own identity and culture, all while being part of a greater united whole. This vision is accompanied by an attitude shift during our interactions with other faiths, whereby we are more determined to ‘walk together and experience together rather than to teach each other’. Dr Shomali took up the baton, shedding light on the culture of unity in relation to man and creation. All Abrahamic traditions share three principles of faith, namely: the unity of God, prophethood and resurrection, he said. Although these three principles have been formalised in all Abrahamic traditions, they should not be regarded equally, for there is nothing that should be put on the same level as the unity of God. From this perspective, he continued, although these three articles of faith are established principles in our
religion, prophethood and resurrection are actually subprinciples under the main and core principle of the unity of God. On Day 2, Dr Bennie Callebaut, a professor at Sophia University, provided a rich overview of the history of the Focolare Movement, Chiara Lubich, her life, her philosophy and her hometown where she was first inspired. Next, a collective scriptural meditation session was held, in which students engaged in fruitful conversations and made connections between excerpts from the Bible and the Qur’an on a single theme. The afternoon session’s highlight was the presentation given by Rita Moussallem and Roberto Catalano, co-directors of the Focolare Movement’s International Office for Interreligious Dialogue. They summarised the historical stages of interfaith dialogue from the viewpoint of Roman Catholicism. Although there have been doctrinal challenges to approaching interfaith dialogue, each generation was met with new developments that paved the way for a clearer understanding of how we must encounter and unite with the other. Finally, picking up from his discussion on Day 1, Dr Shomali delved deeper into the discussion on the origins of monotheistic faiths. He explained that all three Abrahamic religions are not distinct with different messengers. Rather, the Quranic view is that each prophet only presented a new edition of the same and only religion of submission to God. Hence, it can be understood, he pointed out, that in all of God’s communications to humankind there was always a harmonious call for unity. The tryst at the Cima della Rosetta, one of the more accessible peaks of the Dolomites, on the third day, certainly transformed the programme into an experience. Shortly after everyone reached the mountain peak, some of the Muslim brothers spontaneously began to recite God’s praises and some of the renowned supplications of Imam al-Sajjad(a) (the fourth Imam of Shi‘a Muslims). They were quickly joined by their Christian co-travellers with a beautiful hymn, all of whom merged in united prayer to God. Later, congregational prayer was performed with a number of the Focolare present. Once back at the town hall of Tonadico, Dr Shomali and Professor Coda held an open Q&A session. A sister asked, “How can we practically live what we lived here?” Professor Coda responded: “We can do many projects, but the first thing is that if we do not have the love of God inside us, there is nothing. When I met Dr Shomali there was the love of God. [...] We started this walk together. I think it is because I was able to find the presence and love of God inside his heart”. After touching on the main obstacles for unity under God, Dr Shomali added that “working for unity is in a way easy, but also it can be very difficult since it can be seen as the highest level of human development, that we would be fully united under God. [...] [This work] needs a sacrifice.” On Day 4, Dr Mahnaz Heydarpour contributed a comprehensive overview of the core concepts of Islamic spirituality and the centrality of divine love therein, arousing a standing ovation from a tearful audience. She shared a blend of scholarship and meaningful experience to show how
divine love became central to her life and is central to Islam. She presented some of the most important steps, prerequisites, paradigms of enhancing our spirituality by gaining nearness and similitude to God. She showed how the love of God, His creation and a fellow believer in Him is an integral part of spiritual wayfaring. Next, guided by his book entitled Unity of God and Unity in God, Dr Shomali went on to talk about the immense benefits and consequences of the Muslim and Christian faith communities especially in light of the return of Jesus son of Mary(a) and the coming of Imam Mahdi (aj). He ended by inviting those who seek unity in God to look to the example of a human body, wherein every part takes what it needs and puts back into the bloodstream what it wants to share, acting as a single whole, as is demonstrated among the Focolare. Only then, he said, can we reflect the image of God as the ocean reflects the sun. The day closed with a compelling presentation by Dr Paolo Frizzi on the importance of interfaith engagement with respect to the most important world transformations. Dr Frizzi - who is a core member of Wings of Unity, a coordinator of the summer interfaith programme, and the academic coordinator for Sophia Global Studies - explained that the courses at Sophia University Institute are designed with God at the centre of learning and humility and unity are crucial to student development. The events of the fifth day transcend what can be spoken. “I think we have experienced the welcome of your soul”, Professor Coda professed, “We not only met God at the top of the mountain but also in the valleys of your soul.” Chiara, he continued, wrote something very beautiful in the house next to us here: ‘God says only one word: Love. And this word is pronounced by God in infinite tunes. And each one of these tunes repeats Love, to God and to others.’ This is what we have experienced in these days. One word from God, but in infinite tunes which always speak love, and therefore they’re never out of tune, and they learn more how to play in harmony. [...] We have experienced Paradise. [...] We can play the harmony of love if we are in tune with God. [...] I beg you, whoever feels that God has called him/her to live this kind of experience deep down in your heart, please say yes to God.’’ His humble and insightful words left a deep impression on us. As the course came to its end, Dr Shomali recalled verses from chapter al-Sharh and concluded: “I think what we have seen today is the result of very hard work, not just, a few months of preparation. Centuries of work! Prophets and messengers have left with us the message, but then true believers in the course of history tried to remind us of the core of the message which was hidden, and we have people who are inspired every now and then to work for unity and based on their work now we have been able to establish this. [...] We ask God to bless all of them. I ask that you dedicate your lives to God – not the God of any tradition or nation, but the God of all […]. Try to be the most humble and the least of the servants of God, and just pave the way for other people. […] We want to serve everyone so that they go towards God. That is the great honour.”
Testimonial and Contemplation .............. >> October 2017
Testimonials: Sr. Mariam Al-Awadi: Originally, I did not know what to expect from this summer course. I feel truly humbled, honoured, grateful and privileged to be given this valuable experience. It broadened my perspective on the importance of unity and love for one another. To believe in God is truly a gift and to work together to call people towards God is an even bigger gift. My favourite part of the trip was our unified worship on top of Rosette Mountain. There, everyone gathered naturally without being called upon, gravitating towards a few brothers in sincere prayer. We felt serenity and happiness as we prayed together in Arabic, English, and Latin to our One Lord. I pray this course continues to unify us in times of division and extends its branches further and its roots deeper.
Sr. Adeelah Nasser: Nothing could have prepared me for what we experienced in the interfaith course in Italy. It was a beautiful adventure of the heart and soul. I left Italy feeling uplifted, elevated, and with a certain calmness, I haven't felt before. The learning we received came not only through the lectures but also through the shared experiences and melding of our hearts and minds. I wish everyone could experience something like this in their lifetime.
Sr Fizza Hasan: If you ever get an opportunity to be part of the â€˜Wings of Unityâ€™ Summer Course then grab it with both hands - trust me you will not regret it! There are few precious experiences that make your soul peaceful and enliven your hope in society - this was one of them. I decided to embark on this adventure upon the recommendation of a teammate who took part in this last year. I could talk about the journey, the breathtaking sights, the wonderful lectures and workshops but what really stood out for me were the fantastic group of people, Christians and Muslims that attended from all over the globe which I was honoured to be amongst for six days. It was refreshing to meet so many like-minded people who were eager to learn and extend their own knowledge, share their stories and think practically how to apply their newfound learning within their respective communities. My sincere gratitude and thanks go to Dr Sheikh Shomali, Dr Heydarpour and Professor Coda for having the vision and purposeful meaning to integrate two faiths together, and to all the people that were involved in making this fabulous course happen in the picturesque setting of Fiera di Primiero.
Dr Salam Al-Attar: When believers in God gather and praise the Oneness of God, the blessings and Mercy of God showers upon them and opens their hearts to reap the benefits of their interaction. This summer, in the valleys of Primiero, Italy two seemingly different faith groups reaped a transformational experience of true brotherhood in humanity and in faith. It became evident throughout the course that the love and subservience to the Almighty that fuels our daily lives were manifested in the physical and spiritual unity amongst all of us. This course was a testament to the genuine existing bond between brethren in faith, particularly in our Christian and Muslim teachers (and their respective institutions). The knowledge acquired compelled us to take our relationships with each other to a higher level by being one with each other in the servitude of the Almighty God. It was rewarding to partake in this unique relationship in God and I sincerely pray for all the continued success of organisers and participants. May the fruition of all the seeds of wisdom sown by our teachers and mentors pave the way to a brighter, more united, future for all.
Contemplation Leandro, one of the students at Sophia University Institute, said, “I had never met Muslim believers. […] What we shared on the mountain […] when we were praying altogether […] makes me feel really optimistic. In the beginning, I couldn’t imagine how this experience would be […]. I’m always being surprised by God’s plans for each one of us […] I think He always has bigger plans than what we can imagine. As we receive this gift, this gift comes with a great responsibility, to share with others what we lived in these days.’ “Coming here, it wasn’t very clear how the relationships were going to be […]. You come here and you don’t know what will unfold […]. I think it’s very beautiful that within a few days we were feeling that we moved our friendship to the brotherhood. It taught me that I need to give the opportunity to others, spend more time with them, listen to them, and also share my story with them; and leave everything to God so that He will move this relationship from what appears to be just friendship into a brotherhood type of relationship. So I think we have to be patient and open, and try to carry on with this type of work […].” said Mahmoud. “Now, not only did I see or feel God’s love and His voice strongly through my religion but also through yours, through Islam. He also gave me new brothers and sisters, which is more than I could ask for,’ said Diego, adding in that moment on the mountain ‘of being one, of praising God through both religions’, it was just a really amazing feeling, it was a different kind of experience. We were high up there but I felt even higher, and I could feel God’s love through us [...] and also through the nature that was around us.” “[Before this trip,] the concept of sharing the love for God […] was an abstract concept […] but over the last five days, I felt that we can love God together and it doesn’t matter that I’m a Muslim and you’re Christian. What matters is we love God. And I have hope now, that when the Imam Mahdi comes with Jesus, we can stand up together and say, ‘We worked together and we can serve you together.’ I think over the last five days that has really touched me, and I have hope. I have hope for the future and I have hope for humanity.” said Fatimah. “It was the first time that I listened about unity from brothers and sisters of another religion. For me, to continue in this way doesn’t make sense if I am just with my brothers and sisters (from the Focolare Movement). It just makes sense if we are together.” said Catarina. “For me, it was very difficult to come to terms with this idea of how we can experience God – Muslims and Christians – in a relatable manner while in our belief systems some of the points are so different that it’s not possible for us to feel the same. This was really something that was a major obstacle for me to unite with Christians. […] There must be something that is beyond concepts [...]. Throughout the days we were here, I think my answer, personally, deep within myself, came to me when we were in the mountains. There, I closed my eyes and suddenly the sun […] was shining on us. […] I felt that behind me there was so much energy, and I couldn’t say if the energy was Muslim or Christian; I just knew it was pure. [...]”, said Reza. “In these days I experienced that you have the same love, because love is one and you have God’s love in your life, so you also have Jesus’ love. I want to express my gratitude to Shaykh Shomali and Piero Coda and the other scholars and all of you because you prepared the path of unity, and this week can help us to have a better understanding and experiential knowledge of God, and also ask God to purify our ways of thinking about God and purify our way to do theology also.” said another student at Sophia University. “I remember at Sophia we used to say: this is the school where there is one master, only one teacher; it’s not Piero, it’s not Bennie -it’s God. And I feel here that this one school at the End of Time we just began now.” said Noemi, a former student at Sophia University. As we were returning to our hotel that day, the streets of the township of Fiera di Primiero saw faithful Christians and Muslims walking side by side as they shared the never-ending tunes which always speak love.
A Christian Muslim Forum Twinning Event between St Augustine's Parish and the Islamic Centre of England Report by Reza Murshid
epresentatives of Muslim and Christian faiths gathered at Saint Augustine church in Kilburn, northwest London, on 9 September 2017, for an interfaith forum. The ornately decorated church, also known as the Cathedral of North London, served as the venue for the followers of Christ and Muhammad to compare and contrast each other’s approaches to the major preoccupations of modern man: God, eternity, the Hereafter, and the education of the laity. Shaykh Muhammad Saeed Bahmanpour, who heads the research department at the Islamic Centre of England, presided over the forum. Shaykh Dr. Mohammad Ali Shomali said in his address to the forum that in Islam the ultimate mission of human being in this life is to know God. He went on to define ‘knowing God’ as ‘having intimate knowledge of the Creator’. ‘We call a mystic ‘arif , i.e. the knower, in our tradition because he has intimate knowledge of God,’ he stated. As for getting closer to God, Dr. Shomali proposed that the best way to be more attentive in prayer and contemplation is to change one’s lifestyle. ‘Our lifestyles have a direct effect on the state of our mind during the prayer,’ he said.
One of the challenges facing a worshipper is forgetting about his own daily challenges during prayer. Dr. Shomali suggested a solution: ‘The best way to overcome this problem is to think that this is perhaps the last time you are given the chance to talk to your God.’ ‘Mind and heart need to be engaged in the acts of worship. A hadith that states the importance of contemplation in Islamic tradition states that an hour of contemplation is better than 70 years of worshipping,’ Dr. Shomali said. Dr. Shomali suggested that the outward expression of piety is not necessarily a mirror of a person’s closeness to God: ‘There are people who are involved in actual acts of worship but we do not know what is happening in their hearts. The only yardstick by which we have to judge the individual is to see their truthfulness and trustworthiness.’ In his presentation to the gathering, Father Amos from Saint Augustine Church explained various aspects of the decorations and murals on the 147-year-old church. He said that the acts of worship in the church provide kinaesthetic learning for the participants. Father Amos suggested that all the senses had to be engaged during acts of worship: ‘In every way, through the
use of incense, oil, taste, sound, and touch, the Church has been teaching the laity.’ Another participant in the interfaith dialogue, Kathryn Kane, stressed the importance of education in Christian faith: ‘Christians believe that Jesus is the greatest teacher of all. In the Gospels, he is frequently referred to as ‘Rabbi', teacher, and his followers are disciples, learners.’ ‘There are fundamental reasons, rooted in the Bible, which have motivated centuries of Christian involvement in schooling in this country and around the world. God is concerned with everything related to education,’ she added. Kane, who is a Religious Education and Collective Worship Adviser, added: ‘We are made in God’s image. We need to be educated in order to live in harmony with others. We need to use the brains God has given us. We should become all that God has intended us to be.’ Kane was not the only educator in the interfaith session. Her Muslim counterpart in the interfaith session was Aliya Azam, a seasoned educator
and a Trustee at Al Ayn Social Care Foundation. In her address to the forum, Azam stressed the role of education in enhancing human beings’ connection to God: ‘According to the Qur’an, the human being is created to worship God. This means that one needs to know this relationship in order to be fully human. This is a natural condition for the human being, the din al-fitrah (i.e. the religion of innate nature). This is the goal of human life and thus provides the ethical framework for all education.’ ‘Education is to bring out the natural goodness in people and direct it towards godly paths, this means that the teacher must have a clear understanding of the ways of God and what constitutes godly path,’ she added. The participants in the forum took a break at noon for the Muslims to attend the Zuhr and ‘Asr prayers at the Islamic Centre of England and for the Christian participants in the church to take part in a Eucharist, a Christian service commemorating the Last Supper, in which bread and wine are consecrated and consumed as sacrament. Catriona Robertson, the co-founder of Multi-faith Forum in London, and Dr Chris Hewer, a Christian theologian who has been at the forefront of interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims, guided the discussion during lunch at the Islamic Centre’s library. Robertson stressed the role of food in bringing different communities together: ‘The words company or
companion have at their root the Latin word panis, meaning bread. So in effect, by breaking bread together people from different backgrounds come together.’ The guided discussion began with a comparison of Islamic and Christian notions of the Hereafter. Shaykh Bahmanpour stated: ‘Because we are living in this material world as human beings, we are not fully equipped to perceive, in this life, what joys we will be experiencing in Paradise. But we cannot help ask ourselves in this lifetime what God has in store for those who go to Paradise?’ He said: ‘There will not be any fear in Paradise. There, human beings will be experiencing only the ever expanding love of God in the human heart. We enter the divine sunlight in which we realise what we have done to ourselves and others.’ Bishop Paul Hendrix, from the Archdiocese of Southwark in south London, stated that according to Christian theology ‘saints will be singing the praise of God in Paradise.’ He added that: ‘We know that we will be in an ideal state in Paradise.’ A discussion then ensued on how to educate the laity and whether high level discourses which are full of ambiguity and perhaps doubts should be presented to the non-clerics. Hewer lamented the lack of deep
knowledge among the laity and called it: ‘the gap between the seminar room and the pulpit.’ ‘This gap continues to be great as long as the religious educators consider the laity as babies who should only be fed milk and not meat,’ he added. Shaykh Bahmanpour replied that the laity does not come to the place of worship to hear highly intellectual discourses and perhaps it would not be right idea to discuss problematic issues with them. In conclusion, Shahnaz Safieddine, a participant in past interfaith sessions, reported on her recent trip to Kenya as part of a Muslim group to engage with Benedictine clerics. She said that her discussions with the clerics were quite instructive and inspiring. ‘We are forced to revisit our own tradition after being challenged during the interfaith dialogue,’ she added.
The Protestant Re f o rm a t i o n : state versus church? By designating 201 7 ‘Luther’s Year’, Germany concludes ten years of tribute to one of its greatest sons, Martin Luther, monk, professor and church reformer. Frank Gelli takes a look at his legacy.
f 500 years ago the German, Augustinian monk Martin Luther had not nailed his ultra-famous 95 theological theses to the doors of a church in Wittenberg, what would the Western world be like today? Simple answer: very different. Luther’s action fractured the spiritual unity of Europe. Until then all Christians recognised the Pope as their religious leader. Luther put an end to that. Political fragmentation, conflicts and wars of religion also followed. Protestant nations like England forged a separate identity and America, where Protestantism retains real influence, would not be the same as we know it.
‘The righteous will be justified by faith’ is the passage in St Paul’s Letter to the Romans which got the Reformation going. When Martin Luther, in his monkish cell, hit upon it he felt it as liberation. Until then he had been a zealous and pious Catholic, struggling to be assured of his eternal salvation. Luther had prayed, done penances, austerities and works of mercy galore, as the Church required, yet to no avail.
Inwardly, he still felt trapped and feared God was not satisfied. Meditation on the Pauline letter was for him like the stunning, lightening solution of a Zen riddle: faith, a childlike trust in the infinite grace of God was all that sufficed. It was as simple as that. Many believe that Luther is the precursor of modern notions like the freedom of the individual in matters of belief because he rejected the supremacy of an infallible Roman Church. Actually, Luther only shifted the locus of authority: from the Church to the Book, the Bible, the Word of God. In that sense, Protestantism means placing the Bible at the centre of a Christian’s life, to the exclusion of all else, like traditions and ceremonies. The problem is that the Bible does not always accord with Luther’s one-sided views. For example, the New Testament Letter of St James says: ‘Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.’ The very opposite of what Luther taught! Naturally, Martin considered St James’ Letter ‘an epistle of straw’, of no value. That compelled him to deny that all
Biblical books have the same importance. So, in the end, Luther and his followers had to accept that the Bible has to be interpreted. By whom? Not really by the uninstructed individual believer but by the Protestant pastors. Back to authority, eh? ‘Scratch an Englishman, you find a Protestant’, quipped Irish writer G.B. Shaw. King Henry VIII, of course, made himself supreme head of the Church – virtually a crowned Pope – and severed the historical links with Rome. Oddly, Henry had begun, not unlike Luther, as a most loyal Catholic. So much so that he had penned the treatise ‘Defence of the Seven Sacraments’, refuting Protestant heresy, for which a grateful Pope Leo X had bestowed on him the title of Defender of the Faith – still borne by British monarchs today. However, Britain also illustrates the diversity of Protestant Churches. The Church of England has bishops and allows plenty of room for rich liturgies and ceremonies, while the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, going back to John Calvin, a far more extreme Reformer, has neither.
Some contend that the Reformation was no radical break with the past but a gradual, evolving process. It is true that there was a Conciliar Movement in the pre-Reformation Church, aiming at stressing the authority of a general Church Council, rather than that of the Pope. Furthermore, writers like John Wycliffe and John Huss can be seen as anticipating Luther. However, when Protestantism tampered with the central Sacrament of the Eucharist – the Real Presence of Christ in the consecrated Bread and Wine – and replaced it with the notion of a merely memorial meal, the break with the past was real and radical. The new, Reformed Church was definitely not the same as the old Church of undivided Christendom. More than other countries, Martin Luther’s anniversary is being celebrated in his native Germany. His translation of the Bible is a monument of national literature and has had enormous influence on the language.
The Federal Government wants to use the occasion to celebrate what that Luther signifies in German history. Unfortunately, Luther’s alliance with the German princes, whose selfinterested support he needed to resist Rome, was so close and uncritical that he sided with the rulers against the peasants. Stirred up by Luther’s preaching, the peasants rose in rebellion against their feudal masters. Their leader, Thomas Muntzer, was a priest who advocated a return to a primitive, egalitarian Christianity. Luther, in blood-curdling language, urged the Princes to exterminate the peasants – and they did. Muntzer himself was captured and, after much torture, beheaded. Despite all the contemporary state rejoicing in Luther, Church historian Volker Lepkin has written that the former monk would be a stranger in contemporary Germany. I agree. Take his emphasis on the Bible. How many Germans read and know the Bible
today? What is more, how many care for what the Bible teaches in a matter of politics, economics, social relations, sexual mores and the like? Not many, I would imagine. Chancellor Merkel and her party, which bears the name of ‘Christian’, would be horrified if someone was bold enough to appeal to the Bible to decide on matters of national interest. On the other hand, Luther’s adulation of political power is topical. ‘Even if my master was a Turk, I would obey him’, Martin wrote. The idea is that the State, whatever its nature, is absolutely superior to the Church, a concept beloved by the unbridled secularism holding sway in the West.
Revd Frank Julian Gelli is an
Anglican priest and cultural critic, working on religious dialogue. His last book ‘The Prophet and the Priest', is available on Amazon Kindle.
Travel Guide to
Muslim Europe With travel writer and European Muslim heritage specialist Tharik Hussain
Mimar’s Moldovan Military Masterpiece
ou have to work extremely hard to reach this forgotten gem of European Muslim heritage. The Bender Fortress sits in a harsh little corner of Eastern Europe, close to the Ukrainian border, in a ‘state’ guarded by gruff-looking soldiers wearing insignia that suggests the Soviet Union is still alive and well. The fort is in the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic or ‘Transnistria’, a self-declared semi-autonomous state within the country of Moldova. The international community and the United Nations don’t recognise the state, seeing it simply as part of Moldova. Yet Transnistria has its own government, parliament, military, currency, police and flag - the only one in the world to still bear a hammer and sickle. And much like the old communist countries, it is not a very welcoming place. The Fort sits on a raised hillock just north east of the centre of the town of
Bender, overlooking the Dnister River. The surrounding grounds have an eerie post-apocalyptic feel. Abandoned bunkers sit in the shadows of large dilapidated buildings where every window has been shattered. On the walls, painted target men stand in a state of arrest, riddled with bullet holes. Large metal containers rust away in twos and threes, and overgrown weeds appear in every crack along the concrete path leading up to the fort. In many ways, it is a fitting location for a military monument. Until very recently this five centuries-old fort was still being used by the Russian military as a training base. They took back the town and fort in 1812 following the RussoTurkish wars. Before that, it was under the stewardship of the Ottomans who built the fortress in the 16th century. The man behind its construction was a certain Ko’cer Mimar Sinan - the greatest Ottoman architect ever.
Sinan based his design on the Western European ‘bastion style’, and built the fortress at a pivotal moment in his career. It was the year 1538 and Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent had just taken the town of Tighina, renaming it Bender, and needed to fortify it. He called upon his most capable and trusted haseki (elite guard), Sinan, to carry out the construction on a strategic hillside overlooking the river. Until 1882, Sultan Suleiman’s Imperial tugrah (insignia) was inscribed on a marble slab above the entrance to the fort, alongside the year of construction, 945 AH (approx 1538). The stunning fortress would have been one of the last projects Sinan undertook before being promoted to the Office of Architect of the Abode of Felicity the following year - starting a prolific 50-year period as the Muslim empire’s chief architect. It was in this phase of his life that Sinan designed
Where in the world: Bender and constructed masterpieces including the Sulemaniye Mosque in Istanbul and his magnum opus, the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, Turkey - a period in which Ottoman architecture reached its artistic zenith. The fort’s Muslim past can still be appreciated inside one of the towers, where a small museum, houses mannequins dressed in full Ottoman military regalia; glass cabinets display coins, swords, muskets, and other remnants from the Ottoman period that have either been dug up or were left behind. The room is decorated with classical Ottoman banners and a series of murals that depict the fort at various phases of its life including the Muslim era, which shows the vast complex complete with mosque and minaret. There is also a miniature model of the fortress in the centre of the room that helps to bring it all to life.
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"
fortress is a short taxi ride or 30minute walk north of Bender town’s main bus station overlooking the Dnistra River. The town of Bender is 75 kilometres southeast of Moldova’s capital city, Chisinau.
In and out: There are trains and
shared taxis that run between Bender and Chisinau, but to get into Transnistria, you must register with the Transnistrian immigration authorities, who will issue you a 10/24 hour entry card, which you must keep on your person at all times and hand to the border guards on your way back out of Transnistria. If you are arriving by shared taxi, make sure you get this document at the border when the taxis stop there. However, if you are coming by train from Chisinau, check before you
leave with the tourist board in the capital on how to acquire the entry card before boarding the train as it does not stop at any border point and there is no way of getting the card. If you don’t, it will mean you have entered Transnistria illegally something the border guards do not take very kindly when you are trying to leave. Top tips: Don’t forget Transnistria has its own local currency, the Transnistrian ruble, and this cannot be bought anywhere outside of Transnistria. Furthermore, you will not be able to withdraw any money using your bank cards in Transnistria as none of the ATMs accept international cards. It is, therefore, best to arrive with enough dollars, euros, Russian rubles or Moldovan Leus and exchange them locally.
Karbala and the day of Ashura Dear Children, Assalam Alaikum
very year around this time Shi‘a Muslims around the world commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husayn ibn Ali(a). The events of the last days of the life of Prophet’s grandson, Imam Husayn(a), have a significant meaning for the Muslim Shi‘a who follow the teachings of the Prophet via his progeny, from Imam Ali(a) to the Imam of our time; the Mahdi(aj). The story of Karbala started long before the day of Ashura, when Imam Husayn received letters from some personalities of the town of Kufa in Iraq, requesting him to go there and be their leader and Imam. Imam had his doubt about their intention but decided to answer this request. Yazid the impostor caliph and the sworn enemy of the family of the Prophet, came to know about the letters. He threatened and manipulated some weak hearted people of Kufa to hand Imam Husayn over to him and not giving him elegances. Imam's family and close followers decided to
accompany their Imam and leader on his journey. Imam left Madinah to go to Makkah to perform Hajj pilgrimage, and from there he made his way towards Kufa. It was a long, tiring and difficult journey. On the way, soldiers of Yazid blocked Imam’s caravan at the plane of Karbala. The people of Kufa betrayed the grandson of their Prophet and sent Imam and his family right into the hands of his enemy. And that is where the bloodiest, most horrific bloodshed of the Prophet relatives started. The day is called Ashura. Yazid did everything to bring Imam and his followers to their knees, little did he know that bravery and steadfast of Imam would, for centuries, be remembered and cherished, and would put Yazid, his army and followers in the hole of shame.
Yazid blocked the access to the water wells, burned the tents where Imam's family with tearful eyes witnessed their Imam, their members of family and followers fought against the army of Yazid and in the process, his children and children of his brother Hassan(a) were martyred one by one. Imam Husayn(a) was the last one to be martyred. Yazid who now felt triumphant ordered for the remaining members of Imamâ€™s family to be gathered and put in shackles as prisoners and to be taken to the city of Kufa and Damascus. The caravan of Imam then consisted of his son, his sister and some other female and children. Almost 72 people were killed that day. What the remaining family members, including his son and spiritual heir, Imam Ali Zain ul Abeddin(a), women and children, went through during their capture only added another page to the book of sins and disasters imposed by Yazid. He showed his utmost disrespect and humiliation towards Imam's family. Some misguided people following in his footstep started throwing stones and rubbish towards them. People seeing the family of their Prophet in shackles, being pushed around and disrespected. came to realisation of what they have done, and how their betrayal caused that horrific scene. In total disbelief, they started crying and weeping, but it was too late, the damage was done.
Every year by commemorating the death of Imam Husayn(a), his family and followers, we renew our bond and love towards them. We say that we would not be like the people of Kufa who abandoned the Imam. We promise to keep alive the pure Islam that he guarded with his blood
Illustrator Ghazaleh Kamrani
What & Where Through October 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 Contact: 0207 604 5500 5 October Reclaiming the Caliphate
Lecture by Hugh Kennedy on contemporary discussions of caliphate, how they relate to the history on which they claim to be based and whether a revived caliphate is a viable proposition in the contemporary Middle East. Hugh N Kennedy is Professor of Arabic at SOAS. Chair: Hassan Hakimian, LMEI Organiser: London Middle East Institute Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings
Room: Khalili Lecture Theatre Time: 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM Admission Free - Pre-registration Required. To register visit Eventbrite. Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org Contact Tel : 020 7898 4330 Through 29 October Comics and Cartoon Art From The Arab World
Explore the art, history and significance of Arab comics, cartoons, caricatures and graphic novels. From 19th century Egyptian satirical press, to mid-20th century children’s comics and contemporary graphic novels discover this vibrant visual archive that illustrates and engages issues concerning everyday life, politics and society across the Arab world and beyond. British Library, Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery, 96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB Time: 9.30 AM - 5.00 PM Venue:
Wimbledon Mosque, 262 - 270 Durnsford Road, Ryfold Rd, London SW19 8DS Time: 11.00 AM – 6.00 PM Venue:
1 1 October The Palace of Pedro I in Seville, 'very much like the residence of the Muslim kings'?
Dr Tom Nickson, Lecturer in Medieval Art and Architecture, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London Organiser: Rosalind Wade Haddon Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings
Room: Khalili Lecture Theatre (KLT) Time: 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM Contact email: email@example.com Contact Tel : 07714087480 1 1 October to 1 9 November Creative Kufic Calligraphy
Kufic was the first Arabic script to be consciously made beautiful, and unlike the later round scripts with their strict rules, it can be constantly reinvented and is not tied to any given tool or medium. Students, then, can benefit from the same creative freedom that the earliest calligraphers enjoyed, and find their own approach to the art of Arabic calligraphy. Arab British Centre, 1 Gough Square, London, EC4A 3DE Tutor: Joumana Medlej Course: 6 weeks / 12 hrs + 4 hrs final workshop Fee: £210 Venue:
More info and booking:
http://www.arabbritishcentre.org.uk/course s/creative-kufi-calligraphy/ 1 4 October
Ivories and tulips: arts of Islamic medieval Spain and Ottoman Turkey
A 45 gallery talk by Hilary Ruttley, independent speaker. Suitable for all levels of knowledge.
Exhibition Islam (Wimbledon Mosque)
The Exhibition Islam event at Wimbledon Mosque brings together a wealth of
information about Islam under one roof giving the opportunity for the wider community to learn more about their Muslim neighbours in a friendly environment.
Room 34, British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG Time: 1.15 PM - 2.00 PM Fee: Free, drop in
1 4 & 1 5 October Islamic Medicine Summit
Interested in learning more about different natural medical practices? Come join us for this weekend summit event with industry professionals discussing Islamic Medicine and Nutrition Practices. Special attention and breakout sessions will be held on the following topics: Wet Cupping (also known as Hijama), Leech therapy, Apitherapy, Islamic Medicine, Nutrition and Herbal Healing CentrEd at ExCel London, Royal Victoria Dock, 1 Western Gateway, E16 1XL Time: 9.00 AM to 5.00 PM Costs: £159.89 – £372.29 Venue:
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/islamicmedicine-summit-tickets-34477914370 1 6 October Public Lecture: Religious truth in an age of diversity?
Join us for our open panel event with Dr Edward Kessler (Woolf Institute), Canon Chris Chivers (Westcott House) and Dr Atif Imtiaz (Cambridge Muslim College) Religious identity is on one level a statement about what humans think is true: but how does our commitment to diversity combine with the seemingly exclusivist truth claims of the different faiths? Does dialogue demand equality of beliefs or rather the equality of respect? Finally, in a 'post-truth' context how can we use the tools of faith and reason to discern a truthful understanding of the world today? Venue:
Woolf Institute, Madingley Road, CB3
5.00 PM - 6.00 PM
1 7 October A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi‘is Sunnis and Shi'is
A Lecture by John McHugo on his latest book A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi‘is (Saqi, 2017) in which he provides an understanding of the genesis, development and manipulation of one of the major schisms that has come to define Islam and the Muslim world. Historian McHugo charts the story of Islam from the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad to the present day, describing
the conflicts that raged over the succession to the Prophet, how Sunnism and Shi‘ism evolved as different sects, and how the rivalry between empires contrived to ensure that the split would continue into modern times. John McHugo, Centre for Syrian Studies, St Andrews University Venue: Paul
Webley Wing (Senate House) Room: Wolfson Lecture Theatre Time: 5:45 PM to 7:00 PM 20 October Dark Water Burning World: The Island of Lesbos & The Boats of Syria
It is now six years since the Syrian uprising but the sea between Turkey and the Greek islands is still a terrifying passage for Syrians fleeing the violence in their country. The poet Ruth Padel visited Lesbos in 2016 and then joined Syrian artist Issam Kourbaj in collaboration to mark the courage of the refugees, and generosity of the islanders. Dark Water Burning World explores, through poetry and art, the visible and invisible scars of loss scored into escaping Syrians by the separation from their homeland. Nash Lecture Theatre, King's College London, Strand Campus, Strand London WC2R 2LS Time: 7.00 PM to 8.30 PM Organiser: King's College London / Arts & Humanities Research Institute (AHRI) Entry: Free, Registration required. More info: http://www.arabbritishcentre.org.uk/ Venue:
21 October My Faith… My Inspiration: MAB National Convention 201 7
The Muslim Community is full of skilled, motivated and aspiring people. This is why the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) National Convention 2017 will highlight the wonderful work Muslims do to show what the reality is. The Convention aims to increase hope and unleash barriers to allow us, our children, our brothers and sisters to make our dreams come true. The New Bingley Hall, 1 Hockley Circus, Birmingham West Midlands, B18 5PP Time: 11.30 AM - 8.00 PM Tickets: £7 - £10 More info: www.mabonline.net/events/ Venue:
31 October - 2 November
Islamic Geometry Workshop
World Halal Expo 201 7
Participants learn to draw and paint an Islamic geometric pattern in these 3-hour workshops using a compass and straight edge to create a complex underlying grid from which a beautiful pattern will emerge. They will then outline, trace and transfer the pattern to watercolour paper, to be decorated using watercolour pencils & paints. All are welcome, no experience is needed and all resources & materials are provided. Maximum capacity is 8, so please book your place in advance
Showcasing a convergence of an Ethical Lifestyle with 'Halalonomics', the World Halal Expo is a two-day International Halal Trade & Tourism exhibition for the Global Halal industry to meet the key players of UK Halal market, providing a comprehensive business platform to connect the trade & industry with the multi trillion-dollar Global Halal market. A high impact business platform to look at the lucrative business opportunities that the global halal market presence and cater to the needs of halal producers, traders and business leaders looking to expand their business globally.
The Art Space, Cass Art Islington, 66-67 Colebrooke Row, N1 8AB Time: 3.00 PM to 6.00 PM Fee: £20 Book here: www.samiramian.uk/islington Venue:
Olympia, Hammersmith Rd, London W14 8UX More info: www.worldhalalexpo.co.uk/ Venue:
www.beehive.so/activity/activity_details/3619 28 October The Night of Photography - lecture Conductor: Sara Russell Venue: Kanoon Towhid,
30-32 Southerton Road, Hammersmith, W6 0PH Time: 6-8 pm Contact info: 00447872572467 More info: http://www.kanoontowhid.com/ Fee: £5
1 & 2 November MEDIU Second International Conference on Islamic Studies 201 7
Organised by Al-Madinah International University in Malaysia, this conference seeks to create an opportunity for a scientific meeting where researchers, intellectuals and students can study a number of the most important contemporary issues in the field of Islamic studies. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: https://micis2017.mediu.edu.my
28h & 29 October Muslim Lifestyle Expo 201 7
Building on the immense success of MLE2016, we are excited to bring back the world’s leading Muslim lifestyle event. The Expo is a spectacular mix of modest fashion shows, top celebs, the latest products and services, top brands, entertainment, business seminars, kids’ activities and so much more! (NOTE: If you have a business, product or service that needs to reach thousands of new customers then email us at: email@example.com)
Palestine Solidarity Campaign National March and Rally - 'Justice Now: Make it right for Palestine'
Venue: E ventCity, Phoenix Way, Stretford,
Manchester M41 7TB Time: 11.00 AM – 8.00 PM Tickets: £21.36 More info: http://muslimlifestyleexpo.co.uk/
For the past 100 years Palestinian rights have been disregarded. As we approach the centenary of the Balfour Declaration – 2nd November – which paved the way for their dispossession, we demand justice and equal rights for the Palestinians now. Speakers’ Corner, Hyde Park, Marble Arch, London Time: 12:00 PM - 4:00 PM Assembly Venue:
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.