Tuesday, 17 November 2015

EastEnders praised for 'meaning of Islam' scene after Paris attacks Character Tamwar is seen explaining what his religion means to him to girlfriend Nancy

 Jess Denham
Independent News
Copyright, All Rights Reserved
Tuesday 17th November 2015
EastEnders has been widely praised for highlighting the true meaning of Islam during Monday night’s episode.

One brief scene in the long-running soap saw Muslim character Tamwar (Himesh Patel) attempt to explain his religion to girlfriend Nancy (Maddy Hill), after she asked him what an Arabic passage he had marked in The Quran meant.

“Do good to relatives, orphans, the needy, the neighbour who is near of kin, the neighbour who’s a stranger, to the companion at your side, and to the traveller,” it read.
Tamwar said: “That to me is what Islam is about. Be kind to people, family and strangers alike, and love them.”

Many viewers were touched by the moment, which proved poignant following last week’s horrific terrorist attack at the hands of Islamic State gunmen in Paris.

Muslims have been tweeting under the #NotInMyName hashtag to distance themselves from the radical ideology of those who committed the atrocities and remind people that terrorism does not represent Islam.

I was held hostage by Isis. They fear our unity more than our airstrikes by Nicolas Hénin

Published in The Guardian
Monday 16th November 2015
Copyright, All Rights Reserved
In Syria I learned that Islamic State longs to provoke retaliation. We should not fall into the trap
As a proud Frenchman I am as distressed as anyone about the events in Paris. But I am not shocked or incredulous. I know Islamic State. I spent 10 months as an Isis hostage, and I know for sure that our pain, our grief, our hopes, our lives do not touch them. Theirs is a world apart.

Most people only know them from their propaganda material, but I have seen behind that. In my time as their captive, I met perhaps a dozen of them, including Mohammed Emwazi: Jihadi John was one of my jailers. He nicknamed me “Baldy”.

Even now I sometimes chat with them on social media, and can tell you that much of what you think of them results from their brand of marketing and public relations. They present themselves to the public as superheroes, but away from the camera are a bit pathetic in many ways: street kids drunk on ideology and power. In France we have a saying – stupid and evil. I found them more stupid than evil. That is not to understate the murderous potential of stupidity.

All of those beheaded last year were my cellmates, and my jailers would play childish games with us – mental torture – saying one day that we would be released and then two weeks later observing blithely, “Tomorrow we will kill one of you.” The first couple of times we believed them but after that we came to realise that for the most part they were bullshitters having fun with us.

They would play mock executions. Once they used chloroform with me. Another time it was a beheading scene. A bunch of French-speaking jihadis were shouting, “We’re going to cut your head off and put it on to your arse and upload it to YouTube.” They had a sword from an antique shop.
They were laughing and I played the game by screaming, but they just wanted fun. As soon as they left I turned to another of the French hostages and just laughed. It was so ridiculous.

It struck me forcefully how technologically connected they are; they follow the news obsessively, but everything they see goes through their own filter. They are totally indoctrinated, clinging to all manner of conspiracy theories, never acknowledging the contradictions.

Everything convinces them that they are on the right path and, specifically, that there is a kind of apocalyptic process under way that will lead to a confrontation between an army of Muslims from all over the world and others, the crusaders, the Romans. They see everything as moving us down that road. Consequently, everything is a blessing from Allah.

With their news and social media interest, they will be noting everything that follows their murderous assault on Paris, and my guess is that right now the chant among them will be “We are winning”. They will be heartened by every sign of overreaction, of division, of fear, of racism, of xenophobia; they will be drawn to any examples of ugliness on social media.

Central to their world view is the belief that communities cannot live together with Muslims, and every day their antennae will be tuned towards finding supporting evidence. The pictures from Germany of people welcoming migrants will have been particularly troubling to them. Cohesion, tolerance – it is not what they want to see.
Why France? For many reasons perhaps, but I think they identified my country as a weak link in Europe – as a place where divisions could be sown easily. That’s why, when I am asked how we should respond, I say that we must act responsibly.

And yet more bombs will be our response. I am no apologist for Isis. How could I be? But everything I know tells me this is a mistake. The bombardment will be huge, a symbol of righteous anger. Within 48 hours of the atrocity, fighter planes conducted their most spectacular munitions raid yet in Syria, dropping more than 20 bombs on Raqqa, an Isis stronghold. Revenge was perhaps inevitable, but what’s needed is deliberation. My fear is that this reaction will make a bad situation worse.

While we are trying to destroy Isis, what of the 500,000 civilians still living and trapped in Raqqa? What of their safety? What of the very real prospect that by failing to think this through, we turn many of them into extremists? The priority must be to protect these people, not to take more bombs to Syria. We need no-fly zones – zones closed to Russians, the regime, the coalition. The Syrian people need security or they themselves will turn to groups such as Isis.

Canada withdrew from the air war after the election of Justin Trudeau. I desperately want France to do the same, and rationality tells me it could happen. But pragmatism tells me it won’t. The fact is we are trapped: Isis has trapped us. They came to Paris with Kalashnikovs, claiming that they wanted to stop the bombing, but knowing all too well that the attack would force us to keep bombing or even to intensify these counterproductive attacks. That is what is happening.

Emwazi is gone now, killed in a coalition air strike, his death celebrated in parliament. I do not mourn him. But during his murder spree, he too followed this double bluff strategy. After murdering the American journalist James Foley, he pointed his knife at the camera and, turning to the next intended victim, said: “Obama, you must stop intervening in the Middle East or I will kill him.” He knew very well what the hostage’s fate would be. He knew very well what the American reaction would be – more bombing. It’s what Isis wants, but should we be giving it to them?

The group is wicked, of that there is no doubt. But after all that happened to me, I still don’t feel Isis is the priority. To my mind, Bashar al-Assad is the priority. The Syrian president is responsible for the rise of Isis in Syria, and so long as his regime is in place, Isis cannot be eradicated. Nor can we stop the attacks on our streets. When people say “Isis first, and then Assad”, I say don’t believe them. They just want to keep Assad in place.

At the moment there is no political road map and no plan to engage the Arab Sunni community. Isis will collapse, but politics will make that happen. In the meantime there is much we can achieve in the aftermath of this atrocity, and the key is strong hearts and resilience, for that is what they fear. I know them: bombing they expect. What they fear is unity.

Nicolas Henin is author of Jihad Academy, The Rise of Islamic State

The Paris Attack and My Racist Facebook 'Friends' by Craig Considine

Published in The Huffington Post
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"Thirty-five people dead in Paris. They don't know what it is yet. Not sure if there were bombs."

That was the text message I received on Friday during my walk home from Rice University.
"Here we go again," I thought...

My first reaction: The media will instantly assume Muslims carried out the attack, regardless of whether Muslims were even involved. That is standard fare these days in the media. Violence = Islam = Terrorism. My second reaction concerned my social media feeds. I had a gut feeling that my Facebook "friends" were going to pour their hearts out for the killings in Paris.

I was right. And I was a bit annoyed by that.

"TERROR." That was the first word that I saw on CNN when I got home. Go figure. Twenty minutes after the attack, and the media made sure to let me know that this attack deserves the word "terrorism." Never mind the recent Charleston shooting, where a white man killed nine black people in a predominantly black church. That was not "terrorism." That was just violence carried out by a "crazy white dude." This "crazy white dude" is not a terrorist. Because he is white. White people do not commit terrorism. Only brown people can do that. And brown Muslims at that.

Let us have an honest discussion for once. When people die in Paris, the media calls it "horrific." When hundreds of Syrians die on any given day, the media hardly flinches. Events in Syria do not get labeled "horrific." That is because Syrians dying is considered "normal," their deaths simply pass us by. No big deal.

About an hour after the attacks were first reported, I started to wonder, "How long before these events are linked to ISIS? How long before these deaths are used to justify Western imperialism in the Middle East?" In my head, I gave it 24 hours. In reality, it was about 24 minutes.

My Facebook feed confirmed my fear. "Friends" posted things like "the terrorists shouted 'Allah Akbar.' See? It is terrorism! Fuck terrorism! Screw ISIS." Yet, when a Christian kills an Afghan to "protect and preserve American values," none of these "friends" label that "terrorism." How dare someone even suggest Americans are terrorists! Our violence is completely justified because it is our violence. We are never terrorists, only anti-terrorists. We are civilized; they are uncivilized. So the argument goes.

Hardly any of my "friends" shared their outrage when a dead Syrian baby washed up on a beach in the Mediterranean. Hardly any of them shed a tear. Did any of my "friends" even notice? That is the bigger question. And yet, what happens when Paris is attacked? When Parisians die? People are enraged.

The double standards are ridiculous.

And what about President Obama? His initial response, which came up on my Facebook feed, condemned the horrible attack that terrorized Parisian civilians. Yet Obama has indirectly killed too many civilians to count. Where are my Americans "friends" condemning the president? Is it okay when our president is responsible for the deaths of babies in Pakistan? It appears so. The silence confirms that. The silence is deafening.

Let us count the civilian death toll in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan. The number is high. Shockingly high! These deaths occur in the face of imperialism. Our imperialism. It is our terrorism, but nobody thinks of it that way. That, in itself, is racist.

Then there are my "friends" who say, "the terrorists in Paris attacked our values, our Western values. That was their intention!" Really? I doubt that. And even if that were true, that is a racist argument. It suggests that Muslims are backward, pre-modern and incapable of progress. It suggests that "our" way of life is inherently better than "theirs." That is racist too. It suggests that "the West" and "Islam" are fundamentally incompatible. That is racist. Make no mistake about it.

Again, let us be honest. There is only outrage on Facebook when "we" suffer from "terrorism." "We" meaning the so-called "civilized West." There exists a hierarchy of human life on Facebook and elsewhere. Some people are valued, while others are not. An American life is worth more than an Iraqi life. A French life is worth more than a Palestinian life. Somehow, what happened in Paris is unjustified. It is "barbaric." Yet everything the "West" has inflicted on others, the extreme state-sponsored violence, the imperialism, the destruction, is somehow justified. This deeply ingrained racism is real. Very real.

My Facebook "friends" criticize me for asking the question, "Why are some lives valued, while others are not?" They are particularly upset with the timing of this question. But let me ask you: When is the right time or wrong time to talk about racism or humanity? Should I just sit back and wait for a bright sunny day, when nobody gives a crap, to share my views, or should I cut right to the chase, during the heat of the moment, and call out racism when I see it?

Now is always the time to talk about the value of human life. If not now, when?

Islamic State wants the West to hate Muslims - this must be resisted -- IAIN MacWHIRTER / Sunday 15 November 2015 / Opinion

Copyright, All Rights Reserved

FRANCE is at war,” said Francois Hollande on the morning after the worst attack on French soil since the Second World War. But at war with what? Islamic State isn’t a country. They don’t invade with armies, but with fear.

You can’t go to war with an organisation that doesn’t stand and fight and nor can you punish people who’ve already sacrificed their lives. Hollande said the perpetrators will be pursued “without mercy”.
But you can’t sentence a suicide bomber to death. IS are terrorists whose objective is not to occupy but to polarise; to encourage repressive measures from the state against Muslims, and to force non-Muslim communities to regard followers of Islam as “enemies within”.

They know that the influx into Europe of large numbers of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East is reawakening latent xenophobia in French society. IS are doing a recruiting job for the extremist Front National of Marine Le Pen who is expected to win next month’s regional elections in northern France. The FN wants Europe to rebuild its borders and end free movement.
The Paris attacks seem to have been consciously targeted at trendy cafes and restaurants attended by urban liberals who celebrate multiculturalism and for whom religious or racial intolerance is abhorrent.
It was retaliation against the Paris that came out in force to express solidarity with the victims of Charlie Hebdo in January. “They curse our prophet,” said the IS statement. The rhetoric may be mediaeval but the tactics are 21st century. These are digital zealots, connoisseurs of popular culture, who may even posses a grim sense irony. Their main attack in Paris was at a rock concert fronted by the American band Eagles of Death Metal. But it was real death metal flying into the bodies of young people from Kalashnikovs wielded by Islamist fanatics.

The message was clear: the young people in the West play at death; IS do the real thing.
IS says it is targeting Paris in part because of the bombing in Syria, but principally because it is “the capital of adultery and vice”. The cover of the Eagles of Death Metal’s latest album Zipper Down depicts a woman in a leather jacket revealing her breasts.

The imagery will not be lost on the legions of young impressionable Muslims on the internet.
The only way to defeat IS is to withstand it. The people of Paris understand this. On BBC radio yesterday a young Parisian announced that “everybody is going to go out and eat cheese and drink wine like we always do on Saturdays”. That’s the spirit. Hurling rhetoric and more drones at IS only makes it stronger. The best way to combat this kind of threat, is to keep calm and carry on.
That’s how Britain withstood the IRA’s mainland bombing campaign which killed so many.

The one thing the terrorists want is for governments to launch another war on terror, just as America did after 9/11. So let’s hear no more of it. The weapon Islamic extremists fear most is tolerance.

To Defeat ISIS, We Must Call Both Western and Muslim Leaders to Account And that includes the Saudi kings whose funding of Wahhabi doctrine gave rise to the scourge of Islamic extremism. by Laila Lalami

Published in The Nation
November 15, 2015
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 hat happened in Paris on November 13 has happened before, in a shopping district of Beirut on November 12, in the skies over Egypt on October 31, at a cultural center in Turkey on July 20, a beach resort in Tunisia on June 26—and nearly every day in Syria for the last four years.

The scenario is by now familiar to all of us. News of the killings will appear on television and radio. There will be cries of horror and sorrow, a few hashtags on Twitter, perhaps even a change of avatars on Facebook. Our leaders will make staunch promises to bring the terrorists to justice, while also claiming greater power of surveillance over their citizens. And then life will resume exactly as before

Except for the victims’ families. For them, time will split into a Before and After.

We owe these families, of every race, creed, and nationality, more than sorrow, more than anger. We owe them justice.

We must call to account ISIS, a nihilistic cult of death that sees the world in black and white, with no shades of gray in between.

We must call to account Bashar al-Assad, whose response to peaceful protesters in the spring of 2011 was to send water cannons and military tanks to meet them.

We must call to account the governments of the United States, France, Britain, Russia, Iran, and many others, who lent support and succor to tyrant after tyrant in the Middle East and North Africa, and whose interventions appear to create 10 terrorists for every one they kill.

We must call to account George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, whose disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003 and subsequent disbanding of the Iraqi army destabilized the entire region.

When I was a child in Morocco, no clerics told me what to do, what to read or not read, what to believe, what to wear. And if they did, I was free not to listen. Faith was more than its conspicuous manifestations. But things began to change in the 1980s. It was the height of the Cold War and Arab tyrants saw an opportunity: They could hold on to power indefinitely by repressing the dissidents in their midst—most of them secular leftists—and by encouraging the religious right wing, with tacit or overt approval from the United States and other Western allies. Into the void created by the decimation of the Arab world’s secular left, the Wahhabis stepped in, with almost unlimited financial resources. Wahhabi ideas spread throughout the region not because they have any merit—they don’t—but because they were and remain well funded. We cannot defeat ISIS without defeating the Wahhabi theology that birthed it. And to do so would require spending as much effort and money in defending liberal ideas.

The beheadings, the crucifixions, the destruction of cultural heritage that ISIS practices—none of these are new. They all happened, and continue to happen, in Saudi Arabia too. The government of Saudi Arabia has beheaded more people this year than ISIS. It persecutes Shias and atheists. It has slowly destroyed sites of cultural and religious significance around Mecca and Medina. To almost universal indifference, it has been bombing Yemen for seven months. Yet whenever terror strikes, it escapes notice and evades responsibility.

In this, it is aided and abetted by Western governments, who buy oil from tyrants and sell them weapons, while paying lip service to human rights.

I have no patience anymore for people who claim that Muslims do not speak out. They do, every day. Muslims are the primary victims of ISIS, and its primary resisters. It is an insult to every one of the hundreds of thousands of Muslim victims of terrorism to lump them with the lunatics who commit terror. The truth is that ISIS unleashes its nihilistic violence on anyone—Muslim, Christian or Jew; believer or unbeliever—who doesn’t subscribe to their cult.

I wish I could do something for the victims of terrorist violence. But I am a writer; words are all I have. And all I know is that I want, with all my heart, to preserve and celebrate what ISIS wishes to destroy: a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural life.

A Reminder That A Syrian Migrant's Son Gave Us The iPhone Europe's xenophobes should think twice.

Headshot of Alexander C. Kaufman
Business Editor, The Huffington Post
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A Hungary ruled by right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban doesn't deserve to produce the next iPhone.

The populist leader has spewed viciously xenophobic and anti-Muslim rhetoric as migrants -- many of whom escaped violence in Syria -- amass in Hungary, a way station on the route to Germany. This, even as the world reels from the photo of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi's drowned body, cradled in the arms of a Turkish police officer. The gut-wrenching image only served to illustrate the desperate odds refugees face while trying to escape war at home.

Still, Orban is not alone.

In Greece, masked gunmen attack boats of migrants, attempting to prevent them from reaching the shores of the European Union. Even in Germany, where the government has taken in a record 800,000 refugees, a surge in neo-Nazi attacks on migrants have rocked the country.

Images of people leaving a Hungarian railway station on Friday to travel to Austria on foot demonstrate rich nations' reluctance to provide safe havens to those lucky enough to set foot in a stable country.

But, lest we forget, one of the men who most dramatically impacted human civilization in the last decade was the son of a Syrian who migrated to the U.S. in 1954.

Perhaps you've heard of him. His name was Steve Jobs.

If you wouldn't say it about a Jew, please don't say it about a Muslim

Alastair Sloan  
Monday, 16 November 2015 16:50 
Published at Middle East Monitor
All Rights Reserved, Copyright

“Jews are transforming Europe, says celebrity, in warning over dangers of mass immigration. One major entertainment figure has bravely voiced an alternative view, highlight[ing] how an influx of Jews could change the nature of the UK for ever.”

Does that headline and opening sentence make you feel uncomfortable? No? Perhaps this will.
“In some Jews’ hearts these vile gunmen are bringing forward the day of Jewish domination. Secretly they may look forward to that.”

The above quotes are taken, respectively, from articles by Sebastian Shakespeare in the Daily Mail in September, and Kelvin MacKenzie in the Sun newspaper on Monday, post-Paris terrorist attacks. I have, as you have probably already guessed, made some slight alterations to the original text. The word “Muslims” has been replaced with “Jews”. The swap is not merely to highlight the universal nature of prejudice and stereotype, but to remind us of a historic context.

Imagine my redactions as a time machine and we have gone back to 1946. The King David Hotel has just been bombed in Jerusalem, killing 91 people, mainly civilians, at Britain's headquarters in the Palestinian Mandate. The perpetrators were Jewish terrorists, who, impatient for the state of Israel to be established, had decided to kill innocent civilians.

Contrary to the myths that pervade today, large sections of the British public were hostile to Jews before, during and even after the war, goaded by contemporary polemicists of the Shakespeare and MacKenzie kind, and brainwashed by slanted news coverage in publications like the Daily Mail. Jewish immigration was restricted even in the face of pending, contemporaneous and post-genocide, mainly because Jews were considered “unassimilable”. The parallels with today's Syrian refugee crisis are uncanny.

I have no doubt that Kelvin MacKenzie and Sebastian Shakespeare would have been “warning” about Jewish immigration to Britain if they had been working in the 1940s. They would have denied they were being anti-Semitic, of course, but merely pointing out facts. After all, Jews really were carrying out terrorist attacks against British subjects in London, Rome, Cairo and Palestine. Even the White House was sent letter bombs by the same group of Jewish terrorists. Yet just as we do now, the actions of a few resulted in prejudice being dished out against the many.

Bigotry is irrational and timeless; it simply attacks the weakest target at any given time, with only scantly plausible justification. First it was the Jews accused of political conspiracies or terrorism; then it was the Ugandan Asians, who were described by one British media outlet as “parasites” and greeted at the airport by Brits waving placards saying “Go home”; now it is the turn of the Muslims of the Middle East, and even those who are British citizens. Little or no effort is made to understand them, or even to talk to those who are being criticised. How many pundits who criticise Islamists and jihadists so hotly have ever even met one? How many have spent time with conservative Muslims, to test their jaundiced assumptions that they support terrorism?

I despair when know-it-all commentators puff up their chests and declare patronisingly, “Islam is not the problem, Islamism is”, as if this is some sort of extraordinary insight that demonstrates their expertise in these matters. Then you read the accompanying article and discover that they think Islamists are exemplified by Al-Qaeda, Daesh/ISIS or Nigeria’s Boko Haram instead of those groups being, by sheer lack of numbers, the radicals on the extreme fringe.

Take Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood for example, which may have well over a million members, with which the British government has, despite its best efforts, failed comprehensively to find any evidence of links to terrorist activity. Or take the “jihadi revisionists” of the late nineties, Egyptian Islamists who convinced thousands of other Islamists to lay down their arms and enter peaceful politics. Or the ordinary peaceful Islamists in Britain today, some of whom have risked a great deal to negotiate the safe release of numerous Western hostages from ISIS and other militants’ hands, only to return home to be smeared by the government and a pliant media as “non-violent extremists”.

This persistent myth that much of Britain was never actively hostile to Jews fleeing the Holocaust prevents serious introspection today about the level of Islamophobia currently gripping Britain. Until the reality of our collective prejudice at that most desperate time in European history is recognised properly, writers like Sebastian Shakespeare and Kelvin MacKenzie will continue to believe that their bigotry is rationalised through present circumstances.

This history denial was exemplified by a recent article in the Daily Express: “Outrage as UN compares not accepting more Syrian refugees to refusing Jewish people in WW2” thundered the headline. The piece was on UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Jordan’s Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, who reminded the world about, “The 1938 Evian conference, where countries including the UK, US and Australia said admitting large numbers of German and Austrian Jews would strain their economies and societies.”

In response, Conservative MP Sir Bill Cash labelled Hussein's comments “deplorable” and claimed: “Britain took in a huge number of Jews and stood against Hitler. It is not appropriate to use that kind of analogy against those who saved Europe from the kind of abominations that were being perpetrated by Germany.”

It is an absurd claim by Cash, given that before the Jewish refugee crisis, Britain had no immigration controls whatsoever and introduced its first visa system specifically to reduce the flow of refugees from Germany and Austria, who were predominantly Jews. Both Roosevelt and Churchill were keen not to give the impression that the war was being undertaken to save Jews, for fear of provoking an anti-Semitic domestic backlash.

As Leon Silver of East London Central Synagogue, which stands close to the much-defamed East London Mosque, puts it, “What was said about Jews then, they are saying about Muslims now.” The memory of the Holocaust has, certain inaccuracies excluded, produced a near impenetrable legal and moral shield against anti-Semitism for Britain's Jews. Why then, are Muslims suffering in the exact same way that the Jews once did? It's time for a new rule: if you wouldn't say it about a Jew, please don't say it about a Muslim.

You can follow the author on Twitter @AlastairSloan

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Paris Attack: As a Muslim I am disgusted how ISIS can carry out this violence and claim to represent my faith. We cannot let the terrorists win by dividing our nation. by Miqdad Versi

Published in The Independent News
Copyright, All Rights Reserved
Saturday 15th November 2015

The condemnation and the sense of horror has been the universal human reaction to the events in Paris. Even if we aren’t directly affected, we still feel some of the pain of the families of those killed and injured.

As a Muslim I am not only shocked at the evil and carnage inflicted on innocent people, but I am equally if not more so angry that these people should do so through some misguided and warped grasp of my faith.
But there is also a real concern that in the days ahead, there will be those who will try to use the Parisian atrocity to divide the British society and as an excuse to launch attacks against Muslims, as happened after the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year.

With a number of horrific tweets talking about killing all Muslims and with people such as Richard Dawkins equating Islam with Nazism, we need to be vigilant. WikiLeaks has suggested that it is indeed the strategy of Daesh in France is to provoke a crackdown on Muslims.

Verbal assaults against Muslims have already begun to take place. At a bus stop in the UK today, a man shouted, “They need to all die, these Muslims need to die. Look what they're doing in Paris,” to a young Muslim woman. There are also unconfirmed reports of a glass bottle thrown at a young Muslim woman in West London this morning. This adds to the fear amongst some Muslims, after a string of recent Islamophobic incidents including a woman who was pushed into a moving train earlier this week.

Some parents have therefore been advising their daughters to remove their headscarf for fear of attack, and many women, including my own wife, feeling unsafe to go out today even though the attacks happened in France.

In the past week, British Muslims have also been rocked by suicide attacks devastating Beirut which killed over 40 people, and in Baghdad, which took over 20 lives. Da-esh or the so-called “ISIL” (who are anything but Islamic) have claimed responsibility for each of these attacks. These incidents come on the back of thousands being killed by Daesh in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, amongst others.

There are many who feel wary of trying to restate the fact that #MuslimsAreNotTerrorists, which is currently trending on Twitter – given these actions are anything but Islamic. Once again there will be a debate as to whether Muslims should be compelled to condemn those terrorists who kill in our name. Sadly, I feel we have no option but to make sure our voice is heard.


Muslim have come out in united condemnation to stand apart from this evil. Many Muslim organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) have condemned the bloodshed in the strongest possible terms, describing the actions of the perpetrators as ‘outside the bounds of our faith’. 
There is also a desire to move beyond words and show solidarity through action. It is remarkable to see the scale and speed of reaction from Muslim communities across the country. By this morning - less than one day after the attack - a silent vigil had been organised by the Christian-Muslim Forum with support from the MCB and numerous other groups across the country. At 6:30pm, tea lights and blue, white and red flowers will adorn Trafalgar Square for the vigil.

As we all mourn the devastation caused by these terrorists, who try and claim legitimacy from the faith of Islam, and as we all support effective methods to keep our nation safe and secure, we cannot let the terrorists win by dividing us. Together, we must stand united.

We must destroy ISIS but not play into their hands - the wrong response would create countless new recruits

By Sunny Hundal
Published in The Independent News
Saturday 14th November 2015
All Rights Reserved, Copyright
The worst response to a tragic and horrific attack like that on Paris last night would be one that strengthens Isis. When President Francois Hollande said we are at war with Isis today, he was right. But it is a war we can only win if we don’t get provoked into the response they want from us. The response they expect.

Parisians are sadly becoming all too used to this kind of violence. It was only in January this year when the attack on Charlie Hebdo left most of its staff dead or maimed. And now this, an attack so ferocious and brutal that Paris may take years to recover. Seven years ago, to this very month, gunmen also ran amok in Mumbai and unleashed terror that was to last four days and claim 164 lives. This is global war, and and it could be very well be a generational war.
As I watched the horror unfold on TV last night, I was asked: “why are they doing this?” - which seems like a naive question but is actually an excellent place to start from. If Isis were indeed behind this (they have now claimed responsibility) - why would they do this?

Isis are doing this to provoke us. They want us to attack them on their soil: in Iraq and Syria. They want to see western troops back in those lands because the chaos and backlash that would create would play directly into their hands. It would create countless new recruits for them.

Isis are also doing this to create division and exploit tension in our modern multi-racial societies. They want western Muslims to feel unwanted in their homes in Europe, and to instead join them in Syria. They want western Muslims to feel that they can only truly be at home at the Isis Caliphate.
And Isis want to see western countries become closed, authoritarian societies where we live in fear of them and their capabilities. They hate what we stand for and they want to provoke us into changing that.
Isis are doing this to provoke us. They want us to attack them on their soil: in Iraq and Syria

The temptation to react to Isis in the way they want will be strong in the aftermath of Paris. Francois Hollande says our response to Isis must be “merciless” - and I agree - but it must also be strategic so we don’t fall into their trap.
We must stand for our values: liberalism, secularism, openness, free speech and equality: those are the values we swear by and those are the values we must now strain every sinew to live by.

When Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would offer shelter to Syrian refugees earlier this year, Isis released a dozen videos in panic, encouraging Syrians to come back. But the damage was done. Syrians saw that Europe was more willing to offer them refuge and dignity than many Muslim states. That they were not heading to the Isis Caliphate was a slap in the face.

The attacks in Beirut and Paris is their response. They want us to brush away humanity and compassion with suspicion and division. By following that script we do exactly what Isis want us to do. The destruction of the Isis Caliphate must happen, but it must come from a Muslim-led force. After all, ordinary Muslims have been its biggest victims.

That isn’t to say we must do nothing. We have to challenge Islamism and its sympathisers in the west, and we have to stand for our values. There’s also no doubt we must win the war against Isis. But we cannot win it if we’re provoked into the response they want. We cannot win with a response that strengthens them rather than weakens them.

Thoughts and prayers for Paris as we condemn terror in all parts of the world today

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Majority of British Muslims have witnessed Islamophobia – study 60% of respondents to survey say they have seen abuse or discrimination directed at fellow Muslims, up from 40% in 2010

By Vikram Dodd
Published at the Guardian
Wednesday 11th November 2015
All Right Reserved, Copyright

The majority of British Muslims say they have witnessed discrimination against followers of the Islamic faith and that a climate of hate is being driven by politicians and media, a study has found.
Six out of 10 Muslims in Britain surveyed by the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) said they had seen Islamophobia directed at someone else, up from four in 10 when the survey was first conducted in 2010. Then, half of Muslims said they had not witnessed Islamophobia – a figure that has now crashed to 18%.

Furthermore, feelings of being increasingly demonised and discriminated against are rising, according to the report, which says Muslims suffer physical and verbal abuse, as well as discrimination in the workplace.

The study is based on interviews with 1,780 people and repeats questions asked in 2010.
In the latest study, nearly every headline finding is worse. The results paint a picture of alienation among a community seen by Whitehall, police and security officials as crucial to helping provide intelligence to thwart terrorism.

More than two-thirds of Muslims told the survey they had heard anti-Islamic comments by politicians, and half thought politicians condone Islamophobic acts. Nearly nine out out of 10 thought discrimination was driven by the way Muslims are portrayed in media coverage.
The findings come amid controversy about a planned crackdown on what the government says are extreme views, which are currently lawful, which some British Muslims and even police chiefs warn will create further alienation.

Subtle effects of discrimination are also on the rise, the study claims. It found 63% said they had experienced “being talked down to or treated as if you were stupid; having your opinions minimised or devalued,” up from 38% in 2010.

More than half said they had been “overlooked, ignored or denied service in a shop, restaurant or public office or transport”, while three-quarters said they had been stared at by strangers.
The IHRC report links rising prejudice to politicians and the media and says: “Just over half believe that politicians condone discriminatory acts against Muslims. This perception indicates that the level of political discourse is seen to be poisonous and one of attribution of blame to Muslims.”

Since 2001 the government has been trying to counter a rising terrorist threat, and it says the threat of attack by those driven by an extremist Islamism ideology is high.

The report says: “The hate environment created by negative political and media discourse, mutually constituted with laws that discriminate … work together to create a hate environment within which the negative experiences of hated societies are produced and as this research shows, in the UK context, have worsened over the five-year period.”

The IHRC has critics, among them the Henry Jackson Society, which the commission says is a front for neo-Conservative propaganda. The Henry Jackson Society said: “The IHRC’s claims that the government’s counter-radicalisation strategy is designed to criminalise Islam and Muslims fuels fear within Muslim communities. We believe this to be far more divisive than any efforts to identify individuals who may be vulnerable to radicalisation.”

Others welcomed the report. Rowan Williams, he former archbishop of Canterbury, said: “This will make very uncomfortable reading; not all will agree with every aspect of the analysis, but it is painfully clear that physical and verbal violence against Muslims has risen spectacularly in recent years. What is described here is a serious reproach to our society’s most humane ideals and values.”

Prof Ian Law, of the University of Leeds, said the study shed light on the rise of anti-Muslim prejudice: “This report identifies a shocking deterioration in the quality of everyday life since the last report in 2011. Increasing hostility in political and media discourse, increasing hostility on the streets in terms of physical attacks and abuse and increasing hostility in the labour market and in educational contexts are some of the key markers of increasing anti-Muslim hate identified here.”

The findings match what some senior police chiefs have told the Guardian about their assessment of Muslims communities.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Finding Allah: why more and more Scots are converting to Islam by Imran Azam and Karin Godwin

Published in The Herald Scotland - Sunday 4th October 2015
Copyright, All Rights Reserved

A GROWING number of Scots are converting to Islam - with the majority young women.
Glasgow Central Mosque alone is now seeing more than 200 Scots a year 'revert'. Due to the rising number of Scots finding Islam, mosques across the country are also setting up support groups for new 'reverts'. Many are fearful of abuse and intimidation.

Reversion is the preferred term within Islam for those who 'convert' - as Muslims believe everyone is born believing in Allah.

The Sunday Herald spoke to Hannah, a 25-year-old administrator from Glasgow who recently “reverted”. Hannah asked for her surname to be kept confidential. Though brought up without any particular faith, Hannah is one of a growing number of Scots who are turning to Islam despite what many see as a “demonisation” of the religion.

“I’d done a degree in comparative religion and had to analyse all the religious texts,” said Hannah. “I went away from that thinking that maybe I should be a Christian.

“But a few months later, while meditating, I found myself pulled in the direction of Islam. After that I started reading again, but this time in a more emotional way. I found I preferred the simplicity of Islam.”
After mulling it over for six months, she decided to revert. In July this year, she visited Glasgow Central Mosque to take the Shahada – a declaration of faith in front of two witnesses, in which Allah is recognised as the only God.

Her conversion was shared online by the Glasgow Central Mosque along with others including 20-year-old Jade from the Shetland Isles, and Katie, also 20 and an administration worker from Glasgow, who made her Shahada last month.

Glasgow Central Mosque says numbers of “reverts” have been gradually rising and they are now dealing with up to four conversions a week. Along with the Edinburgh Central Mosque, it has now started support groups for new Muslims. The total number of converts is not known, but according to a report by Faith Matters, 5,200 people now join the UK-wide Muslim population of three million every year. Scotland’s community is significantly smaller at 90,000 people, over one-third of whom live in Glasgow.

Rizy Mohammad, a co-ordinator at the Glasgow Central Mosque, said: “We are seeing an influx, particularly in the number of women expressing an interest in Islam. I don’t think there is one reason for it but it’s interesting that after 9/11, where Muslims were blamed for the bombing of the twin towers, a lot of people started doing their own research. Many found out more about Islam that led them to different conclusions.

“There is also the spiritual dimension. They’ve been part of the material world, done the shopping thing and now they are looking for a deeper connection.”

But for many reverts, it is not an easy transition. High-profile conversions of white Muslims such as Richard Dart, who is serving a six-year jail sentence for plotting an attack on soldiers in Royal Wootton Bassett, mean alarm bells often sound for family members.

“Because of the extent of Islamophobia in the media, my mum, who is a Pagan, thought that I was going to join IS,” said Hannah. “People see the violent, loud things. They don’t see the quiet Muslims who aren’t doing anything bad. My brother told her not to be so ridiculous and after about a week she came round. Now she makes sure that I don’t drink when I come to her house and even cooks halal for me.”

Hannah has also found some of the more conservative aspects of the religion, which still segregates men and women at places of worship, difficult to deal with. She admits she has taken off her hijab in parts of the city where she perceived the reaction to Muslim men and women wearing full traditional dress to be less than supportive. Since converting she has not been swimming due to concerns about covering up, and finds it hard cycling while wearing a hijab.

A 2013 Cambridge University study about women’s experience of conversion claimed it was “not for the faint-hearted”.

“I think in Islam men and women are equal but different,” said Hannah. “But I also think there are some cultural issues with equality.”

Jay (not his real name), who converted less than three months ago after a near-death experience with drugs, said that while some friends had asked if he was going to travel to Syria and fight for IS, most people have been positive about his decision. Before his conversion, he said, he worked and partied too hard, and lived for the weekend.

“One of my colleagues in particular was keen to know why I converted,” said Jay. “He wanted to know how I could give up the clubs, drink and girlfriends, and now spend my time praying.

“I told him that now I had inner peace. I could now go to sleep at night. A few weeks later he also became Muslim.”

However, other converts have been left disillusioned. Dawud Duncan, originally from Oban, who became Muslim nine years ago, believes the lack of support from fellow “heritage Muslims” - people born into Islam -has led some reverts to leave their newfound faith.?“When a person takes the Shahada they are treated like a superstar and everyone wants to know their story,” he said. “However, within a week they can be left to their own devices. This can make the individual feel very isolated as they are often caught between two communities.”

Duncan, who now lives in Glasgow, currently hosts an online radio programme for converts and also aims to set up a support and advocacy group. He hopes that issues raised by the group can be taken up by the leadership of the mosque to help avoid future problems.

“New Muslims have so much to offer the Muslim community and Scotland,” said Duncan. “This would include a fresh perspective and a deeper understanding of the cultural issues our society faces. Converts find it easier to explain Islam to a Scottish audience.”

His experience chimes with that of Saleem Mcgroarty, 43, from Edinburgh, a member of the Edinburgh Muslim Community Association who was raised a Catholic and converted to Islam at 26.
He no longer attends his local mosque due to concerns about its links to Saudi Arabia, a country with a very conservative approach to Islam, and has found it hard to integrate.

Mcgroarty said: “I think there should be some emotional and community support, a buddy network; the things you really need when you are moving into another world.”

In Mecca I saw little of Islam’s compassion, but a lot of Saudi Arabia’s neglect by Sabreena Razaq Hussain

Published in The Guardian - Comment is Free, All Rights Reserved, Copyright
Friday 2nd October 2015

I am grateful to be alive after a distressing Hajj experience – and urge all Muslims to protest about the inhumane treatment of pilgrims. Radical change is needed  

With 2 million people gathered in one small city for the hajj, some discomfort was to be expected. And putting up with it was, I initially thought, an opportunity to exercise the patience so very valued by our faith of Islam and in the holiest of cities. So we marched on hopefully.
But with the 40-plus degree heat of Mecca, the harsh policing, the aggressive crowds, the chaotic organisation, the pressure was relentless. As the days went on, I couldn’t have felt a starker contrast between the spiritual tranquillity and contentment experienced within the confines of the Grand Mosque and sites, and the anxiety and distress caused by those policing it. Prior to my arrival in Saudi Arabia, accompanying my parents on pilgrimage, my ignorance had led me to believe that one of the richest Muslim countries in the world would be well organised in facilitating the rites of hajj. Now, back in the UK, I am grateful to be alive and still horrified by what I witnessed. I fully understand why hundreds of people were crushed to death and I don’t believe that “God’s will” can be used an excuse.

We’d had a pleasant and spiritual warm-up in the crowded but welcoming streets of Medina. Our group of UK pilgrims remained incredibly organised, my mother’s diabetes was stable and my father, an asthmatic, remained mercifully unaffected by the heat. As a pilgrim, daughter and a GP, I was happy and excited to be heading for Mecca. But the reality was a shock.

Even getting to and from the mosque and other sites was distressing. Accompanying wheelchair users, we had to help them on and off the wheelchairs many times as the pavements were almost knee high with no clear ramps or similar. Considering the number of people with permanent disability or debilitating conditions, this was shocking.

The heat was one of the biggest tests of all, causing many to become exhausted and dehydrated. Yet only a few of the crowded routes had supplies of water. Some of the common pilgrim routes, where the symbolic stoning of Satan takes place for example, were devoid of any water supplies other than the presence of young policemen occasionally squirting random pilgrims’ faces with water.

The manners and communication skills of the stewards and police deployed in and around the mosque were deplorable. With pilgrims from hundreds of countries, one would think that communication in at least one language other than Arabic would be available. This was not the case.

Not only that, but their manner of aggressively shouting at even the most softly spoken of pilgrims was both needless and a cause of humiliation for those on the receiving end. Nobody had ever spoken to me or my parents in this way before.

It appeared the only thing the very young policemen were authorised to do was shout the Arabic word for “no” and to barricade entry routes as and when they pleased without warning, offering no alternative: clearly a recipe for a crush or a stampede in any of the holy sites.

We were in the mosque when they barricaded an exit and said we couldn’t leave until the next prayer finished, an hour and a half later. The physical pressure of hundreds of people had started to build up behind us, causing extreme anxiety and hyperventilation. I politely asked first, then literally begged the guards to let us exit as my mum’s diabetic medication was in our hotel which was quite near the mosque. Her sugar levels were dropping, but it made no difference. When we did finally find a pilgrim to translate for us, our exit was still refused. When I almost cried and asked “What happens if she collapses and dies here?”, the response was a shrug of the shoulders: if she dies she dies.

Aisha Khan, a Manchester-based business manager who was part of the same tour group told me a few days later of her anguish after the authorities would not open the barrier to let her husband through to her when she felt very unwell. She physically collapsed. Even then the stewards remained in a small group laughing, not helping him to call for an ambulance. She recalls him running distressed from one side of the road to another pleading for help.

Actually making it into an ambulance was another problem. I saw ambulances stuck in the stopped traffic with no provision for them to manoeuvre or overtake. Having stopped with a group of fellow pilgrims and doctors to help a lady slumped on the ground looking as if she may be having a heart attack, it was infuriating to find that when the so-called paramedics arrived (they appeared to be drivers in uniforms and not medically trained), they refused to even let us tell them what had happened. I partially stepped into the back of the ambulance concerned for the poor lady, to find no medical equipment visible whatsoever. We were shooed off and some of her family were left on the street in tears with no idea as to where the ambulance had gone.

There are numerous other distressing experiences I could relate, as most pilgrims can. But the insistence of some that the deaths of hundreds of people represented God’s will and were therefore unavoidable is something I refuse to accept. I believe Islam is based on reason: unless you have done everything you can within your means to actively avoid a bad situation, you cannot use the excuse of it being God’s will.

Some people who have made the pilgrimage before describe how things are slowly getting better with time. And the Saudi authorities are denying visas to pilgrims if they have done it in the past five years, in an attempt to control the influx. Heavy construction work is being completed at the mosque at the moment (the work indirectly led to the deaths of hundreds of people last month when one of the cranes fell through a roof at the Grand Mosque). But radical changes are required.

Much of the poor management of the hajj stems from the actual functioning of Saudi Arabia itself. Authorities around the holy sites are clearly not allowed to make independent decisions, while members of the royal family and their guests are treated as VIPs, and therefore have no motivation to push the authorities into creating a safe and workable system.

In Mecca I saw Muslims, but I saw little Islam. I did not see compassion from our hosts, I did not see their concern for our welfare. I urge all Muslims, pilgrims or otherwise, not to just accept the above as part of the challenge or experience of hajj, but to raise their voices. Write to your local MP, write to the Muslim Council of Britain and utilise your local community groups to express your outrage, and add to the clamour already building in the international arena.

Pilgrimage is supposed to enlighten and change lives, not endanger or end them. It is time to reclaim it.

Sabreena Razaq Hussain is a doctor, writer and activist

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Can Art Stop Jihad by Catherine Milner - Guardian News Art and Design - Copyright, All Rightes Reserved

Monday 28th September 201518:15BST

“We need to invest in these young people before Isis does,” says Abdulnasser Gharem, a former lieutenant colonel in the Saudi Arabian army, sipping a glass of water in the Tate during a flying visit to London. “They have energy and have little to do in their own country – so what would you expect them to do?”

Gharem, who was in the same class at school as two of the 9/11 hijackers, is one of the Middle East’s biggest-selling artists. At Christie’s in 2011, he sold Message, Messenger – a sculpture symbolising the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem – for more than $800,000, a record-breaking price for contemporary Middle Eastern art at the time.

He’s now on a mission to lure the young away from terrorism – by encouraging them to become artists instead. With his younger brother Aljan, he has set up a foundati
on at his studio in Riyadh to mentor people accordingly. So far, the studio has 11 students, aged 18 to 22, whose works will be on display in London next month. He refuses to identify the jihadists he knew as a teenager, but says the only way to conquer the wave of terrorism sweeping the Middle East – and with it the world – is to encourage people to think “individually”.

At school, he was a star pupil but was threatened with coming bottom of the class unless he attended sermons in the mosque. “The teachers started to play with the exam marks,” he says. “I was going crazy because I was a good student and suddenly I was the worst guy in the school because I was not participating in their activities. To get my marks, I had to go along and hang out with them.”

His former classmates were “young and good”, he says. “But something happened to them – they changed. They went from saying, ‘Why not let us go along and see what is happening?’ to talking about jihad and fighting.” He adds: “Nothing has changed that much. It is the same education system, the same speeches in the mosque.”

Entertainment is thin on the ground in Saudi Arabia, let alone fine-art education. Cinemas and music concerts are banned, there are fewer than a dozen contemporary galleries and no art schools. “My idea is to help them find their path and not introduce themselves as a sacrifice in jihad. I want them to look around and develop their humanity.”

Many of those working in his studio have been educated in America or Europe: they are some of the 200,000 young people who benefit every year from an international scholarship programme established by King Abdullah 10 years ago. Their experience had a huge impact, he says. “You can see it in their work – they are acquiring fresh ideas.”

With more than 70% of the Saudi population under 40, the effect of this education will, he believes, transform the country. “There is a group of people in Saudi who want to go back into the past and freeze history. But I hope the studio will be the space where people can share their new ideas, come up with their own vision and be connected with society – not just an artist. I am trying to give them something long-term. Intellectuals in Saudi are lazy.”

In what may be an oblique criticism of Britain and America, the exhibition is called Ricochet, inspired by the idea that every country’s actions may cause “direct and indirect chain reactions”. One of the most haunting images, by Gharem himself, pictures a stealth bomber descending from the tessellated ceiling of the mosque at Isfahan in Iran, smoke bellowing out behind it like some terrifying Fury.

“Usually people look skywards for inspiration,” says Gharem, “but now they look up and see a bomber coming towards them.” The piece is constructed out of the kind of rubber stamps used by Saudi officialdom to keep people under control, he says. “With these stamps and systems, they are killing humanity and dreams. They keep you in a cage.”

Aljan has created a piece that is an actual cage configured into a 30ft-long mosque made of steel pipes and wire netting. “The idea is that ideology is a cage,” says Gharem. Another work by Gharem senior is Traditional Pain Treatment: a film of a fellow artist called Shaweesh enduring bloodletting through “cupping”, a treatment still practised in Saudi Arabia. The cups form a cross on a map of the Middle East inked across the man’s back.

“I was trying to find something that symbolised the detoxification of a bad ideology,” says Gharem. The cups, which are removed to allow the “doctor” to hasten the bloodletting by scoring the raised rings of flesh with a scalpel, form a cross to shame all the countries that exploited the region for oil. “They have wealth,” says Gharem, “and didn’t use it for the benefit of the people or for any humanitarian good, but to cause fire and heat for the ideology of the tribes.”

After this, a bizarre photo of the students painting and drawing a nude female model comes as light relief. Life drawing is banned in Saudi Arabia so the male artists, dressed in flowing robes and traditional cotton headdresses are not focusing on a real woman, but a plastic mannequin. It was bought in Dubai and had to be sliced into sections to get it through Saudi Arabian customs, then reassembled. “I was told it is idolatry to have a human figure with a head,” says Gharem.

The one woman exhibiting in this show works as a teacher in a girls’ school in Riyadh. Njoud Alanbari took a photograph of a picture painted on a wall in her school intended to promote good behaviour among its pupils, by showing how they should dress. A picture of a woman sporting long hair has been marked with a big red cross, while the black silhouette of a woman whose face and hair are blacked out has been given a large tick. Threatening scimitars encircle the women.
In a country with no free press or media, only time will tell whether art can bring about the change Gharem wants. “The image is playing a great role in this war thanks to the evolution of communication and information,” he says. “We need to be positive.”

Abdulnasser Gharem: Ricochet is at Asia House, London, 12-18 October.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Eid Al-Adha: Some Prayers Last Longer Than Others by Haroom Moghal. Published in Huffington Post, Copyright, All Rights Reserved - 05/11/2011

I just wanted to share some brief thoughts on the Muslim holiday.

There are millions of Muslims on the verge of concluding their pilgrimage (hajj) in Mecca; by the time you read this, they're already finished, exhausted and sharing the meat of a sacrificed animal with family, neighbors and the poor. Across the world, hundreds of millions more are putting on their Sunday finest -- thanks to God and the moon and the curvature of space-time for complying with the spirit and the law of the Western weekend -- and heading to mosques. Often way too early in the morning. (Can we comply with the Western sleep cycle?)

It's Eid al-Adha today, the Feast of the Sacrifice, the biggest holiday of the pan-Muslim calendar. Muslims remember Abraham's decision to sacrifice his son, spared only at the very last moment. In honor of that moment, an animal is sacrificed to God and its meat is shared with those close and those in need. The day before was the Day of 'Arafat, when many fast -- as in Ramadan -- in honor of the standing at the plain of 'Arafat, where Muslims on hajj pour their hearts out to God. But really and ultimately, this holiday is about Abraham.

The reason Abraham affects us so is because of his life's tragedies. God is asking Abraham to take the life of his son; rationally, reasonably, that is unbelievable. In the broader Islamic tradition, murder is of course forbidden: We've got Cain and Abel too. And this is sort of what Abraham keeps getting: He doesn't have children until his very old age, and this is a source of great distress for him. As it would be for any of us, but especially in his day and age. And then, when he has a son, God says, dump him in the desert. When he finds him years later, much to his relief and joy -- we can imagine tears of happiness -- God says: Take his life. Show me and the world you love me most.

Abraham's father refused to believe in him. His people tried to kill him. They even made a fire to burn him in, and tossed him in. He wanders alone through the world, without offspring, for years; even married, for a long time he has no descendants. When finally God gives him Isaac and Ishmael, he is asked to leave Ishmael and Hagar (Ishmael's mother) in the wilderness of Paran, the deserts around Mecca. In that stunning, amazing, incredible request, Islam truly and properly begins. The spiritual ground is seeded in a sacrifice that will echo through time, and result in the Prophet Muhammad, Abraham's final heir through his son Ishmael, and the global Muslim community, the Prophet Muhammad's brothers and sisters.

Who says prayers aren't answered?

Time and again, Abraham is asked to sacrifice like no normal person is, or could be. He is asked to abandon, or take the life of his child, and God in each case intervenes. God saves. God guides. The greatest destiny unfolds in that tiny, stunning, unbelievable gesture of faith in God against all common sense. Or, as Iqbal put it, discussing Abraham elsewhere:
"Love dove into Nimrod's fire without hesitation / While reason's on the rooftop, merely considering the scene."
This is what Muslims celebrate on Sunday.

That prayers are answered, even if they aren't answered in our lifetime. That God tests us according to our capacity, and those of us who face the most hardship in dignity and fidelity are the most awesome in His sight. That God's promise is true. That the aches and pains in our souls will be healed one day. Perhaps not in this life, though; we must hold on to the rope of God until then.
Abraham was terrified he wouldn't have children. And in return for his faith, God gave him half the planet, Jewish, Christian and Muslim. It may well be that many of us pray more for Abraham and Muhammad than we do for any other families. Including our own. And the Muslim community centers its identity on him. We are his spiritual family, or at least hope to be. Little children of every ethnicity and nationality, all across the planet, stumble across words they will repeat for the rest of their lives, words they're taught to memorize, and often given gifts if they do, words which have an especially profound meaning on us today:
Allah bless Muhammad, and the family of Muhammad
As you blessed Abraham, and the family of Abraham
Eid Mubarak.

It’s time the media treated Muslims fairly by Miqdaad Versi

Published in The Guardian Comments
All Rights Reserved, Copyright
Wednesday 23 September 2015

Hats off to the Mail on Sunday for finally apologising for its incendiary headline: “Muslim gang slashes tyres of immigration-raid van”. In the piece in question, an attack on an immigration enforcement van in east London was blamed on the “Muslim community” and “Muslim youths” – even though the faith of the perpetrators was not known, nor relevant. This fact has now been acknowledged by the paper, and it has rewritten the story and issued a correction both online and in print.

In the media, using Islam or Muslims as descriptive terms when referring to criminals remains all too common, even in cases where faith has little or nothing to do with the crime. The Times ran a front-page story in March with the provocative headline “Call for national debate on Muslim sex grooming”. There is nothing in Islam that could justify such heinous acts, and none of those involved in this particular crime cited Islam as their motive. So why was this story headlined in this way when articles about other cases of paedophilia made no mention of the perpetrators’ faith or ethnicity?

When tens of innocent pilgrims tragically lost their lives in Saudi Arabia earlier this month, the Mail Online linked their deaths to Osama bin Laden and 9/11 in its headline: “At least 87 people killed … after giant crane ‘operated by Bin Laden firm’ collapses … on anniversary of 9/11 attacks”, references that mimicked a plethora of rightwing bigots on Twitter. The newspaper did eventually remove the 9/11 reference, and later the Bin Laden link. But the damage was done: the odious headline had already spread across the internet like wildfire.

Should Muslims – and society more broadly – just accept this bigotry? We know sensationalism sells, especially online, where news sources use clickbait headlines and copy to attract readers in a crowded marketplace. And what better way to get people to read an article than by linking it to the far-right narrative that Islam is evil, and that its adherents need to be civilised to become “good Muslims”? It’s a narrative that many Muslims feel is often reflected in government rhetoric as well.

According to an Islamophobia Roundtable in Stockholm, held in June last year, and featuring world-renowned experts on the topic, the regular association of Islam and Muslims with crime and terror in the media and on the internet is vital to the spread of Islamophobic rhetoric.

The real-world consequences of the spread of one of the last acceptable forms of bigotry affects the very cohesiveness of our society. According to the largest survey of its kind in the UK, over a quarter of children aged between 10 and 16 believe Islam encourages terrorism, and almost a third believe Muslims are taking over the country. In addition, 37% of British people who were surveyed admitted they would support policies to reduce the number of Muslims in the country. Is it any wonder that more and more Muslims feel alienated?

This “othering” of Muslims has also manifested itself in a growth in hate crime: a 70% rise in the past year according to the Metropolitan police. We now live in a country where most Muslims know someone who has suffered from Islamophobic hate or abuse.
Of course, the media should not be held responsible for violence against Muslims – that is the liability of the attackers. But with over 90% of reports about Muslims taking a negative angle and playing up faith, even when irrelevant, it is not reasonable to deny that the media plays a key role in the development of anti-Muslim hatred.

So what can be done?

First, build awareness. According to research presented at the Muslim News’ Conference on “Reporting Islam and Muslims in Britain” last week, there have been improvements in the language that is being used, but religious illiteracy remains rife within parts of our newspaper elite. Until recently, a managing editor of a major national newspaper did not know that “jihad” had multiple meanings, and that “fatwa” did not just mean a death warrant. The lack of comprehension on a topic that is part of the bread and butter of newspapers today is deeply distressing and its role in editorial decision-making cannot be understated. I would like to think that this is due to sheer ignorance rather than pure malice, which is much harder to tackle.
Second, diversity. There is an under-representation of all minority groups, but particularly Muslims, within the media – especially within senior positions – and greater diversity will improve coverage and help combat misreporting. This requires greater outreach on the part of media organisations to bring in talent from all backgrounds through diversity programmes, paid internships and fast-track schemes to proactively close this gap.

The final piece in the jigsaw is regulation. Clause 12 of the Editors’ Code of Practice says: “Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion … must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.” The problem is that this protection only extends to individuals and not to groups, which is why Katie Hopkins was able to get away with her infamous comments comparing refugees to “cockroaches”.

The arguments about censorship and free speech are complex – but Jonathan Heawood of the Impress Project, an independent monitor of the press, believes the Editors’ Code should incorporate Lord Leveson’s suggestion that this clause is broadened to include groups. This would allow representative groups to hold the media to account for using “Islam” or “Muslims” where it was not “genuinely relevant” to the story.

We are equal members of society and demand fairness, not favours. Avoiding daily smears, group libel and the violent consequences is not too much to ask of the nation’s editors.