Contentions: whys and wherefores

Circle - Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad - Cambridge - November 2012 - 1 hour 11 mins 53 secs

In a circle that is bound to interest many, the Sheikh discusses his Contentions, a series of aphoristic statements that he writes, the latest of which may be found here. At the heart of these collections is the relationship between Islam and language. The Islamic perception of language is that it is a vehicle of meaning but also a springboard for a new and intoxicating literature. Historically this has been true; one must look at the poetry of the Turkic and Persian peoples for just a few quick examples of this. Theologically this approach to language is also sound; the Qur'an says that 'among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colours'. Not for Islam then the Babelite curse. Every language may be a fully valid means of connecting with the Truth. This is the context within which the Contentions themselves operate. According to the Sheikh they are there to see what Divine indications are supplied by the English language, they hope to be part of a discovery of the luminosity inherent within it. The point is not necessarily to pose a truth but to evoke an atmosphere. Like our poetry they are closer to music than prose conveying truth claims.

The Sheikh ends the circle by talking about the following contentions in the eleventh set:

10: The Liber Asian vs. The Manu Mission: a woman may be Arahat on Arafat

21. Anthropomorphism is gender-biased

38. If you have not seen the saint, you have not seen the sunna 

For a full commentary of the whole set written by the Sheikh himself please visit the Quilliam Press website here. A most worthy addition to any library! 

Photo of muqarnas taken in the Alhambra Palace by the CKETC team. It has been argued that the muqaras were themselves inspired by the occasionalist theology that the Sheikh mentions so often in this circle.

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The Singularity of Intention and Will

Jum'ah khutba - Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad - Cambridge - October 2012 - 27mins 39secs

'Do not push aside those who call upon their Lord morning and night desiring His Face...'
Surah Al-'An`ām, verse 52

The Sheikh begins this khutba with this ayah, which touches on the key Qur'anic concept of irada and niyya, will and intention. A 'key counterbalance to excessive exteriority', these principles are the gateways the Almighty uses to judge our actions in this earthly realm. Famously Imam Bukhari begins his great corpus of Sahih Hadith with the foundational narration starting "actions are by intentions".

Quite often when discussing intentions, the idea of sincerity is mentioned, a translation of ikhlas. Whilst this translation is common, the Sheikh points out that ikhlas can be defined not simply as sincerity but rather as a purification of an entity to its most singular essence. Thus in this context the believer is asked to have a singularity of intention in all his or her affairs.

Judgement is not by ones goods and wealth but with, as the Qur'an says a sound heart, qalbin saleem. As Imam Ghazali notes one can't have singularity of intention without having a sound heart. The uproarious tumult of our desires doesn't settle just because we simply want to have a pure intention. This comes only with the purification of the heart, for as the Qur'an says "truly he succeeds that purifies it".

Photo of the grave of Umm Haram, known as Hala Sultan taken at the Hala Sultan Tekke in Larnaca, Cyprus by the CKETC team.

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Universality and Particularity

Talk - Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad - Cambridge - 18th June 2012 - 45mins 38secs

Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds!
Qur'an, Al-Fatiha, Verse 1 

Islam is not just a large religion, it is religion at large. "I am sent to all mankind" 
Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad, Contentions 16:95 
As British society agonises over cases of prejudice against ethnic minorities in this supposedly post-racist age the universalising message of Islam is a much welcome one. The Sheikh discusses this message, why classical Islamic civilisations were able to be so diverse.

 One reason may be that the Qur'an, unlike the Bible, is not about the continuity of a people but rather principles. It is not about the drama of a people, not a Judaism of the Arabs. The Islamic story begins with Abraham and Hagar rather than one of his descendents, echoed in the central rites of Hajj. the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, and the Arabs are of Semitic lineage but also from the gentile Hagar, something that calls on Islam to be a message for the world, not one particular tribe. This is noted in the language of the Qur'an itself: when Arab is mentioned it usually denotes the language rather than the people. Classically in Maliki law an Arab is one who can speak the language well, rather than one who has a certain set of genes. If anything the Qur'an disparages 'it's people', the contemporary Arabs as they were they propagators of the jahiliyya that Islam came to destroy. Thus the Sheikh notes that Abraham is the forefather of a universalism that co-exists with particularism. Most Islamic cities were incredibly heterogenous, yet the set of core practices remained stable and familiar. The sacred law itself is race-blind, and so whilst we have a legitimate claim to belong to the culture of our ancestors, we also know that this matters not to the Heavenly Judge in terms of proximity to Him in this life and the next.

Picture of a courtyard in the Alcazar, Seville. Taken by the CKETC team

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The Scholarship of the Indian Subcontinent

Talk - Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad - London - 23rd June 2012 - 32mins 43secs

The Sheikh gave the opening lecture at the event entitled 'The Reviver and Spiritual Physician: Shaykh Ashraf Ali Thanawi'. The illuminating talk outlined the development of scholarship in the subcontinent from the early 8th century period of Muhammad b. Qasim to that of Maulana Ashraf himself in the modern era. 

The event itself was organised by Turath Publishing and Huma Press, and associated with others mentioned at the start of the video. 


Reflections after the Summer Stroll

Talk - Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad - Cambridge - 24th June 2012 - 14mins 20secs

After this year's Summer Stroll fundraising event for the new Cambridge Mosque the Sheikh offered a few thoughts after spending some time in Cambridgeshire's countryside. He began by noting that iman, faith, is the entity that connects and binds us to Reality, as it involves the internalising and experiencing of the principle of Tawhid. Thus our becoming monotheists involves not only mental function but also the life of the heart. We have to allow the heart to see things, just as the Qur'an describes the heart as something that sees. This is how we heal the painful divide between the ghayb and shahada, what is hidden and what is seen. Engaging in nature is engaging in this effort, a wisdom the Qur'an sends for this time when we the world seems stuck in a solely positivistic viewing of the creation. This iman makes the Muslim at home anywhere, as he knows where he is going, where he has been and what the purpose of existence is. This, the Sheikh prposes, is one of the meanings of the Prophet's words, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, 'for me, the whole earth has been made a mosque, and made pure'. 

The image above is a scale model of the proposed Cambridge mosque revealed at a pre-planning exhibition on September 7th, 2011

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Balance in the World

Friday sermon (jum'ah khutba) - Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad - Cambridge - June 2012 - 26mins 22secs

Behold! in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of Night and Day, - indeed there are signs for men of understanding. 
Surah Al-Imran verse 190

The Sheikh began this beautiful khutba with the above verses that allude to one of the key activities we are commanded to partake in; fikr. This is not surface thought but deep reflection with the substance that makes up the core of man, variously described as the qalb, ruh, nafs or in this verse as the lubb. This translates as the core, or seed of the human being and as the Sheikh points out it needs to sprout and grow, but can only do so with the water of Divine remembrance.

Part of this fikr is about contemplating creation, intuiting that the beauty in nature is not an end in and of itself but something that points to the Jameel. Just as everything praises and exalts the Creator, and states its absolute dependence on Him, human beings are likewise commanded to do the same; "the Source wants us to be part of this cosmic symphony".

Unfortunately humanity has an ability to forget, ignore or manipulate the wonders of Creation. Changing the signposts or milestones is a serious offence in Sharia, and it is arguably an even more grievous offence when we tamper with the Signs of this world. Instead of reading the ayat of creation we plunder the earth's resources and treasures for a relative pittance. As the examples of 'Ad and Thamud show there is only a limited amount of time we are given before Allah's punishment is met for the violation of His creation and order.

Picture taken in the Master's Garden, Selwyn College by the CKETC team

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Gold and Eternality

Friday sermon (jum'ah khutba) - Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad - Cambridge - June 2012 - 25mins 12secs

Lo! That which ye are promised will surely come to pass, and ye cannot escape.
Surah al-An'am verse 134

The Sheikh used this khutba to talk about the dual nature of Gold, which acts in this dunya as a potent force in and of itself, and also functions as a symbol of the two paths that we may take in this life towards the hereafter.

He began with the above ayah, one meaning of which hints at the 'worst kept secret in this dunya; that our lives will end.'  Oftentimes we construct mountains of wealth and barricades of gold as a protection from the reality of death. As an element and metal gold is precious, unchanging, lasting. The Children of Adam, the Sheikh notes, think that perhaps gold might imbue some of these qualities in them, thus averting them from the finality that they fear most.

The negative aspect of gold, or its pursuit is shown in the stories of the Israelites, that 'show what we can be when we are our best and our worst'. Moses, upon him be peace, left his people after they were shown great favour by the Almighty, towards Sinai. He took the solitary and steep road towards God, whilst they left him spiritually, symbolised by the constructing of the empty idol of gold. The pulling between the paths is echoed in our own lives, and whilst we are torn between the two we gain neither true comfort nor pleasure from either.

The Sheikh then goes onto show the other facet of gold's nature. Gold is incorruptible, pure, luminous like the sun and as such functions as the 'mineral of Allah'. This is brilliantly shown in the mosques on the temple mount in Jerusalem. The iconic golden Dome of the Rock is an apt symbol for the mi'raj; its resplendent light symbolising the presence of God, with the fitting counterpoint of the silver dome of al-Aqsa representing the Prophet dispersing that light, much as the moon reflects the light of the sun. The khutba ends with a hadith that invites us to seek the higher meaning and benefit in the gold and wealth that so many strive for in this world:

Oh Son of Adam, do you own any of your property except that which you eat and pass out, that which you wear and you wear it out, that you give in sadaqah and you make it eternal?

Picture taken in the Mosque of Cordoba by the CKETC team

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The Four Friends and Islamic History

Assalamu alaikum all,

We thought it would be a good time to point you all in the direction of a couple of sets of informative talks given by the Sheikh.

The Four Caliphs

The first set concerns the lives of the Khulafa al-Rashidun, the first 4 Caliphs, 'rightly guided'. The talks on Hazrat Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman have already been given (the last one pending uploading to the site) and the last talk entitled 'Ali: the Mortal Choice' will be given soon insha-Allah. To view the videos and sign onto the mailing list so that you can take part in the last session live, please visit the following link:


A Crash course in Islamic History

The next set of talks is entitled 'a crash course in Islamic history'; 7 sessions which was given over the course of a weekend in Oslo in early 2011. The audio has been kindly uploaded and made available by www.lastprophet.info:


Picture from the Eski Camii (Old Mosque) in Edirne, calligraphic depiction of the name 'Uthman'. Taken by the CKETC team.

Shari'a and the Modern World

Circle - Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad - Cambridge - April 2012 - 1hour 14mins 48secs

In this circle the Sheikh tackles the fraught topic of Shari'a and what form and role it has taken and might take in the contemporary context. A number of notable contrasts are pointed out in comparing religious law, which is the only credible legal system that can claim to be associated with Universals, with post-Enlightenment codes. Shari'a is thus described as a both a celebration of peoples' innate rights that can't be transgressed, but also as means of ennobling one's self through the promulgation of virtues and dignity. Thereby the religious law protects others as well as ourselves from ourselves, respecting the rights of God and His servants, ideally and in reality facilitating an atmosphere of serenity and repose. This contrasts sharply with modern civilisation's championing of the virtues of individualism whilst also being the most tightly regulated and legislated age in history; the cracks in the system are being all too evident to see. 

The second part of the circle includes an informative sketching out of different forms of law; statutory, case-based and juristic law, the latter representing the classical Islamic model. The Sheikh outlines how Islamic society traditionally had minimal interference from the state, with the qadi and mufti regulating law at a local, personal level. This system started to change in the 19th century following Ottoman changes to the statutory system, as well as Colonial interventions in other Muslim lands. The question that the circle then examines is in the modern 'Arab Spring' era, can contemporary attempts at establishing a religious law be credibly considered as such, when they are rooted in the post-colonial nation-state with all that this involves, in contrast to the system of shari'a that had operated for many centuries previously?

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The Ethics of the Prophet

Circle - Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad - Cambridge - February 2012 - 1hour 14mins 48secs

In this circle the Sheikh tackles the topic of ethics and what it means within the context of Islam. He begins with a fundamental point; that in the foundation of Islam as with other great faiths the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, was no mere theoriser; he laid down no well outlined manifestos or texts titled 'ethics'. Instead he, foremost amongst the greats of the religion, took history by the horns and changed it for the better in a natural way. It was up to those who followed, up to our day, to discover the spirit of how the Prophet was able to take his people and turn them around in an unprecedented time and manner. Many who followed him tried to find that subtle thing, that charisma, that made people hand over the keys to their hearts to him in a way that unified a land that had never been brought together before. It is revealing to note what his wife A'isha - may Allah be pleased with her - said about him: kana khuluquhu al-Quran, his character was that of the Qur'an. The message of Islam is thus intertextual, in a way the Book and the messenger are two facets of the same thing. Thus the Sheikh notes that Akhlaq, 'character traits', is the Islamic term for ethics.

The Sheikh outlines the current polarities of the age, where a post-Enlightenment West claiming to have found a Universal basis for ethics that apply to all human beings clashes with an often Muslim world that is seen as puritanical and backward. Sheikh Abdal Hakim goes on to see whether the virtues of the the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, can go some way to bridging this divide that is felt so keenly in contemporary society. 

Picture taken in the Eski Camii (Old Mosque) In Edirne, Turkey. Taken by the CKETC team.

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Debt, Interest and Unity

Friday sermon (jum'ah khutba) - Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad - Cambridge - 2nd March 2012 - 23mins 59secs

"And (moreover) He hath put affection between their hearts: not if thou hadst spent all that is in the earth, couldst thou have produced that affection, but Allah hath done it: for He is Exalted in might, Wise."

The Sheikh began this searing khutba with a passage from Surah al-Anfal, describing Quraysh's efforts to regroup and unify after the defeat at Badr through the taking out of loans to pay tribes to march under their banner.  The temptation amongst the numerically inferior Muslims was to do the same, but in the verse Allah clearly commands the believers to trust in Him alone, and not in the manipulation of the financial market.

Fast-forward 1400 years to what the Sheikh termed the 'European Autumn' and it is not difficult to see the far reaching wisdom of those Words. The European 'Union' that was to be the triumph of the financial vision of the continent is now splintering with catastrophic scenarios being played out in the poorer countries, Greece being the most potent example. In the khutba the Sheikh lucidly outlined the origins of Eurozone crisis, as well as that of the sub-prime mortgage fiasco in the US, to show how the endless borrowing has led to a situation where the future of an entire generation has been imperiled by the bankers who pass off these problems to those poorer than them with a nonchalant shrug of their shoulders. University students now will live half of their life under the burden of debt. Freedom needs autonomy, and autonomy cannot be exercised when ones dignity as a human being - the very thing that Islam champions - is chained by the shackles of interest-based debt.

Sheikh Abdal Hakim noted that the sharia is there principally to protect the poor, as it is the poor who always suffer first, as they now do in Greece, as they did in 1882 when the British invaded Egypt; just another shameful episode in the long history of Empire's corrupt profit-related ventures that brought misery to millions worldwide. Ultimately Empire collapsed as will America's rule, and as Muslims we should give nasiha that stability and harmony will never co-exist with this blind desire for profit, but rather with something else.

This something is what the Sheikh began the khutba with, and ended it with. One of the greatest legacies of the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him is the unification of the peoples of Arabia, a stark contrast to the contemporary unraveling of the EU. This unity was threatened with his death, but the Ummah was saved. Not with pieces of silver or gold but through Allah moving destiny through the pure, free hearts of those men of dignity, Hadrat Abu Bakr, Umar, and Abu 'Ubayda, may Allah be pleased with them all, and may He guide us to follow in their footsteps, ameen

Image from freefoto.com

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Musa: The Heights and The Cave

Friday sermon (jum'ah khutba) - Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad - Cambridge - 24th February 2012 - 27mins 16secs

When Moses came to the place appointed by Us and his Lord addressed him, He said: "O my Lord! show (Thyself) to me, that I may look upon Thee." Allah said: "By no means canst thou see Me (direct); but look upon the mount; if it abide in its place, then shalt thou see Me." When his Lord manifested Himself to the Mount, He made it as dust, and Moses fell down in a swoon. When he recovered his senses he said: "Glory be to Thee! to Thee I turn in repentance, and I am the first to believe."

In this sermon the Sheikh chose to focus on aspects of the Mosaic story, elegantly using them to outline some of the possibilities of the inner and outer aspects of the soul. Much of Moses' experiences are related to the rigorous majesty of Allah, His Jalal. At the Burning Bush on Mount Sinai when he famously asked to see something of God, he was met with the dazzling sight of the mountain crumbling as outlined in the verses above. Musa is also known by the Laws that he brought forth to the Jews, again another side of Allah's religion that is said to be 'jalil'.

However there is another side of the story. In Surah al-Kahf there is the rather mysterious encounter between Musa and Khidr. The events outlined in al-Kahf centre not on the outward but rather on the 'Ilm ladunni'. This 'knowledge from within Us' refers to the inward knowledge that cannot be explained through words alone but need ishara, indications, sometimes through poetry, sometimes through art, sometimes through an encounter with beauty itself. After all what is art if not the act of "seeking Ultimates that mere words can't reach"?

The Sheikh ends with Prophet Muhammad's own Sinai moment, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. The words of Surah an-Najm are mysterious themselves, but they indicate that there was something in his heart that transcended even the Mosaic, that somehow combined both the experiences of Musa but also of his companion Khidr, Allah's peace be upon them all.

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The Orphan

Friday sermon (jum'ah khutba) - Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad - Cambridge - 17th February 2012 - 26mins 44secs

Seest thou one who denies the Judgement (to come)?
Then such is the (man) who repulses the orphan (with harshness),
And encourages not the feeding of the indigent.
So woe to the worshippers
Who are neglectful of their Prayers,
Those who (want but) to be seen (of men),
But refuse (to supply) (Even) neighbourly needs. 

In his first khutba given after the Winter hiatus the Sheikh begins with a recitation of Surah Ma'un, that Surah that would 'strike at the heart of the one with sincerity'. These verses cover the vices of boastfulness and pride, miserliness and hypocrisy, but before all of these harmful vices Allah in this chapter mentions the active repulsion of the orphan. To be an orphan is to be without the warmth, shelter and security that a parent's care provides naturally. That this should stir our compassionate instincts is understandable, as is Allah's stern reprimand to the one who would repulse them, especially since their condition in this life mirrors all of ours' on the Day of Judgment. The Sheikh goes on to explore the early life of the greatest orphan of them all, the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, who was orphaned three times over, of his father, mother and then grandfather. 

What is striking in the life of the Prophet is that in society's eyes he had nothing, and yet Allah used him as an instrument to evoke the greatest changes in society the world has ever seen. This is why the sermon ends with a urgent exhortation to avoid the lassitude of being idle spectators and try as a community to care for those children who may then go on to change the world for the better. This cannot be done with the cold failing approach of the care home but with the prime Islamic virtue of mercy, evoked by the first hadith that scholars are asked to memorise when embarking on their studies:

"Those who have mercy will receive the mercy of the Most Merciful. Have mercy on those who are on earth, the One in heavens will have mercy on you."

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