No President Macron, Islam isn’t in crisis but some Muslims certainly are

When President Macron of France spoke earlier this month about Islam being in crisis and freeing France from foreign influences, he was met with a barrage of complaints and detractors. He was speaking just shortly after two people had been stabbed outside the old offices of Charlie Hebdo, in a week that saw the ongoing trial of the terrorists who, in 2015, attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, killing 17 people.

To be fair, Macron did in his speech, obliquely recognise Frances’ genocidal colonial past and acknowledged France itself was responsible for the ‘ghettoisation’ of some neighbourhoods, creating an environment that had allowed radical voices to target marginalised communities. Unfortunately, this was pounced on by the Islamophobes with the narrative that Islam is incompatible with the west and Muslims are all outsiders.

Just a few days ago another innocent man, Samuel Paty, who was a teacher and an educator, became the victim of a terrorist attack. He devoted his life to educating young people, and in teaching them about freedom of speech, freedom of expression he lost his own fundamental freedom to live. But what did he do that led to his brutal death? He showed the Charlie Hebdo cartoons to a class, ensuring Muslim pupils who may be offended were given the option to look away. It is necessary to acknowledge that some Muslims do find images depicting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) distasteful and offensive. But it is ultimately in our power to choose how we behave. If I am offended by an image I avoid it, I look away, I do not engage because quite frankly I believe we should be more offended by the rising levels of poverty and homelessness for example. The Prophet is special only to Muslims. To anyone else, he was a man, the founder of the second largest religion in the world. There are those who do take great pleasure in pushing boundaries and seeing how far they can go to cause offence. Poking fun at any religious figure, whatever the faith, is not something I would ever do. But we live in a world where we do have freedoms to speak out and express ourselves however offensive we may choose to be, and I would much rather occupy a world where I can be who I want to be, rather than one where I have to conform into a particular image of what someone else thinks I should be.

The reaction of Muslim communities to the killing of Samuel Paty was, as expected, conciliatory, offering condolences to the victims family, pointing out that Islam is a religion of peace. However, undoubtedly there will also be fear of the potential backlash that will follow.

There are countless theories around how and why individuals have adopted this violent and destructive perception of the message of Islam and gone down such an extreme route. This is despite the Prophet warning his followers to never be extreme regarding religion. Yet we see many young men ignoring this key message and instead misquoting and misrepresenting verses from the Quran and Hadith, based on teachings from those with an agenda of superiority, division and hatred. It is the mind-set of these groups and individuals that lead people like the man who killed Samuel Paty, believing this was his duty and he was acting in the name of Islam. It is these people who need to be challenged and who are a key ingredient that leads to widespread Islamophobia . They give the radical right the ammunition they need to promote hatred against all peaceful Muslim communities across the globe. What continues to concern me is the misguided notions that extremist Muslims express on social media. Some examples from this weekend that I have seen that are seriously worrying have included:

“I would have done the same if I was shown the picture” (In other words, butchered an innocent person in the street because of his own misguided beliefs)

“We have to protect the honour of the Prophet” (Personally I would suggest the Prophet does not need us to protect him, but if we feel the urge to do something, perhaps we should follow his example of forgiving his persecutors instead.)

“I salute this hero” (Seriously – no words for the idiocy)

{The attacker} “is a martyr and will be in heaven” (No, the attacker is murderer and it is innocent man who is the martyr)

There is a need for our learned men, our teachers, scholars, imams our guardians and transmitters of Islamic knowledge to speak out against the actions of these terrorists but also against the views they seem happy to express so publicly. There is a much greater need in our world of technological advances, to target websites and social media accounts and challenge the voices of the enablers and justifiers who post comments on ‘legitimate’ social media posts. We need to be more effective at calling out the cheerleaders who are adept at bypassing legal loopholes that allow them to lead vulnerable young people with little if any knowledge about Islam, to the more sinister and extremist beliefs.

As a Muslim, I worry that an image is being portrayed that we are losing our religion to extreme elements who believe Islam is about waging war on innocent people, defending the faith by all means and using violence and murder if necessary. This small minority have twisted and warped my religion and do not in any way represent the vast majority of law abiding peaceful Muslims who are your friends, neighbours and work colleagues. So whilst I do not agree with President Macron that Islam is in crisis, I firmly believe that some Muslims, some misguided adherents of Islam, most certainly are.

Rod Liddle you’re a …… (fill in your preferred adjective) Election 2019

At a recent event, Margaret Attwood spoke about her book ‘The Handmaids Tale’ and made it clear – that if we don’t like the dystopian societies she describes then we need to do something about it as they can very easily happen. Hearing this, then reading Rod Liddle’s Spectator piece, stirred me to write this blog. His piece yet again effectively demonstrating what a hate monger he is . Whilst it came out a couple of weeks ago, I find myself seething every time I look at social media and see some troll spouting the same hate filled nasty rhetoric his commentary legitimises. Having written blogs before the elections of 2015 and then again in 2017,  I had made the decision that I was going to steer clear of writing yet another blog about why we must use our democratic right and vote, by placing an X beside the name of our choice on the 12thDecember 2019.

However, having read the vile diatribe produced under the guise of ‘journalism’ I felt compelled to say my piece. Considering he does have a reputation for writing such tirades vilifying certain groups, I think the vitriol he has had hurled at him, is well deserved.

Mr Liddell it appears, was having a bad day when he wrote his article. His ‘sense of humour’, unsurprisingly, seems to have gone over most people’s heads. His column was little more than an excuse to vent his resentment and fury at anybody he could take aim at. Politicians being described as mentally ill, students lazy, pig ignorant junkies, he showed utter contempt for women who have been sexually abused and made light of the #metoo movement. Nevertheless his commentary would have been incomplete had he not included Muslims in the torrent of abuse his supporters have claimed was merely ‘satirical’ ‘humorous’ and ‘taken out of context’. His article was not exercising his freedom of speech; under its’ guise, his Fascist anti-Muslims anti-women hate filled comments were morally and ethically abhorrant. The language adopted by Lidell and his ilk have a damaging effect on our society especially when aimed at those already marginalised.

In the run up to a general election, anyone who uses such hateful polarising language must be called out for the damage their divisive language has on society. The free will to elect our political leaders in this country is one of the freedoms we should value about living in Britain and being British. Everyone has the right to have their say in the electoral process. Whichever party you support, whichever party you agree or disagree with, voting is one of the fundamental freedoms of expression we have as British citizens. Think about some of the images we’ve seen on our TV screens from elections across the world. People who are forced to vote one way or another amidst threats of having family members kidnapped or murdered.  Others queuing for hours, votes being forged and others never even having the opportunity. There is a level of dishonesty that exists amongst individuals who want to live in Britain, enjoy the freedoms and benefits that being British citizens affords them, but not being prepared to fulfil their own obligations.

As a Muslim, this is something I am particularly aware of. I have grown up with an understanding of a principle that exists within Islam called “Shura” meaning consultation. This, in its simplest form is a way to harness the views and opinions of those individuals most affected by any decisions that may be made. The Prophet Muhammad would, as instructed by God in the Quran, consult his companions;  “And consult them in the affairs and when you have taken a decision, put your trust in God, certainly, God loves those who put their trust in Him” [Aal-’Imran, 159]. For those individuals who argue that the electoral choices presented to them do not represent the ideals of their faith in its purest form, there are always alternatives available. I can think of several theocratic dictatorships that they may like to consider as places of residency. For the rest of us, let’s make the most of the democratic freedoms afforded to us as British citizens. By voting, we are not violating any Islamic laws. We are making a decision as to who we feel is the best to govern the country we call home.

I am under no illusions that unlike other elections, this one is different. There are all sorts of factors at play, issues that will affect every single citizen depending on the outcome. The noise surrounding this election is toxic from whichever angle you look at it. However, we must and should make our decision based on those things that matter the most to us. Education, healthcare, housing, environment, domestic policies, foreign policy, social inequalities and yes even Brexit. Make the decision about who you will vote for based on which party you belief has the best interests of the things that matter to you.

However we must not let anti-Muslim hatred, anti-Semitism, prejudice and bigotry in any of its form, be turned into the battleground for this election. Nisa-Nashim, A Jewish and Muslim women’s network have this week launched a campaign to challenge those who use hateful and discriminatory language and have pledged to call out politicians, media outlets and users of social media who are generating this hate rather than acceptance and polarisation rather than social cohesion. They are asking everyone to #WatchYourLanguage.  We know that when unchecked, hate has the potential to ultimately turn to violence. So to Rod Lidell and those who support him, I ask, do we really want European history repeating itself?

The Power of Friendship

The power of friendship is something that we underestimate. We form friendships throughout our lives. My 2½ year old granddaughter takes great pride in telling us that her friends in nursery are Neha, Gracie, Frankie and Finley. Friends come and go, because we move away from an area, our circumstances change or we simply grow apart. But there will always be something about all our friendships, that, wherever we go, there will still be a part of that friendship that remains.

The two names I recall from my early childhood friendships are Gail and Rosemary. I was heartbroken when Gail told me she wouldn’t be returning to school after the summer holidays because her family were emigrating to Australia. We must have been 10 at the time. Rosemary and I went our separate ways when after primary school we went to different middle schools. Grace and Tasneem are probably two of my oldest friends that I’m still in contact with. Grace and I met at high school over 30 years ago and she now lives in Scotland. We manage to stay in touch thanks to social media. Tasneem and I grew up within the Muslim community in Leeds. Our mums were friends and our sisters were friends. We exchange the occasional text message, most often when one of my sisters tells me she bumped into Tasneem as a wedding or funeral of a mutual acquaintance.

Many people become friends and touch our hearts in the course of our lives. People of many different cultures and faiths, if we are lucky! But despite growing up in a very Jewish part of Leeds, I didn’t have any Jewish friends. I knew of Jewish people. Our local chemist was owned by Mr Booth, our family GP was Dr Levy and my father would only ever buy fresh bread and cheesecake from Chaultz bakery when it opened on a Sunday morning after Shabbat.

I met my first Jewish friends when I moved to Staffordshire in the early 1990’s and became involved in the local interfaith organisation. They were part of a very small Hebrew congregation based up in Stoke and were in the process of de-consecrating the large synagogue that had now outgrown the diminishing community. The thing I welcomed most about our friendship was the capacity to have difficult conversations, but still remain honest and maintain respect for the views of ‘the other’, and of course, Sydney’s never-ending supply of Jewish jokes!

One conversation in particular I recall was with Sydney and a Christian chaplain. We were discussing the Israel – Palestine issue. Sydney understandably had his loyalty to Israel, but totally accepted that as a Muslim I would feel affinity to the plight of the Palestinians. As our conversation came to a close, Sydney looked at me and said “honestly Hifsa if this is what it takes for the Messiah to come, I wish he’d just stay where he was”. Some might call this blasphemy, I call it one mans’ desire to see peace in the region.

Through my friendships with Sydney, Paul, Martin and many others I was able to discover so much more about Judaism. My father used to say to me – our name is Haroon {Arabic for Aaron} don’t you know he was the brother of Moses & that makes Muslims and Jews brothers & sisters? I became a regular at the synagogue and attended many Sedar meals there. Sadly, I was also able to go and pay my final respects to Sydney when he passed away.

Over the last century, Muslims have suffered terrible conflicts in the Middle East, Bosnia, Africa and South Asia. But this is nothing when compared to the centuries of persecution faced by Jews; the Russian pogroms that saw the large scale targeted and repeated mob-attacks on Jews; and the Holocaust that witnessed the genocide of 6 million Jews, for example. But for the last 70 years our two great religions have been portrayed as being at war over the Israel-Palestine conflict. Indeed, it has been difficult to speak of Muslims and Jews without seeing things through the prism of the Middle East conflict. It needs to be acknowledged however that as a Muslim, it is natural for me to feel the pain of the terrible injustices and suffering faced by the Palestinians, whilst recognising that my Jewish friends will hold a deep connection to Israel and desire for a homeland which is safe and secure. Furthermore, just as I do not have to justify or be held to account for the actions of some Muslims, my Jewish friends do not have to account for the actions of the Israeli government.

Friendship is not about agreeing with everything the ‘friend’ has to say. Friendship is about the ability to listen to views and opinions that may differ from our own. Friendship is about trying to understand a different viewpoint and respectfully presenting your own. Friendship is about accepting that we don’t all have to be clones, it is ok to thing, believe and behave differently. True friendship is based on many factors but ultimately it is about recognising that despite all the things that we may disagree and differ on, our love for humanity is the one commonality that binds us.

Our faiths are different but the same. As Europe heads into uncertain times, the far-right and the far-left increasing in their vehemence towards the Muslim and the Jew, perhaps now is the time for us to rekindle old relationships. Friendship must always be used as our baseline. This is the foundation on which we build our communities and ensure they are interlinked & bound together, whatever our differences, in a way that will not allow minor tremors to bring down the structures we work so hard to raise.

{This blog post was first published on the website of Nisa-Nashim, the Jewish Muslim Women’s Network at http://www.nisanashim.org/the-power-of-friendship/ }

Our annual conference will be taking place in London on Sunday 7th April and will be about Faith and Friendship Shaping the Future Together Please do join us and purchase your tickets here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/nisa-nashim-annual-conference-2019-faith-and-friendship-tickets-53727142329

 

A WordPress.com Website.

Up ↑