Muslim blogs

London Fashion Week: A Spring Full of Jewels

The Platform - Sat, 27/09/2014 - 23:49

Designers from both Britain and around the world came together for London Fashion Week 2014 to showcase a runway of creations ranging from the simple to the angelic

 

Out of the depths of London Fashion Week of September 2014, a multi-designer show emerged, featuring a glittering line-up of British and international designers preparing us for the spring and summer seasons.

The show, named Fashion International, was held at The Whitehall Suite, Royal Horseguards Hotel, and showcased a range of designers from diverse backgrounds. This included a collection which came about following the Gaza conflict, with proceeds going towards the welfare of Palestinians. In addition, a compilation from an exemplary designer was presented – the first deaf designer I have come across – who worked with digital printed fabric designs. Each producer had a vision which contributed towards their creations – each faction told its own story in beautiful blends of fabrics, colours and cuts.

We bore witness to beautiful stone and jewel-embellished jackets, shorts and dresses. Furthermore, to put the proverbial cherry on the cake, angelic evening gowns and show-stopping pieces made the evening memorable, giving us a hint of what’s to come and preparing us to add some sparkle to our wardrobes.

Here are a few of the pieces which stood out starkly against the competition:

Embellished Shorts

Delna Poonawalla’sKaleidoscope Karma’ ensemble displayed geometric prints and fluid silhouettes with leather-trimming, presenting a soft, dreamy collection. Many pieces, such as the cute cut short, were beautifully embellished with beads, sequins and embroidery. The soft colour palette of pastels reflected the ambience of spring.

The Crochet Butterfly

Valdini Angels’ ‘Be Unique’ line presented a delightful assortment of elegant designs in various handmade motifs and shapes. The collection featured neutral-coloured pieces overlain with crochet motifs containing small jewelled elements. In contrast, we also saw bright and vibrant prints, creating beautiful silhouettes. My favourite piece of the assemblage was the large butterfly-like crochet theme on the dress. It was simple but bold.

The Flag of Pain and Hope

‘Gaza: The right to humanity’ by Wajahat Mirza was inspired by the Gaza movement and the Palestinian flag. The black in this selection represented mourning, white for peace, green for hope, and the red for bloodshed. This was manifested in fluid evening gowns, georgettes and soft tones of velvet. Each piece was beautifully draped, formulating sophisticated, stunning and eye-catching pieces.

Floral Prints

Sharon M Osborne brought the ‘silent perspective’ as a deaf sign-language user. Her influence was her interpretation of the world as she sees it. Her garments were created using the finest bespoke digitally-printed designs and laser-cut leather. Osborne’s collection was based on florals and pastels, with items that reminded me of the 1960s. The shorts were pretty and playful, and the unique combination of Silk Crêpe de Chine and leathers created a very interesting medley of crisp textures and shapes.

The Elusive Jewel

The Daniel Syiem ‘Amaranthine-Everlasting Style’ series was natural and organic, using natural dyes and organic weaved materials with simple designs. The light colours combined with vibrant statement pieces exhibited something authentic. The collection included clean-cut blazers, as well as a bold terracotta-colour jumpsuit. A unique piece of this array, which I found spectacular, was the basic long earring that formed a continuous necklace.

 

Colour Blocks

Lenie Boya’s ‘Voyage’ formation featured refined minimalism with asymmetrical cuts and primary colours; blue, off-white, red and black. Inspired by Picasso, the designer’s ingenuity was to create wearable art fragments. The collection was chic with a splash of colour on black, making each dress unique. The final piece in this line-up was a black velvet dress with a tulip structure beginning across the chest and framing the face of the model.

Exotic

Omar Mansoor’s display was a dazzle of bright colours – red, turquoise and gold. The collection was a mix of fun and demure. It featured semi-precious stones, including turquoise, alongside hand-woven, crochet-decorated, flowing gowns in pure silk, crepe and chiffon.

Omar Mansoor told us that Mata Hari, a Dutch dancer and spy, was his key inspiration for the line, hence the mixture of styles. His preferred item, he asserted, was the last piece on the runway. The dress has a pure silk lining and a turquoise-coloured tulle overlay, with hand applique. It is a wonderful piece which can be worn for a multitude of occasions. The collection was expressive of a confident and playful, but elegant, individual.

Each designer brought show-stoppers within their creations, with fusions of designs, fabrics, patterns and shapes. The show was an innovative interpretation of fashion and design from across the world, as well as the combined perspectives of people from different walks of life.

Image from: Omar Mansoor's 'Mata Hari' Collection
Categories: Muslim blogs

The Best Days of this World

Imam Suhaib Webb - Thu, 25/09/2014 - 13:00

Originally Posted in November 2009

By Zahra

The Virtues of the first 10 days of Dhul Hijjah1 :

1. Ahadith (narrations) of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him):

قال النبي –صلى الله عليه وسلم-( مامن أيام العمل الصالح فيها أحب إلى الله من هذه الأيام قالوا يا رسول الله : ولا الجهاد في سبيل الله قال ولا الجهاد في سبيل الله إلا رجل خرج بنفسه وماله فلم يرجع من ذلك بشئ) رواه البخاري

The Prophet ﷺ said: “There are no days in which good deeds are more beloved to Allah than during these days. The Sahaba said: O Rasul Allah [Messenger of God], not even jihad in the path of Allah? He ﷺ said: Not even jihad in the path of Allah except for the man who goes out in the path of Allah with his life and his wealth and returns with neither of them.”

وقال ( أفضل أيام الدنيا أيام العشر) رواه البزار وصححه الالبانى.

And he ﷺ said: “The best days of this world are these ten.”

2. Allah swears by these 10 days in the Qur’an:

قول الله تعالى:2 سورة الفجر (1-2)، قال ابن كثير رحمه الله: المراد بها عشر ذي الحجة

Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) says: “By the dawn, and by the 10 nights,” [Qur'an, 89:1-2]. Ibn ‘Abbas, Ibn al-Zubayr, Mujahid and others of the earlier and later generations said that this refers to the first ten days of Dhul Hijjah. Ibn Katheer said: “This is the correct opinion.”

قال تعالى:3 سورة الحج(28)، قال ابن عباس: أيام العشر

Allah says: “…and mention the name of Allah on appointed days,” [Qur'an, 22:28]. Ibn ‘Abbas said these are the ten days.

3. These ten days are better than Ramadan:

قال المحققون من أهل العلم: أيام عشر ذي الحجة أفضل الأيام، وليالي العشر الأواخر من رمضان أفضل الليالي.

Most scholars adopt the opinion that these days are better than the last ten days of Ramadan. However, what holds the last ten days of Ramadan at a higher status is the Night of Power (Laylat ul-Qadr) which is equivalent to one thousand months (83.33 years).

تضاعف فيها الحسنات قال ابن عباس”: العمل فيهن بسبعمائة ضعف”

The rewards are multiplied in these days. Ibn ‘Abbas said: “(The reward for good) deeds are multiplied seven hundred times in these days.”

قال الاوزاعى: “بلغني أن العمل في أيام العشر كقدر غزوة في سبيل الله يصام نهارها ويحرس ليلها إلا أن يختص امرء بشهادة”

Al Awzaa’i said: “I was informed that good deeds during the ten days are the equivalent (in reward) to a battle in the path of Allah, in which the day is spent in fasting and the night in safeguarding, except if one is bestowed with martyrdom.”

In Ramadan, doing good deeds and struggling in worship, especially during the last ten nights, is easier than during these days for a few reasons. Firstly, the atmosphere of the month of Ramadan, whether culturally, spiritually, or traditionally, makes it easier to focus and strive. Secondly, the shayateen (devils) are chained. So, to get that drive and direction we had in Ramadan is much harder when we have most likely fallen out of “Ramadan mode.” However, since the `ibada (worship) is more difficult, the reward is greater. So let’s keep this in mind and get ready to really work hard.

The Plan of Action for these 10 days:

1. Really feel this blessing and realize that it is an opportunity of a lifetime, because none of us know if we will witness these 10 days again.

كان خالد بن معدان يقول( إذا فتح لأحدكم باب للخير فليسرع فاءنه لا يدرى متى يغلق عنه

Khalid bin Mi`dan used to say: “If the door for good is opened for one of you, then rush (to take advantage) because you don’t know when it will close.”

2. Have high aspirations in your worship and use the examples of the ijtihad (diligence) of the saliheen (righteous) as motivation.

3. Take advantage of the opportunities to get the reward of Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) while being elsewhere.

قال-صلى الله عليه وسلم-( من صلى الفجر في جماعة ثم قعد يذكر الله حتى تطلع الشمس ثم صلى ركعتين كانت له كأجر حجة وعمرة تامة تامة تامة

The Prophet ﷺ said: “Whoever prays fajr [the pre-dawn prayer] in congregation and then sits in remembrance of Allah until the sun rises, then prays two rak`aat [units of prayer], he has the full reward of Hajj and `umrah (the lesser pilgrimage).”

4. Perfect the fara’idh (obligatory actions):

Often times we become busy trying to do extra deeds, but neglect the fact that perhaps maybe what is obligatory upon us is not at the level it should be. There is no way for a person to become close to Allah (swt) other than through the obligatory actions, as is apparent in the famous hadith qudsi (sacred narration) in which Allah (swt) says: “My servant does not become closer to me by anything more beloved to me than what I have obligated upon him.”

Reasonable Goals:

1. Khatm (Complete Recitation) of Qur’an:

It is equivalent to more than half a million hasanaat (good deeds) during these days. Let’s try to complete the recitation of the Qur’an during these days, ending by `Asr (the afternoon prayer) time on the day of `Arafah (the ninth day of Dhul-Hijjah) and spending from `Asr to Magrhib (the post-sunset prayer) in du`a’ (supplication).

2. Qiyam al-Layl (Late Night Prayer):

Rasulallah (the Messenger of God) ﷺ said: “Whoever stands in prayer, reciting 1,000 verses, is written among the muqantareen.” A qintar (the root of muqantareen) is equal to 70,000 dinar. The recitation of the last two ajzaa’ (parts) of the Qur’an is equivalent to 1,000 verses.

3. Extra Salah (Prayer) During the Day:

The Prophet ﷺ said: “There is not a Muslim who prays twelve rak`aat per day, other than the obligatory prayers, except that a palace is built for him in paradise.”

4. Dhikr: The best form of worship to do in these ten days as apparent in the hadith (narration):

Ibn `Umar said that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “There is no day more honorable in Allah ‘s sight and no acts more beloved therein to Allah than those in these ten days. So say tahlil ['There is no deity worthy of worship but Allah: La ilaha illAllah'], takbir ['Allah is the greatest: Allahu akbar'] and tahmid ['All praise is due to Allah: alhumdulillah'] a lot.” [Ahmad, 7/224]

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “The best du`a’ is du`a’ on the day of `Arafah, and the best thing that I or the Prophets before me have said is ‘There is no god but Allah, alone, without any partner’ [La ilaha illa'llah, wahdahu la sharika lah].” [Muwatta, Malik].

7. Reviving the Sunnah of Takbir ['Allahu Akbar']:

Ibn `Umar and Abu Hurairah radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleases with him) used to go out in the marketplace during the first ten days of Dhul-Hijjah, reciting takbir, and the people would recite takbir when they heard them.

8. Fasting:

The reward of fasting is great, so imagine how much that reward would be multiplied in these days. If one can’t fast all of the 9 days, then at least on the day of `Arafah as it is the greatest day.

Abu Qatadah reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Fasting on the day of ‘Arafah is an expiation for two years, the year preceding it and the year following it. Fasting the day of `Ashura is an expiation for the year preceding it.” [This is related by "the group," except for al-Bukhari and at-Tirmidhi.]

The Prophet ﷺ said “There is no day that Allah will free people more than the day of `Arafah.”

`Ali (ra) used to advise people to say, “O Allah, free my neck from the fire,” on the day of `Arafah.

9. Du`a’:

Especially on the day of `Arafah, but also at anytime. Keep in mind the times where du`a’ is more likely to be accepted and ask during those times.

    • The last third of the night
    • Between the adhaan and iqaamah
    • During the rain
    • In sujood
    • On Friday
    • While fasting

10. Sadaqa (Charity):

Give sadaqa during these days, since the reward is multiplied tremendously.

11. Tawbah (Asking for Forgiveness):

Continually renew repentance.

12. Establish Ikhlas (Sincerity) in `ibada (Worship).

13. Check and renew intentions at all times.

The Day of `Eid

On the greatest day, remained focused as it is still part of the first 10 days which are the best days of the year! Try not to get too caught up in celebrating that you stop doing the worship that you were doing the first 9 days.

The day of ‘Eid is a day for visiting family and performing the sacrifice for one who is able.

  1. the last month of the Islamic calendar and the month of pilgrimage
  2. وَالْفَجْرِ، وَلَيَالٍ عَشْرٍ
  3. وَيَذْكُرُوا اسْمَ اللَّهِ فِي أَيَّامٍ مَّعْلُومَاتٍ
Categories: Muslim blogs

When You Marry for Four Reasons, Don’t Forget Your Reason

Imam Suhaib Webb - Wed, 24/09/2014 - 13:00

By Karim Serageldin

Photo: Tommy Clark

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. He was under pressure from both his and her family to make a decision after three short meetings with the sister. I asked him what he liked about her; he said she was religious and came from a good family. “Okay, what else?”

I could feel his anxiety through the computer screen. To marry or not to marry?

“Should I just go for it?”

I was shocked. Marriage is a lifelong commitment that requires compatibility, attraction and personality flow, none of which he felt. But he failed to recognize this, because he was stuck on the hadith (narration of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, peace be upon him) narrated by Abu Huraira in Bukhari: “A woman is married for four things: her wealth, her family status, her beauty and her religion. So you should marry the religious woman (otherwise) you will be unsuccessful.” (Book #62, Hadith #27)

In my opinion, this hadith is often misunderstood, because we forget the other reasons in the process. In the case of the young man I talked to, he thought we should only marry for religion and ignore the other three. Are you likely to sustain and succeed in a marriage where there is no compatibility beyond sharing a similar theology and ritual practices? Furthermore, what someone else calls “religious” may not mean the same thing to you.

In my experience working with couples for many years, I know for a fact that this is irrational. When we fail to apply reason in matters of religion, we get pain, destruction and failure, especially in marriage. We cannot live a true path of spirituality if our attempt to follow Islam lacks sincerity, wisdom, and deep reflection on our context and ourselves. Some Muslims live the path of serving Islam, as if it is a person nodding its head in approval every time we apply a hadith or Qur’anic verse. Islam is a path to God. God is the one to whom this path leads. Did this brother think about God in his process? That one day he will meet Him and be asked about “just doing it” without regard for the deeper requirements for success in human relationships? He considered getting married in order not to hurt the sister’s feelings—what about when he divorces her because he realizes it was a huge mistake?

A few points to reflect on:

  • Never ever marry someone you don’t feel right about out of fear or pressure. This is likely to lead to failure. In the end, you and your partner will suffer, not your family, your culture, or even your religion.
  • Marry someone who possesses all four reasons mentioned in the hadith not just religion. This is more likely to succeed and sustain a life long partnership.
  • If religion is important to you, avoid marrying someone who does not have religion, even if the other three reasons are alluring. This is just as unlikely to succeed.
  • Use this hadith as a guide, not an axiom with closed borders. We also marry for love and chemistry, in addition to these four reasons.
  • Islam teaches us to admire diversity. If we always married people from the same socioeconomic status, race, or ethnic group, for example, this would hinder a more colorful, multicultural ummah (community).
  • Sometimes people act religious because it is more “marketable” for marriage. Be cautious and go beyond surface checkpoints of theology and practice. Get to know the person and their family more deeply.
  • Take your time. If you do not feel you are given enough time to get to know someone do not get married to avoid cultural stigmas. Families that rush their kids into marriage are the ones to have sincere skepticism towards.

 

Karim Serageldin is practicing psychologist with years of experience working with the Muslim community. He facilitates workshops, counseling and life coaching with an integrated approach of Islamic spiritual values, contemporary psychology and science-based research.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Countering the Demon of Terrorism

The Platform - Wed, 24/09/2014 - 00:18

Knee-jerk bombing of ISIL is not a long term solution to their atrocities; a more human politics is needed

 

The beheading of British aid worker David Haines on September 13 was the latest monstrosity carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). For British Muslims, it was doubly distressing that this evil act was carried out, apparently, by a British Muslim. The Muslim community here unanimously condemned this barbarism.

From a moral and theological point of view, an entire community or religion should not be blamed for the actions of a crazy few. But all too often, when people see evil emanating from some Muslims, the potential is there to unfairly put the whole community in the dock.

There are now fears that ISIL’s extremism is fuelling Islamophobia and a far-right backlash in the UK. While others have denied there is a growth in the actual number of far-right activists, most observers seem to agree that there is a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment across the UK. This is a big worry for Muslims and a huge burden on our social and political leadership. And of course ISIL’s rise also re-emphasises the danger of sectarian tensions within the Muslim community. Thankfully, David Haines’ brother, Mike Haines, quoted verses from the Quran and made it clear by saying: “The Muslim faith is not to blame for ISIL, nor is it the fault of people of Middle Eastern descent.”

Global crisis

ISIL has, in fact, created a global crisis and presented world leaders with a challenge they cannot afford to ignore: They must hold their nerve and the civilised world needs to find creative, political, and more importantly, human ways of solving this problem of nihilism in our midst. For that is what ISIL is: a nihilistic movement that is the enemy of hope and togetherness.

How the global community handles this barbarity is a big question. Certainly Muslims worldwide have unanimously rejected ISIL’s publicity-seeking terror antics, endlessly repeating that it is a million miles away from Islam’s teachings.

The easiest option for some trigger-happy leaders would be to bomb ISIL into the stone age. This may temporarily halt or reduce its power, but it will come back again or re-emerge in another name.

Violence in the Middle East will not simply go away without ethical politics in the region. We must not forget how al-Qaeda emerged in the 1990s, due in part to a political vacuum in Afghanistan; the result was the Taliban regime that gave shelter to the terrorist group.

It is now clear that the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a recipe for the influx of al-Qaeda into Iraq that has now morphed into the more vicious ISIL. With swaths of land in Iraq and Syria under its control, it has plunged the Middle East into an even more serious predicament than before – one in which the viciousness of al-Qaeda and the Assad regime is all too easy to forget.

Common sense

Common sense and natural wisdom suggest that a replay of the post-9/11 knee-jerk reactions, and another display of “shock and awe” firepower by the US and its allies, would be the worst step: This will give ISIL the propaganda coup it needs and deepen the crisis for all involved.

US President Barack Obama has at least grasped that reality and said that US forces will not fight another ground war in Iraq. This is a welcome declaration, but there are big holes in the US-led strategy in the current crisis. With the United States’ resumption of “the long war” in Iraq and possibly in Syria, a new open-ended “war on terror” (WoT) appears to have started.

By waging this endless war, the US appears to be digging its heels in the Middle East sand. Gone are the days when the world sighed with relief at Obama’s declaration in 2010 that the “war on terror” was over. Very few people now believe him.

The Middle East needs some respite from violence. The US can be a catalyst for this if it decides to become a fair player in the region, with a consistent people-friendly policy. By siding with authoritarian regimes depending on military might alone, the US has so far made things worse in this region. It is an irony that western democracies have one rule, a robust democracy, for their own people but different ones for others.

You can kill terrorists through fire power, but slaying the demons of terrorism needs something more – a human dimension in politics, as well as accountability, and allowing local citizens a stake in their public affairs.

Limitless injustice

When citizens see only limitless injustice orchestrated by their corrupt and incompetent leaders, sustained by foreign players, the result is a vicious circle of despotism and violence. In an inter-connected global village with instant communication, no country can remain insulated from another. By ignoring others’ peril, we sow the seeds of our own peril at a future stage.

There are positive examples of global cooperation. Powerful and rich countries – governments and private citizens alike – have dug deep to help fellow human beings in developing countries. Britain leads in this area, devoting up to 0.7 percent of its GDP to foreign aid.

Why can’t this happen in the political field of weaker countries? Why do the powerful nations often go “fishing in the muddy waters” in other parts of the world? The rise of ISIL could have been thwarted if the US had insisted earlier on a non-sectarian inclusive government in Iraq and if mainstream political opposition to Syria’s brutal regime had received timely support. No wonder some cynics and conspiracy theorists can feel free to accuse the US and its allies of giving ISIL a free hand, so that the terror group can then be used as a bogeyman to continue a long war in the Middle East.

The emergence of violent extremism and nihilism in some parts of the Muslim world is primarily due to the failure of politics, exacerbated by the harmful influence of foreign powers. Although al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, Boko Haram and ISIL speak in the language of Islam, they have emerged in an authoritarian, corrupt, and incompetent political system.

We are in the midst of a generational and geopolitical crisis in the Middle East. Until the Arab world can institute minimum democratic accountability and establish basic rights for its people, the region will remain unstable and a breeding ground for violence. As it stands, this will not happen until the US and its close allies stop supporting or propping up brutal regimes.

Image: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/10892898/Iraq-crisis-Q-and-A-Who-or-what-is-ISIS-Is-it-part-of-al-Qaeda.html

Categories: Muslim blogs

Independence Referendum: The Morning After

The Platform - Mon, 22/09/2014 - 18:34

A win for independence in Scotland would have led to drastic changes to parliament in the UK including the short-to-medium term irrelevance of Labour

 

A little over half of those who went to bed last Thursday in Scotland, wondering what Friday will hold, woke up to the news that the United Kingdom will remain as it has been for 307 years and that Scotland will not break away to form an independent state. The campaign has been marred by allegations of scaremongering, increased verbosity of the establishment, heated debates on fiscal matters and devolution.

Irrespective of the outcome, it must be concluded that the Scottish referendum was a great celebration of democracy with extremely high turn-outs for voting. Estimates suggest that more than 80 per cent of those eligible to vote turned up for voting, compared to only more than 50 per cent who voted in the Scottish elections of 1999 when powers were first devolved.

The decision to hold a Scottish referendum was made in October 2012, by allowing the Scottish parliament to hold a referendum that was legally valid to confer independence. The terms of the referendum were a matter of great debate, but as George Eaton identifies here, contrary to most observers, it was Alex Salmond in his political astuteness who outmanoeuvred David Cameron – who, according to many, is reflective of a political class that was extremely complacent about the aspirations of the Scottish peoples. There are at least three factors Eaton identifies that helped Salmond outplay Cameron.

Westminster retains the constitutional authority to determine when a referendum can be held, and even though the initial date was September 2013, this date was moved to September 2014 in return for Salmond deciding to allow a one question vote, thereby winning another year’s worth of vital campaigning time for the Yes side of the debate. The second move Salmond made was in determining the wording of the referendum question. By managing to stave off pressure from the recommendation of the electoral commission to have the question read “Do you agree that Scotland should become an independent country?” having it read instead as “Should Scotland be an independent country?”, Salmond found a much easier way of channelling nationalist energy towards an eventual yes vote. The other vital concession Salmond managed to garner was the right for 16-17 year olds to vote in the referendum, even though voters in this age group do not vote in UK or Scottish parliamentary elections. Young voters are more inclined to vote for independence, as this YouGov poll reveals.

The complacency of the Better Together campaign, headed by Alistair Darling, was evident from the very beginning with Westminster taking for granted that Scotland would vote to remain in the UK. This notion was not without basis, as the opinion polls consistently showed that those in favour of voting No outflanked those in favour of voting yes by a double-digit margin. Then came the disastrous second debate between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond, where Salmond vociferously and passionately argued about the case for independence, managing to appeal to many of those who were dithering on which way to go. Even though the debate wasn’t the primary reason, it was probably the last straw on the camel’s back. The double-digit lead that the No campaign had held for so long eviscerated over a matter of weeks and panic hit the No camp when a YouGov poll on 6 September showed the Yes camp to be in the lead for the first time.

The panic that set in was probably good for the Yes camp and was just the bad news that was needed to galvanise the whole of Westminster together. All three leaders of the main parties went on a very strong door-to-door campaign, even to the extent of cancelling Prime Minister’s Questions last Wednesday. Further powers of devolution were promised to the Scottish parliament and last ditch attempts were made to make packages of political appeasement that would swing the momentum from the Yes, back to the No.

It is also worth mentioning here that there were many voters who, indeed, wanted to stay in the union and vote no to independence, but due to the deep involvement of the toxic establishment and their support for the No camp, many of these conscious No voters were deterred. Right-wing media organisations, the BBC, big corporations and banks all fought vehemently against independence and this galvanised many voters to look at this vote as a statement screaming of anti-establishmentarianism. It must be mentioned however, that Rupert Murdoch, that great icon of the establishment is an avid fan of Alex Salmond.

It is also important to note as Owen Jones does here, that the same establishment that put its weight behind the No campaign will, similarly, be taking part in the alleged scaremongering tactics against Ed Miliband and the Labour campaign come the General Election in 2015. Labour, which was complicit at worst and connived at best with these tactics, will have to know that some of their friends in the No campaign will be some of their worst enemies in a matter of a few months.

In all of this, one thing that is glaringly evident is the second coming of Gordon Brown. Brought up by a father who was a Church of Scotland pastor, Gordon Brown is also the author of Courage, a compilation of eight biographies of those who have shown resolve and courage during times of difficulty. Sadly for many on the left of the spectrum, Brown got lost in Tony Blair’s New Labour, and many wonder what would have become of Labour if Brown inherited John Smith’s leadership of the Labour party as he was touted to, instead of Tony Blair.

It is widely thought that this passionate speech by Gordon Brown, on the last day of campaigning tipped the undecideds (about 14 per cent at most times) in favour of voting no and that it was this momentum that helped carry the No camp along.

What would have happened if the Yes camp had won?

The No camp won, and all is well. But what may have happened if it went the other way? David Cameron had made it clear that he would not resign if Scotland decided to vote in favour of independence, and indeed he would not be constitutionally obliged to resign.

I am of the opinion that New Labour’s advent in 1997, which led to the negligence of the welfare of the working class and, therefore, the erosion of Scottish Labour – which gave rise to an otherwise emasculated Scottish National Party (SNP) in the Scottish parliamentary elections that followed – is more to blame. Those who wield the knife out to Cameron as the prime minister who potentially oversaw the end of a 307-year-old union should have a memory that stretches far beyond 2010 when he became prime minister.

If Scotland had voted in favour of independence, there would have been a Tory backbench revolt that may have culminated in Cameron resigning. This would mean that Theresa May or George Osborne would have most likely become Tory leader, unless William Hague would have been recalled as a caretaker leader to steady a wobbly Tory ship. What is less spoken of is that Scottish independence may have also ended Boris Johnson’s leadership ambitions, if not delay them. Of course, this uncertainty in the Tory camp would translate into voter discomfort and Labour would have solidified its current lead to land Ed Miliband in Downing Street.

However, if Scotland legislatively moved out of the United Kingdom in 2016, it would have nullified the mandate of Labour MPs representing Scottish constituencies. Going by the current electoral standings, Labour would lose more than 40 MPs in Scotland, whereas the Tories would lose their one MP (as the joke goes – there are more pandas in Edinburgh than there are Tory MPs in Scotland). Thus, with such a colossal haemorrhage of MPs to independence, Ed Miliband would no longer be the leader with the largest party, and parliament would have to be dissolved, and General Elections will have to be recalled. When this happens, the Tories will romp home to what most analysts believe will be a clear majority, coupled by the fact that Labour will be electorally and arithmetically much weaker without the legal recognition of Labour in Scotland. As such, Labour will be transformed into a mere ideological sister party and the Labour coffers will be much weaker than the Tory funding to refight in a general election. It must be noted that this current electoral status quo remains only due to the currently incumbent culture of hung parliaments.

The Tories would then have proceeded to change electoral boundaries to suit them and that would cast Labour into the wilderness until it found inroads back into the mainstream.

Thus, should Scotland have become independent, we may have been looking at an increasingly right-wing England in the medium to long term.

What happens now?

Scotland has however voted against independence, and the speculations made above will not come to fruition, yet. Therefore, political life in the union will go on as it has been for the last three centuries.

However, the three party leaders have to make sure they do not renege upon the promises made to give increased powers to the Scottish parliament. Tory MPs are already preparing to revolt if greater devolution packages are showered upon Scotland. In his speech on Friday, Alex Salmond referred to the fact that Scotland isn’t independent “yet”, leaving room to speculate that if Westminster breaks its promise for greater devolution in Scotland, the SNP may perhaps take the route Quebec took when there were successive referenda that plagued Canadian politics in the mid-to-late 1990s.

As a friend of mine specialising in constitutional law noted, “This may have been a defeat for secession but it was definitely a victory for self-determination,” and the Scots as a people should be proud of this.

Image from: http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/local-news/scotland-votes-no-happened---7790325
Categories: Muslim blogs

The Evil Eye Is Real

Imam Suhaib Webb - Mon, 22/09/2014 - 13:00

Photo: Eric Hunt

Disclaimer: this post is not meant to explore the evil eye in and of itself, nor is it meant to provide any type of legal rulings or scholarly opinions regarding it. Instead, it’s simply meant to be a reflection and reminder to us all.

Although most of us have heard of the evil eye and maybe even stories of people being afflicted by it, we seem to act like it does not exist. Or maybe we have forgotten.

It’s funny – discussion surrounding the evil eye tends to involve either intense fear mongering, or mythical folklore mumbo jumbo. Yet, the Prophet ﷺ  (peace and blessings be upon him) so eloquently explained the evil eye – something very enormous and quite scary – in the simplest of ways:

It was narrated from ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amir bin Rabi’ah, from his father, that the Prophet (ﷺ) said: “The evil eye is real.” (Sahih Darussalam)

It’s real, and there’s no denying that. Yet we live and act like it’s not.

For example, social media in particular has given people a glimpse through the windows of our lives. In a beautiful way, we are able to share pieces of ourselves with those close to us and that we care deeply for.

But many of us abuse this privilege. We use social media as (primarily) a leverage for showing off the best sides of ourselves. Our families, vacations, new purchases, promotions, religiosity, social lives – you name it. If it’s going to make us look good, we share it. Sometimes with the world.

I’ve recently been doing research and readings on modern day narcissism, voyeurism, social media, and the links to our mental well-being. Studies have shown that platforms like Facebook can lead to people feeling depressed or sad about themselves. A reason for this is because many people go through what’s been dubbed as Facebook Envy. Replace “Facebook” with any popular social media outlet, and we’ve got our hands on a problem that is very, very real.

I’m sure we’ve all felt a twinge of jealousy while scrolling through our newsfeeds and comparing the success of others to our mundane, boring, unaccomplished lives (which, by the way, are complete exaggerations). Let me say that jealousy is normal. It’s a human emotion that we shouldn’t hold on to but instead, observe and eventually let pass.

However, problems occur when we cling to this jealousy and allow it to fester. When it plants its roots into our minds and branches off into feelings of envy. A good litmus test for whether or not you are feeling envious is to ask yourself this: “Would I feel happy/satisfied if [insert person's name] lost [insert thing you are envious of]?” If you answer yes, then something is severely wrong with your thought process, outlook on life and your heart. It may sound harsh, but it’s true.

So how does this relate to the evil eye? Simple: we put ourselves out there in ways that may promote envious feelings in others. Is it 100% our fault? Of course not. Someone who is a firm believer in the qadr (predestination, divine will) of Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), and who is grateful for their own blessings won’t harbor ill feelings towards what they perceive to be your amazing life.

But, we certainly play a big role. Ask yourself: “how do I present myself to others”? Let’s use social media as an example:

  • Do you use social media to brag, show off, or make yourself feel better?
  • Is there a (large) gap between your online persona and your real-life one?
  • Do you compete for the most shares, likes, views, etc?
  • Does being popular make you feel better about yourself?
  • When people don’t give you the attention that you are looking for, do you feel worse about yourself?

If you answered “yes” to even one of these questions, then I recommend looking inwards and reassessing your intention whenever you share things with others online.

This applies to real life as well. Unless the person is extremely close to you (e.g. family member, good friend), don’t make it a point to indulge in your ego.

Here’s why:

  • Imagine if a person who can’t have children is constantly bombarded by pictures of your beautiful babies.
  • Imagine if a person who can’t get married or who’s had trouble finding a spouse is confronted with constant updates on your “perfect” relationship and/or wedding (or engagement) photos and posts.
  • Imagine how a person who wanted that job position or material possession you’ve just attained will feel when you rub it in their faces.
  • Imagine if someone with low self-esteem and self-perception comes across your beautiful personal photos or “selfies”, and the enormous amount of validation they receive from others.

My beloved Sisters and Brothers, don’t you see how any of the above could contribute to the evil eye? We know this, and yet, we indulge our egos. We paint perfect pictures of ourselves to others and we OVERSHARE with those who truly have no business knowing.

And even amongst our families and friends, there may be people who hide ill feelings towards our achievements, beauty, families, and lifestyles behind their smiles.

And the sad part is that most of the time, people envy what we know isn’t completely real – it’s just a facade. We know that our lives aren’t as glamorous or beautiful as we paint it to be, and yet we still project these images into the minds of others. In our modern times, people not only become envious of our lives, but also of what they perceive to be our lives.

I should note that if Allah (swt) wills for the evil eye to afflict you, then it will. And there is nothing you can do to stop it. BUT we should try to take precautions to limit the possibilities. For many, this will be hard because we live in such a narcissistic and self-serving society today. There is a deep need within many of us to be validated and accepted by others – even people we don’t know.

To wage war on the evil eye now means to wage war on our egos. To not feel compelled to brag, over-share, or make ourselves look good to others.

Personally, realizing the reality and the effects of the evil eye is a big part of the reason why I try to be as honest as possible through my writing. I would never want people to get the wrong impression of me – like I’m some great, intuitive, “deep” person or something. I try to highlight my struggles and relate to others to show that I’m NOT perfect. I struggle a LOT with my faith as well as my personal and social lives. My life isn’t glamorous and I would never want anyone to wrongly perceive that it is. Just because I like to speak/write about Allah and my religion, people sometimes mistake that I’m more religious than I know myself to be. It’s not true, believe me.

By being a bit more honest about ourselves, we can adjust the way that others perceive us. We can knock ourselves off that pedestal they may have placed us on and show them that sometimes, the grass isn’t really greener on the other side. In fact it may be the same, or even dead and gone.

Another thing we can do, Sisters and Brothers, is to be very careful and selective with who we share personal information and/or photos with. Again, this will be difficult, especially for those of us who are public figures or who have a public following. Still, this is something that I feel needs to be done as a safeguard against the evil eye. Social media, especially, needs to go back to being about friends and family as opposed to acquaintances, distant relatives and plain old strangers.

I’m not saying we should become hermits, all I’m saying is what the Prophet ﷺ said: the evil eye is real. And my dear Sisters and Brothers, we truly need to start treating it as such.

And Allah (swt) knows best.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Unlock the Treasures of Tranquility

Imam Suhaib Webb - Fri, 19/09/2014 - 13:00

Photo: Ares Nguyen

by Hiba Khan

I am easily distracted. This trait was a hindrance throughout my academic studies, but no doubt the area in which it is most detrimental is my worship. My daily prayers are plagued by thoughts that creep into my consciousness and silently grip my mind and heart, steering them away from Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He). Be it the pattern on my prayer mat or a task I have to do, there is always something diverting me from the most important moments of my day.

I write this as a reminder to myself, on attempting to rescue my salah (ritual prayers), a most exquisite and sublime gift from Allah (swt). A nourishment, rejuvenation and refocusing for our souls, and the first thing we will be asked about on the Day of Judgement. These windows of tranquillity have the potential to adorn our days and sustain, protect and fill our hearts amidst the transient whirlwind that is this world. We hear of people finishing one salah only to look forward to the next one, so why does prayer feel so heavy, ritualised and burdensome for so many of us? With each rising sun we witness comes a new God-given opportunity to reform our existence, to attain that contentment that every soul in this world is yearning. Don’t let another golden moment slip by. I pray He allows us to rescue our salah and fall in love with it until we enter Jannah (eternal Paradise).

The first step to take is to correct our mindset. A simple realignment of perspective is all it takes. You are not in control of anything. Your job, your happiness, your health, your family, your movements—you are not even in control of the simplest of bodily functions. He is. The beating of your heart, how people behave towards you, what you achieve—everything is from Him. He knows what is in your past and what is in your future. All honour, respect and sustenance are from Him. You are deaf, dumb and blind without Him and His provision and guidance. Everything around you is temporary, flawed and changing, but your soul is eternal, and does not belong here. One day it will all crumble and perish; only He will remain. Turn yourself away from the world and towards Him, close your eyes to the creation and open your heart to the Creator.  He has ordered us to prostrate to Him as a mercy only to us; each prayer is an opportunity to be forgiven.

Abu Dharr radi Allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet ﷺ

said: “Allah faces the slave while he is in the salah and keeps facing him as long as he does not turn. If [the slave] turns, [Allah] turns away from him.” – Abu Dawud [Saheeh Hadith]

Reflect on the sheer weight of this hadith. The Lord of the Worlds, who is aware of and sustaining every cell in every human, animal and bacteria, from the beginning of time to the end, is facing YOU. Listening to you, waiting for you to call, looking to forgive and to grant you more. You have His full attention until YOU lose focus.

The light in your life is proportional to the light that Allah (swt) bestows on you. You will only be content and at peace if He illuminates your existence. Your circumstances may appear perfect, but you will be restless and unhappy if He withholds His light. Once we truly comprehend this principle and realise we are nothing, while He is everything, insha’Allah (God willing) we can worship like we were made to.

Doing the following may help increase khushu` (a state of humility and reverence):

  • Remember death. Imagine the angel of death ready to take your soul. Pray like it is your last.
  • Picture yourself standing before Allah (swt), and know that He is facing you, hearing and seeing you.
  • Understand what you are saying by understand the Arabic and studying the tafseer (exegesis) of whatever you recite.
  • Speak and move at a measured pace. Try to recite melodiously.
  • Pray on time, and make the sincere intention to never miss a prayer.
  • Minimise internal distractions by building your connection with Him throughout the day and taking a few moments before each prayer to regain perspective.
  • Minimise external distractions by finding a suitable setting when possible.
  • Make du`a’ (supplication) in your own language while in sujood (prostration) and after each salah. What better time to beg Allah (swt) for what you are in need of?

Make the intention right now to rescue your salah and unlock the treasures of tranquillity, nearness and purpose. Embellish your path with prayer, and know that you will thank yourself on the Last Day, when there will be no doubt that a mere two rak`ahs (units) of prayer are worth more than the entire world and all it contains.

The Lord of the Heavens and the Earth awaits you.

“Come to prayer; come to success.” – Adhan (call to prayer)

Categories: Muslim blogs

Top Tweets from the Night of the #IndyRef

The Platform - Fri, 19/09/2014 - 09:20

Of the many campaign battlegrounds, Twitter certainly showed the heat as Scots took to the ballot box

 

It’s been a well-fought and well-fretted campaign on all sides, as results for the Scottish Referendum flood our media this morning: victory for the No campaign, the United Kingdom stays united. Prime Minister David Cameron sent his congratulations to Alistair Darling, chair of the Better Together campaign, even before the complete results were announced as the result indications became clear. The margin was narrow, but sufficient to spell at least another 20 years of union.

While the traditional outlets – from BBC to Sky, The Guardian to The Sun – have assiduously reported on one of the most historic polls in modern British history, citizen journalism has also been in full swing over social media.

#Twitter has made election-night television coverage obsolete. #scotlanddecides

— john kimelman (@johnkimelman) September 19, 2014

Twitter was alive as both voting and vote-counting took over the past 24 hours of Britain’s life. Although the No campaign took home the trophy of electoral victory, on Twitter at least the Yes campaign came out on top with over seven million tweets, reports The Drum. Here we bring some of the best, brightest and quirkiest tweets from this night to remember.  

 

1. “Please Do Not Sit On The Fence”

Hands down one of the best pictures I’ve ever seen #indyref pic.twitter.com/p7bF0MOg6t — St Andrews Radio (@standrewsradio) September 18, 2014

Coincidence of providential proportions. Or perhaps the polling officers felt inspired.

 

2. Friends by Saturday

Big day in Scotland tomorrow #indyref. My head says no and my heart shouts it – but whatever happens, I hope we’re all friends by Saturday.

— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) September 17, 2014

Perhaps the Better Together campaign’s most prominent supporter, and certainly its most generous donor, J.K. Rowling, creator of Harry Potter, approached the polls with a note of reconciliation.  

 

3. The #IndyRef Drinking Game

How has no one started an #indyref drinking game?? Rules are; if you hear the words “Historic” or “Surprising”, you have to down a Dram.

— Stuart B. (@Stuie_22) September 19, 2014

Or “momentous”.

 

4. “The Box! The Box!

“…or you can trade it all in for what’s in this box.” “The box! The box!” #indyref pic.twitter.com/h21rLm4Ecu

— SimpsonsQOTD (@SimpsonsQOTD) September 18, 2014

Mr Burns makes an offer you can’t refuse.  

 

5. Compared to America…

Just in case you don’t understand the significance of #ScotlandDecides, the last time Scotland was independent was before America existed.

— Brett Belding (@bbelding) September 19, 2014

The union of England and Scotland spans 307 long years. As this astute tweeter points out, that’s before the present United States of America was formed. With Scots of the Yes campaign sharing a common ground of battling for independence from the English as Americans did 238 years ago, it is unsurprising that plenty of Americans sympathised with their cause.

 

6. The Doctor for First Minister

You know.. The Doctor is Scottish. This is probably the third time the election is happening and we don’t even know it #indyref

— CH (@error_magnet) September 19, 2014

How could we forget?  

 

7. Paul the Octopus 

It’s at times like this I mourn the passing of Paul the Octopus. He’d have had this whole thing figured in the wave of a tentacle. #indyref

— Sue Perkins (@sueperkins) September 18, 2014

We could have had this sorted over the span of a cuppa. But then, some of us live for an all-nighter of political drama.

 

8. Counting with the Count

Over to the Count in Glasgow… #ScotlandDecides pic.twitter.com/VcDmf2B5NB

— Dr Paul Coxon (@paulcoxon) September 18, 2014

No doubt the sleepless night-counters would have done anything for a visit from the Count.  

 

9. The 110%

CNN puts a 110% effort into everything they do. #ScotlandDecides pic.twitter.com/HbXWxgd3vC

— Maddie Di Muccio (@MaddieDiMuccio) September 18, 2014

CNN could clearly have done with a visit from the Count too.

 

10. Her Majesty

Staying up to see if Scotland meets its reserve on eBay.

— Elizabeth Windsor (@Queen_UK) September 18, 2014

Apparently one has been following the possible separation of one’s dominion rather closely. One is pleased to see one continues to rule all.  

 

11. The Doges Speak

Inevitable Doge tweet #indyref #ScotlandDecides pic.twitter.com/q2pmgFsEtX

— General Boles (@GeneralBoles) September 18, 2014

So democracy.

 

12. Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands

This has been a remarkable day. Scotland’s future truly is in Scotland’s hands. #IndyRef pic.twitter.com/buvgOO9j7p

— Alex Salmond (@AlexSalmond) September 18, 2014

Alex Salmond’s thoughts as polls closed are shared by many, regardless of where they stand on this vote. With a whopping 97 per cent of the electorate registering to vote – that’s 4,285,323 people – and equivalently high turnouts reported across the nation’s polling stations, Scotland came out in force for this referendum. As David Miliband put it, “Scots have taught us all a lesson in democracy.”

Image from: https://twitter.com/paulcoxon/status/512736917423534080/photo/1
Categories: Muslim blogs

My Fiancé is Pushing Me to Be Religious

Imam Suhaib Webb - Thu, 18/09/2014 - 13:00

Photo: Walt Jabsco

Question: 

I am a Muslim living in the US and I am happily engaged. AlhamdulilLah (praise be to God) my iman (faith) and my love for my deen (religion) have always been high: I decided to wear the hijab 3 years ago on my own, I teach in a masjid, I attend halaqas (study circles) weekly. The problem is that my fiancé is a member of a stricter religious group.

My whole life I have never needed anybody to tell me how to practice my religion. I believed that it was all about my connection with Allah—my personal connection. I would feel like, by praying, I am communicating with Allah, and by reading the Quran, He is communicating with me. And that is all I ever needed. 

Now I am worried that my fiancé’s pressure on me to be more religious is what is making me turn away from Allah. My fiancé always encourages me to become a better person, supports me in what I love, and pushes me to pray and be good. And I am thankful for that. However, the feeling of being forced or pushed to practice something is something that I am not used to. I know his intentions are pure, and he is doing it all out of love, but I do not know what it is that is making me not see this.

Answer:

It sounds like you are not feeling accepted by your fiancé.  When he pushes you to be more religious in the way he chooses to practice Islam, you may feel you are not good enough.  If he has a more strict interpretation of Islam and wishes for you to join in his views, then you need to decide if that is what you want. His current encouragement and pushing may manifest into coercion later in the relationship and this can lead to resentment and tension. Rather than enter a marriage in which you are not on the same page, it is important that you talk about how you each envision practicing your faith and raising your children in the faith.

If there is mutual respect for your different practices, where he can respect your less strict interpretation and you can respect his stricter interpretation, then you will have found a compromise.  However, if either of you wishes the other person to change or be more like themselves, then you may face disappointment.  Long-term change will only come when a person chooses to change out of their own free will. Spouses generally seek to feel accepted by their partner, both in positive and negatives qualities, while at the same time they want to feel they have space to grow as individuals. Finding a spouse who encourages personal growth at your own pace is golden. Finding a spouse who accepts your strengths and weaknesses and still loves you is priceless.

WebbCounselors is a collaborative advice column produced by two WebbAuthors, Amal Killawi, a Clinical Social Worker with a specialization in mental health and marriage education, and Munira Lekovic Ezzeldine, a Marriage and Family Therapist, specializing in premarital counseling. Please note that our counselors are not religious scholars and will not issue religious rulings. To read our full disclaimer, please visit our disclaimer page. To submit questions to the WebbCounselors, please email webbcounselors@suhaibwebb.com.

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Scottish Question: #YesScotland or #YesUnion?

The Platform - Wed, 17/09/2014 - 21:44

Alasdair Gray’s new book, Independence: An Argument for Home Rule, pragmatically yet problematically emphasises Scotland’s polity over Scottish identity in the bid for independence

 

On the night of the USA’s 2008 presidential election, I bunkered in my carrel in Bucknell University’s Bertrand Library. It was the best shelter I had from the inconclusive battle cries lobbed on the quad outside: students in support of then-Senator Barack Obama squared against students rallying for Republican Senator John McCain. Change, both sides claimed, was imminent; this election, both camps asserted, was a pivotal moment in American history. From the safety of my carrel, I followed the returns online and panicked: what if this election isn’t the dawn of change but another hour in the long day of the status quo? I opened a new tab in my web browser and booked my flight away from American uncertainty.

I resolved on Scotland, that myth-steeped and rugged land of my own ancestors, that cradle of philosophy and literature. I would fly out after the semester ended and determine my fate, then, when I set foot on Scottish soil. Scotland would be — for the duration of at least two weeks — my site of intellectual and spiritual refuge.

My return to the United States was too hopeful by half; a half decade of the Obama Administration’s drone wars and feeble domestic policy are stark indicators that the 2008 election was not the epoch-shifting moment prophesied by his campaign. Regardless of the outcome, the same cannot be said for the 18 September 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, which will affirm Scotland’s identity — as an independent nationstate or a constituent nation in the United Kingdom — for the foreseeable future.

As an avid reader of independence-minded Scots writers including Robert Burns, Catherine Carswell, Hugh MacDiarmid, and Alasdair Gray, I sympathise with the #YesScotland cause. But, as Gray is quick to remind the readers of his latest polemic Independence: An Argument for Home Rule (Edinburgh, Scotland: Canongate, 2014), this isn’t my vote. “This book,” Gray pronounces, “is written for Scots, by whom I mean anyone in Scotland who will vote in the September referendum to make Scotland a more or less independent nation.” The broader discussion of global Scots culture is of no import here, nor are the millions who self-identify as Scot, despite the accidents of geography, temporality and birth that keep us from our ancestral homeland. Gray remarks that he “will not waste time by discussing Scottish identity, as vague a ghost as the identity of any other millions of people.”

This tactic is wise, yet ideologically fraught. Gray abandons the political expedient of Scottish identity so as to prioritise the question of how a hypothetical, neutral Scottish polity would operate in opposition to the Orwellian modus operandi of Barack Obama’s America and David Cameron’s Great Britain. Indeed, Gray’s disapproval of the Anglo-American military-industrial complex recurs throughout this slender volume.

In the first chapter, Gray elegantly stages this confrontation in the confined space of his doctor’s waiting room, where he and the waiting room’s magazines serve as proxies for Scotland and Britain respectively. Gray cringes at the militaristic implications of adverts and job postings in these magazines: “That is how Big Brother now tells smart youngsters: ‘WAR IS PEACE! JOIN US! THE MONEY’S GOOD!” Because we are inured to these subtexts, Gray concludes that the current generation is “a docile lot,” unaware of the human costs of the military-industrial complex. Gray concludes that an independent Scotland is “[o]n my horizon the ray of hope” against the Anglo-American war machines.

Independence progresses from this waiting-room vignette through a “a brief history in twelve brisk verses” of Britain’s military conquests, before evaluating a legion of explanations for Scotland’s difference from England: geography, intellectual history, political corruption, British bureaucracy and the rejection of prominent Scots (i.e., Sir Sean Connery and Burns expert Elspeth King) from Scottish arts advocacy. Gray’s Independence is a time capsule of Scottish grievances, a scant collection suggesting a more extensive pattern of wrongs.

However, this volume reaches its emotional apex not in Gray’s glosses of Scottish woes, but in an open letter to Paddington Station’s unknown soldier. This letter stands as a civilian counterpart to Wilfred Owen’s essential Great War poem Dulce Et Decorum Est. Bagpipe music stirs Gray to an epiphany during a remembrance service: “the men named on the monument had been fooled into thinking they were fighting for a better Britain, while those who had died in World War II had certainly fought a wicked system of government.” Such manipulation of soldiers is a manipulation of the electorate. Gray’s forlorn letter to the unknown soldier is a tacit promise that a neutral, liberated Scotland will oppose any injustice.

Gray readily avows his utopian agenda, which he packages in a wild yet elegant collision of personal essay, lyric poem, national biography, revisionist history, letters, and party platforms. These different façades represent Gray’s strategy for resolving the nascent Scottish nation’s identity crisis: “The problem of every nation,” Gray concludes, “is being governed by folk with a completely different perspective — a different view of life — from those who elect them.” The book’s 13 sections, multiple subgenres, and assimilated voices practice this sensibility. Yet, this experimentation only represents the many guises of Scotland’s electorate, not the visage of a polity.

So, what is the political face of Gray’s utopian Scotland, this creature in potentia? Gray’s vision is a rough beast left unformed as the country slouches toward the referendum. We cannot acquit Gray for this oversight: Scottish nationalist writings commonly articulate programs for expanding Scots’ influence at home and abroad, as when MacDiarmid advocated for “a rising tide of Scottish national consciousness” through “a thorough-going reconcentration, in our schools and universities and elsewhere, of Scottish literature.” The consequence is that Independence re-deploys the empty rhetoric of party banter: it is a glittering hoard of hoped-for results, without the treasure map of policy.

Gray admits that he, “a semi-alcoholic, octogenarian invalid[,] was not the kind of politican Scotland needed,” and he advocates for young politicians with “imaginative, independent minds.” Gray does not identify any of these “brave minds,” leaving Scots with First Minister Alex Salmond’s problem-riddled plans for Scotland’s financial system, its stakes in North Sea oil and national security. These gaps shift the spotlight to the polemic’s further inconsistences. Exemplifying this is Gray’s disavowal of Sir Walter Scott’s invented stereotype, “that most Scots were mountaineers who wore tartan plaids” — even as Independence proposes a rigidly masculine history of Scotland that celebrates its great men. With the notable exception of novelist Naomi Mitchison and a glancing reference to his own wife, Gray — like America’s John Adams — has forgotten the women, an unwitting reenactment of Sir Walter at his most misogynistic.

Gray’s Scotland is defined by its potential, by its difference from America and England. It’s this strange otherness that first drew me to Scotland in 2008, and that entices me still. Like Gray, I too believe in the possibilities still buried in the Scottish earth. But neither this optimism nor Gray’s utopian vision resolves the central question at stake in the referendum: what is Scotland’s identity? The referendum is the first premise in that answer.

Image from: http://www.thecommentator.com/article/4517/new_blow_to_scottish_independence_bid_as_catalan_leader_admits_secession_from_spain_could_mean_eu_exclusion
Categories: Muslim blogs

Child Sex Abuse: An Escalating Reality

The Platform - Wed, 17/09/2014 - 05:10

Recent events in Rotherham have uncovered more shocking realities about child sex abuse in the UK, yet victims are still left worse off in prosecution cases

 

What happened in Rotherham was terrible. It is still terrible, because it has not ceased. And each day new information emerges, suggesting that Rotherham might just be the tip of the iceberg. Child sex abuse has been going on for years with few willing to acknowledge its reality. I do not wish to go into detail regarding the sufferings endured by the girls in Professor Jay’s report. You have probably read more than you want to about it already.

But it is good if you have. The only thing worse than knowing that such terrible crimes have been committed, is that they be committed in secret; the silence in which such crimes thrive. They depend on the victims being too confused or cowed to tell anybody. They depend on the victims having their lives so ruined as a result of their abuse that nobody believes them when they do summon the courage to come forward.

Chaotic lifestyles, including mental illness, self-harm, petty crime, drug and alcohol misuse are common behavioural symptoms of victims of child sex abuse. They have also been treated by the authorities as an indication that a person makes an unreliable witness, and so causes them to decide that no prosecution would succeed based on the victim’s testimony.

So, precisely because of the consequences of the crime they are victims of (and generally speaking, the worse the abuse, the worse the symptoms), the most vulnerable and damaged people in our society have been unable to get their abusers prosecuted. This is a monstrous injustice. Thankfully, prosecutors are beginning to understand this and are attempting to explain to juries the effects of child sex abuse on the victims’ lives.

It is hard to know where the scandal of child sex abuse may go next. We have heard of abuse within the Catholic Church (and other churches), we have learned of the abuses committed by Jimmy Savile and other celebrities, we know of abuses carried out by teachers in some of Britain’s most prestigious private schools, by workers in children’s care homes, by prominent politicians, even by paediatric doctors in hospitals and now by grooming gangs in Rotherham and other cities. The rate at which new scandals are being uncovered reveals that we have not yet learned the full extent of this crime– there is more to come. And by the time it is all uncovered we will probably find that it is beyond our worst imaginings.

The details of the scandals differ, but there are some common points. The first is that the victims are themselves frequently unwilling to come forward. In the Rotherham case this is hardly surprising given the amount of violence that appears to have been involved. But it is common in other cases as well. Shame, a misplaced sense of loyalty, a belief that the victim herself has done something wrong and may be punished; these are all common ideas which are assiduously fostered by abusers to keep their victims silent. Different techniques are used in different situations, but they all have the same aim. Just by analysing the Twitter hashtag #WhyIStayed, we can see that it’s hard enough for adult victims of sexual abuse or domestic violence to come forward. It is even harder for a child.

The second common aspect is that in almost all cases, there were adults who knew but didn’t act. The interests of the abusing adult were put ahead of the welfare of the abused child. In many cases the child was not valued or not believed and so no action was taken. They are believed to be making “lifestyle choices“, as in the case of Samantha Morton, the film actor who was sexually abused in children’s homes in Nottingham. Morton’s complaint of serious sexual abuse was recorded as “frolicking”. This is not restricted to police and social services. Families can also exert pressure on children not to come forward lest the fact that they have been the victim of a crime brings shame on not only themselves but also on their whole family.

The third shameful aspect of child abuse, which has also manifested itself in Rotherham, is institutions putting their own reputation ahead of the welfare of those they are supposed to be caring for. While in Rotherham, it appears that the council itself has covered up cases of abuse, it is also extremely common for schools to be complicit in the concealing of abuse cases in order to save their reputations. The Times recently reported that 130 independent schools are subject to having civil action taken against them because of abuse by teachers.  And it seems that some hospitals would rather cover up abuse than reveal the extent to which they had allowed celebrities such as Jimmy Savile to abuse vulnerable patients unhindered.

In subsequent articles I will address each of these aspects in more detail. Indeed, a single article can do little more than scratch the surface. But one thing that can— and must— be remembered is that we all have a part to play in protecting children. None of us have any duty to protect rapists from the justice they deserve.

This article is the first in a three-part series on child sex abuse.

Image from: http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9299072/the-rotherham-report-suggests-that-social-workers-are-as-often-harmful-as-helpful/
Categories: Muslim blogs

The Menace of So-called “Jihad”

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Tue, 16/09/2014 - 08:49

Those of us who have been speaking out against the menace of so-called “Jihad” must redouble our efforts. “Jihad” is far more than a threat to the lives of unsuspecting innocent people, both here in the West and in Muslim countries. It is a threat to our religion, in terms of how Islam is being represented by the advocates of “Jihad” and how it is being perceived by others. Muslim scholars cannot remain silent and allow this misrepresentation to go unaddressed.

As for those youth who have been alienated by the systematic “othering” of Muslims in the post-9/11 anti-Muslim climate that is deepening here in the West, they would do well to consider a different set of religious teachings when studying Islam. True religion is not to be found in emotional and sensational reactions to current events and mind-numbing atrocities. True religion is not to be found in a self-glorying end brought on by a hail of bullets or a murderous act of suicide.

Rather, true religion provides the spiritual direction needed to find one’s self-worth and human value in ones relationship with God. True religion provides the solace and succor needed to find inner peace even when outer realities are crushing. True religion provides nobility that empowers its possessor to fearlessly challenge oppressors while mercifully protecting innocent life, regardless of the race, religion, color or creed of the blameless. True religion provides a path to heaven that is paved with devotion, lofty morals and patient, dignified struggle against the schemes of one’s ego, the vicissitudes of the world and the vagaries of both power and powerlessness.

As for those who are deceived into believing that wanton murder, mayhem, destruction, suicide and inviting war and hatred against one’s coreligionists represent an express road to paradise, they should think deeply before embarking on that path. Religion teaches and history demonstrates that such a path is a sinister, nefarious route that winds steadily, oftentimes irreversibly, into a deep, dark cold abyss.

“When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Hot and Cold of the Ice Bucket Challenge

The Platform - Mon, 15/09/2014 - 05:02

The Ice Bucket Challenge Achieved ALS awareness, but not without a cost

 

With temperatures hitting an all time high this summer, the idea of having a bucket of ice thrown at you sounds all the more tempting. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge does just that and went viral across the globe. The challenge involves dumping a bucket full of icy cold water over someone’s head. Individuals are to nominate participants and dare them to partake in the challenge. The nominated participants must be filmed having the bucket of ice water poured on their head after naming their nominees to take the challenge. The catch you ask? They are given 24 hours to comply with the dare or surrender; the penalty for which is giving monetary donations to the ALS Association. This was a phenomenon introduced in an attempt to promote awareness of the disease and encourage donations to fund research.

Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

So far people have been referring to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis  in its acronym form – ALS. Otherwise known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.

As motor neurons degenerate, they can no longer send impulses to the muscle fibers that normally result in muscle movement. Early symptoms of ALS often include increasing muscle weakness, especially involving the arms and legs, speech, swallowing or breathing. When muscles no longer receive the messages from the motor neurons that they require to function, the muscles begin to atrophy (decrease in mass). Limbs begin to look “thinner” as muscle tissue atrophies.

A little spark of creativity can truly go a long way for a cause. Not only did the campaign generate funding in the millions, but it also educated society in the process. Credit must be given where it is due; it made a disease that was previously unheard of by many – with the exception of those suffering from it such as Hawking and Gehrig – into a universal phenomenon.

Between Creativity and Wastage

If only for a short period of time, the ice bucket challenge provided people with a new perspective of ALS. Suddenly ALS was something that the citizens of the world could collectively help solve.

When a concept becomes an overnight sensation, critics wait around every corner to burst the short term bubble of joy. For starters, the Ice Bucket Challenge is being accepted and completed for all the wrong reasons. Some have argued that people are doing it as a fun way to keep busy and entertain themselves rather than supporting the cause. How many people have actually paid up for donations, aside from celebrities that have bank account that could easily compete with Scrooge McDuck’s infamous money bin?

“Non-profits and charities don’t have big marketing budgets so sometimes they’ve got to do something a bit out of the ordinary to grab people’s attention.”
- Louise Walsh, CEO of Philanthropy Australia

Others are of the opinion that the challenge is offensive to say the very least. A bucket of freezing cold water was supposed to be a punishment for not complying and donating. Participants are overlooking or failing to comprehend the rationale behind it all – donate money to the cause -and instead are making a mockery out of it. I highly doubt that a ten year old or even teenager is taking part for philanthropic reasons.

The mother lode of all criticism however came from international organisations and non-governmental organizations, who have said that while commendable, the challenge may be a case of misplaced priorities. Figures estimate that approximately 6 million gallons of water have been used to participate in the challenge. Meanwhile, some 783 million people in developing world countries lack access to clean drinking water. Since July, $20,000,000 has been raised for ALS and, ironically, The Water Project was able to raise only $1,800,000 over a span of a year.

A hand full of influential individuals tried to work around these criticisms and found other ways to support the cause. Hollywood actor Matt Damon suggested using water out of the toilet arguing that it is still cleaner than most third world countries. Charlie Sheen has suggested filling up the bucket with the amount of money that you plan to donate instead in order to preserve water and yet be a supporter to the cause.

Spin-Offs and Silver Linings

The Ice Bucket Challenge sparked a bit of creativity inspiring many to come up with their own challenges. The Ten Book Challenge for one brought out the nerdy side of us. The participant is to challenge others to list ten books they have read that inspired them or left an impact in any way. I must admit it was fun and interesting to see some the books people all over the world were reading.

Captivated by the Rice Bucket Challenge – donating a bucket of rice to someone in need – Palestinians were inspired to start their own Rubble Bucket Challenge as a symbol of solidarity with those who lost their homes in Gaza as a result of the conflict with Israel over summer. Since water was a scarcity, they decided to fill the buckets with rubble and sand.

The Ice Bucket Challenge may have been fun for some while it lasted. Despite the negativity ignited along its way, it can be argued every cloud has a silver lining. How else would the little philanthropists inside us be inspired to find new ways to support their favourite causes.

Image from: http://time.com/3107510/ice-bucket-challenge-als-we-need-to-do-better/

Categories: Muslim blogs

Stairway to the Future

The Platform - Fri, 12/09/2014 - 13:34

A university education in London makes for unique influences on career perspectives

 

Ford Madox Ford wrote in The Soul of London that ‘London is the world town, not because of its vastness; it is vast because of its assimilative powers, because it destroys all race characteristics, insensibly and, as it were, anaesthetically’. I believe in London’s assimilative powers, but I disagree with Maddox when he says it ‘destroys’ one’s race characteristics.

London’s soul is created by all races and cultures, and that is why one’s own culture can merge with the culture of this city with ease. As for the ‘anaesthetic’ aspect of this assimilation, I think of it as the most aesthetic thing in the world. One finds beauty in the mixture of colours, in the chaos of cultures, in that rain of foreign words. This mixture is what makes London have the ‘soul’ we want to describe in the first place.

Perhaps it is this ‘soul’ that has attracted nearly 103,000 international students to study in London in 2011. As an international student myself, and an English Literature one at that, I feel very comfortable in the atmosphere of London. I could not have asked for a better place to study at university level. I feel that when I go back to university every September, I am going back to my true home.

However, London is also the epitome of aggressive competitiveness. Thus, returning to university means returning to the rush of the world we live in: going back to the stress, the daily doses of caffeine, the all-nighters in the library and so forth.

Entering University is the first step towards the hard reality of the career world – and it shows, particularly in a city like London. As each year of your degree progresses, against a backdrop of high flying city workers in smart suits, you are a step closer to the career of your desire and things get tougher. The day seems to have less and less hours, and you find yourself wondering how you can handle the pressure. ‘You’d better not trip,’ they say.  ‘You’d better pass all your exams and have better marks than everyone else in your year if you want to have a good job’–  that too is as long as you have studied at a good university.

When it’s finally over and the degree is complete, you then need to pay off the frighteningly large student loan debt of £27,000 – and that excludes the extortionate living expenses of London. You might choose to continue with your education or get a job; that is how things are predicted to go.

Unfortunately, however, that’s not always how things plays out. We may find ourselves compelled in our career and postgraduate education choices as fees rise, debts weigh in and the need to repay looms. Or sometimes we may even change our mind completely and seek to switch our educational and career paths.

University should be the time to trip and fall down the stairs we climb to the future; while our bones are still solid and our joints have enough oil, and while we are still quite close to the ground. It should be the time to make mistakes and learn, get to know yourself, get an idea of what you want to do in life, rather than decide your path straight away without having even started to learn about what it will entail.

We spend most of our teenage years preparing for university. Society drags us inevitably into that direction, conditioning and pressuring us with the notion that university is a turning point in our lives, when our futures will be decided. Yet, when I think of who I was when I entered university and who I am now, I realise I have new goals and ambitions. I find myself speculating what degree and in which university I would be studying at had I known what I know now. Would I be better prepared for the field of Medieval Studies had I embarked on a History degree?

Before I came to London, I thought I had everything figured out – I would finish university, be swept into the career world and I’d never have any difficulties or doubts. Everything would work out smoothly, thanks to the preparation. The pressured and competitive atmosphere of London would seemingly have reinforced my career aspirations.

Yet, as I enter my third year studying in and experiencing this cosmopolitan city, I am forced to question: university may be the first step into our future, but why should it determine that future so dramatically? Rather, it should be the time to consider and mature our plans, make mistakes and learn from them.

While London may be the city of driven careers, its cultural vibrancy also allows us to broaden our horizons and rethink our aspirations. For those of us who are students here, I believe we have a perfect setting for self-discovery on the stairway to our future. As the new term begins, let’s take advantage of it.

Image from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/10959047/UCAS-women-more-likely-to-apply-to-university-than-men.html
Categories: Muslim blogs

The Big D-Word

The Platform - Fri, 12/09/2014 - 12:18

The loss of Robin Williams has been a grim gain for depression as renewed interest ignites on the disease  

 

We used to talk much about the ‘Big C’. Vast amounts of charitable action and billions of pounds and dollars have been thrown at the issue, and at research for treatment. On the other hand, the ‘Big D’ – Depression – has remained a taboo topic in public debate and is the Cinderella of medical matters. It suffers from under-diagnosis, misdiagnosis, misunderstanding, confusion, shame and even contempt. It is usually accompanied by a shrug of annoyance and ’encouragement’ to ’pull yourself together,’ even though it is a disease.

This Victorian approach to the problem only compounds the disastrous effects of depression on our society. The stereotypical depiction of someone with depression is of a listless mother (single for preference) with long, lank, lustreless hair; an expressionless face, dependent on a cocktail of “our” hard-earned, tax-paid-for drugs and welfare benefits. This is an egregious, unfair and shocking situation. I would suggest that it is up there with racism and bigotry, and therefore socially stigmatising. So it turns out our loss of Robin Williams is a grim gain for depression as the media turns its attention to the problem.

The Guardian ran a report on depression by their health editor, Sarah Bosely, in which she points out: ‘Less than a third of people with common mental health problems get any treatment at all – a situation the nation would not tolerate at all if they had cancer.’ She cites Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who remarks: ‘people are still routinely waiting for – well, we don’t really know, but certainly 18 weeks, possibly up to two years – for their treatment that is routine in some parts of the country.’ ‘Imagine,’ he told her, ‘the reaction if I gave a talk that began: “so, we have a problem in cancer service at the moment. Only 30% of people with cancer are getting any treatment, so 70% of them don’t get any treatment at all and it’s not even recognised.” You would be appalled and you would be screaming from the rooftops.’  Quite.

While England’s NHS Chief Executive, Simon Stevens, sympathised with Wessley’s horror at these statistics, he informed him that the issue would involve a ‘much longer dialogue with the public.’ His comment scantly conceals the real problem: the government’s insistence on austerity as £12 billion additional cut-backs are due to come on stream. While the chancellor has no choice but to match pound-for-pound money raised in the voluntary sector for cancer because it is such an obvious, multiple cause of death, the government and, to a certain extent, society remain indifferent to or intolerant to the problem of depression.

Depression, however, is largely a hidden condition with a less obvious connection to death. It is on a spectrum ranging from occasionally ’feeling blue’, recurring instances of what Churchill described as his ’Black Dog days’, up to a clinical condition needing life-long chemical solutions. In extreme cases, depression can lead to schizophrenia and, exceptionally, suicide. From symptoms occasioned by bullying through circumstantial set-backs, anxiety,  panic attacks and beyond, the causes are various and often multiple.

Of those burdened with depression, 90% of sufferers remain untreated inside the NHS target of 18 weeks, while many remain undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as doctors are divided about depression and uncertain about the variety of symptoms presented, as well as the appropriate prognosis. Ms Bosely writes: ‘A larger proportion of people with psychosis, who have severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, are on treatment but even that figure is still only 65% according to Wessely, who added: “For most mental disorders it is still the exception not the rule to be recognised, detected and treated.”’

Wessley further argues that ‘the concern over pills for depression, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) could be misplaced’. He suggests that much of the criticism assumes that GPs are putting more people on pills because of an absence of talking therapies. However, the number of therapists being trained to provide Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has substantially risen thanks to a government programme called Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT). ‘If you say they [pills] are more effective,’ he concludes, ‘I don’t really think that’s true. I think they are cheaper and easier. CBT is certainly more popular with some, but others don’t like it. The truth is most people don’t get either.’  My advice on CBT is this: don’t be  shy, polite or ashamed. As the old BT ad used to say: ‘It’s good to talk!’

Unfortunately, to governments, disease is unprofitable and has a negative effect on the bottom line. So we cannot expect any more help from the Austerity State. Disease exposes our frailty. It challenges our infallibility and expectations of immortality. The government can always find the cash to bankroll rebels in Syria or resistance in Iraq. It can finance arming the entire military industrial complex that is Israel and its brutal Israeli Defence Force (IDF). State-sponsored murder has always been a profitable business; medical care, however, is too costly and time-consuming.

The Victorians abandoned sufferers of depression and dementia in asylums. It is high time we provided them with asylum – literally, “shelter” – and the care, comfort, humane medical or psychological assistance we can. Above all, it is our acceptance, understanding, love and compassion that are what we really have to offer – and offer it we must.

Image from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-rottenberg/seeing-depression-in-the-wrong-light_b_4945290.html
Categories: Muslim blogs

Dignity, not Charity

Imam Suhaib Webb - Thu, 11/09/2014 - 13:00

By Louiza Chekhar

Photo: Dave Shea

One day, a man from Medina approached the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) for help, and the Prophet ﷺ asked whether he had any possessions in his house. He asked the man to bring the cloth and bowl which he owned, then sold them to one of his companions for two dirhams. The Prophet ﷺ told the man to spend one dirham on food for his family, and use the other to buy an axe – then he instructed him to “go and gather firewood, I do not want to see you for a fortnight.” By gathering wood and selling it, the man made ten dirhams, which he used to buy food and clothes for his family – the Prophet ﷺ told him, “This is better for you than that begging should come as a spot on your face on the Day of Judgment.”1

Every human being, rich or poor, has a right to the God-given dignity mentioned in the Qur’an: “We have certainly honored the children of Adam…”2 According to some scholars, such as ash-Shawkani and al-Qaradawi, al-‘ird (dignity and honour) is so important that it forms one of the maqasid ash-shari’ah – the higher objectives of the Islamic Way which Islam’s teachings aim to protect.

It is especially important to be conscious of maintaining dignity when giving charity. The word ‘charity’ itself can have negative connotations, leaving recipients feeling helpless and ashamed at having to rely on others. Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), gives us careful instruction not to belittle those we give to: “O you who believe, do not invalidate your charities with reminders or injury…3 In fact, we are told that we are not doing anyone a ‘favour’ by giving; it is a right that the poor have over the wealthy, a duty that we must fulfill – we are “those in whose wealth there is a known right for the petitioner and the deprived.”4

We know instinctively that begging is not dignified – just imagine for a moment how humiliating and frustrating it would feel to depend on others day after day for handouts, knowing that you would support yourself if you had the choice? The Prophet ﷺ also spoke of this humiliation: “Begging is a cut that a person inflicts upon his face, except for asking a ruler, or under the stress of circumstances from which there is no escape.”5 Instead, we are encouraged to work for our sustenance: he ﷺsaid, “It is better for one of you to take a rope and cut wood, carry it on your back and sell it, rather than to ask another person”6 ; “No-one has ever eaten better food than what he eats from the work done by his hands.”7  

So, if we are believers who “love for [our] brother/sister what we love for [ourselves]”8 , we should hate to see our fellow human beings stripped of their dignity by poverty, and feel compelled to do all we can to help them escape their situation. Yet in the Muslim charitable sector today, we see countless appeals for handouts which relieve suffering for just a week or two – food parcels, water trucks, orphan sponsorship which must be paid month after month – ultimately keeping communities poor and dependent on charity.

The burden isn’t just on charities, but on Muslim givers too, the community which welcomes these appeals without questioning or critiquing the approach. MashaAllah (what God wills), the generosity of Muslims is unparalleled and commendable: a recent survey in the UK showed that British Muslims give more in charity than any other faith or non-faith community9 . But just imagine how much good could come from our donations if they were put to better use; in the narration mentioned earlier, the Prophetﷺ managed to use two dirhams to lift an entire family out of poverty!

If we are to truly embody the Prophetic model of charity, a model which restored people’s divine right to honour and dignity when they fell on hard times, there are a few key steps we need to take:

  1. Understand the essence of Islamic teachings on charity: When we hear reminders that “the best deeds are feeding the poor…”10 or “whoever supports an orphan will be with the Prophet ﷺ in Paradise”11 , we should understand that the underlying objective is not the form of charity (giving handouts), but rather the outcome: helping people meet their basic needs. Helping a widow start a small business to support her orphan child is just as praiseworthy as giving her monthly sponsorship, and when the Prophet ﷺ helped his companion earn a living, he was responsible for feeding that family just as much as if he had given them a meal. In fact, the ongoing nature of this kind of support makes it a sadaqah jariyah (continuing charity), a highly commended act.
  2. Learn more about how the prophets gave charity: We all grew up with the same narrations about feeding the poor and giving generously, but I only heard the hadith (narrration) at the start of this article for the first time last year! The Qur’an also tells us how Prophet Yusuf, ‘alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him), advised the Egyptian authorities to save a portion of the grain from good harvests for upcoming droughts12 – we can learn lessons from this to help disaster-prone countries prepare for emergencies by storing food, rather than being left destitute and dependent on overseas aid when a crisis hits.
  3. Focus on those we are helping, not just ourselves: Islam teaches us that charity not only benefits others, but also brings the giver great reward and purifies their wealth. However, by focusing only on what we gain, it is all too easy to donate and feel that we have ‘done our bit’, without thinking about the positive or negative effects on those who receive our charity. We should of course recognise and reflect on the spiritual benefits of giving, but it is also worth doing some research into the kind of work that different charities do to make an informed decision about where to donate. After all, we will be rewarded for giving sincerely and with good intentions anyway insha’Allah, we may as well reap the double reward of lifting someone out of poverty and the cycle of dependency!

We have a huge responsibility on our shoulders: ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, radi Allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him), once said, “When the poor and needy come to you, know that your Lord has honoured you beyond measure.” I hope and pray that through reflection and informed charitable giving, we are all able to fulfill the “right for the needy and deprived” on all of us, and contribute to the restoration rather than degradation of their God-given dignity.

  1. Abu Dawud
  2. Qur’an 17:70
  3. Qur’an 2:264
  4. Qur’an 70:24-25
  5. Tirmidhi
  6. Bukhari
  7. Bukhari
  8. Bukhari
  9. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/faith/article3820522.ece
  10. Bukhari
  11. Bukhari
  12. Qur’an 12:46-48
Categories: Muslim blogs

A Mother and More: The Virgin Mary

The Platform - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 21:32

Narratives of Mary have focused on her motherhood to Jesus, but her virtues as an individual are just as exceptional

 

The eighth of September for Catholics marks the Nativity of the Virgin Mary. Her birth, nine months after her Immaculate Conception (not to be confused with the Virgin Conception) is marked not only due to her importance and deserved veneration, but also to celebrate that she was born without Original Sin, an honour only bestowed upon Jesus, John the Baptist and herself.

In Islam Mary, or Maryam, is also deemed by some as one of the two people not to have been hurt by the touch of the devil at birth, the other being Jesus. With a whole chapter of the Qur’an entitled Mary and another chapter about her family (The Family of Imran), Mary is often a topic for discussion in interfaith dialogues. Digging deeper than what is often thrown about in these conversations has led me to uncover treasures. Learning about Maryam without the usual discourse surrounding her has helped me connect with her as a woman, irrespective of being a mother.

‘She lives up to her name!’ I recall hearing on numerous occasions about my friend Maryam, whose maternal instincts and inclinations made her a strong and tender mother. The idea of motherhood has always been synonymous with Maryam in my mind. My own grandmother, a Catholic from Ireland, was named Mary, which compounded the idea of her being a gentle, nurturing female figure.

In my own research about women in Islam I have waded through tides of saccharine literature about how Mary, one of the four greatest women in Islam, had added clout by virtue of her being mother to one of our greatest Prophets. To bear a Prophet through miraculous means is awe-inspiring, but, as I am not yet a mother, I never really felt a connection with her portrayal. I always felt closer to the scholastic and feisty Ã’ishah or felt a wholesale connection with Khadījah. The inescapable iconic depictions of Mary made her feel distant and untouchable.

But Maryam is so much more than just (and I use this only for emphasis, because I will never belittle the role of motherhood) a mother. Her portrayal is in fact dynamic, with peaks and troughs of faith. Her own birth, which is often overlooked, was miraculous. In verse 3:31 of the Qur’ãn, it describes how her mother Anne (Hannah), long past child-bearing age, supplicated for a child and swore to devote it to God if He fulfilled her prayer. This is important in understanding Mary, because she was a blessing in her own right, a pious and spiritual woman, spiritually linked to another woman.

This too is reflected in Mary’s own motherhood. In the Qur’ãn and the Qasas al-‘Anbīyã (Stories of the Prophets), the latter a compilation by the late medieval scholar Ibn Kathir, she was established as an independent and spiritually attuned person, who would take care of the temple to which she was devoted and trusted God alone for her provision. I often reflect on this fact and whether I, currently childless, am ready to bring up a decent child based on my own spiritual state. It isn’t the fact that these women were great because they had children, they had children because they were already great.

Muslim belief emphasises that neither Jesus nor Mary were divine, but does believe in the Virgin Conception of Jesus. The Qasas relates a sparky conversation between Mary and Joseph (Yūsuf) the Carpenter, who tries to suggest that there is doubt about her Virgin Conception. She responded with multiple examples of God’s power to create without the need of any assistance, which makes Yūsuf realise the miraculous nature of her circumstances. This intelligence and confidence in her assertions, without being belittled or lambasted because she is a woman, is a lesson for all.

Oddly, it is one of her times of grief that I find I can connect with Mary most. Gripped with the pains of labour she is reported to have said ‘I wish I had been dead and forgotten long before this!’ Required to translate this very verse for my Masters finals, I almost couldn’t believe the poetry and macabre despair in the wording, forcing me to double (even triple) check other translations. Mary, the mother of Jesus, the only woman mentioned in the Qur’ãn by name, one of the most important women to Muslims, the one who some believe is a female prophet, and to whom Jesus’ epithet breaks the convention of being named after one’s father (‘īsa ibn Maryam), was so gripped with pain and despair that she almost couldn’t bear it. It was this phrase that made me acutely aware that she was a woman in pain, scared of the outcome of this birth; far from the depictions that made me feel so estranged from her, she was so incredibly human.

Her humanity and dynamism in the Qur’ãn and in the various stories narrated about her (irrespective of their authenticity), afford her a depth of character that is so often robbed from the narratives of women today. It is notable that very little is documented about her life after her giving birth. This invites us to look at her as an individual in her own right prior to the narrative of Jesus.

Mary’s dynamism ranges from an unerring devotion to and trust in God both before and after giving birth to Jesus, a confidence despite persecution and doubt against her, and an intelligence that manifests in wisdom. But she was also somebody who was vulnerable, tender and scared. Understanding Mary as her own person, one with many sparkling facets clothed in a tangible humanity, establishes why she is one of the greatest women of all time.

Image from: Scene from film adaptation, “Saint Mary” http://www.ifilmtv.com/English/Series/

Categories: Muslim blogs

Striving for Excellence

Imam Suhaib Webb - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 13:00

First Topic: Why Be Good When You Can Be “Excellent”?

By Uzma Awan

Photo: Mike Bitzenhofer

It so happens, sometimes Shaytan (Satan) fools us into believing we are doing well. We are keeping up with our fard (obligatory) salah (prayer), Ramadan fasts, yearly zakat (a tax that is the duty and social obligation of every Muslim), and infrequent or daily readings of the Qur’an and that’s sufficient. We enter from one day into another being content with ourselves.

Then we read biographies; biographies of Muslim men and women of the past, of leaders and accomplished individuals. We meet people in our lives who have achieved much more than we can ever imagine. And then we wonder, “Why can’t I be like them too?”

Most of us aspire to tread in the footsteps of the prophets and their companions (may Allah be pleased with all of them), however only a handful actually do it. Aspirations are kept aside thinking we are not good enough, too young, the time has not come yet, one day, insha’Allah (God willing)!

Ask any person regarding what they would like to do in life and their response will be something that they value most. The question that arises here is that when “this” is what you most value in your life then why not start with it? Why put it on the backburner? If Jannah (paradise) is what we aspire towards, then what will get us to a higher level than others?

Doing Extra

Fard salah are okay, appreciable, but why not add to them sunnah (all the traditions and practices of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, peace be upon him) and voluntary prayers? Scholars have emphasized the importance of voluntary acts of worship because it is through them that a servant draws closer to his Lord.

Everybody is keeping up with the fard acts of worship, then how do we have a better chance of getting Jannah? What is it that we sacrificed?

The reward for offering duha (mid-morning) prayer has been compared with that of umrah (pilgrimage to Makkah). Stressing its importance, Abu Umamah radi Allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) narrated from the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) that he said, “…a prayer followed by a prayer with no worldly talk during the gap between them will be recorded in Illiyyun.”1

Illiyyun is the plural of `ulayy which means “highness, high places or the people who sit in high places.” The more something ascends and rises, the more it increases and becomes greater.2

Encompassing all the trials and tribulations of this world, this life has been given to us to ascend our status in Jannah. There are several possibilities of achieving that status. As Abu Huraira (ra) narrates, “My friend [the Prophet ﷺ] advised me to do three things and I shall not leave them until I die, these are: To fast three days every month, to offer the duha prayer, and to offer witr before sleeping.”3

By adding voluntary prayers, reviving sunnah fasting, reading, teaching and memorizing the Qur’an, we can hope Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala, the Most Exalted, will overlook our shortcomings, help us see our mistakes and lift us up to perform more good deeds, insha’Allah.

Perfection

Those who have not been homeschooled know that from the first day that we entered the school building we are taught perfection. Perfectly made hair, properly trimmed nails, perfectly tied shoelaces, perfectly ironed uniforms, perfectly assembled school bags and stationery boxes, and perfectly straight assembly lines. If this is the code of conduct for the worldly life then what about the religious duties?

Many of us can keep up with the fard prayer but sometimes these prayers are half-hearted lacking khushu (humility, devotion, and concentration) and perfection. We come to the prayer mat as if one comes to an event merely for attendance or to show their face without feeling like coming.

Ibn Laila narrates from Umm Hani who said, “I never saw the Prophet ﷺoffering a lighter prayer than that (Duha) prayer, but he was performing perfect bowing and prostrations.”4

The Prophet ﷺ revered the voluntary prayers as he did the fard salah. Perfection, out of love for Allah! There are other similar ahadith (sayings and traditions of the Holy Prophet Muhammadﷺ) where he advised his companions to save their heels and perfect their ablution.

Utilization of Time and Other Resources

Hasan al-Basri said, “O son of Adam! You are but a collection of days; whenever a day passes, a part of you ends with it.” One morning, when Muhammad ibn Wasi was asked how he was, he replied, “What can the condition of a man be who draws closer to the Hereafter with every passing day?”

We are getting closer to our death every day. Our life is coming to an end. Soon our role on earth will be over. What is it that we have done that is going to make us proud on the Day of Judgment? Will we be of those who would wish they had done more?

This calls for a poignant introspection of our lives and our times. Talking about productivity, Annie Dilliard writes in her book, The Writing Life, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.”

If we look at our lives, what deeds consume most of our time, skills and energy? Are we really doing our best for the sake of Allah (swt) and His Cause, and for the sake of our own salvation in the Hereafter?

If we are good speakers, are we spreading the word of Allah (swt) by our talks? If we are good writers, are we using that talent for the sake of Allah (swt)? If we are great cooks, do we take out time to cook meals for a poor family at least once a month, if not every week? We spend so much on ourselves, sometimes in ostentation. What about impressing Allah?

Yes, it is toilsome to do the extra along with other stresses of a modern life, but what if we trained our minds to believe our Hereafter depends on it?

In Surah al-Balad, Allah, the Most Exalted talks about the steep path that He encourages us to choose. He says, “But he has not broken through the difficult pass.” (Qur’an 90:11)

He has shown us two paths – one that leads to Shaytan and the other that leads to Jannah. The one that leads to Shaytan has been likened to descending a hill. It’s easy but choosing this path will wreck our hereafter.

On the other hand, there is aqabah—a steep path. The word iqtiham means “to apply oneself to a hard and toilsome task”.5

Climbing a steep hill is tedious and causes fatigue but we also learn from a hadeeth recorded from `Amr ibn `Abasah that the Prophet ﷺ said, Whoever builds a Masjid so that Allah may be remembered in it, Allah will build a house for him in Paradise; and whoever frees a Muslim person, then it will be his ransom from Hell; and whoever grows grey in Islam, then it will be a light for him on the Day of Judgment.”6

There are so many tasks that lie before us. There are masajid (mosques) to be built, renovated, improved and filled. There are orphans and needy to be fed and looked after. When one looks at war and the growing tribulation in the Muslim world one cannot ignore the statistics of hungry people. There are our brothers and sisters, unjustly imprisoned. They are waiting for our assistance. What are we doing for them?

We seek Allah’s refuge from living a negligent life and ignoring our responsibilities.

  1. Extracted from a long hadeeth, Sunan Abu Dawoud, Book # 2, Hadeeth # 0558.
  2. Tafseer Ibn Katheer, Surah Al-Mutaffifeen, Ayah 18.
  3. Saheeh Bukhari, Book # 21, Hadeeth # 274
  4. Saheeh Bukhari, Book # 59, Hadeeth # 587
  5. Tafheem-ul-Qur’an, Maulana Maududi, Surah al-Balad
  6. Tafseer Ibn Katheer, Surah al-Balad, recorded by Imam Ahmad
Categories: Muslim blogs

The Quest for a New Pakistan: A Tale of Three Parties

The Platform - Sun, 07/09/2014 - 07:48

Disruptive protests and state violence mar troubled efforts towards change

 

In the latest battle for a new and improved Pakistan, Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri of the opposition parties have set up their camps and stages near the Parliament and Prime Minister’s House in the capital’s “Red Zone”. Their demand: the current Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, must resign.

Each party has its own set of grievances and agenda for the protests. Qadri, leader of Pakistan Awami Tehrik’s (PAT), is out to seek retribution for the deaths of over a dozen members of his party during what is known as Lahore’s Model Town Massacre in June. Holding the Pakistan Muslim League-Noon (PML-N) responsible, Qadri is demanding Sharif be tried in a court of law. Similarly, Imran Khan, leader of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), is retaliating against the current leadership in response to unfair elections in the 2013 polls, claiming the votes and ballots were massively rigged in favour of PML-N. As a desperate man’s last call for change, Khan resorted to an azadi (freedom) march and dharna (sit-in) after unsuccessfully reaching out to the Parliament and Supreme Court on multiple occasions.

A Sit-In Like No Other

Ironically, their rallies outside the Parliament are doing more harm than good. Prior to their arrival in Islamabad, a sense of panic and fear was created as gas stations announced closures in anticipation. Endless lines were generated at every gas station in town with everyone was filling up tanks not knowing when they would get the opportunity to do so again. Ultimately, all supplies were finished at these stations leaving some to turn back empty-handed.

For weeks now, containers filled with sand have been set up at different entry points between the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, blocking entry and exit. In the early days, attendance at offices had been low since residents were restricted by blocked city roads. Also, schools and universities were closed for security reasons and continue to remain so; potentially holding back those wanting to apply for further studies.

Supply of essentials to the city has remained disrupted generating a massive hike in prices. Economic activity was suspended for days; markets were empty. The stock exchange took a major downward plunge on a daily basis with losses in the millions.

With the end nowhere in sight, the Red Zone had become a source of entertainment to residents of the twin cities. People from nearby cities joined in with full gusto. In the daytime the supporters are getting their work done so they can enjoy musical performances while food and drinks are sold at street stalls. This defies the whole point of the cause rendering it counterproductive.

So why has the situation gone this far with no intervention? The armed forces are all geared up and ready but reluctant to use force; especially since majority of the supporters are woman and children. The army prefers not to intervene and leave the use of force as a last resort given the frequency of coup d’états throughout the nation’s history and its undesirability to the masses. Moreover, it poses a serious risk to the current ruling party and increases the chances of protestors calling for new elections and the political drama that follows. It seems Sharif’s strategy is to hide behind the military’s apprehension to intervene and the nation’s reluctance to accept such intervention.

Table Talks and Political Drama

Let us for a moment entertain the idea that Sharif hands in his resignation. Once he gives up his position, the currently friendly team of Khan and Qadri will not be so friendly. In the quest for power, they will ultimately become opponents, leaving the masses to suffer the consequence once again. No matter the crime of PML-N, at this point sit-ins and political deadlocks are not solutions.  

All demands within the realm of the law have been accepted, however officials have stated that unconstitutional demands such as the forced resignation of the current ruling government will not be entertained. According to the Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif, the government has exercised maximum restraint forming negotiation teams to persuade the leaders to peacefully end the protests.

In the latest round of talks, Sharif had reluctantly requested the army to intervene and take matters into their hands even if it means setting martial law. All parties involved were called in for talks and reconciliation was falling into place. However, Sharif dug his own grave when later in Parliament claimed that he was never in favour of bringing in the armed forces, rather it was Khan and Qadri’s idea. Upsetting both PAT and PTI leaders over more “lies and deceit” and furthering the nation’s ever growing frustration, any chances of resolution was slowly shaping into a distant vision.

Police Force Intervention

Sharif’s political career has sunk deeper in its grave following the latest turn of events which saw the use of violence against protestors. As the protestors were drawing closer to the Prime Ministerial House on the night of Saturday August 30, police forces were ordered to use tear gas and rubber bullets to stop protestors from progressing. Violence continued throughout the better part of Sunday with women and children also falling victim.

14 deaths and approximately 300 injuries were reported. Several medical personnel across hospitals in Islamabad proclaimed the use of live bullets which were removed from some of the victims, explaining that rubber bullets cannot penetrate the body whereas live bullet will cause entry and exit wounds. Doctors were asked by the government not to give out information pertaining to the wounded especially body counts. It was also reported that the police were hiding the wounded protesters behind containers to reflect the figures to their own advantage.

Furthermore, it has been speculated that other chemical substances were mixed in the tear gas which caused asphyxiation. According to the Statute of International Criminal Court, the use of any poisonous substance or gas is considered a war crime.

Earlier this week, some of the protesters broke into and took over the state owned Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV) and ransacked the place, temporarily disrupting its telecast. The armed forces were called in to intervene and gave the protestors ten minutes to evacuate before force was used. Within seven minutes the protestors peacefully left the building upon which PAT and PTI leaders publically announced this was in no way endorsed by them and it could not have been their activists as anyone who acts against the constitution and damages public property is not one of them.

The country’s political deadlock has now become more resolute than ever. Qadri, and Khan are seeking a total revamp of the country’s electoral system and governance. They have been giving electrifying speeches ridiculing the current system for large scale corruption, nepotism, and amplifying social and income disparity. They are committed until Nawaz Sharif resigns and takes immediate steps for a free and fair election.

A joint session of the parliament was initiated on Tuesday and continued through the week to discuss the latest political situation. With each party leader firmly standing by their beliefs and the nation glued to their television sets, only time will reveal the verdict that will bring this all to an end.

Image from: http://www.dawn.com/news/1123876
Categories: Muslim blogs

Ferguson, Missouri: Why Race Still Matters

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Sat, 06/09/2014 - 13:53

In his Time Magazine essay discussing the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Rand Paul focuses on the militarizing of our police. He also mentions the malicious role that race plays in our law enforcement and criminal justice systems, a courageous stance for a white American politician. Paul, however, misses a critical point. He says that as a youth if he were told by policeman to get out of the street, he would likely have “smarted off” without the expectation of being shot.

The point is that an average young white kid today can still smart off to the police, militarized or not, and not expect to be shot, or even arrested for that matter. For the average black kid, the chance of being shot during an encounter with law enforcement, while not high, is always present, and the chance of getting arrested is astronomical. Thus, race and not the militarizing of the police in America is a more reasonable starting point for tackling the issue of the abuses African Americans face when dealing with the law enforcement and criminal justice systems in this country.

To further develop this point, consider the following. When Oscar Grant was shot, lying face-down and handcuffed on a Bart platform in Oakland, California, the policeman who shot him was not in an armored personnel carrier. He was on foot. The gang of policemen who rolled up on Amadou Djiallo, and proceeded to pump 41 bullets into him, were not wearing flak jackets and night vision goggles, they were in plainclothes. The policemen who gathered outside of the elderly Kenneth Chamberlain’s apartment, hurling racial insults at him and demeaning his military service, before finally kicking in his door, tazing and then fatally shooting him, were not militarized in any particular way. The policemen who fatally shot two unarmed teenagers, Papo Post, an African American, and Miguel Arroyo, a Puerto Rican, in my hometown, New Britain, Connecticut, did so in the 1970s before militarized police forces were even being discussed.

While it is indeed true that militarized police forces are on the rise in this country, and the implications of this development for civil liberties are chilling, police shootings of unarmed white citizens are not rising correspondingly. Hence, if we want to examine the ongoing incidences of members of minority communities who are being gunned down by law enforcement officers in this country, we are going to have to tackle the unresolved race issue.

In conclusion, while it is certainly true that there have been incredible gains for African Americans in this country, issues such as the disproportionate searches, arrests and shootings of black youths, all of which are harsh realities in Ferguson, Missouri, point to the deceptive nature of those gains. The country certainly has passed a racial milestone when it elected a black President, however, the conversation around race and the ramifications of failed race relations, in law enforcement as well as in other areas of American life, must be ongoing and part of a wider search for solutions that will contribute to ending racial disparities in this country. To avoid the hard conversations related to these issues, and to continue to delay the harder search for the means to change the attitudes informing racist behavior is a disservice to all Americans, especially minority youth.

Categories: Muslim blogs
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