Wednesday 30 September 2009

Islam in America

The Al-Jazeera English channel commissioned a special two-part documentary in which Rageh Omaar journeys across the United States to explore the story of Islam in the country. I found the documentary interesting to listen to and lovely to watch:

Sunday 27 September 2009

Mosques of New York

My timing may be a bit off, but I came across the 30 Mosques website created by Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq who declare that:

"Tonight my friend Bassam Tariq and I came up with an insanely random idea: What if we prayed at a different mosque every single day for the month of Ramadan? Hence, this Web site was born"

They highlight their experiences at different masjid's including:

"Tonight we prayed at Masjid Rehman, located on West 29th Street and Broadway. The place was insanely jam packed, you should have seen how many taxi cabs were parked outside the place. This is a true story: I was so cramped inside the masjid, that when I went down for sajdah (the prostration), some guy behind me had his head between my feet.
I didn’t realize that, so when I got up for jalsah (the sitting), I ended up sitting on his head. And it took me about two full seconds to realize the rock-hard cushion I was sitting on was someone’s head lol."


"The Bronx! My family was in town today, so I decided to bring them along to visit Masjid Noor-Ul-Huda off Gun Hill Road. This is a large house they renovated into a breathtakingly beautiful mosque. What I enjoy about this place is how loving the community was here. My family was welcomed to the mosque by some kind people who guided us to the back. We waited outside with some other brothers who had set up some tables for iftar. Each plate was filled with dates, bananas, grapes, peaches and pakora (desi potatoes fried in batter). That pink drink is sharbat, which is a traditional drink made from rose syrup and milk."

To read more click here

Saturday 26 September 2009

Naomi Wolf on Veiling

I recently came across this article by American feminist Naomi Wolf in the Japan Times suggesting that veiling may not be as oppressive as viewed by many in the West after all:

"The West interprets veiling as repression of women and suppression of their sexuality. But when I travelled in Muslim countries and was invited to join a discussion in women-only settings within Muslim homes, I learned that Muslim attitudes toward women’s appearance and sexuality are not rooted in repression, but in a strong sense of public versus private, of what is due to God and what is due to one’s husband. It is not that Islam suppresses sexuality, but that it embodies a strongly developed sense of its appropriate channelling — toward marriage, the bonds that sustain family life and the attachment that secures a home.

Many women said something like this: "When I wear Western clothes, men stare at me, objectify me, or I am always measuring myself against the standards of models in magazines, which are hard to live up to — and even harder as you get older, not to mention how tiring it can be to be on display all the time. When I wear my head scarf or chador, people relate to me as an individual, not an object; I feel respected."

This may explain why both Muslim and orthodox Jewish women not only describe a sense of being liberated by their modest clothing and covered hair, but also express much higher levels of sensual joy in their married lives than is common in the West. When sexuality is kept private and directed in ways seen as sacred — and when one’s husband isn’t seeing his wife (or other women) half-naked all day long — one can feel great power and intensity when the head scarf or the chador comes off in the sanctity of the home."

You can read the full article here.

London Becomes a Major Centre for Islamic Finance

The BBC recently reported that London has become one of the biggest centres for Islamic finance in the world:

"The old Chelsea Barracks in London was bought by the Qatari government for nearly £1bn - the biggest residential property deal in the UK.

The entire transaction was done under sharia pinciples, with contracts drawn up by lawyers at Norton Rose.

Farmida Bi, one of the law firm's partners, explained that London has attracted this kind of investment because the British government wooed Islamic money in the wake of 9/11, at the expense of the US.

"It was really September 11th that made being a Muslim a political statement and not just a matter of personal faith," she said.

"And with the Patriot Act, which made investments in the US difficult for many Islamic investors, there was a significant increase in Islamic investors choosing to invest in Islamic institutions and Islamic products."

So while groups in the US were investigating terrorist connections with Islamic banks, Muslim investors pulled their money out of America.

Some of the money got diverted to London, which had traditionally been a banking centre. The British government then helped further by changing regulations to give sharia-compliant funds a level playing field with conventional ones."

You can read the full article here.

New Masjid for Edinburgh

The Scotsman has an article about Edinburgh's newest masjid which opened this Ramadan:

"Its community outreach includes inviting surprised neighbours to Asian cookery and fitness classes. "This is not just a mosque where you can pray, it's a hub for the whole community," said imam Sohail Ashfaque, 33.

While prayers from the Koran must still be read in Arabic, sermons and teaching are in English. Regular attendees include teenagers and students playing football for Falkirk and cricket for the Scotland under-19s. Mr Ashfaque is said to be one of 15 younger, home-grown imams now working in Scotland who were trained in Britain."

You can read the full article here.

Monday 21 September 2009

Celebrating Eid in Leicester

The BBC have a lovely series of photo's of a family celebrating Eid in Leicester:

You can see the rest of the pictures here.

Eid al-Fitr as the Muslim Christmas?

The Guardian has a very funny article by Musab Bora (of Mr Moo fame) about why Eid al-Fitr really isn't quite the Muslim Christmas:

"There are of course similarities. Like yuletide, Eid has turned into a glorious excuse for gluttony. Vast quantities of rich foods are consumed, as if to desperately make up for the moderation of the previous month. New clothes are worn and Eid decorations are hung. There was even a minor trend of sending Eid cards, before texting took over. As for Santa, we have no shortage of overdressed bearded men in flowing robes keeping odd hours and dispensing presents on Eid.

But unlike Christmas, for most Muslims the spiritual aspects of Eid have not diminished entirely. Mosques have their busiest day of the year, with the congregational prayers arranged in shifts to accommodate the extra worshippers. Then there are the traditions of giving charity to the poor, visiting the sick, paying respects to the dead and taking in folk who would otherwise have a lonely Eid

Eid will always be different from Christmas because Muslims are so different from each other, let alone from Christians. Despite the uncertain timing, logistics, excess and piety, fundamentally Eid is a celebration, and meant to be fun. Merry Eid-mas – whatever you are doing tomorrow, the day after, or whenever."

You can read the whole article here.

Eid ul-Fitr 2009 Around the World

The Huffington Post has an article about how people celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr around the world:

"EGYPT – Families thronged the streets and the banks of the Nile to celebrate, showing off children in new holiday outfits. On overloaded Nile cruise boats decorated with brightly colored lights, men and women danced to traditional Egyptian music blaring. Children set off fireworks in the streets."

You can read the rest here

Afghan children enjoy swing on Eid al-Fitr festival, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009. Eid al-Fitr festival marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

Eid in Scotland

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond released a statement wishing Scotland's Muslim's a happy Eid al-Fitr and reflecting n the impact Muslim's have made in Scotland:

"On behalf of the Scottish Government, I am delighted to send my sincere and warmest wishes to Muslims all across the country - everyone who is celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr.

You can read what he said here.

Halal Goes Mainstream?

The Guardian has an article about how halal meat is becoming more and more popular and how non-Muslim institutions are now catering for Muslims:

"Harrods' gift confectionery, made by the Chocolate Factory, includes boxes of sugar coated fruit pastilles and raspberry and blackberry fruit-flavoured gums, made using halal gelatin."

I did however find the assertion that we eat more meat than others a little concerning. You can read the whole article here.

In Defence of Harrow Mosque

After recent events at the Harrow Masjid with trolls from the English Defence League targetting the masjid and trying to provoke a reaction, it was good to see a response from Asim Siddiqui in the Guardian:

"The mosque had weeks earlier issued a "code of conduct" for the younger members of its congregation on how to behave and show restraint in anticipation of the planned demonstration. They issued a press release making clear they had no intention of hosting a Sharia court – which was an accusation that had been levelled against them by the English Defence League (EDL). They had arranged for security and stewarding so young people would not take matters into their own hands. They had even laid out additional food for those who would be breaking their fast to bring them into the mosque and off the streets. The Friday imam, Ajmal Masroor, provided a sobering sermon to lower tensions and call for greater engagement with those that currently hate Islam. The congregation was urged to peacefully leave the mosque for their homes and places of work. The vast majority did, as was to be expected. The mosque could do little more. Beyond that, it was a sitting duck. The few that stayed behind did so for a combination of reasons: some still felt the urge to defend the mosque, others to show solidarity with the mosque, some to demonstrate against the far right, other non-Muslims to show solidarity with Muslims, and a small number were intent on provoking a clash."

You can read the whole article here.

The whole thing reminded me of the Bradford riots caused by the BNP a few years ago, where it was the Pakistani community that really pass the price and the BNP agitators got off scott free. Alhamdulillah there wasn't a repeat of that.

Sunday 13 September 2009

The Muslim Women Power List 2009

The Muslim Women Power List 2009 has been unveiled by the The Equality and Human Rights Commission who partnered up with The Times and Emel magazine to invite entries on behalf of, or from, any Muslim women currently living and working in the UK.

The list was headed by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion and Social Action and life peer.

The others in the top five were:

Farmida Bi - Banking Partner, Norton Rose LLP
Professor Farida Fortune - CBE Dean for Dentistry and Oral Health, Queen Mary’s School of Medicine
Mishal Husain - BBC News Presenter
Wasfi Kani OBE - Chief Executive, Grange Park Opera

You can see details of the other 50 here

I have to say I don't agree with all of the choices (I don't count Yasmin Alibhai Brown as Muslim to be honest) and I did think others such as Sarah Joseph could have been ranked higher. Despite this I think it's a good start to highlighting what Muslim women can do, challenging stereotypes and engendering some debate about the different roles of Muslim women.

You can read more here:
The Guardian - Muslim Women Power List
The Times - Meet the 13 most powerful Muslim women in Britain
The Times - Baroness Warsi named Britain's most powerful Muslim woman
The Guardian - Standards bearer

The Brooklyn Ramadan Drummer

This article in the New York Times had me in stitches:

"A few hours before dawn, when most New Yorkers are fast asleep, a middle-aged man rolls out of bed in Brooklyn, dons a billowy red outfit and matching turban, climbs into his Lincoln Town Car, drives 15 minutes, pulls out a big drum and — there on the sidewalk of a residential neighborhood — starts to play.

The man, Mohammad Boota, is a Ramadan drummer. Every morning during the holy month, which ends on Sept. 21, drummers stroll the streets of Muslim communities around the world, waking worshipers so they can eat a meal before the days fasting begins."

My favourite bit:

"Mr. Boota wants to be a good American, and a good Muslim. “I don’t want to bother other communities’ people,” he said. “Just the Pakistani people.” "

Thursday 3 September 2009

The Boston Globe's Ramadan 2009 Gallery

The Boston Globe has put together their Ramadan 2009 gallery. Full of beautifuly striking pictures showcasing the diversity of Islam, head over to feast your eyes.

Jazakh'Allah-khairun to Sister Washi of Crafty Muslimah for pointing out the link to the pictures.

Feminists and the Burqah

Nasrene Malik has written an article in the Guardian today urging feminists to get over their obsession with removing the burqah and assist Muslim women with sensitivity with dealing with the real issues they have to face in their lives:

“Although basic rights and dignities are universal, there are ways of enshrining them without perfectly emulating a western experience. That is not to say that Muslim women should be left alone and be allowed to choose to be repressed because it is their right, but in deeply traditional societies, women choose their battles and make distinctions between wants and needs.

The endeavour to help Muslim women is also undermined and treated with increased cynicism when it is morally hijacked in order to underwrite less idealistic campaigns. The latest developments in Afghanistan prove how easily women's rights can be relegated even under western sponsorship. Is female education, the violin that accompanied the drum beats of war in Afghanistan, no less universal a right than freedom from sexual terrorism?”

You can read the whole article here.

Positive Hijab: We Love Hijab

Sister Kima of We Love Hijab is known for running one of the first, and I think the one of the best, hijab blogs. I first came across her old Precious Modesty blog when I was on maternity leave with my third child, feeling rather frumpy and needed to get some inspiration in order to “get my groove back”.

Her mix of perfectly co-ordinated sets, hijab news and information about where to shop really gave me some ideas about how to make myself look presentable again on a budget and enjoy my clothes again.

Since then her name has been re-named We Love Hijab and re-launched with a new look, to get the latest on hijab trends form her, you can go here

Wednesday 2 September 2009

Young Muslims Speak Up

Sughra Ahmed discusses the findings of the Policy Research Centre’s 18 month study Seen and Not Heard: Voices of Young British Muslims in the Guardian today:

“Much may be written about young Muslims, but when you scratch away at the surface, it isn't usually the voices of young people themselves, but others speaking about them – or for them. And young Muslims know it all too well.

We are used to hearing about young Muslims in the context of radicalisation, but their lives are far more complex and in fact quite removed from debates around extremism. There is an untold story of intergenerational challenges, community leadership and alienation from institutions in wider society.

Self-identification for young Muslims is not just about negotiating the big mad world of politics, or even organised religion for that matter. There is a strong sense of localised identity in young adults, whose grandparents may have migrated, but who find themselves living rooted lives. Scottish participants were expressly Scottish and proud. But this was also partly connected to acceptance – a young Muslim Scot felt properly Scottish for the first time when confronted by football fans on a train and asked about supporting Scotland. He responded "Of course I do" and the questioner warmly responded, "I'll buy you a flag, because you're Scottish too."

These identities (note the plural) are in a sort of whirling negotiation, sometimes subconsciously, as they respond to discourses, experiences and pressures that seem to hound the complex lives of young people. The young people described their modern life as surrounded by communication gaps, particularly when it came to generational splits within their own communities Several young women spoke of having felt compelled to find out about Islam for themselves, but, in living out their new religious confidence, found the expectations of their parents' generation difficult terrain. Others, from both sexes, admitted to being faced with two starkly different lives – one life inside and one outside the home – as a way to negotiate the intergenerational challenges.”

You can read the entire article and people’s comments here

You can find out more about the Seen and Not Heard: Voices of Young British Muslims report here

Tuesday 1 September 2009

Sister Khadija Bradley On Niqab

I came across this beautifully written article about wearing niqab at Sister Khadija Bradley's blog (I found the link in a post on Indigo Jo's blog):

"Spiritually I now feel niqaab is my safety blanket. If I loose it I loose it all. Such deep feelings stem from the meaning niqaab now has to me. I mentioned how wearing niqaab I feel anonymous, and this gives me freedom. In a society where so much emphasis is placed on identity and in particular the face, many sisters deem wearing niqaab totally inappropriate. How can those who place so much value on the face cope with the niqaab, a small piece of fabric. A classic hadith that is used in tazkiyah or tassawuf goes along the lines of the Prophet SWS saying ” Travel in the world as if you are a stranger”. The main interpretation being that we should be so far from the dunya that we are a stranger to it. For me by wearing niqaab I become that stranger. I travel through the world detached from it.

So here I am saying that I love the niqaab because it isolates me from others. But surely as social human beings it can be lonely?? Another general principle in tazkiyah or tassawuf as well as expressed in many ahadith is that being alone is better than having bad company. And having good company is better than being alone. By wearing niqaab yes I am lonely but I dont have the bad company. Because the bad company is repelled by the niqaab. Those who are able to get past the niqaab, and communicate to me, both muslims and the odd non-muslim have some morals or good qualities to them that make them good company. For the non-muslims they have a perception, an open-mindedness and questioning mind which will inshaAllah lead them down to accepting Islam. I need not explain muslims being good company for them being muslim in the first place gives them these good qualities."

It's always good to hear about niqab from the women who wear it mash'Allah rather than everybody else who seems to have an opinion. Read the full article here.

Sebastian Faulks Comment on The Quran and a Response.

The writer Sebastian Faulks recently commented on the Quran that:

“It’s a depressing book. It really is. It’s just the rantings of a schizophrenic. It’s very one-dimensional, and people talk about the beauty of the Arabic and so on, but the English translation I read was, from a literary point of view, very disappointing.

“There is also the barrenness of the message. I mean, there are some bits about diet, you know, the equivalent of the Old Testament, which is also crazy. If you look again at those books of the law, Leviticus or Deuteronomy, there’s a lot about who you are allowed to sleep with, and if a man had lost his testicles he wouldn’t enter into the presence of God, that is just terrible. But the great thing about the Old Testament is that it does have these incredible stories. Of the 100 greatest stories ever told, 99 are probably in the Old Testament and the other is in Homer.
“With the Koran there are no stories. And it has no ethical dimension like the New Testament, no new plan for life. It says ‘the Jews and the Christians were along the right tracks, but actually, they were wrong and I’m right, and if you don’t believe me, tough — you’ll burn for ever.’ That’s basically the message of the book.”

I ask if he had talked to many British Muslims before beginning to write. “I didn’t, actually, no. I read some books and I’ve got a few Muslim friends, but I thought I’d get it better from books and from reading the source.”

He later retracted and apologised (making himself look rather foolish) claiming his comments had been taken out of context:

"While I believe the voice-hearing of many Old Testament prophets and of John the Baptist in the New might well raise psychiatric eyebrows today, it is absurd to suggest that the Prophet, who achieved so much in military and political – quite apart from religious – terms, can have suffered from any acute illness. Only a fully cogent and healthy person could have done what he did," Faulks told the Guardian today. He went on to offer "a simple but unqualified apology to my Muslim friends and readers for anything that has come out sounding crude or intolerant. Happily, there is more to the book than that."

I am no fan of Ziauddin Sardar, but he has responded well to the whole episode in the Guardian saying:

"Frankly, the "offence" does not bother me. If Faulks finds the Qur'an "a depressing book", so be it. The Qur'an itself says he is entitled to his opinion. What concerns me is the monumental arrogance on which such judgments are made. They assume there must be only one – the western – way for things to be. If the Qur'an is a religious text then it must be like the Bible; otherwise it is worthless. If it is a literary text then it must resemble the work of a western novelist, otherwise it is "very disappointing" and "one-dimensional". The complex, multilayered religious and literary texts of other cultures can only be viewed through a single, monochromatic lens.

Given "the barrenness of the message", how could it motivate the believers to develop science and learning, promote reason and experimental method, establish universities and research-based hospitals, and advance philosophical inquiry? How could the mere "rantings of a schizophrenic" produce philosophers such as Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd, the multicultural society of Muslim Spain and the architecture of the Blue Mosque? If the Qur'an has no artistic merit, how did it inspire the poetry of Nizami and Iqbal, the masterpieces of Rumi and al-Attar, and the music of Nusrat Fatah Ali Khan that is all the rage in certain western circles?

I would be the last person to suggest that the text of the Qur'an is easy. It does require some effort and research. But what did Faulks' "breathtaking" research amount to? He read a single, bad translation. He thought it was unnecessary to consult his Muslim friends. But he did not even bother to read the poor translation properly."

It was nice to see an apology and a measured response rather than the usual angry reaction which benefits no-one. I always think, don't get angry, make dawah insh'Allah on the point that is being discussed, use it as an opportunity to educate. Perhaps we are maturing as a community? I certainly hope so.