My Teddy Bear is called Muhammed

This morning, the story of Gillian Gibbons was sprawled all over the front pages of every newspaper I could lay my hands on. Gibbons, a 54-year old Liverpudlian teacher in Sudan has been jailed for allowing one of her seven-year old pupils to name their teddy bear “Muhammed”. Declaring this as blasphemy, the Sudanese authorities ordered the immediate closure of the school and arrested the teacher in question. Gibbons is now facing punishment of 40 lashes, six months imprisonment, or a hefty fine.

It beggars belief that the naming of a teddy bear to “Muhammed” would cause such outcry amongst Sudanese officials and parents alike. Friends of Gibbons say that “she was fully aware of religious sensitivities” and it seems like she just made an innocent mistake.

Muslims living in Sudan have missed a few very obvious points – Firstly, the school was in Sudan (a predominantly Muslim country), the children were asked to choose a range of names themselves, the teacher did not submit these names, so it is not surprising that the child was drawn to a Muslim name. So if you think about it, maybe those twenty-three seven-year olds were being blasphemous and should be held to account. Seems absurd doesn’t it?

Second, it shows that the commonality of the name “Muhammed” is such that even non-Muslim children are naming their toys after him, proving the universality of the name Muhammed, which is separate from religious affiliation or culture. This, in my opinion does not cause any offence. The final Messenger of Islam was referred to with many names, including “Amin”, meaning “trustworthy” – does it mean to say that people should no longer use the name Amin?

Instead of embracing this diverse and inclusive culture, the Sudanese authorities add fuel to the ever-infuriating debate on blasphemy amongst level-headed Muslims globally.

In the words of Saadi,

Of one Essence is the human race,
Thusly has Creation put the Base;
One Limb impacted is sufficient,
For all Others to feel the Mace.”

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Is Islam good for London: A Perspective

Is Islam Good for London? 

Having attended, what was purported to be, a debate about Islam in London, I must admit I feel sorry for Londoners. For two reasons:
– it appears that way too many people intensely dislike Muslims.
– Muslims are most likely partly to blame. 

I am happy to be a South African Muslim for two reasons:
– I don’t feel any hatred or animosity from people back home, for just being Muslim.
– South Africa has more opportunities and better prospects for ‘spearheading’ Islam in the non-Muslim world.  

Before coming to London, the exposure I had from the high profile speakers and quality publications that come out of here, I believed that this is the place wherefrom those in the forefront of taking Islam forward will be coming from. 

The bourgeoisie debate, attended by Jemima Khan amongst others was hosted by the Evening Standard (apparently a right-wing publication) and was by invite only (which upset me at first, but I was able to get in anyways and at some point make myself heard.)

The debate certainly did not conform to what I had understood as proper English manners and debate decorum. Rather, it was a shouting match and personal attacks between the line-up on the panel; who although may may not be pathetic individuals, but together, given the topic, the climate and the idiots in the audience; it turned out to be a depressing pathetic panel!  

Rod Liddle (my favourite for the night) just kept saying he didn’t mind Muslims but loathed Islam for various reasons. I think his understanding of Islam, as he explained, was just as marred as those who give Islam a bad name. I do however respect him for being consistent throughout the night, unlike the guy next to him, Ed Husain.  

Ed Husain (an ex-Hizbut Tahrir guy) who has become a famous author, famous in a somewhat similar way to Salman Rushdie has managed to identify what certain people want to hear, so he continues to say just that. Ed Hussain was extremely inconsistent in his thoughts and opinions, and as Rod Liddle put it, he may have left HT but is still the idiot that joined them and his intelligence seems to have not increased since he has acquired this newfound liberal popularity. 

Inayat Bunglawala (of the Muslim Council of Britain) was definitely unfairly targeted. But justified or not, he clearly has made a few mistakes and said a few things in the past. To give him some credit he tried hard to ward off attacks against his person and still level a fairly decent argument, and together with Rod, the only consistent person on the stage.  

Joan Smith (a feminist and atheist) was exceptionally irritating. I have met many feminist and atheist in my life, but none that annoy me as much as this woman who uses both as titles in a manner that I assume would disappoint many feminists and atheists.  I guess this doesn’t say much about the debate; probably coz the debate was more entertaining than informative. It was more of a show than a productive discussion.  

But one thing is clear, at least from the little discussion that did go on, and from the comments from the audience – Islam is here in the UK in full force and is here to stay, and both Muslims and their non-Muslim counterparts need to work together to make sure that things improve going forward. Muslims can’t continue to live in virtual enclaves, and the rest of society here can’t continue to ignore them and pretend that they are not here.

Draconian Measures Enforced by Fear

On July the 7th 2005 Rachel North was on her way to work, her carriage was carrying one of the suicide bombers who killed 26 people that day. Earlier this week she was asked to give evidence before the Home Affairs Select Committee on the government’s proposed anti-terror legislation. Writing in Comment is Free in the Guardian today Rachel says that she is “opposed to the further extension of detention powers, because [she has] not seen any compelling evidence that such powers are necessary”. Her sentiments are shared by a number of politicians, activists, and basically the majority of the British population who see this new proposal as another draconian measure introduced by power-hungry politicians who fear that we may “one day” need 90 days to question terror suspects.

While it is always refreshing to read the story of a person who although has been personally affected by terrorist attacks, does not blur their opinion with emotion, and instead takes a reasoned and logical approach to this issue, I do think that it in protesting against such a proposal it is important to differentiate between “personal freedom / liberty” and “security against the terror threat”. As with most legal issues, this topic also needs to be approached with an evidence-based argument. There has been legislation, which although impinge on “freedom” (individual data collection being one), are totally acceptable – so one would ask the question that if this legislation will be brought in force to protect the citizens of this nation, then why are we opposing it? In my opinion the answer is simple, up till now the argument for the extension of the detention limit has not been backed up by any hard core evidence, facts or impact assessments about the effectiveness (or lack of) of the current detention limit or why we need to increase it – until this is done it will be difficult to see its necessity and the argument for the government to spend my hard earned taxes for an extra 32 days to question and charge a suspect falls short. If anything, this just goes to show the ineffectiveness of the police.

Atomboy from Notes and Comments sums it up in the following way:

We did not need extra legislation to protect us from real terrorists like the Red Brigade, the PLF, the IRA the Baader-meinhof Gang and all the other groups of the seventies and we lived through it.

Peter Ustinov said something like: “War is the terrorism of the rich; terrorism is the war of the poor.”

We have followed hysterical and childish Americans who think they can “whup” terrorism by invading the rest of the world or bombing it to oblivion. The two B’s of Blair and Brown have clung to the coat-tails of the Big B Bush in the hope that they will look powerful and capable. Blair ended up looking like a mentally-challenged seven year old at Camp David, stuffing his hands into his pockets and grinning at the world “Look at me, I’m with the most powerful man on earth, which makes me powerful, too.”

Brown, for his part, has never made a secret of the fact that he just wants power, at any cost and however long he has had to wait. We are governed by scaremongers of base designs and inferior intellect, who simply hope that they can terrify the population into thinking there is a genuine terrorist threat of greater weight than we have always had. They are a bunch of lickspittle, sticky-fingered liars and should be booted out at the next election or sooner if possible. 

It is not a question of having nothing to fear but fear itself; nor the artificial fear of a bogus terrorist threat hyped up by the circus barkers of this government of infinite corruption. It is the fear that freedoms will be siphoned off from the people and these will entrench the power of the British terrorist state.

Here, here!

Is Islam Good for London?

While the government harps on about social inclusion and community cohesion, the media continues to muddy the debate with biased sample surveys focusing on whether or not Islam can contribute to British society – the most recent one being carried out by the Evening Standard. The YouGovStone survey on Islam published earlier this week looked at the opinions of “700 influential’s”.

The mere fact that this question is being asked is worrying – why is the religion of Islam being scrutinised here? Why are we asking whether or not a particular religion can or cannot contribute to British society? Is religion not a personal thing? Being devil’s advocate for a moment if the prevailing view is that Muslims (the people and not the religion) are to blame for terrorism, then why is the question about Muslims not being asked? Should we not be scrutinising the motivation of a (I am about to stereotype here so bear with me) 23 year old Muslim economist to go and blow himself up? What are the key factors that push him over the edge? Surely there must be more to it than just religion. What about identity? What about foreign policy? What about citizenship? Are these not factors to include in the debate?

There are over 1.5 million Muslims living in Britain today, most of whom live in harmony and with utter respect toward their British compatriots. In my opnion the religion of Islam has nothing whatsoever to do with the debate. By raising the question of religion the media continues to choose the easy answer – blame Islam and everything will be okay. By doing so we yet again marginalise an already alienated group, so is it any wonder there is so much resentment within the Muslim community? This obsession with pointless sample surveys must stop; data is relative, and it can be manipulated to serve whatever purpose one chooses. Out of the 700 opinions taken, not one was mine – and it certainly isn’t the consensus of the British population.

Citizens of the country please wake up; reclaim your indviduality, and with it – your voice.

Pakistan: Showdown of a showcase state

What has General Pervez Musharraf done for the country of Pakistan? In my opinion, nothing. Our Dear ‘dictator’ has done nothing to improve the quality of life in the state of Pakistan. Instead he has focused on enhancing an image which runs on the approval of the west; a view that apparently takes Pakistan into a much talked about ‘enlightened moderation’ – banishing extremists and supposed militant jihadis – Thus creating the ‘showcase state’. Pakistan may today be on centre-stage in the global arena, but it is comparable to a sixty year old car which although has a polished and shiny exterioir, is totally busted from inside. The past eight months have exposed this car  revealing it completely, standing on all fours, with a ghastly spotlight, glaring upon it.

So long for being figurative, the civil society of Pakistan, for the last nine years has been almost deaf, dumb and blind; confused into thinking that they are the most modern societies of the world; not least because they now get free SIMs, 50 odd channels and a Fashion TV owned by a Pakistani organization (note that interestingly enough FTV Pakistan is banned in India because of its content). But instead, for the last fifty years, Pakistan has been slipping away to corrupt corporate hands via the back door, without knowledge or concern of its people. Even Pakistan’s largest telecommunication network, PTCL was sold for a quick buck, and if somebody had not called on the Supreme Court Pakistan’s Steel Sill would have been sold too. It seemed, until then, that nobody cared. 

The mindset of the people of Pakistan truly began to change post March 2007, when the real face of Musharrf was exposed. From there onwards the path of Gen. Musharraf went downhill and awareness amongst the masses has increased. But so desperate for power he is, that Mushrraf seemed to make one blunder after another. Some say he has no chance of being let alive if he steps out of Government Head Quarters or the President’s house and that is the reason that he is craving for power. It seems funny, but it could be true – Musharraf has made an array of enemies in his regime, and of course the King’s party, which is also going to be blown away with the removal of Musharraf.

The only thing that makes this second coup any different from the first is that Pakistan’s students are now standing against it. The Editorial in the Dawn describes the situation:

Apart from what future does this student protest have, it’s remarkable for another extremely important reason. Poster-children of Pervez Musharraf’s enlightened moderation and economic upswing that he claims to have ushered in, the students of these elite institutions were least expected to speak up against his policies. Now that they have done so, catching the analysts and media on the wrong foot, they show how widespread the anger against Musharraf is.”

Dawn, 11-11-07, Protest on Lahore campuses

Thus the only good thing resulting from Musharra’s self-imposed emergency has been the growing realization and sentiment against a dictator that has no right to govern the state of Pakistan. Never, I believe has a coup been opposed this vehemently in such a short time in Pakistan. Pakistanis have the reputation of being a dead nation, because it is hardly ever that we stand up for our rights. Hopefully this time we will.

Equal opportunities or a step beyond reason?

You may have seen it, you may have heard about it: the most recent discrimination case being fought by Muslim woman, Bushra Noah. Now the story goes a bit like this, Bushra Noah (19 year old hijabi) goes to Sarah Desrosiers (32 year old hippie) for a job as a hairdresser. Desrosiers tells her that her appearance (hijab-clad Muslimah) doesn’t quite fit with the image of the salon’s, and tells her that she will only give her the job if she removes her ‘head-gear’. Noah, distraught, after being rejected for around 25 jobs (including this one), refuses and takes her case to court instead, suing Desrosiers for the sum of £15,000 – for religious discrimination.

Now, ordinarily I’d have to say that discrimination is unacceptable under any circumstances. But this, well, I must admit, this is a little more complex. On the one hand, what Desrosiers asked Noah to do was purely a marketing strategy which unfortunately (and coincidentally) meant that Noah would have to take her scarf off – I don’t actually think it had anything to do with her religion. Desrosiers seems to have tried to implement a strategy I have often seen many retail companies and beauticians adopt. I myself admit that I would never go to a beautician whose skin was full of scabs and spots (no offence to anyone!) But the reality is that image sells; and in this case, the product, or rather service being sold involved Noah’s hair.

On the other hand, if Noah was good at her job, then who cares what she is wearing? I mean, when you go to the dentist you don’t say “open wide doc, I wanna see what your gnashers are like before I get in the seat” do you? By the same token I don’t ever recall asking any of my lecturers what qualifications they had before joining their class – I just relied on their knowledge blindly, that if they are where they are, it’s because someone, somewhere thought that they had the ability to teach me.

One blog site, Freethinkers, dubbed the story as “Boo-hoo, another Muslim’s feelings are hurt – and only cash will ease the pain”. While I admit that these were (surprisingly) my own sentiments when I first read the story yesterday evening, I do think that in this current climate it has become only too easy to point the finger at the whole Muslim community (yet again) and brand her with the rest of the Aishahs, Shabinas and Aneelas we have seen over the past three years. Instead, we must be mindful that each case must be assessed on its own merits – the specific details of this case are different. On this occasion though, I don’t think it is a religious issue – it is an issue about clothing, pure and simple. What if this had been a Sikh man or some random bald woman? Would we be making such a fuss of it then?

By making a claim on religious discrimination grounds, Noah has further fuelled discontent towards Muslims today, but by refusing to employ her because of her clothing, Desrosiers has gone against a basic right we are all entitled to in this country: freedom of expression. So let’s stop turning everything into a religious issue and put our heads back on the right way around!

‘Sour’ism

In my relative short stay in the UK, I have been able to attend many interesting and informative lectures and events. A recent one turned out to be a tad different- the first sign was the queues outside the venue. Who queues to listen to a lecture, I thought. But this was a high profile lecture that had attracted the level of attention it seems it intended to attract.   

The speaker was a Maajid Nawaz, an ex-Hizb ut-Tahrir, senior member. To my knowledge, the group does not have a very visible presence in South Africa, so I was interested in the inside scoop from this ex-member. I guess I was misinformed; because an inquest into the faults and flounders of Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) was not forthcoming. Maajid is a brilliant public speaker, perhaps a trait that served well in HT, which I came to understand, is a political movement. A political movement with an Islamic ideology. To be honest, I was not sure what HT was about before the lecture, and I am still not sure.

But this is what I took away from the lecture.  Maajid explained his colourful history with HT, and some of the interesting experiences he had with them- from establishing HT as the power on his college, to spending time in a jail in Egypt. I was loving this guy and savouring every word he so eloquently delivered.  But as he went on, I found it difficult following his logic.

For the sake of brevity, and to convey my understanding, I will merely explain the picture he painted in my head. ‘HT wants to establish an Islamic state. This is a fallacy that cannot exist in the world as we know it.’ (I could not agree more.)  But then he somehow came to the conclusion that, ‘Islam is not meant to interfere with politics. Islam is about your spirituality and personal life- for your political life you need to rely on pragmatism and logic only.’ 

Based on my base knowledge of HT, this thought of his seemed like the direct opposite, and most definitely not the balanced view. And when challenged by some of the audience members, apparent HT members and not, Maajid shamefully either evaded most of the challenging questions, or merely failed to respond in an intelligent manner.  

I knew little of HT before this lecture, and I still don’t know much. I must admit that this has encouraged me to look into them at some point and see for myself what they are about. However, for what I have benefited from this lecture, I am thankful. 

I remember not the challenging questions from the eloquent sister on Maajids view on ‘Islamism’, or the elderly gentleman’s caution against using ‘loaded’ terminology or the young mans implied accusation that this was a publicity stunt.  What I do remember is that Maajid mentioned his blog too many times. I could almost imagine him saying, ‘And if you visit my blog today, you will get an opportunity to be a member of my political campaign!’

Because that is the impression that soured my thoughts- was this guy just here on a PR campaign to build his reputation as a politician? Why was he saying the ‘right’ things, quoting the ‘right’ people and making it known of his association with the ‘right’ people?  The advert to the lecture asked these questions- What should Muslim politics really look like? How do we disentangle Islamism from Islam? Should our political attention not be more focused on developing our communities, contributing to wider society, and using all the democratic means at our disposal to inform, campaign and lobby on the greater issues affecting the Muslim world? Sadly, I don’t see how this came even close to answering any of them.  

The City Circle brother at the end made it clear that City Circle is an open platform for discussion and debate. I remember thinking to myself, this is brilliant. This is exactly what Muslims need- a platform where different thoughts, opinions and views can be expressed. Because from this, we can only grow and improve these thoughts, opinions and views and hence become better Muslims and better people.

But sadly, this brother messed it all up by resorting to juvenile insults of HT. And I didn’t need to be a member of HT to then leave with a sour taste in my mouth!