I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce our speaker for today, Dr. Rebecca Masterton. She's a senior lecturer at the Islamic College ICAS in Islamic Mysticism. She has a B.A. in Japanese and M.A. in comparative East Asian and African literature and a Ph.D. in Francophone and Islamic mystical literature of West Africa. She lectures in ICAS but she also lectures in Birkbeck College. She presented and also co-produced a series of 88 on Press TV. And currently, she's, dare I say, the main presenter for Ahlul Bayt TV. So without further ado, please welcome Rebecca Masterton.
First of all, thank you for inviting me. I don't really deserve to be here, but anyway, Alhamdolillah, it is nice to meet everyone. I hope you can hear me. I'm never sure whether to just talk off the cuff or to write something out. But I have written something else, so I will be interspersing that with some comments. The topic of Islam - What's in it for women? What does Islam offer women - obviously, I've experienced its benefits, but I am quite reluctant to talk about it a lot of the time because there are a lot of cliches out there.So the talk isn't just about the benefits for women, it covers other areas as well.
Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim - All praise is due to the One that lies beyond the seventy thousand veils of light and darkness, He brought us into existence and endowed us with consciousness and salutations to His final messenger, Muhammad al-Mustafa (SAW) and his blessed, purified progeny (AS). May we remain attached to them until the meeting at the pool of Kauthar.
Getting a battering out in the city, the heart is being drained. I imagine, being in the company of those who give one rest, the Prophet's family. So tired, I don't know which is east, and which is west. Where am I? What time is it? Is it Tuesday or Friday? Relentlessness. No desire to speak to the people I know. Friends, a longing for solitude, being an asylum place for a long, long time away from the human drama. I can't speak to anyone. Everything has been said. This isn't it. Nowhere to run to. The smell of the bus, crammed full of people who haven't washed for a long time. Everybody secretly yearning to escape but somehow trapped in a life which promised so much civilization.
Modernity masking the filth. Will they stop going on about the modern world? This and that is isn't welcome in the modern world. This is the modern world. We've all got to face up to the modern age and be grown up people. Why don't you look around you at your wonderful modern world? Can't see? Why not try the number 32 bus and try and smell the modern world? The reeking of alcoholic souls who lost the will to have a bath. Pomposity dressed up as objective discourse, people are allowed to give pronouncements because they're famous, not because they actually know what they're talking about. Everybody talking through a facade, but somehow trying desperately to look authentic.
From childhood, I was always strongly connected to the unseen and was detached from the material realm, which meant that it was a bit of a struggle growing up in a culture that generally ignores the unseen and focuses mainly on the material world. I felt like a swimmer who needs to come up for air.
This world was like a bottomless lake and the spiritual realm was like an open sky. My soul fought all the time to be free. But somehow the freedom I found always led me nowhere. I come from a secular Protestant family of mixed Irish, Scots, English and Jewish ancestry. My father left my mother before I was two and my brother and I stopped seeing him before I was five. This was something that had a huge impact on all of us.
It left a lot of anger in the soul which my family weren't able to deal with because they don't discuss feelings and which this society couldn't deal with, because this society is built to nurture you in order that you can prop up the economy. It doesn't teach about wisdom and it doesn't tell you about the soul. Aside from this was a very strong sense that I had just arrived in this world and that I was watching from the outside, the external way of life here does not correlate with one's internal reality.
I put a lot of hard work into somehow figuring out a way of life that correlated with the unseen reality from which my soul had come. But I found that the world just wasn't built to function that way. It made me deeply unhappy. I also instinctively sought a deeper knowledge of the unseen world, the reality which I sensed lies beyond this reality which we see. I searched in different books and for a few years, I listened with my friends to the lectures of a guru who turned out to be a fraud.
Nobody around me had authentic knowledge of the reality of existence -the most essential fundamental knowledge that one needs in order to be able to establish an authentic way of life. When I was 19, I went to study in Japan, but I found a society that was also deeply dedicated to materiality. So on my way back to Britain, I passed by Malaysia, and it was there that I first discovered Islam. In contrast to the coldness and arrogance that I found in Japan, sorry to offend anyone who is from Japan, I found humility and warmth.
To protect myself as a lone traveler, I pretended to be Muslim, but I think it was obvious to most people that I wasn't. I traveled up to the north, which happens to be one of the most religious areas. And when I stayed at a guest house, the owner taught me how to pray and gave me some books, which I still have. And he took me to the mosque at Fajar time to watch people praying.
And I came back to England still wearing my scarf, but then fell back into a life of study and going out all the time in a social scene that valued fashionable appearance above everything. I soon saw those fashionable people as cowards who couldn't face themselves. I don't know why I saw them like that, but I saw that whole way of life was meaningless and shallow. I pulled away in order to focus more on writing and to think. At the age of 21, I moved in with a non-practicing Moroccan sister. After I left my university, she went there to study Arabic and was dedicated to learning more about her culture. She went to Egypt and as we'd always been like sisters and done everything together, I also followed. I still could not figure out how to live the life that I needed to live in this society. I thought that perhaps in Egypt again, I might be able to think for a few months and work something out. And before I went, I had a dream where I was in a market wearing white and I was looking for a hijab to wear. But I didn't really sort of consciously feel I was going to become a Muslim.
In Egypt, I felt at home in a way that I'd never done in England, and in spite of the troubles and difficulties there, I found a society that is always calling to remembrance of the unseen through the Adhaan, with people constantly acknowledging God in their everyday speech, through there being an underlying sense of communal existence, which there just isn't in Britain. Especially in London, everybody is just an individual living for themselves. There was also a sense of morality which doesn't exist in Britain anymore. There was a sense of behaving in a way so as to bear other people in mind. I noticed that Islam also offered a space for people to live connected to the unseen while still in the world. It allowed for detachment, whereas in a secular society, there's so much pressure to be engaged in the material world.