Monthly Archives: December 2009

Friday Sermon: The Rights & Responsibilities of Brotherhood Pt 5: Cooperation As a Cornerstone of Brotherhood

The Rights & Responsibilities of Brotherhood Pt 5: Cooperation As a Cornerstone of Brotherhood

Delivered by Sheikh Jihad Hashim Brown – 25 Dec 2009

Sheikh Jihad elucidates upon the role of mutual cooperation between Muslim men and women as a fundamental aspect of personal and community life. He explains that the premise of interaction and dealings between believers is to assist and encourage one another in goodness and piety.

To listen:

To download: 25-12-09_Brotherhood_pt5_Cooperation (mp3 | running time: 31 mins)


Relevance, Significance, and Effective Discourse

Sheikh Jihad Hashim Brown | 26-12-09 | The National Articles

Perhaps the most looming challenge before Islam today is to be understood. Misrepresentation on the part of international media pundits does contribute to this handicap, as well as a general myopia in the consciousness of the Western public regarding their own “others”, a category in which Islam, more often than not, features as the “poster child”.

We would be remiss, however, if we did not acknowledge the shortcomings of contemporary Muslim discourse to achieve the target of clarity, defining factor of the contextual channel between sender and receiver. It is the ever-elusive ingredient of the encoding and transmission process of communications.

Four considerations illustrate the gravity of this problem. First, systemic misunderstanding of Islam challenges the well-being of Muslim populations worldwide. Muslims easily become victims and their religion a scapegoat, whether in minority communities in the Far East and its counterpart, the Far West; or in majority resource-rich regions under occupation or at the mercy of proxy governments.

Second, it impedes Muslims’ potential to contribute to the common good of the greater global community in which they participate. Suspicion is an inhibitor where there is a need for enablers.

Third, Muslims believe that it is the human right of every person to experience the message and meaning of Islam. The ability of every person to make his or her own informed decision about Islam is at the essence of securing freedom of conscience.

Fourth, it is this disconnect between peoples and cultures that continues to exasperate the atmosphere of volatility that so often defines our contemporary environment.

In the Quran we find the verse, “and We have never sent a messenger except with the tongue of his people”. The tongue of a people is not just the formal patterns of their language but the meanings conveyed by that language. Language is the vessel of meaning, but the conveyance of meaning implies much more than passing an exam. Speech, in the language of the Quran, is nutq, from the same root as mantiq, logic. A discourse that is in tune with the “tongue” of the people is conversant with the operating assumptions that inform their views.

An effective discourse must be recognizable to its audience. The way in which it adds value to their lives must be readily apparent. This can be summed up in two operating principles, relevance and accessibility.

Relevance implies value and significance. For a discourse to be significant it must first be meaningful and exceptional; the importance of its content should stand out. To have value is that it contributes to the fulfilment of a real need or enriches and augments existing value.

Accessibility means that the discourse is comprehensible to its audience, it is immediately recognizable as adding value to them in particular. It must have transparency. For the exchange of meaning between sender and receiver to be successful, it has to be built on a foundation of trust. The message must secure confidence in the integrity of the source.

The challenge posed by facing off against a powerful and ubiquitous media machine is an overwhelming prospect. But the onus is on the Muslim community to do everything within our ability to fulfill our side of the communications equation. Along with this, we must ensure that our discourse is calibrated and aligned with our organic roots. This alone is the source of significance; everything else is just an adjective.

Bern is Reluctant to Gaze Skyward

Sheikh Jihad Hashim Brown | 05 December 2009

Once again the xenophobic European ultra-right refuses to foot the bill for the legacy of imperial hubris. The decision to colonise another people, dismantle all of their organic social infrastructures, graft alien institutions on to their cultures, and otherwise cart off their natural resources will inevitably have repercussions. Instability breeds confusion and handicaps economic development.

A natural result is the economically motivated migration of the client-citizen to the centres of the destabilising power. As the saying goes: “You broke it, you pay for it.”

Slender, reaching skyward, calling the spirit five times daily to ascend towards broader horizons in form and function, the minaret is an architectural icon of Muslim culture. Travellers from Europe have wondered in awe at the grace and elegance of minarets in Istanbul and Cairo.

Far from a symbol of extremism, the minaret asks us all to look beyond the mundane or the petty differences and material preoccupations that bring tension and discord to our lives. Minarets are a symbol of calling humanity to a renewal of spirit and a broadening of horizons as wide as the sky toward which they point.

Switzerland has always had difficulty with tolerance. This time it’s getting silly, as its right wingers seek to rewrite cultural history and paint their own bigoted fears on to their latest muse, the minaret. But to what degree have we as Muslims provided them with easel and canvas, brush and palette?

The conduct of visible segments of immigrant populations in Europe is at times appalling. Refined conduct is itself a primary concern of the very faith culture toward which the minaret points, yet it is often lost on these economic migrants. This gap could be bridged by appointing Muslim imams and providing space for scholars who are themselves native to Swiss, French, German, and Scandinavian cultures.

Yet there remains a growing number of young scholars of European descent who have been qualified with interpretive and otherwise academic authority in Islamic jurisprudence and theology. Marginalised by immigrant mosque boards, they sit by as onlookers while this tragedy of social, cultural and intellectual ineptitude continues to unfold. The translation of timeless Islamic principles into indigenous cultural patois must be accompanied by a decoupling of eastern cultural forms from doctrinal essences.

The European newcomer to Islam cannot be given the impression that embracing his or her new faith implies the erasure of the validity of their own culture and that to be a good Muslim means to become an Arab. This is not the understanding that was brought to Timbuktu, Andalusia, Azerbaijan, Istanbul, China and the Malay Archipelago.

Finally, we have a chronic neglect of the aesthetic imperative in Islam. Just as we find western-style malls with the accompanied brashness of their advertising and fast food chains in sacred spaces tasteless, so to is the grafting of foreign aesthetics – or more often, some pastiche of them – on to the landscape of western societies. When we go to Malaysia we expect Asian architecture; when in Cairo, Arabesque. But when in Geneva, Marseille or Boston, we don’t. The shock of stumbling into a transplanted pastiche of eastern designs in western environs is akin to an artistic traffic accident.

I once knew a Swiss man of Turkish descent. Born and raised in Switzerland, he was a devout Muslim, and was even named after one of the Ottoman sultans. But he was a master of the artistic embellishments that adorn the eaves of traditional Swiss homes. When the Swiss would build a new home in the traditional style, he was a favourite to be commissioned to apply the decorative styles.

The possibilities for cross-cultural sharing are as broad as the sky toward which the minaret points.