Tuesday, 10 June 2014
Shaykh David Rosser Owen: No Less a Christian
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
This is the short biography and conversion narrative of our Naqshbandi khalifah, Shaykh David Rosser Owen, also known as Shaykh Daoud.
“I was born in Swansea in South Wales. My paternal great-grandfather had been a Church of England curate in Northamptonshire but he changed to the Congregationalist Church and became a well-known Minister in the port, marrying the daughter of the harbour master. My maternal grandfather was an Elder of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church of Wales, a local church in the west of the city – this was somewhat strange as most of the congregation were Scots from the Islands and West of Scotland who had drifted down the coast and settled for one reason or another and were presumably attracted to the church because of its name. I grew up in that church, and in my grandfather’s Presbyterian household.
I was always a fairly devout and practicing Christian, but there were a number of issues that I had problems with. Some of these were fairly major, and some apparently trivial but they seemed important to me at the time. I no longer remember them all, but those I do remember were a problem with Trinity, and the abandonment of the Law as it related to diet and slaughter.
I think that there is an underlying Unitarian tendency in Presbyterianism, at least as it developed in the Celtic West of the British Isles – the first major figure in the Unitarian Church was a Presbyterian minister, Thomas Emlyn (1663–1741), who found his belief in Unity while teaching in Dublin.
Anyway, Trinity did not make sense to me, especially in the light of:
17He said to him, “Why dost thou come to me to ask of goodness? God is Good, and He Only...”
So I rationalised it to my temporary satisfaction by viewing the Trinity as a pyramid with God the Father at the apex, and the Son and Holy Spirit a step down below Him.
The dietary laws were more of a conundrum. As Christ (a.s.) said:
17“Do not think that I have come to set aside the law and the prophets; I have not come to set them aside, but to bring them to perfection.”
Paul of Tarsus’ overriding of this, apparently making everything halal to eat, did not seem right. If Christians were to follow Christ’s (a.s.) way they should not be eating pork and should be slaughtering animals for the table by shechita. This one was not as big a problem as the Trinity, as we rarely ate pork at home anyway.
When I was 13, we moved to Shrewsbury, and I became a member of a local Presbyterian church there. When I finished school, I joined the Army. After commissioning I was posted to Far East Land Forces based in Singapore. Before flying out, I was sent a very interesting booklet, which I kept for several years, issued by HQ FARELF called, “Serving with Muslim soldiers” – I think it had originally been produced by the British Indian Army – which really was my first introduction to Islam and Muslims. It listed the Pillars of Faith and the Pillars of Belief, it talked a bit about praying towards the Ka’bah, diet, and things to do and not to do so as not to upset Muslim sensibilities.
Some weeks after arriving I was sent on the Army Colloquial Malay language course at the Language Wing of the Far East Training Centre at Nee Soon. This was an intensive course, meant to last six weeks but ours was cut short at four as we got involved in Internal Security duties. We were given a basic 500 word vocabulary which we had to expand by our own means. I, in common with a couple of the others, took to chatting to British Army Malay soldiers on duty at the General Headquarters in Tanglin.
Then I got sent to Borneo and Brunei, based at Labuan. And so I spent a lot of time talking Malay to soldiers of the British and Malaysian armies. What became apparent very quickly was that social chat with Muslim soldiers centred around two principal topics: religion and soldiering. I rapidly learned the Malay words for parts of the rifle, senjata, for instance, and patrolling, meronda; and for religious activities: sembahyang – praying; basuh – wudhu’; mandi – ghusl; and so forth. Soon we got involved in comparative religion – what did I believe in and why, compared with what they believed in and why.
Soon they involved the guru agama from the nearby Malaysian Army unit, and the theology moved to a higher level. Eventually, military duties getting rather in the way, I came to two conclusions: my questions as a Presbyterian, that I had often put to various Christian clerics and not received a satisfactory answer to, had in fact been answered; and that I was probably more of a Muslim than I was a Christian. So I made shahadah with the Qadi of Labuan.
I fact, much later, I came across the statement about John Louis Burckhardt, (died in Cairo in 1815, I think) that in becoming a Muslim he considered himself to be no less a Christian – which rather summed up how I felt, and still do.
Some time later, back in Singapore, came the awareness in the Officers’ Mess that as the UK government was proposing to cut back on the size of the Army our promotion prospects above the rank of major were very low. Some of us, like me, felt that we were young enough to start again at a different career not fancying spending the next 20 years or so “as a passed-over major”. So when my run-out date came, I elected to leave. My plan was to go to university, get a degree and go into academia or teaching. In the event it did not quite work out like that , but close enough. I went back to the UK, saw my family, and then returned to Malaysia to study Islam enough to tide me over before embarking on The Plan.”
The following is extracted from Shaykh Daoud's Blog: “He is a follower of the Naqshbandi Sufi Order and of the Shafi’i Sunni school. He is fluent in Malay (both Jawi and Rumi), and a couple of other languages.”
He studied diniyyah, fiqh, tajwid, and taswawwuf with Shaykh Ahmad Labib al-Azhari and Ustadz Muhammad Dahlan Arshad al-Azhari in Malaysia and London. He first became involved with the Naqshbandi Sufi Order in Malaysia, with Shaykh Daud Abdullah of Ulu Selangor, and in Turkey with Shaykh Mehmed Kotku; and later through Sultan al-Awliya Shaykh ‘Abdillah ad-Daghistani (q.s.).
He has various ijazat in fiqh and diniyyah through Shaykh Ahmad Labib, and in taswawwuf through Shaykh ‘Abdillah ad-Daghistani (q.s.) himself. He was the khalifah for the British followers of Shaykh Muhammad Nazhim Adil al-Haqqani (q.s.), the successor of Shaykh ‘Abdillah ad-Daghistani (q.s.).
He is an alumnus of SOAS where he read Arabic and Malay, the University of Kent where the subject of his doctoral research was “The American Colonial Government of the Southern Philippines, 1898-1946″, and the Cordwainers’ Diploma Course in Saddle, Bridle and Harness-making.
As he said, “I ended up in journalism, being Features Editor of Arabia: The Islamic World Review; Editor of the Islamic World Defence Magazine; UK Editor of Armada, a Swiss magazine; and latterly Managing Editor of Q-News International. I then freelanced, which I still do, as well as being a saddler. I am also the Amir of the Association of British Muslims, which I am in the process of modifying into a charity and handing on to the next generation.”