Austin, Texas: A Milad-an-Nabi celebration took place at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. Organized by the Ismaili Muslim community of Central Texas, it was an enlightening and educational event, commemorating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
This year’s theme focused on “Transmission of Knowledge in Islam,” and was addresses by two distinguished speakers, Professor Syed Akbar Hyder of University of Texas at Austin, and Reverend Emilee Whitehurst, Executive Director of the Austin Area Interreligious Ministries, Among the 250 invited guests, were Texas State Representative Donna Howard; Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt; Eric Bearse from the Office of Governor Rick Perry; and Honorary Consul General of Malta, Sada Cumber.
Other guests included Rabbi Alan Freedman of Temple Beth Shalom; Felora Derakhshani, President of Austin Area Interreligious Ministries, as well as leaders and representatives from several community and faith-based organizations.
In his welcome address, Dr. Amirali Popatia, President of the Ismaili Council for the Southwestern United States, expressed his sentiment that, “through gatherings such as these, it is my belief that we reaffirm our shared commitment to the universal values of goodness, the acquisition of knowledge, ethical decision making, and the universal search for meaning and purpose in line with our various scriptural ideals.” He emphasized the importance of different communities working together, since we are all “cousins in faith”.
Dr. Popatia also touched upon how the Holy Prophet (pbuh) taught an exemplary way of life through his actions towards others. He continued, “The Holy Prophet (pbuh) believed in a world in which an enlightened belief liberated people from the darkness of taboo and superstition. The acquisition of knowledge became a virtuous action. He is attributed with having given this advice: “Seek knowledge, even if it be in China.”
Professor Syed Akbar Hyder delivered a moving presentation and focused on the writings of Pakistani author and poet, Mohammad Iqbal, describing the importance of knowledge and love in faith. His speech was eloquently laced with poetry written by Allama Iqbal. Dr. Hyder also mentioned that when one reads the Holy Qur’an, one should read it as if it is being revealed to him/her, with passion and, combined with knowledge, one can be moved by God’s words. Dr. Hyder also described how Allama Iqbal’s inspiration of knowledge also came through other poets and philosophers, political ethics, and the trans-Islamic world.
In her closing address, Reverend Emilee Whitehurst discussed the importance of respect and tolerance. She began with inspiration from His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, from the Baccalaureate address he made at Brown University in 1996. He had stated, “In all societies, disconcerting but pertinent questions are being asked: Who will lead in the process of change? What beliefs should guide us? Will they be scientific statements and data, or philosophical visions? What constraints or opportunities will shape our future?” Reverend Whitehurst remarked, “His words are just as relevant today, as they were when he stated them back then.”
She also shared her experiences of her travels to several Middle Eastern countries, including a visit to an Arabic-speaking Presbyterian Church, that made her reflect on how there really was no ‘East vs. West.’ Rev Whitehurst’s desire for different faith-based communities to work together and building harmony was palpable and commendably presented.
The program also included inspiring and wonderfully melodious Naat-e-Rasul, poetry in praise of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).