Interview: Tahir Haqq, YMCA youth and community worker

by
12 November 2008

I enjoy working with young people and adults, helping them in any way I can to achieve their goals or am­bitions in life. They can then strive for themselves. And helping them achieve a sense of understanding of society and general well-being among people, that leads to respect, under­standing, and compassion for hu­man­ity at large.

My job for City YMCA varies, from training young adults on the com­munity work course accredited by the YMCA, to supervising and tutoring students, and assessing port­folios. I also liaise with different young people’s services, from youth centres to schools and clubs, to set up joint partnership programmes with them — mainly around discrimina­tion and hate crime. And there are other duties, like attending police meetings, community meetings, writ­ing reports, and doing presenta­tions.

I am a moderately strong Muslim, well known in my local community and also in other areas and com­munities. I have given Friday ser­mons in my local masjid [mosque], taught Muslims Arabic, and am invited as a speaker to give advice to others. I study many branches of the Islamic sciences, such as jurispru­dence, prophetic traditions, Arabic lan­guage, Qur’anic exegetes, Islamic creed and philosophy, and phon­ology, with my beloved teachers, who are some of the most notable scholars in the UK.

Islam also states that when one endeav­ours in a task, whatever it may be, one should strive to do one’s best. My faith also informs me that all human beings are born good, and that their primordial nature is pure, but that the trials and tribulations of life leads humanity on to many different paths.

The Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) said: “Help your fellow beings, the oppressor and the oppressed.” One of his companions asked: “O Messenger of God, we understand helping the oppressed, but why and how do we help the oppressor?” He replied: “By stopping him from oppressing, that is how you will help him.” There are many lessons that I have taken from this.

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I was not always of the Muslim faith. I use to be an atheist in my early years, preaching the God of Darwin, evolution, and the Big Bang theory in its most ungodly form. It was only in my early 20s that I entered into the fold of Islam, in about 2001, after I had been living in years of darkness.

There were people who believed in one God and Muhammad (PBUH) as the final messenger, so were therefore Muslims, but they had many political affiliations which, testing the waters of each, I couldn’t adapt myself into. Then God sent me an old friend who I hadn’t seen for seven years, who had been training as a Muslim scholar, and there my journey into the real knowledge and understanding of Islam started. My questions were answered and my thirst quenched.

People have preconceived ideas about what Islam is, which they have adopted through the powerful sorcery of the media, non-Muslims and Muslims alike.

There are many foreign concepts that people have assimilated into Islam which do not fit — as there are equally many things that do fit in. Islam is a progressive religion, as long as the core fundamental ideas are left intact.

This latter part is what many Muslims do not understand: that Islam does change and suit the needs and circumstances of place, time, and law of the land. The hard thing is trying to make the layperson under­stand this — which is nigh near impossible unless they study Islamic law for a few years to get a clear impression of the ideas. Those young men who had been involved in the 7/7 bombing were from this group of people, as you may remember if you had read the reports. Many of them were new Muslims, with hardly much knowledge of Islam, let alone the Arabic language.

The hardest thing about being a Muslim in the UK is trying to get the Govern­ment to understand that the people who they find to resolve issues are all people who the Muslim com­munity at large consider an anathema. One of the leading Muslim scholars of the West, an American Christian convert to Islam, Sheikh Nuh Ha Mim Keller, says: “British Intelligence doesn’t seem to be so intelligent.”

After God and Muhammad (PBUH), the family is the most important aspect in a Muslim’s earthly life. Only the Muslims who are only Muslims by name, and don’t understand the duties and love and bond of parents in Islam, are the ones who put their parents in old people’s homes. The true Muslim would never do this.

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All Muslims must pray five times a day. If the person doesn’t understand Arabic, he or she can think of and reflect upon the bounties of God, and ask forgiveness and well-being for family and humanity at large.

Jesus Christ (PBUH) is one of the most honoured of our prophets. In Islam there are many prophets, ones we know and are aware of, and God also says there are many that he has not informed us about, and that is why we are not allowed to defame or curse any of the religious prophets, whether Hindu, Buddhist, etc. Jesus or Isa (PBUH) is from a group, “The greatest amongst the messengers”, five in order: Mu­ham­mad (PBUH), Abraham (PBUH), Jesus (PBUH), Moses (PBUH), and Noah (PBUH). We love them all and hold great respect and reverence for them; we love them for what they have brought, and their closeness to God.

I hope that Muslims will start to look beyond their narrow window and make their way out of limbo, this place they seem to be stuck in between the golden age of Islam and modernisation. Muslims have con­trib­uted profoundly to progress and the sciences. But they seem to have developed some notion that things have become taboo, almost impure, because they have been through foreign hands.

For me, I hope to lead a good ethical life, make many friends, help many people, dispel much ignorance, unite disunity, bring order out of chaos in any way I can.

I’d like to be remembered through my writings — that they helped others appreciate or understand Islam and that something that I have left behind benefited them.

When I see others happy — my family, friends, relatives, people in general — it gives me a great sense of happiness.

Oppression in any form, whether physical or mental, caused to any creature of God makes me angry.

I relax reading the Qur’an and gen­eral books about Islam or society, or great people of the past from different cultures and traditions, reflecting, thinking, talking, and spend­ing time with my family — and sometimes playing computer games.

I don’t consume any products that I know are produced by blatantly unfair means.

My favourite part of the Bible is Luke 10.25-37: “That you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind. And you must love your neighbour just as much as you love yourself.”

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My favourite part of the Qur’an is: “O my servants, who have deeply transgressed against themselves, do not ever despair in the mercy of Allah. Indeed he forgives all sins, indeed he is the most forgiving the most merciful.”

For holidays, I love to travel to Mecca and Medina.

Any masjid will do to pray in, although I do like the atmosphere in East London Mosque as well as my local Shahjalal Mosque.

I’m a bit of a bookworm: the Qur’an; Martin Lings’s Muhammad; Breaking the Two Desires and Death and the Afterlife, both translated by T. J. Winter; Daniel Goleman’s Emo­tional Intelli­gence; Sun Tzu’s The Art Of War; Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed; Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like . . .

The most important choice I’ve made so far is to accept Islam and become a Muslim.

I regret acting like a fool when I was young; but in reality I have no regrets in the master plan of God, as I have learnt lessons from all that has trans­pired through my life. By God’s mercy and his blessing I have arrived to the best situation that I can find myself in.

I’d like to be locked in a church or a mosque with the Prophet Muham­mad (PBUH) or someone living such as Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Hanson — a great America Muslim scholar, who is an ocean of know­ledge and one who has influ­enced my life greatly.

Tahir Haqq was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

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