Friday, 3 September 2010

A Scottish Muslim Woman Story

Condemning Sectarian Violence in Islam: Shia and Sunni...Not just a Scottish disease!


Written by Margot Rhead

The police were checking each and every car at the road block. Hasan swore under his breath in Punjabi.
“Sod it!” he said, “We’re stuffed, Mohammed!”
“Breath slowly,” Mohammed replied, “Our only chance is to seem helpful.”
He looked ahead. There was an us-against-them air about the police.
“Sorry for the inconvenience, folks,” he heard the sergeant say to the family in the car in front.
“They seem easy enough,” Hasan said.
At that moment, the officers turned round and focused on Hasan and Mohammed, then stiffened. One spoke urgently into his radio.
“We’re next,” Mohammed said through his teeth. He muttered a prayer, then wound down the driver’s window and smiled. There was no friendly response.
“Open your boot, son.”
Mohammed obliged, glancing sideways at Hasan. They met each others’ eyes.
“Right, out the car, both of you!”
More police appeared, shouting instructions at Hasan and Mohammed. The tone was cold. They frisked them; took their mobile phones, then moved on to the boot. The big box sat there, open, its contents glinting in the sun.
“Inshallah!” whispered Mohammed.
“Do you mind explaining this, son?” barked the sergeant.
“They’re clothes,” replied Mohammed.
“Whose clothes?”
A lie would have been so much easier.
The sergeant methodically took each item out and held it up. All eyes were riveted. Two sparkling Elvis jumpsuits, two wigs, two pairs of high-heeled boots.
“What for?”
Mohammed swallowed.
“We’re going to a Graceland fancy dress party, officer,” he said. “Tonight. It’s Halloween. Remember?”

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Great Female Artists? Think Karachi.

by Alexandra A. SenoAugust 27, 2010, Newsweek
Painting Shown: Seher Shah / Courtesy of artist and Bose Pacia, New York
'Geometric Landscapes and the Spectacle of Force', Seher Shah.

“Why have there been no great women artists?” asked American art historian Linda Nochlin in a landmark 1971 essay.

Four decades later, her question still stands: while a handful of Western female painters, sculptors, and performance artists—Frida Kahlo, Louise Bourgeois, Marina Abramovic—have achieved the same level of fame as their male counterparts, the West’s elite art world continues to be dominated by male artists, curators, dealers, and collectors.

Look elsewhere around the globe, however, and women are thriving in some of the most dynamic up-and-coming art scenes. They’re even achieving widespread success in a country not exactly known for women’s rights: Pakistan. Female artists from the developing Muslim nation have been recently feted in exhibits like last year’s Hanging Fire at New York’s Asia Society and the Fukuoka Asian Art Triennial in Japan.

Women also hold prime positions of influence in Pakistan’s art system, running prestigious galleries such as Karachi’s Canvas and Poppy Seed, and heading key art institutes such as the School of Visual Arts at Beaconhouse National University in Lahore (under the direction of Salima Hashmi), and Lahore’s National College of Arts, which is overseen by Naazish Ataullah.

One reason for the unusually high ratio of female artists in Pakistan has to do with the fact that the art industry has not traditionally been viewed as a lucrative business by men, says South Asian art historian Savita Apte, who administers the internationally renowned Abraaj Capital Art Prize. Until very recently, creatively inclined males tended to focus on fields such as advertising or illustration, leaving the art field wide open for some very talented women.

And these women have been taking the art world by storm: for last year’s inaugural Jameel Prize, an award given to Islamic artists at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, both finalists from Pakistan—Hamra Abbas and Seher Shah—were female. (The winner, Afruz Amighi, is an Iranian woman.) And at the Hong Kong International Art Fair this year, Pakistani painter Shahzia Sikander won the SCMP/Art Futures award.

Female Pakistani artists may also be drawing international buzz because of the way they defy gender stereotypes about their country. “Because of the perception in the Western press, which often portrays [Muslim] women as covered, when the world looks at Pakistan, they want to go into the minds of women,” says Amna Naqvi, a former investment banker, founder of Karachi’s Gandhara-Art gallery, and an important collector whose work has been lent to museums around the world.

One of Naqvi’s favorite artists is Aisha Khalid, a painter in her 30s who is married to the prominent artist Imran Qureshi—although Khalid is considered to be the bigger name. Khalid’s Birth of Venus paintings depict fully veiled figures against a backdrop of Islamic symbols. Another work combines grandmotherly embroidery with pointed sexual commentary, such as sewing pins stuck through a coat, with sharp needles exposed on the inside.

Even for artists whose work does not deal with overtly feminine symbols, the link between their creative drive and their place in Pakistani culture is evident. Sikander, who was awarded a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2006, says: “Women in Pakistan in general wield a lot more power than what is perceived from abroad. In Pakistani society, women are less coddled, which makes them much more resilient, resourceful, and original.”

For Sikander, her art is a means for her to “question the social and political values of [my] time.” This places her with-in an emerging tradition of trailblazing international female artists, alongside Japanese sculptor and painter Yayoi Kusama, photographer Miwa Yanagi, video artist Tabaimo, and Iranian photographer Shirin Neshat. As artists from developing countries explode into the global art scene, these women will be leading the way.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

South Florida Muslims weigh in on ground zero mosque debate


In Pembroke Pines, imam Shafayat Mohamed plans a sermon on Islam's stance against excess, citing the proposed $100 million Islamic community center near ground zero. In Miami, hotel broker Ahmed Kabani is torn between his love of Islam and his belief that the project's location is insensitive to victims of 9/11. In Kendall and Miami Gardens, mosques are hosting voter drives to get Muslims involved in elections where Islam has taken center stage among candidates.

(Image: In this Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010 picture, Muslim men worship at the Darul Uloom Institute in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on the first day of Ramadan.)

The controversy over the Islamic community center in New York has hit home for South Florida's 70,000 Muslims. Not everyone is on the same side, but for many Muslims, the debate reflects a growing tension about Islam's role in America and a chance to engage the region's burgeoning Muslim community during the highly religious month of Ramadan.

``Muslims should have the equal right to build a mosque anywhere they wish,'' said Mohamed, who leads the Darul Uloom Institute mosque in Pembroke Pines, echoing President Barack Obama's controversial statement on religious freedom at a White House Ramadan dinner last week. ``But I say they should build 10 mosques all over America instead of one big center.''

Days before Tuesday's primary elections, candidates -- in races from governor to Senate and local offices -- have declared their opposition to the New York center, with a handful supportive or maintaining neutrality. Caught in the middle are local Muslims.

``This whole week I was thinking, `Why is this happening?' Religion should not become a political issue,'' said Kabani, 63, who organizes cultural events for the area's Pakistani community. ``As a Muslim, I'm proud that they are building, but I also feel that we should be respectful.''

Some Muslims are taking advantage of the heightened attention toward Islam to get Muslims more involved in politics and civic matters.

On Saturday evening, after Muslims break their daily Ramadan fast, Masjid an-Noor in Kendall and the Islamic Center of Greater Miami in Miami Gardens will host voter-registration drives. At about 25,000, a little more than a third of eligible Muslims in South Florida are registered to vote, said Farooq Mitha of Emerge, a nonpartisan Muslim civic organization based in Miami.

``People are using the Islamic center to start a cultural battle about the moral compass of America,'' said Mitha, a Sunrise-based attorney. ``This is not a Muslim issue, this is an America issue. You're going down a slippery slope. Who's next?''

In early September, Muslim activists are hosting an interfaith rally in downtown Miami in support of religious freedom to combat what organizers call several disturbing trends, including opposition to the New York center and other mosque projects around the nation and a Gainesville church's plan to burn Korans on 9/11.

``We want it to be about preserving all holy scriptures and religion,'' said Irma Khoja, 26, who attends the Islamic Jafaria Association mosque in Hialeah Gardens. Khoja, a law student at the University of Miami, said the conversation about New York is vital to the future of Muslims in South Florida and elsewhere and a chance to forge connections beyond the Muslim community.

``It's not occuring here, but it affects Muslims across the country because New York is the epicenter of a lot of our current events,'' she said.

Dario Moreno, a political-science professor at Florida International University, said he believes the debate over the mosque has less to do with the proposed building and its location than the nation's complicated relationship with Islam and President Obama.

A survey released Thursday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life showed that nearly one in five Americans believe Obama is a Muslim, an increase from 11 percent in March of last year.

``With the mosque controversy, as a president who has reached out to the Islamic world and tried to appeal to Arabs and said that those that practice moderate Islam are not the enemy -- that has left him vulnerable to charges that he is weak on terrorism,'' Moreno said. The Islamic center is ``symbolic of how far the United States should go in courting moderate Islam,'' he said, and for Muslims, ``it creates a feeling of isolation.''

Ihsan Bagby, an Islamic Studies professor at the University of Kentucky, agrees. ``Muslims are becoming more and more alarmed at the rhetoric and unhappy with developments,'' he said. ``At the same time, there are voices of moderation. It is not a totally bleak picture.''

© 2010 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

Angelina Jolie, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, Stresses More Help Needed for Pakistan's Flood Victims

Islam: My Faith My Voice by PSA

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Glasgow University and Kelvingrove Art Galleries: This is what makes me a proud Glaswegian and Glasgow University Graduate!

Muslims Need to Celebrate Integrated Education

I hear that the issue of state funded Muslim schools in Scotland has once again shown its ugly face. Scotland is a beautifully diverse country that must make moves to bridging the cultural divide as opposed to isolating Scots, especially children! I would go as far to say that this should also be the case in any part of the world. Why am I still left bemused to hear the same politicians seeking state funded Muslim schools when we see quite clearly the potential of an inclusive education, beyond faith? Are we learning nothing from the sectarian disease that still plagues parts of our Scottish society? For the sake of progress in Scotland we do not need a new disease!

We are witnessing daily accounts of how mutual trust and understanding can solidly be built through strengthening the humanitarian bond. Adult minds can be difficult to change but shaping and challenging the minds of our youth is still in the power of the Muslim parent. The most potent weapon against terror is education and we seem to be approaching a cross road in the Scottish Muslim scene where we can aid the current state education system or adopt a new state funded Muslim education which may take years to ‘get right’. The burning question is do we have years to waste?

It seems to me that the whole lobby is based around seeking that which others have. Firstly, England has state funded Muslim schools – so should we. No one denies the fact that Muslim schools are, in some cases, successful in England but we must recognise that the Scottish education environment is completely different having its own laws and ethos.

The Muslim community is by far much smaller than that of England. London has a total Muslim population of 1 Million whereas the whole of Scotland has around 60,000 Muslims.

Since the Muslim community is much smaller it needs to capitalise on this and establish itself alongside and within the wider society in order for Scottish Muslims to become physical vehicles for breaking down prejudices and fully integrate in society. Thence thwarting any chance for the new generation of Scottish Muslims to establish an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality. One cannot pay mere lip service to terms such as Scottish Muslim if one continues to adopt an isolationist approach to education.

Secondly, the Jewish and some Christian communities in Scotland have state funded faith schools – so should we. There is no secret in the fact that Jewish and Christian faith schools are not perfect, far from it, but they are established by faith communities that have a long history in Scotland. Many within these communities would however question the need for and place of such schools in 21st Century Scotland. In addition, these communities have, currently, a different media profile. State funded Jewish and Christian schools do not carry the same stigma that a state funded Muslim school will. The former attracts students from a wide spectrum of society (indeed I was educated at a Catholic primary school in Glasgow for a few years) but in the current state of affairs the latter will attract only Muslims students. Good education cannot be judged merely upon the merits of a good teacher, good school facilities or ample amounts of money, it requires commitment to creating the best educational environment in which a student can feel comfortable and confident. If the environment is not as such, this will lead to catastrophic implications on the learning environment of Scottish Muslims who will inevitably remain isolated from the wider communities during their schooling years. Then upon leaving school, fall into a state of shell shock and identity crisis when faced with the reality of our multicultural and integrated multifaith Scottish community. Leaving a young Muslim vulnerable to extremist pressures.

I shudder to think how core themes in RE could be developed in an all Muslim classroom. A Muslim student who is taught in a non-faith school may appreciate their "uniqueness" more in such a school as opposed to a faith school. This in turn will allow the student to understand, explore and question their identity in a classroom vibrant with diversity. Such diversity will take a long time, if ever, to establish in a new state funded Muslim school.

My opposition to state funded, or any, Muslim schools comes through my experience of teaching RE in high schools throughout Scotland and now as an academic who has a deep concern for the future of Scottish Muslims. The future can only be as bright as we want it to be! It pains me to hear the Muslim lobby for state funded Muslim schools using irrational arguments.

At a public lecture held a few years ago, held at the University of Glasgow, the High Commissioner for Pakistan in London, Dr Maleeha Lodhi, advised Muslims throughout the UK to stand up and voice their opinions rather than sitting back and accepting those who speak for Islam and Muslims. The loudest voices cannot be accepted as the Muslim community's representatives and the political lobby for state funded Muslim schools in Scotland is not representative of the whole Scottish Muslim societies. The Muslim community is not monolithic, never was and never will be. Those lobbying for such a school will naturally seek to establish structures and ethos which are unlikely to reflect the genuine diversity in which the Scottish Muslim societies thrive. Are those who lobby for state funded Muslim schools in Scotland afraid that Islam and Muslims cannot maintain their identity alongside other religions and cultures? Do they want young Muslims ill-prepared to live as Scottish Muslims within the wider society? It’s time to ponder, reflect and act through these testing times in order to safeguard a strong and successful Scottish Muslim identity.

I am deeply disappointed to hear about the allegations against the Pakistani cricket team on match fixing. I'm not sure if you would call them allegations when it seems that there is video evidence proving that a large amount of money has been exchanged for Pakistani bowlers to not play at their highest standard. I am saddened to see that the same Pakistani team has been parading the fact that they are fasting during this holy month of Ramadan and complaining about fatigue. A month that is supposed to bring a Muslim closer to God and in turn help to uphold peace and justice in their immediate locality and globally is now looking like a team of hypocrites and liars.

At a time when Pakistan is suffering from extremely negative portrayal, the aftermath of the floods it is most unfortunate that fun and games cannot bring some color and light to the land of the pure...