Exclusive Interview with Tim Winter (Abdal Hakim Murad)
The agenda of the Islamic world is quite intense these days. Ramadan, the ongoing Cambridge Mosque project and the controversial disputes about the construction of a cultural center at the area of Ground Zero in New York…While the opposite poles are getting even more evident especially in the Ground Zero debates, the ongoing process is inevitably leading to the question of whether Islamophobia is increasing or not. As Lastprophet.info, we covered all these issues with Tim Winter (Abdal Hakim Murad), British scholar and one of the most prominent figures of the Muslim community in
How is Ramadan passing for you?
Tim Winter: Ramadan is going well, every year it seems to have a different atmosphere. This year in
What kind of differences did you observe in terms of the differences between how Ramadan is observed in
|In Turkey you have an ancient and established civilization. We are also creating a civilization for ourselves, but of course, we have a very long way to go.|
We know that in
It ought to, but sometimes it doesn’t partly because there is the annual problem of when we sight the moon, it is important that we the fast on the same day. But very often, people of Bangladeshi origin for example, will wish to fast with Bangladesh; people of Arab origin will wish to fast with Egypt or Morocco, so unfortunately even though nothing should in theory be simpler than just checking the visibility of the moon, we are disunited as a result of the ethnic diversity of the community. Sometimes also, it is the case that in the mosques there is a prevailing cultural style which may not be to the taste of the minorities that attend the mosque, but that is something that we have very little control over. Alhamdullillah, in our mosque in
What about the converts in
Well, it is unusual for them to be present in sufficient numbers in any place for them to be able to form a local culture of their own. So usually what they will do is follow the civilization or norms of whatever the predominant ethnicity is in their local mosques community.
Well, when you consider that the modern world, it celebrates so many things that are completely empty, we have for instance coming up in a couple of years the Olympics in London, where over a hundred million pounds will be spent just on the kind of initial fanfares, the ridiculous rituals and parades, and ceremonies, and songs that actually proceeds the games themselves. People are used to flagging up important events, perhaps occasions with a good deal of, as it were, conspicuous cultural consumption, and I think that if we are to compete with that we have also to be conspicuous.
|Islam is not really a single thing, and modernity is not a single thing either. So there isn’t a single formula for Muslims as they engage with the West.|
What are the main problems of the Muslim today, between Islam and the modern way of living?
Well, Islam is not really a single thing, and modernity is not a single thing either. The tradition of the Islamic world is gigantically diverse, and includes people living a variety of cultural forms, educational levels, income levels, and similarly modernity is very different if you experience it in
What about Islamophobia? Is Islamophobia a real threat that becomes a part of this process?
Well, it depends on where one is. What often happens is that newly established religious or ethnic minorities become the lightening rod for chauvinisms that have a quite different cause. There has always been a desire in
|We have made sure that the project is not just the property of the Muslim community, but that others feel that they have a stake in it as well. We have made sure that they have been consulted in every step.|
What is the recent point that the project of the
Well, we took the necessary step of buying land a couple of years ago, land is not easy to come by in a historic city such as
Are non-Muslims getting interested in the project?
Very much so, and they are very supportive. The local residence association is very keen on the design that we have chosen, and they have been very active in attending our committee meetings and making their preferences felt. It is located in a district of Cambridge on a brown-field site, whose alternative use would probably be intensive student accommodation which is something that the local residence do not find particularly desirable. So the possibility of creating something that will be an architectural landmark, and will really give a sense of ‘place’ to that part of
What about the support of the Islamic countries?
We have a policy of not engaging with the governments in the Islamic world.
What about communities?
Well, we have had a number of donations places like
Is there a deadline for the project?
There is no particular deadline, but the current accommodation for the Muslim community is so crowded, that it is a matter of urgency that we find a larger place where everybody can fit for the Friday prayers.
|Prophet Muhammad should be presented as the preeminent exemplar of uncorroded humanity. Nowadays our culture is so suffused with ego that it is difficult for us fully to understand what being a human actually meant to be…|
So, in this regard, is there a formulation for how Muslims should be presented in the West and how Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) should be introduced to the Western world?
Islam is a religion that is as effective as its leadership, and I think that more resources than are currently being made available, should be directed towards training the leadership, and the spokesmen and representatives of the Muslim community, not just in the Muslim world but everywhere. That is why we have the new Muslim college in Cambridge which was set up last year, which is specifically to take graduates of Islamic madrasas, colleges, and universities, and to give them one year intensive retraining on how to understand the modern world, how to deal with it more effectively so they learn about religion of science, they learn about politics, economics, other religions, history, philosophy, history of western thought which gives them a very good array of tools with which to respond to the really quotidian issues of engaging with the modern world, particularly if you are a religious leader, and particularly if you are a religious leader who has been called upon to explain the community to outsiders.
As for the introduction of the Prophet to the Western world, he should be presented as the preeminent exemplar of uncorroded humanity. Nowadays our culture is so suffused with ego, and with messages that insist that we should be expressing ourselves in ways that are prestigious; exhibit our wealth, and our status, and encourage envy in others that it is difficult for us fully to understand what the human conditions is actually meant to be, what an ego is, what a human being might be, or a human being who lives genuinely for others might be, or a human being who is in touch with nature, with the animal world, with different sorts of human beings, with men, with women, with the reality around us on the basis of the desire of service rather than on the basis of the desire to establish himself in peoples regard. So it is not an easy task, because modernity really exclusively valorizes those who are proudly displaying their egotism, and to remind them that actually human beings of a deeper level, a spiritual, more humane level where ego simply gets in the way of what we really are is an uphill battle. But the Fitrah, the underlying nature of human beings, can’t be entirely suffocated, and there is, I think, an increasing number of people who are looking not just for a set of values that enables them to live a more natural and more humble life, but also for an actual role model, a human exemplar whom they can practically strive to emulate.
And I have final question about the celebrations of the special nights, the Kandils…Some argue that this is an innovation, so what do you think about this?
It depends on how they are presented, if they are claimed to be an indispensible part of the religion when they are not fully supported by the Qur’an and the Hadith, then that represents a negative innovation. If however you are saying that these are commemorations of important events in our early history, and we do not say that it is a religious obligation to celebrate these in a particular way, this is not like a new Id, but if it reminds people of that event, and people do love anniversaries and commemorations, and it is presented as a way in which people can once again regain interest in something that otherwise they might not be thinking about, then that is an innovation that is praiseworthy.