She Speaks We Hear

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Giving up our independence: living life with vulnerability yet strength.

Have you decided that if you want the job done you had better do it yourself? Does this leave you feeling like you’re trying to juggle life by yourself? Do you only feel connected when you read slogans telling you ‘you can make it on your own’? Are you strong and independent and secretly disconnected and lonely? 

Here in the West we tell ourselves that independence is a more admirable trait than interdependence and that we can achieve our destinies on our own. We don’t have the patience to teach people how we like it done and yet we must have things the way we like them. We assume people around us are too busy to listen anyway and that we couldn’t possibly burden them with our problems or our conundrums. Managing careers, families, body image and shiny smiles whilst being upbeat and brimming with confidence all by ourselves can lead to a frustrating and lonely existence.

In the words of John Donne 

“No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.”

So what does that really mean?

It means that human beings need connection and intimacy. That we are not designed to exist being unknown and that we can use one another as resources to help one another grow. Despite the reveries of independence, research demonstrates that human beings are heavily influenced by and dependent upon positive social interactions. Our childhood experiences govern the quality of our future relationships and our ongoing exchanges shape our personalities. So despite the ‘make it on our own’ slogans we need meaningful positive interactions that feed our need for connection and intimacy and they are vital to our lives and well-being. 

Having people around you is not the same as being known by people around you and to be known we have to share of ourselves. Often we are stopped from opening up. It might leave us feeling vulnerable being fully known by someone else. However, we need to take comfort in the fact that we are all pretty much the same, we all have the same need to be heard and regarded. We are all struggling with something we need help with, joyous about something else and everyone has the same need to feel good about who they are. We can become resources for one another and support one another’s lives and choices.  

If being open, vulnerable and interdependent is synonymous with being hurt then consider what led to that conditioning. Consider also that who you are now is different and that you have a choice about who you would like to create meaningful connections with. Effective ways of doing this are to firstly decide that you would like to be close to other people and have them as a resource in your life and to be a resource in theirs. Give up controlling the outcomes of your interactions and enjoy the journey. Make authenticity a priority and share openly of yourself and listen intently to the person sharing with you. Allow them to sponsor your life and your growth and do the same for them.

Steven Covey, in his magisterial work, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ talks about an individual’s journey from dependence, to independence through to the highest realm – interdependence. Covey goes further to say that it is only with true interdependence that humans achieve their highest goals and ambitions. Interdependence relies upon us fulfilling the needs of others and, in turn, opening ourselves up enough to have our needs met by others. 

So before we decide to open ourselves up and be vulnerable it is useful to think about how and where we can do that and most importantly who with. 

Let us use this table to do that – 

Resources I have How they contribute to my life 





How can I access them When I will do that  






  1. List all the people who you would consider your resources, those who make you feel good when you engage with them. They might be partners, family members, friends, colleagues.
  2. Identify how each of them contribute to your life in a positive way. Really think about this task as it might not be in ways that you expect so be really honest. 
  3. Now consider if there are any obstacles to you accessing them and if so what they might be and how you will overcome them i.e. my partner is busy at work so to connect I will invite him/her on a date where we can talk. 
  4. To give yourself the best chance of it happening set a clear date in your mind when you will aim to do that. 

So take off the armour and open up the channels for meaningful connections, use and be used by others as a resource to love and be loved, support and be supported and to nurture and be nourished. No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

By Aamna Khokhar

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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Interview with Activist and Chaplain, Zahrah Awaleh

To commemorate Black History Month we have interviewed activist and Hospital Chaplain Zahrah Awaleh. You can vote for your favourite Black Briton here and learn about others. For BHM events across the country you can go to https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk 

Thank you so much for taking part in this interview as part of Black History Month. First of all tell us a bit about yourself:

I was born in Scunthorpe, South Humberside, in 1974 and grew up there till I was 12. My father came to the UK in the 1950s as a Commonwealth citizen, since Somaliland was a British Protectorate till 1960, to find work and responded to the call inviting subjects of the empire to help rebuild Britain after the Second World War. My father, Ali Noor Awaleh, worked in the British Steel Corporation for decades, and I still see remnants of British Steel everywhere. For example, where I live in east London the street lamps are made in Scunthorpe as they have the name of the then owner, Corus, on them. That’s my dad, right there, and although he’s no longer with us, I feel his presence in so many ways, and that one was one I recently discovered and delighted me.

I went to secondary school in Sheffield, where there is a thriving Somali community right to this day. When I lived there in ‘86-’90 I was amongst the old seamen families from Somaliland, where my parents come from. Coming from a small steel town where racism was the norm and ethnic minorities were a tiny minority and moving to Sheffield  which had older established minority communities such as Yemenis, Somalis, Pakistanis, and Afro Caribbeans felt like I had joined society, I belonged in England and I became proud of my identity as a black child, a Somali, a child of diaspora, and a British citizen. I learned who I was, and how I got here and the Somali community and its centre on the Wicker was crucial to that formation. I felt I belonged to a distinct Somali community, having no blood family living in the UK, and I belonged or at least had a right to belong to British society.

“It’s not the job of minorities to “teach” white society how to be fairer and more equal, they know how to do it, they just need to act. “

What does Black History Month mean to you?

BHM is an opportunity to remind the wider British society how people of African and Afro Caribbean origin got here and the history of empire. We can all learn what they have contributed to British society in spite of all the various obstacles of discrimination, and what structural discrimination and injustices they still endure because of systemic white privilege and white supremacy. Society is not built for minorities to succeed or receive fair treatment, and that is a process of inquiry to ask why, and how is white society going to fix this or change it to make it fairer. It’s not the job of minorities to “teach” white society how to be fairer and more equal, they know how to do it, they just need to act. 

As a Black Muslim British woman, what identities do you hold on to?

I am a woman and love being a woman, despite the sexism I have faced within family, community and society. However, I can’t separate my identities and neither can anyone else, so I’m Woman, Black African, Muslim, British and Somali and foremost I am a Black African Woman because I relate to their experiences the most because we share them. The person that had the most profound influence on me after the Prophet Muhammad as I was growing up was Malcolm X. He articulated in precise and intelligent language the horror of white supremacy and how to question and challenge it as a Black person and relate it to the wider white supremacy of empire, colonialism and how pan-African unity was one movement to tackle it along with other similar movements. He blew my mind at the age of 16 and opened my eyes to global anti-racism, and he did the same for millions of others of African and other descent.   

Have you experienced any racism or Islamophobia growing up or in your adult life?

I grew up in a working class steel town where most people were decent I would say, but I lived with daily experiences of racism and micro-aggressions due to the culture and system of white supremacy in British society. I rarely experience Islamophobia now I think anti-black racism is more prevalent in my life and in the lives of my children from a predominately south Asian Muslim population where we live in east London. The school children that my children make friends with have been raised to see them as inferior, all of them, because it was the process of colonialism and white supremacy in India that brainwashed their ancestors and that has lasted till this day. That doesn’t mean that we should just accept it, on the contrary it is our duty as humane people and Muslims to speak out and stand up to challenge and tackle it. I discussed this with my children’s school and they are taking measures to address racism and anti-blackness within school and in wider society. I must add that within Somali communities we are also brainwashed by colonialism and empire, so I have experienced tribalism, colourism and racism within my family and community and stood up to it. 

You like to write, what do you write about?

I write about what interests me and have discussions about it on Facebook and love the way it brings people together to deconstruct issues and understand them from different perspectives. 

You’re a hospital chaplain, how did that come about?

I worked in youth careers guidance for 10 years and I decided to work more closely with Muslim communities again and support patients, helping to reduce health inequalities in the acute hospital setting. My sister had died recently, and I wanted to do something relevant to provide spiritual care to all patients, whatever faith or belief they had. I had been teaching yoga in the community too, and I hoped to bring it into my role as a chaplain, so when I approached Macmillan Cancer Centre at UCLH where  I worked and they welcomed me to teach, that was such an honour and responsibility and I loved it and learnt so much.

How did you get into Yoga and how does it help people with illnesses?

I have always loved sport and movement and I love to dance, so when I was introduced to yoga at university it just felt right. I still have contact with that first teacher and she is a close friend and mentor of mine. Yoga is a way to integrate the mind and body and rebalance the inner and outer of what we experience. We are so busy and preoccupied with the senses that we use for the external world, we forget about our inner world of emotion, sensations and even our physicality so our bodies suffer and we may become sick. Yoga can help prevent the build up towards illness by making us aware of what feels right and wrong, so we take action if necessary, including going to the GP and having specialist care when needed and using complementary therapies. We do not have to just get on with life in pain and suffer. Yoga can also be a therapeutic tool to cope with illness and life limiting conditions, reduce pain and increase mobility, and re-educate us about better use and integration (i.e. literally ‘integrity’) of our bodies and minds over our lifetimes to feel more human and whole.

“I hustle, I don’t juggle. Women have been hustling, i.e. using intelligent organisational skills and prioritising their time for their families and work, since time.”

How do you juggle motherhood, work and all the other projects you’re involved in?

I hustle, I don’t juggle. Women have been hustling, i.e. using intelligent organisational skills and prioritising their time for their families and work, since time. I allocate, I’m not a martyr and I don’t want to die an early death, actual or spiritual, so I ask for help and assistance when I need it. This is key, because often women think they need to do it all themselves, when they don’t, because men certainly don’t and have no issues with that so why should we?

Thank you so much to Zahrah for answering our questions in such an insightful and personal way. Interview by Sharmeen Ziauddin. She is passionate about politics and faith and you can find her tweeting about these things @britpakgirl.

Image credit: Elainea Emmott


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The BBC’s “Iraq’s Secret Sex Trade” doc Reveals Some Ugly Truths

 “Those who are silent when others are oppressed are guilty of oppression themselves.”

IMAM HUSSAIN (AS)

Last week, the BBC released a documentary called “Undercover with the Clerics – Iraq’s Secret Sex Trade”. The documentary highlighted that some clerics in Iraq are selling young girls for mutah, or temporary marriage, or as the documentary refers to them, pleasure marriages.

In harrowing detail, the film highlights that the cover of mutah is being used to sexually exploit women and rape young girls, in some cases, allowing men to rape children as young as 12. It is important that it is made absolutely clear that this is rape, as children are not able to give consent.

Given that the documentary is associated with cities that are home to some of Shia Islam’s holiest shrines (including Kāẓimiyyah and Karbala), the documentary has been accused of stoking sectarianism, promoting Islamophobia and presenting a biased view, particularly given that the timing of documentary is close to Arbaeen (the observance of 40 days after the day of Ashura).

After watching the film, although some aspects of the film were problematic, overall the documentary was well-balanced, providing the view of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani (who unreservedly condemned these practices). This post looks at some of criticisms of the documentary, and why these criticisms are minor compared to the bigger, uglier truths depicted in this film.

If you love the Holy Prophet (SAW), and his Holy Household, then you must also love truth, and therefore, we need to recognise some of the facts that were presented in the BBC film, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable. Our discomfort at seeing such crimes is secondary to the pain and suffering of vulnerable women, who are raped, sometimes by men old enough to be their fathers, on a daily basis.

This is happening and we cannot turn a blind eye. It is not the first time that the western media has covered the issue of the exploitation of short-term marriages. In 2006, NPR’s Anne Garrels’ interview highlighted the rising popularity of temporary marriage after the fall of Saddam.

One of the criticisms of the film relates to the use of the phrase “pleasure marriage” as being inaccurate and sensationalist. This is a fair criticism, since the word “mutah” is more accurately defined as temporary marriage. Mutah is a point of contention among Muslims, and is a controversial and poorly understood practice. It can be utilised appropriately but it is also open to abuse.

However, the film was talking about the abuse of temporary marriage for a very specific purpose, i.e. primarily for sex, and so in this case, “pleasure marriage” is a phrase that encompasses the purpose of the men pursuing a temporary marriage for a distinct and specific purpose: for no strings attached sex in exchange for a price. In other words: prostitution. There is no other purpose than the pursuit of pleasure for the man.

In addition, such pleasure marriages violate the rules of mutah where there must be a two-month waiting period after the marriage expires.

Let’s make it clear that this practice as shown in the film is an abuse of religion and certainly does not reflect the beliefs of the majority.

A second criticism is that the film asserts that places of Shia pilgrimage are “dens of prostitution”. We don’t get an idea of exactly how widespread these cases of abuse are across Karbala or Kāẓimiyyah, but the film does state that many places around the shrines facilitate mutah marriage.

This takes nothing away from the sanctity of the pilgrimage itself. It is obviously not the reason why millions of pilgrims flock to the holy sites, year after year.

The key point is that it is happening, whether we like it or not, whether we choose to accept it or not. It does not need to be widespread to recognise it as an injustice.

In addition, it is crucial to understand that this abuse is not happening in the shrines themselves, but rather in the cities that are associated these shrines. And while Karbala of course resonates with Shia Muslims especially, as the final resting place of Imam Husayn ibn Ali (AS), the city itself is a city like any other city in the world, with normal people, and unfortunately, sinners, like in every other place in the world.

We cannot deny the reality of these crimes simply because they are happening in Karbala, a revered and holy place for Shia Muslims. Karbala holds a special place in the hearts of those who love Imam Husayn (AS), as a place where people go to seek truth, spirituality and nearness to Allah, and to pay their respects to the King of Martyrs.

However, it is also a city of abject poverty, widows, and orphans who have suffered in the aftermath of the Iraq war. And with poverty, comes desperation. It’s a toxic environment of desperation and poverty that allows sexual predators to exploit vulnerable women.

This injustice happens everywhere in the world where you have poverty and war. The bombing of Iraq’s infrastructure and fifteen years of war left people (especially women without a support structure) no option, but to resort to any means possible to survive.

It is argued that the so-called clerics shown in the documentary are fakes and charlatans, and have no standing in the Shia world. While this may be true, it is important to consider this from the point of view of the victims shown in the film. Potentially, anybody can claim to study at a hawza, or at an Islamic University and declare themselves an expert on Shia theology.

We see this clearly in the world of social media. The so-called “Imam of Peace” is neither an Imam, and arguably, nor does he stand up for peace. According to independent journalist, CJ Werleman, he’s nothing but a fake. He has also been denounced globally by many Muslims.

While it may be true that Sayyid Raad (shown in the film) may be nothing more than a pimp, from the point of view of women on the ground (and the men seeking such marriages), he is someone who claims to be qualified to perform the rites and rituals associated with temporary marriage. Women approach these kinds of clerics for help and charity, and some are advised to engage in temporary marriage as a solution.

The film could have made it clearer that the clerics were mutah brokers, although at least one of the men featured in the documentary was dressed in traditional religious garb. The film could have done a better job of getting commentary from more authoritative sources, although it was made clear that these men are abusing the religion. In no way were the men associated with the entire religion.

Of course, prostitution is the oldest profession in the world, and it happens everywhere, but the key difference is that in Iraq, the men are falsely claiming abuse to have been made halal and religiously sanctioned. The film included a statement from “Ali” (who regularly uses pleasure marriages for sex): “This is not about religion, it is about money.”

In the majority of these cases, religion has been used as a tool for sexual grooming. Initially, the women are made feel that entering into a temporary marriage is a legitimate (and “halal”) way to alleviate poverty. It is only when they enter this dark world of exploitation that they find themselves trapped with no way out. It’s the shame that keeps them quiet; their groomers use the tactic of fear to keep them from telling anyone.

The documentary provides balance in three ways:

  • It makes clear that these so-called clerics are violating both Islamic and Iraq’s legal laws. In reality, the age of consent (or marriageable age) in Iraq is 15.
  • The clerics are offered a right of reply via telephone. The unabashed lying shown on camera makes it clear that these frauds have no moral standards and certainly no Islamic credentials.
  • Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Sistani is approached and the respected scholar makes it clear to condemn this practice. It isn’t covered up, nor does the Ayatollah make excuses for these crimes.

I do not see the film as an attack on Shi’ism, nor is it anything to do with the holy pilgrimage itself. The power of Arbaeen, and the call of the prominent personalities is so great, that nothing will stop this movement. It is certainly true that the BBC could do more to cover Arbaeen, but I do not understand why we would expect the BBC to promote Shia beliefs. That said, in 2004, the BBC covered the pilgrimage to Karbala that many Muslims from the West undertake during Arbaeen, in their documentary ‘2004 Karbala: City of Martyrs’. In addition, this film isn’t about Shi’ism itself; it is about the topic of exploitative criminal behaviour by a minority.

It is quite possible to be nuanced enough to understand that sexual exploitation in Iraq is a reality, while also recognising that the BBC could do more to cover Arbaeen, which is one of the world’s largest peaceful gatherings. That being said, these critiques of the documentary do not reduce the authenticity of the narrative.

It is clear that so-called clerics (or perhaps more accurately, mutah brokers) are enabling bad men who take advantage of short-term marriages for their own sexual perversions.

There will be many who will use this documentary to make an attack on Shia beliefs, but that should not prevent anyone from exposing the practices shown on camera. Because this isn’t about Shi’ism, and it certainly isn’t about Islamophobia. It is about the victims, and this is happening everywhere.

Ultimately, as Ayatollah Sistani said in the film, it’s happening (and notably, the Grand Ayatollah did not deny this as a reality) because the police are not doing their jobs, and this is because women are not empowered enough to speak out. How can anything be done unless we recognise that this is happening? We need to stop putting our heads in the sand and wake up to reality.

We have seen this all over the world through the MeToo movement. By no means are sexual crimes or exploitation restricted to religious groups or the Shia community. It is happening in Hollywood. It is happening in mosques. It is happening in churches. It is happening in Hajj. And yes, it has happened historically at the BBC. This is not about particular groups of people. Sexual exploitation is about power.

Let’s stop kidding ourselves that just because someone wears religious garb or prays five times a day or “acts religious”, that such things are not possible.

Last year, female pilgrims spoke out about sexual harassment at hajj, which started the #MosqueMeToo hash tag on Twitter. Women used the platform to talk about their own experiences of sexual harassment and assault while they were at pilgrimage in Mecca. It is still taboo to talk about sexual harassment within the Muslim community, but things are slowly changing.

Just last week, GBBO’s Nadiya Hussain bravely revealed that she had been sexually abused as a child. Nothing will change unless women have a voice to talk about their own experiences.

This documentary is one part of the beginning of that journey, and the target of people’s outrage should not be the BBC. Rather, the focus should be on the criminals shown in the film who have the audacity to try to legitimise such heinous crimes in the holiest cities in the world in the name of Shi’ism.

Don’t be outraged that the truth has been revealed; be outraged that it is happening in the first place.

The writer of this post wishes to remain anonymous.

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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Women As Problem Solvers In The Refugee Crisis

We are extremely fortunate to platform a three part series focusing on ‘Women in the Refugee Crisis’ by Tazeen Ahmad the founder of  Humanity’s Heart , an organisation that was born following a volunteering trip by a small group of people to Calais (The Jungle) in June 2016. Travelling through Calais, Lebanon and Greece, Humanity’s Heart witnesses and shares the experiences of refugees, volunteers, spiritual leaders, politicians and local citizens in what is the biggest challenge the world has faced for over 60 yearsThe third and final part in the series reflects on how women create change and become problem solvers, through a series of short films.

Extraordinary women doing extraordinary things

Meet some of the extraordinary women helping solve the problems in the refugee crisis: 

In Lebanon (one of the country’s that has hosted the largest number of Syrian refugees), the refugee situation has brought women together in the capacity of problem solvers to the crisis

Hala Fadel Chair of the MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab and pioneer of the Innovate for Refugee competition has led teams over the last 3 years to help come up with solutions to the two million and growing numbers of Syrian refugees entering into Lebanon. 

Hala Fadel 

Farah Shams (Corporate Engagement Manager at MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab) shares:

“In my opinion women are at the forefront of impactful initiatives targeting the displaced community not only in Lebanon. Over 3 editions of “Innovate for Refugees” we’ve seen a constant 50% female participation, and 9 out of 12 social ventures that aim to alleviate the challenges faced by refugees that received funding from the program are female led.” 

Today, MITEF team has 11 females out of a team of 14. On the technology solution side as well, the female participation in IFR in general is at 50% and 9 of our 12 winners are female-led.  

The Innovate for Refugee competition demonstrates beautifully how women are taking charge of the solutions to their own problems, bringing forward a rush of creativity and entrepreneurialism. 

Click the link to find out how a toilet can improve the lives of Refugees: https://humanitysheart.com/journal/2016/9/23/how-a-toilet-can-improve-the-lives-of-refugees

Another woman leading on the ground in the crisis is award-winning Jordanian-Canadian architect Abeer Seikaly. Facing the difficulty of finding basic shelter and a home to live in, she was inspired to come up with a solution to help transform the lives of refugees.

Named ‘Weaving a Home’, this design uses a unique structural fabric composed of high-strength plastic tubing molded into sine-wave curves that can expand and enclose during different weather conditions, and also be broken down to allow an ease in mobility and transport.

Aside from that, the tent can also collect rainwater and provide basic sanitation like showering, as the rainwater is collected from the top of the tent and and filters down the sides to storage pockets.

Leading On The Ground 

And it’s the volunteers I met such as Lisa Cambell for Do-your Part whose organisation, co-ordination and service benefit thousands of people who found themselves in refugee camps in Greece. 

Through treating each person with dignity, respect and humanity she leads by example, showing us how it should be done. 

Her recent TedX Talk invites us to rethink our approach to this social issue proving that we care. 

And it’s women like Lisa and other volunteers who are helping us rethink the meaning behind the word “refugee”.

Where some Muslim countries have not taken in many refugees, it’s Saudi Arabian volunteer women like Madina Olomi who are making a difference. Her translation skills helping refugees and ease some of their frustrations in communicating with their host communities. 

These women weave the red thread of humanity drawing on their own past experiences and reminding us with “What if this was us? How would we like to be treated?”

For some of these women, they need to have courage as they risk being ostracised for turning up to help refugees.

Through turning up despite the worries and media perceptions, they are shining light on breaking down misconceptions when “meeting the other”.

Getting Education To The Future Generation

In Lebanon, women such as Suha Tutunji Acadamic Program Director for Jusoor Syria   realise the importance for Syrian children to keep up their education so that they are not a Lost Generation and especially for the refugee girls to receive their education. 

The difference, women like Suha and Asma Rasamny  from Malaak-Fills-the-Gaps with her colleague Joyce Rizk are making cannot be underestimated. 

Our film “Lost Generation” and Education film captures the importance of their work.

Last year Syrian refugee and cancer patient Hossamadeen died and shared with us his gratitude to women like Asma and Joyce. 

May the dedication, compassion and love of the women turning up to help and their meeting of those women who have had to leave their homes due to wars and terror and yet demonstrate courage, nobility and resilience bring more Light into this world. 

By Tazeen Ahmad

Tazeen is founder and producer of Humanity’s Heart. She is a daughter of a migrant, a British Citizen, a mother of two and a believer in the power of humanity. In June 2016, she traveled to Calais. The trip confirmed for her that we have far more in common than which divides us.

It also raised in her a deep curiosity about ‘what motivates others to turn up and serve?’. And ‘what spiritual lessons to humanity are emerging in the largest crisis since WWII?’ It was at that moment, she realised her background in broadcast journalism and finance, fundraising and philanthropy could be put to use. So humanity’s heart was born. She will be running a “How to make a documentary film workshop in June here is the link for the documentary workshop https://www.tazeendhunna.com/media-consultancy/howtomakeadocumentary

Videos and images are the copyright of Humanity’s Heart  follow them on Twitter

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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Interview with Hanan Issa Welsh-Iraqi poet and writer.

Image credit Hanan Issa

I was excited and honoured to be able to interview Hanan Issa an upcoming and talented poet and writer, from Wales, as I had seen her stellar performance in the Hijabi Monologues. We have been following her for a while on Instagram and I just knew we had to interview her once she announced the publication of her upcoming book.

Hanan is a Welsh-Iraqi poet and writer.  She has been featured on both ITV Wales and BBC Radio Wales and worked in partnership with National Museum Wales, Artes Mundi, Warwick university, Swansea Fringe, StAnza festival, Wales Arts International and Seren Books. Her work has been published in Banat Collective, Hedgehog Press, Wales Arts Review, Sukoon mag, Lumin Journal, Poetry Wales, Parthian, Y Stamp, sister-hood magazine and MuslimGirl.com.  Her winning monologue was featured at Bush Theatre’s Hijabi Monologues. She is the co-founder of Wales’ first BAME open mic series ‘Where I’m Coming From’. She was a 2018-2019 Hay Festival Writer at Work. Her debut poetry pamphlet ‘My Body Can House Two Hearts’ will be published by BurningEye Books in October 2019.

SSWH: Congratulations on your upcoming publication of your book a poetry collection! What was the motivation for you to publish your collection?

Hanan: Thank you Akeela. I had been working on this group of poems for some time when I saw that Burning Eye were holding a competition. My motto for last year was ‘why not?’ and so I entered and won alhamdulilah.

The roots of this pamphlet’s title (My Body Can House Two Hearts) came from two ideas that are very important to me: the power of women and raising up others along with yourself. The notion that a woman’s body is full of enough strength and power to harness ‘two hearts’ is based on a verse in the Quran. At the same time, as I was re-reading Audre Lorde’s essay ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House’, I was struck by how much the words of a self-described ‘black, lesbian, mother, warrior poet’ resonated with my interpretation of this verse. She talks a lot about how women have this enormous capacity to love. She anchors this love, that isn’t selfless or sacrificial, in the practice of interdependence. Audre Lorde also encourages the rejection of what she argues is an inherently patriarchal behaviour: to see ‘difference’ as something we should fear or compete with. The concept of ‘two hearts’ also refers to how, as someone of mixed heritage, you tend to have split or multiple loyalties and identities which is very much a theme of the pamphlet as well.   

SSWH: Have you always been a writer?

Hanan: It embarrasses me to say that despite having always written, even since I was little, I couldn’t accept the title of ‘writer’. I remember meeting someone for the first time who asked me: ‘who are you?’, ‘what do you do?’ There was no pause between the two questions as if they were entirely linked. At the time I was working in a charity for Deaf and hard of hearing people. Although I enjoyed my work, something inside me whispered ‘but that is not who you are.’  I don’t know if being Muslim, being half-Arab, or being working class contributed to me not allowing myself to accept ‘writer’ as an identity but I think they all played a part.  It felt indulgent to wholly claim something that I enjoyed so much without any apparent benefit to others. Anyway about 3 years ago I dumped all of that baggage and started calling myself a writer without the self-deprecating cringe-face.  In January this year I quit my day job to focus on writing full-time. It’s been a scary 9 months but I am learning so much about myself from having taken this leap.  

SSWH: Please tell us more about yourself!

Hanan: I live with my partner Abdurrashid, my son Yousuf and our cat Trico and, apart from writing, I love beaches, trees, good food, good coffee and the occasional Flamenco class.

SSWH: Why poetry?

Hanan: Poetry is language at its finest, its shiniest, its most polished. Most poets will tell you they agonise over a word, a comma, how a line looks on the page. Thomas Gray said ‘poetry is thoughts that breathe and words that burn’. Then there’s spoken word poetry – I started off writing angsty, cathartic pieces that helped me make sense or navigate the changing world. The diversity in what constitutes poetry today is so so exciting- basically there is something for everyone!

SSWH: Could you tell us about some of the topics and issues your poetry covers? 

Hanan: I’ll admit I’m a little wary about this question. I used to feel compelled to write about certain topics or issues. Then I realised that, for me personally, this was that feeling of working for ‘the greater good’, to justify my writing ‘indulgence’, just manifesting in a different way.  So I stopped writing poems about hijab etc and started writing about anything and everything that took my fancy. So in this pamphlet I have some pieces that can be read as overtly political such as ‘Better version of bravery’ that circles around the MeToo movement and our individual responsibility to act. I also have a piece called ‘Ten Men’ that touches on colonialism and colourism in my own family history. But than I have pieces that are more interested in how global history overlaps such as ‘Offa’s Coin’ or how we deny/ remake our own history ‘Austrian Hands’. And then I have a poem that’s just about watching my son eat strawberries! 

SSWH: Do your poems use a mixture of Arabic and Welsh ?

Hanan: There’s a sprinkling of both Arabic and Welsh throughout and that’s because I grew up with a sprinkling of Arabic and Welsh in my day to day life. I can’t say that I am tri-lingual, or even bilingual really, but both languages mean a lot to me and how I ground myself as a person.

SSWH: What would be your advice to anyone thinking about publishing a book, especially poetry? What were the biggest challenges?

Hanan: I would say its really important to feel passionate about the work you want to get published. If you don’t feel that strongly invested, why should a publisher? Also you will be spending a lot of time with this work – developing, editing etc so best to be something you really love!

If you don’t already have Twitter, make an account and start following lots of publishers and agents (create a list if it helps). Most publication call outs are promoted via Twitter, plus its a good way to see if your work would fit with a particular publisher by seeing other things they publish. 

Also, find a writing group, a writer friend/ mentor who will give you honest, critical feedback on your work. No one wants to be the person on X Factor who sounds like a strangled cat but when they get rejected says ‘but my friends all tell me i’m great!’ 

The challenge I mentioned above, of accepting myself as a writer, was very difficult. So much emphasis and pressure is placed on you to work for the betterment of the ummah, for others and I think as women we self-deprecate even more so. And writing is, by definition, a solitary practise.  Letting go of the idea that I was placed here with the sole purpose to nurture/ coddle/ ameliorate others was deeply empowering. This doesn’t mean I don’t try to help others. Nor does it mean I’m ignoring the power of ‘having a mic’. It just means I’m not afraid of societal disapproval or of having the appearance of working for my own career progression.

SSWH: Finally please tell us who or what inspires you?

Too many writers to mention! I’ve talked about Audre Lorde but also Toni Morrison. If I ever feel like I’m losing direction I turn to their work for guidance. Poetry by Zeina Hashem Beck or Terrence Hayes is almost always on my desk or in my bag, but also Carol Ann Duffy, Derek Walcott and I had a real ‘how have I only just discovered you’ moment with Tarfia Faizullah recently! Some of the greats like Jane Austen, Neil Gaiman, Chinua Achebe, Kazuo Ishiguro, Albert Camus, Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood,, Khalil Gibran, Malorie Blackman and more recently Nnedi Okorafor, Guy Gunaratne and Max Porter. 

Thank you so much to Hanan for answering our questions in such an insightful and personal way. We wish her all the best with the launch of her poetry collection, which you can purchase either from Burning Eye or from Waterstones. Interview by Akeela Ahmed MBE (follow her @AkeelaAhmed)


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Book review: The Celox and The Clot — The debut collection of poems by Hafsah Aneela Bashir.

Aneela’s words are fierce, raw and compelling and urge us to find our voice within and use it to for the voiceless.

The Celox and the Clot  presents a myriad of emotions and tremors  with words, crafted into a living tapestry of truths, experiences and political injustice which have affected us all in some shape or form, especially those of us of colour.

Heritage and impacts of post colonialism are explored, through striking imagery and hard hitting metaphors which are hard to be dismissed or forgotten. 

We are compelled to confront the stark reality of terrorism very early on in the collection as we are reminded in the poem titled ‘Gulshan -i- Iqbal Park’ that the price of terrorism is that of innocent blood and we are left with heart wrenching images of murdered children.

Aneela’s words are fierce, raw and compelling and urge us to find our voice within and use it to for the voiceless. We are taken on a literary journey of tragedy, triumph and are left questioning the fragility of the human psyche, our identities and the politics of our modern world.

Aneela’s debut poetry lifts and inspires with the desire to acknowledge our wounds and sooth our scars both on the political and domestic front. The collection is a raw and poignant account on how to save the world and yourself. It leaves us with knowing that our vulnerabilities are our strength and despite the challenges we face we must rise above, lift others and find power in humility. 

Review by Soleha Khawar 

Soleha Khawar is founder of Street Hands a London based organisation driven by strong humanitarian values, our primary objective is to provide a voice for children trapped in the cycle of domestic violence hence the service model is based on prevention and intervention.

The Celox and the Clot is available to buy on Amazon

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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THANK YOU MR. TANMANJEET SINGH DHESI

Today I want to talk about the Labour MP for Slough, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi. Because he deserves all the praise he has got, and more. It’s not often a Sikh man stands up on behalf of Muslim women. Hell, it’s not often anyone stands up for Muslim women.

Tan Dhesi MP

“I was so blown away by Tanmanjeet because he spoke with conviction and sincerity.”

But what a breath of fresh air he was. His question in the only PMQ’s of this new Parliamentary session went viral with over 1.7 million views on Twitter alone.

I want to thank Mr Dhesi because he’s done something that not many MP’s have done. He’s done something that Muslim MP’s have not done, and that is to hold Boris Johnson accountable. And whether you might think this wasn’t the time or the place, I think it was perfect because it’s sending a message to not only Boris but to the whole country. There is no room for racism or anti-muslim rhetoric in Britain in 2019 and it will not be tolerated. It will not be tolerated by MPs and it will not be tolerated by minorities.

The reason why I was so blown away by Tanmanjeet is because he spoke with conviction and sincerity. He genuinely cares about religious minorities and Muslim women especially. The ridiculing of certain Islamic attire that a very small number of women within the Muslim community wear, is so damaging because these are the women that are already portrayed as being ‘oppressed’.

The ‘oppressed Muslim woman’ narrative is so prevalent that instead of trying to understand these women Boris Johnson thought it’s acceptable to liken them to bank robbers and letterboxes, and perpetuate this stereotype further. (I’m not going to link to THAT Telegraph article but that’s basically what he called women in niqab.) And yes I know he was writing about defending our choice to wear what we want but if you ridicule and belittle the same people whose choices you’re defending then your point becomes insignificant.

The fact that this MP is a Sikh, warms my heart. I have the utmost respect for anybody that stands up for an already marginalised section of society. Mr Dhesi’s call felt like a call for solidarity, a call for unity which is just what we need in this time of division.

With recent tension between Indians and Pakistanis because of Indian Prime Minister Mr Modi’s brutal action in Kashmir, it seems like a slight division has been born amongst these communities in the UK. Occasionally in the past there has been a bit of tension from time to time but generally the South Asian communities live harmoniously in the UK and have done so since the 60’s. 

Growing up, for us Asians, any other brown person was seen as a friend and someone to cling on to. Somebody who would understand your culture, pressures and restrictions the way your white peers wouldn’t. Religion didn’t play a part, we were all in the same bracket as ‘the other’. 

Religion is playing a bigger part in South Asian communities in recent years where religious symbols are more common place like a Sikh turban or a Muslim women’s hijab or a Hindu’s forehead marking. This has made our communities more distinguishable from each other but we sometimes forget that all brown people are immigrants or children/grandchildren of immigrants. If we can’t stand up for each other’s values than who will? The combined communities of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in the UK have far more in common with each other than what drives them apart. There’s always safety in numbers and the South-Asian community should be able to look to each other for support despite what might be going on in our homelands thousands of miles away.

And when it comes to Britain, the combined voting power of Asian communities is phenomenal. It would serve the Conservative party well to attempt to eradicate racism from their party and launch an investigation into Islamophobia like Sajid Javaid promised on national television not so long ago. In a bid to appease right wing voters and the far right, Boris seems to have forgotten about all the ethnic minority voters he’s angered in the process. A price he might have to pay sooner than he thinks.

By Sharmeen Ziauddin

She is passionate about politics and faith and you can find her tweeting about these things @britpakgirl.

This post has been modified and originally appeared on Britpakgirl.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.

Image credit: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/boris-johnson-islamophobia-pmqs-tanmanjeet-singh-dhesi-muslim-letterbox-racist-a9091506.html


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Bol: South Asian survivors of sexual abuse speak up

When South Asian communities discuss sexual violence it is more often than not discussed behind closed doors in hushed voices. I have often taken part in these conversations, as the overwhelming fear of someone hearing you is enough to make you feel like you have committed a major sin. The sin in this instance is discussing something as taboo as rape or sexual assault.

Laila is a Pakistani Muslim, just like her abusers, who forced into a life of rape and emotional abuse. As an adolescent within the care system she was vulnerable and became an easy target.

It was during one of these conversations that my campaign Bol was born. Bol is a Punjabi/Urdu term meaning speak. My friend and co-founder Laila (name has been changed) became my motivation to speak out against sexual violence within the community.

At age fourteen Laila was targeted by a grooming gang. Laila is a Pakistani Muslim, just like her abusers, who forced into a life of rape and emotional abuse. As an adolescent within the care system she was vulnerable and became an easy target. The men around her used her and threatened her until she became a shell of a person of who she once was. Throughout many of our conversations Laila has always stressed that she wishes she was able to speak but the fear being further ostracised by her community, and the chances of her being the only young girl to have experienced this type of sexual exploitation stopped her from speaking out.

When the Rochdale grooming cases came to light there was nation wide condemnation and rightly so, however the stories and experiences of Laila and many other South Asian girls like her, remain hidden. The number of South Asian victims, remains unknown, because the victims have not come forward for fear of losing their families izzat – honour – a culture which is embedded into our communities. 

It is a widely accepted fact that perpetrators of sexual violence can have close links to the families of their victims, they can also be someone that has the respect of the community around them. They can be a family member, a family friend or even a religious priest. Perpetrators know that the person they abuse will be silenced; not only out of fear of being ostracised for saying such “dirty” things but because at a young age in South Asian communities we are taught that that we hold a family’s “Izzat” in our hands.

Imagine having that pressure on you after going through such a physical heartbreaking trauma. As a survivor you have to make sure your Izzat remains intact otherwise the repercussions can be damaging and your family life will be destroyed. The community will gossip and one way or another word will get out, which will ultimately mean years on from now it can affect your chances of marrying a suitable spouse. Perpetrators feed off of these fears and further encourages them to continue with impunity, silencing their victims.

Sexual violence hangs over our communities like a dark cloud. However this is where our campaign Bol comes in. We aim to educate the wider community on sexual violence, on how to spot the signs of children and young people that are being exploited, and we aim to educate young teens on how grooming gangs work and what to do if you feel you are being targeted. Reporting a crime committed against them is always up to the survivor however being available to offer support is something that is important to us so this is also what we are working to do. 

We want to rain down on this cloud that hangs over us and show perpetrators that their time really is up! For too long survivors of sexual violence have been forced into silence for fear of losing their Izzat. Now we say it is time for perpetrators to be afraid to commit these atrocities because now it is their beloved Izzat and community standing at risk. 

By Hafsa Malik

Hafsa Malik is the founder of Bol. She is passionate about helping survivors of sexual violence speak out against the injustices they have seen. She is also a mental health advocate and aspiring social worker. Follow the Bol Instagram page.

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

Images credit: Marco Verch, European Parliament


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Achieving Balance – A Practical Guide

 The phone pings, the washing machine completes a load and the postman arrives with the bills. There is always something external vying for your attention. Do you ever get the feeling that you are being taken away from where you are and being sent far into the past with some worry about what has been? Or that of being propelled into the future with a hope about what will be? 

If this sounds familiar, then let’s stop and take a moment. Breathe in deeply and notice that little pause before you breathe out again, repeat. 

It is often hard to remember to stay present whilst your brain is flitting between the present the past and the future. By staying present we mean being aware of what is happening right now without any interruptions about either the past or the future. This practice of being present and being focused on the here and now, particularly in times of stress, can be a wonderful way of finding oneself in the hubbub of daily life. 

I’ll share a story with you that I hope inspires you as much as it did me, and demonstrates a great example of presence. A friend messaged me, telling me he had fallen and broken his back. Shocked and concerned I jumped in to my car panicking all the way to the hospital about what will happen to him now and what it will mean for him. As I rushed down the hospital corridor I thought of funny anecdotes and jokes to tell him that may distract him. I approached his bed armed and ready to clown my way into seeing him smile I was greeted by someone in rather good spirits. Confused and delighted I took a deep breath and sat to listen to his story unfold. Inspired I spent the next few days piecing together in my head how this wonderful human being came to be. 

This is what I found. Just as with all people there are external forces that pull us, there are trials and tribulations and then there are the highs that are all designed to distract us. We also have internal incidents such as my friend’s predicament. Often we become completely distracted by these things and we are not present to who we are and what is important to us. We start to believe that all the pulls are all that matters and it is often not so. My friend was in good spirits because he knew himself well, he was aware of the things he loved to do and he did them. He was satisfied and content in the life that he was living, at that moment in time. 

As my friend did we too must come to know our true selves better and live in line with what we value and love to do. It is with this awareness and clarity that we can be in a hospital bed with a broken back and still be smiling and thankful for the love that we receive from well-wishers. 

So how do we find the answers to who we truly are and what we truly value? I’d like to invite you to try this technique.

Consider this diagram the plate of your life. ◊ It is divided into eight slices; each slice represents an area of your life that is important to you.

◊ Consider with complete clarity what is important to you, not because anyone says but because you choose it.

◊ When you are ready label each slice with the important aspects of your life.

◊ When you are done use the rings within to shade in your level of satisfaction i.e. you might have health as a slice and your level of satisfaction might be 4 so shade in 4 rings.

◊ Do this for all the slices.

◊ When you have finished take a moment and look at your plate. Is it round? Is it balanced? Have you been looking after what is important to you?

◊ What do you notice?

◊ Now shade in where you would like the level of satisfaction for each slice to be, you might be happy with health being 4 or you might want health to be 9.

◊ When you have finished take a moment and look at your plate. ◊ What do you notice?

You can use this tool to reflect on what is truly important to you and get real clarity on what you value. If you ever find yourself out of balance you can choose to come back to it. 

As for my friend, with his positive attitude and magnetic personality he is making a speedy recovery. He valued the love and regard that his friends and family had for him and when the trials came he held on to that knowledge even tighter and worried less about the new job and the mortgage. 

Sometimes amidst all the chaos we have to find our way, ground ourselves and trust our ability to handle life. Knowing that we are safe and capable. A quote comes to mind which seems befitting – a bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking. Her trust is not in the branch but rather her ability to fly. Wearemomo.com

By Aamna Khokhar

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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Why I’m rooting for Boris

Boris Johnson MP. Image from https://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/645695/Boris-Johnson-never-be-Prime-Minister-David-Cameron-EU-renegotiation-Brexit-Nigel-Farage

The hottest topic in politics at the moment is the Conservative party leadership contest. And why shouldn’t it be as this will decide who succeeds Theresa May in the premiership. The future of the United Kingdom is at stake and we are at risk of having Boris Johnson as our leader. How did we get here? 

The last three years since the Brexit vote has turned our parliament upside down. The 2016 referendum result has divided the county and the main priority, other than Brexit, is uniting the country. 

It seems every election in the last ten years or so, the same thought process comes to mind for the a lot of the electorate, that is we are voting for the lesser of two evils. The same has happened this time where Boris Johnson, former Foreign Secretary and Jeremy Hunt current Foreign Secretary have somehow ended up as the last men standing. Now obviously we the commoners cannot vote, that entitlement is given to Tory party members only. But it’s really the Tory MP’s that have got us into this mess. Firstly by holding a questionable referendum motivated by selfish reasons, then with their total incompetency in delivering Brexit, and now by voting and leaving us with either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt as our prime minister. In less than one month, on the 22nd July 2019, one of these two will be our prime minister. That is a scary thought, but personally I’m hoping for a Boris victory.

Why I hear you say! Because if he becomes prime minister then a general election is on the cards pretty imminently. And that’s because everybody knows Boris will be hopeless and there are also rumours that votes of no confidence will be put forward as soon as he takes office.

As the candidate with the highest public profile, we know Boris Johnson’s history of blunders. There was the purchasing of water canons at a cost of over 350 thousand pounds to the taxpayer, which were actually banned from being used. The Garden Bridge vanity project where over 50 million pounds was gratuitously spent on the bridge that never got made. Let’s not forget the incident with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe whilst he was Foreign Secretary where he pretty much told the Iranians she was guilty. Currently her and her husband are on a hunger strike. 

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Image from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-48721239

This is all before delving into his private life which is tarnished with affairs and secret, illegitimate children, not to mention the recent fiasco of his neighbours calling the police after hearing him fight with his girlfriend Carrie Symonds. Following that it’s now come to light the photograph of him looking lovey-dovey with his girlfriend was not only taken weeks ago but was most likely given to the press by his PR team and is not even copyrighted. 

Before this recent kerfuffle, Boris’s PR team were using the strategy of damage limitation, meaning the less he speaks in public the better it is for him. So if Boris doesn’t make many appearances, then the less goof ups he’ll make. This is working against him as the public naturally want a potential prime ministerial candidate to be put under scrutiny. If he can’t handle questions from the public and media now, how will he cope in the top job? Answer is, he won’t. Evidence of this is in this morning’s remarkable interview on LBC with Nick Ferrari. It was the exact reason his PR team don’t want him doing any interviews. Support is falling amongst Conservatives for Boris according to polls but all the MPs who supported him at the last vote know his weaknesses. The only reason they’re backing him is because they think he’ll be able to beat Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn is like Kryptonite for the Tory party. They are so scared of him they will do anything to make sure he doesn’t become the next prime minister even if the alternative is Boris Johnson. Surely MPs don’t really think he will make a competent leader? Yes he’s funny (both in a haha and  strange way) but let’s face it, he’s not honest with the public and he’s only ever put his own ambitions first. I’d put money on the fact that him becoming prime minister is a long standing bet he made with David Cameron in their Bullingdon days. 

But what’s really worrying is that the poll of Conservative party members that was published on Monday showed alarmingly worrying signs of Islamophobia. 45% of those asked believe the myth that, “There are areas in Britain in which non-Muslims are not able to enter.” 43% of Conservative Party members, “Would prefer to not have the country led by a Muslim.” There goes Sajid Javid’s chances (he is from a Muslim background, his name and brown skin are enough of a deterrent though).

With such suspicion and hostility, voting in a leader who is known for his controversial anti-Muslim comments whether likening Muslim women to bank robbers and letterboxes or those comments about removing children from potential Muslim ‘extremists’, is a prospect which doesn’t fill me with joy nor does it make me want to vote for the Conservative party in the next general election.

The fact that neither of the candidates have addressed this poll is disconcerting. The one good thing that has come out of this leadership contest is that last week, during a debate Sajid Javid made the other four candidates agree to an inquiry into Islamophobia live on television. Whether this will happen remains to be seen but it’s a start.

As for Boris’s opponent Jeremy Hunt, whose name is synonymous with the NHS for all the wrong reasons, I think of how NHS workers despise him after his stint as Health Secretary. I remember how he falsely promised 10 billion to the NHS and who can forget junior doctors striking for the first time in this country because of the new contracts he made up? I think of how he wanted to privatise the NHS,moving towards an American style model. This is laughable, as one of the worst things about living in America is their healthcare system and how it’s grossly unfair to anyone who can’t afford private health insurance. That’s not the country we live in and I’m pretty sure most Brits hold the NHS very dear to their heart. It’s the one thing that we have which is unique and has outdone any other healthcare system in the world. How can we let Jeremy Hunt or Donald Trump meddle with it?

Despite this, Jeremy Hunt is known as the ‘sensible’ candidate but he is a Remainer and is going to be no different to Theresa May. Whatever deal he brings to the table is still going to be rejected by the vehement Brexiteers. Jeremy Hunt is dangerous as he would go the distance, but would champion all the policies like austerity that have helped made the Tory party referred to as the nasty party.

One thing is clear though, who ever wins this contest has no mandate from the public. Firstly by virtue of being the leader of a ruling party that didn’t win with a majority back in 2017 and is only in power because of the DUP, and of course down to the fact that the public does not get to choose which of the two should be prime minister But hey who am I to question British democracy? And that’s why folks, Boris is the best option as he will accelerate the downfall of the Tory party much faster than any other man.

By Sharmeen Ziauddin

She is passionate about politics and faith and you can find her tweeting about these things @britpakgirl.

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