Having recently attended an Islamic event seeking to rekindle debate within the Muslim community, the pretentious entertainment and lack of godliness left me feeling thoroughly disenchanted. Surrounded by academic excellence in the heart of Bloomsbury, this was meant to be a contemporary discourse between academics and scholars who were sharing a common platform and engaging with one another.
The event commenced with a theatrical recitation from the Qur’an, followed by a translation that was recited in an ostentatious fashion. Seeing the Holy Book portrayed as a mystical oriental art form serving little purpose except perhaps to entertain a crowd was, at the very least, discomforting. Wasn’t this belittling the status of the Qur’an? Perhaps the event organisers forgot that the Qur’an was in fact the inspiration of intellectual endeavour amongst Muslim academics of the past. They would ponder deeply over the verses of the Holy book primarily to get closer to God and in addition to this, the Qur’an provided them the incentive for academic pursuit, so that they could understand and appreciate the magnificence of the Lord’s creation. By treating the inspirational source of bygone Muslim academics as a mere form of entertainment, the organisers of the event had completely neglected their tradition. Perhaps a session dedicated to some scholastic insight on the verses of the Qur’an relevant to the topic of the event would have been more appropriate, which not only would have provided profound intellectual wisdom, but above all, would have been an excellent form of communal worship.
To add insult to injury, the event organisers failed to plan for the mid- afternoon prayer during the intense academic discussions. In trying to grapple with the nuances of the contemporary issue at hand, the prayer time was fading away. Unfortunately, it took initiative from the audience, at which point the penny dropped when a mass exodus ensued and the event organisers realised that a break for prayer was appropriate at that juncture.
These two particular incidences lead me to question the value of such an event. What is the point of having an academic discussion on a theological issue if it doesn’t bring an individual closer to God? If intellectual discussions are supposed to bring us closer to God, yet those very discussions are the causes for us forgetting to pray to our Lord, doesn’t that render the entire discourse as an inherently futile exercise?
I can’t help but feel that many Muslims hold ‘intellectual discussions’ purely for the sake of being ‘intellectual’, which achieve very little more than wasting people’s precious time. Whilst I am a firm believer in rekindling academic excellence and intellectualism amongst Muslims, the lessons from this event (and similar ones) have affirmed to me that this must not be done at the expense of the relationship with our Lord. The purpose of these endeavours should be to encourage Muslims to ponder deeply about God, and to increase in their love for Him when appreciating the intricacies of His Creation through academic study. After all, this was the way of our predecessors who went on to contribute greatly to the sciences, arts and humanities.