I feel it’s quite fitting that I’m sat here writing this just after Ramadan: a month of reflection and prayer. The more I think about how the world has changed in the past decade, the more I feel that there were lessons to be learnt that weren’t.
Before 9/11, I felt that most people simply looked at Islam as another religion. After 9/11, this has changed considerably. Still, I have found that my Islam has been strengthened by the increased media spotlight on Muslims in the West. Like many Muslims, I felt the need to defend my religious identity that has been under constant attack ever since. Muslims on campuses and in society at large have been saying: “We are like you. Islam is peaceful. Complex socio-political factors have driven some fringe elements to commit barbaric acts. But they don’t represent us. This is not our religion. Please don’t judge a billion and a half people on the actions of a few.”
I have felt the need to educate myself about Islam first. How can I tell others if I haven’t got the answers myself? Time and time again, I read comments under YouTube videos and blog posts about how the moderate majority of Muslims have not been vocal enough in their condemnation of terrorism. I always think to myself, why should I have to prove that I am against terrorism more than anybody else? I have nothing to do with those 19 hijackers. I’m telling you that Islam does not teach that and then I still have to apologise? Apologising implies that I have to take responsibility for their actions. More Muslims have died at the hands of extremists than non-Muslims. Mini 9/11s happen regularly in some countries. Muslims also died on 9/11. And think about the thousands of civilians who have died in the War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq. Do we even know their names? I am not trying to take anything away from the losses suffered by the families of 9/11 victims. I just wish that we didn’t have so many double standards. Why have their legacies been allowed to be used for such politicised agendas?
That’s not the point anyway but these are just some of the things that pop into my head when Muslims are looked at with suspicion in the post-9/11 world. Starting my studies at University in 2004 was when I began to feel like I needed to do something. Being part of the Islamic Society on campus made me aware of the work that needed to be done. There were no two ways about it. Islam had a bad rep. As I have said before in a previous post, Islam is and always will be beautiful but it is Muslims who have managed to make something beautiful into something so misunderstood. Thankfully, I have never had any verbal abuse directed at me but I have read about hate crimes against people, sometimes just because people think they look like Muslims.
Another thing has really bugged me. Since when has every man and his dog been an expert on such complex aspects of Islamic jurisprudence as jihad and the Shariah itself? And why do the most misinformed and sensationalist “experts” get all the airtime? Because it sells in this post-9/11 age. It’s as if extremists on both sides have hijacked (for want of a better word) the discourse. I’m not a religious scholar but even I can refute the rubbish that you hear in the media about Islam. At first, I could never understand how so many people could all believe the same lies. But it makes sense really. If you have had no real-life experience of dealing with Muslims or if you don’t know any Muslims, it’s kind of understandable. But non-Muslims should not believe everything they read about Islam in the media. Especially when the people putting forward the “facts” are sensationalists.
At the same time, I’m not ignorant enough not to realise that Muslims themselves have a lot to answer for. Why did it take something tragic like 9/11 for us to start coming out and engaging with our wider communities? Before 9/11, Muslim immigrant families were happy to just go about their daily lives and keep their heads down. Now we’ve more or less been forced to come out and educate people about Islam. I have been lucky in that I grew up mainly around non-Muslims: our neighbourhood, the school I went to and thus my best friends. For this reason, I would like to think that at least the people that know me well have a more positive view of Islam. If everybody had a Muslim friend and therefore had a positive experience with Muslims, the islamophobic drivel out there would fall on deaf ears. So Muslims, go out and speak to your neighbours. Stop treading water and make a difference in your communities. Muslims need to be socially relevant here in the West. Come out and support the issues that matter. It is part of our religion to be on the side of justice; be it with the Muslims or against them. Campaign for issues that are affecting us all in our communities here in the UK. Whether it’s student fees, NHS cuts, your local youth club losing funding or feeding the homeless. Come out and show your communities that they are gaining by having Muslims as neighbours. Community spirit is part of our faith. It’s high time we started to show it.
Here is a teaching of the Prophet Muhammad ( صلى الله عليه وسلم) that I want people to know:
قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: انصر أخاك ظالما أو مظلوما. قالوا: يا رسول الله، هذا ننصره مظلوما، فكيف ننصره ظالما؟ قال: تأخذ فوق يديه
“The Prophet ( صلى الله عليه وسلم) said, ‘Help your brother when he is the oppressor and when he is oppressed.’ His Companions replied, ‘O Messenger of God, we do understand helping him when he is oppressed, but how can we possibly help him when he is the oppressor? The Prophet replied, ‘Seize him by his hands!” – Sahih al-Bukhari, narrated by Anas bin Malik
Shibli Zaman from SuhaibWebb.com summarises the implications for this nicely:
(As a Muslim in the West) I will do as my Prophet has taught me and do everything I can to protect you, but I will not allow you to oppress me and blame me for a deed that was not mine.
Those flying angels, flying out of the World Trade Center and to the next world, deserved more than to be used for the opportunistic political gain of fear mongers. They deserve more than bumper stickers emblazoned with over-marketed slogans of “Never forget” and “Support our troops”. Those slogans are meaningless without action. Let us truly “never forget” and love one another, for the murders of 9/11 were the illegitimate child of hate bred with fear.
Collective punishment is immoral and unjust. I am sorry that such a barbaric act was done in the name of my religion but that is not my religion. If somebody is a lunatic, it doesn’t matter what religion or race or culture they profess to come from, they are still a lunatic.
I’d like to end with a quote from Obama’s speech that he gave on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary last year (David Cameron doesn’t quite have the same effect when he speaks):
From a national security interest, we want to be clear about who the enemy is here. It’s a handful, a tiny minority of people who are engaging in horrific acts, and have killed Muslims more than anybody else.
The other reason it’s important for us to remember that is because we’ve got millions of Muslim Americans, our fellow citizens, in this country. They’re going to school with our kids. They’re our neighbours. They’re our friends. They’re our co-workers.
And, you know, when we start acting as if their religion is somehow offensive, what are we saying to them?
I’ve got Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan in the uniform of the United States armed services. They’re out there putting their lives on the line for us, and we’ve got to make sure that we are crystal clear, for our sakes and their sakes, they are Americans, and we honour their service.
And part of honouring their service is making sure that they understand that we don’t differentiate between them and us. It’s just us.
There are certain topics that really, really get to me. One such thing is the image of Muslims portrayed in mass media. Sometimes it makes me feel totally helpless but then I realise that the only way to counter some of the complete bull written by pseudo-experts on Muslim affairs, is to try and show people otherwise.
The specific thing that got to me this morning was a video on the BBC website entitled Muslim brother’s ‘dirty’ handshake. I was quite disappointed by it because the BBC is still an organisation that I am proud of due to its international reputation but this is not on. In said video, there’s a nutter who shakes the hands of non-Muslims with his left hand simply because they’re not Muslim. Now, we all know that every community has its bad apples. Why oh why do Muslim crazies always make it onto our screens and pages? Have Muslims cornered the market on lunatics? If you don’t know any real-life Muslims, I would not blame you for thinking that all Muslims are completely nuts if all you are going on is this drivel in the press. But if you get to know Muslims, you will realise that
they’re we’re not all that bad. We are just like everybody else in that most of us are normal with a few loose cannons on the edges. Just because Muslim-bashing is the flavour of the decade doesn’t mean that you have to believe everything you read or hear. Go and do your own research or better still: Muslims, go and show people what you’re really like so all this crap falls on deaf ears.
Obviously the linked story below didn’t make it this far west but this is how true, normal, everyday Muslims believe we should be living our lives: helping our neighbours when they are in need and playing a constructive role in our communities and wider society. After all, if you’re clinically a loser, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Muslim, Christian, Jew or anything else; you’re still a complete loser.
This is my first post in absolutely ages. I’m sure nobody has missed my largely pointless ramblings but I felt the urge to write about this beautiful month we find sailing past us.
Ramadan is beautiful. Now, I could end this post there and I wouldn’t feel like I’ve missed anything. However, for the sake of making up for lost time, I’ll continue. While I fast (during daylight hours) I naturally feel at peace. I remember a friend once told me a couple of Ramadans ago that I’m different when I fast. He said that I seem at ease and more content.
The wisdom behind having this period of holding back your desires is substantial. Hunger and thirst are not in themselves the purpose. Rather, the purpose is what follows the hunger and thirst i.e. weakening the desires, extinguishing anger, subduing the soul to a reassured state. If this purpose is not achieved, then fasting is useless as it has no effect besides making you hungry and thirsty.
These days you have close to 1.6 billion people not eating and drinking in the daytime. That’s powerful and it gives Muslims worldwide a sense of family and kinship that underlines the feeling of all Muslims being one family. And when you see people smiling at you whenever you meet them because they feel at peace when fasting, you really don’t want Ramadan to end.
All the ways that I find to waste time the rest of the year simply don’t appeal to me during this month. I feel at peace and I have time to reflect. It’s a blessing that Ramadan was totally during the summer holidays this year. But it’s leaving us so soon. This month when all our Muslim friends become so generous and kind and spend their quiet times praying for forgiveness. A prophetic saying instructs: if somebody shouts at you or insults you, rather than replying, you say “I’m fasting” and you show tolerance and patience.
… I wish every month could be Ramadan.
This is probably the only actual Mother Teresa quote that I know but it’s one of my favourite quotes full stop. Found written on the wall in Mother Teresa’s home for children in Calcutta:
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
Just a select few of the shots I took during my stay in Japan at the end of last year.
So the new slideshow feature works too…
Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s case is one that I have tried to follow as much as possible over the last year or so and is one of the most puzzling things in the news for me at the moment. I have only in the past week seen how she is portrayed in the Western media as I was made aware of her case by my parents who have been following the case on Pakistani news channels available on satellite here in the UK. I am simply shocked. Now I am beginning to understand why I am sometimes at a loss at how some people are just so ignorant of the truth. I have all too long seen the arguments put forward by my co-religionists about the media being against Muslims etc etc and a lot of the time, I do agree that in the past decade and obviously post-9/11, it does seem that way. This past week has shown me why a lot of my compatriots and other members of Western societies would have a negative view of Muslims.
A few days ago, I went onto youtube and searched for “aafia siddiqui”. One result popped out so I clicked it. The title of the video read: “Lady al-Qaeda…”. It was a report taken from the news channel, Russia Today. This was the first time that I had heard this phrase and I was horrified at the way Dr Siddiqui was being portrayed in this tabloid-style, sensationalist “report”. If the reporter in question was displaying the extent of her knowledge about this case, then I’m sorry to say that I, a mere student, am far more qualified to do her job than she is. With no mention of how Aafia was abducted in Karachi along with her kids (one of whom was only 6 months old at the time) on her way to Islamabad and being imprisoned for six years prior to this current trial in New York, she was being spoken about as if she was some sort of terrorist who had the training and “messed-in-the-head”-edness to commit the crime she has been shamefully accused of committing. After only getting information about her case through my parents and their Pakistani news channels, I was simply bewildered at the character being portrayed. This was the polar opposite to what I had been following.
Here is an innocent woman, educated at MIT as a neuroscientist before moving back to Pakistan with young children, described by her family as never really being overly religious, being torn apart by people who simply have no idea of the facts. The point that I wish to stress here is that a lot of the mainstream news outlets that I have come across in the past week since her “guilty” verdict was given have not made a mention of her young children being missing, since her abduction, which was also conveniently omitted. If you miss out these details, it paints a very different picture. The “official” US Military version of the story goes something like: she was picked up in Afghanistan, wandering around in the street (why was she picked up and how did she get there in the first place guys?? Oh yeah, Pakistan and Afghanistan both end in -stan so nobody will notice) and once in custody, she had the strength to overpower two FBI agents and attempt to murder them with a far too conveniently placed firearm on the floor next to her. What kind of joke facility has readily-available guns for prisoners to gain access to anyway?
I just wanted to highlight these points. Even I can tell you she’s been set up and I’m sitting thousands of miles away in Leeds. This is just the tip of the iceberg with countless other people apparently going missing in countries like Pakistan, post-9/11 and ending up in US custody in Afghanistan. What ever happened to due process? We have to stop turning the other way when innocent people are being so harshly treated and having their lives taken away from them, just because we assume that they are guilty because they are a different colour to us or worse: a Muslim! Because when the chickens come home to roost, how do you know the same won’t happen to someone you do care about? I’ve never been impressed by lefties or conspiracy-theorists but from now on, I am going to think twice before taking the news I read at face value. I’m going to start appreciating The Huffington Post and Democracy Now a lot more.
And I was happy when Obama was elected but I’m sorry; CHANGE has not come to America.
This is my first blog post from Japan. It’s only fitting that I should write one while I’m here since this is the country where the legend began. I’ve been thinking about the many blessings that I’ve experienced on this trip so far and I thought of writing about something that Rob reminded me of when I stayed with him in Tokyo last week. I was telling him how grateful I was for his hospitality and he reminisced about something his father told him.
It’s not what you know. It’s who you know that counts.
Over the course of this last week, I have since moved on to Kansai and am now in Kyushu and Rob’s dad’s saying has been reinforced for me. I have not spent a penny on accommodation since I arrived in Japan, which is simply down to so many friends offering to let me stay with them. First Rob, then Megu and Taka (and family) in Osaka and Wakayama respectively. Now I’m at Yudai’s and tomorrow I’m staying with Yusuke in Fukuoka. When I return to Tokyo at the end of the week, I have a choice of who’s place to stay at.
This trip would not have been possible without these people, who I see as truly awesome people and I will surely remember them in my prayers. Having dinner with old friends from over 5 years worth of Uni has been truly memorable and I still have over a week until I fly back to London!
God bless everyone of you guys. You know who you are. It’s going to be difficult to say goodbye to everyone.