An Interview with Abdal Hakim Murad
Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for Fifteen21 youth magazine, how are you?
Thanks to Allah, my health is excellent! And it’s a joy to be talking to you and contributing in a small way to the great work you do.
Congratulations on entering your fifth year at the Cambridge Muslim College, what was your vision for the college and has this been fulfilled?
Our sense when we founded the college was that the first significant generation of British Muslims had the honour of building the mosques and now the time has come to work on the message being given in the mosques. Often listeners complain that our imams are not dealing with the real issues of modern British Muslim men and women, and especially the youth. Their culture is too different. So the College was created to produce a new generation of relevant Muslim leaders who really understand modernity, British culture, and the issues of the youth.
Studying eighteen modules over one year sounds very intensive. What does being a student at Cambridge Muslim College entail?
It’s a steep learning curve, but al-hamdu li’Llah our students are very dedicated. They don’t mind the hard work, learning how to deal with modern science, modern philosophy, other religions, social problems, and so on, because they are motivated to learn, and see why our programme is important. And the students get to go on many trips outside Cambridge. There is a yearly visit to Rome, for instance, which is a chance to relax as well as to learn.
Do you have any further plans for the college?
The future is in Allah’s hands, but we are raising funds for a building to be constructed behind our main building in Cambridge, which will include more lecture facilities, rooms for scholars, and a larger prayer room, and also a central research library for British Muslims to come and use. That will enable us to realize our dream of launching a complete accredited BA degree programme in Islamic Studies, with up to eighty students studying on the site.
From your experience, what are the challenges young British Muslims face today?
They need to learn, so they can sort out in their minds the various challenges that the mass media and the surrounding culture throw at them. They need to have these challenges clearly explained, by people who have a culture that is authentically Islamic and rooted in a real knowledge of the country and its strengths and weaknesses. And they need to have trust in Allah, and not panic or become downcast by current events. The ummah has been through tough times before, but the principle of Tawhid is the strongest idea in history, and Islam always emerges strengthened whenever there is a test.
What steps do you feel need to be considered by masjids and mainstream Muslim organisations to address the needs of the Muslim and wider community?
Imams have to know English, and have to understand the culture of the new generation. They have to promote unity between different Muslim groups, it is damaging that our mosques are so ethnically segregated. They should promote intermarriage between different racial groups, and be friendly and helpful to converts. They should smile and remember that Islam is about the joyful celebration of Divine gifts, not the angry blaming of people who fall short of the ideal.
For a young person who would like to study the classical Islamic Sciences, what would be your advice? Are there any countries or organisations that you would recommend?
The Arab world is on fire at the moment, and it’s hard to give any advice, since the situation is changing so fast. The best students, in my experience, are studying in Turkey, and are not frightened to learn Turkish in order to achieve that. Looking at the map of the Muslim world, it seems that Indonesia and Turkey are set to become the leaders of the Ummah over the next few years, while the Arab world will lag further behind. The Turkish Islamic colleges are very selective, but are very good, especially in theology and Sharia.
You travel extensively in your work, where is the best place that your work has taken you?
Perhaps my favourite country is Brunei: a model of an Islamic country where ecological values are doing much to conserve the natural environment. But I also appreciate China, which has perhaps the most beautiful Sharia-compliant music I have ever heard.
What achievements are you most proud of?
That’s not an Islamic way of putting it! Everything is Allah’s gift, and is by His permission.
If you were granted one wish, what would it be?
My prayer is for Muslims to have more compassion and wisdom in dealing with each other.
MashAllah you are a great role model to our readers, but who was your role-model when you were growing up?
When I was young role models were less important. I suppose John Betjeman inspired many in the 1970s, to take tradition seriously, and to have a healthy skepticism about the ability of science and technology to make us happier and better people.
Any advice for the youth?
If you are studying, especially religious subjects, you should read Imam al-Ghazali’s little book ‘O Youth’ (Ayyuha’l-Walad), in the excellent translation by the British Muslim scholar Tobias Mayer. He shows in very simple language how to study in a way that yields light, sincerity and blessing. My recent book Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions also tries to be uplifting for young people, dealing with modern political and intellectual questions in a hundred short sound bites. Other advice: don’t forget anything you have memorized of the Holy Qur’an, because that is to lose light after gaining it, and the presence of the Book of Allah in your heart will influence and strengthen everything you do, if you have a good intention. Try to empathise with others, and see their situation from their point of view, whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims. Treat everyone with the respect due to all descendents of our first father Adam (AS). Do not hate unbelievers, feel sorry for them, because in most cases their unbelief is the result of an ignorance which may be our fault as much as theirs. Know that the world is Allah’s gift, and that He needs nothing in return, and that your worship and gratitude are part of His gift to you. And if you realize how much He gives, and how little you deserve or do, you will never stop praising Him. He is the infinitely lovable, the overlooker of faults; the Gifter of all beauty, so we are surrounded by a banquet! The only rule is: have good table manners, and do not spoil your enjoyment by overindulgence! Muslims are here to party, giving hamd and shukr, and we remember that the Sahaba had the most beautiful smiles.
Kindly reproduced with the permission of Fifteen21 Muslim Youth Magazine
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