December 2009 UK Tour
Interviewer: As-salaamu `alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakaatuh. We have a very special guest with us today, who is an institution and a whole school within himself. In his own right, he is a Sufi master and a prominent scholar of mainstream, traditional Islam who spreads the teachings of peace, tolerance, love and respect throughout the world. It is a great honor and privilege to have with us tonight the great shaykh, Muhammad Hisham Kabbani. As-salaamu `alaykum wa rahmatullahi ta’ala wa barakaatuh.
Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: Wa `alaykum wa rahmatullahi ta’ala wa barakaatuh.
Interviewer: JazaakAllah for coming today and giving some time out of your precious, hectic schedule.
Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: It is my honor and privilege to be here today and that you are hosting me. I don’t deserve it, but you insisted. May Allah forgive me and forgive you inshaa-Allah and bless us all.
Interviewer: BarakAllahu feek, shaykh. First of all, what we would like to talk about and I’m sure the viewers are very thirsty to know about your life and how you lived in the early stages of your life, in the middle stages and now where you are living and about your life. So can you speak a little bit about the background of your childhood, where you were born and your schooling?
Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: I was born in Lebanon, in the capital city Beirut, from a religious family very well-known in Lebanon, and they run the Muslim affairs in Lebanon. One of my uncles was the head of the Muslim scholars of the Middle East and the other one was running the affairs of the Muslims in Lebanon as the General Secretary for Awqaaf. In my childhood, I attended their sessions. Because of Allah’s generosity, my father was rich and he had a mansion in Beirut, a very huge home. So all of these scholars from the Middle East were hosted in my father’s home and my uncles came because they were friends of my uncles. They made a religious association and my uncles taught Islam and the four schools of thought. One day they taught Hanafi, another day Maliki, another day Shafi`ee, and another day Hanbali. They taught scholars, not youngsters. So I was raised within such an environment, a very Islamic environment.
However, we were first in a French, completely secular school with no religion, and later I changed to an English evangelical school and studied the normal sciences and the Bible. So I trained with the secular, the religious Christian schools, and at home we were trained as very religious Muslims, keeping the five prayers and all other obligations. This was in the early stages. Then I went on to higher education at the American University of Beirut (English), and completed the study of chemistry. My brothers and sisters were doctors, lawyers and accountants, so I went to study medicine (theory) for four years overseas, but I didn’t complete the studies (practicum) because I returned home quickly when my father was ill. Then I went into business.
From that time I began my travel outside of Lebanon, accompanying our grand master. Our master today is Mawlana Shaykh Nazim (may Allah give him long life), but the grand master is the one who I had the honor to meet and stay with for many, many years. When I was 12-years-old I was introduced to him and knew him until he died, so about 15 years I spent with the grand master. Allah (swt) honored us with that barakah.
Q: So when you went back, you were doing business in Lebanon and then how long did you spend in Lebanon?
A: We had a family business in construction development and also a wholesale textile business. I was involved with my other brothers in that but I didn’t leave my profession, and we went to Jeddah and established the first high-tech hospital in 1977. Most of the doctors and modern equipment was from the United States. We had sophisticated operations in the emergency room and it was all connected by satellite to American doctors in case we had a problem. It was very, very prestigious. We had all the Saudi princes and princesses coming to the hospital for treatment. I also have a long history and knowledge of the Saudi family and how they lived.
Q: Mashaa-Allah, I want to talk about the many organizations that you are heading throughout the world, and if you could give us a brief background about some of the organizations that you chair? For example, you are the chairman of the Islamic Supreme Council of America. How long have you been doing that?
A: The Islamic Supreme Council, around 14 or 15 years now. I moved to America in 1990 and as soon as I landed in America, where does a Muslim have to go? A Muslim has to go to the mosque, so I went to the mosque for Jumu’ah prayers in the month of Rabi`u 'l-Awwal. So what do you expect? It was Mawlid un-Nabi (s). I was shocked to see that mawlid is a curse for them, they don’t accept it! I heard the speaker who was an Egyptian, speaking in Arabic. There were many Pakistanis, Asians and non-Arabs who do not understand and there were very few people who could understand what he was saying, but he was giving every bad idea about celebrating the Prophet’s birthday. I was shocked. I came back and said, okay, we will try another mosque. That was in New Jersey. I tried another mosque, another mosque, and then a Pakistani mosque; it was the same thing.
Q: So you encountered Wahabism in 1990?
Q: So how did you go about bringing about this major change throughout North America and Canada that we see a lot of Muslims now celebrating mawlid, and now bringing themselves towards the true teachings of yourself and your grand master ?
A: I don’t want to give the impressions that because of me this change happened, but it was Allah (swt) that honored me to begin to write pamphlets in the hundreds of thousands about the permissibility of Mawlid un-Nabi, the permissibility of intercession with the Prophet (s). We touched on major problems they put in the minds of Muslims that, “This is bid’a, kufr, shirk, or haraam.” In 1991, I moved to California and I was surprised to see that also in California, in the masaajid, there was no acceptance of Mawlid un-Nabi. They used to do it at home or rent halls, very few people. So I began to take the lead with this issue and what happened was that in 1994, after a long struggle with those people who refuse Mawlid un-Nabi, I went to the ISNA conference in Chicago (Islamic Society of North America) in 1993. We prepared books and pamphlets in the thousands. One Pakistani, may Allah give him happiness, published them all for free. I rented a booth in that conference and began to give them out for free. They brought police on me and they wanted to close that booth. I refused because we had paid money and we had a contract. They brought the security by force to close it because they didn’t want these books distributed.
Finally, Abdullah Idris, who was then chairman of ISNA, called me to his office and said, “Please stop that.” I said, “If you tell me this is haraam, I will stop it. If it is halaal, I will not stop it.” You know what he told me? And I am saying it openly now. He told me, “I am a Sufi from Sudan,” because they have the Tayyibi, Tijaaniyya, and many other tariqahs there, “but we have to go with the mainstream. Here they don’t believe in it. You must stop.” I said, “No, I will not. I’m not a hypocrite. I’m not stopping it, and you cannot close me down.”
Q: SubhaanAllah. So you were basically going back and telling them the roots and the true teachings of Islam by celebrating mawlid, and about having these mehfils, what we call Mawlid un-Nabi (s), and you were teaching them about Sufism through these pamphlets and booklets by distributing them freely?
A: That is true.
Q: Please tell us about your Sufi Order and the tariqah you follow.
A: The Naqshbandi Tariqah is followed everywhere around the world, but my shaykh, Mawlana Shaykh Nazim, carries six tariqahs that different shaykhs gave him the secrets, or authorization: Qadiriyya, Chishtiyya, Mawlawiyya, Naqshbandiyya and the Kibrawiyya. When we say “tariqahs” it doesn’t mean anything different. Like if you go to al-Azhar to study religion, you say, “I am Azhari.” If you go to Harvard, you say, “I am from Harvard.” If you go to Madinah, you say, “I am from Madinah University.” So it is called after the name of the city, or after the name of the one that disseminated the teachings.
Q: So how do you differ to the other tariqahs?
A: There is not much difference. In the usool (science), there is no difference. There is no difference in the trunk. In the branches there might be one branch with apples, this one with pears, this one with plums, so every branch has its own fruit and it’s own taste. Go take from every one, you will be happy. You will feel this happiness within you. And it is nothing except some awraad, some dhikr that they give you to repeat Allah’s Beautiful Names and Attributes, and salawaat on the Prophet (s).
Q: You have traveled extensively to Muslims communities around the world. In which part of the world do they follow true Islamic teachings?
A: It’s very difficult to say, because there are different understandings of Islam and as Prophet (s) said, Muslims are going to separate into (73) different sects. It is impossible for a majority to be on the right path, so it will be a minority. In their different ideologies they are trying to recruit. But the light of Sayyidina Muhammad (s) is in everyone, like Sahaaba (r) went everywhere. Ahlu 's-Sunnah wa ‘l-Jama`ah have that light and it is what is keeping them raised up. Now you asked which country, I can tell you there are many countries that have that teaching, but they don’t have a microphone. The best countries I have seen (in terms of overall religious practice) are Morocco and Indonesia.
Q: About your recent trip to Indonesia, there were gatherings with 250,000 people who wanted to meet you. Tell us about it.
A: Since 1997, I am going to Indonesia every year and staying for a long visit. I knew many important people and many in lower echelons of society. The poor ones and wealthy ones all have strong belief; especially you will encounter that in Indonesia. You will see people drumming on a duff and making salawaat in the streets in every district, not necessarily only during Mawlid time. I was introduced to the Minister of Religious Affairs, who invited me to Istiqlaal Mosque in Jakarta, the biggest mosque after Haramayn Shareef of Mecca al-Mukarrama and Madinat al-Munawwara. I gave the Jumu’ah khutbah there and afterwards there was a wave of humans rushing to greet me for barakah. The first time we didn’t know that would happen and security personnel tried to protect me. The people wanted to touch me; they know I am from Ahlu ‘l-Bayt and they wanted to take barakah. (The crowd was so massive that) we were stuck, so I again ascended the minbar and the crowd began to chant that they wanted bay’a in Naqshbandi Tariqah, so 250,000 took bay’a to my shaykh, Mawlana Shaykh Nazim al-Haqqani (q) all at once!
Then I met Indonesia’s future president, to whom I gave advice which he followed, and he became president. His term is five years, and every time it renews he invites me. This year he invited me to Istiqlaal Mosque and announced he would attend the gathering and I was surprised. Everyone was stunned because I never reveal these things, but he did. To the assembly and on Indonesian TV the president announced, “I want to tell you the truth, that Shaykh Hisham Kabbani is my teacher and that is why I have been under his guidance.” He was the only president who humbled himself, and he got the presidency.
Q: Please talk about some (bad) Muslim leaders; how can Muslims rid themselves of these tyrants?
A: That is the difficulty today because we don’t follow the constitution. Today if we build our constitution this will to happen; if we don’t use Allah’s constitution (sound cuts).
Q: How can we change that?
A: Are we on haqq (truth) or baatil (falsehood)? We are on haqq, but we are not successful. It means that we are not doing what Allah (swt) wants from us and we are following every kind of bad desire, as other countries are doing. Like Prophet (s) said, “You will follow what other countries are doing hand-by-hand.”
Q: We are the best among nations, so why is it we can’t see that?
A: Our duty is to call for good and we are not doing that. Of Muslims from all backgrounds, some are following the Prophet’s example but others are following their own desires.
Q: People of other faiths are saying that Muslims can’t co-exist with them.
A: That is not true! Do we have to believe the thinking of western people? Wasn’t Prophet (s) able to co-exist with the Jews in Madinah and idol worshipers in Mecca? He made a treaty between them. All the Sahaaba (r) and Prophet (s) extended his hand and supported them (in their religious and cultural needs). (This Islamic principle is particularly important today) in multi-ethnic countries.
Q: So true shaykh, but people have strong ties with their countries that they can’t sever. (...) How do you bring about a change from that rife?
A: What I did in America when I saw the wrong? I stopped going in mosques; I went to non-Muslim communities to bring them back to Islam. We built a core (group from among) American-backed people who had influence with the authorities.
Q: Why are we being told the best form of government is democracy?
A: Why do we have to follow what they say? We have our own Islamic democracy and we also have a constitution. (An example of) Democracy in Islam is when Prophet (s) left this world, they were able to decide who would be his successor. He did not say, “My inheritor will be my descendant or (...).” They had a shoora, (which is like a round-table council with discussions, problem-solving and democratic voting).
Q: What you are saying, that Prophet (s) did not choose (his successor)?
A: Although he preferred Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (q), Prophet (s) left the decision to the people, and that is democracy; they chose between themselves.
Q: The gap is widening between Shi’a and Sunni. Why is that? How can we change that?
A: I asked scholars of Ahlu 's-Sunnah wa ‘l-Jama`ah and scholars of Islam, did the students of the four schools of Sunni thought fight with each other or not? Yes, they did. Each said they were better and they fought in different areas of the world. That is why now the Shia and Sunni came together, and agreed to disagree. So why don’t we do same thing? I am not saying I am Shia; that is their belief, so leave them on their ways. This is why in al-Azhar, Egypt they have accepted the Ja`fari School of Thought. So from that point of view, to keep Muslim unity, and particularly you cannot change them, but at least they are better than those who come against Mawlid un-Nabi. At least they love Ahlu ’l-Bayt.
Q: One word that floats everywhere in the world is jihad. Is that happening in world, in its true form?
A: Now no, I’m sorry to say, but before, yes. Before it was okay, but now you don’t know your enemy. Where is your enemy? There are a lot of strong Muslim countries who are allies with non-Muslims, so who are we making jihad against?
Q: Pakistan is a prime example at the moment where the government forces are fighting the militants in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan. So how do we distinguish which Muslims are on the right side?
A: No one. They are both taking money from different countries. Those who are on the right side are only the Sunnis who are being killed and being blown up by some radical, violent element. They know they are violent. Afghanistan is the first producer of cocaine; who asked them to produce what Allah (swt) forbade? And yet they are claiming to wage jihad. Similarly in Pakistan, or any other country, they are fighting for money and nothing else.
Q: We are approaching the holy month of Muharram, when Imam Husayn (r) gave his life. Why do you think Muslims are suffering so much calamity?
A: There is no resemblance between Sayyidina Hussayn (r) and those who are giving their lives today. Those who are blowing themselves up have no right to do that! If you know your enemy, fight them face-to-face, not behind the bushes. What is the benefit? You kill many Muslims in these wars (...)
Q: The one who died doesn’t know why he died.
A: You brought the subject I didn’t want to touch. We are in the Last Days, about which Prophet (s) predicted that we are not teaching our youngsters what is necessary to prepare them for the coming days which are getting worse and worse (...) Like I said in the mosque in Blackburn yesterday (...).
Q: Shaykh, what would you give to the youth of today to stay clear of the radical ways and keep themselves pure and on the true path of Islam?
A: The problem is that we gave so much liberty to our children that we cannot control them anymore, so how to bring them back (to Islam)? They want to be owners of world and want an Islamic state. Isn’t Pakistan an Islamic state, Nigeria? Let us see these countries unite and become one. The principle of khilafah is not for someone to appoint himself. So you have to come to the point where all Muslim countries unite and follow one head. These people (Muslims) are teaching in their schools, even here in England, that young Muslims should segregate from everyone else (in society) and follow the khilafah.
Q: Who is this tremendous machine, this movement?
A: Why, Iblees is not running after them??! Hizbut-Tahrir and many like them have Iblees’ virtual offices on Earth. There is approaching a time of fitna, confusion, (in which there) will be dark clouds like night. The one standing is better than the one walking. So when this happens, take your sword and go hit the mountain until your anger is gone, and break your bow and arrows (...).
Q: We are talking about groups in England, where a 16-year-old Muslim child is confused because he has a secular education, Wahabbis (extremists) all around him, bad Muslims are in the media, he is being hounded by groups like Hizbul Tahrir, so how can he save himself?
A: He has to follow the `ulama (Muslim scholars) who, unfortunately, are not doing their jobs. I find there is no activity to bring youth back (to the right teachings and practices). `Ulama will be questioned why they let Muslim youth run after Salafi groups? They’re active and we are not active. So `ulama are arrogant and they want to keep everything in their hands. They like the chair; they love to be leaders, why? We are ants! We are nothing! Allah (swt) honored us with Prophet (s)! No one `alim can be raised on the Day of Judgment, so what do they think of themselves? I wish to be an ant because I don’t want any accounting before Allah (swt). So don’t see yourself as an existence.
Q: That was a beautiful description of the jama’at of this country. One thing I want to ask; was Karbala a political war?
A: How it was political when the Prophet (s) predicted their akhira? It was not a political issue. They want to say that in order to excuse themselves. They came to Imam Husayn saying, “They are going to let you down.” He answered, “I gave my promise and I will keep it.” That is why he was killed; he was able to pull back (but did not). O Muslims! If you promise your people, don’t let your youth go to Hizbut-Tahrir.
Q: We are near end of the program and I would like to thank you for such a beautiful interview. So I want to touch on the na`l of Prophet (s); tell us about it
A: I wish to be under na`l of Prophet (s). Sayyidina Abu Bakr, Sayyidina `Umar, Sayyidina `Uthman, Sayyidina `Ali (r). This is a symbol to remind us don’t raise your head as we are nothing in the presence of Prophet (s). `Alim or not, there is no right to raise your head!
Q: Thank you, shaykh, for a beautiful explanation.
A: “Above every knower there is a higher knower.” (Surah Yusuf 12:76) So don’t think you know. If Allah pulls the knowledge of Prophet (s) from us we are nothing. Look in South Africa, Ahmad Deedat was a great scholar. I went to see him. He was paralyzed; Allah (swt) took that knowledge from him, so don’t claim you have something. He could only blink his eyes and his son understood him, so don’t claim you know anything.