Friday, 22 of August of 2014

Archives from month » November, 2007

Sudan police throw teacher in jail for naming teddy bear Muhammad

What is wrong with these people??!! I’m paralysed with disbelief after reading a story that Sudanese police arrested a British schoolteacher and accused her of insulting Islam after she allowed her 7 year old pupils to name a class teddy bear Muhammad. She had asked the children to choose their favourite name for the new class mascot, which she was using to aid lessons about animals and their habitats. In a class vote, the pupils rejected her own suggestion of “Faris”. They came up with eight names including Abdullah, Hassan and Muhammed with 20 out of 23 deciding to call the cuddly toy Muhammad – also the name of one of the class’s most popular boys, and a very common Muslim name.

It would seem entirely natural that children would pick a familiar name, which also has some resonance for them, to name a mascot. How is this possibly an insult? Nobody is saying the Prophet is a teddy bear. For anyone to even suggest that is simply ridiculous. Islam is supposed to be able to grasp the abstract, rather than diminish everything to the concrete. That is why it talks about the believers as those who ‘believe in the unseen’. This attitude shows a disappointing and almost quite comical literalism. Comical in its complete absurdity and small-mindedness. Comical, except for the poor teacher in question who must have been shell-shocked with this whole situation. And is now facing quite frightening (and entirely dispropotionate and shameful charges)

I don’t believe naming a teddy bear ‘Muhammed’ is offensive. Children will often name their toys with names they like, or are familiar with, both of which apply in this case. Further, I don’t believe that the lady in question meant any malice – she was simply offering the children the opportunity to reach a collective decision of their own, which was then agreed by the parents by letter. There does not appear to be any slur or insult intended at all – quite the reverse, the teddy seems to have been part of an education and literacy programme of which I’m sure the Prophet Muhammed would have been proud. My sympathies are with the lady, and I ask the Sudanese authorities to consider the substance of the matter rather than simply the sensationalist headlines. I also ask them to live up to the values of generosity, understanding, common sense and ’soft sweet words’ which are the bastions of the Islamic ethos.

Naming a teddy bear is not an insult. But now this is turning into a power struggle with the poor woman caught in the middle.


Not in my name – a preview

We’re not responsible for the behaviour of all Muslims, so why are we constantly berated for what happens abroad? Should Muslims constantly be asked to denounce what other Muslim individuals or states do, even though we have no control over them? In an upcoming article, due to be published next week in The Muslim News, I’m stating “Not in My Name”, and exploring some of these questions. If you come back here on the 30th of November, you’ll be able to read the whole piece which looks at July 7th, a recent case in Saudi Arabia as well as Holocaust Memorial Day. In the meantime, here is a teaser-taster for you…

When I recently read the story of a 19-year-old Saudi woman who was gang-raped 14 times, I felt nauseous. I was disgusted. The victim had also been sentenced to 90 lashes for breaking the Saudi rule that men and women who are not related should not be together. For the first time – as I wrote on my blog – I found myself writing the words, Not In My Name.

Humour for the weekend – Who said that?

The posts recently have been a little serious, so I thought I would share this little comic moment which made me chuckle. Watch out for the mildly colourful language.

It was the first day of school and a new student named Chandrashekhar Subrahmanyam entered the fourth grade.
The teacher said, “Let’s begin by reviewing some American History. Who said ‘Give me liberty, or give me Death’ ? She saw a sea of blank faces, except for Chandrashekhar, who had his hand up: “Patrick Henry, 1775″ he said.

“Very good!” Who said “Government of the People, by the People, for the People, shall not perish from the Earth?” Again, no response except from Chandrashekhar. “Abraham Lincoln, 1863″ said Chandrashekhar.

The teacher snapped at the class, “Class, you should be ashamed. Chandrashekhar, who is new to our country, knows more about its history than you do.”

She heard a loud whisper: “F**k the Indians.”

“Who said that?” she demanded. Chandrashekhar put his hand up. “General Custer, 1862.”

At that point, a student in the back ! said, “I’m gonna puke.” The teacher glares around and asks “All right! Now, who said that?” Again, Chandrashekhar says, “George Bush to the Japanese Prime Minister, 1991.”

Now furious, another student yells, “Oh yeah? S*ck this!” Chandrashekhar jumps out of his chair waving his hand and shouts to the teacher, “Bill Clinton, to Monica Lewinsky, 1997!”

Now with almost mob hysteria someone said “You little shit. If you say anything else, I’ll kill you.” Chandrashekhar frantically yells at the top of his voice, “Gary Condit to Chandra Levy, 2001.”

The teacher fainted. And as the class gathered around the teacher on the floor, someone said, “Oh shit, we’re f**ked!”

And Chandrashekhar said quietly, “George Bush, Iraq, 2007.”


Saudi gang rape ‘unjust’, says lawyer

According to the Arab News newspaper, a 19-year-old woman was gang-raped 14 times in an attack in Qatif in the eastern province a year-and-a-half ago. Seven men were found guilty of the rape and sentenced to prison terms ranging from just under a year to five years. The victim at that time was sentenced to 90 lashes for breaking the Saudi rule that men and women who are not related should not be together. The victim claims she was not alone with any man but had in fact been abducted from a public place.

When her lawyer protested that the sentences against the men were too lenient, and she went to the media, the presiding judge did increase the men’s sentences slightly (two to nine years) but also increased her sentence to 200 lashes with a jail sentence as well. The lawyer’s right to practice is also being revoked.

You can read further details of the story at the BBC and updates at the Arab News.

I really can’t find the words to express my disgust and outrage at this case. Who in their right mind would condemn a gang-rape victim to any kind of punishment, least of all 200 lashes? The higher court claimed that the rape was the victim’s own fault for associating with men privately. What a ridiculous argument. In fact what a hateful heinous inhumane UNISLAMIC argument. This cannot be excused as Saudi Arabia’s own customs and norms, which is the usual excuse that is used for their bizarre and unacceptable rulings. Judges must exhibit compassion and humanity as well as understanding what is right and wrong. The judge in this case clearly has no concept of such a thing.

I give credit to the woman for pursuing this, despite the trauma she must be facing, and also to her husband who appears to be defending her vigorously. You may say that this is the husband’s job, and indeed it is. In a country where the pre-Islamic traditions of treating women as chattel still appear to be going strong, this is no easy task for a husband to oppose the weight of culture and tradition.

I am deeply angry, disgusted and horrified by this. As all Muslims should be. Rape is never, and can never be, the victim’s fault.

This is NOT IN MY NAME.

P.S. This comes at the same time as news that the Saudi Ambassador to the UK is being sued for up to £3m unpaid bills which includes “hotel extra suite expenses, rooms for girls etc $1,465 … girls party night 5 $2,500″


"Is Islam good for London?" – The Good, The Bigot and The Ugly

London is a lively, dynamic evolving city, vibrant, challenging and possibly the very best city in the world. It is the city of my birth, and is way out on top as the place I most want to live in. I was disappointed then, as a proud Londoner, that the city received scant attention in last night’s debate. Held by the Evening Standard it asked the question: “Is Islam good for London?”. It was a by invitation event, and the panellists were Rod Liddle, Ed Husain, Inayat Bunglawala, Joan Smith and Michael Burleigh. (It did feel like a debate entitled “Is Inayat good for London” at some points, as the discussion got quite personal.)

Instead of discussing the social, financial, civic and moral cityscape that we jointly inhabit, the debate veered sharpish into a discussion about political ideology and the issues elsewhere in the world. There was a muddled debate that conflated Muslims, Islam and Islamism. It was a free for all on subjects ranging from Qardawi’s ruling on halal meat, to the political culture of Malaysia and a short stopover in London to discuss what our daily human stories as people, ordinary people living together, might mean for us as a society. Special credit due to Guy Ker of ITN who tried effortfully but partly in vain to return to our humanity. He described how on Saturdays Muslims file neatly out of the mosque where he lives, whilst the drunken football louts exit chaotically from the stadium. The reality of life are these simple moments of shared interaction and learnings.

It was a feisty panel that the Evening Standard got together to debate “Is Islam good for London.” You can read the write up in the Standard here, which includes quotations and video clips of the debate. There is also a parallel discussion going on at Comment is Free at the Guardian where Pete Tobias kicks of an “‘Undesirables’ debate. ‘Is Islam good for London?’ was the topic of a debate last night. But suppose they had asked that question about Hinduism or Judaism” which is generating an empassioned discussion.

Rod Liddle stated very directly that he thought Islam is a “bigoted, mysogynistic, homophobic, totalitarian” religion. Rather incongruously though and I am loathe to say it as I am not a fan of Liddle by any stretch of the imagination, he came across as one of the more sympathetic characters. It was probably due to the fact that he seemed to have compassion and concern for human beings generally (yes, I was just as shocked by this). His problem, he said, was with Islam, and not Muslims. He was consistent in his likes and dislikes, and of who should and shouldn’t be banned. There was a rather comic moment where he turned to Ed Husain and told him that perhaps he hadn’t quite grown out of the HT mindset seeing as he still wanted to go around banning everything. And in an unlikely turn of events Inayat Bunglawala and Liddle seemed to agree on the principles of Freedom of Speech – if its legal, however hateful (whether to Muslims, or in Muslim literature), it should be allowed – and if it is that hateful, then it should be prosecuted.

Joan Smith’s opening point I agreed with, saying that great cities are not defined by religion. And that is why I thought this whole debate was rather strange. No-one is proposing that London is, could be or should be, a city of Islam. That very idea is simply ridiculous. However, we are de facto in a city that is aware of the religion of Islam, and is home to many many Muslims. So where does this debate get us? If we say yes, then yay! Let’s have some Muslims live here. Oh yes, they already do. If no, then what happens? Deport all of them? Lock them all up? Force them all to convert? If people are concerned, then it is legitimate to have a discussion, but one that has a human face to it, and which opens the way for something constructive.

After Smith’s opening statement there was not much that I agreed with. She proudly declared she was phobic of all religion (“I’m a woman”) and in particular that she was an Islamophobe. Michael Burleigh agreed with her. He didn’t say much else that was memorable. I was disappointed too to find that Joan Smith had so little time to engage with and give space to women who wear either the hijab or the niqab. I was invited to respond to her on a comment she made about the hijab and niqab – me being one of only three or four hijabed-up women in the audience. She glazed over as though she was thinking “Poor oppressed Muslim woman thinking she’s liberated”. I went to speak to her afterwards, and waited patiently for her to finish a previous conversation. She acknowledged me waiting, but then disappeared. I do hope she didn’t run away from talking to me.

The atmosphere in the room was certainly acid. The audience, as well as those who responded to the poll that the Standard carried out, were not representative of London’s population, but rather reflected the ‘most influential’ Londoners. Their responses are therefore in a way, far more salutory – their views have more impact on shaping our joint futures.

And that, to me, is where the entire debate fell down. It was highly abstract. It did not acknowledge where the city is today. It had little reality and no humanity. Cities are made by the people that live in them, and their shared destinies. London IS a great city, and has the potential to be even greater. Depending on your view it may become greater in spite of, or because of the Muslims that live here. Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner, that I love London town… And yes, in case you were still confused, it IS possible to be both Muslim and a Londoner, the two are not mutually exclusive.

Evening Standard to hold debate about Islam in London

The Evening Standard newspaper is holding a debate tomorrow asking “Is Islam good for London?” The blurb tees up the debate as follows:

Is Islam Good for London? is a simple question but one of the most important for our city today. At a time when the Muslim population is growing and the threat of extremism has strained relations between Muslims and their host communities, we ask whether Islam is a positive addition to the diversity of a great city – or whether it’s roots in a different culture and value system are fundamentally incompatible with British society.

I’ll be going along tomorrow to check out the discussion itself, so a longer post will follow. Initial thoughts: it seems there are some huge fallacies in the way that the subject has been structured. First, I don’t see Britain as a ‘host’ community. Muslims are British too. And then, why are these questions not being asked about other faiths?

It seems a bit pointless to ask if a creed, faith or ideology is good for a city – these things are simply statements of a world view. They already exist and are part of the world we live in. Nobody is asking for London to adopt Islam as its ‘official’ religion, even if someone were to suggest the rather odd idea that a city should have such a thing. So de facto, are we asking about the people? Most critically, is the motion really a euphemism to ask whether Muslims are good for London?

Remembrance Sunday – Lest we forget that each human life is precious

There were approximately 8.5 million military deaths in World War 1, and over 19 million were wounded. This is not even to consider civilian death, injury and impact. These numbers add up to at least 1 per cent of the overall world population. Huge, heartbreaking numbers.

As human beings we cannot feel anything but intense pain and sorrow at this enormous extravagant waste of human life, or indeed of any such loss.The measure of a man is to learn from what has gone before. Or, as Einstein put it, Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Today is a fitting day to reflect on the terrible violence and anger on all sides around the world.

When King George V visited Flanders he commented: “I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon earth through the years to come, than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war”.

I send my condolences to all those who have lost loved ones in conflict and war.


Brass Crescent Awards – Nominations

The Brass Crescent Awards, a joint project of altmuslim and City of Brass, is an annual awards ceremony that honours the best writers and thinkers of the Muslim blogosphere. Nominations are taken from blog readers, who then vote for the winners. They are now in their fourth year and are designed to celebrate Muslim bloggership and to promote its growth.

Now, as you my readers will know, I am nothing if not cheeky. And so, of course, I’d like you to nominate me and then vote for this blog so it can keep being heard out there and building recognition. It will only take about two minutes of your time (promise!). Nominations close on 9th November, so please visit soon!

All you need to do is:
2. Scroll about half way down to the nomination form and fill in “Spirit21″ (i mention it just to be sure :P )
3. Select one (or all) of the categories below
4. Click submit and spend the rest of the day with a fuzzy glow knowing you’ve done A Good Thing

If this blog is shortlisted I’ll remind you to vote for the final winners.

Categories that this blog fits into:
BEST BLOG: This category honors the most indispensable, Muslim-authored blog there is. Period
BEST POST OR SERIES: Which single post or group of posts in the Islamsphere was the most original and important, above all the others?
BEST FEMALE BLOG: The woman’s voice in Islam is equal to the man’s, and in the Islamsphere we seek to make sure the female perspective is highlighted and given its rightful due. Which Muslim woman’s blog has done the most to explore the role that women play within Islam and society?
BEST WRITER: Who is the most stimulating, insightful, and philosophically wise among us? This category is intended to highlight a blogger who may not post daily, but when they do post, they really make an impact.
MOST DESERVING OF WIDER RECOGNITION: Which blog is a true diamond in the rough, one that everyone should be reading but who most just haven’t heard of (yet)?

Guardian Comment is Free: More than two sides to this story

I’ve just posted the following article on the Guardian’s Comment is Free site. Check it out:

Hate literature and extremism are issues that need to be addressed, but it’s sad that the media seek binary reactions to British mosques. ” More

Listen very carefully, I will say this only once. Or maybe twice. In fact, I find myself having to repeat it ad infinitum … the literature that the Policy Exchange and the rightwing press have been flagging up as “found” in mosques, is indeed loathsome. Yes, I’m a Muslim, and I don’t like it; I don’t agree with it and it does not represent the views of the broad and diverse Muslim communities in the UK. The irony of the fact that this genre of literature is published and distributed out of Saudi Arabia – whom our government routinely supports and protects – should not be lost on anyone during the current visit of the Saudi monarch.

I’m glad these “exports”, which have been coming into the UK for more than 20 years, have finally gained attention. I’m not so glad that this narrative is crystallising beneath headlines such as “hate-filled mosques”. Is this to support the subtext that the people who go to mosques are hate-filled too? Should we add it into the toxic mix of integration, terror laws and Hizb ut-Tahrir? A small minority do indeed have some shocking and violent views. (Note: another “denouncement” that I must make incessantly as a Muslim.) However, it’s sad that our reporters seek binary reactions to British mosques. Is that cutesy mosque next door to you really a bomb-making factory? We need to ask ourselves difficult questions about whether beneath these headlines lurk ugly attitudes. How does Britain really feel about mosques on the high street? Is Britain really as prejudice-free and welcoming to those of other faiths and cultures as it claims to be?

Hurrah for Hazel Blears! She is going to save the day! Yesterday she announced a £70m package aimed at addressing extremist influences that proliferate in “ungoverned spaces” such as the internet, snooker halls, bookshops (this goes without saying) and of course, the so-called “hate-filled” mosques, for which £25m has been reserved. The very fact that she has done this means she has bought into the dangerous and flawed premise that mosques are inherently bad places filled with bad people. It is reminiscent of “You’re with us, or you’re with the terrorists.”

It is an eerie echo of the two-part thriller that Channel 4 is airing called Britz, which tracks the lives of two British Muslim siblings. One chooses to be a spy, the other a bomber, and the drama asks the stark question: “Whose side are you on?” It makes me cross. I’m not on either side, and I will not choose between these simplistic and reactionary choices. I’m on the side of making this country a better place for everyone and preserving the right to determine how and where I worship while maintaining harmony in civil society.

I believe Blears is genuine in her intentions but is going about it in the wrong way. Who will “approve” what can and can’t be said in mosques? Whose interpretation of Islam and the issues facing Muslims will be rubber-stamped by the government for mass communication? Inayat Bunglawala makes a similar point about bookshops with reference to what can and can’t be stocked in “Islamic” bookshops. Who should dictate what can and can’t be said in these ungoverned spaces that Blears has described? So far, the Saudi-influenced views have been setting the pace. Swinging the pendulum to the extreme in a different direction will only be a hollow and short-lived victory.

Which Islam will be the British gold standard? Will mosques be kite-marked for government approval before youths aged 16-35 are allowed to enter? Or perhaps a Michelin star rating system would work better?

I often joke that the mosque I frequent is my “local”. I don’t drink alcohol so a pub is inappropriate for my desire to socialise as well as spiritualise. The mosque, however, is perfect: a reinvention of the social club meets faith centre. My “local” holds charity fundraisers for Darfur, Kashmir and Iraq. It has yoga classes, and computer lessons. Elders can receive health advice which they may be unaware they need. There is extra school tuition for children. Young mothers can get together to alleviate boredom, isolation and depression.

To reiterate (yet again!), mosques, just like Muslims, have responsibilities to exercise good social citizenship by working to eradicate extreme and violent views. But equally, their very presence can be a source of community support and cohesion. Think of them as a revival of the community centre that once tied localities together, a new kind of “local” on the high street.


Are we on a path towards government approved mosques?

Hazel Blears, minister for Communities and Local Government today announced 70m pounds to help Muslim communities tackle extremism and radicalisation. They will set up websites, ‘help’ Imams, discuss identity and go into mosques to discuss citizenship and other nice fluffy stuff approved by the government as its preferred form of Islam. Is it a slippery slope to government approved mosques, or have the media headlines distorted the truth to fan the flames of mistrust?