Monday, June 15, 2015

REVIEW of the MSA UNION Qur’an Conference 2015

By Nabil Yasien Mohamed

From the Left: Anwar Jhetam, Shaykh SM Hasan al-Banna, Nabil Yasien Mohamed and Abbass Darab
Photographer: Khadeejah Manjra
The Union of Muslim Students’ Association (MSA Union) convened their first National Qur’an Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa at the University of Witwatersrand, from the 30th April to 3rd May 2015.
The vision for such a conference was articulated by the former president of MSA Union, the late Yusuf Talia. The credit for the realization of this vision was the hard work of the project team of MSA Union and the sponsorships from AWQAF SA and many others.

The main objective of the conference was to bring the meaning of the Qur’an to the center of our everyday lives. It was open to scholars, students and the general public. Various topics were covered from a Qur’anic perspective, including Environment, Youth, Science, Gender, Interfaith, Economics and Politics. The conference stimulated questions and discussions on Islamic law, Islamic theology and current affairs.

The main guest speaker was Shaykh SM Hasan al-Banna, from the UK, founding director of the Islamic Institute for Development and Research (IIDR) and an Advisory member of the Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE). In his speech on the importance of Civic Engagement and Spirituality, he proposed a middle-path between Sufi extremism and Islamism. He emphasized the importance of infusing Islamic spirituality in our everyday lives, be it the workplace, the marketplace, or the political arena. This reminded me of the Romans, who described the Muslims as ‘Knights during the day and Monks at night’.
I was fortunate to interact on a personal level with scholars such as Sheikh Hasan Al-Banna. It gave me a better appreciation of his sincere devotion to the study of the Qur’an and to his approach to Islamic scholarship. The conference created a setting in which attendees could discuss and connect with the scholars, a meeting of not just minds but hearts. 

Our Prophet (SAW) said: “Souls are like troops which gather together. The ones who met before get on well; those whom they recognize, they get along with, and those whom they do not recognize, they will not get along with”. This refers to a time before we met in this world, in the realm of forms, when Allah said: “Am I not your Lord?” to which we said:  “Yea! We do testify!” This collective covenant, recognising our Lord, is what binds us as one brotherhood.
I felt this brotherhood/sisterhood (ukhuwwah) at the conference. In spite of our different ethnic backgrounds, or theological orientations, be it Deobandi, Sufi, Salafi, or modernist, we unconsciously tried to uphold this pre-existential covenant, and responded from the depths of our souls, from our fitrah or innate nature.  It is at such open-spirited conferences that we learn the possibility of co-existence and cooperation of Muslims from diverse ideological and theological backgrounds.  We learn here that unity does not imply conformity, but respect for diversity.

There was an eager thirst from the attendees to drink from the fountains of knowledge; everyone was there to learn from and engage with the scholars. Most were serious, ferociously taking notes and inquisitively asking questions.  There was a significant Cape representation at the conference and some of the speakers from Cape Town were: Moulana Tauha Karaan, son of the late Yusuf Karaan (may Allah have mercy upon his soul) and founder of Dar al-Ulum Arabiyyah al-Islamiya (Strand), who spoke on the Qur’an and Economics as well as Qur’an and Aqeedah and Sheikh Riyadh Walls (Stegman Road Mosque) who spoke on the Qur’an and Science. Among the presenters were young students of traditional Islamic studies, namely Zakariyya Harnekar (Dar al-Ulum Arabiyyah al-Islamiya), Abass Darab (Zaytuna College, USA) and Anwar Jhetam (MSA Union).

In the light of prevailing sectarian violence and polarising worldviews it is conferences of this kind that will bridge the divide. One of the key concepts that cropped up frequently was the concept of wasatiyah (moderation). Through wasatiyah dichotomies are transcended, and tolerance can be achieved.

Unfortunately, the conference did not pull half the crowd that was expected. I do not know if it was due to poor publicity or a lack of interest on the part of the community. Nevertheless, those who were present must have been enriched, as I have been.

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