Uploaded on

 

  • Full Name Full Name Comment goes here.
    Are you sure you want to
    Your message goes here
    Be the first to comment
    Be the first to like this
No Downloads

Views

Total Views
527
On Slideshare
0
From Embeds
0
Number of Embeds
0

Actions

Shares
Downloads
1
Comments
0
Likes
0

Embeds 0

No embeds

Report content

Flagged as inappropriate Flag as inappropriate
Flag as inappropriate

Select your reason for flagging this presentation as inappropriate.

Cancel
    No notes for slide

Transcript

  • 1. Reflections on God Islam and Life by Johar Mohammad, aged 14 - 15 I Wrote this while I was excluded, at the end of year 9 and over the summer of 2005. I was writing it when the London bombs went off on 7th July and I finished most of it before my fifteenth birthday. It’s my view of almost everything I’ve got Views On.
  • 2. 1
  • 3. 2 Reflections on God Islam and Life by Johar Mohammad, aged 14 - 15 Copyright © Year by Blue Lotus Enterprises All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. First Edition: Summer 2013 Printed in the United States of America ISBN: ISBN
  • 4. 3
  • 5. 4 Dedication To my family – with gratitude and love And To all my world-family, Muslim and non-Muslim And To all the non-human creatures Even to the little ants And To all the plants Even to the smallest blades of grass And To the rocks of the earth, Even to the tiny grains of sand. And To the waters of the oceans Even to the ripples on the ripples on the waves And To all the winds of the heavens Even to the evening stillness when the winds have gone to sleep And To the sun and moon, the planets and the stars Even to the finest star-dust in the farthest invisible reaches of space To all this sacred universe And To its Creator With love and gratitude and my heart’s prayers For A peaceful world.
  • 6. 5 Contents Dedication ………………………………………………………………….4 Contents…………………………………………………………………….5 Background to my ‘poem’ ………………………………..…..……….7 With some other poems about God by year 9 pupils Unicorn by Kiefer…………………………………………………………....9 Dragons by Daniel ……………………………………………………..........10 The Universe by Danielle ……………………………………………….......11 The clueless Atheist by Dean……………………………………………......12 Jesus by Faye ……………………………………………………………......13 Transcendent by Tom ………………………………………………………..14 My ‘Poem’ - Reflections on God, Islam and Life Allah and Imagination……………………………………………………....17 Religion and Truth ……………………………………………………….....18 My family and Islam …………………………………………………….....19 Direct encounter ………………………………..……………………….....20 Pluralist or Exclusivist …………………………………………………......21 Peace and Surrender …………………………………………………….....22 Muhammad and the Angel ………………………….…………………......23 Qur’an and Hadith …………………………………………………………24 Variety and Beauty ………………………………………………………...25 Be True to Yourself ………………………………………………………..26 The Dance of Religion ……………………………………………………..27 Jihad ……………………………………………………………………......28 Sharia Law? …………………………………………………………..…….29
  • 7. 6 A Literal Interpretation ………………………………………………….....30 The Power of Faith …………………………………………………………31 The Strongest Love ………………………………………………………...32 A Way Forward ………………………………………………………….....33 To Know – Not to Argue …………………………………………………. .34 Attacks and Reactions ……………………………………………………...35 Modesty and Consideration ……………………………………………….. 36 The Inner Hijab …………………………………………………………..... 37 Women in Islam? ………………………………………………………….. 38 Science and Religion ……………………………………………………… 39 Truth is Truth ……………………………………………………………… 40 Moses and the Shepherd ……………………………………………………41 Islam and Judaism ………………………………………………………….42 Art and Music ………………………………………………………………43 The Qur’an ………………………………………………………………… 44 Heaven and Hell …………………………………………………………....45 Contradictions ………………………………………………………………46 Compassion …………………………………………………………………47 ‘Post Script’ ………………………………………………………………....48 The Bismillah ……………………………………………………………….49 One World …………………………………………………………………..50 The Beautiful Names ………………………………………………………..51 Poetry and Symbolism ……………………………………………………....52 Knowing ……………………………………………………………………..53 99 Beautiful Names ……………………………………………………........54 Defense ………………………………………………………………………57 Afterward …………………………………………………………………...60
  • 8. 7 Introduction and Background to my ‘poem’ With some other poems about God by 14 year olds. It’s now July 2006. I wrote this ‘poem’ last year and some friends are urging me to publish it because, as people remember what happened when the bombs went off in London last year, as each day’s news is full of more bombings in Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Israel and Lebanon etc, it is clear that there is a lot of fear, prejudice and misunderstanding in our world. My friends think what I wrote last year will ‘contribute to the debate’ in a constructive way. I hope that if I can get this published it will improve my finances, too! My name is Johar. Actually Johar is not my real name. I chose to use a ‘nom de plume’ because I am writing about myself and my beliefs and that is quite a private part of my life. It is also a very controversial subject and I don’t want fall out with anyone or get into arguments. I like ‘communication’ not ‘confrontation’ so I just want to share my views anonymously. I looked on Internet for a good name to use as my nom de plume and I like Johar because it means a gem, a precious jewel, (which I think is true for every single one of Allah’s creatures, especially humans - so I’m not just being big-headed.) Johar is a name given to both boys and girls but in my case I am a boy. Johar is not just a jewel. It also means ‘secret nature.’ My nature is secret first because I am hiding my real identity and also because I am different when I am with different people. Only Allah sees my real nature. A lot of people think I’m moody, specially my family. But sometimes I’m like a little kid, sunny-natured and not a care in the world. I like to play around and mess about. But now that I am 15 I’m often irritable. My family would say plain bad-tempered. To be frank I don’t like being 15, still a kid but no-longer a kid, almost an adult but with none of the power or freedom. No money but needing (wanting?) things which my parents can’t (won’t?) pay for. It’s like living in ‘no-man’s land.’ I guess it’s a common experience for kids my age but that doesn’t make it less annoying. I spend my time either out with my Mates or in my room reading, watching TV and videos or going on internet or MSL even though it’s pure boredom. (I like to say outrageous things just to annoy people. Then I invent a new personality to escape.) When I’m out with my Mates or older cousins I’m someone else again. I act cool and witty. I like to explore new places that I wouldn’t get to go to on my own. In the last few months I’ve been to Stourbridge, Kidderminster, Birmingham, Coventry, Matlock, Preston, Lancaster, Kendal, Windermere, Blackpool. Bradford, London and more, often in schooltime. It has been the best part of my year 10 ‘education.’
  • 9. 8 School is something else again. In year 7, I was keen and enthusiastic; I was smart in my new uniform, new bag, pencil case bursting at the seams. I was on the Gifted and Talented register, a model student dreaming great dreams. That was not a good idea. In our school the Mean-Team ruled. I got a lot of bullying, every day. It was relentless. School did try to stop it but teachers only made it worse. You’re mixing with the other kids out of school as well as in class so teachers just didn’t have the power to stop them. The first time I hit back, it felt great. After a few terms I started either to get into fights or to walk out of school. In year 8 things got worse. I was truanting and fighting a lot so then my family tried to get me into another school. Eventually, in November of year 9, I got a place in another school. By then I didn’t even want to go. One thing was sure. I would make friends with the right people. I was not going to be bullied any more. I passed year 9 finding ways of having fun with my new friends and making mischief. But this school is like Coldits prison. You can’t escape. When I did truant they said I was a Health and Safety danger because if I was out of school and got in trouble when I should have been there, they’d be in trouble. They couldn’t risk something bad getting into the papers and spoiling their good name. When teachers go on at me I’m not very polite so they just kept excluding me either for being rude or walking out. That was why I was excluded from school last year, in Summer 2005, when I started writing this ‘poem.’ (To be fair my school has not given up on me. They got me my computer so I can do some work from home - and put me on part time work and school this year which suits us both.) My Tuition Teacher is a friend of the family. I wouldn’t work for her either but she lent me books, discussed the news and played chess with me. She tried to meet me where I was at and to keep the ‘lines of communication’ open, so at least we stayed friends. In June 2005 she asked if I would help with a project she was working on. She had been teaching her year 9’s about religious identity and they had written some good poems which she was thinking of publishing but she thought it would be stronger and more interesting to include some poems from other religious perspectives. I always distract her from tutoring me by asking philosophical questions and I’m a practising Muslim so she asked if I’d write a poem for her, just a short poem about what God means to me, from a Muslim perspective. Since I was not in school and I was bored, I started reading the poems her students had written. Some of my favourite poems were by atheists. Although I totally disagree with atheism it helped me to understand why someone might loose their faith in God. I like them because they are so powerful and true to what they feel. I don’t share the hostility to religion that the atheists do but I can identify with their fierce emotion and how important their views are to them. I think that this heart-felt integrity makes their poems more true than some of the ‘prettier’ theistic poems – and Truth is another word for God in my vocabulary. I’m quoting some of the poems from that project as part of my Introduction so you can see what motivated me to write mine. The first ones are pure atheist.
  • 10. 9 UNICORN God is Like a Mythical creature. A unicorn With silver blood. If you drink the blood you will Live for ever. It makes a good story in a book Like Harry Potter. The idea of God makes Young children Laugh and feel safe at night. But when you grow older And see the evil in the world And the face of death Like a shadow Behind the eyes Of every living thing, Then where is God? Then God is revealed in all his Foolishness, A naked lie, A childish dream, A mythical creature Like the Unicorn. K H
  • 11. 10 DRAGONS I am An Atheist. I do not Believe In God. So if I chose An animal To symbolise God, I think it would be A Dragon. People say that dragons Are beautiful, awesome beasts Powerful and majestic, Red, green, purple, black and gold. Nature, ‘God’s Creation’, is Beautiful, colourful, powerful Like wind, thunder and volcanoes, Awesome like the darkness of the night Majestic, like mountains and the moon. People Say that dragons Are terrifying fire-breathing monsters Protected with scales that nothing can destroy. Dragons are Invincible and consume Innocent, helpless victims. If God exists He is not just the Creator Of beauty and goodness Flowers, butterflies and warm summer days, But also a monster, The cause Of all the terrible things That happen in the world, Like wars and the tsunami, like disease. It is always the innocent ones That suffer and die. So if God does exist He must be a monster Like a dragon. I prefer to be An atheist Than worship a God Like that. D B
  • 12. 11 THE UNIVERSE If There was a God Ask yourself These questions! Where did he come from? How did he get into (or outside of) space? There are so many Questions That cannot be answered. True, Science can’t give us All the answers either, Like what existed Before the Big Bang How and why did it happen? And has the universe any purpose? Is there life on other planets? Has human life any meaning? And if there is a goal to life What may it be? When you think about it, Why does anything exist Instead of nothing? I think if God exists He should give us a sign. Perhaps he has. Is the existence of the universe itself The sign? I am An atheist. I don’t believe In God Because If there was an Almighty Creator A marvellous God, Where did He come from before He invented the universe? How did He get here? (Wherever He’s supposed to be) And why do bad things happen If he’s so powerful and perfect? If we Had a sign Or some proof That God was real I might change my mind and Become a Theist A Believer But for now I am happy Being Atheist. D H
  • 13. 12 What I like about the next poem is the way the author is thinking about what he believes and shows how your views are not fixed but constantly changing with every conversation, experience and even each thought. This one begins with tragedy but there is a sense of humour and hopefulness in it too. THE CLUELESS ATHEIST If God was An animal He would be A slug Because Slugs are slimy And easily squashed. I Used to believe In a God who Was loving and kind Like Father Christmas Like fairies among the flowers, Like Jesus stories in the Bible But then a drunk driver Murdered my friend My closest friend. Where was God then? If He exists and has power Did he choose for my friend to die? Then I knew the stories about God Are fake, disgusting, delusional, Like the slime of a slug, Because They fool you And take you away From the Truth. I am An Atheist A Lapsed-Theist-Atheist But I call myself A ‘Clueless Atheist.’ Because I haven’t a clue About life. Could it really be A meaningless Assembly of atoms? The more you Study of science The more amazing It appears. If I could Find clues To understand A real God Within this world Of cruelty and pain An adult God Who is really there, Who holds your hand In the depths of disaster, Who is big enough To span the whole truth, Bigger than death As well as bigger than life, The storms and tsunamis As well as the smiling sun, Famine as well as harvest. Then perhaps I might Change my views Again. So perhaps I am not A ‘clueless atheist’ But a secular Agnostic. And if I did stumble On some clues And decide to Follow them up That would make me An open minded Aspirant! D P
  • 14. 13 Some of the poems were angry, like this one. The author of the next poem’s mother is terminally ill. JESUS God Is not real. God is a lie. If God exists then He does not have a heart. He just destroys other people’s Hearts and lives. If God exists then He is stupid, mean, Cruel and Manipulative. If God is really true and Jesus was God’s Son Living on earth One with God, Like Christians claim, Then I am glad he was hung On the cross And crucified. And I am glad he is not still Living here with us On earth Now. F S I asked my Tuition Teacher what she would say to someone like this. She said she wished more Christians would recognise that the picture of God as ‘Gentle Jesus’ ‘wiping away earth’s tears’ is only part of the picture and leaves people who are suffering as this girl is, with nothing. She said that Jesus was gentle and kind but he was also a fighter. He used actions and words, not physical force but there was nothing ‘meek and mild’ about him. He said he wanted ‘to set the earth on fire’ to deal with the evil in the world. Christianity is unusual because Jesus suffered torture and death, and Christians take him as God so God is inside all kinds of suffering and sharing it. But they say he was also 100% human too. Jesus cried when he heard his friend was dead, so he can share emotional pain and suffering too. I would tell her that if Jesus is God as Christians believe, then he is not limited by time and space. He is with her in her suffering now and if she can open herself to Him at this time she will be with her and give her comfort and assurance even in this terrible time. Suffering and death come to everyone. But she is just getting a huge dose of it now. If she looks at what is happening in the world she will find other young people who are suffering and perhaps their experiences can help her cope with hers.
  • 15. 14 In Islam we believe Jesus is a real prophet, but not a divine person, (Islam says God is One God and can’t have any sons, like Christians believe.) But Jesus is important and I can understand how awareness of his love and suffering could help you face terrible things like the illness and death of your mother. I wonder if F has been able to feel the love and compassion of God in her grief. It’s easy for me to think about it in a theoretical way but I don’t know what I’d do if it was my Mum. I think Allah is bigger than death and there are some things which we can’t understand. We only see a small part of the picture. That’s why religions require faith and not just intellectual belief. It is so hard to choose just a sample of the poems. My Tuition Teacher gave me so many. Some of them were silly, some made no sense but some were really interesting. I think the one I agreed with most, was this one, written by a practicing Christian, because I also think you can’t pin God, (or Allah as we call Him) down with words. TRANSCENDENT If God was An animal He would be a ….. God Is all Power Creator of life and death, Creator of The entire universe. Anything you think of Is not great enough To be a symbol for God. The Bible warns ‘Don’t make images of God. Don’t make idols.’ I think Symbols for God are Dangerous Because They make us think We can know what God is like, What Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Almighty, Eternal Transcendent, and Infinite mean. We can Write these words down, We can learn a definition. But we cannot Know what words like these mean. God predicts The future Of life. God knows What will happen In the future And what is happening now In every atom of the Universe. You can’t change the future. You can’t catch God In a poem. T H
  • 16. 15 This poem is quite like our Muslim view about God but we get a lot of insights from the Qur’an and from some of the great saints of Islam. So when I read all these poems I wanted to enter into the discussion and share the insights that I know from my religion. So I started to write my poem. I was working on it when the bombs went off in London, in the London Underground Trains and on a bus. I felt sick when I saw the news. I prayed that the bombs would not be caused by so called ‘Islamic’ terrorists. It’s so hard to get on when there is so much prejudice against Islam and although anyone who knows about Islam knows that it does not teach people to do things like that, there are a lot of ignorant people and atrocities like the bombing just make it a lot worse. So that event and all the talk about it inspired me write a lot more – in defence of my religion, my people and myself - and about many things, not just about what God means to me. My crazy tuition teacher was worse than I was. She got caught up in my emotion and encouraged me. We were as bad as each other, even in the holidays, phoning and meeting up all through the summer. She discussed with me all the verses as I wrote them and urged me to write about many other subjects. My ‘poem’ is not really finished yet. There are some verses I’m not happy with and some more things I wanted to say - but time has moved on and I’ve lost the inspiration to write any more. I’m 15 now, coming up to 16 and year 11. I’m not the same person that I was when I wrote it so it will just have to do. My Tuition Teacher says I don’t need to ‘finish’ my poem. She thinks it should be left just as it is, because life is like that too, for most people, left unfinished. You never know when your time will run out. I was talking about that with some friends the other day. Some of my mates were saying that when your time is up then that is it. It’s all predestined; you can’t die until God wills it and you won’t die until that hour. So you can do what you like, take any kind of risks and you’ll be OK unless your time is up. But I disagree. I think that view is just an excuse not to care about risky things they’re doing like doing drugs or driving fast to show off to the girls. Don’t get me wrong. I like to have as much fun as they do, but I just see things in a different way. I think I have a wider view. I have a different kind of awareness. I probably read newspapers too much and talk to more kinds of people. I know how drugs are ruining the lives of some of my friends, making behave in a stupid way, addling their brains and making them puppets in the hands of the dealers. That can get them into stealing or selling drugs just to pay for the addiction because an addiction is no joke. You’re caught by it and a slave to it because it takes more strength of will to break free than most people have got. There are so many people having their lives ruined and getting into prison like that. If you can’t die until Allah wills it then what about the statistics on drugs and poverty. Every three seconds a child dies from poverty – and that is mostly in poor countries. Does Allah want the poor children to die, does God favour the rich? That’s not what Islam or any other religion I know about says. And what about war? Have the victims of bombing all suddenly reached the end of their allotted time, even the little kids?
  • 17. 16 A third of the victims in the current conflict between Israel, Palestine and Lebanon are children – and much more are Muslim than Jewish casualties. Is this what Allah wants? It’s absurd to think there are simple answers to questions like life and death, like you only die when it’s Allah’s Will. And what about suicides, which are more common for some groups and nationalities than others? What about the ‘post-code lottery’ in hospital places? What about the tsunami last year or the earthquake in Pakistan or the massacres in Srebrenitsa, Rwanda and the holocaust. I do believe that life and death are part of Allah’s mystery and the importance of faith is to hold your hands out in surrender before things which we can’t comprehend – but I don’t think that means God choses for some people to suffer and die and others to have a comfortable life. I think God is much more mysterious than that and it’s no good just accepting everything without using your eyes and your brain. My own view on this is that there may be an ‘intended life length’ for everyone - which is given by God, but I think there are also accidents and forces of evil which can end lives a lot earlier. We have free will. If we choose to follow our religion sincerely then I think Allah has power and can give protection – miracles can happen in our lives. I even know people who have had this kind of miracle-experience – but there’s no magic formula and no guarantees. Allah has given us brains and the capacity to look at the world and think. Islam encourages us to be educated and thinking people. So I think it’s right to question things like this – even though lots of Muslims and others who love God might disagree. If we choose not to follow our religion, of if we are just following it to ‘look good’ but we don’t really have any faith, then I don’t think Allah’s protection will be there. Then accidents and bad things can happen that can end our lives. That doesn’t mean God wished us to die then or that he is powerless or cruel. I think that God is bigger than our lives. He gives us a chance by giving us life – but everyone has to die. I think when people die God takes them into the world beyond death, in a compassionate way, whenever that time comes, early or at the destined time. Then it is just a question of what you did with the time you had while you were on earth. I think the whole process is more complicated than we can understand but to think everything is predestined and we can take any kind of risk, and then if we hit trouble to blame it on God’s Will, is just shutting your eyes to reality. If we do our best in life then we don’t have anything to worry about when our time is up. I’ve not got much time for speculation about death, judgement and all that. When the time comes we can find out about that. I just want to get on with living. As you can tell, I like thinking about philosophical questions. This is only the introduction to what I wrote last year. I’m getting side-tracked. But this question is important and I wasn’t thinking about it last year. I read somewhere that ‘dialogue refuels the brain’ so if you have any comments on my ‘poem’ or poems of your own, you can add to this great debate.’ I am not an expert in my religion and I certainly don’t have all the answers. Johar Mohammed - July 2006. Updated Afterward in Summer 2013 – before going to print – can be found at the end.
  • 18. 17 Reflections on God, Islam and Life By Johar * In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, The Merciful In Islam there are many polite traditions which remind us of Allah. One is to repeat the ‘Bismillah’ before starting any new activity. This is a prayer found at the start of almost every chapter in the Qur’an which is our Holy Book. That is why I have started this exercise with the Bismillah prayer, to ask Allah’s blessing on my work. ALLAH and IMAGINATION If God Was a Tree, flower, Animal, bird, fish, River, geographical feature, Geometric shape, piece of furniture…? These are all questions I am not able to answer. I know God exists. For me God is not a question but a fact. I am a Muslim. Our name for God is Allah which simply means ‘The God’ in the Arabic language which was the language of Muhammad* Our prophet, the prophet of Islam, to whom the holy Qur’an was revealed. The Qur’an tells much about Allah and the first thing is that there is Only Allah, only One God. So a Muslim is not free to speculate By writing imaginative poems, about what God might be If He was a tree or a flower, a jewel or anything else. That would be like the idolatry Which was practised in Arabia before Islam. * It is customary for Muslims to write ‘PBUH’ (Peace and Blessings Upon Him) after we write the Prophet’s name. It is a polite, devotional custom which I would use if writing this only for Muslims but as this poem is mostly for ordinary English readers so I have decided not to follow this custom. My aim is fluent communication and I think this makes it easier to read. It does not indicate any lack of respect and I hope it does not offend any Muslim readers.
  • 19. 18 RELIGION and TRUTH Our teacher who set this exercise is not an idiot. She designed this to give everyone a way to reflect about the mysterious concept of God. Many of my classmates are secular and never think about God (except as a swear-word perhaps) so it is a good idea to ask them to stretch their imagination and use the language of poetry and symbolism to explore and try to express their own point of view. My teacher is a ‘lapsed Quaker, independent God- Seeker’ and she is strongly pluralist which means that she loves all the religions and believes that God is revealed in them all. She thinks that when God sends any new light to humanity it is received in a particular place on earth and a particular time in history. The particular place, culture and circumstances where it is revealed shape it so it flowers into a religion. But since the source of every religion is God, she believes that all religions are full of His Light. She says that in her view religion is a universal human experience, like truth. You can think of religion as a Jigsaw in which each person is part of the picture. Without every person’s point of view the picture of religion will be distorted and false. The truth will be partial and not full. That is why we all had to write a poem about ‘God,’ even the staunch atheists. Our teacher says that religion is like a kaleidoscope because it is not static like a jigsaw but full of moving colours and patterns that are constantly changing. Each moment and each thought makes up a piece of this jigsaw, so religion also spans the dimension of time. It is an all-encompassing subject like ‘Reality’ or Life. Our teacher has asked us all to explain in the form of a poem ‘What ‘God’ means to me.’
  • 20. 19 MY FAMILY and ISLAM I am Johar, I was born in England. My family are practising Muslims. My father is a Yorkshireman but my mother comes from Mirpur in Pakistan. My Grandfather knows the Qur’an by heart and, like all devout Muslims, he and my mother pray five times a day. My brother and I also pray regularly. Islam is the heart of our family. Like all those who follow any religion seriously, it is our way of life. Since the age of seven we have attended Mosque School where we learn about Muhammad’s life and to read the Qur’an in both Arabic and English. I also have many other books about Islam at home. Some are about the famous Muslim ‘Pirs’ - saints and poets. Many favourite stories are from the book ‘366 Readings from Islam,’ edited by R. Van de Weyer. I like reading about the Sufi poets such as Al- Ghazali who ‘thirsted after truth from an early age.’ He questioned everything and was then ‘released from the disease of scepticism’ by ‘a light which the most high God shone into my breast.’ Ghazali became a great theologian and philosopher, a famous scholar and professor. But increasingly he was drawn to mysticism. He writes, ‘I now understood that mystics are not people of words - but people of real experiences - and that I myself had progressed as far as I could through intellectual study.’ Ghazali was torn between his responsibilities as a professor and his growing desire for mystical experience. He gave away everything he owned and sought solitude for 10 years, following the Sufi teachings. ‘During this time many important and deep things were revealed to me.’ When asked about his experiences he said, ‘You draw closer to God. Some speak of this closeness as becoming a child of God, some as being in union with God…’
  • 21. 20 DIRECT ENCOUNTER ‘A mystic once said: ‘My mind does not recall being close to God. The experience is as it is - and I simply know that being close to God is good.’ The mystical state is an immediate, direct encounter. By following the mystical way I came to understand the true nature of God’s revelations to Muhammad.’ Muhammad travelled through the seven higher worlds of Heaven during his ‘Night-Journey’ and the closer to Allah he came, the greater the Light he saw until it almost blinded him. So in Islam God is often described as Light. There are many great Sufi mystics who reveal the nature of God in Islam. Ibn Arabi wrote ‘There is nothing but God. There is no closeness except closeness to God; there is no distance except distance from God. When I look with the eyes of the soul, I see nothing but God.’ Some Sufis were not accepted by the Muslims in authority. One of the greatest - Al-Hallaj - was tortured to death by some fearful small-minded leaders of his time who were afraid of his popularity and found his experience of union or oneness with Allah blasphemous. It is a good example. of how dangerous intolerant people who have small closed minds can be. The Saints of all religions often see Allah ‘in everything and as everything.’ When he was suffering from persecution Al-Hallaj wrote, ‘Since I knew God as he is, and was in union with him, he appeared to abandon me - but even if he were to torment me with the fires of hell for ever and beyond I should not bow down to any other being but him. My proclamation of faith is the same as the proclamation of all who are sincere. In the love of God I am triumphant. How could it be otherwise?’ I have seen this kind of faith, this intense love for God and fierce, fearless emotion expressed by many of the saints from the different religions. I love finding about new ones. Some of my friends say that it’s not right to talk about ‘saints’ in Islam, because nothing ever comes between a Muslim and Allah. Some Christians and Hindus keep pictures or relics of their saints. They pray to their saints, which is like bowing to an Idol. It’s wrong in Islam. Muslims only bow to Allah, so it is not right to use the word ‘Saint’ I do not use the word like that. In Arabic we use the word ‘Wali’ for someone who has developed unusual closeness to Allah by the power of their prayer and their devoted worship. It means a spiritual giant whose whole life is devoted to Allah so that their whole life shines. I know Arabic, but my poem is not for Arabic readers. I’m English and I’m writing for other English people to read so why should I write ‘Wali.’ This argument is typical of Muslims here who are afraid of British society and Western ideas and think that God is watching us, waiting to condemn us and send us to hell. That kind of view just makes me feel sad and sorry for them since I think Allah looks at our hearts not at the words.
  • 22. 21 PLURALIST OR EXCLUSIVIST In the same way that I feel proud to be a Muslim there are people like me who were born into families which practise other religions. They read different Holy Books and hold different beliefs but, just like me, they love God, practise their religion seriously and are proud of their Religious Identity. Everyone has a religious point of view - even the God-denying secular atheist. If we do not understand each other and if we are ‘Exclusivist’ which means that we think our religion or World-View is the only one that is right, then there can never be an end to the arguments. That is why I am a Pluralist Muslim and respect all the religions. I think that some people are exclusivist because they have never had the opportunity to meet people who belong to other religions. But some are exclusivist because they are just choosing not to look at the real world. It’s a kind of blindness. I think that if you say that your religion is the only one that is correct and that anyone who disagrees with you is going to go to hell when they die, you are suffering from a dangerous, closed - minded and arrogant kind of prejudice. You can hear this kind of argument from both Christian and Muslim ‘extremists.’ They justify their views by quoting selected passages from their Holy Books which they say record the Word of God or Allah.. I don’t want to deny the truth of their Bible or my Qur’an, and I don’t want to fall into the same trap as them and make out I know more than they do, but there are many ways of interpreting these texts. I look for my answers in the lives of the greatest saints of all the religions. From what I can see they have a lot in common. They don’t argue. They live in the presence of Allah (God, Wahaguru, Yahweh, The Brahman, Buddha’s Enlightenment, the Supreme…) so that His Blessings, Light, Peace and Joy illumine the world through their lives. I believe our world is Allah’s Creation, so only when people of all religions respect each other and live by Allah’s Will, like the saints and not by arguing about their own interpretation of bits of their the Holy Books – only then can there be hope of peace in the world. The holy books come from Allah but they are not gods. I think if you stop at the words Then even the Bible or the Qur’an can become idols.
  • 23. 22 PEACE and SURRENDER Enough Of what I think. Let me tell you something about my religion. Its name is Islam which means ‘surrender to the Will of Allah.’ ‘Islam’ is related to the word Salam which means peace. It means the peace we feel when we can surrender to the Will of Allah at every moment. There are five main practises: daily prayer to strengthen our living relationship with Allah, the oneness and discipline of fasting, the inspiration of pilgrimage, the responsibility of sharing our wealth and to remember always that Allah is the only God and his prophet is Muhammad. Muhammad (Peace and Blessings upon him) was a real historical person. Born in Makkah in 570 CE, he was a highly-respected, successful trader. Happily married to Khadija and father of six children, he seemed to have all that anyone could want but wasn’t content. Muhammad felt that there must be more to life. The Arabs were polytheists. Each tribe had their own traditional gods and goddesses. Makkah was a centre of pilgrimage, with a cubic-shaped temple called the Khabba. This contained About 365 idols.
  • 24. 23 MUHAMMAD and THE ANGEL Some Arabians were not polytheists. They worshipped only one almighty deity. There were Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians who were all monotheists and there were mystics who went out into the desert and up into the mountains to pray and meditate and search for the truth of life on their own. They were called Hanifs and Muhammad’s grandfather was one so it was natural for Muhammad also to seek solitude in the mountains in search of fulfilment. He often spent many days and nights meditating silently alone in a cave in the mountains near Makkah. One night an angel appeared to him, carrying a flaming scroll. The angel commanded Muhammad to read or recite what was written. Muhammad was terrified. He told the angel that he could not read because like most people at that time he was illiterate. The angel just repeated the command even more forcefully. Muhammad felt a force of energy coming from the angel. He felt he would be crushed, but all he could do was say that he could not read. Again the angel commanded Muhammad to read. This time, this third time, the force was so strong that Muhammad feared he would die. Suddenly words started to flow from his lips. He was reading or reciting what was written on the scroll. This was the first revelation of the Holy Qur’an. All the religions are full of revelation and miraculous events. Islam is not alone in this, but unlike other great religious scriptures the Holy Qur’an is direct revelation from Allah by an angel.
  • 25. 24 QUR’AN and HADITH These revelations continued for the rest of Muhammad’s life and cover a period of 23 years. They answered all his questions and came to him in times of struggle and persecution in Makkah and later, when Muhammad moved to Medina and set up the first Muslim state there - and then when Muhammad returned to Makkah and made it the centre of Islam. (The Qur’an is a ‘complex many-layered document a bit like half of a conversation.’ The other half of the conversation is ‘hidden in that place, time and circumstance.’ You have to approach the text with devotion, through your heart, rather than in a ‘cerebral, analytical or mind-based way.’ If you start to do that or pick and choose what to read and how to interpret it then you can distort the whole meaning. If people do that they can use any texts to justify anything This is a danger with any religion.) Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the pure word of God. The second source of authority, which most Muslims will use as a guide is the example of Muhammad and what he taught. This is recorded in the Hadith. The problem with Hadiths are their reliability. There are two main branches or denominations in Islam - Suni and Shi’ite. Islam teaches that all Muslims are equal and should live in peace like members of one family but it split when Muhammad died. The Shi’ites said he had appointed Ali, his son-in-law to lead the community but the Sunis chose Abu Bakr. This led to a war and the two communities went their separate ways and developed their own collections of Hadiths. Some Muslims say that since no Hadiths were written down while Muhammad was alive you can’t rely on any of them. Then even if you say they are genuine, there is the question of how to interpret them, which also causes debate. So that’s why some scholars prefer just to use the Qur’an as their authority and do not use Hadiths. Other Muslims say that hundreds of pious, trustworthy and wise scholars have checked the authenticity of the Hadiths so they are completely reliable. I think we should use them but still keep a bit of an open mind on what they mean for today. Our next source of authority is from the examples of great Muslims. The Sufi Saints are famous mystics who knew Allah directly, like Muhammad. In all religions you see many different denominations. In Islam Sufi, Shiite and Sunni are common ones..
  • 26. 25 VARIETY and BEAUTY Our family is Sunni-Muslim. All religions are about real lives, real people who live in today’s world, people who try to make sense of what is happening in their life by using the teachings that their religions give and by growing spiritually through their particular forms of worship. In every religion you can find different views and contrasting ways of reading and interpreting the holy books. Islam is no different. Muslims argue about how to practise Islam correctly. I think only Allah knows who is following His Will correctly. I think it all depends on what we feel in our hearts. If we are right in the way we practise any religion, if we are pleasing Allah, then we will feel Allah’s blessings and have a clear conscience, feeling a real sense of happiness and peace. I feel this when my prayers are strong. When I talk to people from other faiths they say the same thing. There is only one Allah, one Creator, so we really are one world-family, all the people in the world are our brothers and sisters not just other Muslims. So I think that if we are obeying His Will we will be increasing the oneness, happiness, harmony and peace in our lives and in the world. I think that the question of who is right or wrong in religion is not one that any human being can judge. Allah is the judge. Up to 100 years ago very few people travelled from one part of the world to another. There was a lot of fear and wars like the Crusades, But now everyone is coming together. I think this is Allah’s Will. The different religions are part of His Mystery. It is His challenge for us to work together in peace. Leicester is a city where you see the diversity of Creation every day. I love all the different cultures and faces in our city. I think variety is a quality Allah loves, because even each leaf on a tree is unique and a garden would not be so beautiful if all flowers were the same. Being a Muslim makes me different from most classmates but if you are serious about any religion you will stand out because this country is so secular and materialistic. Those who love God have to be strong.
  • 27. 26 BE TRUE TO YOURSELF I think you just have to be true to who Allah made you to be, that is true to yourself. It is only in a few places like Britain where everyone can even try to live by this ideal. Being British is to be part of a ‘diverse dynamic.’ Britain is ‘great’ because here there is a respect for difference and you get the space to be who you are, true to your beliefs. Islam is devoted to establishing a world of harmony where everyone is equal before Allah. Peace is at the very heart of the word Islam. In Islam the harming of innocent people and to harm yourself like in suicide are completely forbidden. People who use these tactics and call themselves ‘Martyrs’ are just murderers. They argue that anyone who lives in a rich western country is guilty of killing people in Iraq, so they are not bombing innocent people. But they have just been brainwashed and had their faith corrupted. The word Muslim means someone who has surrendered to Allah’s Will. How can anyone think that Allah wants them to murder people like that, people who are just getting on with their lives, people from all the different communities and religious backgrounds including other Muslims? I don’t know how anyone can seriously think that is a way to please Allah or create a better world. The bombers have been told that they will go straight to heaven. I think that they have chosen a short-cut path, not to heaven but to the gates of hell because they have brought disgrace to our religion and stirred up a lot of fear and hatred towards all Muslims. Of course there are many serious problems in the world that we all need to confront but terrorism makes things worse. Millions of British people, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, agree that Britain and America were wrong to go to war in Iraq, (where an average of 35 civilians are killed every day) * but we will not stop that nightmare by killing more innocent people. (* Sadly, writing now in 2006, Iraq is on the brink of Civil War, the death rate is far higher than this now. I think it’s more like 100 people a day and over 5,818 civilian Iraqis were killed in May and June alone!)
  • 28. 27 THE DANCE OF RELIGION Trade injustice and dire poverty are killing many more innocent people. Every three seconds a child dies from poverty. While I am writing this and as you read it, more children die. If you are rich and white you may be able to ignore these statistics but it is countries like Pakistan and other Asian and African nations that suffer most. Many Muslim countries are included. My teacher says that Religious Education is like a dance; first we see the world from where we stand and then through someone else’s eyes. I find it easy to see through the eyes of poverty because I see it face to face when we go to visit our relatives in Pakistan. I can’t ignore poverty. How can there be peace in a world so divided and full of injustice? Causes of poverty include bad debts and trade injustice. The rich and powerful countries and multinational companies are the main culprits. These are facts that everyone can see. Terrorists want to blame the rich countries and fight them with their suicide bombs but they don’t see that this kind of action only make things much worse. Palestine and Israel show just what happens when you take the principle of retaliation and revenge as your policy. You just get more death, fear, anger, hatred and hopelessness. In my view all the nations and religions need to work together to stop problems like these that are crippling our world. We have the United Nations and I think it needs to be freed from the controls of the rich nations and given real power to find solutions to all the complex problems in the world. The weapons industry is the biggest industry in the world. I think all countries should pay a tax on their arms trade which will go to the UN for research into solving the conflicts. I don’t think politicians and UN peace-keepers can solve all world problems on their own. I think we need spiritual progress too. Fear, jealousy, greed, and other human weaknesses are at the heart of so many conflicts. Only Allah can change the hearts of the people so they learn to see him in each other, to love him in everyone and not just look with their eyes of prejudice and hate. I think it is happening slowly, like the two million people who marched through London against the Iraq war and after the tsunami millions all over the world helped. It was inspiring to see such a flood of compassion, love and unity.
  • 29. 28 JIHAD My teacher asked me also to write something on Sharia Law and jihad. Jihad means ‘struggle’ - the inner struggle to accept or surrender to Allah’s Will. Each person experiences this. We all need to overcome our undivine qualities such as selfishness, desires, anger, fear, jealousy, doubt, and dishonesty etc. This real struggle is unique for each person. For me it includes getting the discipline to get up for early morning prayers and to make my prayers regular and meaningful, real sincere heartfelt prayers, (not sleepy or mechanical with my mind on something else.) Then, as education is important in Islam, I should try my best at school even though it’s often very boring and I sometimes get bullied or loose some friends for working hard. My jihad includes avoiding the temptations like alcohol which is forbidden in Islam, and not smoking or taking drugs which cause harm. My jihad requires me to keep my eyes off the girls even though they do not wear modest clothes and I am just like any other boy going through the emotions of adolescence. My jihad requires me to try to be polite and help my parents even when I think they’re wrong and I’m right and learning to be stronger than my emotions and not fight back when my brother annoys me or explode when something goes wrong. Jihad for me includes seeing the good side of everyone - even when they may not be trying to live by Allah’s Will, being strong enough to do what’s right, not just join my friends if they do something wrong. We’ve so many choices to make each day and it’s difficult because most people aren’t even trying to live in a strong and spiritual way and some of those who are (like in the Mosque) criticise me because I don’t follow all their traditions (like putting PBUH each time I write Muhammad’s name and using the word ‘saint.’) This is Jihad, the inner and outer effort to live by our faith which we engage with each day. All those who seriously follow any faith will know what I mean. We do our best. That does not mean we always succeed. It means we are sincerely trying to remember Allah (God) and follow his Will in the way we live our lives and we don’t stop trying even when we make mistakes or slip up. When terrorists say that Jihad means a holy war they mean the time when the Muslim community in Medina was faced by an attack from an army of soldiers from Makkah who opposed Islam and wanted to wipe it out. Until then, Allah always directed Muhammad to use patience, kindness and compassion but on this occasion he was commanded to fight. Most people will agree that you have to stand up to evil and there are times when you have to fight. With Hinduism there was the Mahabarata war of good against evil. The Jews have believed it was right to fight on many occasions. In Christianity there are many pacifists because Jesus blessed the peacemakers and he taught that you should love and forgive everyone. But mostly Christians say that there are times when evil should be fought. In Islam fighting is permitted in defence of your life, your community and your faith but even then you are never permitted to harm civilians. For Muhammad it was a war of armies, not of civilians and when he had won, he said that now was time to get back to the Real Jihad, the Great Jihad, the inner struggle for spiritual progress.
  • 30. 29 SHARIA LAW If you look at all the countries in the world and see how they are ruled, it is obvious that all the different systems of government have problems. Dictators tend to misuse their power but the democratic governments are not all that much better, especially at the moment with the war in Iraq and the huge imbalance between rich and poor that the G8 governments seem unable or unwilling to sort out. The world seems to be ruled by greed and bullying. But there is another way. God exists and when Muhammad lived in Medina the state was ruled by Islam, by the revelations given in the Qur’an. Many Muslims think that this, alongside the example of what Muhammad said and did, is the best way, (the way Allah wishes) to live and govern society. Over the centuries since Muhammad’s time, scholars have put together a detailed system of rules based on this ideal. This is called Sharia Law. In theory it is brilliant because what could be better than to follow Allah’s perfect laws. But in practise there are real problems. About 1,500 years have passed since Muhammad walked the earth and the Sharia system was completed hundreds of years ago. In that time many things have changed and scholars don’t always agree about how to interpret the revelations for today’s world. Some experts say we should just transplant the system of laws from that time for governing now, without any alteration, while others say you need to study and understand the society in Arabia before the Qur’an was revealed, to see how the revelations changed things. In what ways did Islam change life? When you can see that, then you can apply the same kind of ‘transforming power’ to our society and take it forward in a similar way. It’s like ‘distilling the essence’ of the Qur’an. Naturally this approach is opposed by the traditionalists so there is a hot debate on the issue. I think that if you try to transplant the outer form, the outer details of the rules found in the Qur’an (such as cutting people’s hands off for stealing) then there will be many ordinary Muslims who object, never mind people of other faiths It. might reduce the plague of stealing at school but it would also result in thousands of one-handed children. No-one is going to agree to that. And who would cut off their hands? It is just unrealistic.
  • 31. 30 A LITERAL INTERPRETATION I think that to begin to understand what the Qur’an is saying about theft, you would need to look at what happened to the thieves in Arabia before the revelations were given to the Prophet. If there were no police or prisons to sort out any thieves, you would need to do something strong, or if thieves were hung (as happened in Britain in the old days) then to cut off a hand would be an act of compassion. It would be kindness. But if you cut off someone’s hand for stealing now, in our society, it would have the opposite effect. It would be totally cruel. Also, at the time of Muhammad, there wasn’t all the advertising making people want loads of things that they don’t need and can never afford like there is today. I’m not saying it’s OK to steal but when you get judged by what you wear and what kind of mobile phone you have etc, there’s much more pressure. I think that even if we had that kind of law now it wouldn’t stop stealing. Some people would just think they could be clever and not get caught, just like they do now. I know someone who knows about prison from inside. He says the system is no good. It can’t help anyone stop stealing. They just learn how to be better thieves. When they come out they may be worse than when they went in. As a way of helping people to improve and lead good lives or to protect the rest of society it doesn’t work. He thinks the Sharia Law would be better even though it seems cruel. In one story about this law - from early Islam, a thief begged Muhammad to let her off. She came from a rich, powerful, prestigious family so she thought that the rule would not apply to her. By being strict with her, Muhammad showed that everyone is equal in Islam. Even if you are very rich and powerful you get no favours. It was a good lesson in equality. The woman took the punishment and became a model citizen and a good Muslim. So that system can work but I think we need something different for today. There is a Christian example that shows the dangers of taking an ancient law and trying to apply it in a literal way. Because the Bible has some food laws such as that the blood must be drained from any slaughtered animal before it can be eaten, one group of Christians believed this to mean that it it is wrong to take blood of any kind into your body. So they refused blood transfusions. In meat the blood rule may help against food-poisoning and save life. But by refusing blood transfusions a lot of people died. This rule has now been changed. I think Sharia Law also needs revising if it is to work in our world today.
  • 32. 31 THE POWER OF FAITH The idea of all the people converting to Islam, Christianity or any model of religion is simply not realistic in my view. Just as I will never abandon my Islam and convert to another religion, (like when you meet some Christians who believe that Jesus is the only Saviour,) I’m sure that all those who sincerely love God and follow their own religion sincerely, will stay true to their beliefs. We will not be converted to other religions any more than we will become atheist and agree with those who say that religions are the cause of all the problems and the world would be fine if everyone was secular and lived by science, logic and reason. They argue that life on earth evolved by pure chance of chemistry and has no meaning; that the material world is everything; that there is no such thing as spirit or soul; that there is no Source for the universe, just endless matter; that there is no right or wrong, no morality except selfishness and the ‘Survival of the Fittest;’ no life after death; emotions like devotion and compassion, gratitude and wonder are worthless; and that there is no point in prayer or meditation, no Divinity or spiritual Truth. This is absurd. People who practise a religion experience the proof. They know that arguments like these (that arrogantly dismiss all the greatest Prophets and saints of all the religions as deluded) are empty. I believe that the outer world only exists for Allah’s Glory. It is the most wonderful gift from Him, our greatest test and opportunity to grow in His Light and feel His growing closeness as we struggle to surrender to His Will. People who practise other religions have told me the same thing. We have proof that our faiths are true, through our own experience in worship. We feel a living, growing, relationship with Allah. We would die
  • 33. 32 THE STRONGEST LOVE for our faith. It is the most precious thing to a believer - the strongest kind of love. Just as an atheist would be ready to die to protect his children or his mother, a believer is ready to live and die for his or her relationship with Allah (or God.) This is the emotion that the terrorists hijack and manipulate when they recruit young Muslims to their cause. To die for your faith is nothing new. You find it in all the religions. Al-Hallaj, the Sufi saint laughed and joked as he was tortured to death by ignorant political leaders who felt threatened by his power and popularity. His love for Allah was far greater than death. The Prophet Jesus felt human fear on the night before his crucifixion. He prayed to God ‘If it is possible take this cup (of suffering) from me.’ But he added in his prayer, ‘Not my will but Yours be done’ which is the message at the heart of every religion - of complete surrender to God’s Will. The Hindu saint or ‘great soul’ Mahatma Gandhi used his own life as a political weapon more than once when he fasted to force people to do the right thing but he was assassinated by an ignorant Hindu bigot, because he loved all his countrymen and was fighting for the good of both Muslims and Hindus. The Roman Catholic Bishop Oscar Romero was assassinated on the steps of his cathedral because he stood up to the rich and powerful on behalf of the poor and powerless people. Martin Luther King was shot because he stood up for all the Black people against the prejudice and discrimination found in U.S. laws and practises. He campaigned for the poor people too, black and white, demanding economic as well as racial justice and freedom. He once said, ‘I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust - and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, - is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.’- And - ‘I submit to you that if a man hasn’t discovered something he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.’ Religious people know that death is not the end and it must come in time to everyone. They have endless courage to serve God and face the dangers that obeying God may bring to them but they don’t go out deliberately to die or put other people’s lives in danger. When death came to these ‘saints’ it was a result of their love for God and faith-driven, wise, positive, fearless actions to change the world for the better and bring us more happiness Their deaths inspired the world. They did not increase suffering and death. Like Martin Luther King said - “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere Ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” That, in my view, is where both the suicide bombers and some of our politicians come in the picture. What the rich Western countries are doing is wrong – true - but when terrorists kill innocent people they are just adding to the misery, suffering and evil in our poor world. Allah must be sad.
  • 34. 33 A WAY FORWARD ? That death is not the end and there are serious consequences to our actions (through heaven and hell or through karma and reincarnation) is something all religions agree about. There are a lot of differences between religions. Some can’t be reconciled but there are many more characteristics and beliefs, practises and goals which they all share. They come from the same Transcendent Source, they do the same thing by connecting us to the Mystery of our Creator and by giving us a framework of ideals to live by, they have the same function and satisfy the same human needs. It is this and the way that (despite their varied origins and outer differences) believers share similar experiences in worship that makes me a ‘pluralist’ Muslim rather than believing that Islam is the only true way to Allah. Pluralists argue that all the religions are like different routes up one mountain. They are all ways to the One Truth or Ultimate Goal. If people have this perspective, they will care for everyone on the planet and never be poisoned with hate or seduced by the terrorists argument. In my view we have to see the truth that Allah is One for everyone and accept that ours is not the only way to Heaven. For me seeing this was like coming from a dark, cramped and fearful room into joyful sunshine. I knew it was right, deep inside, in my heart. It’s not something you can argue about or ‘prove’ any more than faith is. There are millions of Muslim Pluralists like me. I get a lot of joy insight and inspiration from Inter-faith and multicultural events. They give me hope and make me an optimist even in the face of all that is bad in the world. There are real, serious human injustices. But Allah is there Awesome and Terrifying but also infinite in Beauty, Kindness, Love, Mystery, Power and Glory, too. Now, for the first time in history, many people from all over the world, all races and religions, are coming together to work for His Victory. If we learn about Allah from our own traditions, in the way that we were born, practising our own faiths but listening to other views too. If we can accept and value them and work together (like at the Live -8 concerts and after the tsunami) we can become instruments of Allah and (according to His Will) bring peace, justice and joy to this sad and broken world
  • 35. 34 TO KNOW - NOT TO ARGUE I Am a British Muslim and I live in a world made up of many different faiths and points of view. If I want my views to be respected then I must give those who follow other religions the same respect and right to be heard. I believe that just because Allah is eternal, the Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnipotent, Creator of all, (as all the religions teach,) He is still speaking to us today. If we listen to Him in the depths of our hearts and through the lives of His saints - the saints of all religions and all times, we will succeed. I want to know Allah in my life, personally, through prayer and through my worship as a British Muslim today, not just know about him by studying a book, however holy. I want the Qur’an to enable me to look forward, not over my shoulder, I want to know the reality of Allah’s guidance directly, today and not by arguing about how things were done in Pakistan or in the past. I believe that the great religions offer those who follow them genuine ways to find peace and to know Allah. They give our lives structure and direction in the storms and troubles of our far-from-perfect world. I get tired of attacks on my religion and of racist insults, tired of attacks on myself, my family and on my community especially since the July bombs, which is why I am writing such a lot here. I want to stand up for Islam.
  • 36. 35 ATTACKS and REACTIONS For us the figure given in the news of a 5 - 600% increase in racist attacks since 7th July which includes some arson attacks on Mosques, businesses and homes, a 43 year old father and an 18 year old black student (who was not even Muslim) being murdered, are not just statistics but our own experiences. My mother is sworn at by other drivers as she comes home from dropping us to school. She has grounded us because of the real danger of fights and because I may see the boy who stabbed me on the Monday after the bombing as I was going to the chip shop. She did not even let me go with my friends to a Peace Rally in Birmingham City Centre on the Saturday after the bombing in case I bumped into him. She’s afraid I won’t have the self-control to respond in a wise way. I don’t want to fight but in truth I don’t know what to do because if I do nothing then he will think he has won - but if everyone just retaliates then things just get worse. I see the news on TV and read the papers – then I lie in bed and try not to think! I’m glad that the latest Harry Potter book just came out because it helps to take my mind off the crazy news. We have booked a few days holiday at a Youth Hostel in the Peak District next week but we are worried that with all the racism it may not be safe. I hope we do go. I like the space and freedom of the hills and we may go to Alton Towers, too. I thought I’d finished this but my teacher has asked me to write about the Muslim dress and Hijab or scarf that Muslim women wear but I know very little about that.
  • 37. 36 MODESTY and CONSIDERATION So she asked some friends and Muslim RE teachers for their help. ‘Most Muslim women cover their heads with a ‘Hijab’ or scarf because the Qur’an requests this kind of modesty and Muhammad’s own wives wore it. Women had little status in pre-Islamic Arabia and were at risk from men so it is a strong symbol of protection and emancipation.’ All religions speak about the importance of purity and modesty. Western society uses sex as a marketing tool and this creates problems for men and women alike. (One recent example is a student in school who was sitting his GCSE exam this summer. He asked the invigilator what he could do about the girl sitting in front of him. She was wearing trousers which were cut so low that he could see the thong she was wearing under them. This was causing him to feel aroused and making it almost impossible to concentrate on his GCSE paper.) Why should girls cause boys this kind of problem? And how can parents who love their daughters let them wear clothes which expose them to real danger from men who can’t control their sexual desire? There are so many dangers such as date-rape and teenage girls getting pregnant that result. Advertisers know that sex is a very strong emotion and they use it just to make money. Another example of the way advertisers exploit women is now in many of the BP garages. They have just started to display the porno magazine ‘Nuts’ by the till, on the counter. When my
  • 38. 37 THE INNER HIJAB Mum complained they said that the management had told them to put the magazines there to improve sales. My mum asked the lady who served us if she was happy about it. The lady just shook her head but she had no power to remove them. Birmingham has a similar problem but I don’t know who is behind that. Victoria square is at the heart of the city. In front of the town hall, is a sculpture of a naked woman lying in a bath and holding a bowl which overflows with water. Locals call it ‘The Floozy in the Jacuzzi.’ I think a floozy is a prostitute, but what ever it is supposed to represent it is the wrong statue to have in any city especially in a central place like that. It’s embarrassing. Put it on an island in the lake at Sutton Park or in any of the parks - and put a beautiful fountain in front of the Town Hall that the city can be proud of and all the people can enjoy, something for visitors to take photos beside instead of walking past quickly and looking the other way. I think that a big part of the population is offended by it and not just Muslims. It makes me laugh because whenever we go there I see a pigeon sitting on its head and its knees and making a mess on it, like its expressing the views of the people. There is a difference between the so called ‘Western’ attitude to life and the attitude of many other cultures. Advertising is a big part of it. A lot of the adverts show people with almost no clothes on and this is something that also offends many people. There is something called modesty, dignity, purity, respect, which the Western way of life seems to be forgetting. Anything really gross, like ‘Little Britain’ which is insulting, racist and sick is seen as clever and anyone criticising it is looked on as dumb and old-fashioned. But it just alienates a lot of people, both British traditionalists and people from other communities - not just Muslims. The Hijab, like the clothes that Christian nuns wear, is an important symbol of modesty, purity and protection for both sexes but I think it’s more important to keep the ‘inner Hijab’ the inner purity in your attitude of mind. There is no use in wearing the Hijab at school, and then provoking the boys like any of the secular girls who think it’s just a game. I think that inner purity is more important than the outer Hijab which is just a traditional symbol. That’s why some Muslim women choose not to wear a Hijab. What you wear and how much of your head or face you cover is a cultural not religious choice. In school a lot of Muslim girls choose to keep the ‘inner Hijab’ while some prefer to please their family and show their faith in their religion and pride of culture by wearing the full Hijab. I believe it is a personal decision.
  • 39. 38 WOMEN IN ISLAM? Thinking about Hijab has inspired me to write about women in Islam since the general view is that they are treated as second-class citizens. I think that the Hijab is a very visual symbol and it can make western women think Muslim women are oppressed. But if you talk to some English women who have chosen to become Muslim they will tell you that they like to wear the Hijab because they are tired of being seen as sex objects and having to think about makeup and hairstyles all the time. The Hijab makes them feel free from that pressure. People talk about the equality of the sexes and the Qur’an gives women more status and equality than any other religion I know of but it doesn’t say that women and men are the same. They are equally important but they have different roles in life. Muslim women are first and foremost important as mothers. That is something no man can be. There’s a nice story about Muhammad, when someone asked him who should come first and be treated with the most respect, Muhammad said ‘your mother.’ The person then asked, ‘And after your mother then who?’ Muhammad again said, ‘Your mother.’ Three times he repeated that your mother must come first. In the this society a woman is expected to have a career and bring up her children too. That can put a big strain on the family. In traditional Christian religion as well as most of religions and cultures I can think of it’s the same as Islam. The woman’s role is first as a mother and to make their home a warm and happy place. It’s not easy to earn enough for the family so some mothers need to go to work but there is a clear division of roles and responsibilities. I think this can make things easier for men and women. Another thing people often criticise in Islam is for allowing a man to marry more then one wife. This is quite rare. I don’t know even one family like that. But I saw a programme about it and they were saying that a family is a lot of work and the wives were like sisters and able to help each other, such as one looking after the children while the other went shopping. They liked it. If it works well and everyone’s happy why should it be viewed as wrong? In Islam the idea of having more than one wife began after the wars in Medina when many men had been killed. A lot of women were widows so it helped make sure everyone was cared for. In Islam the greatest blessings come when you help orphans and widows or other people who are in difficulty. Having more than one wife is only permitted if the husband can love all his wives equally and provide for them all, so I guess that’s why it’s so rare to see. When a family’s happy there will be fewer bad things such as domestic violence and divorce and the children will be happy too. But it sometimes doesn’t work and marriages sometimes break down. Divorce can happen in Islam. This is more likely in England. I think arranged marriages can be good because both families give support to them, but what ever way people meet up the strength of the marriage depends on how the husband and wife care for each other and how well they work together. In England there are more pressures on everyone so it can be more difficult. When you see some women wearing black robes from head to foot with faces covered it is because of cultural tradition and not real Islam. For example my mother is a serious Muslim but she just wears the scarf-Hijab. She goes to work and drives a car so she has a lot of independence. Some girls may not want a family so being a mother can’t be the only important role for a woman but it is not valued in western society. I think Islam is better in this respect.
  • 40. 39 SCIENCE AND RELIGION I know that in some branches of Christianity there is conflict between religion and science. Theology is sometimes called ‘The Queen of the Sciences’ but then the scientists started to discover things that contradicted the religious view of the world. Galileo was in trouble for saying that the earth is not the centre of the universe and it goes around the sun. Then Darwin and other people who were studying different species of plants and animals – and geologists who were studying the rocks and fossils, worked out the ‘theory of evolution.’ Some Christians take the Bible literally and calculate from it that the earth is about 4004 years old but when geologists study the rocks they calculate the age of the earliest rocks to be about 4,500 million years. I have read some books on geology. It is based on the things you see happening to the earth today. There are oceans into which rivers flow and deposit loads of sand and mud they have been carrying. There are mountains which are being eroded by forces like gravity and weather, snow, glaciers-ice, wind, rain and rivers. All the forces are slow and would eventually make the earth quite flat but there are forces in the earth that make oceans tear apart and continents collide. Then molten rock is forced up through cracks and things like volcanoes and earthquakes occur. You can find evidence for the same forces operating in past ages - frozen into the rocks. From these you can work out the relative ages of rocks - and map out the history of the world. You can find crystals of minerals which alter at a set speed. They act like clocks. Then many fossils show how the different species of creatures on earth have changed over millions of years. In very early rocks there are traces of simple sea-creatures but later rocks have more complicated creatures. In later rocks there are simple land animals. Then there is the age of dinosaurs which was about 100 million years ago I think. When they died out there was a small animal which was a mammal and it developed into the whole range of mammals which we see on earth today. The process for this evolution from one species to another is the struggle for survival. Parents give their genetical code to their babies but each individual is unique. If a certain feature gives an individual some strength which helps it survive and reproduce then that feature will slowly come to be found in all the population. The fossil record shows that creatures looking like us only appeared in the last few million years. These fossils are found in caves in Africa. They share many features with the apes and scientists have worked out that the apes and monkeys in our world today have evolved from the same ancestors as us. This is confirmed because we share a very similar genetical code. The Bible begins with the Book of Genesis. This that says God made the world in seven days. Humans and animals were created separately, and just as they are now. Evolution is not on the menu. So Christians who take the Bible as the literal word of God have a problem. Some of them refuse to look at the discoveries of science and have even made a theme park in America showing men walking on earth with the dinosaurs. This is like closing your eyes to truth.
  • 41. 40 TRUTH IS TRUTH In Islam you find many scientific truths which were not known in the Christian world. For example; the Qur’an refers to the way that God directs the movement of the stars and planets. The Qur’an teaches that the world of nature is evidence for Allah’s existence. If people study science then they are learning more about Allah, the Creator. There can’t be two truths, so I think that scientists just need to feel that their study is part of their religion. Some Christians are not able to accept evolution, but others say that the book of Genesis is an ancient record which came from a time in pre-history before the written word had been invented. The stories in it are from the traditions of tribes who did not understand the life as we do today. They looked for truth by praying, meditating and interpreting dreams and visions. They explained the truth in song story and poem. Their way of speaking was full of symbolism and you can’t compare that truth directly with the kind of truth we have in history and science now. If you know about Oral Tradition and understand the symbolism then you never compare it directly with the truth that science reveals and it’s easy to accept that evolution is the process that God has used to create this world. You also have many truths that the story of creation holds and science can’t give, like the earth is created by God and he sees that it is good. In the Genesis story humans have a special role to care for everything. It is all explained quite clearly in the Qur’an. The earth is created by Allah and we have responsibility to care for it. Both the Genesis story and The Qur’an also say that Adam was the first man. In Islam he is named as the first of the Prophets of God. The Qur’an is the revealed truth, dictated directly by angel Gabriel, so its truth can’t be interpreted as ancient Oral Tradition. But it is not a scientific document either. It is a unique document with a source that can not be compared directly to any other and it also needs careful interpretation. There’s a lot of symbolic language in the Qur’an. I don’t know exactly how to resolve the question of Adam as the first man and the way that life has evolved over some 4,500 million years but I know both accounts are true so there must be an answer. Allah is Truth. Truth is truth. As I was thinking about all this my brother came home with a new book from a Muslim bookshop. It is ‘Drops from an Ocean’ by the great Sufi saint, Mwlana Jalaluddin Rumi. I found a story he tells about Musa and the shepherd called Worship of the Heart. Reading this made me realise that in this verse of my ‘poem’ I am getting far too much into the mind and into issues where the arguments are interesting but endless. These arguments will never be solved in a way that everyone will agree about and they do not help me in any way to grow wiser or closer to Allah. We can only do that through worship, our prayers and meditations. So I am putting the question of Adam and evolution and other such questions to one side. In his introduction to Rumi’s stories the editor writes: ‘One thing that is absolutely clear to anyone who reads the Mathnawi with an unprejudiced mind is… Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi was a truly great Muslim… The sweeping criticisms that some Islamic extremists make of the Sufis are clearly ridiculous’
  • 42. 41 MOSES AND THE SHEPHERD However If you have any aspiration at all to understand existence then do not be contented with books… Seek out a teacher and a circle of sane people…’ I think that is what I am looking for. Anyway Here is the story which inspired me because it shows that you don’t need to answer all the questions and all agree about everything. The only thing that matters is to think of Allah more and love Him more In your own way – in the way that He has for you. And since everyone is unique I think He will have His own ways for each one of us to worship and approach Him. ‘..Musa (Moses) saw a shepherd on the way who was saying, “Oh Allah, You who choose whom You will, where are You, so that I may become Your servant and repair Your shoes and comb Your hair? That I may wash Your clothes and kill Your lice and bring You milk, O worshipful One; that I may kiss Your little hand and stroke Your little foot, and at bed-time I may sweep Your little room, O You for whom all my goats are sacrificed, - O You in remembrance of whom I sigh and moan, Where are You?” Moses asked the shepherd who he was talking to and he said. “To that One who created us; by whom this earth and heavens were created.” Musa scolded him and said he was talking nonsense because it’s wrong to talk to Allah like that. ‘…..Does the Lord of Glory have such things as a body and its needs?’ The shepherd said, ‘Musa you have closed my mouth and burned my soul with repentance.’ But then Allah came to Musa as a revelation and said, “You have parted my servant from Me… I have given everyone his own particular way of acting. I have given everyone a special form of expression. From him it is praiseworthy, but from you it is blameworthy. From him it is honey but from you it is poison… I am not made holy by their glorifying Me; it is they who become pure and radiant. I do not look at the tongue or speech; I look at the inward and the state. I gaze into the heart to see whether it is humble because the heart is the essential thing and speech is secondary… Light up a fire of love in your soul, burn thought and expression completely away.” Musa ran after the shepherd to tell him, “Permission has come from Allah. Do not seek rules and methods; say whatever your heart desires. Your way of speaking is the true way and your way is the light of the spirit. You are saved and through you a whole world is saved. O you who are made safe by ‘Allah does whatever He wills.’ So free your tongue and do not worry about what you say.” The shepherd had already received great blessings. Rumi concluded by saying ‘Take good heed! Allah’s acceptance of your praise is from His mercy.’ I think this means we should try to Listen to Allah’s Voice in our hearts rather than just follow other people.
  • 43. 42 ISLAM and JUDAISM Soon after the attacks of 7/7 the father of one suicide bomber was interviewed. He was asked if his son’s behaviour had changed in any noticeable way in the months leading up to the attack. He said that his son had become more serious about his religion. He had started wearing the Muslim robes and a hat and attending the Mosque more regularly. I want to make it clear that Muslims usually wear traditional clothes when they attend Mosque. My brother and I wear them every day to Mosque school. All practising Muslims will try to go to the Mosque regularly to pray and most men will wear traditional clothes. These are not a sign that someone is becoming extreme or fanatical in their views or may turn into a terrorist. Our robes are practical. We bend down to pray so tight-fitting trousers would be uncomfortable. Also if we wear similar clothes it help everyone remember that we are all equal before Allah. How much money you have or what your status is in society does not count at the Mosque. Our hat is a symbol of respect for God. This is the same as in Judaism but our prayer hats are a bit bigger than Jewish caps. Jews and Muslims are cousins. Jews are descended from Abraham through his son Isaac and Muslims through his first son Ismael. We share many of the same beliefs and prophets, including that ‘idol worship’ of any kind is forbidden and God is ONE.
  • 44. 43 ART and MUSIC I think Allah wants us to run towards Him with joy and enthusiasm, with the love and devotion of the Sufi saints, not to hide in a corner criticising each other and afraid even to use our own language (like the word Saint, not Wali) to speak about Him. But this is not a view which all Muslims share. In the Qur’an there are many passages which warn us that life is a test and there are serious consequences if we do not do the right thing. This is why many Muslims are so cautious. The reality of heaven and hell is central in Islam so many people would rather be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to bringing up their children. My teacher has asked me to write about music and art because she knows I have strong views on that. Because I live in a multi-ethnic city, I have friends who practise different religions and I learn from them and from Religious Education lessons about the other religions. I think it is good to know about other beliefs as well as our own. It makes you stronger in your faith because you have to explain and defend it when you talk to other people about religion. But it also helps you see some things you disagree with in your own community. I like music and at school I was good in keyboard but at home it’s not allowed. In the Qur’an music is not encouraged but that was linked to impure music for entertainment. A lot of pop music is aggressive and impure but I know that instrumental music can be pure. Shaam is a group from Birmingham that use traditional Muslim devotional singing and percussion as a way of strengthening the faith and worship of their audiences. They are popular and successful and there are many Muslims who follow traditions in that way. But I don’t like this kind of limit. There are so many great Muslim musicians. A lot of Muslim Pir’s and saints and a lot of Muslims from other cultures, like Bengalis, Persians and Turks are not afraid of playing instruments. But many people in my community think it is wrong. I can watch all the rubbish programmes on television which are really bad, but I can’t play keyboard. I think that getting bored and angry because of this narrowness and hypocrisy is more likely to harm my faith than learning keyboard. It’s the same with art. The Qur’an forbids us to make idols which is quite natural but that does not apply to art works. They are not idols made for worship. There’s a Hadith where Muhammad advises us not to take on Allah’s role as creator. But what does this mean? Only Allah gives life. No artist can create life. To be safe, some Muslim scholars say that only Arabic calligraphy and geometric pattern are OK. Some say flowers are OK but not people or animals. Others say that any flat images are fine but to avoid sculpture. The prophet wanted to make sure no-one worshipped him so it’s not right to depict him and even if he was drawn by some Muslims, to illustrate the events in his life, later artists have covered his face. But it’s different for other people. In Islamic Art there is a long tradition of depicting people and animals. If someone says you will go to hell if you draw an animal or a person I think they are badly wrong. I think if the interpretation is too narrow it corrupts Islam I think this attitude is dangerous and an insult to Islam. It is the opposite of truth. The narrowness and fears are what cut us off from Allah, not the art or music.
  • 45. 44 THE QUR’AN This Poem is about what I understand by the concept of God. I don’t think it would be complete without looking at the Qur’an, and there are many passages which describe Allah and his relationship with human beings. I read it in both Arabic and in English. I’ve been to Mosque School for years and I can recite a lot of the Qur’an including the whole end passage but that doesn’t mean I am an expert in my religion. I am not. But I do know enough to love it and want to defend it against the ignorant critics in our society and hopefully this poem will help some people understand Islam a bit better. Because I am writing this for English readers who are not Muslim and don’t know the Qur’an at all I will quote some selections from a translations created for non-Muslims. It is called ‘The Soul of the Qur’an’ and was compiled by Saniyasin Khan and it’s one of my favourite books. Here are just a few suras (2.115) - ‘To God belongs both East and West: Wherever you turn, there is God’s Countenance. God is All-Embracing, All Knowing.’ ‘There is no God but God, who lives eternally. Neither slumber nor sleep overtakes Him. To Him belongs everything in the heavens and on earth. He knows what lies before and behind all people. Humans can only understand those parts of His Truth which He wishes them to know. His throne is as vast as the sky and earth and sustaining both the sky and earth does not weary Him. He is the highest and the greatest’. (24.35..) – ‘God is the light of the heavens and the earth.’ (50.16) We indeed created man; and we know the promptings of his soul, and we are nearer to him than his jugular vein.’ It is impossible to choose just a few passages to give a sense of what God means to a Muslim. There are many more that I treasure, that thrill me when I read or recite them. You can feel their truth and power. My own religious life is a private thing and not something I can discuss in a poem like this. But these are all suras that I love.
  • 46. 45 HEAVEN AND HELL There are also many suras which relate to the reality Heaven and Hell. Some people understand these in a literal way but many of the Muslims that I know believe that the Qur’an is using symbolic language for something that’s beyond our understanding. I think that Heaven is a place or state of great beauty, peace and happiness, a place where we will know God and be with Him. Hell in contrast is a place of pain and misery. Even human society has rules and bad consequences for people who break the laws. In a small way it’s obvious that if your parents send you out to do something and you go straight away and come back quickly after doing it well, they are pleased with you so you are happy too but if you argue and grumble and then take ages and do it badly then they will be angry when you come back and you will be in trouble. So I think it’s natural that God, who created us will have some sort of consequences, rewards or punishments for us as a consequence of how we spend our time on earth. All the religions say this - either with the concept of judgement and Heaven and Hell or with the concept of karma and reincarnation and I’d rather get things right now and go to Heaven in one life than be faced with thousands of lives and learning the lessons of life slowly - but whatever the process, it seems certain to me death is not the end and there are consequences for the way in which we live. I think that this life which occupies us so much, is only a fraction of all that exists. The visible world, the physical, material world, is created by God and has no meaning without Him. Life is an opportunity, a test, which will lead us either to Heaven or Hell and what we think, all our words and actions are seen. Each time we repeat The Bismillah, we remember that God is Compassionate and Merciful. God is Forgiving. He is not mean, always looking for ways to catch us out and make us fail, but Gracious and Loving, always ready to help us make the right choices in life and succeed. I know what temptation is, I have seen evil in people who have no heart and don’t care about anything except money and power. I’ve also seen good people who live in the heart and try to do right, who try to know what is Allah’s Will and to serve Allah in everything. I know Allah forgives our mistakes and gives us strength to put things right when we get things wrong. He does hear our prayers. I’ve already seen that happening in my own life so I think that as long as we always keep trying to know Allah more, to love Him and please Him, we don’t need to be afraid of Hell. .*
  • 47. 46 * I have inserted the next four verses, almost a year later. I think they fit best here. CONTRADICTIONS I have met some pluralists that think that if we are all ‘nice,’ polite to everyone and focus on the things we can all agree about then all the arguments and fears will disappear. But nothing is that simple. I think that if we ignore the real differences and pretend that they don’t matter then that is dishonest and is just going to make more trouble for the future. But just as I don’t agree with a lot of other people’s views there are many people who won’t agree with my opinions. We all need to see that this is just the way things are and accept it. Some people become missionaries and try to convert other people to their beliefs. For example, I’ve been stopped by Jehovah’s Witness missionaries who asked me if I would like to live in a peaceful world and live forever in a beautiful heaven. All I have to do is to join their organisation. A different type of Christian gave me a leaflet that outlined amazing things about Jesus and quoted parts the Bible to make it clear that He is the only Saviour and only through his sacrifice can our sins be forgiven. But if you look at these things in a wider way, you find that all religions offer their followers the promise of peace, forgiveness and eternal life and all religions have amazing events and people in them. Christians believe that Jesus is a unique ‘divine incarnation’, the Son of God. Muslims say he wasn’t divine but a human Prophet of God - Muhammad is the ‘Seal of the Prophets’ and the Qur’an is the final and most perfect revelation. Hindus say Jesus was a divine incarnation but not the only one. They call such Godly people ‘Avatars’ and say that Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus and others were all Avatars and God comes into the world like that when it is necessary to. They go on to say that the goal of every human being is to realise God and become a light for all the world. Just to complicate the picture more, there are Ahmadiyya Muslims who say that Jesus lived on after the crucifixion, that He went to Kashmir and taught there. You see contradictions but there’s no way of knowing who is right. For me it’s enough to know that these great teachers and prophets exist. I don’t need all the theory. I just have to follow my own Islam and Respect all.
  • 48. 47 COMPASSION I do not know a lot about other Muslim denominations but the first time I came to know about the Ahmadiyya Muslims was from a leaflet I picked up in a Sunni-Muslim bookshop. This gave an outline of their history and some of their beliefs. It was so contradictory that I could understand when some of my friends said that Ahmadiyya’s aren’t really Muslims and all their Mosques should be closed down. Some of their Mosques have even been burned in Bangladesh. They had a teacher who claimed to have new divine insights, like Prophet Muhammad, and that in itself is right against the teachings of Islam. I looked up about the Ahmadiyya’s on the internet and found that they’re the third largest denomination in Islam. First there are the 940 million Sunnis, then 120 million Shiites then 10 million Ahmadiyya Muslims. Then there are Druze, Ibadiyah, Nation of Islam, Ishmaelis etc. When I asked my teacher about all these groups - how you tell which is right and what to do about all the ones which are wrong, she said only God is perfect. When anything comes into this world it gets mixed up with human ignorance human desire for power, fear, greed, jealousy, pride, ego and so on. Islam is no exception. You just need to get to know different people. She was at university with some Ismaeli, Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims as well as ‘evangelical’ Christians. They’d all argue a lot. You can always find things to disagree about. But they had to respect each other as people. When you realise there’s such variety in everything, then you see that God must love variety. So why would He make only one way to know Him? Then it’s easy to accept the different religions and beliefs. You can value and appreciate the differences and even stark contradictions don’t bother you. She knows some Ahmadiyyas from Inter-faith events and they say that their teacher was a reformer and reviser – not another Prophet. She said that Jesus said there would be false prophets in the future and you tell which are true or false by their ‘fruits’ by their actions, what they and their followers do. From that measurement she thinks the Ahmadiyya’s teacher must be genuine and it’s always best to look at what people do and not get too tied up with words and doctrines. Pluralists of all religions believe that the Light of God is at the heart of all the religions. The contradictions are in the words and outer form of religion. If you use the heart of love that accepts, expands, and includes not the mind that criticises and divides, then everything reveals God’s Light. Her view is that God did not stop sending light into the world when Mohammed died – that ‘It’s a fact of life and clear to see.’ For example there are ten Sikh Gurus, the Baha’is, and so many other great teachers around the world who have lived in the years since Mohammed died. Our world is still imperfect so if God really does love us, his human creations then like any good parent, he will never give up on us. Like any good parent he may say, ‘This is your last chance,’ but then his compassion will be there and new light will be revealed. My teacher thinks that because Allah is in charge, whatever family and religion we are born into is the right one for us. It gives us the guidance and inspiration we need. But that does not give us the right to criticise, judge. condemn or even kill someone just because they were born into another family or believe in a different way. And if you want to find out about any religion you should look at the people who live by it and listen to them, not read something which was written to criticise and spread division.
  • 49. 48 ‘POST SCRIPT’ The way that this ‘poem’ has grown over the year and more that I’ve been writing has really surprised me. I keep wanting to stop and sometimes I think I have finished but then another conversation or event in the news makes me want to include something on that too. Last year, towards the end of August, there were about 25 ‘verses’ to my ‘poem.’ I had completed the Names of Allah and thought I had finished. But since then I’ve been inspired to write about a lot of other things, too. The last two verses (Contradictions and Compassion) were the most recent, written in the first few days of August 2006 and I have even printed some copies and written a new introduction to respond to some of the feedback. But now there is more ‘trouble’ in the news, with the plot to bomb some aeroplanes and arrests all over the place. In the news tonight three MP’s and leading members of the British muslim community have written to the government saying that British policy in Iraq and our response to Israel’s fighting Palestine and Lebanon is alienating a lot of British Muslims and encouraging sympathy for the terrorists. A government representative reacted angrily to this letter and called it ‘facile.’ I looked in my computer thesaurus and found that ‘facile’ means: ‘simplistic, superficial, flippant, trivial, frivolous banal, silly, inane, trite, absurd, ridiculous, childish, naïve’ and ‘stupid.’ But the truth is never facile. I want to believe that our political system has hope, since it seems to be the best system we have in the world at the moment. Dictatorship is usually abused and the ideal of Sharia Law based on divine principles needs to be completely revised before that can work. But if our government won’t listen to its own MP’s who are telling them the facts of what the people that voted for them are saying, and if they don’t listen to the leaders of the British Muslims who know their communities, who will they listen to? I used to think the bombers were stupid people, brainwashed by evil men who hijack their love of Islam for political ends, to use their lives as a cheap ‘guided missiles’ by convincing them that mass-murder is ‘Jihad’ and is the only way to get rid of such a corrupt Western way of life, to make for a better world. But I’ve read a lot about suicide bombers since then and I can see that my view was simplistic. facile. The bombers are usually intelligent and often well educated people. They are not ignorant or mental cases brainwashed to do what their leaders say. They care about our world and the terrible suffering in Lebanon, Palestine and in Iraq etc. But they have lost all sense of hope that the world can be changed in a peaceful way. They feel powerless, helpless and frustrated. They think that if their by living they can’t stop the injustices then perhaps by their death, by their sacrifice, they can achieve something good. I think they are absolutely wrong in this but I can understand what makes them act. The government needs to listen and make some urgent policy changes so everyone can live with hope.
  • 50. 49 THE BISMILLAH I am a teenager and I don’t have any magic solution to all these complicated problems but I do have real hope for the future. This is not because I think that our political system is the best but because I love my religion and I know a lot of other people of many different religions who love Allah (or God) in their own ways and are working together for peace and understanding. I look at our Prophet Muhammad and what Allah says in our Qur’an. In my view the Bismillah holds the best secret. Before we do anything if we remember, ‘In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate’ and then to act in a merciful and compassionate way, then we will be likely to do the right thing. Merciful means forgiving. It is the opposite of vengeful. Someone has done wrong. They deserve punishment but they beg you for mercy. If you are vengeful you probably give them even more punishment than you were planning to give. But if you are merciful then you forgive them and treat them well, like and your real friend and help them on their way. A merciless is powerful. He will put anyone he wants in prison or have them put to death for no reason. But a merciful king will always be fair and stop any harm coming to people. Compassionate is more than kind-hearted. It means empathy and understanding. A compassionate person will know how you feel. If you are suffering they will share in your suffering and be full of concern for you. But it is more than that. It means to be ready to act in a way to stop your suffering. Compassion is the opposite of indifference or callousness. A compassionate person will care about you, be concerned for you. They will be on your side and help you get out of any kind of trouble. Allah is all-powerful, His Compassion includes the capacity to help in every way. In Christianity, Jesus said God is Love and he showed what that meant in many ways, like with his miracles and in the way he died. In Islam there are many Names of God and Muslims have to develop these qualities in their own lives. Since we try to remember the Bismillah before everything we do, the qualities of Mercy and Compassion of forgiveness and to help those in need are especially important. I think they are the qualities we should try to live by all the time. Muhammad lived by it, and you see the same thing in all the religions. Buddhists have their Eightfold Path of loving kindness and doing, saying and thinking right things Christians also have their principle of love. Hindu Mahatma Gandhi only used truth and harmlessness for his weapons and one of the Sikh Gurus even gave his life to defend Hindus freedom to worship in their own way. I wish everyone lived like that. I try to keep this in my mind so I can try to do the right thing. Muslims believe that Muhammad is a perfect example. He was patient, compassionate, forgiving and kind, even to the small animals. I think Muslims should try to live like that and never join any terrorists or turn their life into a bomb to kill innocent people.
  • 51. 50 ONE WORLD In the early days, in Makkah, one of Muhammad’s neighbours hated him and when he passed her house she would sweep her rubbish out all over him as he went by. One day she didn’t do it. He wondered what was wrong and went to see. She was ill so he nursed her. That showed her what real Islam is like. Later, when Muslims returned to Makkah, they had to fight just to survive. The battle was quite short but a lot of people in Makkah were afraid. One woman was running in the street, carrying a big bundle of all her things, trying to escape. Muhammad helped her. He carried her bundle and asked her where she was going. She said she was escaping from Muhammad He told her that he was Muhammad and she was so surprised. Then he saw that some of his followers were attacking a church. He protected the holy pictures of Jesus with his arms so no one could damage them and told his followers that Jesus was a Prophet and they must respect other religions. In Islam it is wrong to try to force anyone to become Muslim and there is special respect for Jews and Christians (‘The people of the Book.’) Muhammad was also kind to animals, even ants. Once he was travelling with some friends who made a fire to cook on. He moved the fire because it was too close to an ant-hill. You find this kind of living compassion in all the religions and I think that it is this power, not the power of politicians or those terrorists which will change the world we live in. You can’t create a good society by evil and destruction. Our world is one. One world for everyone.
  • 52. 51 THE BEAUTIFUL NAMES My teacher asked me to list all the names of Allah as part of this exercise. She thinks we need more true saints in the world, people who have spiritual light. Muslims repeat the Names of Allah to grow in spiritual strength and wisdom. I think she hopes I will find some as I copy them out. It is said that there are Ninety Nine ‘Beautiful Names’ for Allah in the Qur’an (and one more, known only to Muhammad’s camel.) In his book ‘The Names of Allah’ Parvez Dewan writes that he thought the same but discovered there are actually a lot more. When he studied the traditional lists Parvez was surprised to find that more than 23 of the best-known names are not found in the Qur’an at all. To cover them all he lists 231 plus 7 ‘Beautiful Names.’ The Qur’an makes it clear that it does not matter what name you use for Allah as all His Names are Exalted. ‘Let it be said that whether you call out to Him by the name Allah or by the name Rehman, it does not matter how you call out, for in any case all His Names are Exalted Ones. (Qur’an.) I am giving only the first ninety nine of the ‘Beautiful Names’ given in this book. The others are also beautiful and important but too many to give here. This list starts with the ones found most often in the traditional sources. Because they are translated from Arabic there are variations in the English words used so I have looked at lists on internet and chosen the translations I like best.
  • 53. 52 POETRY and SYMBOLISM The Word RELIGION comes from the Latin word ‘RELIGIO’ which means a bond. A bond is a force which unites two things. In religion this bond is found in all our relationships. We are conceived born and grow in relationship. Relationship is central to life. As we grow older the religion-bond unites us in an ever-expanding family, larger than culture, tribe or nation. If this expansion stops then we will feel that our religion is set against the other ones and its power may be used against others. That is why you see religion stirring up hatred in conflicts like between the Sunni and Shia Muslims, Catholic and Protestant Christians in Northern Ireland, India and Pakistan in Kashmir and the 60 years of Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed. But if we let this bond-force-heart of religion grow and expand freely it will unite us not just with our own religion but with the Source, as the Sufi saints make clear. Then we will know that we belong to a Oneness Family that embraces not only all people but the whole planet. I think that when enough people share this feeling, war will be impossible and any trade injustice will become as unacceptable as stealing from your own mother. We will care for the environment because we know that all creatures and all the earth are part of us, like cells of the same body, bound together by the force of religion and the force of this relationship is elemental, like the wind, like the tsunami, like the silence of space, like Allah himself. I think the religions offer the ultimate relationship with Allah and the pure goal of all the religions is to grow in and perfect this relationship until all our thoughts and actions are His. The ‘Names of Allah’ are treasures for Muslims to learn and meditate on. But I think they are inspiring for anyone who wants to think about the timeless questions about God and our life, even simply using, poetry and symbolism - imagining: ‘If God were a tree, a flower, an animal, or object etc. what would He be and why?’
  • 54. 53 KNOWING I hope my poem has helped you understand a bit more about Islam and feel closer to the two million Muslims who like me are proud of our religion as well as being proud of our Britishness. There are Muslims in every country and in every ethnic group. We are brothers and sisters. We are all one family. But many Muslims are like me, sharing the Sufi vision and believing that since Allah is one and we are all created by him, all people - what ever their beliefs, belong to the same family and all people are brothers and sisters. I am still learning about all this and I can’t pretend I have all the answers but I love to read the words of the saints. Ibn Sina, for example, writes: ‘God knows all beings that exist. Since God is the only necessary being, all other beings are caused by him. And since God is knowledge, he must know all that he has caused.’ This ‘poem’ is my best attempt to express my views about God, about Allah and ‘my Islam.’ I am a boy who likes to stand gazing at the Muslim-symbol crescent-moon and stars, imagining. I imagine that Muhammad looked at them in the nights before the first Revelation. I imagine that the saints of all ages and of all the religions did the same. I think that what I think and do at each moment is shaping me and making me who I am. It is a frightening thought if the atheists are right because I often get it wrong. But if the saints are right, then I am not alone. There is a ‘Mystery’ which is working with and in me. If I am true, obedient and sincere, if I don’t give up and if I keep on trying to do the right thing, to deepen my relationship with the Mystery that I call Allah, through my prayers and my meditations, in the books I read, in the hearts of all the people I meet and all the conversations I enjoy, then I believe that Allah in His compassion and mercy will reveal himself to me as he has to so many others, in His own time and His own way. And then I will no longer speculate about God - I will know!
  • 55. 54 THE 99 BEAUTIFUL NAMES Allah (The God. God’s personal name, the secret one, the architect of creation.) Ilah (God or deity. Sanctuary and protection.) 1) Ar Rehman (The compassionate one.) 2) Ar Rahim (The Merciful one.) 3) Al Malik (The Emperor, Ruler or Lord.) 4) Al Quddus (The One who is absolutely holy and pure.) 5) Al Salam (The Fountainhead of Peace.) 6) Al Mo’min (The keeper of the faith.) 7) Al Muhaiyamin (The Protector.) 8) Al Aziz (He who is mighty, powerful.) 9) Al Jabbar (He who is omnipotent.) 10) Al Mutakabbir (The Supreme, He who possesses absolute Greatness.) 11) Al Khaliq (He who planned all Creation.) 12) Al Bari (He who enforces and implements all His plans.) 13) Al Musawwir (He who creates shapes according to His grand design.) 14) Al Ghaffar (He who forgives and pardons.) 15) Al Qahhar (He who dominates, The vanquisher.) 16) Al Wahhab (The Provider) 17) Al Razzaq (The Great Provider.) 18) Al Fattah (He who opens the doors of mercy, to overcome all difficulties, who helps in times of trouble.) 19) Al Alim (He who knows everything, omniscient, the wise.) 20) Al Qabiz (He who straightens, withholds, reduces, restrains.) 21) Al Basit (He who makes bounteous, enlarges, spreads, dispenses wealth, increases quantity.) 22) Al Khafiz (He who abases, brings downfall, turns everything upside down.) 23) Al Rafe (He who raises people.) 24) Al Mu’izz (He who bestows honours.) 25) Al Muzill (He who brings dishonour and disgrace.) 26) As Sami (He who hears everything.) 27) Al Basir (He who sees everything.) 28) Al Hakam (the Judce.) 29) Al Adl (He who is just.) 30) Al Latif (He who is benign, gracious and subtle. He who knows hidden truths.) 31) Al Khabir (He who is aware. He who knows everything that happens.) 32) Al Halim (The Gentle One.) 33) Al Azim (He who is great, Magnificent, Above all.) 34) Al Ghafur (He who forgives without limit.) 35) Ash Shakur (The Patron and Benefactor, He who shows appreciation, He who accepts gratitude and gives health.)
  • 56. 55 36) Al Ali (The Highest, The Exalted One, The Supreme One.) 37) Al Kabir (The venerable head, The greatest.) 38) Al Hafiz (The protector, The Keeper.) 39) Al Muqit (He who controls all things, He who provides sustenance.) 40) Al Hasib (He who keeps accounts, the reckoner, the Supreme Auditor.) 41) Al Jalil (The Majestic. The Greatest. The Absolute Supreme.) 42) Al Karim (He who is generous and Munificent, The Prime, The Best.) 43) Ar Raqib (The Watcher. The Witness. He who is aware of everything and keeps an eye on everything.) 44) Al Mujib (He who hears and answers prayers. He who listens. The responsive one.) 45) Al Wase (He who understands everything. He whose vision and ability are unlimited) 46) Al Hakim (The wise One.) 47) Al Wadud (The Loving One. Loving Kindness and Compassion. He who loves enormously, He who is a great lover. The Beloved One, The Love.) 48) Al Majid ( He who is the Emperor, who is glorious.) 49) Al Ba’is (He who resurrects and lifts up. He who brings the dead back to life.) 50) Ash Shahid (The witness, He who watches everything.) 51) Al Haqq (The Truth, He who is true, The divine essence.) 52) Al Vakil (He who can be entrusted with all one’s affairs. He who is responsible and in charge.) 53) Al Qavi (He who is extremely powerful, The Strong protective, expert.) 54) Al Matin (The Strong, the Wise, He whose nature is steady and dependable.) 55) Al Wali (The friend, patron, companion, helper. The great watcher, the Prince.) 56) Al Hamid (He who always deserves to be praised. The embodiment of all that is good.) 57) Al Muhsi (He who counts and keeps an inventory of everything. 58) Al Mubdi (The Cause, He from whom everything has originated. He who creates existence out of nothingness.) 59) Al Mu’id (He who brings people back to life, who causes rebirth, who restores.) 60) Al Muhyi (He who grants life, he who speeds things up.) 61) Al Mumit (He who causes death and destruction.) 62) Al Hai (He who is alive and eternal, who lives through his own strength and resources. He who will always be and will never die.) 63) Al Qaiyum (He who exists because of his own strength.) 64) Al Wajid (He who finds, He who exists, is always present, the Watcher.) 65) Al Majid (The exalted One, greatest among all, glorious.) 66) Al Wahid (The only one, Unique, Alone.) 67) Al Ahad (The One, The only One, Peerless, Unparalleled, Supreme.) 68) As Samad (He who is Eternal, free from all want, who has no needs.) 69) Al Qadir (He who is able, who rules, who can do anything that He chooses to do.) 70) Al Muqaddir (The powerful one, Almighty, He who dominates.) 71) Al Muqaddim (He who warns in advance, who brings forwards and speeds up.) 72) Al Mu’akhkhir (He who grants remission, fulfils and wards off calamity.) 73) Al Awwal (The First, He who existed before all, who was there when nothing else existed. He who always was.)
  • 57. 56 74) Al Akhir (He who is and will always be the last. The Eternal.) 75) Az Zahir (He who is evident and manifest.) 76) Al Batin (He who is hidden.) 77) Al Wali (He who governs.) 78) Al Muta’ali (The most High.) 79) Al Barr (The great Benefactor.) 80) At Tawwab (He who accepts repentance.) 81) Al Muntaqim (The Avenger, He who punishes or brings retribution.) 82) Al A’fuw (He who forgives and indulges, He who is gentle and cancels.) 83) Al Rauf (He who is a friend and shows mercy.) 84) Malik ul Mulk (King of Kings) 85) Zu’l-jalali-va’l-Ikram (The Lord who is Bounteous and Majestic.) 86) Al Muqsit (He who ensures that justice is done. He who brings balance.) 87) Al Jami (The Assembler, He who gathers and brings together.) 88) Al Ghani (He who is entire in himself. The Absolute, The Supreme.) 89) Al Mughni (He who enriches, makes self-sufficient and frees from want.) 90) Al Mane (He who withholds, controls or forbids, gives protection and freedom from fear.) 91) Az Zarr (He who wounds or causes distress.) 92) An Nafe (He who confers advantage, who bestows benefits on others.) 93) An Nur (The Light of the universe.) 94) Al Hadi (The Guide.) 95) Al Badi / Badi-us-samavat-val-arz (The Originator, The Creator of Earth and Skies) 96) Al Baqi (The Eternal) 97) Al Waris (The inheritor, Lord of all Creation.) 98) Ar Rashid (He who guides people to the correct path.) 99) As Sabur (The patient one, He who is infinitely patient.) **********************************************************
  • 58. 57 Defence I call this writing my ‘poem’ because that’s what it began life as, more than a year ago. A few weeks ago I emailed it to some contacts to get some idea of what people will think of it. The early response is mostly good but there are a few questions which have come up and I want to answer these right now, at the start. 1) ‘Was this really written by a 15 year old?’ The answer to this question is yes and no. Yes because I am a real person and I finished most of this last year, before I was 15. I am still not yet 16 so I have written it all while I am 14 and 15 years old. No because I couldn’t have written it on my own. It was a project that went backwards and forwards between me and my teacher who is also a family friend. You could say it’s my ideas but she helped to polish them up and made a lot of suggestions. I used some but not all of them. I know other people my age who could of written this kind of ‘poem’, just as well as me. Just look at the great poems in the Background. They are some of the poems which first inspired me to start on this. I think that the only special thing about me is that first of all I was asked to write a poem about God – to give my views as a young British Muslim – and that then, when I got really into it and wanted to confront some of the prejudice and ignorance that’s so strong against Islam, I was free to do so because I’d been excluded from school so I had loads of time on my hands. The third thing that helped make this possible is that I have friends who have worked with me and believed in me. They have encouraged me to carry on, when I might have abandoned this project, so that it is now as complete as I can make it. 2) ‘I strongly disagree with what you say about death. I think the length of everyone’s life is predestined and Allah is absolutely in control. You need to make it very clear that these are your views and not the teachings of Islam on issues like this.’ I thought I had made it clear all the way through my poem that these are my views and I want to make it very clear that the views I’m expressing in this work are my own. They are not even ‘Mainstream young British Muslim’ whatever that might mean. Also the views in the poem were what I thought at that time, and this is an issue which I am still very unsure about. I know that poor people have shorter lives than richer ones. I know that if you live in some areas or go to some hospitals or go at weekend for example, you are statistically more likely to die. That seems like a human reason not the will of Allah – the Merciful, the Compassionate. So that’s what I was thinking about when I wrote this last year. I don’t pretend to know everything or to be ‘right’ about anything, just to like thinking about these things and saying what I think. 3) ‘Why would anyone want to read what a 15 year old thinks? These are serious subjects. If I want to know about subjects like Jihad and Sharia Law for example, I would look for the work of a well-respected Muslim scholar who has spent many years studying Islam and knows what he is talking about.’ In the golden days of Islam, when it was spreading from Arabia to India in the East and Spain in the West, it was a creative time when all the religions respected each other and shared their wisdom. I think that we need to recover that openness and respect for different points of view.
  • 59. 58 I think that Islam has lost that early energy because some parts of it have become too closed and set in their ways. That means people are scared to think for themselves. They always want to ask a scholar. But Allah is in all of us, closer than the blood in our body, closer than our breath. So I think we can all try to listen to the Voice of Allah and feel in our heart what is true. That has just as much truth to me as something some scholar may write because they may be scrutinising the subject in a mental way, just looking at the writing and not going inside it. I think the truth is inside and everyone can have a view on that. About 1000 years ago top Muslim scholars interpreted what was in the Qur’an and Hadith of Sunni Islam to make a framework of laws. These are the rules which many ‘strict’ Muslims think of as ‘Islamic.’ They were great when they were written, but any ‘theory’ has to connect with the living people and the time that is now – not be frozen in the past. For me that means young Muslims like me can’t just copy the kind of Islam which our parents or grandparents practised in Pakistan, Arabia or anywhere else – or the Islam which is being exported from the political or traditional ‘schools of thought.’ We have to pray and listen to the inner Voice of our conscience, of Allah in our heart. We have to read the Qur’an and soak it up, take it into the heart and not analyse it. Then we can start to find our own way and make our Islam real for us now. I think that the Islam which we learn in Mosque schools is not very helpful to us now because although it teaches the words of the Qur’an which are so important, it does not show us what that means for us in our everyday lives. It does not apply the teachings of Islam to the issues we face in school, such as the different religions we meet, the prejudice, bullying, or materialism we have to deal with every day and the injustices in the world like poverty and war, or how we can fit into this complicated world we are growing up in. A lot of British Muslims are getting caught up with drugs and gangs. There are probably as many in prison as in university. At the same time the kind of Islam we get in Mosque School is so narrow and far from our lives that in all honesty we can’t relate to it. What is there to help us to do the right thing? So that’s why I try to find my own way of being a British Muslim. I did not have a good experience in the traditional Mosque Schools. I learned and continue to learn the Qur’an in Arabic and English but the teachers at my Mosque Schools weren’t interested in my questions. I would get into arguments and then get thrown out. Eventually my parents found me a really great teacher and I still go to his house for one-to-one tuition in all aspects of Islam. He is patient with my questions and he introduced me to the Sufi tradition and saints like Rumi, Al Ghazali and Junayd who are well known but there are lots of others especially in my Pakistan. As well as studying the Qur’an and Hadith, my teacher encouraged me to look into the history of Islam in Pakistan and our saints. We also read many things together, traditional books and newspaper articles, especially about Muslims living in Western countries. This is really interesting and relevant to me. We also follow up all kinds of questions and he is happy to look at any subject with me, not just Islam – and my tuition teacher is also like that. It doesn’t mean I know more than the great Muslim scholars but it does mean that my views have something behind them. They are not just from my own ideas. My parents want me to have a good understanding of Islam but I didn’t get that in my Mosque School. I think a lot of us find that a problem. But the teacher I go to now is great. At Secondary School I had different problems. I was bullied a lot in year 7 and one teacher in particular tried to help. She ended up coming to my home and became a family friend and Tuition Teacher to me and my brother. She asked me to write this and has been working with me on it all year. Over the past few years she has taken us to a lot of things that relate to English life, outside my immediate community, like the Live 8 concerts and some Inter-faith events.
  • 60. 59 I did not sit down and write this ‘poem’ in a closed room. Each verse is the result of many conversations and discussions, listening to people, reading around, looking at things on internet, getting different views on what I’ve written, thinking, reflecting and meditating on the issues and then re-writing things until I was happy. I’m trying to find my own way of being Muslim, which I want to be informed by the scholars and the words of the Qur’an but my own inner reaction to all the various views I have encountered, I am trying to hear my ‘heart’s voice’ and write what ‘feels’ right to me, depending on the fact that in each person God is closer to us than our heartbeat, and we can tell instinctively if something is right or wrong - rather than going by what is ‘correct’ according to the traditional views of the community which seems to me to be looking backwards and afraid of being British. Sometimes I re-read what I wrote and made some changes to it because my views have changed or because I’ve come across something new which makes more sense to me now. I have not tried to follow any rule except that of being true to Allah in my own heart. So it is my view and not pretending to be ‘correct.’ Since Islam means surrender to the will of Allah and the Qur’an tells us that Allah is closer to us than our own jugular vein, I believe we can listen to His voice deep within our hearts and talk with Him in our prayers. So that is what I have tried to do. This is my sincere attempt at expressing what is true to me is part of my own efforts to be a good Muslim. I’m not trying to find any final answer to the subjects I’m exploring but to find answers which make sense to me. When I asked my Tuition Teacher about this she thinks that my ignorance of the ‘correct’ arguments may even be an advantage because I’m free from any kind of mental restriction and can just write what I think. That doesn’t mean I’m right - but it does mean I’m honestly trying to look at the subject, not just at one ‘correct’ or ‘accepted’ view. If anything is special about the views of young British Asians like me, wherever we come from, it is the fact that we are exploring ways of being true both to our religion and Asian culture while being fully British too. We are not afraid of the Western culture in the way that some of the older generation may be. We’re part of it and proud of being British. But that does not stop us being very Muslim, (Hindu, Sikh, Christian or Buddhist etc.) and proud of our Pakistani (Bangladeshi / Indian / Afghan / Malaysian etc.) heritage too. That makes our views unusual and who knows – perhaps worth listening to. I have to find my own identity, my own way forwards as a Muslim in this world. If I didn’t think I had anything to say then I would not have bothered to spend so many hours, days, weeks and months working away at my ‘poem.’ At times over the past year I sometimes got quite fed up with all the writing – and especially the fussy way of making the verses symmetrical – but the whole project had taken hold of me. I felt that Allah was inspiring me to write it and because I’d started out with the diamond-pattern verses (at the start, when I thought it would just be quite a short exercise) I just continued with them. Some people say they make it slower and more difficult to read but I think that each verse (or page) needs to be read quite slowly and thoughtfully because it is not telling you the facts but inviting you to think about these things. 4) ‘This is more than a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to 7/7. I think the things you have brought up are important for Muslims, not just for non-Muslims to think about.’ I wrote this to try to communicate with non-Muslim readers, to try to reduce misunderstanding and prejudice and stand up for my community because I hear so much rubbish talked about Islam, but some Muslim friends who have seen it think will be useful for Muslim readers too. I guess
  • 61. 60 that in places I was ‘talking to my little brother.’ When I told my Tuition Teacher that it was taking too much of her time, she said she was happy to work with me on it. She said she thinks it’s like our joint love-song to God, almost like a prayer. So even though it is designed for non- Muslims I will be happy if Muslims like it too. But if it is read widely by Muslims it will certainly cause some arguments because there are so many different interpretations of Islam. I don’t think that these arguments matter. Or rather I think that the arguments which my ‘poem’ may cause are important. I think that there are as many different ways of being Muslim as there are Muslims because no two people think alike. Unless we accept that and stop trying to tell each other what to believe or how to be a ‘real Muslim’ there can be no end to the arguments. I think we need to get more away from the mind and thinking about the words of the Qur’an and more into the heart where they can grow like flowers and fill us with their perfume. We all have to struggle with the questions and ideas that I’ve written about to find our own way forward not just as Muslims but as human beings of any kind in this world. So I hope my views will encourage all readers, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, to engage in this kind of debate which helps to make our faith and love for Allah stronger, more sincere and more ‘rooted in the ground’ of our real living and experience. Then we can all become like flowers of Allah and fill the whole world with perfume of love instead of arguments and criticism. Johar August 2006 Afterward It’s now summer of 2013 and years have passed which have taken me in many directions that I could not have predicted and some that I would not have chosen to follow. All I can say is that I have learned many things from the experiences and there is much in my life to thank God for. In the current time of recession, I am happy at least to have a job. And when it comes to good people in my life, I now have a lovely girlfriend as well as my family and friends from before. Meanwhile this poem has just ‘gathered dust’ - although computer files don’t exactly get dusty. My teacher is still urging me to get it published but I am quite ambivalent. When I was younger I had clear views on everything, but that has changed. What I have come to know since then is that I know very little – especially about religion. But if what my Tuition Teacher and I created here does contain any wisdom or inspiration that might be of value – either to British people who know little about Islam or for other young British Muslims like me who are engaging with the great struggle of how to be a good person in their own way, as British Muslims, then I guess I should share this more widely. Therefore I am happy for it to be published. It is like a little child that has come of age and is going out into the world on its own. It no longer belongs to me. It has its own life. I hope it will be able to stand on its feet, walk tall, hold its head up high and make some good friends along the way. Johar – Summer 2013