By Akbar Ahmed
Dr. Tim Winter, or Shaykh Abdal Hakim
Murad, is one of Europe's most prominent Muslim scholars and an English convert
to Islam. Winter studied at Oxford University, Cambridge University, Al-Azhar
University in Cairo, and the University of London and is currently a professor
at Cambridge University and dean of Cambridge Muslim College, which opened in
2009. I have known him for several years and my research team interviewed him
in Cambridge for my projection Islam in Europe, Journey into Europe.
A native of London, Winter converted to
Islam in the late 1970s, at the age of 19, when he was an undergraduate student
at Cambridge. He noted that at the time many English people conceived of Islam
as "something you'd encounter when you were serving with the colonial
office or as a missionary, but otherwise it was not there on the English radar
at all, for good or for ill." He also noted, "There were quite a lot
of people also coming into Islam at that time. There's perhaps 100,000 converts
in the U.K. at the moment."
Winter became a Muslim after exploring some
of the world's great faiths and what he described as "the usual kind of
teenage late-night soul searching." He entered Cambridge as a
"freelance monotheist," searching for the right spiritual path.
Following his undergraduate career, Winter
went on to live in the Middle East for seven years to learn more about his
newfound faith. Upon returning to Britain, Winter began his multifaceted career
working with the British Muslim community, first "on the preaching
circuit" in English mosques, then by beginning his own film production
company, which produces lectures for "Islamic TV stations here and some
other features as well."
The role models Winter looked up to in his
life and career included prominent early English Muslim converts such as Lord
Stanley, who in 1869 became the first Muslim member of the House of Lords, and
Abdullah Quilliam, who founded England's first mosque in Liverpool in 1889.
Discussing British identity, Winter argued
that there had been a "post-imperial unravelling" of British
identity. Winter said that income inequality particularly was an increasing
problem in British society: "One percent of the British population owned
more assets than the poorest 55 percent of the British population."
Such uncertainty is creating a space for
the rightwing in Europe. While Europe's
identity is actually being eroded by globalization, Hollywood, and McDonalds,
he explained, people have focused on the visibly different Muslims. This is
alarming because Europe has a "dark side," and has historically been
less tolerant than other societies: "The Middle East was historically much
more tolerant than traditional Europe."
The British Muslim community is a success
story in many ways. The mosques are packed everywhere, which must mean we’re
doing something right
Winter noted that the number of converts
has increased in the United Kingdom-remarkably, even as "public attitudes
toward Islam have hardened." As dean of the Cambridge Muslim College,
Winter works to ensure that top graduates are fully engaged with British
society and are able to "relate religion to the modern world" and
bridge "Islamic traditionalism and Western post-modernity." Students
are taught British classic literature beginning with Beowulf and including the
works of Chaucer and Shakespeare. Interfaith engagement is also a major pillar
of the work of the College and students make an annual visit to the Vatican
where they meet the Pope and stay in a monastery.
Speaking of the challenges facing the
Muslim community, Winter said, "The mosques are full, but the message in
the mosques is not always ideal.... there's a sense of disconnect, a hiatus,
between the discourse of the leadership and what the masses actually
Winter was also concerned about the manner
in which the British state has interacted with and antagonized the Muslim
community, and how this has influenced Muslims' interactions with the state,
religious scholarship, and wider society. He is particularly worried about
British Muslim youth, who he said "feel misrepresented, disenfranchised,
bullied, alienated from many of the things that the state is doing."
Still, Winter said, "The British
Muslim community is a success story in many ways. The mosques are packed
everywhere, which must mean we're doing something right. The community's
growing very fast, establishing itself economically, and creating an
increasingly positive relationship with existing state and non-governmental
agencies within society."
As a convert from the Anglican Church,
Winter said one striking difference between the faith traditions he has noticed
is the striking contrast between the pomp and circumstance of the Church and
the simplicity of Islam. As a Muslim, he greatly values the faith's adherence
to "A pure monotheism which allows me to revere all the founders of the
monotheistic faiths: Islam is inclusive, and uncompromising; pure
When asked how relations between Muslims
and non-Muslims can be improved, Winter said that Muslims need to stand up for themselves
and look to the core values of Islam and in doing so they can help Europe.
"We're already an indispensable part of what makes Europe work," he
said."If we can move that forward so that we become the great harbingers
of ethics and compassion and neighbourliness, in an increasingly atomized and
self-oriented, materialistic Europe, then I think we'll have justified our
Winter also urged "Muslim
communities.... to engage more with the political process to try and reduce the
danger of further British military adventures in the Middle East which usually
result in instability and a growth in extremist recruitment."
Akbar Ahmed is an author, poet, filmmaker, playwright, and is the Ibn
Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University in Washington, D.C. He
formerly served as the Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland.
I agree with you that NAI should not be a public toilet for dropping the shit (bizarre
and grotesque materials) in Islamic theology, singling out Islam for retaining shits
in its theological discourses – as such materials and even more obnoxious stuff
can be found in theological discourses of other religions as well. The real
problem, however, is, if the shit dominates the minds of some Liberal Muslims,
they drop it in the public places and earn warm applauds from those who are out
to malign Islam. And since the shit in Islamic theology also permeates the
worldview of some extremist Muslims, Islam is caught between the devil and deep
From a different practical angle, if Islamic scholarship has taken such a lowly
turn that a person of Prof. Naim's status apparently finds no problem with
Irshad Manji's demonization of Islam by substituting the original Pact of Umar
with a forged version that appeared some five centuries later, and picks at a
non-material illustration in my article exposing her fraudulent / ignorant
substitution; and a Western educated Muslim scholar of Islam claims that
Muhammad won over Arabia through a long and violent struggle, Islamic
scholarship has reached its nader and now at the mercy of the new Western
converts. If someone says 2+2 = 5 and is cheered as a maths teacher, the fate
of the students is well known.
Coming to the role of NAI, it must advise its staffs to
delete patently offensive words like calling anyone son of a bitch (that is a
dog) or a worst still, a snake lying on the ground, or dumping an overdose of shit on its website that only reflects poorly on it.