Thursday 31 January 2013

God's Messenger and Children

He was an extraordinary husband, a perfect father, and a unique grandfather. He was unique in every way. He treated his children and grandchildren with great compassion, and never neglected to direct them to the Hereafter and good deeds. He smiled at them, caressed and loved them, but did not allow them to neglect matters related to the afterlife. In worldly matters he was extremely open; but when it came to maintaining their relationship with God, he was very serious and dignified. He showed them how to lead a humane life, and never allowed them to neglect their religious duties and become spoiled. His ultimate goal was to prepare them for the Hereafter. His perfect balance in such matters is another dimension of his Divinely inspired intellect.
In a hadith narrated by Muslim, Anas bin Malik, honored as the Messenger's servant for 10 continuous years, says: "I've never seen a man who was more compassionate to his family members than Muhammad." [1] If this admission were made just by us, it could be dismissed as unimportant. However, millions of people, so benign and compassionate that they would not even offend an ant, declare that he embraced everything with compassion. He was a human like us, but God inspired in him such an intimate affection for every living thing that he could establish a connection with all of them. As a result, he was full of extraordinary affection toward his family members and others.
All of the Prophet's sons had died. Ibrahim, his last son born to his Coptic wife Mary, also died in infancy. The Messenger often visited his son before the latter's death, although he was very busy. Ibrahim was looked after by a nurse. The Prophet would embrace, kiss, and caress him before returning home. [2] When Ibrahim died, the Prophet took him on his lap again, embraced him, and described his sorrow while on the brink of tears. Some were surprised. He gave them this answer: "Eyes may water and hearts may be broken, but we do not say anything except what God will be pleased with." He pointed to his tongue and said: "God will ask us about this." [3]
He carried his grandsons Hasan and Husayn on his back. Despite his unique status, he did this without hesitation to herald the honor that they would attain later. One time when they were on his back, 'Umar came into the Prophet's house and, seeing them, exclaimed: "What a beautiful mount you have!" The Messenger added immediately: "What beautiful riders they are!" [4] They may not have been aware that the Messenger had honored them. This special compliment was due to their future status as leaders and family heads of the Prophet's household. Among their descendants would be the greatest and most respected saints. His compliment was not only for his grandsons, but for all his offspring. For this reason, 'Abd al-Qadir Jilani, a well-known descendant of the Prophet's household, said: "The Messenger's blessed feet are on my shoulders, and mine are on the shoulders of all saints." This statement will probably stand for all saints to come.
The Messenger was completely balanced in the way he brought up his children. He loved his children and grandchildren very much, and instilled love in them. However, he never let his love for them be abused. None of them deliberately dared to do anything wrong. If they made an unintentional mistake, the Messenger's protection prevented them from going even slightly astray. He did this by wrapping them in love and an aura of dignity. For example, once Hasan or Husayn wanted to eat a date that had been given to distribute among the poor as alms. The Messenger immediately took it from his hand, and said: "Anything given as alms is forbidden to us." [5] In teaching them while they were young to be sensitive to forbidden acts, he established an important principle of education.
Whenever he returned to Madina, he would carry children on his mount. On such occasions, the Messenger embraced not only his grandchildren but also those in his house and those nearby. He conquered their hearts through his compassion. He loved all children.
He loved his granddaughter Umama as much as he loved Hasan and Husayn. He often went out with her on his shoulders, and even placed her on his back while praying. When he prostrated, he put her down; when he had finished, he placed her on his back again. [6] He showed this degree of love to Umama to teach his male followers how to treat girls. This was a vital necessity, for only a decade earlier it had been the social norm to bury infant or young girls alive. Such public paternal affection for a granddaughter had never been seen before in Arabia.
The Messenger proclaimed that Islam allows no discrimination between son and daughter. How could there be? One is Muhammad, the other is Khadija; one is Adam, the other is Eve; one is 'Ali, the other is Fatima. For every great man there is a great woman.
Fatima, the daughter of the Messenger, is the mother of all members of his household. She is our mother, too. As soon as Fatima entered, the Messenger would stand, take her hands and make her sit where he had been sitting. He would ask about her health and family, show his paternal love for her, and compliment her.
He loved her like his own self, and Fatima, knowing how fond he was of her, loved him more than her own self. Her great mission was to be the seed for saints and godly people. She always watched her father and how he called people to Islam. She wept and groaned when the Messenger told her that he would die soon, and rejoiced when he told her that she would be the first family member to follow him. [7] Her father loved her, and she loved her father. The Messenger was totally balanced even in his love for Fatima. He trained her for the heights to which the human soul should rise.
The Messenger raised her, as well as all of his other family members and Companions, in a way to prepare them for the Hereafter. All of us were created for eternity, and so cannot be satisfied except through eternity and the Eternal Being. Therefore, we only want Him and long for Him, either consciously or unconsciously. The essence of all religions and the message of every Prophet was about the Hereafter. For this reason, the Messenger always sought to prepare his followers for the eternal peace and permanent bliss; meanwhile, his very existence among them was a sample of that peace and bliss they would taste in His presence.
He loved them and directed them toward the Hereafter, to the otherworldly and eternal beauty, and to God. For example, He once saw Fatima wearing a necklace (a bracelet, according to another version), and asked her: "Do you want the inhabitants of the Earth and the Heavens to say that my daughter is holding (or wearing) a chain from Hell?" These few words, coming from a man whose throne was established in her heart and who had conquered all her faculties, caused her to report, in her own words: "I immediately sold the necklace, bought and freed a slave, and then went to the Messenger. When I told him what I had done, he rejoiced. He opened his hands and thanked God: 'All thanks to God, Who protected Fatima from Hell.'" [8]
Fatima did not commit any sin by wearing this necklace. However, the Messenger wanted to keep her in the circle of the muqarrabin (those made near to God). His warning to her was based on taqwa (righteousness and devotion to God) and qurb (nearness to God). This was, in a sense, a neglect of worldly things. It is also an example of the sensitivity befitting the mother of the Prophet's household, which represents the Muslim community until the Last Day. To be a mother of such godly men like Hasan, Husayn, and Zayn al-'Abidin was certainly no ordinary task. The Messenger was preparing her to be the mother first of his own household (Ahl al-Bayt), and then of those who would descend from them, such great spiritual leaders as 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, Muhammad Baha' al-Din al-Naqshband, Ahmad Rifai', Ahmad Badawi, al-Shadhili, and the like.
It was as if he were telling her: "Fatima, you will marry a man ('Ali) and go to a house from which many golden 'rings' will emerge in the future. Forget the golden chain on your neck and concentrate on becoming the mother for the 'golden chains' of saints who will appear in the spiritual orders of Naqshbandiya, Rifa'iya, Shadhiliyya, and the like." It was difficult to fulfill such a role while wearing a golden necklace. For this reason, the Messenger was more severe with his own household than with others. He reminded them of the straight path by turning their faces toward the other world, closing all the windows opening on this world, and telling them that what they need is God.
They were to lead their whole lives looking to the other world. For this reason, as a sign of his love, the Messenger purified his own household from all worldly rubbish and allowed no worldly dust to contaminate them. He turned their faces toward the exalted realms and prepared them for being together there.
[1] Muslim, "Fada'il," 63.
[2] Muslim, "Fada'il," 62.
[3] Bukhari, "Jana'iz," 44; Muslim, "Fada'il," 62; Ibn Ma'ja, "Jana'iz," 53.
[4] Hindi, Kanz al-'Ummal, 13:650.
[5] Ibn Hanbal, 2:279; Muslim, "Zakat," 161.
[6] Bukhari, "Adab," 18; Ibn Sa'd, Tabaqat, 8:39.
[7] Muslim, "Fada'il," 98, 99; Bukhari, "Manaqib, " 25.
[8] Nasa'i, "Zinat," 39.

Tuesday 29 January 2013

Baroness Warsi: Fewer than one in four people believe Islam is compatible with British way of life

Fewer than one in four people now believe that following Islam is compatible with a British way of life, Britain's most senior Muslim minister will warn today. Highlighting unpublished research showing that a majority of the country now believes that Islam is a threat to Western civilisation Baroness Sayeeda Warsi will say that “underlying, unfounded mistrust” of Muslims is in itself fuelling extremism. And she will cite new figures from the Association of Chief Police Officers showing that between 50 to 60 per cent of all religious hate crimes reported to police in Britain are now perpetrated against Muslims.

 “My fear is that seeing one community as the ‘other’ is a slippery slope that will enable extremists to advance their twisted interests unchecked,” she will say. “I don’t have to remind anyone what happens when an unfounded suspicion of one people can escalate into unspeakable horror.” Two years ago Baroness Warsi, who has responsibility in Government for faith and communities, was criticised claiming that Islamophobia in Britain “had passed the dinner table test”.

 But in her speech to a support service for those who have suffered anti-Muslim attacks Baroness Warsi will say new data supports the evidence of widespread anti-Muslim feeling in the UK. She will cite new research by academics that shows that just 23 per cent of a representative sample questioned said that Islam was not a threat to Western civilisation. Just 24 per cent thought Muslims were compatible with the British way of life – with nearly half of people disagreeing that Muslims were compatible. This compares with research among Muslims that showed 83 per were proud to be British, compared to 79 per cent of Britons overall. “When I said that Islamophobia had ‘passed the dinner table test’ I got a fair amount of stick,” she will say. “There were those who denied the problem existed. There were those who said talking about it was dangerous. But let me tell you what’s really dangerous: It’s when a country turns a blind eye towards that discrimination.”

She said preliminary figures from the Association of Chief Police officers found that between 50 to 60 per cent of religious hate crimes were now perpetrated against Muslims - amounting to hundreds of attacks a year. But Baroness Warsi will warn that not enough leadership is being given by politicians to tackling Islamaphobia and misconceptions about Islam in the UK. “Anti-Muslim hatred is a form of prejudice and there should be no place in Britain for this prejudice,” she will say. “It would be a more powerful message from a non-Muslim, someone for whom this is not personally painful. ”The fact is that everyone should have an interest in this issue. “It’s not just a matter for Muslims or a matter for people of faith. It’s a matter for everyone who cares about Britain being the modern, equal, fair society that we want it to be.”

 Baroness Warsi said more work needed to be done highlighting Muslim role models such as Mo Farah. “To those who say that there is a conflict of being loyal to Britain and a Muslim, you have to look no further than Mohamed Farah,” she will say. “Our national hero is a practising Muslim. The double gold medallist saw no conflict between crossing the finish line in the Union Flag and dropping to the ground in prayer. ”In fact, he showed how seamlessly religion and patriotism can go together.“ She will also cite Muslim like her own family - who fought alongside British soldiers in both world wars.

”Thousands of Muslims from the Commonwealth fought alongside the Allies in both the world wars. These patriots fought and died for the freedoms we all enjoy today. “People like my two grandfathers who fought for this country long before my parents came to its shores. And you will therefore understand why I will not take lessons on loyalty from those on the extreme right who demonstrate the ideology of intolerance – the very fascism that my grandparents fought all those years ago.” It’s a matter for everyone who cares about Britain being the modern, equal, fair society that we want it to be."

 Baroness Warsi will pledge further Government support for combatting all types of Muslim discrimination and restore Britain's reputation for tolerance. ”Let’s prove that we once again can rise to the challenge and stamp out this new and rising form of prejudice. There should be no place in Britain for this prejudice.“ Source

Monday 28 January 2013

Be grateful for the time you have with your children insha Allah

One of 400 Expelled Palestinians with his daughter after His Return Home, Deir El-Balah Camp, Gaza, Palestine, 1995. 
Taken by Samer Mohdad.

Friday 25 January 2013

Where are the Healthy Gender Relations in the Muslim Community?

We have failed in engendering healthy gender relations in our community. Face it. I travel throughout the United States, and I see troubling signs of Muslim women unable to get married, primarily because Muslim men have abdicated their social responsibilities.
Muslim men can marry non-Muslims– so they oblige — and Muslim women are stuck.  There are usually few young men around in Muslim community events. You attend any Muslim gathering and find young Muslim women outnumbering young Muslim men usually by a 3:1 ratio.  The young men are non-existent, coping with their own psychosis passed down from our community in their dysfunctional practices. Nothing wrong in integrating within the larger society, as long as it’s not at the expense of fleeing your own community.
I put the majority of the blame on us, their parents, for failing to remove the awkwardness when Muslim guy meets Muslim girl. They never developed healthy interpersonal relationships as adolescents because mosques just aren’t built to do that. The second a family walks into a mosque, the father and sons go to one side and the mother and daughters go to the other. My mosque is different, but it is the exception that proves the rule. The second a young man leaves the mosque, he’s free. The young woman, on the other hand, is stuck.
I was speaking at a university event of Muslim students, and as I was walking into the room, I saw young men and women chattering, chuckling, and just being normal. That’s right, just normal. There was no sex taking place and no inappropriate behavior. So those who act as our religious police, get a grip — just talking. That normalcy is missing in our mosques. We turn into abnormal, asexual and agitated beings when we enter a mosque. Anyway, when I entered the meeting of Muslim students, the guys went to the furthest side of the room away from the women. When I asked why, the answer was that throughout their Muslim upbringing, in Muslim schools nonetheless, it was always awkward for young women and men to mingle. In one Muslim school in Sacramento, the the boys claimed the Imam decreed it haram to talk to girls.
I put the rest of the blame on young Muslim men. Yes, we put enough pressure on them. They were punished in schools because they couldn’t sit still or had so much pent up energy. But parents, and especially mothers, have babied them too much. They are copping out. Here’s the issue now: More young Muslim women are achieving in academics and careers at higher rates than young Muslim men. You find more women doctors, lawyers and even engineers in our community. That intimidates the guys. They can’t handle women achieving when they are struggling in their schools or in finding a profession acceptable to their parents, which typically means being a doctor or lawyer or engineer.
But this idea of the man being the sole breadwinner in the family is very rare, folks. Financial responsibilities are shared now between husband and wife, and so should parental responsibilities. So guys, get over it. If you want to develop machismo, there is nothing more endearing to a woman than a man who can take care of her children and her home. It’s not about taking her out to the fanciest restaurant any more. It’s about taking the kids out so mom can relax, cleaning the dishes after meals and making a gourmet meal for your lover. But still take her out to a fancy restaurant once in a while.
Some guys have another idea on how to manage in finding a wife. Pick one from “back home” and bring her to America, where she will be happy and indebted to you for life. Ah, that doesn’t work all the time — actually, rarely does it work–but to each his own.
If Islam’s essence is justice, then aren’t we violating the essence of Islam when we accept Muslim men marrying non-Muslims while we violently reject Muslim women doing the same? I’m not saying I have the answers, but what I am saying is there needs to be more conversations about this crisis.
Masculinity in this era requires us men to have the courage to weather emotional storms and to confront danger from unhealthy relationships.  The days of exerting physical supremacy and financial prowess are over. Grow some juevos and be a man, as Malcolm X said, by becoming more responsible towards the women in your lives.

Thursday 24 January 2013

To The Point: Shaming Women Into (and out of) Hijab

Comment: I know a few sisters who have recently taken off the hijab and I don't think I have any right to comment on it at all (let me make that clear). It is between them and their God, however one does wonder what they went through to have made that decision. I thought this sister made some good points. Overall I really believe we need to support each other in strenghthening our faith and just stop the judging and finger pointing pls!
It’s quite ironic that the headscarf that so many Muslim women wear in hopes of not being reduced to their looks leads to just that –being reduced to what they wear, how they wear it, what color, camel bump or not, flashy or not, Abaya or not.
It’s frustrating enough that Muslim women have to deal with policing by non-Muslims regarding whether or not they should wear hijab and how an integration into Western society should be characterized by stripping yourself (quite literally) from your own cultural and religious identity. But that’s not the topic of my column today. I take issue with the policing within the Muslim community: The shaming, the discouraging, the backbiting and the incessant judging. A woman’s piety seems to be dependent on whether or not she wears hijab. And that kind of binary thinking is problematic because it disregards any nuance that exists between the two extremes of “pious, perfect Muhajaba” and “gone astray Non-Muhajaba.”
Firstly, wearing hijab is an extremely personal choice and taking that step requires a lot of strength, courage, and patience. Piety is not the only determining factor. For example, a very pious woman could have a very unsupportive family or a job she can’t lose and hence not be able to wear the hijab, while a less pious woman could be from the sort of familial background that had her wear the hijab from a very young age. I should not have to give these kinds of examples, it’s a given that as Muslims, we have to give others the benefit of the doubt. This is a phenomenon that happens to women everywhere – the fact that others think they have a right to police how the woman carries herself. We don’t experience the same kind “concern” in other, more pressing fields of personal spirituality; for example, no one goes around asking men whether or not they have paid Zakat and I have yet to see someone get as upset over a missed prayer as they do over an exposed ankle or a strand of hair peaking through a scarf.
Secondly, the kind of scrutiny Muslim women face in their communities when it comes to hijab creates a very discouraging and hostile environment. Suddenly, her piety is reduced to how tight her pants are, her level of Taqwa measured by the length of her shirt, and also, “Sister, if you’re going to wear nail polish, you might as well not wear hijab at all!” Many don’t start wearing hijab because they don’t want to be judged by their own community while many others have taken the hijab off because they felt that the scrutiny they faced made them focus on the opinions of others more than pleasing their Creator. Every small (or grave) mistake is amplified disproportionately and made out to be a reason why a woman should not wear hijab anymore. The logic behind, “If you’re going to have a boyfriend, you shouldn’t wear hijab” doesn’t work anymore than the logic behind, “If you’re going to lie, you shouldn’t pray Salaah.” We all sin and being sinners doesn’t somehow magically excuse or disqualify us from following God’s commandments. And even if it did, it wouldn’t be up to a stranger in the community who likely barely even knows us to proclaim the ways in which we are “allowed” to follow God’s commands. Wearing hijab is not a trophy you get once you have accomplished “perfect Imaan status”; it much rather is a single step in a long journey towards that common goal we all have.
Long story short, stop using a woman’s appearance to determine what is in her heart and stop policing the way she carries herself. I, for one, know that there are plenty of women who don’t wear hijab who are much better Muslims than I, a Muhajaba, am. And policing and shaming women into covering in a way that you think is right is incredibly counterproductive and dishonest.

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Failure of feminism in the Muslim community

The Muslim community seems to be decades behind British society in the treatment of women1 with Western values not yet permeating our mosques and community centres. Independently of whether this is a good or bad thing, the question is why? In my personal view, it is due to Islam and Muslims.
Firstly, Islam – or the mainstream interpretation of Islam – is naturally conservative. It is most closely understood as being supportive of “traditional family values”. Major scholars from all schools of thought, are united in their belief that men are and should be the financial breadwinners; men are and should be the natural leaders; and men are and should be the interpreters of the law. At the same time, it is women who must be available to their husbands; it is women who must cover their bodies; and it is women who must be segregated from the rest of the society (unless there is a reason not to). In this climate, is there much reason to expect a different outcome?
There are some who are challenging the status quo – and are referred to derogatorily as “progressives”, “liberals” or “reformists”. Whatever the label, it is of utmost importance that any such discussion is done:
  • In a holistic manner: women’s rights cannot be discussed without discussing responsibilities e.g. if one were to argue for the rights of women to have a career and not be at the husband’s beck and call, this cannot be done without also considering financial responsibility of women in a family setting.
  • With due deference to those with differences of opinion: in any culture or religion, major scholars live(d) in societies which are very different to our own. It is not fair to blame them for not seeing the world in the way that the progressives of today do!
Secondly, we come to Muslims. Regardless of religious viewpoint, even the most conservative believers would find it hard pressed to justify the misogyny and idiocy that fills many of our religious institutions. For example, the space for women in mosques is always worse than that of men; many institutions do not even allow a space for women at Jum’a or Eid prayers; and women’s views are rarely taken into account in mosque decision-making (other than areas which are solely to do with women)2. Naming all the injustices that are done to the mothers, sisters and daughters of our community, would take forever. So why are Muslim institutions (as a whole) getting away with this type of nonsensical and unjustifiable misogyny? In my view, there are three key reasons:
  • Old people: Those who run our institutions, are in general, the older generation, who primarily are immigrants and have brought their patriarchal culture with them – this is very difficult to change, other than by democratising our mosques, and allowing a greater say to all.
  • Men: If you are in a position of power or superiority, there is little reason to fight to give that up, whether or not you think it is right. Just put yourself in the position of the men in the marriage process – would you prefer to have a situation where the society supports your freedoms and does not judge you? Self-interest drives societies, and from a pure political perspective, it is not in men’s interest, to drive the feminist agenda. To change this, must be done by aligning all our interests in a collaborative manner where possible, building coalitions rather than being antagonistic and always wanting a fight!
  • Women: A significant proportion of those who want change are women who have experienced the discrimination, whether directly or indirectly; whether intentionally or unintentionally; and whether at a small or large scale. Yet how many actually do anything about it or support those who do? In reality, who are the ones who put down those who speak up?
We can all talk about how society is at fault for not providing the space for this debate, and to an extent this is true – but really? Why not create the space? Did Bibi Fatima (AS) stay silent as her rights were ignored, whilst living in the most ignorant of all societies? The response is often – “but what will people say” (in a whingeing tone, and most often worrying about marriage). Grow up people! If you believe in this cause, then “won’t somebody please think of the children” and the next generation? Who will be the role models: will it be those who sat on the side; or those who did something? Did the Suffragettes make the change in the Western world without sacrifice?3
For those who believe in a more equal society, there are three key principles:
  • Be strategic, build coalitions and understand politics: work differently and appropriately on the levels highlighted above, building an argument based on the audience’s specific issues; and do so in a sensible manner, not alienating those who support your cause!
  • Pick your battles and do not fight irrelevant points when the broader narrative is being written. In the last week when discussing similar topics, I have seen women ignorantly referred to as “females”, “womenfolk” and “the female gender”. This complete ignorance as to suitable language, is an important issue but the right response is not to get mad at anyone who says “men/women” and insist on using terminology like “wo/men” to ensure women are put first. This kind of nonsensical behaviour (although hilariously funny) just undermines the cause that is being fought
  • Do something about it and be ready to sacrifice: when there is change, there is inertia and opposition to change. Without people willing to stand up and take the expected abuse, society will not move forward. I am not saying that we need a sacrificial lamb (or ewe lamb!) but we have to realise the necessity of sacrifice and abuse; and therefore, the requirement for this to be a collaborative effort with mutual support to mitigate this as much as is reasonable / possible.
And really, we cannot sit back and let this continue. We have to all identify where there is patriarchy and misogyny, and strategically do something about it, not only to solve the issues of today but also for the longer term.
(1) Personally, I think that this statement itself is relatively patronising, as it is talking about treatment of women, considering women to be the “other”. The reality, however, is that given the men run the mosques, the “treatment of women” seems to be the only statement that captures the idea I am trying to address
(2) There are so many institutions who still do not provide a vote for women, or do so in a ridiculous way – I can’t believe that this still happens in the 21st century, and nobody seems to care!
(3) I know that this is a simplification to some extent, and ignores the strides being made in the community. I know also that there are other causes I have not mentioned but I genuinely consider these to be the biggest reasons.

Saturday 19 January 2013

Oxford gang drugged young girls and sold them as prostitutes, court told

Vulnerable girls as young as 11 were groomed, subjected to acts of "extreme depravity" and trafficked around the UK for sex by a gang of men based in Oxford, a court has heard .
Over a period of eight years the nine men made the girls' lives a "living hell", subjecting them to extreme physical and sexual violence, selling some victims for prostitution in Oxford and trafficking others around the country, an Old Bailey jury was told.
It took more than half an hour to read out the 51 counts against the men, who sat impassively in the dock, accused of crimes including rape, forcing a child into prostitution and trafficking.
The jury of seven men and five women heard that from 2004 to early 2012 six complainants were plied with drugs and drink, and raped, sometimes by several men and sometimes "for days on end".
The men targeted children in care or from chaotic backgrounds, the jury heard. Once groomed, the girls could then be used to recruit other children into the sex ring. Some of the girls, ranging in age from 11 to 15, were groomed to be child prostitutes, for which some men in the gang received payments.
Kamar Jamil, 27, Akhtar Dogar, 32, Anjum Dogar, 30, Assad Hussain, 32, Mohammed Karrar, 38 , Bassam Karrar, 26, Mohammed Hussain, 24, Zeeshan Ahmed, 27, and Bilal Ahmed, 26, deny the charges against them. The court heard there were more potential abusers who were not in the dock.
The trial is expected to last eight to 12 weeks.
The nine face 19 counts of rape, seven of them with a child aged under 13. Other counts include arranging or facilitating child prostitution, trafficking within the UK for sexual exploitation and using an instrument to procure a miscarriage.
Noel Lucas QC, prosecuting said: "The depravity of what was done to the complainants was extreme."
He told the jury that they would have to steel themselves to hear the evidence. "The facts in this case will make you feel uncomfortable. Much of what the girls were forced to endure was perverted in the extreme."
The children were taken to guest houses and empty houses, thought to be kept for the abuse, and prevented from escaping.
They were subjected to "humiliating and degrading conduct", including biting, suffocation, burning and scratching. Weapons, including knives, baseball bats, knives and meat cleavers were used during the torture, the court heard.
The jury was told that sometimes men had urinated on the girls, who were raped vaginally, orally and anally.
The children were groomed in a variety of ways, given gifts or "simply shown the care and attention they very much craved", said Lucas.
"The attention lavished on the girls at the outset was of course entirely insincere, as it was merely a device, you may conclude once you hear the evidence, to exploit their vulnerability," he said.
He said the girls were also given "so many drugs they were barely aware of what was going on – indeed they say it was the only way they could cope with what was going on".
The men gave the girls cannabis, cocaine, crack and sometimes heroin.
"The girls became addicted to certain of the drugs and felt unable to live without them. This made them even more dependent on the men," he said.
The men, who were arrested by Thames Valley police as part of Operation Bullfinch, controlled the girls in their power entirely.
They were threatened "that should they ever seek to free themselves from the grasp of the group they and their families would suffer serious harm".
The men targeted girls who were unlikely to be believed and whose behaviour would be seen as delinquent, said Lucas. It was, according to one of the girls "a living hell" from which there was no escape.
The gang took some of the girls to empty houses where other men from as far away as Bradford, Leeds, London and Slough, would "come by appointment" to pay to have sex with them, Lucas said.
On other occasions girls were ferried to London and Bournemouth.
In his opening statement, Lucas told the court that one girl, who can not be named for legal reasons, was 12 when she was targeted by the gang while playing truant from school.
She was subjected to extreme physical, sexual and psychological abuse until shortly after her 15th birthday. The jury heard that she was in contact with police twice in 2006, and they would see a video interview carried by police in September of that year. Her abuse only came to an end when she "decided it all had to stop" and she threw her telephone away and went back to school, said Lucas.
The court heard that as part of the grooming process, the alleged victim, called Girl A, who had been put into care, introduced another teenage girl to the gang. In September 2006 the girls absconded from the home, returning two days later in a taxi. The jury heard that Girl A said she asked the children's home to pay the fare, but when they refused the girls returned to their abusers in Oxford.
The trial continues.

Tuesday 15 January 2013

I Was Wounded; My Honor Wasn’t

 THIRTY-TWO years ago, when I was 17 and living in Bombay, I was gang raped and nearly killed. Three years later, outraged at the silence and misconceptions around rape, I wrote a fiery essay under my own name describing my experience for an Indian women’s magazine. It created a stir in the women’s movement — and in my family — and then it quietly disappeared. Then, last week, I looked at my e-mail and there it was. As part of the outpouring of public rageafter a young woman’s rape and death in Delhi, somebody posted the article online and it went viral. Since then, I have received a deluge of messages from people expressing their support.
It’s not exactly pleasant to be a symbol of rape. I’m not an expert, nor do I represent all victims of rape. All I can offer is that — unlike the young woman who died in December two weeks after being brutally gang raped, and so many others — my story didn’t end, and I can continue to tell it.
When I fought to live that night, I hardly knew what I was fighting for. A male friend and I had gone for a walk up a mountain near my home. Four armed men caught us and made us climb to a secluded spot, where they raped me for several hours, and beat both of us. They argued among themselves about whether or not to kill us, and finally let us go.
At 17, I was just a child. Life rewarded me richly for surviving. I stumbled home, wounded and traumatized, to a fabulous family. With them on my side, so much came my way. I found true love. I wrote books. I saw a kangaroo in the wild. I caught buses and missed trains. I had a shining child. The century changed. My first gray hair appeared.
Too many others will never experience that. They will not see that it gets better, that the day comes when one incident is no longer the central focus of your life. One day you find you are no longer looking behind you, expecting every group of men to attack. One day you wind a scarf around your throat without having a flashback to being choked. One day you are not frightened anymore.
Rape is horrible. But it is not horrible for all the reasons that have been drilled into the heads of Indian women. It is horrible because you are violated, you are scared, someone else takes control of your body and hurts you in the most intimate way. It is not horrible because you lose your “virtue.” It is not horrible because your father and your brother are dishonored. I reject the notion that my virtue is located in my vagina, just as I reject the notion that men’s brains are in their genitals.
If we take honor out of the equation, rape will still be horrible, but it will be a personal, and not a societal, horror. We will be able to give women who have been assaulted what they truly need: not a load of rubbish about how they should feel guilty or ashamed, but empathy for going through a terrible trauma.
The week after I was attacked, I heard the story of a woman who was raped in a nearby suburb. She came home, went into the kitchen, set herself on fire and died. The person who told me the story was full of admiration for her selflessness in preserving her husband’s honor. Thanks to my parents, I never did understand this.
The law has to provide real penalties for rapists and protection for victims, but only families and communities can provide this empathy and support. How will a teenager participate in the prosecution of her rapist if her family isn’t behind her? How will a wife charge her assailant if her husband thinks the attack was more of an affront to him than a violation of her?
At 17, I thought the scariest thing that could happen in my life was being hurt and humiliated in such a painful way. At 49, I know I was wrong: the scariest thing is imagining my 11-year-old child being hurt and humiliated. Not because of my family’s honor, but because she trusts the world and it is infinitely painful to think of her losing that trust. When I look back, it is not the 17-year-old me I want to comfort, but my parents. They had the job of picking up the pieces.
This is where our work lies, with those of us who are raising the next generation. It lies in teaching our sons and daughters to become liberated, respectful adults who know that men who hurt women are making a choice, and will be punished.
When I was 17, I could not have imagined thousands of people marching against rape in India, as we have seen these past few weeks. And yet there is still work to be done. We have spent generations constructing elaborate systems of patriarchy, caste and social and sexual inequality that allow abuse to flourish. But rape is not inevitable, like the weather. We need to shelve all the gibberish about honor and virtue and did-she-lead-him-on and could-he-help-himself. We need to put responsibility where it lies: on men who violate women, and on all of us who let them get away with it while we point accusing fingers at their victims.