Analysing World Hijab Day: Is it a form of Cultural and Religious Appropriation?

The 1st of February 2015 marked the world’s first “World Hijab Day”, with the aims to foster tolerance, interfaith dialogue and understanding to engage the wider society as to the daily trials and tribulations of Muslim women who experience Islamophobia due to observing the Islamic prescribed requirement of hijab. The idea for this day came from an American Muslim woman called Nazma Khan, in which she explained the reason as to why there was a need to create this day and campaign. It is common knowledge that for women who wear hijab, they are amongst the most vulnerable and are more likely to be victims of Islamophobic abuse in comparison to their male counterparts.

In the midst of the social media support that many have given for World Hijab Day, as exemplified in the numerous Facebook posts and hashtag Tweets trending the topic, it can make both the non-Muslim observer and fellow Muslims wonder as whether such day holds tenability in truly creating an understanding as to hardships endured by Muslim women. As much as one can sympathise and support the aims behind World Hijab Day, there are legitimate grounds for one to think that are elements of appropriation. Furthermore, this is an opinion shared by many, but voiced by few. In analysing World Hijab Day, it is in no way undermining the achievements of the campaign, neither is it a form of criticism. It is just simply exploring the other side of the coin: the alternative viewpoint others may have.

The first ground in which it could be argued that World Hijab Day does entail elements of appropriation would be the unrealistic results it may yield. Participating in such an event or practice in itself does not give you an authentic first-hand experience of the daily trials and tribulations that a veiled Muslim woman, (irrespective of race, ethnicity, age or socio-economic status) experiences just for wearing a hijab. Neither does it negate the fact that Islamophobic abuse, especially towards Muslim women, is a disconcerting and growing problem. Rather what would be more constructive would be to talk to a veiled Muslim woman (colloquially referred to a as a “hijabi”) and genuinely listen to her concerns, this would give a more valuable insight and understanding as to the realities of being a Muslim woman living in the West.

Additionally, for those who have been unfortunate in being a victim of Islamophobic abuse with all its emotional and psychological effects, why would such a person invite another to experience what this is like?                                                          In the instance that a non-Muslim participant in World Hijab Day incurs any Islamophobic abuse she could easily advance the excuse that she is just engaging in a social experiment, with the perpetrator backing off and perhaps apologising for ‘catching the wrong one’. Furthermore, the participant may equally appreciate the relief of not really being a Muslim woman and having to endure more abuse. Conversely, while the participant may have experienced what Islamophobia may entail, a Muslim woman may not be able to enjoy the same level of relief as she cannot deny being a Muslim but also because in the more than likely event the perpetrator of the attack would not stop their attack.

The effect that World Hijab Day may have upon the wider society, particularly in those living in Muslim minority countries, is that it diminishes the notion of hijab and the act of wearing it, to being something that can be casually worn by anybody any time they felt like doing so. It strips away the religious reverence it has and the reason as to why it is worn – because it is an act of worship (ibadah). By doing this, it may contribute to the ignorance that some members of society, and within the Muslim community, have about the hijab as a garment – further obscuring the lines of fact and fiction, culture and Islam. Although there is a margin of appreciation exercised for non-Muslim women and those Muslim women who do not wear hijab (and are considering wearing it on a permanent basis), the best way to find out first-hand what it is like is to not confine it just World Hijab day, but any other of the 364 days available in the year. If the intent is sincere and the consideration is one you have made for the sake of your Creator, surely you would not wait for one specific day to do this.

World Hijab Day arguably plays into the hands of Islamophobes and the never-ending media sensationalism of the hijab with its negative connotation to oppression. Have you not noticed how other faiths do not have an “[insert whatever faith related topic/issue or garment] World Day”?  Anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic hate crime is also another issue faced by members of the Jewish community (especially Orthodox Jews), yes, even in the 21st century Britain we reside in. But you do not see the men of the wider society dressing up in the Jewish tallit (shawl) or kippah (headcap) or the women in a tischel (headscarf) to gain an experience of those Jews who are recipients of anti-Semitism. The issue with this is that it breeds a culture of seeking validation in order for veiled women to be also seen as “normal” and therefore accepted by Western society. This exemplifies the idea of Muslims as being the “other” category – different by default.  The fact of the matter is that a veiled woman are just like any other woman; the difference is that she does not look to society to validate her choices of clothing; rather she seeks it from a higher power – despite being socially ostracised and receiving abuse for it.

The bottom line is that in order to gain an insight into the experiences of Muslim women, society is going to have to do more than have a World Hijab Day to understand the hardships and struggles endured. It is through active engagement and giving these women a platform to speak, as opposed to the media and other non-Muslim members of society telling them about the issues that affect them, that the problem really be tackled head on.

Piers Morgan & The “N” Word: Who can speak on the issue of race?

As I sit here pondering my life, my contempt for the recent decision in the Ferguson case, and whether I should have an extra slice of carrot cake before bed– I couldn’t help by contemplate the issue of race in America and the UK.  Recently the British journalist and television host Piers Morgan, made some contentious comments regarding the use of the “N” word being commonly used both on social media, entertainment and within society – especially amongst African-Americans. Before some people question as to whether I have standing in this issue, or whether I am “qualified” to give my two cents (or dirhams, pennies…whatever) on this topic, I’d like to state that indeed I am a black female and also Muslim. I guess I’m what my mother would call me “double jeopardy” (largely in her opinion regarding the stigma I’m likely to incur due to my race and religious identification/manifestation).

The “N” word is a word that bares so many connotations to me depending largely on context, both in the historical and contemporary sense. It is a word I know for certain my grandparents generation certainly wouldn’t have used, they didn’t know what rap music was and if they heard it they found it a nuisance.  The most plausible explanation is that people in Oman or Uganda don’t usually label people according to their race as they lived in a society that was not as multi-cultural like the Western Europe or the USA (people in those places identify by order of tribe. I have a tribe, but in the interest of not wanting to encourage nationalism or sectarianism I will not state this. Regrettably, it is a word that first I came to know by way of rap music and film during my early years prior to developing my knowledge of self and socially cognizant outlook on life – which I very actively promote.

In the light of Piers’ comments and the fierce criticism it has attracted, this has made me think of several issues within this storm along with questions, that Piers and many other people may not have asked or pondered. Of course these questions and the analysis that come packaged are subject to scrutiny and may spark debate – I’m ready for that:

Can you actually kill a word though?

Perhaps the amusing aspect to Piers Morgan’s suggestion is the notion that a word can be banned, eradicated or killed. One could easily beg to differ.

While I have a small margin of appreciation for the fact that some people (or even a majority of people in society) may find certain phrases and term socially undesirable, the “N” word, like any other racial, ethnic or sexually derogatory words is not one that can just be “killed” or phased out as and when Piers or any public figure pleases. Words are not like garbage that can easily be disposed of whenever one feels like it. I mean I couldn’t wake up one day and decide that a slang term or meaningless word should suddenly be banned irrespective of how compelling the reason is (well, perhaps in my own house or bedroom).

Words just like the views held by members of society are not something that can be changed overnight nor magically like the swish of a wand in Harry Potter; rather they have to go through socio-cultural evolution. This is where many people or the particular group acknowledge the history of the term, actualise the fact of and how it is degrading or offensive to the a specific person/group of people, and find measures to raise awareness and discourage its usage from the public domain – which may filter down to its non-usage in private settings. Such a process takes time to eventually discourage the usage, the example of the Afrikaans “K” word that was widely used by many white South Africans to disparage Black South Africans during the apartheid era, is an apt example of a word being gradually phased out using the above process – but even so, this has taken over two decades to be phased out. From this one can make the deduction that it is easier to change the institutions, labels and books but indeed it’s a battle to change the hearts and minds of a people.

Looking at the bigger picture: The role of the Corporations

The role of media and entertainment corporations is something that Piers Morgan (understandably) and some members of the public subconsciously (or out of financial expedience) ignore is the role that media and entertainment corporations play in the widespread usage of the “N” word. Again, by placing the burden of “killing” off the “N” word on black people, whilst dismissing the corporations’ role is looking at the situation very myopically.

Within the record company structures, the image often presented to the consumer is that the artists have full creative control over their content and have some level of influence under the label there are signed to. After all, it’s their music and artistry that generates money for the record label right? While this may have some elements of truth, nevertheless there has been some frugality on the part of the label. In the world where supply meets demand and business interests meet (and are subject to collision with morality and ethics), it is more lucrative and financially expedient to encourage an artist to write/produce music that glorifies violence, degradation of women, promotion secular liberal values and the manifestation of individual liberty etc.

Of course this is juxtaposed with the production of socially conscious music that encourages people to have self-knowledge and enjoin in the good, as exemplified in the disparity in media promotion given to contemporary stars such as Nicki Minaj and French Montana as opposed to the socially conscious artists such as Public Enemy, LowKey or M.I.A.

This is exacerbated by the fact that even in the acting industry; the portrayals of black people are usually ones that perpetuate stereotypes endorsed by largely white-owned media executives and directors along with actors, that give more weight to the size of their pay check than to the ramifications their depictions have upon members of the black community or the wider societal perception of blacks. Basically Piers, if you want the “N” to be banned from usage in the public domain, also make an appeal to the media companies and artists who give a platform such words to become common.

Does being white preclude a person(s) from participating in racially contentious discussions?

Being white should not be treated as an automatic ban or preclusion from engaging in discussions pertaining to race/ethnicity. I very much dislike the view (often held by some black supremacists and separatists) that white people should be barred from engaging with blacks on in issues affecting them. Such a mind-set does little to encourage cohesion and further widens the gap of understanding.

If anything, it is usually very helpful to engage with white people (who in many western countries are the ethnic majority) in gaining insight into how best to ameliorate the problem of racism, and foster a climate of peaceful coexistence in a racially and ethnically heterogeneous society. However with that being said, the comments made by Piers Morgan (albeit with the best of intentions) seems to only exemplify his lack of touch with everyday members of the African-American community – a demographic he fervently tries to “advise”. How? In explaining how Piers Morgan demonstrates the above, two points that are interlinked will have to be made here: white privilege and the attempt to absolve responsibility.

In addressing the issue of white privilege both in a general sense and specific to the proposal made by Piers Morgan, it is common knowledge (especially for people of colour) that whites incur many privileges upon the basis of their skin colour alone. This is seen in various aspects of life including education, employment, the criminal and civil justice system, media and travel – all of which filter and affect our perceptions and course of dealings with one another in both private and public settings, across various cultural contexts.

Homing in and relating this back to the topic at hand, due to Piers Morgan being a white, middle-class, middle-aged male, he incurs the benefits of not having to bear the brunt of racial superiority being exerted onto him nor the experience of being discriminated against due to his skin tone (whether systematically through oppressive government policies such as South Africa’s former apartheid system, Pre-Civil Rights America…or even colonialism!). Oh, and let’s not forget having to deal with the constant negative media portrayal of his race, culturally biased exams and school curriculum, stop and search/stop and frisk policies, living in low income neighbourhoods where crime rates, drug use and unemployment rates may be high – the list goes on.

Unfortunately, for many African-Americans living in the U.S. what I have just cited is a reality that many, especially those indoctrinated with the provincial view of American society espoused by Fox News, choose to ignore – because it serves as an opiate to placate the sensitivities of those who are not victims of such circumstances.

Furthermore, in Piers suggesting that “If black Americans want the N-word to die, they will have to kill it themselves” this only serves to alienate and irritate many members of this demographic – in turn, earning more criticism. Predictably albeit unintentionally, the likes of Bill Maher, Elizabeth Hasselbeck and Bill O’Reilly et al. will likely twerk to this tune as this suggestion is a poor and unviable attempt evade the guilt and accountability from the those that invented and used the “N” word as means of asserting racial superiority and dehumanising an entire race, and place the burden of policing the “N” word on Blacks who try reclaim the word from its oppressively negative connotation to one of empowerment. In other words Piers is absurdly attempting to place the onus on African-Americans (and the Black global community as a whole) to police a word that we didn’t want ourselves, rather foisted upon us by an inherent and systematically racist society.

For Piers Morgan, a white male who has never had to bear the brunt of such a term being used to denigrate his self-worth, nor the brunt of racism or the negative experiences that faces many African-Americans, to advise that black people should be responsible for “killing off” the N word reeks of hypocrisy and white-saviour-complex under the façade of “advice”. That’s like me advising members of the Indo-Pakistani community in the UK on the issue of the “P” word! That’s absurd!

The question as to if any success has been achieved in making the “N” word one of empowerment, endearment or in any way less threatening is not the issue here, and if this discussion is to take place, it is preferable that it is done in a way that is balanced and fair instead of being one-sided attributing the burden of responsibility to a particular group of people.

The Unspeakable: HIV/AIDS in the Muslim Community

The health issue of HIV and AIDS is generally one that evokes emotion amongst those affected, their families and the wider society. Similarly, it is not one of the topics, themes or issues I usually discuss (perhaps due to its highly personal nature). This topic is especially sensitive and considered a cultural taboo by some members of the Muslim community, which is largely due to the stigma and stereotypes attached to those who are living with HIV. The unwillingness to discuss this issue may result in some sufferers hiding from their loved ones the fact that they have the virus – in turn living with the disease in silence.

HIV is an acronym for Human Immunodeficiency Virus; it is a virus that weakens the body’s defence system impeding it from being able to successfully fight infections and diseases. It is the virus that exists in bodily fluids such as blood, vaginal discharge and semen which leads to AIDS. AIDS is acronym for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, in which the person who has developed AIDS is affected by certain infections and cancers because their body’s defences are weakened. According to statistics from the UNAIDS Global Project (2013), in the MENA (Middle East & North Africa) 260,000 are living with HIV in which 3,000 of new diagnoses are amongst children. In South & South East Asia there are 3.9 million people living which HIV positive with 21,000 new HIV diagnoses amongst children, and 222,000 AIDS-related deaths.

Contrary to popular misconceptions regarding HIV, one will not be infected with the HIV virus through everyday actions such as: handshaking, sneezing, coughing, sharing cutlery and crockery nor kissing. Rather HIV can be obtained through more intimate contact such as from an infected mother to her baby (womb, through breastfeeding or during labour), unprotected sex or through sharing unsterilised injection equipment. Likewise it is a disease that is not limited to people who are homosexual, those who are heterosexual can also be capable of contracting the virus.  

 

Why HIV/AIDS is not discussed much within the Muslim community?

Generally speaking sexual matters are not something that is widely and openly discussed within the Muslim community for a plethora of reasons, but the main reasons are due to cultural sensitivities and cultural perceptions of modesty as opposed to Islam as a religion.

Under the guise of causing “controversy”, “temptation” or “distress”, there has been reluctance amongst some members of the Muslim community to discuss sexual matters such as HIV that affect Muslims not just in the Muslim world, but also here in the UK. This does nothing to ameliorate the condition of those who suffer from the virus, but rather fosters a climate of fear, desolation and apprehension to manifest, therefore making it harder for those vulnerable to gain support and medical help. While it is accepted that when discussing intimate matters such as sexual health modesty should be ensured, this should not be used as a shield to restrict people from giving attention to such issues in order to placate the cultural sensitivities of a few. Additionally, stigmatising and developing a judgmental attitude towards those who have contracted HIV does little to give them support – by judging these people you do not define them, but rather yourself. Within the community it is unfortunate that some people have just about as much sympathy as a school of piranhas, it seems that the Islamic teachings of mercy and compassion as exemplified in the character of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) may have slipped their memory and practice.

Modesty in Islam does not negate the discussion of intimate and sexual matters. Evidence for this can be seen within the life and ways of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), in which both men and women alike did not feel embarrassed in discussing sexual matters and personal hygiene issues in order to obtain beneficial knowledge. During the times of the Prophet, there were instances where women would come to the Prophet in private regarding personal matters pertaining to menstruation and female personal hygiene. The Prophet (pbuh) has said, “Blessed are the women of the Ansar (citizens of Madinah): shyness did not stand in their way for seeking knowledge about their religion.” (Bukhari & Muslim)

 

What can the Muslim Community to help?

Although Islamic teachings make sexual contact between married couples permissible, one should not be oblivious or develop selective amnesia to the fact that there are people within the British Muslim community who are not as practicing in comparison to others. There are Muslims that have premarital and extramarital relationships. These practices are apparent and they do occur, such actions are contrary to Islamic practice and should be abhorred. In our behaviour towards Muslims living with HIV and AIDS we should show compassion towards these individuals, and should not be shun, condemn or socially ostracise them. In helping those affected, further information can and should be provided to their loved ones and the wider community on ways to support them medically, spiritually and emotionally so they also can feel part of the Muslim community. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once said: “It is compassion which Allah has placed in the hearts of His slaves, Allah is Compassionate only to those among His slaves who are compassionate (to others).”

Education amongst members of the Muslim community, especially amongst the elders, would be immensely beneficial in dispelling misconceptions concerning those with HIV but also gaining a generational understanding – perhaps in their time it was a virus not widespread. Additionally there should also be appeals made to Muslim religious community and public figures such as scholars, speakers and imams in raising the much needed awareness as to those living with HIV and AIDS through their lectures and publications.

As the issue is something that cannot be hidden, it is only hoped that by initiating discussion and actively supporting those affected that the situation can be alleviated – unless we initiate dialogue the cycle continues. 

Making a Case for The “Ramadan Muslim” : Ramadan Spiritual Reflections

I have been blessed to enjoy spending parts of my Ramadan in different countries other than the one I reside in; I have spent parts of my Ramadan in places such as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates thus witnessing how different people in different cultural contexts observe Ramadan. This has been indicative of how the significance of Ramadan can be interpreted and experienced in a multitude of ways. Perhaps another thing I forgot to mention is that I am an interfaith adult and convert to Islam, having been brought up in a home where one of my parents is Muslim and having chosen to convert to Islam at a young age through reason and rational investigation, Ramadan for the past ten years has been a spiritual learning curve.

For me, Ramadan signifies an opportunity to renew and further enhance my covenant with my Creator. As the time for suhoor (pre-dawn meal) approaches, while most of my neighbours may be asleep, I take this time to draw closer to Allah through the recitation of Qur’an when praying with members of my family for Fajr (the early morning prayer). The words of God as seen in the Qur’an resonate within my soul with the hope and determination that they will be implemented in my actions, as there is no certainty that I’ll get to enjoy another of life’s moments. In the midst of strengthening my relationship with God, Ramadan also serves as personal reminder of my mortality. Will I ever get to experience such a spiritually nourishing time period again? Will these lessons and spiritual boost that I’ve acquired bare any longevity or was this just the typical “Ramadan phase” that so many Muslims become ritualistically accustomed to only to be forgotten once Eid-ul Fitr comes around. These are among the plethora of questions that are pondered by many (including myself), but intensely self-scrutinised by few.

Regardless of whether one deems themselves the “worst individual in the world” due to not practicing their faith, the reflective advice I give is to never give up in building that spiritual connection with God. One of the many observations I made upon my conversion to Islam, was that the term “Ramadan Muslim” is sometimes used pejoratively to castigate those who are known for not being as observant of their faith outside the parameters of Ramadan.

Essentially there are two ways one could analyse this term. This term could be interpreted to mean exactly as I described, i.e. those who only decide to confine their practice and manifestation of their Islamic beliefs to only during Ramadan. With regard to the former interpretation, it’s quite interesting that those who apply such a term often fall victim to spiritual pride: a trait that is antithetical to the Islamic principles of humility and piety. In one’s bid to develop a profound spiritual attachment to Islam and, correspondingly a more strengthened relationship with their Creator, denigrating others or asserting a superiority complex over your fellow sibling in faith does little in earn the pleasure of God. By doing so the recipient of this harsh treatment isn’t harmed, rather the one who continues to demonstrate such feelings bears the harm of not seeing their how detrimental their character deficiencies are to their spirituality.
Alternatively, the term “Ramadan Muslim” could be used as example of the sweetness felt by Muslims (especially those experiencing weaknesses in faith) during a time where collectively and individually, people make improvements to strive in pleasing God and bettering themselves. It could be through Ramadan that such individuals use it as a reference point to continue in fortifying their faith – it could be that Ramadan that may change their lives. It is this latter interpretation that I hope has a more profound effect.

The month of Ramadan also serves to enhance the ability of an individual to have self-control and restraint, such a quality is revered bearing in mind the society in which I reside in promotes the notions of hedonism and immediate gratification. It is oh so easy for one to be a slave to their lower self and desires, and significantly harder to abstain from peer-pressure and the temptations of pleasure-seeking. During the hours of dawn, whilst the majority of the residents on my street lay tucked in bed reluctant to hear the sound of their alarm, I couldn’t help but observe and admire the discipline that dog owners have. The ability to consistently get up during the early hours of the morning and walk your dog, come rain or shine, is remarkable. I compared it to the diligence required when performing my prayers at the prescribed times. This made me think about the structure and importance of discipline and self-control not only pertaining to my observance of Islam but also the impact it has upon my everyday life. Perhaps the lessons derived from abstinence and self-control could be beneficial to those who are engulfed in the consumerist, hedonistic and fast paced lifestyle.

Perhaps another feature of Ramadan is that in spite of being entrenched in the everyday routines of work and school, Ramadan serves a purpose of reconnecting family members and the wider community at large. While it is not religiously obligated of me to go the mosque for congregational Friday prayers (although I used to try and make sure I went any Friday I could, maybe I liked the company also), I couldn’t help but notice that during times outside Ramadan the mosque seemed less filled. Community cohesion in religious institutions such as the mosque are one of the hallmarks of the Islam, the care and regard for the wellbeing of your fellow sister or brother in faith and the effort exerted into study sessions and meal preparation for breaking the fast fill me with excitement.

During Ramadan, I relay and reflect upon the stories of the Prophets and lessons to be learned – many of which are beneficial and would ameliorate the many problems and ailments permeating in society.
A time reflecting on relationships with members of my family, my friends and the wider community during Ramadan should provide an impetus for which one should always maintain the bond of kinship no matter how hectic life can be. Perhaps seeing the community cohesion in the mosque serves as a reminder of what society used to be like before the iPhone/Android smartphones, the iPads and the Twitter/Facebook accounts: when we all just used to actually TALK to each other.

As the days leading up to Eid-ul-Fitr go by I feel a sense of loss as with each day passing, the serenity that comes with Ramadan slips away. I just hope that I get to experience another month where the sweetness of faith never felt so good. But most importantly, will the lessons and experiences I’ve acquired be enduring and impacting upon my life permanently? I pray and hope that many sections of society, irrespective of one’s religious affiliation (or the lack of) have the opportunity to experience the spiritual nourishment Ramadan offers.

Godwilling.

Making a case for the Interfaith child: Debunking myths, stereotypes and rhetoric

Perhaps one of the topics that are not as often discussed is that of interfaith children and their experiences, especially those relating to Muslim/Christian marriages as opposed to Jewish/Christian marriages. Interfaith children are those who are growing up (or interfaith adult for those who have grown up) where either parents are of different faiths – or one parent has no religious affiliation. Within the British Muslim community, there are many children, young people and adults who are growing up or have grown up in a household where their father is a Muslim and their mother is of another faith which is usually (although not exclusively) Christian or Jewish. Interfaith children arouse wonderment and awe often being subjected to a lot of questions about how they “survived” growing up, what made them chose their faith (or the lack of) and if they “feel” more of one faith than the other.

While it appreciated that interfaith children may have certain life experiences that perhaps somebody that has grown up in a single faith family may not have encountered, some interfaith children have had negative experiences within the British Muslim community. Some interfaith children and adults may recall instances where some members of the Muslim community did not make them feel welcome, or did not consider them “really Muslim”. While it is accepted that professing to be Muslim cannot be Christian simultaneously, the fact that a child or adult comes from an interfaith background is something that should not be turned into an issue of contention.

Aren’t you confused?

One of the many (patronising) questions that people who have grown up in interfaith environments and households get asked concerning their upbringing is whether they are “confused” or how they “survived”. Conversely, some are inundated with questions as to whether they have an affinity towards one faith as opposed to another – this can often play into the boundaries of emotional tennis. Growing up with an interfaith background does not always necessarily lead to confusion, rather the experiences and advantages of growing up interfaith children have is that of literacy in both religions – a dual faith education.

This is especially helpful in demystifying misconceptions and media driven rhetoric pertaining to Islam, and engaging the wider society in understanding. As a second generation interfaith child and convert to Islam, I have benefited immensely from a dual faith education. It has been especially helpful to me in actively defending and making a case for Islam and using my Catholic education for dialogue and comparative religion, along with breaking down stereotypes of Muslim women in everything I do.

Does it create disunity?

Growing up in an interfaith setting promotes a sense of transparency concerning the different faiths, especially when a child or young person reaches the age of reasoning and is capable of acknowledging the differences between the two faiths in deciding which faith to follow. Due to be raised in an interfaith family, children being raised as Muslim or have decided to convert to Islam, can serve to educate their non-muslim relatives and friends about the religion. This does not always mean that one has to be overly proselytising, but in a climate where there are a lot of negative opinions against Muslims, something as simple as your good actions and approach may alter the opinions that some hold.

As to the misconception that being raised as an interfaith child may create disunity, in a lot of cases it is often the contrary. This is because when two parents are of different faiths, the need to maintain harmony and cohesion especially where children are present fosters a climate for understanding to ensue, as a child’s early experiences of difference and diversity will start in their home environment. Having said this, it should not be disregarded that there are some instances where disharmony in an interfaith marriage do occur and while this is the case, how it is tackled it more character defining than the problem itself. Dialogue, patience and understanding are vital in ameliorating situations that may give rise to the possibilities of conflict, thus maintaining tolerance and peaceful co-existence.

You have a “watered down” understanding and implementation of Islam

Some interfaith children and adults can be subjected to pre-judgements and assumptions that their understanding and implementation of Islam is not as “pure” in comparison to those who have grown up in household where both parents are Muslim. In making these presuppositions this does not define them, rather this is character defining for the person who held such an idea. God knows best as to the internal state and religious observance of an individual, we do not have jurisdiction to adjudicate on such a matter. In many experiences of interfaith children, especially my own, being raised in an interfaith environment could mean that the non-Muslim mother can be supportive in aiding the child to become a diligent and practicing Muslim. How many instances and images have you seen of the non-Muslim mother taking her children to the Madrasa to enhance the Islamic education of her children? How many times do you find it the case that a non-Muslim mother is more encouraging towards her children becoming upright and practicing Muslims than some Muslim mothers who discourage such practices and are not practicing themselves?

Unfortunately, these attitudes are hindering many Muslim children with interfaith backgrounds from becoming integrated and accepted into their religious community. Religious observance is not solely down to the parents one has, but rather it is the commitment, love and conviction (along with piety) that one has toward the religion of Islam that is the true defining factor in your relationship and standing with God.

In debunking the misconceptions regarding Muslim children who have grown up in interfaith environments, more should be done to make them feel more welcome and included in the British Muslim community. They represent a rising trend that may lead to the gap understanding and tolerance being bridged, the potential for children and adults with such backgrounds make then not only outstanding exemplars of tolerance in Islam, but tomorrows leading orators and defenders of Islamic monotheism.

 

Are Muslims Hindering the Spread of Islam?

Precursory Note: I refuse to apologise for exposing the underlying issues that permeate within this ummah, having said this, I don’t and won’t apologise for who I am as a person. If you feel the need to correct me for any inaccuracies and assertions made in the article (or generally in any talks given, personal face to face encounters) please do so in accordance with the Qur’an and Sunnah with the requisite intent.

Assalam Walaykum, greetings! It is the start of the Gregorian calendar and in sha Allah I thought I’d start off 2014 with yet another article that serves to spark off thought and dialogue. By that same token, I realise that the question I’ve asked and the topic itself is something that is contentious and perhaps isn’t often discussed. I delve into this question with the following equipment: my experiences, my observations and knowledge (so far as I’m able) to try and advance ideas to encourage a unified action to help tackle the problem. I call a spade a spade.

Anyway so as to not deviate from the topic at hand, Islam is a religion that gets negative press a lot of the time – you don’t need to be a MENSA member to work that out – and sadly this negative press can hinder some people from wanting to find out more about Islam and become cordoned off from experiencing the beauty of the religion and its wisdom. From my experiences and observations there are numerous examples where Muslims have hindered the spread of Islam from somebody embracing it, and I won’t hold back in highlighting the way in which this is done:

Nationalism is one of the major reasons for the lack of unity amongst the Muslims and sadly this is becoming an ever-increasing concern.

Nationalism is a concept alien to Islam because nationalism calls for unity based on family and tribalistic/ethnic or racial ties, whereas Islam binds people together on the belief in Allah (swt) and His Messenger (saaw). Islam calls for the ideological bond. Grouping the Muslims on tribalistic lines is clearly forbidden. It is narrated by Abu Da’wud that the Messenger of Allah (saaw) said,

“He is not one us who calls for `Asabiyyah, (nationalism/tribalism) or who fights for `Asabiyyah or who dies for `Asabiyyah.”

Unfortunately it has become common and normalised amongst members of this ummah for certain masjids to be well-known as being for one particular ethnicity/race, often to the exclusion of another. I recount the experience of my own sibling who, minutes prior to jummah prayer starting, had to endure the pain of overhearing derogative comments made about the colour of her skin. My race and ethnicity in itself is not the main focal point, but rather the issue is this ignorant view of ethnicity and cultural baggage as being more of a priority than uniting under the banner of Islam. The origins of nationalism are rooted in the idea of superiority, the idea that somehow a pre-determined genetic factor makes you better than another brother or sister? What’s even more heart-breaking is that upon conversion, some new Muslims (and those wanting to inquire more about Islam) can often feel rejected and turned away as a consequence of their experience. On the other hand those inquiring about Islam may feel that the ignorance demonstrated by a minority may be a window reflection on how Muslims in general act…oh and don’t get me started on the Islamophobes, they just add more fuel to the fire that seem to dedicate a special bonfire to tarnishing the image of Islam.

Other ramifications that nationalism has upon members of this ummah, is that when it comes to the time of looking for that special somebody to complete half your deen with, some find themselves being rejected by families that place culture, ethnicity and other desire filled stipulations of greater importance than one’s devotion to the deen. Of course where culture and religion conflict it is religion that takes precedence, but this knowledge at times isn’t being acted upon thus culminating into many heartbreaks and shattered dreams. Linked to this, the intermingling of culture and religion may not exactly make it easy for those looking at Islam from an outsider point. More than often, it is the case that due to some Muslims having an inability to make the demarcation between culture and religion (rather combining it like the pick ‘n’ mix section at Woolworths!) and thus become misinformed as to what Islam is.

Spiritual pride is another factor that impedes the spread of Islam, but what do I mean by this? Okay, I understand that the two words are quite juxtaposed as spirituality is often synonymous with humility and asceticism whereas pride is synonymous with indulgence ….but let me just explain and analyse.

There are some members of our ummah that assume that just because they are or have recently become practicing, that somehow this makes them morally superior to that of another or they feel a need to subliminally scold their peers and loved ones for the actions reminiscent of  pre-practicing days. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not hating or throwing shade on all people who’ve become practicing – in fact I support your efforts – but the issue is when some Muslims fall victim to spiritual pride. Arrogance isn’t from Islam, and as a matter of fact, is the very antithesis of what Islam propagates. It seems that many have forgotten their roots, perhaps was a time where you weren’t as practicing, somebody or something eventually made you realise the importance of your faith …in other words…YOU USED TO BE THEM. This very much impacts upon the way both Muslims and non-Muslims receive the message of Islam, for example, there have been many cases where this has resulted in many slowly becoming less inclined to come to the masjid or socialise amongst some sisters (or brothers) for fear of being judged. In some cases there are instances of people leaving Islam as a result of negative experiences incurred as a result of the actions perpetrated by a minority.   Likewise denigrating the religion of another person, or insulting non-Muslims who may lead a lifestyle dichotomous to your own does no favours when trying to propagate Islam and serves to limit the likelihood of certain segments in society not being receptive to Islam.

“I’m glad I found Islam at the young age that I did, before I met Muslims. As much as people need to differentiate between what Islam says and what its followers do, the responsibility is also incumbent upon Muslims to not only to have an unqualified affirmation of faith (i.e. iman) but rather actualise this affirmation by letting it manifest in their daily actions and on a spiritual level. One of the ways this can be done is by developing ihsan and taqwa.

It is from this, that many more people will be inclined to come to Islam in their droves through seeing its beauty and wholly encompassing nature: the solution for humanity.”

– N. Lodda 2014

The True Meaning of Sacrifice: An Eid Al Adha Reflection (Part One)

Okay, I know it’s almost a month since Eid Al Adha but upon the prior ten days leading up the holy day of obligation, I did some element of reflecting (yes, for many of you that know me personally indeed I’m capable of contemplation amidst my hectic work schedule!).

Eid Al Adha is a time that commemorates the sacrifice that Prophet Ibrahim (peace and blessings be upon him) made – or thought he made – of his son. Nobody since then will be asked to make a sacrifice of that magnitude. Having said this, it made me wonder the following: what have we sacrificed collectively as an Ummah for the sake of Allah, and as an individual what have I sacrificed (again for the sake of Allah)? The two-fold questions postulated are both answerable and will be stated and developed.

Now, please note that when I mean the term “I” – being the singular word – I may interchangeable refer to myself in casual thought, but really what I’m doing if anything is trying to probe your thought and analysis.

  1. What have I sacrificed?

This is a question I’m sure you will agree is one that is very intimate, as it urges you to engage with you inner thoughts and reflect very much of your actions of the past and present – but also what you anticipate will be a plan of action for the future in the quest to please you Lord. The deen of Islam is one where great sacrifice is made – both inwardly and outwardly as it would be foolhardy to think that just because you profess Islam as the truth that you won’t be tested. Having said this, we are tested in a plethora of ways of which the most common test (although taking various forms of manifestation) is having an illicit desire for something that is contrary to our Islamic teachings but sustaining the composure to supress those desires.

Sound familiar? Ahhh, yes we indeed we do know this only too well: be it the wearing of hijab, the ever-constant battle with abstinence or the temptation one may have to socialise in places that aren’t conducive of our practice. The fact of the matter is that these desires that we have are very minimal and trivial when put into the context of what the Prophet Ibrahim was asked to sacrifice, or even what many of the Prophets and the pious predecessors had to sacrifice in order to please Allah. What is even more unbelievable is that as individuals we are willing to make sacrifices for things that will only benefit us in the short term – only looking at the situation with often a myopic view. But making a sacrifice for something that will benefit us long term (i.e. in the Hereafter) oh no suddenly you’re not about that life and at times may do so with such a reluctance.

In essence, what I’m saying is that a priority check is needed! And quickly too!

The fact of the matter is that when we sacrifice something for the sake of Allah we are always compensated by Allah in some way, often with something much better. If you don’t see the fruits of your sacrifice in this world you are certain to find it being acknowledged and rewarded in the Hereafter. What is truly sad and ironic on the part of the son of Adam, is that the sacrifices and commands that Allah asks of us are a lot less than what we’d be willing to sacrifice on the Day of Judgement. A day where a mother will distance herself from her child and everybody will be trying to discharge their burdens onto one another to save their own self. Heck, you’d perhaps ransom your own grandma if it granted you salvation!

Only Allah will ask you as to the sacrifices

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