Monday, 29 December 2008

Who will ever break the silence on Israel?

Deeply saddening, appalling is indeed the violence in Gaza, as our world leaders have called it. Events which stir our emotions intensely. But more than emotion, we all feel a view, have an opinion as politics doesn't just conjure feeling, it conjures thought and viewpoints as more than anything its about how we look after mankind in the world we live in. And in this present world we live in, it has to be said not only is the Palestinian conflict one of the most saddening, but is one which conjures the most political voice. For even the most apolitical amongst us, we all have a view about whether those people who claimed their homeland after around 2000 years, were right to do so, or wrong.
I remember some years ago, before I came to Islam, I was travelling in Morocco with a young Jewish girl who told me about how her parents envisaged settling in Israel one day from the UK, as their ultimate dream. At that time all I knew about Israel was, that it was a place in the middle east which came up in the news now and again, but didn't really know why and I wasn't that bothered either. When I returned to the UK, I ambled through some news pages in a vague attempt to maybe find out about this Israel. All I read was Israel was suffering at the hands of Palestinians and Palestinians were suffering at the hands of Israelis. Seemed like another classic conflict situation with some sort of history I'd never get but I hoped, as a passing thought, that both sides would meet in the middle somewhere. Thats classic conflict mediation isn't it, even in marriages, it's all about meeting somewhere in the middle; compromise. Both sides had to do their bit.
A couple of years later, my attachment to my Muslim brethren, urged me to read up on the history of Palestine and Israel. I read about a group of people homeless in Europe. I read about them set their eyes on a land they not only wanted to live in, but rule over. I read about them coming into Palestine and throwing people out of their homes, bulldozing them down and making people refugees in their own land. I read about bloodshed, I read about their domination, occupation spreading like a infectious disease. I read about their sophisticated missiles and tanks, whose design, manufacture was aided in Britain and America; massacre families, and the resistance of the Palestinians named as terrorism. Palestinians who grew up generation after generation in the muddy squalor of refugee camps in their own land attempted to fight this occupation with whatever they had. I read it all. Then came the wall, the blockades and the intense attacks of the last few days.
This was Israel. This was occupation, domination and suffering to the nth degee whilst the world watched, calling it deeply saddening and terribly appalling, but never wrong.
There have been many demos over the last few days, asking Israel to stop the attacks - and despite news reports saying that they won't until Hamas does, we must be slightly loopy if we ever believe they will put an end to their agenda which has been ruthlessly undertaken over the past century. And the West - they will never verbalise Israel's cruelty, as they are the ones who set the cannon loose and gave the go-ahead all those years ago. It's a silence that will never be broken in Washington or London, and if we don't own up to this, we continue to leave the suffering Palestinians stranded in a problem which has been sugarcoated and sold to us as a solution through roadmaps and ceasefires.
The solution lies in a place which we don't always look. Like a action-packed thriller, where the director misguides you into thinking who the killer is, masking the real one in order to create that all breath-taking twist, the Muslims will also face their twist. The realisation that sustainable change can only come from the solution Allah SWT gives us for our politics. Lobbying MPs, pressuring Israel, all these things serve to divert us from the real solution - the armies of the Muslim lands - who did they stand to defend? The thousands and thousands of people, weaponry who make up the Muslim armies - where and for what reason do they stand idle?
Allah SWT will ask the rulers of the Muslim world, where were their ears and their eyes as the missiles fell, one after the other? These rulers we know prefer to shake the hands of the perpetrators than straighten them, in order to keep their seats of power. But Allah Almighty is the owner of the Heavens and the Earth, and it is He who can destroy all 50+ of them and their kingdoms in a fell swoop and one day InshaAllah He will. There will come a day, as Allah SWT has promised where just Islamic rule will return to this Earth and liberate all the oppressed. This is the only solution which can pool together the resources of the Muslim world, and create the unity to enable a resistance which stands to the likes as those of Israel. This is the solution which doesn't accept a few Palestinian homes being returned, or a few Palestinians being allowed to work - This is the solution which will return an uncompromising rule of law which favours no race, only justice, to the Arabian plains. I pray that we are strong enough to remember this and become part of its return, instead of busying ourselves with fruitless actions which actively ensue its delay.

Monday, 22 December 2008

A Cruel Parallel

Imagine a 32 year old educated and mature woman being thrown into a vehicle, gagged by human hands to the point of an unbearable sense of suffocation and fearing that the tin roof of that van was possibly the last sight her eyes would ever see. Then imagine a 20 year old new bride, adorned with gold and glittering reds, still glowing with excitement and her fresh coyness, feel her skin turn wet, burn slowly and then unimaginably intensely, scorching and searing till it resembled black leather. Both images may make you sigh, or as it did for me, make your stomach turn. But both women I can now tell you were Bangladeshi, oppressed, tortured and victims of a situation where they had no control.

However as some of you may have already recognised, indeed for my first example the ending was a happy ending - the law successfully intervened and returned 32 year old Dr Humayra Abedin back home to the UK earlier this month - From the safety of her family who had duped her, and then imprisoned her in order to force her into a marriage with Dr Khondokar Mohammad Abdul Jalal, whose proposal she had declined earlier this year. Together with the pressure from a Bangladeshi Human Rights Group, as well as more importantly the pressure of the British Court, the Bangladeshi police were able to track Dr Abedin down on 15 December. The Dhaka court immediately ruled that she be freed and allowed to return to Britain. Indeed Dr Abedin has returned and after a painful period in her life, is still free to pursue her plans of becoming a trained GP in East London.

However the story of my second victim, does not have an ending that sits as well. On the 18th January 2007, Sabina Yasmin in Dhaka was married to Khairul Islam. But instead of her auspicious wedding day being the beginning of a more blessed and auspicious new life, it was a day that would prove devastating. Sabina that day, fell prey to the vengeance of some neighbours of her husband's family who had a long dispute with them and on her wedding day, she became another statistic in Bangladesh's shocking acid burning record. She was admitted into Dhaka Medical College hospital with 55% of her body mangled and melted by lethal acid from treacherous hands. After 22 long days and nights of suffering the agony of such burns, Sabina passed away. The police did not arrest anyone in relation to her assault, despite having strong evidence about the perpetrators and the campaigning of a human rights group.

The painful suffering and eventual death of Sabina is difficult to swallow, when set aside the new lease of life Dr Abedin has to now begin her life again and follow her ambitions to train as a GP. But what is more difficult to contemplate is how the life and wellbeing of Dr Abedin was worth more than the young life of the new Dhaka bride. For her, courts across the Atlantic and of course Dhaka set loose all possible efforts, to ensure her safety was restored and protected. Yet for Sabina, her life was left to wither away in a hospital and justice and the law did not just dust their hands of her, they forgot her from the very beginning. A hollow statistic to be brushed under the carpet as soon as she was gone. To even find the news article on her was an investigative feat.

I don't feel comfortable with reeling off statistics now for you all to picture the context of what the situation for women such as Sabina in Bangladesh is really like. Because any statistics I come across, on UNICEF, from Bangladeshi Government Records, just cannot reflect the real picture. Firstly with almost half the Bangladeshi population living in abject poverty with token access to statutatory assistance and unable to report crimes properly, in addition to the actual government institutions being corrupt and grotesquely pervasive when it comes to recording actual crime and injustice in the country, looking at any statistics is as good as not. But I'll give you some anyway, save you thinking I write and speak from a cloud above. 8.76% of the burns treated in Dhaka University in a four year period were as a result of acid throwing (, and most of these victims were young girls. More than 14% of pregnant women's deaths are associated with injury and violence they are subjected to ( and according to the Bangladesh police, registered cases of cruelty to women topped over 12 000 to 20 000 every year between 2003 and 2007, compared to around 1000 recorded cases of robbery each year from 2003 and 2007 (

Women like Sabina are withering away in hospitals and homes across Bangladesh, daily. The system does not care and does not want to care, as they are not worth the efforts of the police or court of law. But for the Bangladeshi court, pressure from world media and moreover the routine desire to appease Colonial Father Britain, urged them to relentlessly seek protection for Dr Abedin. Interestingly, Dr Abedin's message to women in her situation was 'come forward and don't give hope.' Sadly, hope is a step too far for most women in Bangladesh who do not have the royal visas of Britain to fight for them, or the wealth or influence of the ruling elite. For those who have been born into the average family in Bangladesh, struggling to survive, justice and the promise of protection from the State is nothing but a dream which will never manifest itself into reality.

For a country which has been praised for its corruption clean-up, and more recently its impressive democratic election process which was deemed as possibly 'fairest' in the world by American Presidential candidate McCain, it would seem that justice and human rights records in such a country should be as dazzling. But this obviously could not be further from the truth, where justice is conditional to how high profile you are and whether helping you would bring the Government any benefit. Clearly for Dr Abedin, pursuing justice for her was unavoidable as the eyes of the world and the British Government impinged on it.

To be able to protect women in Bangladesh, not a select few women, it is evident that we need a Government that will believe in this and pursue this. Throughout the short history of Bangladesh, never has there been a time where oppression, subjugation and a failure to protect people have not been the absolute norm. It's therefore time we stop looking to the political options in Bangladesh that have been handed to us pre-prepared, but call for a new type of politics which will uphaul the rotten current system to replace it with one that places justice at its heart.

In the Islamic ruling system, the Khilafah State, justice for the oppressed is not conditional to how much wealth they have, their status or particular situation, rather any oppressed citizen deserves justice by the State. This is because the ruler in Islam must abide by the principle that he is responsible for the wellbeing of all his citizens by the hadith of the Noble Prophet SAW: "Each of you is a shepherd, and all of you are responsible for your flocks." [Bukhari, Muslim]. Rather than fearing their colonial masters in the West in how they execute their rule of law and justice, the ruler in Islam fears his accountability to Allah on the Day of Judgement according to how he looked after and protected the flock he was entrusted with. In addition to this, crimes against women would be something which would be far from tolerated. Rather the viewpoint towards women in an Islamic State is one of high stature and honour. As the Prophet (SAW) said, "The world and all the things in it are precious but the most precious thing in the world is a righteous woman" . He SAW also said: "Whoever has three daughters and shelters them, provides what they need and shows compassion towards them, will certainly deserve paradise." Finally he SAW very famously said, "The best of you are those who are best to their wives." Clearly an Islamic society would build a strong respect for women, where oppression and subjugation of any kind would be abhorred. The rule of law would support this, with strict punishments for even accusing falsely a chaste woman.

It is conclusive that it is only the Islamic rule of law and its correct implementation which can secure real justice for women in Bangladesh, irrespective of their social standing or situation. Without this, justice will be just like a lottery, if you get a winning ticket then the Bangladeshi Government will pull out the highest of stops for you, but if you happen to get a losing one, expect a dark and devastating road to despair.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

A Notun Din?

For those who have been born and bred in the UK, a prospective Bangladeshi election and political change means nothing more I'm sure than rain. It comes every other day (especially if you're from sunny Wales) and you don't really batter an eyelid at it. Bangladeshi politics always seems to be an impassioned issue, heated all the time whenever our parents would surf the Bangla news so we all grew a type of immunity towards it. Whether it's some Awami League or BNP, BJP - one of the two?! None of it really makes sense. And as I have recently tried to decipher the politics of Bangladesh, I feel (sorry to burst any bubbles) that it still doesn't really make any sense.
American Presidential candidate McCain after a recent visit to Bangladesh claimed that the upcoming election was possibly one of the 'fairest' of the world. With the caretaker Government's astringent clean-up process across the political world and the massive programme to register over 80 million people, McCain was truly wowed by this rags to riches story.
But before people get carried away by his sweeping claims, I'd really like to question what type of future this free and fair election will give Bangladesh? Will it free them from their deeply ridden problems of crime and corruption? Will give return fairness for all the poor and destitute? Rather than just praise a process, what the real issue is what this process will achieve.
And first and foremost if this is a model of democracy, with the people driving the politicians and politics they want representing them, then why is it that the caretaker Government is astringently screening who can even stand as a party or contestant? Less than half the parties who initially applied for registration have been given the go ahead to actually partake in the process, with Islamically inclined parties being thoroughly scrutinised due to liberalist pressure. Even the widely known party Jamaat e Islam narrowly just made it. Is that democracy?
The fairness that the caretaker Government claim to have created across political culture in the last two years, will no doubt bring a smirk to many a face. Newspaper editor and political analyst Shyamal Dutt said that the anti-corruption drive has failed to stop many bad people from entering the election, in his opinion. Corruption has been straightened out when wanted and to whom wanted, often sporadic. The fact that the two former Prime Minister's, who even the most politically illiterate know were entrenched in corruption, received a year in prison rsp with one out on bail and the other on medical parole, itslef says alot about what the intentions behind their imprisonment really were. Forget financial embezzlement, the fact that both during their terms were never able to attempt to deal with the impoverished people they ruled over, but could fulfil massive plans for India, America or their ruling elite, is itself I feel a crime that deserves more than endless years in prison. And indeed the destination for the ruler who mistreats his people, is no short of hellfire. Thus it makes me wonder who the 'clean-up' act was really for - the people of Bangladesh, or to achieve the nodding heads in America and Britain and for comments like those of Mc Cain.
The reality is this democratic election, in all its hype, will in the end come to be a moment of deja vu for Bangladesh. If you sleep through this election, don't worry you will have seen the result at some point during Bangladeshi history - Either Awami League or the BNP. This is the people's choice dished to you on a plate pre-arranged. And whichever comes to power, it will always be the Capulet-Montague style battle which dominates political headlines - Which party or family did what against whom, over what policy will improve the quality of life for Bangladeshi people.
How can we aspire for change from politics which has been proven as failed? The discussion has to develop outside of the box handed to us.
What we want is real, sustainable change for Bangladesh. Change which shakes the etablishment down to its roots, and actually uproots it! Discarding the deeply-entrenched corruption, injustice to replace it with a system of governance which holds the wellbeing of its citizens and justice for them as its cornerstone, absolutely uncompromisingly. Where everyone, including the ruler and his bandwagon, are all subject to the law and no one is above the law. Where justice is enshrined in an independent judiciary and the authority lies with the people.Where there is a very clear and distinct measure for what the ruler has to abide by, with removal as the consequence of not doing so. And where the sole sovereignty lies with the one Being who deserves it - Allah SWT.
A big vision, a crazy vision you may think. But in this crazy world we live in, big revolutionary change is the only change which will do. Nobody thought the Berlin Wall would change. Nobody thought the Cold War would change and nobody ever thought that occupied America in the 18th century would rise to become the world's superpower. But as a brother not so long ago said, big change can happen. And what I'd like to leave you with is a plea, to believe it and work for it.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008


I feel physically, vilely, wretchedly sick to the point where words feel too delicate and airy to actually describe the repulsive feeling. The death of Baby P. How he was trained as a dog by his mother's murderous boyfriend. Trained to kneel on the floor waiting to be punished. The baby lived in a house where human faeces and rat infestations were a normal reality. Where he awoke everyday to a mother who slept routinely till lunchtime not bothering to even acknowledge him, let alone tend to him, breaking his spine like he was the piece of plank from Karate Kid, spinning him on a chair till he came crashing down to the floor. It's excrutiating to read and listen and fill your mind with this. As my husband just told me to stop it, 'I don't want to hear it.' But that's it. We don't want to hear it. We don't want to see it and tomorrow it's another disaster we've ascribed to anomalies of evil in our developed, technologically advanced society.

The Baby P media focus has been quick and harsh to point all the blame on Haringey Social services, who admittedly tripped up badly having not dealt with this case promptly despite all the clues. However this is a very easy scapegoat. A palpable, graspable organisation we can all hound on. Purge our grief on and then walk away tomorrow brushing the dust off our hands. And this is why it's Baby P today, Sharon Matthews kidnapping her daughter yesterday and so many other children being sacrificed due to a bigger problem that yet has not been identified.

Forget the peripheral organisations who have this minimal capacity to try and monitor people and their behaviour; let's actually ask the golden question - Why is it that it is so normal for our society to produce the likes of Baby P every so often, such examples of human irresponsibility, cruelty and utter eradication of the difference between right and wrong? Do we not ask why? Do we not ask what have been the consequences of us living in a culture and society which values as its cornerstone the freedom to lead our lives as we please, accountable to nothing and no one, living for today, forget what happens tomorrow. A society where pleasing our sensual desires becomes the paramount goal in life, like a sniffer dog lured by its goldmine; over all need to construct our lives by a higher calling.

We're not animals. We're mammals with a mind and unless we use it to differentiate ourselves from animals, it seems that society will become a jungle of battling desires and disasters. Let's please begin to point the finger in the right direction. That human beings are made up of a mixture of desires, emotions and particular natures. If we are left to decide for ourselves how are life should be, such cases are inevitable and as we are seeing, are becoming normal. For all those who believed a society based upon Islam was a dilly dallying daydream, I ask do you really still think so? Are you really still happy to settle for this quagmire we now live in? Set aside all the scapegoats and please, I beg of you, just contemplate the realise the viscous, wretched jungle of anguish will we see if we sit back and just passively wait...

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Obama ahoy!

Obama fever has ransacked not just Atlantic shores but global expanses. Everybody's talkin' about the new black brother, knocking on ordinary people's doors a year ago conjuring political support; to now becoming the the world's latest Greek demiGod. Mr Barack Obaaaaaama. Don't worry I'm not just here to have a rant and a rave at every single TV show falling and blubbering at his every image, I've just made a few observations myself that I'd like to share.

Firstly I do not want to, in any way, belittle the sense of enormity this political event would have meant for those who lived through the Civil Rights movement and life before that - The absolute segregation, degradation in life that had to be endured by a people whose only fault was the shade of their skin. To have been roused by the visionary dream of Martin Luther King, imagining a day where equality of treatment and opportunities would have seemed as dreamlike as Hans Christian Anderson's fairytales. No one would underestimate the feeling of achievement that people such as Jesse Jackson would have felt to have seen this day.

However, just as the American idealistic bubble puzzles us once in a while I feel it's doing so once again. This idea that the advent of a Black political role model is an absolute new start for race relations in America is kinda puzzling. I'm thinking Colin Powell. I'm thinking Condeleeza Rice. Yes, not Presidents, but one could say you couldn't get much closer than they did to having their fairshare of the political leadership of America. Thus this idea that this a whole new dawn for African Americans appears more Obama campaign spin than it is reality. If representation
actually had impact then why was it that having the likes of Colin Powell in such high esholons of American politics didn't actually affect the twisted and deep-rooted racism that took place after the atrocity of Hurricane Katrina?Then what real difference can another Black politican really, practically make?

And this is where my problem lies. Democracy at its core places representation as a key value. The idea is that you work towards representation of the people, to be able to create justice and equal rights for them. But isn't this in reality a fallacy? For example, the ongoing plug to get more women into higher political positions - how does this actually affect the attitudes and treatment of women in real society on the ground? Another woman in the House of Commons for example, doesn't really have a bearing on the prejudices, oppression and exploitation of rights many women go through in all walks of life on a grassroots level. Tessa or Ruth sitting in the House of Commons debating anything from childcare to troops in Iraq moreover seems mutually exclusive from the issue of Samantha being prostituted for drugs in Bethnal Green, or Alisha scared for her son's involvement in gangs.

The argument is that representation creates better empathy and understanding of problems. So Obama may understand the feeling of being degraded due to his skin and Tessa might understand the importance of children for a mother - But we're human beings with weaknesses, fallacies, different perceptions of what is good bad, important unimportant. To rely purely on that empathy or possible experience of someone who you feel represents you, is absolutely naive. I wouldn't trust any stranger to look after my kids, why would I want one to use their perceptions and experiences to legislate rules for them?

The Rwandan Government boasts a whopping 56.25% of its Parliamentary seats belonging to women - the current shining world record. So do they have a women's rights record as gleaming to match? Well we know that during the civil war in Rwanda, one of the most widely used weapon was that of rape against women (HRW 1996). A common practice of 'marriage by abduction' which takes place today in Rwanda deems it possible for a man to abduct a woman to marry her and he then holds absolute power over her, despite what she wants, thinks or feels. Developments on tackling such deeprooted exploitation of women in a country with the best female representation in Government in the world, has been minimal.

Islam does not rely on representation as a means of achieving justice. A Khalif (ruler) in Islam is at the service of his people, to rule by Islam and the Shariah. So he does not have the mercy to give ample rights and advantages to a group of people, and take away or forget another. The rights of people are laid out in Islam and he must execute them, otherwise face removal. He has a measure by which people can judge his ruling, the Shariah. Thus just because he is not a woman, doesn't mean he cannot rule over them with justice - Because the law he rules with is that which has been created by the Creator of all women, the Creator who knows the nature and needs of women the best. When Umar ibn Al Khattab, the second khalif of Islam decided to fix the dowry rate it was a laywoman who stood up and accounted him, warning him that he could not restrict something which Allah and his Messenger did not restrict. He immidately agreed with the woman's comment, deeming her right, and that he was wrong. It was therefore Islam which was supreme, not perceptions of what Umar or his assistants felt were right.

Obama symbolises i'm sure the road to recovery, change for the world's superpower who it felt almost overnight became crippled by a plethora of problems. But all I ask is that we all think outside of the lines that are drawn for us. That there is a world beyond democracy and that our vision and mind is not squashed into the box of what politics has come to mean. Because if justice is our goal, then we need to look at the bigger picture and work out how to really achieve it; even if this means rethinking whether the map which we have always used up until now, really does set out the right way.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

The New Fire - The Jewel of Medina

It' s those blood thirsty, hot blooded raging Muslims at it again. The jewel of Medina is the latest book by American Sherry Jones who wanted to write a fictional book, based around the Prophet SAW and his youngest wife, revered by Muslims worldwide. Interestingly she has been very outwright wanting to engage with Muslims about the book, assuring all that she doesn't want to paint Islam or Muhammad SAW in a bad light - in fact she views him as a very gentle and loving husband, as well as Aisha being a dazzling character who always interested her. However the problem may not be in the fact that Jones has a calculated plan of spiteful vengeance which she wants to unleash on Muslims and the beloved revered people of their faith; but rather the paint which she brushes her story with. Aisha, she claims is a woman subjugated and controlled by men and contemplates the freedom that other women observe. The Prophet SAW is depicted as having some sort of lustful fixation with women through his repeated marriages. More than anything, the book distorts the context of the time these people lived in -Women, wealth, fixation on the lures of life actually came to mean very little, in fact they became a drop of water compared to the ocean which then occupied them - Allah and the Hereafter he promised.
Jones' discussion about women's place in the book is pinged around the scales of value perceived for women in the West and the lenses of Western values are what Jones sees through. Women's happiness is deemed by how much equality and freedom they are granted with in life. But Islam and the Muslim women of the early days around the blessed Prophet SAW were more than intellectually aware of what value meant for women; what real liberation meant and that the entire emphasis in life for Muslims transcended beyond petty concerns that seem to flood the minds of people in the society we live in. Muhammad SAW and Aisha, in Joneses book, are not the Muhammad SAW and Aisha which we know through undisputed historical documentation, rather they could be a Tom Dick or Harry from Western society, with all their longings about satisfying oneself and asserting one's freedom.
Lastly, the freedom of speech lark all over again. And frankly I'm a bit tired of it. Cuz let's call it how it is. It's not really 'freedom of speech' is it, more like 'the let's see how far we can push the Muslims game'. No one contests the ability to have honest sincere and productive dialogue. But why would a society want to encourage us to act on the freedom to insult and offend? None of us would knock on our neighbours door and start rudely insulting every member of their family and the way they live their life - We'll see them on the way to work the next mrning, and will need them to kindly keep an eye on the house when we go on holiday. Living with people, requires the need to hold respect for one another - actively.
And it would be near impossible for Jones to have ignored the high esteem with which Muslims hold these people in their history. To the extent that they will not stand images of them being created, send blessings after their names everytime they are mentioned and would never dream of misquoting them. Therefore to walk the rope of deciding to get into the minds of the Prophet of the Muslims and his revered wife and make-up their thoughts, can't have been an innocent, naive choice of action. As one reviewer said, if Aisha was alive, she could have sued for libel.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Too busy with Ramadan

Spiritual hedonism. A contradiction of course. Spirituality is seldom hedonistic, in whatever faith you look at. But my view, is that it can be. The most awe-inspiring, majestic month of Ramadan is now upon us, moreover, is fast dwindling away from us with its most blessed days now in our grasp. The masjids spill out onto the street, the banter and warmth between the Muslim brethren is more than ever. The salat are lengthy, the duas are tear-filled, alhumdulilah. The spiritual feeling of the Deen, exists in the hearts of people in abundance and people we see run to perform the nawafil deeds with longing and desire.

There is goodness in this of course, however it's no doubt that the atmosphere created in this month is utterly feel-good. There's a sense of unity and sense of togetherness which one feels as everyone is carrying out these ibadah actions. So one who seldom prayed a fard salah, stands still to the recitiation of taraweeh salat through the night, day after day within such an atmosphere. Of course as Allah Almighty says, that it is the rememberance of Allah, that hearts do find rest. But should we not be careful that the objective of our ibadah truly is subservience to Allah, and not in seeking the pleasure of feeling spiritual and at rest?

I mention this not to pick a bone, but because someone in this blessed month, when asked whether they had been discussing the recent devestating Pakistan bombing on their Ramadan radio station, stated that they had simply been 'too busy with Ramadan'. Too busy with this month to have been able to use a section of their radio airtime to discuss this critical and devestating event which not only killed Muslim brethren, but was important politically for the Muslims. To discuss that political unrest plagues the air of Pakistan, the place where no leader in the current system - be they Musharraf, Bhutto or Zardari - has acceptance from the people. Where the government, whoever the ruler, has betrayed the people by fighting it's warped war on terror against its very own people (I here have to mention Dr Afia Siddique). Where secular law has escalated sectarian and tribal violence; and where the people now call for justice and there is a growing call for Islam.

As Muslims it is our duty to understand the affairs of our Muslim brothers and sisters and be able to engage in advocating the correct politics for them in their declined state with the absence of Islam. This is a a crucial part of being Muslim. It was in the month of Ramadan that our beloved Prophet SAW became busy enough to fight the Battle of Badr, and in the 13th century that the famous Ain Jaloot battle in Palestine was fought by the Muslim army. Isn't it the month where all good deeds are multiplied, so giving in charity, wanting for your brother what you want for yourself, speaking for the oppressed and accounting tyrant rulers? Ibadah is living by Allah's rules, laws and commands. Be this fasting, praying, or politics.

Ibadah for a Muslim ain't just no feel-good drug. It's our passport to Allah's promised Paradise. Therefore we have to ensure that we use the rest of this month to not only multiply and intensify our ibadah to him - our praying, dua, Qiyam ul Layl through the thickness of the night; but our obligations to this noble Ummah of Rasulullah SAW.

Al Qamar

I heard you wake when we all sleep
When you change your face for the day to come
Your man-boots, your struggle,
Your journey to keep going.
Oh my sister, my sweet sister, I love you.

It's a male affair
But you've swallowed the pain
And glide through with dignity,
Making the floors that you sweep
Pages of your deeds
Oh my sister, my sweet sister, I love you.

Five innocent hearts await
The echoes of your steps
You hide the bruised knees
From their glances
They know not but I do and of course
Does the Almighty above
Oh my sister, my sweet sister, I love you.

The scent of your perfume
And the tenderness of your hands
return to fill the air
in a house of islam
Oh my sister, my sweet sister, I love you.

But your heart doesn't stop
Your mind doesn't rest
The promise of Allah holds it's unrelenting thread
you give everything, every breath left in that day
To scatter forth the word of Allah
And the hope of the Amir who we know, inshaAllah
is to come
My sister, my sweet sister, I love you.
Winds, seas and miles of land
Hurdle between my smile and yours
But I pray that my Creator
In all of his mercy
One day unlocks me to you
Till then, my sister
Stay strong
Because I pray to Allah
Oh Allah
That blessed Jannah yearns for you

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

It's just a piece of cloth

It's just a piece of cloth
Without your headscarf, you'll attract flies. The elusive Egyptian ad campaign has not only stirred up discussion, but interestingly laid another misdemeanor on the whole veil debate. The poster shows two pink lollipops, one wrapped and the other unwrapped and covered in flies. The caption reads, "You can't stop them, but you can protect yourself." Crazy I would say. How can a piece of cotton, chiffon or maybe even luxury authentic pashmina stop men from sexually harassing a woman? Headscarves are not woven with secret weapons or conceal personal rape alarms, but to the surprise I'm sure of everyone, really are just pieces of cloth.
I myself donned my headscarf and jilbab several years ago, not actually because I decided I needed a weapon to protect myself - Moreover I anticipated subjection to torrents of verbal and perhaps physical abuse at the time by donning it, as it was shortly after 9/11 in a very heated political climate.
It is of course true that the hijab is part of the social system of Islam, which seeks to create a society which is harmonious and void of lewdness and promiscuity. However the argument that covered women somehow have acquired an automatic man-repellent, is a well repeated one across the media. And it's high time that such a supposition is broken down, as it is no way as simplistic as this - A lollipop wrapper really can't just solve the acute problem of the continuing exploitation of women.

The Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights (ECWR) recently conducted a survey of hundred of Egyptian and foreign women of all backgrounds. Shockingly, 84.5% of them said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment, with most reporting that they were bothered by men every day. This seems shocking, and many may feel that a Muslim country would have lower levels of sexual harassment due to the Islamic viewpoint towards women. But this is where it is crucial to understand the importance of the implementation of Islam in society over, the practicing of Islam amongst families and within the home. The authors of the Egyptian ad campaign may have attempted to try to solve the harassment problem by urging women to cover up, but have failed to realise that even if women cover up in the society they live in, they will still be subject to harassment and sexual exploitation once they leave the home. This is because whether the women cover up or not, once they walk out their front doors they are subject to the free and secular ideas which are thrown around about women in society.
No Muslim nation today implements the Islamic Shariah and rules by Islam. Therefore all of the Muslim nations have a deadly concoction of many ideas in their societies, with a presumption that Western free and secular values must be withheld upmost to be able to progress. But what people fail to recognise is that it is these very values, coupled with traditional tribal values, which are growingly to blame for such degradation of women in our society.
The Prophet SAW said in a hadith: 'The world and all things in the world are precious but the most precious thing in the world is a virtuous woman'
Women instead of being treasured and protected as is laid out in Islam , are left to be savaged by the ravages of freedom and secular thought. It has allowed men, as well as various industries, to view women in whatever way they please, be it a sexual object and this has became reality in many of the Muslim countries. Ruby, the famous Egyptian singer, is a popular success of the Egyptian music industry and has pushed the path of liberation for women by dressing and singing as provocatively as possible. Such images and messages about women have given the all OK in society allowing people, all the more, to view women through their sexual appeal. It is irrelevant then whether a woman covers or not, as the way in which that woman should be seen in society has already been defined.
Additionally the Muslim societies have taken on board again the many backward, tribal and traditional ideas that exist about women within various cultures - That men have the right to exploit them and dominate them. In modern day Egypt, such ideas have manifested themselves in an extremely low reporting rate of sexual crime. Women, the ECWR further found, felt ashamed and embarrassed about the harassment they underwent and therefore did not want to report it. It's a devastating thought to see women feel so helpless and out on their own in a society, that they couldn't even feel they could report a crime carried out against them. Such subversion of women also existed before the advent of Islam in the time of the Prophet SAW - Women were exploited and routinely gang raped. However when the Islamic Shariah was implemented, it ensured that such practices were abolished - Adultery and fornification have strict punishments, as well as the crime of accusing a chaste woman in Islam. Hence the Islamic Shariah, ensures that the value and protection of the women, the mothers of the Ummah, in society, is paramount.
The Islamic social system are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. They need to all fit together to work to create the harmonious society Islam envisages. And the essence of this harmonious society proposed in Islam, is ensuring that respect and dignity of both sexes in society is absolutely enshrined. Therefore the Islamic social code promotes and restricts whatever is needed to protect this. Women are not to be viewed as sexual commodities in society, through billboards, music or TV ads; and it is obligatory in Islam for both men and women to dress in a particular manner and lower their gaze so as to not even begin the process of the wolf whistles. The Prophet SAW maintained a general segregation of men and women in the society he governed, except for specific situations and needs. What all this did, was create a society where sex and the agitation for sex, was taken out of society. This is to guarantee, as much as possible that people are not urged to view each other sexually as and when they please, rather sex is something for stable marital relationships. But all this in itself means nothing, unless the actual society and state ensures that the mentality of chastity, respect towards the opposite sex and accountability to God is present in each and every individual.
Islam does in no way promote the idea that women are responsible for any sexual harassment they undergo, rather Islam promotes the idea that women are to be valued and respected, and not viewed as sexual commodities. The headscarf cannot therefore in itself fight it's own battle, it is merely part of a wider system which Muslims believe has been divinely constructed to attempt to deal with many of the social problems humankind has faced for time.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Bangladeshi Universities and their power for prem

I always remember cuddling next to my mum, engulfed in big fleecy deshi blankets, and joining the family glued to the latest natak (drama) that had been shipped over from relatives in Bangladesh. For anyone who has never watched a Bangladeshi serial drama - the real authentic ones, not the ones where heros and heroines now dance around trees, will know that they do depict a life which is considerably true to the life of people in Bangladesh. I cannot now recall names and storylines very exactly from those sleepy days, but one thing I do remember was almost every one had some sort of cushy romance between a young female student and her teacher, or tutor.

Last month the Bangladeshi Mahila Parishad organised a meeting to propose a policy to tackle the growing sexual harassment happening in universities and colleges in Bangladesh, by the teaching staff on female students. A policy to curb it.

“Our movement is not against a particular teacher or teacher community, rather it is the movement against the ailing culture that might engulf the whole society if not resisted,” said BMP President Ayesha Khanam.

What strikes me, strong and hard(!), is how a policy to attempt to restrict such behaviour by teachers and lecturers will really work. I mean cmon its Bangladesh! Since when did the rule of law mean anything to anyone? No one's saying it's not implemented, but it's fact that everyone and anyone from the very elite to the very middle classs to the poor, just to get by, have to evade the rule of law, participate in bribery and ghoosh just to live their daily lives. This isn't exactly a culture and society where the rule of law and policy has really helped to alleviate problems.

More than anything, President Ayesha Khanam said it herself- 'an ailing culture that might engulf the whole of society'. It's a culture not a legislative problem. Legislation can help deal with perpetrators and depict the states' viewpoint on the issue, but society and culture in Bangladesh is saying a totally different thing. On the suburban streets of Dhaka, women who are progressed and a touch above from the commonfolk are seen as those who have taken on the model of the free, liberated, sexually alluring as seen in the West.. and of course Bollywood. It is the sexual aspect and femininity of the women which has had to be exposed, revealed for her to be seen as progressive and appealing in society. Weeks before even the advent of Ramadan tailors across Dhaka were fully booked all preparing people's jaw-dropping Eid outfits, beauty parlours have mushroomed across the city in which every type of beauty treatment is not only offered, but is the norm for many young women. Therefore the viewpoint towards women being sexual commodities is being normalised, allowing everyone, including men, companies, to also view her in this way. It is then no wonder that such a view of women in society has given rise to sexual crimes against her - If society, media and advertising is telling us to view women in this way, why shouldn't I, the common man may consciously or unconsciously feel.

Therefore new policy, women rights groups and all the rest may try to bring their share of solutions to this growing problem, but they are building sandcastles to close too the shore. Current thoughts in society about women, trickled over from the West, will eventually wear and wash them away. President Ayesha Khanam is right. We should fear an ailing culture, but instead of trying to patch it up and work with it, we need to uproot secular, free values to replace it with a society which will truly value and protect the viewpoint towards women.

The quagmire of women's rights

Saudi Arabia and women. Put the two words together and either shake your head in pity or the more common reaction - make a face in disgust. Whilst Muslim women, like myself, living in the West are banging on about how an Islamic society can protect and elevate the status of women, the reality of the female position in a so-called Islamic place like Saudi Arabia raises an uncomfortable eyebrow.

The Human Rights Watch report released recently reviewing the position of Saudi women, unleashed scores of energised media and journalistic discussion. Some articulating their inevitable deep criticism; and others relaying their personal experiences of being female in Saudi Arabia - the alarming sexual harassment which takes place in a country which is supposed to be brushing sex under the carpet. Secret but fatalistic meetings between strangers, just to find a marriage partner is the shocking reality of Saudi Arabian society; and with a Saudi Prince having married his 100th wife, not so long ago - the value and rights of women, in this pseudo-Islamic society really isn't looking too good.

However the debate conjured around this report has very much been an 'either or' one, that if you reject Saudi Arabian female oppression, the natural antithesis we should call for is equality and total liberalism, as practised in secular states. But it is this mapping of the debate I find difficult to agree with.

I agree that being a woman and living in the shade of Riyadh would not be an experience I would find elevating; however I'd also say the reality of being a woman living in a secular, liberal state also brings it problems. Saudi Arabian society has denied women of basic rights, but Western liberal states, in their call for freedom of thought, expression, sexuality has meant that even though women can work, vote and have no restriction in what they wear or where they go; there is also absolute freedom when it comes to exploiting them and their sexuality. Although many may argue that they don't feel exploited; the reality is that the price of liberalism means utter freedom both ways – Freedom for the media, multi-national companies and men to view women in whatever capacity they see fit or makes money. And the more dangerous result being the effects of ‘freedom’ in a rapist or sexual harasser. The law may disallow and punish them afterwards, but the thoughts and mentality have already allowed to have been created - the law for many of these people are just an after thought.

Typical(!) Many I am sure are thinking - The typical Muslim lashing out on our freedoms. But it's time we admit that women have not only been exploited by distorted Islamic and cultural traditions, but also by the effects of liberalism. It's time we redefine the debate to begin thinking about real rights and value for women - not settle for whatever's half working in the world today. It will be this discussion which will help much of the world understand why scores of women are turning to Islam today.

Saudi Arabia claims to rule by Islamic law, but has little evidence of this and instead has grossly misapplied certain Islamic laws to buffet their sense of supremacy. It is rather another despotic, tyrannical regime where accountability is a far-off daydream and dodgy deals of oil and aircraft are primary concerns. If you believe Saudi Arabia implements Islamic law and values, then you must have seen a pig fly.

As a Muslim woman, this makes me more determined to sell the case for Islam. Islam, implemented correctly, was a complete mode of governance which in the past enabled women to exercise their rights - whether it be to vote, to work, to engage in politics or just be an active member of society. These rights could not be usurped for the benefit of any Government, leader or Minister - rather they are enshrined by the texts of Islam. Unlike Saudi Arabian society, women were protected from sexual harassment and abuse through the Islamic social system of segregation of sexes, and the hijab but these were not used as a method to exploit their position and oppress them. Rather it liberated them to be able to actively participate in society and be valued for their contributions, over the way they looked. This supported the mentality of chastity generated in society, due to an overwhelming consciousness of God and accountability to God.

Unlike liberalism, Islam recognises the need for the running of a harmonious society and instead of leaving women to fight their own gender rat races; it ensures that women are protected and valued - sexually, financially and in whatever roles they take on in society.

And before you start having flash images of the ‘them vs us’ minded Muslim ninjas charged in forcibly implementing their Shariah law on British soil – Just take a breath. Unfortunately continued sensationalist media coverage of Islam and Muslims has disabled the will for Muslims to have open and respectful debate about values, without making us sound like we hate everything and everyone Western and just want to violently take over the world.

Saudi Arabia is truly a quagmire for women's rights, however lets' not hide behind the facade that everything to the West of it, is female utopia. It’s time we really open up the discussion and begin talking about achieving real uncompromised women’s rights.

The Hidden Bruised faces

The tragedies and tears which knife crime have brought to the forefront of the British landscape, have become cause of conversation for everyone - The epidemic that seems to be sweeping the country has been pitched in the media as a problem which all of us are potentially vulnerable to. And rightly so, of course, being callously stabbed alive, repeatedly, in broad daylight, in a public area for no reason at all, is a reality which would send chills down the spine of anyone. And for such a threat to exist in the very society you live in, is enough to cause a very relevant debate.
However Joan Smith in the Independent, very interestingly pointed out that although our brimming concern for knife crime out of the many violent crimes which affect people in our society today is very relevant and expected, there is another violent crime which affects scores of people across the country, and doesn't just mainly occur in inner-city hotspots like knife crime. The swollen bruised face of a woman who has been the victim of domestic violence does not make it onto front pages of all the main newspapers even though there are 12.9 million victims of domestic violence a year, whereas from 2007-8 there have been 130,000 recorded incidents involving knives. It isn't as exciting, if one can grotesquely label it as that, as this new knife crime epidemic on the tip of everyone's tongue. It's age-old, but who can deny, still rampantly exists.
Domestic violence accounts for about 16% of all UK violent crime. It is however chronically underreported, so it is likely that many homes up and down the UK harbour couples for whom inflicted bruises and injuries are commonplace. Victims can be both men and women, however statistics show that 77% of victims are women, and upto 2 women every week are killed by a current or former male partner.
The fact that domestic violence is a crime which has been around, and seems to have always been around, has inevitably meant that there have already been many measures pursued to try and deal with it. The Home Office launched a Domestic Violence National Plan, which has national targets it sets of to achieve; Local Government have departments and teams working in their local Boroughs, tackling domestic violence through cross-cutting approaches. The Crime Reduction department of the Home Office boasts of many initiatives and from 1997 these include pregnant women as well as children in education being routinely assessed for domestic violence; every police force having a domestic violence coordinator and the much documented recent Sanctuary scheme which was essentially an accommodation scheme supporting victims to remain in their own homes with surveillence.
Tackling domestic violence from the Government, as well as such measures which tackle the violence as and after it happens, also includes preventative measures. An example of this is a Crime Reduction Programme funded project which was about awareness raising for young people to shift attitudes about violence in schools. These initiatives are particularly targetted in areas where figures of violence are high. However how far have all these initiatives, actually helped to tackle domestic violence across society? Yes helping women live their lives with these perpetrating men whom they may not want to leave, providing support, bettering policing to be able to arrest perpetrators all has its merit and is needed, but will do nothing to eradicate the crime from society as a whole in the first place. The preventative measures such as education and awareness raising may touch individuals, but cannot reach the entire population and more than anything is confusing as outside in society, the opposite message about women exists.
If we are to really eradicate a violent crime mainly inflicted on women - from someone who maybe a wife of 15 years, to a one night stand from a nightclub, we need to get to the root of what it is which makes any man think and feel he has the legitimacy to physically beat a woman. And we need to solve this problem for everyone - not just the hotspots where figures are high so funding for awareness programmes are allocated - but we need to understand in society why this problem so rampantly exists. We should be looking at how we uproot domestic violence from its root instead of tackling it through a multitude of initiatives bit by bit - like a plant pulled out not just by it's pretty flowers or dainty leaves, but by it's thick and life-sustaining roots.
After observation, we can see that we live in a society where the personal freedoms, the freedom to think and practice what you like, is the cornerstone. Although packaged as the being the essence of a society that is most progressive, analysis will highlight that in fact it is the idea of freedoms in society have in fact meant that men and multinational companies have been free to exploit women in the way which most benefits them. Multinational companies have sold everything from cosmetics to advertising the British Motor Show by utilising women as sexual commodities - Flawless women with unrealistic body sizes and proportions are plastered across billboards, magazines, and television advertisements, giving a message across society that it is okay to view women in this way. It is no wonder then, that men subject to these images also take on this message - That viewing women in this way is normal and justified.

The argument can easily be made that women exposing their femininity and sexuality does not at all mean they are 'asking' to be beaten up - The classic rebuke. Of course not. No human being can be called responsible for another one's actions which inflict and oppress him. However as a society we need to be more intelligent and objective about the reasons as to why such endemic problems are increasingly existing. And it is without a doubt that if society around you is giving you the message that it is justified and normal to exploit the opposite sex in this way, this will inevitably have an impact on the viewpoint of certain people, and maybe the thinking which leads to such behaviour.

Additionally the idea of personal freedom gives the individual in society the sense that pleasing oneself and being subject to one's desires is the upmost concern - For some this may mean leading what would be constituted as a normal life, maybe getting married, and pleasing one's partner and enjoying their company but for some being subject to one's whims and desires may mean controlling your partner, chastising them emotionally and physically. Different people will inevitably exercise their freedoms according to their own desires and this is the crux of the problem.

The debate needs to therefore be about what type of society would create a community where such violence and exploitation would be minimised. A society that would be ruled by the rules and laws of Islam would implement the social system of Islam which aims to preserve the chastity of men and women in society and ensure harmony for the family unit. This means that anything that exploits the sexuality and femininity of a woman is forbidden and instead women are viewed as jewels to be honoured and protected. Good treatment of women is spoken about by the Prophet SAW on many an occasion. He (Sallallaho alaihi wasallam) has said:

O people, your wives have a certain right over you and you have certain rights over them. Treat them well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers. (Tirmidhi)

and He SAW said as narrated by Abu Huraira (radhialiaho anho),

"The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best disposition and the best of you are those who are best to their wives " (Tirmidhi).

He SAW also likened women to a bent rib, that if it is straightened too readily can cause it to break. This very aptly illustrates the need for sensitivity when dealing with women.

Allah SWT speaks in his words in the Noble Quran about the nature of a husband - wife relationship, that they are 'a garment for you and you are a garment for them' (TMQ 2:187). The image of garments for one another beautifully exemplifies the type of relationship Islam advocates in a couple - of covering and protecting one another from any type of harm. Additionally the Islamic society is based upon the idea of fear and accountability to a Creator which would curb the behaviour of treating others in whatever way you wish behind closed doors.

However many may argue that domestic violence is rampant in the Muslim community is Islam therefore not the problem? This is however very much the opposite case. Firstly although Muslim families may practice private aspects of Islam, they are still subject to the wider society we live under and therefore also suffer the consequences of personal freedoms. But in addition to this, much of the Muslim community also carry many backward traditional ideas from Eastern culture which view women as subordinate to men and as a result causes them to treat women badly. Islam came 1400 years ago to eradicate these practices and ideas and was able to through the implementation of the Islamic State. It has been the absence of Islam on a societal level which has allowed such poisonous ideas to return to the minds and community of the Muslims.

No way is the Islamic Khilafah an utopia where domestic violence is guaranteed to not exist, as human beings are all subject to flaws and to succumb to shortcomings. However the discussion which is pressing for us today, is whether the value of personal freedoms as a basis for society is exacerbating the social problems such as the rampant domestic violence that we see today. Until we begin this discussion, I feel sad to say that I fear the bruised faces and battered knees of women will become all the more common and an issue of normality.

Ramadan Lazing

It's Ramadan and we enter the month with such hype - Texts greeting each other with the mercies of this month flooding mobile cyberspace and an excitement as our spiritual senses are heightened after a whole year has passed. But like many things in life, it's easy to hype up a moment in excitement, but much harder to sustain that enthusiasm consistently. It's 30 days, 30 nights. That's over 600 hours. I'd love to discover a magic solution as to how we can remain committed and dedicated for those 600 hours (and more of course, I just can't be bothered to fork out my calculator). But then that's impossible right? We're insaan and can't keep going like the angels who know of nothing else than to worship Allah. But then, why not aim high?! Argh. More than this being an interesting first blog, it has been the process for me to feel energised again, energised to keep on going and strive for the highest rank on that all important Last Day. May you SWT keep us on the correct path. Ameen.