In this episode of "Islam and Life", Prof. Tariq Ramadan asks Dr. Sinan Mir, of the City Circle, about we can maintain a moderate and balanced diet during the holy month of Ramdhan so we we can reap the health benefits as much as we gain spiritual ones.
On 16th July 2010, MADE in Europe and City Circle held a talk at Abrar House, London about the role that British Muslims can play in tackling global poverty.
The talk was chaired by Dr Usama Hassan from City Circle and the panel of speakers included MADE in Europe’s CEO, Saif Ahmad, Deputy Director for Middle East & North Africa from the UK Department for International Development (DfID), Giles Lever and one of MADE in Europe’s volunteers, Omayma El-Ella.
Dr Usama Hassan set the context for the talk with a quotation from the Qur’an, Surah Ma’un, which talks about how the formal ritual aspects of worship such as prayer are not sufficient unless they are accompanied by actively caring for the poor and oppressed. He said that this is not just about putting money in a box but it should be a constant struggle to challenge structural inequalities.
Giles Lever from DfID talked about how one of the core ideologies of the new Government is that of the “big society” whereby individuals do not just look to the Government to solve every problem but think about what they themselves can contribute. He mentioned the new Government’s plans to initiate an aid watchdog which will provide more transparency of spending and to give the public more say over what happens with aid money. Giles noted that while there are many other ways to get involved in tackling global poverty, charitable donations remain extremely important especially in the economic downturn and that this should extend to people’s individual lifestyle choices such as buying Fair Trade Palestinian olive oil even though it is more expensive.
Saif Ahmad, MADE in Europe’s CEO, noted that the alleviation of poverty and injustice is given the highest priority in the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The Islamic systems of zakat (duty on Muslims to give 2.5% of annual accumulated wealth) and sadaqah (general charitable giving) provide a mechanism for Muslims to do this. He talked about how he has had the opportunity to travel and witness poverty first-hand and how he was shocked by how desperate the situation is especially in places like Darfur in Sudan. Giving money to tackle poverty is very important but we should not stop here. In the Qur’an, Allah tells us to stand up for justice and MADE in Europe is just one response which aims to build up a Muslim youth movement to tackle global poverty working hand in hand with a worldwide coalition of people of other faiths and none.
Omayma El-Ella who took part in MADE in Europe’s Act Global project in which she travelled to Sri Lanka to work with conflict-displaced communities then talked about why she got involved in the project. She said that MADE in Europe was the first organisation she had come across which involved Muslims in this way and in particular provided opportunities to Muslim women. Through her experiences on the Act Global project she came to realise that there are not enough Muslims (and especially women) involved in volunteering in the field despite the fact that the majority of natural and manmade disasters taking place are in Muslim countries.
The panel’s opening speeches were followed by a Q & A session from the audience. On the issue of the relationship between the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and DfID, Giles clarified that there is a good relationship between them but the FCO does not have any say over DfID’s programme budget. A further question was asked about the impact that public lobbying and campaigning can have on DfID’s policies. Giles gave Gaza as an example saying that Ministers are aware that this issue is extremely important to the British public and therefore take this as a priority issue to tackle.
One audience member asked the panel for advice on getting a job in international development. Saif Ahmad responded that volunteering experience is the first step to understanding the area. He advised that often people are academically prepared for roles but do not show sufficient passion for the work which lets them down. Giles noted that it is a very competitive sector and you need to think about what skills you will be bringing to the table.
The event closed with the reflections of the panel. MADE in Europe’s CEO advised that as Muslims we need to remember the life of the Prophet (pbuh) and contextualise his message for today’s world so that Muslims are seen at the forefront of the fight against global poverty and injustice.
Director of Operations, MADE in Europe
My Mercy overcomes My Anger
Mon 26 May 2008
Source: Usama Hasan / The Times Online (Credo)
"With the Name of God, All-Merciful, Most Merciful" - all but one of the 114 chapters of the Koran begin with this phrase. Millions of people around the world begin their daily activities - prayers, meals, journeys and meetings - with this statement. All divine revelation to humanity throughout history is summarised in this formula. Mercy is the essential divine quality, superior even to love. We are not only made in God's image, but in the image of the All-Merciful.
Both these names of God denoting mercy, al-Rahman and al-Rahim, are derived from the Arabic root rahm, which means "the womb". The Divine Mercy is thus feminine, all-encompassing, nurturing and nourishing. The world is a place where the names of God, numbering 99 in the Koran and infinity in reality, are manifested or reflected in created forms. Rain, bringing life, crops and food, is an obvious manifestation of mercy: "It is He who sends the winds, spreading the good news, heralding His Mercy," as is repeatedly said in the Koran. Or, as Portia expressed it in The Merchant of Venice: "The quality of mercy is not strain'd; / It droppeth as the gentle rain from Heaven / Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless'd; / It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."
But anger and wrath are also divine qualities: "for I am an angry God," we are told in the Old Testament, and "truly, your Lord is swift in reckoning . . . severe in punishment," in the Koran. Anger is related to justice, and this is manifested at the human level in the natural anger that we all feel at injustice and oppression, at news stories about war, terrorism, murder, rape and incest. Yet, there is a golden principle relating anger and mercy, woven into the very fabric of creation, as taught by the Prophet, peace be upon him: When God created the creation, He wrote beneath His throne: "My mercy overcomes my anger."
Natural disasters, such as hurricanes and earthquakes, despite being mediated via physical, scientifically measurable processes, are unmistakably manifestations of God's anger in the violence of nature. Yet there is always the hidden mercy behind human suffering, the silver lining to every cloud. I visited the earthquake-hit regions of Pakistan two years ago and saw the immense outpouring of human compassion from around the world in the shape of relief supplies and workers, and the limitless supply of human courage in the survivors. This effect had been even grander, of course, with the Indian Ocean tsunami a year earlier. More recently, I met a young lady in London who was once brutally assaulted, raped and left to die, and three young men who were imprisoned abroad for years and tortured, in three different countries. The mercy of God gave them the strength and endurance to recover fully from their ordeals.
"Angry young men" - how often do we hear that phrase! (Of course, women and old men get angry, too.) If they're angry about injustice, it's justified. But wouldn't the world be a much better place if, inspired by God, our mercy overcame our anger and we had more "merciful young men"? Or, to quote Portia again: "And earthly power doth then show likest God's / When mercy seasons justice."
The Prophet taught: "Show mercy to others: God will show mercy to you." He also once pointed to a loving mother who was hugging her child upon finding him again after having lost him for a while, and asked his companions, "Do you think that this mother would ever throw her child into fire?" They replied: "Of course not." He remarked: "God is even more merciful to humanity than this mother is to her child." He also taught that God divided His mercy into a hundred portions, and sent one portion down to Earth. This portion is divided among every loving family and tender relationship, every couple and every mother and child, throughout the animal and human kingdoms. The remaining 99 portions are reserved for God to shower upon humanity in the hereafter.
Thus, if all the tenderness and compassion in the world is but 1 per cent, so to speak, of the limitless mercy beyond, we can indeed face life and death with plenty of hope.
Dr Usama Hasan is an imam at Tawhid Mosque, Leyton, East London, and a senior lecturer at Middlesex University. He is also director of the City Circle