A Weekend Seminar courtesy of Shaykh Dr. Yasir Qadhi
I am an enthusiastic follower of Shaykh Yasir Qadhi. I respect how he talks and lectures on controversial topics and answers those difficult questions. In his own words ‘the world is in too much of a dire state for us to be political correct’. His weekend seminar in London ‘No Doubt’ certainly did not disappoint when it came to difficult questions and testing issues.
From Friday evening through to Sunday evening Shaykh Yasir Qadhi enlightened us with his knowledge on topics such as Atheism, Sectarianism, Feminism and Liberalism. He did so addressing controversial issues with the passion and vigour that has made him ‘one of the most influential conservative clerics in American Islam.’ (New York Times magazine)
Friday evening started with an introduction to the course. A chronological overview of Islamic theology where areas of controversy were discussed such as the nature of the Divine, Predestination (Qadr), The status of the companions, and Innovations.
There has been historical debate in the nature of God for centuries. The Asharite school interprets verses of the Quran literally whereas the Mutazillah school takes a more metaphorical and philosophical approach. The notion of Qadr is a ‘hot topic’ for Islamic theologians and interestingly the debate on predestination has the same spectrum of differences across all religions.
The status of the companions of the prophet is a contentious issue between the 2 main schools of Islam; Sunni and Shia. For Sunni Muslims Sh Yasir Qadhi explains the respect of the companions is a point of theology and Allah loves us for loving them. The Shia school criticise some companions and the shaykh explained that although this is offensive for Sunni Muslims is does not take them out of the fold of Islam.
Innovations (bi’dah) is a controversial topic due to the differing definitions of what actually is bid’ah. One group of Muslims is quick to label the other as non Muslim due to their differing practices. The most common of these practices being the ‘mawlid’, celebrating the birth of the prophet Muhammad sws. The shaykh does not consider the celebration as bi’dah and told the audience to ask themselves why they think these Muslims celebrate the prophets birth. Of course it is ”because they love the prophet and how can loving the prophet make you a kafir?”
The shaykh discussed the different classical groups of Islam, mainly Sunni and Shias. He discussed ‘circles of co operation’ between groups from whom we differ. The bigger ‘circle’ is where everybody should co-operate, in matters such as ‘fighting Islamophobia’. The next inner circle is where people should co-operate in supporting each other building mosques and Islamic schools etc. The inner circle (where it may be best to stick to your own school of thought) is where matters of theology and teaching theology are discussed. The shaykh warned against being arrogant and calling fellow Muslims kaafir or saying they are wrong. It’s no co incidence that Muslims with the least knowledge seem to be the most certain of their belief and the loudest to condemn others. Because as your knowledge increases you realise there is no definite answer, there are valid differences of opinion. The more you learn the less you become certain in your own view and the more you learn to respect others.
Yasir Qadhi discussed unity in great detail. A much needed topic in our sectarian times. He discussed the Shia sect specifically and explained all the different groups of Shias. He discussed the different sects of Sunni Muslims and explained that there have been classical controversies since the beginning of Islam. He encourages people to unite, especially now in this hostile environment for Muslims and explained that right now we should be focusing on the bigger ‘circle of co operation’. He explained that sectarianism is being used by corrupt leaders to justify their criminal actions, eg in the case of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and we must not fall for this effort to disunite the community.
Atheism was the next topic discussed. Atheism itself is not addressed directly in the Quran as it is a relatively new concept. The term atheism was first coined around 300 years ago by a French former Catholic Priest. Some Greek philosophers questioned the Greek fables of God but didn’t deny God himself. New Atheism is the current, dominant, and fundamentalist strand of atheism. New Atheism argues that society shouldn’t tolerate religion, rather it should strive by every means available to counter and eliminate religious beliefs. New Atheists argue that religion is evil and focuses on the bad actions of religious fundamentalists and blames these actions on religion. They forget, however, that the top scientists who are making weapons of mass destruction are not religious people and their science is being used to kill people. They also argue that there is no scientific proof of God. The counter argument given by western theists include the Argument from Design (Teleological) which is the most obvious and self evident argument. eg. ‘The watchmakers Argument’- if you came across a watch on a desert island you would know just by the intricate details of how to works that the watch would have to have been made. It would have to have had a creator. Stephen Hawkins writes:
”The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the protons and the electrons…The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life”
How Stephen Hawkins remains agnostic after such an incredible discovery is beyond me. Other counter arguments given by western theists are the argument for Morality, Consciousness and Higher Purpose. People need a ”cause” to feel passionate about in their life.
Islam considers Atheism more of a spiritual problem. Atheists have a spiritual arrogance. Even if you were to give an atheist ‘evidence’ for the existence of God they would still not believe, they would think it was an illusion. And that is probably why atheism itself is not addressed in the Quran. You simply cannot debate with arrogance. The Quranic arguments are simple and straightforward, the first argument being The creation itself;
”Were they created from nothing? Or are they themselves the creators?”(Al-tur 52:35)
With respect to Nature: ” So take a good look! Do you find any flaw? Then look again, and again…and your eyes will become tired…” (al Mulk 67:3-4)
Another proof is what is termed as ‘the fitra’. The Fitra is knowledge and perception and cognitive facilities that are inherent in every person. You instinctively know killing and stealing is wrong. The fitra tells you: there is a God and He is all powerful, God should be worshipped, the basics of morality and the purpose of a higher goal in life. Islam compliments the fitra. For Muslims an example of ‘pure fitra’ is the life of the prophet Muhammad sws in the first 40 years of his life (pre Islamic revelation).
The Quran encourages us to think and ponder over the creation and marvel at God’s power. Other ‘proofs’ for the existence of God, more applicable to Muslims, are the success of the prophets and the Quran itself.
Feminism was a big topic of discussion on the second day of the course. Feminism constitutes political expression of the concerns and interests of women from different regions, classes, nationalities and backgrounds…There is and must be a diversity of feminism, responsive to the different needs and concerns of different women, and defined by them for themselves.
Feminism is a political movement and it is used by women to gain rights they feel they have been denied. It originally appeared due to the religious, social and legal impediments on European women in the pre-modern period. Medieval Christian women for instance were viewed as inferior to men. They were denied the right to education and upon marriage became the property of men. Women in Europe rebelled leading to the first wave of feminism in 1850s-1915. This wave concentrated on the women’s right to vote. There were campaigns, marches, there was the rise of the suffragettes. It was usually matrons who were the forefront of the movements and attended most of the marches. This was because these ladies were older and they dressed in modest attire to symbolise that these marches were not to be sexual in nature. (The irony is the current attire of the modern day feminists ‘FEMEN’) They campaigned for the right to vote, and only this right, because they understood that the right to vote was key to influencing other political issues.
After the first wave there was the 2 World wars where many men were killed. This depletion of men changed the social dynamics of society and for the first time women were made to work. The government demanded women work in factories and this was done in the name of nationalism. This changed the social economic status of women drastically subsequently leading to the second wave of feminism in the 1960s. In this second wave women demanded access to the workforce in all aspects of jobs which led to the acronym ‘equal opportunities employer’ (still in use today) and the demanded sexual freedom. They campaigned for the right to abortion so they could have the freedom to sleep with whoever they wanted and not be held accountable (just like men did). In 1973 this right was given, abortion was legalised and feminists considered this a success.
Modern feminism the the current wave and started from the 1990s. One of the successes of modern feminism is domestic abuse has been given national attention. Ladies who were abused in the 1960s and 1970s have been coming forward and telling of their abuses leading to the case of Bill Cosby as well as others. This recognition of domestic abuse is a positive wave of feminism. Even in our Muslim communities there is a huge problem of domestic sexual abuse of women and more needs to be done by our communities to stop this happening. Pakistan’s largest province recently passed a landmark law criminalising all forms of violence against women, but more than 30 ‘religious’ groups including all the mainstream ‘Islamic’ political parties, have threatened to launch protests if the law is not repealed. Needless to say violence against women is completely contrary to the teachings of Islam.
The problem with feminism, however, is the premise that women must have complete equality in all aspects of private and public life. The presumption being that if men and women are equal they must have equal roles in everything. Women feel men’s roles are more privileged that women’s role,they feel de valued so to counter this they try to adopt the traditional male roles.
Islam makes it abundantly clear in many verses that women and men are equal. The equality however is spiritual equality. The most famous verse being:
”Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and the truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah and the women who do so- for the Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward (Al Ahzab, 33:35)
Yet as is obvious to everyone there are differences. Women are physically different, emotionally different, psychologically different, hormonally different to men. As the title of the famous book by John Gray goes ‘Men are from Mars and women are from Venus’. The Quran recognises this, men and women are not equal in social spheres and therefore their roles in society have to be different. Men have been given certain social roles and so have women.
”Men are in charge of women by (right of) what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend (for maintenance) from their wealth. (Al Nisa 4:34)
The term ‘in charge’ is a contentious term especially for the ‘Islamic feminists’ but that is a mere translation. The Arabic word ”qawwam”.. (men are qawwam over women) is the plural of qa’im. The root of the word is from the word ‘stand’. So one person is effectively standing (over) while the rest are sitting. The word qa’im entails protector-ship, guardianship, maintenance and responsibility in front of Allah. And that is the true role of men in society.
Men and women’s roles in Islamic law have been broadly defined. The principles are in place but changing contexts and times necessitate fine tuning of the laws within the spectrum of permissibility. Specifics of hijab, gender interactions and womens active participation in society are all subject to the cultural norms and customs of a specific society.
The shaykh went on to talk about Liberalism and the role of British Muslims in society. Throughout the weekend there were questions asked at intervals and the shaykh also had allocated time for a sisters questions and answer session. Some of the questions received during the course of the weekend were quite shocking. For example during the discussion of unity and sectarianism the shaykh was asked (written anonymously of course)
”What do you think the prophet sws would think of your soft stance towards shiaism?’ ‘What do you think the companions would think of you asking us to co operate with shias?’ ‘Do you think its acceptable to marry someone who celebrates the birth of the prophet?’ etc etc.
There are some people who had clearly already made up their mind and no rational discussion with them would change their opinion. To those his answer was simply, if this is the stance you want to take then I cannot help you any more.
What I have shared with you is just a snippet of what the Shaykh taught, the highlights for me personally. The whole weekend was a spectrum of discussion which I thoroughly enjoyed. My only critique was I would have liked some topics to have been delved into more academically but I guess then such a broad range of topics wouldn’t have been able to have been discussed in a single weekend. I thought the topics were relevant for today’s times and when living in a non Muslim society its imperative these topics are discussed. The weekend gave me a sense of relief that my ‘doubts’ were legitimate and having had my questioned answered so thoroughly I left with ”No Doubt”