Thursday, 31 of July of 2014

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Travelogue to Sharjah Book Fair and the UAE

Arriving very early in the morning at Dubai airport, I was welcomed by my hosts in the UAE – the Sharjah International Book Fair – whose representative made me feel like a film star. I was greeted by one of those cute little golf carts that whizzes round airports making an annoying beeping noise (annoying for everyone else, as it says ‘look at me – you have to walk, I’m driving!) to a little lounge where we waited for our paperwork to be done. A gentleman in pristine white dishdasha emerged from the door carrying a bouquet of flowers to welcome me to Sharjah. Julia Roberts step aside! Very curiously, each rose was stamped with the book fair brand.

The Sharjah International Book Fair (or check out the blog here) is in its 29th year, and so is not some ‘new’ cultural bandwagon. Instead, it provides a valuable forum for the reading public, who attend in their hundreds of thousands. In fact, in the first weekend alone, 100,000 visitors were recorded, and 500,000 were estimated for the entire ten day event. Sales topped Dhs.133 million (probably in excess of £25m). In fact, book shopping is so prolific that visitors use a shopping trolley to wheel around their purchases. See this photo taken by the lovely Lisa Dempster who was also attending the fair as a speaker, from Australia.

My invitation to speak at the Book Fair was from Sheikha Bodour, CEO and Founder of Kalimat Publishing House, President of Emirates Publishers Association, Bookworm and Mother of 3. (and daughter of the Ruler of Sharjah – but a feisty firebrand in her own right). Along with inviting me to the book fair itself (I love speaking at book fairs – wonderful places to share ideas and engage with readers), she was kind enough to make time to meet me for a coffee during the fair despite her hectic schedule. I found her extremely personable, creative and visionary. (and no, I’m not sucking up – she really was). I think her leadership in the Fair’s activities will bear great fruit. You can follow her on Twitter. She even signed a copy of her new children’s book for my niece, a colourful and quirky book on girls dressing up with the hijabs from their big sisters and mum’s collection. (and apparently to be published in French. Hurrah!)

The highlight of the visit – and of course it’s main purpose – was to speak to the audience about Love in a Headscarf. It was an excellent opportunity to hear how the themes of love, marriage, identity and self-definition are dealt with in a part of the world which still has a strong

Speaking at Sharjah Book Fair (copyright spirit21)

heritage of community and tribal culture in its recent past. The audience was fabulous, sharing their intimate personal stories of love and marriage. One young Emirati woman told of how she had tried to blog about similar issues but was advised by relatives to stop writing for fear of her reputation. Another lady spoke of her worries of finding a spouse for her child given that she was not a native of the Emirates and did not have a network of contacts. One gentleman (yes! there were men there too – fabulous!) spoke of how parents must set an example in their household to train their sons in particular in how to be good husbands and fathers.  The session was moderated by the fabulous Mujeeb Rahman, aka Jaihoon. His latest book is a travelogue across India comprised entirely of the tweets he sent during the trip. On his site you’ll find some photos of the author session. You can also read some of the other responses to the Author Session here and here. (google translate them!) An extra thanks also to Rupert Bumfrey and his magnificent work for the book fair on Twitter and the Blogosphere, and for his part in my involvement in the fair.

Whilst I was attending the Sharjah International Book Fair, I was fortunate enough to engage in some interviews. There were some fascinating conversations and I’m always intrigued by how journalists in different countries pick out different aspects of my stories.

I think my favourite interview was with Husam Miro of Al Khaleej. It felt more like a philosophical dialogue than a media story. I only wish we had a first language in common so that I could have turned the tables and interviewed him. As I expressed my intrigue and growing fascination with the UAE he asked “have you been introduced to any intellectuals?”. It was an unexpected but very insightful question given the curiosity that I had expressed. And one that no-one before or since had thought to throw my way. (see my article here before my visit to the UAE, asking what secrets people could tell me about the country. I think he had seen it.)

Here is the article as it was published in Al Khaleej.

Meanwhile, the British Embassy in Dubai invited me to a round table with other arty and cultural types to talk about my experiences as a blogger, writer and erstwhile public figure. Somehow after two glasses of coke and a bowl of peanuts, they managed to persuade me to record this cheesy video about my visit to the UAE and the Sharjah Book Fair.

The evening was a real joy as I got to speak in detail about my experiences, my book and to hear intimate and very insightful comments from the attendees. Among them was Hind Mezaina who writes the thought-provoking and inspiring Culturist Blog, as was Mishal Al Gergawi, who is an Emirati columnist who says it how it is. And Isobel Aboulhoul who co-founded the successful bookshop chain Magrudy’s and who is the festival director of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, which has very rapidly become a feature of the international literary calendar.  I got a verbal invitation from her to speak at the Festival (Isobel – I will be following that up!), but more than that it was fascinating to hear her own tales of travelling and living in the Gulf. She arrived in 1969 before the UAE even existed – an intriguing story indeed.

And before anyone pipes up in the comments – yes, there is a British Embassy in Abu Dhabi (the capital of the UAE), but in some turn of fate when the Trucial States gained independence from the UK it seems a British Embassy was also retained in Dubai, rather than turning into a Consulate. Go figure. But then I like these historical but somehow pointless quirks.

Perhaps the most challenging and inspiring of the book-related activities I engaged in were a series of visits to schools and universities which cater specifically to young Emirati women. In Abu Dhabi I visited Shohoub School and talked to the 16 year olds. The school was hidden away from the main road, but once inside there is a lively bubbly atmosphere. Although the girls wear the abaya and shela (cloak and scarf) to attend school, once inside they remove both of these since it is an all female environment. They listened wide eyed as I discussed how answering the question ‘Who am I?’ is a critical one to determining one’s place in the world and how to react to it.

A second session was at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, which is another one of these marvellous Gulf universities. Both in the UAE and in Qatar I have seen such places of higher education springing up, offering the best of facilities. I had been invited by the bubbly media committee and was installed in the main lecture theatre. Similar themes of identity came up, but of course the usually undiscussed subjects of love and marriage – topics which I brought to the fore of the discussion – were busily debated.

And then, it was off to Dubai Women’s College, who managed to pack out their main lecture theatre to the brim with young women, who were interested in the same subjects again. My thanks to all the organisers. It’s a real treat to get immediate interaction with Emiratis, particularly young women who are busy setting themselves on the path to create a better future for themselves and their country.  I predict a bright future.

As a change from talking directly to readers, I co-hosted the morning show on Dubai Eye Radio with the very charming and talented Jessica Swann. The two hour phone in show picked up on Love in a Headscarf and talked about arranged and love marriages. The texts and calls came in relentlessly and varied from the downright romantic, to the shocking and gobsmacking. Read about it here in my weekly column. (Love and it’s seeming double standards)

I begin my article: “It’s fine for me to have a ‘love marriage’,” the male caller to the radio show said, “but I won’t accept anything other than an arranged marriage for my sister.” Do have a read, it was quite an incredible show. Alternatively, you can listen to the podcast here.

With all that book-related activity going on, you’d be forgiven for thinking I didn’t get a chance to travel around the UAE. And you might even think there isn’t much to see in the UAE. You’d be wrong on both counts. In fact, I barely got to see much of the country at all, given how many places there are to visit.

Ajman, UAE, copyright spirit21

One afternoon I popped up to the postcard-pretty Ajman, and watched the gorgeous waves crashing onto the deserted white sandy beaches. ‘Idyllic’ is the only word that came to mind – and only 15 minutes from Sharjah.

Dubai offered a host of marvels – of which many indeed were shopping-related, but many others (of which I only got a brief taste), were not. Of course there were the two amazing malls – Mall of the Emirates (which is the location of Ski Dubai!) and Dubai Mall (home of the world’s tallest building the Burj Khalifa, and also home to the remarkably delightful Fountain), both of which were epic in size. With the number of luxury and designer outlets present, I did begin to wonder why Emiratis come to London to do their shopping – everything is available right here with the benefit of a swanky setting and air-conditioning.

I must admit to my embarrassment, my favourite mall of the ones I visited was Al-Wafi, which is constructed in the style of Ancient Egypt, with huge columns and sphinxes outside, and hieroglyphics. It stands next to the Raffles Hotel which is built in the shape of a pyramid. However, downstairs it has a remarkable ’souq’ area, which is built in a surprisingly convincingtraditional souq style, and has the most amazing shops with absolutely stunning abayas. I will be saving my pennies up so that if I get a chance to return I can purchase one of these remarkable creations. That Emiratis think nothing of spending £500 upwards on an abaya for day to day wearing (and that they always look so glamorous) is no unending source of mystery for me.

Best of all in Dubai was visiting old Dubai and observing the cargo port, the workers crossing the creek around which Dubai was originally built and observing the abra stations – the places where the dhows dock at regular intervals along

Abra Station, Dubai, copyright spirit21

the creek to form the water transport network. As a luxury I hired an abra for an hour at sunset to travel along the creek and see old Dubai in the falling light. At sunset the adhan echoed in stereo – literally – as it was called from mosques on both sides. The old area of Bastakiyya lit up with its golden lights, and men sat beneath the bridges to fish during the perfect early evening air. This was the magic of Dubai.

By contrast were the two most epic sights of Abu Dhabi – the Emirates palace hotel which is absolutely enormous. And has this legendary gold vending machine. Not sure what to get friends and family? Running out of time to go shopping? Insert $500 and give them their own gold coin or bar.

And on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi is the new Shaikh Zayed mosque. I wasn’t expecting to like it when I arrived, not being very partial to large mosques that are built too far away for daily usage, but the architecture and the decoration is exquisite, and quite unlike anything else I’ve seen – fair more organic and lyrical. And the mosque is staffed in a very friendly and gentle manner – unlike my usual experiences of being shouted at for being a woman trying to enter a mosque.

Shaikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi, copyright spirit21

My final day was another complete change – this time driving through the glorious deep grey Hajar mountains that form the spine of the eastern flank of the UAE. On the other side is a separate part of Sharjah, and also an enclave of Oman. The eastern coast is much quieter and less developed than the rest of the UAE, and so is more relaxing and has the rugged natural beauty that

Hajar Mountains, UAE, copyright spirit21

contrast with the frenetic metropolis of Dubai. The drive along the coast encompassed Dibba, Khor Fakkan and Kalba, all seemingly untouched in their coastal beauty.

So many things were left unseen. Yas Island (with the F1 track, and Ferrari World), several art galleries, the burgeoning arts scene in Dubai, Jumeira Beach (observed only from afar), several older mosques, a dhow cruise along the coast, a foray into Oman, a visit to the Liwa Oasis… the list goes on.

Despite staying for several days, I felt that I had only just caught a peek of UAE life. If anyone tells you that all there is to the UAE is shopping – don’t believe them. There’s plenty more beneath the surface.


Spirit21 about to undergo upgrade…

Dear readers
Now that my blog has reached the grand old age of 4, it will be undergoing some upgrades over the next 24 – 48 hours.
Come back to visit the new and improved spirit21 very shortly…

Hurrah!

Last week, my book Love in a Headscarf won the Best Published Non-Fiction prize at the Muslim Writers Awards. IslamOnline has described this event as the “Muslim Oscars” and it certainly is very glamorous.

I was extremely delighted to win the award, and hopeful that this acknowledgement will bring even more wonderful things in the future. (More awards please!)

Here’s a pic of the trophy itself, sunning itself in the garden the following day…
And if you haven’t bought a copy of the book yet, you can visit www.loveinaheadscarf.com to find out more, and purchase a copy. Happy reading :D

Is this an eco-epiphany?

I will be the first to admit that I have much improvement to show in making my living habits more environmentally friendly. Whilst there is a lot of chatter around us about how we all ought to be ‘green’, I have a sneaking suspicion that there is a lot more talk than there is action. I don’t believe I’m the only one who talks green but doesn’t go all out to act it.
This week we’ve had the plumbers in, and the water feed into the cistern in the loo has been disconnected, so we have to fill it up manually in order to flush. The first few times I tried filling it up from water bottles (running backwards and forwards to the temporary mains in the front garden to fill them up). Ten minutes later, (not to be too graphic about it), the cistern was ready for action. It was a lot of effort to answer nature’s call. Later, we requisitioned a massive watering can for the job, and I could be seen teetering from front garden to bathroom with the filled vessel weighing about a third of my body mass.

I realised this very obvious fact: it takes a lot of water – clean water – to flush, and if you have to carry it yourself, it’s a helluva lot of effort. What a waste of clean water! For the first time – and I’m being completely honest here – it occurred to me that perhaps those composting, old fashioned kind of loos are something we ought to seriously consider. The effort required really hit home.

I have been thinking about all this for a while, but this experience made me think a bit harder and may have created a tipping point. As a Muslim, it has occurred to me that the way we live is rather extravagant resource-wise and I ought to be more prudent and sensitive in my relationship with nature. Having recently moved from a city-centre flat to a house with a garden also seems to be helping with this earth-connection. I’ll be asking for gardening tips soon.

Now, being an urban chick I think it will take me a while to make eco-adjustments, so I’m looking for simple straightforward suggestions for incremental changes that I can make. Any proposals?

Guest Post on Spirit21 from David Miliband, Foreign Secretary.

It’s Friday today, Jum’ah, and as a special treat, the Foreign Secretary has written his first ever posting on a Muslim blog, here at Spirit21. David Miliband is no stranger to cyberspace and writes his own prolific blog over at the FCO website.

It would be fair to say that the relationship between the Foreign Office and the British and global Muslim community has been a tumultuous one (ahem, understatement), and many Britons, including British Muslims, believe that the Foreign Office needs to be held more strongly to account, and should adopt a more proactive and ethical approach to Foreign policy, working in partnership with Muslims and the Muslim world.

So here is your chance, people: our Foreign Secretary is reaching out and wanting to create dialogue, so take up the opportunity to question him – that’s how we create change. I’ll be posting my own comments a bit later, but dear readers – grill him, debate with him, criticise him, offer him positive and innovative policy ideas.

Foreign Secretary: here is your opportunity to listen and to make real change. And you should keep going with more direct engagement like this with the electorate – we like it when our elected politicians talk to us directly, really listen, and then make real the aspirations of the people of this nation.


David Miliband: Compromise and coalition of consent required

There is hardly a more important issue than how we build strong coalitions with Muslim majority countries on issues as diverse as non proliferation or climate change, or how we deepen understanding between people of different faiths. This was the theme of my speech yesterday in Oxford.

There is a need for humility in the West but there is also a need for responsibility from all sides rather than finger pointing. No speech can be the end of the matter. The speech focuses on the importance of politics and arenas for politics where compromise and communication are the order of the day. That is why I am grateful for the opportunity to engage through Spirit 21.
There are hard questions left unanswered in my speech and tensions within it. But if Gallup are right that the vast majority of people in Muslim majority countries say they admire the commitment in the West to the rule of law and free speech, but want to see these values consistently applied, then there is more than enough room for all of us to shape common rules for what the Prime Minister calls “the global society”. As this morning’s FT editorial says, if we are asking the rights questions, then at least we are on our way to getting the right answers.
David Miliband

Muslims 2.0?

I’ll be speaking this evening at an event hosted by the Radical Middle Way entitled “Divan 2.0: Wired Warriors for the Soul of Islam”. It will be a panel discussion and Q&A between some of the UK’s most active cyber citizens.

So here are some of my inital thoughts: the web has certainly opened doors for Muslims – especially young Muslims – to have their voices heard and hold discussions that had very little space elsewhere. I’m one of those and my blog is testament to how the web helped me discover and shape my voice. But I do worry that there is a lot of yelling that goes on, and that we have lost the ability to discern wisdom and learning from polemic. And how does the invisible, intangible blogosphere fit into the social structure of a faith that is built around physical congregations such as the Friday prayers and the hajj? Are we destined to turn into two parallel ummahs, those who go to the mosque and those who go online?

Come along to the event to hear the panel talking about Wired Warriors for the soul of Islam

Date: Friday 22 May 2009
Location: Old Theatre, London School of Economics
Address: Houghton Street (off the Aldwych) London WC2A 2AE
Time: Doors open 6:45 pm; Starts 7:15 pm; Ends 8:45 pm


Moments in New York

I’m in New York city at the moment, taking a few days of sightseeing before attending the next conference of Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow. I’m on Day 2, and so far I don’t feel like I’ve quite managed to tap into the rhythm of the city yet, but have been observing moments and experiences. I like the cosmopolitan nature of the city so far – nothing is quite what it seems, nothing appears to have a place, and yet everything has jostled into position and asserted its right to be here.

Take the visit to the Museum of Modern Art, where one of my favourite exhibits was the Huggable Atomic Mushroom Cloud which made me chuckle with its explanation of “we can embrace our fears, literally”.
This morning’s visit to the Statue of Liberty revealed this gem: at the unveiling of the statue (for liberty, obviously) the suffragettes hired a boat to keep campaigning for the vote for women, and also protested that almost all the official invitees were men. Oh, the delicious irony that liberty is represented by a woman.
Delicious “stir-brewed” coffee in Greenwich village sitting opposte a preppy twentysomething new york woman crocheting a shawl for herself, explaining her penchant for older men.
Mother and two sons on the Ellis Island ferry: older son punches younger son viciously and then turns to mother: “I beat him because he’s got no respect.” Mother turns to protesting younger son: “Shut the **** up”.
Resisting the urge on the subway to experience a marriage proposal (re: Coming to America), or to save the train from oblivion and come screeching to the surface as the tracks end (re: Speed), or ensconce in the cloakroom (re: The pursuit of happyness).
John D. Rockefeller Jr invests during the Great Depression in creating the almost wildly outrageous Rockefeller Centre (note: English spelling of ‘centre’), creating 75,000 jobs at a time of huge unemployment. A visionary to learn from today?
Back to the Museum of Modern Art, I ask the guide for directions, which he does not communicate clearly. I ask again, and in what appears to be typical new york style, he slows down to stupid-speed and explains child-like (with physical demonstration) the difference between turning right and turning left. Laugh or cry?
In London it is sunny and 18 degrees. In NY it is raining and 7 degrees. Irony. Or just annoying.
Tomorrow, the Guggenheim and Central Park.


Spirit21 celebrates its 3rd birthday

Over the weekend Spirit21 was three years old, and it’s been an exciting three years! This year has been packed full of new year resolutions, conferences and some thinking about Palestine and about love. You can read what happened in 2008, as well as a few thoughts I’ve had previously about birthdays.

Over these years since I first dipped my toe into the blogosphere, and into the wider world of the media, I’ve been asked constantly to write a memoir of my experiences as a Muslim woman. I’ve been asked to share the honesty, humour and insight that I try and put into my articles in a book. And this weekend, just as we celebrate Spirit21’s third birthday, I will be announcing the publication of my first book, called “Love in a Headscarf“.

You can read more about it at www.loveinaheadscarf.com

And for those of you who are in and about London you are invited to the launch on Friday evening at the City Circle.

Beyond the bounds of religion

I had this published on the Guardian website today.

Beyond the bounds of religion
Muslims should see Gaza not as a tragedy for the Islamic world, but for all human beings

Obama is offering a hand of friendship to the Middle East and the wider Muslim world. This week he marked this new relationship, based in “mutual respect”, by dispatching George Mitchell as his special envoy to the Middle East. Mitchell is a veteran of the Northern Ireland peace process and is widely held to be a fair broker.

“I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries,” Obama stated. But is this enough to allow him to connect to the worldwide Muslim community which is watching to see whether his actions live up to his words?

The internet has exploded with Muslims expressing their anger, despair and frustration at the ongoing war. My inbox bubbles up with the emotion of email after email with photos of death, invitations to rallies and lectures, multiple Facebook campaigns and groups as well as the urgency of fundraising for aid.

For the first time since the rally attended by a million Britons just before the invasion of Iraq I have joined in protests. Held in London, around the country and across the world, they represented the people’s voice in its most raw and purest form. Those who participated came from all over the country, from all ages, creeds, colours and backgrounds, including, but not limited to, Muslims. Those who raised their voices were all human beings, religious or not. But who was listening?

Not the BBC it seems, which has drawn huge criticism from across the board for refusing to air the Gaza appeal. Nor Lord Falconer who defended the BBC decision on Question Time on Thursday night by saying that seeing the suffering of Palestinians might make people “sympathetic to the Palestinians” and “hostile to the Israelis”, implying that our instinctive moral judgment was wrong.

Muslims have expressed their feelings as members of the “ummah“, sharing their anguish and heartbreak at the suffering of other Muslims in Palestine. The notion of ummah is embedded very deeply in the Muslim psyche. Its basis is Prophet Muhammad’s observation that someone who does not wake up in the morning and feel the pain of other Muslims around the world is not a Muslim.

But Palestine is not a state populated only with Muslims; it encompasses those of Christian faith or none, all of them human beings. As well as the concept of “ummah”, Muslims should be invoking the wider idea of humanity. There might be additional benefits in seeing the crisis in this way: evoking sympathy from the wider public and making common cause with those who support Palestine in order to achieve justice and peace, simply because it is the right thing to do.

Beyond the labels and stereotypes, Muslims, politicians, the people of the world, should know that this is a human calamity. Human beings are being killed before our eyes with nowhere to run, no food to eat, no water to drink. A Palestinian mother will see leaflets floating down from the sky to tell her that she and her children will be bombed and should leave. But where should they run? Egypt closed the border and places of refuge such as mosques are also hit.

This is a human crisis that the Palestinians have recorded on film, and which will haunt all of us as human beings. Once we said “never again”. We must live by that promise.


Spirit21 in 2008 – a year in review

We are nearing the end of the year, and it is the traditional time to look back and see how we fared over the last twelve months. In particular, it’s been a year since I won Best Blog and Best Female Blog at the Brass Crescent Awards. Much to my excitement I’ve been nominated again. It’s not the only recognition the blog has received. I won Best Non-Fiction Writer at the glamorous Muslim Writers Awards, and was named an ‘influential blog’ by the BBC.

Shari’ah was big news this year. The Archbishop of Canterbury made some comments about Shari’ah courts which created a national controversy, and which reverberated round the world. I tried to get underneath the dense text with a detailed analysis of his speech. I mentioned a few other words too to highlight that we need to have a conversation about real meaning, not just tabloid screaming. (I used words like Shariah, fatwa, hijab, apostasy, niqab, cousin-marriage, Imam, Muslim women. I think some readers had anxiety attacks after that.) Separately, the Lord Chief Justice re-ignited the debate started by the Archbishop, and I commented that we had a significant problem with the S-Word.

I spent a lot of time writing about Muslim women, and declared that it was Time for a Womelution. It is time for things to change, and I kept up the pace demanding “Let Muslim Women Speak” both here at Spirit21 and at the Guardian. It seems that everyone out there is happy to tell Muslim women what they should think and say, but won’t let them say it for themselves. It wasn’t the only thing that made me cross. I was riled by the book Jewel of Medina, written by an American author about Ai’shah the wife of the Prophet. It wasn’t about blasphemy or censorship that the author annoyed me, but rather at her delivery of a sex-obsessed Mills and Boon frippery, about a woman and a period of history that was crying out for a high calibre text. What a wasted opportunity. I read the book and wrote a review for the BBC. It was painful. Watch paint dry, I advised readers, it is more fascinating than the book.

I was still fascinated by hijab, niqab and modesty and wrote several articles trying to understand the different perceptions of modesty and hijab. Modesty is not a black and white issue got some interesting feedback – some people told me in person that it was the best piece I’ve ever written, others said they didn’t get it at all. I also asked, whose body is it anyway, and wondered why it is considered inflammatory by some for a women to cover her hair or face. I made reference in the former article to the rise of the muhajababe, the fabulously stylish and sometimes skimpily clad be-headscarfed Muslim woman, and posted a cartoon asking, what is the meaning of hijab, and wrote a piece considering, can you dress provocatively and be religious? It should all be based around a woman choosing her clothing for herself, but is it really a free choice, and what exactly is she choosing?

The amazing Muslim women who often are considered oppressed and forgotten inspired me to create The Magic Muslims, ordinary Muslims with Extraordinary superpowers, foremost amongst them being SuperJabi. They also included MagicMullah, HipHopHalalMan and WonderBibi. Watch out for them, there will be more in the coming year!

I was also published in the book Conversations on Religion, alongside other high profile dignitaries in the field of faith (or absence of) such as Richard Dawkins, the Chief Rabbi, AC Grayling and the Archbishop.

On the subject of conversations, I had some amazing dialogues with people in Indonesia and Turkey, where I spent a good amount of time this year. Indonesia prompted me to think of sun, smiles and spirituality, whilst in Turkey I found myself asking, what does a Muslim country look like? Hopefully I made some fans whilst out there too…

My comments about Valentine’s Day being banned generated some interest as i was asking if it was the day or love that was being prohibited; just as exciting was an interview with the charming and sparky Riazat Butt for the Guardian about hajj. They also enjoyed posting a piece exploring our modern ideas about what kind of hero, messiah or mehdi, we are looking for these days. Do we really need one?

Most controversial were two pieces related to what was happening on the political scene. I had people respond to them with enormous prickliness (or excitement, depending) even months later in person, so they’ve hit a chord! I tried to separate out the political agendas that have confused the need for social cohesion with preventing violent extremism, and seems to see Muslims only through the prism of (potential) terrorism. Later in the year the political insinuations that Muslims were not wanted in politics appeared to grow stronger, and I wrote with much passion that it seems that we Muslims were being told that “The only ‘proper’ Muslim is a non-political one.” The article proliferated wildly and despite a certain level of anonymity as a writer, i had people ‘in person’ searching me out to comment on it.

Phew! What a year! And inshallah, 2009 is going to be even more exciting – there are already some fabulous things in the works – watch this space!

(p.s. vote for Spirit21 Best Blog and Best Female blog at the Brass Crescent Awards to show your support!)