SHAFAQNA – Just before the beginning of the month of Muharram, Shafaqna sat down with Seyyed Mohammad Bahmanpour from the Islamic Centre of England to discuss community, faith and solidarity.
SHAFAQNA – The Islamic Centre of England has done a great deal in terms of offering the local community a space where to discuss faith, solidarity and social responsibility. How have your programs impacted onto the youth? I’m referring to your studies programs.
Sheikh Mohammad Bahamanpour – The impact of such activities are usually difficult to measure. Certainly, when we see the number of the youth who are attending the center grows steadily, it is an indicator that the programs have been successful. Our study programs are impacted by promoting further our social and and spiritual programs. The more the parents are attracted to faith programs the stronger they feel that they have to provide religious education for themselves and for their children. That is why we face growing demand in our education section which unfortunately is beyond our capacity.
SHAFAQNA – There have been a lot of negative chatter on the part of state officials and politicians towards the Muslim community in relation to radicalism. Would you say that anger is being misplaced here?
By that I mean that a lot of what Britain thinks it knows of Islam and Muslims has come through Saudi Arabia and therefore Wahhabism.
Sheikh Mohammad Bahamanpour – It is very difficult for the general public to differentiate between members of different denominations of another faith, however, I think the top politicians are quite aware of such distinctions. Therefore their duty is to inform and educate the masses about the realities out there. The wave of Islamophobia is fueled by many politicians and journalists who know about these differences but prefer to disregard them. Regarding Wahhabism and its main hub, Saudi Arabia, there is a bigger problem. Because of the oil and of the very lucrative business with Saudies, the authorities’ especially in the UK, are reluctant to blame them or anything related to them. This attitude towards Saudi Arabia will have dire consequences both for Islam and for the West.
SHAFAQNA – Shia Islam has always been rooted in resistance: against oppression, against division, against religious devolution. Imam Ali (AS) actually foretold that those who would follow his path – as instructed by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), would face tremendous hardship.
How is this manifesting today?
Sheikh Mohammad Bahamanpour – To be honest, Shi’as today live in relative comfort. Compared to those Shias who lived at the time of Bnu Umayyah, we have the luxury of security in faith. There was a day in which if anyone reported a merit of Ahl al-bayt, especially, that of Imama Ali (a), they would have been either imprisoned or killed in the most brutal way. However, although we do not experience that situation anymore, but still we suffer from ignorance of Muslim masses including certain people who call themselves muftis and scholars. We are being accused of disbelief, of believing in a different Quran, of worshiping the Imams, of prostrating to idols, of shirk and of many other things which are all false and baseless.
Today, with the promotion of Wahhabism and with the rise of ISIS we are witnessing the same attitude towards Shi’a which existed at the time of Banu Umayyah. Consequently, we see that people are killed for no crime other than being Shi’a and believing in the madhhab of Ahl al-bayt.
SHAFAQNA – The month of Muharram is almost upon us. What would be your message ahead of this holy month? How does Ashura remains relevant today for Muslims in Britain?
Sheikh Mohammad Bahamanpour – In the heat of the passion and feelings that every true lover of the Prophet should show for Imam Hussain (a), we have to pause and reflect upon the tragic incident and the message it tried to convey to us. The movement of Imam Hussain (a) was not driven by greed or motivated by seeking power. Imam Hussain was such a clever man that even without the knowledge of Imamah he could understand that he had no chance against the army of Yazid. So one of the issues to reflect upon is why the Imam embarked on such a move knowing that he had to chance of success and all his family members are going to be slaughtered or captured?
Every sound analysis would lead us to the fact that he wanted to convey a message to Muslims of all generations in the four quarters of the world.
One very important message of Hussain (a) to us who live in Britain today is ‘stand firm on your values and keep your principles even if the whole world goes against you.’
SHAFAQNA – Would you agree that radicalism, in all its forms, is rooted in ignorance, and that therefore we owe to work harder to educate our communities? In which case how would you like to move forward in helping build better ties between people?
Sheikh Mohammad Bahamanpour – I fully agree that radicalism thrives on ignorance and the only way to defeat radicalism is to promote awareness among people. I believe our main priority in this field should be to concentrate on positive education and awareness rather than a negative one. Positive education informs the community about the beauties of the Book, the merits of the Prophet, the teachings of Ahl al-bayt, and the noble traits of moral behavior. Negative education, on the other hand, focuses on polemical issues and the faults and shortcomings of other sects.
SHAFAQNA – We seldom speak of Islam pluralism, its teachings of tolerance and immense compassion. If there was one thing you would like non-Muslims to understand about Islam what would it be?
Sheikh Mohammad Bahamanpour – I usually say to non-Muslims that God has only one religion which is preached by different prophets. Jesus (a) preached the same faith as Muhammad and they preached the same religion as Noah. So any beauty you can find in any religion you should find in Islam too and vice versa.
It is repeatedly mentioned in the Quran that God has only one religion which is islam (submission) and if anyone seeks any religion other than that it will not be accepted from them. This has been the case throught the history.
Therefor, I would like to say to Christians, who are the majority in this country, that the compassion famous of Jesus and his faith can be found in Muhammad and his faith and the firmness on values known of Muhammad and his faith should be there in Christianity.