Friday, 29 February 2008

'Hospitality' and 'Accommodating' within Islamic Theology and Culture

I wanted to raise a few questions about these words because we often use them to free ourselves from tricky situations.

Hospitality is usually associated with the relationship between a guest and
a host. In terms of Scotland who are the hosts and who are the guests? The boundaries get very blurred in my situation as I feel that I am a Scot but I often come across other Scots who want to be hospitable to me because they believe that I am a 'guest'. Maybe we need to consider the position of the first generation Pakistani (or any other nationals) Muslims and that of the subsequent generation? I know that my parents would still feel that they are 'guests' of Scotland and that is because they have such strong links with Pakistan. But then again my father did have a business in the south side of Glasgow where he was very much the 'host' to the community in Shawlands, and dearly missed since his retirement I hear. It gets even more confusing when Muslims in Scotland try to create this identity known as 'Scottish Muslims' because what they do is try to be the host and the guest at the same time. Is there some form of initiation that guests need to undertake to become the hosts? Is it possible for me to be a true Scot without folk considering the colour of my skin or my religious convictions?

I often say to kids in my RE class to consider what passers by see me as.
Is Mr De Sondy seen as a Scot? A Paki (stani)? A foreigner? A Glaswegian?
A guest? A host? The kids are usually stunned into silence. I once got more than I had bargained for from a fourth year pupil who yelled from the back of the class, "Sir, you will always be a cool Paki for us", "You cannae call him that you ****", shrieked a girl in the class. I just stood back shaking my head. So, I, nor my students, have clear answer to any of these questions but I just wanted to think out loud.

Accommodating is another word which I am thinking about from a theological and religious viewpoint. In what way do we accommodate our lifestyle to our specific theology? How do we react when our lives don’t fit the status quo? How do we accommodate the Muslim daughter who wants to marry the Catholic boy? How do we accommodate the Muslim son-in-law who wants to marry a second wife? How do we accommodate the Muslim daughter who does not want to wear the Hijab (head covering)? Are we twisting scripture for our own sake?

I went to listen to a paper presented by one of my much loved theologians,
Professor Perry Schmidt-Leukel, Chair of World Religions for Peace at Glasgow University on 'Multi-religious Identity: problems and considerations'. Perry made a profound statement in which he said that we are all made up of 'patchwork religiosity', which means that no one can say they are a 'pure' Muslim, Christian or Jew. We all accommodate all sorts of different ideas within our religious understanding. In the same way that I am content in my identity as a Scot but at times I can feel a little Pakistani, a little Arab, a little European, a little Glaswegian. The boundaries are never set in stone and whether we like it or not we accommodate all sorts of things into our lives.

'I am your host. With robber's hands in my hospitable favours… You should not ruffle thus.' William Shakespeare

The picture shows Abraham showing hospitality to the Angels: Source Wikipedia

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Pakistani Drama Serials and Progressive Islam

So, there I was sitting at my sister Asfa's house with my Mum and Dad watching a Pakistani drama serial called 'Kajal' on Geo Pakistani TV channel on satellite when I began to wonder about the way in which Islam has progressed in Pakistan. Yes, you read correctly, Islam progressing.

Let us make some distinctions here. Most Pakistanis who came to the UK in the 1960s came here for the sole purpose to earn their bag of gold and then return 'back home'. The vast majority of those who came to the UK were not rich but came from poor background, the rich stayed in Pakistan and they have gotten richer. The myth of return was quickly realised and the first generation ended up staying here. Initially the men arrived on their own but then decided to bring their wives and families over too. My father recalled many stories about the 'fun' times that these new Scots had with their 'mates' and the 'local girls' - enough said. He told me that even the most prominent Pakistani figures in Scottish society have a colorful past which they now veil with their 'Islamic credentials'. Don't worry guys I believe in private lives being exactly that. It was only after the first generation realised the myth of return that they decided to create an 'Islamic culture' in the UK, in Scotland. The Islam that they wanted to establish in Scotland was firstly best suited to Pakistan and secondly one which was made up of all sorts of traditions, some authentic and some not. The education level of these new Scots was not great so they could only establish that which they were taught. They then proceeded to import Pakistani imams (preachers in Mosques) who had learnt an Islam best suited for Pakistan.

Today the first generation of Pakistanis still have a firm grasp in the Mosques and they still continue to uphold the same beliefs and practices that they came with in the 1960s. What they fail to realise is that Pakistani Islam has developed. What they fail to realise is that Muslims in Scotland are living in 21st Century Scotland! Do we actually understand and appreciate what Scotland means to us? The new generation of 'Scottish Muslims', who believe they have more a grasp on Islam than their forefathers aim for the Islamic utopia of the historical Islamic empire. They have learnt the Qur'an, the sayings of the prophet, the commentaries that medieval Muslim men have written, parts of Islamic law which is stuck in its historical context, I could go on and on and on. So between a Pakistani Islam of the 1960s and medieval Islam we are none the wiser. Pushing and pulling between centuries and traditions we are holding everyone back from progress.

The drama serial, Kajal, is set in a major city in Pakistan, not quite sure which one. It shows the modern shopping malls (which me and sister sat for about 15 minutes arguing were better than Buchanan Galleries), the coffee shops, the cinemas, the friendships between men and women, the difficulties that take place in arranged marriages, the dilemmas faced by a female doctor in a hospital. Did I mention the difficulties that these characters are having with their Islamic identity? No, I didn't because they don't have this problem. Their lives are enriched with the presence of God but they do not need to aim for some great ideal which cannot be achieved. But also remember that the poor came from villages in Pakistan which have often not developed in the way the major cities have. My own parents came from a village in Pakistan and so they are in the same position. I do believe that deep down my parents are progressives, creating me is evidence enough! Or maybe I get my progressive itch from my grandfather who lived in died in Singapore. And here is where I think that Muslims in Scotland with Pakistani roots need to take a wee trip to the main cities in Pakistan and see the way in which Islam is lived out there. But then again am I wasting my breath because there are major political parties in Pakistan which stand for all things 'Islamic', curbing music, arts, films, basically most things fun. These Islamic political parties this time round have failed miserably in the general election and the widespread voice of progressive Pakistani Muslims is calling for peace and progress.

I am pleased that a new wave of change has started. Turkish Islamic scholars have started the process of revisions to the sayings of the prophet Muhammad (hadith). A bold step towards bringing out the beauty of Islam and making it ultra clear that traditions which call for discrimination, abuse and intolerance are far from the Islamic traditions. I know what some of you are thinking, will the next step be a revision of the Qur'an? I'm not in favour of this for the sole fact that anything associated with the prophet, sayings or actions, are not divine and hence up for grabs and debates but the Qur'an is divine and its true wisdom is sought through a reflection and serious grappling with its 'shades of gray', that is what makes me excited about the Qur'an. It is a text which I call 'perfectly ambiguous', God has given me a great challenge to understand it. Let's hope that we all find our way to the Qur'an and our identity.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Little Mosque on the Prairie

Highly Recommended!

Centre for the Study of Islam: Public Lectures


Evening Seminar Programme
Spring/Summer 2008
Tuesday 26th February 2008
Islam: Between Heaven and Hell
Dr Christian Lange (, Lecturer in Islamic Studies, School of Divinity, Edinburgh University will explore Islamic understandings of heaven and hell.

Venue: Upper Seminar Room, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, 4 The Square, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, Centre for the Study of Islam, University of Glasgow
Time: 6-7:30pm

Accredited Course in Islamic Studies Graduates 2008

I have been teaching the Accredited Course in Islamic Studies at the School of Divinity, University of Glasgow for quite some time now. Here are the latest bunch of graduating students at our graduation dinner which was held on Saturday 23rd February 2008. Well done to all!