Muslim blogs

Poem: Community, 1982

The Platform - Tue, 12/06/2018 - 19:18


Poems for Grenfell Tower brings together poets whose voices are joined together in elegy.

Published by The Onslaught Press, it includes some well-known poets, and others who have links with the Grenfell community, such as the former head of the local nursery school, an Ethiopian exile who lost many of his neighbours in the disaster, a Big Issue seller who plays in the local steelband, and a firefighter who attended the inferno of 14 June 2017. A few poems do not deal directly with the disaster, but seek to understand some of the conditions and mindsets that made it possible.

At the suggestion of Grenfell United, all royalties will go to the Grenfell Foundation – that’s roughly half the cover price of £10. A number of Grenfell poetry fundraising initiatives are also being held across Britain (click here for more details).

This poem, ‘Community’, seeks to illuminate the values and forces that brought the tragedy about. It dates back to 1982, so it brings in the onset of Thatcherism and reflects Steve Griffiths’ experience as a community worker.

But it’s about positive values, too. The epigraph from Wordsworth is considered the first affirmation in verse, 200 years ago, of the optimistic vision of a population sensing ‘the unity of man’. To reflect this, the title has been changed from ‘Partitions’ to ‘Community’ – but still, Steve suggests, it’s a bit more complicated than Wordsworth could have dreamed.


Community, 1982

Among the multitudes
Of that great City, oftentimes was seen
Affectingly set forth, more than elsewhere
Is possible, the unity of man,
One spirit over ignorance and vice
Predominant, in good and evil hearts;
One sense for moral judgments, as one eye
For the sun’s light.
                                    Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book Eighth, ll823-830

My nose angles the air,
a little missile edged into the sunset,
little receiver, the indigenous one
who doesn’t belong,
sensing an odour of fascism
round a lack of generosity
like the swelling round an inoculation
gone wrong.

Newspapermen prowl the dusk
attacking strangers,
ribbing out their flesh
which hangs in colours on the line
to warn of habitation and strict ways.
In the ensuing dark, queues form
for doctors.

But this old basement laundry fought for,
the washing-slabs gone
with grandmother’s solid arms;
then control of it,
a community centre
bandaged with posters,
playgroups fought for -
and why not, for every child,
a possibility and an open door?

Photo still: Nur Hannah Wan

Categories: Muslim blogs

Poem: #13

The Platform - Mon, 04/06/2018 - 15:50

She was wearing black when she drowned
A black top under a black long-sleeved shirt,
black jeans and black leggings
aged 30 to 40, maybe Eritrean, maybe not.

Two days earlier, on August, 24th,
she had boarded the Abdol Rahman
in Zuwara, crammed with 375 others
on the 50 foot long, double decker
that capsized in the Strait of Sicily,
the third to overturn that weekend.

In Augusta, a town near Syracuse,
migrants are lined up, photographed,
numbers on their chests, the living
dispersed; the dead, drowned,
crushed, suffocated, faces bloated,
stomachs burst from heat and rot,
are laid in coffins. Hashtagged.
Buried. Forgotten.

Three years, fourteen thousand dead
in those ninety miles between
Africa and Europe. There are
one hundred miles between
Fishguard and Rosslare, scarcely
a score between Dover and Calais.
Just imagine.
Would we still not care?

Image from here.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Aung San Suu Kyi: In the Shadow of Genocide

The Platform - Sun, 03/06/2018 - 02:58

Aung Suu Kyi must be tried for genocide and crimes against humanity to bring small justice for the Rohingya people

History is replete with instances of fallen heroes, who, in spite of their celebrated achievements and decorated past, have had to suffer punishment for subsequent acts of transgression, indiscretion and excesses, if not by a court of law then by the court of public opinion.

Robespierre, one of the chief architects of the French Revolution and author of the slogan “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”, was once dubbed “The Incorruptible” because of his unwavering commitment to democratic values. However, he is remembered today more for the terror that he unleashed on French citizens in 1793-94. He was a key figure in the execution of more than 17,000 “enemies of the Revolution” by the guillotine. Ironically, Robespierre was himself guillotined in the summer of 1794 before a cheering crowd in Paris.

One cannot help but wonder whether a similar fate awaits the once darling of democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi. She sits primly in the office of State Counsellor of Myanmar, keenly observing but stoutly denying the widespread atrocities committed by the Myanmar army against ethnic Rohingyas of the Rakhine state. In an era where we can justly take pride in a robust system of international criminal justice, trial of the most elusive perpetrators, including that of Suu Kyi, is not only a legal obligation but also a moral duty which must be fulfilled in order to maintain our faith in the promise of global transnational justice.

The charges against Suu Kyi are many. The case against her has been made on numerous occasions. As Myanmar’s de facto leader, Suu Kyi has a responsibility to rein in the violence being perpetrated by the state apparatus. The Myanmar Constitution may have only granted her limited powers, but she is not barred from protesting against the atrocities being committed. She is ultimately responsible for the state-ordained characterisation of eye witness accounts of murder and rape of ethnic Rohingyas as “fake news”. She has abused her moral authority to successfully campaign for the lifting of US sanctions only to consolidate her political position within the power structure. Regrettably, Suu Kyi has sacrificed the high ideals of democracy and freedom for which she had once strived for and turned a blind eye to the persecution of Rohingyas in order to command the support of the largely Buddhist Myanmar electorate.

These charges have seen Aung San Suu Kyi swiftly plummet from the lofty position where the international community had once placed her. Suu Kyi’s heroic endurance under house arrest had won her the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991. Yet 25 years later, Suu Kyi’s courage in the face of adversity has given way to silence in the face of oppression. In November last year, Suu Kyi’s fellow Nobel Peace laureates urged her to condemn the atrocities of the Myanmar regime. An unprecedented online petition calling for the Nobel Committee to strip Suu Kyi of the prize gained such momentum that the head of the Norwegian Nobel Institute was forced to issue a statement that the will of the prize’s founder did not allow for withdrawal of the honour.

Other award-conferring bodies have not been quite so charitable. The Oxford City Council revoked Suu Kyi’s Freedom of Oxford award as did Glasgow and Sheffield City Councils. The London School of Economics revoked Suu Kyi’s honorary students’ union presidency, while Canada’s largest trade union, UNIFOR, revoked her honorary membership. In addition, a “People’s Court” constituted by jurists and academics in Malaysia tried and convicted her for genocide.

But public shaming is hardly sufficient punishment for wide scale atrocities. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad Al-Hussein, termed the army action “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” in September last year. Two months later he reiterated his claim, stating that “concordant reports of acts of appalling barbarity committed against the Rohingya” all of which suggested a state commission of genocidal violence. One only needs to visit the Kutapulong Camp in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, to meet the victims of genocide and hear first-hand harrowing accounts of arson, murder and rape by the Myanmar army. Myanmar authorities have even attempted to suppress the dissemination of news of the atrocities by harassing journalists.

Justice demands that those at the helm of authority in Myanmar, who have been involved in carrying out or covering up genocidal acts be brought to book. Prosecuting Suu Kyi will not be easy. The only court which can try perpetrators of such crimes is the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague. But the ICC does not have jurisdiction to act because Myanmar is not a signatory to the Rome Statute under which the ICC assumes jurisdiction. Nor will Myanmar accept the jurisdiction of the ICC. Notwithstanding such limitations, Suu Kyi and the Myanmar authorities may still be tried by the ICC if the UN Security Council refers the matter to it. In order to refer the matter, votes of nine Security Council members are required. If history has shown anything, it is that voting at the Security Council is dictated more by expediency than by principle.

Alternative forms of judicial redress for crimes against humanity, however, do exist. This allows states or international organisations to claim criminal jurisdiction over an accused person, regardless of where the crime was committed and regardless of the accused’s nationality. The UN Security Council resolution 1674 adopted in April 2006 reaffirmed its responsibility to protect populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Examples of states invoking this concept of universal jurisdiction include Israel’s prosecution of Eichmann in 1961 and Spain’s prosecution of South American dictators and torturers in 2006. More recently, the Centre of Constitutional Rights tried to prosecute former US President George W. Bush – first in Switzerland and then in Canada – on behalf of the people tortured in US detention camps.

Aung San Suu Kyi and the officers of the Myanamar government, as and when they travel to a country which exercises universal jurisdiction, can and should be prosecuted. Trying Aung San Suu Kyi for genocide in the Rakhine state is necessary not only to bring justice to the victims and their families, but also to end decades of impunity enjoyed by the Myanmar regime, who have fuelled the sustained repression and consequent exodus of ethnic Rohingyas.

The international community must act swiftly and decisively to bring an end to the torture of “the most persecuted minority in the world”.

Image from here.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Poem: The Euphemisms

The Platform - Thu, 24/05/2018 - 22:53


Tomorrow, Friday 25 May, Ireland will come out to vote in a historic referendum that will determine the future of abortion laws.

Voters will decide whether to remove the 1983 Eighth Amendment from the country’s constitution, a clause which explicitly bans abortion and gives a foetus an equal right to life as the mother.

No Irish woman of child-bearing age has previously had the opportunity to vote on this issue. Someone who, as a then 18-year-old, had her first vote in the 1983 referendum would now be 52 years old.

Women and girls have resorted to travelling outside the Republic of Ireland to access legal abortion services. At least 3,265 women and girls gave Irish addresses at UK centres in 2016 – an underestimation given that not all women will provide their Irish addresses and some will have travelled to countries like the Netherlands.

Despite the ban, abortion exists in Ireland, though until now Ireland hasn’t officially had the courage to admit it. A 2016 report shows that 1,642 abortion pill packages were sent to Ireland in a three-year period, between 2010 and 2012, by a single provider.

A number of women or girls have over the years been forced to take legal action against the Irish state in order to obtain the right to an abortion, or the right to travel to the UK for an abortion. These are commonly referred to in Ireland as the ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, and ‘X’ cases. Miss X was a 14-year-old rape victim who, in 1992, was only allowed to travel to the UK for a termination after taking a case to the Irish Supreme Court.

This poem looks at all the various euphemisms used in Ireland to talk about abortion without actually saying the word.


The Euphemisms
after Peter Reading

A great and sure remedy
for unmarried ladies. A boat
somewhere so she can sort this out
and then get back to her life.
A Ryanair flight to Leeds-Bradford.
A pill the modern woman
can take with her coffee.
An ex-nurse above a fish and chip shop
who helps girls in trouble.
A day trip to a clinic
near Liverpool. Flushing it
down the lavatory. Something
the Irish government is in no rush
to legislate for. What the Bishop of Kerry
is definitely against.
Something no one wants.
The world’s second oldest profession.
A number in England her doctor
suggests she phone.
Something the Irish government
will deal with in a prompt
and appropriate manner.
The constitutional amendment of 1983.
The letters A, B, C. The letter X.
If we leave it long enough
all the letters in between.
Something you can’t have women
walking in off the street
and demanding.

Image from here.

Categories: Muslim blogs

When the Alarms Go Off: Understanding OCD

The Platform - Tue, 22/05/2018 - 08:08

OCD is among the ten most debilitating health conditions yet patients are often misdiagnosed

One sunny morning in 2012, I was at my GP for the third time in a week, sobbing and begging to be referred for urgent neurological tests. “I’m losing my memory,” I explained. I couldn’t remember what “Argonaut” or what “obstreperous” meant, so that was it for remembering anything at all. I’d Googled “memory loss” and learned that at 27, I was too young for Alzheimer’s. So it must be vCJD, the horrifying “mad cow disease” that had hit the headlines in the 1990s. I was headed for an agonising death.

I decided that if I could learn five new words a day and remember everything I’d eaten, then I could prove that I wasn’t ill. That’s how I spent the next six months; reading the dictionary and endlessly going over last week’s meals. I’d repeat my new words, check that every meal was accounted for, and feel reassured. But only for minutes, seconds, then the horrors would come back. Was it one egg or two last Wednesday? What does “disingenuous” mean? You’re going to die. You’re going to die. The cycle started over and went on for half a year. This wasn’t the first time I’d suffered from debilitating levels of stress. I’d also had episodes of anxiety and had had strange obsessions in my late teens and early twenties. I just assumed everyone was like that, but with the apparent memory loss, it felt more severe, less normal.

What I didn’t know at that time was that I have obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD. In many people’s eyes, OCD is a personality quirk: it’s a lining up of shoes, an intolerance to wonky picture frames, antibacterial hand wash. But OCD is much worse than that. For the 740,000 sufferers in the UK alone, it can be utterly dreadful. The World Health Organisation lists OCD among the ten most debilitating health conditions. But it’s not just the general public who often don’t understand; there’s a surprising lack of awareness among medical professionals too.

OCD is two things: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive thoughts like my “I’m dying of vCJD”. Other typical OCD thoughts include contamination fears (“I’m going to get infected”), violent harm (“I’m going to stab my husband while making dinner”), inappropriate sexual thoughts (“I want to have sex with my sister”), religious fears (“I might accidentally say 666 and the Devil will appear”), and so on. The thoughts are terrifying and unwelcome. Compulsions are what an OCD sufferer does to escape or neutralise the anxiety that comes with the thoughts. A man with contamination fears might scrub his hands, again and again and again. He might then stay indoors all day, scrubbing, using bleach, his hands skinless and raw. Isolation and depression follow. People with OCD are ten times likely to kill themselves than non-sufferers.

Of course, most people have random thoughts about illness, sex or violence from time to time, but can easily shrug them off. The OCD sufferer can’t. Imagine every alarm and sprinkler in an office block going off at once just because somebody on the sixth floor boiled a kettle. The problem isn’t the content of the thoughts – it’s the extreme anxiety experienced in reaction to them.

So what’s the answer? Evidence shows that the most effective treatment is anti-depressant medication combined with a specific type of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) called ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention). (See this article by the International OCD Foundation for more information). In conventional CBT, a patient might challenge their thinking by finding evidence that contradicts their fears. Other approaches might encourage patients to seek the root causes of their fears, developed by Freud. ERP is different – it largely disregards the content of obsessions and aims to reduce the suffering that they cause. ERP, for example, would help a patient face his fears about infection, and encourage him to not wash his hands until his anxiety subsided. A lady terrified that she might murder her husband might be given a knife and told to hang on to it until “habituation” occurred. I read somewhere that ERP is the only therapy that involves giving weapons to the mentally ill. Saying this, I must stress that people with OCD are no more likely to act on their intrusive thoughts than anybody else.

Worryingly, there are countless stories of people with OCD being misdiagnosed and spending years chasing their thoughts down rabbit holes, getting heavily medicated or sedated. People can take ten years or more to be correctly diagnosed and get the right treatment. I suffer from a type of OCD nicknamed “pure-O” because it lacks obvious behavioural compulsions. My rituals and reassurance-seeking take place mostly in my head, in the form of checking, counting, analysing and ruminating. I was once diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder because, in the psychiatrist’s words, I looked “too normal to have OCD”. Steven, an OCD sufferer from Australia, told an online support group that he spent months in psychoanalysis to get to the root of his violent thoughts which led him to develop severe depression, eventually being admitted into hospital. He says, “the psychoanalysis encouraged a kind of thinking which is highly obsessional in nature – relentless doubt and rumination, a constant probing of thoughts.” As Rose Bretécher points out in her ground-breaking 2013 Guardian article about the pure-O type of OCD, psychoanalysis only makes obsessive thoughts more deeply entrenched. Years later, Steven is back at work and using ERP techniques to manage his anxiety.

It seems to me that OCD is over-diagnosed in the lay population and under-diagnosed in the medical. That being said, the portrayal of OCD in the media is improving. Bretécher’s brilliant autobiography Pure is being made into a Channel 4 series, and Lily Bailey, another OCD sufferer who has “come out” on social media, has published her own harrowing memoir, Because We Are Bad: OCD and a Girl Lost in Thought. Let’s hope that awareness increases, not only in the medical profession, but everywhere else. Meanwhile, if you haven’t got OCD, be glad, and be grateful. Gently reprimand anyone who says “I’m a bit OCD” because they like their kitchen tidy. If you think that you or a loved one might have OCD, make sure you’re getting the right help, educate yourself, and don’t spend months or years in misery with the wrong treatment when freedom and wellness could be much closer at hand.

Image from here

Categories: Muslim blogs

Today is Husband Appreciation Day

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Sun, 22/04/2018 - 08:52

In the literature discussing Futuwwa, which has been translated as Muslim chivalry, there is the story of a young man who was engaged to marry a particularly beautiful woman. Before the wedding day, his fiancée was afflicted with a severe case of chicken pox which left her face terribly disfigured. Her father wrote to him informing him of the situation and asking if he preferred to call off the wedding. The young man replied to her father stating that he would still marry his daughter, but that he had recently experienced a gradual loss of sight, which he feared would culminate in blindness. By the wedding date he had in fact completely lost his vision.

The wedding proceeded as planned and the couple had a loving and happy relationship until the wife died twenty years later. Upon her death the husband regained his eyesight. When asked about his seemingly miraculous recovery he explained that he could see all along. He had feigned blindness all those years because he did not want to offend or sadden his wife.

From our jaded or cynical vantage points it is easy to dismiss such a story as a preposterous fabrication. To do so is to miss an important point that was not lost to those who circulated and were inspired by this and similar tales. Namely, our religion is not an empty compilation of laws and strictures. The law is important and willingly accepting it is one of the keys to our salvation. However, the law is also a means that points us towards a higher ethical end. We are reminded in the Qur’an, “Surely, the prayer wards off indecency and lewdness” (29:45).

Categories: Muslim blogs

On “Punish A Muslim Day”

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Thu, 05/04/2018 - 01:27

Now that “Punish A Muslim Day” has passed uneventfully we should really take stock of the general immaturity permeating our community. This nonsense should never have seen the light of day. It is like the so-called movie denigrating the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) several years back. It had less than one hundred views on YouTube until we Muslims went into a frenzy and provided it with free publicity by expressing our “anger” all over the internet. Two weeks later it had over ten million views. We have to learn to let this nonsense die its natural death in the obscure corners of cyberspace.

Furthermore, the threat against Muslim is no less today that it was yesterday. If someone seriously wants to harm us they are not going to advertise it. Hence, we have to be vigilant everyday. We should also not assume that there are so many mean spirited people out there that they would be moved to openly respond to such a vile provocation -if they even knew about it. If a handful of mischievous clowns know that they can work our community into a frenzy by throwing out something like this we will never see the end of it.

As we commemorate the passing of the great civil rights giant Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., why not get worked up to dedicate ourselves to carrying on his work to eradicate the evil triplets of racism, militarism and materialism from our society? These evil triplets constitute an enduring threat to all of us. They are punishing rich, poor, black white, Americans, foreigners, Muslims and others. Are the only threats motivating us those we perceive to be specifically against our community?

As our country slips into a dangerous phase of intensifying identity-based tribalism, we have much work to do in contributing to tearing down the walls being erected to divide us and building the foundation of a union based on the God-given human bonds and rights that unite us. That is difficult and consuming work befitting a community that sees itself as the heirs of the prophetic legacy. We don’t have time to waste with nonsense.

Categories: Muslim blogs
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