Friday 29 March 2019

'Not your enemies': Sri Lanka Muslims fear backlash after blasts

Mohamed Hasan has barely left his home in Colombo since a string of deadly blasts struck Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, afraid he could be attacked because he is Muslim.

He has a job at a printing press, but the 41-year-old's family have begged him to stay home.

"They are worried that if I go out, will I be able to come back alive?" he told AFP news agency outside the Jumma mosque in Dematagoda, where he had ventured briefly to pray.

More than 350 people were killed in the carnage unleashed in the Easter attacks against churches and hotels, which have been claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS). The armed group has provided no evidence.

On Tuesday, the country's state minister of defence said the bombings were in retaliation for a recent attack on mosques in New Zealand.

Ruwan Wijewardene made the comment to politicians in parliament without providing evidence or explaining where the information came from about the worst attacks since the country's civil war ended in 2009.

The deaths have horrified Sri Lankans and been condemned by Muslim groups, but many in the community have been left feeling vulnerable.

Zareena Begum, 60, said she had barely slept since the weekend.

"I know people are angry at Muslims," she said in tears outside the mosque. "Infants being carried in the arms of their mothers were killed.

"I never imagined such hatred being there in the hearts of these people (who attacked). Hatred must not sow more hatred."

This is our homeland, it is known as the pearl of Asia. We want it to remain like that.

Wearing a black dress and white headscarf, Begum added: "We have been huddled at our homes. We are scared about going out."

Sri Lanka's population of about 22 million is a patchwork of ethnicities and religions, dominated by the Sinhalese Buddhist majority.

Muslims account for 10 percent of the population and are the second-largest minority after Hindus. Around seven percent of Sri Lankans are Christians.

Ethnic and religious tensions abound in the country, which suffered through a decades-long Tamil armed rebellion and more recently has seen outbreaks of sectarian violence.

Muslims have been at the receiving end of sporadic violence and hate attacks since the civil war ended in 2009.

Hardline Buddhist monks have led campaigns against the community and in 2013 and 2018, Muslim businesses came under attack.

Rumours were even spread that Sinhalese could become sterile if they wore underwear bought from Muslim shops, and that food sold by Muslims would cause infertility.

In the wake of the attacks, Sri Lankan leaders including Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have urged calm and solidarity.

"The vast majority of Muslims condemn this and they are as angry as the Tamils and the Sinhalese about what happened," he said on Tuesday, calling for unity.

But at the Jumma mosque there was an atmosphere of anxiety, and several worshippers said they hoped police would "take care of every citizen in such critical times".

Hilmy Ahamed, vice-president of the influential Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, said the community was braced for a backlash, with emotions running high.

"Hundreds of people are being buried (so) there is going to be an emotional outburst and some of it could be justifiable," said Ahamed.

"We have asked the government... to ensure security is maintained. This (attack) has not been carried out by the Muslim community but by some fringe elements."

In fact, Ahamed and other Muslim leaders said they had warned Sri Lankan authorities years earlier about the leader of the National Thowheed Jamath, a group the government says is its key suspect in the attacks.

The group's leader, Zahran Hashim, was well known to Muslim leaders as a hardliner.

"This person was a loner and he had radicalised young people in the guise of conducting Quran classes," Ahamed said.

Back at the mosque, RF Ameer said the community just wanted safety.

"We are living in constant fear because if someone sees us wearing the skull cap they will perceive us to be their enemies," he said, his forehead creased with worry.



Muslims are struggling to understand that people can murder in their name and the Name of our Lord.

It is easy to simply say that these are just crazy people, or had a troubled upbringing or are paid by others to do this to make Muslims in general look bad or be a catalyst for imperial invasion of lands populated primarily by Muslims, or that people are pretending to be Muslim to make us look bad. The reality is that those of us who study the sacred texts KNOW that these sinful, corrupt, murdering renegades ARE found, within our societies and communities. Their emerging pattern and behaviour was witnessed by the Prophet ?allallahu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and their offshoots and variants were fought after his death sala Allahu alihi by his Sahabah.

This is a murderous ideology that masquerades as sincere love for Islam, Islamic leadership and sympathy to everything Islamic. However, when you LISTEN to the rhetoric and cut through the calls to emotional reactionism you seem it is a perverted, misconstrued understanding of Islam and its Maqasid (objectives). They speak a word that resembles TRUTH but intend by it FALSEHOOD of action

Here are some of the signs that are clearly visible to those who know the danger signs. Following are some of the signs of extremists collected from the sayings of Prophet Muhammad ? and the warnings of his companions.

Ali ra?yAllahu 'anhu (may Allah be pleased with him) said I heard the Prophet ? saying,

“In the last days (of the world) there will appear young people with foolish thoughts and ideas.” (Al-Bukhari 5057)

This may seem arbitrary. Rather it is a very important statement. The Kibaar (Major/Elder Scholars) are the noble conveyors of knowledge. When you see a group of people huddled around young individuals with little positions of trust, responsibility and life experience then know that if they agree on something that others around them far and wide dispute, then these foolish youngsters are to be turned away from. Although they may sound eloquent and sincere, their understanding is immature and baseless.

When ALL scholars, from all sections of the Islamic World, condemn an action, then that is the truth of the matter and you fall in line and turn away from the youngsters. If you have major scholars from every corner of the world denouncing criminality and the renegades, then the few youthful voices are to be ignored. That is the way of Ahlus Sunnah.

The Prophet ?allallahu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) described their demeanour as harsh, volatile and prone to impudence. They speak before thinking, contradict without prior learning and assume the understanding they have is singularly the TRUTH and those who oppose it, by necessity, must follow them or their way to find salvation.
It is a hallmark of extremism that the cause they champion is just, but their anger over it is beyond the limits of the law and morality. It is for this reason that the killing of 12 people for example can be seemingly be justified by their anger over the ridicule of Rasul ul Allah ?allallahu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)– which we all are angered by. However our anger is channelled in legitimate means, not murder.
So anger and hasty foolish actions underpinned by immaturity become a consistent trait in them.

Anas ra?yAllahu 'anhu (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet ? said to me:
“… the people will be amazed by them and they will be proud of themselves, and they will go out of the religion (discard Islam) as an arrow goes out through the game.” (Musnad Ahmad).
When they see others struggling to become better Muslims, they are harsh in their condemnation and feel and display a sense of elitism. They feel exclusive and better than others and show it in the way they talk, walk and act. Labeling others with disbelief and hypocrisy is common and easily pronounced, without consequence of what that implies.

Anas ra?yAllahu 'anhu (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (?) said to me:

“There will be among you a people who will struggle in worship of Allah, … and they will go out of the religion (discard Islam) as an arrow goes out through the game.” (Musnad Ahmad).

Ali ra?yAllahu 'anhu (may Allah be pleased with him)  narrated that I heard the Prophet (?) saying: “There will emerge some people from my Ummah who will recite the Quran, your recitation would seem insignificant in comparison to theirs, and your prayer would seem insignificant in comparison to theirs, and your fasting would seem insignificant in comparison to theirs.” (Muslim 1066)

The fact that these young, immature, foolish people are sincere is not in doubt. They love God and have a desire to give victory to faith. They BELIEVE in what they are doing. The tragedy is that although their prayer is better than ours, and their reading and memorisation of the quran is more than us, they DO NOT CONNECT TO ITS TRUE MEANING.
It remains on the tongue and never touches the heart. It does not pass the throat. They do not UNDERSTAND the overarching meaning of the text but focus more on the one-liners. This leads them to misinterpretation.

The Prophet (?) said: “They will recite Quran but it will not go any further than their throats.” (Muslim 1066). And he (?) said: “The will recite the Book of Allah fluently, but it will not go any further than their throats.” (Muslim 1064).
Slogans, chants, etc are all emotional outbursts that do not provide a clarity on what is meant to reside in the heart. The Quran teaches an overwhelming message of Love, fidelity, Compassion and peace. This is all missed by those who focus on one aspect of Faithfulness.

Ali ra?yAllahu 'anhu (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that I heard the Prophet (?) saying: “There will emerge some people from my Ummah who will recite the Quran, your recitation would seem insignificant in comparison to theirs, and your prayer would seem insignificant in comparison to theirs, and your fasting would seem insignificant in comparison to theirs.” (Muslim 1066)
The Prophet (?) said: “There will be people who will speak well but act badly.” (Sahih Abu Dawud, Albani 4765).
Its difficult arguing with an extremist. They are passionate and who can deny that the ummah is suffering. They are usually prepared with vague references of incidents to justify some atrocity that they support. If you condemn a crime they say what about the crimes done to us. If you condemn the killing of innocents, they say what about the drones. All this was witnessed with the killing of those innocent school children in Peshawar. After they massacred children they said, well ours are killed too.

The Prophet (?) said: “They will kill the Muslims.” (Al-Bukhari 7432).
It is amazing  to see that those who plea love for Islam KILL MUSLIMS MORE THAN ALL OTHERS.
Bombs in market places, kidnappings, storming schools, shooting those who oppose their methodology.
In Yemen, al Qaidah attacked a hospital killing everyone. In Peshawer, they stormed a school killing 146 children. Bombings of mosques of other sects and arbitrary claiming the disbelief of those who disagree with them.

When you mention the ulama / scholars, they are labled as Scholars for dollars, petrol scholars, scholars of fiqh not Jihad…etc


Monday 25 March 2019

Islamophobia is practically enshrined as public policy in Australia


Second, the 9/11 attacks drew Australia into the War on Terror in support of its closest ally, and geopolitical sponsor, the United States.

Australian troops spent long periods in Afghanistan and Iraq, fighting and killing Muslims in their own countries. The consequences of this endless war have included the targeting of Australians in Jihadi terror attacks and plots, both at home and abroad.

The wars began with a deluge of propaganda. Later, the terror threat was leveraged to massively enhance surveillance by Australia’s national security state. Muslim Australians have frequently been defined by arms of their own government as a source of danger.

Two years after the war in Iraq commenced, the campaign of Islamophobia culminated in the country’s most serious modern race riots, on Cronulla Beach in December 2005, when young white men spent a summer afternoon beating and throwing bottles at whichever brown people they could find.

Cronulla was a milestone in the development of a more forthright, ugly public nationalism in Australia. Now young men wear flags as capes on Australia Day, a date which is seen as a calculated insult by many Indigenous people. Anzac Day, which commemorates a failed invasion of Turkey, was once a far more ambivalent occasion. In recent years it has moved closer to becoming an open celebration of militarism and imperialism.

Every step of the way, this process has not been hindered by outlets owned by News Corp, which dominates Australia’s media market in a way which citizens of other Anglophone democracies can find difficult to comprehend.

News Corp has the biggest-selling newspapers in the majority of metropolitan media markets, monopolies in many regional markets, the only general-readership national daily, and the only cable news channel. Its influence on the national news agenda remains decisive. And too often it has used this influence to demonise Muslims.

On Anzac Day 2017, a prominent young Australian Muslim woman, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, posted on her personal Facebook page, “LEST.WE.FORGET. (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine…)”, which appeared to draw an equivalence between the suffering of Muslims around the world today, and that of Australia’s diggers during the first world war.

News Corp outlets – especially the Australian – howled about her supposed disrespect for months. Opportunistic conservative politicians lined up to condemn her. Towards the end of the year, she decamped for London, and in a television appearance compared Australia to an “abusive boyfriend”.

On the other hand, News Corp has been far more solicitous to touring grifters from the “alt-right” movement. They gave softball interviews and free publicity to Milo Yiannopoulos, Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux ahead of their national tours. They also gave Gavin McInnes the soft touch, but his plans were aborted when he was denied a visa on character grounds.

More significantly still, News Corp has itself recently run campaigns based on white nationalist talking points.

A year ago, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph ran reports on the alleged plight of white farmers in South Africa, in a way that echoed far-right myths about “white genocide”. This worked well enough to elicit a short-lived policy proposal from the immigration minister to give white farmers “special attention”.

News Corp also had a big hand in promoting the idea over the last few years that “African gangs” were holding the city of Melbourne to ransom. This campaign was also in lockstep with the rhetoric of local neo-Nazis such as Blair Cottrell.

And last August, News Corp’s most influential rightwing pundit, Andrew Bolt, wrote a column which explicitly raised the prospect of demographic replacement – a recurring obsession of the white nationalists.

Bolt depicted a possible future in which a “tidal wave of immigrants sweeps away our national identity”. For Bolt – who has previously been found to have breached Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act – the country was under demographic attack.

This normalisation of white nationalist concepts is also visible in politics. Senator Fraser Anning has had a hit of global social media fame this week after he appeared to blame the victims of the Christchurch massacre, and again when a young protester cracked an egg on Anning’s bald pate.

Anning is hardly alone – white nationalist anxieties have continually surfaced at the heart of Australia’s political process. In 2016 the Australian Senate held an inquiry into halal food, in which senators asked questions which appeared to owe a debt to rightwing conspiracy theories about certification funding terrorism.

Anning himself was elected as a result of the revival of Australian anti-immigrant populist party, One Nation, whose recent elected members have included an alleged sovereign citizen. Last year the Australian Senate almost passed a motion that “It’s OK to be white”, which would have seen a 4chan meme approved by the national parliament.

Just last week, publicity-hungry former Labor leader Mark Latham, now running for state office with One Nation, suggested that self-identified Indigenous people be DNA tested before they receive welfare.

And at least until Friday, it looked like a desperate conservative national government might run a race-based election, reaching once more for the same playbook the party has used for decades. (In 2011, the current prime minister Scott Morrison reportedly recommended an anti-Muslim election strategy to his Liberal party colleagues). Former race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane said the government was “campaigning on fear, seeking to incite hysteria about asylum seekers and border security”.

Australia now has a public collection of open white nationalists – from antisemitic podcasters to would-be infiltrators of mainstream conservative parties.

They need to be understood in their proper context: the decades-long drumbeat of xenophobia and Muslim-hate, which has issued from some of the most powerful institutions in the country.

This is the environment in which Muslims, refugees and immigrants have come to be understood as enemies of Australia. It may be an environment that has nurtured white supremacist terror.


Thursday 21 March 2019

Halal holiday bookings soar as Muslims opt for the Med

Driven by a rapidly expanding global population and a burgeoning middle class, overall Muslim lifestyle spending – including food, fashion, cosmetics, media and recreation – was worth an estimated $2.1tn in 2017.

The report – produced annually by analyst Thomson Reuters – says that the halal travel sector is “spreading its wings through offering cultural, historical, religious and beach tourism. Muslim-friendly beach resorts are proving particularly popular.”

Muslim spending power has never been stronger – and hoteliers on the Turquoise Coast have been quick to respond. Some have converted existing hotels to be halal-friendly; other purpose-built resorts are springing up. Their restaurants serve halal food. The premises are alcohol-free. They provide prayer rooms and mosques, and broadcast the call to prayer over public address systems.

Most resorts have screened-off women-only pools and beach areas, in which women can sunbathe in bikinis without fear of being seen by men. Boys over the age of five or six are banned, along with cameras and mobile phones. Spas and gyms have separate opening times for men and women. Organised entertainment is “family-friendly”.

Basma Kahie, a fashion blogger, said she had previously had doubts about taking holidays because of the difficulties facing Muslim families. But after visiting a halal-friendly resort in Antalya last year with her husband and daughter, she was planning another holiday, this time with friends.

“It was amazing not to have to worry about things that might compromise my religious beliefs,” she told the Observer.


Wednesday 20 March 2019

Mothers send sons to Somalia to avoid knife crime

British teenagers are being sent by their parents to Somalia, itself recovering from a series of terror attacks, because of concern that the police cannot protect them from knife crime.

Representatives from north London’s Somali community say hundreds of children have been flown to Somalia, Somaliland and Kenya because of rising concerns over drug gangs and county lines, the criminal networks that use children to transport drugs from cities to the provinces.

In a series of interviews, Somali mothers who arrived in London after fleeing their country during its 1990s civil war told the Observer that many of their sons had asked to leave the UK because of drug gangs and the threat of violence.

Rakhia Ismail, Islington deputy mayor, said: “Sending them away has become the only way they can be safer. This issue of safety has been repeatedly raised by the community but nobody has listened. So many children have gone abroad. Two weeks ago, there was a stabbing and a child was taken back home two days later.”

The revelations follow a week of heated debate over the causes of and potential solutions to Britain’s knife crime epidemic. Seventeen people have died after attacks in London alone since the start of 2019. On Saturday, there were reports that three people were in hospital after an attack at a nightclub in Birmingham, a city reeling from three knife fatalities within days last month. And a 15-year-old boy was charged with murder after the stabbing of 17-year-old Ayub Hassan, in west London, on Thursday afternoon.

The supermarket Asda made a surprise intervention on Saturday into the issue, announcing that it will stop selling single kitchen knives.

 Another 15-year-old was recently sent away after his friend was stabbed to death in Islington and he was told 'you next'
The high levels of violence facing parts of British society are evident in the testimony of Islington’s sizeable Somali community. Representatives say 50-70% have been directly affected by county lines and knife crime.

Sadia Ali, treasurer of Islington Somalia Forum and founder of Minority Matters, said: “Hundreds of youngsters have been taken to Somalia, Somaliland and Kenya, some taken all the way to the rural areas. Parents feel they have no choice if they want their son to be safe.”

Ali, a mother of seven, sent her 15-year-old son to Somalia to protect him from gangs and said many of her friends now have children on two continents. Another 15-year-old son was recently sent to Somalia after his friend was stabbed to death in Islington and he was told “you next”.

Recently, Somalia has suffered a number of terror attacks. A car bomb in the capital, Mogadishu, killed seven people and wounded several others on Thursday, following. It followed another the week before which killed 29 people.

On Friday, a north London Somali mother flew to Mombasa, Kenya, to dissuade her 19-year-old son from returning to the UK after gangs asked him to return: “I am very scared what the gangs will do if he comes home.”


Tuesday 19 March 2019

Educating brothel children in Pakistan should be a priority

The call to prayer echoes across the ancient walled city of Lahore. Worshippers hurriedly make their way towards the centuries-old Badshahi Mosque, and in its shadow thrives a trade older than the grand mosque itself.

Condemned by the devout and exploited by the elite, the sex workers of Heera Mandi, Lahore’s infamous red-light district, earn their living on the margins of society. Open doorways offer a fleeting glimpse into the realities of the women who live here, most of whom face a daily struggle to make ends meet.

Each has a different story to tell. Some were born into the trade while others were trafficked from rural villages and poorer parts of the city; lured by men with the prospect of marriage or employment and then sold off to brothels.

A winding alleyway leads to a small, concrete building with green doors. An unexpected chanting of nursery rhymes can be heard. Inside, a cluttered, makeshift classroom equipped with wooden desks, an alphabet-strewn blackboard and walls plastered with colourful drawings. The voices belong to the children of Lahore’s sex workers.

They are the forgotten by-product of Pakistan’s undercover sex trade; spending their days on the streets and returning at night to sleep on brothel floors. They face malnutrition, physical and mental abuse and are prime targets of trafficking.

According to Sahil, a local NGO, child sexual abuse cases in Pakistan have increased from nine cases per day in 2017 to 12 cases per day in 2018. Between January and June 2018, 2,322 child abuse cases were reported from all four provinces of Pakistan. The data revealed children between the ages of 6 and 10 were most vulnerable and, of the total cases reported, the majority of victims were girls.

Like shameful secrets, society prefers to keep them hidden and, to the Pakistan government, most of these children don’t exist. Since many are without fathers – a prerequisite to obtaining a birth certificate – school enrolment is not only difficult but nearly impossible.

“Every child deserves an education regardless of their background,” says Lubna Tayyab. “These children have dreams to become artists, teachers and doctors – to be respected members of society – and nobody has the right to deprive them of that.”

Born and raised in the red-light district herself, Lubna was taunted at school and made to feel like an outcast. Determined to provide an education for children who no other school seemed to want, she founded her project, Apni Taleem, which in Urdu means “Our Education”.

In 2011, Lubna converted the ground floor of her home into a classroom and began offering free schooling to the children of sex workers in her neighbourhood. She went door to door, engaging mothers in discussing the importance of education and encouraging their kids to attend. It wasn’t easy – most mothers were reluctant since their children were expected to contribute to the family income by begging on the streets, but Lubna persisted.

She made a special effort to recruit girls, who were less likely than their brothers to attend, and began offering free school meals. A dozen turned up, and today over 70 children are being taught a range of subjects, including literacy, numeracy and religious studies.

Apni Taleem operates on a budget of roughly £20,000 a year. Local donors show no interest in funding a school for the children of sex workers so UK-based Muslim Charity has stepped up; contributing towards the cost of rent, teacher’s salaries and educational resources.

The Pakistan government has also been reluctant to help. “They insist the children can attend government schools, but that’s not feasible,” says Lubna. “Government schools are meant to be free but in practice they’re not. Uniforms, textbooks and exam fees are costs sex workers can’t afford.”

The school is more than just a facility; it is a safe haven protecting vulnerable children from the harsh realities of street life. According to the Trafficking in Persons Report 2018, Pakistan does not meet the minimum standards for the elimination of sex trafficking but efforts to carry out more prosecutions are underway.

Last year, it reported investigating 6,376 alleged sex traffickers and prosecuting 6,232; an increase from 2,979 investigations and 2,021 prosecutions from the previous year. Pakistan also approved the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act 2018, which seeks to safeguard the rights of human trafficking victims. Overall efforts to combat trafficking remain inadequate compared to the scale of the problem.

Meanwhile, the safety of sex workers and their children remains a real concern. Local police do not provide adequate protection, so violence is a daily occurrence in their lives. Some of the children at the school have already been sexually exploited and their protection remains a key, underfunded priority.

Noor is determined her daughter gets a decent education. “She loves to learn,” she says. “Before the school, she was on the streets while I worked. I was constantly terrified not knowing where she was and what could happen to her.” Despite the challenges these women face, they remain resilient and spirited. Their eyes show hope for a better future and this small school is a big catalyst for their children to discover their full potential.

Lubna Tayyab unexpectedly passed away last month. Her husband and daughter, Fiza Tayyab, are committed to keep her project running. “This school was my mother’s dream and I’ll do everything I can to keep her dream alive,” says Fiza.

Irfan Rajput, director of international programmes at Muslim Charity says: “We are saddened to hear of Lubna’s death. She was a true humanitarian who fought passionately for the rights of women and children in Pakistan. We will continue to support the school in whatever way we can.”

 If you would like to support Lubna’s legacy and educate some of the most vulnerable children in Pakistan, please donate


Wednesday 13 March 2019

Islamophobia driving belief in myths about Muslims in British society, MPs say

Harmful myths and lies about Muslims are now believed by a large section of the UK's population, contributing to discrimination across employment, housing, the criminal justice system and other areas of public life, a new report by MPs has found.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims found that “prevalent” Islamophobia was driving division, hate crime and even terror attacks.

“British society at large, by virtue of normalised prejudice against Muslim beliefs and practice, have come to imbibe a panoply of falsehoods or misrepresentations and discriminatory outlooks,” its report said.

Academic research has consistently shown that British Muslims face considerably high levels of economic disadvantage than other groups in Britain."

While a report by market research company Ipsos Mori found that the majority of Muslims believe Islam is compatible with the British way of life, a separate survey of the wider population by polling firm YouGov, found that 46 per cent thought there was a “fundamental clash between Islam and the values of British society”.

A separate study recently found almost a third of British people believe the myth of “no-go zones” where non-Muslims cannot enter, while the MPs took aim at false and misleading news stories.

They include the “Winterval” myth that claimed Christmas celebrations were being suppressed and a story that wrongly interpreted research to say one fifth of British Muslims had “sympathy for jihadis”.

MPs said that corrections published by newspapers “pale in comparison to the damage done to perceptions of Muslims in British society”.

A report concluded that Islamophobia has far surpassed the “dinner table test” espoused by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi in 2011 and is now prevalent in society.

MPs said that because there is no commonly agreed definition of Islamophobia, it has been allowed to “increase in society to devastating effect”.

“The detectable shift from overt to subtler or respectable, manifestations of Islamophobia - the normalisation of the prejudice to the extent it is rendered almost invisible to many - warrants a definition that can arrest and reverse its present trajectory,” their report said.

“There has been no attempt to adopt a definition of Islamophobia by government despite recognising the significant impact the problem has on British Muslim communities.”

After a six-month inquiry taking evidence from Muslim organisations, legal experts, academics, MPs and other groups, the APPG called on the government to adopt the definition: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

Anticipating criticism from far-right and populist groups, MPs said the definition did not aim to curtail free speech or criticism of Islam as a religion.

“From hate crimes motivated by anti-Muslim feeling, buttressed by stereotypes and racist caricatures prevalent in social and media discourse, to policies which perpetuate discriminatory outcomes for Muslims, a definition of Islamophobia is vital,” the APPG concluded.

MPs highlighted terror attacks and plots targeting Muslims, including the Finsbury Park attack and the attempted murder of a Sikh dentist in Wales.

They said that rising hate crimes had affected both Muslims and those wrongly thought to be part of the religion because of their appearance, including an Italian man who was badly beaten in London.

The APPG cited research showing that Muslims are disadvantaged across employment, housing, education, the criminal justice system, social and public life and in political or media discourse.

Its report warned that Islamophobia also increased feeling of disengagement, disenfranchisement and disaffection with the state.

Wes Streeting MP, co-chair of the APPG for British Muslims and Labour MP for Ilford North, said: “Islamophobia is a form of racism and it is growing in our society. To tackle it, Islamophobia must be accurately and fully defined and that’s why this inquiry centred around the discussion on a working definition.”

“This landmark report brings about a working definition of Islamophobia for the first time, which will allow us to tackle this prejudice head-on. The adoption of this definition by political parties, statutory agencies and civil society organisations will allow us to turn a corner to move forward towards a fairer society.”

Anna Soubry MP, co-chair of the APPG for British Muslims and Conservative MP for Broxtowe, said Islamophobia was a “very real problem” throughout the UK.

“Muslims or people assumed to be Muslims are subjected to abuse, discrimination and criminal acts against them for no other reason than their faith or perceived faith,” she added. “It is equally obvious that overwhelmingly Islamophobia is rooted in racism and therefore is, racist. This definition recognises this truth and I hope it will now enable the serious work that needs to be done to tackle Islamophobia.”

A government spokesperson said: “We remain deeply concerned at hatred directed against British Muslims and others because of their faith or heritage. This is utterly unacceptable and does not reflect the values of our country.

“We know that some have suggested establishing a definition of Islamophobia could strengthen efforts to confront bigotry and division. Any such approach would need to be considered carefully to ensure that this would have the positive effect intended.

“Following the recent publication of our Hate Crime Action Plan, we look forward to discussing steps to confront hatred, bigotry and division with the Government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group.”


Tuesday 12 March 2019

Child marriage in Niger is a cultural issue, not an Islamic one

Islam, for me, is a way of life and the core of my world. As a Muslim woman I have always been encouraged to be who I want to be.

I get frustrated when people say: “Why do you wear a hijab? Isn’t that a sign of women’s oppression?” I choose to wear a hijab; I choose to be an educated and liberated woman and I choose to follow Islam.

Islam states that a woman’s purpose for existence is not to serve any other human beings or be subjugated by any other person.

I recently visited Niger, where up to 98% of the population is Muslim. The country also has the world’s highest child marriage rate, with three out of four girls married before the age of 18. Key drivers for this are poverty, local customs, tradition and lack of education.

Niger is the fifth poorest country in the world, and I saw for myself acute signs of poverty. I spoke to families who told me how they gave up their daughters for early marriage because they were struggling to feed or protect them, let alone send them to school. Girls suffer more than boys. Only 15% of women in Niger aged 15 to 24 are literate, compared with 30% of men.

 In Loga, 140km east of the capital Niamey, I met Mariama*, who was given up for marriage at the age of 12. Traumatised, she escaped on the night of her wedding and fled to the house of Maimouna Djibrila, a volunteer working with Islamic Relief. She of all people understood what Mariama was going through. She too had been given away for early marriage to a cousin, and had a very difficult time.

Maimouna worked with several organisations, Mariama’s school, the police and both families to get the marriage annulled. Unfortunately, two years later (a month before our visit), her father was trying to marry off Mariama again.

Early and forced marriage is a contentious subject in Niger. The country has signed up to international treaties that set a minimum age of marriage of 18. However, the legal age of marriage is 15 for girls and 18 for boys. There have been ongoing discussions in parliament to make sure that the national law respects the international treaties, but this has not yet happened.

Even if the law changes, it is unlikely that child marriage will stop overnight. It is entrenched in the culture in Niger. I want to be clear on this: this is not an Islamic issue, but a cultural issue.

For any change to happen, it has to happen at community level. Islamic Relief is training community and faith leaders, such as Imams and village chiefs, about the importance of women’s rights and child protection.

Imams are vital in this campaign. I witnessed imams preaching about the rights of women and children in their Friday sermons, known as khutbas. They pointed out that the Qur’an states it is not lawful for men to inherit their wives by force, or for parents to let their children be harmed in any way. And how a successful marriage according to Islam promotes love, tranquillity and mercy between husbands and wives.

The latter is particularly important, given the high levels of domestic violence in the country. An estimated 15.6% of women experience some form of sexual violence or harassment.

I met Adama in Loga, who was raped by an extended family member when she was 15 and then ostracised by her family for giving birth to his child outside marriage. She was kicked out of the house while pregnant. Maimouna convinced Adama’s mother to help her, and now she too is being ostracised by the family. It was heartbreaking listening to Adama. She told me that she has been reduced to begging for food and is insulted every day. I could see the pain in her eyes as she recounted her story.

It infuriated me to see Adama treated in this way, and to see so many young girls being forced into early marriage. Allah commands us to protect the honour of women, and the Qu’ran clearly states that violence against women and girls, in any shape or form, is not acceptable. It is not acceptable in the UK; it is not acceptable in Niger.

Adama’s story and many others I heard in Niger have fired me up in support of Islamic Relief’s #HonourHer campaign, which is working towards a global Islamic declaration of gender justice – a call to action against gender inequality from an Islamic faith perspective – to be launched later this year. I will use my voice to play an active part in this.


Monday 11 March 2019

Hadith of the day

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "If you guarantee me six things on your part I shall guarantee you Paradise. Speak the truth when you talk, keep a promise when you make it, when you are trusted with something fulfill your trust, avoid sexual immorality, lower your gaze (in modesty), and restrain your hands from injustice." Al-Tirmidhi

Thursday 7 March 2019

Egypt al-Azhar imam warns against polygamy an 'injustice' for women

The grand imam of Egypt's top Islamic institution, al-Azhar, has said polygamy can be an "injustice for women and children".

Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Sunni Islam's highest authority, said the way it is often practised comes from "a lack of understanding of the Koran".

He made the comment on his weekly television programme and on Twitter.

After sparking debate, al-Azhar clarified that the cleric was not calling for a ban on polygamy.

He reiterated that monogamy was the rule and polygamy the exception.

"Those who say that marriage must be polygamous are all wrong," he said. The Koran, he added, states that for a Muslim man to have multiple wives, he "must obey conditions of fairness - and if there is not fairness it is forbidden to have multiple wives".

Sheikh al-Tayeb also advocated a broader revamp of the way women's issues are addressed.

"Women represent half of society. If we don't care for them it's like walking on one foot only," he said on Twitter.

Egypt's National Council for Women responded positively to his comments.

"The Muslim religion honours women- it brought justice and numerous rights which didn't exist before," said Maya Morsi, the council's president.The grand imam of Egypt's top Islamic institution, al-Azhar, has said polygamy can be an "injustice for women and children".

Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Sunni Islam's highest authority, said the way it is often practised comes from "a lack of understanding of the Koran".

He made the comment on his weekly television programme and on Twitter.

After sparking debate, al-Azhar clarified that the cleric was not calling for a ban on polygamy.

He reiterated that monogamy was the rule and polygamy the exception.

"Those who say that marriage must be polygamous are all wrong," he said. The Koran, he added, states that for a Muslim man to have multiple wives, he "must obey conditions of fairness - and if there is not fairness it is forbidden to have multiple wives".

Sheikh al-Tayeb also advocated a broader revamp of the way women's issues are addressed.

"Women represent half of society. If we don't care for them it's like walking on one foot only," he said on Twitter.

Egypt's National Council for Women responded positively to his comments.

"The Muslim religion honours women- it brought justice and numerous rights which didn't exist before," said Maya Morsi, the council's president.


Tuesday 5 March 2019

Thanks to this Afghan woman, 6,000 imams have taken gender-sensitivity training

 “I became very happy. When I got to school, it was my whole world,” she says.

Afghani was in fifth grade when the fighting between the mujahideen and the Soviet Union became so fierce that her family left Afghanistan for Pakistan. In Peshawar, she enrolled in master’s-level classes in Islamic studies and began learning Arabic. Once there, she came to see an Islam that was not what she had been familiar with.

“When I started learning Arabic and studying by myself, I found out that Islam is totally different from what my family was saying, what my environment was teaching,” she says.

“Everything was always a discrimination in our family,” says Afghani, who observed how her brothers behaved with their wives. “They were educated women, but my brothers stopped them from continuing their education and working,” she recounts. “I thought, if [my brothers] can go outside, why not my sisters-in-law?”

After 2001, when the Taliban were ousted from power in Afghanistan, scores of refugees started returning to the country, Afghani among them. She began setting up women’s centers where literacy was taught.

But when the project was taken to Afghani’s native Ghazni province, she ran into problems with the community – especially the imams of the mosques. She decided to invite one of the imams to her center, but he was embarrassed to meet a woman and said he wished nobody would find out. Afghani couldn’t believe his attitude: “I thought, my God, what is this?” But she chose to take a respectful approach and explained that she was educating women about Islam. “I said, ‘If you can find a single verse from the Quran or the hadith that education is bad, then I’ll stop right now and hand over the key of this center to you.’ ”

Slowly, she says, the imam became impressed with Afghani’s knowledge of Islam, and he started encouraging men to let their wives and daughters go to the center. Suddenly, the space was crowded with women hungry for education.

In 2008, Afghani was invited to a conference in Malaysia organized by the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE), a network for Muslim women. There she learned about a Filipina woman who was writing Friday sermons for imams about women’s rights. This gave Afghani the idea about gender-sensitivity training for imams. With the support of WISE and female Muslim scholars, “we developed a manual for the training,” she says.