Monday, 28 of July of 2014

Archives from month » January, 2008

Social cohesion not gender confusion

The government’s latest announcement about funding for Muslim women to help curb terrorism confuses social cohesion with extremism, and it also forgets that women cannot single-handedly solve our social ills.

Apparently, we’re not very assertive. And apparently, we need the government’s help. And apparently, some training courses are going to solve the problem. Thus spake the government when announcing that they would help us Muslim women to stop extremism. By going on some courses. Once we’ve been suitably trained, we’ll go on to spy on our kids, create community cohesion, and curb terror. We’ll then stop for afternoon tea. After dunking our digestives in our chai, we’ll reverse global warming and achieve world peace. Muslim women will save the day! (I know we’re good, really really good, but I’m not sure we’re superhuman!)

Please don’t misunderstand me – the initiatives announced by the government, in and of themselves, are good projects. Women do need more support, they are a fundamental building block of the community, they do need more attention. So bring on the training, bring on the resources, bring on the focus.

The projects proposed by the Department of Communities and Local Government are much needed. The communities in question, and the women that form part of them very much need this support. But why is investment in Muslim communities and in Muslim women about terror rather than social improvement? The very distinct line between extremism and social cohesion has become dangerously blurred – and the government must be called to account on this distortion.

Muslim voices are denigrated when they complain about ’spying’, ‘interference’ and state-sanitised and approved religion. The wailing chorus is because ‘Moozlim problems’ are categorised as problems of extremism and terror and are dealt with as such, rather than being addressed as the social and economic problems of unemployment, access, education and opportunity that they are. Government resources are required to get to grips with deep social issues, as a problem to solve in themselves. Extremism and terror need to be tackled in and of themselves as well. But solving terrorism can’t masquerade under the guise of social reform. The two must not be conflated.

When it comes to the specific question of investing in women, yes women – just like men – need to be involved in facing down the criminals that bring extremism and death to our streets. But we’re falling into the usual trap of gender play-offs. If it doesn’t work with the men, go onto the women? Try one, then the other? The government is beginning to sound like a deeply traditional mosque, or the feminist movement, by dealing with people (in this case Muslims) as two distinct species – male or female – who apparently have little or no overlap. Women can’t do it alone, so don’t set us up to fail.

Women are not, and should not be a separate project, an afterthought, a curiosity. This is an obstacle to creating a socially cohesive and balanced society. Muslim societies (just like European ones) are very guilty of this problem of falling foul to treating men and women as two separate mutually exclusive entities. But the government seems to be equally guilty. Building projects and goals on such shaky gender foundations may yield short term benefits, but it is predicated on a model of social interaction that is flawed. Men and women are not separate, independent, unrelated. It takes two halves to build a whole.

In the Muslim world, the longstanding focus of the debate on social relations between the genders has been on establishing the limits and boundaries of Islamic law. By focusing this debate simply on the specifics of the boundaries of Islamic law it reinforces the exclusion and separation of women from society in general. By talking about “women’s rights”, the whole area becomes a sub topic. In the same way, talking about women bearing the brunt of the responsibility to curb terror detracts from the responsibilities of the social whole.

To put it simply, it is a mistake to consider men on the one hand, and women on the other hand, in isolation from each other, because at every step we are connected to each other. The Islamic model of gender relations describes the equality of men and women as “created from one soul” as well as their interconnectedness and balance “you may find peace and tranquillity in each other”.

The Quran explains, “It is He who brought you into being from a single soul”. From the very source of the human being, both men and women have the same value, being created from the same beginning. In the Quranic model, women and men are linked right from the beginning and their source is of the same value, they share the same unity.

The whole area of gender rights and gender relations is very sensitive, and one of the areas of particular sensitivity is around the concept of ‘equality.’ By referring to a society of two equal and balanced halves, the reference is to being equal in value and participation, with no other connotation. And this meaning is quite clear in the verse of the Quran that locates men and women as created from one soul.

The issue is that women are not being given the opportunity to contribute their value. The government funding should help in a small way to address this – but only if it is aimed at improving the status quo, not as a means to the totally separate goal of dealing with extremism.

The Islamic model of the two genders as two halves of a whole, is a reflection of the fundamental Islamic concept of Tawheed. This central doctrine can be further explored by looking at the attributes of the Creator, who has names which represent His Jalaal – majesty, and other names which represent His Jamaal – His beauty. For every Muslim, these are both an undeniable part of Tawheed. Then if man and woman are created from a single soul, then are they not simply a reflection of the attributes of Jalaal and Jamaal, of the masculine and feminine attributes of Allah? In which case, how can the two ever be separated? And further, are not both together required to complete the unity?

The discussion should then not be on “men’s rights” or “women’s rights” but on the rights of the human being, and the respect for each other as human beings. Perhaps the problem is that we do not see the potential of each other as fulfilling the divine in everyday life.

The Quran is explicit in saying that Allah has created pairs for us that we may find peace and tranquillity in each other. This verse is usually quoted the context of two individuals getting married. But instead of simply looking at this at an individual level of one man and one woman, we can extrapolate it and create a model of social harmony – that women and men are a pair and need to work together in order that society is peaceful and tranquil.

What will be the key factors in shaping an environment which will be successful in creating a balanced whole with productive participation from both genders? We shouldn’t be drawn into playing the genders off against each other. It is totally appropriate to identify the unique needs of each gender and to address them as part of a holistic approach to solving problems and improving society. It is not appropriate to favour one gender, and punish the other for seeming failure. That would be like holding your hand over one eye to try to see the whole world in three-dimensional glory. Unfortunately, by confusing extremism with social cohesion, and by holding women alone up as social saviours, the government is in grave danger of creating a one-eyed bumbling monster.

This article was published recently in The Muslim News


Daily Express claims ‘Muslims are too extreme’

One of this week’s front pages of the Daily Express was given over (in huuuuuge writing) to stirring up more fear about Muslims. “Too extreme” screamed the bulging bold black capital letters. It came to this conclusion after the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq made a comment about some literature found in mosques in Blackburn. He allegedly said, “What I saw would not be allowed in Iraq – it would be illegal.” We don’t know what literature he saw, or in which mosques or how many mosques. The great leap that the Express makes from this comment, to generalising so vehemently about a geographically, doctrinally and ethnically disparate set of communities therefore seems a bit of a stretch. (Not that this comes as any surprise).

Surely it is a bit rich however for a country in violent turmoil like Iraq, to be comparing what may or may not be illegal. If most Brits were over in Iraq, we would probably make comments like “The killings, torturings, abductions, prisons, attacks would not be allowed in Britain – it would be illegal.” But perhaps the Express doesn’t care about illegalities in Iraq, only caring about stirring up malice here?

Kindness in Notting Hill

On Friday as I was trying to complete an urgent errand, a stranger appeared out of nowhere to do me a kindness. She resolved a difficulty for me that was a simple thing for her to do, but saved me from complexity and expense. Such kindnesses are rare, particularly in this hard-hearted city, and so I thanked her as best I could. She shook her head, and turned to walk away and then paused. She grasped my arm and said, well, you could do me a favour… Yes, I will try, I murmured. She whispered, pray that I will go for hajj this year.

Now that, I wasn’t expecting at all. So, dear readers, please pray for this lovely lady, for her wish to be fulfilled, and that each of us may one day be a mysterious stranger that brings ease into someone’s life.


Kindness in Notting Hill


Islam is not an ‘anti-thesis’

BBC Newsnight today reported on the government’s plans for dealing with (Muslim) extremism on the internet. They are indicating moves towards creating a crime of ‘grooming’ towards violent extremism. I put ‘Muslim’ in brackets, because it is clearly aimed at Muslims rather than the entire body of horrors and extremist violent ideologies that lurk in the crevices of cyber-murk.

They focused on The Radical Middle Way, and had a chap from the nascent Quilliam Foundation, and a woman from the Muslim Public Affairs Committee. None of them had anything particularly interesting to say. The Radical Middle Way said that they had to give platforms to a variety of voices to bring Muslims through a difficult change process. The Quilliam guy used the opportunity to announce the launch of his organisation, and the MPAC woman wasn’t quite clear what her message was other than the government was doing something wrong (and my guess was that she was thinking, could the government give MPAC some money too).

I checked out the Quilliam Foundation’s website. It advocates a return to British Islam, based on the towering figure of Abdullah Quilliam. But it defines Islam through what it is not: not inconsistent, not Islamism, not Wahabbi, not failing, not weak. The key figures are very keen to point out that they are not Hizb-ut-Tahrir. They are not recruiting.

I think the most important subtext is that they do not want to be Other. And often this is the trap that Muslims fall into – defining their faith as an anti-thesis to what is around them. The HT crowd and ex-HT crowd are particularly prone to this. HT promoted a political (not religious) ideology in opposition to ‘The West’. The newly matured ‘rehabilitated‘ ex-HT crowd promote Islam as a nice fluffy way of life in opposition to HT.

Defence is never the way to create a win-win situation. Islam and Muslims can stand on their own two feet AND live in peace with those around them (as most Muslims do) AND most importantly they can have something new and pioneering to offer. It’s not just about gaining glory by reflecting what people want to hear. Offering a breakthrough and pioneering approach based on people’s shared humanity, by moving forward and being positive is what Islam, Muslims and human beings have to offer. Being defined in opposition to is an invitation towards social poverty.


The jaw-dropping rates of credit cards

Today I received an invitation through the post which made my jaw drop. CapitalOne offered me a credit card with a whopping 39.9% APR. To my financially untrained eye, this is obviously and mind-boggling-ly high. After a quick search I found that a lovely company called Vanquis will offer cards even at 59.9%. With the huge issues we have as a society, offering people further debt at this extortionate rate, can’t be right. Rates like this seem to fall under that rather old-fashioned label of ‘usury’. The cards claim that they are doing the recipients a favour, but that can never be right. These are sharks in legal guise, burying further those in the most vulnerable of all positions – poverty.


First day back in the office