Muslims & FE


Speech delivered at “Change & Growth”, Chaplaincy in Further Education Annual Conference held in York, UK, July 2006.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Before I begin my speech, I would like to extend the universal greeting of peace to all of you.

Assalamu-alaikum Wa Rahmatullahe Wa Barakatahu”

No! Don’t be upset, I didn’t cast a spell on any one of you, nor did I attempt to mesmerise or hypnotise anybody. The words I just uttered were in Arabic, and they simply mean May the peace and the mercy and blessing of God be on you. As most of the people present here are from a Christian background, they may know, that we read in the Gospels, when Jesus used to meet his disciples, he used to address them: “Shalom Alaikum”, which is the same as “Salaam Alaikum” in Arabic. Salaam and Shalom mean the same thing, “peace”. So you can relax now!

Coming to the topic, my presentation will cover two aspects. First I would like to demonstrate the meaning of certain terms from a Muslim perspective. Second, I would like to highlight some practical faith and related needs of Muslim learners in Colleges of Further Education.

The Language Barrier

As the title of the presentation is not of my own choice, but was suggested to me by the conference organisers, and looking at the vocabulary concerned, I deemed it important that the subject be addressed in precise and specific terms. This is so, because words mean different things to different people. Language, if kept vague, undefined and unqualified, can result in misunderstanding and miscommunication. One of the reasons of the prevailing misunderstandings between Muslims and other communities is language.

Terms that have a specific meaning and understanding are seldom defined in discourse, and instead inaccurate connotations are attached to them with an implied meaning, which is then popularized, resulting in creating misconceptions.

Take for example, the Arabic word Jihad, which will commonly evoke the meaning of “Holy War”, because it is this meaning which is (very wrongly) attached to this term in contemporary discourse, ignoring the fact that the word simply carries the basic linguistic  meaning of striving or making an effort for anything. e.g. striving or making an effort to pass your exams at college is your Jihad to pass exams.

On the other hand for War, the original word in Arabic is Harab, and Holy in Arabic is Muqaddas.  The accurate rendering of “The Holy War”, (a concept non existent in the Qur’an) is Al Harab al Muqadas, and not Jihad, as is erroneously mentioned in certain circles.

When we look at the terms Spirit and Spiritual, their notions may mean differently to different people, depending on their respective cultures, beliefs, faith, or linguistic patterns. To some it may mean simply being a good and moral person, to others Spirituality implies following a mystical tradition instead of organised religion. Maybe some may think that spiritual development has a connection with Spiritualists and has something to do with attending séances and recalling the spirit of the dead!

So in order to avoid confusion, it is vital, that first of all, we define what we mean by a term before building a structure upon it.

The difference between Nafs (Soul) and Rooh (Spirit)

In contemporary usage, Spirit is understood as the ethereal part of the human being, i.e. the ghost dwelling within the body, the human soul. However in the Qur’an, Spirit or its Arabic equivalent Rooh is not used in this meaning. Rooh is distinct from Nafs (the human soul), and it is not something that we already possess like the soul and the body, but is given to human beings as inspiration from God:

“And thus have We inspired in thee a Spirit (Rooh) of Our command. Thou knewest not what the Scripture was, nor what the Faith. But We have made it a light whereby We guide whom We will of Our bondmen. And lo! thou verily dost guide unto a right path.” 42:51

We can see in the above verse that Rooh is concerned with imparting divine guidance to the human being and is the vehicle of revelation. Prior to its reception Scripture and faith remained unknown, and it is the light by which these are understood. By exploring all those verses where the term Rooh has occurred, one discovers that according to Qur’anic usage Spirit is not the human soul, but is distinct from it as the Spirit of revelation, and is the essence of God’s guidance to mankind.

The Qur’an teaches that the human being is not just a material entity consisting of the physical body, but is a combination of body and soul. It is the Nafs i.e. the soul which is the real driver of the body. On top of that we also possess Aql (Intelligence) and Hawa (emotions).

If the soul does not drive the body in the light of the guidance of the Spirit, then it can be overpowered by emotions and then utilises intelligence in their service.

Nourishment Of The Body, But Destruction Of The Soul

The physical body develops and attains nourishment by observing physical laws, while the Nafs develops by observing moral laws. For example consider the case that when someone consumes food that is legally purchased from a shop, and the same amount is stolen and then consumed, the material energy and taste to the body will be the same in both situations. Food, whether it is legally obtained or stolen gives the same amount of material benefit to the body. However the soul will be harmed if the consumed food is stolen, as it is acquired by virtue of breaking a moral law.

It is the Nafs whose development is the focus of Rooh. A Nafs which works without the aid of the guidance imparted by the Spirit will operate under the influence of emotions and focus itself on the body, but with the guidance of the Spirit it realises its true potential and maintains a balance between the needs of the body and demands of the soul.

The references to Rooh in the Qur’an are for God’s Spirit, and not the human spirit. I’d like to clarify again that human beings already posses a Nafs, or the Self, in latent form while the spirit is sent by God to guide the develop it.

No division between the worldly and the religious

It is also worth mentioning that the Qur’an enjoins upon a Muslim to learn and apply both  physical laws, as well as moral laws, as the body is not distinct from the self, but is related to it:

“Behold! in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day,- there are indeed Signs for people of understanding.”

“Those who remember God, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and reflect on the creation in the heavens and the earth…”3:190-191

In the above we see that those who remember God, are also engaged in the study of the material universe, hence “Spiritual” is not separate from the “Worldy”, for it is how one functions in the material world that the Spirit gives guidance for.

If the term spiritual development in FE Colleges were to be retained then by it the Muslim would mean the development of the Nafs (soul) through guidance provided by the Rooh (Spirit) found in revelation.

Colleges of Further education may very well equip learners to know ways and means of meeting the needs of the human body, but what provision is there for the development of the souls that are housed within those bodies? Are educational institutions merely ‘factories’ that have an ‘assembly’ line of students to impart them with skills on how to make money and send them out the door? What about the values that those learners are to acquire to implement in their practical life? Such questions definitely deserve our attention.

The Muslim Community & FE Colleges

The British Muslim community is the second largest faith group in the UK with approximately six million adherents. However it would be wrong to suggest that the community has one set of beliefs or dispositions as there is a wide variety of diverse beliefs and practices that are being observed within the community. Apart from religious diversity, the community is also diverse in terms of ethnicity.

From a demographic angle, about a third of the population is under the age of sixteen and a half a million learners in the British education system are Muslims. This poses a challenge to educational institutions that are ill equipped to meet the needs of learners from this group. In an FE context, where learners often come from disadvantaged communities, the Muslim community is a prime target group, as it is often highlighted with poor socio economic conditions, inner city residences, highest rate of ill health, and a high unemployment rate.

Although (as mentioned earlier) there exist a wide variety of diverse views, opinions and practices within the Muslim community, a college is likely to get the following generic requests in order to meet the needs of learners. By addressing these needs the college will facilitate the take up of education from this group.

Diet

Muslim learners will almost certainly require catering facilities in accordance with their beliefs which demand. A diet in which alcohol and pork is restricted, and meat which is from poultry or cattle slaughtered by severing the jugular. Colleges need to make adjustment to their canteen menus to accommodate Muslim Halaal food requirements.

Washing Facilities

Toilets in FE colleges need to be equipped with adequate washing facilities, such as water containers in the WC, as Muslim learners are required to wash after attending the toilet, and do ablution before prayers.

Dress Code & Modesty

Provision for private cubicles for showers in changing rooms need to be made, as Muslim learners may feel uncomfortable from using such changing rooms where there are communal showers, due to total nudity in such settings not being approved in their faith.

Socialization – Alcohol  & Clubs

It should be borne in mind that the Islamic faith does not allow consumption of alcohol for recreational use, and carefree intermixing of opposite sexes (outside the bond of marriage), hence any social or enrichment activities planned by the college where students are required to visit Dance Clubs, or Public houses will be inappropriate for practicing Muslims.

Time table adjustment for the festival of Eid

Muslims celebrate two major festivals in a year. Eid ul Fitr which marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting, and after two months of Eid al FitrEid al Adha, which marks the end of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Makkah. Muslims celebrate these two festivals with traditional fervour. Both these Eids are occasions as important to them, as Easter and Christmas are to Christians and in Muslim countries, days on which these events fall are official public holidays. Colleges which are having significant populations of Muslim learners may get the request for time off for students to celebrate these festivals, and timetable adjustments may need to be made. occurs

Space for Prayer

There are five daily prayers and one congregational prayer on a Friday that practicing Muslims observe regularly. For the purpose, a prayer room in the college is certainly a necessity. A multi-faith prayer room with neutral décor on the pattern of Airport chaplaincies would be sufficient to meet this need rather than a dedicated room for the faith.

Counselling & Support

For dealing with issues related to counselling and bereavement, it is important that staff members with the proper professional as well as theological training be inducted to give support to students undergoing a crises point in their life. There is also the need for well spoken and culturally aware faith leaders to maintain a link with the college to give advice and support to students when required.

Dialogue & Encounter

For many, an FE experience provides an opportunity for interaction with people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs which may perhaps not exist in their own locality. It is vital that FE colleges encourage a structured approach to interfaith dialogue, so that students can appreciate the diversity within campus, which reflects the diverse communities in wider society.

In Conclusion

It is vital that colleges realize the changing demographic patterns of Britain and appreciate that for many among the Muslim community Faith is part of public identity. Given recent trends of immigration and influx of ESOL students who may be more religiously observant than local learners, and the non availability of faith provision in FE colleges as against schools, colleges need to be better equipped to provide multi faith student support.

It is equally important to realize that faith communities act as hubs of information and exchange, and colleges by maintaining a link with such, have an opportunity to promote their services to an unrealized potential. Faith leaders acting as influencers and gatekeeper in the community can endorse the ‘offerings’ of colleges.

The youth from the Muslim community, and particularly inner city dwellers have a tendency to pursue education at an FE college and it should be born in mind that although no fixed set of beliefs and practices exist, the community may appear to be more visibly observant in practical and day to day matters of faith, hence having an impact on the educational institutions that they go to. FE colleges are ideally placed for the social, economic as well as the moral uplift of the community, and for the purpose adjustments should be made to accommodate the faith needs of this community, which does not see any separation of the religious from the secular. In the end I would like to thank the organisers here for inviting me as a panelist at the conference. I will welcome questions and comments from the audience.

Kashif Shahzada

The Leaves Of Autumn


The falling leaves of autumn. You notice them as you walk along the pathways. Blown away by gusty winds, some red, some yellow, some dry, some crisp – all heralding the moment of change and signaling to us that its time to seek a new beginning.  As autumn is the season marking the periodic change in the natural world, it seems that it is also a period of change throughout human history.

From the discovery of Americas by Christopher Columbus to the Russian revolution to the unification of East and West Germany in recent times, many eventful occasions have marked the season throughout history.October seems to be a time of revolution.

It seems as if human actions correlate with the natural world around them. They too, are in the habit of discarding the old and experimenting with the new. It may not come as a surprise, but human history seems like one great long autumn. People create one set of beliefs and its corresponding social structure, discover that it doesn’t work, then throw it away and experiment with another one.Out with the old, and in with the new. Just like leaves in autumn.

First came Autocrats claiming divine sanction, then came Theocracies, Capitalism glorified material gains albeit in the hands of a select few, Communism protested, but it too failed, now the flame of Democracy is dwindling, and God knows what will it be replaced by. How long this trial and error by humanity will continue, you never know.  But the cost has been quite high for the games that people play.

But still – change is the theme of the season. Change is all around, the only constant, and so is it a central theme in Divine guidance, in the Qur’an, the Divine Book of Islam.  Changing your self towards a new you – a new person that has shed his or her old habits and reformed themselves by Divine guiding light. However, the change that is spoken of in relation to human beings, is not one that is brought about coercively, but one that that we bring within us, by our own choice. It is the change within, the change of heart that is initiated by our own volition and personal reflection. This type of change, even God Almighty does not bring about, until or unless you want it:

“That is because God would never change His favour that He conferred on a people until they changed what was within themselves; and that God is All-hearing, All-knowing.” 8:53

He won’t force you to walk His paths, He hasn’t pre-programmed you to follow your nature, but has bestowed you with a free will – it is the free will which you must use to your benefit, and it is the free will that separates you from animals and beasts, all of whom simply follow their preordained nature, and are not held accountable in any court of law for their behavior. You on the other hand are free to exercise your choice, and it is this choice and decision-making ability which lays responsibility on your shoulders and holds you accountable for your actions. So you will have to change your self but by your own self. God does lend a helping hand in the form of signs and signals, guides and guide maps, but the destination is of your own choice. You have to bring this change upon yourself voluntarily.


LOOK INTO THE MIRROR

As we become conscious of our personal responsibility towards change, we are also conscious about those who consider it their divine mission to change the world. You frequently stumble upon such people who unfortunately see it as their divine duty to change the entire world to their own way of thinking. They teach and preach, plan and execute, mobilise and manoeuvre, under the guise of their conceited belief and the arrogant conviction of its superiority. They set out to change the world, at times on a secular campaign while on other occasions embark on a “Godly” mission to impose on others a consensus about beliefs that they see fit by themselves and patterns that are pleasing to their own eyes. Quick to point out mistakes in other people, it is rare that you observe them in self reproach and personal accountability. Making a wanton display of their unholy claims, they make the house of prayer into a den of thieves (Mark 21:13). They come to you in holy garbs claiming to take the speck out of your eye,’ but fail to see the plank in their own eye? (Luke 6:42). Unaware and careless of their personal responsibility, they set out to change the world, but can the blind lead the blind?

The divine injunctions have never stipulated that it is one’s duty to transform the world. One is accountable to transform no one but his or her own self:

“O believers, look after your own souls. He who is astray cannot hurt you, if you are rightly guided. Unto God shall you return, all together, and He will tell you what you were doing.” 5:105

This is so as on the hereafter he or she will be questioned about nobody’s but his or her own conduct:

“Every one of them shall come to Him upon the Day of Resurrection, all alone.” 19:95

While it is true that Divine injunctions call for sharing of Divine peace and eternal bliss but never enjoin conquest of diverse beliefs that exist in the world as per Divine plan:

“And if thy Lord had willed, whoever is in the earth would have believed, all of them, all together. Wouldst thou then constrain the people, until they are believers?” 10:99

So talking about change – it is our own that we need to worry about and no one else’s salvation. Whenever we point a finger at someone, three fingers point back at us. It is our own neck that we need to worry about. Look your own self in the mirror. It is all about you and nobody else.


PREPARATION FOR TIMES TO COME

The falling leaves of autumn signal a moment of change towards the new, but the chilly winds of the season also indicate the dark and cold winter to come. Autumn marks the transition from summer into winter. It is a signal for tougher times ahead, for which one must be prepared. We see in the natural world that plants and animals prepare for this in advance by storing fuel and preserving fuel through hibernation.

This is all natural for them. After all they are simply following the course they have been programmed to act on. But we on the other hand need to learn and be educated about preparing for the morrow. Reflect on what you do today, and what will be its bearing in times to come, is the rejoinder in the Qur’an:

“O ye who believe! Fear God, and let every soul look to what (provision) He has sent forth for the morrow. Yea, fear God: for God is well-acquainted with (all) that ye do.” 59:18

Your now is important, as the clock of life never waits for anybody, Its batteries do not need recharging and simply keep going. What you do now, will impact your tomorrow. So now is the most important part of your life. We can’t stop the clock of life.

It won’t wait for anybody. Just look at your own life. Your childhood, your youth, your adult life, Doesn’t it all seem just like yesterday. Aren’t we constantly travelling towards our end? Is not each and everyday of our life bringing us closer to that ultimate reality called death?


DEATH IS A FACT OF LIFE

Yes death. A taboo for many. Rarely do you think about it. But it is a fact, just as you are, your existence is. Do you remember attending the funeral of a near or dear one? Remember the wailing and the grief? Do you recall leaning over the face of the dead person? How white it was, how frightening, still and lifeless?

Now imagine yourself in the same situation, because one day this will certainly be you. It is an undeniable reality. A fact. The same will happen to us all. What is born, it must die. The important question is what have we done about it? Are you prepared for death? Should it come tomorrow? Today? Ask yourself. Are you ready to face death? Do you want more time? Time is short. The clock is ticking. What are you doing about it?

If our worldly material life is all that there is, then life as it is can be very boring, don’t you think? What about the wonder and the mystery of afterlife, the hope of carrying on beyond the material body, and joy of meeting those who have left us?

Also, and more importantly, if there is no afterlife, no accountability after death, no heaven for the righteous and no punishment for the wicked, then that would mean that the tyrants and oppressors of the world got away with it scot free! They looted and plundered, maimed and murdered, became beyond the reach of law and justice, mightily took away what belonged to others, and enjoyed the spoils all their life, and now that they are dead, no body will hold them to account?

It is this type of mentality, that denies the accountability of afterlife which poses a danger for humanity and it is against such ideologues that Divine emissaries taught their followers to seek God’s refuge and proclaim:

Moses said: “I have indeed called upon my Lord and your Lord (for protection) from every arrogant one who believes not in the Day of Account!” 40:27

Refuge with God must be sought from them because such people believe that the material life is all that there is and if they can be above the law and acquire power and influence then their personal interest is supreme at the expense of others.  With such an outlook of life, they disdain not in doing horrible things, acting criminally and hurting others. All of this is so because in their hearts there is no belief in accountability of their actions in life after death:

And they say: “What is there but our life in this world? We shall die and we live, and nothing but time can destroy us.” But of that they have no knowledge: they merely conjecture. 40:24

If you are not prepared for death and accountability in after life, then tough times are ahead for you. Just like in autumn one needs to prepare for the long dark winter, one needs to prepare for the day when he or she will be held accountable for his or her actions. We need to shed our old past that was devoid of divine inspiration and change ourselves to make way for the new.

Change is happening all around you this autumn. Go out. Take a walk in the park. The leaves of autumn are falling. They glorify their Lord and offer Him complete submission.

Hearken to their message of change.