REFORM IS ALIVE AND WELL!
“It was a regular day of a
regular week in Toronto dealing with irregular issues like the
Niqab debate when I received an email Dr. Taj Hargey (Chair of
inviting me to come to their annual conference CRITICAL
THINKERS FOR ISLAMIC REFORM - The
Way Forward being held in Oxford, U.K. from
June 11 to 13, 2010.
Hargey was very persuasive when he convinced me that there can be
no reform without equal participation of women. This lead up to
his next question about inviting me to lead mixed gender Friday
prayers on June 11, 2010. Having done this before in Canada and
New York, with full support from my family, I had no problems but
asked him why he did not get someone from UK or Europe and he said
he had looked but could not find anyone. So on a leap of faith, I
agreed. I have to admit the idea of being in
was very attractive.
immediately got a phone call from The Independent newspaper in
to interview me. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/first-woman-to-lead-friday-prayers-in-uk-1996228.html
, Heathrow on the morning of June 10 and Dr. Hargey picked me up
and drove me straight to BBC London where they interviewed me for
the news that evening.
media picked up the story right away and my phone rang non-stop
asking if they could cover the event. I was a bit uncomfortable
with the media attention since that was not my intention in being
here, but thankfully Dr. Hargey handled the PR part skillfully.
put up at a picturesque B & B in Abbingdon which a taxi driver
told me was one of the oldest towns in
. The B & B is next to the River Thames – quite the
spiritually inspiring location for some deep meditation and
reflection in preparation for the prayer on Friday.
dawned as an unusually beautiful day in
, with the sun shining brightly and a lovely breeze from the
river. I went for an early morning walk and saw swans on the river
as a sign that all is okay. It was a great start to a historical
day. I as driven to the hall at Oxford where MECO regularly holds
Friday prayers by John, an elderly non-Muslim retired army
gentleman who is a regular at MECO Qur’an seminars and prayers.
is called the home of egalitarian, enlightened and erudite Islam.
Two years ago when MECO had invited Dr. Amina Wadud to lead
prayers, there were protesters outside the hall. This time there
were none. However half a dozen camera crews made it hard to focus
on the purpose. From the way the organizers handled this event and
welcomed me, I could sense they were pioneers of many
having led prayers before, I was nervous as I had never met any of
the congregation before. I didn’t quite see the crowd as we were
just in time so I was escorted straight to the prayer area by one
of the volunteers. I took a deep breath and took my place. It was
very empowering and inspiring. There was pin drop silence until
the call to prayer. After that it was like a dream. Among the
congregants were men and women from
and one man from Saudi. Two young girls came to me in tears
afterwards and said they had stopped attending to Friday prayers
due to the lack of equal space for women, and were so happy to be
there. The overall experience was very humbling and I was glad I
had made it all the way across the
for this auspicious occasion, which was only a small part of the
patriarchy and tradition are hard to break. A reporter from BBC
Arabic was clearly not happy about the event and decided to grill
me. He kept trying to trap me. He started getting personal at
which point I realized he had already made up his mind and
wasn’t really interested in my opinion. CBC radio was there and
it was good to connect with someone from back home.
the media hype, things settled down and that evening was the
opening of the conference on Reform in Islam. It was attended by
about 100 scholars, academics, students and activists from Europe,
. St. Anne’s College at
was the venue. And what a venue.
is green and picture perfect with stunning architecture. I could
imagine learning here to be quite inspiring. The panels were
excellent and I wish more media had covered the conference to see
that many Muslims are engaged in trying to bring about change from
within, without slamming the faith or having to be outside the
faith and called ex-Muslims. They are not just talking-the-talk
but actually walking-the-walk.
Hargey who runs a tight ship, insists that reform will come from
within which is why he does the work he is involved in. His stress
is on going back to the scripture - in our case the Qur’an which
is a powerful tool for the work all of us do. However not everyone
at the conference was in agreement which is the best part of being
there. There were people with differing views but everyone agreed
to disagree and hear the other. I had so much to learn and
tried to meet everyone individually so I could gain from their
knowledge and experience. Dr. Hargey is blessed with some
wonderful young volunteers who I met and bonded with. Halima,
Iftikhar and Farook are only a few of them who I have much to
was more than just gender equality. Every panel and each speaker
had me riveted. There was knowledge and information, facts and
figures to dissect and absorb. They all made me think, which was
the exact purpose of the conference.
While each individual speaker was marvelous, a few made a
was a skype dialogue with Dr. Amina Wadud and her book “Inside
the Gender Jihad” was available for sale. Dr. Wadud reflected on
the state of women at the time of the early Muslim community and
where we are now. She reminded us that the change depends on us.
She also made the point that both men and women are nurturers.
the presenters was Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer, Chairman of the Center
for Study of Society and Secularism in
, author of many books and articles. I have been an admirer of his
work since a long time and it was an honour to meet him in person.
He is an eloquent speaker and stressed the need for reason. An
avid writer on women’s issues, he said that the Qur’an came as
a social revolution, but as soon as a revolution becomes the
establishment, all is lost and emphasis comes back to tradition.
Islam gives MORE than
equal rights to women. He said that there is no verse in the
Qur’an telling women what their duties are while there are many
verses telling men what their duties and responsibilities are .
Robinson and Kelly Wentworth from the American Islamic Fellowship
spoke about technology and how just by their perseverance and
passion, they have started to work within the community and in
interfaith in a big way. They were a wonderful resource for many
of us who did not know much about public relations and hi-tech.
Their vision is to provide and open forum for the diverse voices
within the Muslim American community.
amazing presenter was Arnold Yasin Mol from the
and creator of the Netherlands Moslim Party as a response to the
election of Geert Wilders.
speaking were Layth bin Saleh al-Shaiban. I found the ideas and
vision of Layth to be most interesting and thought provoking so we
discussed and debated over the breaks and shared ideas. Free-
minds is something we all need for reform.
Edip Yuksel was part of the organizers of the conference and his
presence was everywhere. A passionate advocate for his God-alone
cause, he spoke with feeling and many of his books were on sale.
closer to home was Hasan Mahmud who is a human computer and
boggled everyone’s mind by quoting Hadeeth and Quranic verses
from memory verbatim to show how many Hadeeth are in contradiction
to the Qur’an. Hasan is an expert in sharia and was able to give
examples from all over the globe and from almost all books on
sharia law. He informed us that almost 14 sharia courts are active
I also met Sophie Catton from
and was in awe of her activism and spirit.
discussion and dialogue with both attendees and panelists were
totally outside the box with not a single panel being boring. At
every level I was enriched with knowledge and information – my
notes getting more complex as the day ended. Everyone had
something unique to share.
discussion about “The Media, the war on terror and Western
Policy” Merryl Wyn Davis (author of many books including Will
America Change? co-authored with Ziauddin Sardar ) spoke
engagingly about a history in film and TV of making a mockery of
Muslims. Merryl is with the newly re-organized Muslim Institute in
and kept the audience engaged with interesting facts and stories.
Justice, Tolerance and Reason plus Islam, Science Culture &
Liberty were two unusual panels with thought-provoking material
and excellent presenters. The pencils and notes never stopped and
Q & A’s went right through the breaks, much to the chagrin
of the administrators. On
the plus side, the buzz was audible.
speakers were not all Muslim. In fact among the non-Muslim
staying at the same B & B as I was so we exchanged notes on
trips back and forth to the conference. Gersom is also interested
in scripture only but from a Hebrew perspective. He takes "A new look at the community of righteous
Sons of Israel mentioned in the Quran" where he argues that
some verses of Quran mention community close or even identical to
that one of
. He also shows the awareness of some leading Muslim medieval
authors about the differences between Qaraism and (Orthodox)
Judaism. They considered the former as closer to Islam.
to say the least.
end of the second day, there was a workshop and roundtable
on next steps titled “Pragmatic Program toward Islamic
Reform”. At this time input was taken from all participants on
how to keep the momentum going and there were many practical
suggestions. Pete made copious notes and drafted a post conference
report which will be circulated. Kelly and Melissa kindly offered to set up a website
and facebook groups under the name IMAN'- International Muslim
final conference presentation was also unusual and thought –
provoking. Milan Sulc from the
presented on the numerical structure of the Qur’an essentially
to prove how the Qur’an reaffirms and confirms that it’s a
divine text. Despite being mathematically challenged myself, I
managed to be extremely impressed.
between serious issues like Muslim Economics and Entrepreneurship,
New Qur’anic Hermeneutics and Muslim Law, meals were home cooked
and served by Dr. Hargey’s wife Jacky and we were entertained by
Muslim comedian Jeff Mirza, who is a tremendously gifted young
man. Afghan musicians played while we had dinner – and dinner
was not just an ordinary meal. Three courses served by volunteers
like Halima and Kiki who were there for everyone.
there was a true celebration of Din and Dunya in the best way
possible. This was ijtehad as there should be all over the Muslim
world. I feel honoured
and blessed to have been there and pray that I can work with these
wonderful people in the future.”
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