Monday 22 February 2010

Turkey and the Ban on Headscarves

Despite numerous articles, blog posts, interviews and column inches from Muslim women explaining why they love the hijab, Times contributor (28 January 2010), Suna Erdem is still entirely unable to see it as anything other than oppressive and offensive. Despite this, even she agrees that banning the burka would not benefit women in any way:

“Despite its mainly Muslim population, Turkey, whose strict understanding of secularism was imported from France, has Draconian practises against female Islamic clothing. There is no law specifically outlawing the burka or the headscarf, the more common choice in Turkey. But various central directives and local decisions have meant that Turkish women wearing headscarves have been effectively prohibited from parliament, state offices and universities (even France went only as far as schools).

Has the headscarf and even more strict coverings disappeared from Turkish streets at least? Well, given that a Government with an Islamist history and many headscarved wives has won two elections, no. The secularists may recoil when Mrs Erdogan, representing them, is photographed wearing a black scarf and long black clothing at the Royal Opera House next to Michelle Obama, but their ban did nothing to prevent that, did it? Women in headscarves are, against the odds, also achieving prominence in the media and even fashion, where the designer Rabia Yalcin is well-known, despite a boycott by Turkish glossy mags.

From what I have seen, the Turkish ban has penalised women whose decision to cover up is not negotiable, either because they truly believe or have been forced by their families. The militants can look after themselves, but others have been denied a place in the world, an education and a chance to equip themselves with the tools to make up their own minds.
They are denied a chance to empower themselves and pushed deeper into a society where they are likely to be downtrodden.

So please, don’t tell me that banning the burka would be a step for women’s rights.”

You can read the full article here.

Two women display a sign Thursday that reads “Don’t touch my head scarf” in protest of a ban on the Muslim head wear in universities in Turkey (AFP) (image source).

Sunday 21 February 2010

Al-Isharah and the First Umrah for Deaf Muslims

I came across Al-Isharah through their leaflet for a fund-raising event and was positively inspired by the work they are doing. Al-Isharah works with the Muslim Deaf community to make resources accessible and cultivate independent thinking. The organisation aims to break down complex Islamic concepts and Quranic Arabic into a format that engages and works with Deaf educational needs.

Thier work has successfully engaged deaf children often isolated due to cultural taboos around deafness and disability. They state that their aims are to:
  • To make Islamic education accessible and possible for the Deaf community.
  • To make previously inaccessible Islamic texts (Quran and Hadiths) catered to the language structures used by the Deaf community Teaching basic life skills through the use of Islamic topics to encourage the building of confidence and self-esteem.
  • To actively raise Deaf awareness amongst families and the wider community and ultimately the emotional and Islamic responsibilities they have towards Deaf Muslims.
The charity provides Islamic classes for deaf children and adults, Islamic British Sign Language vocabulary workshops, recitation classes for hard of hearing children and British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters for Friday khutbahs (sermons) at the London Muslim Centre with the aim that the model used will be easily replicable in other Mosques who also wish to set up such a service up for their local Deaf community.

One of their current projects is to raise funds for the first ever Umrah (pilgrimage) for deaf Muslims with the intention of raising enough money to take 32 deaf Muslim men and women in March 2010. You can support their wonderful work by going here

Tuesday 16 February 2010

The Adab Trust

Established in 2007, Adab is a charity helping to combat the under representation of minority ethnic graduates in graduate schemes and at management level in leading firms by providing practical experience and knowledge of the corporate recruitment process, to increase their employment outcomes. Adab offers a 'Steps to Success' training programme, which provides its graduates with experience in selection and recruitment process, similar to that used by big employers.

Dermot O’Brien, the Chief Executive of Adab Trust, comments:

“The recession has disproportionately affected graduate employment opportunities for those from BAME backgrounds. As a result, employers are missing out on a large pool of talent right on their doorsteps. Adab aims to work with top companies to address the imbalance which recently has been further exacerbated by the economic downturn"

The next scheduled application deadlines are on the following dates: 23 April; 30 June; 12 September; 10 October; and, 19 November, contact details are here.

Muslimahs Doing it for Themselves

Ruqaya Izzidien has written a humorous article for the Guardian (11 February 2010) about Muslima women and their search for husbands:

"Muslim marriages often come about through arrangement (not to be confused with forced marriage) of which I have heard great things from people who have chosen that particular route. Although perhaps not for me, neither do I want to fall into the category of women who (after some intense thumb-twiddling, of course) open their doors only to find an unannounced marriage proposal drop out of the blue. Not that I do not enjoy the romance, but why is it always the men who choose between meeting woman A, B or C? The Prophet Muhammad's first wife, Khadijah, proposed to him. What is that, if not a precedent?

For fear of perpetuating the BNP-commissioned portrait of Muslims, I must cover my Muslim behind by saying that not all female Muslims sit at home, learning the art of the jilbab and waiting for Prince Ibn Charming to come along. In fact, I would go as far as to say British female Muslims are far more eligible (and more awesome) than their male counterparts. For many of us, education was a way out of a sometimes intense family life: one reason why we are faced with an ever-increasing number of female Muslim professionals. All I am saying is that we should not wait for men to fall at our feet.

By thinking proactively about marriage, we can be on the "lookout" but still not be obsessed by the idea. It will allow us to seize control of the situation, should the right man come our way, without wondering if that Muslim man you met last week is thinking of proposing. Many Muslim girls will vouch for the fact that it is the most frustrating feeling in the world wondering what is going on inside a Muslim man's head. So let them do the wondering."

Read the full article here.

Monday 15 February 2010

The Muslim Response to Haiti

AltMuslim has posted a brief about the The Muslim response to the Haiti crisis:

"The international effort to aid Haiti by individuals, Islamic relief organizations and the governments of Muslim-majority countries reflects a proactive generosity and empathy espoused by the Prophet Muhammad and the teachings of the Qur'an. Charity, in fact, is one of the five obligations for Muslims, and Muslim organizations have been working alongside other faith-based groups to fulfill this duty.

Islamic Relief, one of the most respected and successful disaster relief charities in the world, has used technology, new media and social networking sites to mobilize people. Along with "Seekers Digest", a popular Muslim community blog run out of Canada, Islamic Relief hosted the "Muslim Online Haiti Fundraiser" and raised over $100,000 in two hours. The organization also used its existing partnership with the Mormon Church to send hygiene kits and temporary shelters to Haiti, in addition to pledging a total of $2.5 million.

Islamic Relief also sent an emergency response team to directly assist victims in Haiti. These Muslim aid workers have been updating a daily blog with sobering first-hand accounts of the tragedy.Assisting Islamic Relief, Muslim American artists and community activists convened to put on a concert in New York City, hosted by the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), and used the opportunity to raise donations for Haiti. In Chicago, IMAN partnered with a local synagogue and church to raise aid money.

Governments and non-governmental organizations (NGO) of countries that are more often known as recipients of aid have also reached out. Two Pakistani NGOs, Al-Khidmat Foundation and Edhi Foundation, are mobilizing relief efforts to help Haitians despite the country's own political and economic volatility. Both organizations have considerable expertise in this area due to the massive 2005 earthquake that killed nearly 80,000 in northern Pakistan. The Edhi Foundation has already pledged $500,000 to assist Haiti."

You can read the full brief here.

Below are links to those agencies who have co-ordinated a response to the disaster:

Muslim Men Against Domestic Abuse

One year on from the brutal murder of Aasiya Zubair Hassan, general manager and co-founder of Bridges TV at the hands of her husband, a group of American Muslims launched the Muslim Men Against Domestic Abuse organisation. The group states that:

"Muslim Men Against Domestic Abuse (MMADA) is an organization dedicated to domestic tranquility. By joining our group, you make a commitment never to engage in, support, or remain silent about the physical, psychological, and emotional abuse of Muslim and non-Muslim women and children.

We aim to provide educational resources and serve as a tool for advocacy. Recognizing that domestic abuse is a symptom of much larger social, institutional, and individual pathologies, we seek to identify and eradicate its root causes. We do so with the belief that our religion calls us to stand for justice and reject all forms of oppression.

Despite our focus on women and children, we recognize that the victims/survivors of domestic abuse include men, and that this is a phenomenon that should not be ignored or overlooked. And though we are an organization comprised of men, we reject the notion that men are the exclusive arbiters of morality."

image source

Thier initiatives include raising awareness of the issue and encouraging imams to discuss the problem during their Friday khutbahs (sermons).

Refuting Wole Soyinka's Rash Words

Riazat Butt, the Guardian's religion correspondent has written (2 February 2010) in response to Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinke's outburst against Britain as a cesspool and a breeding ground for fundamentalist Muslims:

"England is a cesspit and allows religions to preach openly but this is illogical in the case of Islam because none of the other religions preach apocalyptic violence. We have laws against that sort of thing. Sometimes the use of them backfires and makes people worry about freedom of speech and increasing the popularity of a group or individual. Counter-terrorism and counter-extremism measures don't have a great track record in terms of civil liberties but sometimes they work out for the best. I could mention the former Anglican archbishop of Nigeria saying that Muslims do not have the monopoly on violence but I won't.

We take pride in our openness. Yes we do. That's what people love and hate about this country – that you can do pretty much what you like within the confines of the law. Our levels of tolerance and acceptance of difference is sometimes divisive – see the mixed opinions around the burqa debate – but generally there is a live and let live approach, or indifference."

You can read the whole article here.

Friday 12 February 2010

Naomi Wolf on Saving Muslim Women

American feminist and author Naomi Wolf has written for the Lebanon Daily Star:

"I was so sure that Muslim women should be allowed to speak for themselves because of the faces of Muslim feminism I encountered in recent travels – notably in Jordan, a country fascinatingly poised between tradition and innovation, developing under a forward-looking monarchy that is seeking to modernize and, to an extent, democratize. For those Westerners who worry about Islamic fundamentalism in the Arab world, surely Jordan is a worthy model to understand, support and engage.

The women leaders I met in Amman were not saying, “Please tell the West to save us.” They
were too busy making egalitarian, modernist new worlds of their own, with an Arab, and often Islamic, imprimatur. These women are exactly the kind of leaders that everyone should be cultivating and supporting, rather than overlooking because of a belief that they cannot exist in the Middle East. We would do better to find out more about them than to waste our time on superficial debates about how they – and many others who are just as accomplished – should dress.

You can read the full article here.

Young Muslims Canada: Feed the Streets

Feed The Streets is an Young Muslims Canada initiative that started in 2004. In the summer of 2004, Young Muslims representatives became aware of the growing rates of poverty, particularly homelessness in Toronto & the other major cities of Canada. According to Social Watch, a Network of Anti-Poverty Organizations, there were over 250,000 homeless people in the major cities of Canada (Young Muslim's statistics )

The numbers were alarming and a need for action was dire. As a consequence, Young Muslims Canada established Feed The Streets where over 200 meals were distributed to Toronto's homeless and over 2500 meals per year, a programme which is still going strong, with Young Muslim representatives going out to share meals in downtown Toronto with the homeless and poor on the third Sunday of every month.

For further details and to get involved, visit the Young Muslim's website .

Wednesday 10 February 2010

IF Charity and The BIG Read

IF are launching an international literacy campaign with an event on World Book Day (Thursday 4th March) called The BIG Read. This event will seek to break the Guinness World Record for 'Most children reading with an adult'. Up to 5,000 children from schools in London and the rest of the UK will take part in the event, as well as celebrity readers. The event will take place at the London Muslim Centre in Whitechapel. They are still looking for schools and families to register.

The literacy campaign that this event launches will take the form of a series of international projects taking place in areas of the world where illiteracy is at its worst. These projects will include rural school building, provision of school kits, enrolment campaigns, literacy centres and teacher training. They will aim to have a lasting influence on the levels of literacy in the areas in which they take place, in line with the UN's Millennium Development Goals on education - namely that every child by 2015 should be able to complete a full primary education course.

Some of IF's previous projects include The Gaza 100, an attempt to break the record for most people running the 100m in a relay, to raise funds for children in Gaza and Bangla Town to Bangladesh, a charity drive from London's Brick Lane to Bangladesh in 26 days to raise funds for victims of Cyclone Sidr.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Burqa's and Britishness

The Sunday Times (24 January 2010) carries an article by Dominic Lawson about the idea of banning the burqa is simply not British:

"Pearson declared last week: “We are not Muslim-bashing, but this [the wearing of the burqa] is incompatible with Britain’s values of freedom and democracy.” First of all, he absolutely is “Muslim-bashing” — it’s of a piece with his gratuitous remarks in his first interview as party leader that “the Muslim population is rocketing; their birth rate is much higher than ours”. (In that Vienna passage from Mein Kampf, Hitler used the same old “they’re outnumbering us” tactic: “Especially the inner city and the areas north of the Danube canal swarmed with a people who even externally no longer bore a similarity to Germans.”) Second, how is it compatible with “Britain’s values of freedom and democracy” to use the force of the state to prevent a small number of law-abiding women from wearing an item of clothing they regard as part of their religious observance, and to arrest them on the streets if they persist in exercising their conscience in a way that harms nobody?

On Thursday’s edition of Newsnight, confronted by a formidably articulate female Muslim student (who was not wearing a burqa), Pearson tried a different tack. The burqa, he claimed, was “oppressive to women” and should be banned for that reason. His interlocutor was magnificent in her incredulity: “So we should criminalise women in order to empower them? Send them to jail to free them?” She might also have noted that UKIP’s sudden embrace of feminism is desperately insincere: it seemed to have no problem with its MEP Godfrey Bloom when he declared that the problem with women in this country was that they didn’t clean behind the fridge properly.

Nicolas Sarkozy, so transparently a mountebank, is attempting a similar burqa ban in France; it follows the banning of all “ostentatious” religious emblems, including the veil, from schools and public buildings. France, however, since its bloody revolution, has had a determinedly anti-clerical political culture, regarding religion as something that has no place whatever in the public realm. That is not the British way; we evolved — not least as a result of our own historical experience — a much more tolerant approach to open expressions of religious difference, which can be summarised by the phrase “live and let live”.

You can read the full article here.

Jazakh'Allah-khairun to Maz for referring me to this article.

French Sisters Fighting to Defend the Veil

The Guardian (31 January 2010) covers a protest in France against moves to ban the niqab. The article includes the views of some of the young women affected by the ban and others who do not wear niqab but defend the right to do so.

"Amina, who is studying for a degree in Arabic at the university of Paris, is in the eye of a storm that in recent months has swept through France and left resentment in its wake.

"I choose to wear this. Not every day, just now and again. But when I do wear it, it is entirely of my own volition. No one is forcing me," she says, standing on a busy street corner in the heavily Muslim northern district of Barb├Ęs. "If they make us take it off, they'll be taking a part of us. I'd rather die than let them do it."

But many people believe that, if France is to make good on its promises to be the upholder of freedom and human rights, it would do better to fix the big issues facing Muslims – discrimination, urban planning and unemployment – than to engage in a theoretical debate about their place in the nation."

You can read the whole article here.

Demonstrators against the French ban on religious dress in state schools, enacted in 2004. Photograph: Laurent Rebours/AP

Science and the Muslim World

1001 Inventions brings to the Science Museum in London an exhibition detailing 1,000 years of science from the Muslim world. The free exhibition runs from 21 January to 25 April with a break between 25 February and 12 March.

The exhibition will look at the social, scientific and technical achievements that are credited to the Muslim world, whilst celebrating the shared scientific heritage of other cultures.

Dates: 21 January till 25 April 2010 (temporary closure 25 Feb to 12 March 2010)
Times: 10am till 6pm every day. Entrance is free of charge.
Location: Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London

Jim Al-Khalili writes in the Guardian (1 February 2010) about the inventions at the exhibition he liked the most here.

The BBC also describes the exhibition here.

Jazakh'Allah-khairun to Sister Rainbow for pointing me towards this event.

Muslim Youth Helpline - StarX'd Short Story competition and ARK (Acts of Random Kindness)

Muslim Youth Helpline has been providing helpline services and internet support to UK Muslims with health and personal problems since it's inception in 2001. The charity has 80 volunteers and staff, and its caller numbers are increasing year on year. To date it has dealt with over 20,000 enquiries from young people in distress. It often refers them to mainstream health and social care organisations, helping to integrate people into the UK's existing support systems that would otherwise not access them.

They are currently launching a short story and short video competition called StarX'd in association with the Muslim Writers Award, for which the brief is ‘Reinterpret Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet from the perspective of a young British Muslim in 2010.’ Judges for the competition include David Godwin, literary agent to Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai and Howard Marks amongst many others, and the prize includes cash and mentoring opportunities from professional writers. The idea is for the competition to encourage young UK Muslims to examine how relationships impact on them in the context of their faith.

A research report will be compiled based on data from the competition and callers to the helpline, and will include best practice guidelines for practitioners and recommendations for policy-makers.

Another initiative of theirs is Acts of Random Kindness, where Muslim Youth Helpline is asking people to make small fund raising efforts by doing simple, but kind things. Examples of this include sponsored silences, readathons, egg and spoon races, or simply get sponsored for doing an Act of Random Kindness i.e. carrying bags for an elderly person or helping mum clean the house, donating something to MYH that they can use for future events or take part in MYH events.