Holding Onto my Faith In the West

graphic for Dure Shahwar blog

Dur-e-Shewar Anwar, Manchester

‘Islam’ and ‘the West’ have long been pitted against each other. Western society being censured for its material temptations and so-called progressive principles by one camp. Meanwhile Islam is branded an oppressive, backwards religion out of touch with and out of place in a modern, dynamic Western society by the other. As a British Muslim woman, this may seem like a lot to contend with. In reality, however, I have found that growing up and living as a Muslim in a western society has had a positive impact on how I understand and practice my faith.

Being in my mid-20s, I was lucky enough to grow up in a tolerant and accepting, if a little wary, society that offered safety and freedom of religious expression. In addition to religious freedom, British society has given me the opportunity for higher education and a place in the workforce, protection from debilitating poverty and provision of free healthcare. Because of this I have been able to be live and prosper as a Muslim in the West.

So yes, living in a Western country offers us the freedom to be Muslim but it is up to the individual to utilise this freedom for their spiritual benefit. The absence of a prominent Muslim culture in the West requires believers to take personal responsibility and control of the day to day fulfilment of our Islamic duties. The challenge is that we must do this knowing that it will create a degree of discernible separate-ness from society. Every day I go out to work, hijab gingerly pinned, overcoat billowing in the wind and I’m different. I get a notification on my phone 5 times a day to alert me of Prayer times and I need to excuse myself to pop out in order to Pray. During Ramadan I continue to go to work, hungry and sleepy; and I follow all the halal food accounts on Instagram. Being so obviously out of the norm, whilst difficult, can be beneficial for our faith. It means that our expression of faith and acts of worship are more deliberate, we develop increased self-awareness and the ability to reflect and improve Islamic practices.

Not only must we be conscious of ourselves but also to the reaction that society has towards us. Muslim women are often in the firing line of Western media; that tends to consider modest dress as restrictive and Islamic gender rules as oppressive. Islam generally is regarded as an over-strict and unrelenting religion. Many Western governments have banned the wearing of face veils in the name of liberation of women and national security. These criticisms of Islam by Western society have only emboldened me to hold on to my hijab and maintain my modesty. It has inspired me to dig deeper into Islamic literature to discover and understand why Islam instructs certain behaviours and a particular lifestyle. So that in the face of criticism and questions I am able to defend my religion and my choices with confidence rather than shrink away and succumb to the pressure of society.

In his Friday Sermon on the 13th of January 2017, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad stated:

“…pay attention to God Almighty’s teachings. Instead of getting influenced by the world and walking behind them, you should make the world follow you”

As Ahmadi Muslim women living in a Western, secular nation we are ambassadors of our faith and have a duty to uphold and demonstrate the true teachings of Islam, those of peace and service to humankind. In order to do this, we must ensure that we are informed about the principles of our faith and have a deeper understanding of the teachings of Islam. We must be proud and confident in the practice of our faith and remain unwavering in the face of questions and criticism.

How Growing up in the West has Impacted my Faith

Living In the West

Nadia Ghauri, Oxford

The ‘West’ is a nebulous concept; at times glorified as a model of modern civilisation, and at others, denigrated as superficial and morally corrupted. I grew up in a small, rural city in southern England. Naturally, as a Muslim of Pakistani heritage I would feel out of place in a city that was anything but diverse. Navigating my faith in a western culture has posed numerous dilemmas that have been at the crux of my personal jihad; a term grossly misconstrued as a bloodthirsty battle, but which in fact refers to a person’s internal self-improvement.

Multiple facets of western society have challenged my faith and forced me to think about the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of certain ways of acting, dressing or expressing myself in accordance to Islamic teachings. One salient feature of British society for many years now is its deeply ingrained consumerism and the declining importance given to religion. While the UK is a nominally Christian country, the growth of secularism has been described as ‘unabated’ by a recent survey. Between 1983 and 2019, the number of people who identified themselves as Christian dropped significantly from 66% to 38%[i] . This coincided with a rise in materialism and a culture that attaches value to money-making and worldly pursuits. I frequently stumble across a new ‘must have’ fashion staple, another DIY lip filler or a social media ‘influencer’ swearing by a flat tummy tea or weight loss lollipops. Society is insidiously influencing our notions of how we should look and what it means to be ‘female’. Brands are capitalising on sources of insecurity such as body shape. The lack of representation of Muslims in the media and the general absence of Muslims in my hometown made me reflect upon the concept of hijab and whether or not I should cover myself. In many ways, the unrealistic expectations of femininity that I am surrounded by, actually pushed me to take on the hijab. ‘Hijab’ literally means ‘barrier’ in Arabic, and is a way of combatting these societal pressures. His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad captures this particular struggle:

“If you live in a society where a certain instruction of Allah is looked down upon or mocked, but you continue to follow God’s command then you will attain even more blessings and rewards from Him on account of your steadfastness…in this society you will surely be greatly rewarded for observing the proper standards of Hijab.”[ii] 

As part of my studies, I had the valuable opportunity to live in the Muslim majority country of Jordan. One memorable experience was hearing the call to Prayer five times a day from mosques located at almost every street corner. This, of course, made it far easier for me to be punctual in my Prayers, whilst the celebratory banners and lights adorning the city during Ramadan created a sense of shared experience. Now back in the UK, this is no longer the case. Practicing my faith can be more demanding here, but by the same token, more rewarding.

Another point I would like to touch upon is how western media is often driven by sensationalism, producing headlines that grab public attention and make money. This has led to the distortion of Islam in the British media and made me more self-aware. I sometimes have to counter peoples’ questions and stereotypes regarding my Muslim identity. When I moved out of my home for university, I suddenly found myself uprooted from the warmth and comfort of my Islamic household and in an environment that was sometimes completely at odds with my faith. Although I still have much to improve upon, my circumstances have made me actively choose to cover my hair, observe my Prayers, attend Friday Prayers whenever I can. Navigating the norms of the ‘West’ has helped me to understand my faith better. However, I also appreciate how living in British society gives me the freedom to express my religious identity, physically and verbally; a human right which should not be taken for granted. Wherever I may be however, my ultimate source of reassurance is found in God’s words:

وَنَحْنُ أَقْرَبُ إِلَيْهِ مِنْ حَبْلِ الْوَرِيدِ

“…and We are nearer to him than even his jugular vein.” (50:17)

 

 

 

 

[i] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/11/uk-secularism-on-rise-as-more-than-half-say-they-have-no-religion

[ii] http://www.pressahmadiyya.com/press-releases/2014/10/lajna-imaillah-uk-ijtema-concludes-in-london-with-address-by-hazrat-mirza-masroor-ahmad-aba/

 

Living in the West and My Faith

Yusra blog-Life in the West as a Muslim Woman

 

Yusra Dahri, Surrey

For as long as I can remember, I have been living here in the UK. I grew up in full view of the passing train and formidable trees. On the terrace I stood in awe of the mosque next to me. From my bedroom window, I could see the tip of a church spire. Five times a day, my heart would be filled with peace from sound of adhan and namaz. Sometimes on Sundays I would hear the chiming church bell ring. My childhood days were spent happily in a world of diversity and culture. I never felt deprived of a single thing. In fact, as a child I was amazed with how much there was, how much could exist and coexist.

That said, I did sometimes feel that when I stepped out of home into school (and vice versa), I had stepped into a different world. Growing up, people at school were very willing to understand Islam: I just had to provide an explanation why. This wasn’t a bad thing, in fact the opposite. I gained a deeper understanding of my own religion through explaining it to others. Still, as a small child, it can be startling to suddenly have to find the words for something that passed silently as something already understood between cousins and members of my community my own age. In primary school I found that living in the West gave me a voice to answer questions and actively seek out knowledge. I didn’t always know all of the answers, and that was something I’d have to accept, reflect, and improve on. To me, the difficulty of confrontation gradually became just another way to learn.

In ways I didn’t expect, my faith aided in me in school in general. Not just when Islam came up in my Religious Studies’ lessons, but other areas too. When I used to learn prayers from the Holy Qur’an, I would try and learn the English translation too. This greatly improved my vocabulary. Furthermore when in school we had to study classic texts in English lessons, I found it easier to adapt to the more formal style of writing. Again, because prayers were translated in a similar style. I found my faith promoted a spirit of educating oneself that I was able to apply to school. Generally Western countries are known for being well educated, but I also feel the presence of Islam in my life greatly ameliorated my ‘western’ education.

By the time I was around 11 or 12 years old, events started appearing in the news that drew the critical eye of the Western world to Islam. However this time I was in a much bigger school as a much smaller minority. Though no one ever said a nasty word to me about it, in fact, no one really seemed to care about religion at all. This created a strange type of isolation within me, and contrary to my childhood days, I wanted people to talk to me about Islam. But I still didn’t know all the answers and as I watched the media do what they liked with my religion, I was content to remain silent. However, this didn’t last for very long. Eventually the uncertainty of a new school wore off and I refocused my efforts in learning about Islam. I spoke out more, and explained more. In Year 7 we had to make a project about pilgrimage so I made a board game about the Holy Kaaba. In Year 9 some other Muslim girls and I gave a year group assembly about Eid. In my RS lessons I would offer Islamic perspectives. When we discussed feminism I explained how Islam gave women the right to own property and divorce over 1400 years ago.

Perhaps if I had grown up in a Muslim country I wouldn’t have had to try as hard to understand Islam in the context of the Western world, but I am glad that I did. I am blessed in the sense that I am supported by my family and entire community of Ahmadi Muslims, especially Lajna Ima’illah, where I can be encouraged and inspired by women with similar experiences to my own. When I think of the hardships the Holy Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and his companions had to face for the sake of Islam, I realise that my own struggles are only the result of hesitation and fear. We live in a society that is open minded and willing to listen to us, but first we must speak.

People love to argue Islam cannot integrate with Western values. We live in a society that is addicted to dichotomies. But my childhood and teenage years prove to me otherwise, because I have lived my life exploring all the ways in which coexistence is possible. We have proved the earth is round, so why make our world one-dimensional?

 

Hazrat Ayesha, The First Female Scholar of Islam

Hazrat Ayesha.png

Zujaja Khan, London

The University of al-Qarawiyyin is the oldest continuously operating university in the world. What makes it all the more amazing is the fact that it was founded by a Muslim woman, Fatima al-Firhi, in 859 CE. To this day, the university stands as a symbol of inspiration and a testament to the value a Muslim woman can offer the world.

The success of Muslim women has only grown eleven centuries later: we have Muslim women in the United States Congress, holding positions in the Australian Senate, leading fields of medicine, breaking records in sports, and even winning baking competitions here in Britain.

Despite these contemporary successes, there is still much doubt cast over the legitimacy of Muslim women’s agency, and their status in Islam. At best, critics deign the above examples as exceptional cases; at worst, an affront to democracy. The only way to address these nonsensical notions is by taking a deeper look at our own history. The wives of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be on him) are an excellent starting point, and one such exemplary woman was Hazrat Ayesha (may Allah be pleased with her).

In his address to the National Waqifat-e-Nau Ijtema in 2018, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (may Allah be his Helper) explained that it is not just Hazrat Ayesha’s (may Allah be pleased with her) status as a wife of the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be on him) that warrants respect- it is also garnered from her standing as a formidable intellectual and a model of women’s status in Islam.1

Hazrat Ayesha (may Allah be pleased with her) was said to have had an extraordinary memory, and during his lifetime, the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be on him) said “half the religion of Islam could be learned from [her].” This is apparent when one considers that Hazrat Ayesha (may Allah be pleased with her) learned the teachings and practices of Islam first-hand from the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be on him), and over two thousand ahadith can be attributed to her narrations alone!

With her excellent memory and eloquent speech, she shared these teachings and became one of the most important sources of Islamic wisdom. And her achievements do not stop there- she is said to have freed forty slaves in a single instance, distributed money when she herself did not have anything to eat, and was continually consulted by the Companions of the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be on him) on intellectual queries. The historian ‘Urwah bin Zubairra is recorded to have said:

“In knowledge of the Holy Qur’ān, in knowledge of the law of inheritance, in knowledge of lawful and unlawful things, in the science of jurisprudence, in poetry, in medicine, in knowledge of the narrations of Arabia, and in the science of genealogy, I have not seen a greater scholar than ‘Ā’ishah(may Allah be pleased with her).”2

Such a resounding endorsement cannot be ignored- it stands as a testament to Hazrat Ayesha’s (may Allah be pleased with her) reputation as a respected scholar in her own right, and as a model for all Muslim women.

For me there has never been a question of women’s status in Islam – my mother and elder sister are exemplary in their balancing of working life and duty to their children. When we were young, my mother would sit us down each night, cut up some apple slices, and read to us from all the religious books we had. And if our mother wasn’t home, my elder sister would take up this responsibility and practice reading the Qur’an with me – no matter how cranky I was! Throughout our childhood, they were each dedicated to cultivating our religious knowledge.

I am blessed that in my own family I have excellent examples of learned Ahmadi Muslim women who emulate fundamental tenets of duty, and a deep love of Allah. Because of them, I have never questioned my right to excel as a woman. And as Ahmadi women we must take a closer look at the women who laid these foundations of our status. In his Friday Sermon in 2007, His Holiness emphasised the responsibility of Ahmadis in addressing false narratives of Islam:

Therefore, within this context, the responsibility of bringing these people and people around the world closer to God lies with an Ahmadi. You must understand your responsibility and out of sheer mercy, adopt the ways practiced by the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be on him) and be concerned for the salvation of humanity.3

With these guiding principles, we can address ignorance with knowledge and restraint. As His Holiness said, we have a responsibility to arm ourselves with the prime examples of Hazrat Ayesha (may Allah be pleased with her), and bring people closer to the vision of true Islam.

 

1 https://www.alislam.org/articles/high-status-of-women-in-islam/
2 https://www.alislam.org/library/books/Seal-of-Prophets-Vol-2.pd
3 https://www.alislam.org/friday-sermon/2007-02-23.html

Refuting Modern-Day Atheism

Refuting Modern-Day Atheism

Aroosa Akram, Slough

It is common knowledge that atheism is disbelief in God, however atheism in its general and basic form is the lack of belief in all deities. This is of course the opposite of theism in which all classical theistic religions like Islam, Christianity and Judaism and Hinduism believe that there is a deity and we in Islam believe in One God.

In Islam, the singularity and existence of God is ingrained in the teachings. However, ‘modern-day atheism’ is about emergence of a different atheistic way of thinking. This is called ‘new atheism’ and it is not just about disbelief in a God or deities, but is the argument that ‘all religion is evil’. The term ‘new atheism’ was coined by the agnostic journalist Gary Wolf in 2006 and two of its well-known ‘preachers’ are Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.  New atheists take a Darwinian approach and believe that science is the cause and effect. They see religion merely as a set of ideas.

Richard Dawkins has said the creation of the universe was a “happy chemical accident”. Now, Islam argues that God created the universe as it says in the Holy Qur’an, “And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your tongues and colours. In that surely are Signs for those who possess knowledge (30:32).[i]

However, as no atheist is going to believe what the Holy Qur’an says, we may use an argument here which is purely based on logic. Such an argument is presented by an American Scientist called Dr. Harry L. Shipman who said in his book, Black Holes, Quasars and the Universe in 1976: ‘The Big Bang Theory leaves one unanswered question. Who created the material that exploded as the Big Bang? For this the astronomer has no answer. We may be able to look back to the early seconds of the evolution of the universe, but our vision stops there. This book ends by leaving the problem of creation to the philosopher and the theologian’. [ii]

This is explained in the Qur’an as: ‘Do not the disbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were a closed-up (mass) and we opened them out? And we made from water every living thing’.[iii]

As Muslims we cannot take the ‘God of the Gaps’ view in which everything that science cannot prove, God could be the answer, because we believe in an Omniscient Creator. However, the creation of the universe by a God/ deity/ superior being is supported by one of the most renowned scientists, Sir Isaac Newton. Newton said “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” [iv]

Here, Sir Isaac Newton takes a logical argument. One that has been supported by Aquinas, the famous philosopher from the 13th century, who argued in his famous ‘five ways to prove the existence of God’ which took a logical approach to prove the existence of God. He tried to prove the existence of God through the creation of the universe. In his 5th argument, he says that the world is intelligently and beautifully designed in nature, like the relationships between planets and gravity. This is very well explained through William Paley’s analogy of a watch which aims to prove the same argument as Aquinas – if you are walking and see a stone – you would consider it normal and mundane, However, if you were walking and see a watch, that’s unusual because this watch has gears and has been perfectly designed to make the hand move, all to fit within that specific watch designed by a designer as it wouldn’t have naturally ended up there. Muslims take this designer to be God. In the Qur’an it says ‘He (God) is the Originator of the heavens and the earth…’ (2:118) [v]

This is essential in disproving new atheists like Richard Dawkins when he says “There’s real poetry in the real world. Science is the poetry of reality”.

So what we see here is that ‘new atheism’ which believes in the idea that science is the originator can be refuted as science itself was mentioned in the Holy Qur’an with the idea of a big bang, proving the existence of an intelligent and superior being.

To refute ‘new atheism’, we must find a common ground or understanding. We, as humans, all believe in logic and so we must argue from a logical point of view that the creation of the universe was not a “happy chemical accident”. Muslims believe it was created by One deity, God. It can be proved through the creation of the universe that we behold and beyond that there is a Supreme, All-Powerful, All-Knowing Creator, Who created this universe with intelligent design. Muslims call this Creator Allah.

 

[i]https://www.alislam.org/quran/view/?page=471&region=E2&CR=

[ii]Black Holes, Quasars and the Universe, 1976

[iii]https://www.alislam.org/quran/view/?page=369&region=E2&CR= The Holy Qur’an (21:31)

[iv]Our Solar System and the Stellar Universe, By Charles Whyte, p.131. 1923

[v]https://www.alislam.org/quran/view/?page=18&region=E2&CR= The Holy Qur’an, (2:118)

 

 

 

Dear God,

Rabb

Rabb

Nadia Ghauri, Oxford

The divine concept of God has long perplexed mankind. Yet through the Holy Qur’an and His Messengers, Allah the Exalted has provided us with a wealth of material that aids our understanding of His supreme and unmatched qualities.

Rabb is the second most prevalent term for God in the Qur’an after the name Allah itself. It occurs more than 900 times [1], and is found at the start of countless prayers. However, we do not reflect enough upon its profound significance. In fact, it appeared in the very first divine revelation to the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him):

اِقۡرَاۡ بِاسۡمِ رَبِّکَ الَّذِیۡ خَلَقَ

خَلَقَ الۡاِنۡسَانَ مِنۡ عَلَقٍ

“Recite in the name of your Lord Who created, Created man from an adhesive clot.”[2]

Rabb is distinct from most of the other names of Allah, as it does not use the definite article ‘al’–as other names of Allah do, literally meaning ‘the’. Despite being so familiar with the term Rabb, and our instinctive inclination to translate it as ‘Lord’, the standard, classic English translation of the term, it does not quite do the Arabic term much justice and can be seen as reducing its multifaceted meaning to a rather inferior definition. The term ‘lord’ can have quite a trivial sense to it, often denoting individuals of a certain nobility. However, the Arabic term Rabb possesses an unparalleled meaning that can only ever refer to God alone.

His Holiness Mirza Tahir Ahmad (may Allah have mercy on him) explained that rabb means to change something from a lower state into a higher one. For example, the Arabic expression ‘rabb al-fuluwwa’ refers to foals that have attentively been looked after and raised so that they become well-trained horses. Thus, the attribute Rabb is often translated as The Provident to illustrate how God has provided for and nourished His creation in every stage of its development [3].

The Promised Messiah (peace be on him) has elucidated the nature of rabubiyat, referring to it as God’s divine grace. This can be read in The Essence of Islam, Volume II [4]. The Promised Messiah (peace be on him) gives a description of not one, but seven, interpretations of the word Rabb:

Firstly, he explains it as Master or Owner, also expressed by the name al-Malik that indicates Allah’s possession and authority over every living and non-living thing.

The second meaning is master or chief, Al-Sayyed, which again emphasises Allah’s supremacy. The Promised Messiah (peace be on him) highlights that although worldly kings may enforce obedience by oppressing their people, a true Sayyed will have followers that voluntarily obey Him out of a sincere love.

The third meaning is the Regulator Al-Mudabbir, One who is aware of the conclusion of all affairs. The fourth, Al-Murabbi literally means One who nurtures; the fifth is Qayyim, One who safeguards; the sixth is al Mun’im meaning the Bestower; and the seventh, Al-Mutamim, signifies how God is the perfecter of everything.

These definitions reflect how Allah has provided us with both physical and spiritual nourishment. In a keynote address in the 2013 Germany Jalsa,  His Holiness, Mirza Masroor Ahmad (may Allah be his Helper) beautifully elucidated how this sustenance is not just for those who believe in God, rather he explained:

“…[He] fulfils all necessary requirements and provides the means of subsistence for all people, without any form of discrimination. God, according to Islam, is the God for the entire world.” [5]

Physical bounties are manifest in the plants, animals and climate that have created the ideal conditions for humans to survive, while the Holy Qur’an, the Holy Prophet (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) and the Promised Messiah (peace be on him) are all signs of God’s spiritual guidance.

We, in the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, ourselves are witnesses to His blessings if we look at the resources that He has bestowed upon our community, which once started off in a small, unassuming village in India but can now be found in over 200 countries.

We cannot deny that the term Rabb succinctly embodies multiple names in just a single syllable. God uses this term throughout the Qur’an and we need only to look to the first surah, Al-Fatihah, to note the term Rabb al-Alameen, Lord of all the worlds. We can also look very easily to the very final surah, which mentions Rabb al-nas, Lord of mankind. In this way, the divine quality of rabubiyat literally frames and fills the Qur’an from beginning to end.

 

 

 

References:

 

[1] Encylopaedia of Islam, edited P. Bearman et al.

[2] The Holy Qur’an, Chapter 96, verses 2-3.

[3] Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth.

[4] ‘Arabic Mother of all Languages’ (translation of ‘Minan al Rahman’) in Essence of Islam, Volume II.

[5] https://www.khalifatulmasih.org/articles/four-fundamental-attributes-god/.

 

Islam and Democracy

Democracy

M Rehman, Cheam

Sadly, many Muslim countries are branded as dictatorships by non Islamic nations, meaning they are ruled by a single group or individual who has absolute power. Examples include Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, Iran, and Afghanistan [1]. This style of leadership is said to be a reason for the internal crises in such nations, leading to the worst refugee crisis in modern history.

However, neither the rebels nor the rulers of these ‘Islamic’ nations have been able to follow the complete and kind example of leadership that was set by the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). This has fed into the widespread notion that Islam is an oppressive religion, incompatible with democracy. And thus, many people have not realised that it was in Islam, that complete democracy was established.

For a successful administration, Islam describes two fundamental principles to be maintained within any form of leadership. The Holy Qur’an states “Verily, Allah commands you to make over the trusts to those entitled to them, and that, when you judge between men, you judge with justice. And surely excellent is that with which Allah admonishes you! Allah is All-Hearing, All-Seeing “[3]. This verse describes the first principle ‘aadl’, also known as absolute justice. This means that all decisions need to be made with complete fairness towards all members of a community and with no selfish motivation.

The second principle ‘shura’, meaning mutual consultation is described in the following verse “And those who hearken to their Lord, and observe Prayer, and whose affairs are decided by mutual consultation, and who spend out of what We have provided for them.” [4].

Most importantly, Islam is a religion for all times and all people. It therefore, allows for all forms of leadership including democracy, tribalism and monarchy, as long as these principles are observed, thus allowing people to develop a form of governance best suited to their culture. Consequently, dictatorships, theocratic, communist and fascist form of ruling are rejected by Islam because they discard this basic guidance [2].

In the Holy Qur’an Allah the Almighty states “Verily, Allah commands you to make over the trusts to those entitled to them…” [8]. Here, it is made clear that sovereignty over the universe belongs to Allah alone. However people are given authority in certain domains. They are entrusted to discharge a duty towards mankind for which they will be questioned on the day of Judgement [5].

It is important also to note that no mention is made whether such individuals are male or female, nor is it stated that the person must be a Muslim. The only criterion for selecting a ‘trustee’ is suitability to discharge a role. Thus, humanity is commanded to entrust some with a responsibility only if they are deemed suitable to discharge it. And thus, a ruler or leader of a nation should not be arrogant about his authority, but should in fact consider himself as a humble servant of the people who have elected him or her [5].

In many places, the Holy Qur’an repeatedly emphasises justice in making decisions (which appears to have been entirely ignored in some Muslim nations). The Qur’an states “Oh Ye who believe, be steadfast in the cause of Allah, bearing witness in equity, and let not a people’s enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice. Be always just, that it is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah. Surely Allah is aware of what you do.” [3]

Thus justice is amongst the overarching principles of Islamic governance, which cannot be emphasised enough [5]. Moreover, a crucial and often overlooked principle in Islamic governance is the freedom of religion. Once again the Qur’an states ‘There should be no compulsion in religion…’ [7]. However those so-called Muslim states who lead by extremist ideologies are in grave error, as they sometimes force civilians to convert to Islam, enabling extremist organisations to control them.

However, this was not always the case. Up until a few hundred years ago, Christian Europe looked upon Islam as having a tolerant governance. This was due to the example of our beloved Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). He distinguished his authority as a religious leader from his position as a governor, which enabled a religiously diverse and free society from the onset. This was completely opposite to the Christian world, which was governed by the churches and the Bible with the motto ‘One State, One Law, One Faith’. In fact in 16th century Europe, when authoritative persecutions became unbearable, Christians advocated tolerance by using the Muslim Ottoman Empire as an example and model that they encouraged to adopt [5].

Thus, given the example of the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and the guidelines laid out by the Holy Qur’an, it is safe to conclude that democracy is not only compatible to, but also encouraged in Islam. And that a successful democratic government, not only shares but is dependent on the Islamic principle of governance.

References:
[1] http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/dictatorship-countries/
[2] https://www.alislam.org/question/islam-and-democracy/
[3] Holy Quran Chapter 4, verse 59
[4] Holy Quran Chapter 42, verse 39
[5] http://www.jalsasalana.org/usa/2011/Civic-Order-Jalsa-USA-2011-Speech.pdf
[6] Holy Qur’an Chapter 5, verse 9
[7] Holy Qur’an Chapter 2, verse 257
[8] Holy Qur’an Chapter 4, verse 59

 

Social Integration

 

Social Integration

Sameea Jonnud, Aldershot

Modern Britain is full of people of different faiths from around the world mixing with a traditionally Christian, white population. Potentially this could cause problems and has done at times, when newcomers have been seen as intruders bringing with them their strange ways.

Actually, for a Muslim there is no conflict between Islam and other faiths or peoples, and Muslims who choose to live in a predominantly non-Muslim country are fully a part of it and just as loyal as they are to a country of their own faith. His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, said in December 2012:

“Islam… actually commands us to be absolutely loyal and devoted to our country of residence. Indeed, the Holy Prophetsa particularly emphasised that love for one’s nation is a part of faith for any true Muslim.” i

True loyalty and devotion can be shown by integrating into society.

Sometimes minorities have heavily populated certain areas, for example Jews in Golders Green, north London or South Asians in Southall which has led to accusations that they are not integrating. Visible Muslims seem more pressured to integrate partly because of their different way of dressing and partly as a backlash against Islam in these days of terrorism and conflict. Muslims, especially women, are told many times they should ‘fit in’ to modern Britain by discarding their ‘archaic’ head coverings and conforming to modern Western practices.

However there is actually no need to discard symbols of our faith or stop practicing any aspect of it in order to integrate into society; it is entirely possible to become part of our local community whilst staying true to our faith. There are Muslim men and women across the country working in different jobs while still practicing their faith without compromise; the female doctor or teacher working in her hijab, for example, is a very visible sign of integration. As well as this Muslim men and women continue to perform their five daily Prayers or keep fasts without neglecting their work, something which is not obviously visible. Muslim students go to university and are able to participate fully in student life without drinking alcohol the way their non Muslim peers may be doing, and in fact often find their friends keep in mind that they won’t be drinking for religious reasons and so don’t pressure them.

Showing loyalty to our nation is one aspect of becoming part of the society in which we live, and this can be done literally, for example by joining the police force or army as well as by small day-to-day sacrifices of our time or money in order to benefit our local communities. Looking after the welfare of friends and neighbours or volunteering in schools are ways Muslim women can contribute to society even if they are not working.

There have been reports from time to time of local councils being reluctant to put up Christmas decorations to avoid offending local Muslims; many could be offended but the headlines always lay the blame on Muslims, which results in an increase of hostility towards Islam with accusations that Muslims are not integrating. However, most Muslims aren’t offended if their non Muslim neighbours celebrate their festivals; if our neighbours celebrate Christmas we can and should give them greeting cards and gifts to show we wish them well. We can also send them something at Eid and tell them we would like to share our celebration with them.

My local mosque, the Mubarak Mosque is situated in an area that is traditionally not diverse and its opening made me think about the importance of integrating into society rather than being cut off from it. At the inauguration of the mosque on 29th June 2019 His Holiness, Mirza Masroor Ahmad summed it up perfectly and his words are guidance for all Ahmadi Muslims, and, indeed, other minorities, to follow:

“Ever since we came here, we have sought to assimilate into the local society and this is proved by the fact that many of you are our old friends and acquaintances… Certainly, we have no desire to live an isolated existence, rather we desire to integrate and to be responsible citizens who serve and benefit the local community.

Indeed, this is what I believe to be the definition of true integration – to be entirely loyal to your country of residence, to uphold the laws of the land, to serve your local community and to use whatever skills or capabilities you have for the betterment of your nation.” ii

If these words were followed all newcomers would integrate smoothly into society leading to an ideal situation for everyone.

 

 

I – https://www.reviewofreligions.org/8827/can-muslims-integrate-into-western-societies/

 

Ii – https://www.alislam.org/articles/islamabad-glorious-symbol-of-peace/

 

Innovations in Religion

Innovations in Religion.png

Maleeha Mansur, Hayes

Religion is a means of attaining nearness to our Creator, to be free from the chains of materialism and to see light in the darkness of the world. What can be said of a religion that strips its followers of purity and takes one far from God by indulging in worldly pursuits and customs?

All of the early religions of the world have unfortunately, lost their original teachings due to the introduction of innovations. Within Hinduism, we see the caste system has taken deep root, ostracizing many sections of society and ruining the peace of society. In Judaism, we find various innovations avoid observing the Sabbath. Within Christianity, for example, we have Halloween, whilst now a highly commercialised event, it is actually adopted from old Irish pagan practices, based on the concept of the boundaries between the living and the dead being removed and the dead returning to harm the living. Christianity adopted this ritual, in particular the Catholic Church and hence this ritual of Halloween spread all over the world.

It may seem that perhaps Halloween and other innovations are a harmless means of enjoyment or part of culture. However, such tampering with religion, is something that has been strongly condemned within Islam. Indeed, the Founder of Islam, the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) is reported to have said, ‘An innovation in religion which has nothing to do with matters of faith is to be rejected and is unacceptable.’ Nonetheless, the nature of man is to tamper, change and alter and this includes religion. Sadly, we see that all other religions have been susceptible to such changes and alterations. One may argue that if religions are from God, how can this be possible? We must remember that initially, God sent His Messengers and scriptures for a certain time, place and people. However, this changed with the advent of Islam, which God planned to be at such a time that it would see the unification of the world. Thus with the advent of Islam came a Messenger and Message for all of time and all people. Indeed, the Holy Book of Islam, the Holy Qur’an is unique amongst the Scriptures as within its own verses God promises its preservation and protection. God says “Verily, We Ourself have sent down this Exhortation, and most surely We will be its Guardian.”

There is another aspect that must be noted here. Not only does God’s promise relate to preserving the content of the Holy Book but the teachings of Islam itself. Over time, some harmful innovations did make their way into Islam. However, in accordance with His promise, God sent the Promised Messiah and Mahdi, the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, to safeguard Islam from such innovations. He came to revive the true teachings of Islam at a time when as had happened with all other religions, Muslims had drifted far from its truth. Today, his Community, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is guided with a distinctive system of Muslim spiritual leadership, Khilafat. Through this a Divinely appointed Khalifa constantly guides and protects Islam from the onslaughts of innovations and provides guidance on all matters new and old that arise. Indeed, addressing the issue of innovations, the current Khalifa, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, cautions that “…those innovations that have nothing to do with faith, which take one away from faith, which disrespect the commandments of Allah and His Apostle, are all worthy of rejection. They are all useless and ought to be shunned. Stay away from them because they will gradually corrupt faith.”
i Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Friday Sermon October 29th, 2010

ii Sahih Al Bukhari, Kitab-us-Sulhi, Babu Izastalahu ‘ala sulhin jaurin. Conditions of Bai’at and Responsibilities of an Ahmadi, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, page 106

iii The Holy Qur’an, Chapter 15: Verse 10

iii Conditions of Bai’at and Responsibilities of an Ahmadi, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, page 107

 

The Need for Scripture

The Need for Scripture

Iffat Mirza, Raynes Park

One word that a book-lover stumbles upon in life often is ‘timeless’. We often talk about certain books having a persisting influence over the centuries. Reading, for me, has never just been a hobby. For hours upon hours I would devour books. It ultimately culminated in my opting to do a degree in literature. It became very clear that I just simply could not live without words.

Over the course of my education and degree, I have been exposed to new languages and books from around the world. No doubt, this led me to question the role of language and literature in our lives. Even looking back to some of those novels that I would go as far as to say shaped my worldview, I often find myself pondering on the power of words on civilisation.

Then I think back to the idea of ‘timelessness’. What makes a text timeless? For me, it is those texts that reveal to humanity the rights and the wrongs. The good and the bad. The past and the future. Despite the rise in atheism and the general abandonment of holy scripture, I find that scripture is indeed the most timeless of texts – particularly the Holy Qur’an. The 21st century most certainly is not so far advanced, and it will never be, that it can abandon the holy words of God Almighty.

Having survived over a thousand years, the Holy Qur’an has had unquantifiable influence over societies and individuals across the world, to such a strong degree that people would be prepared to live and die for these words.

The second chapter of the Holy Qur’an opens with an introduction to itself:

“This is a perfect Book; there is no doubt in it; it is a guidance for the righteous”[1]

The Holy Qur’an, unlike most books, claims it is a timeless guidance for humanity. It is not simply a book of tales to entertain but rather seeks to benefit mankind. As a Muslim, living in the West in the 21st century, approximately 1,400 years after the advent of the Holy Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), the Holy Qur’an has undoubtedly taught me more about morals and ethics than any other source.

Humankind has become close-minded. Now living in secular societies, we have forgotten the scriptures of old – be it the Bible, the Torah, the Vedas or the Holy Qur’an. Societies, for centuries, have turned to these sources to write laws and legislation. Our very fundamentals: do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery, are all teachings of religion.

The truth is that scripture, despite being thousands of years old, is still unimaginably relevant. Human nature has not changed so much, nor will it, that it would need a whole new set of morals.

Ideas of justice and equity are at the heart of the Holy Qur’an. It beautifully instructs mankind: ‘And O my people, give full measure and full weight with equity, and do not deprive people of things which by right belong to them and commit not iniquity in the earth, causing disorder.’[2]

This particularly never fails to resonate with me – living in the 21st century, justice and equity are always on my mind. Flicking through the news channels I see the suffering and the disorder across the earth. The project for world peace is larger than life itself and often seems impossible. However, the repeated teachings of kindness and justice, make it clear that the Holy Qur’an does have the solution to this arduous task.

In fact, on this topic, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has echoed the words of the Holy Qur’an in his advocacy for world peace: “Hence, according to the Qur’an, justice requires that a person is willing to testify even against himself and his most loved ones in order to guard and protect the truth. The second level of engagement advocated by the Holy Qur’an is that a person should not only be just, but should go beyond it by doing ‘good to others’ by manifesting generosity and forgiveness. As I have already mentioned, the Holy Qur’an teaches that once you have successfully stopped an aggressive nation from inflicting further cruelties, you should not seek revenge or impose hardship upon it. Rather, you should seek to help them build up their economy and infrastructure. Where this will help them, it will also help you in the long term.”[3]

The need for scripture, I would argue, is more pertinent than ever. We are living in dangerous times. In such a global community, it is impossible for events to take place in isolation. They will inevitably impact the whole globe. Therefore, it is imperative that we look to the book that was sent for all of mankind, and recognise it as a source of genuine solutions.

 

[1] Holy Qur’an English translation by Maulvi Sher Ali (ra) Chapter 2 Verse 3

[2] Holy Qur’an English translation by Maulvi Sher Ali (ra) Chapter 11 Verse 86

[3] https://www.reviewofreligions.org/14665/true-and-sustainable-world-peace/

Modesty

Modesty (1)

Aroosa Akram, Slough

The Islamic principle of modesty is an essential part of faith and it concerns a Muslim’s physical and mental state.

To fully understand the importance of modesty, ‘haya’ (حیاء) in Arabic, let us look at its meaning in some detail. The word ‘haya’ comes from the Arabic word of ‘hayat’ which means life. It also means sense of shame or modesty or shyness or bashfulness or ‘keeping back from a thing from fear of blame’. The word ‘haya’ is the antonym of the Arabic word ‘fahsha’ which means lewdness, an excess or enormity of anything exceeding the bounds of rectitude, or a thing excessively and enormously foul, immoral or obscene.

For Muslim women, outward expression of modesty usually includes covering of the head and shape of one’s body. It seems simple enough but in Western countries where the outer appearance of women is held to such a high importance that women are always expected to fit within a very narrow concept of acceptable beauty standards. These so-called beauty standards are used to bash women for not dressing in certain ways which in turn the media dictates. This can be seen, for example, in the vilification of women in burkas in French media. In such an appearance focused atmosphere, remaining modest by wearing a hijab and not showing off one’s beauty can be difficult.

His Holiness, Khalifatul Masih V the Khalifa (Caliph) of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community gave excellent guidance regarding modesty during his address to the ladies at the Jalsa Salana (annual convention) on 3rd August 2019.  His Holiness said: “modesty is the true adornment for women, and they should take pride in this”[1]. For Muslim Women, modesty is their way of beautification and they should be confident when covering themselves. To wear revealing clothes would be the opposite of ‘haya’.

Another aspect of modesty described in the Holy Qur’an is of one’s mind. This means to have pure thoughts and refrain from any unpleasant thoughts.

An example where a Muslim practices modesty of the mind is by refraining from having any indecent thoughts or viewing anything indecent on the media. As mentioned earlier ‘immodesty’ in Arabic means ‘fahsha’ which is the antonym of modesty (haya). A Muslim is taught to remain chaste from a young age and to not watch indecent and sexual images. However, in such a promiscuous society, a person is introduced to lewdness from childhood through magazines and films. Through encouraging boys and girls to become friends to allowing naked images in newspapers with models giving a ‘sexual gaze’. It is ingrained in mass media and has become normalised.

In the Holy Qur’an Allah the Almighty has described people He will reward as chaste: “…men who guard their chastity and women who guard their chastity…” (33:36) [2]. To protect their chastity Islam asks men and women to have separate seating at events and to restrain their eyes, allowing them to remain modest.

Modesty remains a large part of a Muslim’s life in every way. From controlling base urges to avoid cursing and swearing to dressing modestly and restraining of the eyes. His Holiness, Khalifatul Masih V has said that a woman should be proud of her modesty and use it to adorn herself in the deeper, real sense rather than dressing provocatively. The Holy Qur’an repeatedly mentions sense of modesty in different forms for example chastity.  His Holiness Khalifatul Masih V explained in his Friday sermon of 15 January 2010 that a Hadith relates that indecency makes the perpetrator unsightly and modesty gives a modest and bashful person inner and outer beauty.

 

[1] http://www.alhakam.org/take-pride-in-modesty-hazrat-khalifatul-masih-delivers-address-at-ladies-jalsa-gah/

[2] The Holy Quran, Chapter 33, Verse 36.

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