PICKTHAL: Nothing of our revelation (even a single verse) do we abrogate or cause be forgotten, but we bring (in place) one better or the like thereof....
Oxford Islamic Reform Conference (June 2010)
This is to document my findings and experience during the Oxford conference on Islamic Reform.
To Attend or Not?
This was the key question that was going around in my mind when Edip first announced the plans to hold a conference in Oxford some months back. There had already been two conferences held before for the Islamic Reform movement, the first being in Atlanta in 2008, and the second being in Kazakhstan in 2009.
I had watched parts of the Atlanta conference via webcam - and the negative media coverage that had followed the program (the Atlanta conference was announced under the provocative name “Muslim Heretics”) made me appreciate not attending.
By the time the second conference was announced, I realized that I had a personal responsibility to participate, especially since I have been claiming for the last 13 years to be an advocate of God Alone!
There was one verse in particular which, each time I had doubts about attending, would remind me of those before who did not take their responsibility towards God seriously:
9:42 If it were a near gain, or an easy journey, they would have followed you; but the distance was too much for them. And they will swear by God: “If we could have, we would have gone with you.” They destroy themselves, and God knows they are liars.
So, for the Kazakhstan conference, I agreed to join, checked on flights to get there – but ran into a snag that the embassy for Kazakhstan was not listed nor were the numbers listed on their website operational – obviously I did not manage to attend.
The Oxford conference, when announced, was an opportunity to make good on my commitment to God, so I agreed to attend.
Getting to the UK
Before travelling by a few days, I had a dream in which I was asked by the immigration officer what I was doing there, and, when I explained I was attending a conference on Islamic Reform, I was deported from the UK because my profession contradicted with the attendance of such conference! Needless to say, this dream did cause me alarm and, created doubt in my mind of the validity of attending – eerily enough, I was asked by the immigration officer exactly the same questions in my dream (why are you here from Arabia: “to attend a conference”, on what: “Islamic reform”, what’s your profession: “finance”, which institution do you work for: “xyz” – then, as I expected him to call his supervisor and tell me and I can’t continue, as per my dream – he stamped my passport and let me through!).
3:175 It is only the devil trying to create fear for his allies, so do not fear them, but fear Me if you are believers.
The First Day
After a bus journey from Heathrow to Oxford, and after some enquiring, I was able to find the hotel I would be staying at. It was still early, so, after checking in, I decided to spend the rest of the day exploring Oxford (a beautiful city).
In the evening when I was back at the hotel I recognized Edip Yuksel sitting in the lobby with a couple of people. After introducing myself (Edip and I have been in touch since 1997, have spoken many times by phone, but this was the first time we meet face to face), I was in-turn introduced to Hussein and his lovely wife Vicky who were staunch God alone believers based in Canada. It was a blessing to finally meet Edip whom I have admired for years as a brave activist and voice for the God alone movement. Some discussion ensued during the evening regarding Free-Minds and a few of the articles written.
The Second Day
Day-2 involved breakfast, then finding Edip and the others so as to make our way to the mosque where “Friday Prayers” would be carried out. As a believer that there is no such thing as “Friday Prayers” (the Sabbath was a punishment for the Children of Israel – not a blessing – 16:124), I felt it appropriate to continue with the program put in-place and deal with the situation in private by sharing my understanding on the subject. Before setting out from the hotel lobby, and during our walk (a couple of miles), I had the pleasure of meeting Asilbeik who is an enthusiastic brother from Kazakhstan and, it seems, is planning to convert the entire world to God alone J. Asilbeik was very interested in discussing the Mecca/Baka issue (that Baka is Jerusalem), to which Edip made sure to voice his reservations about this theory and that such a conspiracy of forsaking Jerusalem could not be pulled off without triggering major resistance from Muslims at the time (ignoring the fact that Muslims acknowledge to this day Jerusalem as the first Qibla, and that Muslims did indeed physically clash and slaughter one another during the wars that have been recorded after the prophet’s death, especially the war of Mecca whereby the Muslim army of AbdulMalik Bin Marwan was sent to attack Mecca, destroy the Kaba – which they did with catapults – and honor Jerusalem by expanding the construction on the Dome of the Rock).
After a lovely walk, we reached a Church where the “Friday Prayer” was to be held. Upon entering the Church, it was obvious that something was “not right” with lots of TV crews and press being present. I had learned during the walk that the “Friday Prayer” would be led by a woman, but I did not expect that we would be there simply to give an audience for publicity that this was the first (or second) time a woman leads prayers in the UK!
The Imam (Raheel Raza) entered, and was flocked to by the press who wanted to get her statements. At this time I began to feel uncomfortable as the focus was wrong (our presence is about God, not the media or public). I was approached by a few of the reporters for comment, but I declined to comment as the subject of God alone was to be sorted out in private and this was not the type of masjid/temple that I would follow.
9:108 Do not stand in it ever. A temple that is founded on righteousness from the first day is more worthy that you stand in it; in it are men who love to purify themselves. And God loves the purified.
After this media distraction, we made our way to the Conference Building (a few minutes walk), where the first speakers would begin. With an initial audience of around 30 people, Taj Hargey from MECO began the conference with a few opening words on the structure and what was expected to be achieved. One of the participants asked a clarifying question, to which Taj lost his temper. This set the stage for a tense beginning. Another major problem was the handout for the program/speakers that was distributed had a big “MECO” logo on it with the name of “God/Mohammed” side by side – the total contradiction of everything this conference was about.
Edip finally managed to get a few words in to open the conference, which was very encouraging as it brought us back on track to focus on God and His message.
Speakers began with a panel including Adis Duderija – a Bosnian who is based in Australia and who spoke on some historic elements of Islam and its progress. Gershom Qiprisçi who is a Hebrew “Qaraeen” – spoke at length about his faith in following the Torah only that there were about 40,000 Hebrews spread all around which still hold to the Torah alone and reject the Talmud and Misnah. Gershom compared his belief with that of the God alone movement and how we had much in common with them and how Muslims should study and reference the Torah – I don’t agree with much of what he was saying as the Qur’an overrides and supersedes all previous scriptures for those who accept to follow it (5:48), so, if we accept the Qur’an, then we need nothing else.
During the break I had the opportunity to meet and talk to some wonderful people. Ray and Sophie from Canada were a lovely couple who inspired me with the strength of their conviction. Farouk from Malaysia, great to finally see him face to face. Brother Darren (originally from the Caribbean) knew me from the early days of Free-Minds when we were so few and so scattered – it was great to talk about old times with him, and he is a sincere and brave believer who has been blessed with the cutest baby girl I have seen (glory be to God).
Tarek, Mahmut, and Volkan from Holland were present with whom I managed to have some interesting exchanges – one of which was related to the nature of Jinn and Satan.
Raheel Raza was also part of the conference, and, after speaking to her about the state of Muslims and the God alone movement, I found her to be very knowledgeable and open minded – a strong woman who is confident and articulate.
Arnold Mol and I finally met. After so many years of reading Arnold’s posts, it was good to finally know him face to face. He is a positive happy going individual who is quick to have a smile on his face. Arnold is also a scholar and an in-depth researcher on Islamic history and key reform figures. I was impressed by the level of his knowledge.
It was during the break that Edip asked me to be a speaker in the next session as they were shuffling some people around based on those who were not able to be present. I agreed reluctantly to help out, but warned Edip that I was a terrible speaker and simply was here to attend as an observer – not a participant. Also, my problem with speaking stems from the fact that being the point of focus makes me extremely uncomfortable and leads to difficulty as a result of such nervousness (much like Moses who felt his chest grow tight and his tongue not be able to express – 26:13). Needless to say, I was made part of the next session during which I was introduced by Edip as being the lead person behind Free-Minds.Org and as a writer of several articles and a couple of books, as well as being his co-partner on the translation of the Qur’an (A Reformist Translation). After a sluggish beginning in which I had no topic prepared at such short notice, and during which I had some difficulty kicking-off, I was fortunate to have the audience ask direct questions which revolved around Free-Minds and the idea behind the website as well as its history. There was also a discussion on God and the following of the Qur’an alone, and the concepts of Muslim and Quraniyoon (to which I spoke against the use of the latter as a “description” for this movement and how such label carries a negative connotation that blocks the recipient from listening anymore – we are Muslims/Submitters as God has named us through Abraham – and that is the name we should always carry with pride). It was also during this talk that I referred to the Taliban in the sense that Sunni Islam is not supported by God since they were defeated during the 2002 attack by the US and NATO, and that God has guaranteed victory to His supporters no matter what the odds – and His words are always true. This argument did not sit well with a few of the audience who felt that God does not operate to help people in this world and that my understanding was dangerous in that its relates victory or defeat to God – which I believe is the case (40:51, 3:13, 3:123, 64:11).
After the conference, we headed towards another hall for dinner (a 15 minute walk), during this walk I had the pleasure of speaking with Gershom on his Hebrew beliefs, and a few other of the brothers and sisters who were at the conference. The dinner was homemade food prepared by Taj’s wife, which was “excellent” to say the least – my thanks again to her for the wonderful efforts. We also had a Muslim stand-up comedian - stage name: “Jeff”, who was quite funny and very sharp (it was a pleasure conversing with him during the conference).
Raheel Raza was at the same table I was seated as was Gershom and we had some lengthy discussions.
The Third Day
The day began with breakfast and then a taxi to the conference. Quite a few new faces on day-2, with the topics ranging from evolution, to sharia, to science, to female issues. The start was a little slow, with Amina Wadud being invited via video link to give a speech on a number of issues dealing with Muslim progress. My view of Amina is that she is the new “Americanized Muslim” who has compromised all values and the Quranic laws just to be accepted in the mainstream US society – when she was asked about some of her writings on Allah being a “she” she went on a rambling about how gender is not specific in the Arabic language and that God could be a He and a She! Obviously Amina never bothered to read the Qur’an where the people who made similar silly claims about the Angels being “females” due to their noun in Arabic being a feminine word are condemned in the strongest language by God as speaking without knowledge and disbelieving in the Hereafter (17:40, 37:150, 43:19, 53:27).
One of the speakers gave a beautiful speech on the completeness of the Quran and how it is “fully detailed” but then contradicted himself during the Q&A when he said “we still need some Hadiths”. After hearing such statement, and seeing that the audience was being misled, Edip could not refrain himself and interjected with a very clear and concise argument about the danger of compromise and how the Hadith is to be completely discarded as it is nothing but a “Satanic” invention (not his exact words). This message woke most people up to the gravity of the situation and how there is no compromise where God is concerned.
A speech by a brother from Bangladesh on “Sharia” was very interesting, where he showed the laws of the Quran and how we were not following them. My only qualm was the fact that the word “Sharia” is a Sunni concept for jurisprudence and using such word created confusion in the mind of the listener – in addition, this gentlemen relied on Hadiths to make his point which is a slippery slope as Hadith can be found to support any view a person may decide to take.
The person who asked me regarding the Taliban comment on Day-1 wanted to discuss the issue of God’s support in more detail. She was of the view that it was dangerous to say that “God is with so and so” as that leads to arrogance and misjudgment – I agreed and explained that I was pointing out that a person who “loses” does not have God with them for certain, and that was my point on the Taliban and by default “Sunni Islam”. A few other people joined us where we discussed the verses that deal with victory of the believers, with their view that it is in the Hereafter while I am of the view that rewards are given in this life. I stated the example of Solomon who asked for a kingdom unlike any other and it was granted to him, also the example of God telling people who believe not to kill their children from fear of poverty for He provides for them and their parents. At the end of this side discussion, I did not see that the other party(s) was convinced and they were still of the opinion that the reward for the believers is in the Hereafter – a position which caused me to have some temporary doubt in my own conviction.
A panel for “gender issues” comprising of four females took place (Raheel Raza, Sophie Catton, Melissa Robinson, and Kelly Wentworth). Sophie’s love for God was the centerpiece of her words and the source of her passion (God be praised), while Melissa and Kelly spoke on their experience in Atlanta as the heads for the Muslim movement and how Muslim men need to be more involved in bringing about the rights and equality for Muslim women in mosque as well as in society. Raheel read a very moving piece of poetry that she had written entitled “I am woman” – she delivered the piece with conviction and passion. My qualm with the gender panel was that women fighting for their rights was a sign of weakness as if we all stood side by side fighting to implement the rights of all people from the Qur’an, then there would be no “gender” issues. Edip disagreed stating that the “gender” issue was one that needs to be focused on and that ignoring it is like ignoring the “elephant in the room” – I disagree for our strength comes from our unity, not division (61:4).
A Sunni man was present in the Conference who spoke out in support of the way of Sunnism. Edip passionately addressed this issue stating that it was falsehood that he was promoting and related some of his experiences from the days before he embraced God alone.
At the end of Day-2, we walked again to the Hall where we had dinner the previous night. I had the company this time of conversing with Milan Sulc who related to me his long and fascinating journey to God alone. Milan was also generous and thoughtful enough to supply me with Swiss chocolates for my kids (which they enjoyed once I got back). Milan is a believer since the days before Rashad Khalifa and was witness to his progress and message of God alone.
The dinner this second night was supported with Afghan musicians and new dishes of home cooked food prepared by Taj’s wife (I am sorry to not know your name).
I had the chance to speak with several people that night. Sister Nadia Chowdry and her parents impressed me with their level of conviction and she with her level of energy and drive. I felt humbled in listening to her ideas and how she was outdoing most of us with her desire for progress and change (a competition that all believers shall take part in 83:26).
After dinner I shared a cab back to the hotel with Edip, and Asilbeik, where we found Hussein and Vickie as well as an inspiring couple with their lovely baby (from Norway or Holland – I think) between whom we shared a lengthy discussion into the late hours on subjects ranging from Salat to Hajj to faith.
The Last Day
Day-3 of the conference began with breakfast and a discussion with Edip and Fereydoun Taslimi over the middle east and the Iran-Iraq war. Fereydoun is a staunch believer in the Iranian freedom movement and is of the view that the youth of Iran will be the future of Islam as they are turning away from the mulla schools of dogma and becoming secular Muslims. Asilbeik joined us over breakfast and he spoke of our discussion to create a loose network of God alone hubs that operate independently but with the same goal(s). Fereydoun explained that this would get nowhere as it was done 20+ years ago when he was active with Rashad and that they had chapters set-up in many places and countries which he used to visit and meet with. I shared my view that this was an unrealistic comparison since Rashad’s movement was based on Rashad and died with his death, while this is a movement based on the concept of God alone and is independent on any one person – we agreed to disagree.
At the conference this 3rd day we were squeezed for time as many people were planning to leave around lunch time, and there was a ton of issues to cover, the most important of which were agreeing the “next steps”. Unfortunately the program involved more speakers, many of whom spoke of Islam and Muslims in apologetic terms and how we should win over the West through pacifism, peace, and tolerance (the example of Ghandi was cited as the role model for this path). Edip spoke with emotion about his family and the Sunni hijab which was a n obstacle to him and his family having a normal life with their mother- I loved Edip’s speech, but the message of the others was too weak and too apologetic – Islam is not about “turn the other check”, but is a system that grants power based on justice and rights for all (5:8).
A gentlemen from the UN was present and spoke about his support for human rights as promoted in this conference, similarly, a lady who used to work for the BBC spoke of her experience on media coverage regarding Muslims.
I had a discussion with a brother from Yorkshire “Abdul Nur” who shared with me some very interesting (but complex) theories on property ownership. I need to read his work in greater detail before being able to comment on its conclusions.
Some people had already left by lunch time, I managed to stay for a short while after, enough to say some closing remarks and bid farewell to these brave monotheists who have come from all around the globe to honor the name of God alone.
On the journey to Heathrow, I shared the bus with brothers Mahmut and Volkan with whom we had a beautiful discussion on the Qur’an and the story of Joseph (chapter 12) in particular. A couple of more hours were spent with these distinguished gentlemen at the airport discussing plans for moving forward and weakness/strengths of this current conference.
My flight arrived at 6 am on Monday, but I had to be at work so I managed a quick change of clothes and was in the office by 7:30. On the way to work, I was listening to the Qur’an on radio and came across verse 16:97 which I felt confirmed the views I had discussed earlier that the reward of God is in this life as well as the next:
16:97 Whoever does good works, whether male or female, and is a believer, We will give him a good life and We will reward them their dues with the best of what they used to do.
During that day, a friend called me but I did not answer as it was a hectic day.
On the second day he called again, and sent me a sms that we had to meet urgently.
I met him briefly and he delivered a significant sum of money to me saying that he was repaying the money my wife and I invested with him nearly 10 years back in a small business venture that went bust. I asked him why on Earth he would do such a thing when that investment was a loss for both of us and we had both known and accepted the risks. He said that he did not feel right and that I had been a good friend over the years who never asked for anything in return – needless to say, my skin tingled - what are the odds to get a worldly cash reward less than 24 hours after being back from a conference on God alone where this same issue/subject was discussed and questioned!?
My overall view of the conference: I was honored to be in the company of staunch believing men and women who were only concerned that the name of God is glorified and that His will is done and His system implemented in our lives and our societies.
3:173 The ones who the people said to them: “The people have gathered against you, so be concerned by them,” but it only increased their faith and they said: “God is sufficient for us, and He is the best to put our trust in.”
3:174 So they came back with a recompense from God and a bounty, no harm would touch them. And they had followed the pleasure of God, and God is the One with great pleasure.
My thanks to all those who hosted us, helped us, and treated us as family. A special thanks to Iftikhar who was constantly on the move helping people out, and to Halima who made everything work even though it seemed things should not.
To all who attended and all who supported: May the Lord guide you…May the Lord bless you…May the Lord give you and your loved ones strength, and may we meet, under God’s grace, in the gardens of Paradise.
Below are a couple of other perspectives on the conference from other participants:
To see pictures from the conference: