Yesterday, we buried a dear friend and an important thinker and scholar: Dr. Taha Jabir Al-Alwani. He was also an important American Muslim leader. We at KARAMAH have direct experience with his courageous leadership. Today, we take a few minutes to honor him by sharing with you one of our cherished memories about him.
In 1997, KARAMAH invited a select group of American Muslim leaders to attend a lecture at the Supreme Court. After the event, some Muslim organizations complained vehemently about a frieze in the courtroom which included a generic representation of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The frieze included similar representations of major worldly and religious leaders. It was intended by the architects as a tribute to those individuals who made major contributions to the development of law throughout history.
The complaints escalated into a serious crisis when some Muslim organizations demanded the removal of the Prophet's representation from the courtroom frieze by sandblasting it. KARAMAH became determined to diffuse this unfortunate situation properly and quickly. In our fashion, KARAMAH sought scholarly opinions on the issue. We were able to obtain two reasonably quickly: one from Dr. Taha and another from Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr. While the arguments varied, both
fatwas rebutted the claim that the representation of the Prophet had to be removed.
At the time Dr. Taha was President of the
Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) Council of North America. He provided us with a thoughtful but brief version of the
fatwa (legal opinion). He followed that months later by a more comprehensive and detailed reasoned scholarly opinion.
The original short
fatwa and Dr. Taha's stature, along with the support we garnered from major community leaders such as Imam Warith Deen Muhammad, were sufficient to nip the crisis in the bud.
True to form, upon the completion of his more comprehensive opinion, Dr. Taha insisted on delivering it formally to the Supreme Court. He explained to our founder, Dr. al-Hibri, that it was important for him to take this step in order to emphasize to the Court community the Islamic legal tradition of scholarship. So, the two of them went to the Supreme Court and formally delivered his opinion. Later, that opinion was published in the distinguished
Journal of Law and Religion
, and can now also be found on the
Dr. Taha's opinion helped KARAMAH set the record straight and put an end to an escalating crisis. We will sorely miss his courage, wisdom, advice and support. May God reward him for his service and may he rest in peace.