.بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
As-Salaamu ‘alaikum, hello, and welcome to…
Now, this is going to be virtual school for you. And, based on very-recent history, the chances are that you are probably not that unused to virtual school/classes/meetings by now.
- So, quickly and quietly take your seats, please. For this class, we’ll be ‘sitting’ in…
The Jafar Hall [which is pronounced, Ja’far. And not: Jafaaar.]
This hall is located in none other than the alma mater of Boris Johnson, and of quite a few other people who have been Prime Ministers of Britain. Did you guess correctly? We’re (virtually, not really) at:
This very hall, and the buildings (including a gallery: the Jafar Gallery) that it is a part of, had been made possible by the contributions of former Etonians and some parents. If you have a look at the little plaque below, you can see how there have been contributions from America, and from a member of the Saudi royal family, and from the Korean family that owns Hyundai, as I think the Etonian teacher who had been our group’s tour guide for the day had mentioned. And two Iraqi brothers, I think, who are called the ‘Jafar Brothers’. And a Chinese aristocratic family, also, I think the teacher-tour guide, Dr. ه, had mentioned.
So it’s a pretty international effort, a collaborative effort.
And this very school — Eton — had been founded in the Fifteenth Century, CE:
The History of Eton.
Our little group’s tour guide for the day had been a brother called ه. He is a Muslim (ethnically Pakistani, I think) teacher of Modern Languages — of Arabic, French, and Spanish — at the school. He’d started there when he had been 23, and told us, after being asked a particular question by someone, about how he now feels more ‘settled’ and established as a teacher there.
[We’re not meant to be at places solely to ‘blend in’.
We bring things, AlHamduli Llah ; we’re not merely to be ‘engulfed’ by places, institutions, and so forth, to the detriment of such things as our faith, and whom we are.
- Since the time when ه had started as a teacher at Eton, to now: there have been some changes. For example, Muslim staff and students can take days (days, plural,) off for Eid.
On Sundays: while Christian students have their Sunday Church service, Muslim, and, separately, Jewish, and otherwise, students go to sessions led by Imāms, run by different religious tutors.
Oh, and: in Ramadān, there are centralised school efforts made for Muslim staff and students. For example: Ifthārs catered for. A Mexican-food Ifthār one day, an Indian-food one for another…]
ه said that once you’re more ‘settled‘ in places: be it a workplace or otherwise, then… you’re in a better position to do good things for other people.
Eton had been established, initially, by King Henry VI. And the word ‘college’ is, etymologically [etymology: all about the origins and histories of words and their meanings] connected to the idea of a group of people being together, having a shared purpose, and working towards it. Of course, the ‘purpose’ that those initial 70 scholars had been at Eton for had been: a fundamentally religious one. And the relationship between religion and scholarship, over time, in… Europe, in the Middle East… is a truly fascinating general topic to think about, isn’t it?
Henry VI had been a religiously devoted young man, and had longed for the salvation of his own soul. He wanted for his subjects to have the same sort of access to Knowledge that he himself had enjoyed. He’d also wanted for them to pray for him, for his soul, even after his passing.
Initially, King Henry’s objective with Eton had been: to have a big Church. With a small school attached to it. For the religious education of, specifically, 70 poor boys, who would become scholars. To be housed, and schooled, there, free of charge.
These scholars from poor backgrounds had come to be known as: King’s Scholars.
And then: paying students had joined the school. And the tour guide for today, ه, had mentioned how… teachers, way back then, had begun to favour the paying boys, the wealthier ones, in terms of giving them more teaching attention.
- An age-old phenomenon. Some people love God more: religion is what dominates their heart and ways. Others: come to love money, and Dunya, more. And this is what ends up governing their actions and ways.
By contrast to Eton’s initial student population of 70, and who had found themselves all sitting in one (class-)room, (pictured below,) with one teacher, now, the school has around 1300 to 1400 students.
Here in this initial classroom for 70 students, learning had been fairly ‘rote’. In the sense that: students would do their reading, and then go up, one by one, to sit with the teacher, presumably to be tested.
This is certainly not unlike how Qur’an is taught at some Islamic school classes today, actually.
- And then, later on (in the 19th century): came the other classrooms, laboratories, lecture halls, a museum and a library.
I’d travelled into Eton (‘Windsor and Eton Riverside’ Train Station) with my friend J.
J goes to uni in America, but she comes back to the UK to visit from time to time.
- While I am Muslim, J is Christian. I’d found out about this tour of Eton College via a company called ‘Muslim History Tours Britain’.
This company also runs such things as: Afternoon Tea on a boat along the River Thames, serving Halāl food. Open-roof bus tours of London, focusing on Muslim history. A steam train dining experience, again, serving Halāl food.
This is my first time joining ‘MHT Britain’ for one of their tours/activities. And it was really good, AlHamduli Llah . I asked J if she wanted to come with, and she did.
J and I had attended a school in London for two years, near which another quite-well-known public (i.e. private, expensive) school is situated: Westminster School.
Students from our school had been invited to go into Westminster School for different purposes, at different times. For things like: a debate club collaboration. Breakfast with a chaplain. Lectures, for example based on English, History, and the like.
Once or twice, J and I had gone to an English-or-had-it-been-History lecture at Westminster School. Alumni of this old school include: John Locke, the philosopher (in the Seventeenth Century, CE). Sir Christopher Wren (famous architect and scientist). Jeremy Bentham, another well-known philosopher.
A bit more recently: Nick Clegg, British Deputy PM. Louis Theroux (the documentarian whose money “don’t jiggle-jiggle. It folds“). Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange).
Well, when J and I had gone to listen to a lecture there, [I can’t lie, I personally didn’t really enjoy this particular lecture, although some others seemed to have quite enjoyed it. I couldn’t really connect with what had been being taught,] she (J) had fallen asleep. Not to be rude or anything: but because she’d been tired.
I found that really funny. Anyway.
- We, I think, have both come to realise that: some lectures, some branches of knowledge, some places, some people: you might just not vibe with, personally. And that’s okay: you don’t really ‘have’ to. You’ll find the right things for you, In Shaa Allah .
Now, back to Eton.
Famous Old Etonians (i.e. former students of Eton College) include: Prince William. Prince Harry. Tom Hiddleston. John Maynard Keynes (famous economist).
David Cameron. Bear Grylls. George Orwell. Eddie Redmayne. Errr… Boris Johnson. Etc. etc.
- It’s a nice train journey from London into Eton and Windsor. Peaceful, AlHamduli Llah . At home, I got ready, got my bag ready, purchased a bo’ol o’ wo’ah and some wipes on the way [pro-tip: wipes. Antibacterial wipes: they come in handy if you ever need to use public toilets. And, just, in general: when it comes to eating, wanting to wipe certain surfaces…].
I got on a train that I am not unused to taking, from back in my sixth form days [‘sixth form’: equivalent the last two years of high school, for any Americans who may be reading!]. And then another train: again, not unused to taking this one, from those same sixth form days. These trains can be packed at times. On weekdays: by people in suits, going to work. And sometimes: by people enjoying holidays in London.
Occasionally, you see… a little kid in a pushchair on the train. Yesterday, I saw a kid who threw his shoe onto the floor randomly. And then he said bye to the people around him, and even blew kisses to some, before his dad and he had gotten off at their stop.
I’d gotten off at Waterloo Station. I saw a man holding The Big Issue magazines. This might have been the famous Waterloo vendor. I’d read an article about him, in a copy of The Big Issue, actually: a man who had previously been quite monetarily wealthy. And then he’d become bankrupt, so he started selling these magazines [typically, these magazines are sold by people who are either homeless, or who are at risk of becoming homeless]. And he liked the job so much — standing outside of Waterloo Station, speaking to people, selling these magazines — that he didn’t stop, and carries on to this day.
- I’d actually quite recommend buying and reading a copy of The Big Issue. Not only is it helping people who may be in need: it’s also quite a good, ‘global’, interesting, read.
Sometimes, I find that I have an issue with… punctuality. I think I underestimate how long things might take, at times, for one. But it’s something I’m working on, In Shaa Allah . I arrived to the station early (personal win, AlHamduli Llah ) and so had time to… (get myself a matcha latte and a breakfast pot from Starbucks).
And, would you know it? They’d pronounced my name right this time [a fellow Desi brother had been working there]!
Last time, a barista had called me… ‘Saday’. But my name’s Sadia: it… rhymes with Nadia. Anyway. [Next time, if I’m feeling brave enough, I might ask for them to write ‘Boris‘ on the cup instead. See what happens.]
J had an iced coffee with her too. We had to walk all the way down, to the last few platforms [at London Waterloo, there are… 24 in total, I think]. And then we found out that the Platform that we had to go to for our train had changed, for us. So we had… two minutes to go, go, go.
- When we arrived (having not followed the advice of one of the people who’d been working there, to take a particular shortcut, since it had been a bit confusing,) at the correct platform, I had a tiny bit of trouble getting my phone out of my bag, for my e-ticket. An Eton mess.
- And then, the train doors had closed, right in front of us. But we pushed a button, and they’d opened up again. We’d made it, safe, sound, and on time, AlHamduli Llah .
On the Train.
J and I talked. She’s a lovely, cool, smart, and funny woman, Allah hummabārik.
And she has this distinctive humble confidence about her, Allah hummabārik. I actually met her five years ago, now, although it can sometimes feel, with good friends, as though, a) no time at all has passed, and, b) you’ve known each other for longer.
When we arrived at Windsor and Eton Riverside Station: it is, I’d say, noticeably different than the London National Railway Stations [you’ve got your… King’s Cross St. Pancras. Your… Liverpool Street. Your… Stratford International, your Waterloo…].
Windsor and Eton is… quieter. Peaceful-looking, Maa Shaa Allah . Nice trains, nice station. It’s nice, quaint, and town-y outside. And, upon leaving the train station: you also see… a castle.
Windsor Castle, no less. And she is pretty, Maa Shaa Allah . A royal castle on a hill.
I’d actually recommend this place in general for… maybe a little family outing, or a couples’ retreat. There’s a nice hotel-and-spa or two around, also. You can go on riverboat cruises; there are quite a few nice shops. There’s… the castle. A couple of museums about.
This might be quite a nice place to visit, say, with family members who live elsewhere in England, or elsewhere in the world. It’s a little… ‘quintessentially British’, this place, I’d say.
At Eton, students can join a number of different clubs and societies. Including, but not limited to: an Agricultural Society. An aeronautical one. A Middle Eastern Society. An Essay Club/Society. And even… a Cheese Society. To sample cheeses and such.
Fortunately, AlHamduli Llah , J and I had booked earlier train tickets for ourselves. And so we had some time to go on an exploratory walk around the general area, before joining the tour group.
We walked around, ended up buying a multipack set of six rings from Superdrug [she kept three, I kept three]. We sat down for a bit. Saw some people wearing somewhat-fancy looking clothes. [Had they been going… to view a horse race? Or, to somebody’s wedding?]
Refreshed ourselves at a Costa café (where the lady behind the counter seemed a little confused as to why I asked if there’s a code, or a lock for the bathroom… in London, there are codes and locks on café bathrooms sometimes).
And, also: while walking through one of the streets that had multiple shops lining it, a Muslim brother had briefly stopped us, in order to give us a sheet. He’d been doing ‘Street Da’wah’: spreading the Message of Islam to passersby.
At first, he didn’t seem sure as to whether I’m Muslim or not. And maybe I’d overthought that a bit. But then again: I know of a Hebrew woman who wears the Niqāb. And a (Romanian) Christian girl who covers her hair, and who, I think, wears long skirts. So yeah.
The brother asked if I could show J what had been written on the sheet, and to maybe explain some things to her. So I agreed. Now, he had my word that I would, and: a Muslim must keep his/her word. I, with J’s permission, ended up reading the two sides of the sheet to her on the train back to London.
It had been about Islamic belief: our belief in the Oneness of Allah , about the alternation of night and day, and about the Day of Judgement.
Also about our love for Jesus, Isa (AS), I think, and about his beloved mother Maryam (AS).
Maryam (AS) is also a key inspiration behind… Eton College, i.e. behind the building of that initial chapel. So Eton is also known as ‘the College of our Lady Mary‘.
As well, there is an entire Chapter in the Qur’an that is named after her: Surah Maryam. And, for example, the women’s centre attached to the East London Mosque is called… the Maryam Centre.
Now, here is what a kebab shop looks like, in Eton and Windsor:
We had to be back at the station at around 14:00, so as to meet with our group for the tour.
While waiting at the station, J and I decided to put our rings on ourselves/on each other. Saying things like, ‘Do you promise to be my friend, and to not forget that we went to school together?‘
I think some people had been looking at us a bit, thinking we’re being weird. And that’s okay!
The Modern Languages Department.
Some five hundred years ago: Latin had been the thing, the language, the European ‘lingua franca’, that had been taught at Eton [even Greek, apparently: had been taught via Latin. And poetry. And Mathematics and Science had only entered into the ‘curriculum’ later on]. But now, they can learn other languages there too.
As aforementioned, ه, the Languages teacher who had been showing the group around, teaches Arabic, French, and Spanish there. This is what the Modern Languages Department at Eton College looks like, from the outside:
We’d stopped at some of the classrooms there for Salaah, actually. For Dhuhr. The men prayed in one classroom, and the women prayed in another.
“Monolingualism can be cured!”
Interestingly enough, I thought these classrooms somewhat resembled the classrooms back at our sixth form: the one that J and I had attended. So too did one of their libraries.
And: when I had first gone to visit our sixth form, in Year Eleven, with my aunt and with a friend of mine (who didn’t end up going to that school,) my aunt had prayed at this school… in one of the Languages classrooms, which had been being used as a Prayer Room by some Muslim students: there’d been a prayer mat or two on top of one of the cupboards there.
وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ خَلْقُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلَافُ أَلْسِنَتِكُمْ وَأَلْوَانِكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّلْعَالِمِينَ
“And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colours. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge.“
— Qur’an, (30:22).
Schools are just such awesome places. Microcosmic, if I may. So too are airports, big train stations. You get all sorts of people, on their own life journeys, doing their thing, being themselves.
After this trip to Eton, I came home and watched a little documentary about a Palestinian refugee whose family live in Lebanon. And he’d been very academically able, Maa Shaa Allah . Eton College had given him a scholarship, and so he went there for his sixth form years. He ended up getting top results, across five A-level subjects, Maa Shaa Allah . And he even gave his ‘housemaster’ one-to-one lessons in Arabic!
“Beauty is an important part of the devotional endeavour.”
— Dr. ه.
He’d also quoted that beautiful Hadīth:
“Allah is Beautiful, and He Loves beauty.”
We got to go into the College’s library, and to look at some old items, including an extract from a 9th century copy of the Qur’an [i.e. MusHaf].
These old writings are simply gorgeous, Maa Shaa Allah . Arabic calligraphy, so well-proportioned. With some additions of ‘gold leaf’, which is what I’d asked the expert on old manuscripts, I think she had been, who had been there, about.
This technique is when, before writing anything, a bit of glue would be put onto the paper. And a thin sheet of (real) gold placed atop it, turned into lovely designs.
- We also got to see and hear about some notes that a former British Foreign Secretary and PM, Anthony Eden, had written about some of the linguistic features of the Qur’an, while at Eton.
An English translation of what we think the very first Qur’anic lines that had been revealed to Muhammad (SAW) by Jibreel (AS) had been:
“Read, in the name of your Lord who created, created man from a clot of blood. Read, for your Lord is the Most Bountiful, the One who taught by the pen, taught man what he did not know.“— Qur’an, Surah ‘Alaq, Ayahs 1—5.
When it comes to Islam and scholarship: traditionally, it had been students of the Qur’an who had had such a significant impact, Maa Shaa Allah , in terms of: maths, astronomy, the natural sciences, and so on.
Our knowledge and ability comes from Allah Alone , and we are not ‘self-sufficient’ in any way. Thus, when it comes to knowledge and scholarship: humbleness is important for us. As is beauty. Curiosity, being in awe of our Creator’s creations.
And saying: Subhaan Allah .
Everything belongs to Allah .
A frame that sits on one of the shelves in one of the Languages classrooms reads:
Fact: In medieval Baghdad, balance was the key to physical and spiritual health — balance not only in diet but even in the types of literature you consume.
And, here’s part of a pretty ceiling, in
On the way back to the train station, J got a gelato for herself. The lady running the shop had quite a nice energy about her, constantly referring to J as… Signorina!
Isn’t it just really nice, when people bring elegance, and good energy, to things? It’s ultimately from Allah , and it’s the people who shape places and experiences for us.
On the train back: J and I talked some more, and I also read some literature that the Eton teacher had kindly said that we could have for free. Arabic poetry and the like. Like this beautiful gem of a poem:
And then, back in London, we found a cool Pret (café) that gives you an elevated view of the train station. So many people, crossing by. Pret’s ‘Scandi style salmon rye roll’ is… pretty good.
AlHamduli Llah .