SHAFAQNA- “In regards to the available content about Shi’ism on the internet, the collaborative efforts between the Shia community and the Shia centers is still to be explored, and is still weak, and maybe this is some of the things that need to be looked at. There is no centralized research center or centralized strategy that the Shia go through. I would call upon all the Shia centers and the media experts, to have a summit in which everyone who is in the media sector or anyone who is in cyber space to come and try to have a league of the Shia media, why not? This will be very informative, very important as well as it will be very beneficial for our community”.
Seyyed Zuhair Al-Hashimi is a Lecturer in Islamic theology and IT expert. In an exclusive interview with Shafaqna, he speaks about the religious activities and the Shia community in the UK.
Shafaqna: Would you please introduce yourself to our readers? Could you please tell us about your Islamic studies and religious activities?
Zuhair Al-Hashimi: My name is Seyyed Zuhair Al-Hashimi. I am from Iraq originally and lived in the UK since 1991. I decided to join the Islamic seminary for Hawza studies in 1994 in the UK and in 1998 I moved to distant learning due to ease of access. In 2019, I went back to Najaf for advanced studies. Currently I am both in direct and distant learning modes of study.
Shafaqna: Do you have any information to share with us about the Shia population of the UK in general and in the city of Manchester in particular?
Zuhair Al-Hashimi: The Shia population in the UK increased in the recent years due to the various political, economic and cultural or social reasons. Migration from the Shia populated countries to the UK had a significant impact on the residing Shia population. Another reason is the converts to Shia Islam, as a result of the increased exposure to the Ahlal-Bayt (A.S) school of thought. According to Shias in Asia & Europe (2020), the Shia population is around 450 thousand. This number is reflected by the increasing number of newly opened Islamic centers. Around 120 Shia Islamic centers are currently opened in the UK, many with Islamic schools included.
Shafaqna: What challenges do the Shia face in the UK?
Zuhair Al-Hashimi: You, the respected reader is well aware of the challenges surrounding the Muslims in the current climate of instability, not to mention the economic slowdown. Those factors and more presented a real challenge to faith holders. Shia in the UK face the traditional vs. contemporary understanding of faith. Also, the Shia face identity and integration challenges.
However, I would say the biggest challenge which could be the most dangerous is the obvious lack of collaboration and communication. This issue resulted in the inefficient distribution of resources and the inability to structure a unified community development strategy.
Let me elaborate on this point, you see every community establishes itself by drawing up the resources it developed. This can be over tens, hundreds or even thousands of years. In the UK, the Shia migrated from mostly suppressed countries, where the families can only survive on the absolute minimum. With time, children got educated and professional classes emerged with good salaries and strong abilities.
“Shia in the UK face the traditional vs. contemporary understanding of faith. Also, the Shia face identity and integration challenges.”
Shafaqna: How many Shia centers are active in Manchester and in the UK and what are the special activities of these centers?
Zuhair Al-Hashimi: There are around 8 Islamic centers in Manchester.
Shafaqna: How many Shia centers and how many Shia figures are active in the religious community in the UK and what type of activities do they do?
Zuhair Al-Hashimi: There are many Shia figures who are active in the UK and obviously some are more active than others. Some of them have long term activities, and some have short-term activities. Some are more engaged in seminars, conferences, some are engaged in community work. Different people have different approaches in the community and Islamic work. There are some interfaith activities, in the UK actually there are plenty of them. The interaction between the Shia believers and the scholars in the UK and the Christian communities, Jews, and other faiths is very strong, is very productive as well.
Shafaqna: Is there any academic department in the UK for Shia studies? Is there any relationship between these departments in the Shia centers?
Zuhair Al-Hashimi: There are to my understanding specialties in Manchester university, and other universities in Islamic studies, where within the Islamic studies they teach, some of the Shia beliefs and Jurisprudence, however as dedicated Shia studies, there is the Islamic center of England in London and they have the Islamic college of London which is similar to a seminary but with an academic touch to it, making it one of the most popular seminaries. There is another seminary which is called Ahlulbayt (A.S) by Al-Khoei foundation which was set up in the 1990’s, it has a wide number of subjects in Hawza studies and in the academic studies up to the PhD level. There are also other shy projects around the UK, however actual academic departments around the universities of the UK, I would say that there is much room for development.
“The interaction between the Shia believers and the scholars in the UK and the Christian communities, Jews, and other faiths is very strong, is very productive as well”.
Shafaqna: You work on youth projects in the UK. Would you please explain about these projects and the contents and the plans?
Zuhair Al-Hashimi: We work very closely with the office of the Ayatollah in London with regards to youth projects, and the youth projects of pre-Hawza studies. The main Hawza studies consisting of activities, community development, and engaging with the youth on a personal level to provide an environment so that they can be accommodated rather than going to the outside, and be misguided. In the pre-Hawza studies we focus and teach Islamic Aqaed (beliefs), Islamic Fiqh (Jurisprudence), Logic, and history, but in a way that the young believers and Shia can benefit and digest easily.
In the UK we call it bite size, which means information that is concise and given in chunks that they can take in and choose, instead of bombarding them with a lot of information so this is one of them. Secondly, there are different activities where we will take them to sports, hiking and other activities. Sport is the core of these activities, as well as trying to open up to the psychology as a part of engaging with the youth where we will try to talk to them on the psychological level, trying to solve some of their problems, depression, trying to motivate them to be able to be a better people in society and more productive in the society.
Generally, the support that we get from the Office of the Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Al-Sistani, is enormous and emotional in terms of financial assistance. The Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Al-Sistani, may Allah (SWT) prolong his life and the life of all our Maraj’a, always supports the youth activities, and the youth engagements with the communities, therefore we are all over these lines trying to get the youth into the habit of being more productive and more engaged in the community and society. Our plans for the next few years Inshallah is to provide an environment, although this is not an easy task, but to provide an environment, for the youth where they can interact and feel free to speak about the problems and their worries so that they can help them and provide this environment for them so that they may feel safe and feel supported.
Shafaqna: You are an expert in IT. How would you evaluate the available content about the Shia on the web? Please introduce us the best samples in this regards.
Zuhair Al-Hashimi: My specialty is project management, information security, and cyber security. I trained information security and cyber security professionals in this field. In regards to the available content on the internet, and since the internet is vast, and you will get what it is that you want from it, so for example if you want radicalism you will find it, if you want true Shi’ism you will find it, if you want false Shi’ism you will find it, even plenty of Dajjals you will find them, they are all available on the net. One of the professors in the university, he mentioned something which is very important, he said that the overload of information in cyber space has made it more difficult for us academics to be able to reach the correct information, before the information was very scarce.
If it was in a book then you would have to go to that country to get that book, maybe it has a hadith in it that you want to research. Now everything is available however there is too much of everything which makes it even harder for you to find the correct sources to reach what you want. In terms of Shi’ism, the collaborative efforts between the Shia community and the Shia centers is still to be explored, and is still weak, and maybe this is some of the things that need to be looked at. There is no centralized research center or centralized strategy that the Shia go through. I would call upon all the Shia centers and the media experts, to have a summit in which everyone who is in the media sector or anyone who is in cyber space to come and try to have a league of the Shia media, why not? This will be very informative, very important as well as it will be very beneficial for our community.
Shafaqna: In your view, what Shia content, multimedia, are needed on the web for Muslims and non-Muslims, in the Western countries, and for introducing them to the real image of Islam?
Zuhair Al-Hashimi: Well as I said before, we need a strategy and we need to work a lot collaboratively to be able to convey the message of the Shia Ahlal-Bayt (A.S) to the world. Now initially we need to work on our people first make them educated, make them to the point that they can convey the image to the world. Unfortunately all it is that we have been doing is giving the power and knowledge to the people who are not 100% a model example and in an effort to convey the message but they are doing completely the opposite, and we are conveying the wrong message, so I would say that the starting point will be to engage with the youth, make them a model and then give them the equipment and give them the knowledge that they can go outside and covey the message. With regards to text Alhamdililah we have plenty of resources that we are not short of resources, we have a lot of Ulama, lots of scholars in our countries that can support us. It is just the strategy, and the practical approach, to convey the message.
Shafaqna: How much do you think Western people in their countries are ready to embrace Islam? And how can the Islamic teachings empower the life in the West?
Zuhair Al-Hashimi: I would say that justice in the quality and understanding and a logical approach to explaining Islam to anyone in the West will be the best approach, however Allah (SWT) clearly mentions it in the Holy Quran that he is the one who guides people. All what we need to do is provide evidence of religion, so we are not going to be concerned much that there are 10, 20, or even 100,000 people being guided. No, that does not mean anything in this case, what is important is the way that we provide information, is that we convey the information and it is up to people embrace it or not. I would say that according to our Imams (AS), if we introduce people to the life of our Imams and the hadith of our holy Imams (AS) they will automatically accept it because of the beauty of it. Therefore, we should have a strategy in presenting what our Imams (AS) and Shi’ism is all about and then automatically if they see it the best then they will compare it around the world and they will embrace it and they will go for it.
Shafaqna: Shafaqna appreciates you for giving us some time and attending this interview. Thank you.
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