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70 years on, Partition deeply impacts my life.

“Partition. An event that would drastically transform the South Asian landscape forever.”

August 1947 – a month that not only saw the division, murder and separation of thousands of people, but the creation of two new nation states in the region. 70 years on, I discuss my experience and understanding of Partition – as an Indian-Pakistani British Asian – and how an event that happened long before I was born has had a significant impact on my life.

Partition. An event that would drastically transform the South Asian landscape forever. With the end of British rule in India, tensions had been rising within the region, with various groups fighting for recognition and representation. The creation of Congress saw the rise of individuals like Mahatma Gandhi & Jawaharlal Nehru, but also others like Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, who were key figures of the Pakistan movement. After protesting that Muslim voices, which formed a large part of the population in India were being repressed or even ignored, these individuals rallied for the creation of ‘Pakistan’, which initially was not meant to be a separate state, but rather a movement that would allow the voices of the Muslim community to be heard.

It should be pointed out that these tensions had been rising for many years prior, however their culmination fell on these two days, which saw large amounts of bloodshed. Neighbours turned on each other, parents were separated from their children and familiar faces became strangers over night. Even today, the South Asian community suffers from grief as many individuals still have no idea where their loved ones went. Home was no longer home for many millions of people.

But 70 years on, how did this come to affect the South Asian community? And how is partition viewed amongst the diaspora, especially here in the UK?

As a woman who can claim heritage to both nations, I believe that my experiences as a half – Pakistani and half – Indian can help shed some light on this. Anyone who has grown up with a mixed heritage will always tell you how hard it is to formulate an identity. Add to that the scars of a large political event like Partition, ultimately formulating your identity becomes even harder. Either you are not ‘Pakistani’ enough or you are not ‘Indian’ enough. Growing up was hard because ultimately you faced criticism from both sides. Aside from being called names from both sides, such as being a ‘betrayer’ or a ‘fake Indian/Pakistani’, there was this feeling that on either side, I was never truly accepted.

The biggest pain that is felt however, is the idea of travelling to my homelands. Due to the stringent visa requirements, India can refuse entry to those who have visited Pakistan or hold a Pakistani national identity. With the rise of the far right Hindu nationalist party in India, not only have hate crimes against Muslims become more prominent in India, but the idea of going to India to see my own family is a process that makes me nervous. As a half – Pakistani, I have to fill out extra forms, provide more details than my non – South Asian counterparts, and even then there is all the chance that I may be rejected for a visa. It means that any holiday I make is a decision to choose between two countries and two parts of my family. Tell me, how does one make a decision between two homes? If I visit my family in Pakistan I miss out on visiting my family in India. And this isn’t just me, seventy years before me, thousands of families were ripped apart as a result of partition. However my pain and trial is nothing compared to the hundreds of thousands of families that are still living today with no idea where their husband, wife, daughters or sons are after the horrors they went through during the month of August in 1947.

However, my mixed heritage has allowed me to experience some wonderful things. As a Indian – Pakistani Muslim I have had the pleasure of seeing how Islam is practiced on both sides. I have been able to witness amazing architecture and I have the opportunity to visit both countries, even if it is difficult. I have seen that the underlying South Asian culture that exists throughout the region, which whilst having its differences and its fair amount of issues, also shows some incredible amounts of similarity. As Indians and Pakistanis, there is so much more that unites us than divides us.

Today more than ever, the South Asian diaspora is coming together to put aside our differences. The British South Asian community is a perfect example of how individuals, regardless of religious beliefs, come together to celebrate a common culture. Even within cricket, better sportsmanship and communication is taking place between players on both sides to show how we can remain united, despite our countries being stuck in political turmoil and opposition to one another. Bollywood is starting to push its boundaries across the physical borders that exist and showcasing up and coming talent from Pakistan. Not only that but its increasing criticism and attempts to show the unity between these two countries though movies like Bajrangi Bhaijaan gives hope to those of us who believe that one day, despite the political, social and cultural problems, our countries will become friends.

by Zahraa A

Zahraa A is currently going into her final year of my International Relations degree. She loves anything and everything political or historic, with postcolonial theory, feminism and anything surrounding political movements from the PoC/BME community, Muslims and her own South Asian culture being her key interests. She blogs at ‘The Muslim Diaspora‘.

Partition image credit: RaghulDev
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the websbite
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Three Things I Wish I Knew Before Getting Married

Sabrina Mahmood pens her top three tips on getting married.

1. Compromise forms part of daily life

Getting used to living with a new person is difficult, you each have your own way of doing things and have to get used to living around someone new. This can be especially difficult if living with in-laws because the initial few months do take work from both of you, and you need to devote plenty of time to this. Before you get married it’s so important to think about whether you are prepared to compromise. Will your potential partner accept that you wish to work, study, meet friends. Will you be able to share the household tasks, or is all this expected to be your responsibility. It’s all well and good before you get married, but once the Nikah is signed, the responsibilities become real. Are you ready to handle this?

Luckily for me, my husband and I share much of the tasks. As I am still studying, I often come home late. On these days my husband will prepare meals, and vice versa when he works and comes back late. Small things like this are so important, not only does it show an immense love and respect, it just makes life that bit easier when you are both making the effort to take care of each other.

2. Are we really compatible?

At the beginning, it can be really hard to determine this, because human nature means that once we like somebody or are interested in them, it can be easy to overlook their flaws. We can accept aspects of their personality which once you are married might become a lot more difficult to handle. I hear a lot of, once we get married ‘he will change’ but the best way to think is that the person you marry will be the same person before and after marriage, so don’t expect any major changes.

I’ll use an example to illustrate what I mean; if the potential partner likes to meet friends out a lot, at first this might seem insignificant. However, if you live with family (or even alone) after marriage, it is hard enough to find time to spend together. So, if the other person spends most of their free time out, how will this affect you? Will you mind spending many evenings/week-ends alone? It might seem a small thing, but later it can become much more troublesome, so it’s best to iron out these things before making any big decisions.

Another important thing here is whether you have the same inherent values. Does the other person believe in the same things as you. To me education is important, and female empowerment. My husband has always been supportive of these things, so when life sometimes gets tough I always feel supported and as if my opinions are valued. This is really important to build a strong relationship. If he thought the work I did to support women’s casues was pointless or insignificant, this would put a strain on our relationship. Is your potential partner mature enough to understand your needs and support you?

Remember, once you are a married you start to rely on each other and emotional support becomes really important. 

3. Communication is key

One of the key things in marriage is effective communication. We all know this but how does it work in practice? Are you a person that needs constant love and affection or do you need more of your own space. I’m the first of these, and I’ve had to communicate to my husband that a text or a small gesture goes a long way. Do you think you will be able to communicate your feelings to your potential husband?

What about the more serious things, like when you feel down or stressed. Will the other person be able to guide you and support you through these times, or are they more of a silent person who doesn’t tend to offer advice. Remember, once you are a married you start to rely on each other and emotional support becomes really important.

Lastly, and probably very important, how do you both react when you are angry. Luckily for me, my husband’s gentle nature will always diffuse my anger. But if you are hot headed and the other person is too, it can become quite difficult when you argue and say things in the moment you don’t mean. You have to be able to communicate through these times, talk through problems and come out stronger. If you know the other person gets angry easily, or likes to avoid dispute resolution, think about whether you can really live with them, because arguments between people that live together, even family, is inevitable!

By Sabrina Mahmood

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

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Altmuslimah (David Campbell)


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

zohra-khaku

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.

There Is No Such Thing As Islamophobia

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

There Is No Such Thing As Islamophobia – FULL TEXT:

You should have seen how I took her down

Pulled that towel right off her head in town

She was screaming as I spat in her face

These rag heads  taking over all our space

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

 

There is no such thing as Islamaphobia

 

Settle down settle down boys, bell went ages ago!

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

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

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

The same stare he gives back

When slapped

by older schoolboys, who tell him

he’s a paki terrorist

There is no such thing as Islamophobia

It’s hot on this damn tube

In my smart shoes and business suit

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

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

My freedom of speech gives me the choice,

So I sing at the top of my voice

Kill them, kill them all….

 

There is no such thing as Islamophobia

 

The sun bears down on an Essex park

Lighting up crisp blades of grass

A breeze moves gently through flowers of red

Where a woman in a burkha and scarf lays dead

Sixteen stab wounds decorated her  body they said…..

 

There is no such thing as Islamophobia

 

I didn’t need to run up fast

That old Muzzrat just shuffled past

Three quick stab wounds to his back

Went down instantly in the attack

Planted bombs at his nearby masjid

Tipton, Walsall, you get my drift

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

 

There is no such thing as Islamophobia

 

There are two exits to Grimsby mosque

But we had each one boxed off

A petrol bomb for each one

And one for the roof, job done

For queen and country, we served well

Ex soldiers if you couldn’t tell

We’re patriotic us, not extreme

Wer just trying to keep Britain clean

 

There is no such thing as Islamophobia

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

There is no such thing as Islamophobia

 

Daily Mail – Muslims tell us how to run our schools

The Independent – Fundamentalists plotting to bring jihad into the classrooms

Daily Star – Muslim sickos- Maddie kidnap shock

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

The Sun – Muslim Convert beheads woman

Evening Standard – Muslim plot to behead soldier in UK

Brit kids forced to eat halal school dinners

Al Qaeda Corrie threat

Jihadist plot to take over city schools

Ramadaan a ding dong

Halal secret of pizza express

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

Muslims loonies hijack elections

Muslim only loos

Muslims

Muslims

Muslims

There is no such thing as Islamophobia

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

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


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The truth about Muslims and sex slavery: according to the Quran rather than ISIS or Islamophobes.

By Mariam Sheikh Hakim

@MariamKSHakim 

Woman reciting Qur'an

Woman reciting Qur’an

 

Like many myths about Islam, the Quran and Muslims, I’ve always heard the worst from Islamophobic extremists and Islamist extremists alike. They tend to share pretty much the same language, online content and perpetuate the same awful narratives about Muslims and their supposed religious practices.

As time wears on I’m starting to see these similarities are unavoidable – particularly online where it is rife. For example this video of a female Muslim ‘scholar’ saying that men can have sex with female prisoners of war to ‘humiliate’ them has  been shared widely on right-wing news sites and social media. It’s been spread in the wake of the recent sexual assault allegations in Cologne and reports of ISIS fighters raping and selling sex slaves. It’s mainly been promoted by Donald Trump supporting anti-Muslim bigots, far-right extremists and people who’ll easily believe anything bad about Muslims.

Those sharing the video usually make unfounded claims that the ‘North African/Arab’ men accused of the Cologne assaults were motivated by a ‘Muslim background’. The video has been used as proof of a culturally ingrained mind-set that all Muslims apparently possess, as well as claims that the Quran supposedly endorses raping women, in particular female slaves.

It’s worth noting the video has also been shared by Muslims who have strongly refuted and ostracised the scholar, reacting with disgust over this extreme view that sexual violence and rape is somehow permissible.

And they are right,, rape and sexual violence is not permitted in Islamic texts. It is of course something that causes harm to other humans, which is not Halal (permissible) and in early Muslim communities rape was a crime punishable by death.

However, seeing as this myth isn’t about to go away with a few online condemnations, what scripture is being cited by extremists and has it been distorted? After all there are billions of Muslims across the globe that aren’t going round capturing women to use as sex slaves.

The main reference cited is Chapter 23:1-6 in the Quran.

“And successful are the believers who guard their chastity … except from their wives or those that their right hands possess.”

There are three main points to understand here:

  1. The reference is about sexual relations, which are forbidden with any woman unless she is a spouse or ‘those their right hands possess’. To be clear, this means a concubine or a slave, but intercourse has to be consensual. Rape is forbidden as it is violent and harmful (obviously) and Islamic texts legislated for the proper and honourable treatment of slaves.It was compulsory for a slave to be well looked after and the slave owner was fully responsible for their well-being.
  2. This is not an entitlement being discussed. Concubinage and interpersonal relations with various bondmaids/slaves was already occurring at the time the Quran came about and subsequent passages list restrictions as a starting point to help progress the end of slavery. In any case marriage was encouraged (Chapter 24:32) with slaves.
  3. Moreover, even consensual sexual relations with a slave were not permissible if it caused harm and abuse elsewhere (e.g. a wife) as all parties involved could be affected.

But why were consensual sexual relations even allowed with slaves? The main source of this is based on the Biblical story of Abraham and Sarah who had a female slave (also described as a ‘bondwoman’ ‘bondmaid’ or ‘concubine’) called Hagar. Through mutual consent Abraham and Hagar had a child together called Ishmael.

Some Islamophobes have a hard time remembering this Biblical narrative, and when confronted with this fact, they start to make strange excuses. https://twitter.com/MariamKSHakim/status/699364956672827393

Given how far society has evolved from slavery, the idea of sexual relations is still an uncomfortable concept for many including myself. Yet this reference to 7th century relations is still a far cry from the ‘all Muslims want to rape sex slaves’ myth that is being perpetuated nowadays. In fact, slavery has never been encouraged by Islamic texts; rather it was something inherited from pre-Islamic cultures (pre-600s) that needed to be voluntarily and gradually weeded out of society. Conveniently something the extremists ignore.

In the Quran, slavery is regarded as something that required restraining and eliminating. Manumission, or the act of a slave owner freeing a slave, was highly encouraged (Chapter 24:33). So is giving this freed slave a portion of your own wealth (Chapter 24:33 & 16:71). The Quran also encourages Muslims (female or male) to marry their righteous slaves; a form of manumission and freedom from stigma (Chapter 24:32). The Quran and later texts list a plethora of avenues to free slaves, as it was seen as a highly virtuous act. In fact, it’s difficult to find references on how to make slaves out of people, rather the focus is always on ending slavery.

Furthermore, passages about slavery don’t apply any longer for a modern age given that slavery was widely abolished in the late 19th century (British empire) and has been officially banned internationally since 1948. Slavery is now illegal and is internationally treated as unethical. There is widespread consensus across all nations on this, including Muslims ones.

There is no desire amongst ordinary Muslims to drag humanity backwards into slavery. Just because something was permissible and regulated under a 7th century society, doesn’t mean it is a necessity for a 21st century one – especially when there was a clear agenda in early Islamic texts to eventually eradicate slavery.

Let’s not forget the Islamic abolitionist movements where Quran interpreters advocated slavery was in opposition to Islamic principles of justice and equality. These movements fought hard for progress and most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are happy to keep moving with the times.

Human trafficking and modern sex slavery is, after all, not just a ‘Muslim’ issue, it’s even happening right under our noses in the UK by all sorts of perpetrators. Therefore let’s spromote those devout Muslims like Zainab Bangura who work hard to empower victims of ISIS sexual violence and slavery, as well as those women seeking justice for having been forced into sex slavery elsewhere in the world.

On that note I leave you with a self-referential passage from the Quran about those seeking to place false interpretations on to its wording and context, be they Muslim or not:

(Chapter 3: verse 7)
“Almighty God has sent down to you the Quran, in it are verses that are precise … and others unspecific. As for those in whose hearts is deviation from truth, they will follow that of it which is unspecific, seeking discord and seeking an interpretation suitable to them.”

The majority of sane, law-abiding, everyday Muslims do not seek to impose themselves on others by force or aggression. They don’t even need me to explain passages in the Quran as they’re not interested in keeping a female slave to rape or ‘humiliate’.

Religious illiteracy has recently been cited as a root cause of extremism and rightly so. Islamophobic extremists as well as Islamist extremists (like ISIS) that promote and validate sexual violence through ‘unspecific passages’ in the Quran – or without context –  do so to justify their own violent mind sets.

These people will and should get called out for it, by non-Muslims and Muslims alike. They have perverted the Quran, which is a falsehood and a smear on the religion of billions across the globe. Islamic texts do not promote rape and do not encourage slavery. We must therefore all be united in spreading light on the matter through proper understanding, not further ignorance and bigotry. This ignorance only plays into the hands of extremists, who have a vested interest in burying the truth of the Quran and pushing their own agendas instead.

 

Mariam Hakim is a communications professional who regularly writes about faith, gender and parenting issues. 

Image courtesy of Hafiz Issadeen; ‘Reciting’ posted on Flickr

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website. A shorter version of this article first appeared on the Independent Voices website.


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I got 99 problems, but judging people shouldn’t be one

haram police

It’s  difficult to be a Muslim online these days; if you’re not receiving backlash from Islamophobic trolls, then you can definitely rely on your own community to take the position of judge and jury when it comes to your morality.

Okay, so I’m being a little facetious. But I see it time and time again, and we need to stop it. Right now. Because although the Muslim community has its fair share of problems, one issue that we can fix ourselves is to stop judging other people. If we all took it upon ourselves to be less judgemental, the whole community would benefit. Judgemental attitudes in the community are definitely a major barrier to Muslims progressing in this modern media landscape.

Let me explain. It’s somewhat true that Muslims are misrepresented by the mainstream media. It seems rare that your average Muslim-neighbour next door gets a spot on TV, and more often than not, the position of representing the token Muslim view often goes to extremists, such as Anjem Choudary.

But, on one hand you can’t complain that Muslims never get a platform while simultaneously judging anyone who tries comes into the limelight. If we want more Muslim-next-door types to come forward, we need to stop being so judgemental.

The internet and blogosphere is perhaps the best example of this. There are lots of Muslims doing good things online. But given that there’s so much judgement from fellow Muslims, you have to ask yourself, who would want to put themselves out there and represent the Muslim view?

For example, any Muslim who doesn’t wear hijab or wears hijab with make-up, or doesn’t wear the right type of hijab or wears the “wrong” type of clothing or who puts pictures up of themselves enjoying a concert or music of any kind (etc. etc. etc. Yawn.) immediately gets a selection of comments from other Muslims who think they know better, who feel they are in the privileged position of deciding who’s good and who’s not. It’s no wonder Muslims are reluctant to step forward.

The truth is that we all pick and choose our actions to some extent and nobody can claim to follow the religion to the letter. We’re all struggling with our own internal conflicts and sense of morality. It’s hard enough trying to be a good person yourself without having to worry about anyone else’s path in life or relationship with God.

Furthermore, if deep down inside, you feel you’re doing the right thing, you need to have the confidence to be true to yourself. Life is too short to worry about what other people are thinking or to worry about the judgement of others. If you don’t feel something is wrong, why pretend otherwise, simply for the sake of others?

One of the most basic tenets of the Islamic faith is bismillah, the declaration: In the name of Allah, the most beneficent, the most merciful. If we really understood the essence of bismillah, then it really wouldn’t be possible for us to judge others are much as we do. If God is the most merciful, the most compassionate and the most just, then surely we need to leave judgement up to Him and Him alone.

If you believe in the justice of God, and you recognise your own pale insignificance in comparison, then logically, it cannot be possible for you to to judge anyone else. Because if you think you know just as much as God, then that has to be the highest form of arrogance. Moreover, by putting yourself on the level of being able to judge another human being, you’ve assigned partners to the Almighty. Therefore judging others surely leads you to committing a form of shirk. It’s a simple message; it’s basic, but please, let’s leave judgement up to the only one who we believe has the capacity to judge.

If we go one step further, it means that as Muslims we have no right to use anyone’s actions to judge who is a Muslim and who isn’t. In a recent interview, after being questioned about what it means to self-identify as a Muslim, Mona Eltahawy’s response was this:

“To say I’m a Muslim. That’s it … You see, when people ask you these observant questions, I know what the goal of this is, you’re trying to put people in a box and say oh you’re that kind of Muslim, oh you’re that kind of Muslim. All you need to know is that I’m a Muslim, and that’s essentially what the prophet said, that you’re a Muslim.”

All human beings are judgemental to some extent and it’s something we all struggle with. But if we want the Muslim community to be better, we must allow for different attitudes and try to avoid judging others. Afterall, diversity within the Muslim community can only be a good thing.

None of us truly know what pleases the Almighty or what anyone’s struggled with or what someone else’s true intentions are. If we believe Allah is just, we must leave judgement up to Him alone. Live and let live.

Image credit: http://www.quickmeme.com/Haram-police

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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Lessons learnt: why don’t more women feel welcome in the mosque?

“Woman is a delicate creature with strong emotions who has been created by the Almighty God to shoulder responsibility for educating society and moving toward perfection. God created woman as symbol of His own beauty and to give solace to her partner and her family.”
Hazrat Ali ibn Abu-Talib A.S

barriers-to-faith-flickrLast month, Islamic centres around the UK joined forces to take part in the MCB’s VisitMyMosque initiative. Mosques taking part opened their doors to the general public and served tea and delicious cakes. However, rather than positive stories of communities getting to know one another, the initiative was overshadowed by Cathy Newman’s claims that she was ushered out of a mosque in South London. Through CCTV footage obtained, it is now apparent that Cathy turned up to the wrong mosque, and that the incident of ushering is at best, questionable, and at worse, probably not true at all.

Cathy has now apologised for “tweets sent in haste”; she’s now taken a break from Twitter. There’s no doubt in my mind that there was a serious error of judgement on her part, and if there’s one thing we can learn from all this, it’s the all-too familiar modern-day adage “think before you tweet”.

But what else could the Muslim community could learn from this incident? Perhaps we need to scratch beneath the surface and ask why Cathy was so quick to assume the worst.

When there are any negative stories about Muslims in the mainstream media, it’s only natural that Muslims will jump on the defensive. That’s because the mainstream media paints an overwhelmingly negative image of Muslim behaviour, which is arguably grossly unfair. However, we also need to be insightful and self-reflective in order to move forward and improve our own internal problems within the Muslim community.

There’s no justifying what Cathy did, but perhaps she wouldn’t have assumed the worst, if the idea of a mosque being unfriendly to women was completely ludicrous. In this case, the incident was due to a mix-up, not sexism, but the fact is, many mosques could definitely do more to make women feel more welcome.

Sometimes it does feel as though some mosques are made for men. The men’s rooms are always bigger, and they always seem to get fed first, while women have to contend with not only waiting to feed hungry children, but also perhaps not getting any of the dessert. 😉

I can only think back to some of my own experiences of trying to visit unfamiliar mosques around London. I remember being pretty excited to find a local mosque close to my university and eagerly printing off Streetmap instructions for how to get there (Google Maps wasn’t around then – I am officially old). Then being turned away hurriedly at the door with the words “Brothers only, brothers only!”

As a working woman, I also felt it was quite difficult to visit mosques in the vicinity of my workplace in order to pray during the day. When I did muster up the courage to visit a local mosque in the City, I found that I was the only woman in the entire building. Moreover, there were no separate washrooms for women, so the Imam had to stand outside the bathroom to prevent men from coming in while I performed the wudu or ritual ablution. While a separate room was unlocked for me, in the end, I felt extremely uncomfortable being a lone woman in a mosque entirely filled with men, so decided I would be better off praying in peace in my own home at a later time during the day.

The imam did well to accommodate me as well as he could, but it seems that a working woman praying in a mosque in the city is perhaps a rare thing.

You could argue that these couple of incidents are one-off experiences that I’ve been unlucky to have faced. However, there is plenty of evidence to show that many Muslim women aren’t accommodated that well. In an article for The Independent, Sara Khan of Inspire argues that despite the Cathy Newman incident being a mix-up, many Muslim women have faced “very real, unambiguous discrimination.”

There’s a strikingly similar account to mine in an article for the Telegraph and Argus. The author, Nabeelah Hafeez, conveys her own terrible experience of trying to visit a mosque while at university.

And, in a piece for The Muslim News, Masuma Rahim recounts the time she tried to offer salat at the West End Mosque, but was told by the imam that she was “not allowed to pray there”. This, despite having prayed there previously, and the mosque having four floors of empty space.

It seems ridiculous that some imams are putting up barriers to offering prayers; these are people who are going out of their way to pray on time. Surely the role of the mosque is to make it easier to worship God.

There are similar accounts of women facing discrimination in the OpenMyMosque initiative. The campaign aims to highlight good and bad experiences of visiting UK mosques, via Facebook and Twitter:

Open-my-mosque

Posts from Open My Mosque on Facebook – click to expand in a new window

Check out the following tweet by the writer and activist, Raquel Evita Saraswati. It seems that in some mosques, men are often granted bigger areas to sit by default, regardless of numbers:

What about children in the mosque?

woman with child in the mosqueEase of access to the mosque seems to become even more difficult once you have kids, and this seems to be true regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman. I’ve spoken to many mums who don’t feel comfortable bringing young children to the mosque because elders say they dislike the noisiness or complain of being distracted.

Furthermore, the lack of baby changing facilities or just a separate, private room to take your children if they need a nappy change, a feed, or just a handy time out can make many parents left feeling unwelcome or reluctant to visit the mosque.

This feels very strange to me. Surely, we should be making it as easy as possible to bring children to the mosque from a very early age, because undoubtedly, the next generation are the future of the faith. And it’s only when they become accustomed to sitting in the mosque from an early age, that they will want to visit of their own accord when they are older. Moreover, visiting the mosque regularly will allow children to socialise and make friends within their own community. Surely, that can only be a good thing.

Even with a separate children’s room, it would be better if some mosques allowed parents to make their own choices about allowing their offspring to sit in the main hall. Putting children in separate rooms often creates pandemonium, whereas in the main hall, children will eventually learn how to behave and sit quietly without distracting others. But, we need fellow Muslims to be understanding and sympathetic in order to allow this to happen.

There’s a good post which explores the importance of bringing children to the mosque in more detail by Aman Ali on Facebook. In this post, Ali recalls his own happy childhood experiences of running freely through the mosque and how this contrasts with what he sees as an adult.

The mosque he talks about had the sign “”NO CHILDREN ALLOWED IN THE PRAYER AREA”, though one father chose to ignore this sign and insist on taking his four-year-old son to prayers.  The dad in question said he often receives complaints and gets shouted at for bringing his child to the mosque.

This is just so sad. We have to ask ourselves what is all this for, if not to allow for the continuity of the faith. How can we expect the next generation to practice the faith, when they are discouraged from visiting the centres of worship?

Is change on the horizon?

Having said all this, it’s not all bad news, however. Mosques such as Hyderi, where Cathy Newman ended up visiting have women on their committees and women are welcomed to pray in the main hall.

Some women have decided to start doing it for themselves and are setting up their own women-only organisations to counter the discrimination they face. Earlier this year, the US’s first women-only mosque opened its doors in LA.

One mosque I frequently visit, Bustan-e-Zehra, has its own women’s section where programmes are organised by a ladies committee. Though more can always be done, it works pretty well, because the women have their own programmes with female speakers and everything is organised impeccably.

While it’s good that women are empowering themselves, the ideal situation is for mosques to improve conditions, to reduce discrimination and to welcome women openly so they don’t have to set up separate organisations for the basic right to worship the Almighty.

I’m pretty optimistic and excited about the opening of the new Salaam Centre. It certainly feels like a new type of mosque, as the project will grant Muslims from all walks of life a much needed community centre. The mosque will provide worshippers not only a place to pray, but also a means for Muslims to educate themselves, socialise, keep fit and much more besides.

The Salaam Centre offers a unique shared space for the community. Open to all, it aims to fulfil the physical, intellectual and spiritual needs of people from all walks of life, age and gender. Beyond the bricks and mortar, we seek to foster an environment of warmth, thought and creativity through the open interaction of users at the Centre, be it during a workout at the gym, a book club in the library or over coffee at the cafeteria. The Salaam Centre can become a place to enjoy with friends and family, a resource for work on projects and shared dreams, and ultimately a space to develop oneself and the community.

The Salaam Centre website

The opening of these new mosques and committees is definitely a positive step forward, but there’s still a long way to go. I’m reminded of the recent HeForShe campaign, because to really change things, we need to recognise that this isn’t a “women’s problem”. We need solidarity, with men and women coming together to implement change, because allowing access to the mosque regardless of gender, race, disability or anything else, truly benefits us all.

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 credits: Barriers to faith, Farrukh via Flickr, Woman with child in a mosque, jankie via Flickr