London for study

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(In comment to: “London remains best city in the world to study in new rankings“)

Besides one post-grad degree, my entire western education was received in London. In fact, a significant part of my shar’i learning also took place in London, and it was mainly in London where all my thoughts/ideas/learning came together and matured. I would say that it was only the lack of shar’i tutors back in the day that compelled me to spend time studying in the Middle East. Were such tutors here now (which I believe are growingly), I wouldn’t have had a reason to travel. Some people say it’s ‘easier’ to study abroad where they’re mainly referring to cost of study and living, and lack of distraction. I would respond:

  1. Cost of study and living: this is a valid contention but people also overlook the idea that this is valid where a person doesn’t have to work abroad whilst studying and can rely on the comparative strength of the Pound Sterling. As for the cost of tuition/courses in London, they probably work out comparatively the same if you take into consideration travelling and living expenses, especially where someone in London lives at the family home. Of course, if you’re a bill/rent-paying adult in FT work, London can be challenging but not impossible. And I’ve found that those who have to strive the most study the best and achieve the most.
  2. Lack of distraction: Having studied for decades in London universities, I’ve not understood this contention. If a person is committed to studying, then distractions do not exist – you just manage your time between work and play. And given social media, the same distractions exist abroad for students as they do here. It’s about the mentality of the student, not the location (unless it’s a war zone!).

However, the benefits of partaking in shar’i studies in London (with good tutors and practitioners) are unparalleled for those who live in the UK/West. It is to study the shari’ah in context, as a living tradition and not some theoretical construct of people still reeling from the effects of colonialism or having to battle broken societies with a decimated political culture and the effects of poverty. As believing westerners living in a secular society, what God expects of us (across the board) is not the same as others in the world, and accordingly, our study of the shari’ah is NOT the same. Because of this gap, many students find it very difficult to acclimatise when they return and find a place in modern western societies. Eventually they give up because they realise they have little to offer people in practical terms turning to some sort of corporate work or entrepreneurship, or they take up positions of social leadership and pastoral work as community imams, counsellors, youth workers. Professional scholars (public theologians/jurists, public shar’i intellectuals, arbiters [tahkim] etc) are VERY few and far between. Furthermore, the ironic benefit of a secular society is that intellectual exploration is far more constructive, a student is not bound by the regressive ideological baggage of a country or society.

I’m incessantly asked as to how this situation can change. How can we make London into the abode of revelation, intellectual shar’i inquiry, and deep real-life shar’i learning – both for adults and kids? Well, logically there are two realistic options on the table:

  1. The creation of institutions that are funded by the believers. This has already occurred but due to demographics and the interest of majority ethno-religious communities, Muslim public funding has gone towards South Asian style madrassahs. There are many of these (particularly in North England and Midlands) but they operate on low costs and churn out very low quality that’s suited only for immigrant Asian communities – mostly young unexperienced men who are ethno-cultural /ritual performing leaders. Now of course, all power to those ethnic communities who manage to organise in a way that meets their needs/interests, and by no means am I disparaging them – each to their own. But similarly, I and many others are not from these communities nor share their ethnic interests, so whilst we wish them the best, we clearly need to form our own institutions that takes the best of wider societal culture melded with astutely understood revelation.
  2. Supporting individual scholars: institution building might be a bit too early at this stage given resources and demographic numbers, so the step before it would logically be to support individuals capable of raising the bar, serving the believing community, and leading in thought and action. Given London’s high price of living but simultaneously its place as a world capital that provokes higher levels of thinking and experiences for the shar’i intellectual, independant scholars will need to meet living costs. Either a) the community will meet these so that the scholar can benefit everyone, or conversely b) the scholar will only be able to serve a limited group who can afford to participate (which is what tends to happen). Whilst every scholar I know would love to pitch a tent in a corner of a mosque and help people freely all day, it’s simply a matter of economics.

We ask God the Most High to open up ways to the believers to bring their hearts and minds together, uplift their condition, raise their bar, provide them with the best, and to gain supremacy in both abodes.

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