Dr. Ian Dallas, founder of Dallas College – a tertiary college of civic studies based in Cape Town, South Africa – delivered an address to the students at his residence on the 27th of February 2016. The transcript of Dr. Dallas’s address follows below.
Allah says in Sura An-Nur (24: 35-38):
35. Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.
The metaphor of His Light
is that of a niche in which there is a lamp,
the lamp inside a glass, the glass like a brilliant star,
lit from a blessed tree, an olive,
neither of the east nor of the west,
its oil all but giving off light even if no fire touches it.
Light upon Light.
Allah guides to His Light whoever He wills
and Allah makes metaphors for mankind
and Allah has knowledge of all things.
36. In houses which Allah has permitted to be built
and in which His name is remembered,
37. there are men who proclaim His glory morning and evening,
not distracted by trade or commerce
from the remembrance of Allah
and the establishment of Salat and the payment of Zakat;
fearing a day when all hearts and eyes will be in turmoil –
38. So that Allah can reward them for the best of what they did
and give them more from His unbounded favour.
Allah provides for anyone He wills without reckoning.
Welcome. I wanted to meet with you as I have not had a chance to meet with you, and get some idea of who you were. I want to suggest to you some ideas.
The thing of learning is a very difficult matter because it is not the absorption of previously held ideas. I mean if you follow Dr. Ali in one direction, if you followed his intellect he might take you entirely in a direction, and if you follow Kareem he might brilliantly take you in an entirely opposite direction, and at the end of the day there would be no meeting point between the two, which does not make sense because the real secret of leadership is to get on with everyone, to be able to embrace everybody. So the matter of learning is not in this teacher or that teacher, nor is it the amassing of information, because even a teacher can structure information in such a way that you could think that that is it, and it isn’t – it could just be a point of view. Now equally there is not anything that is absolutely ‘that’s how it is’, that is ‘correct’. So in a sense to be in a college it has to be that you are here on your own. You are alone and you have to make sense of it, in the same way that when you go into the world you’re on your own and you have to make sense of it.
Forget the history books. If you go by the television, from what you can pick up on television, it is quite clear that you’re being presented with the view that essentially, you know in yourself instinctively as a man, is a lie, is rubbish. You see the election of a great nation try to decide who their leader should be, but it doesn’t work. Whatever the social structure is, you need a social structure that works. And what you have to ask yourself is, ‘What is the social structure in which I can function and in which nobody can force me what to think?’ It follows from this that there is not anybody that you can force to think the same as you. And at the same point you have to find commonality that connects you so that you are not alone.
If you look at my book I recently published, at the beginning of the text on the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre when all that debate was going on, one of the writers said, ‘I think it is shocking that a frenchman doesn’t have a common factor with another frenchman, but he has a common factor with his religious equivalent’. In other words they are connected through their religion. And it is the same today. Basically what you have is an atheist community by in large that does not believe in anything. They all have an inheritance or a memory of something that was the early religion. That is true of those whose grandparents are Muslim and those whose grandparents are christian.
You have to begin to think profoundly about your belief and you have to open yourself out to people who may not have the same belief as yourself. You must not barricade them or cut yourself off from them. You have to be open to them, and at the same time they can’t captivate you. If they captivate you with an idea or they captivate you with a theology you’re back in the same trap. What we are talking about is the importance of the individual, that what he believes in and what he chooses to hold to no one can interfere with it, no one can take it from him and no one can impose on him any higher value than what he has. This is a big thing. It is liberating and at the same time it is a warning to all of you that you have to find the reality of yourself as you live among your brothers, you have to get on with them, you have to collaborate with them, you have to guide them, you have to warn them, you have to listen, and when people warn you and guide you, you are not to reject them because it is someone else. Are you following what I am saying?
At the present moment in South Africa there is a structural crisis going on, and the media coverage with the story of what is happening does not get to the matter of what it is. If you take all that apparatus and you examine another country like Russia you could make the same model and show how they are all dreadful, how the political class are dreadful, you could reject the political class, you could reject the people of ideas, and yet you would be in exactly the same boat. If you get a country like Italy with its incredibly rich culture, history and literature, you would find exactly the same thing with people. The coherent, educated people can tell you why their country doesn’t know what is happening. You must realise that you have to find those people whom you can share just the experience of being with them, and tolerate them. Just to be able to tolerate another is enormously difficult, especially the cleverer you are, and the brighter you are the more you think you have got it. And they are wrong. So you have to realise that when you encounter something that you know in your heart is wrong, then you have to stand by and not let anyone corrupt it or anyone force you to believe what they believe, to follow what they follow, to do what they do. In other words you are in that sense apolitical or you are total politics, because at that point you will find other people who will say, ‘I’m with you.’ You can open your arms to them and welcome them. You will find that you will gather together the men of quality and the men of trust of what ibn Khaldun called Asabiyya, of brotherhood that is higher than brotherhood, and that is possible. Once you know it is possible then everything opens up.
You are faced with immediate problems of where you are and what you plan to do. If you think of something called career, you must not get caught up. A man spends all his life studying economics and by the time he has finally mastered it he finds the whole financial system has collapsed, the currency system has collapsed, and he is left with nothing. You may have a structural idea of how society should be organised, and yet you have again taken for granted the way society is structured with all its contradictions, it will let you down in the shortest possible time. So it all comes back on yourself, it comes back on you, it comes back on who you are for yourself but I am not talking subjectivity. I am talking about the very essence of your identity. It is something that you can’t explain or express in a way that is satisfactory.
The man whose portrait is on the wall, the Earl of Essex, took him all of his lifetime to work it out. The minute he knew what to do he started to act on it, and suddenly from being one of the most famous and respected people in the land, he was shunned. The Earl of Essex tried to create a society of men who have a common bond that is part of their humanity. He was taken away and his head was cut off. That was the end of him. But it is not the end of the story. There are people in the things that you study who have made the effort in the time they live in to make sense of the world, and you have to take them seriously. You may not agree with them. For instance, I could talk for hours with Kareem about Tolstoy, and I know his opinion is very contrary and my opinion is contrary, and yet there is a perception of something in Tolstoy that you can’t deny, that you can recognise and pass on. In other words you are going to be presented with leadership and men of politics who try to force things to their way, and when they do it doesn’t work. But sometimes people are right, something you have to bear in mind, and once you are right their work does not die, it continues. Once you are right, find confirmation in consolation with each other. This is in the Qur’an, and you will find it in Shaykh ibn ‘Ajiba’s commentary on the sleepers in the cave who are awakened in a world in which everything they knew had gone. It just vanished, and they had to start again. They had to go out. They knew the truth about Allah but they couldn’t begin because outside were people who ate all kinds of things, who did all kinds of things, and who were all kinds of things, but they had to go out to them and be part of them. The commentary of ibn ‘Ajiba is the best guidance that you will find in all the time that you are here. That is my message.
It is up to you. I can’t do it for you. I can’t impose my thinking on you or anything on you. And I have to tell you that if people are doing that to you, you have to reject it and you must be true to yourself. As the author in the first book in The Entire City says, ‘There is no such thing as sovereignty.’ He then further says that you find out that the only thing there is is resistance. By what you know in your heart and by what you have learned and followed, you have to know that therefore you have to resist, and what it is that you have to resist. Look at the newspapers when they tell you what to do. A born South African is very different to a person coming from another country, yet he can make the same mistakes, the same errors. So really all I am saying is that I am setting you all completely free, and you have to live with it. Don’t blame me, and don’t blame your teachers. It will be up to you to decide what to do, where and with whom you decide to do it. It’s not good to do it alone. You have to find like spirits and be with them. You have to help each other and stand by each other, and put up with each other. That is really the message I hope of Dallas College.
Dr. Dallas: You find it acceptable Kareem? (Lecturer)
Kareem: I find it beyond expectations.
I have a great belief that from among you will emerge leaders and people who guide other people, people who stand by them and support them, people who will warn them, but never, never, never surrender what you know in your heart is right. If you continue to act in a way that all these people turn against you there are two possibilities: one is that they were right and you were wrong, in which case that is it. But it may be that you have not understood something about your very self. For that you have to turn to someone who will give you guidance about yourself so that you don’t think only the opinion of yourself and your parents and who they were and what they were, is all there is.
I set you free and at the same time you are on your own, and at the same time you must create brotherhood. Create brothers, do it by standing by one another and you have to resist. The things that are happening in the world demand resistance more than ever before. There has never been an age where the irrational and the devaluation of everything that matters has dominated thinking, teaching and behaviour, and you have to resist. You have to say, ‘No! This is not it’. You will have success, and Allah will give you success, Allah will give you good companions, and Allah will make you not alone but with other people.
Allah give you success, Allah give you victory, and most of all victory of yourself. Having faced up to that, do not then think you are the only one who has got the answer.
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