Friday, August 14

Oxford scholar out to erase negative image of Islam

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KUALA LUMPUR: The fatwa against the killing of civilians which arose from a treatise written by Datuk Dr Afifi al-Akiti, the first Malaysian to hold a permanent teaching post at the prestigious University of Oxford, has placed him on a par with the world’s leading Islamic scholars.

A Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies and lecturer at the Faculty of Theology, Afifi wrote the treatise just days after the London bombings on July 7, 2005.

Datuk Dr Afifi al-Akiti

(Fifty-two people were killed and more than 700 injured in three suicide bombings that occurred on the London Underground.) Titled ‘Defending the Transgressed by Censuring the Reckless Against the Killing of Civilians’ and written in Arabic, the text became hugely popular after it was published and uploaded on the Internet.

Afifi, who was studying theology, philosophy and Islamic Studies at Oxford University when he wrote  ‘Defending the Transgressed’, had emailed his work to Islamic scholars.

He explained to them that according to the Shafie sect – one of the four Sunni schools of Islamic jurisprudence – Islam was a religion of peace and did not teach its followers to commit violent acts.

Afifi’s treatise was well-accepted by Islamic scholars and he became well-known worldwide after his work was translated into various languages such as English, French and German.

To date, Muslim preachers and academics often make references to the fatwa against the killing of civilians.

Al-Jazeera broadcast journalist Mehdi Hasan has also made references to it during debates to erase the perception that Islam supports violence.

Afifi, 43, who hails from Batu Gajah, Perak, did this country proud by becoming the first Malaysian to be offered a permanent lecturer’s post at the world-famous institution in the United Kingdom that was established over 900 years ago.

Aged 32 then, his appointment was in recognition of his wide knowledge and experience in Islamic studies.

Afifi, who is currently in Malaysia on a visit, said his appointment enabled him to serve as an ambassador of Southeast Asia as most of the staff and students of Oxford, who were mainly British, Americans and Europeans, have yet to set foot in this region.

“I view it as a trust from God and I took it up (the post) humbly.

Thankfully, I’ve been well-accepted by the (university) community and people from other faculties such as science also attend my lectures,” he told Bernama during a recent interview, here.

Last year, Afifi, who is an advisor on Islamic matters to the Sultan of Perak Sultan Nazrin Shah, was proclaimed a Perak state dignitary and bestowed the title of “Orang Kaya Kaya Imam Paduka Tuan (Orang Besar Delapan) Negeri Perak” by the ruler.

The scholar, who can also communicate in Latin, Greek, French and German besides Malay, English and Arabic, was appointed a member of the Perak Islamic Religious and Malay Customs Council in 2009.

Last year, he was appointed by the Conference of Rulers as deputy chairman of a high-level panel on Federal Institutions of Islam that is tasked with reviewing the administration of these institutions and recommending improvements.

Afifi’s contributions to Islam have not gone unnoticed.

Since 2010, he has been listed in The World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims, published by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan.

A fan of Tan Sri P Ramlee’s films and the Star Wars movie franchise, Afifi said apart from his own efforts, he owed his success to the sacrifices made by his family and their support.

“Without the sacrifices of my family, I will not be where I am. There is no substitute for hard work. That is the keyword of my success,” he pointed out.

The father-of-three said he was only 15 years old when he chose to go abroad on his own volition to gain knowledge and experience.

“I travelled mostly to the Arab nations to study…I also went to Morocco where I studied the Quran under the guidance of religious teachers,” he said.

He also had the chance to be an imam in Belfast, Northern Ireland, before pursuing his higher studies at Oxford University as a Clarendon Scholar.

“As a (religious) scholar, I would like to advise Muslims to appreciate the religion better and balance it by seeking worldly knowledge in order to succeed in the hereafter.

“I believe that by becoming successful, Muslims in this world can set an example, (and practise) noble universal values which other communities can also appreciate,” he said.

Islam, he added, should be seen by others as a perfect and beautiful universal religion and “if Muslims are (still) not perfect enough, they should go deeper into the religion to become better followers”. — Bernama