While the global community finds itself socioeconomically embattled, the religion of Islam, being at the epicenter of the discourse, has to a large extent been taken hostage by extremists. In response to the abuse of the religion of Islam by extremist groups, such as ISIL, Boko Haram and al-Qaeda, this week, Madina Institute South Africa launched the Centre for Non-Violence and Peace Studies Sub-Saharan Africa. The centre was launched at a symposium titled ‘Non-Violence: A foundational Islamic principle’.
The centre will be a welcoming addition to the highly successful Madina Institute Usul Al-din course, which is a one year intensive course in the traditional Islamic sciences.
While Madina Institute has been in existence for many years internationally, the institute opened its doors in South Africa in 2014 and has since opened haafith schools and numerous community based projects around the country.
What is the Centre for non-Violence and Peace Studies?
Speaking at the symposium, alumni of Madina institute, Fatima Hendricks explained that the centre is the latest addition to sister programmes that are run at Madina Institute Atlanta.
She said that the programme will act as part of the “global movement” toward enlightenment and the call for peace.
Given Islamophobic rhetoric within the media, which connects Islam with extremism, Hendricks asserts that violence violates the fundamentals of the religion of Islam.
“It is indeed the intent of Madina Institute’s Centre for non-Violence and Peace Studies to challenge the existing narrative and attitudes and to draw a distinctive separation between Islam as a religion and violence that is portrayed in its name.”
She says that contrary to popular belief, Islam teaches humankind that every being has innate worth and dignity, which as the religion prescribes is sacrosanct.
Hendricks further notes that the centre will work toward promoting interfaith tolerance through education, as well as promote the practice of engaging through non-violent means.
“We aim at creating awareness about the evils of violent and non-violent extremism and to counter hate with love.”
While many attest violent wars to be the result of religious extremism, she said that wars are generally based on growing political and economic gains.
Given the expected psychological impact of living as a minority group within non-Muslim countries, Hendricks stated that centre will also assist Muslims to live in harmony within their non-Muslim communities.
Why did Madina Institute decide upon this venture?
The founder of Madina Institute, shaykh Dr. Muhammad bin Yahya Al-Ninowy, explained that the centre will work toward teaching the non-violence models found within the tradition of the Sunnah.
He says the centre will also challenge the ideas of both violent and non-violent extremism, such as hate speech and negative labelling, which the shaykh asserts is more dangerous than violent extremism.
Shaykh Ninowy says that when one speaks of violence, the concept stretches as far back to the story of Qabil and Habil, in which Prophet Adam’s son, Qabil, killed his brother Habil in a motive involving “God and Religion.”
The shaykh asserts that on both ends of the spectrum there appears to be a lack of objectivity.
He says that many individuals, including Muslims, tend to “glibly” dismiss violent actions and extremist rhetoric done and said in the name of a religion as having anything to do with religion.
While critics of religion, the Shaykh notes, are unable to understand religion outside of their preconceived perspective.
“That is how religious extremists and ‘Islamophobes’ share one platform; they scour religious texts for bits of texts that can be taken out of context to prove intolerance, hate and violence,” shaykh Ninowy stated.
In light of growing intolerance within the world, the shaykh says that societies need to be tasked with mending the gap and allow for improved inter and intra-faith relations.
He further notes that religious leaders today have placed little emphasis on propagating non-violence and unconditional compassion.
Instead, he asserts, religious leaders have focussed on their own “cult like” interpretations of religious texts.
“We sadly hear very little of non-violence; the foundational principles that Islam brought. You hear today that religious leaders act like secular politicians, singing the praises of their own denomination and decrying their rivals.”
Describing the current state of the world as being a global village, shaykh Ninowy says that the current modus operandi within the world is in dire need of non-violent religious rhetoric, which the centre will work to promote.
We need to reclaim Islam
Also in attendance at the symposium, ex-ambassador to the United States and founder of the World for all Foundation, Ebrahim Rasool, explained that his work with the foundation has provided him with a platform on which he is able to reach people of all walks of life and has enabled him to spread the true message of Islam.
He said that as South Africans we have been blessed with a freedom and a level of integration that many around the world envy.
“They all ask one question: How can South Africa Help? And, therefore, the launch of the Centre for non-Violence and Peace Studies in South Africa is not an accident of history. This is the Muslim world’s thinkers coming to South Africa to say that we have a gift to give to the Muslim world so that no part of the ummah can make the same mistakes that we have made in the beginning,” Rasool said.
In light of continued calls for assistance from the many besieged territories in the Muslim world, Rasool urges individuals to remain steadfast in their belief that assistance will come, as promised by the Almighty.
“We must hold onto that promise, but we must not wait for it to descend from the heavens to us, because help is within us and the victory will come from our own understanding of what that victory is.”
He asserts that the Muslim ummah needs to refrain from worshiping violence when we have been wronged and ignore the essence of the deen, which encourages individuals to enter into peaceful relations whole heartedly.
Rasool said that the centre will assist in reshaping the deformed view of Islam within the world and allow Muslims to reclaim their faith from extremists.
Is the course accredited?
Hendricks explained that the courses offered by the centre are to be accredited by the University of Pretoria.
She said that the flagship programme will include a one-year online and onsite diploma in Islamic Non-Violence and Peace studies.
“This will see face to face contact lectures under the tutelage of Shaykh Dr. Muhammad bin Yahya al-Ninowy, live online sessions, course work and an end of course practicum.”
The centre will offer four main courses; an introduction to Islamic Non-Violence and Peace Studies, Non-Violence a Foundational Islamic Principle, Conflict Resolution and the Ethics of Disagreement in Islam, Islamic Sects and understanding the spectrum of the sects within Islam, and a community practicum.
She says that the courses will be based on Qur’an and Sunnah, with sound scholarly interpretation and proper application.
The programme will commence on February 1, 2017, and applications will open on the October 15, 2016.