Opening Speech at Muhammad Exhibition, 16 June 2011, Islamic Cultural Centre, London (this is an extract)
Salaam alaikum and good afternoon
It is an honour to be asked to say a few words to open this exhibition. I believe that this exhibition is very important as it will enable people to get closer to the man, the life and the legacy of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). I hope that it will draw more people into your centre who know little about the Prophet and Islam and that they will leave with a better understanding.
Hussain (AS) – the conscience of all religions
By Rubab Mehdi Rizvi, Chairperson, International Imam Hussain Council
Muharram, the mention of which drowns words in grief, marks a period of mourning and contemplation for Muslims throughout the world. It is on the tenth day of Muharram (Ashura – the martyrdom of Imam Hussain) when the skies wept and the earth kissed the severed head of Imam Hussain (AS) at Karbala.
My Muslim hero is Ibn Fadlān, a 10th-century travel writer from Baghdad. In June 921CE he set off as part of an embassy sent by the caliph Muqtadir to the Volga Bulghārs. This semi-nomadic Turkic speaking people were recent converts to Islam. Their leader had sent a request to the caliph for Islamic instruction and help building a Mosque.
Despite living so long ago, Ibn Fadlān’s account of his journey feels fresh and modern. I admire him because he made a great effort to understand what he saw and record it. His descriptions of those he met are a gift to us nearly a thousand years later. They remind us that wherever you go in the world, people are people. We are all part of one human race.
From my perspective, choosing a Muslim hero is tremendously difficult. Not because there are so few (on the contrary), but because there are so many heroes and heroines to choose from.
The Philosopher Bertrand Russell in his famous History of Western Philosophy has openly acknowledged the epoch-making contribution of Islam and Muslim civilisation to science, philosophy, economy, art, poetry and medicine.
My faith (Christian) influences me to value compassion as one of the characteristics of a person when identifying a hero, but my profession has also influenced my choice. I am a specialist in child mental health and am mindful of the great contribution that Islamic medicine has gifted to humanity.
My Muslim hero is Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī. He is better known as Rumi in the West. Rumi is an Islamic Sufi mystic from the 13th century who lived in what is now Konya, Turkey. I chose Rumi as my Muslim hero for two main reasons:
Firstly I believe that Rumi is a shining example of the things I admire most about the Turkish culture. Growing up as a disabled person in the United States I had become accustomed to people treating me differently because of my disability. I got used to thinking that the first thing people see when they look at me is not the type of person I am, it’s my wheelchair.
Christmas is a good time of year to remind ourselves of a time of humility and sacrifice. . One of the most important messages of Christmas is that of joyous giving, to be able to give to others. There are some people who refuse to understand that Muslims and Christians have been working together and building friendships for a very long time. It is through the spirit of friendship and a shared love and respect for both one another and our faiths that we are able to convey positive messages at this special time of year. The messages of love, peace and forgiveness taught by Jesus are accepted by followers of both faiths and therefore we are able to share in Jesus’ life.
This is what I think about Christmas. On this day Jesus came into our world, to change the world and make it better. When you think about it, Jesus’s life was very hard. In Islam we believe that people insulted his mother and we do not have stories about Joseph, so we believe he had no father.
Muslims regard Judaism and Christianity as divine religions. Islam is a continuation and an extension of those great religions. In order to qualify as a Muslim, one has to believe in Moses (Musa) and Jesus (Isa) along with all the Biblical prophets, peace be upon them. Muslims have to believe in the Torah (Tawrat), the Psalms (Zabur) and the Gospel (Injil) although Muslim scholars do have some issues about the accuracy of a few parts of these scriptures. And although Islam declares that it is the way of life chosen by God for humanity and that Muhammad, peace be upon him, is the final messenger of God, and that the Qur’an is the final message, the Qur’an affectionately refers to the followers of these previous scriptures as the People of the Book.
In my community we mark Christmas by learning about Jesus from the Islamic perspective. I want to educate young Muslims about Jesus and the second coming. Jesus is very important in Islam, and he heralded the arrival of the prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Learning about Jesus also matters because we live among Christians.
At this time of year in my Qur’an school the children learn about Jesus in the Qur’an. The school is attended by 400 pupils and meets every evening. Children also have the opportunity to learn about Jesus at the Fig tree primary school (a Muslim faith school in Nottingham). Usually at this time of year we watch a film called St Mary, which brings out the Islamic perspective on the birth of Christ.
We invite our local vicar to talk about Christmas on our local community radio station, Dawn 107.6 FM. And I do a yearly Christmas lecture about Jesus for Muslim teens and young people.