Minhaj-ul-Quran International arranged a Youth Conference on a very germane topic, viz. "Renouncing Terror, Regaining Peace: The Future of Religion", at Aston University in Birmingham. About 600 mainly students were gathered in the Great Hall to listen to speakers from very diverse backgrounds. One well-known Muslim politician named Lord Nazir Ahmed, two academics, Dr Haifa Javad from the University of Birmingham and Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad from the University of Cambridge, and one renowned religious, political leader, member of parliament of Pakistan and the founder of the Minhaj-ul-Quran International, viz. Shaykh Prof Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, were the main speakers who delivered very good talks avoiding any trace of polemics.
The first main speaker to contribute was Lord Nazir who in his short speech included enough humour to soften the atmosphere, though more importantly, he described the status quo of the Muslim situation throughout the world in quite general terms. Lord Nazir in particular stressed that the Muslims constituted the majority of the oppressed people in the world and that this weakness was caused by inter alia poverty and illiteracy. The Muslim superiority of the past was, according to Lord Nazir, derived from economic, educational and intellectual superiority. Hence is the talk of any conflict of civilizations in the contemporary debate a non-issue for the Muslims and the main struggle for Muslims was to fight the social ills of poverty and illiteracy in order to be able to fully participate in our respective societies.
Dr. Haifa Javad was the second main speaker and her talk dealt with the topic of Jihad in contemporary Muslim Politics. She linked this concept to historical examples of e.g. Salah ad-Din in order to illustrate that Jihad was mutually related to the principle of justice in particular. Hence means does not justify the ends, rather noble ends requires noble means.
Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad added an academic dimension to what Lord Nazir initiated. Shaykh Murad started with a historical perspective and described the conditions of the Muslims during the Inquisition in Al-Andalus (Spain) starting in the late fifteenth century. The trials of past were more severe than the current challenges faced in the West. Muslims should accordingly remember that history was in Allahs control and that it functions as a lesson for the successive generations. Shaykh Murad perceived modernity as a new form of materialist ideology. Still the response to modernity should not be merely screaming (i.e. polemical), rather a firm belief in tawhid (unity of Allah), which will lead to sabr (patience), which leads toward a condition of tawakkul (trust in Allah) and eventually a state of shukr (gratitude) among Muslims. When Muslims loose patience, they also loose gratitude, thus becoming reactionaries. This reactionary response is, according to Shaykh Murad, derived from European totalitarian intellectual history rather than Islam. Thus the key to success is patience and changing our hearts to become proper believers. Muslims should hence extend the Islamic concept of love to the humanity.
Shaykh Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri was the last of the main speakers to share his taught with the audience. His speech lasted for more that one and half hour and thus longer than all of the previous speakers put together. Shaykh Qadri touched upon several indispensable themes in a very structured manner starting with the peaceful nature of Islam. Though, the Shaykh emphasized that being peaceful is not about becoming defensive. However, the first main theme of Shaykh Qadri`s contribution was the principles of balance and tolerance. Balance is a principle of Islam that neutralizes extremism. Some reactionary Muslim groups, according to Shaykh Qadri, use attractive slogans in an attempt to attract followers, despite of these slogans being against the wisdom of the Quran and the Sunnah. These groups do therefore follow the same approach as the early Muslim sectarian group known as the Kharijites (Khawarij). Hence Muslims have to follow the hukm (rule, i.e. the Quran) with hiqmah (wisdom, i.e. the Prophet`s Sunnah) in order to avoid any form of Muslim extremism and thus maintain the balance too.
The second main theme of Shaykh Qadri`s contribution was to clarify the concept of Jihad. The term means struggle or effort and there are five levels of Jihad. The first level is the struggle for human self-purification, the second level is the struggle for attaining and spreading of knowledge, the third level is the struggle for the practice of righteousness, the fourth level is the struggle of spending in charity and the fifth stage is the struggle of killing (Qital), i.e. physically defensive or pre-emptive. Shaykh Qadri emphasised that one precondition of the fifth level of jihad is that it is not permissible to engage if one`s expectation/changes of loosing are greater than winning.
As a whole, the symposium was very well arranged, in spite of being slightly delayed. The quality of all the speakers was impeccable and did leave the audience enlightened on the topic concerned. The academic contribution of the speakers was very good and original, avoiding mere polemics. What Lord Nazir, Dr. Haifa, Shaykh Murad and Shaykh Qadri said was a positive contribution toward clarifying prevalent misconceptions about Islam/Muslims and terrorism in the post 9/11 environment.