Friday, 24 August 2007

Terror in Glasgow

BBC Radio Scotland
Thought for the Day
Amanullah De Sondy 02/07/07

On Saturday afternoon, Glasgow came under terrorist attack. Suddenly, the violence of extremism was here among us - not on the streets of London, or across the ocean in Manhattan, or far away in the neighborhoods of Bagdhad. When two men rammed a petrol-filled jeep into Glasgow airport, they ignited not only themselves but the fears and revulsion of the whole nation.

I was informed of these horrific events as I was returning home from lunch, with one of my Christian friends, when she sent me a message saying that she couldn’t understand how anyone, would want to harm themselves and their fellow human beings by such an act of terror. I don’t understand either: it’s against my moral and religious values as a citizen of Scotland, and as a Muslim.

I believe that religion, especially religious scripture, can be a force for harm, as well as good, if people misuse and abuse it. The fanatics of extremism are twisting scripture to their own political ends, which are contrary to the essence of Islam’s peaceful message. I personally find liberation through my reading of the Qur’an as I believe it teaches me to become a better person, and promote good in the society in which I live.

I have always believed that Scotland is a unique and welcoming country. I still do. But Saturday’s events should raise alarm bells: we need to continue to make sure that our Scottish soil never becomes a breeding ground for discontent, prejudice and violence.

It’s time to unite as Scots, regardless of race or creed, and raise our progressive voices to overpower the irrational ones, who want to harm my country, my fellow Scots and my neighbors: we are all mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers in this multicultural and multi-faith Scotland. Dangerous times ahead, lead me to believe that we must stop merely celebrating diversity, and take up the challenges it brings with it.

Queen's Speech 2006

Amanullah De Sondy
BBC Radio Scotland
Friday 29 December 2006
The Queen’s Christmas message had much to offer this year. The relationship between the younger and older generation was its central theme. But the Queen also touched upon her delight in multi-faith Britain where different faiths and cultures bring alternative perspectives and celebrations.

It was rather funny how my actions the night before echoed the Queen’s remarks. At a Christmas Eve party I chatted away to a middle aged man who turned out to be Jewish. What do you do at Christmas? Do you put up a Christmas tree? Isn’t Jerusalem just a wonderful place to visit? How do you celebrate Hannukah in Glasgow? Very quickly we realised we had a lot more in common than our love for mince pies.

Later on I took part in Midnight Mass with my retired tennis coach. It’s a longer service than the one I am used to at the Methodist Church, but one which I enjoy. My coach isn’t particularly “religious”, but being with him inside the Church I saw the spiritual glow in his face. And, in his turn, he said it meant even more to him because I was with him, his Muslim friend.

In amongst all of these festivities, there was another one brewing up far across the world. The annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia was about to start and will end with the celebration of Eid, which marks Abraham’s sacrifice of Ishmael, on New Year’s day. My sister has gone to hajj this year and I found it fascinating watching her getting ready for this spiritual journey.

One of my Christmas presents was a book by Gautam Malkani called Londonstani. It’s about a group of Sikh, Hindu and Muslim teenagers who are trying to come to terms with their true identity. The few chapters that I’ve already read made me think that Christmas, Hannukah and Eid are just some of the spiritual celebrations that identify Britain today; I believe that their spiritual worth is only enhanced and increased when they recognize and value each other.

Nudity, Photography and God

BBC Radio Scotland
Thought for the Day
Amanullah De Sondy
4th June 2007

‘Amsterdam goes nude for Spencer Tunick’, said the news headline. This American photographer had gathered over 2,000 Dutch men and women. Tunick’s work has puzzled many as to whether it should be accepted as art or pornography. The artist himself uses the human body as an ‘installation’ -challenging us, he says, to look differently at nudity and privacy. "Once you’ve taken your clothes off, it’s a friendly and communal feeling" said one of the participants.

People from all over the world have gathered in public places for his photographs of mass nudity. And what strikes me about these images - is that they are just bodies, their sexual significance is diminished. I see this work as art rather than pornography and the artist himself, calls his ongoing project "a symbol of freedom".

In most Islamic cultures modesty means covering the body and I grew up in a community where men and women have specific dress codes. It was only in my early twenties that I had the courage to start wearing shorts and take up swimming. Surely if God wanted us to be that embarrassed of our naked bodies he would have had us coming out into this world covered.

The story of Adam and Eve comes to mind here! Only when they ate from the forbidden tree were they aware of their nakedness. Nudity in this case was a symbol of a message more theological than sexual. It was a symbol of their disobedience to God's command.

Clothing the body has meant different things at different times. In today’s society clothes can empower and disempower men and women. Covering the body for warmth and survival is for most of us a thing of the past. Today it's more about fashion and power. The clothes we wear are markers or badges for others to identify with.

If we go back to the story of Adam and Eve covering our bits in leaves or Armani is a way to cover our true nature, a nature which is vulnerable and submissive. And so, maybe Tunick's message is a bold one, helping us all think about what our true nature is all about, clothed and unclothed.

J.K Rowling, Scripture and Endings

BBC Radio Scotland
Thought for the Day
Amanullah De Sondy
J.K Rowling has revealed how she sobbed and downed half a bottle of champagne when she finished the final chapters of the last Harry Potter book.

Every author and writer can understand the feeling of euphoria and devastation that Rowling was trying to explain. Her mixed emotions made me wonder if the end is always a good place to be. Of course for those who came second best in the Wimbledon finals this weekend, the feeling is far from good, at the moment, but the determination to win the next time will be stronger than ever.

The end of things can bring joy or a lifetime of sadness. Each end reveals, in its own way, some important question. Where were we before the experience? Where were we during the experience? And, most importantly, where is this experience going to take us in the future? The release of Alan Johnston last week is one we all prayed and hoped for, but conflict is far from ending in the Middle East and people continue to die each day in Iraq. The effect of being detained day in day out will surely take Johnstone a long time to move on from. The end of one experience becomes the beginning of another.

Apart from its fictional setting, Harry Potter is essentially a story about good prevailing over evil. In my teaching I have often compared the ethical dimension of Rowling’s fiction with Islam’s holiest scripture, The Qur’an. The Qur’an’s main message of good prevailing over evil is set between many different stories and parables which the reader has to digest and understand. Be it Jesus, Muhammad or Moses in the Bible, The Torah or the Qur’an, their mission to overcome evil through the spirit of God is also essentially one. And so the end of the Qur’an is not truly the end as every reader must carry its messages of peace and wisdom into the real world.

Mind Your Language

Amanullah De Sondy – BBC Radio Scotland – Thought For The Day – Monday 14th May

'Mind your language' – when was the last time you heard that one? This is probably the most repeated mantra of every parent and teacher in the country. Channel 4 have chosen to look at the foul language of young people in a documentary tonight, aptly named "Mind your F'ing language".

The thing about swearing is that there's more to it, than that often used rebuke allows for. Being multi lingual I know that swears in Arabic, Urdu and Punjabi can mean different things to different people in different settings. My experience of English growing up in Glasgow, I found swearing was usually added to conversations, not in an offensive way, but to add emphasis on a point or to make it more humorous. Swearing in this context was a colourful form of self-expression. I'm not condoning it, and of course I accept that foul language can be hurtful and upsetting.

As a part time RE teacher, in an inner city school in Glasgow, I'm used to hearing young people swear casually in conversation. My immediate response is: 'mind your language', but sometimes I just let it wash over me.

The most productive conversation I've ever had with a pupil was littered with f-words. The pupil explained, he'd been grounded by his parents for a month for being drunk. I allowed him the space to tell me how he felt, and it was clear he wouldn't have been able to do this without using the f-word in abundance. We then had quite detailed discussion about the attitudes to alcohol and tobacco across different religions, where the teenager revealed quite an extensive vocabulary and understanding, despite his swearing. I explained why many religions raise concerns about the harmful effects of alcohol and tobacco, and to my surprise he agreed with me! I realised that beneath all that foul language and bravado there was a thoughtful and reflective kid. Granted swearing is not an endearing quality in the youth of today, but maybe if we listened a little harder, we might hear more than just bad language.

Princess Beatrice and Role Models

BBC Radio Scotland Thought for the Day - August 2006
Amanullah De Sondy

"I see myself as a mini mummy" - so said Princess Beatrice of York on her 18th Birthday this week. Her Mummy, Sarah, Duchess of York, might not be everyone's ideal role model, but for Beatrice she's just perfect. We choose role models for all sorts of different reasons but at the core of this choice we all seek someone or something to look up to, for inspiration and guidance in our own lives.

International political figures also seem to follow others. It could be argued that the strong resistance of the infamous Castro has rubbed off on other South American leaders. Love them or loath them, Siri-ma-vo Bandranaik of Sri Lanka, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan and Margaret Thatcher have all played their part in empowering female participation in politics. Or closer to home the embattled Tommy Sheridan, warts and all, will still be an inspiration to some in the socialist movement in Scotland.

The beauty of role models is that they are not perfect. Watching the World Cup Final between Italy and France, I was told by a good friend that the Algerian Muslim Zidane was regarded as a good natured player on the pitch, but seconds later my friend’s statement was shattered with a head butt!

In the Muslim tradition even the prophets, as men, are shown to be flawed and prone to make mistakes. The prophets are 'perfect' role models, but the stories we read about them also tell us of their imperfections. Even the Prophet Muhammad. In one story he frowns and ignores a poor blind man, who wanted to learn more about God. In the Qur’an Muhammad is chastised by God. "What do you know? The blind man might be purified by the guidance of the Qur'an?."

This story reminds me of an Oscar Wilde quote. Maybe Wilde had a point when he said, "I think that God, in creating Man, somewhat overestimated his ability."

God, Masculinity and Islam

Thought for the Day Amanullah de Sondy
Thurs 17th August 2006


God is male because He wrote the Qur’an. Jesus was a man and so was Muhammad. Well maybe there’s more to say than that to settle this age old question. That could be why the Festival of Spirituality and Peace, organised by St. Johns Episcopal Church in Edinburgh, invited me yesterday, to explore how a ‘male and female God made us’. I was asked to make a special reference to masculinity in Islam. Actually, sociologists argue that there’s no such thing as masculinity; every man is unique, they say, so what we have are lots of different masculinities.

Some religious traditions advocate norms and roles that men and women should adhere to. Certain rituals and practices are used to maintain the indoctrination of such male and female norms. I often wonder when a young Muslim girl visits a male centred Mosque five times a day, does she begin to question the role of women in Islamic society, or does she simply accept this practice as normal?

The issue spinning around in my head is how clever the religious male has been in promoting the male through the power of God. Are men truly created in the image of God or does man create God in his image? The Qur’an does not give free reign to the Muslim male, to the detriment of the female. The Qur’an does present male only prophets, but the prophetic role was not a gendered role and was most definitely not meant to show precedence of male over female. I worry, that aspects of my Islamic culture and identity today, have been obscured and damaged by testosterone-driven men. I believe that a society which fails to promote the female in all of us is a society lost to the female in God.

Scottish Refugee Week 2006

BBC Radio Scotland
Thought for the Day
Amanullah De Sondy
It’s Scottish Refugee Week, a time to show a positive image of refugees and how valuable they are to Scottish culture. The programme aims to promote better understanding between different communities and to encourage successful integration. Now moving from one house to another might seem stressful enough but to move from one country to another, to escape oppression, is a scenario not many of us can truly appreciate. A few questions spring to my mind. What is this week really trying to tell us? Is it a wake up call for the refugees or the indigenous population? And after the fanfare and street parades what next?

For me, refugees are blessings in disguise for they bring an alternative lifestyle, forcing us all to open up our mind and body to something different. We are all guilty of feeling cosy in our comfort zones. When I was at school, I remember seeing a clear divide between those who were white and those who weren't. I was always stuck between the two. I found it difficult to choose my comfort zone, for each had its own uniqueness and each allowed me to define myself.

As I grew older the divide was soon lost in my life. But now I feel at ease with my identity, so I can easily open up to others but no matter how many slogans or mottos I see about integration, the divide is still evident in wider society. I’m all in favour of highlighting important issues but isn’t it time we put these campaigns into action? God says in the Qur’an “We created you from a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other.” We’re certainly different nations and tribes but do we actually know each other?

We hear so often the statement of loving your neighbour, so let’s start by taking a few steps and knocking on their door.

President Clinton Visit to Glasgow - May 2006

This was inspired through a visit of Clinton in Glasgow.

BBC Radio Scotland
Thought for the Day
Amanullah De Sondy

We must be blessed in Scotland to welcome two American presidents in less than a year! Bill Clinton has arrived in Scotland to participate in a business leadership lunch. Over 800 business people paid £500 each to hear the former American president speak on issues relating to terrorism, political conflict and energy supplies. The First Minister, Jack McConnel, introduced the democrat largely seen as a moderate.

This might be a headline in itself but what struck me most about this visit was the way it all came to be. A former ranger’s football player, Brian Laudrup, had apparently struck up a friendship with Clinton whilst playing golf. This led to Laudrup introducing Clinton to a company that organises events and functions.

Friendship is a funny business. Friends can lift your spirits to the skies when you are under the weather or bring you crashing back down to earth when you’re losing touch with reality. True friendship can quite easily lead to losing sight of the self. I’ve made friends in the most unusual of places. On a flight to Paris a few years ago I chatted to an Arab man about my interest in Arabian music. We quickly realised that we both admired the same singer from Syria and surprisingly he was listening to her most recent album. He in turn gifted me the music tape he was listening to. As we arrived at Charles De Gaulle airport he was greeted by two men and it became apparent that this was no ordinary Arab man but was indeed a Saudi prince. If I had known about his royal status prior to our discussion I am sure I would have reacted differently but would it really have mattered who we were or what we did for us to have had a few memorable moments. I didn’t keep in touch with the Prince but I kept the cassette he gave me.

This reminds of a saying of the Prophet Muhammad in which he says, “The similitude of a good companion is like an owner of musk; if you don't buy anything, you will get the smell of it. The similitude of a bad companion is like the blacksmith's bellows; if you are not affected by its black dirt, you will be touched by its smoke."

Scotland, Beltane and May Day Marches

This was my very first 'thought' which was rather long since we have quite a strict time and word limit. I am forever grateful to Anna Magnusson for her help and patience in guiding me on the art of radio broadcasting. The thought developed after I was greatly moved by the may day marches and wanted to make sense of what they were all about. Enjoy!

BBC Radio Scotland Thought for the Day - May 2006 - Amanullah De Sondy
"The month of May must be a special one. In our rich Gaelic tradition it heralds in Beltane which traditionally signifies the drive of farm animals to summer pastures. And so it is interesting to experience the first of May a national holiday, a day when people in nearly all parts of the world are making or calling for change. In Panama, Iraq, Russia, London, they marched for worker rights, the anarchists were out in Bulgaria, in Tehran they marched for more jobs, in Nepal for democracy and in Ramallah for economic ease.

I also took part in a May Day march, well, more of a sponsored walk. It was organised by an educational institute based in the Southside of Glasgow which promotes learning of the Qur’an for Muslim women and children. Over 400 women, girls and young boys walked for around 10KM at Bellahouston park to raise money for their new building. I felt a great sense of pride walking with my Sunday school class of boys. Here I was a lone Muslim male walking amongst this mass exodus of devoted and articulate women. I could not feel but intimidated.

I glanced at the faces of passers by and wondered what was going through their minds. It suddenly dawned on me that a powerful message was being conveyed not through words but through action. The oft repeated rants about the liberated role of women in Islam has most often fallen flat on its face in reality but here I was taking part in a small step to intellectual progress in the world of some Muslim women in Glasgow.

Marches and protests don’t bring about immediate change but they do play a role in highlighting specific issues. The ethical message of the believer can be conveyed through words and actions. But we all know that actions often speak louder than words. As the Prophet Muhammad said, ‘Whosoever of you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart’. In short I think Shakespeare concludes it splendidly, ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and temperate. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May’."

BBC Radio Scotland - Thought for The Day

I am a regular contributor to BBC Radio Scotland's Thought for the Day and I have decided to present these on my Blog! I will add a brief context to each thought, otherwise it might not make sense! I hope you enjoy them...