MECO conference 2010, Oxford

Bismillah.  I attended this on Saturday 12th June 2010 and spoke on “Does the Muslim World Need A Scientific Revolution?”  Main points: we need to be more analytical/contextual about tafsir, hadith, fiqh etc. Plus reflections from a Muslim viewpoint on the 9 main effects of the Scientific Revolution in the West according to Prof. John Henry in his book, The Scientific Revolution & the Origins of Modern Science, Palgrave, 3rd ed, 2008. These 9 points are in the 1st two pages of the book and are enough, you can skip the rest of the book if you wish. And you can read those two pages & more for free on Amazon’s Look Inside feature!

Other speakers

Amina Wadud spoke via video-link in the morning before I got there. Merryl-Wynn Davies was there, nice to finally meet a childhood heroine who is often confused with Mariam Davis, another convert from the same era.  Merryl-Wynn is currently running the relaunch of the Muslim Institute as a Fellowship / Learned Society with journals, conferences, workshops etc.  Jeff Mirza the comedian was there: Jeff is his stage name & he’s an East Londoner. No relative of Shazia Mirza.

Asghar Ali Engineer: India passed a new law against domestic violence recently; a senior Muslim leader said that they’d “…  deprived us of our God-given right to hit our wives.”

There was a fascinating presentation on evolution by Dr. Shanavas of the USA. Darwin must have known of William Draper’s work, the US chemist, & of the evolutionary novel Hayy b. Yaqzan by Ibn Tufayl, since several English translations were widespread at that time. Draper wrote roughly that Christian theologians were too constrained, and should learn from “Mohammedan societies that developed & are comfortable with evolutionary ideas.”  If this analysis is correct, Darwin’s theory had many ingredients from Muslim thinkers (Ibn Miskawayh, Jahiz, Rumi, Ibn Tufayl, etc.) and is effectively an Islamic theory.  Rather ironic!

Hassan Mahmoud the Bangladeshi film-maker gave away DVDs of his film Hila about the oppression of women in the name of Sharia.

The “hijabis” there thanked me for defending their right to wear the headscarf, since a veiled woman can be a symbol of God. (God is veiled by creation & our egos.) Several of the revert sisters there had removed the headscarf after many years of wearing it since they felt it was counterproductive.

I politely challenged the total Hadith-rejecters there such as Edip Yuksel. His view is strongly based on seeing his mum, who he feels was buried alive in Turkey by being forced to wear a burqa, not having a real life & totally dependent on her husband. There are many weak, fabricated & problematic ahadith but the Hadith-rejecters throw the baby out with the bathwater, and I told them that.  They are keen to assert the primacy of the Qur’an over the Sunnah.  At the other extreme, some of the Ahl al-Hadith said things like, “The Sunnah rules over the Qur’an, and not vice-versa.”  (They meant in the sense of the Sunnah conditioning the general verses of the Qur’an, usually in fiqh matters.)

For me, the relationship between Q&S is best understood by Imam Shafi’i’s statement, “Everything that the Prophet SAWS said or did is what he understood from the Qur’an.” (I first read this in a book by the late Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazzali rahimahullah.)  Furthermore, others amongst the Salaf said that “Every sound hadith can be traced back to the Qur’an.”  Only people well-grounded in the Qur’an and the Sunnah can understand this in detail.  A clear grasp of the Spirit of Islam and its general principles is also required.  This is also why some of the early Malikis said that “Ahadith were misleading for all except the people of understanding (fuqaha’).”

Yuksel was wearing a “” T-shirt and I told him that I, like many of my generation, were initially very excited by Rashad Khalifa’s “Numerical Miracle of the Qur’an” theory based around the number 19 in the 1980’s.  He guessed that we became disillusioned later.  Yuksel is currently based in Tucson, Arizona and had known RK for a year.  He confirmed that RK had indeed claimed to be a Messenger of Allah, and that it was a jihadi cell that had assassinated him in 1990.  This cell seemed to have links to the first WTC bombing, and therefore some in the FBI regard the killing of RK as the first jihadi attack in the US.

The young revert sisters from Atlanta, Melissa Robinson & Kelly of the American Islamic Fellowship were interesting. “Going to gender-segregated mosques perpetuates misogyny. An expensive new mosque there has a lattice screen for the sisters, whose prayer-area is effectively a birdcage.”

Raheela Raza was there from Toronto, a grey-haired woman from Toronto.  She’d led the Friday prayers at MECO the day before.  Highly-controversial, of course, since the overwhelming majority of jurists have been opposed to women leading a mixed congregation.  However, exceptions have been Imams Tabari & Abu Thawr, and it is even said, one of Imam Shafi’i’s (female?) teachers and Ibn Taymiyyah.

Raza grew up in Pakistan and owes much to that country, although she is worried that Islam there is dominated by extremism.  She recited a moving poem about women’s rights in Islam at the conference – “I am a woman. Celebrate me.”  In conversation, she mentioned that the TV series, “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” had helped  enormously to shatter misconceptions about Muslims in Canada and show them as decent human beings with a sense of humour.  (Muslims in the UK should take note, especially given the results of the YouGov survey last week about public perception of Muslims here.)  She also said that the actress who plays the “gorgeous hijabi” in the series appeared in a game-show wearing a micro-skirt, to the total confusion of many kids watching.

Milan Sulc was there.  I remember his presentation at the Islam & Science conference @ Wembley Arena around 1995. Science in the Qur’an stuff. He saw deep-sea oceanic waves in the ayah of “waves upon waves” in Surah Nur. Also Prophet Solomon’s winds that “travel a month’s distance every morning & evening.” His explanation was that if you compare earth & moon circumferences and motions, you find that our atmosphere travels the same distance in half (or quarter?) of a day as the moon does in a month. I’m not too convinced by the latter explanation.

On the way back, I got to Oxford train station at 10.45pm.  The train stopped at Didcot due to engineering works.  A rail replacement bus took us to Reading.  There were two beautiful Arabian horses from Thames Valley Mounted Police outside Reading train station.  Got on the 12.13am Reading-London train but it didn’t move because the train in front had hit someone, a suspected fatality (a drunk, suicide or kid playing on the line?) and the Reading-London line was closed.  We eventually reached Paddington at 2am after the reopening of the line and two night buses later, I was at Leytonstone station.  An ambulance was parked outside, probably from our Whipps Cross Hospital nearby.  The two-man crew asked me if I had seen anyone lying on the floor in the street or the station subway, since they’d had a call for someone.  I hadn’t.   An invigorating walk later, I got home with dawn spreading (past 3am), birds singing & foxes loitering.  After such a journey, it was easier to do the dawn prayer with a feeling of gratitude rather than simply duty.  Alhamdulillah.


6 Responses to “MECO conference 2010, Oxford”

  1. Aaliyah Says:

    🙂 Nice read especially the end- the reality of it all! after all the various opinions and perspectives people have and the theories- the simple complexity and complex simplicity of just getting home and praying! the beautiful things in life are the most basic and lived experiences!

  2. Edip Yuksel Says:

    Nice meeting you there Usama. As for the “baby” I discarded with bath water, it was an “dinazor baby,” and it was still-born.

    If you read any of my articles or books containing my position on women’s dress code, you would learn that my views on it is strongly based on the Quran, and supported by my personal experience and observations. Furthermore, though I do not attribute the so-called hijab promoted by hadith and sectarian jurisprudence, I defended Turkish women’s right to wear headscarves and have expressed my support of their rights through numerous articles and a Turkish book on this very subject.

    As for your statement, “since a veiled woman can be a symbol of God. (God is veiled by creation & our egos.) “… This is not only a false analogy, it is also a reflection of double standard. If it is true, then why Muslim men do not join women in becoming sybols of God. I did not see headsarf on your head nor veil on your face!

    Well… though you have managed to hurl at monotheist muslims a few soft punches under the belt, I enjoyed reading your observations and it is the best that we can get from someone who respects hadith books, which are one of the main causes of backwardness, irrationality, oppression and misoginy in the Muslim world.

    I am looking forward meeting you in another conference and I will make sure that you will receive more time to express your criticism against us.


  3. Usama Hasan Says:

    I received the following email from Milan Sulc, reproduced with his permission (thank you!):

    Salaamun alaykum, Usama,

    It is a pity you had to leave the conference so early and that we did not have more time to talk.

    I read your take on the conference and it seems that my 1995 talk on 34:12 was not sufficiently clear. To clarify the misunderstanding, the main facts are as follows:

    The first sentence of this ayat is usually translated as “And to Solomon the wind, its morning’s course a month, and its afternoon’s course a month.”

    Wind is a movement in the atmosphere and the outermost limit of the atmosphere is generally defined as the distance from Earth’s surface where the molecules / atoms are being continuously lost to interplanetary space. This distance is generally given as between 550-600 km above Earth’s surface.

    If we take the middle value of 575 km and add it to the radius of the Earth at the equator, most ofter given as 6’378 km, we can calculate the circumference of the uppermost limit of the atmosphere as 43’678 km. A point at this upper limit would therefore travel a distance of 43’678 km in the course of one whole 24 hour day’s rotation, and one quarter of this distance during “a morning’s course” of 6 hours, and one quarter during “an afternoon’s course” – i.e., approx. 10’920 km.

    The Moon rotates around its axes once per (lunar) month. Its radius is most ofter given as 1’738 km, so during one month’s rotation a point on Moon’s equator travels approx. 10’918 km.

    My point was that the author of the Quran was aware of this “coincidence.”

    This said, I would like to emphasize that whether a person understands (or agrees with) the scientific facts that coincide with certain ayats is not important to his/her fate in the hereafter, since the important ayats that form the essence of the Quran, namely God’s commands, are clear and easy to understand.

    I hope I was able to clarify what I was trying to say and send you warm regards from sunny (today for the first time in 10 days) Switzerland.

    Salaam, Milan

  4. Hamdija Says:

    Assalamu alaykum

    I tried e-mailing you a couple of months ago about a subject related to this one, but haven’t received a reply. Perhaps you haven’t had time to reply, but maybe I don’t have the correct e-mail address. Do you use the same one that you once published on this blog? Thanks

    • Usama Hasan Says:

      wa ‘alaykum as-salam. I don’t appear to have received your previous email. My email address is (my forename) one-hundred-and-seven-in-figures “at” yahoo dotcom. Please try again, thanks. 🙂

  5. fhjfhj Says:

    just like to say how can yo share a platform with ppl who do shirk!!!???? sufis etc.

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