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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Acknowledgements and further information:

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

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

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

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

Salam! ♡

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#HeForShe – Meet anti-FGM activist Tony on why men must take a role in combatting violence against women and girls

International Women’s Day is 8th March. This day represents a time to come together to celebrate the achievements of women worldwide but to also remind ourselves of the fact that that there is much more that needs to be done to protect, enforce and encourage women’s rights locally, nationally and internationally.

One particular issue which affects millions of women and girls worldwide is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). According to UNICEF (2016), more than 200 million women and girls in the world today have been cut across Africa, the Middle East on Asia. This is a serious issue with devastating permanent consequences.

In a previous blog I outlined the risks associated with and the myths behind FGM. Here, I want to highlight how men must engage in the fight against FGM. FGM stems from sexist, patriarchal norms around modesty, sexuality and social freedom. To end this struggle, boys and men have to engage in the struggle and say enough is enough.

With this is mind, I’d like to introduce Tony Mwebia an online and off-line advocate primarily focussed on ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and other harmful cultural practices. In his online campaigns he mainly focuses on rallying policy makers, NGOs and government agencies to engage more men in the fight against FGM as he strongly believes engaging males will help catalyse this fight. Offline he engages men and boys through dialogues and discussions aimed at changing their perceptions and attitudes towards this harmful cultural practice. Here’s his story.

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Discovering FGM: Where it all started

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Image credit: MONUSCO (CC BY-SA 2.0)

You may be shocked to know back in 2012 I had no idea about FGM. It was all by coincidence, while volunteering with an organisation dealing with urban refugees in Nairobi, that I was given a chance to work as a project assistant on an FGM project. My turning point was when one Somalian refugee narrated how he lost his wife and baby due to complications related to FGM.

I then realised that men also had many stories about FGM but they rarely shared them. Men were living with spouses who had suffered fistula, whilst the economic burden that comes with frequent hospital visits due to complications was also heavy. I was shocked to learn how men could not enjoy sex with their loved ones and that they instead opted to look for women from other tribes who had not undergone FGM. This then became the start of my #MenENDFGM online campaign.

FGM in Kenya: The figures speak the real truth

In Kenya FGM is illegal under the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act (October 2011) which sets out several offences and punishments for offenders. The national prevalence of FGM according to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) (2014) stands at 21%. Despite this figure though, the reality on the ground is entirely different. The rate of FGM can be as high as:

  • 94 % within Somali communities
  • 86% among the Samburu population
  • 84% among Kisii tribes
  • 78 % among Maasai tribes
  • 31% among the Meru and Embu

This a clearly indication that FGM is still a major issue of concern and is affecting thousands of girls – especially in rural Kenya.

Many communities in Kenya, as in most African societies, are patriarchal in nature. Men yield immense power over numerous aspects of women’s lives as husbands, politicians, religious leaders and key policy/decision makers.

In rural settings where FGM is mostly carried out, men have no idea of what happens during “the cut”. They are not allowed to attend the ceremony which is kept solely for women. This creates a big gap in the fight against FGM as most men are made to believe FGM is just a rite of passage meant to beautify and prepare girls for marriage. This calls for massive sensitisation and engagement of boys and men in dialogues to clearly enlighten them and bring them to speed with the actual repercussions of FGM.

Bringing an end to “the cut”: Where do we go from here?

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Image credit: DfID (CC BY 2.0)

Informed men can easily influence policies and decisions right from the family level up to national and international levels on issues such as FGM. If all men said no to FGM today, then our work would be decrease greatly as this practice would reduce to insignificant levels all over the communities where it is currently practiced.

Remember: most – if not all – of the reasons behind FGM point directly or indirectly to increasing marriageability of local girls. So who are the potential husbands? What if they said they will not marry girls who’ve been “cut”? In doing this though we need to be careful not to discriminate against women and girls who have already been cut as most of them are either forced or coerced to undergo FGM.

In conclusion let me say that the estimated 200 million women and girls alive today who have undergone FGM are not just a number. This figure represents the millions of women and girls who were born perfect but have instead been subjected to a lifetime of suffering due to having been forced to undergo this prolific harmful cultural practice.

This number is also a rallying call to humanity to join hands in ensuring that no other girl becomes an FGM statistic. Remember: no single individual, gender, community, organization, country, region or religion can end FGM alone.

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tony.jpgTony Mwebia #MenENDFGM is an award winning online and offline activist fighting against FGM and other harmful cultural practices. He is also an active as sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) advocate.

Find out more at tonymwebia.co.ke
Follow Tony on Twitter at @TonyMwebia

 

Credits and acknowledgments

Thank you Tony for your sharing your inspiration and great work with us. All the best with your campaign in the future!

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Respect, equality and non-discrimination: Aren’t these core universal human rights for each and every one of us?

It’s become quite a sad occurrence to increasingly find that certain individuals, groups, organisations and community figures are continuing (and I’m discovering more) to promote a blatant double standard when it comes to our human rights and freedoms and the basic concepts of respect, equality and non-discrimination.

Time and time again, here in the UK and worldwide, I’m discovering how certain organisations and “leaders” are expressing, promoting or failing to address divisive, degrading language, beliefs and practices. And time and time again, I’m discovering more and more people to quite literally steer well clear of!

Let’s be clear. We all have rights, needs and wishes and we also all have responsibilities and duties to our fellow human beings. For example: we are all endowed with the right to practice our religion freely but we are also responsible for protecting the religious freedom of others, to not impede on the freedom of other groups and to not advocate hatred against other religious or non-religious communities.

I’ve spoken about this before in a previous blog entitled Human Rights: It’s all for one or none for all, but I’m becoming increasingly shocked at the double standards out there. What are these you might ask? Well take a look below at the sad reality. I have not stated names but these are all real examples/issues.

Intrafaith hatred

They campaign against religious discrimination as (presumably Sunni) Muslims but hate Shia and Ahmadi Muslims.

Homophobia

They advocate for peace and interfaith tolerance or the rights of their own community yet they exclude and/or demonise members of LGBT community through the use of derogatory language and exclusive practices and/or through constitutional history.

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Divisiveness

They preach the importance of anti-sectarianism within Islam but whilst (often vehemently) referring to themselves as Sunni they (almost always) refuse to accept Ahmadi Muslims as Muslims and preach an intolerant, divisive, hate-fuelled narrative.

Anti-Semitism

They claim to stand for the need for peace and non-violence – in particular by engaging faith communities and strengthening faith relations – but have (un-denounced) anti-Semitic history.

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Violence and extremism

They are concerned about injustices in the name of anti-terror legislation but do not (actively) tackle extremism within their own communities.

Misogyny

They promote a supposedly feminist narrative in opposition of the idea that Islam “oppresses women” but do so with often little or no involvement of women and whilst holding and/or failing to speak out against outdated misogynist beliefs and practices.

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Selective outrage / human rights

They campaign for the rights of Palestinians yet fail to condemn and/or do not advocate against human rights abuses throughout the Middle East committed by “Arabs/Muslims” and/nor comment on violence committed by Hamas. They also use anti-Semitic language and demonise large segments of the Jewish community .

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So, where do we go from here?

Without naming people and organisation this may all appear rather “abstract” but I am sure that if you think carefully and look, you’ll find plenty of examples of these double standards.

I can think of numerous organisations, people and bodies here in the UK and elsewhere operating under the guise of promoting peace, anti-Islamophobia etc. but who are directly/indirectly promoting/upholding some of these double standards. I’m not saying we all have to focus on the same areas of work but ignoring issues, failing to address inequality, preaching hatred and using derogatory language is not acceptable.

When will enough be enough? When will the ignorant, divisive and even hate-fuelled narrative stop? Stand up and speak out – for everyone. We are all human. We are all entitled to the same rights, regardless of gender, age, sexuality, faith, ethnicity and nationality. And we all all responsible for upholding the rights of each and every one of us and speaking out against hatred, discrimination and violence.

Salam, shalom, peace ♡

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10 More disturbing extremist rantings and how to respond

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

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

1. Kill or disown apostates

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

Here’s how to respond:

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

More information can be found here.

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

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

Here’s how to respond:

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

More information can be found here.

3. Jews are “the enemies of Islam”

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

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

Dr Naik’s use of language (“The Jews”) in itself is shocking. Again, back in my previous post on three popular Islamic scholars who promote extremism, Shayk al-Munajjid of the website Islam Q&A has publicly stated that Jews are: “the people of lies, fabrications, treachery, and conspiracies… They are the filthiest of nations…” (Featured on Al-Majd TV, Saudi Arabia – 15/05/2016).

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

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

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

Check them out and get involved!

4. Secularism is anti-Islamic and wayward

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

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

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

(Islam Q+A)

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

Here’s how to respond:

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

More information can be found here.

5. Doubting and questioning makes you a kafir

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

Here’s how to respond:

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

More information can be found here.

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

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

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

7. Science is “anti-God”

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

Here’s how to respond:

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

Find out more information here:

8. You should not have close non-Muslim friends

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

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

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

More info can be found here:

9. Being gay makes you non-Muslim

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

Muslim Profession of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Non-Muslims are “out to get us”

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

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

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

Here’s how to respond:

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

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

We can all make a difference. Spread some peace 🙂

Salam!

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Ladies: Beware of the fake (male) feminist

Feminism. The word’s got a bit of a bad reputation, hasn’t it? Mention you’re a feminist in a crowd of people and they may think you’re a man-hating “modernist” out to take over the world and crush all menfolk.

Now mention the word equality and you might be onto something. We all want to treat each other fairly and equally, don’t we? Or, so we think…

See, whilst we all know how to spot an out and proud “anti-feminist” and the worst cases of discrimination and furthermore violence against girls and women (FGM, child marriage, eradicating female education and so on), an equally worrying dilemma is that of the fake feminist.

Now, when I say feminist, let me be clear from the word go. The men I’m talking about in particular (like many people in fact) won’t call themselves feminists. “Feminist” is a “Western”, quirky word apparently…. No, definitely not. But they do quite openly believe in women’s equality – despite cultural and traditional pressures both behind the scenes and out in the open. So, how do they do this you might ask?

Well, here are some examples:

  • They encourage their sisters to go to university
  • They openly state that men and women are equal
  • They’re repulsed at and denounce child marriage, FGM and other forms of gender-based violence
  • They believe that women should (if they wish) be active in the workplace and their female relatives often work
  • They claim to be looking for a “partner”, an equal or a love-match – not simply a “wife” (in his words: a submissive maid with whom he’s got nothing in common)

Right, sounds good so far. So, what’s the issue you may ask? Well see, feminism i.e. gender equality isn’t (simply) about women going to work and not being locked up at home. It’s not just about being safe from violence, it’s about equality: financially, sexually, spiritually, socially, culturally and emotionally.

Here’s the definition from the Cambridge dictionary just to clarify:

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See, it’s there in black and white: “the same rights, power, and opportunities as men…”

Now – whilst I’m not trying to tar all men with the same brush – the fake feminist will do all the things I’ve already pointed out but at the same time:

  • He won’t help out with the housework/equally share chores when both partners are working (or even see it as his responsibility)
  • He won’t encourage his wife in her career and community pursuits
  • Equally so, he could also be demeaning to his wife who decides to stay at home and care for her children (a full-time job in itself!) when the family are in no financial hardship
  • He won’t prioritise his wife’s sexual needs

In short, the fake feminist hides behind sexist outdated stereotypes, attitude and norms. In reality, the male fake feminist actually feels intimidated by a successful, independent, confident woman. When challenged as to why one standard exists for men and another for women, he’ll simply say: “Well, my sister is happy doing it” or “It’s just the way it is”.

So, to these men I ask: why do you feel do intimated by women? You know what equality is surely? Or do you…? It’s quite simply (on a basic level) what you have and enjoy! It’s the things you do, the places you go and the dreams you pursue. Yet, such men appear to be so engrained in their socio-cultural bubble, so threatened by the reality of female equality that they struggle with the very concept – just like all openly proud misogynists who’d automatically denounce feminism and female equality in all terms, regardless of semantics.

Yes, the fake male feminists I’m talking about claim to want an independent woman but in reality, what they’re really looking for is often an educated woman that will still do all of the housework, that will still put him first and that will still take full or primary responsibility for the childrearing.

The question I’d therefore propose to these men is: are you ready to handle a woman who demands to be treated as your equal? Are you ready to share the housework? Are you passionate about encouraging your wife to follow her interests? Are you ready to feed the baby and change nappies? Are you ready to put on an apron if you come home early from work and your wife’s still on the way home from the office?

See, a confident, self-assured man who truly believes in female equality doesn’t feel intimated by his wife’s success. Like a jealous, insecure “fake friend”, such behaviour reveals more about such men (not women) than they realise. Remember, if you truly believed in equality of the sexes, what you wish for yourself is what you’d wish for you wife.

So, ladies: watch out for the fake feminist. Put him to the test before you dedicate your life to him. Actions always speak louder than words… And gentlemen: don’t be a fake feminist. Be the man she deserves and encourage her to be the woman she so proudly is

Credits and ackowledgments

Article written by Elizabeth Arif-Fear – first published by She Speaks We Hear (23/10/2017).

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10 Trends which reveal the reality behind gender inequality

You’ve no doubt heard about gender inequality but you may not be aware of the reality that women across the world face. What does “gender inequality” actually mean in real terms? Perhaps you may feel that in your part of the world it’s not an issue. Well, I beg to differ. Statistically speaking, women are more likely to be affected by a range of discrimination and abuse than their male peers due to their gender and the relationship between poverty and prevailing socio-cultural norms. Now, everything has a context and therefore social, cultural and economic factors must be taken into account but by being female – across the so-called “developed” and non-developing world, there are a range of trends that stick and which are unacceptable in the 21st century.

Here’s 10 trends which highlight and exemplify the shocking reality of gender inequality today.

1. Women are the hardest hit by poverty

Women are overall disproportionately affected by poverty. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), out of the 1.3 billion people worldwide living in extreme poverty, women account for a disproportionately large amount of this figure. But what about in the “developed world”? What about mainstream society? Well, the UN’s research “The World’s Women” in 2015 concluded that in Europe women and girls were greater affected by poverty than men (53%).

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2. More girls leave school early and become illiterate than their male peers

Without an education, you’re more likely to remain trapped in the cycle of poverty and without a doubt, women and girls are the worst affected. Due to a combination of social, cultural and economic factors such as poverty and child marriage, many girls leave school much earlier than is required leaving them unable to gain a solid education and build their future.

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3. Females are more likely to experience sexual violence

We need to break the myth that sexual violence only affects women and girls. It DOES affect men but to a far lesser degree. Many women (as well as men) will also not report or speak out about sexual violence for fear of retribution of social stigma, but the figures we do have are shocking.

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4. Women are excluded from habitually male-led decision making

We’ve all heard of the glass ceiling and it’s real. The lack of females in politics and high management positions is shocking as this ultimately means that women are excluded from decision making, meaning that half of the population remain under-represented in politics, finance etc. – you name it!

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5. Women earn less than their male colleagues for the same job

Not only are women more likely than men to work in undervalued, low-paid or vulnerable jobs but women are also on average paid less than men (ILO, 2012; UN Women, 2017). According to the World Bank, in most countries across the globe, women on average earn only 60-75% of what men do. This is a staggering phenomena in the “Western world” which many find hard to believe.

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6. Being female means you’re more likely to be sold into slavery

Human trafficking is a serious problem across the globe. Most victims of human trafficking are female and the numbers of girls being trafficked is increasing. Human trafficking of women and girls often involves sexual exploitation and is unimaginably detrimental to the psychological, emotional, physical, sexual, social, cultural and economical wellbeing of those affected.

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7. Women are more likely to die from natural hazards

When natural disaster strikes, women are once again at greater risk of harm. Women living in poverty (as usual!) are more likely to be affected than their male counterparts and remain incredibly vulnerable.

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8. Girls are more likely to be affected by HIV and AIDS than their male peers

51% of adults living with HIV are female (UNAIDS, 2015). What’s more, if we break down the figures by age, we find that young girls and women (aged 15 to 24 years old) are particularly vulnerable to infection (UNAIDS 2015; UN Women 2017). New infections amongst young women are higher than that of their male peers and with 45% of teenage girls in certain cases declaring that their first sexual experience was non-consensual, this may not come as a surprise for many people out there (UNAIDS, 2014).

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9. Women spend more time on unpaid housework and less on leisure than men

We may think this is a stereotype but it’s true. Across the world, in pretty much every country, each day men spend more time on leisure activities while women spend more time doing unpaid housework (OECD, 2017). Women take on the major burden of domestic and care work – even when they have a job of their own.

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10. Being born female means you’re more likely to be married as a child

Child marriage predominantly affects girls. Whilst boys can be affected, the numbers show that this is a far less common occurrence. Child marriage results in high numbers of young girls missing out on an education, financial independence and being subject to sexual, emotional and physical abuse. For girls of such a young age, childbirth can even mean death, as their young bodies cannot bear the physical burden.

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So there we are folks. The figures speak for themselves. Please, please – next time you hear someone harping on about “feminism” this and that as though it’s a man-hating phenomena, remind them of these facts. We must keep raising awareness and challenging socio-cultural norms which discriminate against women and perpetuate the marginalisation, exclusion and abuse of so many women – both closer to home and further afield.

Sources, credits and further information

A full list of sources can be downloaded here (PDF)

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Misogyny in North Africa: My experiences as a British Muslimah

In a previous post I talked about sexism in the British workplace and in keeping with the theme of sexism, I’d like to talk about my experiences as a British Muslimah in relation to North African culture. I’m married to a North African man and I’ve travelled to, worked and lived in a variety of North African countries both pre- and post-conversion and before and after getting married. In this post, I’d like to look at the issues I’ve really noticed since converting to Islam and travelling to the region including first, second and third hand experiences of blatant discrimination, sexism, hypocrisy and misogyny that women in the area face. Now, I’m not saying these things happen across the board and I’ve certainly not included examples from very traditional circles but I’d like to talk about some experiences which I’ve found difficult, confusing, frustrating, upsetting and in some cases have made me feel utterly trapped and powerless – all of which are against (moderate) Islamic teachings. For more on the issue of sexism and Islam, see my previous post on gender jihad which has already touched on what is and isn’t Islamic when it comes to women and the unfortunate way some are treated.

Primarily, the overriding problem and any example of misogyny I can think of (mostly) seems to be related to the following overarching concept:

“A woman’s place is in the home”

First of all, not all women in the region are at home every second of the day. However this concept really underpins the problems I’ve encountered. It affects every aspect of women’s lives. There are many many women with jobs – most of the doctors I’ve met are in fact women and many women do hold roles outside the home. What’s more, women and girls can also enjoy being at home relaxing in their free time but the reality is that I’ve faced gossiping, backbiting and criticism for “leaving the house too much” (women sadly do this too folks!). Whilst on holiday, being busy organising and getting married and taking my father out so we could enjoy a holiday, I’ve been subjected to wagging tongues trying to control  my life. The manipulation of Islam to the extent that women are told they need to stay at home in safe places to extreme lengths (for obscene periods of time) is wrong and unhealthy yet it is used to perpetuate a deeply ingrained misogyny.

Inside the home: No need for a man’s input

On a practical level, this means that the home is the woman’s domain and most men don’t lift even a finger at home. The kitchen is out of bounds to male guests who may want to cook as the kitchen is for females – of all ages – and females only. No men allowed! Men generally will not learn to cook but will boil an egg, fry chips or make an omelette if hungry and their wife/sister/mum is not around. In restaurants however, all the waiters and chefs are male. It is generally seen as shameful for women to serve men in public but to serve men in the home is viewed as normal. If a man does cook, this will be kept quiet to save face.

If a husband works full time and his wife is at home with the kids, you’d expect that she would take care of domestic matters but that shouldn’t exclude men from helping out and taking responsibility. For women who work full-time – let’s not forget that we all need a decent standard of living and many many many girls go to university and want a job – she can generally not expect the housework to be divided. I’ve been told that women are apparently “happy” to have a full-time job and do all of the housework (and essentially have two jobs). Of course, if you live with in-laws/parents, there is help but domestic duties – cooking, cleaning etc. – are carried out by women/females only. ONE thing however: men will often do the shopping. Some markets are also off limits to women due to apparently “dodgy behaviour” in such areas fully saturated with men, which are deemed inappropriate for women. To be fair, by the sounds of it I’d not want to go but there’s something ironic there about only men being able to buy food that they’re never going to cook themselves…

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In the home, cooking is seen as a woman’s job – even if she works full time (Photo: Elizabeth Arif-Fear – CC)


Outside the home: Ignoring women’s needs 

What does all of this mean outside of the home? As I’ve already explained, it means being judged based on your movements and being subject to gossip for being “outside the house too much”, even if you’re simply shopping, meeting friends, eating out etc. This concept of a women’s place being the home really does have much wider ramifications. It essentially dictates to society that the public sphere is male – in other words: “leave it to the males” as “things are best run by men”. This translates to needing men’s permission to do anything and women’s issues requiring male validation. Here comes the unfortunate dichotomy of public (male) and private (female) spheres. We’ve heard it all before but it’s true!

On a social level, I found this meant I was often excluded within my own personal circles – even when I was with men. Imagine you’re in a busy tourist agency and as the only female you’re ignored in a three person conversation. Out of respect due to culture/religion? Well…the man in question booking your trip is told you speak French in an attempt to include you in the conversation. You have to butt in and take charge in order to be included in your own activities, obviously feeling very very frustrated. Or, in another scenario: a male stops talking to his wife without a word of warning to hold a conversation with an incoming male. She’s the second class invisible third party…

This also means that facilities prioritise men and that there is a severe lack of public facilities for women. For example, the local coffee shop is the men’s “palace”. Yes, everyone needs a place to chill out with their friends or to get some time on your own but why are there no coffee places for girls? The Gulf for example has plenty of women-only facilities. The response is “girls belong at home” and “girls want to stay at home”. One question comes to mind though: all the time…? In terms of dividing public money, I’ve seen male sports facilities but nothing for girls. If money is an issue, why not scale down the buildings? It would appear that women don’t need and/or deserve a gym and that men come first. This is no trivial matter folks. If the public sphere is dominated with men, then half the population are both under- and misrepresented. If there’s a problem, the women tend to suffer and I have indeed found that it seems to put the women at a disadvantage. Imagine this: “illegal sexual activity” is going on in public toilets. What action is taken? The women’s toilets are closed. So, we have functioning male toilets but nothing for the ladies. Whilst the men have toilet facilities, ladies are left with nothing. Not exactly ideal during that time of the month…

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Local cafés: a men’s world… (Photo: Xuoan Duquesne – CC)

This leads to another point. The lack of female representation also means that the women are not only under-represented in terms of opinions and facilities but that women’s specific needs are not met. Who understands women better than women themselves? For example, going back to the topic of toilets – do not expect there to be a sanitary bin in a public toilet. If you need to dispose of used personal sanitary items you need to take a mini plastic bag and your own pads (no vending machines). This may sound like a small issue to some guys out there but it really shows a complete lack of thought and understanding of women and women’s needs. As a foreigner, when you’re faced with all the frustrating other “norms” and you’re missing simple basic sanitation facilities, it just gets too much!

Whilst there is plenty of room for women in the public sphere to shop and buy shoes, scarves, handbags etc. (no problem with that – I love shopping!), what about recognising their needs and giving them real outlets to have a voice? Even when buying underwear, you should also never expect to a female sales assistant. Lingerie is often sold amongst other generic items of clothing in clothing and accessory shops. I don’t know about you but I’d not want to buy intimate items from male sales personnel with no women around for sizing advice. Women need the care and assistance of other ladies when buying their undergarments. In short, women need to be more visible and taken into greater consideration.

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Don’t expect to find sanitary towel bins in the ladies’ toilets… (Photo: Wrote – CC)


Public and private spheres: Male attitudes dominate

On a more serious note, the above really points to a deeply ingrained patriarchy that goes beyond an inability to go out for a coffee or find a female shop assistant when you want one (they do exist though btw!). No, what it means is that women have to accept the social standards set by men – which are hypocritical and clearly point to a double standard in favour of men. For example, divorced women are “a thing”. The stigma is decreasing from what I’ve heard and whilst divorce should never be taken lightly, neither should a woman be defined/pointed out as “divorced” in a conversation… A woman is actually “left on the shelf” when she’s “past her younger years” but for men this is not a problem. When a slightly older lady does marry, she is seen as a very lucky exception!

Such sexist double standards also translate to the way in which men feel they have the right to regulate women’s clothing, as well as overall general behaviour. Extreme interpretations of Islam have led me to be told I should not even talk on a mini-bus. Yes, women should remain modest but they do not need to (and must not) be silenced. Women in earlier Islamic years were scholars, teachers and architects – and still are! The men often shout and bellow down the phone but a woman cannot sit and talk on a bus. It also makes me so sad and angry to have to say this but some women and girls are forced to cover their hair and bodies. This is totally un-Islamic but happens. Parents and spouses have been known to force their daughters/wives to wear a headscarf (khimar/hijab) and other longer outer garments (jilbab). This is an insult to God, our right to free will and the women who freely choose to cover themselves in both Muslim and non-Muslim countries, risking Islamophobic hate crime and discrimination in the workplace, street and even within their families. Yes, sadly it works both ways. Some girls in the Muslim community also face difficulty in wearing a scarf or face veil. Why can’t women just be left to make their own choices? What is in the heart is personal.

If we look at men’s behaviour though, there are clear double standards and hypocrisies. Smoking is haram (forbidden in Islam) but many many men smoke. I’m not here to judge though. My point is this: fathers, husbands and brothers would have a fit if their daughters, sisters and wives started smoking yet they carry on and puff away…

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The home: “a women’s place” (Photo: Groundhopping Murseburg – CC)


Social brainwashing: Male and female perpetrators

So, I’ve given you a few of my experiences and insights. When I’ve expressed some of my frustration and disbelief at these issues, my concerns have been acknowledged. Women themselves have agreed that this is down to culture, not religion. However, women – as well as men – also perpetuate these habits and enjoin in gossiping about women who “go against the grain” in perfectly moral, decent ways. The fact that some women acknowledge that restrictive norms are cultural (not Islamic) but also enjoin in or do not stand up to this this is what makes the reality of such misogyny really truly tragic. Many women have been brainwashed to follow these sexist norms which deem women and girls who are outside of the home more than deemed acceptable etc. as “behaving inappropriately” and the top end could seem them branded as “wh****”. By gossiping and backbiting away about the social activities of other women and girls, such females are “accepting” and keeping alive such outdated misogynistic values which can mean that any girl who does fight back or ignore these rules, risks her reputation and that of their family and ultimately her (and even her family’s) ability to marry and live a happy socially integrated life.

If you don’t believe in the poisonous power of social brainwashing in leading women to accept sexism and misogyny watch this video, showing one Algerian woman’s attitude to domestic violence. As you can see, women – as well as men – in believing in and accepting, rather than standing up and speaking out against these issues, are perpetuating sexist outdated and dangerous gender norms, stereotypes and even violence. From gossiping about women, to the very top end of the scale where some are even “happily accepting” domestic violence, it’s the same problem. On the one hand the report was made by an Algerian TV channel shows that awareness has been raised from the inside but if you watch the video, you’ll see that there is some severe social brainwashing and normalising of immoral sexist practices. Looking at the statistics in the video, domestic violence is a huge issue in itself, accepted by a large section of women.

These women are victims but will live on to victimise future generations of women and girls if things don’t change. Such men and women will be teaching their sons and daughters to carry and accept these practices. Misogyny in North Africa exists on micro and macro levels but remember this: no matter how small the incidents or examples are, do not underestimate the negative impact they can have on the lives of women and girls – it all comes from the same source…

Photo credits:

Babak Fakhamzadeh (feature image) (CC)

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“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*…

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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!

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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

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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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