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A Snap Election Is Just What We Need For Our Democracy

Brenda from Bristol doesn’t want to hear this question, but  I will ask it anyway. Is the snap election a good thing or not? In short, I think it’s good and just what we need now for our democracy. Here’s why:

First of all, I think the UK has been in a sort of twilight zone since June 23rd last year. A range of epoch defining changes have taken place in the last 12 months. Many political and economic assumptions have been upturned and people are more engaged with politics than they have been for quite sometime. Yet, until today there was no prospect of us having the chance to express our views on any of the issues that are splitting us down the middle. Is immigration more important than single market access in Brexit? How should funding for the NHS and social care be found? Are more Grammar schools the way forward? Is the economy working for everyone? Should we be allied to Trump at all costs post Brexit? All these issues can now be debated and people can vote accordingly. This can only be a good thing for our democracy.

Secondly, the U.K. desperately needs an effective Opposition to whichever Government is elected on June 8th. Without a dramatic change in Labour’s leadership, there is nothing to mitigate against the worst instincts of the Brexiteers, the right wing press and the other extremists (yes, they are!) who currently drive Tory policy. On the issue of the job of the Opposition, the Labour Party fairly and squarely must bear the responsibility for simply not showing up for work. So many bad Government policy decisions have gone unchecked by Jeremy Corbyn at PMQs. There is no need to go into the why’s here, but Corbyn is just not able to convince enough voters that his Labour Party is ‘The Government In Waiting’.

Nevertheless, many people remain committed fans of Jeremy Corbyn. They feel he envisages something they believe in and I respect that. However, leadership is about having a vision as well as delivering on it. There is no point in having nice ideas if you cannot motivate people to vote for you. If I may, I would ask supporters of Jeremy Corbyn to quit complaining about the Blairites/media/any external factors causing him to be 20 points behind in the polls and to put their time and energy into where they say their heart is. Because Jeremy Corbyn needs all the help he can get to get out the vote. A good start would be for Labour spokespeople and supporters to stop moaning about the Prime Minister and internal critics being ‘too opportunistic’! Since when was politics not precisely about being just that? Instead, to inspire people to vote for them, they need to start talking about what alternative vision they can offer the country. Then target that message effectively.

Looking then to the potential make up of a new Government, will a bigger Tory majority or even a coalition (remember that?) be better? To Tory haters, this may seem anathema. However, due to it’s small majority, the current Tory government is simply too beholden to a few extremists on the right (yep, I said extremists, again!). Hence the Prime Minister’s current focus on a ‘hard’ Brexit, leaving the single market, leaving the EU with no trade deal at all if we don’t like the outcome of negotiations etc. This is just one form of Brexit. Only some of the 52% of people who voted Brexit last year might have been looking for that option, we can’t know as it wasn’t on the ballot paper. I think the hard Brexit idea currently discussed is an untested, narrow niche Brexit. That is why a lot of Remainers are still angry and even some Brexiteers are annoyed at this style of Brexit being driven through. A larger Government majority will allow the Prime Minister to push back on the niche ‘Brexit at all costs’ policy. No one apart from the ‘MP free’ UKIP and the ‘MP free but direct line to the Prime Minister’ Murdoch/Daily Mail press argue that the narrow niche Brexit policy has a democratic mandate. No matter all the slurs thrown at Remain voters, to effectively lead and deliver Brexit, the Prime Minister has to bring along with her a sizeable number of the 14.8 million people who voted Remain. She knows this which is probably a large part of why she’s called this election now.

Is this election good for the other political parties? I think it is. Brexit has changed the rules of right versus left as both Labour and the Tory party are pro Brexit. Only the Lib Dems are unequivocally in favour of a second referendum on Brexit. So where do you go if you want to express your key concerns? This is where votes for the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, UKIP and the Women’s Equality Party could be key. Tactical voting in seats has always been possible. But in the past they’ve been set along simpler party lines eg. vote Green to reduce the Tory/Labour incumbent’s majority. Now these ‘alternative’ votes warrant more detailed consideration. It’s not straight forward by any means. Does your MP represent the party you vote for but as an individual they did not reflect your Brexit preferences? If they did vote the way you wanted on Brexit, are you unhappy about their party leader’s policy on Brexit? So for example, many London MPs voted Remain as individuals and defied the party whips to vote against Brexit in Parliament. They also work hard on other policies their constituents care about.

But is caveated support for the two main parties enough for you in this moment? Do Londoners need to send as clear a message as the Scots have about their views on Brexit? Should they punish mainstream party MPs by voting Lib Dem? Is the Lib Dem option clear enough given they won’t rule out a coalition with the Tories again? Should Londoners be more adventurous and vote for the Women’s Equality Party to amplify the interests of women and minorities in Brexit policy? Or is the Green Party better to support for campaigning on employment and maternity rights, the environment? Is ‘any old candidate except Labour or Conservative’ the simplest route for Remain voters? Again, as the two main parties offer little to choose between them on Brexit, this moment offers other voices the opportunity to represent diverse interests. This again can only be good for our democracy.

Is this election good or bad for the union? I think it’s unclear for now. It might be bad if you think an election now gives momentum to calls for Scottish independence. On the other hand, there is a possibility that a less niche Brexit policy dampens enthusiasm for Scotland walking away from the UK in 2019. Similar arguments could hold for Northern Ireland if less ‘hard’ Brexit options enable more flexibility on the border with the Republic etc. So retaining the union of nations and the interplay with what Brexit is offered up is still all to play for.

In the round then, if you’re a fan of democratic processes and don’t like the ‘extreme’ hard Brexit talk, I think you should be pleased. You finally get a chance to make your voice heard on the detail of these historic issues. 

In the round then, if you’re a fan of democratic processes and don’t like the ‘extreme’ hard Brexit talk, I think you should be pleased. You finally get a chance to make your voice heard on the detail of these historic issues. We will shortly see some manifestos and hopefully have more context for the diverse choices on offer. Whatever the Prime Minister’s motives for calling the vote, we are all free to exercise our views at the ballot box. Instead of endless circular rants on social media, radio phone ins and the press, we can use the election to take some of the heat out of the division and confusion on where we’re headed now by drawing a line in the sand.

Once we’ve had the election, some of the questions we are struggling with, should be eliminated. The room for ‘whataboutery’ on Brexit will of course never expire (unfortunately). But at least the policy options will be narrowed down. If you’re fed up with all the options, then get up to speed now on party manifestos, join a political party and if you want to shape their debate, go and campaign for them. By that I mean for real by knocking on people’s doors, because most of the electorate are not in your social media bubble! At the very least, get in touch with your MP to find out what they’ve been doing on Brexit and things that matter to you and give them your views. Then obviously on the day, you need to get out and vote!

It should be obvious by now that in today’s politics, nothing is a foregone conclusion. Pollsters get it wrong. Simple ideas, well explained and well targeted can be extremely influential. Anything can happen and you can be a part of making ‘change’ moments happen in our politics if you want to. (I am not talking to you Vladimir Putin, but I know you totally got this point during the Brexit campaign, but that’s another story). So, please, everyone who can, no matter what your views on Brexit or otherwise, quit complaining and go out and start listening to people, including people who disagree with you. This alone will make a world of difference. See you at the polling station on June 8th everyone, #bringiton!

By Lorraine Hamid

Lorraine is a born and bred Londoner, a former senior civil servant Economist in Whitehall. Currently a mother of one working in the property sector. Surprisingly finding herself returning to the community activism that she threw herself into as a young idealist, Lorraine is currently Co-Chair of the West London Nisa-Nisham group and a voluntary worker for homeless charity StreetLytes.

Image credit: ABC news
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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Muslim and Jewish Women come together for International Women’s Day

On the grey morning of Sunday 5th March 2017 I left my family still snuggled in their beds to attend the inaugural Nisa-Nashim Muslim Jewish Women’s Network event at the university of Westminster. I made the solitary walk up to the station in the drizzling rain and wondered whether this was a conference relevant to me. Did I belong amongst this group of women? What would the day entail? I went with no expectations other than the hope it would be a valuable experience for me. I felt the desire to be surprised, to be challenged, to gain an insight into the flowering of a movement of diverse individuals uniting to develop a positive narrative for their communities in Britain.

I arrived and found myself drawn to the beaming faces of the attendees lining up to register for the day’s activities. I instantly felt this was going to be a day of welcome from all the women attending towards one another. Over a quick coffee I saw the room fill with women of both faiths engaged in conversations – a loud gathering of passionate women ready for a day of interfaith engagement.

The Nisa-Nashim network was created by Laura Marks and Julie Siddiqi with the aim of promoting dialogue between the British Jewish and Muslim communities. The emphasis is on Muslim and Jewish women coming to the forefront of their communities and bridging divisions armed with friendship. It was a pleasure and inspiring to listen to the personal stories of both Julie and Laura. We were urged to think of the 2017 international women’s day motto “be bold for change” as we seek to break the mistrust perpetuated by an often negative cycle of information spread across the general media landscape permeating into our daily lives. The words of Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin were a great addition and uplifting “…my story is your story…and your story is mine…”.

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We heard from the representatives of CST and Tell MAMA who illustrated the increasing level of hate crimes and the often debilitating impact on the victims. The discussion highlighted interesting points such as the majority of hate crimes seem to be committed by white males which opens up many more questions and concerns. The message of “be upstanders not bystanders” was a very powerful and emotive one. This was a sobering and serious discussion about the challenges to personal security Jewish, Muslim and many other fellow minority communities face.

A host of talented women and organisations had put together a diverse programme of workshops such as community organising, yoga/self awareness, and faith in the media. I chose the workshop about interfaith marriage and human sexuality. A lively, illuminating, strong discussion occurred in which I found myself opening up and sharing my experiences too. This was a brilliant workshop and I am grateful to the stories, wisdom shared by women of both faiths. I was intrigued by the title ‘Scriptural Reasoning’ and found myself reading through corresponding passages from the Torah and the Quran with instructors to guide us along. It was fascinating finding the Jewish perspective enhancing the Islamic perspective of the story of Prophet Moses and vice versa. An interest in the sacred texts of the Abrahamic religions was rekindled for me and I look forward to meeting up for further reflections.

I went to the Nisa-Nashim inaugural event not knowing what to expect. It turned out to be a revelatory experience. I was inspired by the passion the speakers displayed for the work they do in their communities to promote peace. I was delighted by the strength of the friendships that exist between the women who are behind the project but also the new relationships that were forged that day. Many like me went with tentative, shy voices but left further  emboldened to believe in a vision of strength in solidarity between our communities.

By Nazia

@25Nazia

Nazia is  a mother of three children. She has a degree in History (focus on modern Europe, Russia, Ottoman Empire, Origins of Islam, Mughal Empire, Middle East) from School of Oriental and African Studies London.

Image courtesy of @NisaNashim

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 are you crying, Mama?

I glance in the rear-view mirror and see your face.  “Why are you crying, Mama?”  You look to me for an answer to what you perceive is a perfectly sensible question; one that requires an answer straight away.  An answer that fits with your world-view.  I sigh and choke back a sob, trying not to look at you while you peer at me, searchingly.

I’m crying because I’m so mind-achingly exhausted.  You haven’t slept before nine or ten o’clock at night for such a long time that I feel like I’ve never been without you.  I do all the right things: take you up early, do an established routine, do everything I’m supposed to.  Nothing.  I can’t put you to sleep.  That’s why I’m crying.  I’m crying because I hear about friends and their children, the same age as you, sleeping through the night, from seven until seven the next morning, in their own rooms, while their mothers enjoy child-free time in the living room, their bedroom, everywhere.  I’m not crying because I’m jealous; I’m crying because, when I hear about them, I feel lacking and inadequate, like I’ve done something wrong to make you this way.  You came to me as a tabula rasa, someone to teach and I can’t teach you how to sleep; how to stay in your own bed; how to stay asleep all night. I can’t.

I’m crying because I’m wracked with guilt all the time.  I feel guilty for wanting time apart from you; for not wanting to play with you; for wondering why you can’t sometimes just leave me alone.  There are women, aching for children, and here I am complaining that you want me to read to you, again and again.  It’s selfish and ungrateful.  I’ve been given a gift that, if I’m honest, I sometimes want to return.  Just writing this, just thinking this sends waves of guilt washing over me and I double over.  But it’s true.  I’m just not fit enough to be your mother.  Emotionally or physically.

I’m crying because I’m in pain all the time.  My legs, my back, my hip all ache.  No matter what I do.  No matter who I talk to or turn to for help.  No one can help me.  It feels like it’ll always be like this.  Throwing painkillers at it barely masks the problem, it doesn’t treat the root cause.  But no one wants to treat the root cause.  There isn’t the time or the money or the resources.  I shouldn’t be complaining.  People are waiting patiently for cancer treatment, and I’m complaining about a bit of pain.  Perspective.  But I can’t sit on the floor and play with you.  Or run after you in the park.  Or do other active things with you.  You sense this.  You know this.  And that’s why you want books all the time.  Relentlessly want books.

Why am I crying?  I’m crying because the house is always a mess.  I am never on top of anything.  Endless piles of bags, boxes and stuff just accumulate everywhere.  I never put things away, never have enough space to put it in, no matter how much I get rid of.  There is always something somewhere.  I know it makes sense to sell larger items, I just don’t have the patience to do it and want to throw everything away.  Even then I know the house will never look like other houses, and I just don’t know why.  I visit other mothers with immaculate rooms and wonder how they do it.  Three, four, five children and their living rooms are spotless.  I’m not crying because I’m jealous, but because I will never be as good as them.  I will never measure up.  I don’t work, so why is our house always such a dirty, cluttered mess?  We went on holiday in December and a number of months later, my hand luggage is still not unpacked.  If I’m honest, I still haven’t unpacked fully from our trip to Pakistan in November.  A bag still sits there; accusing and awkward, reminding me of my inadequacies.

I’m crying because I should be using the time you nap to work on my Masters dissertation, but I don’t.  I can’t concentrate and, using lack of sleep as my excuse, a blanket with which to shroud the body of my sins, I look at websites.  I’ll never finish this Masters I started in 2011 and the feeling of failure sends fresh tears to stain my already tear-stained face.  I swipe up and down on the screen, barely acknowledging what I’m looking at until everything becomes a blur.  Maybe you need some new clothes?  Perhaps I should buy you some?

I’m crying because I’m so bad with money.  I have no idea where it goes.  I try to save, but I always fail.  So I’m forever transferring money from my savings to cover the wretchedness of my over-spending.  Sometimes it’s nice to buy something.  But that’s just shallow and materialistic and then I feel guilty.  For not teaching you responsibility, for extravagance, for self-indulgence.  There are people scraping together every penny they have and I’m contemplating which organic, handmade vest to buy you next.  I’m crying because I should just donate that money to a more worthy cause.  I did that last week; this week I want to buy something.  But that’s selfish isn’t it?

I’m crying because there will never be enough of me.  I’ll never be able to do enough for you because you always want more.  Today you wanted to walk to the car in your socks, though it had rained.  I didn’t have the energy to argue so I let you.  Your socks got wet and I didn’t have anymore.  I hadn’t planned ahead and brought you some when we left the house.  I see people with two, three, four, five children, holding it together, houses immaculate, routines in place, able to love their children and then I see me: falling apart at every hurdle and wondering if there was another one of you would I be able to divide myself emotionally and physically to care for both of you?

I’m crying because I have nothing else to give.  I am spent up and used up.  I’m crying because I can’t wait for your Dad to come home and take over so I don’t have to hold it together anymore.  I’m crying because we went out today, and the sheer effort of holding myself together and pretending in front of others has exploded inside me and spilled out over the top of me.  I’m crying because I should have held it together until you napped, but I didn’t.  Instead I cried in front of you and your tiny face saw my tears; reflected back in your eyes, I saw myself: pathetic, broken, whimpering – an example of everything I don’t want you to be.

I don’t want you to be anything like me; the thought of it wracks my body with waves of emotion. I want you to be strong and resilient and calm.  I want you to be able to face the world without hesitation, not stumbling through life and always thinking: I’ll be better later.  Not like me.  I’m crying because I ache for you to be different.  To be everything I’m not.  But I don’t know how to teach you something I can’t live myself.

As I write this, I’m crying because I know you’ve had an hour’s nap and I should wake you up, but I don’t, because I’m selfish and I haven’t drunk my tea yet.  I’m crying because I realise, I didn’t have the foresight to use the comforting blanket of anonymity: everyone knows this is me, your mother.  Putting this out there means I’m vulnerable, exposed and open. I’m torn: I want to be honest, yet I don’t want to give people ammunition to use.  And believe me, darling, they will use it – you’ll see soon enough.  I’m crying because I’m not strong, not strong enough to defend myself against people who would use my vulnerabilities to hurt me, not strong enough to ever be enough for you and your Dad.   I’m crying because there is always something to do and I can’t face doing it. I’m crying because I want to be so much more.  But I’m not.

But it isn’t fair to tell you all this.  You wouldn’t understand.  Why should you have to deal with it?  You’re only two-years-old, nearly three.  You’ve had to be so emotionally mature and wise beyond your years because you’ve ended up being born to me.  But you shouldn’t have to deal with this; it is not your fault you ended up with this mother: damaged, emotionally unstable, ungrateful.  

So instead, when you ask me, “Why are you crying, Mama?”  I say, “Because I don’t feel well, darling.  I just don’t feel…well.”

Image credit: Rach


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Ten questions with Zohra Khaku from the BBC’s Muslims Like Us

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What is it really like be a modern-day British Muslim? The BBC’s Muslims Like Us, broadcast at the end of 2016, sought to find an answer to this question, by making ten Muslims of different backgrounds share a house with each other. There was conflict, there was controversy, but there was also connection.

We caught up with Zohra Khaku, one of the housemates to find out more about the programme and her experience of sharing a house with ten complete strangers.

1. What made you want to appear on a programme like Muslims Like Us?

When talking to the producers of the show, I had been emphasising how strongly I feel about standing up and taking responsibility for our narrative as Muslims in the UK. When she asked if I’d come on the show, I couldn’t really say no!

2. What was it like staying in a house with ten random people?

At times it was brilliant – meeting new people, getting to know them better and experiencing the beginning of new relationships. We had some really fun moments including playing charades and staying up late talking through the night. Some bits were difficult – sharing a room with someone I didn’t know was hard, and the mess in the kitchen really bothered me!

3. Was there anyone you particularly got along with?

Mehreen! We got on really well, and are still in touch almost every day.

4. Was there anyone in particular you clashed with?

I found Abdul Haq’s views really hard to deal with. As you saw on episode two, it was particularly difficult for me when talking about coming from a Shia background. His views on it being okay to harm people who he deems to be ‘outside the fold of Islam’ really disturbed me, and I decided to challenge him. For the rest of my time in the house, every time Abdul talked about prejudice, I pointed out his cognitive dissonance and just couldn’t bear to listen to him any more.

5. Did you find there were a lot of differing views?

So many differing views! People came from such different backgrounds and life experiences, so as expected there were lots of opinions. Eventually we found a way to be functional, although many discussions were difficult and make for difficult viewing.

6. What would you say were the main points of discussion that you all agreed upon?

Nabil’s ‘Feed the Homeless’ activity was such a uniting time for the housemates. We all loved the values that the afternoon represented, and worked together as a team without any issues at all.

7. What were your main concerns going into the house, and how did the reality of the experience match with your initial expectations?

I decided to go in with a really open mind, so I didn’t really have many concerns. I told myself I’d be myself and go with the flow, and that’s what I did. The experience was intense, with some fantastic and some horrible moments.

8. What were your main takeaways from this experience, or what did you learn?

I learned a few things about myself. It seems that I cry when I’m angry and upset! And I learned that there are circumstances under which I would call the anti-terrorism police.

9. Do you feel the programme will help to change the image of British Muslims (either in a positive or negative way)?

I hope so! From some of the posts I’ve seen online and messages I’ve received already, a lots of people seem to have learned some things about Muslims, even if it’s just realising that Muslims are not a monolithic community.
Within the Muslim community I hope it causes some debate, but most of all, I hope that the idea that we need to stop judging each other spreads a bit more widely. I’ve seen comments already calling the group horrible names. At the end of the day, we’re taught to have good akhlaq (manners) and I think some of the comments online could do with a bit of that.

10. Did the experience change your perceptions of what it means to be a British Muslim?

I think I learned some things from the other housemates. Hearing their experiences around issues they deal with in their daily lives was as fascinating as ever. Peoples lives are interesting, and the housemates were no different. My own perception of what it’s like to be a British Muslim hasn’t changed.


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Wise Women in The 99 Names of God

I co-founded Chickpea Press, a multi-faith children’s publisher, after working in mainstream publishing for over a decade. One of our core aims is to cultivate an awareness of the equality of women and men in faith. After a lifetime of struggling to find a voice within a faith setting, thinking that my religion didn’t allow it, it was a shock, as an adult, to discover Muslim women throughout history who not only had voices, but profound wisdom to share about God, life and religion.

The 99 Names of God is an illustrated guide to the Divine attributes of God within Islam, written and illustrated by Daniel Thomas Dyer. Designed for young and old, the book shows how compassion and peace are at the heart of Islam, and how the faith celebrates social diversity, recognizes the validity of other religions, promotes social equality and justice, abhors violence, values self-expression and the arts, and encourages responsible custodianship of the natural world.

One of the key features is a quote for each Name from a prophet or holy person of faith. It was very important that we try to have an equal balance of female and male voices in the book. This was a challenge from the start. Whilst we are aware of many women of faith, finding actual records of their words is a lot harder. There may be lots of reasons for this: historically women seemed more busy in the actual process of communing with God than writing down their experiences; women who had learned men-folk in their life (husbands, fathers) might be mentioned in their writings but without direct quotes; for women who did keep a record of their life and work, the sources may not have survived – or may have been destroyed over time in a patriarchal system.

One of the most important books to collect their voices, however, is Women of Sufism by Camille Adams Helminski. This treasury of female Muslim saints was a guiding light in our work for the book, unveiling women from across cultures and social classes, and providing more sources that we could explore. For many women, we were only able to source one referenced saying.

This being an illustrated guide, Daniel spent a lot of time working on appropriate and sensitive visual representations of all the key figures quoted. One of my favourite images is of Khadijah with Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon them both, illustrating the attribute of al-Mumin, the Inspirer of Faith. The image illustrates the time when Muhammad, on first receiving his prophethood, rushed to Khadijah who comforted and reassured him that he was not mad and had truly been chosen as a messenger of the Almighty. Khadijah’s strength and faith are beautifully encapsulated in this Name and the accompanying words she is believed to have said:

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Another favourite is Rabiah of Basra, the great mystic who was renowned for sincerely loving God for God’s sake alone. Daniel’s illustration is based on her famous saying, used for al-Khafid, the Abaser, and ar-Rafi, the Exalter:

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The book also contains sayings from Hagar, Mary, Aishah, and Fatimah, as well as introducing lesser known figures such as Shawana, renowned for weeping out of love and awe of God; Lady Nafisah of Cairo, known as ‘the Jewel of Knowledge’; Fatimah al-Bardaiyyah of Iran, who was renowned for speaking words of ecstasy; and Unayzah, a witty and spirited mystic from Baghdad.

This book is offered as a guide to help us witness the Divine Majesty and Beauty. For children it is a rich treasury of wonder that will reveal greater depths as they grow and mature, whilst for parents and teachers it will offer much to inspire, inform, and remind. Each name is accompanied by engaging reflections and activities, with signs to highlight the Name both within our hearts and outside in nature.

I wonder how I would have been affected if I had been given access to an education that offered me a deeper understanding and awareness of my mothers and sisters of Islam at a younger age. It is my fervent hope that we can create quality resources that give a new generation what so many of us missed out on.

We are launching The 99 Names of God in London on February 6th at St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace. Daniel will speak more about his personal journey with the Names, and we will be joined by Azim Rehmatdin who penned the original calligraphy for the book, and Julia Katarina from Music With Refugees who will be singing Qawwali and Nasheeds on the Divine Names.

You can book your ticket for the launch, see more about the book and get your copy here: chickpeapress.co.uk

By Saimma Dyer

Saimma Dyer is the Managing Director of Chickpea Press and Co-founder of Rumi’s Circle. When not busy publishing or organising interfaith events, she can be found exploring the Divine Feminine and how to be a Sufi Feminist. Follow her @SaimmaDyer

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 are tearing down the walls that divide us

2016 was unfortunately marked by dog whistle politics, the rise of the Far Right, and an increase in hate crimes against women and minorities. We are living in increasingly challenging times, and when I speak to everyday grassroots women, they often tell me about their fears for their safety, anxieties about what the future holds, and report a sense that the most divisive elements of society have been emboldened on the back of political campaigns which have been dogged by xenophobic rhetoric. I was keen to participate in the Women’s March, so that I could mark the beginning of 2017 with positive action, which would unify and bring people together, irrespective of their background or views.

The Women’s March is taking place in many cities all over the world, on the 21st of January 2017, the day after President-elect Trump’s inauguration, and will be a global show of strength and solidarity of diverse communities marching for equality and the protection of fundamental rights for all.  As a passionate believer in listening to and promoting diverse women’s voices, I couldn’t wait to get involved with and support a global movement for everyone, organised and led by women.  Women’s voices are fiercely needed now more than ever before, as during the US elections we have seen how women have been demeaned, patronised and are expected to put up with routine sexual harassment.  Moreover, we are now living in a world in which for many women of colour and especially Muslim women,  physical assault, verbal abuse and anti-Muslim hate attacks, are not only on the increase but have become a daily norm. Thus it is vital that women’s voices of all backgrounds, including minority groups, are meaningfully heard, and their experiences which are often intersectional in nature – that is they face multiple challenges such as racism, misogyny and ablism – are acknowledged and amplified.

We may not all agree on all issues, but when faced overwhelmingly with the prospect that our fundamental rights to exist are being threatened, it does not matter. Critically, many unified voices will be much more effective and powerful in sending a message to those who would seek to divide, that we will not allow a climate of fear and hatred to overcome us.  And our message is clear: walls will not be built to separate us from our neighbours, Muslims are equal citizens and justice (social/political/economic) is a fundamental right for all.

It would be too easy to focus on the negative consequences of the new era of divisive politics that we now find ourselves in. This would however, only lead to despair and hopelessness, which in turn leads to fear, and this fear is exploited by the far right and other xenophobes.

It is my hope that by coming together in solidarity, across all boundaries of sexuality, ethnicity, race and religion, we will demonstrate that a united and just society is not a far away dream but a very real and tangible possibility. Change will happen when we join together to stand up to and fight for justice against misogyny, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and all forms of bigotry and hatred, taking our negative feelings of despondency and channeling them into positive affirmative action. So let’s come together to march on London, not in protest but in celebration of diversity, equality and peace.

By Akeela Ahmed

Founder & Editor

@AkeelaAhmed

 

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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Religion and Faith: Important Allies in the fight against Gender- Based Violence?

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UK Faith leaders call for Istanbul Convention

“You cannot be a feminist and believe in religion”, a respected colleague who works with women from Middle Eastern and Afghani backgrounds, declared to me two weeks ago, a statement that hurt me a little but wasn’t surprised by as I have often heard it before. The following week I chaired a conference on intersectionality as part of the Strategic Partnership between the boroughs of Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham to tackle Violence Against Women and Girls. The conference discussed the importance of taking account of the differing facets of our identities, and where they intersect as a starting point of the support and service survivors of domestic and other forms of gendered abuse, receive from specialist organisations and charities.

“You cannot be a feminist and believe in religion”

It therefore follows that tackling any form of violence and abuse requires a nuanced and holistic approach that should be led by the needs and safety of survivors. Many of whom identify and align themselves with faith and spirituality.

Historically the women’s sector and those who work in supporting victims and survivors of domestic abuse or so called honour-based violence have been, at best and with good reason, ambivalent to engaging with religious and faith actors and or institutions that are part of a survivor’s social network and form and support a component of their sense of self. This failure, I believe, is leaving an unmet or misunderstood gap in supporting women who may view their faith or spirituality as a source of empowerment.

Conversely there is a sense of confusion and a real lack of awareness about the forms of support and practical help available to women experiencing domestic abuse and other forms of gender based violence, which can lead to suspicion and mistrust from community groups, community advocates and faith leaders that women turn to for help and advice. Often these women come from ‘hard to hear’ communities that experience multiple barriers such as gender and or racial discrimination, disability, poverty and ill health. Therefore, their local Imam or Pastor is the only source of support, who are unlikely to be the most qualified or knowledgeable about risk or appropriate and safe support for women and their children. On many occasions religious and faith leaders can knowingly or inadvertently collude with the abuse or abuser(s) and provide the veneer of religious justification for abuse.

“…those advocating for equality and an end to gender based violence can make faith and religious institutions relevant and important allies in the fight against violence against women and girls. “

It was therefore a welcome and important step for the campaign group ICChange to host ( along with Faith Action and Restored) and secure the support of UK Faith leaders in the call for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention which was launched at the House of Lords on 5 December. It brought together Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Hindu faith leaders to call on the UK government to ratify the Convention on violence against women and for MPs to support the Private Member’s Bill by voting for it on 16 December. The launch is a great example of how those advocating for equality and an end to gender based violence can make faith and religious institutions relevant and important allies in the fight against violence against women and girls.

The Istanbul Convention, described as ‘the best thing you’ve never heard of’ is a set of life-saving minimum standards on tacking violence against women and girls that states should ensure when tackling this widespread phenomenon. If the UK government ratifies the convention it will enable a root and branch change in its response to support and protect women suffering violence and abuse. It will also be duty bound to prevent and tackle the root causes of violence as well as hold perpetrators to account through the criminal justice system. Four and a half years on from the government’s promise to make the Convention law we are still waiting for this to be realised.

Here at Standing Together Against Domestic Violence, we have long advocated for a more coordinated community response to gender based violence and domestic abuse in particular. The most effective and lasting solution is one that brings together as many agencies, services and civil society groups including community and the family to support the needs of survivors; puts them at the centre of the response to abuse and holds perpetrators to account.

Through our Safety Across Faith and Ethnic Communities programme (SAFE) we aim to address a gap in the response to domestic abuse. We know that most survivors of abuse will likely reach out to friends, family and community networks for help in the earliest stages of abuse.  The SAFE Communities project will ensure that domestic abuse and violence against women and girls are tackled holistically by targeting support to those who will be most likely to be the first approached by survivors for help. We believe that working with and empowering communities to understand, recognise and address domestic abuse is essential. Grassroots communities and faith groups have the power and potential to make a real difference in the lives of survivors and hold perpetrators to account.

Looking at the wider context, the current political climate promises long and protracted negotiations over our divorce from Europe and the rise of nationalist right wing politics across Western nations in America and Europe, the Private Members Bill which calls for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, presents an important and narrow window of opportunity to safeguard more than thirty- years’ worth of advocacy, activism and hard fought battles to get us to the very lacking and imperfect state we are in today.

It is precisely when the perfect storm of fear, economic and social instability, and the rise in regressive politics that the threat of hijacking faith for intolerant or oppressive rhetoric and purposes must be repelled by all people of faith and non.

*If you would like to see the U.K. government ratify the Istanbul Convention, then contact your MP now and ask them to support it by attending the debate on Friday 16 December, and voting for it – details here. And you can sign this petition.*

By Huda Jawad

Huda has worked for over 21 years in the Third Sector. She has held various positions in local government, national and international NGOs and charities tackling a wide range of issues relating to social exclusion, justice, equality and conflict resolution.  Huda currently works as a Domestic Violence Housing Coordinator at Standing Together Against Domestic Violence. Read more about her work and achievements on her website.

Image courtesy of IC Change
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