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

 

The Unknown Fallen – The Muslim Story For Remembrance Sunday

“I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart beating. Not one of us is moving. Not even when the trenches went dark.”

(From The Diary of an Unknown Soldier)

“The Unknown Fallen – the Global Allied Muslim Contribution in the First World War” is a recent publication by the Forgotten Heroes 14-19 Foundation.  The deeply moving photography in the book captures the raw human courage, sacrifice and fellowship of soldiers during the World War One.  The pain and fear that, undoubtedly, the soldiers must have been experienced, permeates through the pages .  But the most powerful heart-stopping image for me depicts a group of Christian soldiers praying with a priest, possibly before going into battle, whilst just a few feet away, Muslim soldiers are prostrating, bowing their heads in worship.  Incredible stories of fear, hardship, courage and perseverance are told. The Unknown Fallen takes the reader into a dark world, full of death and separation and one that we can only hope the world never witnesses again. A world where Muslim, Christian and Jewish clergy were fully versed in the methods of performing the last rites related to each other’s faiths. Because it was inevitable that at some point they would be called upon to do so. A dark world, but one where there was the utmost respect for diversity and ‘the other’ – because the other was my brother and they were fighting side by side, not just for each others lives, but ours as well.

Sunday 11th November 2018 marks exactly one hundred years since the guns fell silent and the world, finally, after four long years, saw the bloodiest conflict in history come to an end. A war that witnessed 16 million people die. Across the country at 11.00am people will stand in solemn silence, bells will toll and we will remember all those men, fathers, sons, brothers, uncles and nephews, who died so that we might enjoy the freedoms that, sadly, they never survived  to experience.

I was recently privileged to attend a memorial at the Peace Garden in Woking. The event was a dedication to those brave soldiers who fought and died as members of the British Army. But let me be more specific. The memorial was a dedication to the thousands of Muslim soldiers who fought for Britain in two world wars and subsequent conflicts, giving you, me and our future generations the freedoms we enjoy today. They fought against oppressors, racists, bigots and haters. They fought against nations that did not value democracy, diversity or the rule of law. The reality is however, that if you were to ask the ordinary man woman or child in school about who fought for Britain in the wars, very few would be able to tell you that recent figures estimate that four million Muslims contributed to the allied cause either as soldiers or labourers.

One of the speakers at the memorial was Sophie Chisembele, daughter of Yusuf Mohammed Ali, the last serviceman to be buried at the site, which was then the Woking Muslim Military Burial Ground.  The burial ground held just 27 servicemen out of the many thousands of Muslim personnel who died during the two World Wars. She paid tribute to the Muslim servicemen who “died in their thousands in the service of Britain, then the colonial power.  They were born in a different place, centuries past, their lives ended prematurely by wars, and it is right that we and I’m sure generations to come, remember and honour their sacrifice.”

The Right Honourable Earl Howe, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords and Minister of State for Defence reminded us of the “forgotten army. The first Muslim recipient of the Victoria Cross, Khudadad Khan, who is now well known for his selfless actions at the First Battle of Ypres, whilst the other Muslim VC recipients of the Great War, like Mir Dast and Shahamad Khan, have also been deservedly immortalised at the National Arboretum.. We honour not only those heroes, but the many thousands of less well-known Muslim soldiers, whose names adorn memorials the length and breadth of Europe, the Middle East and Asia and whose deeds helped preserve our freedom. We think of how they travelled thousands of miles to the mud and horror of Flanders Fields.”

There is nothing glamorous or thrilling about war and conflicts. Battlefields are not exciting places – they are places of horror, where friends and comrades have to witness each other being blown apart, bleeding to death, losing limbs and calling out the names of their loved ones who they know they will never see again. Wars are abhorrent, they are horrifying, they are destructive and they are never the way to peace. We must never forget the sacrifices made by all those brave men, but we must endeavour to ensure the world never sees such conflicts again.

It has only been recently that the contribution of Muslims to the world wars became known, and certainly this seems to be a very well-kept secret. Perhaps modern day populist movements might benefit from learning not just about the lessons and horrors of war, but about this secret as well. More recent estimates suggest that potentially 4 million Muslims contributed to the allied cause either as soldiers or labourers, a figure known largely in essence to the research undertaken by The Forgotten Heroes 14-19 Foundation and published in their book. This is a history book with a difference and one that needs to be part of every school library across the country. The book opens up a whole new dimension in relation to the wars and the contributions made by many nations including Pre-partition India, Africa, Russia, the Far East and the Middle East, which until today have been largely unrecognised. Until recently for example it was not known that British India sent 1.5 million men to war in Africa, Asia and Europe during World War 1 and of these 400,000 were Muslims.

“Among all the trials and danger, they kept their calm, their fatalism, and the enduring dignity of their profile”.

In 21st Century diverse Britain, we have a duty to salute, remember and make others aware of these heart-rending stories of all these individuals and the sacrifices that were made by Muslims. A group that sadly, is all too often, demonised because of the actions of a very tiny minority. Certainly elements within society seek to divide communities and use the actions of these elements to promote an anti-Muslim, racist narrative that seeks to demonise British Muslims.  We need to understand that these wars were not European wars fought just by white men. They were World Wars in every sense of the phrase, wars that saw people from across the globe, of all colours, religions, traditions and cultures, fight and die for the freedoms we enjoy today. This is not about glorifying war, it is about remembering those who those fought side by side hand in hand for the common good..

We must teach our children, in home and in school, that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength. We all owe a debt of gratitude to ever single individual who gave their life, so we could live a peaceful one. We would do well to remember.

It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion.

It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the Soldier, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us freedom to protest.

It is the Soldier, not the lawyer
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the Soldier, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote.

It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

Charles M. Province 2005

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Boris Johnson, The Handmaid’s Tale & The Alt-Right – an unholy alliance?

Dear Mr Johnson

It was a pleasure to meet you earlier this year, at the reception hosted at Buckingham Palace for representatives of the Commonwealth diaspora in the UK. I must admit I was pleasantly surprised to see you there, as it gave me the opportunity to offer my thanks and congratulations for the excellent coverage of your visit to Myanmar that I had seen a couple of days previously. You showed true leadership and did not pander to the Burmese leader. You spoke with passion, referring to what was happening to the Rohingya Muslims as ‘industrial level ethnic cleansing’. So to be able to discuss this with you personally and hear about your visit gave me a sense of relief that our government was genuinely acting to ensure that Rohingya Muslims received the assistance they so desperately needed internally in the country and externally from the international community.

I also realised that day that unlike your media persona, you are in fact a very clever man and not a blundering buffoon. Unfortunately, your recent comments ridiculing women who wear the niqab are text-book Bannon and Breitbart.  I do not like the burqa or the niqab and certainly do not think it easily fits in with the society in which we live. The majority of the public think that too. But telling women how they should dress is not British either.

Some people are suggesting a national niqab day in solidarity with those who wear the niqab, which quite frankly is daft and will poison the genuine debates we need to have as a society.

Your choice of words in describing Muslim women who choose to veil in this manner were very badly chosen and reminded me of a conversation I had a few years previously. I was working with Muslim girls, discussing with them issues they were facing in their hometown of Luton. One young woman, a niqabi said to me “we are hit by both barrels of the gun. We walk down one side of the street and we are called letter boxes and bin liners by the EDL. We walk down the other side of the road and if we refuse to take the leaflets being handed out by Al Muhajiroun we are called traitors and kuffar. We can’t win”. This statement has stayed with me because of how upset the young lady was. All she wanted to do was go about her daily life, get an education, shop, and go out with her friends without having to face a barrage of abuse. And thanks to your comments, (I won’t even insult you by saying they were ill-thought, off -the-cuff comments because nothing you say is) abuse such as this is set to continue, very likely increase. Comments such as yours play into the hands of the alt-right, it legitimises their anti- Muslim hatred and gives them the green card to harass, attack and abuse some of the most vulnerable people in our society. I heard yesterday about a woman who had been urinated on by three men simply because she was wearing the niqab. The abuse and attacks on Muslims will continue, and your comments will give some people the justification they need to commit these offences. The niqab debate is a very convenient rallying call for the extreme right wing anti-Muslim elements in society who will use this to scare people about the impending ‘Islamification’ of Britain and ‘creeping shariah’. What has not been covered in the press is that this is also a very convenient rallying call for Muslims on the extreme right, who see the niqab as a symbol for promoting a version of Islam based on theocracy and not democracy. To them I say no, thank you very much. I do not wish to live in a Muslim society based on a version of The Handmaids Tale. I do not want to be punished by the state for choosing to dress as I please.

There is absolutely no doubt as to who are the ultimate losers in this vicious dogfight – the ordinary British Muslims who simply want to go about their lives and practice their faith. Other minorities will inevitably be targeted after Muslims (some already are.)

I am a British Muslim. I value the freedoms that living in a democratic society affords me with. Whilst many people in this country dislike the niqab and what they perceive it to represent, they will be equally appalled by racist attacks on Muslims, that your comments have no doubt incited.  Albert Einstein said that a leader “is one who, out of the clutter, brings simplicity… out of discord, harmony… and out of difficulty, opportunity.” I hope that out of the clutter your comments have created, you will find the simplest and most honourable option is to apologise to Muslim women who choose to veil for your insensitivity and poor choice of words. This will hopefully provide us with the opportunity to draw a line under this saga, move forward and perhaps even have more grown up conversations about things that actually matter in society, not the banal and the ridiculous.

Men, Women and the Hijab – a never ending debate

“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that will make for greater purity for them; and God is well acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty, and that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (ordinarily) appear thereof, that they should draw their veils over their bosoms…..” (24:30-31)

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A few days ago I was asked by someone why I became so sensitive over the issue of the head covering being addressed. Today I’ve been reading about a young Kuwaiti woman being chastised because she publicly chose to stop wearing the headscarf – something that was being seen as an affront to God but also her father, a prominent Islamic scholar

Now I don’t claim to be a scholar nor do a profess to be particularly knowledgeable in relation to Islamic jurisprudenceBut I felt this was one blog I needed to write – for my own sanity and the sanity of other women who are constantly put under pressure, one way or another, in relation to the head scarf.

Most of us know that there are some topics associated with Muslims and Islam that are generally regarded as the proverbial “hot potato”.  Women in Islam is possibly seen as the most controversial, certainly in the eyes of non-Muslims. But the rights of women, particularly around dress and modesty seems to be an area that is much debated (I would add almost relentlessly) not by non-Muslims, or even Muslim women, but by Muslim men.

What is this bizarre obsession, this almost unhealthy fixation, I would say that borders on stalking, that some men have with how Muslim women dress & in particular whether they wear the head scarf, or what has become known as the hijab?

For those unfamiliar with the word, the Arabic word hijab actually means barrier or curtain. It is used on five separate occasions in the Quran. For example 

“Mention in the Quran the story of Mary. She withdrew from her family to a place to the east and secluded herself away. We sent Our Spirit to appear before her in the form of a perfected man.”(19:27-27)

“It is not granted to any mortal that God should speak to him except through revelation or from behind a veil, or by sending a messenger to reveal by His command what He will: He is exalted and wise.”(22:51)

Now it may be a revelation to many that both these verses and subsequent others do not use the term ‘hijab’ to mean a 24 inch square of cloth that covers a womans hair. It does however mean a barrier / curtain and way of seclusion. So what is this fixation about?

I have many good friends who wear the head covering for a variety of reasons, all very different. In fact, I wore the headscarf for three years as well in the 1990’s. Some wear it because they believe it is a religious instruction from God, who instructs them to cover up not just the bosom area but also the hair. Some don the head covering because it brings them closer to God, it becomes a form of worship in the same way that prayer and fasting are. Others use the head covering as an outward expression of their religiosity – literally wearing their faith on their head. Some wear it as it supports them in observing modesty, an instruction for men and women, in the Quran.  There are more and more women, particularly younger women who have adopted the hijab by way of protest – to make a political statement – ‘I am a Muslim and I have no issue with you or anyone else knowing’. And there are political movements were wearing of the head scarf is synonymous with political affiliations and groups. There are those women who have been ‘shamed’ into wearing the hijab because all the other women in the family wear it. Some wear it because it has become ‘habit’ and to remove it would mean they are no longer accepted as ‘authentic’ Muslims, would lose their credibility within certain circles and might possibly have to forfeit positions of authority within the community. And unfortunately, there are those women who wear it because they are forced to do so by their families, fathers in particular. And there are those who wear it because their husbands have told them they would divorce them if they didn’t.

It’s worth pointing out that women who choose not to wear the head scarf do so for equally valid and diverse reasons. Some believe you can be just as pious and modest without covering the hair. Others believe the Quranic verse does not extend to the hair as it specifically mentions the bosom area. And others are of the opinion that you can still appear immodest whilst wearing the headscarf.

Just as there are contrasting reasons behind why women choose to wear the head covering or not, we must acknowledge that there are diverse scholarly opinions  associated with whether or not the head covering is compulsory.

Eminent, outstanding scholars appear to have adopted various positions around whether the head covering is or is not compulsory.  Abdullah bin Bayyah and Abdullah al Judai, for example, are of the opinion that the view mentioned by scholars, in  their commentaries,  like Ibn Ashur (he says some opined it wasn’t necessary) and Muhammad Asad (he said it was all changeable by custom, as what is ordinarily shown changes from one society to the next)  are valid positions. They also opine that in societies where women who wear the head covering, are attacked , they are permitted to remove it. In fact, it may even be necessary to remove it. Hamza Yusuf said the same both in his books and speeches and has stated that

“The laws are there to serve human beings; we are not there to serve the law. We are there to serve Allah, and that is why whenever the law does not serve you, you are permitted to abandon it, and that is actually following the law. … The law is for our benefit, not for our harm. Therefore, if the law harms us, we no longer have to abide by it.”

Abul Fadl also gave the same edict saying it may not be obligatory.  Others are of the opinion that the head covering is not obligatory on the basis that hair does not form part of the ‘awrah’ (intimate areas). In 2005 after the 7th July London bombings, the Egyptian scholar Dr Zaki Badawi issued a fatwa saying that women did not have to wear the head covering as it was unnecessarily putting them at risk in the current climate. An article by Sheikh Usama Hasan presents a very detailed piece on the issue of dress within the Islamic context,  and can be accessed here . What is clear is that there is no consensus and the topic of how women should or should not dress has been blown out of all proportion.  So, are men just incapable of looking at women whose hair is showing without lust? Can they not ‘lower their gaze’ as instructed? Why have they positioned themselves as custodians of Islamic ethics and integrity? Why do they feel they have a right to judge total strangers and compare 50% of God’s creation to inanimate objects whether they be lollipops or iPhone covers? Do they feel they have a God given superiority that allows them to dehumanise their fellow companions in the world?

I do not wear the head covering. Many of my friends and relations do not wear the head covering. Many of them do. But I will not be bullied into interpreting my religion from the eyes of anyone else. We are all more than capable of making our own decisions based on what we have read, taking into account the views of eminent scholars and teachers and our own understanding of the issue. If that does not comply with someone else’s interpretation, that’s fine. ‘To me my religion and to you your religion’. For me, the head covering is not the crux of my faith. On the day of judgement, I believe that I will be judged for all my actions – what did I do to help the poor, the destitute, the elderly, the orphan and the infirm. Did I lie, cheat, steal? Did I go to bed with an overfilled belly whilst my neighbours went to sleep hungry? Did I leave the world a better place for future generations or did I contribute to its destruction? Did I give water to the thirsty and food to the hungry? Did I bring up my children well? And yes maybe, just maybe, God will ask me why I didn’t I cover up my hair. But in the bigger scheme of things, I suspect that will come pretty low down on the list.

But ultimately these are my views – and God knows best!

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If a friend among your friends errs, make seventy excuses for them. If your hearts are unable to do this, then know that the shortcoming is in your own selves “

(Hamdun al-QassarFrom Tafsir ibn Kathir)

Welcoming God into our Mosques

“Winds in the east, mist coming in

Like somethin’ is brewin’ and bout to begin

Can’t put me finger on what lies in store,

But I fear what’s to happen all happened before”

(Bert – Mary Poppins)

The weather experienced by the UK over the last week has been nothing short of riotous and ferocious. Whilst we’ve had crazy weather before, it seems every time it happens, it’s a new experience for us and as a nation we are just never adequately prepared. Most likely because it happens so infrequently.

From across the country we’ve been hearing reports of tragedy striking with traffic chaos, death and injury being caused as a result of the snow and the storm. However, what we do find is that when hardship comes to Brits, The Brit resolve kicks in and we have also heard some heartwarming stories. The couple who managed to get married thanks to strangers who helped clear the path to the church by bringing shovels and diggers to the rescue. Or the car dealer who sent 4×4’s to rescue a wedding party and get them to the church on time. And most importantly the  wedding cake too! And of course our emergency services including the military coming to the rescue across the country and providing much needed assistance.

But the stories that have made me smile the most are the stories from up and down the country of mosques opening their doors to allow the homeless to come in and shelter  from the freezing temperatures, get warm and have something to eat.

I was in two minds over whether to get myself some heroin or crack, so that I could be okay for the night. As I was thinking about this, a guy came over from the side and said “you’re homeless, would you like to spend the night in a mosque?’  (Al Jazeera)

Mosques in Manchester, London and Ireland for example have all featured in various news reports for opening their doors and welcoming in the homeless. But why is this only done when such extreme weather kicks in and a ‘good news’ opportunity arises? Why are our mosques not ‘open all hours’ as they are in many other countries? I am well aware of the current climate and yes there is a chance that problems could occur, but surely the need to provide shelter and warmth out weighs any concerns we should have. Opening mosques to everyone needs to be more than just a method of publicity seeking. Even if it is some much needed positive publicity surrounding Islam and Muslims.

A mosque was never supposed to be just ‘a house of God’ in the sense that everyone else needed permission to enter. In the early days of Islam, mosques were the centre of the community, open and welcoming. They were the place everyone would congregate as a community. They were open to Muslims, but also those of other faiths. We have examples from the life of the Prophet Muhammad (may Peace and blessings be upon Him) that show Christians who had come from Yemen were permitted to pray within the mosque. And many other examples of the respect He gave to ‘People of the Book’. One such incident illustrates this, when a funeral passed by the Messenger he stood up and someone commented  “It is a Jew.” to which The Prophet responded, “Was he not a soul?”.

Hundreds of mosques across the country (and i suspect churches, synagogues and temples as well) are locked up every night when the space could be used to shelter the homeless – whether the temperatures are 10 degrees or -10 degrees. No doubt they are kept locked because of the fear they will be damaged, property stolen or desecrated if left unattended. Perhaps if our mosques were kept simple and not adorned to the extent that we worried about valuables being stolen, the true essence of what a mosque should be, can be returned to. I find it hard to believe that our houses of God that close their doors to His creation in the most difficult of times, could possibly be occupied by God.  In order for this to happen however, as Muslim communities, we do need to take more of an interest in our mosques and particularly in ensuring our mosque leadership understands the reasoning behind developing mosques suitable for 21st Century Britain. A leadership that can affect change and is effective in delivering a service for all the local community. A mosque should never be treated as a private venture owned by a handful of individuals who will only give up their seat of influence when carried out in a wooden box. If our mosque governance does not allow for community participation, then it is our responsibility, our duty, to make a fuss. Our mosques must be inclusive and not exclusive and seen as the (halal) old boys club.

Maybe when our mosques  can achieve this, when they are open 24 hours a day, welcome everyone, become part of the local community and allow the cold and the destitute to seek shelter we might just find God residing there as well.

And when our mosques have achieved this, maybe they’ll consider letting women in as well.

General Election 2017 – To Vote or Not to Vote – That is the Question!

I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t politically active.

In my house, not voting was never an option. The one phrase guaranteed to infuriate my late father was “I can’t be bothered to vote”. My family came to the United Kingdom in 1965 and I cannot recall a local or general election taking place in which my father didn’t vote. He would say that if you cannot be bothered to vote, you do not have the right to complain about anything, whether that’s the state of the roads or how often your bins are emptied. He would remind us of how, in countries across the world, people are prepared to give their lives in order to have a say in how they are governed.

I was reminded of this particular comment of his when, many years later, I was waiting for children to arrive at a session I was running for Muslim youth. One of the parents, an Iraqi mum, came bounding towards me on her arrival and as she got closer, I noticed she was shaking her finger at me. As she got closer, I noticed the beaming smile on her face and that her finger was purple. In between her excited exclamations of “sister Hifsa” she explained she had just returned home having been to London. For the first time in her life she had been able to vote in the Iraqi elections to determine who would govern her country. Her delight was infectious. A middle aged woman overjoyed at finally having the right to have a say in her country’s governance. A right that,  in our democratic nation, every single British citizen over the age of eighteen has, regardless of gender, colour, race or religion. But a right that is only taken up by 2/3rd of the eligible population with over 13 million “not bothering”.

Yesterday our Prime Minister Theresa May called a general election close to what would have been my fathers 101st birthday, 8th June. And a number of thoughts immediately went through my mind, including that we now have 7 weeks of election preparation and social media posts in which every single person will want to have a say no matter how much of what they have to say might very well be “utter bollocks”. Aah the joys of living in a democracy!

One particular issue however is going to cause me particular angst over the next few weeks. And that is the anti-voting Muslim campaigners that will be trying to prevent Muslims from taking part in the General Election because they regard voting as being “haraam” (forbidden/unlawful). No doubt they will be using the usual scare tactics, telling adherents they’re condemning themselves to the hellfire if they vote,  by leafleting outside mosques on Fridays, running poster campaigns and producing the dreaded memes as their backup.

Is Voting Haram?

As a Muslim, 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]

By voting in the election, you are being given a stake in the decision making processes around every aspect of how your country will be run. Every single vote counts and it is imperative that any government that is elected has the backing of the majority of the population that they are serving. There is almost a level of dishonesty that exists amongst those 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 to the nation. 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 – our country. And we should make our decision based on those things that matter the most to use. Education, healthcare, housing, environment, foreign policy or social inequalities; make the decision about who you will vote for based on which party has the best interests of the things that matter to you, your family and your local community at the very epicentre of their manifesto.

This the Islamic thing to do. It is not unIslamic to vote, it is unIslamic not to.

 

 

 

We’re Loving & Living Islam!

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“Unity is strength…when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved”. And such was LIFe 2016

I am feeling happy, upbeat, and proud to be a Muslim. Having spent 4 days last week in the presence of around 3000 Muslims from across Great Britain at the Living Islam Festival (LIFe) 2016, I am reassured that the vast majority of Muslims in Britain are proud to call themselves British Muslims.

For those who may not be aware, the Living Islam Festival took place between 28th-31st July in Lincoln. It’s a four-day festival organised by the Islamic Society of Britain (www.isb.org.uk) that transforms the scenic Lincolnshire Showground into a mini village, with attendees staying in tents and caravans and many in local hotels and B&B’s, doing their bit to boost the local economy. LIFe 2016 as it is affectionately known, has been described as the Muslim ‘Glastonbury’ or alternatively the Muslim ‘Hay Festival’. With the missing links being drugs, alcohol and rock ‘n roll! Over the four-day period adults and children have the opportunity to attend sessions aimed at all ages, that run simultaneously throughout the day. Lectures, and debates for adults that provoke and stimulate discussions, such as reforming Islam and finding answers in a plural society. The younger Muslims have the opportunity to enter into interesting conversations around topical subjects or even just attend practical hands on activities such as bushcraft and Islamic Art. For example, one session was titled ‘Grime, Dub Step and Hip-Hop – keeping it real keeping it halal’ and another ‘mum dad you’re driving me ….’. The event provides a safe space for Muslims to BE Muslims, talk and debate the things that are affecting them and their families in the real world. But it also provides a much needed 4-day spiritual retreat. An opportunity to renew your faith, rekindle your connection with God out in the open and under the blue skies, or simply to pray. LIFe can be exactly what you want it to be.

Organising the event requires what can only be described as a military manoeuvre and preparations get under way twelve months, if not more, in advance, before the day when the gates open. With near-on 50 individuals heading up their own department, the project is managed overall by the Festival Director – Dr. Khalid Anis where inevitably ‘the buck stops’. What’s most important to note however is that the event is planned, organised and put on by volunteers. From the registration team at arrivals, audio visual team in the big top and across the event recording seminars and debates, the cleaning team, events programme, scouts, the 0-5 area, Young Muslims, campus, information centre, VIP / guest hospitality, feeding, supporting, transporting, cleaning and of course the security team – the list is endless.

From the spectacular arts and culture marquee set up for the first time by the amazing Julie and Rozina, the must-have bi-annual coffee shop (sorry Anika!), snack shack, bazaar, the food court, the medical centre, the mini rural community that was the Living Islam Festival 2016, had everything you needed and wanted. Freshly brewed coffee, books, clothes, information, support, arts, ice cream, Malaysian cuisine, burgers and chicken, Asian must have such as pakoras and samosas, cakes, smoothies.  And without a shadow of a doubt, you had spirituality, prayer, supplication and knowledge in abundance.  You could find it all in LIFe as the mini four-day settlement was quite simply a reflection of the bigger society we live in. And thanks to the forward thinking Julie a small group of us were able to give a little something back to the local community we would be staying in for the next few days.

We were privileged and delighted to play host this year to some eminent scholars and speakers including Karen Armstrong, Rabbi Laura Janner-Krausner, Shaykh Ruzwan Mohammed, Shaykh Akram Nadwi, and Ustadh Ubaydullah Evans, to name but a few. A number of entertainers who, over the years, have become our  good friends, joined us again for LIFe.  This year we were amused by Omar Regan, entertained by Faraz Yousafzai and the Sophistas, and spellbound by the beautiful songs our children have grown up with, by Dawud Wharnsby. There was also a young man there who goes by the name of Harris J that seemed to get everyone very excited!

The early mornings and late nights, the call to prayer during the day, praying in congregation throughout the event, the Qur’anic recitation, the spectacular Friday congregational prayer, the parachute jump, the vast audience in the big top at night, the hustle and bustle in the bazaar area, the constant stream of people in and out of the coffee shop and the crazy rush to take up membership at the ISB stall, all go towards making LIFe what we have seen this year. – spectacular.

The Sunday LIFe event saw a number of VIP’s invited to come and experience LIFe for themselves. Attended by the Bishop of Lincoln and the High Sheriff of Lincolnshire, a representative from the US Embassy and representatives from a variety of faith communities, came to the showground for the Sunday. They willingly took part in an interfaith cricket match (‘MOD ‘v’ The God Squad – no prizes for guessing who won) before moving on to the Islamic Society of Britain’s Celebrating Excellence Awards 2016. The nominations received this year were of an amazing standard and we were delighted to be able to recognise the hard work and commitment of individuals including James O’Brien from LBC for his contribution to the media, Dr. Gill Hicks MBE for her courage in the face of adversity and a posthumous Lifetime Achievement award to Jo Cox MP.

As just one very small cog in the great machinery that is the Living Islam Festival, I am again in awe at the time, patience and commitment shown by every single one of our volunteers to ensure the event is appealing and relevant to the Muslims living in Britain today. The media presence, the inter faith dialogue, the projects that we run, all are important aspects of the ISB. However, nothing is more important than our most vital resource – our members and our volunteers who work tirelessly in their branches the length and breadth of the country. From Glasgow to London, Manchester to Sheffield. The organisation would be nothing without you. Your efforts do not go unnoticed and my grateful thanks for all that you have done and all that you will no doubt continue to do in the future.

The current climate seems to dictate how and why Islam and Muslims can or should be ‘seen and heard’. Suicide bombings, ‘lone wolf’ attacks, such as the recent tragic murder of Father Jacques Hamel are just two examples of when Muslims are expected to speak out, distancing themselves as Muslims and followers of Islam from the atrocities, something unfortunately we do have to do. But today there will be no bowing of the head in shame or remorse. Islam and Muslims are not filled with hate – we are filled with love and compassion, kindness and generosity, patience and sincerity. All of which were evident in abundance at the Living Islam Festival 2016. If you attended, thank you for making LIFe 2016 the best yet. If you didn’t attend, all I can say is take a look at the photographs, judge for yourself and remember to book your tickets to 2018 early!

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And it’s a wrap – till 2018!

Dear Katie Hopkins

Dear Katie

I woke up this morning feeling quite chirpy and happy, considering I’d only had 7 hours sleep in total, had been up at 2.30am making breakfast for the family and knowing my next meal wouldn’t be until 9.30pm tonight.

Then someone sent me your article from the Mail. And quite frankly I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I’m not sure who does your research for you before you write / speak about things you clearly know very little (if anything) about. Whoever they are, I would sack them.

So where do I start? As the much loved Julie Andrews once sang, ‘Lets start at the very beginning, a very good place to start’.

Thirty days of not eating or drink or having sex? Say what? You may like to be made aware that if you gave up eating and drinking for 30 days you wouldn’t actually last 30 days. Most human beings in the wealthy parts of the world tend to have three meals a day, numerous lattes, ice creams and snack and various intervals. We eat and drink simply because we can. During Ramadan this is reduced to just 2 meals a day, breakfast (suhoor) and iftar (the evening meal). We do eat and we do drink. It’s just that there is a considerable length of time in between meals. It’s doable, and as you rightly point out (surprisingly), those who can’t for a variety of reasons such as ill health, old age or pregnancy, don’t. And no sex for 30 days? Where did you get that one from? OK yes it does mean that there is no sex during daylight hours, but hey, there is still a good window of 6 hours for a bit of action if that’s really what you want!

Now let’s talk personal safety. Absolutely agree with you on that one. If you feel that you are going to put someone else’s life at risk should you be fasting? I know many dentists, firemen and doctors for example who feel that they can’t fast because they don’t want to risk putting someone in danger. And they can make that personal choice and many people do. I’ve driven when I’m fasting and actually my senses are more alert at times and at others I will opt not to drive because I’m feeling drousy. If a Muslim taxi driver is working it’s because he feels he is able to. You have the choice of getting into the cab with him or not. He wouldn’t be working if he didn’t think he was up to it. Let’s not forget that most adult Muslims will have been fasting since they were children. The body is an incredible machine and over many years learns hope to cope with all sorts of hardship. Much like a body builder who over many years trains to lift heavier and heavier weights by increasing the load slowly. I can remember fasting in these long summer months when I was 15. Boy they were hard! This time round, it’s not too bad as over the last 33 years I’ve trained my body and built up to the long fasting days again.

There is a lot of nonsense in the media about employers having to make special arrangements for Muslim staff who are fasting. This is what you’ve alluded to in referring to rearranging breaks, changing exam timetables, giving people ‘special treatment’. But actually that goes against the very grain of the religion. The idea is not to rearrange one’s lifestyle around the religion. The religion is a way of life and we shouldn’t be changing our normal patterns to accommodate it. The vast majority of Muslims will continue their normal routines, still getting to the office for 9 and leaving at 5 (but not having smoking breaks or a lunch break so actually they would be entitled to leave a bit earlier anyway).

Katie how many Muslims have you been around who have become ‘weak and dizzy’ from lack of a cheese sandwich? I have worked since I was 20 (over 30 years). I’ve had three children, worked with many different people and I can say with hand on heart not a single one of my work colleagues will ever describe me as has having become ‘weak and dizzy’ from hunger or thirst. Where young people and exams are concerned, my daughter is currently taking her A levels and over the next few weeks I will not allow her to fast until her exams are over. I’m certain this will be the same for many other young people. It’s about choice and how you feel you can cope. Why does it become ‘madness’ just because you can’t understand it?  Have you ever tried fasting?  I’s a great way to detox, think about those less fortunate than yourself, develop some self-control. Try it – it might do you good!

‘Ramadan typically coincides with a spike in terror violence”. Seriously Katie where do you get this from? Yes I know there has been a bomb attack in Istanbul today and our hearts go out to all those innocent victims killed or injured today. But this attack has not been carried out by your ordinary mainstream Muslim.  This is why it becomes really important that you don’t misrepresent what Aaqil Ahmed Head of Religion at the BBC said;

“I hear so many people say ISIS has nothing to do with Islam – of course it has. They are not preaching Judaism. It might be wrong, but what they are saying is an ideology based on some form of Islamic doctrine. They are Muslims. That is a fact and we have to get our heads around some very uncomfortable things’

ISIS / Da’esh might be Muslim but all Muslims are not ISIS /  Da’esh, nor do we support ISIS  / Da’esh and have absolutely no affiliation to this terrorist organisation. The vast majority of the 1.8 billion adherents of the Islamic state world-wide are peaceful law abiding citizens. Islam is to ISIS /Da’esh what Christianity is to the KKK. But you already know that don’t you.

There is absolutely no tension let alone a ‘strange’ tension in what Ramadan means to the Muslim population in the UK.  For British Muslims as well as those across the globe, Ramadan is a period of self reflection, prayer, supplication and self-control. It is a period of time when we make a conscious effort to think of those less fortunate than ourselves, to give more in charity and to feed the hungry. Up and down the country people will be organising evening meals in their homes, community centres, churches, mosques and synagogues. Personally, I have organised an Iftar in my home for a group of non-Muslims who have probably never had a meal with Muslims in their home before. I’ve also organised an evening meal at the homeless shelter local to where I live. Four Muslim women, cooking a meal for however many non-Muslims during Ramadan and we will be feeding them at 6.30pm, whilst we are still fasting. Britain and Europe are not ‘hosts’, it is  home to Muslims who play a full and active role in the political, social, economic and civil society they live in. ‘We’ are indeed tolerant. ‘We’ are the most tolerant society in the world, where anyone can say and do more or less what they like so long as they’re not breaking the law. And that includes nasty, bigoted individuals vocalising their hateful views and opinions in print and over the airwaves, designed specifically to cause division, hatred and further their own media image. And just for the record. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Head of the Church of England, who I have had the pleasure of meeting on more than one occasion, might disagree with you about this being a ‘truly secular society’. Britain is and always will be a Christian country. Get over it.

It’s such a shame that your comments have caused so much upset to people. Only you could have turned what is for Muslims ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ into something to be feared and  despised. You have had something to say about anything and everyone; ginger babies, drug addicts, the overweight, prisoners, stay at home mums, breast feeding mums, working women, feminism, tattoos, children named after places (your daughters called India right?), ebola, grooming gangs, refugees, Muslims and now specifically Ramadan. Nick Hewer said that you had created a new brand , The Katie Hopkins – “Katie Hopkins in a white suit, Pollyanna hair, red lips shaped for sin and so much vitriol and I don’t understand where its taken you, its made you famous but its made you loathed”.

(P.s. I don’t like to finish on a nasty note especially as during Ramadan I try to be nicer than normal. So with that in mind, let me invite you to come and dine at mine one evening during Ramadan and see for yourself what it’s really all about! And if you don’t want halal we’ll go veggie for you (but you’ll miss out on a couple of mean lamb dishes!)

Hifsa

What One British Muslim Woman Really Thinks

“I think there are two ways in which people are controlled. First of all frighten people and secondly, demonise them”. (Tony Benn)

In a different life I used to be a researcher and know how easy it is to manipulate your study to say exactly what you ultimately want it to say. The ICM poll looking at the views and opinions of British Muslims from the onset set out to prove Muslims are a ‘nation within a nation’. And that is exactly what it did. Shame on you Channel 4.

The ICM poll clearly had three things in mind; to stir up racial and religion tensions, damage community cohesion and further isolate and stigmatise Muslims. It was designed to prove ‘they’ (Muslims like me) aren’t like ‘us’ (everyone who isn’t a Muslims) and ‘we’ needed to be suspicious of ‘them’. The ‘us and them’ narrative came from Trevor Phillips, a 62-year-old black man whose family are originally from Guyana and who held the role of Chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (that he admits he took on purely so he could shut it down). The poll seems to have been constructed to provide oxygen to the likes of Katie Hopkins and our newspapers who the next day came out with the sensationalist headlines ‘what do British Muslims really think? Now we know and its terrifying’; ‘we’re all going to hell in a hijab’; ‘Muslim views have a different ‘centre of gravity’ and ‘UK Muslim ghetto warning’. Not to mention the fodder that has been provided to fuel the thousands of vile comments on social media describing Muslims as ‘the enemy hiding in plain sight’ who need to ‘adapt to our culture or do 1’. There has, admittedly, also been a very humorous side to the whole affair with some very funny comments being made using the hashtag ‘what British Muslims really think’.

Funnily enough it reminded me of the Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt film ‘What Women Want’. If you haven’t seen it, it is worth watching. It tells the story of a male chauvinist whose world of advertising is being taken over by women. When a freak accident renders him able to ‘hear’ the thoughts of women around him, he decides to use the ‘gift’ for his own benefit. I am going to save you the trouble of having to encounter an unfortunate electrocution before you can hear the innermost thoughts of a woman, so I’m going to share with you what this one British Muslim woman thought during and after wasting 60 minutes of my life.

I could have predicted exactly what was going to be ‘revealed’ and it was really not worth staying up for.

Let’s look at some of the headline grabbers, but be warned. This is not any sort of scientific analysis of the research findings, just #WhatOneBritishMuslimWomanReallyThinks.

According to the ICM poll, one in three believe men should be able to take more than one wife. Okay – but don’t you think it’s fascinating that 2/3rds of those surveyed believe one is more than enough for anyone? It was unfortunate that some sensible Muslim women had been duped into appearing on this programme in the first place. I was more disturbed by the comment made by one of them who stated that {marriage} ‘for a man is a huge responsibility. For a woman it’s a privilege’. I had to rewind that bit three times because I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. What an insult to women and a disgraceful comment to make. What does she think married women should be doing, thanking their men for marrying them? And what of those who are single or divorced? Are they not ‘good’ enough for any man, that they should be elevated to the status of being someone’s wife? Marriage should be seen as a bond between equals. If it isn’t, you fall down at the first hurdle. Our Beloved Prophet Muhammad (Upon Him be Peace) married a wealthy, strong, rich businesswoman. She was incredibly lucky to have Him for a husband. He was just as privileged to have had her for a wife. A wife who believed in him, supported him, financially and emotionally, cared for his children and his community and worked hard all her life. Her role and the role of all women should never be down played in this way. Least of all by Muslim women themselves.

Just over half of Muslims surveyed thought homosexuality should be illegal. Actually, that means that just under half of those surveyed don’t believe that. That’s pretty reassuring to me and indicates that views and opinions have come a long way and are changing. Muslims are becoming more tolerant, understanding and accepting that everyone, whatever their sexuality, has the right to choose how they live their life. Isn’t that the conclusion that should have come out of this part of the survey, instead of yet again looking at the negative?

Apparently almost a quarter want the introduction of Sharia law in this country. That still means 75% of those surveyed really do not want Sharia in Britain. And perhaps if the poll had gone further and asked what those who wish to live under Sharia should do, the response would probably have been to offer them a one-way flight to the nearest Muslim country (and I use the term Muslim country loosely and definitely not to mean a region currently inhabited by a group of murderers claiming to be a state).

It appears that a ‘frightening’ 4% of those polled support violence, including suicide bombings, to ‘defend’ Islam with only one in three saying they would report a suspected terrorist to the police. So let’s get this right, because 43 out of 1081 people surveyed allegedly support violence and suicide bombings, we can conclude that 4% of the 2.7 million British Muslims (that’s 108,000 people) support violence and suicide bombings? This is when I want to say WTF but won’t, because Muslim women don’t swear do we? However, what I will say is this has to be the biggest pile of horse **** this survey came out with. To come to this conclusion is not only flawed but indicates the deeply sinister motives of the question; to create fear, division and alarm amongst society and further turn people against each other. Well done Trevor! The man who coined the phrase Islamophobia is working hard to ensure it not only survives but thrives.

I would have preferred the makers of this programme and subsequently our media to make more of the fact that the survey found that 83% of Muslims are proud to be British, that 77% identify strongly with Britain, over 86% have a strong sense of belonging and 82% want to live in diverse communities, 94% felt they could practice their religion freely and 77% felt British society treated women with respect. But that doesn’t quite fit into the image we’re trying to create about Muslims in our midst, does it.

And seriously, what’s with all the questions relating to how Muslims ‘feel’ about people of other groups, when really all the survey wanted to ask about was how Muslims felt about Jews and Israel? Talk about leading questions! ‘Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country’ and ‘Jews have too much power in the business world’ are just 2 examples of how these questions were worded and clearly suggests the answer the survey wanted to get from people. And the respondents sadly obliged.

What worried me most was the fact that the poll selected those individuals who were living in areas of 20% or more Muslim populations.  Whilst there may not be data available to suggest that those who live in areas with fewer Muslims are more liberal in their views, I do know (from very personal experiences) that when you live in close proximity to a community you identify with (whether that’s based on race, religion, politics, social standing or professionally), you do become part of that group. You will share commonalities, opinions and discuss issues of mutual interest. You will become part of a group who may start to hold similar views because those are the views you will hear more regularly. You will, albeit inadvertently, become locked inside an echo chamber where certain views and opinions become voiced again and again, they become the norm, constantly reinforced and ultimately accepted by everyone. That is how most societies work. And that is what I see when I look at the responses to many of the questions in the survey. People responding to a survey in a way that they feel is expected of them, not necessarily what they really think. People answering a question with a response they do not necessarily agree with themselves, but believe that as a Muslim that is what they should be thinking, because they have been told it often enough by someone else. The survey results do not necessarily reflect what Muslims in Britain really think, but what they believe society expects them to think.

Not long ago, I was challenged by a 16-year-old boy in college. He wanted to know why I and another Muslim female colleague, were doing the job we were doing and not a ‘White British person’. So I asked him what made him think I / we were any less British just because we weren’t white? I explained (as politely as I possible could), that I had lived in Britain for over 50 years, longer than he’d been alive. I explained that my family were working in the fields of medicine, law, engineering, technology, teaching and government. Between us we had most probably paid millions in taxes – taxes that were being used to pay for his education and his health care. I had voted in every single election since I turned 18. I supported a number of UK charities. I had friends who were Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhists, Spiritualists and friends who had no faith. (And by the way I see these friends outside of just work and shopping and definitely more than once a year!) I went to churches and synagogues because in no way did this compromise my own faith and belief but strengthened my friendships and our mutual understanding and respect for each other. And these same friends would attend Eid and Ramadan events to support me. Democracy; the rule of law; individual liberty; mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith. These are not just British values to me, demonstrated by posters and words. These are Islamic values I have lived with all my life. And this child had the audacity to try and tell me I was not British because of my skin colour and my religion.

One of the things that used to make my late father very angry was if anyone ever said they could not be ‘bothered’ to vote. I remember my brothers saying that to him just to wind him up – never a good idea! His response was always the same. If you can not be bothered to vote, do not bother complaining when you get the government you do not want. Do not be surprised when society cannot be bothered with you, because you do not want a stake in your society. Do not complain about anything; schools, university places, taxes, state of the roads or your bin collection. Because by not voting, you are opting out of the system. A system that is in effect giving you the opportunity to have your say and make a difference. He was always a believer that it is best to be part of a system and change it from within rather than criticise it from the periphery.

My father would often remind us of how fortunate we were to live in a country where we had the power to to put people into power (and remove them as well). A power not afforded to many people in other parts of the world. I was reminded of what my father used to say in January 2005, when the first free elections were held in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussain. A good friend of mine, an Iraqi, came to drop off her daughter at a Muslim Youth group I was running. She was walking towards me, shaking her finger at me, which I found rather bizarre. Her finger was purple, she had tears in her eyes, but her face was a beaming smile.  She explained that for the first time in her life she had been given the chance to have a say in who she wanted to see govern Iraq. If only people in this country could, like my friend, understand the importance of having a say in the democratic processes. Saying our Politicians are all the same, nothing ever changes, what’s the point, they all lie, is a poor excuse for not taking part in the democratic processes that give us the power to decide who will govern us and how. One vote really does matter.

So there are two things that I want to see.

I want the British media to give ‘us’ a break. How about you stop the ‘us and them’ rhetoric. We are all part of this one tiny island trying to do what we can to make a good life for ourselves and our families. Stop associating religion with perpetrators of criminal acts, you are only legitimising their heinous and barbaric actions and effectively criminalising 2 billion others worldwide. Call them what they are; murderers, butchers, terrorists, groomers, rapists. Just please, do not call them Muslims. And how about occasionally having something positive to say about British Muslims, there is lots out there for you to use. You wouldn’t have to look too far and it might actually build some bridges as well as confidence amongst Muslims that the media is able to be ‘balanced’.

However as Muslims we also need to accept that we have a problem. We have a problem within our communities, we have a problem in the way we have allowed our faith to be misinterpreted and hijacked by a tiny vocal majority. We have not been outspoken enough against those Muslims seeking to put a wedge between us and the rest of society. We have to speak up and we have to speak out. We have to stop being critical of Muslims who are prepared to put their heads above the parapet and do something about the growing problems within our own communities. We have to stop hurling abuses and recognise that we are doing this for the good of society. We must never defend the indefensible. We need to ensure the security and safety of this and all future generations of British Muslims. I do not want my grandchildren growing up in a Britain where they are feared or where I fear for their safety.  My grandchildren will be the next generation of British Muslims and I want them to play a full and active part in the society that is their home, I want them to be respected but I expect them to afford the same dignity and respect to the whole of society, regardless of race, religion, colour or creed, gender, disability or sexual orientation. Always.

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