Interview with Abu Ameena Dr. Bilal Philips
Dr. Bilal Philips is a world renowned Islamic scholar and holds posts ranging from Dean to Director at institutions in four countries: Preston International College (Chennai), Knowledge International University (Riyadh), Islamic Studies Academy(Doha), College of Dawah (Sudan) and is Chancellor of ISLAMIC ONLINE UNIVERSITY. Born in Jamaica he has lived in Canada, Saudi Arabia, U.A.E. and Qatar. After embracing Islam in the 70′s, he has constantly been in the quest of gaining knowledge and after graduating from the Islamic University of Medina, he did his M.A. from the Riyadh University followed by a Ph.D from the University of Wales (1994). Following is the text of the 30 min. interview he gave to Iesha Javed in February 2010.
IESHA JAVED: MOST OF THE MUSLIMS ESPECIALLY THE YOUTH LOOK UP TO YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND MOST OF YOUR WORK AS A MEANS TO REACH THE CORRECT AQEEDAH. HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE THE CORRECT AQEEDAH?
Dr. Bilal Philips: Well, aqeedah being creed or belief system, the correct aqeedah is that which is derived from the Quran, authentically interpreted by the Prophet (S.A.W) and the companions and from the authentic sunnah of the prophet (S.A.W) as it was correctly explained by the early scholars of Islam.
In Islam we have so many sects and newer groups popping each other day. Do you find a way out to reconcile these differing sects of Islam?
The only way out is for people to agree on the foundations that I just gave you. See, as long as people are going to take the Quran and interpret it as they feel, choose Sunnah whether it is authentic or inauthentic, and understand and interpret it as they feel, it is impossible for the groups to come together. Allah says in the Quran to the Christians to come together on a single word and to agree on the basic principle that is “only worship Allah alone”. Similarly the call for these muslims is that we have to agree on one common word; that word is that “We would understand and co-operate and work together on the basis of the Quran and sunnah as it was understood by Prophet (S.A.W) and the best of generations- the sahabah, their students and the students of their students. That is the generation whose understanding projects the correct understanding of Islam and that is what has been handed down to the leading scholars of Islam. But, the masses of Muslims have stayed away from that understanding and are now drowning in cultural, customary and traditional practices which have nothing to do with Islam at all.
YOU HAVE WRITTEN A BOOK CALLED THE EVOLUTION OF FIQH WHICH IS ONE OF YOUR MOST POPULAR BOOKS. WHAT WAS BASICALLY THE BACKDROP OF THAT BOOK AND WHAT IS YOUR AIM IN WRITING SUCH A BOOK?
Well the book was based on the course that I took during my masters’ when I studied at Riyadh university, the teacher who taught it was Dr Asaal from Egypt, who later was at the International Islamic University, Islamabad and he taught this course Tareekh-e-Fiqh fi Shariah i.e. “The history of legislation in Islam”. So, I was very impressed with it for it brought out an understanding of Madhabs and how they evolved. A person’s position should be clear so I took it upon myself to gather as many books were written upon the subject and then based on the basic course of studies of Dr Assal I presented that material in English. The idea basically was to provide a clear understanding of the Madhabs. People who don’t understand the Madhab feel that it is divinely ordained that you follow one madhab and all other kinds of misunderstandings concerning it.
I remember when I finished writing the book, I had given it to this Pakistani journalist who had retired after being a journalist for fifty years. His English was of course very excellent and I gave it to him to get his feedback from a presentation point of view. And when he brought the manuscript back to me, he had tears in his eyes. I was wondering what happened; has he lost it or is it damaged. The person now in his seventies said: “This is the first time in my life I have finally actually understood what the Madhab is all about”. It was really a touching comment and to know it had that impact to clarify (which was actually my intention) that the Madhab were actually a natural product of the efforts of the early generations to follow the madhab of Rasul Allah(S.A.W). Their intention was not to create any other madhab rather their intention was to follow the madhab of Rasul Allah(S.A.W) just like the sahabah did, the tabaeen and taba’tabaeen did. This is what the scholars of hadeeth did; if you ask somebody what is the madhab of Imam Bukhari or Imam Muslim or Abu Daud they can’t identify a madhab with them. These scholars did not take any madhab position. Their madhab was the madhab of Rasul Allah(S.A.W) and that’s what they were trying to convey .
SOME OF THE HOTTEST DISCUSSIONS WHICH WE HAVE BEEN HAVING ESPECIALLY IN OUR PART OF THE WORLD NOWADAYS ARE ON THE ISSUE OF KHILAFAH. SOME PEOPLE GO TO AN EXTENT THAT KHILAFAH IS NOT POSSIBLE IN TODAY’S AGE. WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON THE ISSUE OF KHILAFAH?
Well, Allah knows best. To say it is not possible at all is to claim knowledge of the future. We don’t know and our responsibility is to strive to establish Islam as best as we can within the circumstances which Allah has given us to operate. If it leads ultimately to the formation of khilafah then fine but if it never does and it only comes to the time of the Mehdi, then that is Allah’s decision . Allah is not going to ask whether we establish khilafah or not. Allah is going to ask us whether we applied Islam, learned as much as we could and strived within the confinement of our area of operation. Allah is not going to ask us of the world situation of Muslims but what He is going to ask us is about the situation of where we are based.
DO YOU BELIEVE IN “A CLASH OF CIVILISATIONS” OR “DIALOGUE OF CIVILISATIONS “?
Well, I wrote a book called Clash of civilisations and Islamic point of view. Perhaps you should read that and you will know exactly what my position is. Anyway, the clash of civilisations is a reality. It exists and someone who believes that doesn’t exist is not facing reality. The clash of civilisation exists, as the western globalised civilisation is in conflict and is clashing with Islamic civilisation. I mean, of all the wars around the world 80% of which involve Muslims, the other side represents western civilisation. There is obviously a clear clash going on. It is not something to be denied. The question is does it have to be? And, and could it be resolved by dialogue? I agree. I believe it can be, if the other side is willing. For instance Islamic civilisations in the past established dialogue whether it was in Spain or in Bagdad. Of course there were conflicts but dialogues took place and dialogues of civilisations have existed. So it is something quite possible. In the question you have raised you have given two choices; either you believe in the clash of civilisations or you believe in the dialogue of civilisations. No, it dosent have to be like that- BLACK & WHITE ; clash of civilisations is a reality and we are living it. The question is can we have a dialogue? Yes, we can.
WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON INTER-RELIGIOUS, INTER-FAITH DIALOGUES AND THE RELEVANCE THEY HAVE TO DAWA?
It depends on the circumstances in which they are used. Sometimes, they are fruitful; sometimes they are dangerous. You know, inter-faith dialogues where Muslims and Islamic teachings are not subverted become useful, especially if they are publicised then people who are non-Muslims get a chance to hear the Islamic position. Now where it just becomes a question of asking Muslims to getup off their position of “Islam being the true religion” and that “there is just one right religion pleasing to God”, if they are asking you to do that (to abandon such belief), then that kind of dialogue is of no use i.e. the dialogue aimed at undermining Islam.
WE TALKED ABOUT THE DIFFERENCES AMONG THE MUSLIMS IN THE UMMAH, WE HAVE HEARD THAT RECENTLY SOMETHING WENT WRONG AT THE PEACE CONFERENCE AT CHENNAI. BUT WE AREN’T ABLE TO GET AUTHENTIC INFORMATION TO WHAT HAPPENED THERE. SO, CAN YOU BRIEF US ON IT?
As for the one in Chennai, what happened was that the Indian Govt. made a new rule which disallowed anyone who had come on conference visa to re-enter the country within six months. Basically it was to disallow the people who came to Mumbai Conference from coming into the country so frequently after that to give lectures around the country. This is basically the aim though it was general and it didn’t specify Muslims. The increasing presence of Muslims on the global television PEACE and lecturing in different parts of the country; they want to keep that under control and don’t want them actively involved in Dawa across the country. This is what happened and only one international speaker was able to come, Husein Ye and that was because he didn’t come for the International Conference in December in Mumbai. I should just say that it didn’t stop the conference; it went on just that the speakers were local speakers as opposed to international speakers.
WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO THE SEEKERS OF KNOWLEDGE OF THIS AGE AND THE TEACHERS AND PREACHERS OF KNOWLEDGE?
Advice to the seekers of knowledge is “keep seeking” as it is fulfilment of the Divine obligation and is a path to paradise as the Prophet (S.A.W) had said. So my advice is to keep seeking and to keep an open mind in the process and not to get caught up in different factions and sects which are attacking the Muslims who are sincere unnecessarily. Also to keep the middle path where they are gaining the knowledge then is to publicise and judging things properly, carefully and deliberately as the Prophet (saw) has said (to the effect that) To deliberate and to do things in a deliberate manner, where you listen, you reflect, you indulge, act and then you make a decision is from Allah instead of just reacting for this reaction is from Satan and Satan leads people to confusion.
To the teachers my advice of course would be to properly utilise all advanced means available for conveying the message, whether it is the internet, the television or satellite and not to just get stuck to one old method which they have been using from last 500 years. We have new means now; make use of them, try to improve your teaching and if don’t have training in teaching, go and get the training. You shouldn’t feel that because its your subject you can teach it, for there is always room for improvement. Try to improve the presentation; use power point and all different means that can increase quality of presentation and the benefit will also be increased. And also as teachers they are still students of knowledge and you should be still in contact with those who are more knowledgeable, gaining knowledge through them, thus continually increasing your knowledge until Allah takes you and takes us from this world.
And of course to both students and teachers the issue of sincerity is foremost and should always be checked to make sure that we do not learn for the wrong reasons and it becomes a curse upon us nor do we teach for the wrong reasons and that also becomes a curse for us. We have to make sure that our intentions are for the sake of Allah and remain for the sake of Allah. InshaAllah.
ONE OF THE PROBLEMS MUSLIMS FACE ESPECIALLY IN THIS PART OF THE WORLD, IN KASHMIR IS THAT THE WHOLE BRUNT OF TERRORISM AND THE WAR AGAINST TERRORISM COMES BACK UPON THE MUSLIM. DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR THE MUSLIMS HOW THEY SHOULD UNDERSTAND THIS ISSUE OF TERRORISM?
The issue of terrorism is to some degree “false labelling”. And as they say: “One man’s terrorist is other man’s freedom fighter” so it depends on which side of the issue you are looking from. You know, from the point of view of British, American revolutionaries were terrorists whereas from the sight of American revolutionaries, the terrorists were the British Military. So it is relative to whose side you are looking from. To a certain degree there is that element; to another degree there are acts of terrorism that Muslims are perpetuating in the name of Jihad and in the name of Islam; the spread of Islam and promoting Islam which involve atrocities on civilians- whether it is Muslim civilians or Non-Muslim civilians and Muslims have to be away from that for we will not succeed if that becomes our methodology. So, whatever struggle you are in, we have to as Muslims stay within the bounds set by Islam.
EFFORTS ON-LINE SUCH AS THE ISLAMIC ONLINE UNIVERSITY ARE GATHERING MUSLIMS YOUTH WHO ARE GOING TO THESE SITES FOR GAINING KNOWLEDGE. ARE YOU SATISFIED WITH THE WORKING OF THE ISLAMIC ONLINE UNIVERSITY? AND DO YOU HAVE ANY FUTURE PROJECTS AIMED AT EXPANDING IT?
The Islamic Online University is of course only 3 years old and we began with only two courses in 2007; a course in Dawa and the other Moral foundations of Islamic culture. We have been increasing the offerings of the three short courses and now we have more than fifteen short courses which have been organised in a full curriculum and we have 18,000 students studying plus in the three years the numbers have increased dramatically. We are about to launch a B.A. in Islamic Studies online, a programme which I have been running here in Doha for the last three years which is now coming to conclusion in December this summer and all of that material has been recorded and I have material from outside the programme. And we will be starting in March the online B.A. and of course it is coming online as an independent course of study; independent university and we will be working for official recognition and affiliation in future as that’s the plan, it’s the next step and we hope InshaAllah for success. And it will be FREE though the other courses were already free, this one will be tuition free i.e. cost of studies will be completely free, however, there will be some minimal amount for registration and examination.
THANK YOU, DR. BILAL FOR JOINING US HERE TODAY. THE PEOPLE HERE IN KASHMIR LOOK FORWARD TO HAVING A MEGA ISLAMIC CONFERENCE HERE SOMEDAY. DO YOU HAVE ANY PLANS TO CARRY ON YOUR ACTIVITIES IN THIS PART OF THE WORLD?
Of course there are major plans. In Chennai just last summer I set up an International university called Preston International College which is now fully established and accredited and we are offering there B.A. in Islamic Studies as well as a Bachelors in Business Admn. and an M.B.A. from an Islamic perspective. That was the work I did in India in the summer last year and was there for five months. Unfortunately when I returned to complete the work, the Indian Embassies have sabotaged my attempts to get a visa to come back. However, work is still going on and I’m trying to overcome their current interference and blocking me through means that are not according to the proper procedure. Anyway, basic the working of the university has been setup, it’s up and running; and if you want to have a branch of the university there in Kashmir, we have the right, were recommended to one of the biggest universities in the South, the M.S.U. University and as a branch of that university we have the right to set up further branches in other parts of the country.
Thank you very much. In the end I would like to ask you if you have any general message for the Muslim Ummah- the youth or the Daiis who are working for spreading Islam.
My general recommendation is: To stick firmly to the Qur’an and the Sunnah, keep that as the guidelines because there are many issues that have come up and we have to have a means to resolving these issues, a means which is not from our own selves, our emotions, cultures etc. We need to hold on firmly to the Quran and Sunnah as the Prophet (S.A.W) had said: “I am leaving behind me two things. If you hold on firmly to them you shall never go astray: the Book of Allah and My Sunnah”. So I would advice them to hold firmly to them and to understand the Quran as it was understood by the Prophet(S.A.W) himself and his companions and the early generations and that should be the foundation for everything we do and InshaAllah we shall have success and that we work for unity as much as we can for unity is an essential component of Islamic work; try to do so and try to work out the issues on which we differ. I am not saying we ignore them but sit together on issues if they are not critical issues- not relating to faith, Shirk and Tawheed. There are secondary issues which people argue about or differ and we should try to resolve those while we work for greater causes.
Thank you very much Doctor Bilal Philips, JazakAllah wasalamualikum wa rahmatullah.
Barak Allahu feekum wa alaikumasalam warahmatullahi wa barakatuhu