Bearing in mind the responsibility our scholars carry on their shoulders, and the many pitfalls which await our community for a lack of knowledge and one must admit, unfetterred arrogance, scholars such as Hussain Makke are a gift to be treasured.
Following is the transcript of the interview Catherine Shakdam conducted with Hussain Makke:
SHAFAQNA – You are currently running a course on the life of the Prophet Muhammad in London in collaboration with the Lebanese Youth Foundation (LYF). If I’m not mistaken your approach is somewhat different from other lecturers in that you are putting the emphasis on the prophet’s childhood and what events shaped his life pre-prophethood. Can you tell us why you felt that was necessary and the dynamics you are trying to promote?
HUSSAIN MAKKE – Actually, there is much emphasis on a wide range of topics including events which take place before his birth. History without geography is like actors without a stage. When understanding Arabian Peninsula at that time and the life of the Prophet (S) we must understand the tribal culture, mentality and history of Quraysh specifically. I focus on these issues in order to give the students a rod instead of a fish, that way they can answer most of their own questions in the future and if not, they will at least know where to look.
It is important to cover the early years of the Prophet (S) as it lays the foundations for the essential years to come, and there should be a clearing of all the misconceptions of the early years so that the latter years could be understood with clarity. Otherwise, due to certain matters within the mainstream narrative, inconsistencies are likely to be found which ultimately leads to a misunderstanding of the Prophetic (S) mission.
SHAFAQNA – How do you understand your role as an Islamic lecturer within the community? What I’m really asking is what motivated you from taking that step and speak Islam to your community?
HUSSAIN MAKKE – A lecturer is someone who communicates. Likewise, so too is a writer. These are the two main forms of communication when one has a message they wish to share, whatever that message may be. I was given the opportunity to study Islam with men of God and knowledge. The content I was able to gather from the teachings of the Prophet (S) and his family are the message I wish to communicate in order to better the lives of the people. I was granted that opportunity and that has allowed me to be at the service of this great religion, and that service is an honour for me. We are all building for our afterlife, I like to push for us to understand this world we are in and how to better it through seeking Divine companionship.
I believe anyone who is granted such an opportunity to serve God and to serve people must start with himself before the people, and understand that we are all on the same boat and no one is above the other. The lecturer learns from the old lady who when told; ‘watch out, here comes the man with a 1000 proofs for the existence of God and she replies: if he didn’t have a 1000 doubts he wouldn’t need 1000 proofs’.
SHAFAQNA – How do you understand the role of History in helping people understand socio-political dynamics today? While many people would like to separate the political from the religious as well as social issues, we can’t deny that all three overlap and often determine how people form opinions. Would you say we need to maybe engage differently with one another to avoid unnecessary tensions?
HUSSAIN MAKKE – Regarding Islamic History, it helps put a lot into perspective. It happens to me often throughout the week where I compare something I have seen or heard to an occurrence in the Prophet’s (S) life, and I trace back his steps to understand how he handled such situations. A greater knowledge of that history would affect such meditations greatly as would a lack of it.
SHAFAQNA – Media have talked a lot about this infamous clash of civilization in between the West and Islam. The premise is that Islam stands in negation of western values. While of course this is not true, why do you think this idea is being perpetuated?
HUSSAIN MAKKE – I think this is a question that deserves a book rather than a few words. When you say western values, we need to be specific here. If your question is regarding modernity and secularization, then yes Islam doe stand on the opposite side of the spectrum. When we talk about the Islamic tradition, we are talking what has come down to us from God and when we speak modernity we speak of that which is cut off from the divine. This polarity will no doubt result in some tension. The epistemological values of Muslims are being tested greatly in this day and age and I believe a revolution of the Muslim mind living in the west is due. Many brothers and sisters look like Muslims, won’t eat pork or drink wine, but Islamic values are not truly manifested in their lives. Many times, they share the same opinions as secular liberals, and I believe this is something that should be questioned. When one is shackled in slavery we move to grant their freedom, but what of the one who’s mind is enslaved? It is much more difficult to emancipate the mind than the body.
As for being Muslim in the west, or finding a correlation between certain western and Islamic values that will not conflict, this is where the universality of Islam comes in. This needs a sincere mind and heart. A true understanding of the tradition would easily display that to the one who wants to know. ‘There is light for one who wants to see’.
SHAFAQNA – How would you about building those bridges and redefining the way the Muslim community interacts with Society?
HUSSAIB MAKKE – Knowledge. We sometimes categorize people based on their belief systems, but in reality it is not this black and white. If one disagrees with you does that constitute to a lack of their humanity? When I studied Islamic law, my teacher advised me to read literature. French literature. Russian literature. He advised me to read literature in order to understand that though such a person is likely to hold different beliefs to me, they still have hopes, fears, loves and dreams. The categorizations of Islamic law do not define who this person ultimately is, and this is the mindset he tried to instill in me.
SHAFAQNA – I know the Lebanese Youth Foundation is engaged in quite a few social outreach programs, can you tell us a bit more about that and explain to our readers what it is that you want to achieve?
It is called the Lebanese Youth Foundation because the committee members grew up within the Lebanese community in London and aim to give back to the ones growing up now. However, it is not just for Lebanese people, which the name may mislead one to believe. As diaspora we must form a mentality of sticking together and looking out for one another, whichever ethnic background we come from. We want to form a strong sense of identity in our people and that starts with the youth. To be brothers and sisters to each other. We hold courses and events which we believe will aid our people in their day to day lives, ranging from Islamic courses as we mentioned previously to first aid courses. We focus on establishing several relationship building activities, varying from football to MMA.