The year 2015 marked thirty years of Jamia Al-Karam, which was founded in 1985 by Shaykh Muhammad Imdad Hussain Pirzada. Initially set up as a small educational endeavour in Milton Keynes, the institution moved to its present location at Eaton Hall in Retford in 1995. Today Jamia Al-Karam plays an important role in nurturing, educating and training Imams and young British, male and female, scholars who are serving communities up and down the country.
To reflect on this history, Muslim View interviewed Shaykh Pirzada in December 2015 in order to mark thirty years of Jamia Al-Karam and to get an insight into the mind and thinking of one of the influential Muslim scholars and leaders in the UK whose contributions are at the grass root community level.
In a wide ranging interview, Shaykh Pirzada reflected on his journey in setting up and developing an educational institution, its achievement and endeavours, as well as challenges facing British Muslims, advice to young British scholars, employment and promotion of Imams, British Muslims in the face of geo-political tensions domestically and globally, and the future of the community.
Some excerpts from the interview are presented as follows.
On personal challenges faced: “The greatest challenge I have faced and continue to do so is of financial income and resources. It seems to be the norm, generally speaking, that well-off people within the Muslim community do not normally turn their attention towards religious education. They prefer to see their children become professionals such as doctors, engineers, lawyers, businessmen, etc., and their attention and energy remains focussed on this area. Whereas those who are less affluent appear to have a greater inclination towards religion. However, they are unable to afford the fees required in order to effectively support the demands of maintaining an institution of this kind in this country. Hence I have continuously struggled due to financial difficulties.”
On Jamia Al-Karam’s achievements: “When one considers the context in which Jamia Al-Karam began, and the objectives it sought to fulfil, Allah Almighty has blessed Jamia Al-Karam with divine favour. Jamia Al-Karam is a household name amongst the many mosques and communities of Indo-Pak origin around the country. Graduates and professionals from Jamia Al-Karam can today be found in every other town and city, who play their part in society in numerous areas and fields.”
On challenges facing British Muslims: “It is my view that the most significant challenges facing British Muslims are the rise of Islamophobia, the presence of internal differences and mutual disputes, and the lack of a genuine leadership. If we can set our internal differences aside, a constructive voice of leadership can emerge. Not only can we then tackle the challenges facing us, we can address the needs of the Muslim community effectively, we can also have a positive impact on wider British society.”
On development of community centres: “On the one hand, the younger and upcoming Muslim generation needs to be properly taught and educated in the mosques and educational centres they attend. This will ensure that they become confident and firm in their faith and belief, so that they do not fall victim to extremism, radicalisation and terrorism. And on the other hand, it is no longer an option to simply remain working in an isolated manner within one’s own community. We must bridge divides and bring all communities of Britain closer. Imams and scholars can lead in this through regular communication and meetings with people of other communities to nurture community cohesion and foster good relations within British Society.”
On the need for creative thinking: “We are experiencing an unprecedented situation within a globalised world and the issues of today require a creative and positive response. The British historian Arnold Toynbee stated, ‘Civilisations declined when their leaders stopped responding creatively.’ ”
On nurturing values among young British Muslim scholars and Imams: “In our values, we have a statement for ‘scholars to have both eyes open’. This means to give equal attention to both our religion and the world in the present context. If either eye is closed, then the imam will be inadequate. Just as Imam al-Shami in Radd al-Muhtar writes, ‘A scholar who is not aware of the customs and conventions of his time is actually ignorant.’ ”
On hope for the future: “It is a matter of faith to remain hopeful, in which lies strength. Despair is fruitless. If the Muslims amongst themselves as well as with the non-Muslim communities develop a pleasant and positive understanding at this very critical time, the future of British Muslims will be bright, Allah-willing.”
Interview was originally published by Muslim View in December 2015 (www.muslimview.co.uk).