Freedom and Responsibility · Integration · Politics

The Media Narrative

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Yusra Dahri, London

As my fingers skid across the keyboard, I not only present my thoughts to you, but I influence how you hear them. Is one thing more significant than another? Or another more stressed? What do you hear? Is it it LOUD or quiet? AmIconfusingyourushingyouafterallhowshouldyoubereadingthis?

How do you feel when you read this? Who do you think I am, and what do you think I’m trying to say?

What is the voice you hear?

And whose story do you think I’m trying to tell?

The above tend to be questions that any active reader asks themselves whilst reading. However, as constantly bombarded with information we are on a daily basis, surely even the most active reader would become exhausted and start passively accepting information at some point.

Usually from an early age, by either our teachers or our parents, we are taught to think before we speak. Nowadays, we think that happens less and less with introduction of social media. However, is that really true?

In reality, the duty to carefully curate our words is the first, universal responsibility we have and everyone keenly senses how we use them. We know the power of language. We know how it can be used to manipulate, even in the most innocent of ways. And this is amplified by the mainstream media.

The narratives that we know are founded upon the same ‘truths’, obviously. However, it is in the presentation of these truths that diversity of opinion emerges. All language has a purpose, otherwise why would it exist?

Likewise, the very way that we perceive the world, others and even ourselves is affected by this. We all know that we are connected more than ever before, but on a human level, are we really? Hiding behind our screens, we are often inflicted with a false sense of bravado. Ironically, we tend to witness the kind of immature shouting match that we thought we left behind in our diaper days more than constructive and intelligent dialogue. If everyone is fighting to get the last word, the sad truth is no one can really be heard. If everyone is in a bid to ‘out dazzle’ each other, the truth never really gets its moment in the spotlight.

Furthermore, the media can change the perception we have of ourselves. Of course, we know this. Take for instance the “even smarter, even slimmer, even richer” standards that are impossible to meet, or conversely what is in my opinion one of the great trends of the last few years namely that self-care and motivation has been riding a hype, but that hype too is dying down. All of this can alter our self-perceptions and have deep-reaching impact.

However, what I’m mainly referring to is the portrayal of minorities and marginalised communities. To be fair, I don’t think the mainstream media is particularly as cruel as some individuals can be. However, speaking as someone who grew up in a generation where social media and global connectivity were almost a rule of life, I think we have to think what message we are sending to the children of this generation. I wouldn’t want any child to read or hear a part of themselves, be it religion, race or identity, ripped apart by someone who ‘forgot to think’.

There was nothing more harrowing to me as a child to read the cruel, alien words of others about myself yet to hear them echoing in my own mind. I was both my own victim and criminal. When you can’t find the words to fight back, you feel nothing but a woeful acceptance. I was lucky in the sense that I could just close a tab or browser, but for the children who couldn’t escape what the media reflected in our world, I only hope they never began to believe it. That they had the courage to find their own sense of self. Especially as what we believe, we tend to become.

Not to get to twisted up in Pavlovian theory, but the words we see commonly lumped together in the news such as ‘crime’ and ‘refugee’ and ‘Muslim’ and ‘terrorist’ are going to create (and have created) adverse connotations in our minds such that even refugees and Muslims themselves will have trouble forgetting the ‘classical conditioning’ that has created this fear, even though we know better. Is the media narrative to blame?

In our time on this earth, we have amassed a mountain of history and literature. We know how people thought, what they believed (Shakespeare’s plays, for instance, are a testament to the anti-Semitism of his time) and yet we still have the audacity to laugh at them.

If our words are really (as they were for our ancestors) our ‘time capsule’ for the future I suggest we cease our mocking. We are remembered for as much we say as we do.

And if this is our legacy, I think our descendants will get their fair share of amusement.

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Politics · Women

Lessons Worth Learning

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Sarah Ward Khan, London

I love studying history. I have always been enthralled by the lives of those who paved a way forward before me and steered society towards its current point. Growing up in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s was also a heady time: we felt history unfolding before us and we were part of it. And the history I saw around me as a young child was an intoxicating, positive movement: it was change for the better. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of apartheid, the end of the Cold War – the future at that time looked bright. Social movements were making life better for the oppressed and the downtrodden, righting the wrongs of the past and moving forward with hope.

So, it is with a heavy heart that I ponder over the world today, Society is still changing, technology and communication are changing the way we interact and forging new norms. But is it, I wonder, a better society we are building? Where are the values of freedom, tolerance, equality which were upheld in those heady days? Where is the sense of social justice and liberation?

The burqa debate and the comments of Boris Johnson only seem to highlight the difference between my childhood and now. Instead of moving towards a better life, we seem to be regressing to the dark days of nationalism, popularism and self-interest. As I look to the future I don’t see better things ahead, I see division and separation: them and us mentality and fear of others.

And who will lead the charge against this decline? Who are the leaders in society who will uphold those virtues and values that made the world a better place for all? I would hope that people in public life might feel the weight of their role and understand this facet of their influence. This is especially true of politicians. Politicians are there to serve – the needs of everyone and not just themselves. They are there to stand up for the poor, the weak and the oppressed. Their goal should be to uphold an inclusive and peaceful society and if it isn’t that goal – then what are they aiming for?

Which is why Boris Johnson’s words matter. They weren’t off the cuff, they were planned and printed in a national newspaper. They very deliberately targeted a small minority of women using mocking and ridiculing language. Commentators and Twitter trolls have leapt on the band wagon telling women to get over it, have a laugh and to get a sense of humour. Are these the values we want to build our society upon? That we are free to offend and insult and if your feelings are hurt you should grow up? What kind of a society would that create?

It’s certainly not the society I create in my classroom as a teacher and I would have failed to qualify for the profession if I had taught children in my care this principle. I teach them that words matter, that we laugh with and never at others. We share a joke – we don’t target one person or one group. This is part of the British Values of tolerance and respect which every teacher in the UK is obliged to promote. Why is Mr Johnson exempt from these values his government created and enforces? Why does is he not held to the standards he expects us all to teach? This is hypocrisy of the clearest kind.

In my personal life I go further than these broad notions, I try to uphold a very specific standard. In the 10 Conditions of Bai’at, a pledge of allegiance taken by all members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which set out standards of faith and conduct. The fourth condition is: That under the impulse of any passion, he/she shall cause no harm whatsoever to the creatures of God in general and Muslims in particular, neither by his/her tongue, hands, nor by any other means.

What an inspiring principle and aim this is in my life! I may well fall short of this but the renewed pledge taken at Jalsa Salana UK annually reminds and refocuses our minds on this. What a beautiful, peaceful, equal society this principle could create if we all stuck to it. We would not hurt anyone by any means – including the words we say. What unity there would be. Nobody would fear, like the Muslim women so openly targeted in the national press all week, that they would be coerced and bullied into conforming to the beliefs of others at the cost of their own choice. Mutual respect and care would mean that we would prevent ourselves from offending others and unity would be the result. Not uniformity and force and coercion, as many in the burqa debate wish to impose by removing women’s right to choose their own clothes, but fellowship built on peace and respect.

So, faced with these two versions of society – one in which we can say what we feel and ignore the impact on the sentiments of others, or one in which we try not to hurt any member of the community, I know where I would rather live. I, and so many other women are speaking up now because we know that this is a moment in history where the society in which we live is about to make that choice. Either we agree that insult is acceptable in public servants or we defend the value of respect and unity. History will show which side of the battle succeeds.

Features · Politics

One Brotherhood

Manaal Blog - Brotherhood

Manaal Rehman, Cheam, UK

Today, the Muslim world is divided and these divisions have been tidied up into various sects. Be they Shia, Sunni or Sufi, their variations are caused by differences in interpretation, which stem from a simple lack of unity; and each one believes that they are above the other.

Yet this unfortunate reality is far from what the Holy Prophet (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) had wanted for his Ummah (Muslim community). Islam maintains a cardinal principle of the unity of the Creator, Allah Almighty, and the unity of His creation, humanity. And in line with this, the Holy Prophet (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) sought a oneness, he desired a unity amongst his people. He wanted his Ummah to be like brothers, and form a brotherhood.

In his farewell sermon he stated: “You are brothers and sisters. You are all equal. No matter to which nation or tribe you belong and no matter what your status is, you are equal. Just as the fingers of both hands are alike, nobody can claim to have any distinctive right or greatness over another. The command which I give you today is not just for today but it is forever. Always remember to and keep acting upon it until you return to your true Master.”

However, quite evidently, the Muslim world has deviated from this direction. We can see that even today some people believe they are ‘better’ than others, and have the right to become ‘the masters’ of other humans, consequently leading to, for example, the recent abhorrent Libyan slave trade. The spate of terrorism perpetrated by some extremist Muslims over the last twenty years has become a blight on the world and another illustration of just how far some Muslims have strayed from Islam’s teachings of peace and tolerance towards others.

We often find that throughout history, our black brothers and sisters have been taken as inferior. The majority of the slave trade in recent history reveals the kidnapping and stealing or Africans and rather atrociously classing them as subhuman. This has ingrained into the subconscious of some in the western society, that they are (God forbid) inferior to us, and they don’t matter.

On the 19th of June, an incident occurred in Chicago where a black teen was shot, and an ambulance was called. A white sheet was placed over him, implying he was dead, when in fact he was still breathing, and he was left there. It was not until an onlooker pointed out that the boy was visibly breathing that paramedics began to examine him, yet he passed away. This is just one case in thousands, to show that some people in the world still believe that black lives are unimportant. Be it conscious or not, this mentality is contradictory to not only Islam but to all religions and it is precisely this mentality which has led to movements such as Black Lives Matter.

This Organisation says: “Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.”

A need for such an organisation should not exist in the modern world today. We go around masquerading like we have firm beliefs in equality, yet such incidents still occur, are continuing to increase and will most likely not end while there are groups that promote self-superiority, such are right-wing extremists.

Calling themselves ‘native’ they maintain the view that the people who are indigenous to Europe are superior; these groups include Neo-Nazis who have not moved on from the German regime of World War II and groups such as Britain First. They actively encourage brutality and fear against immigrants and people of different origins and justify acts of physical violence upon them. In a world where one group is inciting violence against another and one race is considered inferior to another, can we really ever have one brotherhood, or will it remain a fantasy for humankind?

Islam is the final religion brought for all of humankind, and the behaviour and actions of its followers should be exemplary for the rest of the world; if they are fighting amongst themselves, then what hope does the rest of the world have. Can all of humanity, ever really be One Brotherhood?

I believe that it can, and as an Ahmadi Muslim, it is my duty to pray this. And dear reader, I would like to humbly request that you also pray that the Muslim Ummah, can become the image of unity that the Prophet (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) had wanted and that we can live in a truly harmonious world.

Integration · Politics

On Freedom of Speech and the Ability to Ponder and Reflect

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Arfa Niswan Yassir, Swindon

Love and compassion softens your heart whereas selfishness leads you to cross the limits of what is acceptable to many. It is heart wrenching indeed to see the name of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) yet again used politically in an unthinkable manner. If we just stop and think about this issue, it concerns someone who for 1.6 million Muslims is the saviour of mankind, a person who was a blessing for every living soul, who had the benevolence to forgive the cruellest of enemies at the height of his power and strength, indeed, the Holy Prophet (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) who spent sleepless nights praying for humanity. For whom Allah states:

“So haply thou wilt grieve thyself to death for sorrow after them if they believe not in this discourse.”

Al-Quran [18:7]

The Holy Prophet (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) had so much love for humanity that he was about to grieve himself to death, and the aforementioned verse is witness to this.

This was the stature of our Prophet (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) about whom someone today is planning a rather regrettable competition. We reject this approach, we reject this competition, we reject this abuse of freedom of expression and we reject the motives behind this move.

Such activities are carried out under the cover of freedom of speech! When freedom impinges on morality it is bound to cause trouble. To my mind Allama Iqbal, poet and philosopher of British India fairly sums up this idea of freedom in his Urdu couplet:

آزادیِ افکار سے ہے اُن کی تباہی

رکھتے نہیں جو فکر و تدبر کا سلیقہ

The poet says that free, unbridled thinking can bring about the ruin of those who don’t possess the skill and flair needed to ponder and reflect over matters.

As Muslims let’s respond to this ‘competition’ with efforts at vying with each other in good works, as the Qur’an commands us (2:149) vying with each other in trying to emulate the noble and blessed model of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings be on him). These efforts of course will last for a lifetime, while such competitions will come and go.

This is not about infringement of the grace of our Holy Prophet, because no one on the face of the earth has the capability to bring disgrace to the noble Prophet, it is actually about the sentiments of millions of Muslims which Geert Wilders wants to deliberately hurt. However, Islam teaches respect, love and compassion. We can never think of caricaturing any holy person. We respect all the Prophets of God who came through ages, we respect the Pope, the Dalai Lama and other spiritual leaders who are revered around the world because we are ethical and practice restraint in using our freedom of expression and we aspire to make this world a better place.

Islam · Politics

Response to Anti-Islam Sentiment

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Navida Sayed, London

There was widespread disquiet following Dutch politician Geert Wilder coming back on the scene yesterday announcing to hold a cartoon competition of our beloved Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).

The impact of Mr Wilders’ announcement has somewhat spiralled out of control among people from all walks of life on social media resulting in individuals instantaneously reacting without a pause for thought. Social media platforms were laden with hundreds of concoctions offensive, abusive, derogatory comments against Islam and our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Enraged individuals who clearly don’t know the basics about Islam were exchanging deluded and distorted comments. Existing negative media content about Islam already drives such individuals and Wilders’ announcement gives it a big boost.

Surely freedom of speech does not mean creating disorder and chaos in the world. The antagonism Mr Wilders is breeding and expanding will harm peace of society by creating further divisions and barriers. Wilders’ interpretation of freedom of speech will open a gateway for further bigotry.

Prevention remains better than cure we can only pray and hope the relevant authorities will rethink and take responsibility.

Producing and publishing cartoons may be the asserted right of individuals wishing to express freedom of speech, however is it necessary at the expense of hurting the sentiments of others and jeopardizing peace in society? Will posting cartoons of our beloved Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings be upon him) enable the world to become a better and peaceful place?  Surely this cannot be deemed as freedom of speech especially if it leads to strife.

As for our response, regardless of the surge of hatred against Islam, in these last ten days of the blessed and holy month of Ramadhan, we will continue to pray and won’t give up advocating peace, tolerance, love and understanding among followers of all faiths.

A humble message to all fellow Muslims in the world, let us all endeavour to put into practice the goodwill, piety and self-discipline acquired during Ramadhan, and  not be provoked by  Wilders of the world. Pray for unity among the Muslim Ummah and understand the Need for the Imam. I end with the words of the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace):

‘Alas! Heaven is bearing witness and you do not hear; the earth is crying out: One is needed, one is needed, and you pay no attention! O unfortunate people! arise and see that in this time of distress, Islam has been trodden underfoot and has been maligned like criminals. It has been counted among liars and has been written down among unholy ones. Then would not God’s jealousy be aroused at such at time? Understand then that heaven is drawing close and the days are near when every ear shall hear the affirmation: ‘I am present’.

(Kitab-ul-Bariyyah, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 13, pp. 228 -330 – Essence of Islam, Vol. IV, pp. )

 

Islam · Politics

The Caliph Speaks

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Tooba Khokhar, Cambridge

“What’s in a name?” the Bard once mused. “That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet”. Islam, so we are told, “literally means peace”. With this pronouncement, it is hoped all arguments critical of Islam will melt away. Or perhaps not quite. The fundamental problem with this simplistic approach is that in essence a name is just a name, it is the substance that matters.

In a time of tangled rhetoric and heated debates, there is a voice every bit as calm and peaceful as the religion he speaks for. His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Head of the Worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community doesn’t merely proclaim the beauty of the rose, he describes its every beauteous shape and contour, alludes to its fragrance and verdure. In other words, his is the approach of expounding the actual teachings of Islam, based on the Qur’an and the example of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).

In the roar of the age, his gentle words carry more strength and proof than a thousand rhetoricians. In an address at the Houses of Parliament in the UK in 2013, he explained:

The Holy Qur’an states that one of the Attributes of God Almighty is ‘Salam’ which means He is ‘The Source of Peace.’ It follows that if God truly is the ‘Source of Peace’ then His peace should encompass all of His Creation and all of mankind, rather than be limited to a specific group of people… Allah says:

‘I swear by his repeated cry “O my Lord!” that these are a people who will not believe. Therefore, turn aside from them, and say, “Peace;” and soon shall they know.’ (Ch.43: Vs. 89-90)

These words illustrate that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) brought a teaching that was a source of mercy and compassion for all people and thus was a means of peace for all of mankind.[i]

Secondly, His Holiness always emphasises respect and kindness as cornerstones of dialogue. For the fragrance of the rose attracts by its beauty. There is no need to set fire to the rest of the garden to illustrate its charms. Drawing from Qur’anic principles for Muslims to come to a “mutual word” between them and others, His Holiness extols the virtues of the founders of all faiths whom he says were sent by God, “with teachings of love and affection” [ii]. Moreover, he emphasises the compassion, mercy and kindness embodied by the example of our Noble Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). So, the second aspect of his approach is peaceful and respectful dialogue.

Thirdly, he addresses Muslims. We are instructed to practice the beauties laid out by our faith, to live out the motto of “love for all, hatred for none”. So as to prove that the rose is not a withered thing of bygone years, but that the garden of Islam is ever verdant. According to His Holiness, “to love mankind and to show compassion to others is an immense form of worship of God” [iii] and in the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s annual Peace Symposium of 2016, he stated:

Allah the Almighty has said that those who believe in Him should adopt His Attributes and so it is impossible for a true Muslim to be cruel and it is similarly impossible for Islam to permit any form of injustice, violence or extremism.[iv]

After all, the attributes of Allah include the Merciful, the Compassionate, the Just, the Gentle and the Kind and it is these virtues we should seek to inculcate. His Holiness always underlines how it is not Islam that sustains extremists, but rather access to funding, the arms trade and political interests, stating that far from being a “religious war”, it is only “geopolitical gains” at play.[v] As for the religion he practices, he proclaims:

Without a shadow of doubt, Islam’s teachings are a guarantor for peace and security for all mankind. Its teachings are rooted in compassion, mercy and humanity and it is these true Islamic values that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has endlessly emphasised and endeavoured to spread across the world for more than 125 years. [vi]

Thus, His Holiness’ defence of Islam is as comprehensive as it is compelling. With an emphasis on expounding the true teachings of the faith, he speaks with gentleness and always entreats towards actions and deeds over mere wordplay. Granted, Islam by any other name would be just as sweet. But, as His Holiness has illustrated, there is a deep wisdom to the name, for Islam truly is a religion of peace.

[i] https://www.khalifaofislam.com/articles/islam-a-religion-of-peace-compassion/
[ii] https://www.khalifaofislam.com/articles/islam-a-religion-of-peace-compassion/ “Allah has said that all prophets were sent by Him, and so all true Muslims must accept them. No other religion so willingly and openly praises every faith and every nation as Islam does”
[iii] https://www.khalifaofislam.com/articles/islam-really-feared/
[iv] https://www.khalifaofislam.com/articles/peace-symposium-keynote-2016/
[v] http://www.pressahmadiyya.com/press-releases/2018/03/head-ahmadiyya-muslim-community-says-time-come-stop-blaming-muslims-worlds-problems/
[vi] http://www.pressahmadiyya.com/press-releases/2017/08/islam-proclaims-people-born-equal-no-matter-hail-colour-skin-hazrat-mirza-masroor-ahmad/
Features · Politics

Westminster Reflections

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Sameea Jonnud, Aldershot

The Metro newspaper had a story a couple of days ago about a terror response exercise on the river Thames; as events unfolded in Westminster yesterday afternoon it felt surreal as if reality and training were merging. Three members of the public died and dozens are being treated for extensive injuries after a car was driven into a crowd on Westminster Bridge. PC Keith Palmer was stabbed and died after confronting a man who ran towards the entrance and tried to gain access to Parliament; this man was shot dead by police. Parliament and the surrounding area remained under lockdown for several hours and now, on the morning after, the country is left reflecting on what happened.

For me seeing these events happening in the city of my birth is devastating. The beautiful sights of London under lockdown and once more filled with the sound of sirens and the sight of blood because of an act of hatred. We experienced it with IRA bombings in the past as well as the 7th July attack.

Events of horror such as this one affect us all and we react in different ways; until the police actually tell us details of what happened and until we can see into the hearts of our fellow people speculation is futile.

However speculation began immediately and in this age of social media it doesn’t take long for information, both fact and fiction, to spread. Matters were made worse when the usually more reliable Channel 4 News named the suspect only for it to emerge that the man in question is actually serving a jail sentence. Many people began to blame Islam and Muslims, for carrying out and condoning terrorism; so once again and despite their open condemnation, peaceful, ordinary Muslims were blamed for ‘not doing enough’. As if reasonable people could really believe ordinary Muslims are not shocked and saddened; the fact that the great majority of devout Muslims are against terrorism should be enough to show that Islam itself does not allow for terrorism.

A couple of other things struck me as really unsavoury; first was the way former EDL leader Tommy Robinson rushed to the scene and the media interviewed him. Why should importance be given to a man who wasn’t present during the incident and is only known for stirring up hatred against Muslims? Once again the media’s need for shock value prevailed.

Another thing was that despite advice from the Police that people should contact them with information and not circulate photographs and speculation, many were shared. One showing a man in a crowd taking a selfie in front of ambulances produced immediate outrage; however the people circulating the photo didn’t maybe stop and think they were complicit just by sharing. A second photo showed a Muslim woman walking past an injured person on the pavement while speaking on a mobile phone. This led to many comments condemning “the uncaring Muslim rushing by”. But who knows the situation? She could have been contacting relatives to tell them she was safe, she could have been pacing unable to help and if she was merely walking past chatting what makes this action an illustration of an uncaring Muslim rather than the actions of any other uncaring young person these days?

Divisions and hatred may have been shouted out but the images and words that should stay in our minds are rather different. The image of MP Tobias Ellwod was all over the media as he desperately tried to save the life of the fallen police officer. The many medics rushing out from St Thomas hospital disregarding the fact the area may not yet have been secure. Passers-by helping the injured, something which has been shown again and again at times of crisis.

Hatred and pointing fingers will get us nowhere; to defeat attempts to terrorise us we must unite and show tolerance towards one another as fellow human beings. As Brendan Cox pointed out this morning, there was one act of evil but thousands of acts of kindness and bravery. This is something that what we should focus on as more details emerge in the coming days when the need for unity will be great.

Politics

Liberty Not Neutrality

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By Tooba Khokhar, Cambridge, UK

On the 14th of March 2017, the European Court of Justice ruled in favour of a corporation wishing to prohibit its employees from “the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign”. The plaintiff in this case, Belgian citizen Ms Samira Achbita was a “hijabi”, a woman observing the Islamic code of dress. The court ruled that the company, GS4, had the right to impose “neutrality” in dress-code.

In light of these statements, we really must ask ourselves whether we, as a society, have the right to define precisely what level of clothing is considered appropriately “neutral”? The Hijab worn by Ms. Achbita and so many Muslim women is a spiritual garment that offers us security and comfort of the heart. The Hijab by no means restricts women nor is it a political statement; what it represents to us is but devotion to God. Why must this spiritual garment be brought into courtroom disputes and become a pawn in the political arena?

After all, we cannot forget that the headscarf, the turban, the kippah- all are a part of the religious landscape of Europe. Indeed, Muslim and Jewish communities have long peopled the lands and isles of Europe. The sacred garments we wear hold so much meaning to us, to many of us they form an essential part of practice of our faith. Why then have the fabrics we have for so long donned become cause for such contention?

An equally alarming side to the ruling however is that if we start to maintain the rights of employers and corporations over and above the rights of the European citizen, where does it lead? Are we not embarking on a slippery slope of curtailing citizens’ rights to freedom of religion, one of the most sacred rights enshrined in our law? Though this ruling does not directly prohibit religious dress, it sets a precedent for allowing corporations and private entities to usurp the rights of their employees when it comes to religious expression. A precedent that could have dire consequences indeed.

It is a point where, as a society, we must question what path is it that we wish to take. Should we side with those wishing to enforce a colourless “neutrality” or are we to thrive in tolerance and co-existence? For integration does not mean wiping out any sign of difference, visible or otherwise- it means embracing one another in goodwill and respect and being all the stronger for it. As a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association here in the UK, I have never felt there to be any conflict between my Islamic faith and loyalty to Britain. In fact, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) maintained that loving your country is a part of faith. And I have always had before me the examples of countless women- doctors, teachers, lawyers, researchers who live, work and flourish alongside colleagues of all faiths and backgrounds all the while observing the Islamic code of dress.

There is no doubt that Britain is a nation that lives up to its values of peace, tolerance and respect. However, in the times we live in, we must hold on to these values ever more dearly. For a free state is a free state and a police state is a police state, regardless of whether it is “secularism” or religious orthodoxy the latter espouses.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s comments that “it is not for government to tell women what they can and cannot wear”. I hope this ethic extends to corporations and businesses too for it is a sure marker of any society whether it is money or morality that defines our ethics. One can only hope that the Belgian courts take no further steps against our freedom to practice our religion and that they rule in favour of liberty and not so-called “neutrality”.

Features · Integration · Politics · Women

MUSLIM WOMEN’S GROUP SAY LOYALTY TO BRITAIN IS PART OF THE ISLAMIC FAITH

PRESS RELEASE

16 January 2017

Some 700 women attended a national Peace symposium titled “Faith and Loyalty to Britain: The Role of Women” on Saturday. The event was organised by women from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association UK to dispel misconceptions about Islam and Muslim Women and demonstrate that loyalty to Britain is part of the practice of Islam.

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It was held at the largest Mosque in Western Europe, the Baitul Futuh Mosque in South London.

Keynote speakers were Baroness Williams of Trafford, Minister of State (Home Office), Ms. Patsy Robertson, Vice Chair of the Commonwealth Association, and Mrs Safiyya Salam, Vice President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association, UK. Distinguished speakers included the Rt. Hon Fiona MacTaggart MP and Siobhain McDonagh MP. The event was also attended by Councillors, Mayors, academics, NGOs and invitees from many faiths and beliefs.

The aim of the event was also to highlight the important contribution made by Ahmadi Muslim women who are dedicated to Islam and its peaceful teachings but are also able to contribute significantly to British society, its culture and its economy. A £5000 cheque was presented to Whizz-Kidz a British Charity which is working hard to transform the lives of disabled children.

Baroness Williams of Trafford, Minister of State (Home Office) said:

It’s so good to see so many women here to talk about the role we can play in promoting peace and integration. Whether we are mothers, religious leaders or politicians, we all have a role in establishing peace.” 

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Baroness Williams also commended the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association and said:

“Your dedication to your faith and your country is an inspiration for us all. Ahmadiyya Muslim Women demonstrate to me their importance to building strong communities. Thank You!”

Baroness Williams also outlined the Government’s commitment to tackling hate crime which includes action on racially and religiously aggravated hate crime and to protecting communities from hostility, violence and bigotry.

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Mrs. Patsy Robertson, Vice Chair of the Commonwealth Association spoke of the advancement of women since the Beijing UN Conference for Women’s Rights, but said:

I have come to know that as a Community, you are accomplished and have done a great deal of work for your fellow citizens … I really do believe that it is incumbent on Muslim and non-Muslim women to end this idea that wearing the hijab is an oppressive tool. We are educated women, we have to speak up and challenge these societal beliefs.”

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The Rt. Hon Fiona MacTaggart MP said:

I want to congratulate you on leading this woman’s only event… Mum’s roles are not celebrated enough in government and the job they do in bringing up moral children and establishing peace within society… The All Party Parliamentary Group for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is I believe the only group in Parliament with a majority of female MPs”

Siobhain McDonagh MP said:

I want to thank you for your contributions. I want to thank you for showing loyalty without condition to your country.”

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Mrs. Nasira Rehman, National President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association UK said:

Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance and unity.  Ahmadi Muslim women have been in Britain since 1913 and adopting modest dress have been determinedly serving society ever since.  We will continue to do so building on our determination to show society that respect and tolerance for true peaceful Islam and responsibility to God and His creation is a source of unity and peace for all of us.

Mrs. Rehman also paid tribute to Councillor Maxi Martin, who passed away in 2016 and was a dear friend of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association.

Mrs. Safiyya Salam, Vice President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association in the UK and daughter in law of Dr Abdus Salam, the first Muslim Nobel laureate in sciences said:

This Muslim Women’s Association was established in 1922 to encourage Muslim women to be improve knowledge, serve the community, and train and bring up children to be righteous and loyal citizens. As practising Muslims, we are instructed to love our country and act as an instrument of peace. Loyalty to one’s country is part of the Islamic faith and there is no conflict between this and our belief in Islam”.

Mrs. Farzana Yousuf, a lawyer and National Secretary for Community Outreach said:

Ahmadi Muslim women believe in loyalty to Britain, we believe in freedom, respect, tolerance and a shared responsibility for our world. In other words, we believe in true Islam.”

Alison Gordon O.B.E, Director and co Founder of Sister for Change, Mitty Tohma President of the Women’s Federation for World Peace, Margaret Ali, Director of the Universal Peace Federation, Councillor Brenda Fraser Mayor of Merton, Councillor Wendy Speck Deputy Mayor of Wandsworth and Deputy Mayor of Croydon Councillor Toni Letts were also distinguished guests who attended and spoke. Their thoughtful sentiments were well received by the Symposium.

 

 

 

Politics

The Media Virus Against Islam

Virus

By Navida Sayed, London, UK

News about virus outbreaks resulting in major global pandemics always raises alarm and concern, Zika being the latest to hit the headlines. The current global IT and digital networks connecting the cyber world are also witnessing the rise of malicious software and Internet security threats. Other than biological and technical viruses, which most people are aware of, something else is lurking around. The latest newly emerging uncontained virus, without immunity or a cure in sight, is highly contagious and rapidly spiralling out of control contaminating vast parts of the population around the world – the media virus against Islam.

In the recent months, the world has witnessed a wave of atrocious, barbaric, terrorist attacks carried out wrongly in the name of Islam. Leading media outlets are cognizant of the fact that terrorists have nothing to do with Islam, yet their skewed negative media coverage against Islam acts as a powerful catalyst in promoting fear and feuds. The degree of antagonism and hatred against Muslims, as a result of bad press, has arguably reached new heights and peak negativity.

During any catastrophic incident, facts are often obscured by perceptions, but the assumptions and connections with Islam are distorted and blown out of proportion. The words Islamism, ‘Islamists, and Islamic terrorism, instantly diffuse via media outlets sparking anger, grief, fear, anxiety and hatred. These terms are innovations of the mass media and not mentioned anywhere in the Quran. The religion is Islam, and the followers are Muslims.

The impact of the media virus against Islam is affecting people from all walks of life to the extent where individuals instantly react without a pause for thought. Social media such as Twitter and Facebook is laden with hundreds of concoctions of racist, abusive, derogatory comments against Islam. The negative and offensive comments are shared across the board by enraged individuals who believe they have mastered the teachings of Islam; clearly and evidently they don’t know the first thing about Islam, and they are driven purely by negative media content about Islam.

The media virus feeds off the extremists by giving them the platform they are pining for; at the same time in the rat race to sell their story, the media create chaos and panic in society often resulting in knee jerk reactions by many individuals.   The most detrimental impact of the media virus has affected the most vulnerable people in society, and the world is witness to the fact that nearly all of the terrorist attacks committed in recent times were by individuals who hardly practiced Islam. The perpetrators of the attacks were persons going through some life crisis and angered by their situation, by individuals under the influence of drugs and alcohol or by people with a history of mental illness.

Sensationalism in journalism has always existed, but the irony is that now almost every media outlet reporter thinks he or she is an expert on Islam, featuring sensationalistic headlines and articles randomly citing cherry-picked verses or writing about topics without any knowledge or insight. Such reporters are not an authority on Islam but claim undisputedly accurate opinions about the faith. They recklessly report inaccurate facts and are responsible for inciting and instigating hate crimes, only to attract readers and increase sales.

The way to defeat the so-called Jihadists is not to fall prey to their motives for creating disorder and chaos in the world which is what we are witnessing as a story in the media is picked up by multiple sources, and the hatred amplifies across the board. The media virus propaganda and sensationalized negative accounts about Islam presented as truth and breaking news will damage society by creating great divisions and barriers.

Journalists need to take responsibility in combating extremism, not add fuel to the fire and cause unrest in society. They should be unbiased in an attempt to bring about incremental positive change to make the world a better place. Journalists and reporters have a duty towards the information they present to the public bearing their well being in mind.

Both biological viruses and cyber attacks on a global or minute scale are dealt with extreme efficiency and speed. Likewise, the media virus against Islam is also in need of a cure and immunity to contain it quickly so that the media world can focus on dealing with the real deadly threat of extremism in the world. The best way to defeat extremism is to stand united against it.

The worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Fifth Khalifa, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, said:

 “The early Muslims were only ever permitted to raise their swords in a defensive war when the opponents themselves physically raised their swords in an effort to eliminate Islam. However, in this era religious wars are not being physically fought against Islam but rather the media is being used to attack Islam and to misrepresent it. Thus, we must ourselves use the media to counter these attacks and inform the world of the true teachings of Islam.”

Regardless of the surge of hatred against Islam in the recent days, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association continues with life and preparations for the community’s 50th Annual celebration of Jalsa Salana UK. An annual international conference of a community, which encourages interfaith dialogue, advocates peace, tolerance, love and understanding among followers of different faiths. Our community firmly believes in and acts upon the Qur’anic teaching: “There is no compulsion in religion.” (2:257) We firmly reject violence and terrorism. Thousands are expected to attend the three-day International event in the suburbs of Hampshire. Our annual convention is not only a platform against extremism based on a jihad of love and not a jihad of the sword. It is a deeply spiritual and inspirational experience in an atmosphere, which radiates the tranquillity of love and message of peace.