Dr Farhat Hashmi is a prominent Islamic scholar from Pakistan who recently attended Makki Masjid in Longsight (Manchester) to give a talk. The mosque was swarming with women, young and old, who had come from all over the North West to hear the words of this inspirational woman, but journalist Louisa Butt was disappointed when she refused to answer a political question.
It was clear that this alimah (female scholar) was a household name and loved by thousands. Women were rushing to meet her, some kissing her hand, others just smiling in awe. This intrigued me and made me excited for my interview with her.
I began by asking her a question that I was sure many would want to know the answer to, not just for the sake of it but because of it being answered by an acclaimed scholar. I was certain that she would have an interesting point of view on the matter, especially with her PhD in Islamic Studies and numerous qualifications on the deen.
I asked: “It is so painful for anybody to watch what is happening to Muslims in the Middle East. What advice would you give to the Muslims living in the West to assist their brethren of the Middle East and elsewhere, such as Syria, Gaza and Burma? What can we do to help them or ease their hardship?” She replied: “I don’t comment on political matters.”
I was shocked at her response, or lack of it, to say the least. I suddenly found myself asking whether it was completely inappropriate of me to pose such a question. After all, her lecture had nothing to do with societal matters, more to do with perfecting oneself spiritually and taqwa (God consciousness), which is a subject of great importance in Islam and a core principle of the religion.
However, as I stood and observed the women around me persisting in their efforts to speak to Dr Hashmi, my introspection instantly turned to disappointment. It saddened me that all these women had the potential to be educated about the devastating situation that the Muslim Ummah is facing from the women they regard so highly. But they probably regarded it as a “trivial” subject – it’s hard to believe that her followers would not if she is unable to merely answer a question in relation to it.
It is completely acceptable that Dr Hashmi bases her lectures on personal development and family values, made apparent through the hundreds of women that surrounded me at this gathering, and has nothing to do with politics. Nevertheless, I failed to comprehend how anyone could have deemed my question as an investigation into a scholar’s political views rather than a chance to enlighten her many followers and give hope to the ones who want to help the Ummah.
It is also acceptable that her lectures have nothing to do with politics; but is asking a globally prominent scholar such a question a matter of politics or is it a matter of humanity? Of course, there is the case of her being a scholar of religion but the relevance of the query to this scholar in particular lies with the fact that this political crisis is currently affecting Muslims, above all which does not make it any less of a humanitarian crisis.
It would be pointless to ask her about such an issue that does not concern Muslims, for example – so how can such an educated individual, one who has the advantage to stand on a platform where many can hear their voice, refrain from answering a question about helping mankind? What benefit are those qualifications if one chooses to ignore such a vital issue that is challenging the Muslims of today?
This incident made me speculate upon why some Muslims ignore the horrifying disaster faced by their Ummah, particularly those with the expertise and potential to do more. By doing more I mean simply raising awareness, not travelling to the Middle East with aid and certainly not disregarding the issue when asked about it.
With what is happening not just in the Middle East but the West as well, whether it is the Syrian crisis, the Boston bombings or the Woolwich attack, it could not be more of an important time to educate and inform Muslim women about the Islamic solutions needed to tackle the problems faced in society.
It is understandable that Islamic scholars are not “political leaders” but even an utterance of hope from them, even if it is just “pray to God for the betterment of the situation that our Ummah faces” – shows that they have acknowledged the fact that there is a problem and are concerned, be it with sorrow and hopelessness. To completely disregard the issue and choose not to comment at all, should be more than enough to make Muslims and philanthropists panic. It is something that should be feared by society because it portrays the adversity in question as not an adversity at all.
Think about the number of followers a very well-known scholar has, then think about how many of them must be ignorant of what is happening around the world, yet they can potentially participate in raising awareness but can’t or don’t think it’s an issue that they should be concerned about – just because the scholar chooses not to get into matters which does not involve the topic they specialise in. Tell me that isn’t a scary thought?
State of the Ummah
Without a doubt, it’s absolutely essential for a follower of any faith to learn the fundamental principles, rules and values of their religion. Due to its importance, perfecting one’s spirituality in this sense can take a lifetime to accomplish and for most it is not something that they can ever achieve – the bottom line is that you do your best. Therefore, it is entirely plausible for a scholar to encourage their followers with these intrinsic teachings. However, they should avoid embedding into followers’ minds that they must perfect themselves spiritually before making a step towards being politically aware, as well as making others aware, of the larger-scale problems affecting Muslims around the world due to the urgency and severe level of the crisis. Those fearing for their lives cannot wait for the rest of the world to polish its beliefs and piety to perfection before they are saved.
You only have to scroll through a social networking site, such as Twitter or Facebook to realise that this is a hot topic and one of the most controversial subjects of argument between different religious sects. However, the importance of such scholars to highlight current issues that are in need of immediate attention within the Muslim world is still ignored. Unfortunate situations like these are making life more difficult for Muslims from East to West, politically and spiritually, and the “mighty monster” called the mainstream media does not help with its constant demonisation of Islam and Muslims, making it harder for those in the West; let’s not pretend it isn’t happening because it is!
I’m not saying that every Islamic scholar should harp on about political issues affecting Muslims because even that is dangerous. It can almost make followers immune to the situation which may then lose its value, and that is the complete opposite of what is needed to tackle the Ummah’s problems.
Alimahs such as Dr Hashmi have the capability to successfully raise awareness and draw attention to the disasters that the Ummah are confronted with by easily tailoring the way they raise certain issues to the type of audience they educate in their own style. By doing so, they are increasing the chances of an effective solution to the worldwide crisis that Muslims are enduring, as far-fetched as it may seem. In Dr Hashmi’s case, she would be doing much more as her audience consists of mainly women – and as the famous quote goes, “educate a man and you educate one person; educate a woman and you educate a whole nation.”
Louisa Butt is the editor of Manchester based newspaper, The Speaker and a contributor for 5Pillarz.