12 Simple principles to build peace in your community

If you switch on the TV news, open the newspaper or click onto a popular news website, there’s always news about a terrorist attack, war, ongoing conflict and a general lack of peace amongst different groups of people. In an increasingly globalised world, we should understand each other better, stand ever more united and strive for peace. Sadly, the truth is quite the opposite. There’s conflict in Israel/Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, all over the world in fact…

As individuals and citizens, how do we deal with this? How does this relate to us? How can we make positive changes to enable us to live in peace? Well, I’m not an expert in diplomacy or international relations and this is a blog not a thesis, so I’m not going to go into the deep depths of peace keeping and international politics, but I’d just like to reflect on a key few principles that we can follow to help make the world a better place. Inspired by a recent conference I went to on terrorism and peace building last March hosted by Uniting for Peace including President Vijay Mehta’s piece on “Ten Ways to Stop Terrorism”, here’s my take on community peace building.

Now, you may be thinking: “How can we honestly make a difference?” Well the reality is that change really does start at home folks! If we build strong united communities, we can fight hate crime, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia and take a stand against divisive politics. These are real issues which work their way up from the bottom. If we fight toxic narratives, common misconceptions and negative stereotypes, the media and politicians lose their power to drive communities apart, scapegoat groups and divide people. Ultimately, that’s where conflict starts and that’s what war is – a lack of peace, tolerance, understanding, compassion and ability to live alongside others…

Rule #1: Treat others the way you wish to be treated

The good old Golden Rule says it all: empathy, tolerance and peace. This principle teaches you to love yourself and love others. It spans cultures and faiths and is a universal age old concept which can’t fail! For information on the golden rule across various faiths see here.

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Rule #2: Listen to hear what others have to say, not to speak

Engage in dialogue with an open mind and the real will to listen to others. Only then will you be able to understand each other and build bridges. Change cannot happen and peace cannot be established if people are unable to communicate with others; to listen to their experiences and views and show empathy, understanding and compassion.

-Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.- --Stephen R. Covey (1).jpg

Rule #3: Accept difference of opinion

We all have different opinions and we may not all agree on the same things. Building compromise and mutual understanding is incredibly important. Sometimes we simply need to agree to disagree and recognise that there are different beliefs and forms of expression other than our own.

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Rule #4: Do not fight violence with violence 

Violence is never the answer. Peace can only be brought through free will, dialogue, empathy and forgiveness. Do not stoop to same level as someone who is violent and therefore continue the vicious cycle. This does not change anything.

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Rule #5: Fight extremism in all its forms

Do not categorise terrorism as a religious phenomena and single out or stereotype certain groups of people. Extremism is a human “disease” which can take many forms. All forms of extremism and hatred must be fought in unity as a community or else further division and conflict will arise.

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Rule #6: Accept that identity is fluid 

Any one person can have multiple aspects to their identity. Identity comprises many elements such as nationality, cultural-linguistic origin, age and religious beliefs. Identity can and does change, taking on many new forms and means of personal expression as we learn new languages, move home, adopt new beliefs, marry into a different tradition and experience life! Do not put people into a box. Avoid categorising people according to an us vs. them narrative and remember: we are all singular individuals with unique experiences. Such approaches and narratives are highly divisive and unproductive.

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Rule #7:  Avoid stereotypes 

Take people for the individuals they are. Avoid misconceptions, stereotypes and toxic narratives and get to know a person instead. This will avoid offence, misunderstandings and ultimately help you to create a real bond with others based on true understanding, empathy and trust. After all, no one likes to be judged – especially from the outside.

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Rule #8: Approach the media with skepticism

Don’t just believe everything you see on the TV, in the newspapers or on the internet. Think objectively for yourself. Get to know the people and facts behind any story and don’t fall for media scapegoating. Stand united.

The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because they control the minds of the masses..jpg

Rule #9: Be careful of the language you use

Your choice of language, alongside tone of voice and intonation all convey a message. Make sure that that message is positive. Be mindful of the language you use, avoiding anything with misogynistic, racist, Islamophobic, homophobic or anti-Semitic overtones. Do not underestimate the power of language – for better or for worse! And remember, it’s not always what you say, it’s how you say it.

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Rule #10: Let go of the past

You can’t move on if you’re stuck in the past. Learn lessons but also learn to move forward for the greater good. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you agree with everything, it means you’re able to move on without grudges and resentment. Only in this way can communities heal and move forward together.

Inner peace can be reached only when we practice forgiveness. Forgiveness is letting go of the past, (1).jpg

Rule #11: Stand up for others – not just your own community

If we only fight prejudice and injustice against our own friends, family and community groups then we ultimately fail to protect the wider community and society as a whole. Discrimination, bigotry and prejudice know no boundaries. For a community to live in peace and harmony, everyone’s rights and freedoms must be respected.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.Then they came for the Je (1).jpg

Rule #12: Celebrate diversity: learn about and actively engage with those different to you

Learn about other communities, religions, nationalities and people. If you don’t learn about others, you’ll never understand them and therefore miss out on the opportunity to build bonds, friendships and common goals and interests. If you don’t know your neighbours, then how can you come together as a united community? Learn about other people and have fun. After all, diversity is what makes the world so interesting!

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So, there you have it. 12 simple principles to follow from the ground up to make the world a little more harmonious, understanding, tolerant and ultimately peaceful. Never think you can’t make a difference – you really can!

Salam!

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#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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Hey Mr President: Here’s 10 shameful human rights issues you need to get work on…

Dear President Trump,

I’m not an American citizen nor am I of American heritage (I do have Italian-American family mind!) BUT in any case,  I think it’s safe to say that your presidency affects every one of us worldwide. As global citizens, in an increasingly connected and globalised,  world we should be looking out for our brothers and sisters, advocating for human rights and denouncing both threats towards and violations against human freedoms and human rights worldwide.

Long since the start of your presidential campaign, you’ve gathered a lot of media attention. I myself, never expected you to take over office but well – this is theoretically your democratic right. The American people spoke! Out of ignorance, fear and hatred I may add BUT that time has passed. Now you’re ready to settle into the White House and are starting to take on your presidential duties. In light of this, I’d like to remind you of some core human rights abuses which the US needs to address. You state you are the “land of the free” after all… a land which is on show to the entire world…

  1. Abuse of the right to a fair trial: At the end of 2015, Amnesty International recorded a total number of 107 detainees at Guantánamo – most being held without charges having being pressed. These men lie in wait, without hope, facing torture and humiliation. If you believe these men (or anyone else) have committed criminal acts, then take them to trial whilst respecting their right to legal representation and a FAIR trial.
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  2. Abuse of the right to freedom of expression and permissibility of hate speech: Freedom of expression is an important right but that doesn’t mean that citizens should be able to spout inflammatory obscene, hate speech and harass other members of the public. Permissible exceptions to the First Amendment include: “incitement, defamation, fraud, child pornography, obscenity, fighting words and threats”. Well, take a look at some of these gentlemen in the videi below harassing Muslims on the streets and ask yourself, is this acceptable? Freedom of expression is one thing, hate speech and hate crimes are another….

3. Threats to religious freedomYou claimed in December 2015 that you will uphold the right to freedom of religion, when you stated:

“Religious liberty is enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution. It is our first liberty and provides the most important protection in that it protects our right of conscience.”

I would however like to compare that to the comments you made regarding Muslims entering the US and American mosques and draw your attention to the fact that since you became elected, there has been a sharp rise in the number of Islamophobic incidents. American Muslims, Jews – every rational person – is counting on you to respect their right to freedom of belief…

4. Denial of the right to adequate health careThere are a series of critical abuses and  health care issues which need addressing:

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An insurance based health care system often leaves citizens unable to receive medical assistance

Lack of a national health care system: Former  President Barack Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on 23rd March (2010). As a result, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that roughly 32 million extra people will have health insurance by 2019 after the law is fully implemented. 32 million people will however remain uninsured. This is simply not good enough – every human has the right to emotional and physical wellbeing and to access adequate health care.

Abuse of mentally ill prisoners: Mentally ill prisoners have been beaten, pepper sprayed, shocked, burnt and have sometimes even died in custody. Staff training, resources, greater knowledge and awareness is crucially needed to address such inhuman treatment and provide the necessary level of care required. Further information can be found in the Human Rights Watch report – I urge you to watch this video (although I found it very distressing – simply because the reality is just that shocking): https://youtu.be/OCaKethFbEg.

Inadequate medical care for transgender women in custody: US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) introduced a new policy in June 2015 to provide transgender women in immigration detention with certain protections. However, despite this new policy, transgender women in ICE custody still receive inadequate medical care, as well as reporting sexual and verbal harassment whilst in detention.

Inadequate maternal health care: In a report published by the WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and The World Bank (1990-2008), the USA is ranked 50th in the world for maternal mortality. In fact, the issue of maternal health has long been a concern for Amnesty International. In 2013, the maternal mortality rate was 17.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, with “significant racial disparities” among different racial groups – very concerning indeed. Native American and Alaska Native women who are raped for example, are faced with continuous lack of access to medical care including examinations and emergency contraception. African-American women are also almost four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than their white American sisters. I found a range of shocking information via “U.S. Public Health Emergencies: Maternal Mortality and Gun Violence” and Amnesty International’s 2015/2016 report.

5. Abuse of the right to privacy: The US government continues to spy on its citizens by urging major US mobile phone and internet companies to loosen the security measures of their systems so the government can spy more easily on its citizens during criminal investigations. In May 2015, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression called on all countries (including the US) to respect citizens’ right to privacy and “refrain from weakening encryption and other online security measures” due to the fact that human rights defenders and activists across the world rely on the security of such tools and weakening encryption and other online security measures poses a danger to citizens own security. According to Human Rights Watch, although Congress passed the USA Freedom Act in June 2015 which limits the government’s ability to collect phone records and detailed new measures for greater transparency and oversight of NSA surveillance, the law does not restrict surveillance by the government justified to undertake “mass violations of people outside US borders”. Human Rights Watch also highlight how the law does not look at several modern surveillance means from malware to the interception of of all mobile phone calls in any given country. Very worrying indeed…

6. Use of torture, inhuman and degrading punishment and treatment:

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Protesters dressed as Guantánamo detainees

Back in January 2016, former President Obama banned the use of solitary confinement for minors in federal prisons. OK – one change, but there is still a long way to go. Having already documented the abuse of mentally ill inmates, the torture of prisoners in Guantánamo is also no secret; including sexual assault, sleep deprivation, mock executions, being forced to watch other inmates being tortured – and the list goes on… Mr President, I’d also like to draw your attention to this comment you made regarding the waterboarding of prisoners/detainees:

“Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would. In a heartbeat. I would approve more than that. It works… and if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway for what they do to us“.

Torture is inhuman, inhumane and in any case Mr President – it doesn’t work! “Evidence” and “confessions” extracted under torture are not reliable. We are living in the 21st century, where are you…?!

7. Use of police violence and arbitrary arrest: Following on from point number six, another tragic issue that has been featured a lot in the media recently is the abuse of black Americans by the police – even resulting in their death. We’re not talking about one-off incidents here, we’re talking about recurring patterns of violence, inequality and a culture of racism and abuse. Please don’t deny this. Amnesty International’s 2015/2016 US review records 43 deaths at the hands of police Tasers (across 25 states), reaching a total of at least 670 Taser-related deaths since 2001 (as of 2016). Just in case you think these people were a threat, most were unarmed and appeared to post no threat of death or serious injury when the Taser was used. It is estimated that the number of people who have been killed by law enforcement officials ranges from around 458 to 1,000+ people each year. This is however an estimate as the authorities did not track the exact number of people killed… How convenient… As we all know (and as backed up in the Amnesty report), black males are disproportionately affected by police killings…

8. Discrimination/inequality based on gender, “race”, colour, culture and sexual orientation:

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Black American men are six times more likely to be imprisoned than their white brothers

This is such a big point – where do I start? I’ve already touched on several inequalities including treatment in maternal health care and the use of excessive police force towards black males, so let’s also talk about the fact that African-American males are more likely to be arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned than their white male counterparts for drug offenses committed at “comparable rates”  – according to Human Rights Watch who state that: “African Americans are only 13 percent of the US population, but make up 29 percent of all drug arrests. Black men are incarcerated at six times the rate of white men.”

There is so much discrimination it’s difficult to even squish it into one post…but here’s one more documented by Human Rights Watch: “At time of writing, 28 states do not have laws banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, while three states prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation but not on gender identity.” Everyone has the right to work free from discrimination. This just isn’t good enough!

And whilst we’re at it, women don’t just face inequality in the workplace but sexual violence crossing socio-cultural ethnic groups at disproportionate levels. Native American and Alaska Native women not only face inadequate levels of health care but are also dis proportionally affected by sexual violence. They are 2.5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted or raped then other women in America. Such issues need to be addressed Mr President.

9. Detention of migrant and asylum-seeking childrenI’m quite frankly shocked and worried by your attitude towards migrants, asylum seekers and refugees… We’re all human and we all deserve the right to a peaceful, stable life free from torture, persecution and war and a decent standard of living. What’s worse is that the US detains asylum seeking women and – wait for it – CHILDREN. The USA has the largest detention immigration system in the world, including a huge amount of asylum-seeking mothers and children from Central America. Such treatment has a devastating psychological impact on these mothers and children. In June 2016, the government announced it would be limiting the practice of detaining mothers and children long-term for those who pass the first stage of the asylum-seeking process. According to Human Rights Watch, in July 2015, a federal judge ruled that the State’s family detention policy “violated a 1997 settlement on the detention of migrant children“. Policy has improved as those appearing to make a “legitimate” asylum claim are released within weeks but family detention still continues. Mr President – such children should never be detained and migrants, refugees and asylum seekers must never be detained for simply seeking protection and US residency.

10. Use of corporal punishment in schools – including against disabled children19 US states still use corporal punishment in schools. Even more shocking is the fact that disabled children are disproportionately affected by such behaviour. Corporal punishment is – as I believe – wrong. Add to this the fact that such punishment will greater affect disabled children’s physical and psychological conditions, this is just completely unacceptable. Across the globe, 124 countries have criminalised such physical punishment in State schools. So why is the USA  – the so-called land of “freedom, equality” etc. – so far behind Mr Trump…?

So, there we have it. There are so many social, cultural, political, economic and human rights issues in the USA which need addressing Mr President, but here’s 10 to get you started. Why not show toady’s protesters something positive? Why not prove us wrong? It’s up to you…

Key information sources:

Amnesty International: United States of America 2015/2016

Human Rights Watch: World Report 2016: United States, Events of 2015

Image credits:

Donkey Hotey, Waywuwei, Justin Norman, Ben

Gender, colour, faith: Tell Mama reveals the shocking truth about hate crime in the UK

I recently met with Fiyaz Mughal (OBE)– Founder and Director of the UK hate crime organisation Tell Mama. As the leading body in reporting Islamophobic and racial hate crime, I wanted to find out in light of Brexit, the rise to power of Trump, ISIS’ ongoing tirade of extremism and the spate of recent European terrorist attacks, how the nature of hate crime has changed in the UK and who is most affected. Here’s what I found out…

[…]

VoS: For Muslims and non-Muslims out there, can you tell us a little about the work that you do?

TM: So, the work of Tell Mama involves many different prongs; the first being direct support to victims who have suffered anti-Muslim hatred who make contact with us through a variety of means (WhatsApp, email etc.). We provide detailed case work support; writing to agencies if need be,  collecting evidence, talking to police forces, trying to get prosecutions with the police in relation to anti-Muslim hatred. Then there’s the other flip side, which is really about advocacy and emotional support. Many, many, many victims are Muslim women and certainly the targeting of Muslim women involves not just Islamophobia and anti-Muslim material but also a lot of misogynistic material – a lot of gender hate material that’s mixed in, as well as racialised language so it’s really unpacking that and giving them that kind of emotional support – so multiple services. […] The two other prongs; creating and sustaining good educational material that’s out there for not just schools but for use in the public domain through social media as well as some small courses for schools that we produce educational material for. Last but not least, we are really heavy on trying to influence policy change – not just with social media companies but with government and police forces around understanding anti-Muslim hatred.

VoS: So you said you deal with a lot of hate crime which affects Muslim women in particular. Especially since Brexit and the rise of ISIS over in The Middle East, there’s been a sharp rise in racist and Islamophobia attacks in the UK and Europe and North America. One shocking case for example was of a Muslim lady who was attacked in London, causing her to later miscarry her twins. I’m presuming this didn’t come as a surprise to you? Were you expecting a sharp increase in the rise of hate crime since Brexit and in the current political situation?

TM: When we started the project with Tell Mama in 2011, we came across an online world which was absolutely full of anti-Muslim bigotry and hatred. There was no checking. There was no counter-speech. There were enormous amounts of accounts that were promoting anti-Muslim bigotry. We knew that that would have a real world impact from the virtual to the real. We could see that. So in 2011, we realised early on that actually there was a wind – a nasty wind – that was coming across the horizon and was going to affect Muslim communities. So, did we expect this? Well, yes. Did the statistics start to pan that out? Yes. And that was also corroborated by police forces. Did we expect more aggressive stance towards Muslims at a street level? Yes. And so this case does not come out of the blue. Sadly, we expect that actually there will be more incidences of assaults and we’ve seen a change at a street level from predominantly verbal abuse before to now over the last few years a much aggressive level of physical incidences taking place – again predominantly at visible Muslim women. So it’s moved from the virtual about what people were thinking into the practical in people wanting to do things and that’s a bad place. This is not going from people thinking about it. They’re actually thinking and doing it now.

VoS: So do you think that it’s simply -as some people have said – that the political and social situation has evolved in such a way that it’s almost been normalised to behave in such way and so people are just expressing opinions and hate they had before or that people’s opinions have actually become more extreme since the recent political crisis?

TM: We also know that international and national incidences create large spikes of anti-Muslim hatred – Paris, Charlie Hebdo, all of them… We’ve got evidence of the numbers of cases coming in. Did we expect Brexit to cause such a large rise? Actually we didn’t but what Brexit did do was clearly bring out the views that people had. These things don’t just fester overnight. They’re there. So Brexit was an amplifying point for them and so to your question: it’s a combination. Today what we’re seeing is a combination of people who are emboldened to think that they what they believe which may be prejudicial bigoted and racist is actually okay to say – that’s the first thing. The second thing you asked is if are there more people who are becoming anti Muslim. The answer is that there is actually an influence of what I would clearly class as extremist material which is anti Muslim in nature and percolating into the minds of younger men in our society who are then targeting Muslims and Muslim women in particular. So yes, there are more people consuming accepting and regurgitating extremist anti Muslim material and there are individuals who had these previous thoughts who now think it’s justified and validated that they can say them. It’s a combination of both.

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Photo credit: Chris Page

VoS: That’s very interesting. Why do you think young non-Muslim British males in particular? You said there was a lot of misogyny and sexist crime. Is that particularly to do with the veil or because Muslim women may appear as less likely to be able to defend themselves?

TM: When we’ve spoken to some of the perpetrators there’s been the notion that they’re not going to be threatened by the victim – the victim is not going to stand up physically to them. That’s the first thing. So there is a validity in what you’re saying. The second thing is that the targeting of Muslim women is quite complex. In some of the perpetrators we have discussed this with, the first thing is an extremist anti-Muslim view promoted by not just far right groups but the new alternative right – the Trump brigade, the people who who believe the nonsense that Muslims are here to take over the world… That alternative right kind of narrative has promoted the view that actually Muslims are here to take over the West by outbreeding everyone. This is the nonsense and the toxic extremism that is promoted that feeds the minds of some of these perpetrators in which Muslim women are the carriers of the future generation, as the “prolonger” of Islam, as the gender which will actually keep Islam and Muslims in Europe. That’s why there’s a drive towards Muslim women subconsciously in the minds of some of these people. So it’s physical – they know they’re not going to be attacked but Muslim women have also become not only symbolic of the longevity of Islam but also symbolic of Islam itself. When you get that combination – that’s why they’re being targeted. What’s bizarre and I think I think there’s a very strange link here which is around the procreation again is that the amount of sexual language that is thrown at Muslim women. We have not seen this behaviour before but it is particularly acute online. So what you find is two women talking on Twitter. They just say, you know: “What do you do today?”, “I went to the cinema” etc.  and suddenly a troll will come in and basically say “Oh you look really sexy in your hijab.” And what they’re trying to do: they’re trying to humiliate the woman by targeting her sexuality because she’s religious to you and so in their minds that humiliates her. They’re sexualising them to humiliate them but let me be very clear: those people who are doing that towards Muslim women will in many instances also have  deeply deeply troubling views towards women in general. So there’s a confluence that they they they think really badly of women but as this is a Muslim women they feel more confident to vocalise this. You know they will be thinking about other women but it’s Muslim women that they’ll vocalise it towards. That’s the distinguishing thing right now.

VoS: So how have you dealt with this sharp increase in hate crime in particular, in dealing with the amount of reports and complaints you’ve received? What’s life been like as an organisation since Brexit in terms of case loads and complaints?

TM: So we’ve seen a year on year increase. What we’ve started to pick up now is a combination because possibly more people know about us but the data also clearly shows that when there  is a major incident like a terrorist incident, the spikes are getting higher and higher. Let me give you a really clear example. We had the brutal murder of Lee Rigby and the pictures were pretty brutal on newspapers. They were all over them. That was the first indicator that there was a huge anti Muslim backlash taking place. We  recorded that and we vocalised that in the press. To some degree you can understand that actually there will be a backlash given the pictures and given that it happened in Woolwich, in England, in our streets. But when you have Charlie Hebdo and when you have Paris and particularly Paris which is 400 miles away and the peak is even higher than after the murder of Lee Rigby: that is indicating to you a disturbing trend that something 400 miles away is even higher than the brutal murder of somebody right on our street. That’s disturbing. That’s where this is going. The more Muslim communities are buffeted by international incidences, the more fractures are taking place between communities, the more brittle, the more hardline views are becoming towards Muslims and even those people who may have been receptive and susceptible to engagement with Muslim communities are now starting to think: “Have these these groups got a point about Muslims?” That’s the problem! Views in some areas are regressing not progressing !

VoS: Well it goes beyond social identity debates into a wider debate about Islam looking at Islam as a whole. Obviously, a lot of your work is going to be confidential but what sort of reports and cases have you dealt with which you can share with us on a broad basis?

TM: So the cases will range from general abuse, through to neighbourhood disputes and cases where people have actively tried to run over women in a vehicle, through to bombing campaigns. After the murder of Lee Rigby, what was reported to us from some of the masjids was that there were explosive devices left in some mosques in Walsall, Wolverhampton and Tipton [in the West Midlands]. One of the mosques in fact informed us about the explosive device and they tipped us off. That’s the kind of variety of work we get in. And by the way – the crossover at that point between the explosive devices being left outside mosques was not because was not triggered by the murder of Lee Rigby – it intersected at the same time. It was  done by a neo-Nazi. So there’s a range of work we deal with. We are becoming quite an intelligence hub about what the threats to Muslim communities are today.  

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Photo credit: Tim Green

VoS: In addition to hatred from outside Muslim committees you also focus on what you refer to as intra-Muslim bigotry. Could you explain a little more about this for people that are perhaps confused by this term?

TM: So intra-Muslim bigotry is basically what we call Muslim on Muslim hate incidences. Members of the Shia community will report to us when they’re targeted for being Shia, members of the Ahamdiyyah community will report to us when they’re targeted because they’re Ahmadiyyah… No other Muslim organization tackling Islamophobia does that. Why is the question and the response should be in life that if you are targeted because of an element of your identity that needs to be recorded and support provided to you in relation to that. So doing this work is really important 1. to honour the victim; 2. to provide practical assistance to the victim; 3. not to take any political view of whether people should be washing their dirty laundry in public. This is not about that. This is about human rights. This is about the rights of individuals. The numbers reporting to us is not high  but I can tell you: the bigotry towards Ahmadiyyah communities is quite significant. And actually the spike we saw after the murder of Asad Shah was worrying. So we record and we call it out because it is wrong. I think this issue of intra-Muslim bigotry is something that Muslim committees need to get over and that actually, they need to start vocalising that this kind of internal hatred is not acceptable.

VoS: Being vocal is definitely important. You’ve faced criticism in the past for being what’s been classed as “soft” on Muslim groups which are often deemed heretical by certain people. How have you responded to members of the Muslim community with these views about the importance of overcoming these issues and divisions and addressing hate crime throughout the community?

TM: It’s a really important question you raise. Look this is where I will revert back to our belief as a staff members in Tell Mama – and we’re not all Muslim. Only one third of the team is Muslim. So Muslims are in the minority running Tell Mama let me just say that to people on your blog because it’s really important to realise that this is a movement which is not just about Muslims: it’s about human rights. The second thing I want to say is let me revert back. I’m a Muslim and for me and those Muslims in the team in Tell Mama – the view is pretty clear that in Islam there is no difference in values of the protection of human rights and the protections of individuals. In Islam there is no difference […]. Islam is very clear about that. The history of Islam is is consistent with that. Islam does not say brush things under the carpet. Islam says defend those who may be weak. It doesn’t say so do because they are Muslim. It says defend anyone who is attacked – whether they’re Christian, Jewish, non-believing… Your right to defense by Muslims is sacrosanct. Your right to be defended by Islam is in the Qur’an. It’s in Islamic tradition. So, we make it clear that if you think that just because members of the Ahmadiyyah community are reporting in and that’s bad and let’s not talk about it and they’re not really Muslims…then you were taking away the very core issue of Islamic theology which is to defend the weak and defend the oppressed and defend those who are targeted. It doesn’t matter who or whey’re your from. It doesn’t matter what sexuality or where you come from. Defend your rights is key.

VoS: Prior to the unfortunate murder of Asad Shah in Glasgow, had you received many reports of hate crime between Muslim groups? What’s the difference ? Has there been a change both before and after this event? Was that a huge marker or was that just one unfortunate incident?

TM: Again brilliant question. The answer is no. There were other markers. The first time we came across intra-Muslim bigotry recorded by us and reported to us was during the start of the Syrian civil war. The first indicators we got was when members of the Shia community started reporting to us around 2012/2013. So we did start to see anti Shia bigotry being reported to us and then the Asad Shah murder created a spike of anti-Ahmadiyyah cases coming to us. So there’s been a general rumbling, just a slow burning rumble of intra-Muslim hate cases that we receive but what’s clear again is national/international impacts don’t just affect Muslims, they also affect intra-Muslim bigotry. The Syria crisis created a lot of anti-Shia rhetoric. Asad Shah’s murder happened and then suddenly you see people thought that because he was Ahmadiyyah he deserved it, even though the murder of Asad Shah was not related to him being Ahmadiyyah. The murderer said he killed him because Asad Shah was saying he was a prophet of God – distinctly different. You see the bigotry just seeped in – completely different to facts and that is what we are dealing with. If we’re to tackle these issues we have to be brutally honest and anti-Ahamdiyyah rhetoric is quite accepted in a large section of Muslim communities. It may not be vocalised but there’s a claim of acceptance. I personally think it’s wrong. Do I think that we need to challenge that? Yes. On the issue of what we receive in cases, these individuals deserve and have every right to access the same service as anyone else.

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Photo credit: Descrier

VoS: Have you received a significant number of calls for help from any other particular group and could you tell us a little bit about this?

TM: Firstly, some individuals will report to us thinking that they can trip us up by thinking “they won’t service us. […] Let’s trip up Tell Mama and say ‘I’m Christian. Will you help me?'” Well, you’re not tripping us up because actually if you’re Christian or you’re Jewish and you report to us we will provide you with the same service. Secondly, the first time another group started reporting to us was after Brexit. Two groups reported to us: Eastern European communities and African Caribbean women. Here we go back to the gender issue. Why? From talking to the African Caribbean women, we found that the “N word” came back into the lexicon – old racism. Three African Caribbean women reported to us just a day after Brexit to say that they had been called that racial word that they hadn’t heard in 20 years. But… all of them were women. That is not a large enough figure to make an extrapolation but certainly the fact that they were women tells us about gender and goes back to what I said before. Gender has to be looked at. Eastern European communities also report to us and we had five cases from Polish communities who were targeted as well.

VoS: Yes there was the unfortunate murder of the Polish gentleman. That’s been a big issue. Do you believe the government is doing enough to tackle hate crime and Islamophobia? Islamophobia is now recorded as a separate category of hate crimes so it won’t fall into the bracket of racial crimes etc. beyond that – do you think they’re doing enough?

TM: Yes, but not enough. The government have made huge headway in understanding that anti-Muslim hatred is a real problem that needs to be tackled. When we started our work in Tell Mama the government was in a different place. It was very difficult for them to understand the nature of the problem and the place the government is in today is substantially different in its understanding of anti-Muslim hatred from five years ago. They’re putting money in. They’re putting resources in. Ministers are standing up and are constantly reaffirming the fact that Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred is something they need to tackle as well as other strands. But, they have also done something else. Looking at the Action Against Hate hate Crime action plan for 2016 that the government produced, within the thread of every page they’ve mentioned Islamophobia as a key issue they need to tackle. So there’s a lot more that can be done but let’s commend the government for what they have done. Many people within Muslim communities constantly bash away at government and I’m one of those people who will absolutely hold government to account if I think that they’re fundamentally wrong. I’ve actively challenged the government on issues. So I’m not sitting here as some kind of a puppet for the government. No. They know I actively challenge them but when they’ve done something right, we need to commend them and they’ve done a lot in this area and will continue to do a lot more.

VoS: What are your predictions for the immediate future? What do you believe are the main challenges ahead for both Tell Mama and British society in terms of social harmony and political based issues and in light of this, what are Tell Mama’s goals for the coming future?

TM: The fact is that 2017 will be turbulent with major political shifts and changes on the horizon. After Brexit, we saw spikes in hate crime and far right groups are becoming more organised in Europe. So, there will be more turbulence. Our goals are to ensure that Muslim communities feel confident to be able to report it, campaign and empower themselves to be able to handle and challenge anti-Muslim hatred AND other forms of hatred. Muslims are not an island and hatred affects other communities, though with a significant international focus on Muslims, they need to become self-empowered right now.

VoS: How can local communities and residents from all faiths and none and from different backgrounds come together to help prevent attacks against Muslims – from both within and outside the Muslim community – and as a whole, anyone affected by hate crime?

TM: Simple things can be done through social media activism, ensuring that faith communities and institutions undertake activities together and last but not least: do not fall into the trap of looking like you’re doing a ‘tea, samosas and steel band’ type activities. Whatever is done together should be practical, realistic and impactful – and sometimes challenging.

VoS: Do you have a final message for those who are concerned about the position or place of Muslims in British society or for those attracted to extremist, hateful or far-right rhetoric in any form?

TM: Yes. Muslims are here to stay in Britain and will be here for the next 500 years or more. So, unless we find a way to live together, are we going to hand down a legacy of conflict to our children?

[…]

If you’d like to find out more information, see:

To report an incident of hate crime in the UK:

  • In an emergency, please call 999
  • To report a case to Tell Mama, get in touch via telephone: 0800 456 1226, email: info@tellmama.org, text: 0115 707 0007 or WhatsApp: 07341846086

Acknowledgements and credits:

I’d like to thank Fiyaz for his time and insights and I wish the Tell Mama team all the very best in their work and future endeavours.

Image credits: Steve Snodgrass (feature image)

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10 typical Islamist rantings and how to respond

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

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

1. Democracy is against Islam

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

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

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

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

Evidence:

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

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

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

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

See here and here for more information.

2. The West is our enemy

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

Response:

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

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

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

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

See here for further information.

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

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

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

Evidence:

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

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

See here and here for more information.

5. Muslims must take over the world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evidence:

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

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

See here for further information.

7. Women must be disciplined and controlled through violence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Response: 

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

Evidence: See here for more information.

9. Women must be forced to cover 

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

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

10. Child brides are fine and totally permissible

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

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

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

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

Credits:

Feature image: Voyou Desoeuvre

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French Politicians Say the Darndest Things About Colonialism

You’ll find little in common between François Fillon, the former French prime minister, and Dorcas Dienda, a current contestant in the “Miss DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo]” beauty pageant and a likely candidate in France’s presidential election next year. Both individuals, however, were recently forced to step back from social media, following remarks about French colonialism that offended social media users in Africa.

On August 30, Fillon said of colonialism in Africa that France should not “be blamed just for wanting to share and spread its culture to the people of Africa“. The former prime minister made the statement while unveiling his new plan to review and redesign school programs in France, which he believed should emphasize greater national pride.

Fillon’s remarks didn’t go unnoticed in Africa, where Internet users started spreading the hashtag #PartageDeCultureInFrench (“sharing culture in French”). Africans responded to Fillon on Facebook and Twitter, trying to remind him what France’s time as a colonizer meant for them:

Nuclear tests in Reggane: 150 Algerian prisoners used as human guinea pigs

That’s “sharing”—a little excursion with friends

La mission civilatrice—the “civilising mission”—1911. See how her chest is covered so as to not shock the uncivilised natives

You bunch of savages know nothing about culture. Well in any case we’re still going to keep your works of art in our museums.

Fillion’s comments recall France’s 2005 law requiring high school faculty to teach the “positive role and values” of colonialism. Martinican historian Gilbert Pagoexplains how the French elite can also easily cover up an entire part of history:

We are in a difficult period with the rise of nationalist ideologies and populist, radical sectarianism, which rejects those different from us and boasts inward narrow approaches towards identity. All of this has attached itself to the global crisis. However, we must ourselves question current right-wing, inward looking politicians who politically, want to exploit and cling on to what is a regression towards living together peacefully. In order for France to move forward, in order for Europe to move forward, in order for the whole of humanity to march ahead and in order for us West Indians to continue to make progress, we must reject “historical revisionism”—the denial of world history and what essentially constitutes the denial of our history or any nation’s history by any other nation.

In 2007, Alain Manbackou considered France’s low reserves of “moral high ground” on the matter:

After half a century of formal decolonisation, young generations have learnt that, as with all the other global powers, they shouldn’t expect much from France. The people of Africa will save themselves or they’ll perish. For the time being, when it comes to Africa, France quite simply lacks the moral credit required to talk with certainty and authority.

For Dorcas Dienda, the issue of the colonial period came about quite differently. During the Miss DRC broadcast on August 30, the TV presenter asked her about the issue of “made in the Congo” versus Western branding. Dienda then explained that: “Whites are more intelligent than Blacks“. Here’s a clip from the show:

Dienda’s comment led to a public outcry on the Congolese Web, and she was soon compelled to explain herself in hastily filmed YouTube clip.

For many, however, Dienda’s attempt to clarify her remarks was too little and too late.

#DorcasDiendaOut #AllExceptMissRacist #IAmBlackAndVeryIntelligent !!!

 “Whites are more intelligent than Blacks”—what a completely scandelous suggestion. #DorcasDiendaOut

Inferiority complex, why won’t you let go of us ! #DorcasDiendaOut

Incidentally, this is not the first time Africans have faced neglect and disrespect from French public figures. In 2007, for instance, newly elected President Nicolas Sarkozy famously said, “Africans have yet to enter modern history“, leading to a similar backlash.

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Credits:

Article originally published via Global Voices (10/09/2016)

Feature images: collage from Wikipedia pages (CC BY 2.0)

 

 

Death Penalty Still Looms for Mauritanian Blogger Who Spoke Out Against Caste-Based Discrimination

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“No to slavery” – from the website of Moroccan legal expert Ibn Kafka where he states: “Where Mauritania may have suffered injustice throughout history it also exemplifies resistance and human dignity”

A Mauritanian blogger has been sentenced to death by Nouadhibou Criminal Court after writing a blog post criticising the use of Islam to justify a caste system that dates back to the Middle Ages.

Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould M’kheitir, whose father is prefect for Nouadhibou, the economic capital in the south of the country, is a 29-year-old trained accountant. They are part of a caste group known as les forgerons (the “forger cast”), one that was originally made up of blacksmiths.

He has appealed the conviction, which dates back to 2014. Writing for the website Chezvlane on 25 December 2014, he said:

For those who dare to invent fake hadith and attribute them to the Prophet (peace be upon him), no morals and no religion can stop them from interpreting an article written by a simple normal young man — an inexperienced one at that. They won’t spare any effort in stirring up collective Muslim discontent to serve their interests. That’s how they claimed that the forgerons blasphemed against the Prophet (PBUH) in an article one of them wrote. It was just like when they claimed that it was a forgeron who was responsible for the Prophet’s teeth falling out during the Battle of Mount Uhud.

Bearing that in mind, I’d like to confirm here the following:

1. I have not, consciously or unconsciously, blasphemed against the Prophet (PBUH) and I will never do so. In actual fact, I don’t believe there’s anyone in the world who shows him greater respect than myself (PBUH).

2. All the facts and accounts I cited in my previous article were historically accurate. These accounts can of course be interpreted literally and superficially or looked at more closely and deeply.

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Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed, published on ODH Mauritanie

On 21 April 2016, the Court of Appeal in Nouadhibou confirmed his sentence to death after re-examining the case. The accused is no longer considered to be an apostate but simply a non-believer.

Following this re-examination of the accusations against him, human rights campaigners in Mauritania remain hopeful that the Supreme Court will dismiss the death sentence and announce a more lenient sentence.

The Senegalese website Setal recalled the turn of events:

This Thursday, the Court of Appeal did not follow the accusation which called for his death sentence to be upheld. Lawyers are happy with the turn of events, even if for them it’s clearly not enough. It’s been two years and three months since Mohamed Cheikh ould Mkheitir was arrested for a simple article posted on the Internet. This article was judged as being blasphemous towards the Prophet and Islam. This shocked the most conservative section of Mauritanian society who at the time called for him to be sentenced to death.

This is the most severe sentence possible for the blogger — a severe sentence that many believe was issued due mostly to internal political strife. In a 26 April 2016 post on the Amnesty International website, human rights journalist and campaignerSabine Cessout quoted a colleague (who remains anonymous) who commented on the case:

The whole affair reveals “the internal politics…with a tribunal which wants to fund Salafis, a spiraling trend in our country, as throughout the whole Arab-Muslim world”

International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR) quoted Fatimata Mbaye, President of l’Association Mauritanienne des Droits Humains (AMDH) (The Mauritanian Association for Human Rights), former vice-president of the IFHR and advocate for anti-slavery campaigners speaking on the issue:

This sentence — the first for “apostasy” in Mauritania since Independence — signifies a step backwards in terms of tolerance and shows just how much issues of cast, religion, slavery and therefore democracy are taboos in Mauritania. We’re noticing society and politics is becoming less tolerant towards voices of dissent on these issues.

After the post was published, religious extremists sparked public calls for the blogger to be hanged. The Senegalese website Leral described the public sentiment which had been stirred up in Mauritania against the accused:

A year ago thousands of Mauritanians took the streets of Nouakchoutt, Naouadihbou and elsewhere demanding he be hung, plain and simple. Some of these had read the incriminating article — others had never even seen it. The Republican President, in front of a crowd of protesters which had grouped in front of the entrance to the palace, declared: “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for gathering in such numbers here to condemn the crime committed by a individual who is against Islam, the religion of our people, our country, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, which as I’ve said in the past and I’m reaffirming today, is not secular and never will be… I assure you that as a result, the Government and I myself will stop at nothing to protect and defend this religion and its sacred image…”. This declaration made by the President, those of other different political parties along with the protests and fatwas demonstrated their reasoning.

The 2006 France Human Rights Prize winner Aminetou Mint Noctar also drew outrage from extremists after she expressed support for the blogger, some of whom issued a fatwa against her. Noctar is also the 2010 winner of the medal of Chevalier in the French Legion of Honour. According to the website Africa News, Noctar was the first Mauritanian woman to be nominated for the Noble Peace Prize for her commitment and work towards human rights.

On the website aw41k.com, Yehdhih Ould Dahi, head of the radical Islamist movement “Ahbab Errassoul” (Friends of the Prophet) condemned Noctar for defending the blogger:

May this villain who’s defending Mkheitir, saying that he’s a prisoner of conscience and demanding he be released so he can go back home to his wife, be cursed by Allah, the Angels and all people. This woman compares the Friends of The Prophet to members of Boko Haram and Takfiris because they call for the Prophet to be respected and honoured. Today, with the blessing of Allah, I declare her to be an apostate for having tempered the outrage in defence of the honour of the Prophet. She’s an infidel and it this therefore lawful to seize her life and assets. Those who kill or poke out her eyes will be rewarded by Allah.

Amid the public vitriol around Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould M’kheitir’s case, his life hangs in the balance. For now, he will continue to languish in prison.

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Article originally published via Global Voices 

Daraya, Symbol of Non-Violent Revolution and Self-Determination, Falls to the Syrian Regime

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Daraya: “[…] peaceful protests were subjected to violent repression. Flowers were met with bullets, protesters were rounded up en masse and detained.” Photo credit: Non-violent protests with protesters holding roses in Baniyas, May 6th 2011 – Syrian Freedom (CC BY 2.0)

By Leila Al Shami

Four years following its liberation, the predominantly agricultural town of Daraya, strategically located near Syrian capital, Damascus, has fallen to the regime. A deal was reached to evacuate the 4,000-8,000 civilians remaining there, out of a pre-uprising population of 300,000. The local fighters who defended their town so courageously will go to Idlib and join the resistance there.

The Daraya residents being evacuated know that they may never return to their homes. Photos circulated on social media showed people gathered at the graves of loved ones to say goodbye. Fears abound of a plan to cleanse opposition strongholds permanently, and in previous evacuation deals—even those carried out under UN auspices—many were detained by the regime, never to be seen again.

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But Daraya’s residents are desperate. A few days ago a group of women published a open letter to the world. They described the horrific conditions in the town. A regime-imposed siege, ongoing for 1,368 days, had blocked the entry of food and medical supplies. People were starving. They described the daily regime assault which has seen over 9,000 barrel bombs dropped on the town, as well as internationally prohibited poisonous gas and napalm. The hospital had been targeted and was out of operation. Agricultural land, the sole source of food, had been deliberately burned and destroyed. The women called on the international community to take action to end the violence and lift the siege. This letter followed months of protests held by women and children with the same demands. The first, and only, aid convoy to reach the town entered in June 2016. It contained medicine, mosquito nets and baby formula, but no food. ‘We can’t take medicine on an empty stomach,’ read a banner at a protest soon after.

Those who leave Daraya leave as heroes. Daraya is an iconic town for Syrian revolutionaries. It’s been a centre for the development of the thought and practice of non-violent resistance and has inspired civil disobedience across the country. And despite the horrific repression inflicted on the town, it’s had remarkable success in practicing local, autonomous self-organization. Revolutionary activist Razan Zeitouneh, who was herself kidnapped in 2013, said: “Daraya was a star before the revolution and a star during. What the young men and women of the city built took immense efforts and resulted in a small exemplary model for the future of Syria, the one we dream of. The activism in the city never ceased to amaze us for a minute… In Daraya, the signs calling for co-existence continued to be held high even when the entire country was falling into despair following every new massacre.”

In 2011, when the uprising began, a local coordination committee quickly emerged to organize anti-regime protests. The committee emphasized the importance of non-violent struggle and handed out leaflets calling for a democratic Syria and for equality between all religious and ethnic groups. As church bells rang in solidarity, protesters marched holding flowers, and handed bottles of water to the security forces sent to shoot them. ‘The army and people are one,’ they chanted.

One of those involved with the local coordination committee was a 26-year-old tailor called Ghiyath Matar. He earned the nickname ‘Little Gandhi’ for his commitment to peaceful resistance. Ghiyath was arrested by security forces on September6, 2011. A few days later his mutilated corpse was returned to his family and pregnant wife. In one of his last Facebook posts, Ghiyath said: “We chose non-violence not from cowardice or weakness, but out of moral conviction; we don’t want to reach victory by having destroyed the country.”

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Daraya

The principles of non-violent resistance that influenced Daraya’s youth had a history in the town. Unusually for Syria, a police state that ruthlessly suppresses independent organization, a group of young men and women aged between 15 and 25 established the Daraya Youth Group in 1998. They had been studying Quran under the religious scholar Abdul Akram Al Saqqa. Al Saqqa promoted social and political freedom and encouraged free thinking amongst his students. Because of his liberal views he was controversial amongst the Syrian ulema (religious authorities). He called for women to choose their own husbands and argued that women’s education was more important than whether or not they wore the veil. He introduced students to the work of Jawdat Said, an Islamist scholar who promoted non-violent thought and practice through the Quranic traditions as well as the teachings of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

Al Saqqa’s work attracted the attention of the authorities and he was imprisoned in 2003 and 2011, but under his mentorship, the Daraya Youth Group organized actions such as cleaning the streets of their town, boycotting American products, and risky campaigns against bribery and corruption. In 2002 they demonstrated against the Israeli invasion of Jenin refugee camp and in 2003 they organized protests without government permission against the US invasion of Iraq. This activity led to the arrest of 24 members of the group. A few were released soon after, but the majority were sentenced to between three and four years in prison.

The peaceful protests were subjected to violent repression. Flowers were met with bullets, protesters were rounded up en masse and detained. In August 2012, following intense shelling, Syrian army troops stormed the town and committed one of the regime’s worst massacres. Some 400 men, women and children lost their lives in execution-style killings. Those attempting to flee were hunted down and shot. The bodies of the dead littered the streets or were thrown into mass graves.

In a scene that would be endlessly repeated, some Western commentators sought to exonerate the regime from wrongdoing. The celebrated journalist Robert Fisk visited Daraya shortly after the massacre, embedded with regime troops. He reported that the situation was the result of a Free Army hostage-taking and a prisoner exchange gone wrong, quoting sources saying that victims were relatives of government employees. Daraya’s local coordination committee issued a strong condemnation of Fisk’s report. They had never heard of the prisoner exchange story, questioned whether interviewees would be free to speak the truth in the presence of regime soldiers, and criticized Fisk for not meeting with opposition activists. Meanwhile, the American war reporter Janine Di Giovani also entered Daraya—without regime support—a few days after the massacre, and gave a harrowing account in her excellent book ‘The Morning They Came for Us’.

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Daraya: the spirit of the Syrian revolution, and the heartbeat of every rebel

Daraya was liberated by local rebels in November 2012. As the state withdrew, residents set up a Local Council to run the town’s affairs. One of those involved was anarchist Omar Aziz, who encouraged revolutionary Syrians to organize their communities independently from the Assadist state, and work towards advancing a social revolution.

Despite enormous challenges, Daraya’s local council has had remarkable success. It has established numerous offices to provide services to civilians, including media services, legal services and public relations (they maintain an excellent website). A relief office runs a soup kitchen which began providing three meals a day, although this frequency was reduced due to the siege. The council also tried to build self-sufficiency, growing beans, spinach and wheat. A medical office supervises the field hospital which provides for the sick and wounded. A services office is responsible for opening alternative roads when the main ones are inaccessible due to airstrikes or collapsed buildings.

The local council also aimed to unify civil and military efforts. Daraya is one of the few communities where the local Free Army brigade is part of the council’s organizational structure and subject to civil administrative control. Revolutionary women set up the Enab Baladi magazine to discuss events happening in their community and Syria more broadly and promote civil disobedience. Activists built anunderground library so residents could continue their education.

The people of Daraya have paid a heavy price for their dream of freedom. For four years they defended their autonomy from the Assadist state and kept going despite the bombing, despite the starvation siege. Their struggle will continue to be remembered and honoured by Syrian revolutionaries everywhere.

Leila Al Shami is a British Syrian who has been involved in human rights and social justice struggles in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East since 2000. She is the co-author of “Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War” with Robin Yassin-Kassab, and a contributor to “Khiyana-Daesh, the Left and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution”. A version of this story was originally published on her blog.

Credits:

Re-shared from Global Voices (26/08/2016)

Additional imagery taken from Leila’s original article and blog

Feature image: Poo.243 (Flickr)

Islam, human rights and community relations – an interview with human rights activist, attorney and author Qasim Rashid

For my latest post, I’ve been honoured to be able to interview American Muslim lawyer, human rights activist and international author Qasim Rashid. Having published works on the importance of dialogue to overcome social issues such as racism as well as writing about the persecution of the Ahmadiyah community, Qasim is an advocate for peace, tolerance and human rights. If you follow his work on and offline, you’ll see his engagement with current issues within the media and global community.

In the current climate of religious and racial tensions, ISIS barbarity, racially and religiously motivated attacks on innocent citizens and in light of Donald Trump’s presidential election campaign, it’s great (and all the more crucial!) to see vocal, active Muslims out there, spreading the message of salam – peace!

Here’s Qasim’s insight into Islam, human rights, community and interfaith relations and the challenges facing the mainstream Islamic community today.

Assalam aleykum. Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for Voice of Salam.

You’re a renowned author, human rights activist and published author. You’re very engaged socially and promote an Islam of peace and human rights. What would you say to those people out there who claim that the idea of being a Muslim and a human rights activist is somewhat a contradiction – i.e. that human rights and Islam are “incompatible”?

Come to my mosque and let’s chat. Bring your questions, bring your most controversial questions and allegations and let us dialogue and break bread. Islam epitomizes human rights. A Muslim’s foundational duties are two — serve God through personal worship and serve all humanity regardless of faith, color, creed, or any other differentiating factor. Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an exemplify universal human rights for all people of all faiths and no faith. So don’t just take my word for it, come study the Qur’an, study the life of Prophet Muhammad, come see it for yourself.

For non-Muslims out there – how would you define Islam? What is being a Muslim (about)?

Serving God through worship and serving all humanity. Prophet Muhammad taught us that “A Muslim is one from whose hands and tongue all people are safe.” Thus, a Muslim is one who wages the true Jihad of personal improvement to overcome evil and serve humanity with peace, love, and compassion.

Many critics of Islam often say that the Muslim community isn’t doing enough to condemn ISIS and tackle Islamic extremism. What’s your take on this?

If people can’t hear us, they’re not listening.

How can we combat Islam extremism within Europe – not just the rise in young jihadis going over to Syria itself but also intolerant extremist ideology? Why do you believe that these young Muslims are so easily radicalised?

I don’t believe young Muslims are ‘so easily radicalized.’ I believe inconsistent Muslim leadership alienates youth. Leaders who themselves don’t understand Islam, pass on that ignorance to youth who become polarized, i.e. they either leave Islam altogether or commit extremist acts. I’m part of the True Islam campaign which serves to educate youth— Muslim and non-Muslim — on the correct Islamic teachings on those points that extremists use to radicalize youth. Thousands of Muslims and non-Muslims have joined this campaign against extremism, and I hope your readers do too.

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Allah + salam = Islam (God + peace = Islam) – Image credit: Aaron Brown

What can both Muslims and non-Muslims do to strengthen interfaith and community relations?

I wrote a piece earlier this year, “16 Things You Can Do To Support Muslims in 2016.” That’s applicable here.

You’re based in the US and the climate there (more so than in the UK) is very tense at the moment with recent attacks, even murders, of Muslims and Donald Trump’s media campaign. Do you believe Trump will win the presidential elections and how could the Muslim community deal with the aftermath of this? What do you expect to change/happen?

Whether he wins or not, the climate of intolerance towards minorities has already accelerated heavily. That won’t dissipate on its own. To counter this intolerance and ignorance we need more education and interfaith events. We should continue to find ways to serve humanity together as that is the best path forward to peace and justice. The True Islam campaign is one of many efforts we have launched to counter ignorance with education.

What do you believe are the biggest challenges the global Muslim community is facing and will face in the future?

Lack of consistent and just Muslim leadership. Until and unless Muslims can develop independent and strong Muslim leaders, they will continue to suffer. With strong leadership, cancers like terrorism, domestic violence, disunity, poverty, and substance abuse can be more effectively tackled. Without strong leadership, these cancers become that much more difficult to stop.

More specifically, how can we bridge sectarian divides within the Muslim community?

Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. The Qur’an commands Muslims to dialogue and ‘argue in the way that is best with wisdom and goodly exhortation.’ Currently, the level of dialogue between Muslim communities is anaemic and creates ample breeding ground for fear, misinformation, distrust, or even hate and violence. To turn this tide we must work together through dialogue and mutual respect. We do not have to agree with each other dogmatically, but that shouldn’t prevent us from working together for the common causes of peace and justice.

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Image credit: Michal Huniewicz

You’re an Ahmadi Muslim. Could you explain a bit more about this? What are the main differences and similarities with this branch and mainstream Sunni and Shia branches?

Ahmadi Muslims are Muslims who believe in the Messiah Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian.   Ahmadi Muslims are Sunni in the sense that we believe the first four caliphs after Prophet Muhammad(sa) were rightly guided. We also recognize the wisdom and truth of many Shia imams afterwards. We believe in the exact true Islam that Prophet Muhammad(sa) taught in every sense. We believe the Quran is the final and perfect book, and believe in the Messiah and Mahdi that Prophet Muhammad(sa) foretold would come to revive Islam, reform Muslims, and re-establish peace with love, logic, and service to all humanity. We pray five times a day, perform hajj, pay zakat [obligatory annual charity], fast during Ramadan and of course recite the Kalima that there is no God but Allah and Prophet Muhammad(sa) is his Messenger.

The only belief difference we hold is that we believe, based on Quran and Hadith, that Jesus died a natural death and will not return while Sunni Muslims await his physical descent. We believe Ahmad is that spiritual return of Jesus. He is the awaited Mahdi that came to reunite Muslims and revive Islam with peace and love. Ahmadi Muslims are also united under true Islamic caliphate and have been since Ahmad died in 1908. The current Khalifa is His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba). You can find out much more here.

We believe Prophet Muhammad(sa) is Khaatamanabiyeen ie the Seal of the Prophets. He is the final law bearing prophet. Only prophets who are subordinate to Prophet Muhammad(sa) can come and no one can change Islam, only revive Islam to the pure teaching that Prophet Muhammad(sa) established. This is what we believe the Messiah and Mahdi Ahmad(as) came to do. You can find specific references to the belief about Prophet Muhammad(sa) here.

Finally, we believe Islam is crystal clear that Jesus(as) died a natural death and will not ever physically return. 30+ verses in the Qur’an. attest to the natural death of Jesus(as): http://ahmadianswers.com/jesus/quran/.

Many sahi [authentic] hadith attest to the natural death of Jesus(as). Prophet Muhammad(sa) mentioned it several times: http://ahmadianswers.com/jesus/hadith/.

The Sahaba and the ancient scholars are also of clear agreement that Jesus(as) has died a natural death: http://ahmadianswers.com/jesus/sahaba/.

The mentions of Jesus returning cannot be taken literally as that would contradict the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad(sa) and the Companions when each clearly says Jesus has died naturally and will not physically return, ever. Instead, one in his likeness would come to revive Islam and reform Muslims. That person is Syedna Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) who came to revive the perfect and final law of Prophet Muhammad(sa).

Unfortunately, much if not all of this information and scholarship is censored in several Muslim majority nations, creating immense confusion and misinformation on what Ahmadi Muslims actually believe.

Do you ever see “mainstream Sunni Muslims” (for lack of a better word) fully accepting and engaging with your community one day?

It isn’t something I worry about. Historically, those individuals — Muslim and non-Muslim — who have collaborated with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community for the sake of peace and justice have themselves seen immense success. If any person or people wish to work with us for the sake of peace and justice and love of God, we are eager to work with them.

What are the biggest challenges your specific community faces?

Many Ahmadi Muslims will tell you that we feel the work to serve humanity is overwhelming. We have built hundreds of schools and hospitals, thousands of wells, and our physicians annually perform tens of thousands of free surgeries. Still, we see the suffering of humanity as our own, and constantly feel we must do more to stop poverty, promote rehabilitation from drug and alcohol abuse, help women and children of domestic and sexual violence, and educate children of all faiths and backgrounds at secular institutions.

Our goal is to serve all humanity—all 7 billion people. We have an ongoing struggle to get there.

Do you have a final message you’d like to give to the public?

The head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, has advised world leaders that for peace to come to the world, we must maintain justice. If anyone wants to see the type of leadership the Muslim world, indeed the world at large, needs — you’ll find it in the beautiful and pristine example of the Khalifa of Islam, Mirza Masroor Ahmad.

Thank you for your time and contribution. Jazak Allah khairan. All the very best in the future. Assalam aleykum.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank Qasim for participating in this interview, for lending his time and images for publication, and to wish him all the very best in the future.

Find out more about Qasim, his work and publications online at http://www.qasimrashid.com/ 

Twitter:@Muslim IQ

Facebook: Qasim Rashid

 

Laïcité of lies – Laïcité à la française is not secularism

There has been a lot in the news the past week about France, its so-called “secular policy” and a recent ban on burkinis in Cannes. This is yet another example of an Islamophobic, discriminatory ideology that is not secular in any sense in relation to freedom, justice and democracy – three words it is usually described and presented in relation to.

Let’s have a look at what secularism is supposed to be. According to the Oxford dictionary, secularism is defined as:

The principle of separation of the state from religious institutions‘he believes that secularism means no discrimination against anybody in the name of religion

Now, as a translator, I usually refuse to translate France’s policy of laïcité to “secularism” when translating into English. No, this is not a political bias as a translator – it is simply the truth. Laïcité is a whole different political policy of its own and not what we in Anglophone countries equate with secularism. There is a key core ideological difference:

  • Secularism: non-discrimination, the lack of political power/influence over one’s religion and vice versa
  • Laïcité: not simply separating state and politics. This principle is the banning of religion from the public sphere, in all senses. “Privatising” personal religion and refusing to acknowledge/understand religious identity/belonging.

I always compare it to being more of “State atheism” – but of course with a Catholic bias in the case of France. I spent six years at university studying – amongst other things – French language, culture, politics and aditionally human rights. Before even becoming a Muslim, I was convinced that France was Islamophobic. Before marrying an Algerian… Before the new line of laws which just keep hitting Muslims… Before the ever worsening regression of religious freedom and increase in Islamophobic politics…

In order to keep this short, just consider these examples of the treatment of religious communities – essentially affecting largely Muslim women and girls  – and see if this sounds like secularism, freedom, democracy and justice

1. Banning burkinis on the beach for unfounded reasons of “hygiene”, “safety” and “secularism” (see here and here) which essentially rules out swimming for a groups of (Muslim) women like myself (Cannes – I won’t be visiting next summer by the way!)

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Image: Elizabeth Arif-Fear (c)

2. Banning facial coverings (niqabs, burqas) – meaning innocent Muslim women cannot wear face veils unless they want to face a fine and/or imprisonment (see here)

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Image credit: Khalid Albaih

3. Banning “conspicuous” religious symbols in schools such as headscarves and for those “delivering a public service”, which means either removing your kippa, Sikh turban or hijab or removing yourself from the Republican sphere;  i.e. be taught at home, work from home or go to a Muslim/Islamic school (see here and here)

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Image credit: Vincent Albanese

This is the model that Turkey used to base its headscarf policy on. I myself have direct experience of this having being informed I could not teach in my headscarf when I applied for a teaching post. I therefore withdraw my application. Fortunately things seem to have changed in Turkey. Clearly, I was out to indoctrinate the students during English class by being myself whilst teaching girls who they themselves had the right to cover their heads and were Muslim… Glad to see, things have changed a little in Turkey at least!

Things have become so extreme in France, that a young Muslim girl was recently told that her maxi skirt was “too religious”, resulting in her being banned from the school.

Now just ask yourself these questions:

  • Does this sound like non-discrimination?
  • Does this sound like freedom?
  • Does this sound fair?
  • Does this sound rational?

For me, that’s a big, fat NO! It must be said:

France: laïcité is not secularism! Please stop pretending your République functions for the benefit of the people according to liberté, égalité et fraternité. It doesn’t! What it is is:

neo-colonial, intolerant,

Islamophobic, hypocritical and nothing less!

Salam!

Credits:

Feature image: Lisecher