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Preventing and Addressing Rising Religious Bigotry and Anti-Semitism

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Image from Getty Images, London 2014

 

In the 1670’s, my maternal grandfather’s family arrived in London from Holland, having come to Amsterdam as refugees fleeing the inquisition in Spain. I am still asked which of my parents or grandparents immigrated to the UK (they were all born in the East End or Leeds!).

18 years ago, in my first Religious Studies Seminar at University, I was told I would burn in hell. Perhaps even worse was the time I met a chap who felt sorry for me, the only thing he knew about the Jews was Auschwitz. Neither of them had ever met Jews, unsurprising when we are a community of 270,000, the majority of whom are in Barnet. But this kind of casual, sociable anti-Semitism continues at dinner parties, and in Universities, often rooted in ancient tropes around Christ, child killers, money, big noses and so on.

Since meeting my husband (who wears a kippah/skull cap) I have experienced a new kind of anti-Semitism. Cans thrown out of white vans, Hitler salutes when walking past pubs watching football matches. Like Hijabis, religious Jewish men are more easily identifiable as Jewish and so receive the brunt of street violence.

And more recently there is Twitter… I have been called a child abuser (presumably because of circumcision though this wasn’t clarified) and of course child killer (probably because of the Gaza wars but possibly again playing on ancient anti-Semitic tropes and blood libels).
Islamaphobia and anti-Semitism also comfortably come together. The following were just a sample of responses to a smiling photo of Rabbi Laura Janner Klausner and the new Mayor Sadiq Khan:

 

Bigoted tweets

Screenshot of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic tweets

We know that anti-Semitic incidents in the UK and across Europe rise at times of conflict in Israel-Palestine, and that what happens there affects both our communities here.

Six years ago, attending an Islamaphobia and anti-Semitism conference, I was struck that at no point did we discuss our own communities’ problems with each other. We need to be able to put our hands up and say ‘the Jewish community has a problem with Islamaphobia’ and that ‘the Muslim community has a problem with anti-Semitism’. We have to be honest about this and try to challenge it where we can.

Believe it or not, it’s unusual for me to be talking about anti-Semitism. It isn’t a part of my Jewish identity or practice. Jews are often the first to deny the reality of anti-Semitism, and I do believe that majority of it is down to ignorance and lack of encounter.

But even with many Jews still uncomfortable to acknowledge the reality of anti-Semitism, there is now a sense that things have spiralled out of control to a place of discomfort. Particularly when it is the echelons of power from which it is being heard, and not just outside the pub. Until the last few months most Jews felt the government would protect them and that any prejudice faced was not institutional. There is now growing discomfort about what (hopefully a small minority of) politicians are saying.

I don’t believe this is true for just Jews. Muslim friends are spat at on trains and battered by the media. Gay friends are on the receiving end of violent attacks. Disabled friends tell me that they used to be attacked as ‘spas’s’ and now they are beaten up and called ‘scroungers’. It seems casual violence and hatred has become a far more common experience in 21st Century Britain than we would like to think.
How do we address all of this?
Simply put we must all challenge what and when we can. We must be up standers and not bystanders, for whoever is attacked and abused. Intellectual debate and disagreement is one thing. Hating one another over that difference is another.
I believe our education system has a huge role to play here. Faith schools, whether you love them or hate them, are not going anywhere. They bring with them potential problems of separating communities from one another. This can be tackled through linking and relationship building, not as one-off events but continual long term connections between schools. So much more is needed.

Religious studies have in the last decade received less and less investment. This is heart-breaking. It has been written off by many schools, but could sit at the heart of curricula. It needs to be about encounter, dialogue, and enabling students to hear different opinions while being encouraged to express their own views without feeling threatened by other’s differences.

We need to find what we have in common as a society, but we also have to create a generation that is comfortable with differences – we aren’t all the same and this is a great thing! For us to become a nation that embraces those who arrive on our shore and makes them a part of our story.

Britain needs to not only find its own story, but to show that it is proud of its beautiful diversity, and willing to be a society that embraces debate, difference, and diversity as a wonderful human trait, as celebrated by the Torah, New Testament, Quran and the Talmud.

This is an edited speech that was given by Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers, at  a Christian Muslim Forum event, the House of Lords on 16 May 2016.

Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers is the Community Educator at the Movement for Reform Judaism. She has a degree in Comparative Religion from Lancaster University and is a Buber Fellow from Paideia Centre for Jewish Studies Stockholm. She has been actively engaged in Interfaith Dialogue since her teens and currently teaches World Religions and Encounter at Leo Baeck College, as well as contributing to the interfaith training of Christian clergy at Queens Ecumenical College Birmingham. She spent 4 years as part of the Rabbinic Team at West London Synagogue before taking up her current post. She is a writer and regular radio broadcaster on Pause for Thought and BBC London. She is married to an active member of the Orthodox Sephardi community and has just returned from her second maternity leave. You can follow her @Rabbi_Debbie

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Jamilla’s fight with self-harm and suicide: the ultimate taboos (Part 3)

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Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Our bodies have as much right over us as we have over them and it’s up to us to take care of ourselves. This is one of the reasons why self-harm is often a taboo subject. For those of us who feel the need to harm ourselves, it’s often because we have no other way to deal with what’s going on in our heads. Sometimes if I can’t distract myself from my thoughts, I will pinch myself or cause pain to myself so that I can think about something else. This is the first time I have written these thoughts down, but hopefully by doing so I’ll be able to help those who feel that they’re the only ones going through it. It’s something that needs to be spoken about, we need to share ways of dealing with these problems with other and in more productive ways.

When it comes to suicide, a vast majority of scholars agree that committing suicide is haraam. Therefore, it is a taboo in many Muslim communities to talk about it. It has crossed my mind, it has crossed the minds of many Muslims, that’s why we need to talk about it. We need to help each other realise that suicide isn’t the option, even when it feels like the only option.

When I feel *that* down, something that helps me is writing down my blessings. Everything I have in my life from friends and family to even that extra biscuit left downstairs that I forgot about. Not only does it take my mind off things but it reminds me to talk to a friend I haven’t heard from in a while, or go for a walk to my favourite park in the sunshine, which hopefully will help me ride out the dark period.

I hope reading this has helped you, especially if you’re going through similar things. I hope it’s made you realise you’re not alone, and maybe some of the things that help me will end up helping you too, InshAllah.

Please always seek help from a professional if you feeling suicidal or are contemplating self-harm. The following organisations could help you, if you are feeling particularly distressed:

Samaritans: call free any time, from any phone on 116 123.

Emergency services: 999

NHS has a list of organisations that help with depression and suicide: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Suicide/Pages/Getting-help.aspx

About the author: Jamilla recently graduated with a degree in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies and is VP of the Islamic Society at the University of Exeter. Follow her on Twitter @JamillaTweets.

Image credit: Photo by Gary Knight.
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Qandeel Baloch: an outspoken feminist in a man’s world

“As a woman we must stand up for ourselves.. As a woman we must stand up for each other… As a women we must stand…“

— Qandeel Baloch

feminism cross-stitch

The tragic murder of the social media celebrity, Qandeel Baloch, is an eye-opener to societal attitudes towards women in Pakistan. This is a case which has divided the nation and exposed the contradictory and hypocritical attitudes towards women.

It is Baloch’s social media profile which divides people and emboldens the haters. While some commenters go far as saying her murder was justified, others act as nothing less than apologists. Many argue that “Oh yes, she should not have been murdered, of course…”, but then go on to shame her by commenting on her lifestyle and public profile.

There is no but. Qandeel Baloch was brutally murdered and yet still, all the focus is on what the victim did. The focus should be on the patriarchal structure of Pakistan’s society, where women are seen as the property of fathers, brothers and husbands.

The truth is, Qandeel Baloch wasn’t murdered for being provocative. She was murdered because she challenged Pakistan’s religious establishment, making a mockery of the mullahs and exposing their double standards.

Sections of the media have called Baloch “Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian” but she was so much more than that. It is disingenuous to compare her to Kardashian, who grew up in relatively affluent circumstances. Unlike social media celebrities in the West, Fouzia Azeem was born into poverty with few options in life.

“I want to give those girls a positive message who have been forcefully married, who continue to sacrifice.”

Raised in one of the poorest areas of Pakistan, she was forced to marry a much older man, who then beat her. It’s the same old story across Pakistan where girls are forced into marriage and then expected to live a life of hell where they are abused daily.

But Qandeel Baloch chose to take a stand and escaped. With little education and no support from her family, she took matters into her own hands and took to social media to make a name for herself. Her father called her “my son” because she alone supported the family.

In short, she learnt that in life, you have to depend on yourself.

“No matter how many times I will be pushed down under but I am a fighter I will bounce back. Qandeel Baloch is ‘One Women Army’.”

The videos are grainy and she wears the same outfits over and over again. There’s no sign of the privilege given to wealthy middle-class women like Kardashian. To compare her to similar social media darlings in the West totally ignores her back story and trivialises Baloch’s personal circumstances. It is not difficult to see why she went down the path she did.

People are free to ignore the content if they are offended. But both men and women comment on social media, calling Baloch a shameless slut, immoral, cheap, while at the same time, watching her videos and checking out her pictures for titillation.

You could question how a girl like Baloch could make a name for herself in an Islamic country. Pakistan calls itself an Islamic country, but I for one sometimes find it difficult to see Islam in Pakistan. This is a country where a qawwali singer is brutally murdered for simply singing about his passion for family of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). A country where minorities are slaughtered on a daily basis. A country where one of the world’s greatest humanitarians, Abdul Sattar Edhi, is condemned as an infidel by Pakistan’s mullahs. Where Malala is dismissed as a Western stooge, and where a Nobel prize winner cannot even rest in peace long after his death.

“At least international media can see how I am trying to change the typical orthodox mindset of people who don’t want to come out of their shells of false beliefs and old practices.”

But people tolerated Qandeel Baloch up to the point when all she did was post racy pictures of herself. It was when she started to speak out about women’s rights in Pakistan and when she sought to expose the double standards of Pakistan’s religious clergy that society decided enough was enough.

Qandeel Baloch’s murder is more than a so-called honour killing by an enraged brother. It is a direct reflection of Pakistani society, where women are still expected to silently submit. Qandeel Baloch, fearless, outspoken and brave, took life into her own hands and challenged the patriarchy. For that, she paid the ultimate price.

Image credit: Cross-stitch ninja via Flickr
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Jamilla’s tips on dealing with anxiety around exam time (Part 2)

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Read Part 1 here.

In addition to depression, I was diagnosed with anxiety, which tends to worsen during exams. Even though I take medication for depression and anxiety, I still experience panic attacks before, during and after exams. I wanted to share with you a few things that help me get through exams without letting my depression and anxiety overwhelm me.
1. If, like me, you don’t really get nervous until right before the exam, then consider waking up as late as you possibly can (whilst still making it in time to the exam of course). This is because waking up hours beforehand will give you more time to stress yourself out. If you’re unoccupied, it gives your mind a chance to wander, to think bad thoughts or just play up your anxieties.
2. Make dua, lots of dua. When I don’t know what to do or if I’m scared and just need my mind to stop from wandering, I recite any dua or Surah that I can think of. The idea is to try something that helps you feel calm.
3. Don’t sit still. Go for a walk, pace up and down or even just move your legs up and down. I always find that movements distract me from my anxiety.

 

About the author: Jamilla recently graduated with a degree in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies and is VP of the Islamic Society at the University of Exeter. Follow her on Twitter@JamillaTweets.

Image credit: Photo by PracticalCures.com.
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Jamilla’s story of dealing with Depression and Anxiety (Part 1)

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If you’ve met me, just like everyone else does, you wouldn’t expect me to be dealing with a mental illness, especially of this severity. I’m in my final year of university, expected to graduate with a 2:1 (Inshallah), VP of a society and always up for hanging out with my friends or getting involved in extracurricular activities. When people discover that I have depression, and that I’m on strong medication to help me with it, they act shocked, almost as though they think it’s not as bad as I’m making it out to be.

It is a daily struggle, from waking up each morning to completing my university tasks as well as my basic duties as a Muslim, all the while dealing with sporadic suicidal thoughts. And that’s the reason I want this series of posts to be able to reach out to those who are going through the same or similar things. For those who have been told their mental health is caused of lack of imaan (faith), or that it is taboo to talk about it.

Depression, anxiety and all other mental health issues are real illnesses, ones that need to be dealt with appropriately, and ones that require support which we, in Muslim communities, have not really acknowledged. Sometimes, people don’t understand why we’re finding it hard to pray, or fast, or read Qu’ran. I want this blog to help myself and you, not only to deal with your mental health, and for you to know that you’re not alone, but to increase our faith in Allah slowly, so that step by step we can build ourselves back up. Inshallah.

Whilst depression symptoms can vary from person to person (I, for example have depression and anxiety, so I won’t have the exact symptoms as someone with only depression or only anxiety), there is lots of misunderstanding surrounding depression. I hope to clear that up from my own experience.

1. There is often no direct cause. Whilst someone can have many triggers, for example, with anxiety it can often be triggered by loud noises or being around too many people, there isn’t one thing that causes it all. It’s often not one thing that can be the reason for depression, but a series of things that build up over time. For me, symptoms of depression and anxiety have been building up over a few years, and it was only 6 months ago (when I went through a week of not being able to eat or sleep) that I chose to get help.
2. Depression and Sadness are not the same thing. “That’s so depressing”, “That’s made me so depressed”. We’re all guilty of using these expressions wrongly – I know I am, but depression is so much more than one thing making you sad. Depression is not a mood that you can simply “snap out of”, it comprises of good days and bad days, some days you might feel totally fine, other days you might not want to leave the house, but these last over long periods of time.

3. Depression can be easy to hide, so just because someone looks fine, doesn’t mean their depression isn’t bad. When I tell people I have depression they are often surprised. This is because I am usually walking around with a big smile on my face, not looking like anything is wrong. Just because someone is smiling doesn’t make their depression any less valid; you’d be surprised at how well people can hide these things.

4. Depression isn’t a weakness of imaan. Depression can stop someone from fulfilling basic Islamic duties, but this isn’t because a person doesn’t have faith or because there is something wrong with their imaan, it’s because maybe they are finding it hard enough to wake up in the morning, or just keep themselves alive. Maybe they don’t want to pray because they feel so guilty that they’ve let their illness get the better of them, even though it is not their own fault. Depression is an illness like any other, and it needs to be seen as such from the Muslim community.

The best description of depression I have seen comes from a Reddit post which said: “Depression, when it is present, is more like the force of gravity. It is there, pulling down on you under all circumstances. Though I’m depressed I am often very happy – but still there is the unfeeling wet blanket of muddled confusion and writhing frustration seething under it all. Waiting.
A creeping numbness that insidiously degrades and diminishes every aspect of conscious life. A storm of screaming and hatred in dreams. A dull apathy in waking. A sinking stomach in the face of joy and a faithless lassitude in the face of hope.
Depression isn’t an emotion. Depression is a contradiction to every worthy aspect of life.”

I hope this post helps give people a better understanding of what depression is and what it isn’t.

About the author: Jamilla recently graduated with a degree in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies and is VP of the Islamic Society at the University of Exeter. Follow her on Twitter @JamillaTweets.

Image credit: Photo by Amen Clinics.
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

There Is No Such Thing As Islamophobia

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Watch Manchester based poet and spoken word artist, Hafsah Aneela Bashir perform a powerful spoken word piece. In this strong and heartfelt performance, she directly challenges the notion that Islamophobia is not real, whilst simultaneously highlighting negative media portrayal of Muslims.

There Is No Such Thing As Islamophobia – FULL TEXT:

You should have seen how I took her down

Pulled that towel right off her head in town

She was screaming as I spat in her face

These rag heads  taking over all our space

I’ll teach her to go back to where she comes from….

 

There is no such thing as Islamaphobia

 

Settle down settle down boys, bell went ages ago!

Now in light of recent events, let’s discuss Charlie Hebdo

I think Prophet Mohammed T-shirts should be worn to challenge offended muslims everywhere

And every other school kid turns to the one muslim boy and stares

The same stare he gives back

When slapped

by older schoolboys, who tell him

he’s a paki terrorist

There is no such thing as Islamophobia

It’s hot on this damn tube

In my smart shoes and business suit

And I’m seeing this hummus-eating camel-shagging, Paki muslim slut

And I turn to Greg next to me and say I don’t give a fuck

My freedom of speech gives me the choice,

So I sing at the top of my voice

Kill them, kill them all….

 

There is no such thing as Islamophobia

 

The sun bears down on an Essex park

Lighting up crisp blades of grass

A breeze moves gently through flowers of red

Where a woman in a burkha and scarf lays dead

Sixteen stab wounds decorated her  body they said…..

 

There is no such thing as Islamophobia

 

I didn’t need to run up fast

That old Muzzrat just shuffled past

Three quick stab wounds to his back

Went down instantly in the attack

Planted bombs at his nearby masjid

Tipton, Walsall, you get my drift

‘Self starter’ racist I am, not a terrorist!

 

There is no such thing as Islamophobia

 

There are two exits to Grimsby mosque

But we had each one boxed off

A petrol bomb for each one

And one for the roof, job done

For queen and country, we served well

Ex soldiers if you couldn’t tell

We’re patriotic us, not extreme

Wer just trying to keep Britain clean

 

There is no such thing as Islamophobia

 

Status – Obviously when I got on the plane I checked no one looked like a terrorist

Status – Mate I changed tube cos a bearded man sat there reading arabic scripture muttering under his breath

Status – Dunno what the hell they carrying under their veils – I ain’t getting killed for political correctness

Status- Why do your people  hate our West so much that you wana destroy it? Piss off back to where you came from

Status- For every person beheaded by these sick savages we should drag 10 off the streets and behead them, film it and put it online. For every child they cut in half … we cut one of their children in half. An eye for an eye..

 

There is no such thing as Islamophobia

 

Daily Mail – Muslims tell us how to run our schools

The Independent – Fundamentalists plotting to bring jihad into the classrooms

Daily Star – Muslim sickos- Maddie kidnap shock

Daily Express – Hogwash,  Now the PC brigade bans piggy banks in case they offend Muslims

The Sun – Muslim Convert beheads woman

Evening Standard – Muslim plot to behead soldier in UK

Brit kids forced to eat halal school dinners

Al Qaeda Corrie threat

Jihadist plot to take over city schools

Ramadaan a ding dong

Halal secret of pizza express

Muslim thugs are just 12 in knife attack on Brit school boy

Muslims loonies hijack elections

Muslim only loos

Muslims

Muslims

Muslims

There is no such thing as Islamophobia

Hafsah Aneela Bashir is a poet, writer and spoken word artist who has just completed an MA in Postcolonial Literary and Culture at the University of Leeds. Her work with NGO’s, providing emergency supplies and medical aid to conflict zones informs her creativity producing a form of lyrical activism. Her poetry has been published by Crocus Books in the anthology, ‘When Saira Met Sara’ bringing together Muslim and Jewish writers. She writes to raise awareness about social injustice and has a keen interest in writing as a form of resistance and liberty. She has worked with Women Asylum Seekers Together to use creative agency as a means to highlight demands for basic human rights. Also part of writing collectives called Common Word and Manchester Muslim Writers, she facilitates poetry workshops within the community working with young people to develop an understanding of identity and empowerment. She has performed for Oxfam, RAPAR, Freedom From Torture,  Justice Festival 2016, at many interfaith events and at various academic conferences. She can often be found at open-mics in and around Manchester in her spare time. Her latest project involves scriptwriting short plays with Women In The Spotlight and Three Minute Theatre. She was recently invited to create and perform her poetry at Manchester Cathedral to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. Her new project ‘Platform For Palestinian Arts’ will be exploring plays and poetry from the Palestinian diaspora. She blogs at http://hafsahaneelabashir.wordpress.com/

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article and video clip are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website. Copyright of the content of this video and article remains with the author, however any reproduction of either the video or article should credit She Speaks We Hear.

When Nadia Shoeb moved to the U.S. for boarding school, she decided to wear the hijab. She wore the scarf for five years before taking it off. Shoeb is one of 12 women who described for NPR why they stopped wearing the headscarf.


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The Betrayal

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Iranian woman removing her headscarf in 2015, against law which forces women to cover

I was betrayed as a child. Betrayed by those I trusted most. They were all in on the betrayal, but it was for my own good. It was to protect me. Or was it to suppress me? Either way, the betrayal was based on assumptions. Assumptions that I would be tempted by the evils of the western way of life. And to keep me in check was to convince me to wear a hijab from the age of 8.

I was not forced, let us be straight with that. I conformed. I conformed after a period of brainwashing that I see happening to 8 year olds today. I was under the belief that this would make me a woman. But what is far worse than that was that I was told a lie. I was told that it was haram for a girl or woman to not cover her hair. This betrayal came to me from my family, friends and teachers at Islamic school. And for years I never questioned it, why should I? I was told it so categorically, I used to fear having one hair show from my head under my scarf. Only as an adult, when I read it for myself, I realized it was a lie.
You can say what you like about hijab, but what you cannot say is that it is haram for a woman to not cover up. There is no order from Allah to cover your heads. And saying its haram is playing god, now none of us want to do that, right? If you wear it because you identify as a muslim, or it helps your cause please do it. But do not wave your “holier than thou stick” at me for not covering. Because in the eyes of Allah, I am doing nothing wrong. Hijab, when imposed on girls and women is nothing more than a means of social control. To stop those girls going astray in their teenage years. I was one of those girls. I wasn’t even given a chance to prove that my parents brought me up well knowing right from wrong. My parents must have had little faith in their upbringing of me… or they were more terrified of the West than I previously thought.

Now, I no longer cover, and I speak to my dad about his decision to make us cover. It was a community thing… he knows. He reads the quran. He didn’t get angry. There is no command for hijab.

By The Undercover Feminist

 

Image credits: http://tundratabloids.com/2015/10/october-11th-is-international-no-hijab-day/

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

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