“I only hire beautiful birds” – Sexism in the British workplace

For those of you in the UK, you may remember hearing a few months back in the news about women being forced to wear high heels at work and one lady being told to go home for refusing to do so. The reality is that whilst we should all be smart (depending on your job!) and dressed respectably for work, wearing high heels does not equate professionalism. Such outdated sexist attitudes towards women are unfortunately still alive. The reality is that women face sexual harassment at work, discrimination in being hired due to their right to maternity leave and earn less than men for the same job. In some sectors such as high end City business firms and politics, women find themselves in a male-dominated sphere. This is the 21st century people, yet this is the shocking reality women in Britain today face:

50%

Shocking isn’t it?! More information on the statistics can be found here. However, I’d like to present some real-life testimony. Here’s the story of Steve*…

………….

Steve* works for an international business solutions company based in London* and has found that his work environment is very patriarchal. The women in the office face daily regular sexual harassment and bullying. Here’s what the women in his office encounter:

When my female colleagues talk in the office, the men say: “Shhh! Shut up! You’re in a business office – don’t be loud!”. But they’re not loud at all. They are treated like second class citizens and sex objects. On one particular occasion, after a work night out where my colleagues were drinking, one young male colleague named Ryan* got very drunk and couldn’t get home. My colleague Jane* offered for him to sleep on her sofa. The next day at work, she was told that she had “raped him” and that everyone “should watch out for her”. For about two weeks after, whenever she walked into the office, everyone would start “egging” Ryan on saying: “Go on Ryan! Go on Ryan!” She clearly did not find this funny and was not comfortable at all but they carried on bullying her anyway.

On a more day-to-day basis, my male colleagues call our female colleagues “birds” and talk about them in sexual scenarios, describing what they’d do to them sexually. They talk in their male groups but another female colleague can hear. Another male colleague called our colleague Caroline* “bitch” to her face as she wears mini-skirts to work. When Caroline walks in the office, my male colleagues make kissing noises. On another occasion, another colleague Bradley* sat within a small group of male colleagues and compared the breasts of his wife (who works in the office) to those of Jenny*. On this occasion, no women were witness to the conversation. Higher up the ladder, a senior figure in the company also informed the male member of the team that he “only hires beautiful birds” as he likes being in the company of “beautiful women”. One of the women he hired is from overseas and twenty years his junior and married with children. At work he intimidates her. One day he showed her pictures of fully naked women, telling her that he would like to have sex with these types of women. My colleague felt so uncomfortable that she took the following day off work. On a regular basis, he tells us male colleagues how he’d like to have sex with her.

Beyond vocal comments and discussions, at Christmas, Gary* (a married man and father) came back to the office drunk and actually forced himself onto Patricia*, kissing her on the mouth. Patricia did not say anything. She appeared to find this normal but for me: this is not normal.

I feel sorry for all of the women who work with us. In a 20th century working environment, no woman should be treated like that. I’m absolutely shocked by these so-called ‘English gentlemen’. The men I work with have showed their dark side and I have lost all respect towards them. Sexism in the workplace is a big problem and many women are constantly bullied. The women in my office are trapped because they cannot afford to lose their jobs. Action must be taken against these – to be blunt – chavs.

*Names and location have been changed to protect identity. Testimony co-written/edited by Voice of Salam (narrated). Please note: I have presented the testimony of a male witness due to availability of witness testimony. If any women would like to share their stories, please get in touch!

………….

So, ladies (and men – in reality anyone affected by discrimination in the workplace of any kind): please call out and report such behaviour!

For information and advice in relation to the UK please visit/speak to:

For those of you outside the UK – please seek help. Don’t put up with it! Call it out and get the emotional and legal support you need, deserve and are entitled to.

Credits and acknowledgements:

Thanks go to “Steve” for his time and assistance in providing his testimony. Best wishes go the ladies affected by the issues discussed.

Images:

Pat (Free Images.com) (featured image), graphics: Elizabeth Arif-Fear

20-offpurplebouquets

“I can only hope and pray that as I come through the airport I will find my home waiting for me…”- Experiences of American convert to Islam Ashley Bounoura

In light of Trump’s new “career change” and the rise in Islamophobic hate crime both here in the UK and USA, Muslims here in the UK, across Europe and in the US in particular, face being potentially verbally and physically abused whilst going about their daily lives. Discourse around values, identity and belonging feed Islamophobic rhetoric. As a Muslim convert living in the UK, I’ve had no real trouble so far. I feel happy, safe and wanted here in the UK. But what about in the US?

Having met the lovely Ashley – a young American convert to Islam currently living in Algeria with her husband and founder of the blog Muslimah According to Me – I wanted to get an insight into her experiences as a convert: how did her friends and family react to her decision to become a Muslim? Was she welcomed within and outside the Muslim community? What is life like in the US for a Muslim convert? Well, here’s Ashley’s guest post talking about her experiences in both the US and UK. Enjoy!

……………

15181533_10211268880938203_2784240802646481146_n.jpgAs I began to seriously think about reverting to Islam, I had no idea what to expect. I knew I was scared of the reactions of my friends and family, and I knew to expect some backlash in general from the public as I went out for the first couple of times in my hijab, but I didn’t know what form any of that might take.

Looking back, in the few months after I first reverted, the reaction was far kinder than anything I had come to expect. Especially within my family, the people who are most important to me were the most supportive. My mother, sister, and grandfather all felt some apprehension at first, but as they began to see that I was the same person, and even becoming a better person because of this faith, they were quick to let me know that they supported anything that made me happy.

Within my friendship group there was a slightly more mixed reaction; I had a couple of friends from Los Angeles area that had a little bit of a difficult time stepping out of their affluent republican mindset, and unfortunately my decision to wear the hijab officiated the end of some friendships. My best friend, however, was completely supportive of me, and now even participates in World Hijab Day every year to spread awareness. Of course, I also made a couple of new friends along the way, both born Muslims and reverts [Muslim converts].

Integration into the Muslim community itself – another problem many reverts face – was easy and painless for me, in the beginning at least. I had one very good friend, who acted as a sort of all-in-one mentor, shoulder to lean on, and resource library. She always took me along to classes and lectures with her, and her friends all accepted me as I was. I joined the Muslim Students Association at my university, and the sisters there were all also very welcoming and ready to share in my journey.

However, upon moving to London (United Kingdom), I found that such accepting communities are actually quite rare to find. I had in fact been spiritually “growing up” in a metaphorical bubble. I had been excited to move out of my tiny community into something bigger, and I thought London would be a great opportunity for me to make tons of new friends. I instead found the community there to be far less open, and deeply separated into cultural cliques that had no place for a native-English speaking American university student. Because of this, I ended up being very isolated for the year I was studying there. The one good thing about moving to the diverse city of London however was the fact that the people on the street hardly gave me a second look.

Back in my university town in California, I had found myself in an odd place between the two communities. I found myself experiencing my majority cultural community in a much different way than I ever had before. Though I am always, to some degree, a novelty within the Muslim community, within the wider community, I experienced everything from micro-aggressions and confused stares, to actual violent threats (though this was by far the exception to the rule). For the most part, I got an odd look or two walking down the street, but I made it my policy to just look back and smile, and this tended to put people at ease. The broad majority of interactions I had in my university course, with my colleagues at work, and in my extra-curricular activities were positive. People were curious but kind, sceptical but supportive, and sometimes they just ignored the change completely.

The negative things I did experience mainly consisted of mildly irritating micro-aggression, usually in the form of slightly ridiculous questions. One thing I got asked a lot by random strangers was: “Where are you from?” Of course I would answer with: “California,” but they would almost always follow up with “yeah, but where are you from?” Sometimes I would just be given two choices: “Are you from Iran or Iraq?”, “Lebanon or Syria?”, “Albania or Turkey?” People seemed to have a very difficult time believing that I actually am just from California, and so are my parents, and my grandparents, and my great-grandparents (with the exception of my maternal grandfather’s parents, who are from Italy). Other times I have been asked very strange questions, but as long as there is space for a conversation I am always OK with giving an answer. Beyond the small things though, the biggest problem that I find that people had with me is not the fact that I am a Muslim, or that I “resemble the enemy,” but the fact that I am white and I choose to dress and believe as I do. Many of my most violent and aggressive encounters have stemmed from this type of animosity and the fact that, according to them, my lifestyle choices are not valid.

So, as I am preparing myself here in Algeria to begin the move back to the United States with my husband, I sometimes worry about the situation I will be returning to. I hear stories daily from my Muslim friends of attacks, mosques burning, being sworn at an intimidated in the street. I have been the recipient of not-so-cordial comments on my own blog and social media, and I can only hope and pray that as I come through the airport I will find my home waiting for me, instead of being made to know that I am officially no longer welcome here, in the country where I spent the first 21 years of my life, because I choose to look and believe differently than those who hold the power.

……………

Credits and acknowledgements:

I’d like to thank Ashley for her time and efforts in writing this guest piece. I’d also like to wish her and her family all the very best for the future and their move back to the US.

If you’d like to find out more about Ashley and her experiences, please do visit her blog and Muslimah According to Me Facebook page. The blog is well worth a visit!

Images:

Greater than Fear (Shepard Fairey, Ridwan Adhami) (feature image) (CC), Ashley Bounoura (c)

20-offpurplebouquets

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.

14156790161_de7e9478ee_o.jpg

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.  

18218301724_13b73d8cea_o.jpg

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.

25329923254_2d17b942b6_o (1).jpg

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)

20-offpurplebouquets

True Islam – an insight into the global peace campaign with Salaam Bhatti

65117015_d9b5f4cfaf_o.jpg

Image credit: Mayesha K

Back in June, I dedicated a post to the True Islam campaign entitled: True Islam – 11 reasons why ISIS does not represent Islam – detailing the 11 points of the worldwide campaign which dispels common misconceptions of Islam and gives an insight into the true peaceful mission of Islam.

I’ve since been fortunate to have been put in touch with Salaam Bhatti who works on the True Islam campaign in order to get a greater insight into the campaign itself.

Here’s what Salaam has to say about the campaign: its origins, success and future.

Assalam aleykum. Thank you for taking the time to speak about the True Islam campaign.

The True Islam campaign is about teaching the true values of Islam centred on peace, tolerance and human rights. How, when and why the campaign was set up? 

The campaign launched after the San Bernardino massacre, where two Muslim extremists killed 14 and injured 22 people.  President Obama called for a unified effort from the Muslim community to battle elements of extremism within our communities and the True Islam campaign does exactly that by educating away extremism.

Could you summarise for people unfamiliar with the True Islam campaign what it’s addressing in particular?

There are extremist groups which use Islam to spread their terror for their geopolitical goals. They brainwash disaffected youth by using Islamic terminology and convince them that these are Islam’s true teachings. We took 11 of these points and present in easy to understand terms what Islam’s true teachings are about topics like jihad, women’s rights, freedom of speech, etc. This way, Muslims and non-Muslims can know how true Islam is separate and apart from extremism.

What is your role? Could you explain how you became involved?

I serve as a spokesperson for the campaign and work on the social media arm of our campaign. I became involved because my friends and I did not want Islam’s narrative to always be a battle against extremism and we wanted to help our country out. Through this campaign, we not only combat extremism, but we also let everyone know Islam’s other beautiful teachings.

There are 11 points in the campaign. Which issue(s)/misconception(s) do you believe are the most prominent and most at need of addressing? Why? Where do you believe this originates from?

The points about jihad and women’s equality are two I hold very dear. Many erroneously think that jihad is a violent battle with non-Muslims. Jihad and violence became popularly linked through Maududi, a cleric who is celebrated in extremist circles. Jihad is not a violent concept. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who Ahmadi Muslims believe to be the Promised Messiah and Mahdi, defended Islam when it was accused of being a religion spread by the sword by saying, “The sword it wields cuts its own throat before reaching others.” Women’s rights are also important. Many forget the state of women when Prophet Muhammad (sa) was born. They were treated as less than animals.  But Prophet Muhammad’s (sa) teachings raised the status of women so high that paradise lay at their feet. Unfortunately, now we see in the very homeland of Prophet Muhammad (sa) that women cannot drive cars and we see women in general being subjugated in many ways throughout the world. We need to stop killing each other for different beliefs and we need to stop depriving our mothers of equal rights.

313814235_2b8422ceec_o.jpg

Image credit: Ahmed Alper

Where does Sharia law and Islamic guidelines fit in with the True Islam concept of secularism and Islam? Could you explain more about this?

Sharia is a way of life and a code of laws for Muslims only. The popular notion of an “Islamic state” is incorrect because the Quran does not prescribe a political system. The Quran calls for mutual consultation and justice on every level. The Quran and Prophet Muhammad (sa) also teach that we should obey those in authority and to be loyal to our country of residence.  Prophet Muhammad’s (sa) example as leader of Medina showed a pluralistic government and not an Islamic state. If we don’t like our nation, Allah reminds us that the Earth is vast and we can move anywhere else.  Separation of religion and state is very important so we do not end up treating others as “less than”.  Many “religious” states in today’s world have done just that and one only needs to read Human Rights Watch to see the gross injustices occurring against minority groups. So, to nip all this in the bud, Islam is very clear that there is no religious-based political system.

Why do you believe there is so much Islamophobia and Islamic extremism nowadays?

When we did not know about math, we went to class and learned from a math teacher.  When we did not know about science, we went to class and learned from a science teacher. But with 60% of Americans not knowing a Muslim and there being no class to learn about Islam, we see fear based on ignorance. Additionally, there’s a failure in Muslim leadership. This failure results in Muslims not knowing about Islam’s own teachings, which leads to feelings of no unity, which can lead to an identity crisis, extremist thought, etc.

The True Islam campaign is a global campaign originating in the USA. How receptive have people been on the ground? What’s the situation like for everyday American Muslims?

As American Muslims, we launched this campaign so that American Muslims could be connected much closer to their faith and so that our national security would improve once people could differentiate Islamic teachings from extremist ways. It has been well-received from many different people, especially due to our active social media presence.

There is a rise in Islamophobia across the nation. Whereas American Muslims focus on spending time with family and friends, paying bills and mortgages, and enjoying life, there’s an additional concern of worry whether oneself or a family member could be a target of threats or violence. However, it is very important that we do not give into this fear, it is important that we open the doors to our mosques wider than ever so we can educate this extremism away. Extremists want us to be afraid so that we grow resentful to our nation and ultimately join their cause.  We’re better than that.

What has the response been from the local and global Islamic community regarding your campaign?

Before we launched the campaign, we sent a letter to over 2000 mosques, imams, and Muslim organizations in America to join the initiative pre-launch and received no responses.

How have non-Muslims responded to your campaign?

Non-Muslims are impressed with the campaign. It is presented at many venues across the nation throughout the year, universities, interfaith events, and open mosque programs.  The clear, concise language briefly and efficiently explains core Islamic concepts and non-Muslims (as well as Muslims) have enjoyed that.

11326145713_411474d6c4_o.jpg

Image credit: Azlan DuPree

On the website, visitors can see who has endorsed the campaign and its 11 points. Could you tell us a bit more about who’s backed the campaign?

People of all backgrounds, Muslim and non-Muslim, politicians, faith leaders, and others have endorsed this campaign. For 15 years, rhetoric against Islam has been widespread. Many are annoyed and sick of this because it is a false narrative of Islam. This is why so many people are stepping up to endorse this campaign and spread the word about it.

How can “everyday Muslims” educate both Muslims and non-Muslims and work towards establishing peace? What practical steps can people take? What methods has your community in particular found to be productive, engaging and well received?

The best way to educate others about Islam is by our actions and the best action to take is to follow Prophet Muhammad (sa)’s model. We should show patience in adversity, firm resolve during our struggles, and kindness to God’s creation. The True Islam campaign has found it very helpful to disarm internet trolls not by fighting back, but answering in clear terms the issues they present. We have also invited all to mosques across the nation. There was a local politician from York, Pennsylvania who said insulting things about Islam in a voicemail to a church and on social media.  We invited him to a mosque during Ramadan and, in his meetings with Muslims, he was awestruck by Muslims, admitted his error, and now endorses the True Islam campaign.

What’s the future of the campaign? Are there any particular upcoming developments?

We just launched a nationwide event called “Coffee, Cake, and True Islam” where we invite people to chat in a friendly environment, like a coffee shop, about Islam’s true teachings. This is a chance for Muslims and non-Muslims to meet and talk with Muslims to learn what Islam actually teaches.

Do you have a message for Muslims and non-Muslims out there?

Education will erase extremism. It worked for Prophet Muhammad (sa) when he taught his people that extremist ways of killing girls, ruthless bloodshed, and women’s subjugation was not right.  It will work again today.  We cannot let hate divide us. Let us educate away extremism and start by endorsing the points at TrueIslam.com.

6710102155_624dbb4040_o.jpg

Image credit: Ikhlasul Amal

Jazak Allah. Thank you for your participation!

So, check out the campaign and endorse the 11 points here!

You can also check out the campaign via social media on Facebook and Twitter.

Salam!

Credits and Acknowledgements:

I’d like to thank Salaam for taking the time to be interviewed and to wish him and the rest of the True Islam team the very best in the future with their campaign.

Feature image: Jona Nalder

 

16 most ridiculous reasons Muslims get kicked off planes

Charles B. Anthony

It’s not easy being Muslim these days, especially when going on holiday.

Reading a book

1

A British Muslim returning from her honeymoon was questioned by police at an airport under terrorism legislation after airline staff reported her for reading a book about Syrian culture.ƒ

Faizah Shaheen works with mental health patients to prevent radicalisation. Oh the irony.

Sweating

1

Faisal Ali and Nazia Alki were on a Delta Air Lines flight in Paris, waiting to fly back to Cincinnati, Ohio, when an employee of the airline asked them to get off the plane.

The employee told them that the pilot had ask them to leave as crew members had felt “uncomfortable” with Mr Ali sweating. To be honest, I don’t like sweaty people either.

3 Having a beard, obviously

1

Mark French was kicked off an Alaska Airlines flight to Seattle from Dallas because his beard was scaring another passenger…

View original post 470 more words

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité: Lies, Expansionism and Fascism – an interview account on life in colonial Algeria

WARNING: Contains graphic images you may find distressing

Where were you in 1962?

I myself wasn’t yet born but to put things into perspective, here are some key events of the decade prior to 1962 itself :

musee-de-lhomme

Remains of Algerian men in a Parisian museum

  • Second wave feminism sprang into life and the birth control pill was introduced (1960)
  • The Soviet Union sent the first man into space – Yuri Gagarin (1961)
  • The Berlin wall was built (1961)

WWII had ended 17 years before and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict had already started over 10 years earlier, dating from 1948. There are in fact many major events in the 1960s but I’d like to point to one in particular: more than half way through the 21st century – on 5th July 1962 to be precise – a nation became free from colonial rule by a wealthy European nation, a nation state which belongs to the EU, NATO and WTO. Any idea? Yes – La France: the land of “liberté, égalité, fraternité” (freedom, equality and brotherhood) finally ended its brutal colonial reign over Algeria.

During this bloody war which lasted almost eight years, starting 1st November 1954 following the colonial invasion of Algeria in 1830, Algerian men, women and children were subject to humiliation, rape and torture on top of being denied their sovereignty and freedom. French General Paul Aussaresses detailed his use of torture with no shred of mercy or regret:

Aussaresses explained that in 1957, torture and murder were an integral part of France’s war policy. He boasted that methods were employed that were not covered by the conventions of war, that he had given his subordinates orders to kill and had personally liquidated 24 FLN members, telling Le Monde, “I do not regret it.”

The use of torture by any group whatsoever is unacceptable. What makes this story ever more shocking is that, not content with the torture and mutilation of Algerians with no right to their land, which was at the time then officially part of the French Republic (yet denying Algerians French citizenship), France has yet to even acknowledge the horror of what happened or to apologise. France is in denial.

algerian memorials.png

Memorials of the War of Independence (Sétif, Algeria – 2012) – Elizabeth Arif-Fear (c)

I personally have been fortunate to have been blessed with a wonderful Algerian family through marriage and have lived in Algeria myself where I have witnessed the kindness, generosity and warmth of the Algerian people who have suffered in a short space of time from the combination of colonialism, the war for independence and civil war against Islamic extremism in the 1990s. My father-in-law has kindly accepted to take part in an interview on life during the colonial era, the war itself and the effects of these events on modern day Algeria.

With this I present a real first hand account of a tragic, bloody era…

……………

PROFILE

Name: Makhlouf Arif209846_212311428796026_5583373_o.jpg

Nationality: Algerian

Year of Birth: 1956

Occupation: School Headmaster, former deputy mayor (Guigba, Wilaya de Batna)

Town of Residence: Ras El Aïoun (Batna)

……………

What is your earliest memory of the war? How old were you when Algeria gained independence?

In all honesty […], I don’t have strong memories and lot of details about the war because I was only two/three years old at the time but I do still remember the immense poverty and ignorance with which the Algerian people lived through because of the French […]. Guigba – my town – was affected by this misery like any other small village in Algeria. We didn’t have heating or lighting (electricity) and there were no schools where we could get an education. Those that did exist were very traditional and purely Islamic.

Why did France colonise Algeria and why was the fight for independence so long and brutal?

In my opinion, there are various reasons and motives behind the French colonisation. The first one is: imperial and colonial expansion. Secondly: exploiting Algeria’s resources, for example our agricultural riches, mines, oil, energy and coastlines. The other reason was to spread Christianity in a new Crusade to fight Islam and as proof, they destroyed a lot of mosques and converted them into churches […]. On top of that, France encouraged the spread of ignorance and darkness by giving power and authority to people who followed […] weird cults. They wanted Algeria to be a territorial extension of France – they wanted it to be theirs.

The fight for independence was long and brutal because on top of French logistical and technological advancement, in terms of heavy weaponry and sophisticated bombs, they also worked systematically on eradicating Algerian identity and making the whole nation forget who they were by manipulating people and telling them there was no such thing as Algeria or Algerian history.

What was life like on a daily basis under French rule and later during the war?

Life was very tough in all aspects including socially and economically. Algerians were discriminated against and were not able to have a good life. Algerians were seen as even lower than second class citizens.

How did Algerians feel about the colonial period and the war?

Even before the revolution, they were at breaking point and were waiting for a leader to lead the way to freedom.

7124264-10918423

What role did your friends and family play? Your father fought in the war and your mother assisted – could you tell us about this?

The French colonial system burnt my parents’ and uncles’ houses because they were suspected of being involved in the war of independence. They killed our animals, they shot the sheep, dogs, cows and they kicked my family out into a mountainous area where conditions were very tough. However, my parents didn’t give up and they decided to carry on their fight against France. They instead built a basement in their home to act as a centre of refuge for those involved in the war. It was a shelter for the resistance. They slowly brought medics in to take care of the injured. Mum used to cook for them and look after them. She also used to sew their clothes […] when someone was killed […] in their eyes they were martyrs […] because they died […] defending their land against one of the most ferocious colonisers (of the 19th/20th century).

Did you know any “pieds noirs” (French settlers in Algeria)? What was your relationship with them like?

The pieds noirs were the richest people in society. They seized all the land and enslaved people in their farms. I knew a rich pieds noire bourgeoisie family. They were unapproachable.

Were the “pieds noirs” Algerian or French? How did native Algerians view them? Why did they leave? Would they be welcome back?

They were civil colonisers. We didn’t like to hear about them. They are thieves who stole our land. The only thing I remember about them is how the people who worked for them complained about the harsh working conditions. They were kicked out of Algeria because they were part of the colonisation of Algeria – they knew that it was not their land they owned and that they were simply colonisers. To be fair, some of them stood with the Algerian revolution. Some were doctors and they treated the Algerian soldiers. Some even wrote to defend the cause of the Algerian revolution. Now, yes they are welcome to come and visit Algeria as tourists but never ever again as colonisers.

multipic.png

How does the French occupation in Algeria differ to that of what is now Morocco or Tunisia?

France focused more on Algeria because of its strategic location in the Mediterranean region and in North Africa. Algeria has the longest coastline and is in the middle of North Africa. Factors also included our size, resources, the Sahara and our young population.

How has the long war for independence affected Algeria on a long term basis regarding the Algerian we know today? What were and what are the short and long term effects?

In the long term, we are still suffering from nuclear bombs that are still exploding in the Sahara. Nobody knows about this but France did nuclear tests in the Sahara. People died as a result and we are still feeling the effects of the nuclear testing. There are some areas of Algeria that people cannot go to because of this. There are also some people who are still alive today who were left disabled from the war having lost limbs.

How (in general) are relations nowadays between France and Algeria on a State level and between the two populations? Does France still hold some form of control or power over Algeria and its citizens – socially, politically, culturally or economically?

The French have a lot of companies in Algeria. They still depend on us as a source of economic growth. The largest migrant community in France is Algerian and relations between people are fine. The problem is between governments. The French government is still trying to manipulate Algerian politics. Social relations between people are very advanced. Algerians and French people inter-marry.

6a00d834529ffc69e2017615ec68a1970c-800wi

Do you believe that the French government will ever issue an apology or at least even acknowledge what happened? Why/why not? Why hasn’t this happened as of yet?

The French government doesn’t see Algerians as equal to them. They just use us. […] France will never apologise. I know that for a fact. They have never apologised to any of their colonies and they are still messing around with their former African colonies.

One of the presidential candidates for the upcoming elections – Emmanuel Macron – came to Algeria and acknowledged the crimes that had taken place but we know this was a publicity stunt to win votes.

If you had to describe both the colonial period and the war itself in three words, what would they be?

Revolution, hope, freedom.

If you ever try and take something by force, expect a more powerful reaction in response.

Is there a key message that you believe underpins this period of history from which lessons can be learnt or warnings can be voiced?

Everyone needs to read about this period – its one of the greatest of all time. Our history has been written by the blood of 1.5 million martyrs. They sacrificed their lives for our freedom.

Do you have a message for either the French government or Voice of Salam readers?

If France wants to build and establish good relations with Algeria, the only way is to acknowledge their mistakes and apologise.

My message for your readers is: get to know history. Reading about history is the only way to understand the present and hope for a better future.

……………

So let us remember what happened, even if others want to bury such bloody, heartbreaking history into the distant past. For Algerians, the memories, the stories and the struggles their families faced are all very real whether acknowledged or not. Not only that but the threat of violence, tribalism and greed remains across the globe. Therefore we must not try and bury the past’s dark secrets but instead acknowledge mistakes and past events, learn lessons and work together to build a peaceful, united future. 

Acknowledgments

I’d like to thank all of those who have given me their time and assistance. Thanks go first and foremost to my dear father-in-law. I’d also like to thank all of those who have provided me with translations and have lent me their time and patience!

Please note: translations are not word-for-word in style (no translation should literally be!) but  in a combined direct/reported “whispering” style format undertaken by a combination of translation and interpreting (editing: Voice of Salam).

Lastly, my best wishes go to the people of Algeria and to those affected by the events discussed. Let the past stand as a lesson and not be repeated. Peace to everyone.

Salam ♥

Credits

All images are shared/externally sourced unless otherwise stated

Images: Tipaza, Réflexion, Halal Book, Education, Alger Républicain, Le Matin d’Algérie

20-offpurplebouquets

The biggest massacre in Europe since WWII – do you know it?

After the tragic events of WWII and the genocide of millions of Jews, Roma gypsies, homosexuals, political opponents, the handicapped and anyone else deemed “unworthy” under Nazi Germany‘s policy of extermination, the World said never again. Yet the sad reality is that the world continues to witness immense violence and the massacre of groups of people due to their political, ethnic, cultural and /or religious beliefs.

The fact is that last week witnessed the 21st anniversary of the massacre of around 8,000 young men and boys. What was the “reason” behind such killing?

They were Muslim

I attended a memorial evening showing the following documentary and was shocked. It retells events of 11th July 1995 – the day in which Bosnian Serbian forces entered the town of Srebrenica and massacred 8,100 Bosnian Muslim men and boys. This is the genocide of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in the 21st century.

This genocide of Bosnian Muslims is the biggest massacre since WWII. The documentary is really is worth a watch to get the facts behind the massacre and show just how it continues to affect families and the area it devastated.

What was left from this massacre – stemming from extreme nationalism and religious hatred – is the unearthed and scattered remains of these victims and heartache of the wives, mothers and sisters left behind. In some cases, generations were wiped out within one single family. Those in power sought “revenge” for the Ottoman domination – as absurd as that sounds. In seeking “revenge” and Serbian domination, they massacred thousands – raping women and killing their male family members.

In order to conceal their crimes, the Serbian forces scattered the remains of the victims across a variety of sites. If not painful enough, many families cannot fully morn the loss of their loved ones as they await for their remains to be found. Other families hold a funeral with what remains of their loved ones are left. Any sense of real closure is near impossible:

I can visit my loved ones. It is much harder for the widows and mothers who still haven’t been able to bury their loved ones.

Fadila Efendic, Srebrenica survivor

DNA sampling continues to be used to trace living relatives to the remains of the massacre. According to Valerie Hopkins of Al Jazeera: “About 1,000 people remain missing from Srebrenica, another 7,000 are unaccounted after the 1992-1995 conflict which claimed a total of 100,000 lives.”

morgue.jpg

Remains of the victims are stored until they can be identified / pieced together – Image credit: Hifsa Haroon-Iqbal

Whilst families still struggle to come to terms with their losses, there is another crucial message that comes from such tragedy: whilst we said never again –  it happened. This massacre stemmed from a gradual process of demonisation and discrimination up until the point of genocide.

Dr Gregory Stanton, President of Genocide Watch, formulated the “10 Steps of Genocide” detailing how stereotyping, and minor hate crime can lead up the mass extermination – genocide – of a group of people. These stages go hand in hand with the series of events leading up to the extermination of Jews in Nazi Germany and massacre of Muslims in Bosnia:

  1. Classification: distinguishing “us” and “them”
  2. Symbolization: adding names and symbols for these classifications
  3. Discrimination: oppressing other groups in terms of legal, political rights etc.
  4. Dehumanization: denying the humanity of said group – equating them as “animals”
  5. Organization: arrests, torture, special army training, buying arms
  6. Polarization: driving people apart using propaganda
  7. Preparation: increasing hate propaganda, using euphemisms (e.g. objectives are for “counter terrorism” purposes or as “ethnic cleansing”), building armies/
  8. Persecution: formulation of “death lists”, segregating victims into ghettos, deporting victims to concentration camps, confinement
  9. Extermination: mass killings, rape
  10. Denial: burning of bodies, digging up mass graves, covering up evidence

Further information in how these 10 steps relate to the massacre of Bosnian Muslims, can be found in the NGO Remembering Srebrenica‘s latest publication which can be viewed online here. I really recommend reading this mini-book to get an overview of events past and present and to learn more about the NGO and how you can help. The fact that concentration camps were introduced post-WWII is simply shocking. Testimony of camp survivors is also available online via their website, including that of Subin Musić at Trbopolje Camp, Prijedor):

Men would be shot dead before us, and left to rot for hours. The smell was intoxicating. […] The women were systematically raped at Trnopolje. They were kept in a separate building to the men, but we could hear them.

The fact that such events happened so close to home for many of us and so recently – essentially breaking all “Western” conceptions and stereotypes of human rights and tolerance (akin to Orientialist discourse) – shows us once again that we all belong to one global humanity where hatred is widespread. We are no different from each other: we are capable of doing both good and bad. What this teaches is us is that: intolerance, negative stereotyping, “otherising” and scaremongering are found all over and they have serious consequences. All this can lead to discrimination, persecution and even genocide.

Communities must embrace differences and build a common foundation of tolerance, peace and understanding. If we look at the rise in media scapegoating of refugees and immigrants, the rise in Islamophobia and hate crime steadily over the last few years and in recent weeks since Brexit we must stand united. Remember the lyrics of the famous Groove Armada song:

If everybody looked the same
We’d get tired of looking at each other

Well, it’s true! Variety is the spice of life as they say. We should be proud of who we are but not exclude others. Discovering other cultures and languages and meeting new people is what life is about! Find the common ground and celebrate the differences that make us individual and unique. At the wonderful memorial presentation I attended last week by Hifsa Iqbal, Muslims and non-Muslims were reminded/witness to the following verse:

O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one’s] faith. And whoever does not repent – then it is those who are the wrongdoers.

O you who have believed, avoid much [negative] assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allah ; indeed, Allah is Accepting of repentance and Merciful.

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.

Qur’an (49: 11-13)

We were created differently and should embrace difference and treat each other fairly. Sadly, Srebrenica is not an example of tolerance, community and peace but instead demonising, Islamophobia, nationalism and ultimately death…

3058790044_0bf22e74f4_o.jpg

Women left behind to remember the victims – Image credit: Photo RNW.org

Helping, learning and moving forward

So with the sad remnants of Srebrenica and in today’s context of increased levels of hate crime, intolerance and prejudice, what can and should we be doing to both remember the victims of Srebrenica and to ensure that this sad tragedy (like many others) does not repeat in any other form?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Host a memorial event
  • Teach children about the event and the importance of community cohesion
  • Donate to help towards the cause
  • Blog, tweet and raise awareness online
  • Check out the Remembering Srebrenica‘s website for ideas and make a pledge
  • Work towards relations in your community: join/form/become involved with interfaith groups, community centres and intercultural programmes
  • Stand up to racism/intolerance whenever you see it
  • Encourage victims of hate crime to report incidents to the police. Muslims can also contact Tell MAMA and The Islamic Human Rights Commission directly

Remember the past, learn from it and keep the peace!

Salam!

Credits / further information:

Feature image: Stefano Giantin

Hopkins, V. (10/07/2015) ‘Srebrenica: Unearthing loss‘, Al Jazeera

Remembering Srebrenica – further information, witness testimony and extra resources

Stanton, G. (2016) ’10 Stages of Genocide’, Genocide Watch

What is jihad?

The Muslim concept of Jihad has always seemed to me to indicate something more profound in the human emotional makeup than the rather shallow image of physical conflict with which it is commonly associated.

The concept of struggle i.e. conflict seems to go to the heart of virtually all human experience; indeed it could be said to be the very essence of existence.

Without the knowledge of vice, could we truly value virtue? It appears to be a law of nature that every state has its opposite: male/female, hot/cold, love/hate etc.

Where we see balance, equilibrium, in both the human and natural worlds, there is an innate sense of rightness; conversely in arenas of stress, warfare or natural disasters, all tranquility is absent.

chris plant vice

Humanity employs a great deal of its collective energy, in unceasing search for conflict resolution; be it international, i.e. east vs. western ideologies, capitalism vs. communism etc. or drug, religious or racist scourges that afflict our communities.

Just occasionally we are cheered by the bright spark of enlightened intelligence. For instance, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation committees, which probably saved that country from the fate of the Congo and many others?

Northern Ireland is also a welcome example of the triumph of rational compromise over ingrained prejudice. Another beacon is Columbia which is hopefully about to bring a many decades long civil war to an end – again through enlightened dialogue and compromise.

Sadly, the opposite is only too frequently the case, for example in Israel vs. Palestine, where exists a deadly convergence of […] race, religion, culture. External pressures have combined to produce a Gordian knot of intractability which, like a malignant growth, will not simply go away but will fester relentlessly to its fatal conclusion.

When we humans harness the best of our inclinations, miracles can and do happen.  

Credits:

Text: Christopher Plant

Image credits:  Svenwerk (feature image), William Brawley

Copenhagen: Islam, identity and integration

More than 10 years after the controversial publication of images of the Prophet Mohammed, and a year after attacks on cartoonist Lars Vilks and a synagogue shook Copenhagen, Danish attitudes to the city’s 300,000 strong Muslim community have changed. We visit youth associations and cultural centres to discuss integration and the fight against radicalisation in a climate of Islamophobia.  

“When the cartoons of Mohammed were published, we noticed a change in the way the Muslim community was viewed by the media and political classes. We’re living in a less tolerant climate due to terrorism, and for some people this climate has become hostile. Some people believe that we’ve even gone backwards by 10 or 20 years in terms of integration.” These are the words of Waseem Rana, one of the directors of Munida – a Muslim youth organisation that promotes the integration of Muslim identity in day-to-day Danish society.

We went to Nørrebro, north of Copenhagen, to explore the old workers’ district. Here, industrial architecture stands side by side with evidence of multiculturalism and gentrification: Middle Eastern shops, modern pubs, skate parks, street art and small design workshops. It’s no coincidence that here you can also find prayer halls and Muslim cultural centres.

shia mosque.jpg

The Shia Imam Ali Mosque in Copenhagen (c) (Tullio Filippone)

Inside Wakf Mosque

Everything’s ready for evening prayers. Waseem is waiting along with other young men at the entrance to Wakf Mosque at the Islamic Society in Denmark. The prayer hall is built inside two large warehouses and hosts around 100 worshippers of all ages. “Munida was set up in the early 2000s by Ahmad Abu Laban,” Waseem (38) tells me. Waseem was born and raised in Copenhagen by his Pakistani parents.

Later disappearing in 2007, Laban was a central figure in the controversy surrounding the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in 2005 by the Danish daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten. He not only took part in the Middle Eastern delegations, but was also partly responsible for the “Akkari-Laban dossier” alongside Ahmed Akkari, which denounced the climate of Islamophobia within Danish society and was accompanied by a rise in protests and violence in the area.

“Laban wanted a youth section, so a group of 4 or 5 young people was formed on the side. Today there are 500 of us – 60% of which are women. We’ve members from around 40 nationalities and our activities cover all social aspects relevant to Danish youth.”

This includes not only social and recreational activities but also educational initiatives. “We’re trying to help young Muslims to develop their identity within Danish society. If they have firm faith and are confident about their identity, they’ll become better citizens,” he adds.

waqft.jpg

Waseem Rana in Wakf Mosque (c) (Tullio Filippone)

Prayers start and we receive a warm welcome with only a few wary glances. “Unfortunately, for the last three weeks we’ve been living in a climate of suspicion due to a story on a Danish hidden camera show,” Waseem explains. This was an interview on the public channel TV2 with an imam from Grimhøj mosque in Aarhus – an imam in support of stoning women for adultery and the right to kill apostates.

“They chose a radical episode that risks destroying all the progress that’s been made over the years towards integration,” explains Waseem. “After the attacks in Paris andBrussels, my mother and sister were stopped in the supermarket by a man who accused them of being responsible… He was drunk – no doubt about it – but it’s still a sign.”

Reaching out to young radicals before hate preachers do

We stop in the library, which every year hosts thousands of visitors from schools and universities who come to learn about Islam. The person in charge here is Nils, a 24-year-old physics student who converted to Islam when he was 17. “I’m responsible for looking after new converts to Islam. We get together every Monday and we talk about the fundamental basics of the religion,” he explains.

Born and raised in a Christian family, he converted in 2009. “My parents told me that God exists and I believed in it, but then as you get older, you reach a certain age and you start to ask yourself questions. I met some young Muslims at high school and so I discovered the Qur’an and the Prophet Mohammed and after three months I converted.” His family were accepting of his decision, but not without a few jokes: “My mother used to make jokes and ask me when I was going to blow myself up.”

library.jpg

Inside the library at the Islamic Society in Denmark (c) (Tullio Filippone)

According to a study by The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, since 2011 an estimated 125 foreign jihadi fighters have left Denmark – at least 62 of which have since returned home. In addition, Omar El Hussein, one of the perpetrators of the 15th of February shootings in Copenhagen in 2015, was born and raised in Denmark within a family of Jordanian-Palestinian origin. He was just 22 years old at the time.

“If it weren’t for conflicts in the Middle East, hate preachers would have less of a hold and an impact on young people. Many young jihadis go to Syria convinced that they’re going to fight injustice,” says Waseem. “But fighting injustice doesn’t mean going to fight in Syria. This will destroy them, their cause and the image of Islam. They have to transform negative impulses into positive energy; learning, writing, venting their frustrations. If we don’t speak to them ourselves, extremist preachers could do so instead, and could control them.”

minagjh.jpg

Minahj al Quran International Denmark (c) (Tullio Filippone)

“Our generation is trying to define Islam within a Danish context”

Right from the very start, such efforts have also included Minahj-ul-Quran International (Denmark) – an NGO founded in 1981 in Pakistan by Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri that promotes tolerance and interfaith dialogue. Hassan Bostan – a 25-year-old lawyer – welcomes us at their centre.

“90% of our members are originally Pakistani, arriving here in the 70s and 80s,” explains Hassan. “We young members who were born and raised here are trying to define Islam within a Danish context as a universal religion that can be practiced in any country and at any time in history – assuming that you can define its role and understand how young Muslims can integrate. For our parents who had just arrived in Denmark it was difficult. We want to move forwards.”

We visit the rest of the building. Heading upstairs we find the prayer rooms, followed by washrooms for performing ablutions and several rooms where children attend classes. Along our way we meet many children. They’re all directed towards the large prayer hall where the imam teaches them how to recite the Qur’an.

reciting quran.jpg

Children recite verses of the Qur’an at Minahj-ul-Quran centre (c) (Tullio Filippone)

“We teach classical Islamic science, meditation and Sufism to free the heart from hatred and negative thoughts and ideas,” Hassan says, an ex-member of the Danish Ethnic Youth Council. But that’s not all: “We work with Jewish and Christian associations and we’ve also taken part as a steering group in a programme set up by the city of Copenhagen aimed at understanding radicalisation and providing political solutions.”

This is something also carried out on a European level with the assistance of RAN (Radicalisation Awareness Network) – a community based programme aimed at preventing radicalisation – and additionally through seminars studying counter-terrorist material including: Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings (Tahir-ul-Qadri) and theIslamic Curriculum on Peace and Counter-Terrorism (Minahj-ul-Quran International, Tahir-ul-Qadri).

The Women’s Mosque

Then there’s the question of women: “Women’s participation is a Pakistani cultural problem outside of the religion itself,” says Hassan. “We have a Women’s League and in all activities – from sporting to recreational activities – men and women are on the same floor of the building.” This is a topic that led to an innovative cultural experiment aimed at integration: a women’s mosque. Known as Mariam, it’s a home for all Muslims, but Friday prayers are only led by fem-imamsfemale imams.

The first female imam was the founder Sherin Khankan, 41 years old, born to a Syrian father and Finnish mother, a columnist and commentator known in Denmark for her publications on Islam and her radical left wing activism. “The debate’s been moving forward since 2011 when we founded the Critical Muslims forum. We wanted to overturn Islam’s patriarchal structure,” Khankan explains. “The Qur’an does not forbid women imams.”

The mosque, which is currently under construction, is based in an apartment in the heart of Copenhagen – mere metres from a street full of tourist souvenir shops. On the 9th of February, as announced by the AFP new agency, the first Islamic marriages and divorces took place here. This was the first step on an ambitious road that is very much focused on educating young people. “We’re centred on tradition but we put this into context in the 21st century,” explains Khankan. “The new generations don’t know their own origins. We want to introduce them to Islamic philosophy and thinkers such as Ibn Arabi who approved of female imams.”

The message has already won over its first group of young Muslims. “They came to a meeting at university and joined our project,” Khakan concludes. “We can act as a point of reference for the new generation.”

Source and credit:

Article and photography by Tullio Filippone (c), originally posted via Cafe Babel (26/05/2016)

Translation: Elizabeth Arif-Fear

This feature report is a part of Cafe Babel’s EUtoo ‘on the ground’ project in Copenhagen, seeking to give a voice to disenchanted youth. It is funded by the European Commission.

 

Orientalism is alive and thriving!

When it comes to the “Arab world” many so-called “Western culture” outlets portray a world of contradictions and racist stereotypes. Through TV, film, theatre and literature, we’ve seen the insults, lies and “mystery”. Think of :

  • Aladdin
  • Ali Baba
  • Scheherazade
  • A Hundred and One Nights

These portray the “exotic mysterious East” within Orientalist racist discourse further evoking images of the “backward” “uncivilised” Arab world of lies, thieves and male sexual dominance.

DSC_0001_34[1]

“Moros” (Moors) – which refers to the Muslim Arab/Amazigh inhabitants of North Africa who invaded Spain and ruled Al-Andalus (Abdalucia) – is nowadays a racist term used to refer to present day (Muslim) Arab/Amazigh migrants/residents from the Maghreb region (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia)

I’ve just come to the UK after living in Andalucia in Southern Spain for quite some time. This region was once Al-Andalus – a region representing the Golden Era of Islam and The Moors (the Amazigh and Arab Muslim leaders of North Africa). It was an area of rich diversity, multiculturalism and an era of mathematical, scientific and artistic discovery which is part of Spain’s history, culture and heritage (whether Spaniards like it or not). I’ve talked in previous posts about Islamophobia and racism towards Arabs/North African/non-Europeans in Spain before (see here and here), but I’ve not mentioned the interest in Moroccan and Arab culture in a strange money making contradiction.

Whilst many Spaniards have no racist affinity whatsoever and love Moroccan decor, food etc., there is an undercurrent of racism and the government is definitely NOT working towards building social cohesion. What they are doing though is cashing in millions of Euros a year. The Al Hambra palace in Granada (just one example) is a UNESCO site and its architecture and gardens lends it to be called a new wonder of the world.

Added to that, there’s also the further hypocritical contradictory double standards which are often present/similar to those portrayed in Western media:

  • Moroccans are sometimes referred to as “Moors” which is a racist practise as it refers back to the Moor invaders from hundreds of years ago – a sore point for certain Spaniards still living in the past (think an “us” vs. “them” mentality).  On the other hand, people express a love for couscous and North African jewellery/symbols (e.g. the hand of Fatima)
  • Likewise, nuns in Spain represent “good, chaste modest Christian women”. Yet veiling in the case of Muslim women is seen as a practice of controlling Muslim women, looked at with shock, suspicion and deemed “unnecessary”. It’s a long running double standard of the modest Christian sister vs. the oppressed Muslim woman shrouded in her veil of Arab patriarchy.

In line with this, there’s the trend for “exotic” “Arab” shops. There’s been a lot of talk about cultural appropriation recently. I (just like many others) like to buy Moroccan pieces of interior: mirrors, pottery etc.. My husband is from the Maghreb, I love Moroccan culture and decor and I most certainly do not aspire to orientalist and racist discourse and behaviour. In Málaga – despite the racism against North Africans (and other ethnicities, cultures etc.) and the reality of Islamophobia and stark lack of multicultural cohesion – Spain still boasts an array of Arab style shops and merchandise in the southern towns frequented by both tourists and non-tourists alike. There’s a raw memory of the Moors (“us” vs. “them” – the word “Moor” is a raw, sore term), yet when it comes to making money, people have a bit of a penchant for “Eastern” cultures.

Take a look at these two shop fronts – one shop is owned and run by Moroccans, the other is a chain run by Spaniardswhich one is which (look carefully!)?

IMG_1800.JPG

IMG_1807

These two pictures highlight exactly what is wrong with people’s perception of culture and the level of cohesion in Spanish society. It’s Orientalism at its pèak. The first photo is of a shop chain which hosts an odd concoction of Hindu, Indian, Moroccan, Buddhist pieces under the name of “Arabesque” in Arab style Latin letters. I wasn’t aware that Buddha was Arab…? Statues are forbidden in Islam as they are seen as idolatry.

The second photo is of an actual Moroccan run shop with other branches elsewhere outside of Málaga. The shop boasts Moroccan/Arab merchandise and nothing else. With the name “Sherazade” you may think Orientalist but this is an original authentic shop. This is a stark contrast to local shops in which everything “non-Western” has been essentialised, bunged into one category: EASTERN. Never mind the fact that “the East” (if we can even call it that) is an area comprising of various regions, continents, countries, languages, cultures, nationalities, religions and traditions. It’s beyond patronising and quite startling. Yet to make things worse, at the end of my time in Málaga I found a shop which appeared to be run my Moroccans yet boasted a mix of both Moroccan and Indian stock in one large “bazar”. It seems “Easternising” is rather popular and a  big money maker.

The problem is a lack of understanding, respect and social cohesion. Travelling and exposure to other cultures is a great way to develop understanding, break down barriers and build bridges but it must be done in a respectful, sincere way. If you respect Moroccan culture: go ahead and open your own shop. Yet in a society where Moroccans face so many difficulties and so much racism – a society which is far from being multicultural in terms of social cohesion, yet hosts a variety of different nationalities – this all strikes me as wreaking of Orientalism, hypocrisy, double standards and dishonesty.

In a smaller town, when I was browsing a market one day, I asked the seller where the (Moroccan/North African style) bowls were from. He said: “Africa”. Well yes Morocco is in Africa (and Africa is a fantastic place!) but firstly, Africa is a vast continent with a huge variety of different cultures and traditions and secondly – and this is the source of the problem – when he says Africa he means: not Europe, but a far off continent, a place that is far from us, our lifestyle, economy and culture, what we klnow and live: a distant foreign place. It’s Morocco. It’s a (Muslim, Arab/Amazigh) Mediterranean country with which you share hundreds of years of history and heritage – which your country markets to tourists. You share similar art, decor, names and many of your words come from Arabic – you probably share blood! All of these social problems stem from people’s perceptions; the “us” vs. “them” mentality and the way people perceive others. It’s all in the mind!

Build bridges, not walls

Remember and learn from the past – but don’t live in it.

Salam!

Feature image: Media Bistro