International Conference on how to deal with Minority groups in the West

By Dr Mozammel Haque

A Two-day International Conference was convened in Watford, Hertfordshire to create an understanding of Islamic rules and orders as far as the Muslim minorities are concerned. About twenty-six high-profile Islamic scholars from various countries including the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Mauritania, United States of America, Germany, South Africa, Tunisia, France and Somalia attended the conference, which was held at the historic Hunton Park Hotel Conference Centre, Watford, Hertfordshire between 26 and 27 November, 2011.

Influential names such as renowned Sheikhs Abdallah Bin Bayah, Chairman of the Global Centre for Renewal and Guidance, (GCRG) London; Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef, President, World Muslim Congress, Saudi Arabia; Mr. Shahid Malik former Justice Minister of the UK, , Dr. Adel Abdullah Al-Falah, Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs of Kuwait and Hamza Yusuf were among the speakers. The conference ended with the issuing of a New Resolution approved by all the delegates.

Two-day conference titled "Juristic Reasoning in Regard to the Verification of Case Rationale as applied to Minority Jurisprudence" was organised by the Global Centre for Renewal and Guidance, London in cooperation with the Islamic Moderation Centre, Kuwait, held at Hunton Park Hotel Conference Centre, Watford, Hertfordshire, from Saturday to Sunday, 26-27 November, 2011. The conference was chaired by Mr. Shahid Malik, the former Justice Minister of the United Kingdom.

The Conference discussed three important issues, first of all, about the Fatwa by Ibn Taymiyya on Dar-ul-Harb and Dar-ul-Islam and secondly the objectives of the conference and thirdly, the Islamic rulings about Muslim minorities living in the east or in the west. I have the opportunity to interview some of the scholars about those three issues. Among them were Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef, Mr, Shahid Malik, Aftab Ahmad Malik and Jihad Hashim Brown .

About the Fatwa by Ibn Taimiyyah

Confusion was created by an error in the manuscript of Fatwa by Ibn Taymiyya. It is one of many Fatwas written by renowned medieval scholar theologician called Sheikh-ul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah. He was asked by the inhabitants of Mardin in Turkey about the status of Mardin whether it retained Islam status or is it become Dar-ul-Harb. Mr. Aftab Malik said to me, "That was a usual question. If we read the context, we will find Mongols had adopted the Muslim faith only a few decades prior to the Muslim lands. The people were not sure whether they were really Muslims or not. So they asked this question. Even, Ibn Taymiyya responded by saying look Muslims have their law, Christians have their law. It is neither Dar-ul-Islam nor Dar-ul-Harb; it’s a composite."

Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef also told me in an interview, "Ibn Taymiyya said it is neither Dar-ul-Harb nor Dar-ul-Islam. We have to co-exist; we have to recognise each other and we have to give rights to everybody. So it is a long history. It happened because of distortion unintentionally."

Speaking about the mistake, Mr. Aftab Malik said, "when the Fatwa was written, typed and produced a manuscript some 700 years ago. A mistake in one word committed."

Dr. Naseef said, "The Fatwa of Ibn Taymiyyah was printed in Egypt with an error of one word that was a typing mistake. It is an Indian scholar who found the error and Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayah also looked for the manuscript and in one of the manuscripts in Egypt Sheikh bin Bayah found the true statement of Ibn Taymiyyah which is everybody should be treated accordingly and so Muslims should be staying with others."

That mistake or error in typing "forms the basis of many of the radical Islamists today. So people wanted to justify their project or their idea that they have legality, they have a legal precedent, they will cite the Ibn Taymiyyah’s Fatwa to prove a legal precedent," said Aftab Malik and observed, "A number of implications arise from the Fatwa; the first and foremost is basing their understanding of the type of misprint and the second aspect is a lot of individuals does not qualify they don’t understand what Dar-ul-Harb or Dar-ul-Islam means. They have no background, no authority. As I have said in my speech that these people have secular profession, not religious profession. Unfortunately, we have inherited this madness. Those people who are inviting us to take these matters have no qualifications to make the pronouncement in public. We are so illiterate religiously that some of us listen unfortunately to what they say."

A discrepancy has come up in some printed editions of the fatwa with regard to the final passage "The Muslims living therein should be treated according to their rights as Muslims, while the non-Muslims living there outside of the authority of Islamic Law should be treated according to their rights." In some printed editions, the text is corrupted to read: "…while the non-Muslims living there outside of the authority of Islamic Law should be fought as is their due."

This change in meaning is the consequence of the substitution of two letters in a single word. Instead of the correct word yu`a¯mal (should be treated), the word is rendered yuqa¯tal (should be fought). This typographic error changes the meaning of the phrase drastically.

Speaking about the madness and mischief committed by religiously ignorant people, Dr. Naseef said, "This is misunderstanding; this is misinterpretation and misuse of what they are talking about Ibn Taymiyyah’s Fatwa which has harmed the Muslims everywhere."

Mr. Aftab Malik also said, "Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayah offers us a hope; he offers a synthesis between the text of our religious forefathers the great scholars but also the context. He understands some of the Fiqh-an-Nas and the Fiqh-al-waqih. So he is a person who understands the jurisprudence of the people but he also understands the context as well but unfortunately in the 20th century Muslims are playing by the scholars who know the text but do not know context; and those who know the context do not know the text."

Mr. Jihad Hashim Brown said about this Fatwa and Dar-ul-Harb and Dar-ul-Islam controversy was the topic of the previous conference that took place in Mardin, Turkey two years ago. He said, "One of the outcomes of that conference is that the pre-modern or medieval classification of states or regions as being Houses of Harb (war) or Houses of Islam is no longer applies, there is no reason of continuing applying that because international relations have become much more sophisticated; so we need to take deep into that tradition and see that what instrument or methodology enable us to come to success to get into it and viewing it going."

Objectives of the Conference

The workshop was discussing how to create an understanding of Islamic rules and orders so far as the minorities are concerned. Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef told me, "It is not required from the minorities to follow what has been done in the Muslim countries. Because they lived outside and the fatwa which was given to them makes them very upset; because they were asking to follow the Islamic rules like it was in Makkah and Madinah which is not possible. Of course, such thing as praying, fasting and other pillars of Islam, like this, nobody can change them. But as far as the daily life affairs, family matters and also co-existence with the non-Muslims; these are the things which has to be considered without any prejudice or without any narrow mindness. This is what the Global Centre is trying to introduce in this conference."

Dr. Naseef said, "So this workshop is to create better understandings and puts the Islamic order , to make the Islamic community workable; you cannot force things. Islamic jurisprudence is very rich; you can make volumes out of them; and what about this minority. There is nothing about the present situation of minority. We have to create about this to make it easy; what is called is the verification of the situation. We have to verify the situation before you pass the judgement or give them the Fatwa. This is the process; we are at the beginning of the process. It needs cooperation, finance from different Muslim countries, institutions and Universities and so on. If you want to create awareness in our Muslim countries; these institutions, organisations and Universities of the Muslim countries should take part in this urgent, practical study of the cases, deep research into the situation and so on."

Dr. Naseef also mentioned, "This conference is a part of different workshops continuing. It is not an easy job. It will take years to reach something recoverable to the communities but meanwhile we give them our Muslim communities assurances that we have the capabilities and abilities and the will to create the kind of situation which makes the Muslims happy living as minority in the east or in the west, still something can be useful."

In this connection he mentioned about the European Council of Jurisprudence. He said, "I think the European Council of jurisprudence have already started this process; they have a meeting last year and every time they meet they produce a fatwa, carefully studied to give the Muslims confidence that their Islam is rich with the solution which solve their problems."