What’s Wrong With Happy British Muslims?

Happy British Muslims, a parody video of Pharrell’s “Happy”, released by an anonymous group called The Honesty Policy, is approaching 350,000 views in just over a day. It has sparked heated discussions and controversy amongst Muslims. Some love it while others hate it. I belong more to the first group. 

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Muslims Need a Mature Debate About Homosexuality

The first same sex weddings became legal in England and Wales last week, but why is it taking so long for Muslims to confront the issue?

I’ve often been asked by Muslims why I report on the gay Muslim community. The question is normally posed in a way that suggests reporting on taboo and controversial subjects are best avoided. This isn’t the right attitude. Sensitive issues should be talked about, because there is normally a group of people who are suffering as a result of it not being discussed. Continue reading

Are gap years a form of colonialism?

Some people argue that gap years – typically a period when a student takes a break between school and college or university, often to visit a foreign country – is a form of colonialism. This colonialism, they argue, is not in the form of acquiring, exploiting and expanding into other people’s land like the old days – but through young, western people going to underdeveloped countries for a period of time at the expense of the host communities. Continue reading

There’s More to Islam: A Message to Muslims Doubting Their Faith

Recently, an ex-Muslim told me that he knew very little about Islam’s deep, spiritual tradition. And it’s worrying that so many people don’t. It’s one of the reasons why so many people doubt their faith. 

Doubt is a good thing. It enables us to question what we believe and come to stronger convictions about them. Those too scared to doubt can become chained to their views, closed-minded and hostile to those who think differently. Continue reading

RIS: Reviving the Islamic Spirit 2013 – Reflections on the Faith of Muslims

557867_593179477360995_658954934_nNouman Ali Khan, the dynamic, popular American Islamic speaker had just finished his captivating Friday sermon on husn al dhan, having a good opinion of others, at the Metro Convention Centre, Toronto, Canada. It was one of those talks that, as soon as it finished, you see people turn to each other and just slowly nod their heads in unison, as if to say: Yeah, that was good!

After the prayer had finished, my friend Zakaria and I got up and started to walk towards the bazaar, which was in the same large hall as the prayer area. As we walked off, we noticed a graceful-looking figure behind us. Crowds were starting to surround him. Young men, all wanting to shake his hand and talk to him, gazed at his luminous face in a state of humility. This saint-like figure was Shaykh Mokhtar Maghraoui, a man who instantly radiates a sense of composure, gentleness and love.

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Who is Muhammad ﷺ? Personal Reflections on the Prophet of Islam

There are certain people who have walked this earth that demand our attention, deserve to be known, if only because they have directed large swathes of humanity in a new direction. The Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, is, without doubt, one such person. A cursory glance over the books that have been written about Muhammad from an objective standpoint all indicate his nobility of character, his deep connection with God and the simple life he chose to lead. Continue reading

An Interview with Islamic Musician Raef

raefRaef, is an American Muslim musician and one of the biggest names in Islamic music today. He has just finished touring the UK with Maher Zain, both of whom are signed to Awakening Records, in aid of Syria. He is known for his own renditions of songs such as: Chris Brown With You, Rebecca Black Friday and Jason Mraz I’m Yours, but changing the lyrics so they are Islamic. Continue reading

Frithjof Schuon on Why Many Atheists Reject God

imgresHere are some extracts from one of the most interesting books written on religion in the 20th century, The Transcendent Unity of Religions, by the metaphysician Frithjof Schuon.

Schuon is the founder of the Perennialist school, which, as his book suggests, believes in the unity of all religions.

Unlike many religious scholars who have argued against promoting esoterism to the masses – out of fear that people might be misled – Schuon believed it was necessary for a society to understand both religion’s outward and inward dimensions. If a religion’s intellectual, esoteric tradition isn’t known about, the inevitable result, according to Schuon, is atheism. Continue reading

T.J. Winter/Abdal Hakim Murad on the future of Islam

Unknown-4Tim Winter or Abdal Hakim Murad, as he is known to Muslims, is an academic at Cambridge University, an Islamic scholar and one of Britain’s most influential Muslims. Strangely, and this is something he admits, the majority of British Muslims have never heard of him.

One of the obvious reasons is because he is an intellectual giant, the sophistication of his language makes him largely inaccessible to the masses and his calm and composed voice doesn’t appeal to those who want to hear an angry Imam shout about the evils of the West.  Continue reading

Young Muslims on Twitter Part 2: Fajr, Hijabis & The Ego

First, a clarification: Young Muslims on Twitter (part 1) was neither intended to generalise any group of people, nor was my intention to “bash hijabis”. While the feedback was 95% positive, the difference in the way people interpreted it, i.e. some saying I generalised and others saying I didn’t, shows the difference in the way people read things. I deeply revere the hijab and deeply respect those who wear it. I understand from the Islamic tradition that the hijab is seen as a symbol of reverence for the holiness of women. I also understand the tremendous difficulties hijabis go through, it’s not easy. I would never want to add to your difficulties. So forgive me if I did offend any of you. Continue reading

Young Muslims on Twitter: Hijabis, ‘Akhis’, Marriage and Showing Off

imgres-15There are many interesting phenomena taking place on Twitter, especially when one observes young Muslims. Never in history have young Muslims around the world interacted in such a way: forming friendships, learning from each other, attacking each other, turning into communities and trying to outdo and impress one another. Continue reading

A journey of a lifetime: reflections on Rihla 2013 in Konya

As soon as the plane touched down on the runway of London Gatwick’s airport, my eyes welled up with tears and I felt a sense of grief. The realization had just dawned on me that I had, once again, been separated from the sacred: from a place where you are continuously reminded of the Divine to a world where the Divine is seemingly absent.

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Akala: Be prepared for a return of 1960s racist Britain

Akala doesn’t make music to entertain for the sake of entertaining, he rather provokes his listeners to question everything there is to know. He has never conformed to the stereotype many rappers are famous for. His lyrics contain virtually no mention of money, cars or hoes. He doesn’t appear interested in impressing everyone and his intelligence is, well, striking. Continue reading

Interview with the Bishop of London: Daily Mail, homosexuality & depression

ChartesRight Rev Richard Chartres has been the Bishop of London since 1995 and became the 132nd person to hold the position. He studied history at Trinity College Cambridge before going on to hold various positions of Chaplaincy. He is an author and is married with four children.

At the late Margaret Thatcher’s funeral in April, he gave a memorable sermon to a hall of her political allies and foes, in which he was praised for his words of calm, compassion and conviction. Continue reading

The Boston Bombings show Islamophobia at its worst

Following the deadly explosions near the finishing line of the Boston Marathon yesterday, leaving three people dead and at least 140 injured, the reactions by Muslims, Islamophobes and those who do no fit into those two categories have been highly revealing. Continue reading

The Quran’s Message to Atheists

Today when I was at the Mosque, it was a shame to see so many people dozing off as the Imam gave his sermon. It clearly didn’t interest them enough to keep them awake. It’s a big problem: far too often Imams at Mosques repeat stories from the Quran that they’ve told many times before.

The Quran, however, is not just a book of stories. It deals with everything from cosmology and cosmography, to psychology and the existential questions philosophers have lost sleep over.

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Ahmadiyya Muslim Community: Controversial Muslim Sect Continues to Grow – The Times

My blog in The Times today.

Ahmadi Muslims challenge mainstream Islam

There is a palpably tranquil atmosphere in the Baitul Futuh Mosque in Morden, London. Hundreds of guests, including: MPs, Secretary of States and Senior Members of the Armed Forces, are slowly making their way into Western Europe’s largest Mosque – which can accommodate 10,000 worshippers – an impressive white building, donning a 16m dome and two lofty minarets.

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A reply to Richard Dawkin’s ‘make sense’ tweets

Dear Professor Dawkins,

Today you tweeted a lot and also retweeted a lot. Below are my responses to most of those anti-religious tweets.

“God couldn’t think of a better way to forgive the sin of Adam (who never existed) than to have his son (aka himself) executed. Makes sense.”

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My rejection of Islam: Why I stopped believing in religion as it’s taught

One dark winter’s night, I was in bed, sitting perfectly erect, completely oblivious to my surroundings, my eyes fixated on the pages of the book I was reading – a book that was to change my life. Continue reading

One Year Since My Father’s Death – Reflections on: TV, Music, Food, Religion & Sufism

On January 13 2012, my late father, may he rest in peace and light, died of cancer. We know that one in three of us will get cancer some time in our life – it’s a scary prospect but one we must acknowledge. My dad, unfortunately, first got cancer when he was about 41 or 42, which is pretty young. Age, however, is irrelevant: kids get cancer these days.  Continue reading

NEWS: Muslim leaders urge Islamic community to rethink evolution theory

My news story published in the Times

Muslim leaders from around the world have urged the Islamic community to rethink their stance on the theory of evolution.  Continue reading

The female Muslim role model: Yasmin Mogahed

Prominent Muslim women’s voices are generally lacking in mainstream discourse. However, things are changing: Yasmin Mogahed, 32, an Egyptian born American – popular for her public speaking and writing – is defying all the odds. Continue reading

Islam in revolt: evolution and homosexuality

Islam, being the youngest of the three Abrahamic religions, has had the least amount of time to evolve, or “regenerate” as Martin Lings, the English writer and biographer of the Prophet Mohammed, once put it. And it’s strikingly evident: while Christianity has accepted, and welcomed debate around, homosexuality and Darwin’s evolution theory, it pales besides the resistance of change within Islam. However, for the first time in Islam’s 1400-year history, these issues are finally being openly discussed, and rightly so. Continue reading

Is Buddhism the answer to Britain’s problems?

The 2011 Census results, which came out last week, showed that the amount of people who identify themselves as Christians has declined by four million since 2001. What’s more, 14 million people, about a quarter of the population, say they had no religion at all, a rise of 6.4 million over the decade. With the Church of England receiving such negative press lately, largely because of the decision not to allow women to become bishops and its opposition to gay marriage, the future of Christianity in this country is uncertain. Continue reading

Twitter, Facebook, Food, Life and God

Today is probably the first time in about a year where I have had hardly anything to do. It’s easy to fall into the trap of sitting around doing nothing, Tweeting, Facebooking and grazing like a cattle, you know, searching the fridge every 25minutes. Instead I’ve occupied my mind with fairly useful activities: reading and thinking. Here are some random thoughts from today, some arbitrary but others perhaps intuited from something deeper. Continue reading

Muslim and gay: Islam begins to confront the issue – The Times

A piece I had published on the Times website on 29 November 2012.

For the first time in Islam’s history, a debate about homosexuality is beginning. While homophobia and the persecution of gays may still be rampant in Islamic countries, there are signs of change. LGBT Muslim groups are popping up all over the world, from Lebanon to the UK. Continue reading

REVEALED: “Serious human rights abuse” at deportation centre in UK

People from all over the world come to the UK hoping for a better life, one free from oppression and injustice. However, not everyone finds this life: at Yarl’s Wood, an immigration removal centre for women in Bedfordshire, there is believed to be gross mistreatment of the detainees, who are battling deportation back to their respective countries, by the staff working there. Continue reading

An Open Letter to EDL Leader Tommy Robinson From a Muslim

Dear Stephen,

After watching your video that you’ve just posted on Youtube, in which you seem frustrated, fed up and angry, highlighting that you no longer have a life, you keep getting arrested, you have court case after court case, your wife has been arrested, your house has been raided, you’ve done eight days in remand, you’ve served three days in a swiss jail, you believe the Metropolitan police have stitched you up, you have outstanding mortgage payments (which you can’t pay) and your EDL supporters are turning against you – I’d like to ask you a simple question: do you still want to do this? Continue reading

Pornified: How British culture became so porn-obsessed

110,000 people in the UK have signed a petition to protect children from online pornography which will be handed to Prime Minister David Cameron next week, to put pressure on him to take action. The petition, signed by everyone from MPs to teachers, aims to combat the rocketing tide of online porn which is affecting young children. Last week, ChildLine published statistics showing that the number of children calling the helpline over the past year has soared by one third, due to children encountering hardcore porn. It’s natural for young children to act in disgust when faced with pornographic images – however, as we get older, innate feelings within human beings slowly dissipate. Continue reading

Debate: Were George Galloway’s comments on Assange’s rape case unfair?

Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks is currently facing prosecution for alledegly raping two women. One woman claims that while he was having sex with her, his condom broke and he continued to have sex. The other woman, who also consented to having sex with him, says that after she’d fallen asleep, she found Assange having sex with her again. Assange denies all allegations of rape. Continue reading

Understanding Sharia Law

I was talking to a mature Muslim girl yesterday – who prays regularly, reads the Quran and comes across as a good Muslim – who said to me: “One thing I don’t like [about Islam] is Sharia Law.” What she meant by “Sharia Law” was stoning, lashing and chopping off hands, i.e. the corporal punishments and penal codes. I felt compelled to remind her of something: First, the corporal punishments associated with Islam account for a small percentage of Sharia Law. The majority of Sharia is to do with one’s spirituality, like praying, fasting and giving to charity, the Law also encompasses everything from economics to hygiene. Secondly, Sharia Law is profoundly nuanced: not only is it open to interpretation but it is flexible and able to move with the times. According to academic Scott Kugle, Sharia means a “broad pathway”. Continue reading

All Hype For Palestine But Nothing For Burma

It’s a shame that this could be the first time you’ve heard about the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in Burma. News coverage on the plight of the Rohingya people – described by the U.N. as “one of the most persecuted people in the world” – has been scant, especially since sectarian violence flared in June. Continue reading

What Our Love of Coca-Cola and McDonald’s Tells us About God

It is said that the quality which differentiates human beings from animals is the that of rationality – although many would dispute this. While we possess rationality and intellect, we don’t always use these faculties: we turn them off and instead quite often act in complete accordance with our animal nature. Continue reading

Ice T’s Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap – Film Review

If you don’t mind listening to swear words, slang and violent talk, and watching baseball-capped, jeans-sagging, skull-wearing former gangstas for a couple of hours, this film is for you. If you don’t, this film is still probably for you. Nas, regarded as one of greatest rappers alive, remarks in the film: “I’m a grown man now, I have no business wearing saggy jeans, but I might let it sag a little bit just to annoy you few stiff motherf******.” Hyperbole aside, The Art of Rap, a film directed by Ice T, is all about intelligence. Continue reading

The Higgs-Boson and why God created the universe

Know your Lord

This is the essential question which lies at the heart of all religious traditions. In the Abrahamic religions, human beings are created in a state of servitude; to glorify, worship and manifest God’s greatness. However, the quintessential, underlying message which runs through all religions, is for human beings to come to know God. Each religion teaches us different ways how to reach the divine, but the goal is one: knowing our Lord. But to come to know God, we must first purify ourselves to reach the level of the “perfected human”. All the religious and spiritual traditions have a head figure – whether it be: Jesus, Buddha, Moses or Muhammad – who ultimately represent human perfection or is used as a role model. Continue reading

Human Suffering & Understanding our Place in the Cosmos

Babies and young children are naturally curious: if there is a loud sound, they will quickly look for the source of the sound and ask “what was that?” They are not routinised and everything is intense. This is why Aristotle said: “All men, by nature, desire to know.” As we grow up and become people “of” this world and not people “in” this world (note the difference), we become blinded, indoctrinated and attached to the world. We forget the world is transient, fleeting and, according to one saint, “You are nothing but a number of days, and whenever a day passes away, a part of you passes away.” Continue reading

Does Hip-Hop Enhance Society or Degrade it? Hip-Hop on Trial – Review

The Barbican was packed for one of London’s biggest events of the month last night. The event, called Hip Hop on Trial, had everything: big names (Jesse Jackson, KRS-One, Estelle et al), a heated debate and was broadcasted throughout the whole world via Google+ and Youtube. Continue reading

Why do we fall in love?

What is love? 

Love is one of those things that cannot really be defined. I’m sure most of us have experienced love in some way in our lives, whether it be for your: parents, girlfriend, boyfriend or even a pet. True, love can come in different forms and at different intensities. Sometimes we probably even confuse love with something else. But how do two people fall in love with each other? Continue reading

Poll: For or Against the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Now that the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is over, we can look back at it and ask: was it worth it?

Some people believe it was a great thing for the country: it brought people together, it produced community harmony and made us proud to be British.

For others, however, not only was it a further strain on our economy but it celebrated an unelected and undemocratic ruling family.

What’s your take?

 

Religion for Intellectuals: Redefining Islam

It is easy to say that Islam is a misunderstood religion, but the real problem lies in who interprets it. The Quran, the Muslim holy book, believed to be the word of God, and the Hadith, the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad, are the two authoritative texts in Islam. However, the problem is this: language, by its nature, is open to interpretation and indeed is interpreted differently depending on the reader. The Quran, according to the late Gai Eaton, is like a mirror: one will interpret the book depending on one’s nature and personality.

In his must-read book Islam and the Destiny of Man (1994), Gai Eaton says: If they are by nature superficial they will find it in [the Quran] only superficialities, and if profound, profundities in corresponding measures. If they come arrogantly, they will interpret certain verses as justification for their arrogance…” Likewise if people approach the Quran with no faith and little openness and discernment, it is likely they will leave the Quran just as they started.

Alain de Botton’s book Religion for Atheists suggests that there is much good in religion and its principles can apply to everyone. de Botton, however, refuses to acknowledge the veracity of the metaphysical claims of religion.

But how is the intellectual mind suppose to interpret and grapple with the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad? What people tend to forget is that Islam labels itself as a religion for the whole of humankind – and if this is the case, it must appeal to everyone and speak to everyone, both educated and uneducated.

This is why the Prophet spoke to different people on different levels: to the bedouins, the Prophet often said simple things to appeal to their intellect, and to the highly intelligent, he taught them deeper, more profound things to appeal to their intellect.

According to Shaikh Abdul Hakim Murad (Tim Winter), “Britain’s most influential Muslim”, many of the utterances in the Islamic tradition are both “hyperbolic” and “allegorical”.

Gai Eaton adds: “For the Quran to contain more than a thimbleful of the message it must rely upon images, symbols and parables which open windows on to a vast landscape of meaning, but which are inevitably liable to misinterpretation.”

Metaphysical concepts such as heaven and hell are nothing like what we imagine them to be, nor are they anything like how they are described to us. Furthermore, the anthropomorphic and corporeal traditions in Islam, where God is described in human terms, as if He had a human body, are to be interpreted allegorically.

Hell is not so much a place of eternal barbarous torture, but according to Muslim American Intellectual, Hamza Yusuf, it’s a place of “divine alienation”.

Hell is a very human problem. It’s hard to fathom the idea that some people will be in hell for eternity. Gai Eaton has suggested that nobody will be in hell for eternity and cites a Prophetic tradition where the Prophet Muhammad reminds us that eventually God’s ‘hand’ will pull people out from hell – and His ‘hand’ is infinite so we can expect that everyone will be saved.

Martin Lings narrates a tradition about the inhabitants of hell, attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, in his biography: Muhammad: His life based on the earliest sources. The jist of the [long] hadith is that after the Prophets, Angels and believers have interceded for the people of hell, God, in his infinite mercy, will “take out from the fire those who did no good and will cast them into a river at the entrance of Paradise which is called the River of Life.” (1)

One of the most knowledgable scholars of our time, who emailed me in confidentiality said: The doctrine of infernal felicity [the idea that the flames of hell will eventually become a source of pleasure] indicates that those who remain in Hell after the Prophetic Intercession either have their punishment remitted or enter Paradise. And the scholars agree that the Prophetic Intercession will embrace every sinner.

The only sin which is deemed as “unforgivable” if a person dies without repenting for it, is shirk, associating partners with God. Islam, by its nature, is an iconoclastic faith – it breaks both the outward idols as well as the inward idols. Islam’s aim is not just to stop people from prostrating to man-made idols, but is to stop us from worshipping ourselves. Our egos and desires need to either be annihilated or harmonised so that they are in conformity with the divine Order.

One of the criticisms of religious people is that they only do good because they expect reward and only avoid sin because they expect punishment. Human beings are often emotionally driven – and reward and punishment are emotional drives which make us incline towards that which is good.

Islam also shares many similarities with the Aristotelian philosophy – Aristotle once said: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” The purpose of doing good and avoiding evil in Islam is for it to become habitual and natural to us; we should reach a level where our heart becomes saturated by goodness and only good emanates from us. This is known as Ihsan.

Hamza Yusuf reports a saying in Islamic thought: “Amongst the people and their purposes there are two stations: the purpose of common people is to gain rewards…but the end or purpose for the people of distinction is nearness and presence, to feel near to God and feel his Presence.”

So, we must now ask: What is Islam? In Islam and the Destiny of Man it says: “Islam presents itself as the synthesis of all that came before. The final brick has been put in the great edifice of the divine Revelation, and for this very reason, the Muslim must expect his truth to be confirmed in other religions.” In other words, it is the completion of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity.

The world or the dunya is viewed as something which veils the Divine from us. And this veil is harder to penetrate when one is in a state of disbelief or kufr. Linguistically, kufr means to “cover up” so what many disbelievers do is cover up the Truth and, in turn, justify it to themselves. There are some who incessantly ridicule or attack religion and/or those with a belief in God, perhaps so that they feel better about their disbelief. Others, however, have valid reasons why they disbelieve. Perhaps they can’t explain the problem of evil, or maybe they have only looked into one religion and have painted all the others with the same brush or it could be that they have never been properly introduced to the esoteric dimension of religion. The veil, which hides the Divine, is harder to penetrate when one is in a state of kufr but easier to see through when one has faith or Iman, as one’s heart has greater spiritual insight

One of the most important things Gai Eaton says in the book is: “Muslims are under an obligation to deepen and develop the intellectual bases of their faith and have no excuse for relying on unthinking obedience and emotional fervor to protect it against the searching questions of our time.”

Muslims need to put to aside their sanctimonious claims; we are all equal. Ali (R.A.) the cousin of the Prophet Muhammad said: “You are either my brother [or sister] in faith or my equal in humanity.”

How and why some people believe and others don’t does not always make sense to us, but it shouldn’t be our concern – the final judgement lies with God.

“Re-define Islam but do not de-refine it,” Abdul Hakim Murad.

1) Martin Lings, Muhammad: His life based on the earliest sources, page 94.