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  • A lot of reading to catch up on…

    There’s a lot of new documentation being churned out today… two reports on the July 7 bombings (don’t you find people who call it seven seven really annoying??) and an eighteen page letter from Ahmedinajad to Mr Bush. Can the US prez read that much? Can he even count to eighteen? Ms Rice was dismissive of the letter, but I heard a quote read out on the radio… All politics aside, will it go down in literary history as a hark back to traditional literary devices in order for countries to communicate? Did he email it, or was it hand written on parchment? And did he stay up all night to write it, in a frenzied philosophical fever? Such questions are further proof that I am probably a political bimbo hiding behind the facade of a political activist…

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  • The Potato joke

    Not sure whether to laugh or cry…

    An old Arab lived close to New York City for more than 40 years. One day he decided that he wanted to plant potatoes and herbs in his garden, but he knew he was alone and too old and weak. His son was in college in Paris, so the old man sent him an e-mail explaining the problem: “Beloved son, I am very sad, because I can’t plant potatoes in my garden. I am sure, if only you were here, that you would help me and dig up the garden for me. I love you, your father.”

    The following day, the old man received an e-mail from his son: “Beloved father, please don’t touch the garden. That is where I have hidden ‘the THING.’ I love you, too, Ahmed.” At 4pm the FBI and the Rangers visited the house of the old man and took the whole garden apart, searching every inch. But they couldn’t find anything. Disappointed, they left the house. The next day, the old man received another e-mail from his son: “Beloved father, I hope the garden is dug up by now and you can plant your potatoes. That is all I could do for you from here. Your loving son, Ahmed.”

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  • The Times claims that Muslim students are taught to despise unbelievers as filth

    I always thought that news had to consist of two main elements – something that was “new” and therefore “new-sworthy”, and something that had at least a kernel of truth and interest. Except for our friends at the tabloids, who mostly dispensed with such nonsense. And create their own. And so, a once respected broadsheet is dabbling in tabloid sensationalism with their latest piece by Sean O’Neill “Muslim students ‘being taught to despise unbelievers as filth”. His piece is designed to stir up misunderstanding and hatred from something that does not exist

    The article focuses on a piece of legal text which lays out rules on ritual impurity (mistranslated as filth) and claims that because this text teaches that Muslims should wash if they have contact with those of other faiths, this leads to Muslims despising them. Wow. One plus one really does equal five!

    If you read the piece, his whole story is based on the teaching of a thirteenth century text about Islamic jurisprudence to help students improve their understanding of classical Arabic language, and to give them some context of how Islamic law has developed. Somehow, he wraps this up into a story of “indoctrination” and brainwashing.

    How little credit the newspaper gives Muslim students in being able to create a distinction between what they are taught academically and what they believe and practise! I feel patronised that somehow poor little Muslims can’t tell the difference.

    And how poor is the writer’s context of the teachings. According to the response issued by the institution in question, he did not even bother to turn up to see things for himself. He did not bother to check the translations of the text about ritual impurity (not filth as is described in the article), which has strong resonance within the Jewish faith as well. The Times nor the writer have no concept either of what academic study is – reviewing of material that you may or may not agree with in order to learn history, context and critical analysis skills. Where would we be if we refused to study texts we disagreed with?

    The Times should be deeply ashamed of publishing this article. They didn’t even bother to publish the response from the institution that they trashed. And at the very least they should open up a debate section so that responses can be posted. The fact that they have not, signals their cowardliness and the fact that their aim is just to create trouble, not to move the agenda forward in any kind of constructive way.

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  • I’m not a lazy Muslim voter- I just need some motivation

    Blah blah blah local elections blah blah blah is mostly what I’ve been hearing for the last few days. Does that make me a political bimbo? See, the tough thing is, it appears to make very little difference who you actually vote for. And mostly the politicians just sling sleaze during campaigns, which to me translates as “vote for me because I’m less morally repugnant than the next guy”. All the politically minded Muslims will accuse me of being a lazy Muslim. Blah blah blah. But if I don’t exercise my civic duty, I’m opening the door to the BNP. They should not get a glimmer of support from anyone. And so, along with all the other politically and socially laudable reasons to turn up for on Thursday at the polling station, making sure that these one-policy racist thugs are roundly rejected is one huge reason for all human beings over the age of eighteen in this country.

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  • The Acceptable Face of (Mis) Treating Muslims in the Private Sphere

    The following article was recently published in The Muslim News

    Are Muslims too sensitive to the ill-treatment they receive in the public sphere, or are the subtleties of prejudice so blurred that we can no longer pinpoint and address where the problems lie?

    A close family friend in need of some medical care, attended a private consultation with his modestly dressed hijab wearing wife. The Consultant shook hands with the patient and turned to the lady who politely declined to shake his hand, explaining that her religious beliefs did not permit her to do so. As is customary for many Muslims, she placed her right hand on her chest and bowed slightly in a courteous manner informing him that many Muslims consider that it is not permitted to touch a person of the opposite gender, and that her action was not personal nor intended to cause offence. The Consultant said he was deeply offended. He asked them to leave. He refused to treat the patient.

    My friend and his wife were gobsmacked. They left the hospital in a daze, not knowing what to do next since this was the same Consultant who was treating him on the NHS. The patient had been recently admitted to the local NHS hospital. He wanted to get some investigations done quickly and so he chose to be treated privately. To make sure he got continuity of care, he decided to go with the same consultant.

    Cut to comedy sequence from Carry on with Public-Private healthcare.

    First up, the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS): “Raise in confidence any issues and comments that you have about the care and service you receive from staff”. Apologetic, but of little practical use with regards to how to proceed. Since the NHS appointed Consultant was seeing the patient privately – albeit on NHS premises- this was not any of their business and they had no jurisdiction over his behaviour was the official position from our pals at PALS.

    But who would go back to the NHS for follow up treatment with a Consultant who had thrown you out in a private capacity and treated your wife in this way?

    Next up, a phone call to the private healthcare firm who sanctioned the consultation. Could they remove a doctor from their list who showed this kind of behaviour? Nope, that’s more than our jobs’ worth, it’s not up to us.

    Moving on, the local private trust was slightly more helpful. They met formally with the Consultant who did not deny that he refused to treat the patient because of the patient’s wife’s beliefs. In fact, he argued that he was within his rights to be insulted and to not treat a patient since it was a private patient.

    The official at the private trust communicated this back to the patient informally (they are still waiting for an official letter documenting the situation). He was sympathetic, but said that he had never genuinely come across such an incident before.

    And in this ghastly mess, this seems to be the only glimmer of sincerity – the unearthing of a situation where someone can be treated outside the bounds of moral behaviour in the private domain, but continue happily in the same profession funded by the public purse.

    This incident is a small highlight of the wider debate taking place about what kinds of discrimination are acceptable. What if the consultant had refused to treat the patient because his wife had been black? Would he have been then considered within his rights to refuse? Is this an appropriate analogy to draw?

    The worry is that such behaviour extends itself into public care where a Consultant refuses to treat a hijab wearing woman on the NHS. And if such an extreme was not permitted, his service provision to the patient might be impaired or even an impediment to the Muslim woman being cared for.

    The complexity in this case stems from blurring of public and private and what is acceptable behaviour in each domain. What if the patient’s wife had attended the NHS appointment and the whole scenario had been replayed there? Would there have been any further recourse for the patient then? Can a professional behave in two totally different ways in the public and private domain? Does a doctor have the right to refuse treatment? How should a public employee be disciplined for showing prejudice in treatment? How should this scenario be prevented in future?

    Those who say that Muslims are too sensitive to such matters will point out that this is one incident with one doctor. But is it happening in other places, with other practitioners? Fuel to the fire is that this hospital is located in an area with a high ethnic minority population of which Muslims are a substantial component. But one of the markers of this case is that the doctor’s behaviour is seemingly condoned because it was conducted in the private commercial domain. Surely all service providers must be subject to codes of behaviour in treating their customers, and healthcare should be a flagship for good ethical practice.

    It is shocking that a doctor – a public servant – can refuse to
    treat someone on the basis of their wife’s religious beliefs.

    My friend and his wife are in a good position – the treatment that he was looking for was not a matter with a fateful outcome, they have good contacts to help them through this messy maze. But for Muslim women in more desperate and less aware circumstances such issues could well be a matter of life or death.

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  • Looking for Love – Young Muslims just Wanna have fun

    Boring marrieds are out, cool young single things are in: this is the message from ‘rocking new Muslims’. They are clean cut, perfect to take home to the parents, but determined to live life to the full as singletons. Isolate them from the group, and they will admit that they would like to find someone to marry, but until they do so, they are out to have a little fun.

    In their twenties and thirties, well educated, on the whole well off second gen kids, they firmly identify themselves as British. They speak in perfect English accents, have been schooled here and work in a variety of respectable fields, from accountants to civil servants, to investment bankers to successful entrepreneurs.

    With no traditional vices to speak of (no drinking, no drugs, strippers, lairy stag do’s or joyriding), this is an anomalous likeable bunch of people. Through their sheer delight in good company and good food, they are breaking through the traditional boundaries of their cultural heritages that frown on the fraternising of young singles. Such youngsters are usually seen by the traditional elders of the community as unreligious, westernised and as having abandoned their faith and origins. But these clean cut good looking kids are far from that. And so they challenge traditional community notions of what being “good” or “religious” are all about. Despite their socialising, they are the kind of kids that on the whole parents long for.

    They participate in regular community events, are the drivers for progress and change in their local Muslim communities, they create links across ethnic origins, and regularly give up their time to teach younger Muslim children amongst many other voluntary activities. They are practising Muslims, model citizens within their micro-communities as well as wider society. Their simple unfettered approach to having fun and hanging out together is refreshing. They flout the norms simply by being who they are.

    But they also challenge western notions of young Muslims who either see them as obedient automatons who do whatever their parents enforce on them, or imagine that all Muslims are dehumanised extremists hell-bent on joining forces with Darth Vader and destroying the known universe. The fact that Muslims can be quite ordinary and simply have fun is a shocking discovery. Even more surprising is the fact that young Muslims are actually quite interested in finding love.

    The curious thing about these young hip Muslims is their subconscious refusal to see each other as anything but singles. Love, chemistry and attraction are great ideas in the abstract, but in order to protect the sanctity of the platonic between them, they are unable to make these ideas concrete. As practising Muslims they protect the traditional boundaries between men and women in a new and innovative way – by not challenging the borders of the individual and seeing the opposite gender as anything but very nice people and very good friends.

    Married couples are not included in their fun on the pretext that they are boring and dull. But rather it is the married couple’s bridging of the male-female divide, their signal of the move from the platonic to something unknown that is the challenge. They’ve rejected the traditional route of matchmakers and aunties to finding love, but haven’t worked out how to negotiate finding that special someone in the new landscape that they’ve created for themselves. Where do I find someone? they ask. When looking for love, isn’t that the question on everyone’s lips?

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  • The post-modern ailment of being busy

    Everyone is just so busy being busy, said one of my friends to me, no-one has any time to actually do anything. And it’s true, part of the modern malaise is that it is mandatory to be busy. If you meet someone after a long time, and you ask how they are they say, well, you know, just so busy busy busy. We’ve all heard it. Heck, we’ve all said it. It’s the only way to validate being a respectable member of society these days.

    A few years ago, I took some time off work to do, well, nothing. It was an incomprehensible concept for most. What do you do, they would ask. Nothing, I told them. What’s your job, I don’t have one. Are you planning to get one? No. So you um, well, do nothing? Yes, absolutely. Hmm. They would move on to talk to someone else.

    And so that is where we are. The art of just being has been lost. I don’t mean we should be idle or lazy, that we should not take responsibility for running our lives and living them to the full. But we just don’t know how to be anymore.

    I work in technology, and the current mantras in gadgets and services are “never be more than a phonecall away”, “always be in touch”, “your music with you wherever you are”. The thought of a moment’s unoccupied silence is a deeply frightening idea. You have to be listening to music, to the radio, on the phone to someone, just doing something, anything so that your brain and soul have no moment to relax, reflect or be inspired.

    It seems that we in the postmodern age are hiding from something. Hiding from the possibility of being better, from exploring ourselves. A few minutes without any outside sensory input can work wonders, can open unknown possibilities. But it takes effort and a conscious decision to stop being busy just for being busy’s sake.

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  • Are Muslims aware of their cultural space?

    I recently published the following article in The Muslim News

    Are Muslims aware of their cultural space?

    March was a busy month for the Muslim media pundit. There was the issue of the cartoons of the Prophet, the release of the film Syriana (disappointing and vague) and the showing of the The Road to Guantanamo (a film first, being released simultaneously on TV, DVD and on the internet). The creative and documentary media is fascinated with Islam, Muslims and the Muslim world. Syriana was the first Hollywood film I saw that opened with a recitation of the adhaan. The film delved into a huge number of issues that the west is attempting to understand on political as well cultural and moral dimensions. The fact that it was overwhelmed at the breadth of issues – failing in my opinion to tackle any of them with depth or focus – is testament to the sudden awakening by the mainstream creative media of a whole new vista on the world.

    The Road to Guantanamo was a more focused docu-drama recounting how the Tipton Three found themselves at the notorious Camp X-ray, having set out on an innocent trip for a wedding in Pakistan, exploring how the relationship of British born Muslims to the origins of their parents, and some innocent errors of judgement can lead to the machinery of the American and British governments to treat Muslims as the fifth column.

    The arts are a canvas for the West to explore its ideas and understanding of what it doesn’t know or understand. It is the arena for debate and discussion as well as expression of the limits of its understanding. The cartoons were a case in point, and these films show a hunger to explore, however much we may dislike or disagree with them. This is historically difficult for Muslims when traditional scholarship tends to regard theatre, film and fiction outside its permitted boundaries. Only some poetry, calligraphy and limited forms of geometrical art have strong traditions in the mainstream Muslim world. But where all of these different artforms exist, they are not used to explore and develop ideas and new experiences. The challenge for Muslims living in Europe and the Americas is to embrace the arts and media as a mechanism of expression, both for non-Muslims as well as Muslims.

    Reflecting on Easter

    Another Western cultural milestone is the forthcoming Easter holidays. In doctrinal terms, Easter demarcates the furthest points between Islam and Christianity. Jesus’ death and resurrection commemorated at this time of year, finds no place in Islam. The Qur’an relates the story that Jesus was taken into the heavens before he could be crucified, and someone resembling him was mistakenly put to death. But what has been overlooked and unexplored is the overlap in the concepts of martyrdom and sacrifice that play such a huge part in both faiths. In Islam, the surrender of one’s life in submission to the path of truth is the ultimate act and plays a central role in the Muslim’s goals. In the moment of death the human being witnesses the Truth and lives eternally. Although Muslims don’t accept the events of Easter, its message of giving up everything, even life, in order to live for ever, is surely worth pondering over.

    Happy birthday Prophet Muhammed

    This year, Easter will coincide approximately with the birthday of Prophet Muhammed. Known as Milad un Nabi, his birthday is a cause for joyous celebrations in much of the Muslim community. He is referred to in the Qur’an as a “mercy to all the worlds” and a “bringer of good news”. It is good to see the Muslim community coming together in happiness and praise at this occasion – one of the few events in the calendar where there is unity over the timing and reasons for celebrating. Some parts of the community feel that it is not appropriate to celebrate as they feel that the Prophet had said that since he was a mortal human being like any other, he should not be celebrated in this way.

    Yet, the strength of feeling for the Prophet across the community was all too evident in the recent cartoon saga. His birthday presents an opportunity to deliver positive messages to a debate that has become far too negative, He is a character very much unknown by the Western psyche, sketched out only by bare caricatured facts – a 7th century be-turbaned Arab supposedly illiterate, but who somehow created a huge empire and civilisation. What we can hope for one day is that his birthday becomes part of the nation, a day where a Muslim can easily talk about Milad-un-Nabi and elicit awareness and congratulations from the wider community. But that means Muslims have to get to know their Prophet better, and understand what his legacy means to us today. What are the values and realities that he brings into our lives in the 21st century? And what do they mean not only to Muslims but to the society we live in? Only when we can answer these questions, can the beloved figure of the Prophet be appreciated by the wider community we live in.

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  • Welcome to Spirit21

    They say that there is a glass ceiling for me because (as Michael Moore would put it) I am not a stupid white man. Another they says I should temper my passions and desires, my dreams and ambitions because I am not a brown be-turbaned man. Some Theys say that I should fight my oppression, that I should rout it and defy it. Some say I face no oppression, that I should be happy that I am blessed and should accept my fortunate and happy lot. If you are not with us, they say, you are with the others, and they are wrong.

    Spirit21 is a space to bring colour to this monochromatic world. I don’t believe that black or white are the only options. Why not pinks, blues, yellows or browns? I am not us, nor am I Other.

    I am me

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