Friday Miscellany

  • (Belated) Friday Miscellany (9th July)

    Shelina's Friday Miscellany (Spirit21)I admit that the last few weeks have not been as timely as a weekly Friday round-up ought to be, but I’m sticking with my story that it’s just way too hot in the UK to write regularly.

    According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (yes, I know that I was looking for facts to back up a pre-determined theory), heat can affect the brain by:

    • Loss of concentration
    • Loss of efficiency in mental tasks

    And of course, writing requires both of those.

    Anyway, I wanted to share a couple of thoughts…

    I was reading last Thursday’s Metro as I travelled on the London underground and was struck by two stories carried by the same edition.  The first was aimed at women looking for help in choosing a swimsuit for their summer holidays by the beach. The article begins:

    “Walking around half naked in front of a bunch of strangers is something every woman dreads. But as we jet off for sunnier climes, that’s exactly what we’ll all be doing.”

    It just makes me wonder, if every woman dreads walking around in skimpy clothing, then why do it? The answer appears a little later in the article, albeit somewhat unwittingly:

    “Each season we’re bombarded with campaign images of girls wearing next to nothing as they advertise the latest summer styles for fashion brands…[ … ] ‘Many people are fooled by marketing,’

    But what really struck me as baffling was that elsewhere in the paper, there was a story that read: “One in four men ogle beauties at the beach.” The article added:

    “And 68 per cent of women in the poll of 1,500 people said they often worried about their partner looking at other women on vacation, compared with just 23 per cent of men.”

    So women themselves don’t want to wear skimpy attire at the beach, and then the fact that other women are also dressed scantily (presumably they also feel uncomfortable?) makes them feel additionally anxious.

    But marketing tells women they should do this, so that makes it ok.

    In another news, has started running the Dating Dialogues. Focusing on creating debate around building healthy marital relationships, the dialogues will be a forum which: “aims to explore topics such as gender relations, courtship, marriage, divorce, and sexuality in an honest, engaging, and constructive manner that will help both individuals and communities.”

    You can imagine that with my first book being Love in a Headscarf, I’ll be watching with interest (and participating too).

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  • Last week’s Friday Miscellany

    Some of you have noticed that last week’s Miscellany was missing. It was hot. Just way too hot. So I’m afraid that the Miscellany was dropped. (sorry). All writers will tell you that they have specific conditions which are / are not conducive to writing, and if you’ve been following me on facebook/twitter you’ll know that I can’t write when it’s too hot. Hopefully we’ll return to more temperate climes in the coming days…

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  • Shelina’s (belated) Friday Miscellany, 25th June

    Shelina's Friday Miscellany (Spirit21)Okay, okay, so I’m a little bit late for the Friday Miscellany this week, but what’s a girl to do when there’s a lot going on? This week I’ve been enjoying the glorious sunshine in London, although I must confess that it’s been a bit hot for me. In my search to discover the cause of the warming, I discovered according to The Spoof website, that the solution is simple: global air conditioning.

    The big news in the UK this was of course the announcement of the budget.  One of the statistics that caught my eye was around housing benefit.  The chancellor said the new caps were needed because the cost of the payments had risen 50% to £21bn in 10 years. Of course the system isn’t perfect and it’s easily imaginable that some people are getting more than they should, but isn’t the bigger question – how is it we live in a society where so many people can’t afford shelter?

    Last week I raised the issue of loneliness – which of course puts pressure on people financially and emotionally. But one of it’s by products is the current shortage of housing we have which pushes prices up, making housing too expensive for large tracts of the population.  Another possible issue is that people simply aren’t paid enough. Businesses complain that they’ll be untenable with a higher minimum wage (and what a battle there was over that!), but it’s not good enough to pay people a wage which they can’t subsist on. BTW, corporation tax has come down. One campaign which I admire is the Living Wage campaign which argues not for the minimum wage, but for a higher wage which people can actually live on.  Living wage is a term used to describe the minimum hourly wage necessary for shelter (housing and incidentals such as clothing and other basic needs) and nutrition for a person for an extended period of time (lifetime). According to the London Citizens, who participate in the campaign the living wage in London due to its higher costs is actually £7.60 per hour; £1.87 above the National Minimum Wage.

    This week I reviewed the Seen and Not Heard: Voices of Young British Muslims report which raises the issues that young Muslims themselves want to raise about identity, intergenerational experiences (feeling different at home, and out in the ‘world’) and feeling disconnected for wider society.

    Sadiq Khan gave me hope that there are politicians out there who take rape seriously when he wrote a letter to the PM challenging proposals to give anonymity to rape defendants. Anonymity was in fact removed for defendants in 1988 following police claims that it was preventing women from coming forward to report rape. Why should rape defendants have more protection that defendants of other crimes, he asks? Of course, in the case of false allegations, these are harmful to the defendant, but Khan states: “where there is a balance to be struck, I would urge you to take no risks and give the benefit of the doubt to the victim,” adding: “What evidence is there that false allegations, which we all agree can be extremely damaging, are higher for rape than for other crimes?”

    In slightly more positive news, it seems that in Kyrgyzstan, religion may be helping to heal ethnic tensions during the horrible conflicts that are ravaging the country. But, according to Al Jazeera, “It is rare for government officials to turn to religious leaders of Imams for help. But as ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks attempt to reconcile in the wake of ethnic violence, government officials in Kyrgyzstan are hoping that Islam will help smooth tensions.”  You can watch the video clip at the bottom of the post.

    The Corporation that Changed the WorldThis week I’ve been reading the fabulous “The Corporation that Changed the World: How the East India Company Shaped the Modern Multinational” by Nick Robins. The book blurb says: Founded in 1600, the East India Company was the forerunner of the modern multinational. Starting life as a trader in Asian spices, the Company ended its days running Britain’s Indian empire. In the process, it shocked its contemporaries with the scale of its violence, corruption and speculation. This is the first-ever book to expose the Company’s social record. Robins reveals a hidden story of tragedy and intrigue. War, famine, stock-market bubbles and even duels between rival executives are all to be found in this new account. For Robins, the Company’s legacy provides compelling lessons on how to ensure the accountability of today’s global business.”

    With current corporations seemingly wreaking havoc with humanity – think BP, think the banks, think child slave labour, think Halliburton, think the wars in the Middle East – the book is prescient, and has certainly given me pause for thought on how today’s corporations are really calling the shots, just as the East India Company did during its long existence.  As Robins describes: “It remains an oddity that although companies are among the most powerful institutions of the modern age, our histories still focus on the actions of states and individuals, on politics and culture, rather than on corporations, their executives and their impacts.”

    Remember how during the period of governmental uncertainty after the UK elections in May, what people were worried about was how “the markets” would respond.

    What started out as a commercial organisation, used force and conquest to generate profits. As the Dutch historian Steengard writes “the principal export of pre-industrial Europe to the rest of the world was violence.” Of course the British were not alone in their use of force. At the beginning of maritime trade with Asia when the Portuguese were in the ascendancy, only those who bought Portuguese permits were allowed to do business on pain of confiscation and death, on the grounds that the right to free trade was limited to Christians. Barros comments that the rights of others hold against them in Europe but not beyond and since the Moors were “outside the law of Jesus Christ which is the true law” then violence and even death was acceptable. Hmm, wonder if today we could replace that with ‘western democracy’ or other similar ideological descriptions. It just seems to echo horribly.

    Overall, an excellent insight into how the corporation’s unfettered drive for power and profit with no mechanism for constraint was a problem then, and continues to be one now.

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  • Shelina’s Friday Miscellany, 18th June

    Shelina's Friday Miscellany (spirit21)What have you been up to this week? Here are my miscellaneous thoughts and activities that have got me thinking…

    I started the week with one of the Sunday Times magazine supplements which covered the subject of loneliness. It made for heartbreaking reading. A study by Lloyds TSB predicts that over the next 10 years the number of single households will increase by 2m, and 51% of single people cited loneliness as the biggest stress factor in their lives.

    It’s sad to think we live in a society that encourages people to move out of their family home and into single person accommodation, but nearly half of people who live on their own suffer from loneliness. Our society actively encourages them to do something that will make them unhappy? Not to mention the additional financial strain of buying/living in your own place, the shortage of accommodation that it creates nationwide, and all those older parents who could probably do with some company rather than being left alone. I’ve never really understood the ’embarrassment’ that British society heaps on adults who live with their parents – it doesn’t seem quite as widespread on the Continent or elsewhere. Where’s the freedom in being lonely?

    I was impressed this week by the Malaysians of Penang who were ‘outraged by  the statement of the Tourism Minister that Malaysia is going to have “the first ever Ramadan Summer Festival featuring food, shopping and other fun-filled activities” to attract Middle Eastern tourists during the Ramadhan month in August. Ramadan is not a tourist product, they stated. It’s a sentiment I echo, and one which is sadly lost in commercialisation and extravagance, something I wrote about last year.

    The letter published in the Consumers Association of Penang added: “Ramadhan is not a tourist product but a sacred month of spiritual enrichment for Muslims throughout the world.  It is during this month that Muslims perform extra prayers and zikir to glorify Allah and discipline themselves. Many travel to Mecca to perform Umrah and pray in Masjid al Haram. It is certainly not for fun, food and frolic!!”

    In relation to another big consumer product (yes, it’s another World Cup story), I was entertained and horrified at the same time by the description of the matrimonial matchmaking events to be held this Sunday at the United Muslim Convention in Birmingham. Such services are much needed and very important, so I fully support Islamic Circles ongoing efforts in this area. However, it was this line in the event’s description that caught my eye:

    “Please note for brothers there will be TV screenings of the World Cup if they are worried of missing key games.”

    On the one hand, the organisers are being sensitive to their target audience’s interests. But on the other hand, isn’t it a sad indictment that the

    Marriage and Football t-shirt, from Zazzle

    brothers consider World Cup football to be more important than looking for a marriage partner? It is a huge social comment on the pitiful state of marriage amongst the younger Muslim community, where men rate football over the Prophetic sunnah of marriage.

    And by the way, maybe sisters want to watch the football too?

    I also posted this week an open letter to the French President Sarkozy about the French plans to ban the burqa and the niqab. It seems that arguments that resort to freedom, choice and human rights are falling on deaf ears, and the only option available now is satire. You can read the letter here. Because I can do geeky things like track visits to the blog, I know that this has been one of my most popular blog posts.

    This week I’ve become strangely addicted to watching “Who do you think you are?” I think it may have to do with the book I read last week and seeing how human generations change over centuries.

    And this week I’ve started reading “Seen and Not Heard: Voices of Young British Muslims.” It’s not my usual fiction/creative non-fiction that I pick up, but I thought I’d get an up to date insight on what it is exactly that these young British Muslims want to say. Watch out for a review in next week’s Friday Miscellany.

    And finally, yes, I have to admit it, I’m off to watch the England vs. Algeria match…

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  • Shelina’s Friday Miscellany

    Every week I’ll be posting a Friday round-up of what I’ve been up to this week, interesting places I’ve been, things I’ve read and random thoughts I’ve had. This is the first in the series – so welcome to Shelina’s Friday Miscellany.

    This week I went along to the launch of the Inspired by Muhammad campaign. The campaign is designed to tell those unfamiliar with Muslims and what motivates them, about the inspiration they gain from the life of the Prophet Muhammad and the positive values Muslims feel he exemplified. As part of the campaign, a YouGov poll was commissioned that provided some very worrying statistics. Whilst 50% of over 2000 people polled associate Islam with terrorism, only 13% associate it with peace, and a measly 6% with justice. A mere 16%  think Islam promotes fairness and equality (a whopping 69% believing it encourages the repression of women) and 41% disagree or strongly disagree that Muslims have a positive impact on British society. As The New Statesman says, this makes for depressing reading, and means the campaign faces an ‘uphill’

    Inspired by Muhammad campaign poster


    It’s one to scratch your head about though – as despite these very strong attitudes, 60% say they don’t know very much about Islam and 17% say they know nothing at all. One of the few positive findings is that 33% would like to know more about Islam.

    So the campaign is very welcome – bringing to life the reality of Muslims’ experiences and their beliefs. And whatever those of other faiths or none may feel about Muslims, at the very least it is worth getting to know what inspires and motivates over 20% of the world’s population. And perhaps on the way they may learn some positives about Muslims and Islam.

    I’ve posted up the image of the poster related to women’s rights – and it was definitely a Muslim women’s week as on Wednesday Faith Matters released a report listing the 100 most ‘women-friendly’ mosques in the UK.

    I wrote a commentary about why I thought this was a ‘great first step’ in encouraging women’s participation in mosques for the Guardian.

    By analysing the challenges mosques were facing, it seemed that failing to include women at a strategic decision-making level was one of the obstacles. But as I noted, this is a general societal problem – the cabinet is only 14% female, and only 12% of FTSE 100 company directors are female.

    On a different note, anyone walking around the London underground will have noticed the multitude of posters for the upcoming “Clothes Show London” which is being billed as the “Ultimate Girls’ Day out.” *sigh* – it’s that old attitude of going shopping is the ‘ultimate’ sign of girliness. It got me thinking about the World Cup which is due to kick off tonight, and how men and women are so easily cast into their ‘ultimate’ gender stereotypes of clothes vs. football.

    The clothes show is due to  take place 25 – 27 June, in the middle of the World cup tournament, which of course is a male-festival, and women will be getting out doing what women do best (apparently) – shopping.

    But if I’m being flippant about having a good giggly girl’s day out – and nothing wrong with that, then there’s nothing flippant about the macho beer-fuelled problems that are currently being highlighted about the social impact of the World cup. Divorce rates rise in the period immediately after the World Cup. Even more worrying is that rates of domestic violence increase during the period of the world cup, and based on historic data, this can be by as much as 30% on days that England is playing. Various campaigns including “Don’t let the world cup leave its mark on you” have been launched.

    World cup 2010: The Revival's Fantasy Muslim XI

    On a lighter note, I was tickled by this World Cup Fantasy Football punt over at The Revival which analyses the abilities of the Muslim footballers attending the tournament, and picks out a Muslim XI. Hey, whatever floats your boat.

    Finally, this week I’ve been watching The Art of Spain, in particular the 16th century period of Felipe II.

    And this week I’ve been reading “The Idols will Fall”. Here’s the blurb: “Maximilian and his friends are living a double life, posing as royal counsellors for the despotic, pagan governor of Roman Philadelphia (present-day Jordan) while secretly spreading the outlawed religion of Jesus of Nazareth. As their brethren fall victim to torture and murder, their situation becomes more and more dire until they take a daring step that sends shockwaves throughout the whole Roman Empire. Although they are forced to flee, nonetheless, their story lives on as generation after generation carry on their epic battle and an unimaginable miracle changes their world forever. The Idols Will Fall is a unique presentation of the miraculous story of these young men referred to both in Christian historical literature and in the Qur’an. This is the story of the Sleepers of the Cave.”

    I’m always a bit sceptical of historical fiction (or non-fiction, however you describe it), but I was very moved by this book, and felt a sense of loss as I said goodbye to the characters at the end of the story. It was illuminating seeing the human struggle towards propagating faith, set in a

    The Idols Will Fall

    different time, context and even religion. The characters are of course Christian, as it is set in the 2nd to 5th century A.D. during which time the Roman empire is in full force, and persecutes the believers. It’s an easy and unstressful read, but conveys many of the same themes that people of faith struggle with today – separating religion from culture, knowing when to fight your battles, the price for standing up for what you believe in, and the power of media and communication. And of course, the wisdom that comes with the vicissitudes of time.

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