Friday, 22 March 2019

New Zealanders observe Muslim call to prayer: 'We are one'

Islamic Way of Dealing with Death | Dr. Shabir Ally

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Halal holiday bookings soar as Muslims opt for the Med

Driven by a rapidly expanding global population and a burgeoning middle class, overall Muslim lifestyle spending – including food, fashion, cosmetics, media and recreation – was worth an estimated $2.1tn in 2017.

The report – produced annually by analyst Thomson Reuters – says that the halal travel sector is “spreading its wings through offering cultural, historical, religious and beach tourism. Muslim-friendly beach resorts are proving particularly popular.”

Muslim spending power has never been stronger – and hoteliers on the Turquoise Coast have been quick to respond. Some have converted existing hotels to be halal-friendly; other purpose-built resorts are springing up. Their restaurants serve halal food. The premises are alcohol-free. They provide prayer rooms and mosques, and broadcast the call to prayer over public address systems.

Most resorts have screened-off women-only pools and beach areas, in which women can sunbathe in bikinis without fear of being seen by men. Boys over the age of five or six are banned, along with cameras and mobile phones. Spas and gyms have separate opening times for men and women. Organised entertainment is “family-friendly”.

Basma Kahie, a fashion blogger, said she had previously had doubts about taking holidays because of the difficulties facing Muslim families. But after visiting a halal-friendly resort in Antalya last year with her husband and daughter, she was planning another holiday, this time with friends.

“It was amazing not to have to worry about things that might compromise my religious beliefs,” she told the Observer.


Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Mothers send sons to Somalia to avoid knife crime

British teenagers are being sent by their parents to Somalia, itself recovering from a series of terror attacks, because of concern that the police cannot protect them from knife crime.

Representatives from north London’s Somali community say hundreds of children have been flown to Somalia, Somaliland and Kenya because of rising concerns over drug gangs and county lines, the criminal networks that use children to transport drugs from cities to the provinces.

In a series of interviews, Somali mothers who arrived in London after fleeing their country during its 1990s civil war told the Observer that many of their sons had asked to leave the UK because of drug gangs and the threat of violence.

Rakhia Ismail, Islington deputy mayor, said: “Sending them away has become the only way they can be safer. This issue of safety has been repeatedly raised by the community but nobody has listened. So many children have gone abroad. Two weeks ago, there was a stabbing and a child was taken back home two days later.”

The revelations follow a week of heated debate over the causes of and potential solutions to Britain’s knife crime epidemic. Seventeen people have died after attacks in London alone since the start of 2019. On Saturday, there were reports that three people were in hospital after an attack at a nightclub in Birmingham, a city reeling from three knife fatalities within days last month. And a 15-year-old boy was charged with murder after the stabbing of 17-year-old Ayub Hassan, in west London, on Thursday afternoon.

The supermarket Asda made a surprise intervention on Saturday into the issue, announcing that it will stop selling single kitchen knives.

 Another 15-year-old was recently sent away after his friend was stabbed to death in Islington and he was told 'you next'
The high levels of violence facing parts of British society are evident in the testimony of Islington’s sizeable Somali community. Representatives say 50-70% have been directly affected by county lines and knife crime.

Sadia Ali, treasurer of Islington Somalia Forum and founder of Minority Matters, said: “Hundreds of youngsters have been taken to Somalia, Somaliland and Kenya, some taken all the way to the rural areas. Parents feel they have no choice if they want their son to be safe.”

Ali, a mother of seven, sent her 15-year-old son to Somalia to protect him from gangs and said many of her friends now have children on two continents. Another 15-year-old son was recently sent to Somalia after his friend was stabbed to death in Islington and he was told “you next”.

Recently, Somalia has suffered a number of terror attacks. A car bomb in the capital, Mogadishu, killed seven people and wounded several others on Thursday, following. It followed another the week before which killed 29 people.

On Friday, a north London Somali mother flew to Mombasa, Kenya, to dissuade her 19-year-old son from returning to the UK after gangs asked him to return: “I am very scared what the gangs will do if he comes home.”


Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Educating brothel children in Pakistan should be a priority

The call to prayer echoes across the ancient walled city of Lahore. Worshippers hurriedly make their way towards the centuries-old Badshahi Mosque, and in its shadow thrives a trade older than the grand mosque itself.

Condemned by the devout and exploited by the elite, the sex workers of Heera Mandi, Lahore’s infamous red-light district, earn their living on the margins of society. Open doorways offer a fleeting glimpse into the realities of the women who live here, most of whom face a daily struggle to make ends meet.

Each has a different story to tell. Some were born into the trade while others were trafficked from rural villages and poorer parts of the city; lured by men with the prospect of marriage or employment and then sold off to brothels.

A winding alleyway leads to a small, concrete building with green doors. An unexpected chanting of nursery rhymes can be heard. Inside, a cluttered, makeshift classroom equipped with wooden desks, an alphabet-strewn blackboard and walls plastered with colourful drawings. The voices belong to the children of Lahore’s sex workers.

They are the forgotten by-product of Pakistan’s undercover sex trade; spending their days on the streets and returning at night to sleep on brothel floors. They face malnutrition, physical and mental abuse and are prime targets of trafficking.

According to Sahil, a local NGO, child sexual abuse cases in Pakistan have increased from nine cases per day in 2017 to 12 cases per day in 2018. Between January and June 2018, 2,322 child abuse cases were reported from all four provinces of Pakistan. The data revealed children between the ages of 6 and 10 were most vulnerable and, of the total cases reported, the majority of victims were girls.

Like shameful secrets, society prefers to keep them hidden and, to the Pakistan government, most of these children don’t exist. Since many are without fathers – a prerequisite to obtaining a birth certificate – school enrolment is not only difficult but nearly impossible.

“Every child deserves an education regardless of their background,” says Lubna Tayyab. “These children have dreams to become artists, teachers and doctors – to be respected members of society – and nobody has the right to deprive them of that.”

Born and raised in the red-light district herself, Lubna was taunted at school and made to feel like an outcast. Determined to provide an education for children who no other school seemed to want, she founded her project, Apni Taleem, which in Urdu means “Our Education”.

In 2011, Lubna converted the ground floor of her home into a classroom and began offering free schooling to the children of sex workers in her neighbourhood. She went door to door, engaging mothers in discussing the importance of education and encouraging their kids to attend. It wasn’t easy – most mothers were reluctant since their children were expected to contribute to the family income by begging on the streets, but Lubna persisted.

She made a special effort to recruit girls, who were less likely than their brothers to attend, and began offering free school meals. A dozen turned up, and today over 70 children are being taught a range of subjects, including literacy, numeracy and religious studies.

Apni Taleem operates on a budget of roughly £20,000 a year. Local donors show no interest in funding a school for the children of sex workers so UK-based Muslim Charity has stepped up; contributing towards the cost of rent, teacher’s salaries and educational resources.

The Pakistan government has also been reluctant to help. “They insist the children can attend government schools, but that’s not feasible,” says Lubna. “Government schools are meant to be free but in practice they’re not. Uniforms, textbooks and exam fees are costs sex workers can’t afford.”

The school is more than just a facility; it is a safe haven protecting vulnerable children from the harsh realities of street life. According to the Trafficking in Persons Report 2018, Pakistan does not meet the minimum standards for the elimination of sex trafficking but efforts to carry out more prosecutions are underway.

Last year, it reported investigating 6,376 alleged sex traffickers and prosecuting 6,232; an increase from 2,979 investigations and 2,021 prosecutions from the previous year. Pakistan also approved the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act 2018, which seeks to safeguard the rights of human trafficking victims. Overall efforts to combat trafficking remain inadequate compared to the scale of the problem.

Meanwhile, the safety of sex workers and their children remains a real concern. Local police do not provide adequate protection, so violence is a daily occurrence in their lives. Some of the children at the school have already been sexually exploited and their protection remains a key, underfunded priority.

Noor is determined her daughter gets a decent education. “She loves to learn,” she says. “Before the school, she was on the streets while I worked. I was constantly terrified not knowing where she was and what could happen to her.” Despite the challenges these women face, they remain resilient and spirited. Their eyes show hope for a better future and this small school is a big catalyst for their children to discover their full potential.

Lubna Tayyab unexpectedly passed away last month. Her husband and daughter, Fiza Tayyab, are committed to keep her project running. “This school was my mother’s dream and I’ll do everything I can to keep her dream alive,” says Fiza.

Irfan Rajput, director of international programmes at Muslim Charity says: “We are saddened to hear of Lubna’s death. She was a true humanitarian who fought passionately for the rights of women and children in Pakistan. We will continue to support the school in whatever way we can.”

 If you would like to support Lubna’s legacy and educate some of the most vulnerable children in Pakistan, please donate


Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Islamophobia driving belief in myths about Muslims in British society, MPs say

Harmful myths and lies about Muslims are now believed by a large section of the UK's population, contributing to discrimination across employment, housing, the criminal justice system and other areas of public life, a new report by MPs has found.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims found that “prevalent” Islamophobia was driving division, hate crime and even terror attacks.

“British society at large, by virtue of normalised prejudice against Muslim beliefs and practice, have come to imbibe a panoply of falsehoods or misrepresentations and discriminatory outlooks,” its report said.

Academic research has consistently shown that British Muslims face considerably high levels of economic disadvantage than other groups in Britain."

While a report by market research company Ipsos Mori found that the majority of Muslims believe Islam is compatible with the British way of life, a separate survey of the wider population by polling firm YouGov, found that 46 per cent thought there was a “fundamental clash between Islam and the values of British society”.

A separate study recently found almost a third of British people believe the myth of “no-go zones” where non-Muslims cannot enter, while the MPs took aim at false and misleading news stories.

They include the “Winterval” myth that claimed Christmas celebrations were being suppressed and a story that wrongly interpreted research to say one fifth of British Muslims had “sympathy for jihadis”.

MPs said that corrections published by newspapers “pale in comparison to the damage done to perceptions of Muslims in British society”.

A report concluded that Islamophobia has far surpassed the “dinner table test” espoused by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi in 2011 and is now prevalent in society.

MPs said that because there is no commonly agreed definition of Islamophobia, it has been allowed to “increase in society to devastating effect”.

“The detectable shift from overt to subtler or respectable, manifestations of Islamophobia - the normalisation of the prejudice to the extent it is rendered almost invisible to many - warrants a definition that can arrest and reverse its present trajectory,” their report said.

“There has been no attempt to adopt a definition of Islamophobia by government despite recognising the significant impact the problem has on British Muslim communities.”

After a six-month inquiry taking evidence from Muslim organisations, legal experts, academics, MPs and other groups, the APPG called on the government to adopt the definition: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

Anticipating criticism from far-right and populist groups, MPs said the definition did not aim to curtail free speech or criticism of Islam as a religion.

“From hate crimes motivated by anti-Muslim feeling, buttressed by stereotypes and racist caricatures prevalent in social and media discourse, to policies which perpetuate discriminatory outcomes for Muslims, a definition of Islamophobia is vital,” the APPG concluded.

MPs highlighted terror attacks and plots targeting Muslims, including the Finsbury Park attack and the attempted murder of a Sikh dentist in Wales.

They said that rising hate crimes had affected both Muslims and those wrongly thought to be part of the religion because of their appearance, including an Italian man who was badly beaten in London.

The APPG cited research showing that Muslims are disadvantaged across employment, housing, education, the criminal justice system, social and public life and in political or media discourse.

Its report warned that Islamophobia also increased feeling of disengagement, disenfranchisement and disaffection with the state.

Wes Streeting MP, co-chair of the APPG for British Muslims and Labour MP for Ilford North, said: “Islamophobia is a form of racism and it is growing in our society. To tackle it, Islamophobia must be accurately and fully defined and that’s why this inquiry centred around the discussion on a working definition.”

“This landmark report brings about a working definition of Islamophobia for the first time, which will allow us to tackle this prejudice head-on. The adoption of this definition by political parties, statutory agencies and civil society organisations will allow us to turn a corner to move forward towards a fairer society.”

Anna Soubry MP, co-chair of the APPG for British Muslims and Conservative MP for Broxtowe, said Islamophobia was a “very real problem” throughout the UK.

“Muslims or people assumed to be Muslims are subjected to abuse, discrimination and criminal acts against them for no other reason than their faith or perceived faith,” she added. “It is equally obvious that overwhelmingly Islamophobia is rooted in racism and therefore is, racist. This definition recognises this truth and I hope it will now enable the serious work that needs to be done to tackle Islamophobia.”

A government spokesperson said: “We remain deeply concerned at hatred directed against British Muslims and others because of their faith or heritage. This is utterly unacceptable and does not reflect the values of our country.

“We know that some have suggested establishing a definition of Islamophobia could strengthen efforts to confront bigotry and division. Any such approach would need to be considered carefully to ensure that this would have the positive effect intended.

“Following the recent publication of our Hate Crime Action Plan, we look forward to discussing steps to confront hatred, bigotry and division with the Government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group.”


Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Child marriage in Niger is a cultural issue, not an Islamic one

Islam, for me, is a way of life and the core of my world. As a Muslim woman I have always been encouraged to be who I want to be.

I get frustrated when people say: “Why do you wear a hijab? Isn’t that a sign of women’s oppression?” I choose to wear a hijab; I choose to be an educated and liberated woman and I choose to follow Islam.

Islam states that a woman’s purpose for existence is not to serve any other human beings or be subjugated by any other person.

I recently visited Niger, where up to 98% of the population is Muslim. The country also has the world’s highest child marriage rate, with three out of four girls married before the age of 18. Key drivers for this are poverty, local customs, tradition and lack of education.

Niger is the fifth poorest country in the world, and I saw for myself acute signs of poverty. I spoke to families who told me how they gave up their daughters for early marriage because they were struggling to feed or protect them, let alone send them to school. Girls suffer more than boys. Only 15% of women in Niger aged 15 to 24 are literate, compared with 30% of men.

 In Loga, 140km east of the capital Niamey, I met Mariama*, who was given up for marriage at the age of 12. Traumatised, she escaped on the night of her wedding and fled to the house of Maimouna Djibrila, a volunteer working with Islamic Relief. She of all people understood what Mariama was going through. She too had been given away for early marriage to a cousin, and had a very difficult time.

Maimouna worked with several organisations, Mariama’s school, the police and both families to get the marriage annulled. Unfortunately, two years later (a month before our visit), her father was trying to marry off Mariama again.

Early and forced marriage is a contentious subject in Niger. The country has signed up to international treaties that set a minimum age of marriage of 18. However, the legal age of marriage is 15 for girls and 18 for boys. There have been ongoing discussions in parliament to make sure that the national law respects the international treaties, but this has not yet happened.

Even if the law changes, it is unlikely that child marriage will stop overnight. It is entrenched in the culture in Niger. I want to be clear on this: this is not an Islamic issue, but a cultural issue.

For any change to happen, it has to happen at community level. Islamic Relief is training community and faith leaders, such as Imams and village chiefs, about the importance of women’s rights and child protection.

Imams are vital in this campaign. I witnessed imams preaching about the rights of women and children in their Friday sermons, known as khutbas. They pointed out that the Qur’an states it is not lawful for men to inherit their wives by force, or for parents to let their children be harmed in any way. And how a successful marriage according to Islam promotes love, tranquillity and mercy between husbands and wives.

The latter is particularly important, given the high levels of domestic violence in the country. An estimated 15.6% of women experience some form of sexual violence or harassment.

I met Adama in Loga, who was raped by an extended family member when she was 15 and then ostracised by her family for giving birth to his child outside marriage. She was kicked out of the house while pregnant. Maimouna convinced Adama’s mother to help her, and now she too is being ostracised by the family. It was heartbreaking listening to Adama. She told me that she has been reduced to begging for food and is insulted every day. I could see the pain in her eyes as she recounted her story.

It infuriated me to see Adama treated in this way, and to see so many young girls being forced into early marriage. Allah commands us to protect the honour of women, and the Qu’ran clearly states that violence against women and girls, in any shape or form, is not acceptable. It is not acceptable in the UK; it is not acceptable in Niger.

Adama’s story and many others I heard in Niger have fired me up in support of Islamic Relief’s #HonourHer campaign, which is working towards a global Islamic declaration of gender justice – a call to action against gender inequality from an Islamic faith perspective – to be launched later this year. I will use my voice to play an active part in this.