Sunday 31 July 2011

Ramazan Mubarak!

Ramazan Mubarak to all my brothers and sisters. It has been mostly confirmed that Ramazan starts tomorrow alhamdulilah.

Some advice you may find useful. Please consult for more guidance and information.

Inshallah I hope you all have a blessed and truly rewarding Ramazan.

Pray for the innocents murdered in Norway

Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land - it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one - it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors.

Quran 5:32

Thursday 28 July 2011

Behind the Burqa Ban: The Problem with France’s Muslim Feminists

France’s decision to outlaw face veils sparked a robust debate about religion and women’s rights. In response to concerns that the law will negatively impact Muslim women, its advocates frequently mention that it enjoys the approval of several prominent French Muslim feminists. What is not mentioned, however, is that behind their feminist façade, these women have a troubling record of harassing the women they claim to speak for.

Discussions of Muslim feminism in France tend to focus on one woman: Fadela Amara. Born to Algerian immigrants in the 1960s, Amara grew up on the margins of French society. Disillusioned by racism and inequality, she found her voice as an activist in the 1980s. Amara entered the national spotlight in 2004 after founding Ni Putes Ni Soumises (“Neither Whores Nor Submissives”), an organization that raises awareness about gendered violence in France’s suburbs. She later left the group to serve in Nicolas Sarkozy’s government, first as Secretary of State for Urban Policies, and currently as Inspector General for Social Affairs.

Ni Putes Ni Soumises (NPNS) rose to prominence in 2003 and 2004 with a mission to speak out against misogyny in France’s suburban, largely Arab “ghettoes.” The group’s rhetoric was deliberately provocative, and some accused its activists of going too far, and unfairly stereotyping suburban (Muslim) men as thugs and rapists. Fadela Amara actually confessed that this was true, but she claimed the organization had changed. While she and NPNS may (or may not) have stopped demonizing Muslim men, their obsession with women’s clothing has only intensified.

Banning the face veil, or niqab, has been a priority for Amara. According to her, the garment “represents not a piece of fabric but the political manipulation of a religion that enslaves women and disputes the principle of equality between men and women.” NPNS takes the same position, and argues that the ban will “liberate” French Muslims.

But Amara’s view of the world is a deeply skewed one. Where others see a common headscarf, she perceives a diabolical conspiracy to destroy France. She describes the headscarf as “the visible symbol of the subjugation of women,” insists it is “the sign of a political plot” and blames its presence on “green fascism.” Perhaps not surprisingly, she was a staunch supporter of the 2004 law banning headscarves in French public schools.

Amara also says that there is no difference between the headscarf and the burqa. In her words, they are “the same thing.” Both garments, she claims, represent “a political project that aspires for gender inequality” and, ultimately, “the erasure of democracy.” NPNS is equally apocalyptic, describing the hijab as “a visible sign of a societal project that questions the values of the Republic.”

Muslim women often find themselves publicly attacked by NPNS and Fadela Amara for simply wearing a scarf. In 2009, this happened to France’s premier hip-hop artist, Diam’s, when she started covering her hair after converting to Islam. Amara reacted by calling Diam’s “a real danger for the girls in the [suburban] neighborhoods” and accusing her of promoting “a negative image of women.” Sihem Habchi, the current president of NPNS, was also visibly concerned. She called Diam’s change “very sad” and suggested that the artist had let down “a generation who expects her to speak of equality between men and women.” Former NPNS activist Safia Labdi also weighed in, saying that with her new look, Diam’s represented “submission, tradition and confinement.”

Another victim of NPNS fashion policing was Ilham Moussaïd, a political candidate from France’s New Anti-Capitalist Party. Moussaïd hadn’t thought twice about covering her hair when she ran for office in 2010, but NPNS was outraged. Sihem Habchi threatened to file a complaint against Moussaïd’s party, calling it “anti-feminist, anti-secular and anti-republican” for even letting her run. Fadela Amara chimed in, accusing the party of “banalizing a tool of oppression of women.”

A legal challenge to Moussaïd’s candidacy was eventually filed by the French chapter of the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association (AWSA), a group which ironically claims its mission is “to promote Arab women’s active participation in social, economic, cultural, and political life.” The challenge was rejected, but the ordeal deeply disappointed Moussaïd. “For me, being a feminist means defending the right of women to have control over their own lives,” she remarked. “I have control over mine and I’ve made this choice but it’s not respected. These feminists don’t respect it because I haven’t made the same choice as them.”

Opposing the right of women in hijabs to be public servants is bad enough, but NPNS has gone even further by vocally supporting employment discrimination. In 2010, the French media was abuzz after a court rejected the lawsuit of a woman who lost her job for wearing a headscarf. Because the woman’s place of employment – a childcare center – was privately run, it was thought to be exempt from the ban on “religious symbols” in French public institutions. But a court determined that because the center received partial public funding and “indirectly” performed a state service, it was allowed to enforce “religious neutrality,” and could ban employees from wearing the hijab. Both Fadela Amara and NPNS celebrated the decision, even though it could open the door for other employers to shun Muslim women.

Given their open hostility for all women in headscarves, it is no surprise that France’s most famous Muslim feminists rallied behind the “burqa” ban. These women, after all, insist that all Muslim head coverings are symbols of oppression that challenge the sovereignty of the French republic. Such a stance is not only transparently ridiculous, but it puts a “Muslim feminist” stamp of approval on the ugliest forms of discrimination. Until Fadela Amara and NPNS learn that feminism is more than simply forcing other women to be like them, they will continue to hurt the very people they wish to “emancipate.”


Wednesday 27 July 2011

Jewish settlers are terrorising Palestinians, says Israeli general

A senior Israeli army commander has warned that unchecked "Jewish terror" against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank threatens to plunge the territory into another conflict.

In unusually outspoken comments, Major General Avi Mizrahi took aim at extremist Israeli settlers, and said the yeshiva, or religious seminary, in Yitzhar, one of the most radical Jewish strongholds in the West Bank, should be closed, calling it a source of terror against Palestinians.

The general's comments are likely to put him at odds with Israel's pro-settler government, which has resisted US-led efforts to curb settlement expansion in a bid to revive stalled peace talks. The foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, himself lives in a West Bank settlement. All settlements are regarded as illegal under international law.

The army has anxiously watched an upsurge in violence by hardline settlers, who in recent months have set fire to a West Bank mosque, burned Palestinian olive groves, and vandalised Palestinian property. Settlers have killed three Palestinians this year.

"What's happening in the field is terrorism," General Mizrahi told Channel 2's Meet the Press, and it "needs to be dealt with." The Israel Defence Forces (IDF), he said, fears "terrorism against Palestinians is likely to ignite the territories."

The general's criticism points to frustration within the army's high command at their ability to check violent settlers.

Palestinians and Israeli NGOs frequently accuse the army of siding with settlers in conflagrations with Palestinians, prompting the army to respond that it is obliged to protect its citizens and does not set policy.

The number of violent incidents has spiked in recent months, partly because of the murder earlier this year of five members, including three children, from one Jewish family in Itamar, a settlement near Nablus. Two Palestinians were charged with the crime.

Human rights groups suggest that the more radical settlers, many of whom oppose a two-state solution on the premise that the whole of Israel is bequeathed to them by God, are agitating against Palestinian moves to seek statehood recognition at the United Nations in September.

Some fear that the surge in violent attacks against Palestinians could compound rising frustrations with the stalled peace process and trigger more violent riots.

"The army is very afraid that [action by settlers] at a critical moment could set off a Third Intifada," said Adam Keller, spokesman for Israeli human rights body Gush Shalom, referring to a mass Palestinian uprising.

"The fact that the army is nervous is making the settlers more aggressive," he said

The Israeli commander General Mizrahi blamed the courts for failing to rein in the most radical of the settlers – a small proportion of the roughly 500,000 Israeli settlers who are living beyond the Green Line in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.


Tuesday 26 July 2011

Russian neo-Nazis who murdered Muslims jailed for life

A court in Moscow has sentenced five members of a neo-Nazi gang to life in prison for the racially motivated murders of 27 people. Several other members of the outlawed Nationalist Socialist Society were also found guilty – including one woman – and given jail terms of up to 23 years.

The gang targeted Muslims and dark-skinned migrants during 2007-8.

The defendants in the dock joked with each other, taunted the judge and attempted Nazi salutes in handcuffs. As the verdict was read out, they shouted: "Our conscience is above your laws, we'll be back", Russia's Interfax news agency reported.

The 18-month trial heard that the gang had hunted down people in Moscow who were or appeared to be from central and south-east Asia, Africa or the Caucasus region, and brutally attacked them. Ringleader Lev Molotkov, who pleaded not guilty, was described by presiding judge Nikolai Tkachuk as "an extraordinary danger to Russian society".

In total, 12 people were found guilty of murder, inciting racial hatred, attempting terrorism and participating in extremism. At least one attack was filmed and posted on the internet. Molotkov and four others were sentenced to life, while a young woman, Vasilisa Kovolyova, was among those jailed for for between 10 and 23 years.


Friday 22 July 2011

Your rape culture is not my religion

Comment: This is absolutely gobsmacking! Its a disgrace that the head of the Islamic Party of Pakistan has such a warped understanding of the Quran and he is so willing to prounounce takfeer on anyone who dares disagree with that warped understanding! The man is a disgrace! Well done to Sana Saleem for daring to speak out against these injustices.

In 2006, a much-heated debate on the Hudood Laws revealed the anatomy of rape, conflicting legalities involving misinterpretations of Shariah Laws and the deeply engrained distorted public perceptions. For those who followed the debate, there should be no qualms in admitting that it made the inherent flaws in interpretations of the law and the systematic distortion of a society sensitive to violence and abuse evident.

The women protection bill implemented later that year made it possible for a woman to convict on the basis of forensic and medical evidence. Aimed at encouraging women to report the crime, which was deterred due to the farcical ‘four witness’ rule enforced by the Hudood ordinance, the act has been strongly opposed by Jamaat-i-Islami, whose activists and leaders continue to lobby against the act.

In a recent interview to a local news channel, Munawar Hassan of Jamaat-i-Islaami had the following to say:

Anchor: Why did you vehemently oppose the women protection act?
Munawar Hasan: Women protection act was not aimed at protecting women instead it is meant to promote vulgarity and obscenity in the society.
Anchor: What is the basis of your allegations?
Munawar Hasan: On the basis of which we opposed the act.
Anchor: The fundamental purpose of the women protection act was (is) to provide women with the right to file cases on the basis of circumstantial and forensic evidence, making convictions of rape easier. Where is the obscenity in that?
Munawar Hasan: This bill has been part of law for years, how has that affected the rights of women in Pakistan? What is the one issue that can be pointed out as a success of this law?
Anchor: One blaringly obvious problem with the Hudood law was the need to present four witnesses in order to convict a rapist, failure to do so resulted in the arrest of the woman on charges of confession to adultery, that was the main issue.
Munawar Hasan: What is the problem in that?
Anchor: The problem is this sir, that according to the 2003 national commission status of women report 80 per cent women were forced to languish in jails because of inability to produce witnesses of their rape.
Munawar Hasan: The objective of Islam is to discourage such acts, no one can be shameless enough to commit such an act in the presence of four people. Making it impossible to prove such acts, therefore the whole idea is to discourage bringing such acts into public light. Discouraging it to the extent that the act is never quoted. If such a crime occurs and since there are no witnesses than both men and women are suppose to keep it under wraps and not discuss it in public.
Anchor: Sir, are you suggesting that a woman should stay silent after she is raped? That she should not report the crime?
Munawar Hasan: I am saying she should keep quite if she has no witnesses. If she has witnesses than she should present them.
Anchor: What kind of an argument is that? A woman is raped and she has to look for witnesses to prove the crime?
Munawar Hasan: Argue with the Quran and not me.
Anchor: I am not questioning the Quran, I am questioning your argument.

As it becomes evident, Munawar Hasan makes up for the lack of substance in his argument by accusing the anchor of speaking against the word of God, he then goes thus far as asking the anchor to read the ‘kalima’ and declare his faith. The anchor concludes the argument by suggesting that Islamic laws pertaining to rape should be respected but in the presence of facilities such as forensic study we should not refrain from conviction.

This for me, defeats the purpose of the entire debate. Firstly because the interpretation of the Shariah law as per Munawar Hasan is neither derived directly from the Quran nor is it widely accepted. The Hudood ordinance is based on interpretations of certain scholars; it is neither a unanimously accepted interpretation nor is it logical.

Rape is a crime and criminals tend to prefer committing the crime without leaving evidence or witnesses. The idea of having four witnesses present at the time of rape is irrational and absurd. Can anyone in their right mind imagine witnessing rape and not doing anything to stop or even report it? If not by law than by conscious, would they not feel complacent? Rape is much more than forceful sex. It is a power game; it is a way to overpower the victim both physically and psychologically and derive pleasure out of it. To discourage rape victims from reporting rape is serving the predatory nature of the rapist.

Similarly, the callously flaunted idea that women use rape as a tool for popularity, fame, and money or simply to attack Islamic principles is devoid of logic. For all we know, taking a rapist to court in Pakistan can put you behind bars, after dealing with the severe moral policing of course.

The arguments and logic provided by Munawar Hasan for a vivid example of rape culture. To elaborate rape culture, it is prevalent practices by which despite the rampant increase in sexual violence, rape (and other forms of violence) is condoned, considered a norm or worse considered tolerable. The most powerful tool to propagate such a culture is through moral policing the victim and by reinforcing the ‘she was asking for it’ mindset. To validate and rationalize rape and (or) sexual violence needs a wide variety of beliefs that stem from an inherent misogynistic approach towards the social fabric.

Inconsistent application of law and moral policing the rape victim makes for a steady case for rape culture. Munawar Hasan isn’t the only practitioner and preacher of this culture, if we look at the way the accuser in
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of IMF, is being treated, one can be sure that rape culture is a globally adopted phenomena for which religion, moral, ethics or culture are mere ploys.

This is made much easier when done at the behest of religion and morals. The four witness rule as clear by all available translations and interpretations of the Quran is to be sought in case a woman is accused of fornication. The impossibility of four people witnessing the act was meant to make it tougher for the society to slander a woman. It is indeed heart wrenching to witness it being used to encourage violence against women and cultivate a culture of silence and shame.

I am not going to refrain from commenting on the interpretations simply because the Quran is meant and believed to be a book for guidance for all-alike — not just the scholars. Islam doesn’t preach a method of dependency, in fact the tone carried throughout the Quran addresses individuals directly, the entire concept is a spiritual and personal connection with God. Scholars are pursued to elaborate on various methods of law, but leaving them to impose their interpretations on us is faulty and damaging and works against the very principle of Islam. A faith that is threatened by introspection and one that is scared of evolution is fickle and convoluted.

Munawar Hasan is no ordinary politician; he is the Ameer of one of the oldest religious political party. For him to advocate the culture of silence and shame in the name of religion is a mockery of our beliefs. When we choose to allow scholars to use rhetoric to avoid questions we inadvertently become complacent If we choose to hold back our questions and remain silent in the face of such rhetoric we must brace ourselves to accept full liability of injustice to the victims of rape, all 2,903 of them.


Thursday 21 July 2011

Muslim Men Urged to Find Women Within Their ‘Own Community’

Muslim matrimonial services, such as and are on the rise as British female Muslims find themselves increasingly in search of a husband. The National Statistics report that in 2009 over 12,000 Muslim women were brought into the UK by British Muslim men, as they appear to satisfy their parents wishes for a more 'homely' daughter in law. Sonia Hashmi and Vikram Kakaria explain why their services are on the up, and how they are successfully helping British Muslim females in their search to find love and happiness.

In Feburary 2011, a newscast by the BBC reported that British Muslim men brought almost 12,000 Muslim women into the UK from Pakistan, India or Middle Eastern countries (National Statistics, 2009). This lofty figure suggests that Muslim males are returning ‘home’ in search of a partner as opposed to finding themselves a spouse from the UK. BBC news reporter Robert Piggot, observed one of the Muslim speed dating events, and was highly impressed by what he saw. He described the attendees as ‘westernised and attractive’, and also mentioned that the atmosphere was ‘relaxed and friendly’. Interestingly, he goes onto explain that although the room was full of ‘westernised men and women’ that the attendees parents’ presence was still felt. “Older generations of Muslim parents influence their sons in particular to marry a more homely girl with traditional values”. It is believed that parents would prefer that their daughter in laws to be focussed on bringing up children, opposed to pursuing a career. The parents are also often in the mindset that their ‘model daughter in-law’ would be better off sourced from ‘back home’.

In the wake of this, however, there seems to be a high demand for Muslim Singles websites, which is apparent by performing a quick Google search online. The term ‘Muslim dating’ or ‘Muslim singles’ returns over 24 million results per search, with companies such as and featuring regularly.

“Our vision when creating this site was to consider what British Muslims felt that they were missing from other Muslim singles sites” says Sonia Hashmi, Business Development leader, She further explained that it was the fact that people couldn’t meet ‘like minded Muslims’ that easily on other Muslim dating websites that drove the creation of the site. “When designing the site, we looked at all of the other solutions on the market and realised that one thing stood out; none of the websites were focussed solely on dating for British Muslims. Their databases seemed to be diluted with people from all over the world”. Additionally, Sonia explained that their service wasn’t solely restricted to the online Muslims, as they have now arranged a series of Muslim singles events to allow for those people who would like to meet offline. “The term 'Muslim dating' is something that we endeavour to stray away from, because being Muslim ourselves we understand that ‘dating’ can be a sensitive issue. That’s why we focus on what we call Matchmaking events, with a series of ‘mini introductions’ (similar to speed dating). The idea behind our philosophy is to allow single Muslims a place where they can meet and interact with other Single British Muslims so hopefully and Inshallah (god willing), they can start their journey towards love and marriage”.

Imaam Ajmal Masroor of London recently echoed Sonia’s sentiments about allowing British Single Muslims to congregate and interact by stating that UK Muslim men should focus on creating relationships within Britain when searching for a potential wife ‘Muslim men have been slower to adapt to the western culture of allowing women to be career focussed. They have been found to ‘go back home’ to find a submissive partner, but that is not the solution, they should look within their own community’.

Vikram Kakaria, Marketing Director at AsianD8online agreed, saying that it appears that in the UK Westernised Muslim women are outnumbering the number of UK Muslim men within the British Asian dating market. “It appears that Single Muslim females within the UK are being overlooked by the males because they might want to pursue a career opposed to being more family focussed.” He also added that the dominance of parents within the British Muslim community appears more evident than of those within the Hindu and Sikh community. “Although we have seen a significant rise in Muslim Singles registering on Asiand8online or coming to the a Muslim speed dating London, we’ve noticed that a lot of them consider a loving marriage as a priority, whereas the Sikh and Hindu communities will be happy to date for a period of time”.
Both and offer a variety of services for the single Muslim community, by means of dating or matchmaking events, and also a service for Muslim singles online.


Wednesday 20 July 2011

Afghan Women Fight Back Against Harassment

My mother entered the house and pushed the door closed with anger. After getting a cup of green tea, she sat in front of the television as her children watched her with concern and confusion.

"These men are not human beings. They probably do not even respect their own mothers and sisters," she complained after a few minutes of silence. "It is the same story every day. I am old enough to be their mother, but they still feel entitled to comment on my body, insult me, and stop their cars to ask me to go with them. It is as if they think all the women who work outside are prostitutes."

My mother has seven children and teaches fourth-grade Dari literature in one of the public schools in our area. Every weekday, she walks to and from her school only because she is passionate about her job and believes in the power of education to change a country. Despite her school uniform and the big scarf that is always wrapped around her when she is outside the house, my mother is also part of the large proportion of Afghan women who face street harassment on a daily basis.

In April 2011, as a pilot project for a larger research in September, Young Women for Change interviewed 20 female teachers and students about street harassment. Eighteen women reported that they face verbal assault daily, and 14 said they had also experienced physical harassment, including groping, pinching and slapping.

Street harassment is an act of violence and discrimination. In addition to making women feel endangered and vulnerable in public, harassment also discourages them from leaving their houses, and feeds the sadistic and discriminatory motivations of the assaulter by objectifying women, which leads to rape and sexual assault. The frequent harassment of women in public spaces in the cities of Afghanistan is a mirror of how the society views women and what it considers to be a woman's job or place.

While many Afghan women have to fight against the misogynistic traditions and values held in their families in order to be "given permission" to participate in the social, economical and political life of their communities, all women have to struggle against the violence, assault, abuse and discrimination that they face daily as they leave their homes.

In Afghanistan, street harassment is most common in cities, where women are more active. Ranging from insults to physical assault, street harassment has become one of the most common and noticeable methods of discouraging women from publicly participating in society. There have been several incidents of throwing acid on women's faces in Kabul, Herat, Juzjan and Qunduz. All these methods of harassment lead to loss of women's motivation to work and study.

A commonly-used Afghan proverb brutally says: "A women's place is either her husband's house or her grave." This common belief contributes not only to the street harassment of women, but also to the violence and abuse women face in families, schools, universities and workplaces.

Blaming the victim

However, this is not the only reason harassment is common in Afghanistan. Governmental regulations to restrict women's behaviour and clothing - such as the proposed Wedding Law that would require women to dress "modestly" at weddings - encourages the people, who think like the Taliban and believe women should remain in their homes, to harass women as they exit their houses.

They use women's so-called "inappropriate clothing" as an excuse for assault. This approach causes street harassment to be identified as a reaction to the wrong done by women, which leads to blaming women for the assault.

Despite being listed as the worst country for women by a Thomson Reuters Foundation expert poll, Afghanistan is not the only country where women face street harassment. According to Stop Street Harassment, "80 to 100 per cent of women worldwide face sexual harassment in public."

However, as opposed to many other countries, in Afghanistan, street harassment is not recognised as a problem and a system to support and assist survivors of assault is non-existent. Members of the Afghan National Police often engage in harassment of women and, despite the fact that insulting women is considered a crime by the Law Against Violence Against Women, the issue of street harassment is not specifically identified or addressed.

So far, no coordinated action has been taken by the government, namely the Ministry of Women's Affairs or the Ministry of Culture and Information; by the media; or by civil society organisations to recognise the phenomenon as a social issue that needs to be addressed.

Individual women have developed their own methods to fight street harassment. To deny the satisfaction of accomplishment to the violators, many women adopt a silent attitude towards the harassment they face. The silent treatment is a common way women choose to protect themselves and discourage the person who verbally abuses them.

Another way of dealing with this problem has been initiation of the harassment by the women when they say something condescending to men, in order to prevent their harassment and to prove that they are not afraid of men's presence. Some women have verbal fights, or mini- fist-fights that usually end with the interference of an outsider.

These methods can be efficient in stopping a few cases of harassment. However, to efficiently stop street harassment, there needs to be a coordinated public movement against it.

To start this movement, Hadia-Afghan Youth Volunteer Group for Social Reform and Young Women for Change (YWC), an organisation working for the welfare and empowerment of women, have initiated Advocacy for Dignity, a march against street harassment on Thursday, Jul. 14.

Members of YWC and Hadia hope that this campaign will be the beginning of a dialogue about street harassment and advocacy against it and that men, rather than the women victims, will be held responsible for their disrespectful behaviour.

This demonstration, which is expected to draw dozens of youth from across the city, is the first of its kind in Afghanistan. The majority of the participants in the campaign will undoubtedly be women, but many young men have also expressed their interest in the event. We will gather in front of Kabul University's main gate at 3:00pm.

In addition to advocacy through the walk, Hadia and YWC members have invited Afghan and international media to contribute in raising awareness, and to recognise street harassment of women - both as a violation of their human rights and as an issue that discourages women from social participation.

*Noorjahan Akbar is currently teaching Afghan children in orphanages to write creatively under a project called Stories to Heal. Noorjahan is also the founder of women's advocacy organisation Young Women for Change and a member of Hadia-Afghan Youth Volunteer Group for Social Reform.


Tuesday 19 July 2011

Why Would a Jew Become a Muslim?

Earlier today, I was catching up on my 84 unread YouTube messages, when I came across this short but to-the-point message:

“I don’t get it … aren’t you Jewish descent why would you convert to Islam … Muslims hate Jews?”

Interesting how that last “question” sounds more like a statement. Sadly, many people have this false impression that Muslims hate Jews, or that Islam is in some way against Jews. Yet I am living proof that this is not the case. I am a Muslim, and I am a Jew, and I happen to be quite proud of my Jewish heritage. I thought it was worth it to respond to the message, and I’d like to share that response with you, so that you might benefit from it as well insha’Allah.

“Hey, thanks for your question. Yeah, I’m a Jew. No, Muslims don’t hate Jews. According to the teachings of Islam, Muslims are required to protect non-Muslims, particularly Jews and Christians, who live in Muslim lands. This is why, when Spain was a Muslim land, then known as Al Andalus, my Jewish ancestors were able to live peacefully in Spain and not be persecuted for their religion, as was the norm in Christian Europe. Among the Christians during the Middle Ages, Jews were killed and tortured for their beliefs and identity. In Spain, this was not the case, and for the most part of the history, Jews, Christians, and Muslims coexisted in relative peace in Islamic Spain. When the Catholics from the North conquered Spain, the Muslims and Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism or be tortured or killed, so most of them left Spain for other lands, and the majority went to other lands controlled by Muslims, because the Jews knew that they would be much safer with the Muslims than with the Christians. Jews moved from Spain to places like North Africa, the Middle East, and other places in Southern Europe which were under Muslim control. My grandmother’s family comes from Greece, and my Grandfathers family comes from Turkey. At that time, Turkey was the center of the Muslim Ottoman Empire, and Greek had just recently come under Ottoman control, so these were both Muslim lands.
My conversion (or more accurately reversion, since we are all born Muslim) to Islam had a lot to do with my Jewish heritage. My mom is Jewish and my dad is Catholic, so growing up I wanted to find my own religious identity. As I got older and started to really examine things, I knew that I had a deep love and respect for Jesus (as), but especially considering my Jewish background, I was very conscious of the strict monotheism in Judaism (which happens to be shared by Islam, and I would argue is even more strict than in Judaism), and I knew that the Christian understanding of Jesus (as) as a part of God or the son of God was in total conflict with the first commandment given to Moses (as). The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I could not follow either religion. I couldn’t follow Judaism because it does not recognize Jesus (as) as the Messiah, something about which I was convinced, and I could not be Christian because it insisted on a concept of God that conflicted, not only with the prophets of the old testament, but also with the teachings of the Jewish Prophet and Messenger and Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary (as). I decided that I would consider myself upon the religion of Jesus (as) and his original Jewish believing followers who never worshipped him but worshipped God alone.

Not long after, I realized that Islam is that religion, and I became a Muslim.”


Sunday 17 July 2011

Hadith: Faults of others

"Thinking about things that one shouldn't be thinking about is considered prohibited. Including that would be weaknesses/faults of Muslims whether they be absent or present. A hadith: there's a tree in paradise for the one whose preoccupation with his OWN faults causes him to forget the faults of others. Everybody's got faults & if you start thinking about other peoples' faults, you're just a fool." - Hamza Yusuf

Saturday 16 July 2011

An Nas (Mankind)

Say, “I seek refuge with the Lord of mankind,
the King of mankind,
the God of mankind,
from the evil of the sneaking whisperer
who whispers into the chests of mankind
from among the jinn and mankind.”


Friday 15 July 2011

The new Muslim marriage contract should empower women

It is no surprise that household chores are the bane of many marriages, and the competing demands of modern life have compounded this situation for women in particular. Who, then, wouldn't jump at the chance to sign a marriage contract that potentially exempts women from wiping up vomit and scraping hair out of the plughole? Yet most people gasp with shock when I explain to them that Muslim women are able to stipulate such conditions in their marriage contracts – and that Islamic law sanctions this choice. Far greater coverage is afforded to the issue of forced marriages (which are strongly opposed by Islam and also take place in other minority communities) as well as the oppressive treatment – both real and perceived – of Muslim women who are in consensual marriages. Such stories fly in the face of Islamic teachings, which emphasise love, kindness and mercy between spouses.

Last Friday, I attended the relaunch of an initiative that aims to bridge the lacuna between the rights Muslim women have in theory, and the deprivation of these rights that some of them experience in practice. The new Muslim marriage contract, which was originally launched in 2008 after four years of extensive research and consultation, revives Islamic opinions that are more consonant with the spirit of egalitarianism. It was drafted by Muslim Institute trustees Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui and Mufti Barkatullah, as well as Muslim Women's Network chair Cassandra Balchin, and has also acquired a new website.

The main reforms include removing the requirement for a wali (marriage guardian) for the bride, who, as an adult, can make up her own mind about whom to marry; enabling the wife to initiate divorce and retain all her financial rights agreed in the marriage contract; and encouraging mosques to register to perform marriages (so that they are automatically recognised in British law without a separate civil ceremony). As Siddiqui explained at Friday's event, he was aware of only a handful of mosques who have registered their premises so far.

Of course, no amount of paperwork will provide a miracle cure for any arrangement that is entered into with less than noble intentions. However, the Muslim marriage contract ensures a higher standard of redress for women caught up in these situations. It also provides an excellent negotiating tool for thorny issues that can throw even the most idealistic couples, such as financial management, where to live, and contact with extended family on both sides (as Heidi Withers discovered when her prospective stepmother-in-law unfairly chastised her for being "uncouth" in an email that recently went viral).

While the Muslim marriage contract has received support from community organisations, politicians, family lawyers, academics and theologians, some level of censure was expected from certain groups and individuals. At Friday's seminar, Siddiqui described how some marital interactions had been coloured by "cultural practices masquerading as religious duties". He cited the case of a man with multiple wives whose offspring felt they were treated unjustly compared to their half-brothers and -sisters. The thread running through many of these cases is the dominant party's desire to maximise their rights at any cost, while failing to uphold – or even consider – the responsibilities that accompany these rights. They forget that the main reason polygamy was allowed in the first place – according to many scholars – was to provide security and respectability to war widows, orphans, and divorced and destitute women. Yet in these supposedly enlightened times, many divorced Muslim women struggle to find suitable partners for remarriage (whether the men in question are involved in polygamous arrangements or not).

It is inevitable that such people would attempt to discredit any initiative that threatens the status quo. In the past, they may well have succeeded in silencing these voices, but they are taking on a larger network of determined activists – from Casablanca to Coventry – who will not rest until women's empowerment is achieved.


Thursday 14 July 2011

Another Pakistani Woman Is Killed, Yet Officials Remain Silent

No one noticed last month when Shazia, 19, was stoned, burnt with acid, and then shot dead for an unknown sin in Mardan, the second largest town in northern Pakistan after Peshawar.

Originally from a village in the Swat Valley, Shazia was snatched by her ex-husband from her mother, taken into the mountains, tortured, and eventually killed.

Her mother, Noor Jehan, a widow with no male relatives, has lodged complaints at three different police stations about her daughter’s fate, but her wailing, so far, has fallen on deaf ears. Law-enforcement agents keep telling her that “investigations are under way."

Days before Shazia’s heinous murder, another woman was stripped and paraded around Haripur, a city near the now-infamous suburb of Abbotabad, the last dwelling of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

The woman, in her 50s, was punished because her son was found guilty of having illicit relations with the wife of another man. This was the local jirga’s sentence to “restore” the man’s honor -- although it dishonored an innocent woman.

The two women are not exceptions. A Thomson Reuters Foundation expert poll lists Pakistan as the third most dangerous country for women in the world, just behind its war-ravaged neighbor Afghanistan and the Congo.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) says “around 3,000 women were raped and another 791 murdered for honor in 2010 alone.” This is apart from the thousands of unreported cases when women are bartered, exchanged to settle family disputes, harassed in their work places, forced into marriage in childhood, or married off to men double and triple their age.

I still remember the daylight murder of a budding female singer, Ayman Odhas, in the city of Peshawar in 2009 by her own brothers for appearing on television, a move that defied the family norms.

Although Odhas was an adult, living with her husband who had no objection to her singing on television and the stage, her brothers felt the act dishonored them. One morning they knocked on her door, before shooting her repeatedly when she stepped out to meet her visitors.

This shows the collective mentality of a society where women, instead of being thought of as equals, are dealt as a commodity owned by men -- father, brother, or husband -- from birth to death.

These owners reserve every right to treat her as a commodity in terms of settling honor or blood disputes, monetary matters, marriage, or any other situation that may arise. Domestic violence is often ignored as a petty dispute and has become part of the culture where many people are living in a joint-family system.

Interestingly enough, no Pakistani political or religious party paid any attention to the woman paraded in Haripur or the murder of Shazia in Mardan. They were vocal, however, about the detention of Dr. Aafia Siddiqi, who was sentenced last year in the United States to 86 years in prison after being found guilty of attempting to kill her U.S. interrogators in Afghanistan.

With the exception of a few nominal statements from HRCP or the Aurat Foundation, a women’s advocacy organization, no feathers are ruffled in Pakistani government circles at the federal nor provincial level, where the secular Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of late Benazir Bhutto and Awami National Party (ANP) are ruling the roost, respectively.

Perhaps killing, forced marriage, or the dishonoring of a woman is not that important for a government in a country where scores are killed and maimed in bomb explosions in the name of religion. It is a sad irony that these so-called religious warriors struggle throughout their life to attain several beautiful women in the afterlife.


Tuesday 12 July 2011

Combating Religious Intolerance When Freedom of Speech Enables Hate Speech

Religious pluralism, versus the defamation of religion and freedom of speech have become an increasing source of conflict in international politics and interreligious relations. Preachers of hate and activists in America, Europe, and many Muslim countries are engaged in a culture war. Far right anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim political leaders and parties warn of the Islamization of America and Europe to garner votes. The acquittal on June 22, 2011 of Dutch politician Geert Wilders on charges of "inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims," is a political victory for Wilders but also a sign of the times, growing normalization of anti-Islam bashing in the West.

The OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference which represents some 57 countries) lobbied the United Nations for more than a decade to address this issue. Initially targeting Islamophobia, it broadened its request to a resolution on "defamation of religions" that would criminalize words and actions perceived as attacks against religion.

Opponents, in particular the U.S. and E.U., maintained that the resolution could also be used to restrict religious freedom and free speech, and foster religious intolerance and violence against religious minorities Indeed, in recent years attacks against Christians and other religious minorities have risen in Egypt, Malaysia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Pakistan. These conflicts have varied from acts of discrimination to the bombing and burning of churches and murder.

Pakistan's blasphemy law exemplifies the issue. In 2009 Asia Bibi, a Christian and 45-year-old mother of four was sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam, a charge she strongly denied. The case sparked international outrage that was heightened in 2011 by the brutal assassination of Salman Taseer -- the governor of Punjab and an outspoken critic of the blasphemy law, and the assassination of Pakistani Chief Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian and outspoken opponent of Pakistan's blasphemy law.

The United Nations Human Rights Council recently ostensibly resolved the conflict over "Defamation of Religions." After close discussions with the U.S. and E.U., Pakistan introduced a compromise resolution on behalf of the OIC, which addressed the concerns of both the OIC and those of member states and human rights organizations, including the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The "Combating Discrimination and Violence" compromise resolution affirms individual rights, including the freedoms of expression and religion that are part-and-parcel of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At the same time, the 47-member state body also called for strengthened international efforts to foster a global dialogue and the promotion of a culture of human rights, tolerance and mutual respect.

But will this U.N. resolution prove to be an effective tool in combating the rise of Islamophobia? A clear sign of the limits of the resolution can be seen in the stunning verdict in Geert Wilder's acquittal. Wilders' track record includes the charges that "Islam is a fascist ideology," "Mohammed was a pedophile," and "Islam and freedom, Islam and democracy are not compatible" and warnings of a "tsunami" of Muslim immigrants. Wilders' "missionary" efforts have extended other parts of Europe to the US where his admirers refer to him as a "freedom fighter." Plaintiffs had charged that Mr Wilders' comments had incited hatred and led to a rise in discrimination and violence against Muslims. But Judge van Oosten ruled that although he found Wilders remarks "gross and denigrating", they had not given rise to hatred. Spiegel Online's headline of the acquittal read "Wilder's Acquittal a 'Slap in the Face for Muslims.'"

The exploitation of freedom of speech to promote religious intolerance emerged only days after the Wilders' decision. Stop Islamisation of Europe (SIOE) and Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), a coalition of far right anti-Muslim European and American groups billing themselves as human rights organizations, had scheduled "United We Stand: First Transatlantic Anti-Islamization" in Strasbourg, France on July 2. On June 28, French and EU authorities' cancelled the conference. In response, the Islamophobic cottage industry and their websites' headlines blared: "Free in speech rally cancelled in Strasbourg over Muslim violence threats" and "Democracy Collapses in Europe: EU Cancels SIOA/SIOE Free Speech Rally."

Freedom of speech is a precious right that must be guarded carefully. But what happens when that right is used to incite hatred and to feed religious intolerance, such as Islamophobia, that is spreading like a cancer across the United States and Europe? While some statements may not immediately be the direct cause of a specific act of violence, they spread seeds of intolerance and anger that lead to legitimizing and accepting acts of bigotry and hate, like the "Burn a Quran day" that took place in Florida, the desecration of mosques, physical attacks against Muslims including women and children. As a result, the public slowly becomes inured to Islamophobic actions and statements. At the same time, this ideology of hatred has a very real effect on the everyday life of Muslims and Arabs: issuing in verbal attacks from their community members, Islamophobic statements by political candidates, or law-enforcement policies that target Muslims and Arabs.

The issue of freedom of speech and the rights of hate groups is not new in American history. Even today, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic organizations are allowed to express their disdain for certain ethnic and religious groups, regardless of how distasteful their ideologies may be. However, their power to attack has greatly diminished and their words have become a social taboo in the public square because our country has created a social environment where racism and anti-Semitism are loudly condemned and discredited in public life and in media. Muslim Americans and Europeans are entitled to the same treatment, rights and protections.

Islamophobia and its impact, like racism and anti-Semitism, must be countered by creating a climate in which hate speech and discrimination in the public square are not tolerated even when bigots exploit freedom of speech. Today, one can engage in anti-Islam and anti-Muslim hate speech and threats in print, media, and protest rallies that promote a popular culture that paints the religion of Islam, not just terrorists, as a threat to America. These preachers of hate and Islamophobia must be rejected and marginalized. Their mission to polarize our society must not be allowed to threaten our belief that religious tolerance and free speech are indeed compatible.


Monday 11 July 2011

Sexist men are devil-followers.

Comment: Incredibly thought-provoking blog, brothers fear Allah and be humble!

When God created Adam, all creatures were ordered to bow down to this new creation. One of the jinn, Iblis (the soon-to-be devil) refused. Iblis believed that because he was made of fire, and was physically different from Adam, he was superior. He had become jealous of Adam's closeness to God. He vowed that he would attempt to keep Adam from the path of righteousness, to function as a barrier between Adam and God with temptations of evil. Indirect temptations, which men would "justify" as having "good reasons" so that only the strongest would see that it was the work of the devil.

Men who believe themselves to be superior to women because of physical differences, who have become jealous of women's closeness to God and practice bid'ah--such as barriers in mosques to attempt to keep women hidden away--are making a familiar mistake. In their jealousy, a mirror of the devil's jealousy of Adam, they are attempting to forge a barrier between women and God, and they fall into the devil's trap of "justifying" these barriers--physical or metaphorical--disguising them to appear to have "good reasons." In their jealousy they attempt to take ownership of women's bodies, to police women's bodies, because they believe their own physical differences to be superior to that of women's, just as Iblis had believed that his own physical differences were superior to that of men's.


Saturday 9 July 2011

Hadith of the day: Two expressions

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “There are two expressions which are very easy for the tongue to say, but they are very heavy in the balance and are very dear to The Beneficent (Allah), and they are, ‘Subhan Allah Al-’Azim and ‘Subhan Allah wa bihamdihi.’” [Bukhari Volume 8, Book 75, Number 415]

Thursday 7 July 2011

12 Tips for the Convert Muslim

1. Practice Islam as much as you can

“He who loves my Sunnah has loved me, and he who loves me will be with me in Paradise.”
-The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (Tirmidhi)

As a new Muslim, you will have trouble keeping up with prayers every day, fasting during Ramadan, and the many other practices in this religion. The struggle that we face, with such a radical change in lifestyle, is difficult and will take some time. Awkward moments are bound to happen, don’t fret. You are not expected to wake up at 4am every morning to pray tahajjud (extra night prayers). If you have problems with certain practices, then gradually work yourself into the mindset of worship. A counselor once told me when I was young, “How do you eat an elephant? Just One bite at a time.” Think of it as one step at a time. Pray to Allah (swt) and ask for Him to make it easy for you and the rest will come naturally.

Keeping up with your devotional practices is something that will strengthen your faith immensely. Read the Qur’an whenever possible. Find a collection of hadith, such as Riyadh us-Saliheen, and read it often. You will start to feel a connection to Allah (swt) and you will become used to Islam as a religion and way of life.

2. Respect your parents

“Heaven lies under the feet of your mother.”
-The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (Ahmad, Nasa’i)

Keeping up a good relationship with your family is essential. Try to avoid bringing up or taking part in controversial subjects regarding religion. This is almost unavoidable, but your parents will eventually accept that Islam is not going to turn you into a terrorist if you stay calm during these tense moments. Gradually, your parents will gain some respect and understanding of Islam and may start to become genuinely interested. This is a great sign and insha’Allah, God will make a way for them to accept Islam.

What you do not want to do is act like you know everything, attempt to debate everything, or overly defend yourself in a way that might make you angry or upset. This will just cause heartache and uneasiness. Your priority now should be to work on yourself.

3. Find a teacher

“For him who follows a path for seeking knowledge, Allah will ease for him the path to Paradise.”
-The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (Muslim)

Finding a teacher to bounce ideas off of is a great way to learn your deen (religion). I found it is good to find someone with as much knowledge as possible who also has an understanding of the English language and American culture. It is difficult to listen to someone with a thick accent or someone with a back-home mentality. When I first accepted Islam, I would drive every day to visit my teacher and I would ask him what seemed like an endless stream of questions. Sometimes he seemed overwhelmed! This is a great way to clarify things you hear on Sheikh Youtube or Google or any part of the Qur’an you are reading at the time.

This will also help you have a real grounding in the Islamic tradition. You will eventually have spent more time learning Islam than most people from Muslim families. Maintain a sense of humility if you do gain a lot of knowledge, as there will always be someone who will be more knowledgeable than you. Learn everything you can in small chunks, no one is asking you to be a scholar!

4. Keep away from debates and arguments

“Verily anger spoils faith as aloe spoils honey.”
-The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi)

Trying to constantly defend your religion is something that will cause you a lot of stress. I remember when I first accepted Islam, it seemed like the whole world was after me. This may happen to different people at different levels, but it was a very overwhelming experience for me. The best thing to do is avoid these arguments at all costs. If you are mature about your religion and display a desire to explain yourself without refuting others, then many doors will open for you. You are bound to give someone a refreshing view of Islam, which is what so many people are hungry for after seeing Islam in such a negative light in the media.

Staying away from these discussions will put you at peace and give you breathing room. A lot of converts are not really comfortable with bringing up their religion because of the backlash they receive. Personally, I recognized that if I just mention it when necessary, I get a more positive reaction. You’ll be surprised to hear “Oh that’s cool dude, what made you pick that religion?” This is always an opportunity for da’wah (inviting to Islam).

5. Gain a connection to the Arabic language

“Indeed, We have sent it down as an Arabic Qur’an that you might understand.”
-The Holy Qur’an, 12:2

This is one of my favorite parts of becoming a Muslim. To be honest, I’m a language-lover and I realize everyone is not the same in this regard. Just because you failed high school Spanish though doesn’t mean you will have trouble with Arabic. There are many tricks to learning the language that I won’t go into here, but there are ways to make this easier on yourself. These methods can be found online or in books; with a little research you can pave your way to gaining an understanding of Arabic.

Start by learning the alphabet and connecting letters together. You can learn this in an afternoon if you know someone that is a native Arabic speaker (but go at your own pace). Sit on that for a while and eventually you will be able to follow along in the Qur’an if you listen to a recitation on your computer or MP3 player. You will start to recognize words, after which you can get into simple grammar rules. I recommend learning common nouns and prepositions first (words like “in”, “on”, “for” and “with”).

Arabic can be really enjoyable, and you are bound to gain an Islamic vocabulary after listening to talks or lectures. Eventually you will know meanings of words like “furqaan” and “sajdah” and you’ll be able to use them in conversations with Muslims. Sabr (patience) is essential!

6. Understand Islam’s organic nature

“Those who make things hard for themselves will be destroyed. (He said it three times.)”
-The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (Muslim)

Coming to Islam will sometimes put you in a situation where you are overwhelmed with opinions that are hard to follow. As an example, one might be told that you have to wash your feet every time you make wudhu (ablution) unless you wipe over leather socks that have been worn from your previous wudhu. For most Americans, the idea of wearing leather socks is something that we find extremely unusual. If we do a little research, we find there are opinions of scholars that mention the permissibility of wiping over cotton socks (even ones with holes in them!). To an American convert, these opinions can cause a huge sigh of relief.

7. Maintain your Identity

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.”
-The Holy Qur’an, 49:1

Being a Muslim is a huge part of your identity now. That doesn’t mean you can’t barbeque with your friends or watch football on Sundays. If there are things in your culture that do not directly contradict with basic Islamic creed, then you are welcome to keep those things in your life. You do not need to start wearing Arab or Indian clothing. As long as your clothes cover what they are supposed to cover, you are in the clear.

Many converts are also exposed to really weird food that is overly spicy or funny tasting. This might lead us to think that eating curry is sunnah or something righteous. We can still have our own culture and tastes in food: pot roast and beans are still halal!

There are many other examples of things that you will be exposed to that are from foreign cultures and do not necessarily have anything to do with Islam. Our goal as new Muslims is to worship Allah (swt), not to add a Pakistani or Arab identity to our persona.

It is good to have a teacher who understands the subtleties of different opinion in fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and can inform you of differences among the scholars on issues that are of concern. Most people in masajid will have a very limited view of the juristic possibilities inside the Islamic tradition. Islam is a vast tradition and we should not make it small. These diverse opinions are there to help us, not cause strain on ourselves.

8. Force yourself to go to the masjid

“The person who receives the greatest reward for the Salah is one who lives the farthest and has the farthest to walk.”
-The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (Bukhari, Muslim)

Going on Fridays is a given, but I would also recommend trying to fit a few prayers (at least) per week in the masjid. This will open many doors for you and will insha’Allah grant many good deeds to your account. You will meet people who are connected to Islam; networking opportunities are more readily available; and you are bound to make long-lasting friends. This is one of the things that I really love about Islam, that you can almost always find people in the masjid.

Although this may be hard initially, try and go to the masjid. The payoff will be huge, even if you just pray and leave right after. You will eventually warm up to the community and you can feel more comfortable going to the masjid whenever you like.

9. Find Muslim friends and avoid severing ties

“On the Day of Resurrection Allah Almighty will proclaim: “Where are those who have mutual love for My Glory’s sake? Today I shall shelter them in My shade where there is no shade but Mine.”
-The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (Muslim)

Saying “As-salamu ‘Alaykum” ( “Peace be upon you”) to people you see on campus or at the grocery store is a real blessing in Islam. It immediately lets people know you are Muslim and they usually will be happy to return the greeting and hopefully share a few words with you. Doors of friendship will be opened and you will meet lots of people. Try and spend some time with Muslims when you can. It is beneficial to remind yourself that you are not the only Muslim on the planet and you share your religion with almost 2 billion people around the globe.

Also, don’t sever your friendships with your non-Muslim friends unless they are constantly partying or using the list of major sins as their weekend to-do list. You can be a light to your Christian, Agnostic, Jewish, or Atheist friends. You never know who Allah (swt) will guide, and showing that you are living an ethical life can encourage these people to learn a little about Islam or change their mind to having a positive view of the religion.

10. Avoid Loneliness

“Islam began as something strange and will revert to being strange as it began, so give glad tidings to the strangers.”
-The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (Muslim)

This is a major problem in the convert community. We are lonely. The best thing we can do to fight the feeling of loneliness is to spend as much time as possible with good company. Having dinners with people a few nights a week is a sure way to maintain a good attitude. The practice of becoming a nun or a monk is alien to Islam; we are social creatures and Islam recognizes this.

Try not to lock yourself away in your apartment to avoid the world. This will just cause a vicious cycle that will cause deep depression and can lead to searching for solace in haram (unlawful).

Make it an obligation on yourself to remain a sociable human being. It takes a lot of work but the result is happiness and contentment in life.

11. Stay away from extremism

“And thus we have made you a just community that you will be witnesses over the people.”
-The Holy Qur’an, 2:143

Most converts do not enter Islam looking for an extremist point of view. Unfortunately, we have seen some converts do end up overseas working for terrorist organizations. This is something that can happen from a person feeling victimized or ostracized by their own culture and being overcome with anger.

I personally have not had a problem with anyone trying to “radicalize” me. It does happen enough though that it should be a concern. It will be best for you to keep your head on your shoulders and not get caught up with extreme points of view. Know that all of the scholars overseas and in America have absolutely refuted terrorism in their fatawa (legal rulings). Extremism is on the very edges of the Islamic thought. Do your best to stay on a middle way.

12. Do not despair

“So know that victory is with patience, and relief is with distress and that with hardship comes ease.”
-The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ

Being a convert to Islam, you will face a lot of tribulations. There is not anything that you cannot overcome though, and never despair in Allah (swt).

Allah (swt) guided to you to Islam, you searched for the answer and you found it. Be happy and constantly remind yourself of the blessings in your life. There are a lot of good things that will happen to you and you are on the straight road to Jannah (paradise). Rejoice in being Muslim. Remember the Sahabah (companions) were all converts to Islam and they were human beings that came from Adam and Eve just like you! Be strong and find comfort in your prayers and worship to Allah (swt). The first six months were the hardest for me, and insha’Allah we will all continue to grow as a convert community in America.


Wednesday 6 July 2011

Saudi Arabian torment of migrant workers at mercy of abusive 'madams'

Shortly after dawn, as the sun rises over the hills behind the city, tens of thousands of women will wake in the Saudi Arabian port of Jeddah and go to work. Maybe 14 or 16 hours later, their day will be over.

They are maids, almost all from the Philippines or Indonesia, working for £100-£200 a month. There are more than 500,000 of them in Saudi Arabia, among nearly nine million foreign workers who sweep roads, clean offices, staff coffee shops, drive the cars that women are banned from driving and provide the manpower on the vast construction projects.

The story of the maids rarely receives attention, except when a new shocking incident reveals once again the problems many of them face. Last weekend a 54-year-old Indonesian maid was beheaded by sword for killing her female boss with a cleaver. Ruyati binti Sapubi had, an Islamic court heard, endured years of abuse before finally attacking her "madam", as the maids call their employers, when denied permission to return home.

Another Indonesian maid also faces execution for killing her boss whom she alleges tried to rape her. Other recent incidents include a Sri Lankan maid who had nails driven into her legs and arms by her employers, and another who was scalded with a hot iron.

Every year, thousands of the maids run away from their employers in Saudi Arabia.

Often physically or mentally scarred, they find themselves in a legal limbo. In Saudi Arabia, the consent of employers or "sponsors" is needed before any worker can leave the country.

Last week the Observer was able to visit a secret shelter in Jeddah – there are others elsewhere in Saudi Arabia – where 50 women are being looked after by well-wishers. The shelter is tolerated by local authorities, but the women who stay there, often for months on end, are not allowed to leave once they have entered and cannot use mobile phones. Sixteen sleep in a single room.

The maids say, however, that it is better than what they left behind. Most tell of fleeing employers who did not pay their wages; many talk of physical, mental or sexual abuse.

Rose, a 40-year-old from the island of Leyte, in the far south of the Phillipines, has spent five months in the shelter after fleeing from her employers after her "madam" threw keys into her face, narrowly missing an eye. "I don't know why she did it. She lost her temper," said Rose, whose wages were consistently in arrears.

Many exist in an illegal netherworld in the sprawling city itself. Muneera, a 33-year-old from the Muslim south of the Philippines – from where many of the maids in deeply conservative Saudi Arabia come – told the Observer that she was sleeping on friends' floors after fleeing her employers. The family she worked for was "kind", Muneera said, but the hours were unbearable.

"I worked from 5am to 1am, almost every day. I got up to make the children breakfast and get them ready to go to school and then cleaned the house all day, and in the evening my employers would go out and come back at midnight and want dinner. Finally it was just too much," she said.

Beth Medina, a 46-year-old maid, said she ran away after two months. "I had no idea what it was going to be like. If there was a single hair on the floor, madam was angry at me. The only food I got was leftovers from their dinner. If there wasn't any, I got bread," she told the Observer.

Few of the maids, who are often recruited by agencies in the Philippines, have much idea about where they are going or what will be expected of them. Terms of employment are also variable. As domestic workers, they are not protected by Saudi labour law.

Riyadh recently rejected demands from Manila for medical insurance for maids and for information on employers to be supplied before their departure. For their part, Philippine officials refused to accept a cut in the minimum wage for maids from $400 a month to $200. The result is a moratorium on the hiring of maids. Indonesia has also stopped its citizens travelling to Saudi Arabia following the execution last week.

Yet the governments are likely to come to some arrangement. There have been such standoffs before, and in relative terms the foreign workers generate huge sums of cash, most of which is sent to needy families at home and provides important revenues for developing nations. Saudi Arabia was the source of £17bn of such "remittances" last year, second only to the US. Entire states in some countries depend on the funds flowing in.

Money from the Gulf has transformed parts of India, particularly the Keralan coast, where many Muslims who work in Saudi Arabia live, for example. With such huge sums at stake, the plight of the odd "camel shepherd who dies unnoticed in the desert for a wage of $50 per week" is seen as unimportant, said Mohammed Iftikar, an Indian who works on behalf of foreign workers in Jeddah.

But the problems are growing. The number of foreign workers in the kingdom has been edging up, from a quarter of the total population a decade ago to nearly a third today. At the same time, youth unemployment in Saudi Arabia is approaching 30%.

The Saudi government is now trying to impose tight restrictions on the number of foreigners any company can hire and clamping down on long-term overseas workers.

"We have a young population. We need to generate 6.5 million jobs. At the moment we have jobs that people don't like to do. So either we create jobs that people like, or we try to convince people to accept the jobs that are available," Dr Abdul Wahid bin Khalid al-Humaid, the vice-minister of labour, told the Observer in an interview in Riyadh last week. Analysts say it is unlikely, however, that Saudis will replace the foreigners soon.

Many foreign workers arrive illegally, smuggled in from Qatar, Kuwait or Yemen. There are estimated to be tens of thousands of "absconders" – as those who have run away from the jobs for which their residence permits were issued are called – from Nepal alone. And the wealth of Saudi Arabia, where the per capita GDP is more than £15,000, continues to attract more people.

Many workers both enjoy their time in Saudi Arabia and are grateful for the opportunity employment there gives them. Their example encourages others to travel too.

Eileen, a 44-year-old maid from Iloilo in the Philippines, said her employers always paid her monthly wage of £400 on time and even "invited [her] to eat with them sometimes". Though she gets up at 5.30am and works until late in the evening, she has some time off in the day and each summer travels with the family on holiday to Europe.

With the money she earns, Eileen supports the four children of her brother, who died in a car accident last year. "Maybe I am lucky," she said.

One result of the huge foreign population is a cosmopolitanism that lightens the otherwise severe and puritanical atmosphere in Saudi Arabia. Every major city has its "immigrant quarter", where people from a score or more countries fill cheap restaurants serving food from across Asia and further afield or simply sit on street corners where a dozen different languages can be heard.

In Jeddah, it is the old city, Balad. On a Friday night, its car-choked streets were full of Filipino care workers in embroidered headscarves bringing colour to their obligatory black, Saudi-style, abbaya gowns; Indian labourers smoking enthusiastically; Sudanese teenagers earning a few riyals by washing windscreens; and Afghan children begging. Recent arrivals from central Africa collected cardboard packaging to sell for recycling. In the Selamat Datang cafe, Indonesian hotel workers downed traditional dishes from home – with rice, a bowl of soup and a Pepsi – for 14 riyal (£2.30).

For Rose, the maid stuck in the secret shelter, and Muneera, the runaway sleeping on friend's floors, such scenes hold little attraction. Their needs, they say, are simple. Muneera just needs a way out of the trap she has fallen into. She says she will go to the Philippine consulate and seek help.

Rose just wants an exit visa, the money for a flight home and enough cash left over to allow her three children to go back to school. "I hope I will go soon," she said.


Tuesday 5 July 2011

Fighting 'hate speech' smears on Sheikh Salah

Writing in the Guardian newspaper Hanan Zoabi, a member of the Knesset, where she represents the Balad Party, asks how Sheikh Raed Salah's "struggle for equality" has become a "form of racism?"

She is no doubt perplexed to find a fellow defender of the Palestinian liberation struggle defined as a 'hate-preacher' by the British Government. "Since when" she pleads, "have states that boast of their democratic credentials acquired the right to arrest people for their political views?"

To answer Zoabi's questions and to explain the extraordinary decisions to ban, arrest and deport the Palestinian leader Sheikh Raed Salah from Britain it is necessary to understand the long standing role of influential pro-Israel, neo-conservative lobby groups in Westminster and Washington.

The best place to start is 9/11. As we approach the tenth anniversary of al-Qaeda's terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon it has become fashionable to suggest that the worst excesses of the war on terror are behind us.

In truth, the pro-Israel, neo-conservative architects of the war on terror in Washington will be celebrating their ongoing success in falsely conflating a war against Palestinian resistance with what might otherwise have been a legitimate counter-terrorism strategy against al-Qaeda terrorists.

A key ingredient in this success has been to adopt the powerful and pejorative term 'hate-preacher' to describe leaders of Palestinian resistance against Israeli oppression and to put them in the same category as al-Qaeda terrorists.

Although taking their cue from sister think-tanks like Middle East Forum in Washington, Westminster based lobby groups and their media acolytes including Policy Exchange, Henry Jackson Society and the Centre for Social Cohesion, have been at the forefront of a decade long campaign to reduce Palestinian resistance leaders to the same status as al-Qaeda terrorists.

When the Washington based cheerleader for the war on terror Daniel Pipes came to Westminster in 2006 to chastise Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London at the time, for inviting Sheikh Yusef al Qaradawi to London, he insisted that politicians in Westminster should adopt a tougher response to 'hate preachers' like Qaradawi. Policy Exchange led the Westminster based campaign to endorse and cement Pipes' recommendation as policy.

Regrettably Westminster politicians like Ken Livingstone and Jeremy Corbyn, who was due to share a platform with Sheikh Raed Salah in London this week, are few and far between. Whether Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat, those politicians with their hands on the levers of power in Westminster have consistently adopted pro-Israeli recommendations to denigrate Palestinian support as anti-Semitic 'hate speech'.

'Hate speech' and 'hate preacher' has also been used to conflate Palestinian resistance leaders with leaders of far right organisations like Nick Griffin of the British National Party. This invidious denigration has been aimed at Muslim leaders in Britain as well as those abroad. Dean Godson, the architect of Policy Exchange's strategy in this arena, was the first to argue that mainstream Muslim leaders in Britain who failed to condemn Palestinian resistance in the same terms as al-Qaeda terrorism were on par with racist leaders like Griffin.

Established visitors to Britain like popular Muslim speaker Zakir Naik have also fallen foul of this same policy to ban 'hate preachers'. Naik's case in particular highlights the double standard that is being applied to the detriment of Muslim leaders in and outside Britain. It is inconceivable to think that a charismatic religious speaker of any other faith would have been banned from Britain for saying exactly the same as Naik.

Since British Home Secretary Theresa May unveiled a tough new 'Prevent' strategy last month that aims to crackdown on 'extremists' it has become inevitable that the pro-Israel, neo-con think-tanks in Westminster would become pro-active in their efforts to highlight candidates for exclusion like Sheikh Raed Salah. They will be delighted with the outcome, notwithstanding an apparent administrative slip up that initially allowed Sheikh Salah to enter Britain without question.

It is the great success of the pro-Israel, neo conservative lobby in Washington and Westminster that they have achieved an exceptional status for Palestinian and Muslim leaders. The war on terror has provided them with perfect cover.

However, Sheikh Salah and his supporters may have the last laugh. The British judiciary remains a thorn in the side of Westminster politicians who attempt to side step legal process in the name of the war on terror – or now, as part of a strategy to prevent extremism and hate speech as this counter-subversion strategy has been re-branded. If he is allowed to appeal the deportation decision, a British judge may well take the view that Sheikh Salah has far more in common with Nelson Mandela than the late Osama bin Laden or Nick Griffin.

Anger and frustration with Israeli oppression is hardly the same as unwarranted hatred of a minority or majority community of any kind.

Moreover, it is widely understood in Britain that Mandela's resort to terrorism against the apartheid regime in South Africa is inherently distinguishable from al-Qaeda's development of the same terrorist tactic. Former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband went further and suggested that the terrorist tactics of Mandela's group, the African National Congress, could be morally justified.

However, unlike Palestinian and Muslim leaders since 9/11, Mandela has never been asked to renounce the political grievances that prompted his resort to terrorism – merely the tactic of terrorism. The same is true of former Sin Fein and IRA leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness who remain staunch Irish republicans to this day.

It is difficult to find anything in Sheikh Salah's so-called hate speech that would not have occasioned an entirely opposite response from the British Home Secretary had the words been uttered by a non-Muslim visiting Britain.

It is to be hoped that common sense will prevail in this case. If Sheikh Salah is able to share future platforms with the London MP Jeremy Corbyn they will form a strong alliance against political injustice which is the only sound basis for public safety in the age of al-Qaeda inspired terrorism. Corbyn has demonstrated how effective Palestinians such as Mohammed Sawlaha have been against al-Qaeda propagandists in London. Together Corbyn and Salah offer justice and hope against the real purveyors of hate speech in Westminster and Washington.

Dr Robert Lambert is Co-Director of the European Muslim Research Centre and the University of Exeter and author of Countering al-Qaeda in London which will be published by Hurst in September 2011.


Monday 4 July 2011

The Curious Case of Women in Pakistan

The news of an elderly woman being paraded naked in Haripur, a remote village in Punjab, is really heart throbbing. Her crime? Her son is accused of adultery with a fellow village woman. The village jury declares her son guilty and the victim (her mother) is paraded around the streets naked, as the punishment. Justice dispensed! I wonder if the chief arbiter had pronounced the same verdict had he been accused of adultery/rape. But that is another story. In our Orwellian world, some people are just more equal than others.

So, what then, disturbs me is the fact that why, each time, a mother has to pay for the crimes of her son? Why, always, is a sister punished for a wrong done by her brother? Is this our way of restoring honour? Bartering and exchanging girls like cattle, raping them in the open, siccing dogs on them, and now, parading them naked on the streets. The simple logic that two wrongs never make one right seems incomprehensible to our ‘jurists’.

More importantly, these acts reflect the kind of society that we have become: an intolerant, chauvinistic and lawless masses thriving on hatred and insanity; these reports barely make us flinch. Most of us have adopted an ‘Ahh-soo-sad-but-that-happens’ attitude. Perhaps, because we have developed a stomach to tolerate these abuses of human rights or simply because we do not consider women human anymore.

Time and again, we hear about these ghastly crimes being committed against the weaker sex but we choose to remain silent. The Ghairat brigade (self-proclaimed patriots) in our country seem too busy for these ‘trivial’ issues for they have other important things in life to attend to. Of course, chanting slogans in favour of a murderer, showering him with rose petals, bringing valentines cards for him, protesting against the veil ban in France, and yes, blaming Amreeka for the load shedding, floods, earthquakes, traffic jams, gas shortages and everything but, are certainly significant national issues for them.

Why do these intimidating black robes and flowing beards who march down the streets threatening against a change in the blasphemy law remain quiet when it comes to supporting the Domestic Violence Act? Why do not they protest against the so called Honour killings? Where is honour in murdering and raping women I ask? Perhaps, we do know the answers.

To be precise, this violent behavior of most men towards women has been embedded into our mind-sets buttressed by cultural and religious connotations. In most of our villages, suburbs and even in some metropolitans, women are severely secluded. The society where mere talking to a stranger constitutes adultery and choosing a life partner causes dishonour for the family, it is only natural then that these women are punished for their ‘crimes’. Part of the reason behind these crimes against humanity is that the women in most parts of our society are considered mere objects. They are sold, bartered and exchanged with impunity; they literally do not have any rights.

Our State remains hostage to influential landlords and other powerful non-State actors; the powerful are tacitfully allowed to take matters into their hands and perpetuate violence against women. The ‘landmark’ case of Mukhtaran Mai is just one example. Gang raped in front of the entire village of Meerval near Multan in 2002 on the orders of a Jirga (traditional system of arbitration), Mukhtaran was threatened to remain silent. But she chose to fight, registering a case against the culprits. Eight out of the 14 accused were acquitted initially and after nine long years of struggle, she finally received the verdict. Five out of the remaining six were released for the lack of evidence. She is just one of hundreds of Mukhtarans who are abused every year. According to an HRCP report, around 3000 women were raped and another 791 murdered for honour in 2010 alone.

Albeit horrible, these figures should not be surprising. When criminals go unpunished and victims are derided, why would others hesitate in perpetuating similar crimes? Our nation is indifferent to the hundreds of Mukhtarans; none of who are getting justice.

We as citizens must also be held responsible for such atrocities. Women rights violations are secondary issues for us; always more interested in following more important myriad conspiracy theories that the evil US and the Western Alliance is hatching against this ‘land of the pure’. Most of us were more interested in following the Osama-Obama saga while virtually none noticed that four different cases of murder and violence were reported against women in that week alone.

How many of us protested when the draconian Hudood laws (I say draconian because they are abused in the name of God) were inflicted upon us? Why are we quiet when the government reneges on its promise to approve the Domestic Violence Bill, but go paranoid when the US detains Afia Siddiqui? Are our Mukhtarans any less worthy because they are abused in Pakistan whereas Afia is in the US? Our priorities appear confusing at best and disgusting at worst.

The only way out of this abyss is to set our priorities straight. We have to make a decision between remaining a barbaric society that tortures and humiliates half of its populace or choose to become a civilized community that does not discriminate against the opposite sex. We must rise above the mere rhetoric of supporting women and make a genuine effort to give our women their due right.

Zulfiqar Ali is an intern at He is an undergraduate studying politics at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.