#ChallengingTheNarrative – Which narratives do you refuse to endorse? Here’s 10 I won’t…

Last month, in line with International Women’s Day, I attended the Nisa-Nashim conference in London. Nisa-Nashim (meaning “women” in both Arabic and Hebrew respectively) is a UK based organisation which aims to bring Muslim and Jewish women together to build bridges, found friendships and develop understanding between the two communities. We’ve got more in common than you’d think: we both come from the Abrahamic family of faiths, we share many values and practices and  sadly, both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism – at least in visible terms – are on the rise worldwide including Europe and the USA.

However, this unfortunate trend appears to be bringing the two communities closer together. Back in February this year in the US, when thugs desecrated two Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia and St. Louis, American Muslims raised over a staggering $140,000 to rebuild the graves. Likewise, when a mosque in Tampa (Florida) was attacked just day later, thanks to the support of Jewish donors, a massive total of $60,000 was raised to repair the damage. Gestures such as this go to show that we refuse to be divided by hate and that we actively challenge the narrative that “Jews and Muslims don’t get on” (due to predominantly Middle Eastern politics one would presume).

“Challenging the narrative” was exactly the theme of the Nisa-Nashim conference – a lovely day spent with lots of lovely Jewish and Muslim sisters (and one lovely gentleman)! We really are stronger together and we really do need to show that stereotypes, narratives and misconceptions must be challenged. During the day the question was posed: What narratives are you challenging? Other than by already being there, this made me think about what I am doing and what I can do – like all of us – to challenge people’s perceptions and to offer a different narrative. Here’s my list – what’s yours…?

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1. Islam and human rights are “incompatible”. Muslims hate “gay people”, agnostics, atheists, non-Muslims, Hindus, feminists, human rights campaigners etc.

I do not hate anyone. End of. God gave us all life and we must respect everyone – with no distinction in regards to ethnic background, nationality, race, religion or sexuality END OF. I myself am a human rights campaigner. I have a Master’s in Human Rights, I run a human rights blog and I’m a member of Amnesty International. I’m passionate about being active – online and offline – and I try and use my voice to speak out against injustice. This is my life, if I couldn’t do this well… there’d be trouble!

As a Muslim, Islam advocates feeding the poor, being just, honest, treating all humans (including women!) with respect, honour and dignity. Islam is serious about human rights. Unfortunately religious extremism, fear, sexism, tribalism, greed, intolerance, xenophobia etc. have all got in the way for many…

2. Muslims and Jews “don’t get on”

I’m Co-Chair of a local Jewish-Muslim women’s group in London as part of the Nisa-Nashim network. I respect and love my Jewish brothers and sisters. I may even have Jewish heritage (long story) and that is something I’m incredibly proud of. I’m forever saying how I’d like to make some Jewish friends! I – like many Muslim women – attended the Nisa-Nashim conference and are involved in its activities. The main hall was full of love! Since then I’ve been able to attend an interfaith Passover Seder and will continue to be involved in interfaith work. We’re sisters in the Abrahamic family and we’re sisters in humanity. And no: being Muslim does not equate to being anti-Semitic or a terrorist just as being Jewish does not equate to being a Zionist or Islamophobe.

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Jewish-Muslim solidarity (Washington D.C.) – Image credit: Joe Flood (CC)


3. Converts are suspicious, strange or wannabe extremists

There are Muslim converts, Jewish converts, Sikh converts (people I’ve met!) – it’s a fact of life. However we come to our new faith, we usually do so with love and enthusiasm – we’ve found something dear. Converts need to learn, they need support and they’re on a journey but hey – we’re normal!

4. You can’t be (truly) British and Muslim

British, Muslim and proud – that’s me. That’s also millions of British Muslims across the British Isles. My history and heritage is mine – it’s what got me here – and Britain accepts me as a Muslim, for who I am. Having spent time in other countries which are far less tolerant – I can tell you I’m proud to be British. Muslims who have spent their lives here, whose friends and family are here or have been offered a new life here – are happy being British too.

There’s no reason why you can’t be British and Muslim. Britain is a multicultural multifaith society and Islam teaches you to respect the law of the land and to be tolerant of others. For those who don’t like “living in a kaffir land” as they say – do they really feel British when they hold such beliefs?! Likewise for Islamophobes who worry about a “cultural clash” – we’re here and we’re happy. If we weren’t we’d go somewhere else! Look at the Muslims out there in politics, education, business, the charity sector, all over – we’re leading integrated, fulfilling and satisfying lives. And for those of you who aren’t convinced: we had an absolutely fabulous time at the British Islam 2017 conference back in February!

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Protester at an anti-Trump protest (London) – Image credit: Alisdare Hickson (CC)

5. Today’s youth are apathetic and superficial

Not sure I quite fit into the youth category any more but here’s the point. We’re young, we’re passionate, we have a voice and we get out there. Going back to my previous points, like many young British men and women, I’m involved with groups. Just look at those standing up against Brexit related hate crime, xenophobia, Trump, Islamophobia, you name it. There’s millions of us focused on real issues.

6. Islam is Sunni or Shia

I’m Muslim. I’m not Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Deobandi, Ahmadi or anything. I am Muslim and Muslim alone. Having said that, there are billions of Muslims who identify under a particular sect or label. Those who label any other as non-Muslim perpetuate intolerant extremist beliefs. Ahmadis are Muslims, so are Sufis, Shias etc.

7. Muslim women cover themselves for men

I do not cover myself for my husband, my father, (male) Prophets or any person – male or female. I cover for Allah (swt) and Allah alone. As a Muslim, I believe that God is not human and has no gender. For more on this point, cick here.

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Image: Elizabeth Arif-Fear (c)


8. Women convert to Islam to get married/for a man

I converted – like all the other converts I know – for faith and faith alone. I also converted before I got married. In Islam, Muslim men can marry Christian and Jewish women so there’s no need for such ladies. In any case, such conversion would be insincere and invalid. Without faith, you cannot be Muslim. Read more here.

9. Islam is an “Eastern religion” which oppresses women

Islam is a religion for the whole of humanity. I’m not from “the East”. There’s Muslims across the US, Canada, Latin America, the UK, France, North Africa – you name it (see point number four). Islam teaches that each land had their own Prophets. Muhammad and Jesus (pbut) were from the Middle East yes but there’s 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide.

Furthermore, there is no such thing as “East and West”. The “Clash of Civilisations” narrative is FALSE. There is the Western hemisphere, countries in the Eastern hemisphere etc. but we’re ONE world – a world that happens to be increasingly globalised. What’s more I’m me. I’m Muslim yes. I’m British yes. But I refuse to put put in a box. You’ll know who I am and what I’m like by talking to me, listening to me and getting to know me.

What’s more, I’m not oppressed. I’m an active feminist. In terms of women’s rights, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) taught his followers to respect women. When the Qur’an was revealed women were treated as second class citizens with no rights. Islam gave women the right to own property, the right to divorce, a range of sexual, emotional and financial rights within marriage at a time when baby girls were being buried alive and women were sexually enslaved. Islam advocated for women’s education and social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. It forbade forced marriage at a time when women could be married against their will – used and abused for the pleasure of men – teaching people to instead respect their wife, mother, daughter(s), sister(s) etc. Read more here and here.

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Minneapolis (2006) – Image credit: Brian Wisconsin (CC)


10. A woman’s place is (solely) in the home

Women are the one’s who bear children, who go through pregnancy, who breastfeed and if a family can afford to have one salary – great, no reason why the lady can’t stay at home. There is no reason why a woman should be unhappy and unfulfilled staying at home.

However, woman also hold a valid place in society as a whole. We are half of the population. We cannot be completely cut off and shunned into the private sphere. Many women are mothers and carers whilst also holding a career at the same time or whilst being active in their community. Many women do not even have children. Women are doctors, teachers, educators, business women, politicians, writers, journalists, community workers, mentors etc. and as such we build (or aim to!) a more open, richer, more understanding world which represents the diversity of the population both in gender, nationality, ethnicity, culture and religion.

We cannot allow half of society to be misrepresented or even not represented at all. Society needs to serve everyone and therefore be built by both women and women. I like millions of Muslim women work full-time. I am active and I love it! For my sisters who are at home – great. Each to their own.

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So there we are, let me know your counter-narratives. I’d love to hear!

If you’d like to learn more, see also my previous post on the most common misconceptions of Muslim women. You might be surprised!

If you’d like more information about Nisa-Nashim, check them out online via their website and across social media: Twitter and Facebook.

Credits and acknowledgements:

Big thanks to all those who have inspired and supported me for who I am, who I aim to be and in everything I do.

Images: artgraffCarnagenyc, Martha Heinemann BixbyStraßenfotografie Hamburg (CC) (featured image). Image licences available to view via Flickr

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12 quotes which illustrate why we need human rights education

Human rights are fundamental entitlements which (if respected) should help guarantee our physical, emotional, social, economic, cultural and spiritual wellbeing. Some of our key rights include the right to health, the right to a private life, the right to own property, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of belief, freedom from torture, freedom from arbitrary arrest and many more. These are rights which every human being is entitled to. Yet, how many of us really know what our human rights are? Perhaps you don’t think human rights are relevant to your life – well you’re wrong! We all need to be aware of our rights and stand up for or not just our own human rights but also those of our family members, friends, colleagues, neighbours, associates, communities and anyone in need.

Here’s 12 quotes from famous/significant figures (good and bad!) which illustrate just why we need to be aware of our human rights!

1. Knowledge is the gateway to power!

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2. Sometimes we’re not always taught what’s right

No one is born hating another person... People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate,they can be taught to love,for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite..jpg

3. You may not be aware that your rights are being abused

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4. You may have been taught to accept human rights abuses

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5. Education opens doors and allows you to think objectively

Let us remember- One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world..jpg

6. Once you learn your rights you’ll realise that rights can easily be abused

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7. But you need to know how to protect your rights

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed..jpg

 8. If you know, you can start demanding them!

The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed..jpg

9. By learning about your rights, you are ultimately safeguarding yourself

Human rights education is...a process to equip people with the tools they need to live lives of security and dignity..jpg

10. You’ll also learn how to build peace with others

Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where the people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free..jpg

11. You’ll recognise both your rights and those of your neighbours

The more people know about their rights, and the rights of others in society, the better equipped they are to protect them..jpg

 12.  Armed with knowledge you can march on and make a real difference!

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Dedication

This post is dedicated to the memory of Christopher William John Plant (d. 2017) – an inspiration to many and proof that one person with enough passion, will and dedication really can make a difference. You will be greatly missed forever more. May your spirit, energy and enthusiasm live on in all of us and may we make you proud, ameen.

Credits

Featured image: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – Josh Estey, 2009 (CC)

Photos from Flickr – please visit for content licences

Editing and design: Elizabeth Arif-Fear

Three popular Islamic preachers who promote extremism

Something which has become quite alarming is the prevalence of scholars and preachers throughout the mainstream Muslim world who promote apologetic narratives, inequality, hatred, division and extremism. The worrying thing is this: not everything they say is bad. Some of the things they say are even nice and quite spiritual. Yes, you read that correctly. And THIS is what is most dangerous. If you get “sucked in”, you may not recognise when something is wrong. You may get caught on a dangerous path. Extremist ideology doesn’t grow overnight. It starts with “otherising”, hatred, isolation and a dogmatic obsessive approach to faith.

Here are three Islamic preachers/scholars who for lack of a better word are seen as “mainstream”, and are widely known and respected by many many Muslims around the world – including the UK – who in fact promote intolerance, hatred and extremism. There are no doubt many more,  but here’s a few to start with (in no particular order).

1. Dr Bilal Philips

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Dr Philips is a Jamaican-born Canadian Muslim and prominent author, lecturer and teacher who founded the Islamic Online University. He has been banned from entering both the UK and Australia and also deported from Bangladesh, Kenya and The Philippines.

He has faced a range of criticism, including his views on marital rape. In his work Contemporary Issueshe stated the following:

“In Islaam a woman is obliged to give herself to her husband and he may not be charged with rape. Of course, if a woman is ill or exhausted, her husband should take her condition into consideration and not force himself upon her.”

As it goes without saying, no man (Muslim or non-Muslim) may rape his wife. In Islam, this is strictly forbidden. Sexual activity must be consensual. Islam is in fact very outright in its teachings of sexual and emotional etiquette, discussing in detail foreplay and a woman’s sexual right to pleasure. Rape is simply rape – whether you are married or not.

In addition to this, Dr Philips also stated that – as a last resort – a Muslim man may hit his wife:

“It is true that the Sharee’ah does permit a husband to hit his wife. However, that permission is under special conditions and with severe limitations…the hit should not be physically damaging and it should not be in the face.”

Hitting your wife is not allowed – despite what many Muslims are told to believe. For more information on the specifics of this topic, see here.

Overall, Dr Philips has written many books, including one which I was given by a UK based mosque during my conversion journey – a book which has since been banned in UK prisons. I followed him on Facebook and liked a lot of what he said. But here’s the thing – as I said – it’s not about EVERYTHING they say, it’s about what they’re saying overall and what kind of ideology they’re promoting. Someone who believes a man cannot be charged for raping his wife, is not a preacher you want to listen to!

2. Shaik Dr Haitham al-Haddad

Shaik Haitham al-Haddad is an Islamic scholar from Saudi Arabia, of Palestinian origin, who sits on the board of advisors for the UK based Islamic Sharia Council. Despite the Muslim Council of Britain denouncing Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) to be un-Islamic, Shaik al-Haddad preaches the opposite, advocating for this practice. See here:

In another video discussing apostasy, he is quoted as advocating for the death of family members who leave and do not return to Islam. You can watch via the video below:

Once again, as a young convert I also came across Shaik al-Haddad, even quoting him in my thesis, not knowing the wider picture of his beliefs and teachings.

3. Shayk Muhammad Saalih al-Munajjid

Shayk al-Munajjid is a Saudi scholar of Palestinian-Syrian origin who founded the fatwa website Islam Q&A. If you run a quick Google for an answer to any Islamic question, you’ll find this website. As a convert innocently looking for answers, I myself would come across this site when searching the internet. However, Muslim friends of mine were shocked at the things I was finding – to the extent that they said to ask them for advice and not use the internet. This website teaches a dogmatic, rigid, medieval and spiritual-less form of “Islam”. Reviewing it, it seems to have “tempered” a bit (not sure if it’s received complaints) but it’s one to avoid.

Among some of Shayk al-Munajjid/the website’s views/endorsements are:

  • Ahmadis are kafirs (disbelievers)/apostates
  • Shias are heretics/kafirs and Sunni-Shia marriage is impermissible
  • Advocating slavery
  • Promoting anti-Semitism, stating that Jews are: “the people of lies, fabrications, treachery, and conspiracies…They are the filthiest of nations…” (Featured on Al-Majd TV, Saudi Arabia – 15/05/2016)

Overall, it’s very important that Muslims – young and old, convert or not – have a good circle of people around them, good role models too look up to and good sources of Islamic teaching and knowledge to refer to. There’s a lot of intolerance, divisive narratives and extremism out there but the ever worrying thing is that in everyday circles, on everyday mediums (social media, internet etc.), the British (and global) public is exposed to A LOT of information – some of which may be positive, some not. Being aware of what you’re listening to and reading is important. Just because a scholar is advocating something, it doesn’t make it Islamic or “correct”. Find a good circle of people, appropriate scholars and sources of knowledge and don’t fall into the trap: a preacher that advocates hatred against anyone, is not a preacher worth listening to.

Salam

Credits:

Images: Muhammad Mahdi Karim, Viewminder (featured image)

Passover past and present – A story of human slavery

Last week marked the Jewish festival of Pesach (Passover), which recalls when Moses led his followers out of Egypt, free from a life of slavery. I was fortunate to go to an interfaith Seder (Passover meal) and learn all about this festival.

Also know as “The Festival of Freedom”, Passover is a reflection of Jewish history, slavery, human suffering and the importance of freedom and human rights. The festival dates back to the time when Pharaoh refused to released the Children of Israel from slavery. As a result, ten plagues first ensued, affecting the Egyptians living in ancient Egypt. What followed were:

  1. The Plague of Blood: God turned the River Nile into blood. Fish died and the water stank.
  2. The Plague of Frogs: Frogs were everywhere all over the land!
  3. The Plague of Lice: Dust was turned into lice. The lice then crawled on people and animals.
  4. The Plague of Flies: The land was take over by swarms of flies.
  5. The Plague on Livestock: Horses, cattle, donkeys, camels, sheep and goats all died.
  6. The Plague of Boils: Livestock and the Egyptian population broke out on festering boils.
  7. The Plague of Hail: A terrible hailstorm hit the land, destroying crops and killing people and animals.
  8. The Plague of Locusts: A mass of locusts destroyed the land’s crops.
  9. The Plague of Darkness: For three days, Egypt was covered in darkness.
  10. The Plague on the Firstborn: Every first-born son was killed. The homes of the Israelites were spared – the angel would “pass over” them. This is where the name “Passover” comes from.

The Israelites then fled the land of Egypt out of slavery. Now this was my first Passover Seder and I’m by no means an expert – hence, if you want to know about the religious history and elements of Passover Seders, you can find out more here. For Christians, you’ll find the history of this festival in the Book of Exodus. For me though, this was not just a great chance to learn about Passover traditions and Jewish history, but also about Judaism and Jewish values themselves and how such history and values relate to our multi-faith world today.

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Seder plate: bitter herbs (e.g. horseradish), egg, orange, shankbone, karpas (green) vegetable (e.g. parsley) and charoset paste (apple mix), served with matzah (unleavened bread) (Image credit: Eden Hensley Silverstein, CC)

As a reminder of the slavery the Jewish people faced, we were introduced to “10 modern plagues” in the form of human slavery in the modern era. These are as follows:

  1. Sexual exploitation: Trafficking women and children for sexual exploitation is the “fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world” (Equality Now).
  2. Forced labour: 21 million people worldwide are forced to work against their will (ILO).
  3. Street crime and begging: Children are forced to beg, pick pocket and shoplift by adults in the UK and other countries worldwide.
  4. Domestic servitude: Forced to work for little or no play, deprived of sleep, rest and leisure, the ILO estimates that more under 16 year old girls work in domestic labour than any other category of forced labour.
  5. Drug cultivation and trade: The most widespread form of child labour at present is for cannabis cultivation (Unchosen).
  6. Human organ harvesting and trade: Imagine having your organs stolen and sold on the black market, forming part of a trade which generates between $600 million – $1.2 billion in profits a year across a range of countries…
  7. Debt bondage: This is the most common but lesser known form of modern slavery today.
  8. Illegal adoption: This terrible phenomenon is especially prevalent in China, where an estimated 10,000 children a year are trafficked for forced begging, illegal adoption and sex slavery.
  9. Warfare and conflict: There are an estimated 350,000 child soldiers worldwide whose physical and mental well-being is being compromised for violent  (adult) conflict.
  10. Forced marriage: Around 48% of forced marriages involve children and adolescents (PORGMUN).

Indeed, there are an estimated 21-36 million slaves in the world today. The biggest victims are still women, with a growing number of children being affected. Human slavery is bigger now than it has ever been…

The Jewish community have celebrated Passover since around 1300 BC, and long shall they continue to. In 2017, as a global community of various faiths and none, the world still thrives on human slavery in its many forms. May we all unite to end this evil and live together in peace, understanding and harmony for the good of humanity.

Salam, shalom, peace ♥

Further information:

  • Please visit Stop The Traffik‘s website for further information on today’s 10 modern plagues of slavery.
  • If you are worried about human trafficking in your area/community, contact the police, local social services or the modern slavery helpine on 0800 0121 700.
  • Further information on human trafficking can also be found here.

Credits:

Featured image: J. P. Kang (CC)