Jamil Popatia of Mawaddah – Islam is our moral compass

By Denise Nanni and Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. In the following our interview with Jamil O. Popatia of Mawaddah in Canada, offering marital counselling from an Islamic perspective.  On its website it says: Mawadda’s marital counselling is offered with complete confidentiality and the utmost respect for the sanctity and privacy of the marital relationship. As a faith-based counselor, my process is to work with the presenting issues from within the broad Islamic perspective. Since Islam is our moral compass, it permeates the way I work with my Muslim clients. Counselling and therapy is offered in an open, respectful and non-judgmental way.
The word mawaddah appears in the Qur’an several times but most notably, it appears in Chapter 30, verse 21: And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put permanent friendliness and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect.
How can be non-violent communication defined?
Nonviolent, or more accurately, Compassionate Communication can be defined as a presence and process of connecting with oneself and others which is based on feelings and universal needs. At the heart of of it, it is about balancing honest expression and empathy, for oneself and others. As a process, Compassionate Communication entails 4 crucial components: observations, feelings that arise from those observations, universal needs that are foundational to the feelings that arise, and finally, a request from oneself and/or others that would contribute to living/meeting/energy of those needs. 
How is it possible to teach empathy?
Personally, I believe this to be a deeply spiritual question that cannot be answered in any sort of rational, linear fashion. For me, empathy can ensue when it is not enforced by some external, moralistic pressure in a dutiful sense but rather when human beings see each other, and indeed, the rest of creation, as integral parts of a beautiful, intentional whole. From my own personal faith perspective, empathy flows when we see the divine spark in every living creature on earth, for they then becomes sign-posts pointing to the mercy, beauty and majesty of a Most Loving Creator. In this sense, empathy becomes an act of God that human beings can access and share with each other. In Qur’anic terms, this would be called “The Stamp of Mercy”. 
According to your experience what are the factors (both social and individual) that can lead to a violent approach to conflicts?
What I have noticed is that when people become fixated on positions, solutions, strategies and narrow beliefs, it makes for an easy transition into the “us and them” dichotomy. This can occur can between spouses, parent-child relationships, and perhaps most disturbing, geo-political groups that only see each other through the lens of enemy images. Also, if a person or community is not open to hear other perspectives and paradigms it becomes challenging for empathy to flow because there is already a barrier in place that says “I/we’re right and there is no other way to see things…therefore how canI/we be empathic if I/we are so fixated on your “wrongness”? 
What are the challenges of intercultural marriages? Can they be considered similar to the challenges within multicultural societies?
I really like this question but I know I will not do it justice as it is deeply complex and requires a separate conversation on its own. First, we must define what we mean by intercultural marriages. Are we speaking of different cultures, ethnicities, backgrounds, religions, etc.? It is critical that we create a common language here in order to not “talk past each other”. Many of my private clients are mixed couples that are primarily mixed in terms of racial/ethnic background but they tend to be from the same dominant culture (e.g. North American) and the same religion (e.g. normative Islam). 
How do you involve Muslim principles into your coaching and support services?
I’m not sure what you mean by the term “Muslim principles” but if I take a guess, I am going to assume you mean how do I inundate the principles, morals, ethics, spirituality of Islam into my work with families and organizations? Again, I do this based on my own spiritual practice and learnings that I gain from my teacher/sufi guide who imparts the letter and spirit of the Qur’an as understood in the broadest spiritual sense. This is what some theologians term Ethical Monotheism. It entails a deep spiritual understanding of Islam that transcends culture, custom and even tradition, itself. Essentially, I am able to work with my audiences this way by recalling our Purpose as human beings on this earth. For Muslims, this means breathing the love and compassion of God into everything and every relationship we encounter. Such was the way of the Holy Prophet Muhummad.