Friday, 17 February 2012

Ideal Muslimah- week two

Me, myself and I

The topic of week two focused on our physical and mental well-being. As a muslimah we need to focus on all aspects of ourselves in a holistic way insha Allah. If we imagine a flower with the centre being the spirutual aspect and four petals around it being, emotion,physical, mental health and social. It is essential that we pay attention to all of these aspects in order to be a healthy and proactive individual and the most important aspect is the spirutual as it is the central point.

In the first part of the session we were split into small groups and informed that we had to come up with an advert promoting either emotion, mental health or social. The advert for emotion concentrated on a pill for different emotions, for example, happy, sad, surprised and the message to take away was that we all experience different emotions and we should express our emotions intead of bottling things up. The advert for mental health depicted a scene where a mother with four children was stuggling with the pressure of looking after very disruptive children and a husband who was not very helpful. He did not offer her any help seeing that she was stuggling. Their message emphasised that mental health can affect anyone and we should not bottle it up but speak to a trustworthy person or seek proffessional help especially because mental health issues are treated as a taboo subject in the asian communities. The advert for social focused on the importance of socialising from time to time. It emphasised that those sisters who are not allowed to socialise or meet up with their friends would end up feeling depressed, while those who did socialise were happier and more cheerful (this advert did not promote excessive socialing or without the permission of husband/parents!).

After watching the brilliant acting by the sisters we discussed the adverts and why it is important to pay attention to these aspects of our lives. In relation to emotion we were informed that there are certain foods which makes us feel better, it can have a sooting effect on us. There are certain 'happy foods' that can affect our emotion such as talbina (barley) which is used in soups. In relation to mental health we discussed that it is better to address our issues and seek help from patience and prayer also it is allowed for us to release it to those who can help. Talking to someone close and trustworthy may lighten the burden or an organisation that deals with these issues.. It is also important to have a good relationship with our spouses so that we are able to speak to them about our feelings. Imam ath-Thahabi said that "too much worry sickens the body". If we don't release our worries to a good person then it can make us sick and depressed. So it is essential that we keep our mental health in check and seek help when it is necessary insha Allah.

Often it is misunderstood that people who are practising should not have any fun or have a social life but to have a social life is important. It is good to recharge our batteries and break the routine, it helps to freshen our minds and reduces our worries. There is a hadith to illustrate this point. Abu Juhaifah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Prophet (PBUH) made a bond of brotherhood between Salman and Abud-Darda'. Salman paid a visit to Abud-Darda' and found Umm Darda' (his wife) dressed in shabby clothes and asked her why she was in that state. She replied: "Your brother Abud-Darda' is not interested in (the luxuries of) this world. In the meantime Abud-Darda' came in and prepared a meal for Salman. Salman requested Abud-Darda' to eat (with him) but Abud-Darda' said: "I am fasting.'' Salman said: "I am not going to eat unless you eat.'' So, Abud-Darda' ate (with Salman). When it was night and (a part of the night passed), Abud-Darda' got up (to offer the night prayer) but Salman asked him to sleep and Abud-Darda' slept. After some time Abud-Darda' again got up but Salman asked him to sleep. When it was the last hours of the night, Salman asked him to get up and both of them offered (Tahajjud) prayer. Then Salman told Abud-Darda': "You owe a duty to your Rubb, you owe a duty to your body; you owe a duty to your family; so you should give to every one his due. Abud-Darda' came to the Prophet (PBUH) and reported the whole story. Prophet (PBUH) said, "Salman is right".

We were then presented with a story about a professor who took a mayonnaise jar filled with golf balls to his students. He asked the students "Is this jar full?". they answered "yes". The professor then put some pebbles in the jar and asked his students whether the jar was full. The students started giggling and answered "yes". the professor then added some sand and again aked the same question. By now the students are laughing out loud and answer "yes". Then the professor adds some coffee and asks for the final time whether the jar is full. The students are laughing even louder by now and answer in the affirmitive. Then the proffessor offers his explanation. He said that the golf balls represent all the important things in life for example belief in God, our health and family. The pebbles represent other things such as our careers, money, house and material posessions and any other remaining things are represented by sand. Therefore, we should spend more time on the more important things in life and fit the other things around it. If the professor had put the sand and pebbles in first then the golf balls would not have fit in the jar. Therefore we need to get our priorities right and give more time and exert more effort on the most importanct aspects of our lives. The students were all eager to find out what coffee represented so the proffessor replied "You should always make time to have coffee with a friend".

This was a non-muslim profefessor so it is even more relevant for us as muslimahs to dedicate more of our time to our Lord because this is the purpose of our creation. If we worship Allah correctly and put our trust in Him then the other things will become easy to achieve and if it isn't achieved in the dunya we will be assured that Allah has something far superior for us in jannah inshaAllah.

The second story was about a woman who had everything she could possibly want but was depressed. The psychologist suggested to the woman imagine yourself as an apple barrel constantly givining out apples. We need to always replenish our apples when we are giving them out otherwise the barrel will be empty. We should not be like a candle which is burnt out, giving light to everyone else.

We need to have moderation in Islam. There is a time for this and a time for that. The prophet (saw) was a balanced individual and there were times when he joked, for example when an elderly lady came to him and asked whether there will be any old people in jannah. The prophet (saw) said jannah is not a place for old people but everyone in jannah will be young. There is a hadeeth which states that people will enter Paradise “aged thirty-three years” (narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 2545.

In the second part of the session we had a presentation by two sisters who work as health advisors. In their presentation they offered advice about healthy eating and exercise. They talked about the different food groups and the amounts of food we should consume from each group (1-fruit and vegetables, 2-bread,cereal and potatoes, 3-meat, fish and alternative, 4-milk and dairy, 5-food containing fat and sugar). We should try to have five portions of fruits and vegetables each day, try to minimise our intake of fats and we are allowed to have 6 grams of salt each day. We also took part in an activity where we had to answer true or false questions about keeping healthy.

This session reinforeced the importance of having a healthy mind and body in order for us to be a balanced muslimah. Abu Hurayrah (radi Allahu ‘anh) reports that the Prophet (salalahu ‘alayhi wasalam) said: “The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer" (Sahih Muslim).

We need to keep well in all aspects, not over-emphasing on one and neglecting another. Being moderate and balanced is a sign of well-being. Islam teaches us to be moderate and by following this principle we can achieve success insha Allah.

Allah knows best

Monday, 30 January 2012

Ideal Muslimah week one

Ideal Muslimah (self-development)

The ideal muslimah course is a seven week course taught by umm Talha. The group is made up of around twenty sisters, most of us are married with children and of bangladeshi origin. We are from different educational backgrouds and professions alhamdulillah. In these seven weeks we will be covering the following topics insha Allah;

Relationship with our Lord
Me, myself and I
Family, parents. siblings
Inlaws and extended family
Neighbourhood and community

Week one-Lord

As an introduction Umm Talha talked about how our relationship should be with our Lord. She mentioned to us a principle of Dr Sa'd Ash-Shethry who mentioned that we should realise that this life is temporary and our real home is jannah insha Allah. So we should live our lives according to this understanding. If we were informed that we only had a few months to live due to a teriminal illness then our outlook on life would change drastically, we would probably engage in extra ibaadah, seek Allah's forgiveness and not waste a single moment of our time. Shouldn't we be like this anyway because none of us know when we will depart from this world and meet Allah, what good deeds will we have to present to Him, will our scales be heavy or will it be empty?

As a muslimah we should be balanced and try to give time to every aspect of our lives insha Allah because Islam is about striking a balance. We may have come across certain muslimahs who are very spirutual but may be harsh towards their families or others who have excellent manners with strangers when correcting a mistake of theirs but when it comes to her own family she wiil snap "Don't you know this is bid'aah!".

We were then split into groups and were asked to list our daily routine, writing our ibaadah (worship) in one colour and our a'adah (chores) in another colour. From the list we had things such as eating, praying, reciting qur'aan, taking care of children/family, attending circles,socialising, doing nothing. As expected all the groups had more a'adah than ibaadah on the list. We discussed our daily routine and from each group certain word were abstracted by the teacher such as 'laze around', 'intentions','social', 'busy time'. We discussed that the word laze around suggested a negative trait, implying doing nothing and wasting time. However if we changed it to a positive word then it would have a completely different meaning, for example, resting, relaxing, recharging, reflecting and thinking. This illustrates that words can have an impact on our behaviour and by simply changing the word we can also change our attitude. So instead of thinking that we are being lazy we should change the wording and this would have a positive impact in our lives insha Allah.

From the second group. the word intentions was highlighted. In relation to that we discussed that we need to have obedience, intentions and legacy (OIL) when referring to our Lord. Intentions comes from the heart and is not just mere lip service as is with some people. we need to really dig deep and ask ourselves why we do certain things. Are we doing it to please Allah or is it just to please people and show off?. We should invest in one action with several intentions so that our rewards are multiplied insha Allah. If we have the correct intentions then looking after our children, serving our husbands and even doing the household chores can gain us so much good deeds insha Allah.

Regarding obedience, Ibn Taymiyyah said "Ibadaah is obedience to Allah by carrying out what He has commanded on the tongue of His messenger. Ibaadah is a reflective term for everything which Allah loves and is pleased with from the sayings and inward and outward actions". From this we can extract that a person becomes refined with obedience. Obedience to Allah comes first as the hadith of the prophet (sws) states "There is no obedience to any human being if it involves disobedience to Allah". Therefore if our parents or husbands demand us to do a haraam action then we are not obliged to listen to them. For example, if they ask us to remove our hijaab or to miss our salaah.

The last point of discussion was our legacy. What kind of legacy will we leave behind?. A legacy that will benefit us in the grave. We brainstormed different kinds of legacies we could leave behind, which will help us in the grave insha Allah. For example, teaching qur'aan/Islamic knowledge, writing books, ongoing charity, teaching our children good manners, being kind and helpful to others. If we all think for moment can we imagine what sort of a legacy we will leave behind and what will people say about us when we are no longer here? Will people speak about us in a positive way or will we be remembered as the one who never smiled, not very helpful to others or someone who helped others learn about Islam and was always pleasant to be around? One important point to consider here is that in order for us to give knowledge we must acquire that knowledge in our spare time insha Allah. We must also ponder over how we use our social time because we can leave a legacy if we use this time wisely. In social gatherings we can advise people with their troubles and be conscious of what type of impression we are leaving.

In conclusion, we all experience a time of day when we are the busiest, where we feel as though we are so rushed off our feet that we have no time to even think straight! This time may be early in the morning when we are getting the children ready for school or maybe after dhur or after school when the children and husband come home. Therefore, at that time planning to recite qur'aan or revising our notes would not be very suitable because we will not be able to do it. We should think about doing these things when we have free time or a time when we sit and do nothing. For a believer there should be no time to do absolutely nothing, we need to be proactive insha Allah. Time is extremely important because we will be asked about how we spent our time. Also we need to think of ways to change our a'adah into ibadah, which can be done by changing our intentons. The key message to take away from this session is to maximise performance ,which means to increase in good deeds through every opportunity we find our way.

Allah knows best.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Sabr or Shukr – The Worry Stops Here

Aasiyah, the wife of Fir'own, had eman in Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala that thrived under the shadow of someone who said, "I am your Lord, Most High!" When news reached Fir'own of his wife's eman, he beat her and commanded his guards to beat her. They took her out in the scalding noon heat, tied her hands and feet, and beat her perpetually. Who did she turn to? She turned to Allah! She prayed, "My lord, build for me a home with You in Paradise and save me from Fir'own and his deeds and save me from the transgressive people."

It was narrated that when she said this, the sky opened for her and she saw her home in Paradise and she smiled. The guards watched in astonishment as she was being tortured but yet smiling. Frustrated, Fir'own commanded a boulder to be brought and dropped on Aasiyah, to crush her to death. But Allah took her soul before the boulder was brought and she became an example for all the believing men and women until the end of time:

And Allah has set forth an example for those who believe – the wife of Fir'own – when she said, "My Lord, build for me a home with You in Paradise, and save me from Fir'own and his deeds, and save me from the transgressive, disbelieving people” (At-Tahreem 66/11).

In the hadith of Jibraeel, when he came to the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam and asked him about Islam, eman, and ihsaan, the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam said about eman:

"Eman is to believe in Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, the Final Day, and the divine decree – the good and the bad thereof."

Today I shall focus on the last article of eman – to believe in the divine decree, the good and the bad thereof.

As you and I travel though life, we find ourselves in one of two situations. Either something good is happening in our lives, in which case as Muslims our role is to thank Allah for the blessing, or something bad or something we dislike is happening to us, and our role then is to be patient. This is the formula for a happy life, a life cruising towards the pleasure of Allah. Sabr (patience) or shukr (gratitude), the worry stops here.

The Messenger of Allah sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam said:

"Strange is the affair of the mu'min (the believer). Verily, all his affairs are good for him. If something pleasing befalls him he thanks (Allah) and it becomes better for him. And if something harmful befalls him he is patient (saabir) and it becomes better for him. And this is only for the mu'min."

Ibn Al-Jowzee said, "If this dunya was not a station of tests it would not be filled with sicknesses and filth. If life were not about hardship, then the prophets and the pious would have lived the most comfortable of lives. Nay, Adam suffered test after test until he left the dunya. Nuh cried for 300 years. Ibrahim was thrown into a pit of fire and later told to slaughter his son. Ya'qub cried until he became blind. Musa challenged Fir'own and was tested by his people. Eesa had no provision except the morsels his disciples provided him with. And Muhammad sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam met poverty with patience as his uncle, one of the most beloved relatives to him, was slain and mutilated and his people disbelieved in him ... and the list of prophets and the pious goes on and on."

What happens to us happens by the will of Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala. It is an article of our eman that we believe in qada' and qadr and that we are pleased with Allah’s choice. Good or seemingly bad, it is all the test of this dunya. How can we imagine that we shall not be tested when those who were better than us suffered what they suffered? They, however, came away with the pleasure of Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala.

Al Hasan ibn Arafah narrated that he visited Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal after he was whipped and tortured. He said to him, "O Abu Abdillah, you have reached the station of the Prophets!"

He said, "Keep quiet. Verily, I saw nothing more than people selling their deen and I saw scholars that were with me sell their faith. So I said to myself, 'Who am I, what am I? What am I going to say to Allah tomorrow when I stand in front of Him and He asks me, 'Did you sell your deen like the others did?'"

He continued, "So I looked at the whip and the sword and chose them. And I said, 'If I die, I shall return to Allah and say that I was told to say that one of Your Characteristics was something created but I did not. ' After that, it will be up to Him - either to punish me or be Merciful to me."

Al-Hasan ibn Arafah then asked, "Did you feel pain when they whipped you?"

He said, "Yes, I felt the pain up to 20 lashes then I lost all feeling (They whipped him over eighty times). After it was over I felt no pain and that day I prayed Dhuhr standing."

Al-Hasan ibn Arafah started weeping when he heard what had happened. Imam Ahmad questioned him, "Why are you crying? I did not lose my eman. After that why should I care if I lose my life?"

These people were better than us, but this was how they were tested.

There some facts about the tests of life, the good and the bad that befalls us:

1. Much of what befalls us is the direct result of our own sins. Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala says:

And whatever misfortune befalls you it is because of what your hands have earned. And He pardons much Ash-Shura 42/30).

Muhammad ibn Seereen used to say when his debts piled up and he felt sad, "I know that the cause of this sadness is a sin I committed over 40 years ago."

2. People understand that when something bad happens it is a test from Allah ‘azza wa jall. But dear brothers and sisters, the good things that happen to us are also a test. Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala says:

And we tested them with good (blessings) and evil (calamities) in order that they might turn back (Al-A’raf 7/168).

Abd alMalik ibn Ishaq said, "There is no one that is not tested with health and prosperity to measure how thankful he is."

And the Companion AbdurRahman ibn 'Awf radi Allahu anhu said, "We

were tested with hardship and were patient. And then we were tested with prosperity and we were not patient. Because of this Allah states:

O ye who believe! Let not your wealth or your children divert you from the remembrance of Allah. And whosoever does that, then they are the losers (Al-Munafiqun 63/9).

3. Patience must happen from the beginning, not three days later or one day later, but rather at the first news of the calamity. The Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam said, "Verily patience (is only sabr when practiced) at the first hit (of news)."

4. There are things that contradict sabr. Tearing ones shirt, for example, slapping ones face, slapping hands, shaving ones head, and cursing and wailing. Umm Salamah radi Allahu anha narrates that she heard the Messenger of Allah sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam say:

"Any Muslim who says when a calamity befalls him that which Allah commanded him: ‘To Allah we belong and to him we return. O Allah reward me in this calamity and give me better then it’ - Allah will grant him better than (that which he lost) (Muslim)."

5. These tests and hardships wash away our sins. Aisha radi Allahu anha said, "Verily, fever sheds sins like a tree sheds leaves."

6. The hardships that befall us distinguish the believers from the insincere. Shumayt ibn Ajlaan said, "The pious and the ungrateful are hidden by health. Yet when calamities befall, the two men are separated (by how they react)."

Allah ‘azza wa jall says in the Quran:

Alif laam meem. Do people think that they will be left alone because they say, "We believe," and will not be tested? Indeed We tested those who (lived) before them (Al-Ankaboot 29/1-3).

PART II: Towards Sabr

Ali radi Allahu anhu said, "Verily sabr is to eman what the head is to the body. When the head is cut off, the body falls. (He then raised his voice) Verily there is no eman for he who has no sabr (patience)."

There are three types of sabr that the Muslim must have:

1. Sabr in the obedience of Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala. For example, one must be patient and perform their Fajr salah at it's appointed time.

2. Sabr in not disobeying Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala. For example, someone might be upset at another person and think, "I just have to insult him." No, rather we are commanded by He who gave us our tongues not to follow the whispers of Shaytaan. We must have sabr in not disobeying Allah.

3. Sabr in what Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala decrees on us. For example, if our child was to pass away we should be patient and seek the reward of Allah in our patience and say only that which is pleasing to Allah.

There are two keys which, if we understand them, we shall open the door to sabr

in our lives:

The first key: know that our souls, families and wealth do not belong to us, they belong to Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala. He gave them to us as a loan to see what we would do with them. When he takes them back, He is taking back what belongs to Him. We had nothing before the blessing and we'll have nothing after it. We did not create the blessing from nothing, so how can we claim that it belongs to us?

The second key: We are on a journey and the destination is the Hereafter - Paradise or Hell. We shall be leaving the dunya behind us and we will return back to Allah by ourselves. This is what needs our focus. If Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala is pleased with us then no worry. If He is not pleased with us then all worry.

Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala revealed:

Guard strictly the (five obligatory) prayers, especially the middle salah and stand before Allah in obedience (Al-Baqarah 2/238).

The verses before this aayah deal with divorce. The verses after it deal with divorce. So why was this verse placed in the middle?

The ‘ulama have suggested, wa Allahu ta‘aala ‘alim, that in the hard times that a person goes through (especially in a divorce) he should not forget the remembrance of Allah, the salah. It is that salah, coupled with sabr, that will pull him through the difficulty.

O you who believe! Seek help in patience and salah. Truly, Allah is with those that are patient (Al-Baqarah 2/153).

In conclusion, Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala gives the following good news:

And give good news to the patient / who, when afflicted with calamity say, "Truly, to Allah we belong and truly, to Him we shall return." / They are those on whom the salawat (i.e. the blessing and forgiveness) of their Lord is upon them, and who shall receive His Mercy, and it is they who are the guided ones (Al-Baqarah 2/155-157).

Allah promises anyone who wants to work on his or her patience three things: forgiveness, mercy, and guidance. Who could ask for more?

by Muhammad Alshareef

Monday, 4 October 2010

US sorry over deliberate sex infections in Guatemala

1 October 2010 Last updated at 21:32


US sorry over deliberate sex infections in Guatemala

Bacteria that causes syphilis Syphilis can cause blindness, insanity and even death

The United States government has apologised for deliberately infecting hundreds of people in Guatemala with gonorrhoea and syphilis as part of medical tests more than 60 years ago.

None of those infected - mentally ill patients and prisoners - consented.

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom accused the US of "crimes against humanity".

US President Barack Obama has called Mr Colom to apologise and has said the acts ran contrary to American values.
Continue reading the main story
“Start Quote

We deeply regret that it happened, and we apologise to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices”

End Quote Statement from secretaries of state and health
'Shocking, tragic, reprehensible'

Syphilis can cause heart problems, blindness, mental illness and even death, and although the patients were treated it is not known how many recovered.

Evidence of the programme was unearthed by Prof Susan Reverby at Wellesley College. She says the Guatemalan government gave permission for the tests.

No offer of compensation has yet been made, but an investigation will be launched into the specifics of the study, which took place between 1946 and 1948.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Friday the news was "shocking, it's tragic, it's reprehensible".

The joint statement from Mrs Clinton and Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said: "Although these events occurred more than 64 years ago, we are outraged that such reprehensible research could have occurred under the guise of public health.

"We deeply regret that it happened, and we apologise to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices."

The study by Prof Reverby shows that US government medical researchers infected almost 700 people in Guatemala with two sexually transmitted diseases.

The patients - prisoners and people suffering mental health problems - were unaware they were being experimented upon.

The doctors used prostitutes with syphilis to infect them, or inoculation, as they tried to determine whether penicillin could prevent syphilis, not just cure it.

The patients were then treated for the disease, but it is unclear whether everyone was cured.

Prof Reverby has previously done research on the Tuskegee experiment, where the US authorities measured the progress of syphilis in African-American men without telling them they had the disease or adequately treating it.

The experiment ran from 1932 to 1972, with President Bill Clinton eventually apologising for it.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Barbaric: 86-Year Sentence for Aafia Siddiqui

Andy Worthington


To be honest, I can hardly express sufficiently my shock at the news that Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani neuroscientist who was rendered to the US to face a trial after she reportedly tried — and failed — to shoot two US soldiers in Ghazni, Afghanistan in July 2008, has been sentenced to 86 years in prison.

Such a disproportionate sentence would be barbaric, even if Aafia Siddiqui had killed the soldiers she shot at, but as she missed entirely, and was herself shot twice in the abdomen, it simply doesn’t make sense. Moreover, the sentencing overlooks claims by her lawyers that her fingerprints were not even on the gun that she allegedly fired, and, even more significantly, hints at a chilling cover-up, mentioned everywhere except at Aafia’s trial earlier this year, in which her sudden reappearance in Ghazni in July 2008, the shooting incident, the trial and the conviction were designed to hide the fact that, for five years and four months, from March 2003, when she and her three children were reportedly kidnapped in Karachi, she was held in secret US detention — possibly in the US prison in Bagram, Afghanistan — where she was subjected to horrendous abuse.

The truth about Aafia’s story, as I have mentioned in previous articles here, here and here, is difficult to discern, but too many unanswered questions had already been brushed off before this vile sentence was delivered, which involve not only Aafia, but also two of her three children, Ahmed and Mariam, who only resurfaced last September, and in April this year. The whereabouts of Aafia’s third child, Suleiman, who was just a baby when Aafia first disappeared, has never been disclosed, and there are fears that he was killed when she was initially kidnapped.

As for Mariam, an article at the time of her reappearance stated that she “claim[ed] she was kept in a ‘cold, dark room’ for seven years,” allegedly in Bagram, and in late August 2008, Michael G. Garcia, the attorney general of the southern region of New York, “confirmed in a letter to Siddiqui’s sister, Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui, that her son, Ahmed, had been in the custody of the FBI since 2003 and that he was currently in the custody of the Karzai government in Afghanistan,” even though the US ambassador to Pakistan, Anne W. Patterson, had previously claimed that Washington “had no information regarding the children.” The article added that Ahmed was finally released to the custody of Siddiqui’s family in Pakistan in September 2009, and later “gave a statement to police in Lahore that he had been held in a juvenile prison in Afghanistan for years.”

Like everything in the story of Aafia Sidduiqui, which remains, in many ways, the most opaque story in the whole of the “War on Terror,” it is difficult to say what is true and what is not, but these accounts, as well as eyewitness accounts from other prisoners, including the British resident and former Guantánamo prisoner Binyam Mohamed, who has stated that he saw Aafia in Bagram, serve only to demonstrate that, not only is an 86-year sentence the most abominable miscarriage of justice, but also that it meshes perfectly with the notion that this whole sad story is an enormous cover-up. As I asked six months ago:

If Aafia Siddiqui was indeed held in secret US custody for over five years, was the story of the attempted shooting of the US soldiers in July 2008 a cynical set-up, designed to ensure that she could be transferred to the US and tried, convicted and imprisoned without the true story coming to light?

For someone once touted as a significant al-Qaeda operative, it is, to say the least, convenient that she has been sentenced to 86 years in prison on charges that — beyond the prosecutors’ claim that she was an al-Qaeda supporter and a danger to the US — completely ignored her alleged role in al-Qaeda, and the valid presumption that, if she was indeed regarded as an al-Qaeda operative, it would not be surprising that, like many dozens of other “high-value detainees,” she suffered years of torture in US custody, and then, somehow, had to be disposed of.

While some of these prisoners ended up in Guantánamo, and others were stealthily delivered on one-way trips to prisons in their home countries, Aafia ended up in New York, rendered — there is no other word — from Afghanistan. And although she urged her supporters in court to remain calm today, telling them, “Don’t get angry. Forgive Judge Berman,” it may be that, in delivering what he referred to as an “appropriate” sentence of “significant incarceration,” Judge Richard Berman may have done just what the CIA wanted.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Lessons from the “Ground Zero”/“Park 51”/“Armageddon” Mosque - God Bless America.

Abu Eesa Niamatullah

Okay, so I made the last name up myself seeing as everyone else is doing it, but it’s certainly no worse than the other two!

Despite actually being officially known as “Cordoba House”, the first name of the “Ground Zero Mosque” was a right-wing creation fed to the USA by some parts of the media which helped to create the frenzy that has now become mainstream news all over the world. I’m not going to bore you with a story that all of you know but in summary it seems many Americans are very worried, insulted and scared (choose any one or all three) about this building at 45-51 Park Place, Manhattan, going up near Ground Zero posing as an Islamic centre thingamajig.

The centre’s advisors by naming it “Cordoba House” clearly didn’t anticipate that some Americans would read in to such a title: war, murder, treason, taqiyyah, domination, consolidation, the Khilafah and then finally the Muslims taking over the United States of Absurdity.

Clearly a Mosque at such a location would make people suspicious of what goes on inside, especially as those guilty Muslims might be up to: secret military research, creating weapons of mass destruction, hatching assassination plots, developing loads of conspiracy theories etc. Obviously.

So what did the advisors do? They changed the name to Park51.

Yes. You heard it right first time. Of all the million alternatives they could have chosen to reduce tensions, they named the building Park51. Like that’s going to stop the haters? The advisers name the new Islamic centre after the most secretive and controversial area in the entire country – Area 51 – and they thought that’s good PR? Are you like kidding me?!

Of all the numbers from 45-51, they chose the one number which represents Aliens, Roswell, Time Machines, WMDs, the Ark of the Covenant, the X-Files, and virtually every other official secret, scheme and freaky thing or idea that the universe contains. All hidden deep inside Area 51.

So that’s alright then from a new PR angle, because now all Americans will think that the Muslims inside are getting up to: secret military research, creating weapons of mass destruction, hatching assassination plots, developing loads of conspiracy theories etc.

You just couldn’t make it up.

In fairness though you could have named the centre the “Teletubbies Mosque” or the “Big Apple Islamic Centre” and someone would find a suicide bomber link somewhere.

But enough of the jokes because some of the world’s best have had a field day with this topic, notwithstanding the brilliant Jon Stewart, our own Charlie Brooker and about a thousand other commentators who are thanking God that some real life quality comedic material has come their way for free. Actually no, at the cost of Muslims. Again.

Yes, there is a serious point to this entire discussion, most excellently summed up in my opinion by the tireless Keith Olbermann in his own unique way. Put simply, America has to change its constitution if they don’t want this Islamic centre to go ahead.

In my own personal opinion, I heard about this proposal quite a while back from Daisy Khan and I just assumed that they had polled the local community for their support because it certainly seemed to me at first hearing that it might prove a bit controversial. And they did get general support of course, before freaks like Geller, Palin and the Chai Party Wallahs got involved.

Early on in this saga when I noticed that quite a large number of people were genuinely opposed to the centre (as opposed to just being hate-mongers), I personally thought it would be better that another site was chosen because I genuinely believe that it is fair and correct that if many people in a foreign country or indeed the authorities of said country refuse permission for a new Mosque, then so be it. “I guess we mustn't grumble, I suppose that's just the way the cookie crumbles.” She said.

But after following this story in a bit more detail, I wish to support the building of this centre. It has now become clear that America needs to ensure that it allows the Muslims behind Park51 to give it their best shot, as both Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama have clearly stated. It would be going against every American value, indeed every Western value, if such a project were to be denied – if the complete freedom of religion is what the West has signed up to then that is what they must also prove, especially if other states or religions wouldn’t do the same. Like I said before, either that or either change the constitution to avoid charges of islamophobia and discrimination.

Likewise it seems that a lot of the opposition noise isn’t as genuine as it may seem, but rather a lot of loud voices busy in their hating and refudiating. Regardless of our religion or background, speaking out against such acts of racial intolerance and/or crimes against the English language must not be left to others.

The final reason why I support this project is because I teach people the value of unity, and that one of the special characteristics of the Muslims of Ahl’l-Sunnah wal-Jamā‘ah (the People of Orthodox Tradition & Community) is that they defend the rights of their brothers and sisters despite their differences. This is a time where unfortunately the Muslim community is under attack, and regardless of who is wrong or right, we shouldn’t be contributing to the voices of hate, even if our own personal opinions and objections against said project are valid. Perhaps we might advise the people behind Park51 in private, but in public they deserve our support because their dream has been hijacked by not just enemies of Muslims, but indeed enemies of the free world. Gosh, I sounded distinctly American there didn’t I? (Shudder!)

Anyway the really ironic thing here in my opinion is that I am extremely doubtful that the Cordoba Initiative and ASMA can raise anywhere near the sums being mentioned for the completion of this project, especially if they are going to restrict themselves to American Muslims only. Many people won’t touch this project with a barge-pole I’m afraid due to the massive negative publicity surrounding it all.


To the Muslim community specifically, I wanted to offer some advice and suggest a few lessons that we can perhaps reflect over during this entire episode.

The first lesson is to reflect over who it really is that the right-wing are hating upon specifically: Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf. You might very well click on the wiki link under his name but let me tell you about him myself.

I’ve known Imam Feisel for a number of years now and I consider him a friend. I’ve lectured at his conferences and I’ve lectured with him at external conferences - he’s one of the nicest and most noble men you will come to meet. And the most infuriating thing about all of this is that the kind of associations that are being created around his name with extremists and links to X, Y and Z yadda yadda is about as far away from the truth as possible. It’d be a million times easier for someone like myself to be made out to be such a bogey man but that’s because I was born carefree like that, don’t usually give a monkeys about what other people think about what I say or do or who I like or dislike, and also because I don’t need to try and convince the entire United States of Absolutely Hard Work to support my $100 million dollar dream centre.

Imam Feisel I can tell you (and as he will proudly tell you himself!) is a Sufi, very liberal and far too “progressive” for my liking as well. I mean progressive in the regressive sense as I like to maintain, about which he of course will beg to differ. Most of the Muslims I roll with on a daily basis would be shocked at his liberalism - what I’m trying to say is that every stereotype you might have of a lovey-dovey fuzzy-wuzzy “sellout” kinda Muslim guy, he’d fit. And I hope I still remain on his Eed card list after that.

But this just goes to show that when it comes to hate, no one is safe; because it isn’t just a hatred of a beard or a niqab which many people mistakenly think, but rather it is the right-wing and xenophobe’s hatred of simply your religious identity.

In fact perhaps worse, it’s racism and intolerance of a horrible kind. Who can possibly forget the tragic killing of a few members of the Sikh community post the 9/11 attacks, just because “they looked the same”? In this kind of environment, anything goes.

This is why what Keith Olbermann stated, should be spread far and wide, and really reflected over. His warning - drawing strength from Pastor Niemöller’s famous words – is a reminder not just to Muslims but a reminder to all people of all religions.

The second lesson I wanted to point out is to realize that post 9/11 it became super-fashionable to criticize the bogey man “Wahabi” entity so that they and all their affiliates and associates – indeed anything or anyone remotely connected to Saudi Arabia or the Ahl’-Hadīth school – became the root cause of every single evil upon God’s green and luscious Earth.

The unfortunate thing was that it came from a number of Muslims, most sadly – and let me be frank here – by a few extreme (and perhaps some not so extreme) leaders and spokesmen associated with the Muslim Sufi community. Yes, sad, because these were from Muslims within the Sunni fraternity.

Then as things started to move on, the “progressive” or “modernist” movements started to take shape, characterized by their ultra-liberalism, distortion of traditional texts and orthodoxy, topped off with an unhealthy obsession of blaming all the world’s new evils on any Muslim group – be it the Wahabis, the Salafis, the Sufis or just Mango Kulfis. In fact, very few Muslims that were associated with the word “Sunni” have been able to escape their misguided wrath and secretly funded agendas.

If the haters can ruin such a man’s life such as Imam Feisal, then believe me they can do the same and much worse to any other Muslim from the dazzling array of Islamic groups and sects that are out there living in the West, proving once and for all that the story of the white bull will come back to haunt you one day whether you like it or not.

So the final moral of the story: we must stick together and stop selling our brothers and sisters out who are trying to practice their Deen peacefully in the West, despite our slight jurisprudential and theological differences.

This reminder also goes to all those who used to be from our good and close people who are under pressure to change their Deen during such difficult times and jump ship to failed and humiliated organisations and ideologies such as the Quilliam Foundation or Hargey’s MECO or the Canadian Muslim Congress or Schwartz’s Centre of Islamic Pluralism – it’s better to feel a bit of pressure now rather than to fold up and dissolve away. We must stick to our religious principles because this was exactly what gave our Deen its respected image in the first place. Once we lose this, we have become like some of the Christian groups that have now disappeared off the face of the Earth, in fact there will be nothing left for us. Those who stand firm now, remain as beacons for the future, and not just for the Muslims but for humanity in general.

And if it takes a bit of shenanigans in the USA to make Muslims realize and reflect upon this point then my concluding words of this piece should aptly be:

God Bless America.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

The Nerve Of It All!

Abu Eesa Niamatullah

The great thing about finding the right place for Tarawīh prayers during Ramaḍān is the opportunity to deeply reflect upon verses of the Qur’ān that you might not hear every day, recited in a slightly more quicker fashion that normal which also adds that little bit more reality to the occasion too. Often, in the normal obligatory prayers, the Imām might recite so slowly – in fact too slowly with more focus being on Tajwīd etc – that one starts to enjoy more the voice and musical sound as opposed to reflect instead about what is actually being said, and indeed finds it more difficult to remember the previous verse so as to give context and feeling to the current verse being recited.

It was quite ironic that my Tarawīh reflection tonight as the verses were being recited (I'm currently at a place which is doing only half a juz’ a day, and so we've only just got to Ṣūrat'l-Mā'idah!) was none other than the verse of the moment:

“We prescribed for them therein: A life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear and a tooth for a tooth; and for wounds, an equal retaliation. But, if one forgives it, then that will be expiation for him. Those who do not judge according to what God has revealed are doing grave wrong.” (al-Mā’idah, 45)

This story below of a Saudi judge trying to ensure that just the spinal cord is severed as part of a Qiṣāṣ (I prefer the translation "fair retribution") case has unfortunately caused many Muslims to make ignorant and pathetic statements against their own religion, a fact made all the worse because it is only done in response to the sensitivities being offended of those who don’t accept any verses of the Qur’ān, let alone those verses which might be more gory in nature. Which begs the question: exactly how much more of the Qur’ān will such Muslims throw behind their backs as well?

The verses concerning Qiṣāṣ and the Hudūd (prescribed punishments) do confuse many people so let me just say briefly concerning Qiṣāṣ in particular that firstly, Allāh ‘azza wa jall never wishes at the first instance for people to punish and retaliate against each other as has been made manifestly clear by His statement, “But, if one forgives it, that will be an expiation for him” as well as His statement in Ṣūrat'l-Baqarah, "But if the culprit is pardoned by his aggrieved brother, this shall be adhered to fairly, and the culprit shall pay what is due in a good way. This is an alleviation from your Lord and an act of mercy" meaning that the original criminal has been let off and you as the injured party will have your sins erased for such a noble act.

This is what the original status quo is i.e. to pardon the assailant. And this is no doubt whatsoever what the Judge will have begged the claimant's family to do (I know some Sharī‘ah Court Judges personally, have seen Qadhā’ in action, and this is exactly what happens). And folks, I really do mean beg - with everything possible exhorting to forgiveness and mercy found in the Qur’ān and Sunnah. To witness this happening in a court can actually be quite an emotionally overwhelming experience.

This is of course the Sunnah of the Prophet (sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) as narrated by Anas b. Mālik (radhy Allāhu ‘anhu) who said, "Never was a case of retaliation ever raised to the Prophet except that he would order the claimants to pardon (the assailant)." (Abū Dāwūd)

And likewise this was the Sunnah of the Companions afterwards as well – despite the fact that many of the narrations that describe the reward for the one who pardons in such a manner are actually considered to be dha‘īf (weak) – yet the consensus of the Muslim nation is upon the fact that one should try and encourage the claimant to forgive and pardon his assailant at the very least from having to take retribution against him by causing a similar injury. This is generally supported by a number of encouragements from the Qur’ān and Sunnah, for example as Allāh ‘azza wa jall says in Ṣūrat Āle-‘Imrān (v. 134), “Hurry towards your Lord’s forgiveness and a Garden as wide as the heavens and earth prepared for the righteous; those who give, both in prosperity and adversity, who restrain their anger and pardon people. God loves those who do good.”

Similarly the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “Wealth is not diminished by giving in charity, the one who pardons is not increased except in honour, and one doesn’t humble himself in front of Allāh except that Allāh will raise him.” (Muslim)

It should be made clear here that there is discussion amongst the Fuqahā’ that if such a blow was delivered by the injured party against the original assailant (such as with a meat cleaver!) and of course it is near-impossible to recreate the exact same spinal injury inflicted by the same kind of blow, then Qiṣāṣ is not an option anymore and blood money is insisted upon instead. In fact it would be fair to say that the majority of the scholars hold that if someone suffers any internal injury in an attack, the judge cannot offer Qiṣāṣ to the claimant’s family because of the uncertainty and risk involved of further and greater injury than that incurred in the first place.

I would contend that it is rather unfortunate not to say this judge in question actually receive more praise for taking his job so seriously. It would have been far easier for him to just say, “This is a seriously complicated internal injury in which there’s no way of having exact fair retribution for so I rule for blood money!”

Said statement would have been the norm from the scholars a thousand years ago but what the judge is investigating is whether our current medical advancements allow for an exact replication of the injury in question, which is in essence the exact letter of the law – a law which is to be found still today in the Old Testament and has been maintained for the Muslims to follow until the Final Day. And what must be remembered is that the judge has gone to all this effort solely in pursuit of justice for the injured party for it is his right to forgo blood money and choose the exact same horrific injury that has ruined his life upon the assailant despite the fact that to pardon would be better.

In summary then: the judge is quite right Islamically to explore the possibility of establishing the desire of the claimant for the letter of the law if the claimant has rejected the spirit of the law. And we likewise should respect that.

And it’s for that final reason that I felt compelled to write this piece: respect. As Muslims we should respect our scholars more than what some detractors and antagonists would like us to do. It is a very serious issue to question people’s intentions without the full facts or to do so from a position of ignorance of Islamic Law.

Yet it is altogether far worse to disrespect and question the authenticity and finality of God’s word in His final Book gifted to mankind to lift them from their darkness into the light of guidance. And all because of what? Because one is being made to feel uncomfortable about the Divine nature of one’s faith due to the dissatisfaction of those who couldn’t care a single jot about faith in the first place. That truly is shameful and a measly price and reason to sell one’s religion for!

Let me in closing gently remind my brothers and sisters of what Allāh jalla wa ‘alā told the Jewish nation in the verse preceding our Qiṣāṣ verse that we’re looking at, which could very well be a wake-up call to us as well:

“So do not fear the people but fear Me, and do not exchange My verses for a small price. And whoever does not judge by what Allāh has revealed - then it is those who are the disbelievers.
” (al-Mā’idah, 44)

Monday, 16 August 2010

In Memoriam: Faraj Hassan Alsaadi

Extremely tragic and shocking news - Faraj Hassan Alsaadi, former prisoner and haafidh ul Qur'aan, who led the qiyaam outside the US embassy last night and spoke at the JFAC rally was killed in a motorcycle accident at 9am this (Monday) morning.

Inna lillaahi wa inna ilayhi raji'oon.

Thinking of lessons from the death of Faraj Hassan

Written by Asim Qureshi
Monday, 16 August 2010

The tragic death of our brother Faraj Hassan has left me with much to think about.

I cannot sleep with thoughts of our brother Faraj Hassan in my head. The reality is that this world has lost someone who was truly incredible - patient in adversity and strong in his response.

From a wordly perspective there is much to weep for as we think of a young man of 30 years (only a little older than myself) who left behind his wife and three very young children. The family will have to gone on without him, after having endured every single hardship with him, they have been given another hardship which they will have to face without him.

His family were with him as he was placed under detention without charge, then put forward for extradition, followed by a deportation order to Libya, then on control orders and finally also subjected to financial sanctions. The family had survived almost the full range of counter-terrorism measures that any individual could potentially be subjected, and yet they beat every single thing the government could throw at them as they maintained Faraj's innocence. Subhanallah - he beat it all with the aid and assistance of Allah SWT.

It was only a matter of about 8 months ago that Faraj as finally released from his control order and allowed to walk a free man. Instead of walking away and building a new life for himself, Faraj immediately immersed himself in issues relating to the treatment of detainees in the UK through helping the organisation HHUGS as well as speaking for other organisations like JFAC.

It would initially seem that there is something inherently unfair then, that somehow despite him having endured the pain of so many years of struggle, that he would be entitled to some form of respite with his family. Here lies the lesson though for me, that surely then despite our worldly desire to have our brother with us again, the reality is that Allah SWT has taken His servant at a time when not only did he pass every test that was given to him, but then went further to struggle for the sake of Allah to help others - in other words, inshallah Faraj was taken from us when Allah SWT would have loved him most. Inshallah his peace will now be eternal, we make du'ah that he is spared any form of correction from Allah and that he is only amongst those who will be first into the jannah, ameen.

So we find with Faraj an example for the way we should continue our work and conduct ourselves - it is not simply about standing up for justice, it is about having hilm (steadfastness) despite whatever we are given and with knowing that help will only ever come from Allah SWT.

As for Faraj, he has now returned to Allah. It is his family who remain, and so it is to them that we should now turn our attention as Faraj would have told us himself that there is very little you can do for the dead, but much you can do for the living. I would urge all to donate to HHUGS - the service they provide those in their care is invaluable and the events of yesterday only remind us of their importance.

The Big Picture

Continuing Pakistani Floods

Pictures 1

Pictures 2

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Jack and Charlotte again.

Jack and Charlotte are getting ready to visit Charlottes mum.

Jack: "How do I say to your mum in her language: I'm really proud to be your son in law'?"

Charlotte smiles: "Oh that's easy. You don't"

Jack: "Huh?"

Charlotte: "You just don't say thing's like that in our culture."

Jack: "Okay, but how would you say it?"

Charlotte: "I really don't know, because you just wouldn't say that."

Jack laughs: "You call yourself Bengali and you can't even speak the language!"

Charlotte smiles: "Yes, just like you call yourself your father son and you can't even cook."

(Jack's father is a Chef).

Later on Jack speaks to his sister on the phone.

"Can you believe she said that to me(!)?"

Jack's sister: "Well...."

Jack: "Well what?"

Jack's sister: "Well, she's right. You don't know how to cook.."

A resolute Jack tells his sister: "Right, you're giving me cooking lessons."

Charlotte thanks God for Sister-In-Laws and looks forward to putting her feet up for a while.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The French Taxi-driver

Going to a meeting today I was quite surprised to hear the SatNav in the taxi speaking French.

"You're French?" I asked the driver, (well I kind of exclaimed actually).

"Yes." He replied. "Blah blah blah?" (I didn't understand what he was saying but from the tone I figured he was asking me if I spoke it.

I told him "No", and couldn't help myself from saying the first thing that came to my mind, usually I think before I speak(!).

"You guys have just banned the burka." I said sitting behind him covered from head to toe.

"No, we didn't. Our Government did. There were many people against it. Me? I don't see the big deal about it. What's next? Banning the jeans I wear?"

"Hmm" I mused.

"You wear it for your husband?"

"No. I wore it even before I met him."

"I actually spoke to a governor in my country, I asked him why, he told me it's because of terrorism. I told him how many terrorists do you know that wore one? I was in Sham El Sheikh when the bombings took place there a few years ago. Those terrorists wore normal clothes, so what do we do? Ban normal clothes? I don't know the French are backwards. I don't like French culture. Then the man told me it's to prevent accidents because women who wear it, their vision is impaired, but really how many women that wear it have caused accidents? I tell you, none."

"Yes, I'm taking driving lessons, I can see perfectly fine." I said.

"Anyhow, you know at least you Women have principles. Me? I was married 20 years and she with somebody else. While I was working for my family, to support them she was with another man, 20 years. She was English. I can't trust English women, I don't trust them, never again."

"I'm really sorry to hear that." I really was.

"My children, they knew about it too, but they didn't tell me you know, cause' they didn't want the family to break up. I understand they were scared but I feel betrayed by them too you know, you can't trust English women."

He talked the rest of the way while I listened, about the French, about the English, about his ex -wife and about his children betraying him. I found myself wondering if his 5 children were all his, but I didn't dare voice my thoughts.

We arrived at my destination.

"Thirteen pounds," He exclaimed. "I'm so sorry about that, you know the English?" They over charge for everything. A short journey like this and it's so expensive. The English they can't be trusted."

I paid and thanked him and walked away feeling very sorry for a man who had lost faith in a whole society because of the actions of a few.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

My New Best Friend

My new - human, alive now, other than family, not Muslim yet (May Allah guide Him), best friend is...

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

How not to liberate women

Restrictions on women wearing the veil in public life are as much a violation of their rights as is forcing them to wear a veil

Judith Sunderland, Saturday 24 April 2010 11.00 BST

Muslim veiling is once again at the top of the news in Europe. Bans on full-face veils being considered or already in place, whether nationwide, at the municipal level, or applied in public buildings and transportation, undermine Muslim women's autonomy and religious freedom. Arguments put forward to support these bans fall into four categories, none of which stand up to serious scrutiny.

Banning the veil will liberate women.
Generalisations about women's oppression under the veil do a tremendous disservice to one of the basic tenets of gender equality: a woman's right to self-determination and autonomy. Restrictions on women wearing the veil in public life are as much a violation of the rights of women as is forcing them to wear a veil. Muslim teachers in Germany we interviewed said they wore the headscarf out of choice. Bans on headscarves in some German states have led many teachers to abandon their chosen profession, leading to loss of independence, social standing and financial wellbeing. It is clear that many Muslim women in Europe who cover themselves do so out of choice. For those who are coerced, general bans would limit, if not eliminate, their ability to seek advice and support. It may leave them trapped at home, further isolated from society. European governments need to support these women, with better access to education, justice and employment, rather than put them under more pressure.

The veil should be banned for security reasons.
A wholesale ban on the full Muslim veil is a disproportionate response to the legitimate need in a variety of situations to ascertain someone's identity. Airport cheques, school pick-ups, administrative dealings with state officers, cashing a cheque – these are all obvious examples. Appropriate, sensitive measures can be adopted to satisfy both the individual's right to manifest her religious beliefs and her duty to identify herself. In all the situations mentioned above, a woman wearing the full veil can be asked to take off her veil in private.

Bans on religious dress preserve secularism.
The principle of state neutrality requires state institutions to refrain from imposing any particular set of religious views, while at the same time allowing for free expression of religious beliefs within society. Bans that deny people the right to wear in public places a style of clothing linked to a particular religious faith undermine, rather than protect, this principle, by defining the public space as a zone in which no-one is permitted to manifest his or her religion.

Banning the veil is necessary for integration.

The fact that the children of immigrants and converts, as well as newer immigrants, wear the full-face veil in Europe undermines the argument that a ban is necessary for the purposes of integration. Integration policies that require newcomers to shed fundamental aspects of their identity are unlikely to succeed. Banning full-face veils is likely to restrict rather than enhance opportunities for these women to engage with society as a whole.

The divisive debate about full Muslim veiling reflects the complex issues – and passions – involved. International human rights law cannot answer all of the issues involved, but it can help frame a constructive conversation. It requires that any interference with rights must have a legitimate reason and be the least restrictive possible. It's fundamentally about the role of the state in matters relating to personal autonomy and religion, thought and conscience. Victims of coercion and abuse deserve assistance – but a ban is more likely to harm than help them. And the convictions of those who choose to wear the veil deserve consideration.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

A new light on the harms of porn

Yusuf Smith

A few months ago I read a book called Living Dolls by Natasha Walter, who argued that the “new feminism” she thought was emerging in the 1990s had given way to a culture in which girls were being pressurised to be sexualised at younger and younger ages, with anyone resisting being seen as a prude, and that this culture is seen as liberating when it’s actually degrading. A new book is released this month entitled Pornland, by long-standing anti-porn activist Gail Dines, which argues that people’s sexuality is being changed forever by a culture of commercial porn in which acts which are extreme and unusual are promoted as normal, and which ruins intimacy and people’s relationships.

Dines was interviewed in the Guardian by Julie Bindel last Thursday; there is another interview with her here and you can find excerpts from it here.

I’m kind of lucky in that porn has never really interested me. I took one look at the pictures in a top-shelf magazine in the UK when I was a teenager, I think, and I found it so revolting that I just put it back and put it out of my mind. But it seems that what I saw was probably tame by today’s standards, with boys getting access to the stuff younger and younger, and expecting real women to replicate the sexual acts they find in it, and being shocked that they do not want to. The material depicts stuff which is not only degrading but stressful and painful for women’s bodies, and the video (rather than still) stuff often shows the man showering the woman with insults as he carries out his bizarre acts (really, I’m not describing them — you can follow any of the links above if you want to know).

The two biggest problems with it is that it removes elements such as tenderness and intimacy from sexual relationships, and that it forms an addiction that causes men to lie and to neglect their duties to their families so as to pursue their addiction. As with so many chemical addictions, they often find that what they start out on loses its thrill, so they move onto harder stuff, often involving children. Mary Ann Layden of the University of Pennsylvania related, in a speech at Capitol Hill last month, that she had known a man who had worked for years to build a career in a given field, and then secured an interview for a “dream job”, but in the even didn’t attend because he was too busy surfing porn sites on the Internet. Another was a police officer who was jailed for viewing child porn on his work computer; he lost his marriage and could no longer see his children.

A few years ago Muslim Matters had some posts on Muslim men’s addiction to this stuff. Of course, viewing this stuff is completely against Islam, but one supposes that these same men married their wives on the basis that they were chaste and not the sort of women they’d find in these videos. As is so often the case, the brothers expect the women to be utterly pure and devoted while they are anything but. I don’t want to imply that all Muslim women are super-pure and other women are sluts, and most non-Muslim women wouldn’t want to be seen dead in these productions either, but when an ostensibly religious Muslim man, married to a woman of a similar stripe, expects her to perform similarly to the females he sees in porn videos, there is likely to be conflict, to say the least.

Dines herself is not anti-sex or, I suspect, against erotic material being available — Bindel compares her to Andrea Dworkin, commonly accused of being a militant man-hating prude when she was in fact married to a man and, in her writings on porn, distinguished between genuinely erotic and “thanatic”, or destructive, pornography which depicted the degradation of women. After all, porn depicting children is already illegal in most places, and many men have been prosecuted for downloading the material, which is footage of child abuse. The material discussed here depicts adults, but it is often readily available to younger and younger boys, who themselves learn about sex through it and end up thinking what they see there is normal when it isn’t. The things depicted are acted out and the females are being paid, but the acts are meant to look like assaults.

There are a couple of aspects of Dines’s critique of porn culture I don’t agree with. One is her emphasis on hair removal as a product of this culture; she claims that none of the female students she meets keep their pubic hair, as its removal is now the norm, thanks to porn culture. That all of them remove their hair I don’t quite believe anyway, but they were introduced to America through a salon run by several Brazilian sisters and were known of in Brazil before that on account of the skimpy bikinis worn on beaches there. Even so, it’s a fashion and surely not all the women who do it are directly influenced by porn. It was the norm in the Muslim world long before it became popular here. There is quite a generational difference here, with the older generation considering that hair is what distinguishes women from little girls, while a lot of younger women disagree.

A second issue is the use of the term “patriarchy” as a lazy synonym for male domination, as in:

“To think that so many men hate women to the degree that they can get aroused by such vile images is quite profound,” says Dines. “Pornography is the perfect propaganda piece for patriarchy. In nothing else is their hatred of us quite as clear.”

Patriarchy actually connotes a society in which men protect women, not simply allow any Tom, Dick or Harry to exploit them. Most fathers would be outraged, or at least profoundly sad, at the thought of their daughters performing in this way, even if they were getting paid for it and when the family and parental authority in this country was stronger, pornography was less readily available and much less extreme than it is now. A society in which men are free to abuse and exploit women and girls may be many things, but this does not make it patriarchal.

I had heard of the problems with widely-available porn before, but reading these interviews with Dines really shocked me in terms of what these things consisted of and the fact that people who view it come to consider the things depicted as normal. Unfortunately, attempts to curb this material in the USA have been struck down under the First Amendment, and there is only so much we can do when such a big population has decided that it cannot control such material, but we can pass legislation against such material here and should not be afraid to. Of course, education is an important tool here as well — for young people, so that boys know that this is harmful and unreal, and that parents know that they should keep tabs on what their children are seeing online, and know how to. Dines’ is a welcome voice on this issue, calm and measured and less influenced by personal trauma than Dworkin was, and one hopes that her book opens people’s eyes to how damaging this trend is.

Monday, 24 May 2010

It's not about the age...

My mum beat me in Badminton today. It just goes to show it's not about how old you are it's about how well you've looked after yourself.