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Updated on 12 March 2018
The HED at Stanmore Madressa held a workshop with Christian scholar Dr Chris Hewer recently and the following was written by a student who attended.
Saturday 22nd March 2015 saw the Higher Education Department hold its very first interfaith event with Chris Hewer, a renowned Christian scholar who worked extensively in bridging the gap in the understanding of Islam by non-Muslims. Over 130 students attended the workshop with some of them having taken the initiative to invite non-Muslim friends to participate in the session.
The event was fully organised by former students of HED with support from their teachers. Students were able to arrange facilitators for the program, organise the stalls, chair the day’s events and liaise with the TV producers for recordings and interviews.
Dr Hewer spoke eloquently about what people of all faith and none can learn from Imam Hussein, presenting a truly a humanitarian view. He reminded the attendees that in commemorating the life of the grandson of the Holy Prophet, Muslims had a duty to share the values of the Imam with humanity at large and how his teachings and values practically show benefit to all of humanity.
The points Dr Hewer included:
1. The respect for holy places - Husayn leaves Madina and Makka to avoid bloodshed in the holy cities
2. Spotting the weak tyrant - demands oaths of allegiance from Yazid and the workings of his tyrannical regime in seeking to make an example of the Imam.
3. Bad news and setbacks do not deter - the fickle people of Kufa and the death of the Imam’s emissary.
4. Living out the faith and not just talking – Imam Hussein stakes all, his life, the lives of his companions, family and successor.
5. Seeing things from God's perspective - people yet unborn can benefit from our right actions. How a long term viewpoint helps make the right decision and follow it through.
6. Consider the humanity of the enemy - giving water to the men and horses of al-Hurr who were responsible for the ambush of the Imam’s family and friends.
7. The door of repentance stands always open - al-Hurr pleads for forgiveness, is restored to full dignity and recognised by the Imam as a martyr in the cause of upholding the truth.
8. Who said that women are the weaker sex? The women who endured hardships of the desert and prepare their husbands, brothers and sons to fight and die and continue to endure weeks of hardship and captivity for the survival of the cause to uphold justice.
All the messages that Dr Hewer talked about are easily adapted by all those who stand for fairness and justice. This shows that the Imam was truly a leader of humanity and a shining beacon through time, as a valiant stand for justice against immorality and corruption.
The most poignant message that I took from this talk was the respect for all that is holy. This is in light of the recent tragedies in France with the issue of freedom of speech in regards to the ability Charlie Hebdo had in expressing their views. I found this particularly refreshing because Dr Hewer reminded us about the importance of respecting others views but at the same time still be able to condone the action of the murders in Paris. This is because Dr Hewer distinguished between the right and the responsibility of doing an action. This can be demonstrated by Charlie Hebdo having the right to express their opinion, but they have the responsibility to exercise it in an appropriate way that enables societal cohesion and not entrench greater divisions.
Another important lesson I learnt was the importance of repentance and how the “door of repentance is always open”. With the amount of evil we do in our lives many people feel they cannot repent because God will not forgive them, andthey feel hopeless. However this message was a great reminder to all of us to have faith in God’s mercy and that we can also be forgiven in the same way al-Hurr was forgiven. This tied into the notion of accepting sincere apologies and the importance of not taking revenge because so often in our society, people are so committed to the phrase “eye for an eye” but do not realise that an “eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”.
This mercy displayed by Imam Hussein to forgive al-Hurr and treat him as an equal was one that affected me because of the nature of how we should forgive. If I treat my fellow human beings people as a humans, and not collateralwe would find ourselves in a completely different political and social landscape.
After the thought-provoking speech by Dr Hewer, in the normal HED format we opened up the forum to the learners and our guests for some reflection on the topics.
We received some powerful statements from learners as young as 13 which was optimised by further analysis on the concepts such as hijab that was such a key aspect of the tragedy and how that, for Muslims, not only is the Hijab and identification of their faith, but also a banner for which they have to be good ambassadors of Islam and reverse some of the negative stereotypes that surround Islam.
The last thing I would like to mention is the final message that Dr Hewer left us with; that is the universalization of this message and how we as Muslims, and people knowledgeable about this great tragedy to humanity, must make this more accessible. Dr Hewer stressed it was our duty to spread this message as Imam Hussein is not for the Muslims or the Shias but for the whole of humanity and so humanity has to benefit from this message. The burden of responsibility clearly lies with those who have an understanding of the Imam’s stance through the regular commemorations that reflect on his words and deeds
I look forward to holding more events in the future in an attempt to spread this message to more communities and use the figure of Imam Hussein to bridge the gap between sects within Islam and in turn between Muslims with the rest of society. I am fully supportive of Dr Hewer’s return to HED in October to reinvigorate my passion for Imam Hussein’s stand for justice for the benefit of humanity.
The day’s program was made all the more beneficial through the showcasing of the work of groups such as WhoIsHussain.org, Project Zainab, Stanmore Jafferys and Ring of Knowledge. The presence of this group showcased how good work is already being carried out to benefit humanity through the example of Imam Hussein. Many facilitators from these groups also took greater inspiration from the workshop for their work.
We are also grateful to Subhan Husbani of ABTV for recording the event for broadcast and Sukaina Datoo for arranging an independent TV crew to record the event. The event will, inshAllah be broadcast on ABTV on the 3 Shabaan and can be found here.
A follow up HED session has been booked by the 4th October and anyone interested in participating is welcome to make contact with HED to notify their interest.
Some reflections from our invited guests:
“Thank you for inviting me and it certainly was interesting. I knew very little about Imam Hussain beforehand so from a learning experience that was really useful. I really enjoyed the workshop section as it was a good opportunity to discuss what we had heard and how to apply in our lives..” - Jacqui Watson, Senior Psychology and Religious Studies Teacher Royal Grammar School, Wycombe
“Thank you a thousand times for inviting me to join you on Sunday, for taking me, and for your generous hospitality. It was a privilege and a pleasure, a learning experience and a challenge. I liked all the young gentlemen leaders, the young boys and women. And Chris Hewer... I said to him, “Are you unique?” He laughed! I mean, how many other “Christian” theologians would you have teach in a Madrassa, and discover that you agree with his teaching? You don’t just let anyone into your pulpit.” - Tony Reynolds, lay Bible preacher Gold Hill Baptist Church, Chalfont St Peter.
All over the world, innocent children are suffering in one way or another. Some are starving. Some have no families. Some are homeless and have no safe place to sleep at night. They live in a state of constant fear and unhappiness.
Hajj is a special time of the year for Muslims all over the world. Whether you are fortunate enough to be able to perform Hajj this year, or will be wishing your friends and family well on their journey, the month of Zilhajj is close to our heart.