She Speaks We Hear

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Women’s Peace Tribute following London Bridge and Borough Market Attacks

She Speaks We Hear organised a Women’s Peace Tribute with Women’s March on London, following the brutal atrocity in Manchester, in which twenty-two people were killed and 116 injured in a suicide bombing at Manchester Arena. We never expected to also be paying tribute to victims of two further attacks, that took place on Saturday night,  4 June 2017, on London Bridge and Borough Market. Julie Siddiqi reflects on the tribute:

On Sunday evening a few women got together to meet, to share, to listen, to connect. The same women who came together on Westminster Bridge met this time at the Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park (no idea why I have never been before, it’s so nice!). It was a lovely couple of hours with old friends and some new. I was completely oblivious to the photographer most of the time but she captured some lovely moments as you can see here. I cried that evening when I tried to speak. We had originally arranged the small gathering post Manchester. Then the London attack happened and we decided to still carry on the next day. It felt raw, still does. Sometimes it is so important to meet and be with others, good people. I was grateful that evening to have that opportunity and it helped to laugh and to cry with good people around. I post it not so you can see my crying face necessarily but I hope people reading this will consider and find chances to do something similar, when you feel you need it, whatever works for you, because it really can be a great help 

By Julie Siddiqi

Julie Siddiqi is a mentor, consultant and activist with a focus on gender issues, Jewish-Muslim relations and social action. Julie was the Executive Director of the Islamic Society of Britain from 2010-2014, Founder and Director of Sadaqa Day, a one day Muslim-led focus on social action, and is co-chair of Jewish and Muslims women’s network, Nisa-Nashim.


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A tribute to my uncles who were gunned down in the Nazimabad attacks

brothers

You never think it’s going to happen to you… until it does.

Just over a week ago, I was in a queue with my four-year-old son. We were waiting for a train ride around the park near my parents’ house, when I received a phone call from my mum. It was the phone call that nobody ever wants to receive; the phone call that informs you of tragedy at home.

Five of my maternal uncles had been shot in Nazimabad, Pakistan. We weren’t sure who was alive at that point, but as we took to Twitter, the true reality of the horror was emerging. A ladies majlis, commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (the grandson of the Holy Prophet (SAW)) was taking place in a private residence; gunmen on motorbikes had opened fire, and three of my uncles, Naiyer Mehdi Zaidi, Nasir Abbas, and Baqar Abbas Zaidi had been gunned down in targeted killings.

My remaining two uncles, Tahir Abbas and Nadir Abbas, and my 15-year cousin, Murtaza Ali Zaidi were in critical condition in the hospital. By the mercy of Allah, they have now recovered well.

Let’s be clear here; the attacks were sectarian, specifically targeting the Shia community. Later, the militant organisation, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi took responsibility for the attacks. A spokesman for the group said: “There is no room for the enemies of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in Pakistan”, a reference to Pakistan’s Shia minority.

It is important to note that whoever is behind these attacks, they are following a deviant interpretation of religion aligned to ISIS and al-Qaeda. This intolerant ideology comes from Saudi’s Salafi-Takfiris; they are a violent offshoot of mainstream Islam, and this tiny minority group is giving Muslims around the world a bad name.

In Pakistan, Shias are a persecuted minority who are still not free to practice their religion without fear of being killed for their beliefs. These attacks used to take place in public places, such as mosques, schools and hospitals. Now the attacks are taking place in private residences, which means people are not even free to practice religion in their own homes.

You think that these kinds of attacks happen to other people, but there are so many Shias being targeted, the chances are that you will know someone in Pakistan affected by these acts of violence. At the beginning of October, these same hardline groups killed my friend’s cousin, Mansoor Sadiq Zaidi, in a targeted attack, as he stood with his son outside his house. 

This is genocide, and it is specifically targeting the Shia community.

But this blog post is not an account of what happened that fateful day. You can read that yourself in the newspapers that have covered the event, including The Independent, The Guardian and The Seattle Times. The news made the front page of The Evening Standard last Friday.

This blog post is intended to tell you what you might not know about my mum’s brothers. I want you to know about their magnanimous personalities, about their humanity, and their values.

My mum’s brothers were very open-minded, tolerant, loving people who touched the lives of every single person they met. As I write this post, I know that there are not enough words to express the depth of the grief I am feeling, nor are words enough to explain how incredible my uncles were.

The Nazimabad firing took place during the Holy month of Muharram, when Shias commemorate Imam Hussain’s martyrdom. Ultimately, Hussain’s struggle was about freedom from oppression; about sacrifice to protect universal human values. My uncles lived with the love of the family of the Prophet (SAW) in their hearts, and they implemented these values in their everyday lives.

During the attacks, the gunmen attempted to gain access to the ladies majlis in the house. When they could not enter, they fired gunshots on the people who were sitting outside. As the gunmen came forward, Baqar Abbas Zaidi, my mum’s youngest brother, opened up his arms to protect  the door and to stop the killers from going inside the house. He was killed instantly as the gunmen opened fire on his chest.

I think about how many lives Baqar Mamu has saved through this fearless act of self-sacrifice. By standing between the door and the gunmen, he prevented them from entering the house, thus stopping further bloodshed and carnage.

My Mum’s eldest brother was Naiyer Zaidi, a British citizen who had resided in London for more than 30 years. He loved this country as he had spent most of his adult life here.

Every year, Naiyer Mamu would go to Pakistan to commemorate the events of the tragedy of Karbala with his family. He loved to read poetry, books and literature. After retirement, he spent more and more of his time reading about Islam, and he loved to spend his time in the company of learned Islamic scholars.

It is my view that religious conviction manifests itself in the values of humanity, and Naiyer Mamu’s personality is testament to this. He was kind, he was generous and he was incredibly humble. Moreover, he would view everything in his life as an example of God’s infinite mercy. His positive outlook on life and his ability to always see the best in people is incredibly inspiring.

The true essence of religion is about akhlaaq; it’s about how you treat your fellow human beings. When my paternal grandfather, Qaiser Hussain Zaidi passed away, Naiyer Mamu truly was a rock for our family, giving us so much support and kindness in a period of great difficulty.

Another uncle who was killed on that horrible day was Nasir Abbas, a US citizen. Nasir Mamu brought joy, happiness and laughter to every single person he met. In 2008, my sister and I visited him in the US. In only a few days, Nasir Mamu had such an incredible effect on me. He had what can only be described as a magnetic personality. He was so full of life; not only was he absolutely hilarious, but we would spend hours conversing with him about many topics, including philosophy, poetry, politics. He was incredibly open-minded; he didn’t care about who you were or where you came from. He treated everyone with the same love, respect and dignity.

I have been reflecting on the personalities of my mamus and thinking about what I can learn from them. They were all so positive in their outlook, always seeing the best in every situation.

I know that they would have seen even the way they left this world as an example of God’s blessings. They lived their life through the love of the values of the Prophet (SAW) and his Holy household, and they left this world in the same way. As I watch their funeral, I know the cries of “Labaik Ya Hussain!” would have comforted their souls. They have become shaheed.

I feel so honoured and privileged to have known them, and I feel so sad that they are no longer with us. But to have left this world in the way they did is no doubt a great blessing. They have given me a lifetime of beautiful memories, and to know that so many people around the world are remembering them so fondly, is a source of great comfort.

Please pray for the departed souls of Naiyer Mehdi Zaidi, Nasir Abbas and Baqar Abbas Zaidi.

Please pray for Muhammad Zaki Khan and Nadeem Lodhi, who were also martyred in this brutal attack and for the families of the injured and the deceased.

Please also pray for the soul of Mansoor Sadiq Zaidi.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.
All images are copyright of Aliya Zaidi. All rights reserved. Please do not use without permission.


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To Paris With Love; In celebration, Hope And In Memoriam

by Nazia

@25nazia

Image courtesy of Jean Jullien

Image courtesy of Jean Jullien

Luc‘s mum was a favourite friend of mine in the primary school informal mummies club. She was kind, interesting, chatty and easy to get along with. We had met in the playground through our children who were in the same class together – little sweet five year olds. She had a son who I will name Luc and I had a daughter – let’s call her Amira. Luc’s family were from France but that did not put up any barriers for interaction and friendship (and why should it?). The children spent a year as classmates until Luc’s mum announced they were to return to France. I remember we were all saddened by the news.

In the weeks leading up to their departure I overheard my son teasing Amira about Luc. Amira was angrily arguing with her brother and I decided to step in and enquire about the topic of discussion. My son announced in a mocking singsong manner that Amira had a boyfriend named Luc.

“Amira has a boyfriend na na na na naaa na!”
Amira denied this of course and lashed out at her brother – but (I know it was a bit naughty of us) we all laughed and wanted to know more! However, realising how embarrassed Amira became we backed off and chuckled in private.

The next day I approached Luc’s mum to chat about the funny and sweet news. This is where the story of my daughter having a little sweetheart becomes somewhat serious and a lesson in challenging ideas, beliefs and perceptions. I happily approached Luc’s mother and before I could finish my sentence she laughed and confirmed the story of Luc’s affection for Amira. She continued to explain Luc had felt this way for a while and had announced to his family he would grow up to marry Amira! The entire tale of unrequited love between two cute five year olds melted my heart and I asked her why she hadn’t mentioned it to me before. She answered that she was afraid we would not approve. Those words instantly made my heart freeze and feel sorry that a mother, a friend, should feel this way. I knew where her concern came from. She had an awareness of the conservative nature of my cultural background – even though I don’t recall ever expressing any labels or affiliations. I could have been from any myriad of cultural/religious heritages I mused. She had felt weary of disturbing the friendship because of my potential disapproval of playground love. I reassured her it was fine and that my family found the friendship to be a wonderful part of Amira’s childhood. Indeed it was heart-warming and a pleasure to witness the hilarity and the depth of the bond that existed between the two.

She answered that she was afraid we would not approve.

In the final days leading to Luc’s farewell we dealt with heartbreak and tears from our daughter and watched her be chased around the playground by a cheerful Luc expressing his love with hugs and laughter. Amira was hurt that Luc was leaving along with her favourite music teacher and showed this by crying furiously. This was the first time as a mother I found myself having to step up and read the emotions accurately and effectively. Another group of amused watching mothers came to my aid. The mums helped me work out the confusion and realise Amira was acting out her pain at losing two individuals who meant a great deal to her.
The tale of their love has now become a favourite family story to tell and retell forever to my daughter’s embarrassment. It also forced me to consider how others perceive my family, my faith and cultural heritage and ultimately me. I have to acknowledge the wider impact of such perceptions on the relationships we all forge with those of opposite identities. I wanted Luc’s mother to be comfortable and free with me. I did not want her to be afraid to speak with me about any given topic however controversial. In friendship we should all feel free to express thoughts and emotions – that is the mark of a good friendship. The question that turns in my mind since those days is whether our religious, cultural differences hinder our friendships/relationships? I leave this question open but I would say that many of us in multicultural/faith societies find ways to compromise, cooperate, coexist and love one another.

There are no answers to be found in shutting down free speech and stepping up barriers to free movement of humans, ideas, friendship and love.

I never thought I would share this story with anyone outside my immediate circle of family and friends. The recent Paris attacks have again cast a pall over my sense of what it is to be a person in our super modern fantastic times especially in Europe and the developed world. I am a person at peace with my identity, at peace within my soul. All the rhetoric, all the vitriol after the attacks cannot bring justice to those who lost their lives. There are no answers to be found in shutting down free speech and stepping up barriers to free movement of humans, ideas, friendship and love.
When I think of Paris I want to remember the cool story of our children’s love. A natural love not blinded by restrictions imposed by humans. I want to ask those who are empowered by society to build strong inclusive and safe nations to protect our civil rights in the fight against hate, terror and retribution. I would ask our authority figures to think of our children across the globe and try with all their might to find solutions to the conflicts that were brewed by careless actors.
Living in a multicultural/religious society challenges us to leave behind our preconceptions and take an opportunity to feed the senses with alternative sights, sounds and life. It’s tough to break away from convention, to be a rebel and be different. I imagine Paris is a city like London steeped in history and proud traditions but also a bastion of social experimentation, forward thinking and downright exciting. The reactionary forces who inevitably seek to damn those who seem awkward, ill-fitting, wrong must not succeed. The violent choices of those who view the world through a narrow political/military prism must not taint the lives of innocents.
Luc and Amira didn’t think of the existential hand wringing worrying questioning that adults bother with. In times of sadness and crisis, in happy moments too, the children stand up as ambassadors for life.

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 Jean Jullien; the original painting is posted on Instagram

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