As the birds take flight.
Enter the arena,
To fight for the right
Of every man, woman
To be able to smile
As the retreating night
By the morning light.
The deepening scandal and crisis in Flint, Michigan, over the contaminated water forced upon the residents of that city provides an insight into where the entire country is headed. The destruction of Flint, epitomized by th water crisis, is a direct result of what happens when democratic processes are circumvented and a city is run like a business.
The state appointed city manager, Darnell Early, a non-elected official, was brought in to run Flint like a business. Changing the city’s water source to the polluted and contaminated Flint River was done for one of two reasons, both of which are business decisions: Using water from the Detroit Water and Sewage District (DWSD) would be more expensive; or because someone stood to profit from a switch to the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) which includes the Flint River. Although the former explanation is simpler, the latter is more probable considering the huge sums of money that are doled out to various contractors when public resources of cities are privatized, and considering that DWSD offered Flint a better deal than KWA., where it would likely In either case, the largely African American and mostly poor residents of Flint were sold down the river.
The pillaging of the public resources of allegedly dysfunctional cities already has its parallel at the federal level. Timber and drilling rights in national parks and forests are accelerating. The United States Postal Service (USPS) has been forced to sell millions of dollars in assets to meet the Congressional mandate they it funds its pension fund an insane 70 years into the future. UPS and Fedex and salivating at the chance to move in if it fails to do so. Wall Street is urging its cronies on Capital Hill to dump the cash taken from our hard-earned salaries into its leveraging casinos, where it would likely be irrecoverably lost.
To stop this looming madness, we have to move beyond the idea that immediate profits and savings are the ultimate determinants of the proper parameters of political morality. Failure to do so will see our entire nation transformed in a massive Flint, Michigan, -a cash cow for the rich and hell on earth for the poor. May we all be part of an effort to do and be better. May our politicians be more enlightened and may our businessmen stay out of politics.
The profitability of the war in Yemen has kept Britain and Saudi on exceptionally close terms
When Saudi authorities opened the year 2016 with a mass execution, they did so to propagate a message, loud and clear; that despite the political and financial challenges the country may be facing, all matters will continue as normal.
Forty-seven people were killed on 2nd January, in a barbaric assault that saw the slaying of political prisoners, some of who were killed simply for the ‘crime’ of attending demonstrations. The diplomatic fallout has exacerbated tensions in the region and seen a breakdown of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
At the same time, the intensifying Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen has created a humanitarian catastrophe. The bombing began 300 days ago, and, since then, over 5000 people have been killed and vital infrastructure has been destroyed. The British Red Cross said that the conflict has left the country on ‘the precipice of disaster’. Not even hospitals are safe. A care centre for the blind and three MSF medical facilities have been damaged by bombs in the last three months alone.
The UK, for instance, has fully supported and cooperated with the destruction. At Prime Minister’s Questions earlier this week, the SNP’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, made the point that the UK has been an active participant in the conflict, and it’s easy to see why. Right from the start, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond pledged to “support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat”. Since the conflict began the UK has licensed £2.8 billion of arms to the Saudi government. UK military personnel have helped Saudi authorities to identify targets and, according to Defence News, UK bombs earmarked for the RAF have been transferred to Saudi Arabia to aid the bombing.
Of course, the issue of UK support extends far beyond the actions of this particular Conservative government. Over the last 40 years, various UK governments have built a special military relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The last time there was any real scrutiny of the UK weapons trade with Saudi was in 2004, when the Serious Fraud Office began looking into corruption relating to arms sales to the regime. The investigation threatened to unearth a litany of embarrassing details, but, after a concerted lobbying effort, including interventions by Tony Blair and the attorney general, it was dropped. Shortly after, a deal was signed to sell billions of pounds worth of fighter jets to the regime.
Another outcome of this cooperation has been the high level of integration of UK and Saudi military programmes. About 240 civil servants and military personnel from the UK’s Ministry of Defence currently work to support military contracts through the Ministry of Defence Saudi Armed Forces Programme and the Saudi Arabia National Guard Communications Project.
Over recent months, serious allegations emerged that Britain helped lobby behind the scenes to secure Saudi Arabia’s election to the UN Human Rights Council; a membership which would be laughable if the on-going consequences weren’t so serious. Furthermore, it is, perhaps, no surprise that Saudi was the only major death penalty state to be omitted from the UK’s anti-death penalty strategy. Perhaps none of this hypocrisy is surprising when the Foreign Office has admitted that human rights are no longer a “top priority” for the government.
The consistently uncritical political and military support that Britain offers to Saudi Arabia is not just immoral – it may well be illegal. A recent legal opinion from Matrix Chambers, commissioned by Safer World and Amnesty International found that the UK government is breaking national, EU and international law and policy by supplying weapons for use in Yemen.
That is one of the reasons why Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and our lawyers at Leigh Day have announced that a pre-action letter is being issued to the government to challenge its decision to export arms to Saudi Arabia, in light of the growing evidence that Saudi forces are violating international humanitarian law. We are calling on the government to suspend all licences for military equipment that may be used in Yemen, pending the outcome of a full review as to whether the export of military equipment is compatible with the EU arms control legislation.
Fawning political and business support of governments like the UK serves to fuel the Saudi regime and makes the chances of long-term peace in the region even more remote. Saudi is not just buying weapons – it’s also buying this western endorsement of its actions. The result is that Britain is both ignoring the abuses taking place and helping to facilitate them.
The bottom line is that as long as the Saudi government enjoys the political and military support of some of the most powerful western nations, oppression and destruction will continue. Violence will be the norm, and innocent Saudi and Yemeni citizens will continue to pay the price.Image from: http://sputniknews.com/europe/20151217/1031900958/uk-government-saudi-arabia-arms-exports-illegal.html
It is time to understand the real victims of the sluggish plan for climate action and what will be lost if we continue at our current rate of consumption
This past Christmas, many of us saw scenes of the devastating flooding that took place in Yorkshire. Bridges collapsed, buses floated down the roads and families had to be evacuated. Events like these are becoming all too frequent. January 2014 saw flooding in Somerset, where local people were initially left to fend for themselves, as the devastating effects of the floods took hold. Extreme weather events like these will continue to increase as we continue to feel the effects of climate change. Overall temperatures on the planet have risen by 1°C. The world is currently on track to rising to 3°C.
What effect will that have on our planet? More importantly, who are the real losers in this situation? It’s important to note that the communities in the UK who have suffered the worst effects of flooding all hail from working class areas. This is by no means an accident. From Hurricane Katrina to the flooding in Somerset and Yorkshire to the communities devastated by fossil fuel extraction, environmental destruction and government responses to climate catastrophe are highly political. It is always the working class and people of colour who suffer the most.
This is most illustrated in the wake of the recent climate agreement. The 21st annual Conference of Parties (COP21) concluded at the end of December 2015 in Paris to a wave of fanfare from the media. “Finally,” some said, “we are taking action on climate change!” Others declared that it was the end of the fossil fuel era. But it’s only on closer inspection of the Paris agreement coupled with scientific facts about the current state of the planet that we realise this agreement was just business as usual, and that the losers will continue to be working class communities and people of colour.
While it is admirable that governments across the world agreed to curb their greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to ensure that the planet only warms by 1.5°C, it’s very important to note that this agreement is not legally binding. This means that there is no legal mechanism to hold countries to account if they do not meet their agreed upon targets in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. This failure to reach a legally binding agreement means more flooding in Britain, and a death sentence to the many communities being forced off their land, and in some places killed, to further fossil fuel extraction. It also means that we have tacitly agreed to allow communities, like the island nations of the Pacific, to disappear into the ocean – making them not only climate refugees, but also disposable. This climate agreement has literally decided that some communities are not worth fighting for. They are sacrifice zones.
In a way, none of this should be surprising. The western nations who are responsible for producing the majority of the carbon emissions that have led to global warming obtained their wealth and power via the exploitation of black and brown people – the same communities who have now been labelled collateral damage and are suffering the worse effects of climate change. It is these very land grabs that created many western nations. It is the exploitation of resources on colonised lands that built the wealth of western countries. It is also the consumption habits of westerners that is driving climate change by exporting greenhouse gases via factories in China. The land grabs continue today either for fossil fuel extraction or in an act of neocolonialism for renewable energy projects.
While the challenge to fight climate change is enormous, it does provide us with an opportunity to create a new world. And despite the many obstacles faced by indigenous people and those on the front lines of climate change, there is renewed vigour in the climate justice movement. There have been many victories for indigenous groups fighting for climate justice, from the shelving of the Keystone XL pipeline in North America to Ogoni of Nigeria winning the right to sue Shell for the deadly pollution caused by their oil extraction. Groups are also speaking out and demanding to be heard. From the indigenous groups kayaking down the Seine in protest of their rights being stripped at the COP21, to the indigenous fighting for their rightful place to lead the London Climate march. Their spirit is indomitable. They will not be silenced. Their lives are literally on the line.
More and more, regular people around the world are standing up and fighting for climate justice. Grassroots organisation led to the overthrow of apartheid in South Africa, the passing of the Civil Rights Act in the United States and helped women get the right to vote in various countries. Although the COP21 was an abject failure, it is the frontline communities who will have the final say. Despite the white-washed image you may have of the environmental movement, it is these working class, black, brown and indigenous groups who will have the final say. They are the first to march, the first to fight and the first to die. Will you join them?Image from: http://upliftconnect.com/indigenous-cry/
The bank accounts of British Muslim charities are being shut down without notice or negotiation
The fact that Britain is the most charitable developed nation in the world and Muslims are “its top charity givers” has been well established for some time. Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged this reality in his Ramadan 2014 message, “Here in Britain, Muslims are our biggest donors – they give more to charity than any other faith group.”
The impulse of charity giving is embedded in human nature. For many Muslims the prime mover is the teachings of their religion to help fellow human beings in distress or in need, irrespective of their background. This has contributed to the emergence of a strong Muslim charity sector that has employed thousands of dedicated professionals. Many new charities have appeared in recent years and are attracting young, talented university students and graduates as volunteers. Some are known for their highly entrepreneurial and specialised work.
But in recent years, the new menace haunting Muslim charities is the fear of their bank accounts’ closure. The first that came to be widely known was HSBC’s notification to a few charities announcing that their accounts would be closed in just two months’ time as they were outside the bank’s “risk appetite”. This irreversible decision came without any previous notice and as a shock to the affected charities. HSBC’s failure to provide any warnings or appropriate evidence for its actions has been a real worry.
Since then, a few other banks such as Barclays and the Co-operative Bank have followed suit.
Early in 2015, HSBC closed the Muslim Aid account. More recently, they also closed down the account of Islamic Relief, the largest Muslim charity in the UK. On 15 December 2015, the Co-operative Bank informed Friends of Al-Aqsa that it would close their bank account. No reasons were provided, apart from mentioning the same “risk appetite” issue. The Co-op has refused to engage in any negotiations and has called this “a business decision”.
Bigger charities like Islamic Relief UK and Muslim Aid use multiple bank accounts; for them, the main issue is serious damage to their reputation as opposed to practicality. But smaller charities do not have the luxury of doing this, so closure of their main account becomes a survival issue for them.
For a community undergoing disproportionate scrutiny from the counter-productive Prevent agenda of successive governments, bank closures of its charities without proper explanation is an additional worry. When an organisation such as the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, which has supported Palestinian rights for decades, found that its account with the Co-operative Bank was also closed last July, naturally it raised the spectre of fear among many.
Bank closures undermine the great work done by Muslim charities abroad and within our own shores, including the relief efforts during recent and past floods. Many feel that the rhetoric of “extremism” and “protecting British values” vis-a-vis Muslims is creating a climate in which Muslim NGOs are seen as a fair game. One is not sure whether this selective bank closure affecting only Muslim charities is because of the political climate of judging the community through a prism of security.
Of course it is understood that there would be greater scrutiny of charity finances, as prompted by international money-laundering concerns and tougher UK counter-terrorism laws. But in a rights-based society renowned for its principle of innocence until proven guilty, if a community is made to feel out of place, it does not bode well for Britain.
The Muslim charity sector has been the jewel in the Muslim community’s crown in serving humanity in recent decades; without a way out, this may one day be reduced to insignificance. Almost all charities in Britain are now regulated by Charity Commission (CC), so charities are duty-bound to maintain due diligence while transferring money directly to the recipients or through reliable partners acceptable to the CC. Access to banking facilities is vital for transparency and good governance, and there are fears that fundraising and aid work in Muslim communities could collapse or even be driven underground.
The confidence of Muslim charities in British banks is obviously at an all-time low. The community is deeply worried about this development. Although banks are denying that their motives are religious, many believe this is the penalty of bearing any “Islamic” name in the current political climate.
David Anderson, the UK’s reviewer of terrorism legislation, called for dialogue between policymakers and NGOs on the issue of bank closures. It is time the government steps in to assure that Muslim charities are not victimised for political reasons.
An earlier version of this article appeared on Al Jazeera.Image from: http://www.islamic-relief.org/category/appeals/emergencies/iraq-emergency-appeal/
Why the junior doctors’ strike on Tuesday is essential for understanding the state of our healthcare system and its tireless workers
“You are 15 per cent more likely to die if you are admitted to hospital on a Sunday than if you are admitted on a Wednesday.” Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, 2015
“6,000 people lose their lives every year because they don’t have a proper seven-day service in hospitals.” Jeremy Hunt, 2015
“It is not possible to ascertain the extent to which these excess deaths may be preventable; to assume that they are avoidable would be rash and misleading.” Sir Bruce Keogh, Medical Director, NHS England, 2015
This is the infamous misrepresentation of a BMJ study, investigating England’s NHS hospital admissions, used as a basis for hugely unpopular, unsafe and unproven junior doctor contract reforms, put forward last summer by Conservative Health Minister Jeremy Hunt.
Since first announcing the proposed contract changes, the dispute between the government and the British Medical Association (BMA), who represent junior doctors, has seen governmental threats to impose the contract anyway, as well as BMA members voting overwhelmingly for strike action (the first doctors’ strike for 40 years), an 11th-hour cancellation of the walk out, threats to forcefully impose the contracts lifted, a second breakdown of negotiations, a second threat to impose the new contract anyway, and, finally, planned strike action by England’s junior doctors, due to start on 12th January 2015 – the first all-out strike in NHS history.
The earlier return to the negotiating table in December 2015, facilitated by Acas, made modest progress but, again, broke down over disagreements regarding unsafe working hours, academic contributions and pay progression. What must be made clear is that this conflict is not about money. Doctors, like everyone, must be paid fairly for what they do without question, but this is about respect, integrity and supporting our NHS. England’s doctors entered medicine for the privilege to heal the sick, and be part of the world’s leading healthcare system. This is not an organisation rewarded for generating profit, but prized for providing cost-effective, safe, patient-centred healthcare; not the impression you would get from the current political rhetoric, despite the NHS being ranked number one in the world by the World Health Organisation.
The contract reforms that Mr Hunt is proposing include supporting the creation of a seven-day NHS, which, apart from already existing, will be done without doctors taking a pay reduction, without doctors working longer hours and without more doctors. In reality, what the new contract proposes is a change in what defines normal working hours, a change in how these normal working hours can be worked and a change in how doctors will be remunerated for providing a 24/7 service, which, again, does actually already exist.
Currently, doctors work a combination of normal, sociable working hours and unsociable hours. Depending on their specialty, the number of unsociable hours worked varies, and generally, they are worked in rotation in order to equally share the burden of covering nights and weekends. In return for their hard work, doctors get paid an overtime rate for covering these hours, which include weekends and weekday evenings from 7pm to 7am. With the proposed new contract, normal, sociable working hours will be re-defined as Monday to Saturday from 7am to 10pm. This not only equates to an approximate 30 per cent reduction in pay, but also a drastic and almost dangerous change to working patterns.
This includes the abolition of the banding system, which currently protects junior doctors and the patients they serve from being overworked. Banding is, essentially, a system that calculates the pay supplement of a doctor depending on how many unsociable hours they are expected to work. It also has built-in safeguards which ensure that doctors are receiving enough breaks and rest, and are not working a dangerous number of hours. Eliminating the banding system would mean conforming to Working Time Regulations (WTR), which does not provide the same level of protection that the current system does. For example, according to the WTR, for every six hours worked, a doctor is entitled to a 20-minute break. In practice, this means that for an 11-hour shift, doctors are only entitled to one 20-minute break. The WTRs also state that the 48-hour limit on a normal working week does not actually apply to the activities of doctors in training.
So unfortunately, Mr Hunt’s claims just don’t seem to add up. When forced to backtrack regarding what the new contract would actually involve, he explicitly stated that doctors would not be made to work more than 48 hours per week and that their pay will not be cut. The WTRs don’t protect doctors in this respect, and he hasn’t offered any alternative for employers to go by. Further backtracking, he then revealed that pay will only be cut for those doctors routinely working more than 56 hours per week, the proportion of which he referred to as a “small minority”. These doctors are not a small minority and they are those working the longest hours. If employing more doctors is not included in the reforms (which it isn’t), these hours cannot be covered without a significant number of doctors accepting a pay cut.
The NHS is currently structured the way it is not only to provide all with cost-effective access to consultant-led care, but also to train, nurture and empower every next generation of new doctors and surgeons. No doctor in today’s NHS works independently; all work as part of a team, headed by a consultant, and include a multitude of allied health professionals, always engaged in education and development through observation, discussion and accumulating experience. This structure is such a vital, integral part of every doctor’s training, and is something that Jeremy Hunt has completely failed to understand. Doctors learn theories and systems in medical school, and their first five years as undergraduates provides a superficial and elementary, yet essential, knowledge and insight into the medical profession. However, the majority of a doctor’s education takes place while they are working, and begins from the moment they qualify until the day they retire.
As a reflection of this increasing experience, and by default, increasing responsibility, doctors are entitled to an annual pay increment, which reflects their increasing competence. The new contract will exclude doctors who are not on a recognised training contract from being eligible for these increments, and will also negatively affect those who take time out of training for academic study or maternity leave, due to their time out of regular work. What is especially frustrating is the complete and utter disregard for the way in which education works within the medical field and the National Health Service, and no admission to the fact that time spent working is education in itself, irrespective of progression on paper. In light of Mr Hunt stating in his 25-year vision speech at the King’s Fund that he wants “learning and continuous improvement at the heart of a more human system”, this doesn’t do much to encourage learning and continuous improvement at the heart of England’s junior doctors. The reality is that places on run-through, recognised training schemes for junior doctors are incredibly competitive, and maintaining a place on one of these training schemes is no different. Most speciality trainees are expected to complete a PhD as part of their contribution to the field, as well as passing numerous (and expensive) exams and various career development requirements.
This is, however, the job, and is what medical trainees are prepared to do. What is unfair is that when taking time to complete a PhD, second degree or even maternity leave, doctors would not be guaranteed to come back to work on an equivalent pay scale. Aside from the obvious and borderline medieval sexual discrimination, this does nothing to encourage any form of academic career development (or anything resembling a near-normal family life). And given that today’s contemporary, evidence-based medical practices that we are so proud of, are built on the research undertaken by academic clinicians, one would hope that they are held with a higher esteem than our current government is portraying.
Incidentally, while taking time out to complete a PhD or second degree, the locum shifts that doctors can work to support themselves in the interim will also be cut and will be subject to a reduction in hourly rates. These changes directly affect specialties like oral and maxillofacial surgery, for example, where it is compulsory for surgeons to have both medical and dental degrees (both of which are five-year courses), as well as completing at least 10 years of post-graduate specialist training. Both degrees are usually self-funded, with doctors often working shifts at night and weekends in order to support themselves while studying (and both, of course, are subject to the Tory-led higher tuition fees of £9,000 per year). The new contract proposals would mean that trainees would be relegated back to the lowest pay scale after completing their second degree, despite having already worked for a number of years in the NHS, and would also have their earning potential while studying significantly affected. Currently, 10 per cent of training posts in this speciality remain unfilled, and with further difficulties placed on pursuing an already challenging, highly specialised career, this number may be set to increase.
The first National Health Service, established 5th July 1948, replaced a system where free healthcare was only available to 43 per cent of the population, none of which included women or children. It also replaced a system where hospital treatment was fee-based, and subject to a postcode lottery where rubbing shoulders with a councillor might guarantee you a hospital bed if you needed it.
When Anuerin Bevan envisaged the NHS in the echoes of a second world war and the shadows of a nation devastated by battle, he envisaged a health service that would be free at the point of need, available for all in need, funded by all in fairness and, most poignantly perhaps, used responsibly. He wanted a system where the responsibility lay at the feet of the Health Minister and was run with the involvement of the nation’s medical staff. In a speech made in 1945, Bevan said, “I know very well that I am not going to succeed in my task by bullying methods.” He believed that doctors, as a profession, must have a greater and greater say in the management of their own service, and his enthusiasm for democratic medicine was as great as theirs. Today, the NHS is shaping up to be little of what Bevan had envisaged. Threats to impose the new contract, despite a cancelled walk-out and a return to the negotiating table, is not democratic medicine.
With the introduction of the Health and Social Care Act in 2012, which saw the devolution of Greater Manchester’s NHS budget, with no real way of tracking where the money is going, vital services being put out to tender to private companies, as well as sustained cuts to the adult social care budget, equating to 31 per cent over the last five years and seeing 24 per cent of adult social care requests being met with no direct support, one would be hard-pressed to believe Jeremy Hunt when we he says that the junior doctors contract changes are not a “cost-cutting exercise” – because everything else seems to be.
The ideals on which Bevan built his NHS mustn’t be forgotten. He believed that the sale and purchase of medical practice was an evil in itself and said, “the most important thing is that a person ought not to be financially deterred from seeking medical treatment at the earliest possible stage…”. He also believed it to be unacceptable that the quality of healthcare should vary by postcode, and that the best possible treatment be available to all, based on need and not ability to pay or geographical location. If budget cuts are needed, our nation’s healthcare should not be an area of compromise. (Incidentally, the Trident Nuclear Missiles will cost an estimated £167 billion to replace, in order to provide the United Kingdom with a deterrent against terrorists fighting a war which Tony Blair half-heartedly recently apologised for causing).
As a nation, we mustn’t forget how lucky we are. The privatised healthcare system of the USA was ranked lowest by the WHO, and is a system where if you don’t qualify for the limited care provided by Obamacare or don’t live in a state that offers it, and cannot afford private health insurance, you are charged a state penalty. Unsurprisingly, more than 50 per cent of uninsured Americans live in the 15 non-participating states – if these Americans cannot afford to see a doctor, they can’t see one until their condition becomes life-threatening.
Another return to the negotiating table would require a concrete resolve on the government’s part to address the issues that junior doctors are most concerned about; calling off another strike at the last minute does not benefit patients or doctors unless these key issues are addressed.
Doctors do not strike but with a heavy heart – but the NHS, our nation’s greatest triumph, must be protected. It has indiscriminately touched all of our lives, and together, we can ensure it will continue to do so, hopefully for many more years to come.Image from: http://www.theguardian.com/healthcare-network/2015/sep/29/junior-doctors-strike-support-poll-contract-nhs
Many Muslims are obsessed with the end time Hadiths and prophecies. Many feel that the end is near, some groups and or Shuyukh actively recruit followers based on the certainly that we are living at the very end of history and Doomsday is well nigh upon us. That being the case, many Muslims seek to know the signs of the end and the sound Hadiths we can point to in this regard.
Dear believers, practically, we only need to know three Hadiths concerning the end of time. I will mention them here along with a brief explanation of their significance. Saying this is not to say that eschatological prophetic utterances have no place in our religion. Of course they do. Unfortunately, when their study leads to a morbid obsession with the end times, which can in turn paralyze an individual or render him unable to envision any improvement in his or his people’s lot, then such utterances are no longer serving their intended purpose and can even become dangerous.
1) When the Prophet (peace upon him) was asked by the Angel Gabriel, “Inform me of Doomsday, O Messenger of Allah!” He replied, “The one being asked about it is no more informed than the one asking.” If the Messenger of Allah claimed no definitive knowledge concerning the actual timing of Doomsday, how can any one of us be cocksure that its coming is immediate? This latter question is one we should ask ourselves and others and it should guide the weight we give to eschatological issues in our religion.
2) When asked by one of his companions, “When is Doomsday?” the Prophet (peace upon him) wisely responded, “What have you done to prepare for it?” In other words, were we to know with absolute certainty that Doomsday is tomorrow, would we be ready to meet our Lord? Would our house be in order? Hence, for the believer, knowing the timing of Doomsday is not the most important thing associated with the issue. The most important thing for us is that we are prepared to die in a state of Islam, because we are living in that state. What does it benefit us to know all of the signs of Doomsday, or even to know exactly when it will occur if we are not living a life that would allow us to succeed when our record is laid bare before us?
3) The Prophet (peace upon him) mentioned, “If Doomsday occurs and one of you has a seedling in his hand; let him plant it.” In other words, we are to be courageous; we are to keep working right up to the end; and we are to remain hopeful. As the horror of the day descends we should not allow the seedling to fall from our hands as we shiver in fright. We are to hold on to it and plant it firmly in the ground. Furthermore, we should be hopeful that we will one day eat of its fruits and rest in its shade. If Allah has decreed otherwise that is from His divine wisdom and wise ordainment.
In conclusion, let us remind ourselves that anyone who has ever predicted the immediate coming of Doomsday has always been proven wrong. This is true not only for Muslims, but also for adherents of other religions. One of the most prominent of these predictions, in recent times, was that of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who claimed that the current “system” would end January 1, 1976. Of course, their prediction came to naught as had previous ones. We would all do well to continue undertaking the good deeds that will help us to succeed, whether we live to witness the descent of the hour or not.
The subtle multilingual interactions in a village in Senegal are strikingly beautiful
At the confluence of two rivers lies Agnack Grand in Casamance, Senegal. A small village in a much maligned and under-represented country, it is introduced to us in shades of sun-dappled green and terracotta, a region of rivers and wetlands, and extraordinary cultural diversity. The documentary film Kanraxël – The Confluence of Agnack has a simple premise: it follows the village as they prepare for a ceremony celebrating the life of the village’s late leader. As it weaves between everyday life and the preparations for this one-off event, its message becomes clear – these interactions are a beautiful example of true linguistic diversity.
As a country, Senegal’s colonialist history remains present in its official language of French, but its lingua franca is Wolof, spoken widely across the nation. Although previously the country’s linguistic map may have coincided with its natural regions, the actual distribution of languages in modern-day Senegal no longer corresponds to these geographical confines. Population migration in all directions and the resulting human interactions have, for the most part, eradicated traditional linguistic boundaries, and, with them, the correlation between a person’s avowed ethnic affiliation and their mother tongue. Thus, even on a minute level, all languages are spoken throughout the territory of Senegal, although the percentage of speakers of the respective languages varies according to geographic region.
From the film’s early scenes, children are shown switching effortlessly from bickering in Baïnounk Gujaher to learning in French and conversing with their elders in Wolof. Within the village up to 15 languages are spoken, including Portuguese-based Creole, French, Gujaher, Mandincka, Wolof, Diola and Pulaar, as well as a linguistic complex within these languages comprising two or more ethnic subgroups with specific regional dialects and characteristics. As it goes on, their interplay is deftly captured: African news on French radio marries with heated discussions in Gujaher, and is interspersed by popular songs in Wolof. The film-maker’s research and snazziness seems to be put aside, as the film almost exclusively follows the villagers, and, as such, the result is an extremely natural story; a snapshot, that forms an invitation into the village. There is a stark intimacy throughout the documentary as we watch the characters prepare for the personal milestone of one of the villagers.
As well as its central story, the film also allows us the privilege of a rare view into the rapidly changing Bainouk culture. The history of the Bainouk is turbulent, their existence threatened particularly following the civil war when many left the region. As a people, they now exist almost exclusively in Senegal, having had much of their cultural traditions absorbed into alternative cultural groups. Incidentally, the film’s first language version was in Baïnouk, which is a beautiful homage to the people that it has portrayed.
As ‘uneducated’ villagers in ‘problem and poverty-stricken’ Africa, Kanraxël is a hugely refreshing challenge to the way that news from Africa is usually exhibited in popular media. With a striking lack of fanfare, it exhibits what in the west is considered a symbol of cultural and societal progression – linguistic diversity – but does so in an entirely natural and understated fashion.
The documentary inadvertently raises another salient point – what should be defined as the official language used for example in schools in Senegal, a country still defined by a colonialist language despite no proliferation of French among individuals? Up until recently, the government defined six official languages, based on the degree to which they are vernacular, in order of prevalence: Wolof, Pulaar, Sereer, Diola, Mandinka and Soninke. Each language is broken down into subgroups: Wolof comprises, along with its regional dialects, a subgroup of fishermen living in the Cap-Vert area known as Lébous, whose language is an archaic form of Wolof; Pulaar is spoken by the Toucouleur or Toutanké in northern Senegal and the Ferlo in southern Senegal; the Sereer language is only linguistically fragmented in the Thiès region; Diola, which is mainly spoken in Casamance, comprises several dialects, the most commonly known of which are Fogny and Casa. The latter region also contains the following linguistic minorities: Baïnouk, Manjack, Balante, Bassari and Koniagui. Dialounke and Diakhanke are spoken in northern Kédougou, bringing us to a total of 15 languages spoken in the country.
Therefore, the argument is not a simple one, but Senegal’s growing dissociation from its past has exposed something of a paradox and opened the issue up to much debate. On the surface, Chouette Films have created in Kanraxël the kind of gentle film which is aesthetically glorious, but in probing the complexities around language subtly offers a significantly deeper underlying message. If nothing else, however, it is the kind of film from which we, as a self-purported progressive and multicultural society, could learn a great deal.
The film Kanraxël will be screened at SOAS University, London, on 8 March 2015. Details to follow. It is the winner of Best Documentary by Research at the AHRC Research in Film Awards, at the British Film Institute, London. It was also officially selected for the 11th Al Jazeera International Documentary Film Festival in 2015, among other awards.Photo Credit: Chouette Films
The Platform looks back at a year of horrors and honours – and the lessons we have learned
Let’s not pretend we were ready for the year to be over. We’ve been clinging onto the hope for some closure – for a moment of comfort – but instead, we’ve been hanging off the brink of a cliff, pushed over by the flooding waters of the past year and dealing with the messy, baffling consequences at the dawn of a new one. Unfortunately, for many, this has been quite a literal experience with rising waters hitting parts of northern England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales in recent days.
Here are a few of the key moments we had to swallow in 2015 and what we’re probably still digesting as we enter 2016.
1. We’ve only lived about eight months under the current Tory government.
It feels a lot longer, right? The Conservatives returned to Downing Street in May 2015, leaving a lot of us anxious. Finding the light is going to be a major task of 2016.
“The prospect of another five years of creeping paranoia and scatter-gun analyses of entire cultures and religions leaves me concerned and unnerved. But all this is counterbalanced by the feelings I get within my classroom. When you see a room full of people working and interacting together, crossing the bounds of race, religion, and the crushing millstone of history in such a dynamic way, it’s hard not to be moved.”
David Richard Gilbertson in ‘Observations from the Classroom: Moved, Humbled and Ashamed’ on 14 May 2015.
2. The NHS definitely needs saving.
This was the year that we realised how much we take our National Health Service for granted, and BBC’s Call the Midwife sweetened the deal. Junior doctors took to the streets as Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt called for new belittling job contracts for workers.
“Once the ethos of the NHS falls, the passion of the workforce will also fall. Your employees, Mr Cameron, are exhausted. Strip them of their morale, and you are left with little more than a skeleton of the National Health Service that was the pride of this country for so many years.”
Sarah Jawad in ‘Dissecting the Future of the National Health Service’ on 16 May 2015.
3. The climate has changed.
The recent COP21 United Nations conference on climate change emerged in the wake of the November Paris attacks, so the spirit for change could have been quashed. However, the thousands of people who were banned from the climate rallies, including the Pope, left their empty shoes in the square at the Place de la Republique in the French capital instead.
“Droughts and floods, mass extinction of species and a rise of pests, coral bleaching and acid rain, deforestation and desertification, hurricanes and tornadoes, rapidly shrinking ice caps and rising sea levels… the list goes on and on. We know that climate crisis is causing catastrophic detriment to the biosphere.”
Nandini Uppluri in ‘The Climate Crisis: A Civilisational Wake-Up Call’ on 12 April 2015.
4. The European Union is a bit of a bully.
After the elation of a near-absolute majority in the January 2015 elections, the left-wing Syriza party in Greece, led by Alexis Tsipras, was denied loan extensions and left to deal with crippling austerity measures. This led Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis to resign in July during a referendum. Greece has now agreed to a new bailout in exchange for reforms they are gradually implementing.
“Without restructuring and debt relief, the debt will grow more, to 200% of our economy. It’s a myth that we caused the Eurozone crisis by overspending. Greece is 2% of the European economy. Even if all Greeks had been partying for five years with champagne and caviar, we could not have created this crisis.”
Dr Marina Prentoulis in ‘Battling the Banks: Syriza and the Search for a New Europe’ on 13 July 2015.
5. Black lives really don’t matter in the USA…
Just a few days ago, to huge international outcry and little surprise, it was announced that the Cleveland officer who shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice will not face charges. It’s been a heavy year for the #BlackLivesMatter movement, as the final death toll of young black men rose to 1,134 in latest figures.
“Domestic violence and gun laws have been trending topics on social media in the U.S. over the course of the past year, particularly with regard to questions of victim-blaming, as in the case of Janay Palmer and Ray Rice, and with regard to Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, which has been linked to the violent shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin in 2012, and Jordan Davis in 2013.”
TD in ‘Domestic Injustice: What Marissa Alexander’s Case Means for Survivors of Violence’ on 27 January 2015.
6. But black female bodies really do.
It has been another year of women struggling for airtime – or shall we say, basic rights. On the showbiz level, Jennifer Lawrence spoke up about the gender-based pay gap to loud applause, while Chris Rock recently retorted with, “’If she were black, she’d really have something to complain about.”
“Editorial agendas have informed journalism through the fetishisation of black womanhood. In the African-American context in particular, the public and socio-political voices of African-American female discontentment are often overlooked in popular black music and culture. Black women in the entertainment industry are forced to re-inscribe stereotypical performative identities to make sense of their gendered identity and doing this within a racial context proves to be the most challenging.”
Bushra Ferjani in ‘Policing Black Women: Capitalism’s Violent Assault on Hip-Hop and Civil Society’ on 24 August 2015.
7. Donald Trump is actually for real.
The man who has been the comical hyperbole of white supremacist America for so long is actually a real person with a real following – and with the most shocking fantasies planned for his presidency. We’ll try hitting the game’s restart button if the latter comes to fruition.
“But what are the policies of Donald Trump? We know his stances – he’d repeal Obamacare, shut down the Iran deal and chuck out any existing gun control measures and believes that global warming is a ‘hoax’ – but little of what he concretely plans to do to ‘make America great again’. He boasts about his foreign policy in much the same way: ‘I will be so good at the military, it will make your head spin.’”
Talib Visram in ‘Wet Hot White Supremacist American Summer: The Donald Trump Campaign’ on 29 September 2015.
8. Justin Trudeau ticks all the boxes.
Canada’s new prime minister could be the man to save us all. He’s been making headlines for all the right reasons including the creation of the most equal and inclusive cabinet in Canada’s history. Too glossy to be true? 2016 will tell.
“Part of the magic behind Trudeau the Younger is the broadness of his appeal. He is liked across Canada. And in a country as large as this, that statement is more significant than you’d think. The country’s national motto is “From Sea to Sea to Sea” since few countries border three oceans. The distance between Vancouver, the major centre on the Pacific coast, and St John’s, a major centre on the Atlantic coast, is about 5,000 kilometres.”
Cody Redekop in ‘If Justin Trudeau Can Unite a Country As Big As Canada’ on 28 October 2015.
9. Everyone needs a Jeremy Corbyn kinda guy in their lives.
The Conservatives have been severely infected by the Corbyn panic and didn’t hold themselves back from sending out an email to their members about the new UK national security threat, while the party’s leader David Cameron lumped him in the same sentence as the “terrorist sympathisers” on the eve of the Syria vote – and was subsequently asked to apologise at least 12 times. The panic has percolated down to many national newspapers too. But the honourable gentleman has not been shaken and will not comment on anything but policies, policies, and only policies.
“Corbynmania is a reaction to the snobbish elitism that has poisoned the Labour party ever since Tony Blair’s era. Whatever one thinks of Corbyn’s policies, at least everyone knows what these policies are. Rent controls, railway renationalisation, government spending, scrapping tuition fees: he repeats them over and over, crystal clear, straight and unpretentious, to anyone who will listen to him. He ignores no one.”
Joshua Luke Williams in ‘How Labour’s Snobbish Elitism Resulted In Corbynmania’ on 7 September 2015.
10. Poverty can be eradicated.
We need to discharge ourselves from the entrapment of language around poverty if we are to truly eradicate it. This means questioning the power structures in place.
“Our analysis reveals a nuanced picture – where many great ideas about gender equality, seeking harmony with the natural world, and efforts to bring human suffering to an end, are prominently included as desired outcomes of this process (showing how civil society organisations really are making contributions in a democratic way). And yet, at the same time, because politics has been removed from discussion, the increasingly unpopular neoliberal agenda remains fully in place.”
Joe Brewer in ‘This Is Why I Say Poverty Is Created’ on 14 November 2015.
Best wishes for the new year, from all of us.Image from: http://business.financialpost.com/fp-comment/paris-missed-99-of-climate-change
The tracks that we’ll probably still be humming into January 2016
Streaming took off more than ever in 2015, allowing music fans even more scope to discover new songs. Pop music has reigned supreme, as has hip hop, while the renaissance of grime continues. We had some phenomenal tracks to keep us entertained last year, including these ten right here:
10. Marvin Gaye – ‘Sexual Healing’ (Kygo Remix)
Originally released in 2013 on SoundCloud, Kygo’s remix of the Marvin Gaye classic ‘Sexual Healing’ was given an official release this year (sneakily entering this list!). Kygo’s trademark chilled-out tropical house beats work perfectly in allowing Gaye’s iconic verses to shine through. Kygo has since gone on to remix several other high profile tracks, as well as breaking out with his own music, which has seen him become one of the biggest producers around.
9. Drake – ‘Energy’
Drake hasn’t sounded this ferocious in a long time. ‘Energy’ saw the megastar rapper take shots at everything from the internet and fellow rappers to pop culture in general, all over a slow-building, intense beat. It was the highlight of his surprise mixtape, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, and has just backed up the theory that Drake can do no wrong.
8. Jamie xx – ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’ feat. Young Thug and Popcaan
Jamie xx and Atlanta rapper Young Thug created this feel good summer jam along with Jamaican dancehall artist Popcaan. As vocals intertwine effortlessly with a sample of The Persuasions’ sweet R&B harmonies, Jamie xx surprises the record-buying public with just how adept he is at creating a scintillating pop banger.
7. Carly Rae Jepsen – ‘Run Away with Me’
Proving she’s no one-hit wonder, Carly Rae Jepsen burst back onto the scene with the annoying catchiness of ‘I Really Like You’. ‘Run Away with Me’ is infinitely better on every level, with an engaging synth reminiscent of M83. Jepsen’s vocals have always been on point when up against a massive chorus.
6. Kendrick Lamar – ‘King Kunta’
‘King Kunta’ was at once angry, defiant, swaggering and insightful on release. Kendrick Lamar blended G-funk, historical and cultural references, and a thinly veiled vocal attack on his peers. Among an album packed full of polemic, visceral tracks, ‘King Kunta’ stood out for its striding confidence and persistent beat.
5. Years & Years – ‘King’
BBC Sound of 2015 winners, Years & Years released this slinky, synth-heavy number in February, and we’ve just about got it out of our heads now! The song charted at no. 1, and deservedly so. ‘King’ is an instantly addictive piece of pop that sees Olly Alexander’s vocals coupling perfectly with the engaging beat.
4. Justin Bieber – ‘What Do You Mean?’
Who would have thought Justin Bieber would be on a list of the most acclaimed tracks of the year? In fairness, he has released a flawless slice of pop perfection. Its catchiness is matched only by the surprise of the song’s source. Justin may have just made Beliebers out of all of us this year.
3. Slum Sociable – ‘Anyway’
Slum Sociable have created an alluring song that neatly contrasts with other tracks released last year, or even the year before. This track will instantly hit you from the moment the glitchy harps introduce the song. Part hip-hop, part downtempo, the dreamy melody of ‘Anyway’ defies categorisation.
2. The Weeknd – ‘Can’t Feel My Face’
Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd, became the biggest pop star on the planet last year. This is mainly down to ‘Can’t Feel My Face’, a track that drew instant comparisons to Michael Jackson. The Weeknd subtly likens his love of drugs to a steamy, metaphorical fling over an engrossing beat that had us all hooked.
1. Grimes – ‘Kill V. Maim’
Grimes’ latest album, Art Angels, was filled with wall-to-wall anthems that demonstrate the Canadian electro singer’s skewed, off-kilter approach to writing the perfect pop song. ‘Kill V. Maim’ is all about Al Pacino’s The Godfather Part II character, Michael Corleone, in the form of a gender-changing vampire. As bonkers as that is, it’s barely noticeable against the frenetic tune that sees Grimes’ vocals switch from guttural roars to pitch-shifting squeals. As insane as it is catchy, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better chorus that came out of 2015.Image from: zap2it.com
The year 2015 saw Talha Ahsan enter the cultural arena alongside fellow authors
The past year saw the first public poetry readings of my brother, Talha Ahsan, since he was freed from a brutal and unjustified eight years of detention without trial and extradited to the United States. He performed as part of ‘The Oranges of Revolution’ at Keats House, Remembering Bosnian Genocide at Rich Mix, and Reclaim Diwali in Brixton, South London. Although he had been publishing poetry as a teenager since the days of Anarchist Angel, Liz Berry’s youth poetry zine, this was Talha’s first ever public poetry reading.
Talha’s nationwide campaign led by myself, as his younger sibling, was to be shortlisted for the Human Rights Award organised by Liberty, noting the significant and innovative use of poetry and the arts in the campaign. His presence in the outside world had been kept alive, even when he was transferred to solitary confinement in a super-maximum death row prison in the state of Connecticut. His words were read by such luminaries as former children’s laureate, Michael Rosen, and upcoming stars, including playwright and poet, Avaes Mohammad, at an anti-racism festival. Novelist A. L. Kennedy wrote very movingly of her correspondence with my brother and was later to become a character witness after writing to US judge Janet Hall, alongside Caroline Lucas MP and the late Mike Marquse. At a #WelcomeHomeTalha rally in 2014 outside the Home Office, Mark McGowan, known by his stage name The Artist Taxi Driver, read Talha’s poem ‘Love Sonnet to Theresa May’ – May being the Home Secretary who executed his extradition.
May’s decision to extradite my brother provoked widespread accusations of racism-fuelled double standards, as she had previously blocked the extradition of white hacker Gary McKinnon who suffered from the same medical condition as Talha. Alongside McKinnon, the campaigns and families of Babar Ahmad, Richard O’Dwyer and Christopher Tappin were in the media circus. This led to notable outcry pointing to the overstretch of the United States’ intrusion into British sovereignty, even among staunchly pro-Atlanticist conservative MPs, such as Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab, who were initially among the harshest critics of the Extradition Act 2003.
The media frenzy is dead – for now.
Talha’s first poetry reading was at Keats House in leafy Hampstead on a Sunday afternoon. The curator of the event, poet Clare Saponia, programmed Talha as part of her The Oranges of Revolution book tour, recently published by the leftist poetry house Smokestack. My aspie brother was billed as part of a political line-up alongside the confrontational agitprop performance poet, Chip Grim, as well as poet Niall McDevitt, who delivered highly-charged verses on the Arab Spring, Palestine and anti-capitalism. Meanwhile, Talha came to the podium in an anonymous and understated manner. No reference was made to his case or the abuse he had endured during his incarceration due to his own insistence that his work is judged on its merit. ‘The Nude’, one of the longer poems in a short set of three poems was composed during the two years he spent in an isolation cell, referencing a sexualised doodle by a former cell occupant. Despite the horror that he was subject to, Talha remained empathetic, sensitive and softly-spoken. The birds could even be heard chirping in the surrounding suburb. I noted the irony of this victim of the US-UK extradition treaty having his first public appearance on American Independence Day.
Talha’s next appearance was at a special three-hour event at London’s Rich Mix commemorating the Bosnian genocide and presenting the premiere screening of Assed Baig’s documentary film, Forgotten Genocide. Talha read a poem called ‘Slobodan Bastards’, a point-blank poem on the use of systemic rape by Serb forces against Muslim women in concentration camps in the 1992 – 1995 war. This poem was previously banned from the Koestler Award national competition for prisoners Arts by the prison HM Prison Long Lartin despite the objection of Talha’s creative writing tutor, Pat Winslow. It was read in between Hodan Pankhurst’s poem by refugee women from the Bosnian war and a monologue from The Beekeeper’s Daughter by New York playwright, Karen Malpede, acted out by Pakistani soap star, Alia Butt. Once again, Talha took to the stage as a poet, rather than a victim and survivor of injustice.
Talha’s next significant set was at the ‘Reclaim Diwali’ event, bringing together those of all ethnicities and religions who have been opposing the disturbing state of affairs in a BJP-led, extreme right-wing India. Tribute was paid by the presenter, Sonia Mehta of the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective, to Talha’s campaigning family and to his resilience against state abuse. Talha read his ‘Love Sonnet to Theresa May’ which was received with warmth and laughter by the audience. More poignantly, perhaps, he also read his unpublished prose poem, ‘Otherstani’, which invokes a borderless national identity in a world locked in border-driven genocidal murder. The poem was influenced by the short stories of Sadaat Hasan Manto, such as Toba Tek Singh, as allegories of the madness of partition-era violence – which I had gifted him in the supermax prison. In 1947, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus were killing each other in genocidal frenzy, and here we were, in 2015, at the #ReclaimDiwali event sharing words of peace. Talha ended his set with a reading of his most well-known poem, ‘This Be the Answer’, about the relationship between a prisoner and a guard. The piece was described by Catholic peace activist, Bruce Kent, as the most moving poem about “the awareness of the presence of God,” adding, “There are very few people who can communicate as powerfully as this poem does.” When introducing the poem, my brother reminded the crowd that while religion could be misused as a force for divisiveness, it could also be a force for peace, strength and community-building.
Let us hope we will see more of Talha on the poetry circuit in 2016. There are plans for a new anthology by writers who supported his justice campaign. In 2015, Wasafiri magazine awarded a prize to writer Uschi Gatward for her short story based on Talha’s return home, called My Brother Is Back. Despite the cruelty my brother and our family endured at the hands of a callous British and American security state, Talha’s words still have the power to fill a room with love and humanity.Image from: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/tag/talha-ahsan/
The final film instalment of The Hunger Games blurs the boundaries between ally and enemy and brings us closer to a world we recognise
WARNING: Contains Mild Spoilers
In a video recently released online, former Israeli soldier Ido Gal Razon faces a silent, expressionless parliamentary committee in a brightly lit court room. Dressed in a dark green V-neck, with his hair pulled back into an undercut ponytail, his voice is shrill with the tormenting agony of his testimony. “You say, ‘Terrorists with blood on their hands?’ I killed more than 40 people for you!” he screams, pointing and hammering his hand on the table at intervals. “I pee at night from post trauma. He comes to me and says: ‘Why did you kill me? Why did you kill me?’”
Razon served in ‘Operation Clear as Wine’ eight years ago in Gaza, which may well be one of the most accurate out of the many deeply ironic names of Israel’s military campaigns, judging by its bitter, clouded legacy. The former soldier does not – or cannot – question the narrative of his infallible government fighting the terrorists, but, instead, fiercely criticises the authorities who neglected him upon his return and denied him medical treatment, lamenting his new state of dependency. We, the hungry viewers, watch him just as he appears to slip over the edge of sanity.
When seeing this disturbing footage, it’s hard not to recall the image of the incensed, deranged Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) at the end of Mockingjay – Part 1 of The Hunger Games. We left him in this film sprawled across a hospital bed within the white walls of the recovery unit in District 13. Physically and mentally diminished, Peeta had been severely indoctrinated by the Capitol, his original memories forcefully enshrouded in hate and betrayal leading him to attempt to suffocate Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) in the dramatic final scene. Of course, for Peeta, the medical treatment to un-do his “hijacking” is of utmost priority to the opposition rebels, but the question of loyalty – as with all cases of war – cuts through this story with a piercing poignancy.
The fourth film and the final instalment of the trilogy, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part Two, directed by Francis Lawrence, opens with Katniss coming to consciousness and feeling her bruised neck following Peeta’s attack. The bruise, of course, runs deeper in her knowledge of Peeta’s illness. Worn out by the arena of war, both during the Capitol’s initial staged tournaments and its later escalation to full-scale destruction of the districts, her eyes are weary, her face is bare and unpainted in this film, and she sets out with firm but cold resolve to take revenge on the dictator, President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland).
Crushed by her own form of post-traumatic stress disorder, Katniss is at first swayed by the self-proclaimed leader of the resistance movement, President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), whose strikingly straight grey hair and sharp jawbones set us on edge immediately. Doomed to be a tool of this war, Katniss is cubby-holed into the role of countering the Capitol’s propaganda machine, just as when she was plucked from the ruins of District 13 to become the symbolic poster-girl of the revolution – the dark Mockingjay – of the last film. Even before this, in Catching Fire, the Capitol’s President Snow threatened to ruin her hometown of District 12 should she resist. But her designated – dictated – purpose is far from where her heart lies. She is ready to be the first to take down the Capitol.
With this purpose in mind, Katniss insists on being sent to the frontlines and sets off under the guidance of Boggs (Mahershala Ali) with her military unit. President Coin, unsurprisingly, alarms the team when she asks them to simply focus on filming and marketing their victories en route to the centre of the Capitol. They press on, perpetually beneath the camera lens of the totalitarian state, dodging the “pods” or concealed traps that have been put in place. Eventually detaching herself from Coin’s orders, Katniss takes over from Boggs, navigating the Capitol’s underground sewers to reach Snow’s mansion – not without significant losses. We watch Coin with growing suspicion, seeing her calmly contain her agitation with Katniss and use increasingly authoritarian nuances in her language. Meanwhile, Coin and Snow battle on to reach the hearts and minds of the nation of Panem by taking charge of the television broadcasts and power flits between the two of them.
“The enemy is not like us. They do not share our values. They have never known our comforts and our sophistication and they despise us for it. They are coming to destroy our way of life,” declares Snow, his words perfectly conveying the white supremacist framework, and echoing the eerily familiar superiority complex of the western, developed world – most recently articulated in responses to the Paris attacks and in the fear-mongering statements of US presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Upon hearing that the rebels have entered District 1, Snow declares his mansion an open refuge for the wealthy inhabitants of the region, giving an opportunity for Katniss’ team to disguise themselves among the crowds and get closer to him. It is amid this race for safety that the biggest disaster of the film takes place, when bombs are dropped from silver parachutes in two deadly rounds becoming the cause for mass civilian death. It is crucial to note, here, that it is initially unclear who the perpetrators are, demonstrating the blurred lines of conflict – the conflation of a sense of purpose and worthlessness. As the story comes to a conclusion, the moment Katniss has been waiting for emerges. She fires the final arrow with unabated conviction towards an enemy who stands high above the huge gathering – a moment that is so tense and in a space that is so sterile that the spilling of blood comes as both a shock and a relief.
While the commotion around the adaptations of The Hunger Games trilogy appears to have died down, Mockingjay – Part Two has performed consistently yet quietly at the box office since its UK release last month. The film’s emotive moments do not compete with scenes such as the death of Rue (Amandla Stenberg) in the first instalment or Jennifer Lawrence’s chilling rendition of ‘The Hanging Tree’ in Mockingjay – Part One. In addition, strong characters such as Commander Lyme – a democratic black female leader no less – are starkly underdeveloped. The film’s adolescent theme and lack of grittiness have also held back some cinema-goers, and, indeed, the love triangle is unconvincing and falls flat, just as it does in Suzanne Collins’ original novel.
However, it is this lack of passion which pervades the finale that is most interesting. The indifferent, fatigued expressions and downtrodden spirits reflect the anti-climax of revolution and the murky aftermath of war, where democracy is of little relevance. The fiction could not have been more timely in this respect. We are the generation which has witnessed the Arab Spring in all its stages; we saw regimes fall, dictators imprisoned, new coups arise and the same despots released into freedom as in the case of Egypt; we felt the thrill of a people rising against their inherited tyrant, quashed, then splintered into hundreds of rebel groups and dispersed as refugees, arriving dead on our shores, as in the case of Syria. The definitions of truth and falsehood emerge convoluted at the close of The Hunger Games and roles are reversed with a painful blatancy, and, therefore, Peeta’s question of “real or not real?” underpins all power struggles in Panem and our very own daily predicament.
The Capitol, quite clearly, stands in parallel with our modern, developed world, a world in which “Peacekeepers” kill indiscriminately in an attempt to control society. Truth is caught between the propaganda wars of the state and of the people, where an apparatus like a mobile device at once serves to empower individuals and becomes the source of increased state surveillance. The film perfectly echoes how the material glitz of our capitalist world can blind us to the privacy laws being passed at our expense, where, just recently, Congress quietly slipped in a “cybersecurity” surveillance bill into the budget in the US, while we were too busy talking about Miss Universe to notice. The film also reportedly inspired protestors to spray-paint a landmark in Ferguson last year with the Mockingjay quote, “If we burn, you burn with us.” It even caused some commentators to express concern over the possibility that countries like Israel may be implicated amid District 12’s rubble.
Grappling to understand the truth and to define the moral boundaries of power is maddening enough – as it was for Israeli soldier, Ido Gal Razon. While Katniss’ future is bathed in the surreal sunset and she has achieved the “life of a victor” as instructed, she is plagued by the trauma of what she has witnessed. She smiles blankly. There is a void. Her world is void of victory – void of reality.Image from: http://mashable.com/2015/06/09/first-the-hunger-games-mockingjay-part-2-trailer-is-here/#2YXvXdFeDkqy
The following is a list of top 30 articles that were found to resonate most strongly with our readers this past year. It covers a full range of struggles and joys we have faced as a community and regularly bridges orthodox and contemporary Islamic knowledge. Articles covered Glimpses of Marital Bliss, inspired us about the Names of Allah, spoke to the unique struggles of our Black and Hispanic brothers and sisters, and stood up against the siege in Gaza. They discussed the role of women preachers, American holidays, how to overcome addictions and more. See the full list below.
There were many articles of significant impact that are not on the list for brevity’s sake. What was your favorite? Leave a comment to let us know!
IN THE MEDIA Your Facebook Posts, and why The Evil Eye is Real by Ubah
On social media, we are increasingly putting ourselves out there in ways that may promote envious feelings in others. Is it 100% our fault? Of course not. But here are a few important things to keep in mind.Films Today – and How the Muslims Killed Dracula by Shibli Zaman
We often bemoan the negative portrayal of Muslims in film and television, including a recent movie that gets the story of Dracula wrong. But who is to blame when we have absolutely no presence in popular media?An Imam’s Review of the Movie Noah by John (Yahya) Ederer
Potential benefits in watching this movie – and why it would be hugely advantageous to Islam and the Muslims if we made high-quality, well-funded, scripturally proper, and well-acted depictions of the prophets and our great history. Also see: Top Documentaries you Should Watch by Junaid AmjadKnow Thyself: Opinion on Hajj Selfies by Suhaib Webb
WOMEN Female Scholars and Preachers in Islam by John (Yahya) Ederer
The beauty of Islam among religions is in its universality, its compatibility with science, and its versatile legal tradition which remains relevant across times and cultures. Here’s why the majority of our scholars throughout history have said that there’s nothing wrong with listening to a woman’s speech unless it is flirtatious or provocative.10 Ways to be a Single and Content Muslimah by Ubah
Tip #2: Let Go of Entitlement. Remember that you are not owed a relationship. Just like the air you breathe or your eyesight and hearing, a decent and compatible spouse is a blessing from Allah (swt).Is it Allowed for Women to Teach Mixed Gatherings? by John (Yahya) Ederer
CULTURE, CUSTOMS, & FIQH Man’s Best Friend?: The Islamic View on Dogs by John (Yahya) Ederer
Reverts may have had a special relationship with their dogs growing up, or still do at the time of reversion. Sadly, the attitude of many Muslims towards dogs often alienates people from Islam. A closer examination of the issue debunks common misunderstandings.American Customs – What is Permissible? by John (Yahya) Ederer
Also see: Caught with My Foot in the Sink… Reasons to Be Proud of Wudu by Abdul Sattar Ahmed and Is the West Inherently Un-Islamic? by John EdererCan a Non-Muslim Person be in the Masjid? by Suhaib Webb
The stronger opinion on the issue of people of other faiths being refused entry into mosques is Abu Hanifa’s that this only applies for the Hajj and ‘Umra (meaning they are not allowed to make Hajj or Umra). Here’s why.Is Saying Jummah Mubarak an Innovation? by Suhaib Webb
Custom is so important that it forms one of the five major axioms of Islamic law. Based on this important principle and the large number of general texts that encourage us to speak well and be gentle to others, it is a stretch to say that such a greeting in an innovation.Can Muslims be Friends with Non-Muslims? by John (Yahya) Ederer
Qur’anic verses should not be mis-understood to prohibit us from making friends with our neighbors, co-workers, or schoolmates. On the topic of Muslim interactions with other faiths including Christians, see also: A Holiday Message from the Life of Omar by Shibli Zaman
PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT Sinners Anonymous: 12 Steps for Overcoming Addictions or Sin by Reehab Ramadan
Remember the phrase “I am only the next 24 hours.” By the time the next 24 hours have been reached, hopefully our strength will have been regained, if not then we push ourselves a little further—24 more hours.10 Things that Shouldn’t Happen Once you Become a More Practicing Muslim by Ubah
There a few key things that we must all guard against as a result of turning a new leaf or becoming a more practicing (or new) Muslim – such as becoming narrow minded, becoming isolated, or rebelling against family.Beyond Romantic Love – Here’s What’s Missing by Reehab Ramadan
Beyond romantic or sexualized love, where’s the love that would allow me to go out of my way to buy my brother or sister in humanity a gift to bring a smile to his or her face during times of hardship?How Two Words Changed this Man’s Life by Maryam Amirebrahimi
He had never prayed two rak`ah (units of prayer) in his adult life. Two words he heard at his first Friday prayer penetrated through his heart and embraced his soul. The true story of a man’s path back to Allah (swt).
QUR’AN & PRAYER Building Habits as Worship: A Year Spent Quantifying Devotion by Alex Arrick (Guest Author)
How to use free apps for the iPhone or Android such as LIFT to make a regular, daily habit for memorizing the Qur’an. Also see: Stay Focused by PRAYing by by Marwa AbdallaIs the Qur’an a Violent Text or is Your Reading a Tad Off? by Joe Bradford
A lack of context and qualifications lead to blatant misinterpretation. The shallow misinterpretations of religious and irreligious extremists almost always lead to one thing: the escalation of conflict and the promotion of violence, instead of leading to dialogue and mutual understanding.Too Busy for Quran? Check these 3 Tips to Get Rolling by Mansoor Ahmed
Start off by making time after Fajr prayer or after `Isha’ (night) prayer, the two times you are most likely to be at home. Once it is a part of your lifestyle, it becomes easy to sustain. Remember, try a little by little, but with consistency!
OVERCOMING HARDSHIP Living with Depression and Islam by Anonymous (Guest Author)
Every morning I wake up and wish I hadn’t. I want anyone suffering like me to know that there are others that are observant, struggling Muslims and that they feel the way you are feeling. Also see: How to Overcome Sadness and be Happy by Taheerah AlamWith Hardship Comes Ease: Embracing Discomfort by Ismail Shaikh (Guest Author) Think You’ve Failed? Think Again by Jinan Bistaki
Some people always bounce back, but others always seem to crash down. Research has shown that the difference is the ability to see that a closed door somewhere means, at the very least, an open window somewhere else.
CURRENT EVENTS Erdoğan, AKP and their victory in the Turkish Municipal Elections by Shibli Zaman
Erdoğan, the world is watching you; but that pales to the fact that, above all, the Lord of the Worlds is watching you even closer. You can be the greatest leader the Muslim world has seen since the Ottomans whom you repeatedly invoke, or you can fall just like them when they lost their way. Which end of their history you resemble is up to you.
KNOWING GOD, THE MOST MERCIFUL When was the Last Time you Witnessed a Miracle? Al-Hayyiy by Jinan Bistaki
Whenever making du`a’ (supplication), have hope. Remember that “Verily your Lord is Generous (Kareem) and Hayyiy. If His servant raises his hands to Him (in supplication) He becomes shy to return them empty,” (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi).He has Your Back: Al-Wali by Jinan Bistaki
Allah is named Al-Wali, meaning the Protective Friend of all those who believe. It means that He has your back. He could have just been a ‘friend,’ but some friends are flaky. A protective friend will be there for you through hardship and bad times.Does God Exist? by Salman Khan (Guest Author)
Every person must think for him/herself and find Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) in his/her own way. Don’t choose a life of unhappiness because you choose to be blind or perform our religion physically without spirituality.Love is In Giving: Al Wadud by Jinan Bistaki
Allah is named Al-Wadud. When you are able to point out behavior that shows love, this kind of love is not called hubb in Arabic, because hubb is simply having a feeling of love. This kind of love – one that is apparent and shown – is called wud.
LOVE, RELATIONSHIPS, & GENDER RELATIONS 10 Guidelines for Gender Relations in Islam by Muslema Purmul and Maryam Amirebrahimi
The code of inter-gender relations comes from a noble kind of love. It is generous in giving, while conscious of Allah. It is full of haya.’ Haya’ is sometimes described as ‘shyness’, but misunderstood to mean a desire to hide, to be nervous, overly self-conscious, and unable to communicate.When you Marry for Four Reasons – Don’t Forget Your Reason by Karim Serageldin (Guest Author)
As a practicing psychologist, I was once consulted by a brother in Turkey in need of immediate relationship advice. In summary, the brother’s “emergency” was that he had met a nice religious girl from a good family but was not attracted to her at all. Here was my advice.The Goodbye Hug by Maryam Amirebrahimi
Many of us only hear destructive marriage stories within the Muslim community. However, the reality is that there are so many incredible, beautiful, passionate, fulfilling and compassionate love stories in the Muslim community. Here’s one. A number of the articles from “Glimpses of Marital Bliss” Series were also among the most-read this year. See also: A Love Letter, Will They Say Yes, and He Prayed instead of Fought
I have been living in the Arab world now for almost 3 years. There are some really taxing things here, tiring and frustrating to say the least. But there are also some exciting and uplifting things that keep me going throughout the days. And then, there are the hidden gems. The things that can be overlooked without a second thought, yet if they are given a second thought, they require a third and a fourth thought for one to even begin to benefit from their beauty. It is those things that get me time and time again. It is those things that take my breath away and leave me thankful for being placed in the position that I am in, living in a place where I do not always fit in or feel at home. One of those hidden gems can be found in the phrases that are oft repeated, with little thought, on a daily basis. There are many that could be spoken about, like the wishing of “na’eeman” [lit. blessings] when a person takes a shower or cuts their hair. Like the prayer of “kulli sana wanti tayyiba” [“may every year find you well”] on any happy occasion that occurs yearly. But my favorite has to be one that carries behind it a great story of a great man whom I recently read about, and after reading his story in the tafseer [exegesis] of Ibn Ajeeba, the oft repeated phrase “Ya sabr Ayub” [“O patience of Job”] has never been the same again.
It would be best, before diving into the gem-filled story, to give some information on when this phrase, in the Arab culture, is used. It is used mainly in two situations: 1) When a person is going through something very taxing and is wishing for an intense amount of patience to be poured into them, as a prayer and 2) when a person witnesses someone being ever so patient and is impressed by their firmness upon this patience. Naturally, after hearing that, one would assume that this story is about to be really great and I assure you: it is. The key here, however, is that something very important is done while reading this story: don’t just read it as a work of fiction or non-fiction. Read it as if this story is about you. Read this story as if you have temporarily stepped out of your own shoes, and into those of this amazing man, Ayub, and try to actually feel what he must have been feeling. And with that, all that is left is for me to begin:
Ayub, `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him), was a great man and Prophet of the Lord many years ago. He was blessed with many great gifts that surpassed what others around him had been given. He had money in amounts (and some say types!) that surpassed those that were around him. He was given great amounts of land as well as many animals to graze on this land, and these animals varied in types and were of very high quality. He was kind and giving to the poor, he used to care for the widows and the orphans, he would be generous with his guests and accept any traveler into his home. He did all of this as an act of gratitude to God for giving him so much. This is something very unique to note, as for when a person is given such great wealth and great gifts, Satan then tries very hard to get him to be greedy and ungrateful. Satan tries very hard to get the person with such wealth to belittle that which has been given to him, or to become arrogant and not spread the wealth to those who may be in need of it. Satan however, was unsuccessful at whispering into the heart of Ayub (as) with regards to all that he had been given.
It is said that Satan heard the angels in the heaven praising Ayub (as) for all that he had done and was doing. Upon hearing this, Satan felt a twinge of envy (hasad) towards the state of Ayub. Satan, being one who acts upon these twinges of envy immediately, went and pleaded to the Lord of the heavens about his state. He complained to God: “O my Lord, you have blessed your servant Ayub, so he had thanked you. You have removed from him any affliction so he has glorified you. You haven’t allowed any hardship to befall him, but if you did then surely he would be an ungrateful servant.” This was a plea from Satan, and at the same time he was taking a shot at the honor and actual piety of Ayub. He asked God to just give him the ability to afflict Ayub with some hardship, and he told God that He would see the gratefulness of Ayub dwindle away. God then allowed Satan to have control over the wealth of Ayub, and nothing else—allowing him to afflict Ayub. At this Satan was joyous. He called together his troops of jinn and told them the “great” news. One of his troops said that he had been given the power to send storms of fire upon anything, and if Satan gave him permission, he could burn all of the wealth of Ayub by burning his lands. Satan agreed, and sat back and watched his troops burn down the wealth of Ayub. Once this was all over, Satan came in the form of one of the service hands of Ayub, dramatically recalling all that happened to the wealth of this Prophet. Telling him that God had allowed for his wealth to be destroyed. Ayub (as), with complete grace and gratefulness, informed Satan in the form of man, that God was the original giver of this wealth, so God could do as he pleased with this wealth.
Satan now was hit, not only with pangs of envy but also, pangs of despair. He had been sure that had this man who was so blessed, had some of his blessings taken away, he would break. He would not be such a great servant. But Satan, unlike many of us humans, does not give up that easily. When he has a goal, he does everything he possibly can to get to that goal. He went back to his troops for a brainstorming session. One of his troops had another idea. He informed Satan that he had been given the ability to blow harsh winds that would kill any animal that heard this wind. Satan jumped on that idea and sent him to kill all of the living animals that were left on the burnt grounds of Ayub. After all of his glorious animals had been killed, Satan appeared to Ayub as a different man, again telling him of what happened. He informed Ayub that the Lord that he had been worshipping for so long had killed all of his animals. Again, Ayub (as) with pure patience and love for God, replied that God was the one who had given him the animals in the first place, so He could do as He pleased with them.
Satan was hit again with deeper despair, feeling that he was certainly losing his grip on the battle that he had been fighting. Satan returned to God, again with another plea. He argued that God had blessed Ayub with his own health and the health of his children (some say he had 10 children), and this is why Ayub was still holding on, gratefully. Satan assured that if this was removed then Ayub would not remain a grateful servant and that his gratefulness was not based on Love but of contentment with that which had been given. Satan then requested to be given the ability to take away the children of Ayub to prove his point. God granted him this permission. Satan returned to the home of Ayub, and destroyed the home of Ayub, killing all of his children. He then appeared to Ayub as the teacher of his children, limping, as if he too had been hurt in the destruction. He then recalled for Ayub the detailed deaths that his children had faced, making certain to put emphasis on the pain that they may have felt. Ayub was instantly struck with sadness for his children. He fell to the floor and began to pour dirt over his head. Satan rejoiced, finally he had made Ayub be ungrateful. But after an instant, Ayub (as) realized what he was doing and looked up to his Lord, asking for forgiveness and returning to his state of patience. God instantly forgave Him, as He is The All-Forgiving.
Satan was furious. He felt that he had finally won, that finally this man that seemed to be over flowing with patience and gratitude had finally cracked. And before he could even rejoice, Ayub (as) returned to His Lord and His repentance was accepted. His sin was erased. (Take note at the Mercy of God. Take note at the persistence of Satan). Satan went back to God, again despairing and willing to try anything. He told God that the only reason that Ayub was so thankful and so obedient was that he had the most important thing, his health. Satan pleaded with God to allow him to take that away, to prove once and for all that Ayub was not, in his essence, an obedient servant. God allowed him this, but this time with some very important conditions. God allowed him to have rule over his body and health, but he was unable to touch two things: His tongue and his heart.
Satan descended down to Ayub and found him in prostration. He blew through his nose a wind that touched his entire body. It caused him to itch, with no relief. He itched his entire body with his hands, then with tools. The tools were so rough they tore at his skin, but the itch was so strong that he could not stop. His wounds began to fester, to be infected, and to even attract bugs. All of the people in his community who loved him so much began to look down upon him, unable to stand to see his appearance nor smell the stench of infected wounds. They kicked him out, ignoring all the good that he had done for him before. Everyone left him. Everyone. Except for one person, his wife. She cared for him in the trash dump that he had been cast to. She took care of him, and was his companion as much as she could. After much time she began to plead with him to ask God for help. I mean why not, he was a prophet. He in turn asked her how long they had lived in wealth. Her reply was 8 years. He then followed up with asking how long he had lived in sickness; she informed him that it was seven. His reply was that he was too embarrassed to ask God to heal him, if the time of ease overcame the time of hardship.
Satan, in his final attempt, appeared to Ayub’s wife. He told her that he (Satan) was the Lord of the world and that the reason why her husband, Ayub, had been afflicted for so long, was that he turned away from the lord of the earth and looked only towards the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth. He told her that if Ayub were to “simply” make one prostration to Satan, then he could be restored to health and wealth. Ayub’s wife returned to her husband and told him what had happened. Ayub was furious. He knew exactly who she had spoken to, and was angry that his wife had spoken to Satan and that she had tried to act upon his words. She couldn’t take his anger, and she left him as well. Now Ayub was completely alone, with reference to human companions. He turned to God and made the famous du’a that we hear time and time again “Lord hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.” Ibn Ajeeba here says something interesting. He says that the hardship that Ayub was speaking about was that Satan had conspired against him to get him to prostrate to him (Satan). (Why is this the hardship? Because it is said that if we understood the true essence of sickness, we would know that it is an immense gift from God.) God immediately responded to the plea of Ayub and instructed him to go to the nearest water source and bathe in it. He did so, and was returned to his complete health and beauty. His wife, shortly after, returned looking for her husband. She found a handsome healthy man in his place. She asked him if he has seen a man that was rotting and in pain. He laughed and said, “It is me, I am Ayub.” She wouldn’t have believed him except that she recognized his laugh.
Ayub—not an angel, a man. He (as) went through an immense trial, and looked only at God. A man that God used to lay down a map for us to follow when we too are in pain, in sickness and in distress. Of course we don’t always react this way. Of course it may be harder at times to let go and let God. But what we can do is look to him as an ultimate goal. We can use his name when asking God for patience. We can strive to be as close to Him as God will allow. And whenever we are in hardship, we can know that we have someone to relate to. We have someone who went through pain and anguish, and we can see that even in the worst of situations, God can instantly redeem us and make everything more than perfect. May God grant us the Sabr of Ayub in the smallest of matters and the largest of matters.
“Lord, hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.”
“Sins need to be eradicated through the internal fire of regret in this life or the fire of hell in the hereafter.” – Ibn Al-Qayyim
Years ago I came across this quote. I still can’t get over how true it is.
Muslim youth living in all corners of the world face similar struggles in our day-to-day lives. We strive to survive while being surrounded by the societal (and often times, cultural and familial) promotion, acceptance, and idealization of things that contradict the tenants of our faith: pride, lust, greed, extramarital relationships, alcohol/drugs, misogyny – just to name a few.
We are also surrounded by social practices and traditions that can also be pretty un-Islamic: issues such as racism, forced marriages, the withholding of education for females, and tribalism unfortunately exist on grand scales in Muslim societies all over the world.
As Muslim youth, most of us living in the diaspora, we have much to deal with. We struggle to maintain our Muslim identities while at the same time balancing our racial, national, and individual identities as well.
Sometimes it seems that everywhere we look, we are being called to sin. And inevitably, we answer that call.
We fall so many times only to fall again. We try so very hard to create our own, personal spiritual bubbles where Islam is the driving force in our lives, only to have it burst by things like temptation, other Muslims’ biases and discrimination, our own families making it hard for us, stress, our school lives, etc.
And slowly, as our hearts erode, a peculiar type of anxiety eats away at our souls and comes with a little voice in our heads. The voice tells us time and time again that what we are doing is haram (impermissible) or sinful, but we ignore it as we seek to numb the pain—a pain that has surfaced as a result of never being good enough. Never being “Muslim” enough, or “religious” enough, or “Western” enough.
How do we turn our faces from sin when it is everywhere? When it is adulated, respected, and upheld by our very own societies as a noble thing? We become confused – the bad becomes good. We go against our natural instincts. Eventually we become submerged in our own little hells, metaphorical places where internal suffering, sadness, disappointment, and self-loathing manifest. The “internal fire of regret”, as Ibn Al-Qayyim radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) puts it.
This quote teaches me that through one way or another, we will be purified of our sins. It’s up to us whether or not we seek purification in this life (through repentance) or we wait until the next (through the Fire).
I know. We’ve fallen so many times. We’re hurt, sore, and bruised. We are ashamed of our actions, and may even deem ourselves unworthy of seeking repentance. But something must quell that fire in our hearts. Something must quench our desires to be loved and accepted by the One whose love and acceptance is truly the only one that matters at the end of the day.
Say it – Astaghfirullah (I seek forgiveness from God).
I know; it hurts. But it certainly cannot hurt more than what is to come if we let our sins remain in our hearts, our minds, our spirits.
We are more than the sins that we commit. Don’t let the devil fool you. Don’t let those people who are a negative influence in your lives or those who sin openly and proudly fool you either.
We may fall a thousand times, but as long as we try to get back up, there is always hope.
And Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) knows best.
Names of Allah Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV | Part XXV | Part XXVI | Part XXVII | Part XXVIII | Part XXIX | Part XXX |Part XXXI | Part XXXII | Part XXXIII | Part XXXIV | Part XXXV | Part XXXVI | Part XXXVII | Part XXXVIII
In this journey through Allah’s Names, we have learned about both His attributes of Beauty and of Majesty. The intention is to inspire fear, hope and, ultimately, love. If we misunderstand Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), we may not see the wisdom behind the things that happen in the world or in our personal lives. We might not understand how Allah (swt) fits into our life. We may also find it difficult to love Him, because how can you love someone – deeply love someone – you do not know?
Thus it is hoped that these Names have increased our knowledge of our Creator, and have made apparent how Allah (swt) is with us in every moment.
Today’s Name should inspire in us ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’. These words are sometimes both translated as ‘fear’, thus removing the important distinctions between the two words. In the ‘Sweetness of Prayer’ series, we explained the difference between the different types of fear:
‘Khawf’ is to flee from the thing that you fear, and requires no knowledge of that which is feared. You can be afraid, or have ‘khawf’, of the dark. ‘Khashya’, on the other hand, is fear with knowledge. The more a servant has knowledge of his Lord, the more ‘khawf’ turns to ‘khashya’. As Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:
“Only those fear Allah, from among His servants, who have knowledge” (35:28).
‘Hayba’ is fear associated with respect, awe and glorification. You could, for example, fear fire. But the reason for your fear is that the fire may harm you, so fire earns no ‘hayba’; you do not glorify it. However, you could have a certain ‘hayba’ of your father; you could be afraid to do something wrong in front of him, but that fear is out of respect.
Al-Qahhar: The Dominator
Allah’s Name al-Qahhar comes from the Arabic root qaf-haa-ra (ق-ه-ر). It means ‘to dominate over’ or ‘to subdue from above’. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an in Surat al-An`aam;
“And He is the subjugator (al-qaahiru) over His servants. And He is the Wise (al-Hakeem), the Acquainted [with all] (al-Khabeer). (6:18)
Someone with this attribute might be considered a tyrant, which is why Allah (swt) tells us that this attribute is possessed by the One who is also the Most Wise and the One who is Best Acquainted with everything. This reference is also for the benefit of those who doubt this attribute, and might ask “why has Allah not overpowered the tyrants of today, of whom there are many?” Allah (swt) is reminding us that there is ultimate wisdom in whom He chooses to subdue at any point in time. This is where our understanding of the holistic nature of Allah’s Names should come in: we spoke before about how Allah (swt) is Forbearing and Patient, and He gives people – even tyrants – the opportunity to turn back.
Thus we see in the Qur’an that Allah sends Moses and Aaron `alayhimaa as-salaam (may Allah’s peace be upon them both) to Pharaoh – and calling Pharaoh ‘oppressive’ would be an understatement! – telling them initially to speak to him gently. Pharaoh rejects them. Moses then shows him proof of his prophethood. Pharaoh rejects him again, insisting on enslaving the Children of Israel. Finally, Allah (swt) overpowers him by drowning him, using someone from the very people that Pharaoh was oppressing, who grew up in his own house. Such is the way of al-Qahhar, who manifests His power by subduing tyrants through the objects of their tyranny.
This is why Imam al-Ghazali describes al-Qahhar in this way: “The Dominator is the one who breaks the back of the powerful among His enemies… Indeed there is no existing thing that is not subject to the domination of His power, and powerlessness in His grasp. That is all.”
Therefore, when we look at events today and wonder “where is al-Qahhar?”, we should remember the story of Moses. Remember that Moses prevailed. Remember that Pharaoh was overpowered.
Our role is to strive against this oppression, knowing that ultimately this is what we will be asked about, and everything is subjected to the Will of Allah (swt). Indeed, so many tyrannical powers eventually come crashing down, bowing to the will of al-Qahhar. Unfortunately, we may not attribute it to Him, but as Allah (swt) tells us:
“The Day they come forth nothing concerning them will be concealed from Allah. To whom belongs [all] sovereignty this Day? To Allah, the One, the Prevailing (al-Qahhar).” (40:16)
On that Day, all will be apparent. All those who oppressed, in both seemingly small and big ways, will be before Allah, al-Qahhar. Then, there will be no ambiguity.
Living with these Names
1 – Balance fear and hope
Today’s Name might cause us to be afraid. This is not a subject we like to talk to about, because it is so much more reassuring to focus on those attributes that enable us to relax. But remembering that Allah (swt) has attributes of Majesty should instill in us the ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’ described earlier. Moreover, Allah’s Names are to be looked at holistically. He is al-Qahhar and He is also al-Lateef (the subtle, the most kind).
2 – Dominate your lower desires
In previous articles, we talked about how we should emulate the attributes of Beauty. But what about attributes of Majesty? How do we apply them? Al-Ghazali counseled: “The dominator amongst men is the one who subdues his enemies. The greatest enemy of man is his soul, which is within him. This soul is more of an enemy to him than Satan, of whose enmity he is wary. Whoever conquers his passions conquers Satan, since Satan lures him to ruin by means of his passions.”
3 – Use that fear to stop at least one sin
To know that Allah is al-Qahhar is to burn the desire for sin in the heart. Because Allah (swt) is the Dominator, we should fear that perhaps al-Qahhar, al-Mumeet (the Life-Taker) might take our soul as we are committing the sin. This should alert us that despite it seeming as though we are being allowed to oppress our souls, we may still face the fate mentioned in this verse:
“So when they forgot that by which they had been reminded, We opened to them the doors of every [good] thing until, when they rejoiced in that which they were given, We seized them suddenly, and they were [then] in despair.” (Qur’an, 6:44)
These people used the gifts of Allah (swt) in the opposite manner to that for which they were intended, and then they were seized. In another chapter, Allah (swt) describes to us the people of the garden, who took an oath that they would reap all of their fruits and leave nothing for the poor. Allah (swt) caused their garden to be completely burned to the ground, but the owners of that garden understood the lesson. They willed something, but Allah (swt) overpowered their will, and so they turned back to Him.
Hence, this fear should not paralyze us from doing good, but it should paralyze us from doing bad. We should try to choose at least one thing – like backbiting or lying – and do our best to use this Name to help us stop it.
4 – Do not oppress others
The surest way to earn the wrath of al-Qahhar is to oppress others. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an: “So as for the orphan, do not oppress [him] (fa laa taqhar)” (93:9). The word ‘taqhar’ comes from the same root of the name al-Qahhar. We should understand that oppression is not simply for unjust leaders or cruel human traffickers. We may also be oppressing others in more subtle ways, and thus we should be diligent to avoid this.
Imam Suhaib Webb talks about lessons from the life of Prophet Moses `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him).
By Macksood A. Aftab
The conflict between science and religion has posed a serious threat to religious authority in the contemporary era. Many advocates of scientism have used the tremendous success of science in modern times to question the usefulness of religion as a means of seeking the truth. For example, Stephen Hawking recently stated in a Huffington Post article, “Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation.” More recently the harsh critique of religion based upon various forms of scientism by writers such as Richard Dawkins have escalated the conflict.
Their view assumes that both religion and science have the same purpose, namely of explaining the existence of the universe. Furthermore, the scientific method is considered a more reliable way to achieve this goal. This is primarily so because science deals with physical processes, which can be quantified and measured, whereas religion often resorts to metaphysical references, which cannot be “proven.” Professor Naquib Al-Attas, the celebrated Malaysian Muslim philosopher, summarizes the essential problem. He writes, “A gist of their [those who espouse science as the source for truth] basic assumptions is that science is the sole authentic knowledge; that this [scientific] knowledge pertains only to phenomena.” Excluded from science is anything that does not have a “physical” existence, anything that cannot be empirically studied. Therefore, implicit in a worldview that holds science as the highest authority of knowledge is a denial of God.
As the Nobel laureate Werner Arber, president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, writes, “The natural sciences are in a steady search for truth, and so is theology.” This naturally creates two apparently competing methodologies of seeking and determining the truth, which inevitably leads to conflict between theology and science. Although the Catholic Church did generally support science, when the conclusions of scientists came in conflict with church dogma, problems arose. This can be seen in the experiences of Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin.
Islamic history, however, took a different course. Despite the existence of a sustained robust scientific enterprise in the Islamic world, an overt conflict between science and religion did not arise. Professor Walbridge of Indiana University points out that “the Islamic world produced no martyrs for science like Bruno and Galileo.” One of the achievements of Islamic civilization was the creation of a worldview in which both theology and science could be accepted in a comprehensive rational framework.
The Islamic tradition of scholastic theology is known as kalam. The two primary schools of kalam are the Ash`ari and its close cousin the Maturidi schools. Both are based upon a rational understanding of God and the Universe, which also seek to rigorously preserve salient features of the Islamic concept of God. This tradition, along with its larger place in the Islamic worldview, can best be understood through the works of one of its main proponents Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (d. 1111 CE). Richard Frank, a scholar of Islamic theology, describes Ghazali as, “The most important Sunni theologian at a crucial turning point in the history of orthodox Muslim theology.” During his time Islam was emerging from a period of intellectual schism. Ghazali contributed to the development of a consensus on this issue, which was to largely become the dominant Sunni doctrine. Thus the Ghazali scholar and translator Walter Skellie writes, “With him [Ghazali] the religious philosophy and experience of Islam reaches its zenith.”
Demonstrative Proof (Burhan)
The triumph of Ghazali’s epistemology lies in its successful reconciliation of reason with revelation. One key element of this was the allowance of figurative interpretations of scripture, particularly when it relates to assertions that may conflict with what is known via reason. Ghazali sets the bar very high for a scientific proof to over-ride scripture, something he calls burhan. Burhan is demonstrative knowledge or definitive logical proof. According to Ghazali, it held an even higher epistemic status than even scholastic theology (kalam).
Professor Al-Akiti of Oxford writes, “For al-Ghazali, burhan [definitive logical proof], and not kalam, is what he considered to be scientific knowledge, the ‘gold-standard’ in the art of reasoning – a judgment expounded in his Mi’yar al-’Ilm.” The late professor Marmura, a Ghazali scholar, summarizes Ghazali’s attitude towards definitive logical proof as follows:
“A science whose conclusions are not demonstrably true and which are in conflict with the literal assertions of scripture must be rejected. On the other hand, if what is demonstrably true contradicts the literal sense of scriptural language, then the latter must be interpreted metaphorically.”
Having firmly grounded his worldview in rationality, Ghazali proceeds to point out that physical science does not meet the standards of definitive logical proof unless God is added to the equation. This is because science is based upon a flawed assumption, namely that of natural causation. Causation, Ghazali argues, can only guaranteed if God is there to secure it. And importantly, according to Ghazali, God is there to secure it. Belief in God then becomes a prerequisite to the successful pursuit of science.
Causation, God & Science
Ghazali was able to reconcile the most important principle of science (namely causation) with Islamic theological doctrines (as articulated by the dominant Ash`ari school). Ash`ari theology developed in response to certain heterodox formulations of Islamic doctrine (such as those adopted by the Mutazalites and the Philosophers) which had the effect of diminishing key Divine attributes. Some of these formulations share a belief in necessary causation with modern secular scientists. Therefore Ghazali’s critique of their view is particularly instructive in tackling similar issues in the contemporary era.
Some of the main articles of faith in Ash`ari theology are that God is all powerful, He is all knowing and all events occur due to His express will. The Ash`aris therefore believed that all events are directly caused only by God, and not by anything else. God is not merely the first cause but also the immediate cause of every subsequent minor and major event that occurs in the universe. This appears to run contrary to our contemporary understanding of secular science, which rests on the principle of natural causation. Namely, that things (or events) cause other things (or events). For example, we think fire causes cotton to burn when they are brought near each other.
Ghazali questions the principle of necessary causation adopted by certain philosophers. According to Ghazali, this relationship between cause and effect is not necessary. To use his terminology, there is no definitive logical proof (burhan) that it is the cause that is responsible for the effect. He argues that all we observe is a quick succession of events, cotton being brought close to fire and the cotton burning. But a relationship based simply on proximity in time or space does not imply necessary causation. Ghazali famously states, “The connection between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary.”
David Hume in the Western tradition made a similar argument against causation. He asked, “Where is the causal glue” holding together the cause and the effect? Unlike Hume who was led to skepticism, however, Ghazali has an answer to this conundrum. For Ghazali, the causal glue is God. It is God who ensures that the relationship between cause and effect always holds. In doing so, Ghazali has made room for orthodox Islamic theology in which God is the direct cause of everything.
On its surface this line of thinking can be misunderstood to in fact undermine science, as several historians and scientists have thought. For example, the historian Tamim Ansary writes, “Take it however you will, the argument against causality undermines the whole scientific enterprise. If nothing actually causes anything else, why bother to observe the natural world in search of meaningful patterns?” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a preeminent Pakistani scientist, expresses a similar concern with the Ash`ari position, stating that in such a world, “even a speeding arrow might not reach its destination.” In other words, if the cause and effect relationship is not necessary then there would be no sure way to rely on our observations, predict natural phenomena or to do scientific experiments.
Conflict Averted, Science Flourished
This criticism, however, implies a dogmatic belief in science which sidesteps the very real problem of causation. Ghazali does not need to (nor does he) deny causation. He is merely denying necessary causation—namely, that there is no conclusive proof that things can influence other things by themselves. For Ghazali, God is required to ensure that the relationship between cause and effect always hold true. As Frank Griffel, a Ghazali scholar at Yale, writes:
“Trust in God (tawakkul) is a major condition for investigating the natural sciences. Such trust requires the certainty to know that God will not change books into horses or disconnect our knowledge from reality. Given that God habitually creates our knowledge to accord with reality, we can rely on our sense and our judgment and confidently pursue the natural sciences.”
According to this view God could suspend the laws of causation, but He never does and never will. So fire will always burn cotton but this is only true because in every instance of its occurrence God ensures that it is so. In effect, Ghazali has created a framework in which science can operate and the principles of Islamic theology (Divine power, knowledge and will) are also preserved.
Furthermore, Ghazali even located miracles – which he calls strange and wondrous phenomena – within the empirical world. Even miracles were then not Divine acts of suspension of the normal workings of the universe; rather they were unusual phenomena of nature due to causes not immediately clear to us at the moment. The possibility of additional causal chains other than those currently physically observed encouraged further exploration of the natural world. Ahmad Dallal, a historian of Islamic science at Georgetown University writes,
“The aspect that had the most influence on the development of science was the concept of multiple possibilities (tajwiz), the notion that specific natural philosophical explanations (or planetary models) are possible but not certain, and that there may exist alternative explanations for the natural phenomena… this idea was grounded in an epistemological criticism of Aristotelian metaphysics.”
After Ghazali, science in the Muslim world experienced a prolonged renaissance as documented by Yale historian George Saliba. His understanding had the effect of legitimizing science. Science was a discipline ensured by God. It also had the effect of effectively separating theology from physical science. Divine attributes are known through revelation, and science plays no significant role in informing us about these metaphysical matters. On the other hand revelation does not interfere with the workings of science; it is left as an independent discipline within the larger Islamic framework. Dallal explains,
“After Al-Ghazali, the need to invoke religion to vindicate science considerably decreased, not because science was not accepted but because it did not need vindication. Excluding final-cause explorations from science did not compromise the providence of God, which was simply assumed without questioning (bila kayf).”
This worldview rests on the premise that God exists and sustains the Universe. God is not the end goal of science, but rather the starting point. This created an organic and interdependent relationship between science and religion, which essentially eliminated the potential of conflict between the two disciplines. In fact, as professor Muzaffar Iqbal, a philosopher of Islamic science, writes:
“No one thought of them [science and religion] as two independent entities which needed to be related via an external mechanism… This relationship emerged naturally and because the scientific tradition was thoroughly rooted in the worldview created by Islam.”
This worldview was rational. It recognized the primacy of reason and in fact accorded burhan the highest epistemic status. Within this framework secular science is critiqued based upon logical fallacies assumed by its proponents. Science is then presented not as a competing force with religion, but rather as a viable enterprise, as part of a comprehensive worldview that encompasses God. In fact, it is grounded in the assumption of God. This delicate balance, which secured both science and theology, is one of the greatest achievements of medieval Muslim theologians.
Dr. Macksood Aftab is a neuroradiologist, and clinical assistant professor at both Michigan State University and Central Michigan University. He holds a Master degree in History of Science, and is an editor for the Journal of Islamic Philosophy. The author can be reached at: email@example.com.
Part I | Part II
In the last article, we explored how Allah (swt) exonerated Aisha radi allahu `anha (may God be please with her) and Prophet Joseph `alayhi as-salaaam (peace be upon him) from unsubstantiated and untrue gossip, and we talked about the victims of slander. Today, it’s about the perpetrators of slander. It is about, quite possibly, you and me.
Sometimes in the name of “enjoining good and forbidding evil” we forget the sanctity of our fellow human beings and especially fellow believers. We spread things that are unsubstantiated in a bid to ‘warn others’ about possible deviancy. We are harsh in our words. We assume the worst. We forget that one of the best traits a Muslim can have is “thinking well of the servant of Allah” and for other Muslims to be “safe from his hands and tongue.”
We forget that the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) passed by a grave and he warned that the person was suffering in his grave because he would spread gossip. We forget that that person we are talking about may have our good deeds transferred to him simply because he is a victim of our speech.
Scary stuff? It is. The Prophet ﷺ said: “The majority of man’s sins emanate from his tongue.” (Tabarani)
To go back to the examples in our previous article, it was clear that those with power—the minister and the minister’s wife—knew the truth with regards to what was said about the Prophet Joseph (as). But they allowed the rumor to persist and put Prophet Joseph in prison. With Aisha (ra), we have even more details. The people who discussed the rumor were good Muslims. They discussed the scandalous nature of what was said, and in doing so, spread it far and wide. Shaytan created doubt: “Could it actually be true?” Allah admonished the Muslims when He informs us in the Qur’an about what happened:
“Why, when you heard it, did not the believing men and believing women think good of one another and say, ‘This is an obvious falsehood?’” (Qur’an, 24:12)
Now some people might think this example is extreme. We would never spread such a rumor. But rumors and slander and gossip come in all shapes and forms. So if you hear something about someone that is unsubstantiated, do not fuel the fire. We are just as bad as those news networks we criticize, who pick up a story, and whether true or not, run with it.
This is not intended to shut down constructive criticism of public figures. There are ways of bringing people to account. There are ways of disagreeing and critiquing ideas and views, which are beyond the scope of this article. But in the age of the internet, anyone can write a piece and within an hour it is shared and read by many. And it would do us good to reflect on what our role is in this. We must remember that we will be held to account. So let us not put ourselves in a position to be asked about why we were careless in our research, harsh in words, and negative in our basic assumptions about others.
And remember that the Prophet ﷺ taught:
“A person’s eman (faith) is not upright until his heart is upright, and his heart is not upright until his tongue is upright.” (Ahmad)
Many of us pray for the perfect spouse and imagine him or her being a certain way. Sometimes, what we pray for becomes most apparent in difficult times. In this account, a wife talks about the ways in which real life has helped her and her husband grow in their beautiful relationship.
“My husband and I are from two different worlds literally and figuratively, and the thing that binds us together the most is Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) and our undeniable faith in Him (swt). After looking in America for two years, I decided to marry someone from “back home,” i.e. Pakistan. When we first got married, we realized what a huge adjustment it would be for both of us. We had kids right away when he came. He went to school here and got his degree from here, and I supported him financially all during the time that I was a new mother and the only thing I wanted to do was raise my precious firstborn full-time.
Under such circumstances many marriages rightfully take a back seat and the relationship crumbles. We had many big fights over those first few years. Every time we fought I made du`a’ (supplication) to Allah (swt) to make it better, and He did. Our fights never lasted more than a day, and one of us always ended up saying sorry. We couldn’t go to sleep without making up. Throughout our good times and hard times I discovered that I married a very caring and generous man. I also discovered that I needed to accept him for who he was and that I had many bad qualities that needed to be worked out if I was going to stand in front of my Creator on the Day of Judgment. His love for me is shown in always hiding my faults in front of others, in picking flowers for me on the way home from the masjid, in taking care of the kids and giving me some time off, in cleaning up a messy house and in always sharing with me his day to day dealings at work or with his friends. As time has passed we have gotten closer and now I can’t imagine not having him in my life. The kids have really served to bond us together and it warms my heart when our eldest wants to pray because he sees his father praying. Alhamdullilah (praise be to God)!
My husband is not perfect and has many faults, but I know inside there is a light of goodness that gets dim at times and at times shines brightly, and I am committed to stand by him throughout all the times. I used to make du`a’ to Allah (swt) for a pious, kind, gentle husband and now that Allah (swt) has given me a slave of His to love, I must remain thankful, for if I am thankful He will give me more. We just celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary, and I look forward to spending many more with him insha’ Allah (God-willing).”