Friday, 6 December 2019

The Heart of a Leader - Khutbah by Nouman Ali Khan

Thursday, 5 December 2019

UK chief rabbi owes us Palestinians an apology

The chief rabbi of the United Kingdom has weighed in on the row over alleged anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.

Writing in The Telegraph this week, Ephraim Mirvis claimed that Zionism is not separate from Judaism as a faith. He astonishingly implied that no one can have a view on this except Jews and Zionists.

So much for open debate and discussion!

He further claimed that “Zionism is a belief in the right to Jewish self-determination in a land that has been at the center of the Jewish world for more than 3,000 years.” The reality is that not all Jews agree with his definition, let alone non-Jews.

A survey of British Jews by City University London last year shows deep disagreement on the term, with 41 percent not taking up the political identifier “Zionist.” Thirty-one percent identified as anti-Zionist or non-Zionist, while 10 percent said they were unsure.

The survey also found that the number of British Jews who call themselves “Zionist” dropped from 72 percent in 2010 to 59 percent in 2015.

Muslims have a strong attachment to the cities of Mecca and Medina – and of course to Jerusalem – but should all Muslims have a right to move to Saudi Arabia?

And what about Christians? Where was Christianity born? The answer is in historic Palestine. Should all Christians have a right to go and live there?

The chief rabbi and Zionism both ask us to accept that only Jews have a right to determine where they live and never mind the impact of their demand on whoever already lives on that land.

In his article, Mirvis astonishingly fails to mention my people, the Palestinian people, even once. His anger with the left has unfortunately left him ignorant of our plight.

To the chief rabbi, we are invisible.

He did not once acknowledge our existence on the land, our own unshakable connection to it or that it was and still is our home – whether for those living in historic Palestine or in the diaspora.

We are in the diaspora because of Zionism.

The chief rabbi implies that we cannot disassociate Zionism from Judaism – by implication accusing all Palestinians who oppose Zionism – as indeed we do – of anti-Semitism.

This is why Ephraim Mirvis is wrong, with the greatest respect to him, to conflate the two – a religion and a political ideology.

Palestinians do not have a problem with Jews – or with any other group – wanting to live in a state or entity of their own.

However, Zionists chose a land with a people, not an empty land for their state. That is the key issue here. In 1948, 750,000 Palestinians were violently driven from their homeland to make way for the realization of Zionism’s goal, and since then millions of Palestinians have been deprived of their most fundamental rights.

As British Palestinians we abhor all forms of racism including anti-Semitism. We will stand with our fellow citizens who follow the Jewish faith in striving to eradicate the scourge of all racism in this country, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

However, we will not accept the conflation of Judaism and Zionism to label us and those who support our legitimate right to self-determination in our homeland as anti-Semites.

The chief rabbi owes us Palestinians an apology for this conflation which suggests we are anti-Semites. Zionism owes us much more than an apology for our dispossession.


Wednesday, 4 December 2019


Akon is an unlikely superstar, according to Akon himself. He bets there's a good chance no other Billboard Hot 100 chart-topper has been a St. Louis-born Senegalese with a given name like Aliaune Damala Bouga Time Puru Nacka Lu Lu Lu Badara Akon Thiam.

The early years of his career were spent in semi-obscurity, writing and producing records for other rappers. But here we are in 2019, and Akon has become a household name. Even if you don’t regularly sing his nostalgic 00s bops into your hairbrush, chances are you’d still be familiar with his humanitarian missions in Africa.

Earlier this week, fans were let in on the secret to Akon’s success.

Ditching the dance floor, Akon took to the stage at the Sharjah Entrepreneurial Festival, tracing his journey from "car thief to pop star and entrepreneur" to the 2,000 people in attendance.

“Always perfect your craft," he explained. He added, however, that "sometimes things happen when you don’t want them to happen, and when God wants it to happen. And I think that’s a side that entrepreneurs dismiss – the spiritual side of your goal, or the spiritual side of your success.”

“It makes you ask the question: what is success? Is it fame or fortune? Does that measure what success means to you? Or is it faith?” he questioned. “For me, real success is faith. If God is not smiling upon me, I am not successful. I don’t care even if I have a billion dollars in the bank. And what good am I if have a billion dollars sitting in the bank in the first place?”

He credited his Muslim faith for allowing him to step back and reassess his career trajectory even when he was a rising star in the music industry, stating that it was his spiritual mindset that mapped out his plans for the future as a successful humanitarian entrepreneur.

Hinting that his motivations truly lie in reaching the hereafter, he revealed, “I don’t believe in having that much money sitting away without applying it to changing somebody’s life. Now I may not make a million dollars out of that transaction, but I may get a few good credits to go to paradise. I am cool with that.”


Monday, 2 December 2019

Q&A With Asma Shuweikh, The Muslim Hero Who Defended A Jewish Family

We caught up with Shuweikh over the phone on Wednesday morning. The stay at home mother of two lives in Birmingham; on the fateful day of the tube ride, she was in London visiting family.

The following interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Why did you decide to intervene on the tube?

I decided to intervene because it was a very disturbing situation — the fact that he was talking to the children, and looking at the children and explaining to them that they’re not really Jewish people, and that they are going to be slaves — and I thought that was really, really uncalled for, honestly.

I’ve got my own two children — I’m a mother, and I’m also a practicing Muslim, and as a practicing Muslim, you have to speak up to injustice. If you see someone who needs help or someone that’s in trouble, especially when you’re going about your daily life, it’s your duty as a Muslim — and as a mother and as a British citizen — to go out of your way to help.

Who modeled this for you in your life?

My model was definitely our prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. He did not accept any of this kind of intolerance toward ethnic minorities. He had friends from other faiths, from the Jewish faith and the Christian faith.

I mean, this is what Islam teaches us, but obviously it never gets shown in the media. This is what normal Muslims believe in but it does not get portrayed that much — which is why I decided to talk to people and explain it to them so that they understand what it’s really like to be a proper Muslim, and really a proper citizen as well, and even human being really. We should not accept anything like that.

My mum always told us to stick up for yourself and don’t allow people to discriminate against you for who you are. And I have to be an example to my children as well. They live in a multicultural society, so we have to show them how, because they’re the future.

Have you ever been harassed in public yourself?

Yes, when I was growing up, I was spat on, and people used to pull off my hijab. At that time, the Muslim community was less well known and there weren’t as many Muslims around so it was quite difficult. It’s not as bad now, but especially with what’s going on with Brexit, we still get a lot of attacks, slurs, racial aggression towards us. And when someone does say something like that to me, I do have to talk back, I do have to say something. It’s my character, really; I’m not the type of person who stands for anything like that.

That’s one reason why I spoke up on the tube: I did get a flashback of that day when that had happened to me. I thought, if you don’t want someone doing that to you, why would you allow it to happen to somebody else? Especially with children, it’s a very sensitive situation. If I was with my children on the tube and someone did that to my kids, I would like somebody to come up and say something.

On the tube that day, it wasn’t just me. There were other people who stepped in — the person who was filming stepped in between the man arguing and the victims. Another man tried to stop him, too, and he got a bit aggressive with him. And after both the family and I left the train, somebody else confronted the man and was having a bit of a discussion with him.

Did you tell your children about what you did on the tube?

Yes, of course I did, I had to. My son is still too young to fully understand what’s going on, but my daughter does. She was asking me questions: What did you do? And I always instill that kind of character in my children. I have to tell them, when you see something like this, you should not be quiet or allow people to discriminate against you or say anything bad to you. Stand up against what’s wrong in a respectful way.

I tell them that’s how to be a law-abiding citizen and a good Muslim, which is how our prophet, peace be upon him, taught us to behave in society — to coexist with other religions and other races.

Do you think the attacker actually took in anything you said?

My main purpose was to try to calm him down. I didn’t really want to reason with him. I think that speaking to him in a very calm manner, and getting kind of on his level so he doesn’t feel like I’m attacking him, was probably what made him calm down.

He attacked me as well, but you don’t see that in the video. After the camera switched off, he came up to me and got into my face and my personal space, and I just panicked. Then I told him to back off and I said you need to keep your distance, that I was just trying to help so this doesn’t escalate. He attacked my religion. He attacked what I was wearing. I didn’t expect any less, to be honest. I knew that if I was going to talk to him, that he was going to turn on me. But at least I didn’t have my children with me, while the other man did, so his situation was much more sensitive.

I don’t believe you can change somebody’s mind, if they’re very firm with their beliefs. But you can try to make them understand that that kind of behavior is unacceptable.

You later reunited with the father from the tube. What was that like?

It was lovely. I was thinking about them after I left the train, hoping they were okay. I had been in a rush to visit my friend in hospital, but I made sure the situation was quite calm before I left.

He brought me a lovely bouquet of flowers, we sat down, talked about our experiences, our backgrounds, what kind of food we like. I asked him about how his children and wife were doing. It was wonderful chit chat and I said it would be nice to keep in touch and he said he would.

Has the publicity changed your life at all?

Oh yes definitely! Anyone who knows me knows that I am not the type of person who likes the spotlight. I’m not very into social media and I didn’t have a Twitter account until my friends told me the video had exploded. A friend sent me a link and asked, Is this you or is this your look-alike? I said, No that’s me! I couldn’t believe it.

I had no recollection that someone was filming the incident. But I’m glad that they did film it, because at least now we can use it as a positive to help everyone to get together and be more understanding of one another’s background and faith.

When have you ever seen a story like this? You haven’t. Usually you see only the negative things about Muslims in the media, so if something positive happens, we should push it forward — especially because this wasn’t just any family; it was a Jewish family. There’s this kind of speculation about Muslims, that they don’t like Jews — which is wrong! It’s a completely wrong statement. It’s not true at all.

This is a positive thing, with me being a British citizen, me being a mother, me being from an Arab background. And also the other side of the story: that father is a human being, a Jewish person, and a British citizen, too. It balances everything out.

My message is that everyone can learn to coexist in a multicultural society. I think everyone should take time out of their lives to meet people from different backgrounds, not just believe what they see in the media. Befriend them. Meet the Jewish community, meet the Muslim community, meet the people who are passionate about their religion instead of just assuming what they believe and who they are.


Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Prostitutes, Wine & Sultan Murad

Sultan Murad, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire would often anonymously go into the midst of the people and see their state. One evening, he felt an uneasiness in himself and the urge to go out. He called for his head of security and out they went. They came to a busy vicinity, and found a man lying on the ground. The Sultan prodded him, but he was lifeless and the people were going about their own business. No one seemed to care about the dead man lying on the ground.
The Sultan called upon the people. As they didn't recognize him, they asked him what he wanted. He said, "Why is this man lying dead on the ground and why does no one seem to care? Where is his family?”
They replied, "He is so and so, the drunkard and fornicator!"
The Sultan said, "Is he not from the Ummah of Muhammad ﷺ? Now help me carry him to his house.” The people carried the dead man with the Sultan to his house and once they reached the home, they immediately left. The Sultan and his assistant remained.
When the man's wife saw his dead body, she began weeping. She said to his dead body, "Allah have mercy on you! O friend of Allah (Wali)! I bear witness that you are from the pious ones.”
The Sultan was bewildered. He said, "How is he from the pious when the people say such and such things about him. So much so, that no one even cared he was dead?"
She replied, "I was expecting that. My husband would go to the tavern every night and buy as much wine as he could. He would then bring it home and pour it all down the drain. He would then say, ‘I saved the Muslims a little today.’ He would then go to a prostitute, give her some money to bring her to our house and recite Quran to the woman till the morning. And he would say, ‘Today I saved a young woman and the youth of the believers from vice.’
The people would see him buy wine and they would see him go to the prostitutes and they would consequently talk about him. One day I said to him, ‘When you die, there will be no one to bathe you, there will be no one to pray over you and there will be no one to bury you!’
He laughed and replied, ‘Don't fear, the Sultan of the believers, along with the pious ones shall pray over my body.’” The Sultan began crying. He said, “By Allah! He has said the truth, for I am Sultan Murad. Tomorrow we shall bathe him, pray over him, and bury him." And it so happened that the Sultan, the scholars, the pious people, and the masses prayed over him.
We judge people by what we see and what we hear from others. Only if we were to see what was concealed in their hearts, a secret between them and their Allah.
"O you who believe, abstain from many of the suspicions. Some suspicions are sins. And do not be curious (to find out faults of others), and do not backbite one another. Does one of you like that he eats the flesh of his dead brother? You would abhor it. And fear Allah. Surely Allah is Most-Relenting, Very-Merciful." (Quran 49:12)
-Story of Ewliyah Nalıncı Mimi Dede from Istanbul

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

No One in Israel Knew They Were Committing a Massacre, and They Didn't Care

The bomber pilot didn’t know. His commanders who gave him the orders also didn’t know. The defense minister and the commander in chief didn’t know. Nor did the commander of the air force. The intelligence officers who aimed at the target didn’t know. The army spokesman who lied without a qualm also didn’t know.

None of our heroes knew. The ones who always know everything suddenly didn’t know. The ones who can track down the son of a wanted man in a Damascus suburb didn’t know that sleeping inside their miserable hovel in Dir al-Balah was an impoverished family.

They, who serve in the most moral army and the most advanced intelligence services in the world, didn’t know that the flimsy tin shack had long since stopped being part of the “Islamic Jihad infrastructure,” and it’s doubtful that it ever was. They didn’t know and they didn’t bother to check — after all, what’s the worst that could happen?

Reporter Yaniv Kubovich revealed the shocking truth on Friday on the Haaretz website : The target had not been re-examined for at least one year prior to the strike, the individual who was supposedly its target never existed and the intelligence was based on rumors. The bomb was dropped anyway. The result: eight bodies in colorful shrouds, some of them horrifically tiny, all in a row; members of a single extended family, the Asoarkas, five of them children — including two infants.

It was a massacre. No one will be punished for it. “The target bank had not been updated,” army officials said. (After Yaniv Kubovich’s investigation was published, the IDF Spokesman released another statement, “The building was confirmed as a target several days before the attack.”) But this massacre was worse than the targeted killing of Salah Shehada, and it was greeted by a more-sickening indifference in Israel.

On July 22, 2002, an Israel Air Force pilot dropped a one-ton bomb on a residential neighborhood that killed 16 people, including an actual wanted man. Before dawn Thursday, a pilot dropped a much smarter bomb, a JDAM, on a tin shack in which no wanted man was hiding.

It turned out that even the wanted man named by an army spokesman was a figment of his imagination. The only ones there were women, children and innocent men sleeping in the dread of the Gaza night. In both cases, the Israel Defense Forces used the same lie: We thought the building was empty. “The IDF is still trying to understand what the family was doing at the site,” was the brazen, chillingly laconic response, which suggested the family was to blame. Indeed, what were they doing there, Wasim, 13; Mohand, 12 and the two babies whose names have not been announced.

The day after the killings of Shehada and 15 of his neighbors, and after the IDF continued to claim their homes were “unoccupied shacks,” I went to the site of the bombing, the Daraj neighborhood in Gaza City. Not shacks but apartment buildings, a few stories high, all of them densely populated, like every home in Gaza. Mohammed Matar, who had worked in Israel for 30 years, lay prostrate on the floor, his arm and his eyes bandaged, amid the ruins, next to the enormous crater made by the explosion. His daughter, his daughter-in-law and four of his grandchildren died in the blast; three of his children were injured. “Why did they do this to us?” he asked me, in shock. Back then, 27 of the IAF’s most courageous pilots signed the so-called pilots letter, refusing to take part in operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This time, not a single pilot has refused to participate, and it’s doubtful any will do so in the future.

“Human beings. They are human beings. There was a battle here – nurses and doctors against death,” wrote the courageous Norwegian physician Dr. Mads Gilbert, who rushes to the aid of residents of the Gaza Strip whenever it is bombed, treating the wounded with infinite dedication. Gilbert attached a photograph of the operating theater in Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital: blood on the table, blood on the floor, blood-soaked bedding everywhere. On Thursday the blood of the Asoarka family was added, crying out now to ears that will not listen.


Monday, 25 November 2019

Are you Pakistani? Are you a terrorist? The questions Indian Muslim children face at school

Stereotypes about the Muslim community have entered into classrooms and playgrounds, seeping in from the polarising rhetoric prevailing in the larger world of politics, society, mass media and social media
Nine-year-old Zoya* found herself answering a rather confounding question at her Delhi school recently: does her father make bombs at home?

What led to the question? The classmate had seen a picture of Zoya’s father in her school diary, in which he has a beard.

Things slowly got worse. Zoya’s classmates would often refuse to sit with her during lunch because they assumed that she was eating meat. “As if dal and chapatti don’t exist in a Muslim’s diet,” says her father Irfan Ahmed, a journalist. “This is such a stupid stereotype, that Muslims are always gorging on beef or mutton or whatever.” As these instances became more common, Ahmed taught his daughters to stand up to the bullying and not back down.

Fathima still remembers the day her 11-year-old son Abdul came back from school and asked if being a Muslim was a ‘bad thing’. “He said he did not want to go back to school. He was in tears,” says Fathima. “When I tried to find the reason, he asked me why Muslims were called ‘terrorists’. I was stumped.”

Fathima slowly discovered that for nearly two years, Abdul had been bullied in his up-scale school in Bengaluru by a group of boys in class. “My son was told that as a Muslim he had no place in India and that he should move to Pakistan,” says Fathima. “He was also repeatedly told that all Muslims were terrorists. He just couldn’t handle it anymore.”

Fathima then complained to the school, which eventually intervened, disciplined and counselled the bullies, who apologised to Fathima and Abdul. “But it happened only when I said I would file a police complaint,” says Fathima. “My son went through harassment only because he was Muslim.” By then, Abdul had been diagnosed with clinical depression.

Abdul had been bullied the previous year as well. “A boy on his school bus kept calling Abdul a Pakistani. “He first tried to ignore it but when he couldn’t take it anymore, he told me,” says Fathima, who then confronted the teacher in charge of the bus before the harassment finally stopped.

Stories like Zoya’s and Abdul’s are far from uncommon in the country today.

Stereotypes about the Muslim community have entered into classrooms and playgrounds, seeping in from the polarising rhetoric prevailing in the larger world of politics, society, mass media and social media.

“There is an anti-Pakistan, anti-Kashmir, anti-Bangladesh narrative that is endorsed by mainstream news television and is unfortunately also championed by the state and our leaders,” says Natasha Badhwar, writer and activist. “So a Muslim today is seen as a threat to the nation and does not belong to this country by default. This has certainly made a huge impact on a whole generation of children.”

Badhwar’s husband is a Muslim and her daughters have often had to deal with uncomfortable questions directed at their part-Muslim identity. “In my experience, almost every Muslim in this country will tell you about instances in their childhood where they were singled out,” says Badhwar. “There are memories of being bullied, but there are also memories of being supported and included. Unfortunately, today the dominant narrative seems to champion the exclusion of Muslims, and that’s what my daughters heard in their schools all the time.”

Nazia Erum, the author of the book Mothering a Muslim, says that the media is a prime example of how things have gone from bad to worse for the average Muslim in India. “Every single day, news channels in their debates circle back to something negative about Muslims — whether it is about the national flag, Pakistan or Vande Mataram. You cannot protect your children from this any more, you cannot keep these narratives away from them.”

Children after all imitate adults, and they do this in their interactions with their Muslim classmates too. “Initially, it is often a very innocent question from children where they will express surprise or shock that one of their peers is a Muslim. Where they’re coming from is that, being a Muslim is ‘bad’ or ‘wrong,’ so how come you are that,” Badhwar explains, articulating her children’s experience.

Badhwar’s daughter Sahar was in Class II when she was asked by one of her classmates if she was Pakistani. Sahar, who has cousins in Karachi, says she “thought it was a strange question because we had all gone to the same school since nursery. It did not even occur to me that it was an insult.” Sahar says, “I am not sure if even my classmates understood what they were asking me. They were just repeating what they had heard at home or on the news.”

Fear and alienation

Sahar, now 16, believes that the way news channels deal with Pakistan is strange. “The media talks about them [Pakistanis] as if they are aliens. That there is something so different about them that it is difficult for us to understand them. So, naturally, for my classmates, it was quite crazy that a girl sitting in their classroom for so many years had cousins in Pakistan, and was therefore so close to that alien world.”

This anti-Pakistan, anti-Muslim narrative does not only impact Muslim children. Nupur D. Paiva, a child psychologist in Delhi, came across a 10-year-old who wanted to encourage her classmates to discuss the situation in Kashmir. She is not Muslim. “She made these little chits and wrote ‘Kashmir’ on each of them and threw them around so that children would be prompted to think about what’s happening there,” says Paiva.

“A few days later, she began to have nightmares, dreams in which she was being attacked. That’s when she was brought to me and we talked about where this fear could be coming from. She told me about the chits and asked me if it was an illegal thing to do. Somewhere, she had picked up the message that it was a dangerous thing to do, and the fear was manifesting in her dreams.”

It also doesn’t help that history is being re-written in school textbooks. In Karnataka, for instance, the Bharatiya Janata Party is contemplating removing chapters on Tipu Sultan from school textbooks based on a recommendation by BJP MLA Appachu Ranjan, who described the 18th-century ruler as a religious bigot.

“It is very hard on teachers because nobody wants to be seen as standing up to the state,” says Badhwar. “When textbooks are being changed in Rajasthan to glorify Hindu kings, and Savarkar and Godse are being celebrated in public life, adults are responding to it with a kind of silence which they feel is their only safety. Nobody wants to be targeted. Even teachers who feel that this is wrong don’t really know which platform they can speak on. It is in their interest to play safe.” ”

A Muslim teacher in a South Delhi school recalls asking a Class XII student in oration class to pick a topic to speak on. The boy started to speak on Muslims being terrorists and how their religion teaches them to kill. “I’m not sure if he knew I was Muslim and I felt there was no point in bringing my identity into this. I didn’t stop him but I tried to reason with him and asked him about perpetrators of violence from other religions and if they too would be called terrorists. What can a teacher do apart from reasoning with students?”

Divisions among children are increasing, says Paiva. “Religion is not the only dividing line — socio-economic class is also a factor, increasing after schools began to accommodate students under the Right to Education Act. What is lacking is the sense of a community at school and an ability to co-exist, empathise and embrace differences.”

As a country, we have a lot of unaddressed intergenerational trauma and hate, especially related to Partition, adds Paiva. “If one looks at the emotional and psychological work done by Germany post-war, it is of an admirable level,” says Paiva. “Groups came together to reflect on the trauma and went through years and years of processing guilt, anger and loss. That is when they were finally able to come together as a community and apologise. We have taken a very practical approach of ‘get over it and get on with it’. But what we needed to do was hear about the losses and pain from both sides of the border, digest them, and then give ourselves time to heal.”

Meanwhile, what can we do to help our children today? “People who believe in the pluralist ethos of the country have to speak up,” says Ahmed. “We have a shared past. Today, if you are silent, you are guilty of abetting.” Then he adds as an afterthought. “Oh and try not to watch those news channels for a while.”