[Amad]: Al-salamu 'alaykum. I am with Shaykh Tawfique Chowdhury in Doha. We're going to do a WIYE (What's In Your Ear) session with him and will ask a few questions. The first question is: Shaykh, what are you listening to these days? [Shaykh Tawfique Chowdhury]: I'm listening to you speaking! [AS]: Are you listening to any CDs, audio, Shuyūkh? [TC]: No, not really. I'm just reading a few books at the moment. [AS]: The next question: what are you reading? [TC]: I'm reading a book called Some of the Chosen Chapters from the Fatawa of Ibn Taymiyyah . There is some really interesting stuff, and māshā'Allāh tabarakAllāh I'm really enjoying reading the book. [AS]: I'm assuming it's not in English. [TC]: No, I can't bear to read anything in English, especially on Islam. If it is not on Islam but is on the news or upscaling my skills or medicine, then I can bear to read it in English. Otherwise, it has to be in Arabic. [AS]: What are you watching these days? [TC]: These days, I don't have much time to watch anything except my kids play. I was watching Dragon's Den the other day, which is a series where self-made entrepreneurs grill other wannabe entrepreneurs. It was quite nice because I was looking at systems of training young people to be more entrepreneurial and more capable and more self-sufficient, so I was looking at what they were questioning and how they were questioning. It was quite interesting. [AS}: The next question is: What technology are you rocking? Mac or PC? Kindle, iPad, Android? [TC]: Well, I'm a bit of a confused individual. I use a Samsung dual phone on Android with iPad and an iMac and Apple tv to put my stuff on the screen and look at it. At the same time, I also have an IBM at home just in case. [AS]: Truly diverse! [TC]: I'm a very confused individual! [AS]: What is the best piece of advice you have received or may have for readers? [TC]: I guess the best piece of advice I have is: Focus on reading that which is beneficial to you. There is so much knowledge and information out there. If knowledge doesn't benefit us, it actually harms us. Even if it is harmless knowledge, it harms us because we are wasting our time and not a single moment that we wasted in this dunya will come past us in the Day of Judgment or in our graves except that we will regret it. With the plethora of information out there and with the explosion of information in the world, I sincerely advise all of my brothers and sisters to not waste time in that which does not benefit you.
The Prophet said in an authentic hadīth in Bukhāri: “Be focused and be eager about that which benefits you.” This is my advice to all my brothers and sisters.[AS]: What inspires you? [TC]: What inspires me is great visions and great execution. People having a great idea doesn't inspire me anymore – it used to inspire me before and make me excited but a great idea without great execution is like a great dream that you had, but you never actually end up doing anything about it. What really inspires me is when someone has a great vision to do something and then puts all his hard work and effort and focus behind it and then executes and achieves it, māshā'Allāh. That's quite inspiring!
The other thing which is quite inspiring is hearing new things and Islamic knowledge that I didn't know. Recently after this fitnah that has happened about Rasulullah with people trying to disgrace our Prophet , I came across the book of the names of Rasulullah by al-Suyuti with 400 names of Rasulullah that al-Suyuti collected. I was looking at each name and the meaning of the name and how the ummah of Muḥammad reflects that name and how Allāh has revealed so many different of His Names that are similar to the names of Rasulullah but Rasulullah is the human perfection of that name whilst Allāh is the Godly Perfection of that name in a manner that befits Him.
It was really interesting to read those names. For example: when was the last time you actually learned about the name Ahmed and what it really means and why the Prophet was called Ahmed? He was called Ahmed because he was the human being who praised Allāh the most. When you read about how he praised Allāh the most, it really touches you. We understand that not only do the names of Rasulullah mean a name, just like we have the names Khalid, Ahmed, 'Umar, Muḥammad, but every name of Rasulullah was an attribute of Rasulullah as well. It was really interesting! The type of knowledge that I never actually thought I would like to learn, but subḥānAllāh, the more they curse our Prophet , the more we love him. I think that's something really inspiring.[AS]: What do you think about this topic? A newspaper in France has published some horrible things about the Prophet . How should Muslims really react when they see this? [TC]: Muslims should not really look at these things or read these things. They should not encourage others. They may mention it in general that people are rejecting our Prophet or cursing him, but they should not ever read them – I consider it totally harām to do so even if just for curiosity or verification or to be balancing your view or whatever justification you have in your head. Don't go read these things. Don't look at the pictures. This is something disgraceful and angers Allāh .
Secondly, I think it is a sign of our times. It is a sign of the end of times when the dunya tries to reject the most amazing human being who ever lived. It is a sign of the times that today we have a total lack of values. This materialistic world and Western type of attitude of running towards materialism, atheism, godlessness, and humanism has led people away from truly appreciating the best human being.
I believe it is a tragedy. I think Allāh will not accept this. In the Fatawa of Ibn Taymiyyah there is reported a narration which is authentic that some of the companions of Rasulullah said that when they used to fight our battles, they kept struggling and struggling. It was only after they had cursed the Prophet that Allāh would very soon give victory over them.
I would say to my brothers and sisters that inshā'Allāh the Help of Allāh is near wherever Islam and Muslimeen are being hurt and harmed, whether it be in Syria, Palestine or anywhere else. Wherever Muslims are being wronged, their justice is near inshā'Allāh and Allāh will surely help them. I ask everyone to not become distracted. One of the worst things you can do is let these things distract you from the greater work you are doing. If you were to get distracted at every barking dog, then you would be distracted all the time. Don't be distracted! Focus on that which benefits you. Focus on the long-term projects, long-term planning and execution. Don't get distracted by these things. The more they curse our Prophet , the more you should grow in love with the Prophet .
I ask Allāh to benefit us and you in all of this.
It is hypocrisy and perversion of human values and perversion of the word freedom. If freedom is to insult and curse others, then it is a type of freedom we don't want and that humanity rejects. Isn't it okay for us to do anything we want as long as we don't harm others? That is the essential understanding of freedom: you can do what you want to do with your time, money, life, opinions as long as you don't end up harming and hurting everyone. What is the purpose of cursing and harming somebody who obviously is innocent of all these charges?
None of what they have said about the Prophet is right. There is not an element of truth in that, and if that is the case, then they have built a cry for freedom based on lies. It makes no logical sense at all! It becomes clear to any intelligent person that their attempt to disguise their actions by calling it “freedom of speech” is only an attempt to hide their ignorance and only an attempt to hide their perversion of human values. I think if humanity truly looked into the story and the biography of the Prophet , they would be truly amazed and find a very different sort of person and not the lies that these people have said.[AS]: As you have said, in the reaction, we see all this hypocrisy, but at the same time, our reaction should be in line with our deen and shouldn't be excessive such as destroying property, killing each other or any of these things that are detrimental. We would like to emphasize that part again. [TC]: I don't see any value in anybody taking matters in their own hands and having vigilante violence after these sort of matters erupt. With all due respect, the more we tend to do this – people in France are going and publishing more cartoons – our negative reaction would have prompted even more. At a time like this, it is a bit like when you get bullied in the playground in school. The best way to leave it is to reject it and stay away from it. If you start crying and screaming, then the bullies will want to do that again. That's the whole point about this: reject these people and don't spread their issues. Don't ask for petitions with signatures or whatever else that sometimes causes people to lead to actions with very little benefit. I wouldn't even care about petitioning for this point because I think that unfortunately our governments are mistaken in this and should curb and stop and bring out laws that go against harming other religions. If a Muslim was to do that against Jesus Christ, it would be sacrilegious. Why is it okay for a non-Muslim to do that against Muslims, especially when our relationships aren't the best at the moment and we both need to do a lot to mend ties and mend the hearts.
I encourage my brothers and sisters to stay away from violence. I encourage them to do everything possible to bring out a positive image of Muḥammad . I encourage everyone to start a campaign worldwide to increase the love of Muḥammad in our hearts. I encourage the printing of books about him, giving lectures and talks about him, conferences about him and doing more good deeds ourselves so the Prophet has more ajr from us. I encourage more salāh and salāh of Rasulullah , especially on Fridays. I encourage everyone to read more about him and do everything possible to at least speak good about the Prophet to your neighbors and correct their thinking about Rasulullah .
Finally, I ask and urge every single person out there to seek forgiveness from Allāh . We are unfortunately helpless when these sort of incidents and issues are brought up because ultimately we don't have the authority, power or ability as individuals to do much to take these criminals to account. We complain to Allāh for our weaknesses and to take these criminals to account and not let them go. Allāh is very patient, but Allāh is not patient with those people who curse His beloved and Allāh will defend His beloved.
We ask Allāh to save us from His punishment and to save the Muslims and to save our youth from doing acts of violence which bring no benefit at all and only cause the idiots to continue to scream and cry. Remember what Allāh says in Surah Luqmann: When the people jeer at you and insult you, move on. Don't be of those people who pay attention to those who are insulting or rude. When someone insults you when you are fasting, you say, “I am fasting,” and move on. You don't persist on it. A believer is like that. A believer doesn't listen to these filthy things and just moves on. My advice to my brothers and sisters at this time is to just move on and focus on that which benefits and to reject all of this. May Allāh bring a swift reckoning to the people who unfortunately have a joke with these things.[AS]: What would you describe as being the ideal leadership style? [TC]: The ideal leadership style is the style of Muḥammad , no doubt – where the leader is the servant of his people. A leader must be a servant of his people. Look at the Prophet . When he was in a caravan, he was at the end and not at the head because he would help those who were weak. When he was in battle, he would be in the thick of battle because he didn't want to be a leader who stays back and is at ease whilst his army is fighting and in the greatest danger. When his people didn't have enough food to eat, he would give them food and fast himself. The Prophet was a servant of his people, his family, and the Muslimeen. That is what a leader truly is. A leader truly cares about his people. If you don't care about your people and you don't have the responsibility of their problems on your shoulders, then you can't be a true leader.
My first advice to all my brothers and sisters who are looking for some leadership – whether it be in their families: a father over his children, a mother over her house, whether it be a businessman over his team or a CEO over his employees or it be a ruler over his countrymen – be a servant of the people.
Secondly, my own preferred style of leadership: I see my role as two things.
1) To clarify the vision and where we want to go.
2) Ensure alignment to it.
This is essentially what a leader does. He gets into the car and says we are going from Melbourne to Sydney, and he drives the car going to the destination. This is what a leader does.
When I do Code Blue in my hospital (I'm an emergency doctor and usually the first doctor that attends to a Code Blue, which is a medical emergency), and when everything goes off saying someone is dying, I'm the one that leads that operation. What do I do? I usually stand back. I usually don't go in but stand back and let all the other doctors go in, but I direct them. I'm keeping a very strong eagle's eye view of the situation and communicate strongly and loudly. I tell them what we are going to do next (i.e. CPR for two minutes and then push a drum in and then after that I want a shock and an ECG to be pulled up). Essentially, even though I may not be doing the work myself, I keep an eye on it and am driving the car looking forward.
Essentially this is the leadership style of Rasulullah . The Prophet gave us an ultimate vision. He said, “I wish that my ummah will be the largest on the Day of Judgment.” He gave us a 25 year vision before he passed away. He said to the sahabah, “You will be sitting on the throne of the Byzantine Empire.” He told the saḥābah about the different mīqāts that were set up even though there were no Muslims in Persia or Yemen at that time. He set them up because he knew and set a vision for his ummah that they would be going there. He said, “O Allāh, give us Mecca, give us Mecca.” The saḥābah knew that the next goal after Madīnah would be Mecca. The Prophet instilled vision in the saḥābah.
Then he ensured alignment by making sure the saḥābah were schooled in the right akhlaq and values of the organization, and he kept abreast of it. He would walk around and see their affairs and speak to them and would be in control of affairs.
The Prophetic style of setting a vision and keeping alignment is my style. Lastly, there is one more thing I employ — emotional leadership. If you don't build an emotional attachment to the work that you are doing, then you don't get the extra push and effort from people. Every single thing needs to be built into a value or emotion that we have. Love for this work, passion for it, dedication, hard work, fear of failure, fear of what would happen if we don't do this work then who will be there, who will be there to worship Allāh in this area if our project didn't take place, perhaps a kid wouldn't pray if you don't launch a ṣalāh course. Things like that. Build an emotional attachment to it.
These are my three advices for leadership styles:
1. Inculcate the attitude of a servant. A servant of a person is always at their need, always checking on them and always attending over their affairs.
2. Build a vision, be clear on the vision, and show alignment to it.
3. Employ emotional leadership in your work.
Then you will be successful inshā'Allāh.[AS]: Jazak Allāh khayr. The final question: for those who don't know about Mercy Mission, can you give us a quick overview of it and any other special projects that people should know about which you have emotional attachments to? [TC]: alḥamdulillāh, Mercy Mission is a not for profit Muslim community development organization that aims to pursue the vision of Muḥammad in this dunya. Our goal is to achieve a world where every Muslim can live faithfully to their belief, building an exemplary community that benefits humanity. Our strategy to achieve this is focusing on excellence in knowledge in action. That basically means that we work on knowledge and action, meaning educational social service and by excellence we mean number one and number two in what we do. We don't want to do a project unless we can be number one or number two. If we can't be number one or number two, then we close it down. Mercy Mission initially had almost 35 projects, and we've closed it down to almost only 7. That's because we realized a lot of them were things we weren't good at. We focus more on depth rather than breadth.
Mercy Mission has projects now in education and social services. Of the ones in education that are well known is AlKauthar Institute. AlKauthar is now in 27 cities worldwide and has had almost 60,000 students since inception and is going well, alḥamdulillāh. We've had RamadanTV and media. We have conferences as well, which are some of the world's largest conferences in Malaysia, Australia, and second largest in UK and also some of the largest conferences in Canada such as the women's conference BeingME.
In our social service projects, we have National Zakat Foundation, which is an attempt to be the trusted portal for zakat collection and distribution in the UK. We are also launching this in Canada and Bangladesh inshā'Allāh this year. With Allāh's Mercy, we hope we can launch it inshā'Allāh. Look out for National Zakat Foundation. On Google you can find more information about us.
Also in social services we do shelters for Muslim women worldwide. They are for Muslim women, new reverts, domestic violence victims, etc. that are without shelter. We shelter them, teach them, train them, help them. We have five shelters we are working on. Two are running and three are being built. They are in India and Malaysia and in the UK we have three that are being built at this time.
Lastly, we are working on two things. We are able to work on such things because we have almost 3,000 people working with us now. We have a very large team. We have approximately 150 people working with us full-time now who are fully paid on salaries and working with us, alḥamdulillāh, and we are expanding very fast. They manage a core volunteer team of about 500 people who manages a volunteer team of about 3,000 people worldwide. At this point in time we are working on two new things with a special team
The first is our own brand of Islamic international schools – premium quality international Islamic schools called Seven Skies. This is a project we are trying to pioneer. We want to build 500 such schools in the next 25 years inshā'Allāh – very aggressive growth strategy. inshā'Allāh we are launching our first one in two months and have identified our next five or six schools and they are undergoing the planning stage at this time. Very soon we will either be purchasing land or working on them. We have a deep need for good teachers and a deep need for good principals. We have started our own teacher training academy called Reach Academy to train teachers as well inshā'Allāh. If there are brothers and sisters listening to this who are interested, please do get in touch with me.
The last thing we are working on is some of the problems that are affecting the Muslim world from the efforts of very aggressive evangelical Christianization efforts worldwide, especially the Joshua project, and are spreading very fast the concept of accepting Christianity, sometimes through unethical means. We understand that people have a right to choose whatever religion they want, and Allāh says that in the Qur'an very clearly: “To you, your religion and to me mine,” meaning people have a freedom to choose whatever religion. If Muslims want to convert to Christianity, then that is there choice, but a Muslim must realize why this is happening, and this is happening essentially for two reasons. Number one is lack of knowledge of Islam. These people who are converting sometimes just don't know about Islam so they haven't really made an informed choice. Number two is poverty itself, and poverty is the door to kufr and shirk as you know from the hadeeth of Rasulullah .
What we are trying to do is address this in two ways. 1) Mass education via mass media. This is what we are doing in Indonesia inshā'Allāh, and it is one of the reasons I moved to Malaysia: to be closer to Indonesia. 2) Poverty elevation. The most important thing in poverty elevation is hunger. 1.2 billion people worldwide are chronically hungry every day. Of them, 750 million are Muslimeen. In order to ensure the Muslims don't lose their faith because of poverty, what you need to do is make sure you feed your Muslim brother and sister. We have started projects focusing on feeding people and focusing on mass feeding of people inshā'Allāh and focusing on Muslim regions where people are chronically hungry every day.
Ask Allāh to give barakah to this and our movement to grow. I invite everyone to come and work with us. We are not in America at this time. We want to be there soon if Allāh wills. We are in most other regions worldwide so please come and work with us, join us, advise us, support us, help us in this cause.
I thank our brother Amad and all our brothers and sisters at MuslimMatters for their excellent work. Keep it up! May Allāh forgive us all of our mistakes and keep us firm on His path. Jazak Allāh khayr.[AS]: Jazak Allāh khayr, Shaykh Tawfique. With that we will end this interview.