Where’s the love brothers and sisters? A first-hand account of the worldwide persecution faced by the Ahmadiyya Muslim community

There is a community of Muslims in the UK who many Muslims refuse to accept as Muslim. A community of people whom in many countries worldwide are actively persecuted – denied the right to go to perform Hajj in Mekkah, denied the right to call themselves Muslim, denied the right to own official mosques and quite simply denied the right to freely live the way they wish to in line with their beliefs. On many occasions they have been victims of violence and even been killed

Yes, this brothers and sisters in faith and humanity is the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. For many, simple referring to my fellow brothers and sisters is somewhat of a “blasphemy”. Now I’m not going to get into religious “debates” here. Instead, I’d like to present a guest blog by an associate of mine – Dr Irfan Malik who is himself a member of the Ahmadiyya community and based in the UK. Here’s his honest and quite often shocking story of the discrimination that he and his fellow community members face each and every day here in the UK and across the globe.

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Persecution Faced by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community

The Ahmadiyya Muslim community was founded by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmed in 1889 in Qadian, India. He proclaimed to be the ‘Promised Messiah’.

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Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmed (Image credit: sirsheraz, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Our community is now established in over 200 countries, with tens of millions of followers. The UK chapter was established in 1913 and built London’s first Mosque, known as ‘The London Mosque’ inaugurated in 1926 in Southfields. We are guided by our spiritual leader and Khalifa, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmed, the 5th successor to the Promised Messiah [pictured].

The community is actively involved in humanitarian and charity projects all over the world. Each branch regularly holds interfaith events and peace conferences. We portray the true peaceful message of Islam, as taught by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Our motto is: Love for all, hatred for none.

Unfortunately however, our peaceful community has been the target of persecution in other Muslim countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and across the MENA region – simply due to our beliefs.

I will now give a summary of how Pakistan has treated Ahmadiyya Muslims over the years.

Legalised discrimination in Pakistan

pakistan-895319_1920.jpgThe Ahmadiyya Muslim community has suffered decades of religious discrimination and persecution in Pakistan. Since the creation of Pakistan in 1947, it is estimated that 302 Ahmadis have been killed for their beliefs.

In 1974, under pressure from religious clerics, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto passed legislation declaring the Ahmadiyya community as non-Muslims. In 1984, General Zia ul Haq decided to impose even stricter restrictions on the Ahmadiyya community by introducing the Ordinance XX, thereby forbidding Ahmadis from calling themselves ‘Muslims’ or even posing as one.

Public preaching or professing of beliefs was banned and Ahmadiyya Mosques had to be renamed ‘places of worship’. It became illegal for Ahmadis to give the call to prayer (Azan), publicly recite the Holy Qur’an, or greet people with ‘Assalam alaikum‘ (‘May peace be upon you’) [as is commanded for every Muslim].

A person found guilty of these crimes would face three years imprisonment or even a death sentence if sentenced under the current blasphemy laws. These laws and ordinances have severely undermined Ahmadis’ rights to freedom of religion or belief and have further increased their experiences of discrimination and hostility in Pakistan.

Below are some examples of recent acts of violence:

In my ancestral village of Dulmial in Punjab, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mosque ‘Darul Zikr‘ was attacked on 12th December 2016 by a huge mob of over 4,000 people. They used semi-automatic weapons to gain entry and set fire to the mosque. The local police were overwhelmed and unable to stop the assault and eventually the Pakistani army were called in to gain control. One Ahmadi Muslim, my uncle, died during this violent attack. The mosque remains sealed to this day and is guarded by armed police.

A recent report entitled ‘Ahmadis in Pakistan Face an Existential Threat‘ published by the International Human Rights Committee, explores the  ongoing persecution faced by Ahmadi Muslims across Pakistan in detail and is worth a read.

Life in the UK: Intrafaith relations
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Bait Ul Futuh mosque (Morden, London) – Home to the local Ahmaddiya community

In the UK, Ahmadiyya Muslims have also suffered discrimination and persecution with the most horrific example being the murder of shopkeeper Asad Shah in Glasgow in March 2016. Unfortunately, the hatred continues to be propagated by certain preachers.

Personally, I have experienced situations where an Interfaith Council asked us to change our name to ‘Ahmadiyya Association‘ instead of ‘Ahmadiyya Muslim Association‘. Some Muslim leaders have also advised us to leave certain police and council consultation meetings as they didn’t accept us as ‘Muslims’, whilst a leading academic criminologist backed out of researching hate crimes against Ahmadi Muslims due to concerns about their safety.

Most recently, as we launched an event as part of ‘Visit My Mosque’ day in February this year, there was a campaign and sermons telling people not to attend. The recent billboard campaign advertising the beliefs of Ahmadiyya Muslims has also received complaints and several displays were removed.

Hate against Ahmadiyya Muslims is in fact common place on social media and YouTube. Whilst ‘Islamophobia’ is regularly highlighted and researched, the hate against Ahmadiyya Muslims and sectarian issues within the Muslim community are infrequently mentioned or studied. I am extremely thankful to Tell MAMA and Faith Matters as these projects/organisations have had the courage to raise and challenge this type of hate.

Organisations monitoring and recording hate crimes need to highlight these terrible acts for all, regardless of faith, colour and creed and not be selective. As Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations declared: “We may have different religions, different languages, different coloured skin, but we all belong to one human race”.

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imDr Irfan Malik, is a GP based in Nottingham (UK). An active member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, he is also a keen First World War researcher. 

Credits and acknowledgements

I’d like to thank Dr Malik for this thought-provoking peace and offer my sincere condolences for the loss of his uncle.

I urge each and every one of you who have read this piece to share and spread the message that this type of abuse is simply not acceptable. For everyone out there – and especially non-Ahmadi Muslims – I urge you to report intrafaith-based hate crime, to welcome your Ahmadi brothers and sisters and to challenge the hate-fuelled discriminatory rhetoric out there. We need greater inclusion, great unity and less hypocrisy of “peace and unity”. Actions speak louder than words. Rights are for all – regardless of your particular thoughts, opinions and beliefs.

For more information and to take action, please visit the following Amnesty UK blog.

Salam ♡

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Gender, sexuality and identity: An interview with Islamic feminist Dr Amina Wadud

Back in 2011. I was studying for my Master’s degree in Human Rights and Human Values and as part of my course I took a module called: Feminism in the Muslim World. Now, being a Muslim, a woman and a passionate feminist, taking this module was a must. I saw this as an opportunity to gain more knowledge and to (further) see how women’s rights are protected and enshrined in Islam. The module was based in another department and not traditionally part of my degree but that didn’t deter me. If I could do it, I would. What’s not to love?!

Departmental logistics aside, here comes the issue. “Feminism? Islamic feminism?!” is what you may hear many people cry in a confused stupor. Yes, many non-Muslims may believe that Islam is anything but a feminist religion which works to actively promote women’s equality. Whilst I fervently disagree, on the other side of the fence there are those Muslims (both male and female!) who actively in both their socio-cultural and political practice and also critically, theological teachings, do anything but promote women’s equality.

IMG_0138.JPGNow here is where us Muslim Feminists stand proudly. During my studies I was introduced to the scholar Dr Amina Wadud through her book “Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam“. Dr Wadud is an Islamic Feminist and leading scholar in this field. A Professor Emeritus based in the US, she has dedicated her life in academia to issues surrounding women’s rights and equality within Islam, promoting pluralism, human dignity and additionally LGBT rights. The media however most often refer to her as the Muslim woman who lead mixed prayer back in 2005 and the topic of female imama (women imams).

With such an inspirational approach towards Islamic and a big fan, I was delighted to speak to Dr Wadud herself. Here’s our interview on gender, sexuality, identity and human dignity.

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VoS: Assalam aleykum. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule. So to start with could you give a brief intro about your work, what you’re working on at the moment and what are your current projects?

AW: Wa aleykum salam. Currently I am doing a funded research project. I’m in the third of three years to examine classical Islamic sources on the topic of sexual diversity and human dignity – not only what was said in the classical period of Islamic thought but also the implications of those statements. I believe that certain things are outdated and we need to figure out how to address them succinctly and not to defer to past – even intellectual – engagements as if the matter is closed.

VoS: That’s fabulous! So when will the public be able to find out more about the project? When will everything be published?

AW: I’ve not shared much of the results of the research so far, except in a closed setting. I would like to compose an entire monograph on my findings and my thoughts but to also work on curriculum development for the teaching of sexual diversity in Islamic thought in graduate level courses.

We thought maybe we should develop a reference text to develop hopefully programmes that will encourage others who are trying to address the topic in their teaching to use the resources to again enhance the conversation with students. I’m looking forward to some of the products of the research but am still enjoying the opportunity to simply do the research part, not to do the writing and the publication yet!

VoS: It’s a long journey! That must be fascinating because there’s definitely not a lot out there.

AM: We have growing diversities in our community and part of the conservation because whenever I describe the research project I always say sexual diversity and human dignity because that will be the principle that I will use to determine how you address the specifics and some of the conversations that are there are somewhat singular in terms of their objections to sexual diversity. I want to bring the conversation to hopefully a more nuanced way and just make it possible for us to open up to have some genuine conversations.

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Image credit: Ikhlasul Amal (CC BY-NC 2.0)

VoS: Insha’Allah that will be a good eye-opener to really get discussions going. So for those who are perhaps not familiar will the idea of gender jihad or are perhaps confused by the term Islamic Feminism, how would you define that?

AW: Well, I don’t necessarily do a single definition. I think the distinctions [between gender jihad and Islamic feminism] are important. Gender jihad I actually lifted from my South African colleagues when they invited me in 1994. I was there for a lecture tour and a conference and was ultimately invited to give the khutbha (the sermon) in the Friday jumaa service at the Main Road Mosque and I lifted the phrase gender jihad from them because they made a concerted effort to include that in their antiapartheid struggles and because they also combined a conversation about the war against poverty – the class jihad.

I very much liked the idea that we take the metaphysical understanding of jihad as a struggle and evoke it for issues of community, like gender and sexuality and then I named my book after it. I very much feel for the term and its relevance and for the ways in which I have experienced that women in diverse communities across the globe are themselves leading that struggle by determining what issues will be most significant, how those issues need to be addressed in their particular context and that the mandate that women’s voices and lived experiences be a part of the formula for how we address those issues. There is no community where women have not risen up and begun to take greater agency in determining how Islam will be used in their lives and how they themselves identify with their Islam.

I distinguish that from Islamic feminism because Islamic feminism is a specific methodology and not everyone who is addressing the issue of the gender jihad is addressing it from the perspective of any kind of feminism. There are also diverse kinds of feminism so it’s a very specific use and I don’t advocate it. It doesn’t matter to me whether or not a person identifies as feminist because I also myself did not accept the description of feminist for the majority of the years in which I’ve been doing work on Islam because the majority interpretations of feminism are part of the problem of the relationship between Islamic nation states and their colonial masters from another era who still call the right to determine what is the best way for previously colonised people to progress in development. They hold the monopoly over that. The way in which they address the issues pretends the best solution for everyone: to leave Islam and all of its manifestations because they have marked Islam as the problem.

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Image credit: Andrea Moroni (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Now, there are people for whom their own identities as Muslims also problematises how we address Islam in terms of the solutions of certain civic problems like gender discrimination. I call those people now secular feminists because they are bedded to a very conservative definition of Islam as the eternal definition and they are not able to grapple with what I consider to be one of the major contributions to Islamic feminism and that is: the right to be able to determine for yourself what is the definition of Islam and even what is the appropriate, educated, relevant interpretation of Islamic sources in the context of the nation state.

Islamic feminism has a very specific methodology and that methodology involves taking full agency with regard to how key terms will be applied in our circumstances and how they will be adjudicated in our laws. But, there are, feminists who for example who are more liberal feminists – Muslim liberal feminists – who don’t have a specific methodology. Using liberal mechanisms wasn’t the strategy that led me to the use of Islam as a means for eradicating inequality experienced by women. That’s something that only came about with the solidification of this idea of Islamic feminism.

I do want to emphasise that in no way is feminism a title for people engaged in gender jihad, in no way is feminism an objective. It’s simply a method developed with an understanding of how Islam is understood today, politicised today and is still an important factor in the self-identity in particular of so many Muslim women today.

VoS: Thank you, that’s a really important distinction. So something I found particularly interesting in your book Inside the Gender Jihad was how you talked about various social issues within the community as well as theological teachings, such as single parent families and the way Muslim women are stigmatised in regards to HIV/AIDS. In terms of mobilising the Muslim community and tackling misogyny, what’s one of the biggest challenges that you’ve faced so far?

AW: The biggest challenge I face personally in doing this work is the lack of critical engagement with some of the vast diversity of interpretations which have always been a part of our tradition. They get swept under the rug today because everything gets summarised into a simple formula of anti-imperialism under the name of Islam.

I call it the takfiri factor. They will call someone “not a Muslim” if their interpretation of what is Islam is different from the interpretation that has the dominate control in terms of [being] conservative and patriarchal but if anybody examines the aspects of Islamic intellectual history – which is ongoing – then they will see that there has never been a consensus over any of the multiple factors that impinge upon the way in which we actually get to live our Islam.

Believing communities are notoriously emotionally attached to what they consider to be their religion and are not always thinking critically. I find there was a singular expectation that somehow all critical thinking belongs to men and politics – that women are not capable of doing it, let alone engaging in it! I really do feel like that’s the biggest problem – how to get people to actually engage in the work with a certain level of intellectual rigor.

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Image credit: Omar Chatriwala (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

VoS: In talking about takfiri behaviour, do you think that perhaps people are scared to engage and that they’ve been convinced that it’s a, b, c, d, it’s black and white, or do you think people are just not interested or not familiar with the great intellectual history and the diversity within Islamic theology?

AM: I actually think all three of those and I do see them as three. First let me just say something about people being afraid to engage. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. We have a very heavy self-censor going on.

I feel that Muslim women who are working are afraid of being accused of going against Islam and they struggle to gain mastery over just the rubrics of the debates. Often I find people saying things like: “I’m not a scholar” and just the very idea that you have to be a scholar in order to make a comment over things that literally impact on your life and wellbeing is something that we’re trying to dismantle. But, I think a lot of women fear being pushed up against the wall and then have somebody throwing, hurling random versus at them as if this, hurling of verses is the same as saying “You’re wrong!” and “You’re outside of Islam”. That’s why women are so intimidated by it – or anyone struggling for human rights and dignity in our time – because we now have a different amalgam of information and the idea that all information that’s good can only come from Islamic sources is a little bit naive but that’s how people will approach it.

I also do think that there is a certain level of ignorance because Muslim laity want to feel that Islam is the natural course because that’s the course that they’ve been on. And so: What is this Islam? is my main question. The idea that one could even question What is Islam? to such an extent is something that most people just don’t think about.

VOS: Well it’s seen as sort of sacrilege! 

AM: For people who are outside of Islam. They simply come up with a conclusion: This is Islam. There’s nothing you can do about it…. and it’s like where did that this is Islam come from? That’s a lot of work. People don’t want to do that. You’re either “enemies” or “believers”.

The other thing is I think quite frankly that the idea of an easy answer to “what is Islam?” has failed us and yet we have not changed our overall curriculum approaches in the context of a Muslim majority context. They still teach Islam the same way they’ve been teaching it for hundreds of years and it doesn’t serve us. It doesn’t build equal confidence and competence in embracing the nuanced diversity of what is or what has been Islam over little less than two millennia and in so many different ways.

So it’s a combination of all those things and although I’ve been at it long enough to accept that this combination is going to have certain consequences still for some time more, I’m actually hoping to be a part of the conversation of lifting the tendency towards taboo in Islam and Islamic thought because I think that there is so much richness in this tradition and in the cultural historical experiences of Muslims that simply doesn’t come to the front when we are always feeling like we’re under siege. Islamophobia is very real and it is a threat but that is not the not the only thing that’s going on and how to move beyond it, critique it, engage with and challenge it without making ourselves subject only to how easily we might be able to justify, explain or apologise for Islam in the context where it is not the same as another worldview or system of practice.

It’s a difficult time but I really hope that we can move into a place with a greater tolerance and acceptance – accepting diversity within the community as well as accepting that not all conversations are going to be closed and fixed and that we can have more than one conversation about any matter that is on the table today. Islam is not going to be destroyed because we have different opinions!

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VoS: I agree with you completely. Some of it is just accepting different opinions and even having those discussions – not that we all have to agree on the same thing.

You were saying that about taboo. What do you think about the role of culture? There are some very strong taboos in terms of even discussing women’s issues and issues surrounding the LGBT community. How much do you think of that is a specific to conservative views of religion or culture or do you sort of see the two as intertwined?

AW: Well for some reason, some people will say things like: “Oh, that’s just cultural Islam.” Well actually there’s no living Islam that’s not cultural. So that’s not even a factor. Understanding and embracing the complexities of the different cultures I think goes along with developing more tolerance and more critical engagement and to understand that of course cultures are both impacted by and have an impact on what comes to constitute Islam and Muslim and have always done so. And that’s OK. And it’s even OK to make distinctions between your culture and other cultures when it comes to an understanding about any particular location on any particular issue. Coincidentally, this is something that’s been very important to the Muslim convert communities to which I belong because I’m Muslim by choice.

I learned this best living in south-east Asia, Malaysia and Indonesia where they have a very proud understanding of their own identity and a pride and love for Islam. They articulate clear tensions between “We’re Indonesian, this is our culture” and at the same time, ownership of Islam to combat the idea that certain manifestations of practice and ideology have a relationship to say our culture but it’s not universal and it’s not the only Islamic response. It was an interesting place for me because Islam has been there forover a thousand years in south-east Asia. So we’re not talking about new communities as in say the United States, which comprises not only immigrant populations from Muslim majority countries that go back several centuries but also new converts.

It’s nice to think about the fact that every culture has been shaped by and is shaping what is Islam and that is also something that’s true for new communities that are forming in the last 100 to 200 years.

VoS: What’s your message to those people who would promulgate takfiri ideologies? Do you tend to engage much with them or do you focus more on educating people as we were saying who perhaps don’t have the exposure to different intellectual teachings?

AW: That’s a very interesting question. I want to say in all honesty that I do not prioritise engaging with Islamophobia and Islamophobes. Nor do I prioritise engaging with the takfiri brigade – although I do have a YouTube video says “Do not fear takfir!”which I addressed because of, as I said, the fear component. People are doing their work and then they are afraid of it but I do not prioritise those who have the greatest disagreement with me in the work that I do.

I prioritise the target community. I write what I would like to read and that is: I am an African-American Muslim hijabi woman by choice – all of it, except for being African American. That is just my legacy. I have chosen to be Muslim. I have chosen to wear hijab most of the time and when I don’t, I also choose when I don’t wear it. I meet Muslim women of colour globally -African, Asian, Latinex African-American, Black – who are Muslim and the overwhelming majority of Muslim women – which is not to say that I have any lack of interest in white Muslim women, it’s just that their numbers are very small. I engage with that intersection of race and class, gender, sexuality, ableism and also intellectual and spiritual stations or locations. That’s my primary target and because that’s my primary target group, I am trying to focus on what are the lived realities for Muslim women, how we grapple with them in order to achieve well-being, human dignity, spiritual acumen and wholeness.

So I either talk theology or I taught policy but I’m only talking policy in a very pragmatic hands-on way. I engage with issues relative to the places where they come up because that is a mandate within those communities. Female imama is not yet a universal issue of concern but people think that I prioritise what the media tends to focus on and once again it means that they lose. They’re focused on the issues that make greater headlines and takfir makes a lot of headlines. I am literally blacklisted from communities. I don’t get an invitation in the confessional and communities in my own African American community. It’s a tender spot for me because again, working at intersections, I’m very conscientious about my intersecting identities and I would love to feel that my most natural home is among other African-American Muslims.

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Image credit: Glen Halog (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The reality is however that my most natural form is among Muslim women of colour globally. I travel a lot and every time I am reconfirmed in what I consider to be the freedom of being a Muslim among many Muslims – not necessarily exactly like anyone else – but at the same time sharing something, whatever that something might be called with all Muslims, especially Muslim women. And so I that’s my focus.

I believe that the negation of a negative does not equal a positive. If you switch to address your attention to the negative, you will be negating the opposition eternally and you will never go forward.

VoS: Well some people are never going to be willing to engage. I suppose you carry on and do what you do and maybe some people who have maybe changed their minds. In the meantime, you work with the women that you can do valuable things with.

AW: My feeling is whatever it is that people use to allow them to not critically engage is a major problem for our community which we need to try and work out because ours is one of the most intense intellectual traditions ever. And yet we come to our current community and the laziness with which we actually engage is just such a disappointment. I’m still studying! I don’t understand how we have such a rigorously intellectual tradition and such lazy reactionary kinds of responses!

VoS: Well in the UK, Islamic education is encouraged but there wouldn’t be an engagement or challenging or discussion around different issues. It would be include a pre-set kind of curriculum. You generally wouldn’t be able to step outside certain boundaries or think or question.

AW: Well that’s true in lots of places and that’s why I say that, hopefully we will make a change. Indonesia has engaged in a project to update the primary teaching manuals that are used to tackle their expressions of gender inequality. The project should be able to reform the main manuals. This is a huge project because there are so many schools and they literally don’t have the money to be able to create new manuals just off the bat. So what they did is they created a companion text in order to challenge certain habits of gender inequality. So the educational process has to be looked at comprehensively from what we teach our children to what we develop our degree programs to look like. It’s a big thing – not impossible but it’s big!

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Image credit: Ikhlasul Amal (CC BY-NC 2.0)

VoS: Amazing! So last question: what inspires you each and every day in your work?

AW: It’s a pretty corny answer but I was born and raised a believer. My father was a Methodist minister so what he was doing in terms of his own personal devotions and his personality had a very strong impact on me taught me integrity and honesty but also taught me the theology of liberation.

So I’m actually inspired by the desire to live my life in a way where the presence of the divine, of the sacred – of Allah – is manifest in everything that I do. I’m motivated by lots of things, not all of them necessarily “high” or loftier or even good, but to live a life with the consciousness of this sacred goal: our returning to Allah, our origin point, and with the intimacy of the divine presence.

The gift of life is presented to each of us so we can be the best of who we are and the best of who I am is the me that manifests the embrace of the love of God so that I myself become an instrument of God and God’s will. It is a little bit corny!

VoS: Well it was a corny question – sorry! But it was a good answer!

AW: I’m very much very much a believer and it very heavily motivates me.

VoS: Well, I suppose that ultimately is what it should all be about – not about habits and behaviours but the consciousness of God and that motivating the everyday. So that’s a really good point to end on. Thank you so much for taking the time out for this interview!

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Acknowledgements and further information:

First of all I’d like to say a massive thank you to Dr Wadud for taking the time out for this interview and I wish her all the best in her current research and future work.

For readers, please note: this is an edited version of what was a much longer transcript!

For further information on Dr Wadud, visit her social media pages:

For more information on the issues discussed surrounding gender, human rights and Islam, you can also check out the organisation Musawah via their website and follow them on Twitter.

Salam! ♡

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12 Essential recommendations for UK-based mosques

There was a recent conference held by the Muslim Council of Britain last January called “Our Mosques, Our Future“. The conference was based around the idea of “#morethanaprayerspace” – looking at the role of Britain’s 1,500 mosques today compared to how they were in Prophet Muhammad’s time and examining if they are fulfilling their multi-faceted roles and meeting the needs of their communities.

I unfortunately did not attend the conference but have myself become increasingly fed-up by certain obstacles/patterns of behaviour. At the same time, I have also been inspired by the great examples set in other places of worship such as churches and synagogues. Based on personal and non-personal experiences, I therefore present 12 essential recommendations for UK-based mosques – in no particular order.

1. Childcare facilities 

A mosque should be a community space. At the same time it should allow space for quiet prayer and reflection. Especially during busy periods such as Friday Jummah prayers and Ramadan, something as basic as a crèche would avoid clearly distressed children having to be in the prayer hall and disturbing other sisters.

Childcare services would also ensure that women have easier access to mosques. The choice should be mother’s to either to stay at home and build prayer around child caring duties at home or if they so wish to be able to pray at the mosque without yet another obstacle in their way.

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2. Interfaith programmes 

Interfaith programmes are a must for any mosque, in particular in multifaith societies such as Britain. It’s crucial that Muslim communities learn and reach out to other faith (and non-faith) communities. This is especially important in relation to the Jewish community.

Such programmes should however not simply utilise members of boards/management committees – they should be open for members of the local congregation/community to participate and learn for real maximum effect.

3. Women co-leadership

The sad truth is that some mosques do not even have prayer spaces for ladies. I’ve seen some wudhu (ablution) “facilities” that were so dirty I could not wash. This is abhorrent. Islam is for everyone – men and women. This is just the basic level.

Moving onwards and upwards, women must crucially be more greatly included. They must form part of leadership committees, educational programmes and local initiatives. They must be given a platform to share their voices – and with real roles not simply a token platforms and gestures.

For the sake of equality and to ensure that women’s needs are met, women must be included. The lack of women’s leadership and instead great number of all-male committees is a sad reflection of our community and not representative of Islam.

4. Marriage counselling 

Marriage counselling both before, during and even after a marital split to ensure cooperation and mutual respect is essential. Marriage is a big commitment and cultural barriers, communication issues, family tensions and a number of other potential “problems” can create significant tensions and misunderstandings in a marriage. To ensure that couples know what to expect and what is expected of them, pre-marital counselling must be openly available – and be highly recommended to couples prior to their marriage.

Counselling is an excellent form of therapy for couples experiencing problems but is often expensive, comes with stigma or feelings of failure/shame and may lack religious expertise. Mosques must ensure that they can provide a good quality professional service with staff sensitive to religious needs/understandings. This could be through a referral network and in many cases these services may offer a more professional/adequate service.

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5. Women’s support services 

Girls and women at risk of FGM, domestic abuse or any other issues must feel that they have somewhere to turn to seek confidential advice and support. Women experiencing any forms of emotional, sexual, physical, physiological, financial, spiritual or physical abuse will feel frightened, confused and alone. An additional range of cultural, linguistic and social barriers or simply a lack of knowledge of services out there which can help, means that a dedicated support team for women who (are able to) attend the mosque will ensure that these vulnerable women and girls have a greater support network.

Through either dedicated staff or a strong referral network, safeguarding mechanisms, counselling, protection and reporting, legal support and guidance can be offered and protect women at risk or subjected to these unjust and brutal forms of violence.

6. Social justice initiatives

A mosque should not simply be a place of prayer – we may all know that. It should serve as a community centre which helps both its own and other communities, as part of a wider society. That’s why food banks, charity (sadaqah) funds and a whole range of social initiatives are a must.

Help and support should reach those of all faiths and none, regardless of sexuality, gender, age, nationality or ethnic background.

7. Khutbahs in English 

I think it’s rather sad that in my entire experience of attending khutbas in the UK, I have only ever understood the sermons in one mosque/community centre. The khutba should serve to teach Muslims about important issues. However, I see two problems here:

  1. Most are not in English (instead in only Arabic or another language)
  2. They generally are repetitive in nature and do not address a wide enough range of (current) issues

We need to engage people to take action against injustice, to utilise the wisdom of the Holy Qur’an and to do good as Allah wills. This is not simply through “religious ibadah” (worship) but through taking action against injustice, giving in charity and building bridges amongst other communities. Khutbas should therefore be accessible to everyone in terms of language and content, regardless of age and ethnic/linguistic background. The use of interpreting headsets/subtitles is one way to address the linguistic challenges. I also urge leaders to reflect upon their sermons and further reach out to the younger population.

8. Adequate facilities for the disabled

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It has been pointed out to me by the Open My Mosque initiative something which I sadly failed to notice for myself – and this speaks volumes: the lack of facilities for and measure to promote inclusion for Muslims with physical disabilities.

We must ensure that sign language interpreters are available as well as hearing loops, ramps for wheelchair users and adequate disabled toilets and parking. Consultation with communities, families and service providers should ensure that peoples voices are being heard and their needs are being met in the best, most professional, sensitive and inclusive way possible.

9. Youth clubs

It is critical that younger members of the community (especially teenagers) have creative and social outlets, such as craft clubs and sporting initiatives to offer space, productive and inclusive spaces to make friends, spend free time and learn new skills or simply get some exercise!

Having a stable community network with respected role models, people to turn to in times of trouble and meet like-minded young people is important. Mosques must offer this community element, not simply a prayer space for religious purposes.

10. Social clubs

As with youth clubs, social activities to bind the community together are essential. This is particularly important if we consider new arrivals to the UK/refugee communities, converts, stay-at-home or single mothers and other groups to whom we should be offering a strong social community network. The mosque should offer a home, a safe space of understanding to come together and enjoy being Muslim! The greater the cultural diversity the better!

11. Intrafaith inclusion

I’ve talked about interfaith work and bringing different cultural communities within the Muslim community together but here’s one essential critical need which is simply a “no-go” for some people. However, it cannot be escaped. Prejudice, discrimination and intolerance must be broken down and dismantled. We must unite as a community. Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Ahmadi Muslims must work together.

If you cannot work together as a religious community within Islam (and yes Ahmadis are Muslim and who are you to question!), then how can you reach out and build stronger bonds with other religious communities (e.g. churches, synagogues and gurdwaras) and the wider community? It’s hypocrisy. Plain and simple. Harsh words but this needs to be said. No one is saying you have to have exactly the same beliefs and practices, but you should be welcoming to others, share dialogue, shared events and never turn people away. Simple.

12. Good referral network of NGOs and service providers 

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No one can expect each and every mosque to have an infinite amount of financial and professional resources. That is why it’s crucial to build good referral networks with local and national charities, governmental and non-governmental organisations and services providers.

Some of the organisations/local government departments with which mosques need to build, strengthen or maintain links include:

  • ESOL services: Refugee, asylum seeking and migrant communities may need linguistic (and cultural) support. Local refugee organisations and colleges often offer (free) English classes, whilst the Refugee Council can offer advice and support
  • Hate-crime reporting bodies: Islamophobia (as with anti-Semitism) is on the rise and Muslim women in particular are experiencing the brunt of this. Mosque committees need to know what constitutes hate crime, how to report it and how to support their community members by building links with organisations such as Tell MAMA and the police
  • Mental health services providers: We need to end the stigma and reach out to people in need of support – but with professional qualified counsellors and therapists from organisations such as Mind and local community providers
  • Financial advisors: Free debt support services provided by charities such as the Citizens Advice Bureau can offer critical practical advice to families in crisis, greatly impacting upon their physical and emotional wellbeing
  • Immigration advice: Visa worries, asylum claims and anything immigration related can be very confusing, worrying and at time incredibly complicated. Local charities specialising in immigration advice and support can be a lifeline for community members – including people who are undocumented
  • Crisis housing: Homelessness is becoming an increasing problem across the UK and can affect anyone who has fallen on hard/uncertain times. By having the right networks with local councils and organisations such as Shelter, mosques can help an individual/family off the street or falling into homelessness
  • Local foodbanks: For smaller mosques who may not have the resources, local foodbanks will be able to assist members of their congregation and/or offer critical advice/signposting

Now, I’m not saying that all mosques lack these facilities, approaches and services, nor am I saying that all mosques – no matter how small – must have an endless supply of resources – financial or otherwise. However, all mosques must be inclusive, approachable and welcoming for everyone and offer as much help as possible. I do however believe that these recommendations can offer a good conclusive set of guidelines for British mosques.

Through direct service provision and better networking with service providers, facilities can be made available. And when it comes to gender, age, cultural and religious inclusivity and welcoming those with extra access needs, there must be no excuses. Islam is for everyone and mosques must represent that. Mosques – as many are already calling for – must also work as a community centre not an “in and out” prayer space.

Salam

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My faith is not only empowering, but my crucial driving force

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Image credit: Fahrurrazy Halil (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Empowerment and faith.

For many people, the idea of self-empowerment and faith may seem anything from clear, to complex or even contradictory. For me however, these two concepts merge in something incredibly powerful and beautiful.

Empowerment signifies hopeenergy and self-determination. It means being who you are in confidence and with a sense of self-ease. Yet for many it almost implies a lack of higher authority, not simply self-independence.

So where does faith fit into this? Doesn’t faith imply simply submitting to a sense of authority? Isn’t faith about following “rules” not “what we want”? Well as a woman “of faith” I feel self-empowered and here’s why!

Spirituality and self-empowerment

Firstly, I find nothing more empowering than feeling I know where I belong within myself and the Universe. It truly is empowering to know that God is with me every step of the way, even in my darkest moments. It is this sense of solidarity, support, love and mercy that sustains me, gives me hope and encourages me that I am worth it – no matter how I may feel! After all, God purposely created us all.

So for me, acknowledging God’s existence is not dis-empowering – it’s comforting. I’m not perfect, I’m human and far from flawless but even in sinning/”doing wrong” I can ask God for forgiveness. Ultimately, it’s down to me to “rise up” and not pull myself down. That in itself is a lesson of self-confidence, growth and self-empowerment.

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Life as a Muslim woman

Secondly, as a Muslim woman, I feel that the words of Allah Almighty in the Holy Qur’an inspire such self-empowerment in more ways than one.

Despite the continued abuse of women’s rights worldwide – often falsely in the name of “Religion” or through cultural practices such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation and other forms of gender-based violence – I know 100% in my heart and soul that as a woman I am the equal twin half of humanity and that God would never call for such brutal unjust violence.

As a woman (and a strong one at that!) I believe that I am designed exactly the way that God willed. In the Qur’an, Allah Almighty says: “… be you male or female – you are equal to one another” (3:195).  To cite merely a few examples of female emancipation and equality in Islam, in the early days of the mission of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), female infanticide and forced marriage were outlawed and in his final sermon, he specifically urged his community to respect the rights of women for they are equals, worthy of dignity and respect.

More broadly however, I think that, regardless of gender – the words of Allah give me a message to follow, a meaning and a purpose in life. Not only this, they place me inside a community of people within the same mission. For me in particular though this mission is for all those striving on the same path regardless of their specific faith. So what is the mission? Well it’s simply to believe in a (single) Creator, to look after His Creation and to do good deeds. United in faith and under God’s guidance, this is our purpose as stated in the Qur’an:

“The believers, men and women, are helpers, supporters, friends and protectors of one another, they enjoin all that is good, and forbid all that is evil, they offer their prayers perfectly, and give Zakah (obligatory charity) and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah will bestow Mercy on them. Surely Allah is All-Almighty, All-Wise.” (9:71).

The Believer as described here has achieved their ultimate relationship with Allah, God, The Creator. I however am far from this almost flawless observance. I have a long way to go (and may never fully get there) but this is the inspiring destination. I’m taking steps and that is to me what makes my faith – or any faith for that matter – truly empowering and an essential driving force. I know that each and every day of my life I am wanted, accepted, loved and watched over by our loving Creator, my God.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Credits and acknowledgments:

This article was first published by Three Faiths Forum on 08/03/2018 (author: Elizabeth Arif-Fear).

Image credit (feature image): Aslan Media (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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How can (better) interfaith relations help build a safer, more equal society?

Last week was UN World Interfaith Harmony Week which brought another important reminder to reflect on interfaith relations and peace building within our community. This reminder was even more crucial barely two weeks before, when on 27th January, we also marked Holocaust Memorial Day.

On this day in particular we remember the six million Jews massacred by the Nazi regime, along with other marginalised and persecuted groups such as the Roma and LGBT communities.

We also remember that despite saying “Never Again”, we have since witnessed further atrocities in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. Throughout this period of remembrance and reflection, we are reminded of our ongoing struggle against hatred, discrimination and genocide.

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Preventing discrimination, ethnic cleansing and genocide

As a society, it is imperative that we work together to actively tackle discrimination and prevent ethnic cleansing and genocide. We must remember the lessons of the past and work towards building a safe harmonious space for all, regardless of gender, age, ethnic background, nationality, faith and sexuality.

To do this we have to actively and continuously reflect upon past events and identify key principles and approaches which can tackle discrimination, hatred and “othering” narratives. As a multifaith society, it is also imperative to consider the role of faith and interfaith dialogue within this mission.

In 2018 in fact, we are still seeing discrimination, hatred, division and violence amongst members of various faith groups and ethnic communities. Just last August, we witnessed an outbreak of violence in Myanmar against Muslim Rohingya and Hindu minorities. Since August 25th, at least 6,7000 Roghingya individuals have been killed and around 400,000 people have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh in search of safety and security.

Meanwhile, here in the UK the unfortunate increase of both anti-Semitic and Islamophobic hate crime is also proving that we still have a lot of work to do in regards to promoting social cohesion, interfaith relations and tackling hatred.

In addition, intrafaith violence between Sunni and Shia groups remains an ongoing polemic. The Ahamdiya Muslim community in particular also continues to face a range of discrimination and violent attacks across Morocco, Pakistan and even here in the UK with the murder of Asad Shah in Glasgow in March 2016. These unfortunate realities are also proving that hatred and violence know no boundaries.

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These alarming, hate-fuelled and violent behaviours must be tackled. We must never forget that genocide itself ultimately stems from hatred and indifference to injustice. It starts with the “othering” of those different from ourselves, by essentialising someone’s identity to magnify difference, failing to find common ground with someone seemingly different from yourself in some form and from ultimately seeing others who may be different in faith, ethnicity or cultural origin as in fact alien to yourself and somehow unequal in worth.

By failing to respect and appreciate difference (whether it be religious, ethnic or cultural) and recognise the universal self-worth and innate dignity of all human beings, othering can and does lead to discrimination and de-humanising and ultimately ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Doctor Gregory Stanton, a professor at Mary Washington University and Vice President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, documented this degenerative scale in his “10 Stages of Genocide“.

The pattern starts with stage number 1: Classification – in other words developing an “us and them” narrative. This is followed by symbolisation, discrimination and dehumanisation, leading to polarisation, preparation, persecution and finally extermination and denial. Quite crucially, let’s not forget that this is the denial that we are still seeing today by certain members of the non-Jewish community regarding the Holocaust.

Where does faith fit into this?

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Faith is often cited as a means of dividing people and inciting violence. For example, we find the othering “us and them” narrative within jihadist rhetoric which concentrates heavily on the notion of “infidels”, demonising non-Muslims and declaring them as the “enemies of Islam”.

As witnessed by the Holocaust, the Jewish community were discriminated against because of their faith. However, this wasn’t simply due to difference in religious doctrine. This after all is a personal practice. Medieval narratives of anti-Judaism stemming from the death of Jesus were also intertwined with centuries of socio-economic division, stereotypical “othering”, propaganda and exclusion.

This is in fact a complex issue but behind it all I believe that the answer is really quite simple. Violence and hatred have no faith but faith can and must play a key part in tackling these issues.

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Firstly, if we are to tackle hatred we must start with an inclusive open dialogue which respects the key elements of people’s identity and one of these elements is faith. This requires engaging with and including religious leaders of different faith backgrounds when tackling social, cultural and political issues such as discrimination and the further abuse of human rights.

Politicians cannot combat discrimination and build long-lasting social cohesion without collective, inclusive dialogue and understanding. Without the commitment of faith leaders, they risk forming ill-informed, exclusionary or subjective policies. Respect for and the protection of human rights in a multifaith society is built by developing mutual understanding, respecting the diverse and collective needs of communities and forming a collective unified identity, developed and nurtured over time.

Secondly, not only should politicians not simply exclude faith communities in political and social solutions but I also believe that faith is in fact a crucial but often overlooked tool to actively and positively promote social cohesion and peace.

Faith is in fact an active uniting force. Whilst there are key principles and bonds that can cross cultural, national and social boundaries within a single faith group, faith in its true spiritual sense is also a unifying force between people of different faith traditions and backgrounds. Our faith holds us accountable to a higher power and calls upon us to respect God’s creation and to therefore love and respect one another – regardless of a person’s individual or collective background.

The Golden Rule

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Faith in fact holds the precursor to combatting such “othering” behaviour thanks to a basic universal principle known as “The Golden Rule“. This rule quite clearly calls upon us to simply: “Treat others the way you wish to be treated”.

This principle can be found across all major faith traditions. In Islam for example, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:

“None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself”.

Judaism also teaches: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” in Leviticus, chapter 19, verse 18.

Similarly, in Christianity in Luke, chapter 10, verse 27, Jesus says: “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.”

This very same principle can also be found in Buddhism, Shintoism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Confucianism and the Baha’i faith – the world’s biggest faith traditions.

What this rule lays bare is that no one would want to experience the horror of the Holocaust or Srebrenica. By following the Golden Rule each within our own faith traditions, we can build a greater sense of responsibility, empathy, unity and solidarity amongst people of all faiths. This also crucially includes those of no faith.

We must therefore firstly go back to our own traditions and find common ground with and mutual love and respect for our neighbours of other faiths. We must speak out against hate speech and harmful narratives and we must actively reach out to other faith communities to build bridges, friendships and unions. In this way we can prevent these othering narratives forming and developing into toxic practices such a discrimination, ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Putting faith into action

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This approach however must be nurtured on a variety of levels. On an individual level we must evaluate our behaviour in how we treat and defend the rights of others. On a micro level within our own families and communities we must teach the younger generations in line with the Golden Rule and lead by example.

On a macro level as larger societies and nations, combatting discrimination, ethnic cleansing and genocide in a multifaith society therefore requires faith leaders of various religious teachings to enter and be part of wider national, international and political discussions. The Golden Rule is a universal principle which should in fact guide the teachings and work of religious representatives. Faith leaders must actively promote unity and commonality between members of different faith communities and none. They are also obliged to stand up against hatred, discrimination and violence towards members of every faith community and none.

If an imam for example is preaching an intolerant, divisive narrative, then he is not doing his duty as a religious teacher. Individual and community faith members must call religious leaders to account if they do not take this responsibility seriously. Likewise, if religious figures and teachers are not addressing such attitudes within their own religious communities, then they are allowing toxic narratives to fester, instead of promoting social harmony. This is in fact contrary to religious teachings. Education, intercultural and interfaith dialogue in line with the Golden Rule must therefore form a fundamental part of their approach to teaching their faith. Responsibility must be taken on every level. There must be honesty, dialogue and transparency.

Faith is a much-needed key element to promoting peace and harmony amongst different communities and wider society. Greater interfaith dialogue on a variety of levels – just as intercultural understanding – is the way forward and the key to breaking away from the 10 steps to genocide and instead build more cohesive, equal, safer and fairer societies.

Whatever our religious or spiritual background and whatever our position within our religious communities – from church goer, to imam or even the Pope – each and every one of us can and must play our part of this movement as a member of our wider, collective multifaith society which respects human rights and declares “Never Again”.

Peace, salam, shalom ♡

In memory of the victims of the Holocaust, Srebrenica and all other genocides.

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10 More disturbing extremist rantings and how to respond

Following my previous blog on 10 Typical Islamist rantings and how to respond, I’d like to present a very much needed sequel!

We must drown out extremist, outdated, misogynistic narratives. So, here are sadly more disappointing examples of intolerance and extremism that are normalised within many Muslim/scholarly circles. Here’s also how to respond in order to promote a real, healthier message!

1. Kill or disown apostates

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Examples of popular scholars/Islamic websites preaching such narrative can be found here (Zakir Naik) and here (Islam Q+A).

Here’s how to respond:

  • Allah Almighty gave us free will and the chance of redemption.
  • Faith is a personal journey – an individual journey between God and our own soul.

More information can be found here.

2. Women must do all the housework and serve their husbands

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Examples from preachers can be found here (Zakir Naik). Very frustrating and not very egalitarian!

Here’s how to respond:

  • We have choices. A woman’s choice to go to work should not be at the detriment of having two (full-time sole) jobs – one at home and one at work.
  • In many cases, without her own income (a second family income), the family will struggle financially. In fact, financially dependent women remain incredibly vulnerable – imagine their spouse falls ill, dies or turns abusive? Women need a back-up / some sort of financial independence.
  • The Prophet (pbuh) shared the chores at home, so why are such misogynistic attitudes being peddled in the name of Islam?

More information can be found here.

3. Jews are “the enemies of Islam”

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Anti-Semitism is being pedalled by “Islamic scholars” and it’s shocking. In this video, Dr Zakir Naik is quoted as saying:

“America is controlled by the Jews”
“We have to be careful of the Jews”
“Jews are the biggest enemy of Muslims”

Dr Naik’s use of language (“The Jews”) in itself is shocking. Again, back in my previous post on three popular Islamic scholars who promote extremism, Shayk al-Munajjid of the website Islam Q&A has publicly stated 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).

Let’s get this clear please. Here’s how to respond:

  • Judaism and Islam come from the same Abrahamic family. We have A LOT in common and the Jewish community deserve respect.
  • Both communities are increasingly becoming victims of religiously-motivated hate crime and are “in the same boat”.
  • Whatever your beliefs – religious, political etc. – we are all human and deserve honesty and respect.
  • The Jewish community does a lot of interfaith work to promote friendship and peace amongst Jews and Muslims.
  • Lies, harmful stereotypes and polarising of communities is not acceptable.
  • The Israeli-Palestinian issue is vast and does not simply relate to two religious communities and “us vs. them”.
  • Remember, a Muslim man is permitted to marry a Jewish sister!

A great example of Jewish-Muslim sisterhood can be found here:

Check them out and get involved!

4. Secularism is anti-Islamic and wayward

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Ah here we go. Here’s a typical anti-secular narrative:

Secularism is a new philosophy and a corrupt movement which aims to separate religion from the state, and focuses on worldly matters, and worldly desires and pleasures; it makes this world the only goal in life, and forgets and ignores the Hereafter. It pays no attention to deeds pertaining to the Hereafter. The words of the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) may be applied to the secularist:

‘Wretched is the slave of the dinar and the slave of the dirham and the slave of the khameesah (a kind of luxurious garment made of wool with patterns). If he is given he is pleased and if he is not given he becomes discontent. May he be wretched and doomed, and if he is pricked with a thorn may it not be pulled out (i.e., may he have no help to remove it).’ Narrated by al-Bukhaari (2887).”

(Islam Q+A)

There seems to be a conflation between secularism and materialism and atheism.

Here’s how to respond:

  • Secularism is not “anti-faith” – it’s actually designed to promote religious freedom of freedom of belief (if also non-religious).
  • Without some degree of separation of politics and religious we ultimately on the far end of the scale end up with a religious theocracy (e.g. as in Iran, Saudi Arabia, ISIS territory) which violates the right to freedom and in many cases turns people away from faith!
  • For example, in the UK we are not officially secular (we are Anglican as a State) but we very much operate in line with secular principles in relation to religious minorities.
  • On the other end of the scale, examples of extreme secularism which remove rights of minorities and religious observants can be found in Turkey and France who follow(ed) a hardline model of laïcité. This model of secularism is more concerned with the removal of religion from the public sphere and does/did not allow certain religious practices in public places (e.g. hijab in school, teaching etc.). This however is not the standard universalised practice/understanding of secularism and is an abuse of personal religious freedoms.
  • Secularism therefore has varying forms, degrees, practices and outlooks.
  • Not everyone in every country is Muslim/of one single religion – even in apparently “Muslim countries” – they may be Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, agnostic, atheist etc. Minority rights are essential and must be respected.
  • Worship is for God alone and not for governments.

More information can be found here.

5. Doubting and questioning makes you a kafir

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This is sadly so common (see here) and very, very harmful. This does not empower people and is incredibly damaging to a person’s self-esteem and spiritual growth and wellbeing.

Here’s how to respond:

  • How can you accept something without discovery and reflection?
  • You cannot accept what you do not know or understand.
  • We mature, evolve, change our views on things over time and this is a good thing! It means we are sincerely seeking and seeing new answers, new interpretations and new realities!

More information can be found here.

6. The Qur’an is enough – we don’t need learning, research and discovery

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Similar to point number five, here’s how to respond:

  • The Qur’an teaches us to learn to think but not to stop there!
  • A broad range of knowledge will actually help us better understand the Qur’an and references to the natural world and other faith traditions.
  • The more we advance as a society in terms of philosophy, ethics, politics, medicine etc., the more/better we can understand Allah’s creation, save lives through the advancement of medicine etc., live together peacefully in a multicultural, multifaith state, respect each other’s rights etc.

7. Science is “anti-God”

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Again, similar to the previous two points, we must read and discover the world around us.

Here’s how to respond:

  • The universe belongs to Allah and is “run” according to His will!
  • During “The Golden Era of Islam”, Muslims excelled in the fields of science and mathematics.

Find out more information here:

8. You should not have close non-Muslim friends

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A person who is kind, tolerant and open poses no threat (despite what may be said here).

If you come across this, here’s how to respond:

  • Muslim men marry Christian women and many Muslims have family members of various faiths – so it doesn’t really make sense then does it?
  • As long as a person is not violent and/or stopping you from practising your religion, there is no reason you cannot be friends with them!
  • Let’s be honest, you’d not want to be friends with an Islamophobe and neither would they!
  • In any case, we are encouraged to avoid anger and deal with people kindly (sorry haters!)

More info can be found here:

9. Being gay makes you non-Muslim

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To be a Muslim, you must believe in and recite the shahada (declaration of belief):

Muslim Profession of Faith

The Shahada is the Muslim profession of faith and the first of the ‘Five Pillars’ of Islam. The word shahada in Arabic means ‘testimony.’ The shahada is to testify to two things:

(a) Nothing deserves worship except God (Allah).

(b) Muhammad is the Messenger of God (Allah).

A Muslim is simply one who bears witness and testifies that “nothing deserves worship except God and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” One becomes a Muslim by making this simple declaration.

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In doing so, they de-facto accept Islamic teachings. We therefore have to bear two things in mind:

  • Interpretations of what is halal and haram differ.
  • Even if you believe something is a sin, sinning doesn’t mean you’re/a person is not a believer.

10. Non-Muslims are “out to get us”

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Firstly, I take extreme issue with the term “kafir” just being flung around (that’s however, another (long) story!).

What I have sensed amongst some young Muslims is a sense of fear, paranoia and concern relating to prior colonialism, surveillance and anti-extremism measures. I’d like to point out that these are not extremists. These are regular people going to work, living their lives. In fact, I reckon it’s quite common.

These “us vs. them” narratives are however exploited by extremists and can ultimately lead to people becoming radicalised if they feel isolated and that they are “under threat” in some sort of religious ideological “battle”.

Here’s how to respond:

  • Colonialism – it’s a terrible thing but that’s the past. My generation, my parent’s generation etc. are/were not responsible.
  • The UK population are also not responsible for Iraq, Afghanistan etc. Politics and religion here are two different things.
  • Muslims are thriving – here in the UK anyway! Take entrepreneur James Cann, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain etc.
  • Yes, there is Islamophobia and we must fight it but let’s not tar everyone with the same brush please!
  • Let’s all work towards an inclusive integrated cohesive society. When we’re all looking out for each other, we’re a safer, stronger society. Ultimately, we all benefit.

So there you have it folks. There’s some very intolerant, outdated, un/misinformed views out there but let’s not attack people. Many people are being taught/exposed to poisonous beliefs (unknowingly!). So, treat people kindly and try and explain how you feel (with evidence plus logic!). Also speak out against hatred when things are clearly not right.

We can all make a difference. Spread some peace 🙂

Salam!

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Muslim and Proud – An inspiring poem

Last month, in honour of Human Rights Day (10th December), I attended an event at Initiatives of Change in London on human rights issues of concern both nationally and internationally.

To start off the event, we heard a wonderful poem by an inspiring poet called Somaye which I’d like to share.

Muslim and Proud

Say it loud,

I’m Muslim and I’m proud,

I’m beautiful in hijab and I’m beautiful without,

I may be straight, I may be gay,

I’m Muslim and I’m proud either way!

 

Say it loud,

Pride is what it’s all about.

It’s my right to be devout.

Without a fight I won’t go out,

So hear me cry, hear me shout.

I may be lapsed but without doubt,

I’m Muslim and I’m proud.

 

These are the facts,

I won’t stand for your racist attacks,

I won’t be banned or sent back,

Whether beige, brown or black,

I’ll say it out loud,

I’m Muslim and damn I’m proud!

Whatever your faith (or none), we should all be proud of who we are – whilst also supporting our neighbours with whatever life choices they also make.

With this in mind, as we reflect on the year ahead, let’s make sure that 2018 is a great year of championing hate, building bridges, forging friendships and making sure that the world is a happier, safer place for everyone!

Happy New Year!

From one super proud Muslim 🙂

Salam, shalom, peace ♡

Credits and acknowledgements

Poem written by: Somaye

Feature image: Ali Amir (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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There’s a place for faith in Britain today – Let’s not become divided

There seems to be a belief by some that having a faith somehow makes you “less able to integrate”, less “British” or locked in some sort of cultural-ideological battle. It’s as if being British can only mean one thing: being (White-)Christian, Atheist or Agnostic.

If we look at the rate of hate crime in the UK, there’s no doubt been an increase in hostility against people from minority backgrounds, in particular members of the Muslim and Jewish communities.

To me this is all rather sad as I equate being British as being free to be who you are and in joyful celebration of such tolerance and acceptance. In terms of faith, you could be Christian, agnostic, atheist, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, Muslim or a range of many other things. We’re a multicultural, multifaith nation where we’re free to be who we are, in the way we want to.

Image credit - Matthew G (CC BY-NC 2.0).jpg

Image Credit: Matthew G (CC BY-NC 2.0)

I for one, as British-born 20-something with “traditional” Welsh/English/Irish and also Italian roots, who’s gone from being a Christian to a Muslim, certainly haven’t become less “British” since changing my faith. If anything, my faith has given me a sense of comfort, belonging and certainty in who I am as an individual. Islam teaches us to respect other people and treat them well. Like all other faiths, it calls upon us to honour social justice, build bridges with others, respect the law of the land and love others as we love ourselves. I therefore don’t see how being a Muslim would take a way anything from my cultural and national identity.

For me it’s values – or a perceived clash of values – that are the problem, not faith. The ultimate manifestation of such “Clash of Civilisations” is extremism – a poisonous ideology which isolates in all forms, from the neo-Nazi group to the jihadist cell. On the surface members of these groups come from different faith/social backgrounds but hatred and violence don’t have a faith. The reality is that these people are socially excluded and feeling victimised, confused and lost. They’re looking for a sense of belonging and empowerment.

What we must remember is that social integration is a two-way unified process. In a free democratic nation, we all have the right to choose our own faith, to speak a second, third or even fourth language and to hold on to our own precious histories, stories and memories. It’s our collective identity – where our multiple identities merge into one – that makes us British. To share an identity we need common values, a shared language and a shared history. We don’t need to belong to any one particular faith.

Image credit - Roberto Trombetta (CC BY-NC 2.0).jpg

Image credit: Roberto Trombetta (CC BY-NC 2.0)

We all have multiple identities. Identities are fluid, they’re hybrid, they’re plural. They change, merge and adapt over time. I’m Muslim yes but I’m also British, I’m European, I’m also a millennial, a second-generation half immigrant, an activist, a Midlander and a wife of a Berber-Algerian! Quite simply, I’m me! When I feel respected and included as a Muslim by non-Muslims I also feel even more heart-warmingly proud to be British.

If you take a look into a British mosque, synagogue or church, you’ll see a myriad of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. These faiths are already uniting people. Faith can and does play a key role in our sense of belonging and unity in British society – let’s celebrate that, please!

However, let’s also not forget that not everyone has a faith. What ultimately brings us together is our sense of solidarity. Whether we can live as a socially integrated nation ultimately depends upon each and every one of us. Ask yourself these questions: do you see your neighbour as a potential friend? Do you love them as you love yourself? Do you feel proud to live in a diverse nation?

As Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately. Always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course, whereby you will reach your target (of paradise).” This is a simple crucial message we can all follow, regardless of our own individual faiths.

Credits and acknowledgements

Feature image: AwayWeGo210 (CC BY 2.0)

This article was first published via Three Faiths Forum (15/11/2017)

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20 Rumi quotes to inspire you to live and love

The other week I went to a fantastic interfaith poetry and storytelling night ran by Feeding Folk – a Jewish-Muslim project working to serve the homeless across London. The event itself was held at a gem of a little place called Rumi’s Cave in North London. A wonderful homely place, it reflected the fantastic teachings of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, a 13th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, Islamic jurist, theologian and Sufi mystic whose words inspire peace, love and spirituality. Rumi – a key figure from the Islamic Golden Age – is one of the most popular poets worldwide and a true inspiration with his works translated into multiple other languages.

With this in mind, I’d like to present 20 amazing quotes from Rumi himself which inspire love, peace and a soothing spirituality. Feel the love, soak up the wisdom and revel in their beauty!

1. “Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” 

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2. “If light is in your heart, you will find your way home.”

3. “The only lasting beauty is the beauty of the heart.” 

4. “When the world pushes you to your knees, you’re in the perfect position to pray.”

5. “Only from the heart can you touch the sky.”

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6. “Love is not an emotion, it is your very existence.”

7. “When you let go of who you are, you become who you might be.” 

8. “The beauty you see in me is a reflection of you”

9. “Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.”

10. “Through love, thorns become roses.”

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11. “Your heart knows the way, run in that direction.”

12. “Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasure.”

13. “Giving thanks for abundance is greater than the abundance itself.”

14. “All doubt, despair and fear become insignificant once the intention of life becomes love.”

15. “Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder. Help someone’s soul heal.”

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16. “Love is the bridge between you and everything.”

17. “Know that one day, your pain will become your cure.”

18. “We are born of love: love is our mother.”

19. “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

20. “You have within you more love than you could ever understand.”

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So in the footsteps of Rumi, find peace with yourself and you’ll be at peace with the world!

Salam! ♡

20-offpurplebouquets

Think women have no place in Islam? Take a look at these 10 influential historical figures…

Muslim women… There’s so many stereotypes out there – oppressed, silent, uneducated, meek, mild etc. The list goes on! In several previous posts I’ve written about women in Islam, including one particular post on common misconceptions of Muslim women, to try and dispel some of these myths (or in some cases un-Islamic behaviour). Having established that Muslim women do indeed have a real intellectual, spiritual and emotional role within Islam and the Muslim world – despite the toxic narratives and misogynistic behaviour out there –  I’d like to draw your attention to a few of the many amazing Muslim women out there!

Here’s ten  influential women in Islamic history whose legacy and influence are so great that they continue today. Prepare to be inspired!

1. Hagar (Hajer)

In Biblical times, Hajer was the daughter of an Egyptian king, given to Abraham (Ibrahim) as a slave. As a result, she bore a son – Prophet Ishmael (Ismail). Ismail is in fact an important figure in the lineage between Prophet Muhammed. However, as Abraham’s other wife Sarah was jealous of Hagar following birth of Ismail, she asked for her to be sent away. Allah then revealed to Abraham to take them to Mecca. Abraham took them to the desert where they were left with no water. As Hajar and baby Ismail struggled without water in the stifling heat, Hajer ran between the hills of al-Safa and al-Marwa in search of something to drink. After the seventh time running between the two hills, an angel appeared and a spring burst forth. This well is known as “Zamzam” and is a holy source of water used to heal oneself. During Hajj – the Islamic pilgrimage in Mecca – every single Muslim (male and female) now runs exactly between these two points, remembering Hajer’s courage, trust and faith in God.

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The mountains outside Mecca

2. Asiya bint Muzahim

Asiya was the wife of Pharaoh during the reign of Moses (Musa). As Pharoah was killing the first born sons in the land, Moses’ mother received a revelation to leave her baby son in a basket in the river. Asiya and her maid later found Moses in the river and Pharaoh’s wife raised him as her son. Asiya – unlike her tyrannical husband – was a believer in (The One) God and witnessed Moses’ miracles. She worshipped God in secret though as her husband disliked and killed many of the believers. However, after witnessing the death of a believing woman who had been tortured under Pharaoh’s orders, she openly declared her faith to her husband. Pharaoh tried to turn his wife away from God but Asiya refused to deny Him. Due to her faith and rebellion, she was then tortured to death – dying as a martyr as a result. To Muslims, Asiya represents faithfulness, virtue and piety. Despite her husband’s beliefs and behaviour, she was loyal to God, showing how women can practice their faith regardless of their circumstances as we are all independent spiritual beings.

3. Mary (Maryam)

Mary – mother of Prophet Jesus (Issa) – is one of the most important women in the Qur’an and in fact the only woman identified by name in the Qur’an itself. Her name actually features more in the Qur’an than the New Testament. The 19th chapter of the Qur’an (composed of 98 verses) is named after Mary and discusses her pregnancy, Jesus’ birth and the miracle of how he spoke in the cradle:

She said, “How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?”

He said, “Thus [it will be]; your Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me, and We will make him a sign to the people and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter [already] decreed.’ “

So she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a remote place. […] Then she brought him to her people, carrying him. They said, “O Mary, you have certainly done a thing unprecedented. O sister of Aaron, your father was not a man of evil, nor was your mother unchaste.” So she pointed to him. They said, “How can we speak to one who is in the cradle a child?” .

[Jesus] said, “Indeed, I am the servant of Allah. He has given me the Scripture and made me a prophet….

That is Jesus, the son of Mary – the word of truth about which they are in dispute.

(Qur’an, 19: 20-34)

4. Khadija bint Khuwaylid (d. 620)

A successful entrepreneur and elite figure in Mecca in her own right, Khadija was Prophet Muhammad’s first wife. The couple were married for 25 years and it was Khadija that in fact became the first “Muslim” in accepting her husband’s revelation, providing him crucial emotional support during the period of the emergence of Islam:

God Almighty never granted me anyone better in this life than her. She accepted me when people deprived me; and God granted me children only through her. (Muslim)

Something you may not also know is that it was Khadija that first proposed the idea of marriage – not Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)!

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The Qur’an and marriage (Image credit: Nur Alia Mazalan, CC)

5. Aisha bint Abu Bakr (d. 678)

Another influential wife of Prophet Muhammad (who died in 632) was Aisha, who played central role in political opposition to 3rd/4th caliphs Uthman ibn Affan/Ali ibn Abi Talib and was an early jurist and hadith transmitter of Islamic teachings. As one of the major narrators of the ahadith (sayings and practices of Prophet Muhammed), she played a highly active role in scholarship, politics and the public sphere as a whole.

6. Fatimah bint Muhammad (d.632)

Prophet Muhammad’s youngest daughter (considered the only daughter of Khadija in Shia tradition) is known by many titles such as “al-Zahra” (“the shining one”), Fatima Zahra and “al-Batul” (the chaste, the pure one), acknowledged as spending a lot of time in prayer, reciting Qur’an and in other acts of worship.

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“Zahra” translates to the flower “rose” in Arabic (Image credit: Ahmed Alper, CC)

7. Nusayba bint Ka‘b al-Ansariyya (d. 634)

Also known as Umm Ammara, Nusayba was a member of Banu Hajjar tribe – a Jewish tribe mentioned in the Charter of Medina, outlining a multifaith State with other religious communities. Nusayba was one of earliest converts to Islam in Medina and was a companion of Prophet Muhammad. She was well versed in the Qur’an and ahadith and was one of the first advocates for women’s rights. She questioned Prophet Muhammad about God addressing men in the Qur’an, asking: “Why does God only address men (in the Qur’an)?” The following verse was then revealed which outlines how men and woman are spiritual equals:

Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so – for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward. (Qur’an, 33: 35)

8. Rabi‘a al-‘Adawiyya (Iraq) (d. 801) 

Rabia of Basra was an important Sufi mystic and poet. Born into a poor family, she lived as a slave in southern Iraq, later gaining her freedom after her owner saw her prostrating in prayer with an aura of light surrounding her. As the founder of Sufi school of “Divine Love”, she emphasised the importance of loving God, rather than fearing punishment or seeking reward from God for our actions. One day, she was out walking, holding a bucket of water in one hand and lit candle in the other, and was asked why she was doing so. She replied: “I want to set fire to heaven with this flame and put out the fire of hell with this water so that people will cease to worship God for fear of hell or temptation of heaven. One must love God as God is love”.  Her emphasis on loving Allah can also be seen in this beautiful poem:

O God! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell, and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise. But if I worship You for Your Own sake, grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.

9. Fatima al-Fihri (Morocco) (d. 880)

Fatima is the founder of oldest university in the world. After inheriting a large fortune, Fatima wanted to invest in work which would be of benefit to the community, so she built Al-Qarawiyyin mosque. During the 10-12th centuries this then became Al-Qarawiyyin University. This centre of study has since been recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records and UNESCO as the oldest ongoing higher education institution in the world.

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Fez, Morocco (Image credit: Scott Koch, CC)

10. Nana Asma’u bint Shehu Usman dan Fodio (Nigeria) (d.1864) 

Nana Asma’u is one very inspiring woman! As the daughter of the founder of the Sokoto Caliphate, Usman dan Fodio, this multilingual princess, poet and teacher was well educated in Qur’anic studies and passionate about women’s education. In 1830, Nana formed a group of fellow female teachers and travelled around poor and rural areas to educate women. She is an important pre-modern feminist figure in Africa and advocate of women’s independence and education in Islam and the Muslim world. As a result of her work, many Islamic organisations, meeting halls and schools in Nigeria have since been named after her in her honour. Her works have also been re-published and re-translated as her influence is still strong today.

So there we are! Just some of the many inspirational Muslim from the earlier eras! If you’d like to find out more information about important historical and contemporary Muslim women, check out the WISE Muslim Women index. It’s a great tool and covers a wide range of both historical and contemporary figures across a range of professions and spheres. Check it out!

Salam!

Credits:

Featured image: Hernán Piñera (CC BY-SA 2.0)