Dr. Aref Nayed’s lecture at a colloquium on “Islam in the 21st Century: Overcoming the Challenges of Extremism” organised by The Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation at Manarat Al Saadiyat in Abu Dhabi, was a welcome reminder about the tradition of Islam inherited by Muslims the world over from the earliest generations of Islam. Crucial to the efficacy of his lecture was its grounding in a real world example: the Uthman Pasha Madrasa in Tripoli, and its late resident, Sheikh ‘Umurah al-Hatmani, who passed away in 2014. He was an exemplar of what it meant to dedicate one’s entire existence to the spread of compassion, of education, of serving scholars, and of serving the poor and the needy.
Dr. Nayed invited his audience to sit around the Henna Tree at the centre of the 17th Century Madrasa’s garden, while he elaborated on how this institution and its predecessors provided a heart for Muslim urban life through not the mere preservation of law and theology, but of the mercy inherited from the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of God be upon him, generation to generation.
Dr. Nayed then introduced listeners to another important figure from the Islamic tradition of Moroccan birth and Libyan residence, Imam Ahmad Zarrug, and explicated upon his five principles on how to be on the path to God. They are 1) Sublime intent, 2) Upholding sanctity, 3) Perfected service, 4) Persistent striving, 5) Appreciation of gifts. He explained that these five principles underlie Muslim urban life, or madaniyya, not in the sense of Civilization as it is normally understood, but in its most powerful manifestation, the inheritance from the City of the Prophet, peace and blessings of God be upon him, who the Qur’an has declared to be a Compassion sent to all the Worlds.
Lastly, Dr. Nayed touched on how when these principles are forgotten, and the holistic approach of the Islamic Tradition is lost upon those ignorant of compassion, the results can be disastrous. Only with the preservation of these values, and the protection of the institutions that engender them in the Muslim psyche, can compassion and love gain momentum, and extremism be extinguished.
Speakers at the colloquium included Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, President of Zaytuna College, and Professor Karima Bennoune of University of California, Davis.