On Open Societies and Closed Societies with Prof. Imam Syed Soharwardy
Prof. Imam Soharwardy is a Sunni scholar and a shaykh of the Suhrawardi Sufi order, as well as the chairman of the Al-Madinah Calgary Islamic Assembly,founder of Muslims Against Terrorism (MAT), and the founder and president of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada. He founded MAT in Calgary in January 1998. He is also the founder of Islamic Supreme Council of Canada (ISCC).
Imam Soharwardy is the founder of the first ever Dar-ul-Aloom in Calgary, Alberta where he teaches Islamic studies. Prof. Soharwardy is the Head Imam at the Al Madinah Calgary Islamic Centre. Imam Soharwardy is a strong advocate of Islamic Tasawuf (Sufism), and believes that the world will be a better place for everyone if we follow what the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (Peace be upon him) has said, ” You will not have faith unless you like for others what you like for yourself.” He believes that spiritual weakness in humans causes all kinds of problems.
Mr. Soharwardy can be contacted at email@example.com OR Phone (403)-831–6330.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: With respect to open societies and closed societies, Canada is an open society and a constitutional monarchy, but also a pluralistic, multiethnic, and multifaith, society.
It comes with a lot of complexity. In any open society, any movement on any of the dials of the society in terms of progress or non-progress — in other words, openness or closedness — of the society — starts with dialogue.
What are some ‘hot button’ things that people are potentially afraid to talk about and is allowing the vacuum of conversation to be filled by the more extreme voices? That may be leading to a more closed society rather than a more open, tolerant one.
Imam Syed Soharwardy: In my opinion, in an open society like Canada, people should be allowed to express their opinions. Sometimes, it could be an offensive opinion. Sometimes, it could be a very strong disagreement, but people should be allowed to express or ask what they want to know without persecution or fear of backlash.
An open society, it is also in danger of a certain element of the society taking advantage of the freedom of the society, which it enjoys, and then try to undermine a segment of society, a group of people, by intimidating them, bullying them, and so on.
An open society does not mean people have the open freedom to spread hate against a segment of society. An open society means, what I understand, having an open dialogue, critical discussions, criticizing each other on different topics.
That is absolutely fine. The civil discussion is absolutely fine. What is, in my opinion, in an open society should not be done is causing harm to a segment of society, which may be a small minority of the society; however, they have the equal rights to live in the society with respect.
That is the norm that has to be in place. Otherwise, civil society will not be a civil society. It will be the law of a jungle. Openness does not mean that I cannot question a religion. The openness that, yes, I should be able to question and be able to ask questions. However, I have to have an attitude to get know or understand others, but not to incite or stereotype the whole community of that particular group.
That is what it is. That is the beauty of Canada. In Canada, there is a balance of freedom of expression as well as a responsible society. Sometimes, it leads to abuse. Then there are laws in place to prevent the abuse of this freedom.
I think intolerance increases if we do not allow people to ask questions because when people are oppressed or controlled. They develop the anger in their hearts, in their insides.
There would be a time when the anger comes out and becomes violence. In order to prevent violence, let the people express, so they can have a civil dialogue, I want to add one thing here. If you remember, the cartoonists published the pictures of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
I was the one who took him to the human rights commission. He always says that I took him to the human rights commission because he drew the cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), which he thought he had the freedom to publish the cartoons.
That is absolutely not my understanding. Yes, he has his view to have his view on what he does not understand. My problem is not that he does not accept my prophet, but it does hurt me when someone portrays and makes fun of my prophet. It hurts.
I understand that the speech that could hurt someone is legal and allowed. I understand that. We should have the tolerance to hear hurt people. When I saw those cartoons, it was not about the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It was about the Muslim community to be stereotyped.
Because people have to understand. The Islamic faith is not like today’s Christian society, today’s Jewish society. The majority of Muslims, even in the 21st century, have a belief in Islam, which is nothing but the sayings and actions of one man.
It is Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Prophet Muhammad is not just one person in the Islamic faith, one prophet in the Islamic faith, or a leader of the Islamic faith. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is Islam.
When someone represents him as a terrorist, whcih was what the cartoons were about, it means that you are representing the whole religion of Islam as terrorists. That is not acceptable. That is, in my opinion, hate mongering.
That is why I stood up against it; anyone can criticize Islam. We live in a free society. It is absolutely fine. But no right to stereotype a society with hateful, symbolic, barbaric language.
Jacobsen: You were also part of the atheist bus campaign in Canada, in small part. What was your role in that? What was your stance on that?
Soharwardy: That was my campaign by the way. When I heard the Freethought Society of Canada is running a campaign, I thought that if they have the freedom to express their view about God.
Then I have the same freedom to express my views about God. When I campaign, I spend my own money. Several of my close friends campaigned in Calgary saying, “God does exist and He loves you.”
Jacobsen: [Laughing] This is great. I love that.
Soharwardy: This was our campaign. It was civil. There was no hate. There was no violence. From either side, it ended in a peaceful way, like a Canadian way.
Jacobsen: [Laughing] That is true. I like that. Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Imam Soharwardy.
(Updated September 28, 2016)
Scott Douglas Jacobsen founded In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com, Scott.Jacobsen@TrustedClothes.Com, Scott@ConatusNews.Com, firstname.lastname@example.org, Scott@Karmik.Ca.
He is a Moral Courage Webmaster and Outreach Specialist (Fall, 2016) at the UCI Interdisciplinary Center for the Scientific Study of Ethics and Morality (Ethics Center), Interview Columnist for Conatus News, Writer and Executive Administrator for Trusted Clothes, Interview Columnist for Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), Councillor for the Athabasca University Student Union, Member of the Learning Analytics Research Group, writer for The Voice Magazine, Your Political Party of BC, ProBC, Marijuana Party of Canada, Fresh Start Recovery Centre, Harvest House Ministries, and Little Footprints Big Steps International Development Organization, Editor and Proofreader for Alfred Yi Zhang Photography, Community Journalist/Blogger for Gordon Neighbourhood House, Member-at-Large, Member of the Outreach Committee, the Finance & Fundraising Committee, and the Special Projects & Political Advocacy Committee, and Writer for Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Member of the Lifespan Cognition Psychology Lab and IMAGe Psychology Lab, Collaborator with Dr. Farhad Dastur in creation of the CriticalThinkingWiki, Board Member, and Foundation Volunteer Committee Member for the Fraser Valley Health Care Foundation, and Independent Landscaper.
He was a Francisco Ayala Scholar at the UCI Ethics Center, Member of the Psychometric Society Graduate Student Committee, Special Advisor and Writer for ECOSOC at NWMUN, Writer for TransplantFirstAcademy and ProActive Path, Member of AT-CURA Psychology Lab, Contributor for a student policy review, Vice President of Outreach for the Almas Jiwani Foundation, worked with Manahel Thabet on numerous initiatives, Student Member of the Ad–Hoc Executive Compensation Review Committee for the Athabasca University Student Union, Volunteer and Writer for British Columbia Psychological Association, Community Member of the KPU Choir (even performed with them alongside the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra), Delegate at Harvard World MUN, NWMUN, UBC MUN, and Long Beach Intercollegiate MUN, and Writer and Member of the Communications Committee for The PIPE UP Network.
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