Ameera is a freelance writer. For 8 years, she was а content creator, founder & editor of MuzlimBuzz.sg. Ameera is currently Regional Manager (APAC) at LaunchGood.
THE opening address for “The Future of Faith” conference was delivered by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf on behalf of Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah. Due to poor health, he was unfortunately not able to travel to Singapore. Right at the beginning of the speech, Shaykh Hamza proclaimed how he found it rather daunting to represent Shaykh Abdallah because he is “one of the wisest and most learned men” around.
According to Shaykh Abdallah, religion is like a nuclear power. It is clean and great but we need to be able to contain the nuclear waste which is toxic. Similarly, religion is great but also has the potential to cause great harm in society, depending on who’s using it.
In our religion, we have many texts but they can be interpreted in many ways. This is why our scholars designed the methodology of understanding the text and context, which Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah has inherited.
How can we make a 7th-century text applicable to today’s times? Islam is a living tradition that is continuously relevant to emerging challenges. An understanding of the tradition that does not allow for this growth will make it antagonistic towards the greater community.
Using Religion to Unite Factions
Shaykh Abdallah observed that there are different ways of being a Muslim minority. One way is to become an assimilationist, where you disappear and lose your identity, or an isolationist, where you retreat from society. However, he argued that we have to be integrationists. This way, we don’t lose our identity but rather, recognize that we are members of a society.
Alluding to what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said earlier in his address about Singaporeans sharing core values, Shaykh Hamza said that religions share similar virtues and values.
He said that he teaches the Analects of Confucius, and while reading it, you could be fooled into thinking that you’re reading the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. He gave examples of Asian values that the Malays and Chinese share, such as respect for elders, honesty and hard work.
Shaykh said that we should use these similarities to unite factions instead of focusing on our differences.
One of the arguments today is that Islam is a militant and belligerent religion. However, the proof against this is that the first thing that Muslims say to each other is the salaam, wishing peace for each other.
Shaykh also mentioned how Imam Bukhari has a hadith on spreading global salaam, and how it doesn’t sound like a 7th-century Arabian thing to do, but it’s there.
In the Prophet’s first khutbah in Medina, he said, “Ya ayyuhan nas” - “O people”. He wasn’t addressing just Muslims, but everyone. He said spread peace (salaam), feed the hungry, maintain societal and kinship bonds, work spiritually on your selves, then enter paradise in peace. He began and ended with peace.
Shaykh said that there is nothing worse for a place than civil strife. It is even worse when there are external forces causing the chaos.
Shaykh Hamza said, “Once you lose civil society, you’ve lost everything.”
He said that Muslims have always been supportive of governments because anarchy is the worst thing that can happen. The Prophet s.a.w. came from a society where wars would go on for years, and he came to eliminate these feuds.
In our multicultural Singapore, Chinese New Year marks a momentous special occasion celebrated with rich cultural significance. It not only celebrated by the Chinese; this occasion and festivities also involve other members of other communities. We may receive invitations to attend Chinese New Year events. As a good neighbour, we may also wish to present our Chinese neighbours with Chinese New Year’s gifts, just as they give us Hari Raya gifts.
The Work of Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah
When Shaykh Abdallah saw the Muslim world falling into strife, he set up the Forum for Promoting Peace, which is supported by the United Arab Emirates. The first thing that he tried to do was to emphasize that we are all Bani Adam, children of Adam.
In Surah al-Isra’, Allah says, “We have honoured the sons of Adam; provided them with transport on land and sea; given them for sustenance things good and pure; and conferred on them special favours, above a great part of our creation.”
Shaykh wanted everyone to know that this is for all people, that human dignity is from God, and we have to respect that. When Shaykh Abdallah saw the aggression being committed against Christians in Syria and Jews in Iraq, he spent years debating and dialoguing with scholars and religious leaders. He made an argument that we had to restore the Charter of Madinah, where Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. declared his intention to enfranchise other communities and give them rights and responsibilities.
Shaykh Hamza said that in the past, we had dhimmah, or responsibilities. The Muslim community had to protect minorities, and the Prophet s.a.w. said, “He who unfairly treats a non-Muslim who keeps a peace treaty with Muslims, or undermines his rights, or burdens him beyond his capacity, or takes something from him without his consent, then I am his opponent on the Day of Judgment” (Abu Dawud and Al-Bayhaqi).
The Prophet s.a.w. was not tribal; he would not stand with Muslims if they were wrong.
Shaykh Abdallah brought up the Marrakech Declaration, which asks to implement exactly what is already being implemented in Singapore, whereby every citizen, irrespective of their religion, has equal status and rights as every other Singaporean; that we are Singaporean politically first before we are Muslim or Hindu or Christian, etc.
Shaykh Abdallah, on top of starting the initiative to feed 1 Billion People, is also writing important books to spread his ideas and teachings on peace. Shaykh Abdallah believes that Islam already has within it the solutions to the problems that the Muslim world is facing.
Additionally, Shaykh also has commissioned the Encyclopedia of Peace. 50 scholars are currently working on this monumental work in Morocco, examining all historical texts that promote peace, both from the Muslim tradition and the global tradition.
Shaykh Abdallah told Shaykh Hamza to remind the audience of the importance of Singapore and what the country represents. Singapore is a small but powerful country: powerful with its ideas, its people and its influence.
Despite Muslims being a minority, it’s a community that is honored by others. He says that having a President that wears the traditional headscarf is a testimony to our religious harmony.
In closing, Shaykh Hamza reminded that one of the biggest challenges facing religious people is despair. Despair is an act of the will; it is a choice, and hope is also a choice. We have to choose hope, give people examples of hope, and do things that uplift people and their spirits. He quoted the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.:
“The example of my 'Ummah is like rain. It is not known whether the initial part (of the rain) is good or the latter part.”
Expounding on this, Shaykh emphasised that we should be life-giving, not cause destruction or death. We should uplift, not tear down, and we should build, not destroy. He cited another hadith, saying that the believer is the one where humanity is safe from their hands and tongue, and their neighbour is safe from their harm.
The article is based on the Opening Address titled “The Role of Religion in a Global World: Contributions of Religious Communities in Nurturing the Common Good” held at the “International Conference Singapore: The Future of Faith” on 7 – 8 Nov 2018 in Singapore.