Women

Ijtemas: a Time Honoured Tradition

Ijtema blog by Q Ward.png

Qudsia Ward, Cornwall

At this time of year in the UK, members of the Ahmadi Muslim Community are finalising plans for their annual Ijtemas*. Speeches are being practiced and timed, poems polished, handicraft models and craft work completed, other skills honed.  Travel plans are being made, checking with friends and family how to reach our destination and sleep comfortably for two or three nights away from home. These Ijtemas, or gatherings are the culmination of activities throughout the year, throughout the community.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has auxiliary organisations for young boys and girls and for adult men and women.  Each auxiliary is organised with its own administration, locally, regionally, and nationally.  Each auxiliary has its local, regional and national meetings which unite, train and educate members of the community.

The national annual Ijtema, or gathering, of the Lajna Imaillah, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association, will be taking place in September this year.

When I first took part in Ijtemas 45 years ago, I did not appreciate their value.  It was always fun to meet locally with old and new friends, to enjoy the competitions and speeches but I never realised the strength of the organisation that lay behind them. 

Wherever I have been the community has been there. All around England, France, and the Middle East, I have been able to find friends, to share good fellowship, to have fun, to keep fit and to gain understanding of what it means to be a Muslim and what Islam really teaches.  The community in Europe has grown so much and with this growth the skills, knowledge and experience of the ladies has grown too.  Long ago I happily enjoyed joining in with the extempore English speech competitions.  Not so intimidating when you know each lady and feel friendly support all around!  Now the competitive edge is greater, and the young girls so well educated and experienced I stick to enjoying listening!!  I listen with enormous pleasure to the well prepared and well-presented speeches, even with audio-visual presentations these days!  I love to hear the melodious recitation of Holy Quran and poems of the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) who founded this wonderful community.

As the community has grown in UK the handicraft and sports department have grown too.  There is something for everyone and that’s what binds us together.

Think of the skills and experiences that ladies gain in preparing for the competitions; first locally, then regionally, then nationally.  The life skills and knowledge gained is what makes the ladies of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community stand out as strong, active citizens wherever they live in the world.  Being trained and then training our children to understand and take part in the organisation unites us and makes us strong.  It protects and guides us.  Seeing, and being part of the ijtemas sets an important example for younger women and girls.  Knowing there is always a place and a role for you when ever you are ready is so important and is one of the reasons our young people are ready to take part in the active service of others within and outside the community.

The greatest blessing of the community is that it is led by the Khalifa, the community’s worldwide spiritual head. Ahmadi Muslims worldwide are united, taught, advised and loved by our Khalifa.  He oversees the community’s organisation and it is this leadership and organisation that makeIjtems it strong. His prayers and guidance lead us all towards success.

The message of the community is one of peace.  Our Khalifa is constantly reminding us to remember our obligations to our Creator, Allah and to His creation.  This message is reinforced and repeated throughout the world through the organisation of the community, and lastly, through its Ijtemas.

 

Ijtema is an annual spiritual and academic gathering. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association has their Ijtema coming up this year with the theme ‘The Existence of God’.

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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.

Holy Quran · Islam

Freedom of Speech & Its Limits – Finding the Middle Path

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Iffat Mirza, London

The development of the notion of freedom of speech in the West has run parallel to the construction of democracy in its states. Looking at British history, we see that the 18th and 19th centuries were ridden with laws that suppressed any organisation, literature, or activity that was seen as a threat to the ruling order. With laws such as the 1795 Treasonable Practices Act and Prevention of Seditious Meetings Act, the government was able to establish its dominance over the country and limit the consciences of those who dared question their rule. Ideals of freedom of speech were reactions to these laws. Freedom of speech was created in order to facilitate a true democracy, and we can see the direct correlation between the increase in freedom of speech and the progress of democracy.

Now we must ask the question why this has once again become a big issue now? Well, the idea of political correctness has taken hold, which many see as an attack on freedom of speech. We have seen recent examples of Boris Johnson’s controversial statements on the burka and Geert Wilders’ proposed Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) ‘drawing contest’ (now thankfully cancelled), and once again the debate over freedom of speech has risen again. However, I would argue that both stunts were nothing more than political charades and had very little to do with protecting freedom of speech. It must be clarified to all that freedom of speech is not synonymous with right to hurt. Freedom of speech is a tool that helps us grow as individuals and societies. We must set ourselves boundaries to distinguish what is acceptable and constructive dialogue, and what is simply an excuse to tyrannise.

In any case of conflict or difference of opinions, dialogue is essential to advance as a society, therefore we must welcome an atmosphere of trust and respect where each and every member can share their opinion and worries over any topic, regardless of how sensitive it may be. Yes, freedom of speech is our right, and indeed, a right that must be exercised to ensure true democratic rule.

However, it is also a responsibility that must be taken seriously. We can vocalise our opinions without dehumanising and hurting people. Freedom of speech is not being threatened by those who take offence at hurtful words. It is being threatened by those who defend their bigotry under the shield of freedom of speech. A shield that is increasingly being worn thin. By stubbornly using the guise of freedom of speech to offend others, we are limiting constructive dialogue as we are focussing more on our right to speak rather than our need to speak.

The Holy Qur’an captures the essence of how freedom of speech should be approached by encouraging an attitude of moderation. In Chapter 2, Verse 144, which can be understood as ‘We have made you into a nation which adheres to the middle path…’, God has taught us to strike a balance in all that we do and this will most definitely ensure a peaceful and harmonious society. If this teaching were to be applied to freedom of speech we would learn that freedom of speech is necessary to challenge us and to help us grow. We would learn to see the world from other perspectives and in doing so learn more about our own perspective. But neither would we take it to such an extreme that we are not facilitating conversation, but are instead screaming over each other, resulting in a lot of words with very little meaning. So, it is in treading the middle path that we can do justice to freedom of speech.

Customs and Rituals

Teenage Years: Keeping Faith in a Faithless World

Teenage Years and Faith poster

Nooresahar Ahmad, Hartlepool

In many ways, being a teenager is much harder than being an adult. We’re in the years when we have to make decisions that will impact the rest of our lives, even though most of us don’t really know what we want from our lives. Pressure is piled on what with exam results and parental expectations; having to balance our faith with our studies, our studies with our hobbies, and our hobbies with our rest. At a time when we need more sleep than ever, late nights are more often spent frantically completing homework than actually sleeping!

And then- on top of all that- there’s the peer pressure. Pressure from classmates and friends is something that weighs heavy on all teenagers. But when you’re a Muslim girl, and you stick out just a little bit (okay, a lot) more than everyone else, and the list of things you refuse to partake in (like wearing revealing clothing, socialising with boys or drinking alcohol) is much longer than others’, the pressure can be even harder to deal with. It is this very distinction that can make some people feel as though their religion and beliefs are becoming cumbersome; especially when their peers have no faith of their own, no religion that they are connected to, and cannot relate to their situation at all.

Some Ahmadi girls may well find it uncomfortable to enter discussions regarding their religion, drawing extra attention to themselves in an environment where they already feel (like all teenagers) self conscious. When they are asked questions about their faith they may want to shrink away from responding. However, as Ahmadi Muslim girls, we know this isn’t what we should do.

Looking towards the examples of the very accomplished, inspiring women in our Community, it is vital we calmly and kindly answer the questions of our classmates regarding our religion, stand our ground even if we are pressured to do otherwise, and learn that our unique identities as Ahmadi Muslim girls are not something to be ashamed of. Rather, we should take pride in who we are and what we believe. Doing so can often gain us more respect than changing ourselves to fit in.

To do this, however, it is vital that we have knowledge of our own religion. Otherwise, if we do not understand the reasoning behind the teachings, we can become confused and, when faced with a difficult question regarding our religion, may find we don’t know the exact answer. We do not have to blindly follow what our parents are telling us; instead, we should constantly ask questions and read religious books, articles and blogs so that we develop a faith in God, and an understanding of Islam, that is personal.

In short, no matter how busy we become, or how awkward we may feel, our faith isn’t something that we can afford to ignore or neglect. Because before long school will finish- and we will never see the classmates who once pressured us or made us feel uncomfortable ever again. The way we decide to act now will determine whether we can look back at our conduct with pride, or with regret. Even as teenagers, it is our responsibility as Ahmadi Muslims to put our faith first and prioritise our religion before anything else.

And once we have done that, we find that we are free to enjoy our adolescent days as much as-if not more- than the next person.

Hijab · Women

Muslim Women

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Yusra Dahri, London

This is not just a cloth
Nor the hatred that you’ve made,
But a symbol of faith and trust.
A decision that will not fade.

Yet all cloths are woven from thread.
And this thread has been constantly weaving.
From our mothers to our grandmothers,
From ancient scriptures to a world never sleeping.

We are not hidden but carrying a trove of history.
Our minds are bejeweled with meaning.
So let us teach you how we live.
We are not asleep, but dreaming

Features · Women

Celebrating the Right to Drive – a Novel or Forgotten Right?

 Ayesha's Blog

Ayesha Malik, Surrey

On June 24th this year, women in Saudi Arabia took to the steering wheel for the first time, after being banned from driving for decades. The reforms introduced by Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman are considered to be sweeping, granting Saudi women the right to drive without a legal guardian. The measures allowing driving licenses to be issued to women were announced in September 2017, with driving schools never having opened their doors to Saudi women before this.

Ironically, a month before the ban was due to be formally lifted, prominent female campaigners including Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan and Aisha Al-Mana were detained by Saudi authorities who declined to reveal the reason for their detention. However, Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch said that, “The message is clear that anyone expressing scepticism about the crown prince’s rights agenda faces time in jail.” These women were part of dozens of women activists who had been campaigning for years for the driving ban to be lifted and were part of the Women2Drive Movement. When the pronouncement to lift the ban was made in autumn last year, the authorities were quick to contact these women urging them not to comment on the decision in the media.

The Saudi Government’s contradictory two-pronged approach has become a hallmark of the Kingdom’s repressive regime against women. That this should be the case in a country where Islam dawned is deeply disconcerting. Early Islamic history records women partaking in battle and aiding the wounded soldiers in combat. At a time when horseback and camels were the only means of transport, having women on the battlefield was concomitant to women riding horses or camels. In the 21st century, this right would translate into the right to drive motor vehicles.

For those celebrating the right of Saudi women to drive as something worth hailing as part of a liberal rights movement are in need of a history lesson. All too often history is forgotten for the pursuit of partisan agendas and geo-political haggling. Saudi women have too often become the scapegoat of this phenomenon. In fact, horse riding is a Sunnah (practice) of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon Him) and there are Ahadith (traditions) in which he urged his followers to learn to ride a horse, shoot a bow and swim.

Thus, June 24th simply “gave back” Saudi women a right they had earned 1400 years ago. The image of the Saudi Muslim woman has become the archetype of oppression and subjugation. The construction of this image has been the product of the Saudi Government’s adherence to a puritanical version of Islam, which is completely antithetical to the original teachings of the faith. This image is also cemented by the mainstream media, which has effectively hijacked the notion of what ought to be considered liberty for women worldwide – with little deference to cultural or personal preference. A far more informed and balanced discourse is required in order to cut through the glaze of both these competing views such that the nuance of socio-religious stories is preserved.

Features

Life and Choice

Munazzah's Blog

Dr Munazzah Chou, Farnham

The debate between pro-life and pro-choice rages on and has come to the fore recently around the Irish referendum in which Ireland voted to repeal the amendment of its constitution which effectively prohibited abortion, and now the issue plays a central role in the appointment of a Supreme Court Judge in the US. It is a hugely emotive subject and positions are often entrenched on both sides.

Islam goes to great lengths to protect the sanctity of all human life and condemns abortion as tantamount to taking the life of another human being. However, when the mother’s health is in danger Islam grants greater right to the mother and abortion in this situation is not only permissible but advisable.

The Holy Qur’an states, ‘…nor kill a person that Allah has forbidden except for just cause…and he who does that shall meet with the punishment of sin .’ (25:69) ‘…whosoever killed a person … it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and whoso gave life to one, it shall be as if he had given life to all mankind.’ (5:33)

In England and Wales abortions are permitted on a number of grounds including grave danger to the health of the mother, expected serious physical or mental abnormalities of the child, and for any other physical or mental health risk for the mother if the pregnancy is under 24 weeks. In 2016 190,406 abortions were carried out, a rate of 16 per 1,000 women aged 15-44. Of these only 246 abortions were carried out due to grave danger of the pregnancy to the mother or risk of life and only 6 cases were performed as a medical emergency to save the life of the mother. The vast majority (97%) of abortions were carried out because of a stated risk to the woman’s mental health. This could for example be if a woman didn’t feel ready to raise a child at that point in time.

Pro-choice advocates believe that women have the right to access abortion as a valid and positive reproductive choice for any reason in an ‘on-demand’ service. The Holy Qur’an however, specifically forbids abortions due to fear of financial strain. It states, ‘Kill not your children for fear of poverty. It is We Who provide for them and for you. Surely, the killing of them is a great sin.”(17:32)

God’s bounty is limitless and in “Exploding Population Myths” Jim Peron writes that “in most of the world, food production is easily outstripping population growth, and on a world-wide basis the problem of overpopulation no longer exists. It is true, of course, that some nations still cannot feed themselves, but the reasons for this tend to be political.”

Unwanted pregnancies are the product of society’s attitude to sex and inadequate contraception. Islam is clear on the subject of appropriate sexual relations. However, as 16% of abortions in England and Wales are among married women, the issue of contraception is important to address. The fourth Khalifa of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness Mirza Tahir Ahmad (may Allah have mercy on him) writes in his book ‘Absolute, Justice, Kindness and Kinship’ that ‘Wherever Allah has forbidden family planning in the Holy Qur’an, He has done so on account of the fear of family planners for shortage of food. The Companions of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) narrate that the only practice they carried out was not to abort children for fear of poverty, but to take preventative measures against their conception for other reason.’

Abortion as a means of contraception is unacceptable. As is true for all medical conditions prophylaxis is superior to treatment from a clinical as well as economic perspective, and in this case also from a moral standpoint. The relationship between accessible contraception and abortion rates is clear. In 2012 the average abortion rate in England and Wales was around 9.7% higher in areas where sexual health and contraceptive services were restricted, compared with areas with no restrictions. In the USA the poorest 33% account for 75% of abortions. So data strongly suggest that a significant proportion of women undergo terminations due to poverty. In this context abortion cannot be considered to be a “choice” and addressing poverty may avoid a number of unwanted abortions.

The theologian Helmut Thielicke, in his work Being Human, Becoming Human points out that ‘Only if human life is unconditionally sacred and humanity is made the measure of all things are we protected against its being made a thing or tool and thus consigned to the scrap heap, as machines are when they wear out and are no longer of use.’

 

References

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/679028/Abortions_stats_England_Wales_2016.pdf

Chika E Uzoigwe, After 50 years of legal abortion in Great Britain, calls grow for further liberalisation, BMJ 2017;359:j5278

Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Absolute Justice, Kindness and Kinship p 384

 

Features

Safeguarding Yourself: Time For Change

Laiqas blog 1

Laiqa Bhatti, Surrey

In recent months, media coverage of high profile sexual assault cases has driven countless women to speak up about the sexual harassment and assault they themselves have faced in all walks of life. In the UK alone, at least half of British women have been sexually harassed at work or a place of study and despite the widespread effort to achieve gender equality, reported cases of sexual assault have increased between 2012 and 2017 [1]. Police recorded offences have more than doubled to over 120,000 cases reported in the year 2017 [2]. These statistics raise questions as to why this issue is so widespread and commonplace and has not been effectively tackled. Even more worryingly, according to a BBC survey 63% of women said that they did not report sexual harassment at work or places of education to anyone. This portrays a bleak image where sexual harassment is almost expected and accepted as part of daily life if you are a girl or a woman.

While harassment of any form, including sexual is illegal, gathering evidence and proving it can sometimes be difficult which could be one reason many women do not report it. Therefore, any solution to tackle this issue requires preventative actions as lack of successful prosecution shows it cannot and does not serve as a deterrent. Yet debate on how to effectively reduce sexual harassment is often stifled when suggestions are presented that involve refuge for or change in behaviour by the victim. It is considered victim blaming and for many a no go. Yet the ‘Protection from Harassment Act 1997’ should have safeguarded women from unwanted sexual advances, it seems that women are no less at risk now than they were then [3]. It certainly has not eradicated harassment or even come close which calls for an alternative solution to be considered. With the media continuing to perpetually sexualise women and reducing their status to a mere object designed to be ogled, as a society it embeds the notion that the role of a woman is only one of a visual pleasure for others. With that sense of entitlement, sexual harassment is the next natural step if self-restraint is not exercised. For that reason, in the first instance Islam prescribes protection for all women in the way of men lowering their gaze. In the Holy Qur’an, it says:

‘Say to the believing men that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Surely, Allah is well-aware of what they do.’ (24:31) [4]

If truly adhered to, the man that does not look directly at women out of respect, how will he even consider harassing her? In this way, Islam does not only protect Muslim women but all women. However, Islam also recognises that this injunction does not apply to non-believing men and therefore is nowhere enough to fully protect women from harassment so it goes on to say:

‘And say to the believing women that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts and that they display not their beauty and embellishments except that which is apparent, thereof, and that they draw their head-covers over their bosoms, and that they display not their beauty and embellishments thereof save to their husbands, or to their fathers or the fathers of their husbands or their sons or the sons of their husbands or their brothers or the sons of their brothers or the sons of their sisters or their women or what their right hands possess or such of male attendants who have no wickedness in them, or young children who have not yet attained any concept of the private parts of women. And they walk not in the style that such of their beauty as they conceal is noticed. And turn you to Allah all together, O believers that you may succeed.’ (24:32) [5]

Alongside other guidance that Islam sets out, the essence of modesty is the keystone to protecting women from any unwanted sexual advances. Islam guides women towards modesty to protect them from sexual harassment. If we lived in Utopia where all men would truly lower their gaze and respected women, then perhaps women wouldn’t have to take actions to safeguard themselves. The sad truth is, even in Western countries where there is a strong fight towards gender equality, sexual harassment is commonplace and even more worryingly, on the rise. Yet gender equality cannot be achieved without women receiving the respect they deserve. No woman deserves to be cat called, approached with unwanted comments or even worse. Safeguarding yourself from anything negative is not victim blaming. It is simply being sensible in a less than ideal world. The founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, has elaborated on the philosophy of modesty as follows:

‘It should be remembered that to restrain one’s looks and to direct them only towards observing that which is permissible is described in Arabic by the expression ghadde basar, which is the expression employed in the Holy Quran in this context. It does not behove a pious person who desires to keep his heart pure that he should lift his eyes freely in every direction like an animal. It is necessary that such a one should cultivate the habit of ghadde basar in his social life. This is a blessed habit through which his natural impulses would be converted into a high moral quality without interfering with his social needs. This is the quality which is called chastity in Islam.’[6]

As a Muslim woman, I experience the protective nature of modesty myself in my daily life. Hearing the notion of women protecting themselves from any form of abuse as ‘victim blaming’ is incorrect and insulting. Is locking our front door to protect ourselves from burglars also victim blaming? It is simply recognising that despite all other efforts, theft can happen and requires preventative measures. In the same way, women need to accept that alongside education and reformation of the way society views us, we should take measures to protect ourselves and modesty is a large part of that. Sexual harassment shouldn’t become a part of our everyday life, accepted as a by-product of our freedom and modesty shouldn’t be seen as a barrier to that freedom. Instead modesty allows us to go on in our daily life without the fear of being objectified and treated as though our only purpose in this life is a superficial one. There is no freedom for a woman if she constantly worries and continuously finds herself at risk of sexual harassment. It stifles her ability to conduct her work with full confidence and to the best of her ability. Yet if her dress portrays modesty, she stands out of the crowd as someone whose sole purpose isn’t to visually appeal to others.

In an ideal world the way a woman dresses should not have a bearing on her safety or the respect she is given, however we also cannot deny that in our current society, the Islamic solution is the one that truly protects women.

 

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41741615

[2]https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/sexualoffencesinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2017

[3] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1997/40/contents

[4] The Holy Qur’an, 24:31

[5] The Holy Qur’an, 24:32

[6] The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, pp 23-25

 

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.

Features

A Personal Journey, An Individual Choice

Personal Journey

Christine Sharif, Luton

A two day Converts Social & Spiritual Outing took place at Manchester (Mosque) and the Lake District after which a convert to Islam wrote her story.

It is hard to fully express the incredible experience of being together with other people from such diverse backgrounds, so many different national and ethnic origins together at one time, yet sharing the same beliefs and incredible journeys of conversion. Russia, Kazakhstan, Syria, Jordan, Pakistan, Africa, Kurd, England, Indonesia, Scotland; the sheer diversity yet unity felt emotionally overwhelming and words simply cannot convey such an experience. Where else would you find such profound differences yet unity?

This unique phenomenon occurred in a recent social and spiritual outing organised by The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community for its converts. A two day event that involved a retreat at the Darul Aman Mosque in Manchester, followed by a trip to the beautiful Lake District, my birth place. The more energetic chose to take advantage of the landscape and views and went off on a lengthy hike. I chose the more sedate option of a leisurely boat trip on Ullswater Lake to Howstown for tea and scones. On our return we had a picnic which was followed by Asr Prayer. This was one of my favourite parts, Praying together in congregation beside the lake in the most glorious surroundings and weather to match. The fact that it was forecast rain and inevitably always rains in the Lake District, the weather itself was a miracle!

We were looked after incredibly well with all our needs fully catered for and with just short of 100 attendees, not an easy task for our hosts who were always cheerful and eager to please. We listened to some wonderful speeches on becoming spiritual human beings and how to meet Allah Almighty in this life, as well as some incredible journeys into Ahmadiyyat. It struck me how each story demonstrated a unique personal relationship with God which encompassed everyone’s individual capacity, needs and means towards accepting the truth. Some had dreams, others spiritual experiences, some were inspired by other Ahmadis they had encountered, as well as quests to find answers to unsatisfied questions and reflections. Whichever route our destination was the same.

Although I have returned home to my birth place countless times it was something different to be there with my Community and reflect on my own journey. Raised in Britain as a ‘typical’ English girl my knowledge of religion was meagre and superficial at best. Science was the ‘intellectually superior’ knowledge and one I held dearly, whilst belief in a Higher Being and all that came with it were supernatural fairy tales to me. Winged beings, turning water to wine and other miraculous stories seemed ridiculous to me and at odds with logic, evidence and common-sense. Christmas, Easter and other such occasions were just part of my culture and had no real meaning for me other than holidays, socialising, food, gifts and good times. I felt pity for followers of religion, who I felt were brainwashed by their respective propaganda, blinded by faith and ignorant to intellectual and rational thinking – if only they would wake up, be free of their out-dated mind-sets and join the modern world, after all I knew best – I had science!

It transpired I was the ignorant and brainwashed one, blindly accepting the ‘ideal’ of what Western society preached, a pilgrim of the atheist revolution comfortable in blissful arrogance and familiarity. It wasn’t until some life circumstances provoked an interest to know more about religion; the more I studied, the more I realised how little I knew and the more I wanted to learn. I eventually came across a book that shook my beliefs to the core – Revelation, Rationality, Truth and Knowledge. It united science and religion in a way I had never come across before and I instantly turned from agnostic to a believer in God. That was the start of my journey into a newly defined concept of religion to me.

Almost every one of my original concepts around religion were mistaken – I relearned the concept of angels, what miracles truly are and actually what an immense and intellectually challenging subject religion actually is. Overwhelmed with information I studied my field of expertise across different religions, and respective sects and the subject of women. Islam according to the Ahmadiyya way not only led me to believing in God, but its teachings are the only ones I have found that answer every question in depth, with plausibility and satisfaction. I don’t always get the answers I’m looking for quickly and sometimes I’m not satisfied with an answer so I keep searching. Other times life experience helps me to understand an aspect which I have previously felt dissatisfied with through reading or listening to an answer and it clicks, ‘I get it!.’

Islam is not an oppressive teaching which subdues and abuses women; in fact it protects women, it celebrates our strengths and gives us rights far more beneficial than those socially constructed by Western society. There is no compulsion or force in true Islamic teachings, it is a personal journey, an individual choice; I was fooled by misconceptions and ignorance.

I am still a patriotic British woman, proud of my English heritage and strong feminist conviction. I am still outspoken, compassionate about animals and have a good sense of humour. I just have a different view on life, its origins and death and choose to follow a new set of moral codes that have led me to become part of a wonderful new diverse and integrative community whose values strive for individual as well as world peace.