Building Resilience through Engagement: Shaikha Halima Krausen and Humera Khan, RMW Fes Summit March 2011
Shaikha Halima Krausen
Arriving in Fes for the first time in my life after dreaming of it for so many years is another example for how strong impressions can influence our perception: When I took in the beautiful view of this green city and the atmosphere of ancient scholarship and learning, I was filled with joy, and I looked around with different eyes. I promptly noticed the slight difference between the English and the Arabic versions of the Radical Middle Way slogan.
The English literally says, “Fight Fear and Ignorance. Have Faith.” It outlines a programme for action: there are threats, fear and ignorance, that we have to do something about; therefore we are encouraged to have faith.
The Arabic is a beautiful wordplay: Iman, Faith, is Aman, Security, against Fear and Ignorance. It suggests that faith, in its original sense of reliance and trust, provides a safe space from which we can confidently face our challenges.
And the challenges there are plenty of. In my daily work with European Muslims — teaching and counselling — I am constantly confronted with economic problems like unemployment; social problems like the disintegration of the family or discrimination; intellectual challenges through a wide variety of ideas and ideologies both from outside and within the Muslim community, including superstition and extremism; spiritual challenges including the loss of values and orientation for the young generation; as well as prejudices and hostility against Islam and the Muslims in the mass media and in mainstream public opinion. Many of these obviously have their roots in fear and ignorance. It seems to be an unending battle on all fronts.
I realized, though, that all these challenges, pleasant and unpleasant ones alike, made a considerable contribution to my own knowledge and confidence that I can now pass on to others.
You see, knowledge has different aspects: information and experience.
On the one hand, experience by itself without any theoretical information can lead to all kinds of assumptions and hasty conclusions that may or may not be correct.
On the other hand, if it were only about information, then it would be enough to go to a public library or, as our youngsters say, “Ask Shaykh Google.” Scholars would soon be redundant. Even worse: information can be selected and arranged to serve all kinds of different purposes. I came across lengthy statements whose authors quoted pages and pages of Qur’an and Hadith arguing in support of violence and terrorist activities. As we say in English, “The devil quotes scripture.” (This is not necessarily the reason that I’ll hardly quote anything in this short presentation.)
Both information and experience are necessary to keep the religion alive. Speakers during the past few days repeatedly referred to the vast treasure of our tradition that scholars are called to preserve. This is right. But in a way these treasures are like seeds that need to be replanted again and again in different kinds of environment and climate in order to be revived and bear fruit. This is what our classical scholars did, using the dynamics of their regional diversity for cross-fertilization.
Scholars are considered heirs of the prophets, that is, an important part of their task consists in teaching in words and by being examples — not only training new generations of scholars but also raising the standard of knowledge among the believers and enabling them to fulfil their human responsibility as the khalifah, the trustee who was put on earth by the creator in order to build up a balanced society that lives in justice and peace internally and with the rest of creation.
In contrast to beliefs based on assumptions, faith is closely linked with knowledge — here specifically the information that God is just and merciful, and the experience, both in our individual lives and in human history throughout the ages that God may test us and take us to account for mistakes, but that He, in His mercy, constantly opens new ways to learn from mistakes and get a new chance. The Qur’an summarizes generations and centuries of human failure and success where God never let us down.
Such faith is a fortress that provides security for the people within and around. It is a stronghold from which to fight. As classical scholars like Al-Ghazali phrased it: We start doing something about our own character, in this case about our own fear and ignorance, thus building such a fortress.
Then we might think about possible weapons. I see three things that should be considered in teaching, advice, and policy-making: fear, hope, love as outlined early on in our history.
Many would first think of fear as an efficient weapon. Well, perhaps a warning of consequences may clarify the limits and boundaries and demand respect and may therefore be necessary. But fear is a double-edged sword. I frequently come across what I call fear-inhibited religion: inexperienced imams and teachers who are afraid that their communities lose themselves in bad actions put such weight on warning messages of punishment and hellfire that people hardly dare to do anything at all. Another manifestation would be the demand for drastic measures against something that is perceived as threatening — but this is exactly the stuff that violent extremism grows from — in all varieties that have aptly been described in one of the earlier lectures: both terror and the war against terror are ultimately based on the idea of fighting fear with fear.
Another weapon would be hope. In fact, Al-Ghazali describes it as an efficient antidote for fear. While fear of the consequences may prevent bad actions, the hope for a reward may motivate to do good actions. Hope is also a strong support that enables us to continue, to have patience, to try a fresh start. Our prophetic models have been exposed to depressing experiences and dark days in their lives and had to be reminded of the sparks of hope. Even the Prophet Muhammad was told, “Your Lord has not left you, and He is not angry. And what comes afterwards is better for you than what was before …” (Surah 93, Ad-Duha). We must keep that in mind for our perspective when we teach our children and get them involved; when we help others to deal with a personal crisis or a conflict. Most important, though, is to keep in mind that the hermeneutical key for the exegesis of our source text as well as for ijtihad is a message of hope: the Prophet Muhammad was sent as a “Mercy for the Worlds”. We must not forget that the purpose of our Law is happiness both in this world and in the life to come.
The third and probably most efficient weapon in our struggle against fear and ignorance is love. Love for our Creator, for our brothers and sisters, for all humankind, and for creation is what ultimately gives meaning to our efforts, beyond anything that fear and hope could possibly achieve. It is a strong force that is even able to sometimes turn an enemy into a friend by “defeating evil with something that is better” (Surah 41, Ha-Mim as-Sajdah:34). Therefore Rabi’ah al-Adawiyah, the famous mystic of Basra, reportedly said, “I would like to extinguish hellfire and set paradise on fire so that people get rid of these two veils and serve God only for the love of His beauty.” But this is probably best for advanced mystics to understand.
In ordinary life, what matters is the right balance, provided by the universal prophetic vision of tawhid:
- the idea of the One beyond all human authority that we are ultimately accountable to
- the idea of one organic humanity that incorporates the diversity of races, languages, and concepts as a foundation for a balanced social justice that leads to peace.
This is not necessarily achieved by yet another ideology. Rather, it needs a skill of listening to each others’ needs, of a constant dialogue between scholars and non-scholars, between old and young, between men and women, between preservers of well-established traditions and documents and people with fresh challenging new ideas. And it needs prayer as a constant dialogue between the human and the Divine.
Humera Khan, An-Nisa Society
I would like to start by thanking the organisers Radical Middle Way for inviting me to this summit. In particular, I am acutely aware of the unprecedented privilege of participating in this summit as an equal, sharing space on the round table and being given this opportunity to address this honourable gathering of some of our most respected scholars, Alhamdulillah. As we all know Allah is the Greatest of Planners!
It has been said that the West doesn’t wish to know Islam or real Islam. But regardless of your view on this, it cannot be said that the West doesn’t know Muslims. A day doesn’t pass without a major crisis hitting Muslim majority countries. Nor does many days pass when a story about the unreasonable behaviour of Muslims minorities in Western countries doesn’t appear in the media. The West is now experts on the abuse of Muslim women, the marginalisation of our young, the often inappropriate behaviour of some of our religious leaders and the lack of any meaningful articulation in defence of our communities.
It is in this environment that our children are being nurtured. Therefore rather than witnessing the beauty, love and compassion of Islam and fellow Muslims they experience harshness, negativity and lack of vision or purpose. We have a new generation of teenagers who know nothing of the world except through the prism of 9–11, the London bombings, Bali and the avalanche of Muslim catastrophes — this is the way they see themselves and they are made accountable for it. Added on top of this they are likely to be ill-equipped in religion, experience family dysfunction and are unlikely to have access to safe spaces in which to express their feelings or share their experiences. The lack of any significant response to this catastrophe from our
Muslim leadership as a whole leaves not only the young but all marginalised Muslims vulnerable. They become vulnerable to either the excesses of worldly desires or more harmful than that they are left angered by the impotence they experience and to the vulnerable to be recruited by charismatic, pseudo leaders who are able to harness their emotions for extremist activities.
We meet here today in this beautiful, historical city of Fez and are inspired by our past heritage. But we are also here leaving behind societies in turmoil and confusion. In the limited time I have I would like to share some of my own experiences of trying to work for change in the Muslim community.
- 70% + of the world’s population of refugees are Muslims
- high level of unemployment
- high level of demographic movement due to economic trends
- high level of poverty
- shift in family structures away from extended families to nuclear families
- impacted by wars, conflicts and social unrest
The Prophet (s) prayed to Allah to protect his ummah from ignorance and poverty as they can lead to shirk. In discussions with some of the Moroccan participants yesterday we were told that the biggest problem facing women and children in Morocco is the lack of education and poverty. While this experience is mirrored in the Muslim world it is an experience also shared by Muslims living in the West.
But the situation we find ourselves in is not new — the sign of a society in decline has always been:
- Dictatorial leaders
- Economic exploitation
- And marginalisation of women and young people
The role of prophets in the past has been to address these issues, restore equilibrium and re-integrate those who have been marginalised into society. But today increasingly we find a disconnection between scholarly discourse, society and social activism and are more likely to find the following:
- Scholarly discourse over-focused on the preservation of traditional knowledge and teaching and not on addressing the challenges of our time
- Traditional family life — disconnect between our understanding of the private and the public
- The influence of western/secular knowledge
- Lack of investment in understanding the actual real situation of Muslims
- Lack of investment in eliminating ignorance and poverty The reality is that we are a collapsed civilisation with our spiritual, intellectual and cultural norms dislocated from their natural environment resulting in a state of loss, of bereavement.
It is in this context that we set up An-Nisa Society — an organisation working for the welfare of Muslim families and the projects and initiatives we have worked on for over 25 years have reflected our concerns. It is our conclusion that too often the issues of women, children and families have been seen only as the ‘problems of Muslim women’ rather than a problem of society. The number of vulnerable and abused Muslim women in the world today is growing every minute and it has taken this level of crisis for ‘some’ of our Muslim brothers to acknowledge the severity of the situation. But while all efforts are necessary and welcome, by dealing with the ‘problem of Muslim women’ as an issue only for women, we only deal with the symptoms and not the root causes. This in turn labels ‘Muslim women’ as a problem. The crisis of the Muslim family is not a gender issue — it impacts on us all and we must all, men and women, work to urgently address these issues.
Change as the Prophet (s) said can only come when we change what is in ourselves and we have spent too long living in cultures that are no longer alive and relevant. The future requires us all to change our mindsets and work towards a new future rooted once again in the essence of our Islamic ethics and principles. This in itself will bring back the lost dignity of Muslim women and insha’Allah the strengthen both the ‘whole and the part’ of the Muslim family.