(Originally published on Issue 58, April 2018)
On the 28th of February, Hujjatul-Islam Dr Shomali travelled to Canada for a six-day trip. During his visit, he delivered the annual lecture at the Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo as part of his ongoing academic engagement with the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. (see islam today April 2017 issue 46).
The event was arranged in cooperation with the Conrad Grebel University College of the Mennonite Church of Eastern Canada. The event was also supported by Global Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, Interfaith Grand River, Islamic Humanitarian Service, Studies in Islam, Rension University at the University of Waterloo. The title of this year’s lecture was: ‘Unity of God and Unity in God’. In his lecture Dr Shomali presented the concept of tawhid (unity of God) according to Islam, explaining how belief in the unity of God would lead to the unity of people in God.
Whenever Dr Shomali travels to Canada, he always tries to visit universities, his Christian friends and the local Ahl-ul Bait communities. This time around he travelled to Ottawa to attend a number of private and public programmes. From Thursday evening 1st of March till Sunday 3rd of March, Dr Shomali attended the winter retreat with the Khawthar Learning Circle ‘s students and their families. (A full report to be published in the next issue of islam today). On the 4th of March, he was invited to the Ark Centre of Excellence for an interactive session with brothers. Dr Shomali started the session with a talk about the importance of unity in the community before moving on to an interesting Q&A session where the discussion covered many issues related to community education and how to face the challenges of living in the West.
The following day, Dr Shomali was invited to give a talk at Carleton University, organised by the Carleton University and the University of Ottawa Islamic associations; Ahlul-Bayt Student Association and Thaqaleyn Muslim Association. The title of the talk was: ‘Reflecting on Connections: Integrating Islam in Western Society’.
Addressing a packed auditorium of mostly Muslims students, Dr Shomali started with the premise that nothing that comes from God is only for the benefit of few and that in Islam we always consider the relationship between God and the people. He stated that the path of God goes through people and the path towards people goes through God. A message from God is for all humanity but it acquires different forms depending on the background of the people who receive it. For example, the Arabs made Islam part of their culture as did the Persians. The cultural forms that are generated from the interaction between the message (of Islam) and local customs, although useful are not to be understood as the message itself, said Dr Shomali. He affirmed that is important to distinguish between the cultural expressions and traditions of a certain group of people who embrace Islam or any religion for that matter and the core message of that religion. Dr Shomali used the analogy of falling rain.
“When it comes from the sky rainwater has no colour, smell or taste, but the moment it hits the ground it will acquire the properties of the place where it has fallen,” he said, adding that the result does not represent the essence of pure rainwater. In terms of Islam and its people, Dr Shomali stated that it is good to keep and encourage ones’ culture and customs but it is not right to tell people of the West that if they wish to approach Islam they should change their culture for one of the already established Islamic cultures. He added that: “‘People can keep their own culture, the way they dress, eat …., as long as they don’t contradict the principles of Islam. Islam does not come to replace someone’s culture. This would only create stiffening of position from one culture against the other. Like rainwater when Islam arrives it brings benefits to everyone indiscriminately and it is the people who will flavour that water according to their taste. Islam respects other cultures especially when these have been built over centuries, but if there is a need for correction Islam asks for limited specific changes.”
Before returning to London, Dr Shomali also visited a the Ahlul Bayt school in Ottawa where he held a meeting with teachers and administration staff on the philosophy of education in Islam. He also spoke to the students of year 7 and 8, about the significance of time and how to appreciate and benefit from it.
Islam Today issue 65 (Special Issue) is dedicated to the interfaith work undertaken by the Islamic Centre of England over the past few years. Download the full pdf here: