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‘Su-Shi’ and interfaith dialogue with Anne Dijk and Arjen Buitelaar

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Deviating slightly from our usual posts, we wanted to share with our readers an interview between Anne Dijk, a female Sunni scholar based in the Netherlands and Arjen Buitelaar, a male Shia scholar also from the Netherlands. They were interviewed by Arek Miernik who is from Poland, and the interview has been translated to English. You can read more about their backgrounds at the end of this post.

  1. What is the idea behind Su-Shi and how did it come about as your project?

Arjen Since the outbreak of the ‘Arab Spring’ we notice heightened and more open tensions between the different Islamic creeds, mainly Sunnites and Shiites, and the voices of the extremes on both sides become louder. Of course this is a development that has been going on for several decades by now, and the extremes on both sides kind of hijack the voice of the common and good willing majority of Muslims. We see both sides recruit people to war zones in countries they have never been to, and tensions, incomprehension and impotency grow. This kind of reached a peak when Mosul was conquered by ISIL forces. It was that moment that Anne Dijk participated in a radio talk on the differences and similarities between Sunnites and Shiites, and she emphasized that the differences weren’t that big (more on jurisprudential level), but in practice it often seemed impossible to get the groups together even for something simple like an iftar. I then decided to approach her, because it was the bitter truth and despite the talks (and efforts) from authoritative scholars that we share so many commonalities, that we are brothers and sisters or even each other’s souls, and that we should work together, we see that communities simply don’t do that and we wanted to change that.

Anne The idea behind su-shi is that we want to bring together Sunni, Shia and all possible creeds within Islam, together, on an equal basis, to meet on a personal level. We don’t want to ‘create’ one single creed, or try to undermine the differences, which exist. We want to strengthen the ummah by informing about the differences and also speak out against stereotypes and prejudices that cause harm to both groups.

Often, the stereotypes of arguments against the opposite groups are based on prejudices, which often only hold for the extremes, and not for the mass-mainstream. Getting to really know each other, in a safe place, where genuine interest and curiosity for the other, is hardly happening. Talks on internet fora very often result in harsh language and conversations that get hijacked by extremes. That’s why we focus on small get-togethers, to really give a platform for personal meetings, based on proper (academic) information.

  1. How do you create a “safe” and neutral space during your meetings and events? Considering the deep level of division and animosity that these differences can cause, exacerbated by current political events in the Middle East, how do you make sure that these divisive attitudes don’t make their way into your meetings?

Anne During the 1,5 year of preparation, before we went online, formal and open, we discussed this issue elaborately. How can we create a safe and neutral space? Of course we can never guarantee anything, but we made clear ‘houserules’. A few elements therein are, are that dialogue is the goal, not debate. Trying to convince the other of your own truth is not allowed either, sincere and open questions are. Tafkir is not allowed; anyone who considers him/herself Muslim deserves within sushi that we treat him/her as such. Per activity we try to make a ‘risk management’ – for example: we held a iftar last ramadan – what to do with the adhan? (su of shi time?) and what to do with the prayer? We try to prevent any kind if discussion of such issues: how? We talk about them openly and elaborate on potential differences. For example, we elaborated en public on the different times of braking the fast, and that the dates were presented for everyone who wanted to brake the fast at that moment (Sunnis) and that we would do one adhan at the shi time. Later, the prayer was open for everyone – everyone must feel free to be able to pray together, but if someone wanted to pray later, that was also fine.

Arjen I agree with Anne’s answer; these are good examples in practice. Within the core group we have a dozen different ethnic and sectarian backgrounds, so you can imagine we have lively talks on possible difficulties when organizing an event. I’d also like to emphasize that one of our core rules is to support respectful dialogue and denounce debate, which, in effect, could be focused on individual monologues only while dialogue forces to open up and listen to the other. It are these house rules that ensure the safe space individuals find themselves in. Added to that, it is important to note that we work with what we call an ‘oil spill formula’, by which we mean that every visitor is personally invited by someone he/she already knows within the ‘Su-Shi Community’. This way we ensure that people feel more secure to open up and say what is on their hearts. Another way we make sure people find themselves in a safe environment is that we do not use traditional set ups with podia for the speakers and people sitting on chairs for a few hours. Depending on the size of the group we either meet up at someone’s home and start with chit chat and dinner. Or like our last Iftar we met up in a ‘youth club’/lounge setting, having some armchairs, couches and tables to sit on, providing a more relaxed atmosphere and automatically ‘compelling’ people to mix up.

  1. The idea of meeting ‘the other sect’ in this environment presupposes that participants already have a certain degree of openness to it. Did you have any reactions so far from those sectors among both communities which prefer to maintain division and hostility?

Arjen Yes we did, though this was outnumbered by massive support messages. A certain degree of openness is definitely needed, simply because within the extremes of religions and ideologies people and or communities build virtual walls around them that make it impossible to reach out to. When people consider the other to be the devil, or inspired by the devil, or a hypocrite of some sort, and subsequently consider his words to be deceiving, how could one ever be willing to listen to it?

And this is kind of the scope of the hostile messages we received. Some extreme Salafists and Quranists who did not and will not acknowledge the existence of other creeds to be Islamic, and who attempted to defame some of our members on a personal level simply because there’s not much to argument about the content of our stance.

Because it is our policy to engage in dialogue and approach everything positively, instead of bogging down in endless debates, we do not react on that. Instead, these two negative approaches have given us plenty of points to further elaborate and communicate through the positive platform we’ve created.

  1. In your experience what are the main or most common reasons that the extreme sectors of each sect give as justification for their enmity towards the other sect? How much of it is theological, how much historical/political and how often is it perhaps rooted, or strengthened, by people’s personal experiences?

Arjen This is a fairly difficult question that needs some elaboration. It is most interesting that the extreme sectors from all creeds base themselves on core sources, just as much as mainstream creeds do. Sometimes even the exact same texts, yet interpreted differently. The narrower the boundaries of a sect become, the more stress they will put on their absolute authority to explain the meaning of texts and not to stray from the ‘right path’ by looking at explanations by authorities from outside their group’s ‘enclave’. The ‘other’ is literally demonized, and by defining ‘in-group’ and ‘out-group’ in terms of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, ‘Light’ and ‘Dark’, and ‘divine’ and ‘satanic’ the justification easily becomes ‘theological’. It remains the question, however, whether the origins of the justification were theological by nature, or rather inspired by political motives. The same goes for stances on ‘historical truths’. These are based on the same kind of source texts that have alternatives that are consciously neglected, and have shortcomings. Subsequently these become indisputable dogma’s due to their absolute character, and are proposed as ‘real Islam’, yet are nothing more than fallacies. Used to manipulate and monopolize the conversation and hijack individual thought.

The main tradition that is used to justify sectarianism is that the prophet Muhammad ص would have said that Islam will be divided in 73 sects of which just one will enter paradise. This (weak tradition) is used to intensify the fear of individuals and groups to be amongst the dwellers of hell, causing people to know more about the ‘wrongs’ of the other than the ‘goods’ of themselves. With regards to other religions, Islam actually has the same opinion about truth as it has about herself. Christianity will be divided in 72 sects and Judaism in 71, both also have one rightly guided group. For Muslims it doesn’t seem to be their business to define which groups from other religions is the rightly guided one, as long as they do not interfere in Muslim matters. But as one reaction by a self-proclaimed institute wonderfully articulated their view on Islamic sectarianism: “the battle for influence over the Muslims continues…”

  1. Yours is clearly grassroots, bottom-up project. Do you think that the established Muslim leadership like traditional ulama etc. are falling short in building intra-religious bridges among Muslims at the top-down level?

Arjen The answer to this question has multiple layers; it would be too easy to say that they do or do not. In my opinion there are many efforts being made by the established Muslim leadership to build bridges, but their (and this is not reserved to Muslims or religious communities) focus is mainly on people from the top segments, not on community level. In the past decade alone we have seen the Amman Message, which is a great document that Su-Shi uses as well in our argumentation, and the Marrakesh Declaration, which apparently has been improved over a longer period since the 1990s and in its recent update specifically gained attention for its focus on minority groups such as the Yazidis and Christians who suffer much in the Middle East as we speak. Other attempts are being made as well, such as the annual Ghadeer Khumm Festival in Najaf, which I personally attended in 2013, and where leaders from different religious communities spoke. Including more subordinated sects such as the Druze community. All these attempts are very valuable and should be cherished.

At the same time, we see that these innumerably valuable official declarations are not lived after in practice. In real life they remain theoretical documents, that are sometimes not even lived after by important leader figures who endorsed them at first. Or that important religious leaders make statements that, unintended, lead to deeper sectarian rifts.

In parts of the Middle East region tensions are so high since the beginning of this millennium, that it is, of course, very hard to maintain these statements. Leaders can communicate with each other and make agreements at top level, but when blood is shed at ground level people will rather follow a leader that speaks their mind.

The main reason why these declarations hardly have an effect on ground level, however, is that most Islamic – and in fact Abrahamic – faiths are exclusivistic is in nature. When ground level believers hear from their leaders that they should respect and embrace believers from other faiths and sects, and at the same time read in their jurisprudences that those people from other faiths and sects are intrinsically ‘impure’ (najis) because of their ‘infidelity’ or being born to ‘infidel’ parents, than that is at least confusing. In practice, among migrant communities in the West, this means we see, for example, how certain Shiite groups try to find escapes from the statement by the highest authorities that ‘Sunnis are not our brothers and sisters, but our souls’, and try to explain how this still means Sunnis are not on the guided path. And vice versa we see the tremendous influence of Wahhabism which too, albeit being an extreme side faction, affects mainstream Sunnism as well by planting its poisonous seeds of hatred towards others. There is no other way to break this way of thinking, that is imported along with or even strengthened through immigration, down but by starting to work on this from a grassroots, bottom-up project. A project in which the participants themselves can add to the thinking process, and can themselves speak out for peace and cooperation instead of having to depend for that on top level leadership.

Anne It’s indeed a bottom up approach that we have, and that’s for many reasons. 1. We want to grow slowly in order to build real trust based on personal connection in stead of theoretical words only. And 2. To put into practise what those ‘top down’ approaches have tried to formulate but failed to implement.

  1. On a practical note, how do you fund your activities? The reason I’m asking is that as we know, with funding from established Muslim organisations often come agendas and expectations that might potentially jeopardise independence of a project or try to influence a project in a particular direction.

Anne We are up till now completely independent; meaning we don’t get any subsidies from any organisation from any denomination. We are very happy with our team; we all have a broad network so up till now we found free locations; the speakers were all unpaid and the food was covered by our volunteers alhamdulillah. But since we are a Foundation since this year, we are open for donations from individuals. Being independent and self-sustained makes you stronger. Maybe you grow slower, but inshaAllah the project can run longer. Being truly honest to your own values is the most important thing.

Arjen Before Su-Shi had become an organization and was still an idea, I have once organized an event in the Su-Shi spirit that we did receive donations for. From that I can confirm what you mentioned: there are donators that demand their agendas and expectations and try to influence what you do. This is very simple for me though; I reject such donators. Whenever the autonomy of a project or of our organization as a whole is in jeopardy, it isn’t worth what you gain. So when we think out a project, donators can support that of course, but not lay any conditions on us.

  1. Arjen, you are Shia and Anne, you are Sunni. What are the rough percentages in terms of sects among all people involved your project and those attending your events?

Arjen It’s difficult to speak in percentages. Few of our participants have a very homogenous background themselves, however some do. And the same then goes for who they invite through our ‘oil spill’ method. Overall, however, I think that people from a Sunni and Shiite background make up the majority -both close to the half- of participants of our events.

Anne We must also admit that we try to work towards a fair share as well. Meaning: we very consciously have 50% of the board Sunni, 50% of the board shi’i and one ‘neutral’ board member. In this way we direct towards an almost equal percentage of participants as well. Over all, most of our participants would consider themselves Sunni of Shia, we had a few Quranist participants and people with an Allevi background that are enthusiastic as well.

  1. What would be your personal message to people absolutely refusing to engage with the “other sect”, based in their conviction of the other sect’s “heresy” and their conviction that there is no “right” Islam outside their own school of thought?

Anne Allahu Alem. I would ask them so sincerely contemplate on this statement of “Allahu ‘Alem” and with this, try to focus on tazkiyya an-nafs, the cleansing of the soul. How can you, as an individual, be so sure? For me, in essence, ‘Allahu ‘Alem’ means absolute humbleness towards The Truth. Only God knows, that means, that we as human beings, per definition don’t.

Arjen I would like to emphasize that no layperson nor scholar is infallible, and that no matter what you personally believe, we do not all share the same beliefs and convictions. Nonetheless, we do live together, in a space that is becoming smaller and smaller. That brings tensions, but we are not animals. As humans we can use our reason to ‘defend’ our intellectual territories, we shouldn’t be so afraid of the other, and rather listen to each other. Dialogue is not about convincing one another, it is more about becoming stronger in your own convictions, but with respect for the other’s convictions in his or her own space.

***

Anne Dijk has a background in Religious Studies and a Master in Islamic Studies, specialised in Islamic Jurisprudence (Sunni). Fascinated by the transformations of the schools of law (madhahab) and the internal discussions, she found out that there is a deep ethical essence within the jurisprudence that differences of opinions (ikhtilaf) were deeply respected in history. In the hardened debate within Muslim communities nowadays, about ‘what is really Islamic’, she missed this ethical attitude. As Director of Fahm Institute she works on diverse ways to more understanding (fahm) of Islam. She is de co-founder of Su-Shi Intrafaith Dialogue, because she believes that world peace should start within yourself.

Arjen Buitelaar has a background in History and a Master in Religious Studies. From his Master’s thesis till now, he is conducting research of the Shi’ite communities in the Netherlands, at the moment primarily focusing on the role of rituals and symbolism in the shaping of (group) identity. Due to the increasing tensions between Sunnis and Shi’is since the start of the so called Arab Spring, he found it necessary to start with the Su-Shi Intrafaith Dialogue initiative to create better understanding between different Islamic creeds.

Arek Miernik has a background in English literature, is an Al-Mahdi Institute graduate, and leading figure of the wider Muslim community in Poland. Though primarily involved with the Polish Shi’i community, he doesn’t confine himself to it and is a heard voice in opinionated media on the wider Muslim community and its status in society. He is the heart behind the Strefa Islam blog, where this interview was originally published in Polish.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website. The above interview was conducted by another organisation and not SSWH but has been reproduced with the permission.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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A Review of ‘The Diary of a Hounslow Girl’ by Ambreen Razia

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Image credit: Ovalhouse Theatre

This is a review of the ‘The Diary of a Hounslow Girl’ a play by Ambreen Razia, shown at the Ovalhouse on the 6th of May.

Ambreen Razia had the audience spellbound by her electric performance. From start to finish I could not avert my eyes or raise my glass to take a sip of my drink for such was her charismatic presence. She portrays a teen Hounslow girl who is refreshingly not meek. In contrast to traditional perceptions of Pakistani girls she is a tigress roaring with passionate cries for freedom. Ambreen’s character is sensitive, inquisitive and a spark once lit transformed into a fire. She stormed onto the set unfurling a myriad of difficult painful recollections, punctuated with kind relief from the tempo with humour that had the room laugh out loud.

The diary of a Hounslow girl is a play much needed for all who care about women and girls across our diverse communities. The more I listened the more I wanted to shout out in delight at the message expressed by a lone character narrating her troubled British teen Muslim existence from her bedroom. Ambreen focuses on her Muslim Pakistani identity but understands and relates the shared trials of London girls in general. London girls are diverse, unique individuals, each adding a different flavour to the culture and voice of this city. The play asserts the complexity of individual identity bound up with multiple mini communities all co-existing as one. Ambreen’s Hounslow Muslim Pakistani girl is significantly different to her peers but also very much just another Londoner.  Hounslow girl wants to speak, she wants her words heard – she wants to exist. She questions being singled out as a girl within her ethnic culture and Islamic community. She wonders why she must be held to account by her mother, sister, mosque uncle, Aunty Nusrat and God but denied the right to ask questions and search for answers on her own terms. We follow her tempestuous journey trying to be the perfect Pakistani girl for her mother while also trying to enjoy her friendships with girls her mother would rather dig a whole and hide away from. What is the place of a daughter born of an immigrant parent? This is the point addressed so clearly and passionately by Ambreen Razia throughout the play. Who gets to decide who Hounslow girl is and will be – her mother, her friends, her mosque uncle or her thoughts, actions, mistakes and solutions?

“It is revolutionary in its message and it must be watched by mothers and daughters alike”

Take away the hijab, take away the clothes, lingo and ethnic markers and the audience can see this is a diary about a girl who is looking to live her life with free will as so many teenagers yearn to do. Ambreen Razia bravely channels the ferocity of the teenage ride with searing heart breaking truths but brings us safely to a comforting final reflection. Hounslow girl is defiant, rebellious and angry but she is able to feel compassion and empathy for her mother. Ambreen Razia has said she wrote this play for girls coming of age – I think it is more than that – it is revolutionary in its message and it must be watched by mothers and daughters alike. In the last tender moments of the play the stormy whirlwind unleashed by Hounslow girl in my mind slowed to a gentle meditative state. I drank my drink and reflected on the special moment I had witnessed – the coming of age of women much marginalised, misunderstood but more and more a liberated dynamic force.

by Nazia

@25nazia

Diary of a Hounslow girl is on national tour details blacktheatrelive.co.uk and will be showing at the Ovalhouse between Wednesday 3rd of  June to  Saturday  6th of  June, at 7:00pm.

Image credit: Ovalhouse Theatre

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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How can I prove myself to be more “British” to live up to Mr Cameron’s standards?

David Cameron arrives at Qatar University 2011

David Cameron arrives at Qatar University 2011

My Reactions to Cameron’s new counter Terrorism Speech

by Robina Saeed

@ROBtotheINA

Ah Mr Cameron, where do I begin? I must admit I’ve never been his biggest fan. Under his leadership we saw austerity levels reach the highest they’ve ever been, support cut off to the disabled and homeless shelters and food banks pushed to breaking point. Now he’s done terrorising the most vulnerable in society, his new thing these days seems to be telling British Muslims to be more British and less…well, Muslim. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his Public speech outlining is new plans for countering terrorism.

As a young British Muslim woman belonging and identity have always been fairly wobbly concepts to me. Especially when I was growing up, the small town I’m from couldn’t get any less diverse.

My town has no mosque, no sparkly Asian clothes shop, or fruit and veg, cash and carry, in sight. Perhaps the only sign of “muslimness” is the odd halal takeaway in the town centre. My town was  also one seat away from voting in a UKIP majority in the local elections and even made it into the Guinness world book of records for the most pubs on a single stretch of road!  Growing up until I went to College I’d always been the only non-white person in class. The hostility however reaches beyond the towns demographics and planning.  From my grandma having rocks thrown at her for the way she dressed, or to having the words “PAKI TURF” spray painted in red on our front door my family and I have had more than our fair share of racism over the years. So although technically I was British, born and bred in a small town in Manchester, growing up I never felt British enough. I always felt slightly out of place.  In my eyes and experiences you will never be whole heartedly considered a true Brit, without any questions asked like “where are you from?” unless you are White.

Now after overcoming the difficult teenage years I feel British to my bones. It’s part of my Identity. An integral part.

Now after overcoming the difficult teenage years I feel British to my bones. It’s part of my Identity. An integral part. It’s not something I contemplate when I wake up in the morning when I put on my headscarf or drink my tea. I don’t think to myself “hmm am I feeling more British today or shall I act more Muslim”. It doesn’t work like that.  So how can I prove myself to be more “British” in order to live up to Mr Cameron’s standards? It’s an impossible task. Yet time and time again Mr Cameron has pointed the finger at British Muslims demanding we need to assimilate into British society more and show our British values. It’s confusing.

I also fear for the generation younger than me. Teenage years are a universal nightmare but I think, we all also agree that teenage years are fundamental in shaping a young person’s identity and worldview.  Differences in our appearances and beliefs are what makes life interesting, and these differences in identity should be celebrated and encouraged during childhood, not questioned. Imagine the struggles of a young Muslim child, now growing up in school. It’s a toxic environment out there. Whether we admit it or not, children have been born into a society where the word ‘terrorist’ automatically triggers the word ‘Muslim’. Growing up becomes even harder when the Media and your very own Prime Minister and his cabinet put your identity under the spot light. How can a child love and grow into his or her Islamic identity when it is portrayed as something unstable and easily warped by Mr Cameron?

In his speech Mr Cameron said the root cause of terrorism is extremist ideology itself. I would like to know from where he made such a bold claim?  Myself and the other 99% of Muslims worldwide are yet to come across anywhere in our teachings that encourage extremism. All the research I have come across also suggests Mr Cameron is wrong.  Counter-terrorism specialist Prof Andrew Silke says research shows that people are drawn to terrorism more because of “identity issues” than ideology. Interviews with Ex Al Qaeda members from the UK also all show that the draw towards extremism was identity based and a feeling of not belonging here or there.  In my eyes if anything, under this new strategy, more young Muslims are likely to feel out of touch with their identity and question it. They will either turn their backs completely on Islam, because of the constant demonization it faces, or do a 180, and actually be drawn to extremism.

Those are my reactions to the new counter-terrorism plans. Poorly researched, confusing and damaging to the youth.

Robina is an energetic 20 year old Human Geography student from Manchester. She enjoys writing in a matter of fact and casual tone, sharing insights in politics, social life, religion, peace and war.  She has a Youtube channel raising awareness of conflicts worldwide, as well as an easy-to-read personal blog ‘Robina Writes’. You can also follow her on Twitter @ROBtotheINA

Image courtesy of Number 10, David Cameron arrives at Qatar University 

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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A British Muslim’s Message to Extremists

by Nazia

@25nazia

Image credit: My Eyes Are Set On Freedom #Iranelection from harrystaab

Image credit: My Eyes Are Set On Freedom #Iranelection from harrystaab

Freedom is all important to me. I say that freedom is all important to me as I know what it feels like to live in a restricted life. I was born a Londoner and as the years go by I feel that is the label closest to defining me. Being a Londoner was a gift. I was able to explore my identity as an individual more freely than if my parents had never left Pakistan. I was obsessed with identity as a child – I felt my difference to other children acutely but it never stopped me from playing with any of my school friends. I struggled with my curly hair, brown skin and felt deep pain when the same friends would turn on me with the easiest insult during a game

“You’re just a Paki, go home!”

I couldn’t fight back as the initial shock of learning I did not belong just hurt too much. The routine began of going home stinging from the rejection (we always forgave each other the next day!) and crying to my parents

“Why did you come to this country?!”

My parents would joke back at me that we could leave for Pakistan and my answer was always a resounding

“Nooooo!”

The struggles of being a good Muslim/Pakistani girl and fitting in with being a Londoner caused mayhem in my teen years. I drifted towards alternatives – Buddhism, Grunge/Punk Rock, Atheism, anything that took hold of my curious mind. I came across Political Islam by accident (my mum thought I was too Western so sent me for a weekend to see cousins – she did not know they were coming under the influence of a newer politically charged Islam). At school I decided to challenge my teachers and the sensibilities of everyone by donning a scarf. This act was a rebellion. My teachers were excellent and whilst questioning this change actually challenged me to explore and explain my new found identity. I am grateful they realized by allowing me to educate myself with all the ideas that I could possibly be exposed to – I would find a path right for me and society.

As an adult I have thrown off the shackles of cultural/religious expectations whether they come from my Pakistani/Muslim heritage or British media/wider society. The sad reality of life post 9/11 is that I shudder whenever an act of terrorism occurs as I fear a backlash on the Muslim community. When I read extreme comments made by “experts” such as Ayan al-Hirsi or Douglas Murray who at one gathering proclaimed life should be made extremely difficult for Muslims in Europe as a strategy – I become afraid, afraid for my entire community. I try to reassure myself that such words will never gather momentum – they are not targeted at Muslims like me but I always remember the history lessons at school. Hateful, angry rhetoric from politicians, career academics…or rather, bogus experts competing for the hearts, minds, votes,  of the weary masses could be heard in another place called Nazi Germany. My parents often talked of their fear of being thrown out one day and I would argue against them but I am scared for my children. What difference does it make if I am not a practicing Muslim? Hate blocks out the capacity to reason.

On a brighter note I believe the majority of Britain is not blinded and easily led down the path of division – that applies to the Muslim community too.  But it is difficult in a climate in which discussion about Islam can seem polarized. Sadly, I do not always feel comfortable expressing myself among my fellow Muslims in fear of backlash from a lone hyper individual.

Image of London from cuellar, Flickr.

Image of London from cuellar, Flickr.

The political fire storm over accusations of radicalization is counter- productive and seeks only to gain votes for politicians cynically exploiting the fear of terrorism. On the other hand rogue Muslim “leaders” also exploit the fears of Muslims who have bought into the narrative of victimhood. Communities who are in the processes of settlement or generations born in Britain but undergoing the trials of balancing multiple identities as well as the worries of education, employment, life are vulnerable. These communities are exposed by political/media hysteria about extremism, sex scandals, honour killings, Sharia to those who advocate rejection of Britain as a country that accepts them.

I try to walk on an alternative path carved through reason and knowledge. I have my children and I have devoted my life to giving them the understanding of how crucial free will is – even the Pakistani poet Iqbal reminds Pakistanis that God has given humans free will.

My message to extremists on both sides is that they are not reflecting my vision of what London is. My life has shown me I must embrace my freedom and I try to celebrate being a Londoner in my consciousness everyday (because getting to this point in my life was a fight!).

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.

Images credit: My Eyes Are Set On Freedom #Iranelection from harrystaab and  London from cuellar.

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