‘Bill’ing up the ignorance
I sat down to eat my freshly cooked curry and noticed on the T.V. that Mark Wingett from the T.V. drama ‘The Bill’ and Helen Fraser from the prison drama ‘Bad Girls’ had no life lines left in the quiz show 'Who wants to be a Millionaire? Cops and Robbers'[i] They were asked in the typical uneasy style of Chris Tarrant, “In which city is the Prophet Muhammad buried: is it, Damascus, Mecca, Baghdad, or Medina”. Both actors waited, partially convinced that it was Mecca, but not sure although Mark during his mumblings did a great service for “Islamic Dawah” as voiced in his statement “I know that the Prophet Muhammad ascended to the heavens from Jerusalem because his foot print has been preserved there and Mecca is a holy place for Muslims, but its too obvious”. Alas after the mumbling and cross referring to Helen they decided to stop at sixteen thousand pounds.
“Now which of the blessings of your Lord do you deny”[ii] came to mind as I witnessed this epiphany in the words of Mark. Indeed only a night had passed since the night of The Ascension and already it had had the ears of most of England’s population, despite our attempts of spreading ‘Peace’ (Islam) with words of ‘war’, which is the popular theme of today’s Islamic discourse. I realised as I glanced at my curry, this is what the propagation attempts in England amounted to.
Indeed, if one analyses how the majority of Muslims arrived in Britain and Europe, it is clearly seen that it was not due to a great upsurge in the pursuit of knowledge or education, rather it was only to achieve a financial benefit, and once they had received this, it should have led them back to their homelands. So they accrued a monetary benefit, at a cost of leaving their children being born in a foreign land and thus culturally misplaced. This misplacement has been brought about by a desire for the parents, (who are torn between their original place of racial origin and Britain).Unwillingness to accommodate the host culture within the Muslim ethos. This has in turn been exacerbated by the differences in colour, language and religion. These problems have led to a greater longing of the immigrant parents to return to their ancestral land and as a result they have mentally been unable to leave it behind. Due to these reasons, Muslims living in Britain today have become disenfranchised with their own dimension of British culture which combines the precepts of Islam with British culture. Historical observation of Andalusia in Medieval Spain, shows, ironically, Muslims who were consciously European and who also cultivated that identity. Not doing the same here has left Britain with Muslims being labelled according to their countries of origin, ie; Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis etc, and thus lacking relevance in society.
Can Muslims make Islam relevant? This might be the leading question. Firstly Muslims must generate a common linguistic bond with the host faith. Indeed, Muslims have “estranged the use of our vocabulary in terms of our definition of the, All Mighty, Allah”. Traditional commentators[iii] point out that the ninety-nine names of Allah were not intended to limit the divine names to a particular number, but it was to designate ninety-nine distinct names from His Countless Names. If the Muslims embraced the word 'God' it would show their connection with the Abrahamic tradition. At this point it is important to note that differences between the Abrahamic faiths have never been rooted in the name of God, but in the variation of law given to Muhammad and the earlier prophets. This is clearly explicated in the title given to The Qur’an as being The Criterion (al-Furqan)[iv] to adjudicate in correct belief. The Qur’an acknowledges openly that the ‘God’ of Abraham and the ‘God’ of Muhammad are one and the same[v].The Biblical word for God invoked in Hebrew by Moses and in Aramaic by John The Baptist and Jesus come from the same etymological root as Allah, and all three of the Semitic words used for God are equivalent except in pronunciation between the three[vi]. The modern day distinction has been created by Muslims, in that they think that the English word “God” is pagan or from a Trinitarian source.
The earliest documentation of the use of God is from the English poem ‘Beowulf’, which dates from pre-Christian times and therefore does not refer to God as part of a "Trinity", but speaks “constantly of God’s grandeur, taking every occasion to praise God and thank him. “God” in its present form is the most common word for the Creator. This poem declares God’s oneness clearly and praises his wise and merciful supremacy in contra distinction to paganism. Indeed, Beowulf would have been used today by Muslims to supplicate to Allah, and the use of ‘Allah’ for God would have been used if Arabic was the known language. Unlike other religions Islam always allowed for indigenous practices to prevail as long as it did not take away from the understanding and belief in the oneness of Allah and the belief in his last Messenger. Islam came to seal prophecy, to close prophetic dispensation and positively add to what was already known about God by dispelling wrong understanding.
“in history, Islam showed itself to be culturally friendly and, in that regard, has been likened to a crystal clear river. Its waters (Islam) are pure, sweet, and life-giving but-having no colour of their own-reflect the bedrock (indigenous culture) over which they flow”[vii]
Often we see how British convert Muslims embrace other alien cultures from abroad. We see how people begin practicing Islam and then start gradually losing their intrinsic characteristics and begin donning the garb of ‘the Muslim’ as though it was a ‘career change’. Although if one examines Islam, the way of ‘Peace’ as a world phenomenon, one can see whichever continent it traversed it attained a religious relevance without making a new culture. Islamic jurisprudence bolstered the gaps of understanding within the cultures it encountered. So in India, Islam looked Indian, Asian; in China, Islam looked Chinese, Asian; in Sudan, it looked North East African etc. It continued religious/cultural relevance without affecting the host culture.
The creation of a healthy British Muslim culture is what Britain yearns for. One which can pass ‘the cricket test’ and one that comes about itself through a conscious, clear, correctly directed awakening, “fanned” by religion and culture. Not an unconscious and confused culture produced from the suppression of the indigenous one. Islamic architecture can be seen to exemplify these sentiments as in Iberia (Spain), as reflected in the al-Hambra, in Byzantium (Turkey) as reflected in the Blue Mosque, in India as reflected in the Taj Mahal and in other numerous examples that have been preserved around the Muslim world. Furthermore in a similar way, culture enables us to be comfortable with who, where, and what we are without being frightened to express ourselves in the styles available, as one can see in buildings such as the Aston Webb building at Birmingham University. This was styled from a distinctly Moorish design that has a minaret at its central axis[viii], and shows distinct English features. What British Muslims are facing is a challenge to create an identity that is rooted in Britain much in the same way that Aston Webb intertwinned Andalusian and British design. Muslims need to escape from the cultural contradiction that is rooted in our racial origins.
Broadening their cultural horizons, Muslims should express their devotion to England by digesting British culture in the spirit of mercy and its trait in God’s nature. God’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “People who show mercy to others will be shown mercy by the All-Merciful. Be merciful to those on earth, and he who is in heaven will be merciful to you.”[ix], which also can be seen in an English saying ‘Do to others as one would want others do unto you’. “Mercy” is the stamp of God’s creation[x] indeed the principle “In the name of God, the All-Merciful, the Mercy-Giving” (Bismi-Llahi ‘r-Rahmani ‘r- Rahim) which occurs one hundred and fourteen times in all but one chapter of the Qur’an and twice in another is not exclusively for Muslims but extends to all believing, unbelieving, the upright, the immoral, animate and inanimate. God says “My mercy has vanquished my wrath”[xi] and, in a second reading: “My mercy takes precedence over my wrath.”, another verse reads: “God ordained mercy upon himself,”[xii] again emphasizing that mercy is a universal law (Sunna). The Qur’an states: “It is the All-Merciful who assumed the Throne,”[xiii] meaning that God designs the world and rules the universe in his aspect as the All-Merciful. As a result, “mercy is the stamp of creation and the ontological thread that runs through everything”[xiv].
“O Messenger of God, will we be rewarded for being good to animals?” The Prophet answered His companions: “Yes, there is reward in showing good to every living creature.”[xv] Moreover The Prophet on his day of conquest over Mecca “noticed a wild dog on the roadside nursing her litter and posted one of his Companions, Ju’ayl ad-Damari, to stand guard near her so that the entire contingent could pass without disturbing her or the pups. By any measure, it was proactive mercy that spelled the death of idolatry and paganism in Mecca.” Indeed he was given the title “Prophet of Mercy” (naby ar-rahma) and consigned merciless behaviour to Hell.
The meaning of Mercy is to bring good to others, and mercifulness implicates “one’s desire to avert evil and harm”. This permeated the Prophet’s character in such an intrinsic way that a day did not pass when he did not exercise this attribute. While sitting with a companion in Medina one day, the Prophet stood up for a passing funeral procession of a Jew. This made all the companions stand and later enquire ‘O Messenger of God, it is only the funeral procession of a Jew.’ He replied: ‘Was he not a human being?’”[xvi] Islam did not come to deliver the chosen people and if this sentiment exists amongst any Muslim community it is an interpolation, which is found in other than Islam. Indeed the Muslim is the one who proactively spreads peace through a merciful disposition and from whom peace emanates. “In a faith like Islam, which teaches that a person may be condemned to hell for starving a cat, it goes without saying that acts of ruthless barbarity must be rejected and never given the aura of religious sanctity.”
As is the case of Arabic becoming the lingua-francá of Muslim Spain, dominating all discourses, today Muslims need to grasp the usage of the Biblical “God”, not only because this is the same God of Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, the tribes of Israel, Moses, and Jesus but because it continues the same “intrinsic, historical merit”[xvii]. Speaking coherently will consequently create a common belief between the Quranic “God” of Abraham. As supplicating to Allah doesn’t prevent us beseeching His other Attributes, similarly we should not think anything different when calling on the English word “God” as one beseeches al-Rahman or al-Raheem. Theologically it would be more “precise to describe Islam as the religion of mercy”[xviii]. Mercy forms God’s most important relationship to the universe that He denies to those who withhold it from others. The Prophet said “I was not sent to bring down curses; I was only sent as a special mercy.”[xix] Dr Umar Faruq Abd-Allah of the Nawawi foundation clearly elucidates that Islam homogenised, resided and adjusted in every era, situation and surrounding with the universal norms of its law[xx]. The Western Renaissance grew from studying with Muslims in places such as the Andalucian Caliphal city of Cordoba. The present remedy for Muslims lies in a study of previous Islamic societies where understanding the reality and necessity of inter-civilisational "contributions, encounters and borrowings” will initiate a revival to overturn the effect of present modern trends in co-existence.
The 10th century Saxon princess and poetess wrote of Cordoba, the Caliphal capital of Al-Andalus, that it was “the ornament of the world.”[xxi] Little do we know that Islam had a European relevance and had an abode in the West which created one of the greatest societies that ever existed. Certainly we should take a page from the book of the fourteenth-century Moroccan world traveller Ibn Battuta, and travel more extensively rather than just visiting our countries of racial origin.By doing this we will bring better understanding to a British/European Identity. Can we make a leap into British/European relevance? Although Muslims number approximately two million and are the second largest faith population in the UK, it is a shame that the burial place of our Prophet is not known by the majority of British people. Is there a hope for us? Indeed there is, as Hroswitha could see and appreciate an ornamented beacon shining amidst the dark ages. Muslims in Britain need to create a similar society, that will accept the fact that the future is here and not in some utopian existence somewhere else. They must build on a strong rooted commitment to learn from past failures, “Haven’t they travelled the earth and seen how those before them ended up?”[xxii] With a clear identity underpinned with a strong belief in the divine will.
I would like to thank Dr Umar Faruq Abd-Allah for dispensing such pieces of work, that have clarified these important principles to me, and all I have done is made these sentiments apply in a British context. Please refer to all articles mentioned for a proper explanation.
[i] Who wants to be a Millionaire? Cops and Robbers broadcast on ITV 3/09/05 8pm
[ii] Cleary, T. The Quran: a new translation chapter 55 verse 13
[iii] Dr Abd Allah, U.F. “One God Many Names” Nawawi foundation Papers at URL http://www.nawawi.org/downloads/article1.pdf p4.
[iv] Qur’an Chapter 25[v] Qur’an 29:46[vi] Dr Abd Allah, U.F. “One God Many Names” Nawawi foundation Papers at URL http://www.nawawi.org/downloads/article1.pdf p.1 ref.3.
[vii] Dr Abd Allah, U.F. “Islam and the Cultural Imperative” Nawawi foundation Papers at URL http://www.nawawi.org/downloads/article1.pdf p.1.
[viii] Little B. “Birmingham Buildings” David and Charles: Newton Abbot; 1971 also available from Grove Art Online under Webb, Aston “styled, with long, red-brick buildings of a distinctly Moorish silhouette were intended to radiate in a semicircular formation from the central axis of a tall minaret”
[ix] In Arabic, it is called al-hadith al-musalsal bi-‘lawwaliyya, literally, “the Tradition with continuous chain of primacy,” with the implication that in each generation masters had related it to their students in an unbroken chain in which each transmitter heard it first from the previous teacher.
[x] Dr Abd Allah, U.F. “Mercy the Stamp of Creation” Nawawi foundation Papers at URL http://www.nawawi.org/downloads/article1.pdf
[xi] Dr Abd Allah, U.F. “Mercy the Stamp of Creation” Nawawi foundation Papers at URL http://www.nawawi.org/downloads/article1.pdf
[xiii] Qur’an 20:5[xiv] Dr Abd Allah, U.F. “Mercy the Stamp of Creation” Nawawi foundation Papers at URL http://www.nawawi.org/downloads/article1.pdf
[xvi] This Tradition is in Bukhari and Muslim taken from “Mercy the Stamp of Creation” Dr Umar F.A. Nawawi foundation Papers at http://www.nawawi.org/downloads/article1.pdf
[xvii] Dr Abd Allah, U.F. “One God Many Names” Nawawi foundation Papers at URL http://www.nawawi.org/downloads/article2.pdf
[xviii] Dr Abd Allah, U.F. “Mercy the Stamp of Creation” Nawawi foundation Papers at URL http://www.nawawi.org/downloads/article1.pdf p.2-3
[xix] Dr Abd Allah, U.F. “Mercy the Stamp of Creation” Nawawi foundation Papers at URL http://www.nawawi.org/downloads/article1.pdf p.2-3
[xx] Dr Abd Allah, U.F. “Islam and the Cultural Imperative” Nawawi foundation Papers at URL http://www.nawawi.org/downloads/article1.pdf p.1.
[xxi] obtained from the article Andalusian Reflections by Dr U.F.Abd Allah at URL http://membres.lycos.fr/andalus/english/info/reflections.htm and http://www.webislam.com/numeros/2000/00_5/Articulos%2000_5/Andalusian_Reflections.htm http://www.latinodawah.org/newsletter/may2k3.html#5
[xxii] Cleary, T. The Quran: a new translation chapter 40 verse 82