Features

The Importance of Truth in a World of ‘Fake News’

Truth blog

Iffat Mirza, Raynes Park

I grew up hearing the saying of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) being repeated to me. ‘Truth saves, falsehood destroys’. I never really questioned it. Of course, the truth saves! It is only very recently, when I have seen the lines between fact and fiction being blurred, that I have taken a more invested approach to the truth and its necessity.

It seems that within a few years a war has been waged on the media in a battle for truth. As journalists and news outlets came under fire for ‘fake news’ (indeed, ‘fake news’ was even named as a Collins Dictionary word of the year), there has been a great cultural shift towards searching for this truth and questioning whether it even exists. It is a time where we must look around us and try to find, amongst all the uncertainty and rumours, glimpses of truth and uncover them so that they may dazzle brighter than any lie told. Indeed, before we embark on uncovering the greatest truths of the world, we must look towards ourselves and put ourselves under harsh interrogation. Are we complicit in allowing the creation of an untrustworthy atmosphere?

Perhaps my first realisation regarding the truth was understanding that lying is a coward’s tool. It is an escape route for those who do not have the conviction to follow through with their beliefs or their actions. It’s a valid point, there have been moments and places in history (and regrettably, even in the present) where it is not easy to find comfort in the conviction of our beliefs, no matter how moral they may be. However, truth, in the face of even tyranny, is paramount and whilst the stakes may be higher than imaginable, surely Allah the Almighty lets no good deed go to waste.

In this situation, the example that Hadhrat Bilal (may Allah be pleased with him) left for us is most inspiring.
Hadhrat Bilal (may Allah be pleased with him) was a slave and therefore when he accepted Islam, he was subjected to the cruellest of punishments and torture by his owner Ummayya who whipped him and forced him to lie on hot sand, had him dragged through the streets until he bled ceaselessly. He was told the torture would only stop if he renounced Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). His only reply was ‘Ahad, Ahad’ – ‘God is only One’.

Despite the pain his body suffered, he remained truthful to his beliefs. Indeed, his conviction to his true belief ‘saved’ him, as he had a very dear place in the heart of the Holy Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).

The Holy Qur’an states ‘And confound not truth with falsehood nor hide the truth, knowingly.’ It is this word ‘confounds’ that fascinates me. There is a clear indication that the two can be confused, though they must not be. Words revealed to the Holy Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be on him) over 1,400 years ago seem to perfectly encapsulate today’s war on truth.

Why are the lines so blurred? Have they always been so blurred? I would argue that they blur when we lose sight of our goals. When the consequence of a lie seems more attractive than that of the truth, it is not difficult to disguise lies as truths. Today we see politicians and media personalities chasing power and wealth through lies that are only fractioning society. If, instead, our sights were collectively placed on what is truly beneficial for us all, the truth would be the one to guide our narratives and thus lead us to bettering our world for the present and the future. Once we face the truth head on and see our flaws we will be forced to overcome them and make peace with them, leading us to a harmonious society that is forever improving, as opposed to fashioning tales of our unquestionable superiority and thus ignoring our faults which are only left to fester and breed more faults.

The truth is not always easy to tell. Nor is it easy to face. But indisputably it is that which is best for us. It forces us to interrogate ourselves and guides us on the road to self-improvement. Whether it is a matter of a personal truth or part of a larger narrative with national and global consequences, honesty is what will lead us to peace and harmony. To confuse truth with falsehood is a slippery slope; sometimes we even believe our own lies. Let us not slip so much that we lose sight of our priorities only to wake up one day not recognising ourselves or our surroundings, that we have been complicit in creating. We cannot expect to arrive to a moral outcome using immoral means.

i. https://www.alislam.org/library/books/Sayyedna-Bilal.pdf

ii. Holy Qur’an Chapter 2 Verse 43 English translation by Maulvi Sher Ali(ra)

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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

Freedom of Speech & its limits.png

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.

Islam · Politics

Response to Anti-Islam Sentiment

Graphic-Navida blog on Wilders

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. )

 

Facts · Islam

Discourse on Extremism and the Role of Media.

Extremism and role of Media

Nadia Shamas, Manchester

In this century we have seen and are more aware of acts of extremism than ever before. Extremism by definition, is the idea of ‘holding extreme political and religious values.’ In this year alone, the world has experienced 506 extremist attacks perpetrated by people who called themselves Muslim. However, my question is what about the extremist attacks that were brought on by those who were not Muslim? In no way is this supporting the self-proclaimed jihadists because they do not and are not portraying the morals and teachings of Islam. The religion of Islam teaches and promotes peace and states that there should be no compulsion in religion.

But it does raise the question that why is it that when people use the word ‘extremism’ the first words that crop up in the media are ‘Muslims’, ‘Jihadists’ or ‘Islam’? Why is it that we never hear discussions about non-Muslim terrorist groups such as the KKK (Ku Klux Klan), who have been responsible for burning not only churches and peoples’ property on American soil but also burning people? Why is it that a man such as Mark Conditt is not labelled a terrorist when he was related to an extreme Christian group and committed a suicide bomb attack in which he killed two innocent people and injured five? The answer is because of the role of media and what they do and don’t present to the public.

On Saturday 3rd June 2017, London was hit with a devastating terrorist attack that killed eight innocent people. Theresa May in her speech exclaimed, ‘enough is enough,’ further stating that it was social media platforms that had allowed extremists to ‘breed’ their wrong ideologies and plan so many attacks that had hit all around the world. Many agreed with the Prime Minister’s view. The media covered her speech as well as the terrorist attack. Although we are observing that many social media platforms such as, Facebook and Instagram are now much more rigorously tracking or removing content related to extremism, there is still a huge misunderstanding of extremism, its perpetrators and the role of the western media in how these two factors are portrayed.  For example, Kimberly Powell, a professor of Communication and Women and Gender Studies, concluded in her study of U.S. media coverage on terrorism after 9/11, that terrorism was most effective at spreading when given widespread media coverage. Additionally, a recent study that was published in the daily newspaper Independent has shown how misleading the media can become when the topic of extremism arises.

Research conducted by Erin M. Kearns, an American assistant professor of criminology, and her colleagues, included looking at 89 specific terrorist attacks that had occurred during the years 2011 to 2015 in the United States (these were according to the GTD’s – Global Terrorism Database – definition of terrorism) and they found that out of those attacks, Muslims were responsible for 12.4% of atrocities. What they further found out was, out of the 89 attacks, 24 hadn’t received any media coverage, but the small percentage of 12.4% of Muslim perpetrators had received 44% news coverage. They also discovered that there were 192.8 articles out of 2,413 that were related to either Muslim or foreign-born perpetrators, compared to the 18.1 articles that had been written about the rest of the 88% terrorist attacks that weren’t to do with Muslim extremists. All in all, showing that, on average, Muslim extremist attacks tend to receive four and a half times more coverage within the media. The researchers of this study concluded, “In other words, whether intentional or not, US media outlets disproportionality emphasise the smaller number of terrorist attacks by Muslims, leading America to have an exaggerated sense of threat.”

Thus, we come to see that the western media plays a crucial role in how extremist attacks are usually portrayed to the larger audience who witness such atrocities. This not only highlights the sphere of influence the media has, but also calls to attention the responsibility of those who work in this field in depicting the actual truth of extremism, in whatever form it may manifest itself.

Certainly we see that the so-called ‘cherry-picking’ of stories related to extremism that only fit a certain agenda, against extremists claiming to be Muslim, is a grave injustice. Such misrepresentation of information can lead to the disastrous consequences of hate, prejudice and stereotype arising against the many of a particular group of people, due to the deplorable actions of the very few. Such injustices in the media only emphasise the need to educate people on not initially believing everything they read or see as the final truth.

Finally, this also stresses to those in the media that they must give a fair and just account of any matters they report on, not just extremism, because as best said in the words of revolutionary civil rights leader, Malcolm X: “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”

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

Hijab

The flower of sweetest smell is shy and lowly

Flowersweetest.jpg

Tooba Khokhar, Cambridge

Once upon a time, a poet of the British Isles remarked “the flower of sweetest smell is shy and lowly”. He wrote in praise of a beauty that was hidden, a charm that was veiled and a loveliness that sought no advertisement. A flower whose fragrance was all the more sweeter and lush for its lowliness and modesty.

Such a reverence for the modest has sadly dwindled from among us. Somewhere in the tumult of history, the shy, lowly flower has been swept away by the winds of modernity. Winds that feed and nurture only the bright, the brilliant and the bold.

So it is that modesty has become a relic of a bygone era. Those who still cling onto antiquated notions like it are told they are like birds, whose unseeing eyes are unaware of the bars of their own cage. We, they instruct us, need only shed our chains and be released from our prison.

There is a kind of humour in this. As Muslim women, our worldview, like that of our sisters of other faiths, is centred not on gaining some token of liberation or trophy of empowerment but on being submissive to the will of God. For it is our conviction that true happiness lies in striving to establish a connection with the Divine and in living life according to the principles He has laid out, principles which if followed bring peace to the heart and contentment to the spirit for they are so perfectly in tune with our natures.

As Muslim women, feminist icons will never be our role models. Instead, we look to the example of the one saintly woman whose praises were extolled in our scripture, a holy personage revered and loved by Christians and Muslims alike, Hadhrat Maryam (peace be upon her) otherwise known as Mary.

Mary is addressed in chapter three, verses 43-4 of the Qur’an which state.

And remember when the angels said, ‘O Mary, Allah has chosen thee and purified thee and chosen thee above the women of all peoples.

‘O Mary, be obedient to thy Lord and prostrate thyself and worship God alone with those who worship.’

These verses enjoin purity, piety and complete devotion. Mary (peace be upon her) exemplified all of these virtues. And as we know, one of the most iconic aspects of Mary’s image was of course her veil.

Islam, being a complete system of life, for every moral exercise or virtue it seeks to inculcate has an ‘outward form’ or practical step. To build a connection with the Divine, we pray. To be compassionate, we give alms. To learn sacrifice and suffering, we fast. And to increase in modesty and inner light, we cover ourselves and conduct ourselves accordingly.

In this connection, the Qur’an enjoys women to ‘show not of their beauty’ and to “draw their head-coverings over their bosoms” for that is closer to modesty[1]. As with all things, the choice lies with the woman whether or not she wishes to act upon this teaching.

The Qur’an is a scripture that encourages this attitude in its followers, “Say, ‘My Prayer and my sacrifice and my life and my death are all for Allah, the Lord of the worlds”. (6: 163)

Love and devotion of this degree must always come from the heart. And if we truly do see the headscarf as a garment of devotion, then we must allow women the agency to enter into this bond of devotion themselves out of love and love alone.

So, the philosophy behind veiling is simple. It is an attitude to life that places at its centre devotion to God and that does away with the objectification of the female form that consumerism encourages and engenders. It is freedom itself. Well a kind of freedom rooted in submission.

However, we aspire to no more. For it is as Wordsworth said in a moving poem dedicated to his wife

True beauty dwells in deep retreats,

Whose veil is unremoved

[1] See Quran 24: 32

Note: Written upon hearing of the ECJ rulings of the 14th of March

Source: https://closetothesourceblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/17/the-flower-of-sweetest-smell-is-shy-and-lowly/

Uncategorized

Testing Tolerance

pexels-photo-30342

Sarah Waseem, London

By now most people know, The European Court of Justice has ruled that companies can now stipulate that employees may not wear the Islamic headscarf, but only as part of prohibitions including other religious and political symbols.  They argue that “an internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination”.

I have been debating this with a friend. She maintains that there is nothing wrong in companies stipulating a dress code – that it their right to do so. If a Muslim woman or Jewish or Sikh man does not wish to comply, then he or she should look elsewhere for work.

It is true that dress codes have been in force for years from school uniforms to official uniforms. We expect people to dress and conform to certain standards when working at every level in society.

So what is wrong with the Luxemburg decision?

The Luxembourg-based court found that a headscarf ban may also constitute “indirect discrimination” if people adhering to a particular religion or belief, such as Muslims, are put at a particular disadvantage.

But indirect discrimination is permissible if it is “objectively justified by a legitimate aim”, such as a company’s policy of neutrality, provided that the means of achieving it are appropriate and necessary.”

In many hospitals in the UK uniform measure are already in place to reduce infection. So for example, many staff are expected to wear short sleeves.  There is a logical reason for this. At airports, security concerns dictate that women covering their faces must remove their veils. Again, there is a rationale for this, that all must follow regardless of faith.

However, what does ‘a policy of neutrality’ mean?  Psychologists have been telling us for a long time that we make judgements about people within a few minutes of meeting them. From their accents, we make rash conclusions about their political views; from body shapes we may censure or applaud food choices, and (here’s the clanger!) if they are attractive we are more likely to employ them and promote them!

So, given these biases that we as humans make, from seeing someone, the rationale of not making judgments about their religious affiliations seems somewhat nonsensical.

The reality is that religion has become politicised, especially in Europe. The other reality of this ruling is, that on sheer demographics, the main target will be Muslim women, rather than interestingly, Muslim men who do not usually display their faith affiliation so obviously. Such a move will mean some Muslim women will be forced to consider where they work, and for many, this  may mean a withdrawal from sections of the labour market.

In my opinion, secularists are afraid of the power of faith – that believers do not look to solely the state for their needs but to a Higher Power. And the main source of their fear today, is Islam which is the fastest growing religion in many parts of the world.  Given the destruction wrought on the world by terrorist groups such as Daesh, their fears are understandable. However, these groups do not come out of nowhere, and as sociologists will remind us, discontent and resentment within the Muslims world has been brewing for centuries, largely aided by Western politics of interference in their affairs.

So what is the way forward? I have recently returned from the beautiful Spanish city of Cordoba, ruled by Arabs centuries ago. It was a city where faith was respected – Christians, Muslims and Jews lived cordially side by side. It was an era of a great exchange of ideas and cultures, and philosophies. It was an era of great material and scientific advancement as exemplified by the architectural beauty of the Cordoba mosque, or the ruins of the city of Medina Al Zahara.

Banning displays of faith will not lead to peace nor will they create greater integration. That comes from dialogue and discussion, not hiding one’s values, under the guise of ‘neutrality’.   The court ruling, in my opinion sets a dangerous precedent which will undermine cohesion and may lead to further divide in societies.

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.