Humans are complex organisms that are often difficult to understand, and need constant care and development to lead happy and meaningful lives. In this regard, psychological studies are carried out that studies the mind and the secretions of hormones and their effects, in order to contribute in giving people the opportunity to lead a happy life. Due to the fact that psychology is a scientific subject, it does not address the soul itself as it requires dealing with what is beyond science and involves divinity and spirits. Sharia comes in to fill this gap and abandoned area of psychology, as the Sharia focuses on the human spirit and its relationship with the universe. As the Dean of the College of Sharia at Qatar University, Dr. Aisha Yousef Al Mannai highlighted this aspect of Sharia and influenced many students because of her unique view of this subject. So, who is Aisha Al Mannai?
I obtained a Bachelor of Education from Qatar University, and have also received a Bachelor of Sharia from Qatar University, and then received my Masters and Doctorate from Al-Azhar University. In my MA and PhD studies, I had a very specific specialization in Sharia which is Islamic doctrine and philosophy. At first, I was appointed as a demonstrator at the university, but after receiving my MA and PhD I was appointed as a professor at the College of Sharia and Islamic Studies. Then I was nominated for the post of the Vice Dean for four years. In this position, I focused on students and their affairs in addition to teaching. After this period, I acted as the Dean of College for nine years. This is the first time that a woman holds the post of Dean of the College of Sharia in the Arab world. Since I was young, I felt a sense of responsibility, and anyone who feels this kind of responsibility has the ability to become a leader of something big, and that is why I love to take the lead in everything. For example, when I was a student at Qatar University, I was involved in all the student activities because of my desire and sense of duty for everything. I even presented the graduation ceremony twice, and introduced the speech of the President once, and when I graduated (I was a student of the fourth batch) I presented the students’ speech.
This sense of ability has always encouraged me to offer and give back, as much as I can, something that my community benefits from, and I continue to produce even after all these years. For this reason, praise be to Allah, I have been able to reach higher positions in life. I have many interests, which also includes topics revolving around women, children and the disabled. That is why I volunteered for a while for the Qatar Red Crescent, and then became the Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors of Qatar Red Crescent. I have also been a Member of the Board of Directors of the Association of People with Special Needs and Vice President of the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue. Finally, one year ago I was appointed as a member in the Shura Council, where my colleagues and I became one of the first women appointed in the Shura Council. We consider this appointment to be a win for Qatari women in general because the Shura Council is considered a council of a legislative authority, and it is unprecedented that Qatari women have a role in this field. Currently, I manage Muhammad Bin Hamad Al-Thani Center for Muslim Contributions to Civilization at the College of Islamic Studies at Hamad Bin Khalifa University. I am also a member of the Arab Parliament for fourteen years. I have a lot of research and participate in several conferences.
Have you always wanted to study religion?
My goal was to specialize in psychology, but at a young age, this subject was not available at Qatar University. I tried to find a specialty that matched or at least had the same characteristics of psychology, and have found out that Sharia has the same weight as psychology as it handles ethics and studies psychological ethics felt by humans. Everything taught by psychology is provided by Sharia but in another way. Sharia deals with the soul, the spirit, the relationship between man and Allah, the Almighty, the relationship of man to man, worship, morality, virtues, feelings, sensations, and man’s relationship with animals and his environment. Sharia raises solutions to the hearts of diseases and the corresponding treatments, and everything related to the man’s relationship with Allah and the universe.
Sharia is taught through some kind of divine instruction as introduced by Prophet Muhammad PBUH, for it draws a framework for the treatment of all psychological illnesses so that a human can feel fully responsible for oneself. It also establishes the idea that there is no discrimination among people for we are all sons of Adam, except in matters such as: “Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you” which means that Allah discriminates between people only on the basis of who devotes themselves to Allah. We all respect each other, even with ethical and social differences, such as gender, color, language, thought, and worship. However, at the same time, we all descend from Adam. The Islamic Sharia focuses on this point too. In psychology, these things are taught and dealt with it in its own way, but the Sharia deals with this in terms of religion. For this reason, I see that I studied psychology but religiously because Allah meant for me to do this. Moreover, I have a great love and interest for everything that concerns the mind, and religion devotes to the mind a detailed and focused attention in a very beautiful way. For example, religion instructs us to utilize the mind because Allah created the mind to be used in a proper manner, as it provides guidance and light, and then gave us ability. The mix of mind and ability is what distinguishes between man and animal. And then Allah – the Almighty – sent us revelation, which is also guidance and light, and said to us: “Use the two together. Light upon light. Allah guides to His light whom He wills”. The man’s light, insight and awareness of the universe and time and place are complete only if he uses the two together. This special relationship between the mind and revelation encouraged me more to explore the specialty of doctrine. What has also attracted me to this specialty is my love to read all that concerns the relationship of the soul, spirit, mind, sight and insight as they are the tools that help man to succeed in life, which is another area that I love.
Have you faced any challenges you have faced throughout the different stages your career?
In all stages of human life there must be some pros to remember, and some cons. No matter how beautiful the stage a human goes through, there must be obstacles and challenges at the same time. Praise be to Allah, I feel a kind of satisfaction at every stage of my life even with its challenges and obstacles. I consider all the stages that I have undergone to be distinct stages. But I do not deny that what stands out in my mind and consider as the most beautiful stage of my life is the period when I was a student. I think this period is the most beautiful period in the life of every human being. I felt a sense of responsibility for myself only, and I had no major responsibilities. My focus was only on study, exerting effort, and my exams. This period was also mixed with a kind of wonderful fun and pleasure, which adds to the beauty of that period in my life. There was also a distinct period of my education: the practical education that required me to go to any school and teach there. Even though I was young, this experience made me feel a great responsibility for the prestigious role of the school. There is also the period of acting as a Vice Dean and Dean of the College, when I felt a kind of challenge mixed with happiness and pride that I occupy this prestigious position which is difficult to reach for women in general. The post of Dean of the College of Religion is regarded as a religious position rather than an academic position, and in general, religious positions are not occupied by women. Praise be to Allah, this journey has been possible and easy. At the same time, I received a lot of support from the people, and no one has argued that this position may be forbidden or permissible in terms of religion. I have always said that this is an academic rather than a religious position. The ease of this journey is a destined by Allah, the Almighty. In addition, the management of a center like the Center for Muslim Contributions to Civilization makes me feel a sense of happiness and pride that I also contribute to showing the work or effort of the great Muslim scientists in civilization and the derivation of the civilization of the West from the Islamic civilization. It gives me some kind of psychological comfort and peace of mind because I provide a fruitful matter that benefits the Muslims.
What is your advice for women in Qatar?
Qatari women have many great abilities and capabilities, and those who find these capabilities should not spare giving them. Today we see a new generation of young women with creativity and real abilities. We are surprised by the intensity of their talent. Unfortunately, many girls cannot show these abilities because of obstacles such as parents and society, but it is important to remember that every woman who has been prominent in society has experienced the same obstacles and did not expect to reach senior positions. However, by showing their potential, they can transcend those obstacles. If a woman has the potential and at the same time finds those who support these capabilities, I assume that Qatari women are strong and creative with a great sense of responsibility. It is enough for me that I see married women who have responsibilities towards the husband, the house, and children, but they are still studying, working, and making a great effort. Now we find Qatari women in all fields, since in the past it was difficult for women to join even a ministry, but today we see men proud that their daughters or wives work in the Ministry of Defense or Foreign Affairs. Qatari women rapidly prevailed in all ministries. She works like a man and she can work even more carefully to avoid comments on any default from the standpoint of being a woman. Gradually, the attitude towards women has changed, and it is still changing for the better. I attribute this change to the leader who cares about women’s role and supports them at all levels by presenting his wife and daughters who act as role models for the society. But it is important for women to be somewhat conservative as they must build themselves and stand out in a conservative framework in this society to advance in a wonderful manner that imposes respect and appreciation.
- Interview written by Al Anoud Al Kuwari.
- Interview was edited to improve readability and flow.