By Mujeeb Jaihoon
Many religious-minded youths today look upon the internet as a source for spiritual enlightenment. In their zeal for outright righteousness, they innocently fall prey to many half-baked scholars, who are driven more by agitation than conviction.
“The Internet is not a holy place for spiritual seekers,” said Abdal Hakim Murad, formerly known as Timothy John Winter, in a conversation with Mujeeb Jaihoon, the UAE-based Indian author and wanderer, during his visit to the renowned academic city of Cambridge. This University City is the latest in Jaihoon’s intriguing tours to leading cradles of medieval cultural centers, which include Jordan, Palestine, Samarkand, Bukhara, Kashgar, Mughal India and Tbilisi.
Educated at Cambridge, Al-Azhar, and London universities, Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad is a leading British Muslim scholar and researcher, who is currently serving as Shaykh Zayed Lecturer in Islamic Studies at Cambridge University and Director of Studies in Theology at Wolfson College. He has been awarded the Pilkington Teaching Prize by Cambridge University and the King Abdullah I Prize for Islamic Thought. He is well known as a contributor to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’.
“The traditional etiquette of knowledge-seeking is absent in online learning platforms which lacks the warmth of face to face interaction,” added Cambridge’s own ‘Shaykh’, who has consistently been included in the “500 Most Influential Muslims” list published annually by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre.
He also lamented the fallacy of ‘half-baked scholars’, who respond to every other issue, whereas established scholars of earlier times always chose to retract from irrelevant or debatable topics. The Cambridge University professor chooses not to indulge in frivolous argumentations where the opposing side is not prepared to give an ear for his point of view.
“Shouting from the pulpit is a product of agitation out of fear, whereas calmness is a sign of ‘conviction’,” observed Murad, who also occasionally delivers thought-provoking Friday sermons at the Cambridge mosque.
Xenophobia in Europe
Commenting on the growing anti-immigrant sentiment across Europe, he humorously observed that the English picked up the habit of adding milk to tea from India, as he gently poured the tea into the cup. He strongly believed, as prominent political pundits had pointed out, that xenophobia played a significant part in winning thumbs up for the Brexit, last year’s notorious referendum in which British citizens voted to exit the EU. As is evident from his lectures, the Cambridge Professor fights tooth and nail any ideology favouring exclusivity or provincialism, even if it is branded under the banner of Islam.
Distortion of Islam
Responding to a question on the vilification of Islam, both by its adherents and critics alike, he reflected on the fact that Islam is like a mirror, which is already beautiful. “We just need to cleanse our perception.”
Although he maintains a safe distance from the social media, he admits, people spend more time on the web-based content than reading books and thus “one has to give some content for this platform.” Hence, many of his talks are available on several websites including YouTube.
The Cambridge Mosque Project, of which Murad is the Chair of Trustees, is an eagerly cherished dream of the Cambridge Muslim community, which is dedicated to the spiritual and social welfare of the city’s estimated six thousand Muslims, including many visiting students. Estimated to cost 23 Million Pounds, the Mosque will also serve as a cultural bridge fostering greater understanding between communities and have a strong educational component, providing an infrastructure and support for learning and research. Although the building will ‘proudly adhere to consensual Sunni Islam’, all denominations will be welcomed at the Europe’s first environmentally-aware mosque, which was designed by Marks Barfield who were behind major international projects including the London Eye.
Religious activism will be counter-productive whenever it is robbed of self introspection. Activism, he believes, fails to address the threat of demons within oneself. Religious activism and self-introspection are ‘not mutually exclusive’.
The British scholar is mostly known for his ruthless attack on the self-righteousness of wannabe spiritualists within the community. The mild preacher shows zero tolerance when it comes to criticism of the vanity of human self.
True Dhikr, or Divine Recollection, according to him, is in “the delightful observation of God’s attributes which manifest in the mundane life around us” and not merely in the “chanting of God’s Holy names”.
‘Al Ghazali of Cambridge’
Abdal Hakim Murad, who is also the dean of Cambridge Muslim College, is widely acclaimed by many experts as the ‘Al Ghazali of the Age’, referring to the famed Islamic philosopher of 11th century, Abu Hamid Al Ghazali of medieval Baghdad.
The modest genius chiefly appeals to the modern critical minds, who are in search for an intellectual understanding of the spiritual sciences. Nevertheless, his critics often cite the intense sophistication as a fault rather than a merit of his acclaimed lectures.
Mujeeb Jaihoon is a UAE-based writer, orator, and wanderer of Indian origin. His published books include The Cool Breeze From Hind, a spiritual travelogue across Muslim Kerala and Mission Nizamuddin, acclaimed as world’s first Twitter-based micro travelogues across North India. He has journeyed to remote areas of Western China, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine besides the Arabian Gulf countries. His blog could be reached on www.jaihoon.com.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Unmasking the Conflict: Making sense of the recent uprisings in Kashmir’, edited by Idrees Kanth, Leiden University, The Netherlands and Muhammad Tahir, Dublin City University, Ireland.