A Taj Mahal glitters in the Arabian desert.
Both Emperor Shah Jahan and Sheikh Zayid bin Nahyan built their white marble palaces as tokens of their profound love.
The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal in India in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, her sarcophagus being interred deep beneath the grounds of the mausoleum. In contrast, Sheikh Zayid, Emir of Abu Dhabi, built the stunning white marble colossus of a Mosque for the love of God. He was later buried in the grounds of his beloved house of worship, which remains one of the most photographed and visited mosques in the world. Sheikh Zayid wished the Mosque to reflect the cultural and architectural diversity of the Muslim world. Its heavy wool carpet was knotted in Iran; the chandeliers of millions of Swarovski crystals came from Germany; the marble and mother-of-pearl columns and arches remind the visitor of groves of palm trees in the Arabian desert, used for similar effect in Muslim Andalucia; the lakes and fountains are also reminiscent of the gardens of the Alhambra; the 99 Names of God are inscribed in calligraphy on the walls of the Qiblah.
Organised by the Forum for Promoting Peace, Abu Dhabi recently hosted a three-day conference on the subject of “Global Peace and the fear of Islam”. Royal dignitaries, political delegates, Islamic scholars, Rabbis, Priests, academics and activists mingled, listened and addressed the audience.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah spoke of global de-stability due to unrelenting violence in today’s world. He explained that just as it is obligatory for Muslims to fight extremism, so we must eradicate misunderstandings of Islam that lead to hate and Islamophobia. This needs to be achieved systematically in three spheres of influence:
Within internal organisations such as the home, mosques and teaching institutes; dialogue across faiths and cultures as all humans share values of love, respect and desire for human progress; and reaching international alliances to promote goodness and eradicate violence.
Sheikh Hamza Yusuf explained that the blessed Prophet strove to establish peace at every opportunity in his life. His son-in-law Ali tried to name his three sons ‘Harb’, which means war. The Prophet changed their names to ‘Hasan’, ‘Hussain’ and ‘Muhsin’, all three names being derivatives of the Arabic word for ‘goodness’. As a result of the blessed Prophet’s example, all Arabic names that had meanings associated with war disappeared from Arab culture.
Sheikh Hamza quoted the beautiful saying of the blessed Prophet:
“You will not enter paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love another. Shall I tell you something which if you practise will lead to love among yourselves? Spread Peace among yourselves.”
The Islamic greeting is “Peace be upon you.”
When Muslims finish their ritual prayers, they recite the words, “O Allah. You are Peace and from you is Peace.”
When Muslims observe the new moon, we recite, “O Allah. Bring us the new moon with security and faith, with peace and Islam, and in harmony with what our Lord loves and what pleases Him.”
I spoke about the rise of Islamophobia in Europe, but also the best practice being seen in Britain where people of all faiths and none are protected by law from discrimination. Terrorist attacks in Europe certainly lead to spikes in Islamophobic attacks, especially on women wearing the hijab, but these tend to calm down fairly quickly. Britain is a country of diverse religions, cultures, languages and colours, and I believe it revels in this eclectic mix.
Muslims are to be seen at every level of engagement in society, with women in hijab participating with confidence. Muslim MPs in the Houses of Parliament, soldiers and officers in the military, judges and barristers in the criminal justice system, surgeons and doctors in the National Health Service, teachers, and athletes competing at international level. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan is a Muslim whose father was an immigrant from Pakistan and worked as a bus driver. Mr Khan recently became the first western politician of his generation to walk along the border between India and Pakistan at the Wagah crossing, a place of tense military presence. As he walked into Pakistan, he was greeted with the words, “Welcome home Mr Khan.”
Sadiq Khan quipped immediately in his impeccable cockney accent,
“Home is south London, Mate!”
St Paul’s cathedral recently held a service to mark the six-month anniversary of the terrible Grenfell Tower fire that killed almost a hundred people. The royal family, clerics of different faiths and representatives of various communities affected by the tragedy participated in prayers, hymns and sermons. Among the choristers sat a group of young Muslim girls, dressed in their uniform of navy tunics, navy trousers and white hijabs. The ancient walls of St Paul’s resonated as this choir sang a beautiful nasheed by Maher Zain called “Insha Allah.”
As the conference in Abu Dhabi came to an end, I went to the Sheikh Zayid Mosque for evening prayers. I sat on the sumptuous carpet and watched the sun begin to set on the silvery waters of the lakes as the muezzin began to deliver the haunting and melodious call to Maghrib prayer. His voice seemed to rise from the warm floor, bounce off the magnificent marble walls, echo beyond the tall minarets and wide halls, and ascend majestically into the seven heavens. I imagined the love of Sheikh Zayid for this glorious building, perhaps even stipulating that he should be buried in its grounds when the inevitable time came. I wept as I prayed for the soul of an Emir whose legacy so triumphantly declared his love for God.