Interview with Abdassamad Clarke

Hajj Abdassamad Clarke

Abdassamad Clarke is from Northern Ireland and studied Maths and Physics in Edinburgh. In 1973 he accepted Islam at the hands of Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi, later travelling to study Qur’an, Arabic and the deen in Cairo. He translates from Arabic, edits and typesets books on Islam, and is currently, along with Shaykh Ali Laraki, an imam of the Ihsan Mosque, Norwich, UK. This interview was originally conducted for the website of Mohamed Omar in Sweden and translated into Swedish by ‘Abd us-Salâm Nordenhök as Sufierna har alltid lett jihad – intervju med Abdassamad Clarke

MO: How did you convert to Islam? Tell us the story.

Shaykh Dr Abdalqadir as-Sufi came to Edinburgh in 1973 with a group of people who had accepted Islam at his hands in order to call people to Islam. I had been studying there and attended a meeting he organised. I met the Shaykh and he invited me to spend some time with him and his people while they were in Edinburgh, which I did. Then I accompanied him down to London and spent some weeks in the community, performing the prayers and taking part in all the community activities. They performed all the prayers together and ate together. After that I became a Muslim.

MO: You are a part of the Murabitun Movement. What are they?

Properly speaking Murabitun is not the name of a movement because Imam Malik, may Allah be merciful to him, did not accept any name other than Muslim. Murabitun denotes the people of ribat, which means a number of things, including a man’s going to the frontiers in order to stand guard and protect the Muslims and the lands of Islam, and it also denotes those who remain steadfast in the front-line of the battle. So I don’t know if I could claim such a rank, and prefer to call myself one of the Muslims in the communities initiated by Shaykh Dr Abdalqadir as-Sufi.

MO: Do you consider Sufism to be an integral part of Orthodox Islam?

My opinion is not so important in that. We go back to what the ulama say about such things. In that sense tasawwuf is the science of Ihsan as mentioned in the famous hadith of Jibril, peace be upon him, when the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said words whose meaning is, “Ihsan is that you worship Allah as if you see Him, for if you do not see Him, He sees you.” There is a huge literature on this subject and if you go back before the colonial era and rise of the movement of Muhammad ibn Abdalwahhab in the Najd and the appearance of Muhammad Abduh and Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani, although there is a domain of legitimate difference about some aspects of this matter, you do not find the current controversy about Sufism. And if you go back to the very earliest community before the appearance of the tariqahs, you find no difference at all about figures such as Imam Junayd, Sahl ibn Abdullah at-Tustari and Hasan al-Basri, may Allah be merciful to them all. So yes Sufism is an integral part of the deen of Islam.

MO: Why is Sufism important?

Since most of the Muslims consider the intention the first part of action because of his words, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, “Actions are only by intentions”, and the intention is formed in the heart, then clearly the purity of the heart is of fundamental importance. And this is no easy matter. It is much easier to talk about than to do. The heart gets encrusted by ‘things’ and purifying it is serious work, and if people do not even have the concept of doing that then their Islam becomes a hard and rigid external matter concealing a host of inner ills.

However, that is only a negative aspect, i.e. the purification of the heart of the ills that are clearly destructive in this world and the next world, proof of whose importance is clear to everyone in the Book and the Sunnah.

The other thing is the tremendous potential of the purified heart in terms of direct knowledge of Allah, which is called in Arabic ma’rifah, which is considered by the scholars of ‘aqidah to be of fundamental importance before every other obligation of the deen and which, by purification of the heart, can be deepened to become something truly vast, as is befitting of the Lord of the Universe, so that the people of knowledge of the salaf, as of the later generations, will refer respectfully to someone as being “one of the ‘arifun” i.e. one of the people with a direct knowledge of Allah not dependent on intellectual proof or texts. And how can we question such a concept when Allah declares His granting of direct knowledge to His slave Khadir in Surat al-Kahf?

“They found a slave of Ours whom We had granted mercy from Us

and whom We had also given knowledge direct from Us.”

MO: Some critics say that Sufism is a quietist, apolitical form of Islam. Would you agree?

Only people who know nothing about history can say that. There isn’t a single jihad in the 18th and 19th centuries, genuine jihads against the colonialists and defending the Muslims, that was not led by Sufis. Even Indian movements such as the Deobandi school are steeped in Sufism along with a very rigorous adherence to the shariah. On the other hand, the movement that originated in the Najd only fought and killed other Muslims in its rebellion against the legitimate Ottoman caliphate, breaking the unity of Islam in the process.

But, the problem here is that,  in the first place, Sufism is not a form of Islam. Sufism, as a name for the science of Ihsan, is one of the three dimensions of the deen along with Islam and Iman without which someone’s deen is not complete. Many scholars hold that it is a fard ‘ayn, i.e. an individual obligation on every single man and woman. Therefore one cannot be a ‘Sufi’ as such, or even a ‘Sufi Muslim’.

The great scholar ash-Shahrastani in his work al-Milal wa’n-nihal, in which he devoted himself to detailing who the 73 sects mentioned in the prophetic hadith are and what they believe, did not mention Sufis as one of these sects and indeed did not mention the madhhabs, the legal schools. That was because they were an unquestioned part of the fabric of the deen both for him and for the age for which he was writing. They would have regarded it as idiotic to consider the legal schools or the Sufi tariqahs as sects.

MO: You have expressed the view that paper money should be abolished and replaced with gold and silver coins. Why is that?

Perhaps abolition is not the correct way to look at it. As with the British pound note, paper money is a ‘promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of so-many pounds’. Therefore paper money is not itself money. It is an IOU. The IOU is not allowable for use in many transactions, most importantly zakat. An IOU cannot be used in transactions between people except under very strict conditions that are governed by the fiqh of the legal schools.

However, the situation is much worse than that. The human race has handed the right to a group of quite shady people to simply write numbers on bits of paper and then lend them to us at interest. The scale of it is so immense that, if we take strange financial deceptions such as derivatives into account, the amounts that are written on bits of paper hugely outweigh the actual wealth of the entire planet. That is clearly such a monstrous situation that it cannot last. But the people who understand this the best are those who invented and who use the system, because, while it lasts, they are buying up anything of any real value that they can lay their hands on. We experience that as the steep rise in the prices of the basic commodities that we need to live: food, petrol, land, etc.

On the other hand, we know from the famous hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari about the man who was asked to buy a sheep for the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, for one dinar, which was their ordinary price, but was able to buy two then sell one for a dinar and return with a sheep and the original dinar intact, that this same selfsame dinar today would still buy a sheep almost anywhere on the earth, and sometimes two. There is similar evidence of the purchasing power of an ordinary Roman gold coin. Thus gold and silver have not suffered any inflation at all in two thousand years.

Paper money and electronic credit have an insane potential for astonishing and rapid expansion and enrichment, and people are loathe to give that up, even if the downside is famine, depression and intolerable enslaving lifestyles for billions of people.

But we do not suggest that anyone has to abolish paper money or legislate the use of gold and silver; we say that people have to be allowed freedom to use whatever they want, except for usurious instruments. When people are free to choose they have always chosen gold and silver.

The argument is even more compelling for us because of the fact of zakat being an act of worship and not social welfare, even if it has genuine social repercussions. As an act of worship it has to be done the way the first communities and all the generations of Islam have done it, and it was always paid with gold and silver when paid on savings and on goods held for trade. The same thing that has Muslims all over the earth, in the revitalised Islam we see everywhere, taking such care over the performance of their wudu’ and the exact performance of their prayers will, when applied to zakat, mean that the Muslims will put real money back into circulation and that is the thing that will drive the criminal banking system to destruction and that will benefit non-Muslims as much as Muslims.

MO: Do you consider Western civilization to be in a state of crisis?

Yes, but since we are now living in the era of the world state, the global culture of finance and industry that originated in Europe, that crisis is global. The Chinese character for crisis is made of two characters: one for danger and the other for opportunity. In many ways, the crisis in Europe and in America has much potential in it. There are many new green shoots of growth. One reading of our history, and one has to remember that history is many different strands all intertwined, would show the striving of Western people to come out from under the dead hand of the tyranny of the Church and the forms of autocratic and arbitrary governance that it endorsed. Here we must make a clear distinction between Christianity as the beliefs and practices of ordinary people and the political organisation that is the Church. Religiously, philosophically and politically European and Western man has been striving for freedom and justice and for the truth. The last shackle that holds him today is that of the financial system and that is the worst shackle of all.

MO: Do you think Islam should change with the times?

Islam and its parameters are defined by the Book and by the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. There is a genuine way in which some of the ulama try to not make things too difficult for the Muslims and to adapt to the circumstances of the age. But many of these adaptations are from the principle of darurah, pressing necessity, whose prime example is the man in the desert who is starving to death and can only find food that is not lawful to eat. In that case, not only is what is ordinarily not lawful permissible for him to eat, but it is obligatory for him to eat. But this license depends on our understanding that it is only when he is striving with all his might to get out of the desert and return to where he can eat the halal. If he decides to set up house in the desert and go into business selling unlawful food, he is clearly making a joke of Islam.

There is a dynamic in some of the legal schools that allows them to really get to terms with new ages in history and different cultures in which the deen takes root without compromising in any way. That is inbuilt in Islam, this ability to confront the new without reaction and to absorb what is healthy and wholesome and reject what is unwholesome. Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi summed it up by saying that Islam is not a culture but a filter for culture.

MO: Do you think there is a European Islamic culture emerging?

We know from history that wherever Islam has taken root it takes on the colour of the culture that is there. Thus the Chinese Muslim is Chinese and Muslim in the same way that the African Muslim is African and Muslim. We know for sure that if Islam does not find its European-ness it will not take root and will not survive here. But this is not in our hands; these are forces that only Allah has power over. Our role in it is to be authentic and honest and true to ourselves. It is impossible for us to be Moroccans or Arabs or Pakistanis. Even now the young people who are second and third generation descendants of immigrants are amazingly European and yet huge numbers of them have a very coherent Islam too. The worst thing that can happen is this dialectic that gets set up about “Islam and the West” – they are not two terms in opposition – even if for no other reason than that strategically going head to head with an enemy doesn’t even make sense, and in my view the West is not an enemy to Islam. We have a situation in which there is far more good will from ordinary people towards Islam and Muslims than we realise, but most of us live – far too much for our own good – in a mental space that is created by the media, and the media is part of the triumvirate of power that Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi has defined: finance, the political class and media. The media are a part of an occupying force that is trying to prevent life and freedom. If you talk to people, you get a very different story. It is in those meetings between Muslims and ordinary people here in these lands that a new European Islamic culture is emerging as we speak.

MO: Which composer do you prefer – Beethoven or Wagner?

Your question assumes much: first, that we have already decided that music is lawful for us to listen to, which huge numbers of Muslims, with some right, don’t believe. My perspective on this is that because of the political, intellectual and spiritual tyranny of the church and the autocracies it endorsed, European man was not allowed to say the truth, particularly the truth of tawhid. But the truth must be said. It is intolerable to man that it not be said, and so in these lands it was the musicians and the poets who found ways  and who found a language in which the truth could speak, because music is a language, but it is a language that takes into account feelings and the states of the human heart. Human language as sets of statements and propositions devoid of feeling is a relatively trivial matter. You can name Bach as one of the discoverers of this language, and Beethoven was one of the people who was most articulate in this abstract language of instrumental music and who used it to express the longing of the human heart for freedom and for the Divine. Beethoven was a deeply spiritual man. Wagner took that amazing gift and combined it with another entire strand of culture: drama and the use of the spoken word to produce something else. But in that their gaze was on the Divine and on the potential of free human beings and of a future free society.

As to my favourite, I think that is almost impossible to answer.

MO: Why should somebody convert to Islam? Give us some reasons.

People find the traces of the Divine in many different ways. For some people it is in intellectual terms. They find the argument compelling. For some it is aesthetic. Some fall in love with a Muslim and the eye of love shows them the truth of Islam. Some recognise something in the social setting and a society they can enter. This last is the most compelling argument because societal structures are breaking down and being replaced by the most appalling culture of surveillance and tyrannical control. A demonstrable human society embodying the highest human qualities and courtesy and humour is the strongest invitation to Islam. When we understand that, it becomes incumbent on us as Muslims to forget missionary types of activity and to embark on creating something real. In that sense we have the saying of Imam Malik that: the Sunnah is the ship of Noah; whoever embarks on it is saved. This is a very tangible and physical image and obviously refers to something more than the relatively trivial things that we sometimes reduce the Sunnah to. Again in a phrase from Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi, we need an ‘emergency-kit Islam’, something that will not get washed away in the tremendous floods that are ahead of us. And we have to have the generosity to help as many people on board as we can, for the tremendous nature of the Islam of Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, is this character of rescuing everyone except for a small group of the most intransigent. It is that generosity and largeness of heart that is needed.

Last question: Can you describe the concept of community in the murabitun perspective?

Perhaps it is easier to describe the reality of community with us. Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi has been almost alone in his da‘wah on insisting on his people staying together, establishing the deen together, working together – both in the way of Allah and in businesses and professions – and living together. That has reached the point that our second generation is established and among them are young people with professions and trades, imams and hafidhs of Qur’an and scholars, teachers of the next generation, and they have their families and our third generation is already growing up. So this is the first time this has happened in European history, and of course it is happening with other communities elsewhere in huge numbers too.

Throughout history, people have been accepting Islam in Europe, but it has never lasted, sometimes for quite sinister reasons such as the Inquisition’s torturing people to leave the deen and often killing them. But sometimes the deen just did not ‘take’, because there is a difference between being a Muslim and establishing the deen, just as there is a difference between praying and establishing the prayer. So now there are growing numbers of communities of Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi both in Europe and the West and in Muslim lands and places like South Africa. They are not established on a concept so much as they have grown organically out of the needs of the people to retain their Islam and to establish it, and out of their mutual affection for each other and pleasure in each other’s company. But of course they are underpinned by the necessary knowledge of the Book and the Sunnah and the fiqh.


~ by The Murabit Blog on 12/04/2009.

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