Tuesday 29 October 2019

How to stop caring about what others think of you

The once childish rhyme we used to sing was a form of mockery: “liar, liar, pants on fire”. Those five words could turn your face red and fill you with embarrassment.

I hated being called a liar, and I bet you did too. Especially if that was sung after. Even today, one of the things that I hate most is being called a liar, particularly if I was saying the truth. It’s a different story if I was lying. But there is a reason that so many people hate being called a liar.

“Because I’m not!” is one of the main reasons. But the most annoying part is then being considered guilty because you were defending yourself. My parents always told me that if I wasn’t lying I should not bother defending myself because I did not need to prove anything to anyone. I resented this idea because of how much I cared about what people thought of me. Most people do, we care so much about what other people think of us, we forget who we are ourselves. As easy that is to admit, it is much harder to implement.

The issue with caring too much about what other people think of you is that you will never be able to please everybody. Trust me on this one, I’ve tried.

We all hate being called something we’re not, for you it may be a liar. For me, I hated being called untrustworthy, because I prided myself in this, and if that was taken away from me, I would defend it with all my might. But you shouldn’t care too much, and here is why:

1) The people that matter in your life will always believe you. If someone doesn’t, that may be a sign that they shouldn’t matter to you.

2) People will always think whatever they want to. Even if you had never lied in your entire life, there will always be one person who thinks the opposite. So don’t bother trying to control what they think.

3) You cannot control what other people say, think or do. If they don’t want to believe you, then that’s fine, it should not bother you.

4) Other people’s opinions don’t have the power to hurt you until you let it. If someone out in the world thought something horrible of you and you never heard about it, would it impact your life? No, so don’t give people the power to let their opinions hurt you.

5) You can’t please everyone, and even if you managed to please most people, by then, you would have forgotten yourself completely.

“Liar, liar, pants on fire”.

Your pants will not catch on fire if you’re not a liar, so don’t worry about it. If we put as much focus in caring about what the Creator thought of us compared to what mankind thought of us, we would be much better people.


Tuesday 22 October 2019

From being bullied to racially abused

From a young age society taught us to separate different people rather than make us feel as a unified group. Separate yourself from others, do not trust anyone other than yourself, and make sure you use everyone to you personal gain; there is no “common good”.
If you were blond and blue eyed, you were automatically one of the ‘elite’. We immigrants were always considered as scum, of no worth and no use. One of the biggest issues was that teachers were technically able to racially abuse students with no backlash. An example was that when teachers would want to organise a class activity, they would split the classroom in two. I know what you are thinking: “down the middle right?”- no, not at all. They would split the classroom from Germans and non-Germans or “foreigners”.
It would break my heart as I remember vividly my best-friend was a German and he would ask “Sir, can I go to the other team with Hassan?” – “No, you are better than him.” I didn’t realise back then what it meant as I thought maybe he meant that he was academically better than me, even though my grades were always higher.
It was extremely difficult when the other ‘German’ students were encouraged to bully us as the ‘foreigners’. With table tennis, although my friends and I would get there first, we would be pushed and punched aside as they had a right over us, because we were not German enough. For God’s sake, I was born in Germany, I speak German better than Arabic, and all my friends are German. This was not the end of it though, what really made me mad and started to make me brush all the Germans with the same brush although it wasn’t right was the incident that my sister had to go through.
Imagine being 9 years old and in year 4, you start wearing the hijab proudly and can’t wait to show your friends as this is a sign of maturity. To be greeted to the worst fear at that time. So she starts wearing the hijab and goes to school, the day starts with an assembly. The deputy headteacher of the primary school calls you up and asks you to remove your hijab. She was shocked, yet still had the power in herself to stand up to that adult and refuses to do so. What happens then? The Deputy Headteacher forcibly rips off her headscarf in front of her friends, classmates, and year group.
The school calls my parent in for a meeting. They were greeted in a very disrespectful way. “Hello, what do you want?” my father replied: “You wanted to talk to me, not I to you. If it were up to me I would not speak to you.” When they realised that my father was able to not only speak German fluently but also was able to confront them comfortably, they began to look a bit uncomfortable. He started to ask why they physically abused her as they forcibly removed the hijab from her head. They tried to convince my father that she should not wear the hijab at that young age, as this could damage her character whereas the only thing that could damage her character at that time was their actions towards my sister.
She refused to go back to that school but eventually believed that her cause was very important and carried on wearing her hijab in school as my father threatened to go legal. We started to see something very encouraging, in that because my father and sister stood their ground and defended their belief, other young girls started to wear their hijab in school as well which showed that it only takes one small spark of courage to make a change in a community.
All in all, life was like a roller-coaster, with my ups and downs. I’ve learned from them, and they have shaped me into who I am today, and if it wasn’t for those experiences, I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to pursue my life dreams. My time in Germany shows that despite the hardships in life, it may well be the very thing that pushes you to appreciate life just a little bit more.

Monday 21 October 2019

In Iraq, religious ‘pleasure marriages’ are a front for child prostitution

We found that teenage girls were particularly vulnerable to predatory men assisted by clerics, often paying the heaviest of prices for their misfortune. In Iraq, for a young girl to lose her virginity outside of marriage is widely seen as a scandal bringing shame on her family and tainting its honour. Such girls are often disowned and shunned by their families. In some cases, the girls are murdered.
In Kadamiya, Sayyed Raad offered to officiate a pleasure marriage between our reporter and “a young virgin”. He advised him not to take her virginity during their time together, adding that “anal sex is permitted”. “If I do take her virginity, God forbid, what do I do?” our reporter enquired. “Do [her family] know where you live?” Sayyed Raad asked. “No, they don’t,” our reporter confirmed. “Then you can just leave,” the cleric declared.
“I informed [the cleric] I was a virgin,” Mona told me, but the cleric didn’t ask for her parents’ consent, as is the custom in Iraq, saying it wasn’t needed as both she and the man were adults. Now 17, she is under pressure from her family to marry; but is terrified her future husband will find out she’s no longer a virgin. Her uncle, she tells me, killed her cousin merely for having a boyfriend. Now she keeps thinking about suicide. “I have no way out. If I feel more pressure, I will do it.”

The investigation took me to Karbala, Shia Islam’s holiest site. An important part of our investigation was to establish the role of the holy city’s religious authorities in all this – particularly whether they condoned the practice of pleasure marriages. At the main marriage office, I spoke to Sheikh Emad Alassady, who insisted the practice was illegal.

But around the corner from the office, we found another cleric who was willing to officiate a pleasure marriage to a child, including giving explicit instructions on how to sexually abuse children without getting caught.

This cleric was clearly not the only one taking part in such abuses. Another of the women I spoke to, “Reem”, accused prominent clerics of being involved in pimping and pleasure marriages. After Reem’s husband was killed by an Isis bomb in 2016, she and her two children became homeless.

Reem said that when she approached a well-known cleric for alms, he had sex with her and pimped her out to his friends. Reem doesn’t name the cleric, but describes him as powerful and well-known in her community.

“He proposed a pleasure marriage with me. I had to do it to survive,” she said. They would have sex once or twice a week in his office. Then he began bringing his friends, including one who, Reem says, was “famous in the region. He forced me to go into a room with this friend.”

Reem then found out the cleric was charging his associates three or four hundred dollars to have sex with her, while she was paid just pocket money. “They were like animals,” she told me. “They have sex with a woman then throw her away.”

But how are clerics able to get away with breaking the law so blatantly? The strength of the Shia religious establishment, backed by the intimidatory weight of armed Shia militias, appears to have given Shia clerics a sense of total impunity. Our investigation has found many of the clerics enjoy powerful political connections. One of them, Karbala-based Sayyed Salawi, boasted to our reporter that he was attached to a Shia militia, a claim which is given credence by photographic evidence we found on social media.

The BBC later approached the clerics for their response. Sayyed Raad denied he performed mutaa marriages. The others did not respond. Sayyed Raad had said he was a follower of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s most influential Shia cleric.

The BBC approached Ayatollah Sistani’s office in the holy city of Najaf with the reporter’s evidence, and asked him to clarify his stance on mutaa marriages.

“If these practices are happening in the way you are saying then we condemn them unreservedly,” his office said. “Temporary marriage is not allowed as a tool to sell sex in a way that belittles the dignity and humanity of women.

“A guardian of a girl should not permit her marriage without her consent… and she is not supposed to marry if it’s against the law, which could bring troubles to her.”

Like some other Shia leaders in Iraq, the 89-year-old Ayatollah Sistani has previously – in a book published 25 years ago titled The Path of the Righteous – written that if a child under nine were promised in marriage or temporary marriage, sexual touching was religiously permitted.

The ayatollah’s office told the BBC times had changed and it had been erased from his current books.

This investigation showed how the hardships of post-conflict Iraq, and the rise of the Shia religious conservative establishment, have turned the clock back on women’s rights. Secular laws designed to protect women and children have been part of the Iraqi legal system for decades, but they have been rendered meaningless in the face of continuous flouting by powerful men backed by the country’s religious and political establishment. Meanwhile, a whole generation of young girls and women are paying a devastating price. As Reem put it, describing the clerics who abused her, “They eat the flesh, then throw away the bones.”


Wednesday 16 October 2019

A soldier’s plan to bomb an Indiana mosque was thwarted by a welcome that led to conversion to Islam

Richard “Mac” McKinney returned from his tours in Somalia and the Middle East consumed with rage. The Marine had tracked his enemy kills with little tear-drop tattoos on his arm. He stopped counting at 26.

After 25 years of military service, his transition to civilian life in his hometown of Muncie, Indiana, did not go well. He was injured inside and out. He remembers wanting to kill burka-clad women he saw in a local shoe store.

He made a plan to kill Muslims at the local mosque. He would plant a homemade bomb and then watch the scene unfold from a parking lot across the street. But when he visited the mosque, his life changed. Someone welcomed him and handed him a Quran and asked him to come back with any questions. Which he did many times.

Two months later he became a Muslim and eventually served as president of the Islamic Center of Muncie. In April, the almost-terrorist told his story in a short video as part of “The Secret Life of Muslims” web series. The first-person webisodes include a variety of Muslims — actors, athletes, artists, journalists — and have been viewed more than 60 million times in the last two years.

McKinney and filmmaker Josh Seftel will screen episodes from “The Secret Life of Muslims” at this weekend’s Original Thinkers festival, which blends film, art and performances with panels to stimulate discussion and exploration. McKinney and Seftel will join filmmaker Orlando von Einsiedel — he won an Oscar in 2016 for his documentary “The White Helmets,” which followed Syrian civilian rescue workers — and journalists Yael Lavie and Nadia Naviwala on a panel discussing examples of human decency battling humanity’s horrors.

Seftel, whose “The Secret Life of Muslims” was nominated for an Emmy in 2017 and whose directing career includes two seasons of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and the feature film “War, Inc.,” is a veteran of the film festival circuit, with his documentaries and films feted at top events around the world.

“I feel like Original Thinkers is becoming one of the great things to do in the fall if you are part of that world and you are into arts and culture,” Seftel said.

McKinnon celebrated his 10th year as a Muslim last month. And just like that day he first visited the Islamic Center of Muncie changed his life, his path veered again when Seftel released his 5-minute video. McKinney has spent the last several months traveling the country, speaking to groups and seeding hope.

“It’s not just about sharing the true story of Islam, but to try to motivate people to act and stand up against hatred,” he said. “That’s for all people. With all the ‘isms’ we have to deal with every day in this country, it’s important for me to motivate people to stand up to hatred.”

“People come up to me with tears in their eyes. One time a guy told me I saved his life because he was going to commit suicide. It’s been really powerful,” he said.

Most viewers see “The Secret Life of Muslims” episodes online. But as its popularity has grown, Seftel has taken his show on the road, attending events like Original Thinkers with McKinney and other subjects from his episodes.

Like Rais Bhuiyan, who was working at a gas station in Dallas when a man shot him in the face following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. When the man, who killed two South Asian store clerks on a post-9/11 rampage, was sentenced to death, Bhuiyan forgave the white supremacist shooter and even pleaded in court for clemency, citing Islam’s tenet that saving one person’s life is like saving all of mankind.

“We’ve done several of these now and you can hear an audible gasp in the room when people watch Mac’s story. It’s such an incredible seismic shift in his narrative,” Seftel said.

Reaction from the anonymous landscape of the internet can be different.

Typically, viewers give Seftel’s videos a positive response at a rate of about 60%. If it features a woman, it’s usually less.

“Which is pretty depressing and sad, but it’s a reality and that’s the world we live in,” Seftel said. 

But for Mac’s story, which has been viewed more than 10 million times across a network of hosts, more than 9 million viewers have responded positively to the video, Seftel said.

“That is exciting to me because it has the potential to reach all kinds of people. It says that Mac is clearly a great ambassador and a great messenger and people listen to him and trust him,” Seftel said.

McKinney hopes viewers and attendees at Original Thinkers will ask the probing, tough questions. He wants to stimulate discussion.

“I tell everyone to ask me any question. I’ve been shot at, blown up and married four times,” he said. “You can’t hurt me.”


Tuesday 15 October 2019

Hunger striker reveals details of her horrific torture in Israeli prisons

A Palestinian-Jordanian who has been on hunger strike for 15 days in Israeli prisons has revealed the details of her horrific interrogation and torture, the PLO Prisoners’ Committee reported on Monday. Heba Al-Labadi, 24, was arrested on 20 August by Israeli soldiers as she crossed the Allenby Bridge from Jordan to attend a wedding in the occupied West Bank with her mother.

According to her lawyer, Al-Labadi has been subjected to inhumane treatment in detention. She was apparently stripped of all of her clothes as soon as she was arrested, handcuffed, blindfolded and leg-chained before being moved to the Bitah-Tikva investigation centre. She told her lawyer that she was embarrassed when she saw the female Israeli soldiers looking at her private parts when she entered and left the toilet.

Al-Labadi also explained that she was interrogated for 20 consecutive hours during the first 16 days of her detention and said that she was given only two breaks for meals every day. She was then moved to rooms full of collaborators, who started to interrogate her; this lasted for up to 35 days, during which she was subjected to verbal, physical and psychological abuse and torture. The Israeli interrogators, she insisted, got close to her body intentionally and used the dirtiest words to insult her.

“They also insulted Islam and Christianity,” she said, “and said that I am an extremist and told me that they had arrested my mother and sister and they would put me under renewable administrative detention for seven and a half years and then release me to the West Bank and put me under 24-hour surveillance.”

A large number of investigators are said to have interrogated Al-Labadi and kept her in a very dirty cell with insects and spiders. The cell had rough walls and a bright light which prevented her from sleeping. The “very thin” mattress had no cover or clean sheets. The interrogators told her that she would “rot” in prison.

On 25 September, Heba Al-Labadi was issued with a 5-month administrative detention order with neither charges made against her nor a trial. That was why she started her hunger strike.

Two days later, she was moved to a cell monitored by four cameras. The toilet in her cell has a see-through door, so her every move is monitored by the prison guards.

Despite being ordered to end her hunger strike, she insisted that the “tragedy” of the administrative detention must end first. “I will continue until the end or I shall die.”


Monday 14 October 2019

Hello, Brother: Why Kiwis are converting to Islam

Following the Christchurch mosque attacks, Kiwis are more interested than ever in the Muslim world. But what about those who had already converted? Greer Berry talks to a man who says he's the only Māori Muslim in Manawatū about why he converted to the religion.

Colin was in the car with his daughter when he knew he had to tell her.

She had come to pick him up to go somewhere, but instead, he asked if they could swing by the mosque on Cook St in Palmerston North.

It was March 15, a day etched in all Kiwis' memories, especially those in Christchurch.

Overcome with emotion, Colin decided now was the time he had to come clean.

"On the way there I said: 'I've got to tell you something,'" the 59-year-old remembers, becoming upset at his recollections.

For the first time, Colin revealed to those closest to him that he had converted to Islam the year before.

"She was good, but she was upset because I hadn't told her."

He's a private person and it was a private journey for him, so he had never felt the need to tell others about his decision.

Colin was also worried about what others would say or think, about being judged and misunderstood. It's something he still worries about.

On this day, the terrorist attack had changed that. He felt like he needed to share his newfound faith with his three children, "just in case".

"It was hard, but the Muslim community is strong. It was because of that that I thought: 'I've got to tell my kids'.

"I know the kids, no matter what I do, will support me," he says.

"Now they know, it's really good, they're really supportive."

Colin's road to conversion is one many others have found themselves on.

He was going through a hard time and was looking for a sense of belonging and contentment, and in Islam, he found that.

The religion is the fastest-growing faith in the world.

There aren't official figures on the number of people in New Zealand converting, but anecdotally, mosques around the country are reporting an increase in those attending prayers and interested in finding out more about the religion.

Following the Christchurch attacks, a Wellington mosque was reporting three to five people a day converting, and other mosques similarly reported running out of printed material aimed at educating others about Islam.

The Manawatū Muslims Association is trying to establish a group to arrange a database of new converts, something to keep track of the faith's latest followers.

Friday prayers at the mosque have swelled following the Christchurch attacks.

Association president Riyaz Rehman says there's a sense of people wanting to come together more, to bond over their shared faith, to feel safe and a strength in numbers.

Those numbers were replicated during the religious holiday known as Eid, where Muslims come together to break their fast following the holy month of Ramadan. 

"We need more space. We had 1500 people from around the region," he says.

Association member Zulfiqar Butt says the idea about grouping together potential new converts is so that they can band together to support each other in their newfound faith.

Butt has been buoyed by the upsurge in interest in Islam and says he hopes anyone who wants to know more will visit.

"There is certainly an increase," he says, from all backgrounds, with their own stories to tell.

"Even yesterday we were approached by a transgender person, wondering if they were welcome. And I said: 'Of course, you are very welcome'."

And he arranged one of the association's members to show them around and support them.  

Colin says he's noticed a few new converts over the past few months.

"They're trying to get a convert group together so we can all meet up now and then, talk about the hassles and troubles we've had and how we can get through them."


Thursday 10 October 2019

Mohamed Salah really and honestly inspired me

Mohamed Salah really and honestly inspired me. I’m a Nottingham Forest season-ticket holder, I can be myself but because I made the declaration of faith I’m a Muslim. I’m still me and that’s what I took from Mohamed Salah. I’d love to meet him, just to shake his hand and say “Cheers” or “Shukran”.

I don’t think my mates quite believe that I’m a Muslim because I’ve not really changed. I just think my heart is better. I’m really trying to change on match days. Normally it’s pub, put a bet on, then after the game back to the pub and realise you’ve lost a lot of money. It’s hard when you’re used to such a culture and it’s part of football for a lot of people.

I’m embarrassed to say this but my opinions on Islam used to be that the religion, the culture and the people were backward; that they didn’t integrate and wanted to take over. I always looked at Muslims like the elephant in the room. I had a hatred of Muslims.

When I was in sixth form it was a period where I think I needed someone to blame for my misfortunes. Unfortunately Muslims got the brunt of it and I quickly discovered right-wing media pages. They sort of groomed me by sending me long propaganda pieces and suchlike.

Even though I had these horrible ideas of Islam, I would never say them to a Muslim. At this point I didn’t know any Muslims. My degree in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Leeds changed everything.

We had to do a dissertation and I wanted to do something a bit different. I remember my dyslexia tutor telling me: “What about Mohamed Salah’s song?” I was aware of it and I thought it was fantastic but I hadn’t considered it in those terms.

I finally got the question: “Mohamed Salah, a gift from Allah. Is the performance of Mohamed Salah igniting a conversation that combats Islamapobia within the media and political spheres?”

The Liverpool fans’ song – to the tune of Dodgy’s hit Good Enough – includes the line “If he scores another few then I’ll be Muslim too”, and I literally took that to heart.

I was a typical white-boy student who went to a different city, would get absolutely hammered and lived the student life. My degree was the first time I learned about Islam in an academic way.

University gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of students from Saudi Arabia. I thought they were evil people who carried swords but they’re the nicest people I’ve met. The conceptions I had about Arab countries completely dissolved.

Mohamed Salah was the first Muslim I could relate to. It’s the way he lives his life, how he talks to people. The other week he posed for a picture with a Liverpool fan who suffered a broken nose chasing after him. I know some other footballers would do that but you expect it now from Salah.

At university I interviewed Egyptian students and when they found out my research was about “Mohamed Salah, a gift from Allah” – which is also another Liverpool song – they would talk to me for hours about how great he is and what he’s done for their country. One million Egyptians spoiled their ballots and voted for him to be president last year.

One of the Egyptians I talked to told me that Salah encompasses what being a Muslim is, following Islam correctly. He believed that Salah is making people love Muslims again.

That really resonated with me. When Salah scores I think he’s scoring for the faith. When he won the Champions League I said to my friend that was a victory for Islam. After each of his goals Salah practises the sujood (prostration) and exposes a very Islamic symbol to the world. How many people watch the Premier League every week? Millions globally.

Salah showed me that you can be normal and a Muslim, if that’s the right phrase. You can be yourself. He’s a great player and is respected by the football community and his politics, his religion, don’t matter – and to me that’s what football can do.

When people read the Quran, or read about Islam, they see something different that is not always portrayed in the media. I’m new to the Islamic community and I’m still learning. It is hard. It’s a lifestyle change.

What would I say to the Ben of old? I’d give him a smack, to be honest, and I’d say: ‘How dare you think like that about a people that are so diverse. You need to start talking to people. You need to start asking the questions.’ We live in a multicultural, multifaith, multinational society.

Last season Chelsea fans were singing “Salah is a bomber”. That’s the first time on my social media that I had a right go. I was livid because I’m for football banter but you know when things are just not true.

Now, I’d say to Muslim kids: ‘Don’t be afraid to go to a football match.’ I think that’s an issue we have to look at from both sides. I was afraid of being segregated. I don’t want to lose my mates because I look at them as brothers to me. Now I’ve got a fifth of the world’s population as brothers and sisters.

The community has to branch out, play football, go to football. It’s up to us to realise that we’re in this together. And the best spokesman for that could be Mohamed Salah.


Wednesday 9 October 2019

Bangladesh admits its workers returning home after sexual abuse in Saudi Arabia

Bangladesh’s Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment department has admitted for the first time last Thursday that its female workers are being called back to the country from Saudi Arabia because of the growing reports of physical and sexual abuse coming out of the Gulf kingdom. According to the new government report, Bangladesh is now admitting that a worrying number of Bangladeshi female workers are being abused in Saudi Arabia, with some serious cases of rape, food deprivation, and psychological and physical torture.

Not only are workers being called back to their home country, but this new reports notes down mainly 11 reasons why Bangladeshi female workers, many if not most who work as maids or domestic workers, also ran away from their employers in Saudi Arabia. These reasons include non-payment of salaries, physical abuse, deprivation of food, and denial of sick leave. At least 35% of the returnees had left because of sexual abuse.

Just last month, over 100 Bangladeshi maids returned home to Bangladesh after serious abuse from their employers in Saudi Arabia, while over the course of this year Bangladesh saw over 900 female workers flee Saudi Arabia. Last year, the number was more than 1,500 female workers who returned back to Bangladesh after suffering abuse.

Bangladesh first signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia in 2015 in regards to sending female workers to work as maids, after other countries like Indonesia stopped sending workers due to the continued reports of physical and sexual abuse in Saudi Arabia. Since 2015, 234, 831 Bangladeshi female workers have moved to Saudi Arabia to work as maids and domestic workers. Since 2015, however, there have been growing reports of Saudi’s continued abuse towards its foreign domestic workers, with many forced to seek protection within the kingdom if their passports were confiscated, or fleeing the country after escaping their employers.

In a shocking report by Middle East Eye, it was revealed in 2018 that Bangladesh was forced to set up numerous safe houses across Saudi Arabia to help protect the hundreds of Bangladeshi women who faced sexual and physical abuse and torture from their employers, many of whom are forced to run away from their employers and remain highly traumatized.

Rothna Begum, who works as the senior women’s rights researchers at Human Rights Watch, states the cases of Bangladeshi maids and female workers being abused are unfortunately commonplace inside Saudi Arabia, with a shocking 90-95% of cases showing the domestic worker has had their passport confiscated by their employers, essentially binding them in forced servitude. Speaking to The Independent, Begum states:

They face excessively long shifts of 15 to 21 hours with no days off at all. They might be locked inside the house or compound. They may be deprived of food or given spoiled food – the leftover bits of food on a plate. They are subject to psychological abuse in the form of verbal abuse such as shouting and insults. There is also physical abuse such as the pulling of ears, being burnt with hot water, and then there is sexual abuse which ranges from verbal to being touched, attempted rape, and actual rape.”

Female workers in Saudi Arabia are subject to highly controversial punishments, which includes the ability to be charged for moral crimes by Saudi officials. Being raped by their employers often results in maids and domestic workers, many of whom come from Bangladesh, to be subject to punishment for having sex outside of marriage. Fleeing from their homes can also constitute as a crime, in a country that seemingly has very little in terms of protection for international migrants. Begum explains:

I have documented many cases across the Gulf where men have come into the woman’s room and have either tried to rape them or actually raped them. Women have talked about being sold to another employer and not being paid salaries or having their wages delayed. The range of abuses can amount to forced labour or sometimes even slavery where the employer refuses to pay them and says things like ‘I bought you’.”

As the reports of abuses towards its domestic workers and migrants continue, Saudi Arabia must be held accountable for these crimes. Bangladesh has of yet not stopped the flow of workers into Saudi Arabia, however as the numbers of Bangladeshi female workers returning home continues to grow, scarred and abused from horrifying conditions from within Saudi Arabia, it must be taken into serious consideration whether or not punishable human rights abuses are being committed on a wide scale from within the kingdom.


Monday 7 October 2019

The imam who died fighting racism in South Africa

Two momentous events occurred in Cape Town in South Africa on 29 September 1969.

The first was a huge funeral march - some 40,000 people carried the coffin of Imam Abdullah Haron for about 10km (six miles) to his final resting place in Mowbray Muslim Cemetery.

And at night a rare and massive earthquake shook the earth.

For many who attended the funeral these two events are indelibly connected - they say the death of the pioneering 45-year-old South African imam was so painful and so shocking.

Imam Haron died in a police cell on 27 September, after 123 days of solitary confinement and daily interrogations about his involvement in the struggle against the racist system of apartheid, which ended in 1994 with the election of Nelson Mandela as South Africa's first black president.

Imam Haron was the first cleric of any faith to die in custody under the apartheid regime. His death signalled that even men of God were not safe from an increasingly repressive, white-supremacist state.

His death caused global outrage, and he became the first Muslim to be commemorated at the famous St Paul's Cathedral in London.

The security police said he died after falling down a flight of stairs.

They said the two broken ribs and 27 bruises on Imam Haron's body had nothing to do with them, despite their notoriety for using torture and beatings.

The imam's family say they do not accept "that lie", and are demanding a fresh inquest to mark 50 years of his death.

Backing the campaign is visual artist Haroon Gunn-Salie - who is named in honour of the imam and has made several art works memorialising his life and death.

Gunn-Salie's latest work, Crying for Justice, is an installation in the grounds of the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town - a symbolic burial ground of 118 unmarked graves, one for each of the people who he says died in detention during apartheid, including Imam Haron.

They were all held without trial - and the police said they fell down stairs, slipped in showers, or took it upon themselves to jump out of windows.

No-one has ever been held responsible for any of those deaths in detention,and it's a sore, open wound for the families.

When finished, viewed from the castle ramparts, the graves Gunn-Salie has dug will spell out the word: Justice?

"The artwork is as much as a cry to the heavens as a cry to the courts," says Gunn-Salie.

"It's a public statement asking, quite literally, to unbury the past, to dig up the files, to dig up the evidence, and bring closure to the families."

Sadly, his 93-year-old widow Galiema Haron died on Sunday, exactly 50 years after her husband's funeral, without achieving closure.

In a tribute to her, governing African National Congress MP Faiez Jacobs said: "Widowed by what appeared to have been a deliberate killing, she raised her children alone, always wondering how her beloved husband had died.

"If the apartheid rulers thought they could kill her spirit, they were wrong. She stood tall, defiant and principled."

Imam Haron was one of the youngest imams in South Africa - only 32 when he was appointed in 1955 to lead the congregation at the Stegmann Road Mosque in Cape Town.

He was a pioneer in Cape Town's mostly conservative mixed-race Muslim community.

Imam's Haron's widow, Galiema, was left to care for their children, including Fatiema
He introduced adult education classes, discussion groups where the topics were chosen by young people and encouraged women to take part. And he invited children to sit at the front of the mosque, rather the back, and to lead prayers.

He also invited people from outside the Muslim community - including trade unionists and liberal politicians - to come and talk to the young people about what was happening in South Africa.

"He didn't fit the pattern of the Muslim clergy which was quite ritualistic," says Aneez Salie, a journalist, former member of the ANC's armed wing and father of the artist Gunn-Salie.

"He was very progressive, away ahead of his time," Mr Salie, who at 13 attended the imam's funeral, told the BBC.

Fatiema Haron-Masoet - the youngest of Imam Haron's three children - was almost six when her father died.

"He had a gentle soul, he was very kind and loving and extremely emotionally accommodating," she told the BBC.

The imam's son Muhammed Haron, now a theology professor in Botswana, was 12 when his father died.

He remembers his father as a deeply spiritual man who had fasted twice a week since he was a teenager - and that wherever he went he wore a black kafiya, the traditional Arabic scarf, or fez.

"That is his identity - a theological man, a man from the Muslim tradition."

But he was also a "socialite" and "a man larger than life" - well-dressed, suave, with a sweet tooth, and a passion for rugby, cricket and the cinema.

The imam had his own projector - and Muhammed remembers groups of the imam's friends gathering at the family home where his father would screen films "often beyond midnight on a Friday and Saturday".

The imam was a huge fan of the fictional spy James Bond. Perhaps with a twinkle in his eye, he named his home Golden Eye - after the sprawling Jamaican estate of Ian Fleming, the creator of 007.

Golden Eye, a double-storey house, had a huge balcony - and the railings were designed as musical notes.

"Music was not totally approved of theologically by the conservatives," Muhammed says.

"But my father was theologically able to skirt around some of these issues that may have been considered taboo."

"He had a wider vision of things rather than a narrow notion," Muhammed explains.

What was apartheid?
  • Introduced in 1948 by the Afrikaner-led National Party government
  • Black people regarded as inferior
  • No vote for black people in national election
  • Races segregated in all aspects of life
  • Prevented black people from owning land in much of South Africa
  • Reserved most skilled jobs for white people
  • Scrapped in 1994 with the election of Nelson Mandela as first black president

Imam Haron's willingness to forge alliances with people of other races, as well as with Christians and communists, made him a particular threat to an increasingly brutal regime desperate to divide and rule.

Former rugby player Yusuf "Jowa" Abrahams - one of the imam's students - remembers how the imam tried to raise consciousness in the Muslim community about the injustices of apartheid, especially for those most hit by apartheid's cruel and racist laws: black South Africans.

"He said to us we need to break down racial barriers and work towards the future," Mr Abrahams told the BBC.

The imam practised what he preached, regularly visiting black communities in townships such as Langa, Gugulethu and Nyanga, where he became fondly known as mfundisi, or priest.

As well as being an imam, Haron also worked as a salesperson for the confectionary company Wilson Rowntree. This job meant he could legally move in and out of the townships - even after the apartheid regime restricted people's movements and segregated South Africa along racial lines with laws like the Group Areas Act.

In a public meeting held at Cape Town's Drill Hall in May 1961, the imam condemned that law as "inhumane, barbaric and un-Islamic". Four years later, like millions of other South Africans, the imam and his family were forced out of their own home.

Most other imams were too scared to speak out - or they were indifferent, content to be left alone to worship in peace, believing that it was not their duty to stand up to a repressive government.

But Imam Haron believed otherwise, and he started taking part in clandestine anti-apartheid operations.

He deliberately kept the details of what exactly he was involved in a secret from his wife and his congregation - in order to protect them.

Mr Abrahams believes the imam "died with his secrets".

However, he is known to have developed close ties with the then banned ANC and Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), both of which were waging an armed struggle, and the Black Sash - a non-violent legal and welfare movement of volunteer white women.

In 1966 and at the end of 1968, the imam went on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. He also secretly travelled to Egypt to meet political exiles and the World Islamic Council.

And he went to London, where his oldest daughter Shamela was studying. There he also met Canon John Collins of St Paul's Cathedral, an Anglican priest who was raising money for the destitute families of political activists who had been killed, detained, or forced into exile.

The imam and the priest struck up a deep friendship and Abdullah Haron agreed to smuggle in and distribute money on his return to South Africa.

But by the time of his return to South Africa in 1969, the imam knew he was in danger. On 28 May 1969 he was picked up by the apartheid police and four months later he was dead.

At the imam's funeral, Victor Wessels, a teacher and Marxist, said: "He died not only for the Muslims. He died for his cause - the cause of the oppressed people."

A few days later, on 6 October 1969, Imam Haron was commemorated in St Paul's Cathedral. His friend, Canon Collins, spoke of him as a martyr, signalling the deep respect the imam commanded across religious and racial lines.


Tuesday 1 October 2019

Hajar: The legacy of our Black mother and one of Islam’s most important women

Hājar was a Black woman of Nubian descent who was formerly a slave. She is the wife of Ibrahīm (Abraham) and gave birth to Isma’il (Ishmael), peace be upon them both.

One of the most powerful narratives of her life is when Ibrahīm is commanded by God to leave her and Isma’il alone in the desert. It is important to note that Ibrahīm prayed to God for offspring for almost 86 years of his life. In being blessed with Isma’il through Hājar, he was not only grateful to God but also began envisioning his life as a father – someone who could watch his son grow and develop under his mentorship and love.

Through His Divine Wisdom, God the All-Mighty soon reminds Ibrahīm who the True Possessor of all Bounties is by directing him to leave both his child, who was only an infant at this time, and his wife in an uncultivated valley, far from any human support or natural sustenance.

Upon the three of them reaching this barren land, Ibrahīm turns around and begins to walk away. He is shedding tears, but is unable to turn back when his wife asks why he is leaving them. Some scholars believe that Ibrahīm knew that if he turned back to respond to Hājar, he would have seen her and his child’s state and would have lost all willpower to submit to God’s Decree. Internally, he knew God would look over his family, but the immediate reality likely had him convinced that Hājar and Isma’il, alone in this desert, may actually die.

When Hājar realizes Ibrahīm is acting on God’s Decree, the Decree of the Source of all Mercy, she says: “then God will not let us go.” She and Isma’il are left with nothing but a leather jug full of water and a bag of dates.

When the provisions run out and thirst begins to overtake her son, Hājar runs up to the top of a hill to look for some support. After seeing nothing in the distance, she runs back down into the valley and up to the top of another hill. She goes back and forth between the tops of these two hills seven times, desperately searching for any possible soul out there who may be able to help her family.

Hājar then hears something. She runs down into the valley and through a miracle by the Source of Miracles, she sees next to her son a sudden gush of water springing up from the ground. In some narrations, it was the Angel Gabriel (peace be upon him) who struck the ground with his heel, yielding this fountain.

This source of water (Zamzam), nothing less than a Bounty from God, begins flowing incessantly and as Hājar attempts to create a pool of mud to contain it, she becomes overwhelmed by the limitless quantity. Since that day, this water has continued to flow from the ground and is now the source that quenches the thirst of millions of pilgrims from across the world. This valley would soon be where the House of God (the Ka’bah) would be built by Ibrahīm and Isma’il.

Some could argue Hājar was a mad woman for running back and forth frantically. Others can say if she truly trusted God, she would have never been worried and remained in place.

I see a woman who relied upon The Creator and in her reliance upon Him, she fully exerted all of her God-given capabilities. She was aware her Lord fully knew her struggle, recognized her efforts, and would elevate her based on her willingness and ability to act, regardless of the outcome. On the Day of Resurrection, God promises to take into account all that was done for Him, right down to what is equal to the weight of a mustard seed [21:47]. Hājar submitted to God and His Decree and in doing so, acted with a sense of optimism, knowing her striving and toiling would be fully repaid either in this life or the next.

I share all this because this life continues to judge us by the tangible, numerical value we can add. If we cannot produce something that can be displayed under ‘work experience’ or ‘achievements’, we convince ourselves it’s not worth investing in. We rewire our efforts to focus on what we can prove to people of our self-worth.

My mother Hājar reminds me of the value of investing in my faith-based principles and putting forth an effort to improve my soul by actively and secretly fighting my internal demons and difficulties. These are the struggles the world will never know of, but I will continue to battle the diseases within my heart through reflection, prayer and action to gain proximity to my Creator because He is not concerned with what I ultimately become, but rather who I consistently strive to be.

God, in His Infinite Wisdom, has immortalized the story of my mother Hājar so much so that part of my obligation in performing the Hajj (pilgrimage) requires walking in her footsteps. Every Muslim is obligated to perform the sa’ee, the journey Hājar took betwen the two hills, so that we are not only reminded of what it means to rely upon God, but also of the embodiment of a person fully exerting everything God had given her because she knew her struggle to be the best she can be for herself, her family, and Her Creator would never be lost in vain.

I also share all this because I think about the millions of black people since the beginning of time and through events like the trans-Atlantic slave trade whose stories have been forgotten, erased and buried. I think about the impact colonialism has had in wiping clean entire peoples’ histories. I think about racial minorities, the refugees, the undocumented individuals, and others whose struggles in traveling to and existing in places like this country, whose journeys in overcoming difficulty in their homelands and whose greatest sacrifices will never be known.

I do believe The Creator preserved such a powerful narrative of a Black woman who possessed no status, fame or wealth to demonstrate to humanity the noble rank a truly righteous soul, one without any material markers, has in the eyes of The Divine. I believe this is also a lesson that in the same way God retells the story of a person whom this world would have otherwise overlooked or ignored, we too have to be vigilant in expanding our consciousness of the stories that continue to be erased, particularly of oppressed communities across this world.

I think about the nearly 700 undocumented workers, so many of them being parents taken away from their kids, who were mercilessly detained this past week in Mississippi as part of the largest ICE raid in U.S history. Their struggles will likely be forgotten.

I think about the millions of Kashmiris currently under military occupation by a government that seeks to advance its own interests at the expense of human lives. They have set up civilian barricades, arrested elected officials, and cut off an entire people’s ability to communicate with the outside world along with any possibility for an autonomous state. Their struggles will likely be forgotten.

I think about the struggles I still don’t know, now keeping our beloved Hājar particularly in my mind.