At the end of November, I had the great privilege to attend the latest conference organised by the World Assembly of Islamic Awakening (WAIA) in Tehran, Iran. The conference, titled ‘Lovers of the Ahlul Bayt(as) and Takfirism Issue’ brought together 600 Muslims, both Sunni and Shi‘a from over 100 countries. I was part of a small British delegation. The conference was a follow-up to ten global conferences held in Tehran by the WAIA in 2011 on the theme of Islamic Awakening. This was my second trip to Iran and the visit was just as inspiring as the first time I visited for the Women’s Islamic Awakening conference in 2011.
Despite having visited Iran six years ago, I was still slightly anxious before my trip because this time I was travelling alone and being a white British convert I was confronted with a number of somewhat quizzical reactions to my choice of travel destination by native non-Muslim colleagues and family! However as soon as I set foot in Iran and I was greeted by the warm hospitality of my hosts including a VIP reception in the Imam Khomeini airport, I knew that I had made the right decision.
At the hotel, I soon became acquainted with the theme of the conference, love of the Ahlul Bayt (as), as I caught up with old friends and became acquainted with new ones, our nascent congeniality lit by the light of the Ahlul Bayt(as) burning in our hearts. As a convert to Islam coming from a Muslim-minority country and a lover of the Ahlul Bayt(as), I was surprised to find myself met with such warmth by Muslims from all over the world and it is from this that I began to re-discover the power of the Ahlul Bayt(as) – the most important theme of the conference! It got me thinking if this huge warmth and love between those who love the Prophet’s family was an effort by us mere mortals to show the respect we hold for others who also share our love of the most sublime beautiful human archetypes?
After a day of relaxation, the conference proceedings began in the prestigious conference venue. Here the delegation of 600 Muslims including leading scholars, politicians and activists were welcomed by the organiser of the conference, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Ali Akbar Velayati. Dr Velayati gave a beautiful speech introducing the conceptual bases of the conference: creating unity between Sunni and Shi‘a through mutual love of the Ahlul Bayt(as), and countering the propaganda of deviant forms of Islam by spreading knowledge of the example of the Ahlul Bayt(as), a concept so simple it is hard to fathom how our respective communities across the world have failed to recognise this perfect antidote to ISIS! When the actions of ISIS are held up against the lives of the Ahlul Bayt(as) – who showed the utmost restraint and compassion at all times – no one can be in doubt about the legitimacy of ISIS barbarity. Even when defending themselves on the battlefield, with no choice but to fight or die the Prophet’s family continued to gently preach and invite their enemies to the beautiful path of Islam.
Perhaps it is the historical legacy of persecution of Shi’ite Muslims, who maintain the strongest link to the Ahlul Bayt(as), and their subsequent history of taqiyyah (dissimulation) and insularity, which has left the lovers of the Ahlul Bayt(as) so weak in propagating the story of the Ahlul Bayt (as). Wait, can we even call ourselves lovers if we do not strive in the utmost capacity of our being in this mission? Doesn’t loving a person entail having an affinity for their values and behaviours? In the case of the Ahlul Bayt(as), our duty towards them is thus to fulfil their desire that we continue to propagate their message and strive to emulate their perfect example. However, Dr Velayati’s speech did not just wake me up to the power of the Ahlul Bayt(as) in countering ISIS or uniting Sunni and Shi‘a sects but to the boundless appeal of the Ahlul Bayt for all humanity. I started contemplating why I and others love the Ahlul Bayt(as)? Again, I was surprised to feel myself become aware of such a simple concept, I think I had not been truly cognisant of how influential the speech and actions of the Prophet’s family have been in my own conversion. The exemplary example of the Ahlul Bayt(as) has probably been the most decisive factor in helping me to understand what it means to be a Muslim, how a Muslim should live in this world and perhaps most important of all for a convert, why a person should be a Muslim. The conference had woken me up to a new perspective on my own conversion and a potential avenue for attracting people to Islam, what I deem the “lovability” or “lovableness” of the Ahlul Bayt(as), the attraction to those qualities which the Ahlul Bayt(as) had in abundance like kindness, generosity, compassion, patience, humility, forbearance and self-sacrifice that are sure to melt the hardest of hearts. How could any human not love the Prophet’s family when they hear about stories like Lady Fatima(sa) giving away her wedding dress to a beggar because she had nothing else to give and because the Prophet (s) had taught her to give away the things that she loved? It feels like the Ahlul Bayt(as) are Islam’s hidden treasure, and we have forgotten their true value. As a community we are very good at remembering the sublime moral stand and self-sacrifice of Imam Husayn(a) and his family, and now in the UK we are beginning to show signs of spreading this story outwards through initiatives such as ‘Who is Husayn?’, but this is only tapping the beginning of the huge potential for bringing people into the fold of Islam through love of the Ahlul Bay (as).
The conference lasted two days in total, over which hundreds of presentations were delivered about the role of the Ahlul Bayt(as) and the issue of takfirism from a large number of analytical perspectives. The conference delegation was also blessed to receive a rousing speech from Imam Khamenei at his private house where he similarly echoed the lofty objectives of the conference. The conference programme ended with a VIP day trip to Mashhad, an opportunity for us to connect and pay homage collectively and privately with our beloved Imam Rida(a). All the pilgrims came back with a much-needed spiritual pick-me-up and a blessed sense of brotherhood and sisterhood, a fitting end to an inspiring trip.