Month February

  • Spirit21 reveals The Magic Muslims…

    Spirit21 is proud to reveal The Magic Muslims – Ordinary Muslims with Extraordinary Powers. Fun-loving, quirky and joyful in life, once you’ve met them, you’ll want to keep coming back for more. Any Muslim you meet could be a MagicMuslim – a quiet superhero trying to bring happiness, humour and compassion to the world.

    I’m really excited to bring you these characters – created and commissioned as original Superheroes by Spirit21 for everyone to enjoy and interact with. Every month or so a new cartoon with the characters will be published, so you can check out their antics in the world. I hope you enjoy them, as much as I enjoyed creating them. Please share your comments and thoughts, but do remember the copyright!

    Make sure you get to know The Magic Muslims better here

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  • Time for a Womelution

    The Muslim community needs to make a quantum leap in addressing the issues of gender roles, gender worth, and gender relations, and so this week I am declaring a ‘womelution’.

    The debate about Islam, women and rights seems to have reached a dead end. We are stuck, all of us together – Muslim and otherwise – in a groundhog day regurgitation of the same arguments about women and Islam. It’s all talk with few new ideas and intellectual works being produced, little social change happening, and Muslims still not facing up to the fact that we need to address the subject of gender. We must reject this status of ‘stuck’. Stuck, is no longer an option. God does not change the state of a people until they change it themselves.

    We must also reject the notion of ‘fixing women’. Fixing women, doesn’t fix the problem. Let’s replace the issue of ‘women’ with a debate about women and men. After all, God does say He created human beings in pairs.

    What we need is for men and women to work together so that we can make substantive change and real improvements. What we need are open hearts and inquisitive minds so that we can make a positive move forward. What we need, is a womelution.

    Inspired by women, but for both men as well as women, the womelution is positive, engaging, creative and forward-looking. This is not a bloody revolution, but looks inside all traditions and heritages, to both genders, to all ages and multifarious ethnicities and languages.

    The womelution is about making real change: intellectual change but most importantly, real social change. It is characterised by compassion, humanity and humour and most of all by respect. It is not about women versus men, but about being on the same side, creating the best for everyone. It is rooted in Islam and its foundations are within the Muslim conception of the world. Its premise is that Islam has more to offer than it is currently given credit for, and it has a blueprint that can contribute to humanity in general. The womelution encourages questioning, respectful challenging and constructive criticism.

    1. We need to re-ignite the tradition of intellectual debate

    We need new thinking and output that moves forward Islamic scholarship on the issues of gender. The world has changed and we need to face up to that. We must ask challenging questions – but with respect and within the spirit and ethos of the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet. Every time we look at the words of the Qur’an we are advised that they will reveal something new. In the same way, when every new generation looks at Qur’anic verses and the Prophetic traditions it will be through new lenses.

    In 2008, I invite every Muslim scholar, every Imam, and academic to tackle the issues around Islam and gender. It can be in the shape of a theological discourse, or a social reform, small or large, but it must offer something new and positive that leads to real change.

    2. Communal spaces, particularly mosques, need to re-balance gender participation

    Although a womelution is about both men and women, it is undoubted that in some areas – such as those of mosques and other public forums – getting women involved is the first priority. This will benefit both men and women. Those mosques or community centres which currently have no space for women need to create areas for women and start engaging with them. The many mosques where women are already actively involved need to make sure that there is at least one woman who is on the management or executive committee of that mosque or centre, and that she has actual authority and empowerment vested in her.

    Let 2008 be the year for asking questions and offering answers about how men and women should share mosques and community spaces, and when every single mosque up and down the UK succeeds in appointing a woman into an official position.

    3. Women must themselves actively pursue improvement and change – for the sake of society as a whole

    Men need to open hearts, minds and doors, but women must also grasp the mettle and engage in change. It can and will be difficult and will feel uncomfortable. Both men and women need to understand that women must participate to create a successful community. Women have new perspectives and approaches, and will bring forward issues that have not yet been addressed. Women will double the resources, brains and energies at the disposal of the Muslim community.

    4. Change must be based on addressing the needs of both men and women

    What are the traditional gender roles that we are upholding? How do men and women currently interact, how are responsibilities distributed, and are these rooted in culture or faith? Once we’ve asked these questions we need to assess: what should be our definitions of gender roles and what should be our notions of gender worth? We don’t live in a traditional world anymore. It is worth remembering that the greatest failing of the community of the Prophet Abraham was that they did what their fathers and forefathers before them did without questioning it.

    The biggest social and practical issue facing us today though, is that of gender relations – how should men and women relate to each other, and how do we implement personal law? Muslim women have become the bastions for maintaining and regulating gender relations. The concepts of hijab, niqab and segregation have been confused with the real concept of modesty in etiquette, behaviour and personal relationships. What does modesty really mean? What is its role in Muslim society, how should both men and women practice it, and how should it regulate the world of gender relations?

    5. Confidence, compassion and curiosity are the values that will drive positive change

    It’s time also to put paid to the frankly silly but insidious suggestions that Muslims are alien to Britain. Muslims must be confident in themselves, in their Islam and in living in Britain. We must have curiosity and confidence in asking questions to make the lives better of everyone around us – Muslim and otherwise. It also requires compassion and empathy for our neighbours which, of course, comes with the right to be treated with respect and love in return.

    This year should be the beginning of a womelution, a marked change in the tempo and confidence of the Muslim community, with a particular focus on gender. We will need vision and creativity and to be positive and work together. This is the only way that we will move forward.

    And if you’re still confused, it’s pronounced wi-mah-lou-shun.

    P.S. We also need a little inspiration and some humour. As my own personal contribution, I dedicate four Superhero characters, which you will find on my blog

    This article was recently published in The Muslim News

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  • Time for a Womelution – a preview

    The Muslim community needs to make a quantum leap in addressing the issues of gender roles, gender worth, and gender relations, and so later this week I will be declaring a ‘womelution’.

    The debate about Islam, women and rights seems to have reached a dead end. We are stuck, all of us together – Muslim and otherwise – in a groundhog day regurgitation of the same arguments about women and Islam. It’s all talk with few new ideas and intellectual works being produced, little social change happening, and Muslims still not facing up to the fact that we need to address the subject of gender.

    What we need is for men and women to work together so that we can make substantive change and real improvements. What we need are open hearts and inquisitive minds so that we can make a positive move forward. What we need, is a womelution.

    If you come back on Friday 29th Feb, you’ll be able to read the full article, and you will also find a humorous surprise waiting for you…

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  • Indonesia beckons

    In about ten days I will be off to Indonesia, and will have about ten days there. At the moment, I’ve made no plans of where to go or what to do.

    Does anyone out there have any suggestions of how to plan out my stay? I’d like to get a flavour of the place, see some beautiful landscapes, enjoy some culture, eat some delicious food, get a bit active, and be a bit pampered. I’d also like to meet some interesting people.

    I’m open to ideas – particularly from my visitors from Indonesia – I know you’re regulars!

    So, if you feel that there is something I should check out for my own personal enjoyment, or to report back on for wider interest, or people I should talk to, please let me know.

    I’m also thinking about getting a camcorder, so I can capture the place and maybe even try my hand at vodcasting. If you have any particular model that you want to recommend, I am very willing to take recommendations. Please advise!

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  • Observations on my high street – things that made me cross

    Part of my local high street is being dug up. The half height barriers have been erected where the pavement and tarmac are being pulled up and then resurfaced, and the pedestrian walkway is temporarily re-directed around these areas. I was walking through these areas behind two young lads today. There was nothing out of the ordinary until one of them put his arm through the barriers and pulled out a large shovel, and his compatriot did the same and pulled up a large long piece of concrete. They then carried on walking with their new implements. They were cool. They didn’t even bother to see if anyone had noticed, just carried on walking, carrying a shovel and a piece of concrete. They must have been around 15 years old, walking around about 2pm on a weekday afternoon.

    It didn’t look like they had picked them up to help an old granny with her gardening. It just smacked of stocking them up for violence. I was infuriated. They had committed theft in open daylight, and there appeared to be a violent intent. My high street is extremely busy, and since it is in central London is a well-used part of town. There was no policeman or member of the law anywhere to be seen. Despite worries about my own safety (i’m only little) I said “Hey, put that back”. They turned to look at me, and I repeated that they should return what they had taken. Even though they had looked at me, they ignored me.

    Twenty yards along was another set of roadworks with two workers. I stepped over to one and pointed at the two kids. They’ve taken a shovel and a large piece of concrete, I told him. Who, he asked. He didn’t look very bothered. The two kids over there, I pointed. I can’t see them, he mumbled. I think they are going to hurt someone, I told him. Where are they? He bobbed up and down trying to see them. Well they are probably half way up the street by now, I snapped at him. I turned pointedly to him and said – they stole your goods, and they will probably hurt someone, aren’t you going to do something? He pulled out his phone and started whispering into it, whilst the kids walked off.

    I was surprised at myself for telling the two lads off – they could easily have swung the shovel at me. But I was proud of myself in a small way for having a bit of courage – surely we all need to have a bit more of that? Didn’t make a blind bit of difference though. But why did nobody else notice. And importantly why was there no police or anyone of authority around in such a busy area?

    Finally, a question to you -what else, if anything should I have done? With hindsight I wondered if I should have shouted out and caused a commotion. But what would I have said? “shovel thief, shovel thief!!” I also wondered if I should have pulled out my phone and taken a picture of them (and maybe had it stolen, or got a smack), but would the police have done anything with the picture? I doubt it.

    Dear blogosphere – what should you do in such a situation?

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  • Is it Valentine’s day that is being prohibited or… love?

    Various Muslim ‘authorities’ round the world have issued declarations that it is prohibited to celebrate Valentine’s Day, including some in our own beloved United Kingdom. The Saudis predictably have gone the whole hog and sent the Vice Police round all the shops to make sure nothing red-coloured is sold for the whole week. They’ve even issued a fatwa against it. (surely this opens the way for a bit of cheeky subversiveness with another colour… how about the Saudi green… ?) Indonesia, Hyderabad and Kashmir amongst others seemed unhappy about the celebration too. The Kuwaitis are not pleased either, but they have captured one of the reasons that the day of luurve has got under their skin – a number of Kuwaiti MPs described Valentine’s Day as a Western tradition that is not compatible with Kuwaiti values.

    Whilst the neo-con-we-have-Islam-it’s-medaeival-brigade may be reading the above and shouting “see! see! we told you!”, it seems that there are two things at play here.

    The Kuwaiti statement captures the first of these – what is the need to pick up celebrations from round the world, particularly the post-colonial-west, particularly when even the countries of origin recognise the shallow commercial nature of that celebration? Whilst in the UK we may smile at the day, most people actually make a concerted effort NOT to make a big deal about it.

    If these countries want to reject the day on the count that it is consumerist, shallow, reductive of love to a one-off day, lacking in merit or just simply tacky, or reminding them of imperialist days gone by, then who are we to tut-tut? The western reportage seems to be taking the line that the rejection of this day is an affront to civiliation. But what business is it of ours whether other countries like or dislike our idiosyncratic cultural celebrations?

    The second thread that seems to be running through some of the ‘Islamic’ edicts, I find much more perplexing, and that is the idea that Valentine’s Day is ‘unIslamic’ and perhaps even ‘haram’ to celebrate it.

    IslamOnline’s Q and A says that the day is bid’ah, an innovation, and since it emanates from pagan sources, we should not participate. There are warnings that celebrating the day can lead to various kinds of immodest behaviour (!). Surely the correct and much more sensible approach is to advise people on the boundaries of modesty (dress and behaviour), rather than focusing on one specific event?

    What I find perplexing is that the day now is simply an excuse to remember love. My husband surprised me with a rose at work (despite the fact that he calls it a hallmark holiday), I left him a surprise chocolate heart. I sent my female friends declarations of my love and friendship. Everyone felt a bit happier, no? What could be wrong with that?

    As part of the information I received about why I shouldn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, I found these quotes: “Love is a psychological sickness”, and “If a man is in love with a woman… his heart remains enslaved to her, and she can control him as she wishes… In that case, she will control him like a harsh and oppressive master controls his abject slave”

    I worry about this – that love is considered a negative and corrosive thing by the ‘authorities’. It seems to be a ‘top-down’ thing. Popular discourse – including in Saudi – uses as much more common-sense approach as this cartoon from Saudi Arabia shows.

    Now, I’m no scholar, but this negativity is not my understanding of love in Islam. It just doesn’t seem to make sense at all with the basic foundations of Islam. A good example of love being rooted at the very birth of Islam is illuminated in the story of Muhammed and his wife Khadija, described as a true love story, a relationship built on mutual respect, trust and truth through adversity. The Qur’an also talks about how a married couple are blessed with love, as part of their marriage. Love, is a blessing for human beings, a wonderful thing to give and be given.

    What could be better than love? Islam is, after all, the state of loving the Creator and loving Creation…

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  • The Art of Conversation – Britons, Britain, Muslims and Islam

    Readers of a sensitive disposition should be advised that this article contains words of a difficult nature. What you are about to read may cause a temporary shut down in common sense and a brief outburst of hysteria.


    Are you still there? I have smelling salts if you need them. Beware, here are a few more: fatwa, hijab, apostasy, niqab, cousin-marriage, Imam, Muslim women.

    We can take a short breather now, and collect ourselves. Phew. I apologise if my outburst has reduced some readers to gibbering ranting Alf Garnett type creatures.

    When the Archbishop mentioned the scary S-word, all rational debate – even if it be to score a resounding knock-out in the first three minutes for the secular corner – was suspended. What on earth have we just experienced in the last few days? Rowan Williams barely mentioned the word ‘shariah’ and the country was in an Armageddon-style-end-of-the-world frenzy. It wasn’t even possible to get a word in edgeways to say that he was not in fact advocating shariah law. Instead, the media was awash with images of floggings from Somalia to the rings of Saturn and all the way in between.

    Now that we are in the post-MTV, post-spin sound-bite century, we have lost the ability for discussion and debate. Sophistication and subtlety are a thing of the past. What I rue most is the lost art of conversation. Mention a word, and its caricature will be whipped up in front of you. Muslim woman in hijab? Poor, oppressed woman, one of four wives forced into marriage to her cousin, barely speaks English, wishes she could wear a mini-skirt… Muslim Imam? Mad ranting mullah burning a flag… Fatwa? Sentence to death for parking on a double yellow line.

    It is completely impossible to have any kind of conversation about these issues without tantrums and hysteria. If British culture, values and laws are robust, then they will stand the test of discussion about these concepts, and vanquish anything that turns out to be barbaric or medaeival, or simply just not suited to the stiff upper lip and rugged British constitution. The knee-jerk ranting that surrounds us belies a lack of confidence and an unfounded sense of mistrust in the historic institutions that have made this country great.

    We must ditch the cartoon (pun entirely intended) responses to any Muslim-sounding word that decorate our front pages week in week out. If we could get away from the unhelpful and misleading stereotypes that have lodged themselves into the public psyche, then maybe we could work our way through these minefields that seem to explode every few weeks. We might find our national debate engaging in that elusive thing – progress. Instead, the conversations that we need to have are being de-railed by the inability to communicate on the same wavelength. How can Muslims be part of the national conversation, if their terminology is at best unheard and misunderstood, or worse is misrepresented and the object of scaremongering?

    P.S. To reduce the burden on some ‘opinionated’ readers, I have prepared some comments in advance that you might like to make. If you still feel het up, you can register your vote for your preferred tantrum. (1) What on earth is this Muslim complaining about? If she doesn’t like it here she can go home (2) Stop blowing us up if you don’t want us to react with hysteria every time you mention a foreign word (3) All Muslim women are oppressed. This is a fact. Thus Muslims are wrong on every possible count and we are right about everything (4) The sooner Muslims get it into their thick heads that this is Britain and we do things the British way, the happier we will all be

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  • The Archbishop makes front page news

    “…The end of the world is nigh! Armageddon beckons! What will become of us! Alas, this is the black day at the end of time of which we were warned, and which threatens us with the dark clouds of despair and the explosion of the universe! Woe is us! Shariah courts are upon us! Take your sons, take your daughters! Hide from the awful fate which signals doomsday! The Mozlims will bring the end of civilisation as we know it! And it is Mr Senior Christian himself who has brought this doom – doom, i tell you, doom!!!!!!! – upon us....” ***

    Oh sorry, was that not what the Archbishop said. Oops. It doesn’t matter does it? surely he was just an excuse to talk about how terribly backward Muslims are (and be horrified at the foreign sounding word ‘shariah’ without really knowing what it means, or acknowledging the fact that neither the AoC nor Muslims are calling for its implementation?

    I was particularly tickled by the fact that The Sun is calling for Rowan Williams to be given the boot, and has got page 3 girls telling him what they think of him. I personally didn’t think The Sun gave two hoots about the Church, and couldn’t care less – not sure how their immoral views and open disregard for religion give them any rights over the choice of AoC…

    *** You can read this text in the voice of Douglas Murray, Martin Bright or Bishop Nazir-Ali. Alternatively Smithers or Burns from the Simpsons make good options too

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  • Archbishop of Cantebury causes furore over ‘sharia courts’ – an overview

    The media frenzy has unfolded in a most unexpected way in the last two days over the Archbishop of Cantebury’s lecture on Thursday night. I say ‘unexpected’ because it appears that very few journalists indeed have actually bothered to read the lecture. I’m not surprised. It’s a pretty tough read. The AoC is deeply intellectual and his complex and sophisticated argument seems to have been lost on our post-MTV soundbite society. The front pages of the spectrum of papers today, and the online media seems to have heard the words ‘shariah’ and ‘court’ and spun yarns about the AoC suggesting a parallel legal system that condones capital punishment in the UK. The commentary appears to have no relationship whatsoever to what he actually said.

    To help along those of you who don’t want to spend a few hours deciphering the lecture, here is my summary in a (hopefully helpful) Q&A format. Enjoy. I’ve used his own words in many places, and paraphrased other bits where he waffled on a bit.


    The aim of the speech is to tease out the broader issues of the rights of religious groups within a secular state
    – Should there be a higher level of attention to religious identity and communal rights in the practice of the law?
    – What level of public and legal recognition should a religious group have – and this question is not just related to Islam.

    How do we craft a just and constructive relationship between religious law and the statutory UK law?
    – How should faith communities relate to the law, for example in cases such as that of the Catholic adoption agencies last year?
    – Should there be something like a delegation of certain legal functions to the religious courts of a community – and this question is relevant not only to Islamic law but also to areas of Orthodox Jewish practice.

    What is Shariah?
    It is difficult to have any discussion about shariah in this country without creating fear. Society is anxious about this idea perpetrated by opinion polls that Muslims want to be free to live under shariah law. Shariah is a method of jurisprudence and not a rival system to the UK legal system. Submitting to shariah has nothing to do with demanding Muslim dominance over non-Muslims. The believer has to offer voluntary consent to submission to the shariah

    How should we deal with citizenship and the concept of ‘uniformity under the law’?
    Citizenship as an abstract concept of equal access and equal accountability does not form the entirety of social identity and personal motivation. Citizenship in a secular society should not necessitate the abandoning of religious discipline any more than religious discipline should deprive one of access to liberties secured by the law of the land, to the common benefits of secular citizenship. Having a uniform identity as a citizen and only a citizen leads to a weak and failed state. Relegating other relationships and commitments to the private sphere is an unsatisfactory account of political reality in modern societies. The ‘uniformity under the law’ argument is actually in danger of undermining the principle of liberal pluralism by denying someone the right to speak in their own voice, in the context of their own motivations and conscience.

    How should law and society deal with ‘multiple affiliations’?
    The thinking in the modern world is dominated by European assumptions about universal rights. Asking that corporate identities or supplementary jurisdictions be recognised then appears to be incoherent if we want to preserve the great political and social advances of Western legality. However, we already do recongise that our social identities are not based on belonging exclusively to one group only. We have multiple affiliations – and this is a good thing. This then means that religious communities must recognise that its adherents have affiliations other than to their faith community. Equally, the secular government should also recognise this.

    Should the legal system pay more regard to communal identities such as corporate religious identity?
    Any such system must be protected from abuse
    The first objection to paying attention to religious identity is that litigious individuals will misuse the system by appealing to religion. The key will be to find a method to distinguish between culture and religion, to be able to differentiate uninformed prejudice from religious prescription. A group acting in such a religious context must have recognised authority. The secular lawyer needs to know where the potential conflict is real, legally and religiously serious, and where it is grounded in either nuisance or ignorance.

    We must not have a parallel system, and no individual should be disadvantaged
    The second issue to deal with is that by recognising a ‘supplementary jurisdiction’ we might be reinforcing repressive elements in minority communities which may have serious consequences in areas such as the liberties of women for example in relation to forced marriage or inheritance. In the former the difference between culture and religion becomes apparent. No ‘supplementary’ jurisdiction could have the power to deny access to the rights granted to other citizens or to punish its members for claiming those rights. No-one is likely to suppose that a scheme allowing for supplementary jurisdiction will be simple

    What happens to the Rule of Law if we allow for multiple affiliations and multiple jurisdictions?
    The universalist vision of equal accountability still applies. Secular law is about monitoring multiple affiliations to prevent the creation of mutually isolated communities in which human liberties could end up being seen in incompatible ways. It is derived from the notion of a ‘common good’. The rule of law is about establishing a space accessible to everyone in which it is possible to affirm and defend a commitment to human dignity as such. Individual communities in fact cannot claim finality or supremacy because they have to come to terms with the actuality of human diversity

    The Abrahamic faiths have been part of the construction of the ‘universalist’ account of human dignity.
    The ‘Abrahamic’ faiths consistently emphasised themes to do with the unconditional possibility for every human subject to live in conscious relation with God and in free and constructive collaboration with others, offering clarity for a universalit account to emerge.

    Although this discussion seems to be about Islamic law, it opens up a wide range of current issues about our legal system and the character of law.
    It would be a pity if the immense advances in the recognition of human rights led, because of a misconception about legal universality, to a situation where a person was defined primarily as the possessor of a set of abstract liberties and the law’s function was accordingly seen as nothing but the securing of those liberties irrespective of the custom and conscience of those groups which concretely compose a plural modern society. In order to ask intelligent questions about the relations between Islam and British law, we need to deconstruct the crude oppositions and myths we have about the nature of sharia or the nature of the Enlightenment, and this requires us to think about the very nature of law.

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  • Happy 2nd birthday Spirit21

    Spirit21 is two years old today. And what a difference a year makes! The highlight of the year was no doubt winning the Brass Crescent Awards for Best Blogger and Best Female blogger. But also there were several publications in the Guardian, and appearances on the BBC. My personal favourites were the article I wrote on Five Things I love about Being a British Muslim Woman, which attracted all sorts of unexpected attention, and the Christmas Eid carols which I wrote the lyrics for and which I commissioned, and which continue to make me smile.

    Most of all, what 2007 brought was a relationship with my readers, and for that I thank all of you who showed your support, and especially those who took time to post comments. May the conversation long continue.

    I’m hoping that 2008 will be onward and upward…
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