Interacting with others
Dr Imranali Sibtain Panjwani has lived, studied and worked in the UK, the Middle East and Australia as an academic, lawyer, chaplain and community worker. He researches Islamic and Western Law focusing on the subject of the law, interpretation of scripture, moral development and access to justice and human rights for minority communities. His country’s expert reports have been commented upon by judges and lawyers and draw upon his diverse legal, cultural and religious experiences. Dr Panjwani is the Head and Founder of Diverse Legal Consulting, a consultancy that specialises in country expert reports on Middle East & North Africa (MENA) for asylum seekers. Drawing upon his seminary and university studies, his work cuts across scriptural exegesis, jurisprudence, philosophy, logic and metaphysics. By re-examining the subject of the law, a critical evaluation of how laws are derived from religious and non-religious sources can take places. This also means broadening our notions of evidence to understand other legal systems better so that the dignity of minorities can be recognised. In his spare time, he engages in interfaith dialogue in Muslim and faith communities worldwide and likes playing tennis and doing charity work. He enjoys spending time with family and when possible, escapes into the world of fantasy football and all other idiosyncratic creative outlets.
Lessons from Kerbala:
The need to plan Muharram and other community programmes around critical interaction – a void waiting to be fulfilled
y the grace of Allah (s.w.t), I was invited to the Organisation of Islamic Learning (OIL) in Toronto, Canada in Muharram 1445/July 2023. It was a wonderful and heart-warming experience alhamdulillah. What I wish to focus on, however, is their annual Muharram seminar which I was entrusted to facilitate and design. It was held halfway through Muharram on a Saturday and focused on 3 case studies involving the ritualization of religion, the effects of AI and social media and the legitimacy of seeking knowledge beyond Shi’a scholars. Arguably, these are some of the pertinent topics today that young and old alike want answers for. You may ask – how is all of this relevant in this edition of The Community on Friday?
As someone that has been attending and reciting Muharram majalis every year (alhamdulillah), I have yet to see amendments to the traditional 10-day majlis (as important as it is) which enliven the Qur’anic injunction of using our intellect to understand religion, especially in our contemporary times. Majalis are there for people to listen to, not critically interact with. A respected speaker may be confined to his material or the expectations of the audience, committee and/or customs of the month. However, an interactive seminar that raises the key issues of today in a month which arguably attracts the largest number of Shi’as is a vital opportunity to reconnect with families and youths. The seminar held in OIL attracted almost 75 delegates from young and old who were thirsty to discuss their personal challenges as well as find solutions to them. For them, Muharram wasn’t only about azadari and remembrance of al-Husayn (a.s) (again, as important as these are) but rather to practically apply his message in today’s society for their own personal moral and life reform. What could be a better way to commemorate and understand Muharram?
Imam al-Husayn (a.s) famously stated that, “I am not rising (against Yazid) as an insolent, or an arrogant, or a mischief-monger or as a tyrant. I have risen (against Yazid) as I seek to reform the ummah of my grandfather. I wish to bid the good and forbid the evil, and to follow the way of my grandfather and my father, ‘Ali bin Abi Talib” (al-Khawarizmi, Maqtal al-Husayn, vol. I, p. 88). What was the reform that he was seeking? To enjoin us to do good and forbid evil and revive the way of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) and Imam Ali (a.s). What were their ways – at least with respect to reason and knowledge?
The Prophet was always encouraging people to think as per verses of the Qur’an: “do you not use reason?” (2:76) and “When they are told, ‘Follow what Allah has sent down,’ they say, ‘We will rather follow what we have found our fathers following.’ What, even if their fathers neither applied any reason nor were guided?!” (2:170). Imam Ali (a.s) believed the masjid should be place where there is “rare knowledge” (‘ilman mustatrafan), as per his notable hadith on the 8 things a masjid should accomplish (See: Sad?q, Shaykh., Man La Ya’uruh al-Faq?h, vol.1, p.237, hadith no. 713 (Qum: Mu’assasa al-Nashr alIsl?m?, 1413).
Finally we have a plethora of narrations on the importance of knowledge and the intellect in al-Kafi. Here is one:
“32. Ab? ‘Abdillãh al-‘Ãsimi (—) ‘Ali ibn al-Hasan (—) ‘Ali ibn Asbãt, (—) al-Hasan ibn al-Jahm (—) Abi’l-Hasan ar-Ridã (p.b.u.h.), when a discussion about Reason took place before him, (the Imãm) observed: “A believer in religion who has no Reason is of no consideration at all.” The narrator asked, “May my life be sacrificed for you, There are certain people in our community who, in our eyes are without any fault, but they don’t possess (sufficient) Reason and understanding (of religion).” The Imãm remarked, “Such people are not among those God has considered eligible to be addressed. When Almighty God created Reason, He ordered it to come forward. The Reason came forward. Then He ordered it to go back. It went back. On this, God the Almighty observed: ‘I swear by My power and Majesty that I have not created anything more handsome and dearer” (al-Kulayni, Usul al-Kafi, v1, Kitab al-‘aql wa al-jahl, book 1, p.65).
The question for us today is have we forgotten the search and application of knowledge by consistently fostering questions, interactions and discussions in our community programmes – the very methods of the Qur’an and Ahl al-Bayt (a.s) (please note the word, ‘consistently’)? I leave this question for you to answer, inshallah.
Below I have pasted one of the 3 case studies to give readers an insight into what we discussed and how the seminar was managed. Inshallah, OIL’s template of a Muharram seminar can be a model for others to follow:
OIL Annual Muharram Seminar: ‘New Age Spiritualities & Technologies: Who are we as human beings and what will we become?’
Format and instructions:
- Each group/table will be given a case study. They must work together to solve their case study. There are 3 case studies so a few tables will get the same case study.
- After 10 minutes or so of discussion, each group will nominate 1 or 2 individuals to come up and present their solution with justifications.
- After each group has presented, I will provide working solutions for each case study based on the teachings of the Qur’an and Ahl al-Bayt (a.s).
- We can then have a final open discussion on the case studies, the working solutions and general reflections on the way forward.
Case Study 2 – Use and Effects of Technology
You are a mother and wife. You have 3 children. It is a very hectic but blessed life at home. You and your husband are constantly juggling work, home life, clubs, madrasah, mosque and holidays. Your children are aged 10, 8 and 4. When you bring the children back from school, you notice that you are beginning to rely more and more on technology to keep them busy; sometimes just so you and your husband can cook and clean or for you to get some rest. Your 10-year-old is increasingly using ChatGP and generally finding answers to his homework questions quickly. Your 8 year old wants a phone but your 4-year-old is happy playing with his toys though is getting interested in phones. You and your husband are beginning to worry whether exposure to phones and technology, in general, is beneficial for your children and whether or not you should take away the phone from them.
You must find a solution to the aforementioned dilemma with the following considerations:
- Simply take away the phone and encourage them to play other games and find other ways to do their homework.
- Maintain a balance – an allocated time for phones and technology and then after that, the children are not allowed access.
- Allow your 10-year-old to use the phone for homework as it is difficult to find answers in books nowadays; everything is online.
- Give your 8-year-old a phone as she will have to end up using it anyway and it can come in handy for her for emergencies.
- There is absolutely no problem with the technological revolution – it is a natural evolution in society; so nothing to worry about it.
- There are some problems associated with technology but the positives outweigh the negatives.
May God bless Muhammad and his family.
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