Tuesday 30 October 2012

The new Israeli apartheid: Poll reveals widespread Jewish support for policy of discrimination against Arab minority

A new poll has revealed that a majority of Israeli Jews believe that the Jewish State practises "apartheid" against Palestinians, with many openly supporting discriminatory policies against the country's Arab citizens.

A third of respondents believe that Israel's Arab citizens should be denied the vote, while almost half – 47 per cent – would like to see them stripped of their citizenship rights and placed under Palestinian Authority control, according to Israel's liberal Haaretz newspaper, which published the poll's findings yesterday.

About 20 per cent of Israel's nearly eight million people are Israeli Arabs, Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship and live within the borders of Israel proper. The views echo hardline opinions usually associated with Israel's ultranationalist and ultraorthodox parties, and suggest that racism and discrimination is more entrenched than generally thought.
The poll, conducted by Israel's Dialog polling group, found that 59 per cent out of the 503 people questioned would like to see Jews given preference for public-sector jobs, while half would like to see Jews better treated than Arabs.
Just over 40 per cent would like to see separate housing and classrooms for Jews and Arabs. The findings "reflect the widespread notion that Israel, as a Jewish State, should be a state that favours Jews," wrote Noam Sheizaf, an Israeli journalist and blogger. "They are also the result of the occupation … After almost half a century of dominating another people, it's no surprise that most Israelis don't think Arabs deserve the same rights."

Human rights groups have long decried existing Israeli policies that discriminate against Arabs, citing classroom shortages, smaller municipal budgets, and unequal property ownership rights as proof of Israeli Arabs' status as second-class citizens.
That many Jews believe that Israel has adopted "apartheid" policies is surprising, given that the term is usually deployed only by Israel's most vociferous critics, and suggests that the government-led narrative that the Jewish State is the only democracy in the Middle East is unconvincing to some.
But such self-awareness does not mean that Israelis are ashamed of it. Nearly 70 per cent of those questioned would object to the 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank obtaining the vote if Israel was to annex the Palestinian territory, suggesting that they effectively endorse an apartheid regime. Nearly 75 per cent favour separate roads there for Israelis and Palestinians – although most view such a step as "necessary," rather than "good." Although nearly 40 per cent support annexation, that remains a distant prospect for the moment.
The survey "lays bare an image of Israeli society, and the picture is a very, very sick one", wrote Gideon Levy in Haaretz in a piece to accompany the poll. "Now it is not just critics at home and abroad, but Israelis themselves who are openly, shamelessly, and guiltlessly defining themselves as nationalistic racists.

"If such a survey were released about the attitude to Jews in a European state, Israel would have raised hell. When it comes to us, the rules don't apply."
In the three years since Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party took control of the Knesset in an uneasy coalition with religious and ultranationalist parties, rights groups have charted a shift to the right that has accompanied a stalemate in efforts to find a solution to the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Many now see the two-state solution, even though publicly backed by Mr Netanyahu at the outset of his term, as an increasingly distant prospect, given the expansion of Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem – territories that along with Gaza the Palestinians want as their future state. That leaves the prospect of a one-state solution, an outcome favoured by some Palestinians, but anathema to Israel as it would threaten the country's Jewish majority.
Many Israelis also fear such an eventuality because it would undermine the Jewish State's democratic values if it were forced to adopt discriminatory policies to retain its Jewish character.

59% want preference in public jobs for Jews over Arabs
49% want the state to treat Jews better than Arabs
33% object to Israeli Arabs having the right to vote
69% object to giving Palestinians the right to vote if Israel annexes the West Bank
74% support separate roads for Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank
42% object to their children going to the same schools as Arabs

Monday 29 October 2012

Kristiane Backer: On the search for God

"As a journalist, as a communicator, I was itching to speak out, because a lot of times the media portrayed Islam so differently to this beautiful religion and how it really, truly is,” says Kristiane Backer on her sentiments in the years following her high-profile conversion to Islam.
Speaking to Today's Zaman, Backer speaks about her new book, Islamophobia in Europe, meeting Imran Khan and the journey which led her to the “beautiful values” of a religion which allows for her to look at the world differently.

Backer's journey began in 1995. Europe was shocked by the news that this well-known MTV presenter was converting to Islam. She had experienced the glitz and glamour of showbiz, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Bob Geldof, Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Annie Lenox; she had lived the so-called “high life,” hanging out with celebrities, being flown across continents, presenting MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) and being invited to the most exclusive parties. Hers was a world that had no association with religion, far from any kind of spiritually.

However, at the height of her career, she met famous cricketer and current leader of Pakistan's political party Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) Imran Khan -- a relationship that changed the course of her life forever. Through her travels in Pakistan she began a personal quest in which she encountered a completely different world to the one she knew, a world which was dominated by a love of God.
Kristiane Backer's new book “From MTV to Mecca” -- or, as Bob Geldof prefers to say, “From Babe to Burqa” -- takes the reader on a journey of self-discovery. Through her travels from Pakistan to Bosnia, Hamburg to Saudi Arabia, LA to London, we follow Backer's quest for true freedom and true liberation. As she herself so beautifully writes: “The more I traveled on the path to God, the more I felt His blessings, and my faith grew into a strong, unshakeable tree. My heart had found another home.”

Can you give us a brief insight into your book “From MTV to Mecca”? Why did you write the book?
I wrote the book because there is a lot of Islamophobia in Europe, which I also experienced myself when in 1995 I became a Muslim. I was an award-winning presenter at the time, presenting shows on MTV; I had my own youth show in Germany, and when it came out that I was a Muslim I was sacked from my show, and with that pretty much my career on TV in Germany ended. For years agents have told me, “If you ever want to work on TV again, don't speak about Islam.” So I listened to their advice and I spent those years deepening my faith and learning about Islam, traveling, etc. But of course as a journalist, as a communicator, I was itching to speak out, because a lot of times the media portrayed Islam so differently to this beautiful religion and how it really, truly is. I wanted to speak out, and eventually I went on the Hajj when I was 40 years old, and that was reported very positively in the German press. A book agent came to me and asked me, “Would you like to write your story in a book?” and I thought, “Great!” My time had come to try and redress some prejudices, and try to take the reader by the hand and show how I dissolved the prejudices I initially had against Islam, and how I discovered the beautiful values of the religion and tried to practice some of them before I became a Muslim.
You had this glamorous job, a lifestyle envied by many people. What was it? What was lacking?
It was the connection to the divine, really, that was lacking. God was lacking in my life, to put it in a nutshell. Yes, I had everything a young person dreams of: partying, interviewing rock stars for a living, announcing videos, getting red carpet treatment wherever we were traveling with a team, but I was inwardly not truly satisfied.

How much about Islam did you know before you converted?
I was introduced to Islam in 1992, by none other than handsome sportsman Imran Khan, not an imam with a long beard. He was cricket captain at that time and just had won the World Cup, but I knew nothing about cricket, so he didn't mean anything to me. But he became my first teacher of Islam, so I studied for three years, I read a lot of books, I traveled to Pakistan many times, I asked scholars so many questions, as well as ordinary people in London and Pakistan. I studied for three years and then I converted, for myself, not for anybody else.

Tell us a bit about your experiences traveling around the Muslim world post your conversion. What were your initial reactions to the region? Did it differ greatly from your expectations and common Western conceptions?
Well, we don't have much of a conception; you don't hear much about Pakistan, except for negative news, so I loved it from the moment I got there. It's such a beautiful country with a very stunning landscape and mountains and lush green fields and deserts. People were very friendly and enormously generous, offering us their last bits and pieces, even in the poor mountainous areas… My trips put a lot of things in perspective and really made me think.
I was shuttling between the two worlds for a few years and really had key moments. In the West, time is money, and people don't have time for each other anymore because there are so many pressures. Also the sacred is completely lacking from people's lives here. Faith is pretty much marginalized, unfortunately, in the West, and with my book I am also trying to put faith back onto the map. So yes, in Pakistan God was everywhere, everybody did everything in the name of God, and also sacrificed themselves for others and for the sake of God, to please God.
You said that Imran Khan was the tool of God to make you convert. Could you explain what aspect of his belief influenced you the most?
It's not only one thing really. I was quite inspired by the way he built a charitable hospital in Lahore where the poor would be treated free of charge. And with an army of volunteers they worked day and night to raise the funds for the hospital, as a service to God in a way. So that was really impressive. In fact, he gave up his entire career to become a charity worker, to fulfill his promise to build this hospital, so that was quite amazing. It was really his whole philosophy, seeing the world through Muslim eyes, and I hadn't encountered that before. He had a slightly different view of the world, keeping the afterlife in mind for example, than people who don't have faith do. So for the first time I met somebody who so passionately believed in God and tried to better his own iman (faith) and study. And actually, as I had always liked philosophy, I was thrilled and I was captivated from the first moment. I started reading, looking into this.

In your book you mention the Naqshibandi [a Sufi spiritual order, or tariqa]. What was it about this tariqa that appealed to you? Do you still have connections to this Sufi order?
The Naqshibandi are a beautiful Sufi group, a beautiful tariqa. One of many I suppose, but predominantly based in Turkey, Iraq, Central Asia and so on. They are serious and their teachings are very profound and beautiful, and they're like some of the people I met. And at the time I also enjoyed what the sheikh taught us. I was a beginner and it was what I needed at that time. He said, “Prayers are your animal to ride to heaven, basically.” He stressed the importance of prayers and all sorts of things, seeing life from a spiritual perspective. In fact, when I converted, around that time all this turmoil happened, and I lost my job and my love. It was the Sufism in the Naqshibandi mosque that helped me see the events from a spiritual perspective, from a higher level. And I learned about the benefits of suffering… For a believer it's a win-win scenario: When things go wrong and you go through tests and trials you'll be purified, and that's good for you, and when everything goes really well it's a blessing from God.
After your travels and study of Islam, what do you think of Turkey's contribution to Islamic philosophy and culture?
Obviously Sufism and Islamic philosophy are the historical roots of the Ottoman Empire, and it's tremendous and something that goes back 800 years or more, in which a lot of philosophers and sheiks and masters have contributed to Islamic thought and philosophy -- so the heritage is incredibly rich. Unfortunately, as we all know, it got squashed during the [Mustafa Kemal] Atatürk times, so spirituality and Sufism became forbidden and you were liable to be caught by the police if you were to meet together and pray together. I think that's all quite sad, but as far as I understand it's all changing again.

Apart from the obvious implications with regard to your career, what were the reactions of friends and family on hearing about your conversion?
Well, my family didn't know what to make of it. They didn't necessarily understand why I embraced Islam. We had a lot of discussions and debates, and nowadays they support me. They support me because I am happy, and if it makes me happy they're fine with that. As Bob Geldof very kindly said in an interview, I'm not that different. I'm still who I am at the core, although I've changed many things; my core nature is still the same. So it's not like they can't recognize me anymore.

You had a lot of affiliations with VIPs before and after you converted. Did your belief change your perception of these people and vice versa?
My belief and my growing value system changed my views on everything, on the entertainment business and on people. Now I see people through different eyes and value them in a different way… That is the beauty of religion. It gives you the strength and power to stand up and to really follow one path, never mind whether it's hip or not. All that is irrelevant, when you think deeply about it. So Bob in my view is still an extraordinary human being, what he does for humanity, the poor and also for his children and for the people in his home. Charity starts at home, so our number one priority is whether we are a good person at home.
It's been a long journey of discovery, being a Muslim. I also had to learn that sadly not all Muslims who pray and fast are honest and good people; they may pray and fast and cheat and lie for the rest of their lives. I don't know how this goes together. It's always puzzling to me, but I guess it means their faith is superficial.

Did the negative media coverage in Germany change your attitude towards your home country?
I live in London for good reasons. It is because I feel that here I am accepted for who I am. There is a very vibrant Muslim scene going on, and it's just far more interesting and international. In Germany I feel things are just a little backwards when it comes to Islam and dialogue and dealing with Muslims in general.

You talk about the intense Islamophobia prevalent at the time of your conversion. Can you expand on this? How has the situation changed more recently, in particular post-9/11 and the Arab Spring?
In London I didn't experience any problems. That is why I stayed here. I think there are two trends: One is a good trend and one a negative trend. On the one hand, we have more access to halal food and halal products, and in fact the whole halal market is worth a staggering $2.1 trillion and consumer marketers and businesses are flocking to it. It's a vast untapped market, and it's becoming interesting for the economy and for businesses. Even fashion labels like Chanel and Zara cater for Muslims nowadays, making longer clothes -- tunics have become more fashionable… That's all great, but on the other hand there is a lot of Islamophobia going on -- and that's why I wrote my book and why I'm trying to get the message out, ideally to the mainstream -- obviously after 9/11, and nowadays with the awful things happening in the Middle East and the American ambassador being murdered over the derogatory film about Muhammad (peace be upon him). The film was terrible, but it is no reason to murder someone. So these events don't help, and unfortunately they'll hold us back.

Why did you wait years after your conversion in 1995 to publicly speak about Islam?
After losing all my jobs I was quite traumatized, since being a Muslim had seriously affected my career. However, hopefully things are turning around now, so that was one reason. I couldn't take it, it was so bad what happened, the negative press campaign. Also, I wanted to make a contribution but I also felt I wasn't quite ready to tell my story. I hadn't arrived yet. After MTV, what could I have talked about? My knowledge wasn't great enough, and the sheikh at the time recommended, “Put your din [religion] first into stabilizing your faith and really feeling comfortable with it.” I am so pleased about this advice, because now I can talk about Islam with great confidence, with some kind of knowledge, after some 20 years of reading into it.

You were a part of the Inspired by Muhammad campaign. Can you tell us a little about this?
Two years ago we had posters of different slogans of Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his teachings on buses, tubes and taxis, and my slogan was, “I believe in the environment. So does Muhammad (peace be upon him).” Just to shatter some of those misconceptions. We did this on the back of a YouGov [a market research agency] study that in the UK 50 percent [of people] associated Islam with terrorism, 58 percent with violence and 69 percent with the oppression of women. This shows what generally the people out here think, and it's a lot worse in Europe, so we all have a lot of work to do.

What does Islam give to you as a woman?
It gives me dignity as a woman. I'm respected as a person and I'm not constantly a sexual object. For example, when I worked for a Muslim TV station, Ebru TV, everybody was so respectful, nobody made a pass, whereas at Western TV stations often the language is gutter and it's all about flirtation and so on. And generally Western mainstream society is so sexualized, everything is innuendo and flirtation and so on, whereas in a Muslim context that doesn't happen. People are very respectful, and I really like that.

If we look at another famous convert -- Cat Stevens -- he shied away from music, performing, etc. to begin with. However, more recently his stance has mellowed and he's admitted to perhaps misunderstanding his faith early on. The longer you've been a Muslim, has your relationship with the religion changed?
I think it's a continued involvement. For me, it's a way of perhaps submitting, surrendering more gradually. I can't say it was opposite; it was different use of Islam, and luckily, alhamdulillah, I didn't have his influences and was exposed to different kinds of teaching -- more spiritually minded. The longer I've been a Muslim, the more I've surrendered as time has progressed. Before I couldn't speak out; nowadays I am more active and outspoken about this beautiful religion. I am not quiet anymore.

How can Islam and the West, in your opinion, live more comfortably going forward?
I have a very positive view. It can only get a lot better as more and more Muslims are born in the West and go through the education system and take up jobs in the mainstream and not remain in the Muslim bubble. Only through personal encounters can you dispel misconceptions. Suddenly you hear about something you have no idea about and you change your mind so I think it's very important to engage, to interact with society and not remain in your comfort zone. And unfortunately that is what happens in Germany and from both sides.

There are many young Muslim girls who would love to emigrate from Mecca to MTV, but you went from MTV to Mecca. What is your message to them?
Read my book and be inspired. I've been there and done that and it doesn't give happiness ultimately. You find happiness in faith and you can still be watching your MTV, but if you have that treasure of faith, then that is the greatest tool for happiness and contentment. It's not in consumerism. It's not in MTV.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Save the Sisters!

By AbdelRahman Murphy
I get some interesting looks when I suggest that the physical barrier that was recently put up between brothers and sisters for Jum`ah at my school be taken down. They probably think it is odd that a bearded, refreshingly conservative, practicing Muslim brother would dare suggest that there be nothing but chairs separating the brothers and sisters during the khutbah and salah. But I have good reasons.
It began last year, when the older generation of our MSA was completely phased out when the last few students who participated in the “glory years” finished their degrees and graduated. Then, a new group of brothers and sisters took the reins and inherited the responsibility of leading one of the largest Muslim student organizations in the State, if not the country.
For the most part, the new Shura (Council) kept with tradition in most practices of the previous MSA. The prior Council’s success with establishing such a large Muslim body on campus was proof that they were doing things right. So, it was a no-brainer to stick with what they did. There were a few things, however, that changed. One of them was the issue of setting up a barrier for our Friday prayer to physically separate the men from the women. This barrier, I was told, was to protect the khateeb from seeing the women while he was speaking, so he can focus and control his gaze. This was a more intense measure than what the previous MSA Council did; they usually lined up a row of chairs to designate and distinguish the men’s section from the women’s.
“Modesty,” you say, “is an important value in Islam, AbdelRahman. Shouldn’t you be a proponent of a tall physical barrier to promote ideals of modesty?”
That’s a great question, reader. I definitely support modesty between men and women in Islam, most definitely. But this situation is a bit different.
Anyone who has taken a speech class – scratch that, anyone who has ever talked to another human being knows that not all aspects of communication are verbal. When we talk, we may or may not make facial gestures, hand motions, and other physical movements to help get our point across. In fact, studies show that 70% of communication is rooted in something called paralanguage: an auxiliary form of communication that includes everything except speech. In this specific example, the aspect of paralanguage that is most important is called kinesics — more commonly referred to as body language. Putting it in simple terms, the motions a speaker makes during his speech directly improves or worsens the delivery of his message.
Do you see where I am going with this?
When I had presented this concern to the brothers who coordinate the Jum`ah khutbahs at my school, one of their responses was a small retort that shocked my ears and saddened my heart. With an uninterested face, he replied, “it’s not even obligatory for them to come anyways.”
In an event as important and essential as the Friday khutbah, we cannot compromise the effectiveness and impact that it can have on any of the attendees, and that includes the sisters. In fact, the sisters may be more important attendees in certain cases than the brothers. The average brother, though he may not realize it, has many more opportunities to interact with Islamic scholars, teachers, and personalities than the average sister does. For most sisters, the Jum`ah khutbah is the only time they can attend a direct discourse from a respected speaker, outside of conventions and special programs that come every so often.
Why have we adopted this mentality that “the sisters don’t matter, because they don’ t have to come anyways”? Just cover them up and let them stay in the kitchen and give birth to children. The message we are sending our sisters — the mothers of our kids, the mothers of our Ummah –- is that their jobs are menial at best. These same brothers who feel the need to unnecessarily force women behind a blanket are also those who complain most about the onslaught of liberalism and feminism against our sisters. If they would only realize that their unnecessary repression of Muslim women is a direct cause of the future mothers of our Ummah lashing out in rebellion. There is a balance we must achieve, however fine the line may be.
Living in America — and now more than ever – it is essential that we provide as many educational and social opportunities to our sisters as possible, and this includes the Friday khutbah. Do not let our sisters be spiritually handicapped by not allowing them to have the full heart-changing experience of a good khutbah. We need to make sure they have full access to receive the complete message on Fridays, to be able to see what is happening so their hearts are energized for the next week — whether it is at home or at work.
But more importantly, let us be careful not to reinforce the idea that sisters are second-class citizens in Islam; that a room with a garbled sound system and terrible ventilation is sufficient for their educational needs. Even more importantly, let us refrain from strengthening the notion that they should not even come to the masjid — because if we do not have strong, educated, spiritual and active sisters in this Ummah, we are in deep trouble.
May Allah guide us towards what is best, and He knows best.   Source

Friday 19 October 2012

Why Would I Leave Islam?

Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim
Salaam Alaikum wa Rahmatullah
It’s my anniversary, well, sort of.  Eighteen years ago on Labor Day weekend, a Sunday, I said my Shahadah.  I was standing in the front lobby of the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City.  I had just attended a class for the sisters, and everyone had left.  The only ones still in the building were the Imaam, me, and some guy vacuuming.  I was nervous.  I had talked about saying my Shahadah with the ladies in the class; I planned to do it next week when when a certain significant friend could be there to witness, but they urged me to not delay, using the “what if you get hit by a bus?” argument.  “It’s not between you and your friend; it’s between you and Allah.”  Well, can’t argue with logic like that, so I mustered my courage and approached the Imaam, telling him I wanted to officially become Muslim.  He stood with me out front by the bookcase so we would not be alone in any room; the vacuuming guy served as our noisy chaperone.  I always enjoyed listening to this Imaam when he gave talks.  His name was Adnan Bayazid and he was from Syria. His point of view was common sense Islam.  He had a very easy personality but of course I was incredibly intimidated because he was an Imaam.  He wasn’t a pushover, either.  He quizzed me on some of the major points of Islam to assure himself that I was doing this with knowledge.  I must have passed his test because after a few minutes of questions, he asked me to repeat the testimony of faith after him:
“Ash hadu an la ilaha il Allah, wa ash hadu anna Muhammadur Rasool Allah”
“I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the Messenger of Allah”
He was clearly pleased.  He congratulated me and then told me, with emphatic hand gestures, that anything I had done wrong, any sins or regrets I had, were gone, forgotten.  This more than anything proved my undoing, and I began to cry due to the enormity of what I had done.  He quickly excused himself before he, too, could get emotional, and I walked back into the multi-purpose room and leaned on a table and cried my eyes out.  I was happy but emotionally worn out by the time I left for home.
Fast forward eighteen years and here I am, older, maybe wiser, maybe not, married for twelve years with five kids, living in suburbia and trying to help others have a bit of an easier time traveling the path I and so many other reverts have trod.  I’ve been through the many phases of Islam.  The “SuperConvertitis” phase, where I tried to out Islam everyone else.  The burnout phase, where I just wanted to not think about Islam at all, the barely doing the minimum phase where only guilt and fear of Hellfire kept me going, and the phase I’m in now.  It’s kind of a comfortable phase.  I’m steadfast in  my faith, I know where my weaknesses are and I don’t beat myself up for them anymore, and I try to maximize my strong points.  I’m not a “haraam alaik-er” and I’m not so easygoing that I’ll simply smile and nod if I see a Muslim eating a ham sandwich and drinking a beer outside the masjid on Friday.  I think I’ve found my niche as a Muslim and it is in writing and trying to be an uplifting presence – not a role model, I’m not good enough for that – for my brothers and sisters in Islam.  I also make it a point to occasionally poke the hornet’s nest of problems in the Ummah so that people realize that we have to be more proactive in living and teaching Islam.  I’m not Super Muslimah, and I’m okay with that.
I just read on one of my Facebook groups that one of our sisters has left Islam, and it got me to thinking.  Here I am, Muslim for eighteen years, well settled in my faith, knowledgeable to a degree, not prone to histrionics.  What could motivate a person, once guided, to abandon the faith?  What could make me consider leaving Islam, even for a moment?
Wow, what a topic, eh?  Why would I leave Islam?  Well, part of me would say it’s too damn hard.  Waking up at godawful in the morning, having to pray five – five! – times a day.  Making wudu.  Walking around with my body parts dripping wet is not comfortable.  Having to pray every day at set times.  I don’t even brush my teethevery day.  Not being able to eat bacon.  I know I can eat beef bacon or turkey bacon, but that’s at home.  I have to be a damned private investigator and quiz every restaurant employee, read every label.  Is there pork in this?  Do you make the sauce with wine?  This eternal food vigilance is tiring and I look at all the great places featured on Food TV and think, Can’t eat there, or there, or there, can’t even enterthat country, dang place is full of pork, sheesh.  I have to feel guilty or leave if I visit my mom and she has a bottle of beer or a glass of wine with dinner.  I pack my kids’ lunch every day in case there’s some sneaky pork in the school menu.  It is, frankly, a hassle.  It would be easier just to ignore it.
And covering.  Wearing abaya and hijab.  I’ve been doing it almost since right after I became Muslim.  Is it hard?  No, not really.  I’m no fashionista and most of the time I love the abaya because I can toss it on, throw on a scarf, and I’m dressed for any occasion, no muss, no fuss.  No one has to see the sweats underneath.  But boy, some days I feel like I just want to rip off the scarf and feel the wind in my hair, the sun baking down on top of my bare head.  I want to wear jeans and a t-shirt when I’m playing with the kids in the yard.  I want to not trip over the stairs every single time I bring up the groceries.  I want to not have to rush to throw something on, fumbling with snaps and wraps, when the UPS guy drops off a package or someone who turns out to be a little kid knocks on my door.  I want to go swimming in a normal one-piece suit instead of a burqini. 
I want to go out of the house and look like everyone else.  I want to be invisible at Wal-mart so that the mean-looking lady doesn’t give me the evil eye.  I want to not have to worry about what’s going on in someone’s head when they see me.  I’m not super self-conscious about it, but somewhere in the back of my mind is just the tiniest bit of awareness that some day, somewhere, some idiot might confront me or, worse, try to physically assault me, simply because of what I represent with my clothing.  It’d be nice to not have to worry about that.
The Muslims.  Sigh.  Sometimes I want to disassociate myself from Islam just because there are stupid, idiot, ignorant, jackass people who call themselves Muslim who say and do the most idiotic things.  Afghans growing opium, honor killings, acid attacks, subjugation of women, female genital mutilation, corrupt governments, bribery, cheating in business, hypocrisy.  As Yusuf Islam, the former Cat Stevens, is famously quoted as saying “Thank God I learned about Islam before I met Muslims”.  Frankly, sometimes it’s just embarrassing to be identified as Muslim.  It’s like someone finding out you’re related to one of the Kardashians or a serial killer.  It’s kinda hard to live down.  I don’t like having to give the “all Muslims are not terrorists” speech all the time. 
I think the hardest thing about being Muslim, at least for me, is being aware of being Muslim all the time.  I have a highly refined guilt complex, so I am immediately aware if something I am doing is haraam, forbidden.  I keep the radio on the news station.  From time to time I’ll check out the local pop music station and listen to a few songs.  Wow, they sound gooooood… and then I’ll immediately feel guilty.  Why am I not listening to Qur’an or at least nasheeds?  But don’t listen to too many nasheeds or that will be haraam too because you should be listening to Qur’an.  Well, maybe I’ll listen to some classical music and that will be less haraam….  Oh, and TV.  I watch the news and food shows and football.  Should I be watching football?  All those hunky guys in tight uniforms.  Well, maybe if I only look at the offensive linemen, who are over 300 pounds and not really hunky at all.  I’ll just listen and not focus on the screen.  But here comes a beer commercial.  Haraaaaaam!
Ugh, there I go again.  Islam is so hard.  Islam requires that we be conscious human beings, aware of our surroundings, aware of wasting food, aware of how we deal with the opposite sex, aware of how we behave in business, aware of what we expose our kids to, aware of our environment, aware of how the less fortunate are abused, aware of ourselves, aware of our duty to Allah, aware of the fact that life is short and there’s this big huge thing called Judgment Day.  And sometimes it gets to be overwhelming and I feel like I’ll never measure up and I can’t do this and I’m failing and why the hell should I keep trying because I’m tired and I just want to be an unconscious not-thinking-about-the-afterlife-all-the-time normal person.  And dammit I just want to go to Burger King and order a bacon cheeseburger and eat it and enjoy it.
So, yeah, I’ve wondered what it would be like to not be Muslim anymore. 
So what stops me?
“Ash hadu an la ilaha il Allah, wa ash hadu anna Muhammadur Rasool Allah.”
I believe in One God, without partners.  I believe that Allah sent messengers and prophets to teach us what was in the Books He revealed.  I believe in angels, and I believe in a Day of Judgment, and I believe in Allah’s Divine Decree.  Logically, in my unromantic linear little German heart, I believe in Tauheed.  I believe that we fragile, short-sighted human beings need rules and regulations to keep us from royally screwing up our lives.  I see the proof of that all around me in society.  I believe that Islam is true, that when I look at it honestly with the knowledge of my own frailties, that all the do’s and don’ts are really necessary.  We like to think we are strong and moral and self-regulating, but we’re lying to ourselves.  If we had no fear of Allah, most of us would be cheating on our spouses, smoking pot, drinking whiskey, cheating our bosses, or doing something else that is bad for us or for others, all the while smugly saying “I can do it because I am strong and I won’t let it get the better of me”.  I believe in Islam. 
I believe in Islam.  I didn’t convert to Islam for a guy or because I thought the clothing made me look exotic, or to rebel against my family, or to justify my sense of being different from everyone else.  I became Muslim because I had to.  Once I realized that Islam was the truth, I couldn’t not  become Muslim, even in the face of corrupt Muslim governments, idiotic Muslims abusing women, growing opium, misinterpreting their own scripture, and all that.  Even if I fell down and fell short every day of my life.  Even if I had the hardest time keeping concentration long enough to make wudu and get to the prayer rug.  Even if I still tuned in Lady Gaga once or twice.  Even if I watched a rated R movie.  Even if, on a hot, humid, sultry day in mid-August I wanted to rip off my hijab and run through the sprinkler in shorts and a tank top. 
Even if someone hurls insults at me.  Even if someone tries to tear off my hijab.  Even if someone abuses my kids.  Even if my husband loses a job because of his beard.  Even if my family hates me.  Even if my non-Muslim friends leave me.  Even if I have to leave my home country.  Even if someone holds a knife to my throat and tells me to renounce my faith or they’ll kill me.  Even if I were the only Muslim on the planet, or the only Muslim on the planet striving to live as a Muslim.  Even if.
“Ash hadu an la ilaha il Allah, wa ash hadu anna Muhammadur Rasool Allah.”
I am a Muslim.  I am a weak, frail, moody, anxious, hyperactive, attention-deficit-disorder, bad housecleaning, prayer-missing, ungrateful, overeating, underexercising, too-long-blog-post-writing Muslim.  I will continue to fall down, I will continue to struggle, but I will never, never stop being Muslim.  I am weak but Allah has guided me and how can I be so ungrateful as to turn my back on Him?  Allah is One.  Once I realized that, I never had a choice.

Thursday 18 October 2012


What is the correct response to the protesters who have responded violently to the film that insults Mohamed? 

The protesters fell into the exact trap set by those who launched it. The Salafi literalists tried to mobilise the people against “The United States” by promoting a type of religious populism based upon a simplistic and dangerous generalisation: Americans hate us and we are better Muslims when we reject them. The best response would have been to ignore the video and to unite with all the people (Muslims and people of other religions or with no religion) who want to protect freedom of speech while asking individuals to use this right in a decent, respectful and reasonable way.

Is The Satanic Verses a blasphemous work?

If you assess it from within the religious framework, it can be considered as blasphemous. Yet it is not as simple as that for two reasons: the author no longer considers himself as a Muslim and he wrote a novel. Taking into account that he is speaking from outside the Islamic religious reference (as a non-believer) and that it is fiction, it can be argued that this qualification is questionable. In any case, as I wrote in 1989 when the controversy started, this fatwa was more political than religious and wrong and unacceptable in substance.

Should Western nations prosecute blasphemy against religion?

I do not think that prosecuting blasphemy will change anything. The current legal framework is enough and we need to protect our rights, freedom of conscience and freedom of speech. Upstream from these rights, we need to educate people to learn how to nurture an ethical behaviour while they enjoy freedom. Just because something is legal does not necessarily mean that it is always good: you can ridicule the suffering of somebody (that is legal) but it is not really ethical. The same goes for a sense of humour: if you make a joke and you are the only one to laugh, it is no longer a joke. Only education can help us to manage pluralism positively.

How do you view the prominence of right-wing Christianity within the US Republican movement?

The right-wing American or European Christians should be considered for what they are: populists and racists with very dogmatic and dangerous minds. Just as the salafi literalists do not represent all the Muslims, the populist right-wing Christians do not represent Christianity. They distort the Christian message and build their rhetoric on the same simplistic polarisation “us versus them”. The Muslims are the new enemies, “the cancer”, and even if American, they are considered as foreigners or outsider insiders. They are a danger not only to Muslims but to all of us.

Is Tony Blair more part of the Middle East problem than the Middle East solution?

He cannot be part of the solution in the Middle East for three reasons. The first is historical, given the involvement of Britain in the colonisation and the problems generated by this. The second relates to the unilateral support Britain has always given to Israel (and not to the Arabs). The third and most important is his own record: following in the footsteps of George W Bush, he accepted the lies related to the WMD in Iraq and launched a dirty war. Who can still trust him among the Arabs – and the British citizens?

Is an Iranian nuclear weapons capability something to be deplored or tolerated?

No, they cannot be tolerated just as nuclear weapons anywhere cannot be tolerated. What we do not want for Iran should not be tolerated for Israel. We are told that Israel can have nuclear weapons because they are less dangerous for regional peace than if Iran has them. That is very disputable. A survey a few years ago showed that the majority of Europeans thought Israel was the most dangerous country for peace. Let us be consistent and demand all the countries, without exception, get rid of such weapons.

Monday 15 October 2012

Fearing the ‘weak’

This is the woman whom you have been trying to keep hidden behind seven veils. You glance at her just once and you are “seduced” by her and start reciting couplets; the mere sight of a woman is enough to endanger your faith. You avert your gaze and start babbling incoherently. You think she is the weak one here, the softer, fairer sex but not once do you spare a thought for your own weakness. You hide your own fear by forcing her to fear you.
You have invented numerous excuses to hide your fear of women. Sometimes, it is ghairat, sometimes rituals and traditions. Sometimes, you even erect a wall of religion as an excuse to hide your own insecurities. If these excuses don’t work, then you use niqab, chador, bangles and jewellery but never will you try to perceive women on an equal level. All you see of us is our body; you only look at us through circles, circles that have trapped you. How can you see anyone’s soul, when you yourself don’t have one?
I am a mother, a daughter, a sister and a wife; you and I are bound in so many ways. You are always ready to make me your lover but always refuse to give me the status of a friend. Whenever the question of equality comes up, you back off. You go and make friends outside the home but I, who am your home, must only be expected to look after a house. I wait for your return, cook your meals, look after your children but I know, I can never be your friend.
What does it matter if you allowed me to go and work to help you with the household expenses? I still have no right over my own income. Whether I work outside of home or within it, the power of making a decision remains in your hands. All working women set about to earn a living from early morning to late night, without a break. The housework that they do isn’t accounted for in any manner. The women who work outside the home, at a big post or small, clerk or officer, may be even head of their department, return home at the end of the day to obey you, the head of the house.
What does it matter if you educate your daughter in one of the elite schools in the city or send her abroad to obtain a degree from a foreign university? She must still marry according to your wishes. Not marry someone who matches her mentality, her intellect but someone who you might not even like but just as long as he comes from an affluent family, and has a high status in our society. A potential groom for your daughter must not have a status lower than your own, and must match you in terms of respect too. At least, he will give your daughter all the comfort and luxury of life, even if he cannot provide your daughter with happiness.
You insist on alone having the right to think because you think I do not possess the ability to think for myself or for our home. If I do make the mistake of doing either of the two, you will call in the jirgas,panchayats to judge me in. Even the neighbours hold the right to pass judgments on me.
What does a woman have to do with education? These schools are just there to teach “immoral activities” and are a Western conspiracy against us. A woman’s place is at home. Even if we provide her with the best education, she will eventually end up looking after the house anyway. There are such parents who provide their daughter with a professional degree thinking that will get her an equally or more educated husband and that she will live a prosperous life. They don’t think once about the fact that her professional degree would be wasted as she spends the rest of her life bringing up children, and attempting to please her husband.
It never matters how much fame a woman earns because of her talents, no matter how successful she is, no matter how high a post she achieves in her career. All of it can be destroyed in a single moment by a single allegation on her character. It can compel her to stay home. You, however, may have hundreds and thousands of charges against you but the society is still going to meet you, bowing in respect. The fact that you have charges against you will only serve to increase your prestige. Not to mention, how you use those charges against you to get political leverage. It just keeps getting easier for you, doesn’t it?
How can the laws for women be passed when the lawmakers themselves don’t agree with them?  Numerous bills for women keep getting submitted but all of them end up pending. But if there is a law that ensures that your system of give and take flows as smoothly as ever, then that law will be passed immediately. Even our female prime minister could not change the laws against women. Now the country is ruled by men anyway.
Women can continue to protest in the national and provincial assemblies but the majority is yours, isn’t it? Women hired by political parties are either just there for show or they have been hired to further hire herds of women for their party’s rallies just to take photographs. Someone should ask that leader, the self-proclaimed champion of women’s rights, how many women does he allow to sit with him during important decision-making meetings for the party.
You have released an army of sons who roam the streets and neighbourhoods, waving weapons and sticks, wreaking havoc in the city. But it is your daughters who continue to maintain the peace in your home; the same daughters who are also working in offices simultaneously. They are ahead of your sons in education. They are well-versed with the modern world and also have been gifted with the ability to think by God. You can do whatever you want to keep us away from schools, enshroud us in hijabs and niqabs, pollute our thinking with obsolete ideas but you cannot prevent the light of the new age from reaching us.
This net that you have sewn from the threads of ghairat and religion, you use it to trap me like a fish. It cannot prevent the infiltration of thinking, understanding and believing. Don’t forget that every home has a mother, a mother who wants to see her daughter educated.
Have you ever been to a university? You will see women everywhere on the campus. Seventy to 80 per cent of the women are studying and are at the forefront in every competition. Forget the big universities in the big cities. Why don’t you take a walk around the Gujrat University campus, notice how the daughters come from far-away villages, changing various buses to reach the university everyday. Your offices cannot function without a woman anymore. That is because she alone knows how to work hard with affability. She has no interest at all in all the fighting and riots.
Best you teach your sons to respect their sisters, and educate them. If you don’t, the rising demographic ratio is going produce educated daughters with no sons to match them. Educate them so they are not pitted against each other; one putting your house on fire, the other dousing it.  Source

Saturday 13 October 2012

Get well soon Malala!

Everyone please pray for Malala, she is a true heroine of our times.

 "If you educate a man, you educate one person. If you educate a woman, you educate and liberate a whole nation." Malcolm X. 

Sabbiyah Pervez is a voice from Bradford on the shooting of a brave young woman.

Education is a privilege that we take for granted here in the UK. We take for granted that it is compulsory and we take for granted that up until the age of 18 it is free. We take for granted the fact that we do not have to fight for our education, we do not have to struggle for it and most importantly we do not have to risk our lives for it. But there are many for whom such struggles are a constant reality. Many like Malala Yousafzai, who have that privilege stolen from them and for whom education is deemed unnecessary.
The issue regarding women being educated is one that has been prevalent throughout the ages, stemming largely from the belief that by educating a woman you are doing more harm then good, a view that still exists in fragments today within our own society. Many women will tell you that men feel intimidated by their knowledge or expertise in a certain field, indicating that the archaic view of the man being the dominant leader and omniscient, is still apparent within us.
I recall my grandmother narrating to us, that her eldest brother pulled her out of school when she hit puberty; she stated that he was concerned that if she continued to be educated she would not marry the man who was betrothed to her. My grandfather is significantly older then my grandmother and was a divorcee. When asked how she felt about her brothers decision, my grandmother replied she was furious but later saw the wisdom of his decision; she would definitely have not married my grandfather if she had continued her education.
As a young third generation British Asian girl growing up in Bradford, I encountered this backward mentality directed to my parents from some within my own community. Many stated that I did not need to be educated. Instead I should be educated to the bare minimum and be married off at an early age in order to remove myself as a burden from my parents. Others argued that if I was educated "too much" I would become difficult to control and education would grant me "too much" freedom, it would be hard then for me to conform to the expectations many had set for me. Fortunately I can tell you they were right. My education educated and liberated me, it allowed me to critically analyse the problems that i saw around me and to openly question and challenge them. My questions brought discomfort and I was regularly cautioned by elder members of my community for asking "too many questions." Unfortunately, I know of many girls here in the UK, who are pulled out of school because education is seen as a threat to what their elders expect of them.

So in a sense I can understand why the Taliban banned the education of girls when they took over the Swat Valley. They, like my great uncle and many others in Pakistan, felt threatened by the effect of educating a girl. You see Malcolm X pretty much has summed it up for us. When you educate a woman, you don't just educate her, you liberate her. You allow her to travel on a path of self-discovery and you enable her to question her position in society. You empower her by giving her knowledge of what she can become. And this is dangerous. It is dangerous to the Taliban because it means that they will not be able to impose their patriarchal laws upon liberated women, it means that if they do they will be presented with a challenge and a force greater then them. And their rule will be effectively be diminished. It was a threat and a risk they couldn't take.
So for those asking what Malala Yousafzai has done to the Taliban, this is exactly what she has done. At the tender age of 11, Malala started writing in order to articulate her hopes and fears under a false name. When her cover was blown and she was threatened by the Taliban and its sympathizers, she did not cease her writing. In contrast she went public, so that by the age of 14 she was a name and a force to be reckoned with. You see by educating Malala, her parents had given her her greatest gift. They had enabled her to understand her potential and to recognise that her writing was a tool, it was the sword of opposition to the men who had taken away her privilege of studying. It was her opportunity to stick her middle finger up in defiance and to seek vengeance and boy, did she strike fear in their hearts! Malala Yousafzai was a threat because her defiance was an inspiration to others, others who lacked her bravery and her strength of character and determination. It was an act of defiance that could ignite a movement of opposition, an opposition the Taliban desperately wanted to quash, threaten and intimidate.
Their motive behind shooting Malala is a simple one: shoot the leader and you scare the followers. To them it is a message of force, but in reality it is an act of cowardice. It is an act which demonstrates how pig-headed the Taliban really are. It demonstrates their weakness and fragility. So weak that a young girl armed with her writing can be seen as a great threat, a threat so damaging to them that even after shooting her they state that if she does not die they will strike once more. It is this latter thought that makes them real fools. By believing that they have eliminated a threat by shooting Malala, or even, God forbid ,by killing her, they are seriously deluded. This act will inspire many more like Malala, frustrated with the oppression of women that they encounter daily, frustrated with their lack of human rights and frustrated by their governments inability to protect them.
They will rise out of their slumber with a sense of empowerment and purpose to set a precedent for future generations, and I pray to God that when they do, Malala is there to lead them once again.