Habib Ali Zain al-Abideen al-Jifri:
“It is difficult for people who are angry to listen to a message. Our message is for people of underst anding who live amongst the angry masses.”
|Interviewd by Saeed Al-Batati firstname.lastname@example.org|
Habib Ali Zain al-Abideen al-Jifri was born into a family of noble lineage extending in an unbroken chain to Imam Hussien, the Grandson of the Prophet (PBUH). Habib Ali is from the majestic city of Tarim in Southern Yemen. Nestled in the ancient valley of Hadramout, Tarim has been a center of learning and spirituality for centuries.Habib Ali received a classical Islamic education from illustrious scholars of Hadramout, embodying a methodology which crystallizes the middle way of Islam, Islamic jurisprudence, a respect for the difference between jurists and a spiritual education drawn from the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
Habib Ali is the founder of the ‘Tabah Foundation for Islamic Studies and Research ‘based in the United Arab of Emirates. He is also lecturer at Dar Al Mustafa, Tarim, an educational institute established for the study of traditional Islamic sciences.
He is continually invited to lecture in many countries across the globe and appears regularly on a variety of network television and radio programmes.
Saeed Al-Batati from the Yemen Times visited Habit Ali’s house in Tarim and conducted the following interview.
YT: Why has there been an increased interest in the Moderate Religious Discourse?
At its origin our Religious Discourse is moderate but the Muslim Community has experienced circumstances at different periods of its history, these circumstances have caused the more extreme voices to rise to prominence over the voices calling for moderation. The inclination within certain individuals to take on extreme position is present in every nation, society, and way of life because one of the peculiarities of human society is the existence of moderate and extreme individuals and this is dependent upon circumstances and the psychological make up of a person be it a balanced or imbalanced personality.
However in the presence stability in the Muslim Community individuals holding extreme views find no room to extend their opinions to those around them, they find themselves severely limited and unable to have an impact on the reality of the Muslim community, unless the Muslim community goes through a period of weakness.
During periods of weakness, and instability those holding extreme position take advantage of the situation and use it as an opportunity to spread their opinions. If one was to take a look back through Muslim History one would find that groups such as the Qaramitah, and the Khawarij had no real impact except during periods of weakness.
It is the Custom of Allah that extremes do not continue for long, because extremism by its very nature does not contain the qualities that insure permanence and continuity.
These opinions spread when there is a void, but are then unable to continue. The voices calling to moderation have a background which is dual faceted: firstly that which relates to what is called the war on terror and what it entails. But there is a second reason one which is deeper and has a more profound relation to the human soul and it is the fact that extremism by its very nature is repugnant to people with a healthy psychological make up, and because moderation is the Foundation of the Islamic Discourse. The voices of moderation were unheard because some of the Powers which are now calling for a War on Terror were the very same Powers which once supported the extremists during the Cold War. Were it not for this support the voice of extremism would not have being prominent for all that time. But once the Powers that backed the extremists turned on them, the voices of moderation began to be heard, they were never absent it is just that now the loudspeaker was brought closer to them.
YT: Who is responsible for distorting the luminous message of Islam? And what is the way to bring it back?
Everyone holds some responsibility for this. The magnitude of the burden each one carries depends on his position in society, so the ruler has a responsibility, government advisors have a responsibility (as indicated in the Prophetic saying: “You are all shepherds, and each shepherd is responsible for his flock.”). Therefore the responsibility is shared, but the weight of the responsibility differs. The responsibility of the Scholar for example is to raise people’s awareness, the responsibility of the ruler is to provide a platform for the moderates to educate the people, and it is also the rulers’ responsibility to take the extremist by the hand and admonish them so that they leave their position. The responsibility of the cultured elite is to insure that the moderate position is prominent in the public domain, instead of just sufficing themselves with polemics against those holding extreme views.
YT: What is the impact of the events of September 11th upon your work in disseminating knowledge on Islam? And where were you on that day?
I was in the state of Virginia on my way to New York, and we went past the Pentagon about 45 minutes before the building was hit, at the time I was on my way to deliver a lecture at one of the Islamic Centres in New York . We then received a call telling us what had happened so we turned back to the place we were staying and saw for ourselves the negative impact of this event upon the lives of Muslims living in America. We then saw the negative impact of this event in the East, with what followed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
There is no doubt that these actions by the extremists gave those on the extreme fringes of Western politics a golden opportunity to use these events against the Muslims.
YT: You said in a TV interview broadcast on Iqra’ and on your weekly TV program (Al-Mizan) that you were better able to carry out the work of disseminating knowledge on Islam in non-Muslim then in some Arab Muslim countries. What are the pressures that you experience in some Muslim Countries?
It is the truth. Whoever wants to serve Islam should expect to experience suffering wherever he is. But what I intended by this statement is that in some Muslim countries extremely atheistic ideologies, and narrow security concerns dictate the decision making process and dealings with Islam are still based on superficiality and an absence of understanding that Islam is a comprehensive way of life.
The upshot is that there is no way to insure national security except through the presence of a Moderate Religious Discourse, but some of the regimes in the Muslims world are unaware of this fact. This absence has overshadowed the religious discourse, to the point that some scholars cannot even hold a lesson on grammar with four or five students without exposing themselves to being questioned and investigated. The woman who wears Hijab cannot walk in the street in some Muslims countries without compromising her security or being harmed, whereas a Muslim woman would not have any such problem in many Western countries.
YT: The centres of learning in Hadramout had a huge role in spreading Islam to the four corners of the earth. But in the last few years some people have been demeaning the huge role Hadramout played. What is your response to this?
As I am a product of this centre of learning I do not want to praise it too much, but as they say the facts and the numbers speak for themselves. A third of all Muslims on the face of the earth are so as a result of the missionary activities of this school and as a direct result of the way Islam was taught in this centre of learning. It was taught in a way that was and still is peaceful, morally rectifying, sublime and moderate. You begin to realise the greatness of this school when you realise that many areas of the world map were changed from non-Muslim into Muslim lands at the hands of men who were the product of this school.
You also realise the greatness of this school when you come to realise that this school has been around for more then a thousand years – something truly rare in this time. When one looks back at the crimes committed during the last political era (by the Communists of Yemen) against the men who belonged to this school and see that this school still has plenty to give, you will realise the greatness of it.
The elements that have contributed to the success of this school are sincerity, the unbroken chain of transmission, moderation & balance, in addition to benevolence in dealing with people coupled with addressing them with clear proofs. Those who repeat these demeaning remarks about the school of Hadramout are not the first people to stand against it and if they understood anything they would look back at those who preceded them in doing this historically, and how they only had a superficial success in their endeavour before they disappeared while the school remained. Those who had good dealings with this school, whether as individuals or groups, disappeared yet their good memory remained.
YT: Among the things held against the callers to Islam is that they permit themselves to call to Islam in the West yet they would not permit a Christian Missionary to call people to his faith in the Muslim lands, and the fact that Mosques are built in the West yet th
e building of churches is not allowed in some Muslim countries, is this not a form of hypocrisy?
The answer to this question is multi-faceted:-
Firstly: the West cannot really be considered Christian so the comparison does not really exist… you build a Mosque we build a church. Western governments are largely secular in outlook, and secularism accepts the mutual coexistence of different faith communities, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, so the comparison is flawed from the outset. I do not think there is a need to bring up the historical facts surrounding how the Church dealt with Islam and other faiths in Europe .
Secondly: The building of Churches in Muslim lands which have an indigenous Christian population is permitted, and if you were to visit Egypt or Syria you would find Churches which are attended by worshippers and which are very apparent. All this talk of how the Christians or other faith communities were persecuted in Muslim Lands is not without exaggeration.
Thirdly: the problem with the work of the Christian Missionaries is that it is not based on proofs and convincing arguments. If that were the case we would not have stopped them but rather have allowed them to come, and had open dialogue based on factual proofs and persuasion so that it would become manifest which side holds the truth. Missionary work is usually based on taking advantage of a situation such as poverty, the need for medical help, educational needs and suchlike.
These are the means used to facilitate the process of conversion to Christianity. This is something totally rejected by us as it is based on taking advantage of someone’s misfortune as a pose to convincing a person. Whoever has a convincing argument is welcome to come and try to persuade people. The history of Islam is full of examples of open dialogue between the Muslims & Christians, Muslims & Jews and even Muslims & Atheists. The Christians and Jews lived an honourable existence in the Muslims states.
There is no problem in this regard between us and those who differ with us in matters of faith. What we reject is someone taking advantage of the weakness we are going through. There is something quite disgusting in taking advantage of the dire straits of another human being to bring him round to your way of life or thought.
YT: What is your evaluation of the freedom to call to Allah in the Western World?
There is no doubt that there is a freedom to call to Allah in the West, despite the existence of a minority belonging to the political extremes in the West who stand against anything Islamic and look for faults in every caller to Islam in an attempt to place him on the Terror List. It would also be a mistake to say that there is absolute freedom of opinion anywhere; be it America, Europe or any other place. But there is a greater proportion of freedom in those countries, and this allows the Muslims to make their faith better understood by the people they live with. The problem is whether or not the Muslims know how to deal with this. The misuse of these liberties by certain Muslims has given rise to a negative image of Islam; this is what must be dealt with.
YT: Is it true that you were barred from entering into or were asked to leave certain Arab countries?
It is true that I was asked to leave certain Arab countries. They are countries which I love and hold in high regard.