10 typical Islamist rantings and how to respond

Today I witnessed extremist discourse in action within a British mosque. I was left shocked, upset and outraged. Outraged for the poisonous bile that was being fed to children, women and men – British Muslims – and for the lack of respect shown for this country and its values of freedom, democracy and respect towards others. Words, rantings, teachings all have CONSEQUENCES. Make no mistake of that… We need to drown out Islamist extremist discourse. We need to be aware of what’s being said and provide the antidote to this disease.

Here’s 10 statements steeped in extremist ideology and how you can respond to help educate others  – both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

1. Democracy is against Islam

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“Democracy is a form of shirk [blasphemy], it is against Allah and is un-Islamic” – see these quotes by imprisoned extremist preacher Anjem Choudary:

“We don’t believe in democracy, as soon as they have authority, Muslims should implement Sharia. This is what we’re trying to teach people.”

“By 2050, Britain will be a majority Muslim country. It will be the end of freedom of democracy and submission to God.”

Response: God gave all human beings free will – no one can be forced to follow Islam. The Qur’an also explicitly teaches us to rule justly amongst ourselves and preaches religious tolerance.

Evidence:

There is no compulsion where the religion is concerned. (2:256)

And if thy Lord had enforced His will, surely, all who are on the earth would have believed together. Wilt thou, then, force men to become believers? (10:100)

Verily, Allah commands you to make over the trusts to those entitled to them, and that, when you judge between men, you judge with justice. And surely excellent is that with which Allah admonishes you! All is All-Hearing, All-Seeing. (4:59)

We have appointed a law and a practice for every one of you. Had God willed, He would have made you a single community, but He wanted to test you regarding what has come to you. So compete with each other in doing good. Every one of you will return to God and He will inform you regarding the things about which you differed. (5:48)

See here and here for more information.

2. The West is our enemy

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“Our brothers and sisters are being massacred/oppressed by The West – the kuffars [disbelievers]. WE must protect and defend ourselves from THEM!”

Response:

  1. Don’t confuse religion with politics.
  2. No body/group/nation of people is (singularly) responsible for their own governments – politicians don’t (always) represent civilians and “ordinary” people yet the people are always the one to suffer from both sides of violence and war. Many British people for example protested against going to war in Iraq and millions of people (both Muslim and non-Muslim) continue to fight for human rights worldwide.  What are you doing…?
  3. Sectarianism, corruption and racism is rife in Muslim states and is haram [forbidden]. Such corruption and oppression has resulted in dictatorial regimes, torture, mass murder and war in countries such as Syria. Corruption and exploitation is a global problem – including in Muslim countries.
  4. There is no “US” and “THEM” – not to any sane, rational, balanced person. People are people. You can’t put them in one single box. “The West” doesn’t exist as a specific sole entity – the world is made up of towns, countries and continents. There are millions of Muslims born and bred, living in “The West” [countries in the Western hemisphere] living happy, free lives. Many people (both Muslim and non-Muslim) seek refuge in the UK from war, violence and persecution in other countries – both Muslim and non-Muslim States.
  5. In any case, you don’t know who is Muslim (a believer) and isn’t.
  6. Furthermore, you cannot kill non-Muslims except in self-defence (see point 6).
  7. Lastly, if you are living here yet you hate it so much, why don’t you turn yourself around and become a valuable member of society to protect and represent both Muslims and non-Muslims and fight for human rights? If that’s not something you believe in then you could leave and go elsewhere…?

3. Members of the Shia, Ahmadiyyah communities etc. aren’t Muslim

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“Shias are infidels”, “Ahmadis aren’t Muslims” etc.

Response: For ANYONE to be a Muslim you have to believe in and declare the declaration of faith: “There is no god but Allah (the One and Only God) and Mohammed is his Messenger“. Shia Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims etc. believe in Allah, Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) as the final messenger and in the six pillars of faith. Furthermore, Islam does not permit sectarianism.

See here for further information.

4. Insulting Islam / Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) calls for violence

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“They insulted Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) – kill them!”, “Burn down their building/office – they insulted Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) and Allah!”

Response: The pen is mightier than the sword as they say. We cannot insult others or react violently to things we don’t like or even to actual hate speech. Use such occasions as an opportunity to teach other people about Islam and demonstrate good etiquette and decorum.

Evidence:

The Servants of the Lord of Mercy are those who walk humbly on Earth, and who, when the foolish address them, reply ‘Peace’. [25:63]

Call people to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good teaching, and argue with them in the most courteous way. [16:125]

See here and here for more information.

5. Muslims must take over the world

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“Everyone should be Muslim so we must conquer the kaffir lands by force and implement sharia [Islamic law/principles]” – see this quote by Islamist hate preacher Anjem Choudary:

“Next time when your child is at school and the teacher says, ‘What do you want when you grow up? What is your ambition?’ they should say, ‘To dominate the whole world by Islam, including Britain – that is my ambition’.”

Response: Allah guides whom He wills. He created the world as he planned and created each and every one of us they way he designed. Islam is a choice given to us by free will with which there is no compulsion. Carry on with your life, act morally, do good deeds and leave people in freedom and peace. There are good and bad examples of behaviour in every faith and community. Focus on your own life and show Islam to others through good behaviour (see also points 1 and 2).

6. Non-Muslims are our enemies – we must kill them

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“We are called to jihad – we must fight against the kaffirs” – see this quote by extremist preacher Abu Hamza:

“Killing a Kafir [disbeliever] who is fighting you is OK. Killing a Kafir for any reason, you can say it, it is OK – even if there is no reason for it.”

Response: Non-Muslims are our neighbours, colleagues, friends, even spouses and family members (e.g. Christians and Jewish ladies, convert family members etc.) – they are not our enemies. God knows who is Muslim and who isn’t. Who are we to judge? In the UK for example we live safely and freely. Muslims must reject violence. Muslims mustn’t kill anyone – we can only act in self-defence as a last resort if our life is in danger.

Evidence:

Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not transgress limits. God does not love transgressors. (2:190)

If anyone killed a person – unless it was for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he killed the whole people. (5:32)

See here for further information.

7. Women must be disciplined and controlled through violence

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“You must hit your wives so they are well disciplined and obey you”, “Allah permits hitting your wife in the Qur’an” – as exemplified by Abu Hamza:

“Bring up your daughters to that manners [not to answer back] otherwise they going to be divorced in the first week of their marriage or slapped in the face.”

Response: Men are not permitted to hit women – their wives, daughters, sisters – none of them. Your spouse is your companion – if there are martial problems you should discuss issues with wisdom and as a final, ultimate last resort: separate.

Evidence: According to Shaykh Abdelmumin Aya, an appropriate translation of the ayah used to justify beatings is:

But those wives from whom you fear arrogance, and nasty conduct, admonish them (first), (next) leave them alone in beds (and last), convince them of the need for change. (4:34)

See here and here (point 5) for further information. For more information of the status of women in Islam see here.

8. Islam permits slavery – including the use of sex slaves

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“We are permitted to keep slaves and capture women/girls in times of war and use them for our sexual pleasure as sex slaves” [i.e. like ISIS have done with Yazidi women and girls].

Response: 

  1. Slavery is forbidden – all humans are born free and have free will (slavery was a pre-Islamic practice).
  2. Rape is forbidden (any non consensual unwilling sexual activity is rape). Sex is between a husband and wife [an emotionally and physically mature consensual marriage between adults/young adults] and must be fully consensual.
  3. Any other practises are pre-Islamic and against Islamic principles and teachings. We have moved on from then – end of.

Evidence: See here for more information.

9. Women must be forced to cover 

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“I wanted my wife to wear a headscarf/face veil… She must wear it! [So I forced her to!]”

Response: The right to cover is a woman’s right but it must be done out of free will as an act of worship to God according to our own free will having chosen to be Muslim (see here and here – point 1).

10. Child brides are fine and totally permissible

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“She’s reached the age of menstruation so she’s good for marriage…”

Response: No, this is not permissible. Marriage is a serious contract between two consenting adults of sound mind who are physically, emotionally and sexually mature and ready for such commitment. Without willing consent (through sound mind) then the marriage is void. See here for a full breakdown.

So there you are, if you hear people spouting off about how democracy is shirk or on the other end, how Muslims want to enslave us all (!) – then hit them with this! 🙂

For more information on what Islam really teachers, you can also check out the True Islam campaign and endorse the 11 points. Keep spreading the word!

Credits:

Feature image: Voyou Desoeuvre

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Four facts about refugees the media ISN’T telling you…

There’s a lot of talk of refugees in the media at present but rather than presenting facts, what the tabloids present is predominantly anti-refugee rhetoricscaremongering and racist/Islamophobic discourse. As a result, many people are worried about the effect of refugees on their local communities and on a wider international scale.

The following statements represent typical “concerns” of certain sections of British/European society fed by the media:

“They’re claiming thousands of pounds of benefits.”

“It’s safe back home for them.”

“It’s just single young men coming over, never any women or kids.”

“We can’t possibly take anymore – why can’t any other countries take them?”

Sound familiar? Well, here’s four myths the media likes to peddle and the real truth that they’re not telling you:

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Speaks volumes doesn’t it! So, next time someone thinks they’ve got their facts right: set them straight! Embrace diversity, protect human rights and welcome your global brothers and sisters! 🙂

Statistics: UNHCR, The Refugee Council (2015)

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Desperation in Dunkirk: French Jungle diaries (part 2)

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Photo: Elizabeth Arif-Fear

In an earlier blog blog piece, I featured a personal account of an aid trip run by Stafford Welcomes Refugees to “The Jungle” in Calais prior to its closure. Following utter chaos, the camp was later cleared. However help is still crucially needed across northern France. Whilst some refugees from Calais seek makeshift refuge in temporary new homes in other areas of France, more specifically in Dunkirk there lie many refugees in the official Grande-Synthe refugee camp, as well as those sleeping in ditches without shelter. Prior to the closure of the Jungle there were – and still are – many refugees in Dunkirk. Here volunteers have long been striving to help refugees in this lesser known area where conditions are harsh, numbers of children are high and various unaccompanied minors lie in wait and desperation to be reunited with their families. Aid is still crucial.

Dunkirk – refugees in desperation

The Grande-Synthe refugee camp – La Linère – located just outside Dunkirk, has received far less press than “The Jungle in Calais”. However, don’t let that fool you. Make no mistake: things are desperate. In fact, conditions in Dunkirk were previously cited as “far worse” than in the Jungle back in 2015, although things have since improved. In March 2016, Médecins Sans Frontières set up the camp on the site of the former illegal Dunkirk “Jungle” where conditions were so dire, volunteers found themselves setting up tents in muddy rat infested areas next to human excrement. Wooden huts have since been set up and unlike The Calais, Jungle this is now an officially recognised camp – but is however not run by the government. At present, there are 1000 people living in the camp, including babies, many children and 150 families. Based on figures from November (2016), there are 106 unaccompanied minors at the camp with family in the UK. Inside the camp, there is no electricity and refugees face the winter cold living in these wooden sheds. The media focus on France may have died down but the crisis is ongoing and aid is still essential.

Following the aid trip to Calais by local refugee organisation Stafford Welcomes Refugees, members of Stafford’s local Muslim community – Stafford Muslim Community Centre (SMCC) – headed back to France after the official closure of The Jungle in Calais to lend a helping hand. They met the wonderful Sofinee  of Kitchen in Calais from the last trip and found themselves instead directed to Dunkirk. Take a look into their trip, helping out our refugee brothers and sisters across the Channel.

Our Trip to Calais & Dunkirk (Yacoob, Bilal and Sulayman) 29th October 2016

This journey began with donations coming in a few weeks before our trip to Calais and Dunkirk. I had been in touch with the formidable Sofinee, a lady who has been at the heart of the Kitchen in Calais, and had adhered to the list of times she requested we took down. […] Friday evening arrived, our dear brother from Stoke-on-Trent, and experienced driver, Bilal, arrived […] with a big silver van. Several of us started filling up the van and whilst doing it, noticed a puncture in one of the tyres. We managed to pump air into it, however, a few hours later, it was flat again!! The entire van was emptied and the tyre replaced and this gave us peace of mind that we were good to go!

Alarm rang at 3am, a quick coffee and cooler bag in hand, my son Sulayman, 16, and I jumped into the van as Bilal had come to fetch us. It was 4am and we were already on the motorway. Almost two hours on the road, we needed to stop at the services near Beaconsfield for a break and morning prayer. Half an hour later, we were back on the road and fast approaching Dover. The glimpses of the white cliffs and seagulls approaching were an exhilarating sight and it was then the thought and realisation of this journey was fast becoming a reality…

We went through customs and parked the van up in the allocated bay and went up into the ferry for the duration of the journey. The grey skies dominated the rest of the journey until we reached Calais where glimpses of sunshine were caught. Once we disembarked from the ferry, within half an hour, we had reached our first destination, Calais. Here we were to meet Sofinee at the warehouse.

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Warehouse in Calais (top right), Dunkirk (bottom left/right)

We introduced ourselves and it was then that Sofinee figured that we were part of the famous Chris from Stafford’s circle of Helping Hands. Sofinee said that due the Calais jungle being razed to the ground just that week, unfortunately, they could accept only one trolley. They suggested that the rest of the contents of the van could be donated at Dunkirk. After a few phone calls arranging our visit there, we set off for Dunkirk.

Approximately an hour later we arrived in Dunkirk. With police visibly present in full force and a few police checks later, we entered the heavily-fenced kitchen area. There was a clear distinction that the kitchen was off-limits to the refugees. As we parked up, we were met by a lovely team of Irish volunteers who had given up their time to support the cause of the refugees. When we opened up the door of the van and the volunteers saw what we had, they were in awe and overwhelming appreciation followed.

As we offloaded the donations and settled for a chat with the volunteers, we learned that the demographic make-up was interesting. Afghan, Kurdish, Iranian, were among the refugees that lived in this camp. There was an interesting combination of the languages spoken and the diversity was clear.

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With the volunteers in Dunkirk

Being mindful of the time, we had to wrap up our visit to Dunkirk by asking what they really needed. Oranges, yes oranges, was on the list! Hopefully next time. […] So, as we left and drove past this sad cold place, I hoped and prayed that these refugees’ plight would be alleviated in some way. […] Having seen some of life’s harsh realities, the smells and sights of this day was to be etched in our minds for a long time. […] Praise be to God, for having made this journey happen. Our job was done this time and more aid will be undertaken in the future, God willing!

Yacoob Patel (Director- SMCC)

Get involved:

So what can be done to help refugees in both Dunkirk and Calais? Here’s a few pointers:

  • Donate: food, clothing, toiletries are all needed. Check out: Help Refugees and Kitchen in Calais
  • Volunteer: if you can spare the time and have the funds, head over to France. Find out more here and here
  • Sign the UNICEF petition to reunite refugee children with their families in the UK
  • Get active on social media: blog, post, Tweet to raise awareness and help reunite separate families and give crucial refuge to these vulnerable refugees.

Credits and acknowledgments:

Text and images: Stafford Muslim Community Centre (SMCC)

A huge well done to all of you who supported and took part in the SMCC trip – God bless.

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If you think violent jihad is the answer, read on…

Dear brothers and sisters,

Assalam aleykum,

I’m writing to you in light of the suspected terrorist attack on a German Christmas market last night just six days before Christmas – a time when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, whom we refer to as Prophet Jesus/Issa (pbuh); a kind, modest, preacher from Palestine born to Mary/Mariam who taught us to love and have mercy on one another, to worship God, to undertake good deeds and to repel evil.

If you’re sympathetic to ISIS and the concept of waging ‘holy war’ you may see nothing wrong with this event. You witness the atrocities in Syria, you saw the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you hear about sisters being harassed and you feel injustice. You feel you need to ‘seek revenge’ and ‘fight back’. You see it as your blessed honourable duty to fight in the way of Allah through bloodshed. Oh, how I pity you….

When the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) fled Saudi Arabia in his early years of prophethood he sought refuge in Ethiopia amongst Christians. When the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) established a government in Medina, the constitution comprised a multifaith community where Jews, Christians and Muslims alike could live in peace. The Prophet’s own family included Christians – none of whom he ‘forced’ to convert to Islam or despised. When we think of the wonderful beautiful names of Allah (SWT) we are reminded of such beautiful qualities and the lessons and teachings which accompany them as part of Islam: kindness, patience, generosity, truth, justice, modesty, compassion, mercy, wisdom and understanding. Amongst the 99 names of Allah revealed by Allah (SWT) in the Qur’an itself, are 15 names in particular which I’d like to draw your attention to with a relevant teaching from a Qur’anic verse or hadith:

  1. Ar Rahman (الرحمن)  – The All Merciful: Allah will not be merciful to those who are not merciful to people.” (Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim)
  2. Ar Rahim (الرحيم) – The Most Merciful: Be merciful to others and you will receive mercy. Forgive others and Allah will forgive you.” (Sahih Ahmad)
  3. As Salam (السلام) – Peace and Blessing: “O You who believe! Enter absolutely into peace [Islam].” (2:208)
  4. Al Ghaffaar (الغفار) – The Ever Forgiving: “Show forgiveness, enjoin in what is good, and turn away from the ignorant.” (7:199)
  5. Al ‘Adl (العدل) – The Utterly Just: “God does not love corruption.” (2:205)
  6. Al Latif (اللطيف) – The Subtly Kind: “He who is deprived of kindness is deprived of goodness” (Sahih Muslim)
  7. Al Ghafur (الغفور) – The All Forgiving: “The reward of the evil is the evil thereof, but whosoever forgives and makes amends, his reward is upon God.” (42:40)
  8. Al Karim (الكريم) – The Bountiful, the Generous “[…] But whatever thing you spend [in His cause] – He will compensate it; and He is the best of providers.” (34:39)
  9. Al Hakim (الحكيم) – The Wise: “Invite to the way of  your Lord with wisdom and fair preaching […]” (16:125)
  10. Al Wadud (الودود) – The Loving, the Kind One: “Those who believe and do good deeds – the Gracious God will create love in their hearts.” (19:97)
  11. Al Muhyi (المحيي) – The Giver of Life: “[…] and do not kill a soul that God has made sacrosanct, save lawfully.” (6:151)
  12. Al Barr (البر) – The Most Kind and Righteous: “Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever is not kind has no faith.” (Muslim)
  13. Ar Ra’uf (الرؤوف) – The Compassionate, the All Pitying: “And good and evil are not alike. Repel evil with that which is best. And lo, he between whom and thyself was enmity will become as though he were a warm friend.  But none is granted it save those who are steadfast; and none is granted it save those who possess a large share of good.” (41:35-36)
  14. An Nur (النور) – The Light: “O Allah! Make for me Light in my heart, Light in my vision, Light in my hearing, Light on my right, Light on my left, Light above me, Light under me, Light in front of me, Light behind me, Light in my hair, Light in my skin, Light in my flesh, Light in my blood, and Light in my bones. O Allah Grant me Light!” [Tirmidhi]
  15. As Sabur (الصبور) – The Timeless, The Patient: “Those who spend (in Allah’s cause) in prosperity and in adversity, who repress their anger, and who pardon men, verily, Allah loves the al-Muhsinum (the good-doers).” (3:134)

Please enlighten me and explain how by controlling one’s anger, being just, truthfulhonest and resorting to self-defence only when required in time of necessity (always excluding women, children and animals and not even harming a plant!) as Islam teaches, one is permitted and even obliged to carry out bombings, shootings and other acts of violence against unarmed innocent civilians? Such acts can only be described as terrorism and are completely forbidden.

Have you no respect for your fellow brothers and sisters in faith: Jews and Christians (The People of The Book) – forgetting that Allah permits marriage amongst Christian/Jewish sisters and Muslim brothers? Have you no respect for your brothers and sisters in humanity and Allah’s Creation? He created each and everyone of us the way HE intended.

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Perhaps I need to remind you of these key points:

  • Sectarianism, racism, (overt) nationalismgreed and corruption are haram [forbidden] and have caused endless suffering within and amongst Muslim nations: “And hold fastAll together, by the rope Which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves” (3:103).
  • Millions of Syrians, Iraqis, Afghanis and Yemenis (the list of nations goes on) – innocent victims and your brothers and sisters in Islam – have fled and are continuing to flee war, violence, torture and persecution or what’s more: continue to remain trapped in their own country where they are subject to ongoing bombing, famine and starvation due to repugnant violence, intolerant extremism, abhorrent politics and relentless military campaigns by the likes of ISIS, Al Qaeda and “Muslim” dictators/regimes who are harming even innocent babies and children.
  • For those of you enjoying your freedom in Europe, do you not think that ‘biting the hand that feeds you’ is sheer hypocrisy? Islamophobia is wrong, racial abuse is wrong, wars are wrong – no one is denying that but if you hate Europe so much, why are you here? Oh the irony of hating democracy when Allah himself has given us free will, stating: “There is no compulsion where the religion is concerned” (2:256)….
  • The more you commit terrorist atrocities, the more likely Muslims in the ‘West’ risk facing potential Islamophobic attacks. You risk making life harder for Muslim communities in non-Muslim majority nations. Fortunately, there are many many non-Muslims out there that have educated themselves on Islam, shown tolerance, understanding, compassion and stand united in solidarity against such hatred and inhumanity, refusing to be beaten down and divided as a society.

Finally and most simply of all: Islam isn’t dogma. Islam is spirituality, peace and a way of life. If you’re not in tune with that, then it’s all pointless. Picture this: how can you violently shoot others one minute, then pray in subdued peaceful silence in tune with Allah the next? I must therefore ask: who is Allah to you? I suggest you review Allah’s 99 names and the Qur’an and look at the bigger picture…

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Credits:

Images: Brian Jeffery Beggerly (feature image), Anuradha SenguptaBengin Ahmad

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Refugees are welcome here: French Jungle diaries (part 1)

On 26th October 2016, the Calais “Jungle” was officially cleared. Yet this didn’t mark the end of the “crisis”. The site may have been shut down but the problems haven’t gone away. Whilst the UK government transferred some young refugees to the UK, many remain cut off from their families in the UK. Other refugees were at the time taken to reception centres across France. Weeks later reports emerged of refugee children who had been taken to reception centres being forced to work on fruit farms and share accommodation with adults. This may seem shocking but the tragic conditions and neglect these children face is an ongoing nightmare following the days and months spent in the squalid jungle by adult and child refugees alike from across the world subsequent to the tragic journeys they took to reach French soil. Here, the only help these vulnerable refugees received was from small scale volunteer groups. No government body or international aid agency was present. Here is the account of Chris Plant – one member of the group Stafford Welcome Refugees (UK) – who along with Paul and Mohamed drove down to Calais themselves in September 2016 to deliver crucial aid gathered by members of the Stafford community prior to the closure of the camp.

When the current refugee crisis flared up, a group of locals in Stafford decided to organise a shipment of aid to the refugees living in squalid conditions in unregulated camps outside the port of Calais. After several weeks of careful preparation, we were finally ready. Three of us shared the driving and had a fairly uneventful drive to Dover. Once you reach Dover though, you become aware that things aren’t as they used to be. Agencies who are normally quite uninterested in your activities were keeping a close eye on those wishing to travel across the Channel. Although all the officials were polite and courteous, it was clear that they were taking note of all traffic in connection to refugees.

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Essential aid items: blankets, tinned and dried foods, fresh fruit and vegetables, scarves and clothes for Muslim women

On arrival at Calais, the first visual impact was made by literally miles of high fencing topped by razor wire. It was bleak and rather surreal. I couldn’t help but imagine that somehow I had strayed into a 1984 Orwellian world – it was all very depressing… My spirits were lifted considerably on our arrival at a large warehouse manned by a truly inspiring group  of young volunteers. They represented just about the best of humanity. They were a multinational group of volunteers from diverse cultures and ethnicities all driven by a shared need to alleviate the suffering of our fellow humans and to demonstrate through real action that decency had not destroyed by the obscenity of corrupt power politics. We proceeded to unload all of the tried and tinned foodstuffs, keeping the rather large quantity of fresh fruit and vegetables for another rather extraordinary enterprise right in the heart of The Jungle. After leaving the warehouse where everything was fairly organised, a few short miles later we came to a very different world. If you didn’t know that you were on the coast of one of the wealthiest most developed presumably “civilised lands” in the world, you could easily imagine that we’d strayed into a shanty town in a developing country. This is not the France that people normally imagine!

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Inside the warehouse – volunteers at work!

Having reached the warehouse just outside the camp, we headed onwards towards The Jungle itself. Upon arrival we were stopped at the entrance by the French CRS police who questioned us about our reasons for coming. After carefully checking the contents of our van they allowed us to proceed. They were coldly efficient throughout our brief encounter. We drove on through… The Jungle was huge. We had to wait for a guide to direct us to our final destination and after a while a cheerful young man or Middle Eastern origin joined us and escorted us through a maze of muddy garbage strewn alleys to our destination – which was truly remarkable.

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Activities in the Jungle and living conditions…

We were then taken to meet Sofinee in the heart of the Jungle. Now, Sofinee is one of those rare individuals whom fate throws your way at time of genuine crisis. A small little Malaysian lady wearing a niqab with only her expressive eyes visible, she radiated personality, energy and unquenchable optimism. She was the life force around which her world revolved. That world was the Kitchen in Calais – a truly inspiring enterprise which she and her husband had created here in the midst of squalor and degradation. Sofinee and her husband had originally journeyed from their home in Durham in the north of England to see the conditions in the Jungle for themselves. Being utterly appalled by the what they found, they decided there and then that they were going to make a difference. From literally nothing, they constructed a kitchen producing hundreds of hot properly cooked meals for those living in the camp. They relied entirely on voluntary donations for supplies, which had never yet let them down.

Fresh fruit and vegetables in toe, alongside scarves and clothes for Muslim women who wanted to retain their sense of modesty, we were chuffed that Sofinee was delighted with our donations, especially with our van load of fresh fruit and vegetables which we had brought the previous night. So, it was with some satisfaction that we bade farewell to our many new friends in Calais, leaving with renewed commitment to be active members of the world wide movement to counter the tidal wave of bigotry, racism and oppression which currently afflicts our world.

Christopher Plant (Stafford Van Aid – Stafford Welcomes Refugees)

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Sofinee and Chris

Stay tuned for part two when Staffordians later return to Calais after the “closure” of the camp and later head over to Dunkirk – another tragic but less well known site where aid groups are working hard to give these vulnerable people a helping hand in their struggle to survive and find hope, security and peace.

Credits and acknowledgements:

Text written by Christopher Plant (Stafford Van Aid – Stafford Welcomes Refugees) (additions and edits: Elizabeth Arif-Fear)

Photography: Paul Jacks, Christopher Plant and Elizabeth Arif-Fear (Stafford Van Aid, Stafford Welcomes Refugees)

Huge thanks to Chris, Paul, Mohamed, members of Stafford Welcomes Refugees and the people of Stafford for all their generous donations, time and efforts which helped to make the trip such a success. To Sofinee, her husband and all the volunteers at Kitchen in Calais, the warehouse and inside The Jungle: fabulous work! God bless!

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Journalism is not a crime – #FreeShawkan

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Mahmoud Abu Zeid (c)

“Taking pictures isn’t a crime”

These of the words of Mahmoud Abu Zeid aka Shawkan – a young Egyptian photojournalist who has been falsely imprisoned in Egypt for the last three years.

Shawkan was covering a sit-in protest in Cairo on 14th August 2013 when police, security forces and tasks swept through and chaos ensued. As a talented photojournalist who would capture both Egypt’s beauty and daily life alongside current events, Shawkan photographed the scene where he stood as bullets and tear gas went flying.

Unfortunately for Shawkan though, once the Egyptian police found out he was a journalist – unlike foreign journalists – he was arrested. Police tied his hands with plastic cables which began to cut into his skin. This was then followed a beating. After being left in a hot vehicle he was later imprisoned where he has remained for the last three years without charge – in contravention of Egyptian law. Shawkan is one of hundreds arrested on that very day across Egypt. Yet even more tragic; over a thousand people across the country lost their lives.

With trumped up charges of “murder” and “joining a criminal gang” Shawkan faces the death penalty if he is convicted. As he lies in prison, both his emotional and physical wellbeing have deteriorated. Despite having Hepatitis C, he has not received adequate medication and his health is suffering.

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Photo: Mahmoud Abu Zeid (c)

Capturing the beauty and reality of Egypt

On Monday 28th November I was delighted to attend an Amnesty International exhibition of Shawkan’s work. His stunning photos capture hope, passion and vitality, whilst also engaging with the oppressive regime that rules over Egypt. Freedom of conscience and expression are vital human rights which we must all fight towards, whether via a camera lens, a keyboard, a pen; whatever it may be. In Shawkan’s case, when he was arrested he was simply doing his job.

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Photos: Mahmoud Abu Zeid (c)

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Photos: Mahmoud Abu Zeid (c)

Write for Rights – fighting for freedom

You can help help Shawkan’s case by getting involved in the #FreeShawkan campaign and putting pressure on the Egyptian authorities via letters, tweets and emails. Amnesty International has continued to lead on the campaign calling for Shawkan’s immediate release.

Most recently, Shawkan’s case has also been included in a group of 13 case studies in Amnesty’s current Write for Rights campaign which addresses a range of priority cases. The campaign calls on citizens worldwide to send cards with messages of solidarity for those who have been falsely and unfairly imprisoned and mistreated and to put pressure on authorities to address these cases fairly in the context of each individual, for example calling on governments to offer medical treatment, visiting rights and/or to release the prisoner.

Please send a solidarity card to Shawkan and an appeal letter or email to the Egyptian authorities – it really does make a difference! Shawkan has expressed how the #FreeShawkan campaign and his supporters have given him crucial hope.

Visit the Amnesty International website to:

  1. Sign up for Write for Rights
  2. Download the case sheet for Shawkan
  3. Download the sample letter for Shawkan
  4. Sign the online petition for Shawkan, in addition to writing
  5. Take action on the other cases
  6. Let Amnesty know if you wrote

You can also download a copy of the Write for Rights campaign booklet for full details of all the cases. This booklet is highly recommended  as it gives a great compact guide to getting involved with full instructions on how to send both messages of solidarity and appeals. Background information, sample messages and  safety guidelines are all provided.

Journalism is not a crime! Write for rights and call on the Egyptian authorities to #FreeShawkan!

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Photo: Mahmoud Abu Zeid (c)

Credits

Images: Mahmoud Abu Zeid (c) – all images photographed at the Amnesty International Shawkan photo exhibition (London, 28/11/2016)

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