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Lecture: One Muslim’s Perspective on Religious Freedom

The United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 18 sets the global standard for freedom of thought, conscience and religion. I explain how this is consistent with Islam.

Summary

Delivered 15 April 2016. Posted 23 April 2016

Last November I was a guest at the event "Rights Cherished or Freedoms Perished?" One of the people I met there was Charlotte Steinfeld, a barrister who is Chair of the United Kingdom Chapter (which also covers Ireland) of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society.

Joshua Reuben Clark Jr. (1871-1961) lived an inspirational live. Coming from a humble background but rose to become solicitor of the USA's State Department and later US Under Secretary of State at a time of signficant anti-Mormon prejudice.

I was recently surprised and honoured by an invitation from Charlotte Steinfeld to give the UK & Ireland Chapter's annual Religious Freedom Lecture. I chose the title "One Muslim’s Perspective on Religious Freedom" for the lecture's promotional poster.

I used the lecture to explain how the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 18, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, is consistent with Islam.

As a new departure for me, I made a sound recording by simply resting my iPhone 6s next to the presentation computer and using the Voice Memo app. The sound quality was excellent, and it has enabled me to publish a video in the form of the self-advancing presentation below. I have also made available the text of the introductory remarks.

Presentation video

The presentation assumes no existing knowledge of Islam. Accordingly, after the introductory scene setting, I explain how Islam is based upon the Quran and upon Hadith, and discuss the relationship between them. The presentation then gives the text of article 18:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, [emphasis added] and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

I then show how this is consistent with basic Islamic principles, especially:

The most important slide

I think the entire message of the lecture can be distilled into one slide, number 29, which has one Quran quotation:

And [thus it is:] had thy Sustainer so willed, all those who live on earth would surely have attained to faith, all of them: dost thou, then, think that thou couldst compel people to believe, notwithstanding that no human being can ever attain to faith otherwise than by God's leave, and [that] it is He who lays the loathsome evil [of disbelief] upon those who will not use their reason?“

Quran 10:99-100 Muhammad Asad translation

Preliminary remarks

Joshua Stevens introducing me

My personal background was given to the audience by Joshua Stevens, Religious Freedom Representative JRCLS UK Chapter.

Welcome to the 2016 JRCLS UK Chapter Religious Freedom Lecture and thank you for attending – I am aware that some of you have come a considerable way to be with us here this evening.

On behalf of the JRCLS, I would also like to thank BYU [Brigham Young University] and Professor David Kirkham for allowing us to use their facilities here at BYU London.

Now, a few words of introduction about our speaker tonight, Mr Mohammed Amin. 

Mr Amin was brought up in Manchester (where he still lives) by devout Muslim parents who placed a high value on the importance of education, in particular because they had never had any opportunity for education themselves, growing up in villages in rural India in the days of the British Empire. 

As a testament to this, Mr Amin was admitted to Clare College, Cambridge, where he obtained a degree in mathematics.  He continued his education to become a Chartered Accountant and associate of the Institute of Taxation.  He joined Price Waterhouse (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) as a senior manager in 1987, going on to become a partner in 1990 (making him PwC’s first Muslim partner).  He was PwC’s Islamic finance leader from 2007 to his retirement in 2009. 

Since retiring, Mr Amin has been actively engaged in voluntary work, especially in the furtherance of inter-faith relations in Manchester and beyond.  Amongst others, he is a founding member of the ‘Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester’ and Chairman of the ‘Conservative Muslim Forum’ which is a voluntary group within the Conservative Party.  In 2014 he received the accolade of ‘Clare College Alumnus of the Year’.

Mr Amin’s public service is motivated by his faith and he counts his 2002 Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca as among his most formative experiences.  Also of incalculable influence has been his family, and we are pleased that his wife, Mrs Tahara Amin, can join us here this evening.  You are most welcome, Mrs Amin.  They are the parents of 4 children, all of who are graduates themselves and two of whom have a PhD.

We are delighted that Mr Amin, with the wealth of experience he brings, has agreed to address us this evening.  His topic is “One Muslim’s Perspective on Religious Freedom”.  He will speak for about 45 minutes, following which there will be 15 minutes for questions and answers.

Please join me in welcoming Mr Mohammed Amin… 

My comments before starting the presentation

Let me start by saying how I got here. I am a member of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, normally abridged to the CCF. You don’t have to be a Christian to join the CCF, just as you don’t have to be a Muslim to join the Conservative Muslim Forum.

The CCF organises the annual Wilberforce lecture. For diary reasons, I’ve only managed to attend once. That was in December 2011. Time flies. During the reception, I saw a tall chap standing by himself, so I went over and introduced myself. When I was young, I used to be shy, but I grew out of it. In my fifties!

He was Adrian Foster, then responsible for the LDS Church’s public affairs in London. The first Mormon I can recall ever knowing. From that chance encounter came all the connections that I have made.

Now, ultimately, religion is about theology. Everyone has different views about theology, not just between religions but also within religions. However, religion is not just about theology and life after death. Something many people forget is that there is also life before death.

When it comes to living, the more I learn about Mormons, the more impressed I am.

My profession was as a tax adviser, not as an advertising copywriter. However, in case the Church is looking for a new strapline, let me offer you one.

“To make your life better, live like a Mormon.”

With that, let me start the presentation.

Postscript

Joshua Stevens and Charlotte Steinfeld jointly wrote a news item "One Muslim's Perspective on Religious Freedom" --Mohammed Amin Addresses United Kingdom and Ireland Chapters, and Guests from the House of Lords" which was published on the global website of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society.

The news item is quite short and I recommend reading all of it. I have quoted one extract below:

He then moved on to his main thesis, which was to show how, in his view, the tenets of Islam are consistent with Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to “freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” including the right to change religion or belief.  To do so, he explained the various sources of Islam, distinguishing between the Quran and the Hadith and also provided insight into how Muslim scholars judge the reliability of various Hadith. This was both interesting and eye-opening for the audience, many of whom only had a passing familiarity with the workings of Islam.  

From this foundation, Mr. Amin drew out Quranic principles which support the claims of Article 18, including God’s granting to respect for humans of free will, the accommodation made by Islam for other faiths and the conviction that religious belief is a matter of individual responsibility for which we are only ultimately answerable to God. He also queried some Hadith which are sometimes cited to put forward contrasting interpretations.

 

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