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

 

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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.

Islam

The Red Rag of Caricatures

 

durood

Sameea Jonnud, Aldershot

Things must have been a little too quiet for Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders lately, after all US President Donald Trump has been more a public anti-Muslim irritant since he ran for President. Not one to be overshadowed where Islam and Muslims are concerned Wilders has once more decided to stir things up by holding a contest to draw the Holy Prophet of Islam, peace and blessings be on him. The fact that Wilders has been allowed to hold the caricature contest in the Parliamentary offices of his PVV party almost gives it a kind of validation when one would hope Parliament would try to diffuse any possible trouble before it can be triggered.

Wilders has shown his fanatical anti-Islam stance in the past by calling for bans on the Holy Qur’an and mosques explaining that away by claiming Islam is not a religion. However, encouraging the drawing of cartoons of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, doesn’t support any arguments he may have, rather it is merely another way to offend Muslims by insulting their revered Prophet. This has happened in the past when Danish magazine Jyllands-Posten published caricatures and in another contest in Texas, USA which followed the Charlie Hebdo shootings; in all these cases cartoonists depicted the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, in an offensive way and claimed it was to protect their rights to free speech.

Muslims hold the love of God topmost but among humankind the love for the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, comes first. This is illustrated by the fact that any Muslim who writes or speaks his name will add ‘peace and blessings be upon him’ as a mark of respect. In actual fact Muslims believe in and respect all God’s Prophets and will also invoke peace on them when speaking their name. This love and respect will not be undone by offensive cartoon depictions and will not lead to ideological discussions; it will lead to sadness among the majority of Muslims who will find it offensive and yes, in reprisal there will potentially be violence among an extremist minority.

So knowing all this it is evident that Wilders is supporting a caricature contest such as this only to insult and offend Muslims despite also knowing that, as with a red rag in front of a bull, it can trigger extremists to retaliate violently and in an un-Islamic way, as in the Charlie Hebdo killings. But it seems that to someone like Geert Wilders, who seems to want to cause trouble, any resulting offence and even violence must be worthwhile. What instead should be the reaction of peaceful Muslims to this provocation? Invoking ‘Durood’ (salutations) on the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him:

“Bless, O Allah, Muhammad and the people of Muhammad, as You did bless Abraham and the people of Abraham, You are indeed the Praiseworthy, the Glorious.

Prosper, O Allah, Muhammad and the people of Muhammad, as You did prosper Abraham and the people of Abraham, You are indeed the Praiseworthy, the Glorious.”

Hijab · Islam

Dignity of Hijab and Ill-Advised Solidarity Against it

Hijab, Solidarity_.png

by Navida Sayed, London.

In Islam, modesty and chastity are very important tenets of faith, and are achieved through establishing certain codes of behaviour and dress. However over the last decade the hijab has not only become one of the most widely discussed controversial topics but has resulted in Muslim women dealing with endless challenges and negativity.

In pursuit of their own political agendas repeated stabs by some to intervene and attempt imposing a dress code on how Muslim women should /should not dress has divided society. The publicity surrounding such attempts has led to backlashes against Muslim women in hijab and has also resulted in some women abandoning the hijab to fit into society.

Social media platforms can be dynamic catalysts of global public opinion, especially responsible for generating popular beliefs and attitudes about most things, including discussion on Muslim women.  This has resulted in many with little awareness of Islam to identify Muslim women in hijab either with terrorism or as oppressed women in desperate need of liberation from their hijab.

Recently some non-Muslim women decided to wear hijab in solidarity with Muslim women, a personal choice and a nice gesture to support Muslim women already facing antagonism. To make matters worse social media then became a platform for ridicule suggesting ‘take off your hijab in solidarity’ with feminists and ex-Muslims.

Women choosing to walk away from the hijab as feminists or activists are taking the removal of the hijab to a whole new level, from videos and blogs on how to remove the headscarf to linking the headscarf as an out dated cultural practice or view it merely as a piece of cloth. If any women removed their hijab out of defiance, because it was enforced on them, this enforcement is clearly against the teachings of Islam. It is not for man to either impose or enforce the hijab on women, nor punish them for not observing it.

Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab do not struggle with any kind of inferiority complex or dilemma about whether or not they should wear the hijab. They do not feel constricted or objectified, instead they feel confident and empowered. Hijab establishes dignity and respect for women, so that they are recognised in society as individuals who are respected for their intelligence, personality and academic achievement, rather than for their physical appearance. For Muslim women having the right to choose what to wear, including the hijab, is the most liberating and empowering choice of all.

Ironically whether it is a political figure or a journalist it’s men who always try and dictate the dress code for Muslim women. Yet they seem to be clearly unaware that men were the first to be instructed in the Qur’an to lower their gaze and not ogle women in society. Being aware of men’s weak innate nature, God further guided women to cover themselves as a preventative measure for their own protection.

Muslim women are granted the right to dress how they choose and will not remove their hijab in solidarity with anyone, because among other things it will not make the world a better place. If women were safe in a world where covering up was not a choice we would not see so many high profile sexual harassment cases. But it all comes down to choice in how a woman wishes to dress, Islamic dress code should not repeatedly be targeted.

Women in hijab will stand by in solidarity, which results in real support for the betterment of society. Women united in true solidarity can confront problems together, not with hatred or derision for one another’s beliefs and practices. Lets stand in solidarity and mutual respect for one another to counter all hurdles which threaten to divide us.

Islam

Our Response: The Need to Lift the Stigma

Our response

Laiqa Bhatti, Surrey

Fasting in the month of Ramadhan is obligatory for every man and woman, except for those who are travelling or sick. Also exempt are women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or menstruating. As a mother of two, I have more than once been exempt from fasting for all those reasons. But when reading the recent articles on how Muslim women have been shamed for eating during Ramadhan, it struck me how yet again, cultural ignorance has been mistaken for Islamic rules. I have experienced both, the cultural ignorance and the true application of Islam’s openness in these matters. The former has nothing to do with the latter. In fact, it was Islam that lifted the stigma of menstruation 1400 years ago through Holy Scripture as well as through the teaching of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be on him) and yet here we are again, subjugating women into shamefulness. Does Islam really require women to conceal such a common natural phenomenon that affects roughly 50% of the world’s population?

‘And that He creates the pairs, male and female,’ (Surah Al-Najm, verse 45)

When God Himself has created woman, then there is nothing in the functioning of His creation that is shameful. It is only Islam that not only gave rights to women such as the right to divorce, the right to inherit, the right to vote, the right to have an equal voice and at the same time normalised the differences between men and women. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be on him) openly spoke about matters pertaining to women, his teaching also demonstrated that menstruation was not something to be ashamed of. Muslim women are exempt from Praying, fasting and other aspects of daily life to ease any hardship this time may bring.

Sadly, as time has passed cultural ignorance has now in some sections of society infiltrated the beautiful and pure teachings of Islam and once again, women find themselves compelled to pretend something so natural and universal does not exist. When the Qur’an that is read by every Muslim man and woman, clearly speaks about menstruation, when the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be on him) clearly spoke about menstruation to Muslim men and women during his counsel, how is it right to associate this shame surrounding menstruation with Islam?

Furthermore, the pretence of women not having menstruation verges on the point of deception and lying. That deception and lying can then lead into a myriad of other sins.

‘Most hateful is it in the sight of Allah that you say what you do not do.’ (Surah Al-Saff, verse 4)

How can it then be acceptable that women should not disclose that they are not fasting and instead pretend otherwise? So, it is simply not feasible to associate the stigma surrounding menstruation to Islam. It has been used as a beating stick since the dawn of mankind and Islam only normalises them. Cultural stigma needs to be removed as it hinders the truth being spoken and allowing Muslim women to practice their religion as it was prescribed for them.

Islam · Women

Fact-Check: Fasting and Periods

Fact-Check

Sameea Jonnud, Aldershot

“O ye who believe! fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may become righteous.”

In the Holy Qur’an, chapter 2, verse 184 God has given the command to fast and so every year Muslims around the world fast every day during the month of Ramadhan.

I’ve recently seen stories on social media and on the BBC website about women who feel forced to pretend they are fasting and hide away to eat while on their periods. Some girls keep offering Prayers with their family while others are told by their mothers not to reveal that they are menstruating. This situation is so sad because it appears these girls are facing families who have little understanding or empathy.

A woman’s menstrual cycle is a natural part of her life but many women feel shy of discussing it openly. It is actually mentioned in the Holy Qur’an which should be enough to tell us it is a part of life. We are taught that certain people are exempt from fasting, including children, those on a journey and the sick. Menstruation with all its associated problems of cramps, back ache and more, is counted as a kind of illness in that fasting and performing the five daily Prayers would be a burden for a woman; “He desires not hardship for you” – Holy Qur’an, 2:186. And so menstruating women are exempt from fasting and the five daily Prayers.

When God Himself has ruled on a matter are these Muslim families ignoring the word of God when they don’t show understanding to their daughters and sisters? And even more sadly there are mothers who rather than quietly explaining to their menfolk, are complicit in this deception. As well as causing distress to the girls this is forcing them to lie, and worse, lie during the holy month of Ramadhan when we are all meant to work at becoming better people.

Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, both boys and girls, have always been encouraged to read and understand the Holy Qur’an by reading translations and commentaries in our own language as well as reciting the original Arabic. This removes any doubt or shadow from the subject by clearly showing God’s teachings.

If God can tell us clearly the rules regarding fasting and Praying while on a period it should be easy for family men to discreetly understand there will be days when the female members of the family are menstruating and thus leave them in peace.

I remember an English aunt telling me about staying with a family in Pakistan when she was still learning about Islam and when her period came being embarrassed at being seen not to Pray with the rest of the family in congregation. The women of the host family afterwards calmly checked the situation and explained to her that she needn’t offer Prayers because God had exempted her on this occasion and there was no need to hide this from the men in the family by continuing to Pray. After this she never felt embarrassed.

Of course those who are not fasting are allowed to eat as the exemptions are for a reason but as for eating openly, if I can help it I personally prefer not to eat in front of any fasting person, male or female, not because I am hiding from them, rather out of courtesy and because I don’t want to make their fast more difficult by the sight and smell of my food. At the same time the men in my family have always taken it for granted that the women and girls will sometimes not be fasting and Praying.

As God told Muslims to fast “so that you may become righteous” it is a natural result that a little thought and understanding during Ramadhan is needed and as a result we will be making life easier for one another as well as becoming more righteous and pleasing God, because after all we are participating in Ramadhan for His sake.

 

Features

The Import of Language in Reporting

Editor’s note: In April 2018 the Home Affairs Committee heard from editors of national newspapers on whether there was an issue with treatment of minority groups in the print media and the responsibilities of the print media. During the hearing editor of the Daily Express admitted his paper had helped create an Islamophobic sentiment in the media. Here is the first of our two blogs highlighting the discriminatory way Muslims are depicted in the press.

Import of Language in reporting

 

     Iffat Mirza, London

 ‘Islamist’, ‘Jihadist’, ‘Islamic State’. How tragically ironic that each of these words is associated with violence and hate when in reality the word Islam means peace. Language is a tool of mass construction and a weapon of mass destruction. It has the power to shape minds and societies therefore it is a great responsibility on those with power to use it wisely in order to ensure that whole truths are communicated. The media and reporting industry is perhaps one of the most important players in constructing worldviews. It is responsible for the manner in which we perceive societies, organisations, and religions.

Islam seems to have a target on its back in mainstream media. The language that is used to describe crises that occur internationally is so filled with Islamic terms that has occasioned a largely negative, and lamentably incorrect, view of Islam. Since 9/11, the media has taken many steps to ensure that Islam is portrayed in a negative light and has since been shown as a religion that incites violence and hate.

In associating words such as ‘Islamist’ and ‘jihadist’ with each other – out of context – we are legitimising the claims of terrorists who claim to be attacking in the name of Islam. Islam has made it very clear that peace is the utmost priority. The Holy Qur’an states ‘…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.’[i] Indeed, this is not a verse that is taken lightly and it continues to be upheld in true Muslim communities. His Holiness the current worldwide spiritual head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community recently said: ‘Thus, the truth is that Islam has always been diametrically opposed to any form of terrorism or extremism. Furthermore, whilst I accept that the evil acts of some Muslims have greatly damaged society, I do not accept that it is only Muslims who are to blame for the volatility of today’s world. Many commentators and experts are now openly saying that certain non-Muslim powers and groups have also played a role in undermining peace and social cohesion.’[ii]

Therefore, every time that the media uses the adjectives ‘Islamist’ and ‘Muslim’ to describe an attack or the perpetrator, they are giving legitimacy to the agendas of the attackers. They are playing into the hands of the terrorist groups.

A study showed if there is an attack and the perpetrator is a so-called Muslim, it gets 5 times more coverage than were the perpetrator a non-Muslim.[iii] As a result, the stereotype is further reinforced. This biased reporting has been a failure on the part of the media whose responsibility to cover the news honestly and impartially. Most people would agree that the news should be impartial, however since the dawn of journalism, each agency has had an agenda to stick to, whether it be political, religious, or secular. The careful selection of words has been known to subliminally highlight certain ideologies. For example, if someone sees the poor as victims, he or she may describe them as economically deprived. This term suggests a theory and ideology of wealth distribution, the lack of equality, and also, subtly, points the finger of blame at those who are not deprived.[iv]

In the same manner, when describing an attacker as a Muslim, it may seem at first as a trivial adjective to describe the attacker, however there is a subtle indication that the attacker’s religion is a direct causer of their actions. Isn’t it curious how we never hear any mention of the religions of non-Muslim attackers? Is it not strange that the Ku Klux Klan, a hate organisation that has had up to 4 million members at its peak is not associated with Christianity, despite the vast majority of the members being active Christians? [v]  There is a clear bias that with the intent of marginalising Islam, branding it as a dangerous ideology rather than a religion of love and peace.

The most frustrating aspect is, that despite all the stories that are reported on Islam, the Muslim voice largely goes unheard in the media. Instead of media agencies telling us what to believe about Islam, surely it would be better to hear from the Muslims themselves. The media needs to report on issues that concern Muslims with a focus on getting a wide range of Muslim voices. This would go a huge way to challenging the implicit media bias on Islam.

 

[i] Holy Quran Chapter 5 Verse 33, Translated by Maulawi Sher Ali

[ii] https://www.khalifaofislam.com/articles/leaving-a-legacy-for-future-generations/

[iii]  https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world-0/terror-attacks-media-coverage-muslim-islamist-white-racism-islamophobia-study-georgia-state-a7820726.html

[iv] Language and Media Michael L. Geis

[v] https://www.history.com/topics/ku-klux-klan

Islam · Politics

The Caliph Speaks

The Caliph Speaks.png

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/
Islam · Women

Women of Early Islam: Pioneers of Female Excellence

StandardBearers Blog

Iffat Mirza, Raynes Park

‘Deeds Not Words’. This is the slogan that the Suffragette Campaign championed when fighting for the simple right for women to vote in Britain. Indeed, it is certainly true that in cases such as the search for basic rights, actions speak much louder than words, and certainly the actions of many Muslim women down the ages stand as true testimony to the justice and honour women have been granted in Islam, not only in comparison to the pre-Islamic patriarchal society, but also the women in today’s patriarchy.

While the West is intent on protecting Muslim women from Islam as they erroneously perceive it, the reality is that Islam protected women upon the advent of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Since the arrival of Islam and its establishment, Muslim women have benefitted from its rights, including the rights to inheritance, own property, work, divorce, as well as countless more. Yet, in September 2017, it was global news that Saudi Arabia had finally allowed women to drive.[1] Unfortunately, many are quick to believe that such absurd and oppressive laws were a result of the Islamic Sharia when in fact this was nothing but a distorted manipulation of the beautiful teachings to implement a chauvinistic society and perhaps keep tight rein on the women. So, allow me put examples of deeds to the words.

A primary right that Muslim women have been granted is that to have academic aspirations and to seek to fulfil those. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) enjoined his followers to even travel to China if necessary to acquire knowledge. The significance of China being that it was a symbol of a land far and difficult to reach, stressing the importance for all of his followers to seek knowledge. This is most certainly a fundamental right as education is a valuable and irreplaceable key. Education allows women to enjoy an independence that they are otherwise denied. The Holy Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)’s wife Hazrat Ayesha (May Allah be pleased with her) is regarded as one of Islam’s first scholars and many sayings of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) were narrated by Hazrat Ayesha. In fact, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) said that ‘half the religion could be learnt from Ayesha’.[2] Muslim women continued to take advantage of this right. In fact, the first ever degree awarding educational institute (university) in the world was established by Fatima Al-Fihre. Therefore, it is clear that Islam has granted such a basic right and that we can look to women such as Hazrat Ayesha and Fatima Al-Firhe as great inspirations of true scholarly excellency. Particularly, as today there is the widespread misconception that Islam does not allow women to study. The reality is quite the contrary, and indeed such examples do justice to the words of the Holy Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon Him).

Further, as opposed to the popular belief that Islam does not allow women to work, the truth is that Islam has recognised women’s desire and need to have a job and to make money for themselves. Indeed, all their earnings are their own and they are under no obligation to share their wealth with their husbands or fathers. Indeed, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him)’s first wife Hazrat Khadijah (May Allah be pleased with her) was a prominent and very successful business woman in Mecca. Hazrat Khadijah continues to inspire many Muslim women today, as not only was she a successful business woman, but she was known as ‘Tahira’ – the pure one – thus showing not only worldly success but immense moral purity and proving that these two concepts are not mutually exclusive. She was a wife as well as a business woman.

However, it is neither education nor successful businesses that make these and countless other women inspirations for women even of the 21st century. It was their steadfastness and ability to endure terrible suffering, showing true loyalty to their living God that makes them standard bearers. The women of early Islam withstood great torments by the opponents of Islam with such strength. Of Hazrat Khadijah (May Allah be pleased with her), the Holy Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon Him) said “She believed in me when the whole world refuted me and she attested to my veracity when the whole world accused me of falsehood. She offered me compassion and loyalty with her wealth when everyone else had forsaken me.”[3] The unity of Islam has given women a purpose to fulfil which is to be the nation moulders. This great task can certainly be fulfilled when looking towards the women of the past, that were fundamental in the establishment of Islam. By understanding that they were the first to take advantage of the rights bestowed upon them by Allah Almighty, women of today can look to the future and continue to use these same rights and continue a shining legacy.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-trending-41412237

[2] https://www.alislam.org/library/book/pathway-to-paradise/womens-issues/

[3] https://www.alislam.org/maryam/Maryam-Jan-Mar-2014-EN.pdf