At Christchurch, Clarendon Park, for the fifth session in the course, "Mindfulness & Wisdom", offered by Christians Aware as part of their Faith Awareness programme. The eight-week course has been devised by Ian Grayling and Kevin Commons from the Leicester Serene Reflection Meditation Group.
Our topic this evening: "The Place of Wisdom in the Islamic Tradition", presented by Freda Hussain MBE. Freda is retired Head Teacher at Moat Community College and former Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire. Her presentation is peppered with illuminating quotations about the significance of wisdom in the Islamic tradition and the importance of knowledge and learning:
"Acquire knowledge, it enables its possessor to distinguish right from wrong. It is our friend in the desert, our company in solitude and companion when friendless. It guides us to happiness, it sustains us in misery, it is an ornament amongst friends and our armour against enemies." (from Hadith - a compilation of sayings ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad)
"A Muslim who plants a tree or sows a field, from which man, birds and animals can eat is committing an act of charity." (Hadith)
"Who are the learned? Those who practise what they know." (Hadith)
"No man is a true believer unless the desires for his brethren, that which he desires for himself." (Hadith)
"There is no greater wealth than wisdom; no greater poverty than ignorance" (from sayings of Imam Ali)
"The teacher who is wise indeed does not bid you into the house of wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind." (Kahlil Gibran)
Our speaker briefly but helpfully discusses the Sufi thread in Islamic thought and culture and how Sufi poetry expresses the wisdom born from that tradition, which is inseparably linked with spiritual yearning and religious ecstasy.
When we do small group work for 20 minutes or so, we're tasked with thinking of a question to put to our speaker. I don't think that even this group is familiar enough with the kind of Islam which has been described this evening to do that. Many of those attending find it hard to reconcile the contemporary image of Islam with the one which Freda has described this evening. She understands this all too well and acknowledges it as the tragedy of modern Islam.
One interesting question is whether there is an movement or stream of thought within the Islamic world comparable to the Sea of Faith Network. Our speaker says that she doubts it.
Freda differentiates between modern Islamist thinking, which appears to revolve around the fear of God, with Sufi thinking, which revolves around the love of God. In this connection, she quotes another saying from the Hadith: "The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr."
The authoritative, canonical nature of Hadith seem always to be in dispute. As fashions and passions change, so certain sayings can be ruled in or out, giving backing to different worldviews.
We discuss the apparent equivalence of knowledge and wisdom in the quotations used this evening. These are two distinct terms in Arabic ('ilm and hikmat) which are occasionally conflated when translated into English. But over and above these, Freda emphasises the inseparable relation between faith (iman) and action (aman).