I always thought that news had to consist of two main elements – something that was “new” and therefore “new-sworthy”, and something that had at least a kernel of truth and interest. Except for our friends at the tabloids, who mostly dispensed with such nonsense. And create their own. And so, a once respected broadsheet is dabbling in tabloid sensationalism with their latest piece by Sean O’Neill “Muslim students ‘being taught to despise unbelievers as filth”. His piece is designed to stir up misunderstanding and hatred from something that does not exist
The article focuses on a piece of legal text which lays out rules on ritual impurity (mistranslated as filth) and claims that because this text teaches that Muslims should wash if they have contact with those of other faiths, this leads to Muslims despising them. Wow. One plus one really does equal five!
If you read the piece, his whole story is based on the teaching of a thirteenth century text about Islamic jurisprudence to help students improve their understanding of classical Arabic language, and to give them some context of how Islamic law has developed. Somehow, he wraps this up into a story of “indoctrination” and brainwashing.
How little credit the newspaper gives Muslim students in being able to create a distinction between what they are taught academically and what they believe and practise! I feel patronised that somehow poor little Muslims can’t tell the difference.
And how poor is the writer’s context of the teachings. According to the response issued by the institution in question, he did not even bother to turn up to see things for himself. He did not bother to check the translations of the text about ritual impurity (not filth as is described in the article), which has strong resonance within the Jewish faith as well. The Times nor the writer have no concept either of what academic study is – reviewing of material that you may or may not agree with in order to learn history, context and critical analysis skills. Where would we be if we refused to study texts we disagreed with?
The Times should be deeply ashamed of publishing this article. They didn’t even bother to publish the response from the institution that they trashed. And at the very least they should open up a debate section so that responses can be posted. The fact that they have not, signals their cowardliness and the fact that their aim is just to create trouble, not to move the agenda forward in any kind of constructive way.continue reading
Blah blah blah local elections blah blah blah is mostly what I’ve been hearing for the last few days. Does that make me a political bimbo? See, the tough thing is, it appears to make very little difference who you actually vote for. And mostly the politicians just sling sleaze during campaigns, which to me translates as “vote for me because I’m less morally repugnant than the next guy”. All the politically minded Muslims will accuse me of being a lazy Muslim. Blah blah blah. But if I don’t exercise my civic duty, I’m opening the door to the BNP. They should not get a glimmer of support from anyone. And so, along with all the other politically and socially laudable reasons to turn up for on Thursday at the polling station, making sure that these one-policy racist thugs are roundly rejected is one huge reason for all human beings over the age of eighteen in this country.continue reading
The following article was recently published in The Muslim News
Are Muslims too sensitive to the ill-treatment they receive in the public sphere, or are the subtleties of prejudice so blurred that we can no longer pinpoint and address where the problems lie?
A close family friend in need of some medical care, attended a private consultation with his modestly dressed hijab wearing wife. The Consultant shook hands with the patient and turned to the lady who politely declined to shake his hand, explaining that her religious beliefs did not permit her to do so. As is customary for many Muslims, she placed her right hand on her chest and bowed slightly in a courteous manner informing him that many Muslims consider that it is not permitted to touch a person of the opposite gender, and that her action was not personal nor intended to cause offence. The Consultant said he was deeply offended. He asked them to leave. He refused to treat the patient.
My friend and his wife were gobsmacked. They left the hospital in a daze, not knowing what to do next since this was the same Consultant who was treating him on the NHS. The patient had been recently admitted to the local NHS hospital. He wanted to get some investigations done quickly and so he chose to be treated privately. To make sure he got continuity of care, he decided to go with the same consultant.
Cut to comedy sequence from Carry on with Public-Private healthcare.
First up, the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS): “Raise in confidence any issues and comments that you have about the care and service you receive from staff”. Apologetic, but of little practical use with regards to how to proceed. Since the NHS appointed Consultant was seeing the patient privately – albeit on NHS premises- this was not any of their business and they had no jurisdiction over his behaviour was the official position from our pals at PALS.
But who would go back to the NHS for follow up treatment with a Consultant who had thrown you out in a private capacity and treated your wife in this way?
Next up, a phone call to the private healthcare firm who sanctioned the consultation. Could they remove a doctor from their list who showed this kind of behaviour? Nope, that’s more than our jobs’ worth, it’s not up to us.
Moving on, the local private trust was slightly more helpful. They met formally with the Consultant who did not deny that he refused to treat the patient because of the patient’s wife’s beliefs. In fact, he argued that he was within his rights to be insulted and to not treat a patient since it was a private patient.
The official at the private trust communicated this back to the patient informally (they are still waiting for an official letter documenting the situation). He was sympathetic, but said that he had never genuinely come across such an incident before.
And in this ghastly mess, this seems to be the only glimmer of sincerity – the unearthing of a situation where someone can be treated outside the bounds of moral behaviour in the private domain, but continue happily in the same profession funded by the public purse.
This incident is a small highlight of the wider debate taking place about what kinds of discrimination are acceptable. What if the consultant had refused to treat the patient because his wife had been black? Would he have been then considered within his rights to refuse? Is this an appropriate analogy to draw?
The worry is that such behaviour extends itself into public care where a Consultant refuses to treat a hijab wearing woman on the NHS. And if such an extreme was not permitted, his service provision to the patient might be impaired or even an impediment to the Muslim woman being cared for.
The complexity in this case stems from blurring of public and private and what is acceptable behaviour in each domain. What if the patient’s wife had attended the NHS appointment and the whole scenario had been replayed there? Would there have been any further recourse for the patient then? Can a professional behave in two totally different ways in the public and private domain? Does a doctor have the right to refuse treatment? How should a public employee be disciplined for showing prejudice in treatment? How should this scenario be prevented in future?
Those who say that Muslims are too sensitive to such matters will point out that this is one incident with one doctor. But is it happening in other places, with other practitioners? Fuel to the fire is that this hospital is located in an area with a high ethnic minority population of which Muslims are a substantial component. But one of the markers of this case is that the doctor’s behaviour is seemingly condoned because it was conducted in the private commercial domain. Surely all service providers must be subject to codes of behaviour in treating their customers, and healthcare should be a flagship for good ethical practice.
It is shocking that a doctor – a public servant – can refuse to
treat someone on the basis of their wife’s religious beliefs.
My friend and his wife are in a good position – the treatment that he was looking for was not a matter with a fateful outcome, they have good contacts to help them through this messy maze. But for Muslim women in more desperate and less aware circumstances such issues could well be a matter of life or death.
Boring marrieds are out, cool young single things are in: this is the message from ‘rocking new Muslims’. They are clean cut, perfect to take home to the parents, but determined to live life to the full as singletons. Isolate them from the group, and they will admit that they would like to find someone to marry, but until they do so, they are out to have a little fun.
In their twenties and thirties, well educated, on the whole well off second gen kids, they firmly identify themselves as British. They speak in perfect English accents, have been schooled here and work in a variety of respectable fields, from accountants to civil servants, to investment bankers to successful entrepreneurs.
With no traditional vices to speak of (no drinking, no drugs, strippers, lairy stag do’s or joyriding), this is an anomalous likeable bunch of people. Through their sheer delight in good company and good food, they are breaking through the traditional boundaries of their cultural heritages that frown on the fraternising of young singles. Such youngsters are usually seen by the traditional elders of the community as unreligious, westernised and as having abandoned their faith and origins. But these clean cut good looking kids are far from that. And so they challenge traditional community notions of what being “good” or “religious” are all about. Despite their socialising, they are the kind of kids that on the whole parents long for.
They participate in regular community events, are the drivers for progress and change in their local Muslim communities, they create links across ethnic origins, and regularly give up their time to teach younger Muslim children amongst many other voluntary activities. They are practising Muslims, model citizens within their micro-communities as well as wider society. Their simple unfettered approach to having fun and hanging out together is refreshing. They flout the norms simply by being who they are.
But they also challenge western notions of young Muslims who either see them as obedient automatons who do whatever their parents enforce on them, or imagine that all Muslims are dehumanised extremists hell-bent on joining forces with Darth Vader and destroying the known universe. The fact that Muslims can be quite ordinary and simply have fun is a shocking discovery. Even more surprising is the fact that young Muslims are actually quite interested in finding love.
The curious thing about these young hip Muslims is their subconscious refusal to see each other as anything but singles. Love, chemistry and attraction are great ideas in the abstract, but in order to protect the sanctity of the platonic between them, they are unable to make these ideas concrete. As practising Muslims they protect the traditional boundaries between men and women in a new and innovative way – by not challenging the borders of the individual and seeing the opposite gender as anything but very nice people and very good friends.
Married couples are not included in their fun on the pretext that they are boring and dull. But rather it is the married couple’s bridging of the male-female divide, their signal of the move from the platonic to something unknown that is the challenge. They’ve rejected the traditional route of matchmakers and aunties to finding love, but haven’t worked out how to negotiate finding that special someone in the new landscape that they’ve created for themselves. Where do I find someone? they ask. When looking for love, isn’t that the question on everyone’s lips?continue reading
Everyone is just so busy being busy, said one of my friends to me, no-one has any time to actually do anything. And it’s true, part of the modern malaise is that it is mandatory to be busy. If you meet someone after a long time, and you ask how they are they say, well, you know, just so busy busy busy. We’ve all heard it. Heck, we’ve all said it. It’s the only way to validate being a respectable member of society these days.
A few years ago, I took some time off work to do, well, nothing. It was an incomprehensible concept for most. What do you do, they would ask. Nothing, I told them. What’s your job, I don’t have one. Are you planning to get one? No. So you um, well, do nothing? Yes, absolutely. Hmm. They would move on to talk to someone else.
And so that is where we are. The art of just being has been lost. I don’t mean we should be idle or lazy, that we should not take responsibility for running our lives and living them to the full. But we just don’t know how to be anymore.
I work in technology, and the current mantras in gadgets and services are “never be more than a phonecall away”, “always be in touch”, “your music with you wherever you are”. The thought of a moment’s unoccupied silence is a deeply frightening idea. You have to be listening to music, to the radio, on the phone to someone, just doing something, anything so that your brain and soul have no moment to relax, reflect or be inspired.
It seems that we in the postmodern age are hiding from something. Hiding from the possibility of being better, from exploring ourselves. A few minutes without any outside sensory input can work wonders, can open unknown possibilities. But it takes effort and a conscious decision to stop being busy just for being busy’s sake.continue reading