Tuesday 31 January 2012

Sheltering the marginalised: The Pakistani Mother Teresa

LAHORE: Meet Josephine, a 34-year-old divorced mother of two. She runs an orphanage outside Lahore, where she gives shelter to children and has become a saviour to those bonded by labour.

“I visit brick kiln factories, where single parents and the elders of orphans make these little ones work to pay the debt they have taken,” says Josephine
Her task is not an easy one, as she has to convince the guardians that they are better off with her. “I am currently pursuing a mother of five to give her children to me because her husband died and now she has to work day and night along with her children to pay his debt.”
Brick kiln owners are the main hurdle and have threatened her. “They say if I can pay their loan, I can take the children, otherwise they will work till the loan is paid.”

In Pakistan, although illegal, slavery in brick kiln factories is common knowledge and it originates from a vicious circle of debt which sucks in labourers. Josephine has surveyed these factories for a year and has been able to convince almost 20 families to give their children to her.
She only helps the Christian minority currently because she feels they are more marginalised. “Most of the workers at these places are of Christian faith, and that is why I contact the local pastor of the area and take him along too, to get easy access.”

Trained to be a nun but not allowed by her parents to leave the country, Josephine now uses what she has learnt to mother the orphans.
She has rented an upper portion of a house, 20 kilometers outside Lahore, for Rs5,000 per month, where she lives with her own two offspring plus another 10 boys and 7 girls.

“I do not have any funding source. I teach at a local private school, and with whatever money I get, I try to give these children their lives back.” Along with this, she receives help from her brothers and the school principal where she is employed, but things are still hard. “Thankfully the principal has acknowledged my efforts, and has waived off fee for these children.”

Surprisingly, ever since she started the orphanage, she has been asked by a number of parents to take their children away. “People are so poor in these villages that they want to get rid of the children even they are not in debt.”
But she rejects them saying that she doesn’t want those who are orphans to feel different while living with such children who have parents.
The children in Josephine’s care were not allowed to go to school due to their slavery status, Now they have learnt how to read and write.


Monday 30 January 2012

'Strict Muslim' raped four women at knifepoint to 'punish them for being on the streets at night'

Comment: Only 11 years imprisonment! This is a disgrace, this man is a curse on humanity.

A Muslim man who raped women to 'teach them a lesson' for being on the streets at night was jailed indefinitely today because of the danger he poses to women.
Sunny Islam, 23, who comes from a strict Muslim family, dragged his terrified victims - including a 15-year-old - from the street at knifepoint, bound and assaulted them during a two-month reign of terror.
Police fear that Islam may have attacked many more.
Three of the assaults took place close to his home in Barking, east London, while a fourth occurred in nearby Forest Gate.
Judge Patricia Lees, sentencing him to a minimum of 11 years, said: 'The harm you have done to your victims is incalculable.
'The nature and extent of these offences drives me to the conclusion that you represent an extreme and continuing danger to women, particularly those out at night.'
He was traced through the number plate of his girlfriend's car after he kidnapped and raped the 15-year-old in September 2010.
He grabbed her from behind as she walked home with a friend and bundled her into the car at knifepoint before driving to a secluded spot where he raped her twice despite her claiming she was only 11 years old.

Judge Lees said: 'You told her you were going to "teach her a lesson", and similar things were said to the other women.
'Those words are a chilling indictment of your very troubling attitude towards all of these victims.
'You seem to observe women out at night as not deserving respect or protection.

'I have no doubt that you were out that night looking for a victim, as you were on each of these occasions.'
The teen, who feared she would be murdered, was in court and smiled as her attacker was jailed.
In a victim impact statement read to the court, she said: 'No one will ever understand the flashbacks - they are so real. At night, I lay in my bed and it is like I am there.
'It is like a screen in my mind forcing me to relive that night again and again.
'People will say time will heal, but I think time has helped me accept the truth - that I will never escape what has happened to me.'
After his arrest, Islam's DNA was linked with three other attacks near his home in Barking, prosecutor Sara Lawson told Woolwich Crown Court.

The judge said on July 8, 2010 he subjected a 20-year-old prostitute to 'his trademark double rape' and then tied her up, repeatedly punched her in the face and stole her wallet.
She said: 'He treated me like an animal and made me feel worthless - I thought I was going to die.'
Six days later, in Forest Gate, he struck again on a 28-year-old when he dragged her into his car and forced her to commit a sex act.
She managed to kick out the back window of his car and escape despite being throttled.
His fourth victim, also attacked in September, did not come forward until police found the 31-year-old's blood in the back of the car along with a knife he used to threaten his victims and plastic ties he bound them with.
She was repeatedly repeatedly punched in the face until she was bleeding and then tied up and raped twice.

Islam, who told the jury he was a practising Muslim, was convicted of seven charges of rape, one of sexual assault and one of kidnap.
Tana Adkin, defending, said: 'The only piece of mitigation is his age. He was 21 at the time of these offences and comes from something of a strict background.'
His mother, in religious dress, sat with her covered head bowed throughout and wept as her son was jailed.
Judge Lees said: 'The fact that you have attacked these women not withstanding your background must represent your own wholly warped personality.'
After the trial, Det Chief Insp John Sandlin, of the Homicide and Serious Crime Command who investigated the offences, said they believed there may be other victims who had not come forward, but Islam has not been charged with any further offences.


Sunday 29 January 2012


A military commander appointed by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once issued an improper order to his troops. When the soldiers asked the Prophet about how they should have reacted to the order, he said: "(There is) no obedience (required) for evil deeds. Obedience is required only in what is good."

Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Hadith 363

Saturday 28 January 2012

Imam Bukhari: The founder of Hadith science

Imam Bukhari is a name that creates a sense of reverence and respect in every Muslim's heart. He was one of the greatest scholars of Islam and the founder of Hadith science. His prestigious compilation named Jame Al-Sahih is regarded as the second authentic book of Islam after the Holy Qur'an.

It was in the second century Hijrah when most of the Sahaba who had learned Islam from the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) directly were diminishing one after another. The last of Prophet's companions passed away in 110 A.H. Subsequently a possibility of misquoting the Prophet (peace be upon him) by some people with vested interest was quite apparent. So it was essential to collect and authenticate true Hadiths without sponsorship of any ruling authority, regional or national. It was a gigantic work to collect all the prevailing statements and to classify them into the relevant categories, as authentic, good, poor and false.

This was a great task, which Imam Bukhari, a non-Arab from Khorasan, shouldered. He spent 16 years in searching, collecting and refining the material of Hadith. Not only this, he fixed the most rigid rules to evaluate and authenticate any circulating Hadith. Thus he is known as the Founder of Hadith science. The rest of his life was spent in teaching and propagating the Hadith literature. One of his students, Imam Muslim, rose to the second position in the world in Hadith compilation.

Imam Bukhari was born in Bukhara in 196 A.H. (810 A.D.) now in Uzbekistan). His father died when he was still young. He had lost his sight in infancy but his mother's prayers and invoking blessed him a sharp sight and sharp memory that enabled him to read and write in the moonlight and if he had read or heard something, it would remain in his memory forever.

He memorized the Holy Qur'an at the age of 9. Then began to learn Hadith from scholars of his region. At the age of 18 he traveled to Makkah and stayed there for 16 years collecting Hadiths. He visited Egypt and Syria twice, Basra four times, spent many years in Hijaz and went to Kufa and Baghdad many times. It is said that he learned about 600,000 Hadith from more than 1,000 scholars.

While returning to Bukhara after 16 years he began to compile Jame Al Sahih. He judged 7,275 Hadith from his large collection and arranged them in 93 chapters. Though Imam Bukhari wrote many books, he shot to prominence because of Tarikh Al-Kabeer, Adab Al-Mufrad and Sahih Al-Bukhari. The first one he wrote in full moon nights at the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah. Imam Bukhari had a very sharp memory. He memorized 70,000 Hadiths at an early age and later in his life, this figure reached 300,000. Among those 100,000 Hadiths were Sahih and 200,000 were Hasan, Da`îf, etc.

In 250 A.H. he settled at Neshapur where he met Muslim ibn Al Hujjaj as his disciple who compiled Sahih Al-Muslim which is regarded only second to Bukhari in the Muslim world.

Imam Bukhari's book on Hadith is regarded as the top of Sahah Sitta which are the most authentic six books of Hadith collected during 200-300 AH. These are:

• Sahih Bukhari by Imam Bukhari (D. 256 A.H.),

• Sahih Muslim by Muslim ibn Al Hujjaj (D. 261 A.H.),

• Sunan Al-Sughra by Al-Nasa'i (D. 302 A.H.)

• Sunan Abu Dawood by Abu Dawood (D. 274 A.H.)

• Jami Al-Tirmidhi by Al-Tirmidhi (D. 278 A.H.)

• Sunan ibn Majah by Ibn Majah (D. 273 A.H.)

Hafiz Ahmad bin Adi has described that when Imam Bukhari reached Baghdad, the leading scholars tried to test him and mixed 100 Hadith between the narrators’ chain and the text and gave to 100 persons to ask the authenticity of such Hadiths. Imam Bukhari said he never heard any Hadith like this. Then he repeated the incorrect Hadith as quoted by each questioner and then recited the corrected Hadith for each person separately. The people were astonished on the depth of his knowledge and paid great respect to him.

Imam Bukhari was a rich person but he lived life of a very simple man giving most of his income to the poor. Mohammed Hatim Warraq, one of his disciples said that when Imam was establishing a Sarai (inn) near the city of Bukhara, he was laying bricks with his own hands. When Warraq said to him, leave this job for me, he replied, “On the Day of Judgment this work will be of benefit to me.” Regarding his worship it is said that Imam recited the entire Qur'an daily in Ramadan and recited one third of it in the night prayers.

In 250 A.H., Imam Bukhari moved to Neshapur where he was well received. Imam Muslim Neshapuri said he had never seen such a grand reception given to any scholar or ruler. Imam Bukhari began his lectures, which were attended by thousands. His popularity irritated the local ruler and Imam Bukhari decided to leave Neshapur for Bukhara where again he was received with great enthusiasm. He began his lectures and also established a school for regular teaching. But after some time due to differences with the local ruler he decided to leave his hometown for Samarqand.

But when he was still a few miles away from the city he was prevented from entering it. When he found he had no place to go, he prayed to Almighty Allah saying, “O Allah, the Earth despite its grandeur is becoming narrow for me and is troubling me greatly. So take me back to You.” His prayers were answered and he died at Khartang, a place between Samarqand and Bukhara. It was on the night of Eid Al-Fitr, the first night of Shawwal 256 A.H. He is buried in Muhammad Al-Bukhari mausoleum at Khartang near Samarkand, in Uzbekistan

“Abd Al-Wahid ibn Adam Awaysi states: ‘I saw the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) in dream standing with a group of Sahaba and asked, 'For whom are you waiting?' He replied, 'For Bukhari.' After a few days I heard the news of Imam Bukhari's death. He had died at the very moment that I saw the Prophet (pbuh) in my dream.”

Sahih Al Bukhari is regarded as the most authentic collection of Hadiths, which covers almost all aspects of human life in providing proper guidance from the Holy Prophet. As for piety, Imam Al-Bukhari never wrote any Hadith in this book without performing two rakah salat of guidance from Allah and when he was sure of its authenticity, only then he wrote it in the book.

Imam Bukhari lived for 62 years only but during his span of life he did a marvelous work, which has been guiding the Ummah for the last 1,200 years. Tens of commentaries have been written on his treatise and hundreds of scholars are teaching Bukhari to thousand of students daily around the world. May Almighty Allah grant him the best reward.

Friday 27 January 2012

Which is the best of Islam?

'Abdullah ibn 'Amr reported that a man asked the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, "Which is the best of Islam?" He replied, "Feeding people and giving the greeting to those you know and those you do not know."

Wednesday 25 January 2012

‘Bol’: a feminist film

A student of mine whose father is a film distributor in the Middle East was able to hold a private screening for her friends (and me!) of the Indian/Pakistani film ‘Bol’ (speech/words/speak) that I mentioned here on Facebook. I am very happy that I was able to watch it and encourage every Muslim who calls themselves feminist to watch it. Bol is a Hindi/Urdu word that is often a noun meaning speech or words, even lyrics but can also be an imperative to mean ‘speak!’

Bol is Pakistani film producer and director Shoaib Mansoor’s brilliant work. Mansoor has very artfully raised almost all the issues that Muslim feminists address regularly. I would call Bol a bold Muslim feminist film. Some of the general and feminist themes that I noticed Mansoor tackle are:

Deep rooted and menacing desire for a male child
Scorn and hatred for the “third gender” (as has now been officially accepted in Pakistan)
Desire for the female child by the segment of society that lives off prostituting women
Honour killing
Forced marriages
Giving young women in marriage to much older men
Wife beating
Theft and its micro and macro effects
Extortion and bribery
Denial of education to women
Lack of use of contraception
Scorn for rationalism
Disregard for public by politicians
Belief amongst the under-educated class that gender of the fetus is determined by the mother
Superstitious belief in tarot reading

The desire for a male child is a theme that runs throughout the film and is one that gives rise to other themes. The “patriarch” (I seem to be really milking this term!) of the family, Hakim Sahab, wants a son and this desire causes his wife to become pregnant fourteen times. The eldest daughter, Zainab, is the protagonist of the film who yells towards the end “why is it that only killing someone is a crime while giving birth isn’t?”

Sometimes indirectly and often directly Mansoor tries his best to educate people about issues that plague many societies especially his Pakistani society. There are some points I found powerfully poignant in the film. For example, in one scene Zainab engages in an argument with her father who is abusing her for making her mother undergo tubal litigation after her fourteenth pregnancy that had made her very ill. Hakib Sahab tells his daughter that even though they are deathly poor this should not stop him from having more children and trying for a son because it is Allah who “gives food if He gives mouths” and that the Prophet had once shown his desire to have “the greatest ummah (following) on the Day of Judgment.” At this Zainab retorts that if the first argument was true people wouldn’t be dying from hunger and poverty in many parts of the world and questions why Muslims always understand “greatest” as in population?! Why couldn’t the Prophet have desired a following greatest in wisdom, honesty and prosperity?! Zainab shows her doubt that the Prophet could have wanted a populated ummah that was poor and “as stupid as an ass”! At this Hakim Sahab slaps Zainab for doubting the words and intentions of the Prophet that only he can understand better.

At another point in the film Hakim Sahab is being interrogated by police for murdering his son (who was not a problem for Hakim Sahab to kill since the child was a hermaphrodite and a tarot reading had allowed the father to make this easy decision). The police officer asks Hakim Sahab what prompted him to kill his own son and the latter replies that it was an “honour killing” (the child had been gang raped!). At this the police officer comments very matter-of-factly that “it is only daughters that are killed in the name of honour.”

Hakim Sahab also takes on another wife without the knowledge of his first wife. The second wife is a prostitute and part of his decision to remarry is his desire to have a son since his first wife is “only good at two things: cooking and producing girls.” Nevertheless, he is almost forced into marriage by his new father-in-law, a pimp by profession, who wants a granddaughter that he could prostitute since he has five “useless sons” of his own and he had learned that Hakim Sahab has seven daughters. It is this pimp who educates Hakim Sahab that science (which he says is often disregarded by homeopathic doctors and religious people) has proved that gender of an unborn child is determined by the sperm and not the egg. He is convinced that Hakim Sahab would be able to give him a granddaughter whereas the former doesn’t believe “faulty science” and is hopeful that the new and young wife would give him a son. He has another daughter.

Hakim Sahab who is portrayed as a deeply-religious man is shown having no inhibitions in marrying again without the knowledge of his first wife. He beats her at one point – quite mercilessly, losing his senses in a fit of rage and kicking her in the stomach several times. He kills his child in the name of honour when he is raped and beats Zainab several times in the film for “raising her voice” and “doubting hadith.” His beliefs are often naïve but also very common. He hates his Shite next-door neighbour, doesn’t believe in birth control, doesn’t believe in educating daughters, dislikes modern science, and holds superstitious beliefs. All this makes him a very strict, unhappy and angry man. The only two times he smiles in the film are when he thinks his wife has given birth to a son (who then is revealed by the doula to be a hermaphrodite) and when he is in the private chamber of his prostitute second wife. His innocent son notices his father’s behaviour very early on in his life. When Zainab encourages him to “act like a man” he says, “how hard is it to be a man? All you have to do is yell at your family and be angry.” Zainab corrects him that not all men are like their father.

That is the bottom line – while there may be many terrible men in this world, not all men are terrible. This world is beautiful because there are beautiful women and beautiful men. Good men like Hakim Sahab’s Shite neighbour and his son are also shown in the film. I think Shoaib Mansoor himself is a remarkable man for not only identifying but also boldly highlighting such disturbing issues.
Bol is a film that will leave you asking yourselves many questions. It is a film that has a hard throbbing feminist vein and since it is based on the life of a common Pakistani and Muslim family it may prove a valuable resource to those who are interested in exploring the lives of Muslim women in developing Muslim countries who don’t have the luxury, means or even the permission to know Islamic Feminism and what the movement is doing for their rights.


Monday 23 January 2012

In the line of fire: Tom Hurndall

The photographs and journal entries of the young activist Tom Hurndall – who was killed at the age of 21 by a sniper – are a visceral portrait of the conflict in the Middle East, says Robert Fisk

I don't know if I met Tom Hurndall. He was one of a bunch of 'human shields' who turned up in Baghdad just before the Anglo-American invasion in 2003, the kind of folk we professional reporters make fun of. Tree huggers, that kind of thing. Now I wish I had met him because – looking back over the history of that terrible war – Hurndall's journals show a remarkable man of remarkable principle. "I may not be a human shield," he wrote on 17 March from his Amman hotel. "And I may not adhere to the beliefs of those I have travelled with, but the way Britain and America plan to take Iraq is unnecessary and puts soldiers' lives above those of civilians. For that I hope that Bush and Blair stand trial for war crimes."

Hurndall got it about right, didn't he? It wasn't so simple as war/no war, black and white, he wrote. "Things I've heard and seen over the past few weeks prove what I already knew; neither the Iraqi regime, nor the American or British, are clean. Maybe Saddam needs to go but... the air war that's proposed is largely unnecessary and doesn't discriminate between civilians and armed soldiers. Tens of thousands will die, maybe hundreds of thousands, just to save thousands of American soldiers having to fight honestly, hand to hand. It is wrong." Oh, how many of my professional colleagues wrote like this on the eve of war? Not many.

We pooh-poohed the Hurndalls and their friends as groupies, even when they did briefly enter the South Baghdad electricity station and met one engineer, Attiah Bakir, who had been horrifyingly wounded 11 years earlier when an American bomb blew a fragment of metal into his brain. "You can see now where it struck," Hurndall wrote, "caving in the central third of his forehead and removing the bone totally. Above the bridge of his broken nose, there is only a cavity with scarred skin covering the prominent gap..."

Hurndall's picture of Attiah Bakir shows him as a distinguished, brave man who refused to leave his place of work as the next war approached. He was silenced only when one of Hurndall's friends made the mistake of asking what he thought of Saddam's government. I cringed for the poor man. 'Minders' were everywhere in those early days. Talking to any civilian was almost criminally foolish. Iraqis were forbidden from talking to foreigners. Hence all those bloody minders (many of whom, of course, ended up working for Baghdad journalists after Saddam's overthrow).

Hurndall had a dispassionate eye. "Nowhere in the world have I ever seen so many stars as now in the western deserts of Iraq," he wrote on 22 February. "How can somewhere so beautiful be so wrought with terror and war as it is soon to be?" In answer to the questions asked of them by the BBC, ITV, WBO, CNN, Al Jazeera and others, Hurndall had no single reply. "I don't think there could be one, two or 100 responses," he wrote. "To each of us our own, but not one of us wants to die." Prophetic words for Tom to have written.

You can see him smiling selflessly in several of his snapshots. He went to cover the refugee complex at Al-Rweished and moved inexorably towards Gaza where he was confronted by the massive tragedy of the Palestinians. "I woke up at about eight in my bed in Jerusalem and lay in until 9.30," he wrote. "We left at 10... Since then, I have been shot at, gassed, chased by soldiers, had sound grenades thrown within metres of me, been hit by falling debris..."

Hurndall was trying to save Palestinian homes and infrastructure but frequently came under Israeli fire and seemed to have lost his fear of death. "While approaching the area, they (the Israelis) continually fired one- to two-second bursts from what I could see was a Bradley fighting vehicle... It was strange that as we approached and the guns were firing, it sent shivers down my spine, but nothing more than that. We walked down the middle of the street, wearing bright orange, and one of us shouted through a loudspeaker, 'We are international volunteers. Don't shoot!'. That was followed by another volley of fire, though I can't be sure where from..."

Tom Hurndall had stayed in Rafah. He was only 21 when – in his mother's words – he lost his life through a single, selfless, human act.

"Tom was shot in the head as he carried a single Palestinian child out of the range of an Israeli army sniper." He was a brave man who stood alone and showed more courage than most of us have dreamed of. Forget tree huggers. Hurndall was one good man and true.

Saturday 21 January 2012

Why British Muslim women struggle to find a marriage partner

A few years ago, at the behest of my mother, I attended a Muslim marriage event in Glasgow. These are events where Muslim men and women meet for the purpose of seeking an ideal marriage partner.

At the event, there were around five women to every man. Well-turned-out women sat around dejected, twiddling their thumbs, waiting to speak to the select few.

Sadly, it's not an isolated example. Up and down the country, hundreds of women in their 30s and 40s within the Asian Muslim community are struggling to find a marriage partner.

Nearly all Muslim singles events are female-dominated, unless organisers artificially construct a level playing field by selling equal numbers of male and female tickets.

In the latter case, there's always a stampede for female tickets. December's Canary Wharf Professionals Muslim marriage event saw the female ticket quota sell out three weeks before, whereas the male ticket quota only sold out days before.

Moreover, the average age of women at such events is typically higher than men. Rooful Ali, founder of Emerald Muslim events, believes that the average age of women attending tends to be early 30s, while for men it is late 20s.

Such occurrences are symptomatic of the growing Muslim spinster crisis, which has been brewing for some time and is rooted in cultural, rather than religious, trends.

First, there has always been a tradition for British men originating from the Indian subcontinent to marry women from their country of origin. Families encourage their sons to do so for a host of reasons, including the cultural expectation that girls from "back home" will stay with and look after their in-laws.

The second trend is for Muslim men to marry "women of the book" (Christian or Jewish women), which is permissible in Islam. Men are more likely to work and socialise with British Christian women than their female Muslim counterparts, which leads to a higher chance of such marriages occurring.

Both trends lead to a shortfall of available Muslim men.

For Muslim women, marrying men from their country of origin is rarely considered an option as they tend to want social, economic and intellectual equals or superiors. Men from their country of origin tend to have different mindsets and struggle to find jobs no matter how well qualified they are, thereby leaving women as the main breadwinners. This situation can often create a strenuous dynamic in relationships with men from patriarchal cultures.

Muslim women, unlike men, are restricted as to whom they can marry. Marrying men outside the faith is only considered permissible in most communities if the men convert.

Moreover, in line with national trends, Muslim women academically outperform the men. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission's How Fair is Britain? report, Bangladeshi and Pakistani women are more likely to be employed as professionals than their male counterparts. This means that professional Muslim women have an even smaller pool of intellectual and economic equals to choose from.

This is exacerbated by the fact that Asian men are likely to choose partners of lower economic and intellectual status as they traditionally grow up with working fathers and stay-at-home mothers, and generally choose to replicate this model.

Unfortunately, these imbalances are not widely acknowledged – many label older unmarried women as fussy. The effect on women is crippling. Many become depressed as a huge amount of importance is attached to marriage, and unmarried women are made to feel that they've failed.

Any real solution would require a complete cultural shift in mindset by parents, community leaders and imams. This will need geographically, socially and economically fractured communities to work together to achieve change – no easy feat. Until they do so, many women who want to marry men of the same faith will continue to struggle.

Dargah at Mahim, Mumbai

Photo I took on recent trip to Mumbai, I'm not encouraging visiting shrines (each to their own), just thought it was a nice picture.

Thursday 19 January 2012

'Imams out of touch with young Muslims'

Young Muslim men are turning away from religion in their droves because of the old-fashion attitudes in Britain’s mosques, according to the Prison Service’s Muslim advisor.

Ahtsham Ali said it was one of the reasons why a growing number of Muslims are turning to crime and finding themselves in prison.

In an interview with The Times, he also blamed family breakdown, problems resulting from arranged marriages, drugs and the absence of male role models.

The cleric was highly critical of UK mosques for failing to understand young Muslims raised in Britain and said a main factor was that most import foreign imams who cannot speak English and focus only on religious rituals.

Mr Ali, who has been the Prison Service’s adviser for eight-and-a-half-years, said: “Most will get imams imported from other countries who can’t speak English. More importantly they can’t relate to second and third-generation youngsters growing up here.

”It is a tragedy. I have seen youngsters, the next generation, just totally switch off from it. This is dangerous. It allows others to take advantage, to take up the vacuum.”

In March 2010, 10,358 of the 85,184 people in prison were Muslim, while there has been a steep rise in the number of Muslims behind bars over the past two decades, according to the National Offender Management Service.

Discussing other reasons why he believed the numbers are on the rise, the cleric added: “There is a lot of family breakdown happening now. The divorce rate is very high. I think there is a struggle for those who have been born and brought up here and their acceptance of arranged marriage.”

Mr Ali urged mosques to become more accessible to the young, for faith leaders to make religion fun and put more emphasis on teaching religious ethics.


Tuesday 17 January 2012

Daily Star editor endures Leveson grilling for 'anti-Islam' coverage

The editor of the Daily Star endured a bruising encounter at the Leveson inquiry today, facing sustained questioning over her newspaper's coverage of Muslims.

Counsel Robert Jay repeatedly showed Dawn Neesom front pages of her newspaper and asked if she considered them "ethical". "A journalist might feel the headlines we've been looking at stray way over the line of what's ethical," he said.

Mr Jay showed one front page featuring the headline: "Muslim thugs aged just 12 in knife attack on Brit school boy." He branded the language "tendentious", pointing out that the victim was described as "British", but the perpetrators, who were also British, were described as "Muslim". He also pointed out that the 'attack' actually referred to a comment on Facebook.

"It's not good," Ms Neesom admitted. She promised to pursue the issue "back in the office".

Asked repeatedly to demonstrate examples of positive coverage of Muslims, Ms Neesom could provide only one example – a story about a Muslim man who lost his son during the August riots and called on the community not to take revenge.

Ms Neesom promised to provide the inquiry with other examples of positive coverage. "We'll see what you provide," Mr Jay replied.

Ms Neesom insisted that as an employee of a Jewish-owned company she had never allowed positive coverage of the far-right English Defence League (EDL), despite media experts raising serious questions about the tone and prominence of its coverage of the group.

Asked about any arrangements for journalists to whistle-blow on issues they had with the working culture at the newspaper, Mr Jay suggested her answer was "another example of rather thin and non-existent systems".

Online, former Daily Star journalists ridiculed their old boss as she gave testimony. "It's funny how much Dawn 'isn't aware of' seeing as she stands at the subs [subeditor's] desk verbally writing the P1 [page one] headline on a daily basis," one said. Another wrote: "Someone buy Jay a pint. I've waited to watch Neesom skewered like this for a long, long time."

Sunday 15 January 2012

My favorite 2011 Good News Stories About Muslims

If you type “Muslims” or “Islam” into any google search, most of what comes up will be something negative. If any Muslim, anywhere, does something criminal, or just stupid, that story will be written about and reposted so that hundreds of articles will come up on that negative story.

These are a few of my favorite stories about Muslims during the past year of 2011 that did not receive nearly as much coverage, but were more important, and also more representative of the Muslim community.

In January, Muslims in Cairo, Egypt attended Coptic Christian Mass at various churches, serving as “human shields” against any extremist attacks ***

In January, Tariq Khanzada of Fremont, California was killed while trying to help a stranger whose car had crashed on the freeway. He parked his car in the shoulder lane and ran across the highway towards the center divide. The driver of the car was attempting to get out of the car when he realized another car was heading straight towards them. So he did what few others would do: Instead of fleeing to safety, he stood there to instruct the injured driver to remain in his vehicle. Within fractions of a second, two cars crashed into him, violently ending his life. But his noble actions that night saved the life of a man whose name he didn’t even know. ***

In January, in an interview with Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., television personality and Professor of Surgery at Columbia University Dr. Mehmet Oz spoke about his Islamic heritage, the varied religious practices of his Turkish parents, and how Sufi Islam informs his life. ***

In January, the Shoulder to Shoulder movement became an official organization with a website. Shoulder-to-Shoulder is an interfaith organization dedicated to ending anti-Muslim sentiment by strengthening the voice of freedom and peace. Founded in November 2010 by over 20 national religious groups, Shoulder-to-Shoulder works not only on a national level, but offers strategies and support to local and regional efforts to address anti-Muslim sentiment and seeks to spread the word abroad. ***

In January, The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), an active Steering Committee member of the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition (IDAC), a diverse, nonpartisan coalition of religious and religiously affiliated organizations whose core spiritual values affirm the rights and dignity of people with disabilities called on the American Muslim community to speak out and take action on disability policy issues with Congress, the President and Administration, and society at large. ***

In February, Military Veterans and Muslim students at a California college joined together to organize a blood drive ***

In February, a group of American Muslim Imams and community leaders issued a strong statement condemning anti-Semitism and holocaust denial ***

In February, Bilal Mallick, a Muslim teen from Chicago who was diagnosed with leukemia *** died because a bone marrow donor could not be found. His congregation at the Islamic Foundation of Villa Park began a project that has spawned a movement in mosques across suburban Chicago and the nation. Hundreds of Chicago area Muslims who came to participate in weekly congregational prayers also had the opportunity to swab their cheeks and add their names to the roster of bone marrow donors ready to step up if their DNA is a match. Organizers hope for at least 20,000 participants to register nationwide. A group of students from the MSA organized a bone-marrow registry drive at the ISNA convention ***

In February, Zubiru Jalloh, a Muslim cab driver in New York returned $100,000 worth of cash and jewelry that a passenger had forgotten in his cab ***

In February, the Southern Poverty Law Center designated Robert Spencer & Pamela Geller’s Stop the Islamization of America SIOA group as a hate group *** shining a light on the most prolific distributors of anti-Muslim rhetoric.

In March, a group of Muslim students at Cornell University won the 17th annual James A. Perkins Prize for Interracial Harmony and Understanding. The award was presented March 8 to the Committee for the Advancement of Muslim Culture ***

In March, the Al Salam Mosque in Tulsa, Oklahoma held a Law Enforcement Appreciation Day and invited local officers for lunch at the mosque ***

In March, Political Research Associates released an in-depth report Manufacturing the Muslim Menace documenting anti-Muslim efforts by Islamophobes ***

In March, many Muslim organizations worked to provide relief for victims of the Japanese earthquake. ***

In March, although entirely too many of our elected representatives have either remained silent or participated in Muslim bashing, a number of elected repesentatives spoke out strongly against Rep. Peter King’s hearings. ***

In April, a Saudi scholar, Sheikh Salman Al-Oadah, issued a fatwa saying that Muslims living in non-Muslim countries are obligated to obey the law in the country in which they live. fatwa

In April, the most recent Muslim community supported Free Clinic, the Mercy Care Center opened in Cincinnati, Ohio joining the numerous other such clinics in cities across America. ***. Another Muslim community supported Free Clinic, the Volunteers in Medicine West County Clinic opened in Manchester, Missouri.

In April, of this year, ISNA leadership led sessions and participated in the 8th Annual US Islamic World Forum in Washington, DC. ISNA President Imam Mohamed Magid, who was one of the conveners of the conference, joined Humera Khan of Muflehun, an organization dedicated to countering violent extremism, to write a report based on discussions formed by the religious working group at the Conference. The report focuses on the dynamics of and challenges facing Muslim-majority and Muslim-minority communities around the globe. ***

In May, Muslim boxer Bernard Hopkins became the oldest boxing titlist in any division in any era with a unanimous decision over Jean Pascal in Montreal, Canada. Hopkins won the World Boxing Council (WBC) light heavyweight belt by winning all three cards after 12 rounds, by the scores of 116-112, 115-114, and 115-113. At the ripe old age of 46, no one had won a boxing title at such an advanced age since then 45 year old George Foreman knocked out Michael Moorer in 1994. ***

In June, American Muslims from St. Louis and other cities went to Joplin, Missouri to take needed supplies and help the survivors of a tornado ***

In June, Chicago Muslims donated $26,000 to the Greater Chicago Food Depository ***

In June, Unity Productions Foundation UPF launched the “My Fellow American” program, collecting short films by and about American Muslims ***

In June, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC), alongside the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, Interfaith Alliance and other civil liberties organizations signed on to an amicus brief that urges the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to invalidate Oklahoma’s constitutional amendment passed in 2010, which barred courts in the state from using or citing Shariah law. ***

In June, in recognition of June as Torture Awareness Month, ISNA encouraged Muslim communities all over the nation to join in taking a stand against torture. The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) is a membership organization of religious leaders and entities committed to ending torture that is sponsored or enabled by the United States. To this end, NRCAT hosts campaigns to raise awareness about and mobilize legislative action against the use of torture. ISNA has been a founding member of NRCAT since the organization’s inception in 2006. On June 26, ISNA and NRCAT will recognize the United Nations’ International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. In honor of that day, ISNA encourages Muslim communities to watch a 10-minute film entitled “Repairing the Brokenness,” which can be found online here. ***

In July, Rais Bhuyan, a Muslim who was shot and blinded by a white supremacist days after the 9/11 attacks sued Governor Rick Perry of Texas to attempt to prevent his assailant from being executed. He was not successful, but kept trying right up to the execution. In one interview Bhuyan said “This country has suffered a lot,” Bhuiyan said. “We are living in fear, but if we work together we can break the cycle of hate. It’s not only Islam, but all religions that teach peace and to show mercy.” While fighting to save Stroman he founded World Without Hate, an organization that raises awareness of hate crimes in an effort to prevent them. “I feel more love and compassion for human beings than I ever did before this accident. Sight is gone from one eye, but my vision has never been clearer.” ***

In July ISNA expanded the ongoing mosque/synagogue twinning project to Latin America. ***

In July - MPAC released Building Bridges to Strengthen America: Forging an Effective Counterterrorism Enterprise between Muslim Americans and Law Enforcement. A number of important studies, reports, and polls were released this year. ***

In July, ISNA National Director Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed joined other national leaders of prominent religious organizations and denominations for a prayer vigil directly across from the U.S. Capitol Building to advocate for a fair budget deal that does not place an undue burden on the poor. ***

In July, People for the American Way released a report The Right Wing Playbook on Anti-Muslim Extremism. *** and the Southern Poverly Law Center released The Anti-Muslim Inner Circle *** and Jihad Against Islam *** further documenting both the existence of Islamophobia and the major players.

In August, there were riots in Birmingham, England. Three Muslim men were killed trying to protect their business from looters. Tariq Jahan, the father of one of those killed is credited with stopping the rioting when he came forward and pleaded for calm I lost my son. Blacks, Asians, whites: We all live in the same community. Why do we have to kill one another? Why are we doing this? Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home, please. ***

In August, the United Arab Emirates gave $500,000 so that students in the Joplin, Missouri public schools destroyed by the terrible tornado could purchase computers for every student. They pledged to match any other donations to the schools up to an additional $500,000. ***

In August, Bassam Tariq and Aman Ali continued their “30 mosques in 30 days” project visiting American mosques across the country during Ramadan photo blog 2010 *** and 2011 ***

In August, a Gallup poll showed that 93 percent of Muslim Americans say they are loyal to America. They have the highest confidence in the integrity of US elections (57 percent), and they are the most hopeful about their lives over the next five years, compared with other groups. ***

In August, the Center for American Progress CAP released a groundbreaking report FEAR INC.: THE ROOTS OF THE ISLAMOPHOBIA NETWORK IN AMERICA documenting the efforts and links between a coordinated anti-Muslim network. ***

In August, Abraham Foxman of the ADL printed an important statement against the anti-Sharia craze. ***

In August, despite the objections of Islamophobes, Gov. Chris Christie stood by his appointee, Sohail Mohammed, and Mohammed was sworn in as a judge in New Jersey. ***

In September, an estimated twelve thousand Muslims and interfaith leaders gathered in London for an event called “Peace for Humanity” sponsored by Minhaj-ul-Quran International (MQI). The event was broadcast live to dozens of countries, and was a rally against extremism and to promote a moderate, inclusive version of Islam. The event in Wembley Arena was led by Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, a respected Pakistan-born Islamic scholar. Dr. Qadri told the crowd “I want to address those who are lost, who have a total misconception of jihad I want to send them a message come back to normal life. Whatever you’re doing is totally against Islam. In spite of statements and memorandum and condemnation of the terror, the voices of the 99% true, peace-loving Muslims have not been heard, they have been drowned out by the clamour and the noise of extremists. “Islam has nothing to do with any act of terrorism. We reject every act of extremism and terrorism unconditionally.” The scholars in attendance issued a Declaration of Global Peace. ***

In September, Tariq Ramadan re-issued his call for a stand against capital punishment. He said In the United Stated, in Saudi Arabia, in Iran or anywhere else, capital punishment should be abandoned. Our judicial systems are too imperfect, too influenced by politics and money, and far too exposed to procedural mistakes. The accused should enjoy the benefit of the doubt ; our societies should remain dignified. In 2005, I launched a call for a moratorium on the death penalty, corporal punishments and stoning. I emphasized that in the very name of Islam, Muslim majority societies should stop treating people in such a way, that so often targets women and the poor. It is in the very name of our common values that we need to take a stand today against capital punishment. Troy Davis is dead ; so is Mark Stroman : the former was surely innocent and was hoping for us to be forgiven, the latter was guilty, and begged for our forgiveness. As we look at ourselves in a mirror let us hope that, with or without compassion, we may at least show some dignity. If we remain silent, the shame is ours. ***

In September, Muslims for Life organized a 9/11 anniversary blood drive nationally. This first year they collected a total of 11,803 pints of blood for the Red Cross *** Islamic Relief USA held a National Day of Service to honor the memory of the victims of 9/11 ***

In September, The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), in partnership with Hartford Seminary and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), presented the second workshop on “Judaism and Islam in America.” The event, entitled “The Interpretation of Law and Scripture,” took place at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut. ***

In September, four Muslim comedians (Negin Farsad, Dean Obeidallah, Maysoon Zayid, Omar Elba) performed in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. Billed as ‘The Muslims are Coming!’ comedy tour, they also set up a “Name that Religion” game in Birmingham, Ala. and an “Ask a Muslim” booth in Lawrenceville, Ga. as a counter to Islamophobia. They are also working on a documentary feature of this routine.

In September, Nader Hasan (a cousin of the infamous Fort Hood shooter) started the Nawal Foundation with the motto “no violence in the name of Islam, ever”. The foundation lists three main goals: •Opposition to any violence in the name of Islam; •Patriotic commitment to the protection of America; and
•Exploring our common humanity and amplifying the true majority voice of the Muslim-American community. ***

In September, despite threats, courtroom allegations and even legislation aimed at their faith, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro still had reason to celebrate in 2011. The congregation launched construction in late September on building the first 12,000 square feet of their new mosque and community center. ***

In September, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley made an historic decision on September 28, 2011, appointing a Muslim, Judge Hassan Ali El-Amin, to Maryland’s highest court. ***

On September 11, thousands of Americans joined together for the 9/11 Unity Walk http://911unitywalk.org/ , which took place along Embassy Row in Washington, DC. ISNA co-sponsored the Walk, which brought together people of all ages, backgrounds and faiths to learn to respect each other through a framework of experiential education, compassionate leadership, and intentional service. ***

In September, Rasha Abulohom worked with the MAS Youth Give program to arrange a special Eid party for Muslim children with specian needs. This may have been the first such event, and hopefully not the last. ***

In October, Muslim Student Associations MSA’s at universities across the country held their 10th annual Fast-A-Thon during Ramadan, to raise money for local charities and food banks. The University of Texas is only one example *** among hundreds.

In October, the WISE Muslim Women’s Conference was held in Istanbul attended by 180 Muslim women from 45 countries. One of the outcomes of this conference was that one participant, Jamila Afghani, from Afghanistan who heard about a program on the success of training gender-sensitive imams and religious leaders, thought that this was what Afghanistan needed. And so she went back to her country, contacted WISE (a program of the American Society for Muslim Advancement), and asked for help to start an imam gender-sensitive training program at the Noor Educational Center (NEC) in Kabul, where she had dedicated her life to empowering women in Afghanistan. She helped set a program to educate imams on women’s rights through Friday khutbahs and media appearances. The program has been in effect for a few years, with appointed monitors who sit in and listen to the sermons to make sure the training has been effective. According to Afghani, the program has reached 9.5 million people in Afghanistan. Although this story wasn’t exclusive to 2011 nor widely covered by the world media, the presentation of this program at the 2011 WISE conference in Istanbul was a turning point for the women leaders, activists, humanitarians, and journalists who had gathered to learn from each other’s work. Imam Mawlana Ehsan Saiqal, who had traveled with Afghani to the conference to talk about the program, told a story of one of his congregants who came to him after a Friday khutbah in tears, saying that he never knew Islam actually advocated for women’s inheritance, marital and property rights, adding that he regretted the decisions he had made for his daughters. ***

In October, Muslims joined others in taking a Food Stamp Challenge to raise awareness about how difficult it is for more than 21 million American families living in poverty, and attempting to feed a family on $31.50 a week per person. ***

In November, the Fiqh Council of North America issued a Resolution: On Being Faithful Muslims and Loyal Americans ... ***

In November, 75 Jews and Muslims gathered together in Northern Virginia for a session on sharia and halacha (Jewish law). This was one of more than 130 events involving thousands of Jews and Muslims in 13 countries that took place as part of theWeekend of Twinning, an annual global event bringing together Muslims and Jews to build ties of communication and cooperation. ***

In November, a N.J. Muslim food bank prepared a Thanksgiving feast for the needy ***. Jewish and Muslim students at Rutgers joined to serve Thanksgiving dinner to the needy ***

In December, the Nobel Peace Prize was won jointly by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, Leymah Gbowee, the Liberian peace activist, and Yemeni pro-democracy campaigner Tawakkol Karman (a Muslim from Yemen). They won the Nobel Peace Prize “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”

In December, Jewish and Muslim volunteers in Detroit, St. Louis, and other cities across the country joined together to take the place of Christians at food pantries and other social service and charitable institutions so that Christian volunteers could be home with their families for Christmas ***

In December, Muslim New Yorkers donated 1,000 pounds of meat to local food pantries. ***

In December, a genocidal internet site Bare Naked Islam was investigated after complaints by CAIR and other Muslim organizations and individuals, and ultimately the site provider told them they were removing the site. ***

In December, MPAC the Muslim Public Affairs Council today expresses its support for the passage of a historic UN resolution to combat ideologies of religious hatred through free expression instead of silencing expression through a global blasphemy law. They also released a position paper “No Compulsion in Religion: A Faith-Based Critique of the ‘Defamation of Religions’ Concept.” opposing the misguided Defamation of Religions concept *** continuing the strong stand American Muslims have taken in favor of freedom of speech ***

In December, the Florida Family Association’s anti-Muslim campaign against the TLC reality series “All-American Muslim” resulted in many positive outcomes for the American Muslim community including strengthening interfaith relations, mobilizing the American Muslim and Arab communities across ethnic and sectarian lines, focusing awareness on Islamophobia and bigotry, and initiating the formation of a strong grassroots coalition of Muslims against bigotry. ***

In December, a group of Imams and Islamic organizations in Canada issued a “Call to action to end domestic violence” ***

In December, Time magazine named Ameena Matthews as #5 in the top 10 movie performances of the year for the documentary The Interrupters *** which is about her work with the anti-gang group Ceasefire in Chicago. Ameena Matthews is a reformed woman from a checkered past; her father is Jeff Fort, a notorious Chicago gang leader and she herself was involved with a drug ring. After finding love, children, and faith in her Muslim family, Ameena joined the Chicago group of gang violence “interrupters,” CeaseFire, in taking violence protection to the streets—literally. ***

In December, Linda Sarsour was honored by the White House as one of 10 American “Champions of Change” ***

In December, on a flight from Atlanta to Kansas City, a man foaming at the mouth lunged for the airliner’s cabin door, attempting to open it as flight attendants struggled to hold him at bay. Jabir Hazziez Jr. a Muslim passenger who is also a Kansas City firefighter, reserve Jackson County deputy and member of the U.S. Naval Reserve came forward, restrained the man who had become more violent and held him until the plane could be diverted. It turned out the man had had an adverse reaction to a vaccine. ***
by Sheila Musaji

Saturday 14 January 2012

Child marriages: Why are they still legal?

Ask yourself this simple question. Would you enter into a contract with a child? Would you consider anyone under the age of 16 or even 18 to be mature enough to make a life-changing decision and be bound by the terms of this decision for life? Most people would say no!

Let us consider the validity of a contract from a legal perspective. Since the beginning of time, for a contract to be deemed valid, there must be informed consent from both parties to the agreement. One cannot enter into a valid contract with someone who does not have the mental or legal capacity to truly know and understand the terms to which they are agreeing. There must be a reason why, legally, a person under the age of 16, 18 or 21 in some countries is considered to be a minor — and thus mentally unfit to be a party to a contract.

Marriage is a form of contract, and it is not just any kind of contract, it is a contract that changes one’s life and affects a person’s entire being in the most relevant ways. Even in Islam, for this contract to be valid, there must be “informed consent” from both parties otherwise the marriage will be considered null and void and thus, legally, there are justified grounds for annulment. Both Islamic Law and Saudi Law require full consent of both parties to the contract for it to be lawful.

Therefore, it could be said that a child under the age of 18 cannot possibly be a party to a contract. The final decision to enter into a marriage is for the woman and the man to make, which means that a marriage with any undue influence would be void. A child (anyone under the age of 18) cannot possibly be deemed mature or mentally capable to enter into such a contract with another person, and especially not with someone who is 10, 20, 30 years her senior. Moreover, the practice of forced child marriage is a clear violation of Islamic principles and laws since Islam made it clear that a woman’s consent is vital for a marriage to be considered valid, even if the said child being wed has already reached puberty.

The most commonly used justification for child marriage is that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) married Aisha (known as the mother of the believers) at the tender age of 9. Yes, indeed the prophet did marry Aisha when she was a child, but the Prophet wed Aisha so young in order for her to become his student and after his death, she would go on teaching Islam. Aisha was married at 9 so that she could live in the Prophet’s home and breath the Prophet’s ways so that her mission of continuing his legacy in teaching Islam would be possible. It is also well known that the Prophet and his young wife were not “married” until she was 15 or older as per the most of the Islamic historical sources. The reality of the child marriages that take place today is far from justifiable no matter how much one tries to find valid reasons for their occurrence.

Saudi Arabia has no law setting a minimum age for marriage for either gender. There have been repeated talks and so-called reforms that are supposed to happen in order to end child marriage that take place today. The controversially still-legal act of marrying a child not only defies true Islamic teachings of consent, but also human nature as a whole.

Human rights activists are speaking out against the marriage of children, including Zuhair Al-Harithi, a spokesman for the Human Rights Commission, who said that Saudi Arabia has approved and signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which defines a child as someone under 18, therefore the practice of child marriages violates the international agreements the Kingdom signed and is a party to. In addition the Saudi National Human Rights Association has criticized child marriages saying that it was a violation of childhood. The association continues to work with the authorities to restrain the practice and protect children’s rights.

Sheikh Muhammad Al-Nujaimi who is a strong opponent of child marriages and other Islamic scholars, activists and writers have urged the government to pass legislation setting the minimum age for marriage and to resolve differences among the Kingdom’s religious authorities over the issue. Since there are so many different (religious) opinions around the truth behind child marriages and what is considered an old enough age to marry means that, as a nation, we need to settle the issue through legislation.

— Ms Tala Al-Hejailan is a lawyer at DLA Piper, Saudi Arabia.


Thursday 12 January 2012

Mark Steel: Wife-beating? That’s fine – unless you’re a Muslim

I love this brother!!

The Sun newspaper has come over a bit modest. Following a Channel 4 documentary about media reporting of Muslims, the paper accepts some of its stories were “distorted”. But they’re not doing themselves justice. They weren’t distorted – they were entirely made up. For example, a story about a Muslim bus driver who ordered his passengers off the bus so he could pray was pure fabrication.

But if reporters are allowed to make up what they like, that one should be disciplined for displaying a shocking lack of imagination. He could have continued, “The driver has now won a case at the Court of Human Rights that his bus route should be altered so it only goes east. This means the 37A from Sutton Coldfield will no longer stop at Selly Oak library, but go the wrong way up a one-way street and carry on to Mecca. Local depot manager Stan Tubworth said, ‘I suggested he only take it as far as Athens but he threatened a Jihad, and a holy war is just the sort of thing that could put a service like the Selly Oak Clipper out of business’.”
Then there was a story about “Muslim thugs” in Windsor who attacked a house used by soldiers, except it was another invention. But with this tale the reporter still claims it’s true, despite a complete absence of evidence, because, “The police are too politically correct to admit it.” This must be the solution to all unsolved crimes. With Jack the Ripper it’s obvious – he was facing the East End of London, his victims were infidels and he’d have access to a burqua which would give him vital camouflage in the smog. But do the pro-Muslim police even bother to investigate? Of course not, because it’s just “Allah Allah Allah” down at the stations these days.

Maybe Muslim newspapers should retaliate by publishing their own made-up stories. So it will be reported that “Barmy PC teachers in Leicester have banned children from playing Noughts and Crosses, claiming the cross reminds Church of England kiddies of the suffering undertaken by Lord Jesus. A spokesman for the Board of Education said, ‘We have to be sensitive. Which is why we’ve replaced the game with ‘Noughts and Hexagons’. We did look into calling it ‘Noughts and Crowns of Thorns’ but decided Hexagons was more appropriate.”

Or, “Doctors have been told that patients are no longer to be referred to as ‘stable’, as this is offensive to followers of Jesus, who was said to have been born in one. So medical staff have been informed they must use an alternative word, or if they can’t think of one just let the patient die.”
The most common justification for ridiculing Islam is that the religion is “backward”, particularly towards women, as a fundamental part of its beliefs. The Sun’s old political editor suggests this as a defence of his newspaper’s stance, saying that under Islam, “women are treated as chattels”. And it’s true that religious scriptures can command this, such as the insistence that, “a man may sell his daughter as a slave, but she will not be freed at the end of six years as men are.” Except that comes from the Bible – Exodus, Chapter 21, verse 7.
The Bible is packed with justifications for slavery, including killing your slaves. So presumably the Sun, along with others who regard Islam as a threat to our civilisation, will soon be campaigning against “Sunday Schools of Hate” where children as young as seven are taught to read this grisly book. And next Easter they’ll report how, “I saw a small child smile with glee as he opened a Cadbury’s egg filled with chocolate buttons. But behind his grin I couldn’t help but wonder whether he wanted to turn me into a pillar of salt, then maybe sprinkle me on his menacing confectionary treat.”

In his defence of making stuff up, the Sun’s ex-political editor spoke about the amount of domestic violence suffered by Muslim women. But there’s just as much chance of suffering domestic violence if you’re not a Muslim, as one of the 10 million such incidents a year that take place in Britain. Presumably the anti-Islam lobby would say, “Ah yes, but those other ones involve secular wife-beating, which is not founded on archaic religious customs, but rational reasoning such as not letting him watch the snooker.”

And finally the Sun’s man defends the line of his paper by saying that, after all, these Muslims “are trying to bomb our country”. So it’s their civic duty to make stuff up – the same as keeping a look-out for spies during the Second World War.
So we should all do our bit, and every day send in something, until the press is full of stories like “Muslims in Darlington have been raising money for semtex by organising panda fights.” Or “In Bradford all nurseries have been ordered to convert their dolls’ houses into miniature mosques so that Muslim teddies have somewhere to pray.”

Tuesday 10 January 2012

The Acton princess calling for reform in Saudi Arabia

Her Royal Highness Princess Basma Bint Saud Bin Abdul Aziz is one of the more unlikely critics of the élite that runs Saudi Arabia. The oil state boasts a 15,000-strong royal family but it is rare for a voice from within its ranks to become part of the growing clamour for reform in the desert kingdom.

As the youngest daughter of the country's second king and niece to its current ruler, she is from the highest echelons of the Saudi monarchy. Just as her privileged status gives her considerable authority in the debate about change, so this carefully dissenting royal has much to lose if her actions incur the displeasure of Saudi Arabia's ultra-conservative regime.

But then Basma Bint Saud is no ordinary Saudi princess.

A 47-year-old divorcee and a successful businesswoman, she has spent the last five years in the country building a parallel career as a journalist and a blogger, confronting head on sensitive subjects from the abuse of women and poverty in the world's second biggest oil exporter to the chilling effect of the mutawa, the kingdom's draconian religious police.

Such has been her success at shining a light on the problems in Saudi society (a Facebook fan page has 25,000 followers), she now conducts her campaign not from her birthplace in the capital, Riyadh, or her previous home in Jeddah but a recently-acquired house in the west London suburb of Acton which she shares with three of her five children.

The princess underlines that she was not forced to leave Saudi Arabia and goes out of her way to emphasise that her criticisms do not relate to her octogenarian uncle, King Abdullah, or the other senior members of the monarchy. Instead, the focus of her anger is the tier of governors, administrators and plutocrats who run the country day to day.

Amnesty International this month accused the Saudi authorities of conducting a campaign of repression against protesters and reformists in the kingdom in the wake of revolutions sweeping the Arab world, during which Riyadh sent troops into neighbouring Bahrain while protests for greater political freedom among Shi'ites were stamped out. The impression of increased authoritarianism was not allayed by detention in October of three young Saudi film makers who posted on the internet a documentary about poverty in Riyadh.

The princess insists she is no "rebel" nor an advocate of regime change. But in an interview The Independent, she equally does not pull her punches when it comes to the question of who bears responsibility for the ills that she considers beset her country.

Sat in a living room decorated with Saudi artefacts and in front of a table carrying a plate of Saudi dates ("the best in the world"), she said: "The problems are because of the ruling ministers. We have ministers who are incapable of doing what has been ordered from above because there is no follow up, because there are no consequences. If you are poor man and you steal, your hand is cut off after three offences. But if you are a rich man, nobody will say anything to you."

She added: "We have 15,000 royals and around 13,000 don't enjoy the wealth of the 2,000. You have 2,000 who are multi-millionaires, who have all the power, all the wealth and no-one can even utter a word against it because they are afraid to lose what they have."

Asked if her decision to speak out means she risks losing what she has, she replied: "Oh, definitely. Definitely."

Speaking fluently with a neutral English accent picked up as a teenager in the Home Counties, Basma is the first to admit she is the product of a not only a privileged upbringing but also an atypical one for a Saudi princess. She is the 115th - and last - child of King Saud, the eldest surviving son of Saudi Arabia's founding monarch Abdul Aziz.

King Saud was overthrown in 1964 by his brother, Faisal, and left for exile in Europe. Basma's mother, a Syrian-born woman who was chosen for her future husband when she visited Mecca on the haj at the age of 10, took her children to the Middle East's then most cosmopolitan city, the Lebanese capital of Beirut, where the young princess was schooled by French nuns among Christians, Jews and Muslims who did not adhere to the austere Wahhabi branch of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia.

When Lebanon's civil war broke out in 1975, the family fled for Britain where she attended a Hertfordshire girls' school and an international college in Oxford before spending two years studying in Switzerland. It was a very different existence from the closeted upbringing normally led by young Saudi royals.

She explained how, at the age of 17, she joined one of the first visits to post-Mao China by foreign students, describing vividly how her group were taken to a farm and treated to a delicacy in the form of the brains of a live monkey chained and slaughtered at the table. She said: "Some girls screamed and fainted. Others were sick. I went to the car and refused to go back into the building. China was like visiting the moon."

Equally alien was the land of her birth when she returned in early 1980s. Upon entering the royal court ("I was very careful, very nervous to behave correctly"), she found a cut-off society which, paradoxically, was more relaxed than present-day Saudi Arabia.

She said: "If China was like the moon, then arriving in Saudi Arabia was Mars. At least you can see the moon from Earth. It was a completely secluded society but I wouldn't say backward - not as backward as it is now. It was much more open and tolerant. You wouldn't hear people saying ‘go to prayer', ‘go and do this and that'.

"This is the atmosphere you have now. It is such a non-tolerant atmosphere, even of other sects. Any other sect that doesn't actually belong to our community is thought to be - I'm not going to be sharp but very specific - not the true Islam."

It is an intolerance which she claims pervades Saudi society, fromented by the mutawa, otherwise known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vices, ironically founded her father to act as a check on traders charging inflated prices.

The princess said: "Our religious police has the most dangerous effect on society - the segregation of genders, putting the wrong ideas in the heads of men and women, producing psychological diseases that never existed in our country before, like fanatacism. The mutawa are everywhere, trying to lead society to a very virtuous life that doesn't exist. Everthing is now behind closed doors."

Amid regular accounts of executions - Amnesty International last week described as "truly appalling" the death penalty carried out on a Saudi woman for "sorcery and witchcraft - Basma makes the point that human rights abuses happen to both genders but fall disproportionately on women.

As a result, she is slightly bewildered by the focus on the continuing prohibition on Saudi women, who cannot go to university or take a job without a male guardian's permission, from being allowed to drive.

She said: "Why don't we actually fight for a woman's right even to complain about being beaten up. That is more important than driving. If a woman is beaten, they are told to go back to their homes - their fathers, husbands, brothers - to be beaten up again and locked up in the house. No law, no police will protect them.

"We are overlooking essential rights of a human being - the right to mix between the sexes, to talk and study freely... We have got human rights but they are paralysed. They are completely abstract, for the media and the western world."

The princess, who divorced from her Saudi husband six years ago and went into business setting up a series of restaurant chains which she now intends to expand into Britain, has not been afraid to air similar views in Saudi Arabia, writing in newspapers and websites on issues from the mutawa, to women's prisons and clothing. She eschews what she describes as the expected "sleep by day, live at night" leisured life of Saudi princesses and is instead setting up a charity to fight poverty in the Arab world by offering a Fair Trade-type deal to artisans which will include access to education and health care.

But in a country where doctrine and adherence to orthodoxy can be everything, Princess Basma is aware of the hostility generated by a woman speaking out. She has studied Islam in depth, becoming a scholar of the faith's great texts to give her the authority to challenge the teachings of Saudi imams. Armed with the evidence of scripture, she has rebuked the authorities in writing on issues from driving to the doctrinal basis for the requirement that women cover up in public.

But the eruption of democracy movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria has brought an abrupt end to her reporting from Saudi Arabia. This summer, officials began to suggest she "edit" her work. She said: "The first time they took out some sentences. The second time, paragraphs. The last time, they told me to change the whole article or the editor who published it would go to prison. I didn't want to send anyone to prison on my behalf."

Even though she insists her work was carried out until recently with the blessing of King Abdullah, here is a princess treading a narrow line.

Following the death in October of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdel Aziz, the 86-year-old heir to the throne, Saudi Arabia is still ruled by the ageing and conservative generation of her uncles, who she says have given her "very strong hints" that her criticisms are not currently being met with approval.

Sitting close to a photomontage of the Saud dynasty which shows her father as a young man next to her grandfather and beside the boy Prince Nayef, the 78-year-old head of the interior ministry who is de facto ruler, Basma underlines her respect for her father's ruling brothers.

She said: "I am still an obedient citizen and I will always be behind the royal family. But I will never be quiet about what is happening on the ground. The unfairness of the distribution of wealth, about the power that has been unevenly given to people because they have complete obedience to those above them.

"I owe my uncles everything and what I owe them most is to tell them the truth. My mistake, my ruin is going to be insisting on telling the truth even if they don't like it. Because I think they need to hear it, especially from one of their loyal, royal own."

Sunday 8 January 2012

Do good and throw it in the sea

"What you give is what you get", or some variation thereof, is one of the most-common expressions we encounter in our lives about the consequences of our actions. This idea gives the impression that when we act virtuously we get an equal helping of good in return, and accordingly, our acts of cruelty eventually "come back around" to bite us.

Yet the reward-punishment equation is not as simple as this expression may suggest because in fact, the recompense of our good deeds is far greater than the reprisal for our bad deeds.

Throughout the day, Muslims, those striving to live in submission to the one almighty God, will say "Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Raheem", meaning "In the name of God, the Most-Gracious, Most-Merciful". It is probably the most-common invocation for God that we utter, yet we may not always think over what these qualities of benevolence and compassion mean for us in our daily lives.

God is constantly willing to multiply the rewards we receive for the energy we focus toward performing good deeds- charity to those in need; kindness to family, friends, colleagues and strangers; honesty, loyalty and sincerity in our conduct; keeping promises and working hard.

As for our negative acts of cruelty, cheating, dishonesty and jealousy, God will limit the return of these actions to a degree that is strictly equal to the deed we did-no more, no less.

"Whoever does a good deed will be repaid tenfold, but those who do a bad deed will only be repaid with its equivalent and they shall not be wronged," the Holy Quran informs us very clearly. (Quran, The cattle, 6:160)

Meaning "Recitation" in English, the Quran is a composition of GodÕs message to humanity charting out the path we should take to strive toward eternal peace. In its pages, we are repeatedly reminded about the importance of doing good deeds and acting with kindness and mercy. When we give in charity, for instance, we learn that our wealth will be multiplied and have greater "baraka" (blessing) in it.

Similarly, when we display kindness and mercy to our parents even in their old age, and when we pray sincerely and fast regularly with the goal of giving thanks to God for the blessings in our lives, we are promised innumerable benefits that will reach us in this life as well as, more importantly, the next life.

Sometimes it can be difficult to believe with sincerity that good deeds are generously rewarded because in our daily lives, there appears to be limited incentive to act in an unselfish way. When we do something good, we will quite frequently seek benefits and rewards with immediacy from our family members, spouses, friends, colleagues, etc. And yet when we feel these deeds have not been appreciated or reciprocated adequately, we can often feel devalued and frustrated.

Over time, this may discourage us from acting altruistically, with great care and thoughtfulness because the benefits of magnanimity are not always directly apparent. What we should realize is that it is God who has the power to return the good we do back to us at the time and in the manner He chooses.

There is an Arabic proverb that my mom will say quite frequently that goes: "عمل خير و إرميه في البحر", which translates as, "Do good--and throw it into the sea". In other words, we should do good for the sake of it, and not expect reward for our virtuous deeds.

As someone who has consistently striven to act with sincerity in her life, my mom will often say that while she has endeavored to perform good deeds for others, she will often find that those deeds are not received with gratitude nor returned back.

By pronouncing this proverb, she is relieving herself of expectation that those around her should recognize and reciprocate any act of goodness she has done. Throwing good deeds "into the sea" so to speak is her way of performing acts of kindness and justice for God alone, being confident that God is collecting these deeds with Him, and that He will return them to her in a way that is greatly multiplied.

"For whatever good deed you send on before your souls, you will find it with God. It will be improved and richly rewarded by Him"
(Quran, The wrapped one, 73:20)

Saturday 7 January 2012

Afghan child bride had escaped torturers but was sent back

A 15-year-old Afghan girl who was nearly tortured to death by her husband and his family attempted to escape her attackers more than four months ago but was sent back home by local authorities, it has emerged.

Sahar Gul, a child-bride married off to a soldier called Gulam Sakhi who then tried to force her into prostitution, is being treated for horrific injuries in a hospital in Kabul after she was rescued last week.

During her ordeal several of her fingernails were ripped out with pliers and one of her ears was badly burned by an iron. Her husband is now on the run, and her mother-in-law and sister-in-law have been arrested.

Her case has caused uproar in Afghanistan and Hamid Karzai, the country's president, has vowed that those responsible will be punished.

But disturbing new details about how the local community and authorities responded to her abuse has highlighted the ambivalence many Afghans have over how far women should be able to exercise the most basic legal rights.

"She ran away to her neighbour's house and told them that her husband was trying to make her become a prostitute," said local community leader Ziaulhaq. " 'If you are a Muslim, you must tell the government what is happening to me,' she told them."

The locals said they did take the case to the authorities. When the police arrived Sahar's mother-in-law tried to fight them off, screaming all the while that her son had "bought" the girl who therefore had to do what she was told.

She appeared to be alluding to the dowry paid by Sakhi's family, a sum thought to be around £2,700.

Locals say the family simply promised to stop hurting her. Ziaulhaq also alleged that bribes were paid to government officials to hush up the affair.

Although she emphatically denied money was paid, Rahima Zarifi, the women's affairs chief in Baghlan province, said she could not remember the details of the case, or why Gul was sent back home.

The abuse resumed and continued for months until a male relative visited. When he found the girl, who had been starved in a locked basement for weeks, Gul was almost unable to speak.

Fauzia Kufi, an MP who campaigns on women's issues, said that even then local authorities attempted to resolve the abuse through "traditional means. Basically they wanted the relative to sit down with his sister's abusers and work out an agreement," she said.

Kufi also claims there was strong pressure not to publicise the case.

"Many people don't take these sorts of crimes seriously and don't think it should be reported," she said.

"Even the local authorities have blamed the department for women's affairs for not trying to solve it locally between families in the traditional way."

Horrific abuse of women is still common in Afghanistan, particularly against brides who can be regarded as chattels by their husbands or are exchanged between families in order to resolve feuds.

The government is frequently unwilling to enforce laws it has often been forced to pass by the country's international backers, and the writ of the state often does not run in areas far away from urban centres.

However, the case of Gul was not in the remote countryside but in Puli Khumri, an important, mid-sized town which boasts one of the country's few factories. Kufi also claimed that local sources told her that Sakhi, despite having a warrant out for his arrest, returned briefly to his home on Sunday night and that locals did not inform the police.

The claim is strongly denied by community leaders who say they were appalled by the crimes of the family and never attempted a low-key, traditional mediation between the parties.

Abdullah Fahim, a senior adviser to the minister of public health, said the case was part of the "bitter reality" of Afghanistan.

"We have several cases like this, especially in remote parts of the country where there is not a strong attitude to women's rights," he said.

He added that the ministry had dedicated a team of psychiatrists to the girl: "Her physical wounds are getting better day by day, but we are very concerned about her mental condition because she has been tortured for a long period of time."

The law on the elimination of violence against women was passed more than two years ago and criminalised many abuses for the first time, including domestic violence and child marriage.

But a recent UN report found only a small percentage of reported crimes against women are pursued by the Afghan government.

Between March 2010 and March 2011, prosecutors opened 594 investigations involving crimes under the law – just 26% of the incidents registered by the Afghan human rights commission.