Imam Idris Nawab talk with Chichester Humanists 14th December 2013

Idris Nawab, Imam of Worthing Mosque, visited Chichester Humanists at our excellent alternative venue St Martin's Organic Wholefood Cafe. He was accompanied by Chairman Ali Abdul Rahman. Idris began some background information about bimself. Born and raised in a community school in Dewsbury, he attended a madrassa for 9 years from the age of 12, where he memorised the Koran.

He trained to become an Imam over the next 5 years in Johannesburg and then returned to take up a position at Swindon Mosque for 3 years. He has been Imam of Worthing Mosque for the last 6 years. Idris then gave a brief overview of the main 3 beliefs of Islam.

Oneness of God the creator. The greatest sin is to believe in multiple gods, though he thinks that everyone deep down believes in the oneness of God, citing Hinduism as an example.

Why Islam is true. The Koran must have come from God because it was transmitted to the Prophet Mohammed, an illiterate, yet is poetry. It has been passed down through the ages by word of mouth, in contrast to the dubious translations of other religious texts, e.g. the New Testament. Muslims believe in the ancient books, e.g. the Old Testament, but that the message from God ended in the 14th century with the Koran.

Judgement. This takes place now or in the hereafter. God is testing us to be good. On judgement day, God will balance up the good vs evil deeds and we will receive the effects of the evil deeds. Judgement day is similar to real world consequences.

Idris went on to talk about our purpose in life, which is a combination of fulfilling the human rights of other and pleasing God. But God has more rights than humans.

After this introduction, Idris spent the remainder of the meeting answering questions.

What are the Hadith? These are the Prophet Mohammed's sayings. Some are fabricated. They are mostly practical actions. Muslims believe they come from God. One of them calls for the death of Muslims who leave Islam (apostasy). Idris explained that the penalty is for those who encourage others to leave Islam. Muslims believe that the message of God cannot be changed. This led on to the question.

Why does God need to threaten capital punishment? Idris said that we all have the right to believe or not and that there is no physical compulsion to do so. God created people to worship him, which is the only reason why he provides for us. Because of this, the punishment for apostasy is reasonable.

What about sharia law in the UK? Idris supports the idea that there should only be one law for everybody. Bearing in mind that only 3% of the population is Muslim and that only a small fraction of these are devout, he thinks the media coverage has been blown out of all proportion. (At the beginning of the meeting he was asked for his impression of the media coverage of Islam. He said that he was saddened about the negative image of Islam and mentioned some word association research which linked Islam to oppression etc.) Idris explained that for Muslims marriage is only valid in the eyes of God and so there was a need for sharia courts to deal with this side of Muslim life that is not dealt with in ordinary courts. If both husband and wife agree, they can resolve a dispute in a sharia court but they don't administer punishments.

Is Islam diminshing like Christianity, especially as it does not evolve? Idris replied that Islam is growing. It is not wishy washy like some Christian denominations. It is flexible enough to live side by side with others. Muslim will find a way to fit in and not compromise the laws of the land.

The Koran contains many negative passages. How does this affect integration? Idris stressed that the Koran mus be read in context. It was written on the battlefield. He is concerned that both Muslims and non-Muslims take verses out of context. The message of the Koran must win hearts and minds to fulfill the evangelical mission of Islam and so it must have a positive message. [Idris implied that Imams are necessary in order ot convey the correct message.] He said that we must not confuse devotion with radicalism, to which he is strongly opposed.

Do Muslims want Muslim schools? Idris was clear that Muslims, like other parents, want their children to go to good schools. In worthing, the schools are good and so there is no need for a Muslim school. In other areas, Muslims have opened Muslim schools because the mainstream ones are failing. They do not do this to segregate their children. They want their children to walk the right path and not be susceptible to problems such as drugs. He pointed out that the number 1 school in England is a Muslim school. He saw no difference between them and private schools. He aid that we need to integrate and if general schools get better, Muslims will send their children to them.

Do Muslims believe in evolution? Yes, for animals but humans were created separately. Idris thinks that Muslims don't get as offended by criticsim of their stance as people defending evolution. God created evolution. When asked if evolution could be proven to be true, Idris said that he would accept it.

What do you think about the recent attempt to segregate women and men at a university? Idris explained that there were three seating areas proposed. One for men women, one for men and one for women. This would only take place if the speaker asked for it. The reason was that some Muslims would not attend if they had to sit with the opposite sex. Although his explanation wnet some way to mitigating the situation, some members thought that any kind of segregation at a public meeting was wrong, and compared it with segregating on the basis of race.

Various other answers to questions included: there is a great difference between Islamic and cultural beliefs; the press often identify Islam with immoral cultural practices; there is no need for new religions (s.g. Mormonism) as the message of the Prophet Mohammed is unchanging; although the world changes, people do not.

Beofre the meeting ended, we asked Idris if he had any questions about Humanism. One of our members explained that we were either atheist or agnostic (or both). Idris asked if we ever think of God. We replied that there is no need to believe in God to be good, which for Humanists is respecting human rights. Muslims do this but they also have to please God first, which is where we differ. Idris said that Humanists need a system as well as morality and that this could only come from God. We disagreed of course. He said that the more people turn away from the Judeo/Christian/Islamic path, the closer the day of judgement. One of our members said that Humanists and Muslims share similar aims but that there can be no overall divine standard. Idris replied that the first responsibility of Muslims is to each other but that they cannot ignore God.

Although we covered a lot of topics, there was not enough time to talk about other aspects of Islam, including:

Islamic finance

Alcohol and drugs

Abortion

Assisted dying

Equal rights for women, including women bishops, segregation in Mosques, sharia law (women's testimony, marriage)

Birth control

Sexuality: homosexuality, sexual identity, transexualism

Same sex marriage

Secularism: bishops in the House of Lords, Church of England, religious schools, RE, daily act of worship in schools, SACRE

Government desire for a UK version of Islam

Stem cell research, genetics

Are children born Muslims?

Circumcision

Veiling

Halal slaughter without stunning

How imporant are the rituals?

Equality in the workplace

We thanked Idris and Ali for a stimulating discussion and hope to invite them back to discuss some of the above issues.

 

 

 

 

 

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