We’re Loving & Living Islam!

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“Unity is strength…when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved”. And such was LIFe 2016

I am feeling happy, upbeat, and proud to be a Muslim. Having spent 4 days last week in the presence of around 3000 Muslims from across Great Britain at the Living Islam Festival (LIFe) 2016, I am reassured that the vast majority of Muslims in Britain are proud to call themselves British Muslims.

For those who may not be aware, the Living Islam Festival took place between 28th-31st July in Lincoln. It’s a four-day festival organised by the Islamic Society of Britain (www.isb.org.uk) that transforms the scenic Lincolnshire Showground into a mini village, with attendees staying in tents and caravans and many in local hotels and B&B’s, doing their bit to boost the local economy. LIFe 2016 as it is affectionately known, has been described as the Muslim ‘Glastonbury’ or alternatively the Muslim ‘Hay Festival’. With the missing links being drugs, alcohol and rock ‘n roll! Over the four-day period adults and children have the opportunity to attend sessions aimed at all ages, that run simultaneously throughout the day. Lectures, and debates for adults that provoke and stimulate discussions, such as reforming Islam and finding answers in a plural society. The younger Muslims have the opportunity to enter into interesting conversations around topical subjects or even just attend practical hands on activities such as bushcraft and Islamic Art. For example, one session was titled ‘Grime, Dub Step and Hip-Hop – keeping it real keeping it halal’ and another ‘mum dad you’re driving me ….’. The event provides a safe space for Muslims to BE Muslims, talk and debate the things that are affecting them and their families in the real world. But it also provides a much needed 4-day spiritual retreat. An opportunity to renew your faith, rekindle your connection with God out in the open and under the blue skies, or simply to pray. LIFe can be exactly what you want it to be.

Organising the event requires what can only be described as a military manoeuvre and preparations get under way twelve months, if not more, in advance, before the day when the gates open. With near-on 50 individuals heading up their own department, the project is managed overall by the Festival Director – Dr. Khalid Anis where inevitably ‘the buck stops’. What’s most important to note however is that the event is planned, organised and put on by volunteers. From the registration team at arrivals, audio visual team in the big top and across the event recording seminars and debates, the cleaning team, events programme, scouts, the 0-5 area, Young Muslims, campus, information centre, VIP / guest hospitality, feeding, supporting, transporting, cleaning and of course the security team – the list is endless.

From the spectacular arts and culture marquee set up for the first time by the amazing Julie and Rozina, the must-have bi-annual coffee shop (sorry Anika!), snack shack, bazaar, the food court, the medical centre, the mini rural community that was the Living Islam Festival 2016, had everything you needed and wanted. Freshly brewed coffee, books, clothes, information, support, arts, ice cream, Malaysian cuisine, burgers and chicken, Asian must have such as pakoras and samosas, cakes, smoothies.  And without a shadow of a doubt, you had spirituality, prayer, supplication and knowledge in abundance.  You could find it all in LIFe as the mini four-day settlement was quite simply a reflection of the bigger society we live in. And thanks to the forward thinking Julie a small group of us were able to give a little something back to the local community we would be staying in for the next few days.

We were privileged and delighted to play host this year to some eminent scholars and speakers including Karen Armstrong, Rabbi Laura Janner-Krausner, Shaykh Ruzwan Mohammed, Shaykh Akram Nadwi, and Ustadh Ubaydullah Evans, to name but a few. A number of entertainers who, over the years, have become our  good friends, joined us again for LIFe.  This year we were amused by Omar Regan, entertained by Faraz Yousafzai and the Sophistas, and spellbound by the beautiful songs our children have grown up with, by Dawud Wharnsby. There was also a young man there who goes by the name of Harris J that seemed to get everyone very excited!

The early mornings and late nights, the call to prayer during the day, praying in congregation throughout the event, the Qur’anic recitation, the spectacular Friday congregational prayer, the parachute jump, the vast audience in the big top at night, the hustle and bustle in the bazaar area, the constant stream of people in and out of the coffee shop and the crazy rush to take up membership at the ISB stall, all go towards making LIFe what we have seen this year. – spectacular.

The Sunday LIFe event saw a number of VIP’s invited to come and experience LIFe for themselves. Attended by the Bishop of Lincoln and the High Sheriff of Lincolnshire, a representative from the US Embassy and representatives from a variety of faith communities, came to the showground for the Sunday. They willingly took part in an interfaith cricket match (‘MOD ‘v’ The God Squad – no prizes for guessing who won) before moving on to the Islamic Society of Britain’s Celebrating Excellence Awards 2016. The nominations received this year were of an amazing standard and we were delighted to be able to recognise the hard work and commitment of individuals including James O’Brien from LBC for his contribution to the media, Dr. Gill Hicks MBE for her courage in the face of adversity and a posthumous Lifetime Achievement award to Jo Cox MP.

As just one very small cog in the great machinery that is the Living Islam Festival, I am again in awe at the time, patience and commitment shown by every single one of our volunteers to ensure the event is appealing and relevant to the Muslims living in Britain today. The media presence, the inter faith dialogue, the projects that we run, all are important aspects of the ISB. However, nothing is more important than our most vital resource – our members and our volunteers who work tirelessly in their branches the length and breadth of the country. From Glasgow to London, Manchester to Sheffield. The organisation would be nothing without you. Your efforts do not go unnoticed and my grateful thanks for all that you have done and all that you will no doubt continue to do in the future.

The current climate seems to dictate how and why Islam and Muslims can or should be ‘seen and heard’. Suicide bombings, ‘lone wolf’ attacks, such as the recent tragic murder of Father Jacques Hamel are just two examples of when Muslims are expected to speak out, distancing themselves as Muslims and followers of Islam from the atrocities, something unfortunately we do have to do. But today there will be no bowing of the head in shame or remorse. Islam and Muslims are not filled with hate – we are filled with love and compassion, kindness and generosity, patience and sincerity. All of which were evident in abundance at the Living Islam Festival 2016. If you attended, thank you for making LIFe 2016 the best yet. If you didn’t attend, all I can say is take a look at the photographs, judge for yourself and remember to book your tickets to 2018 early!

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And it’s a wrap – till 2018!

The world is full of injustices – a couple of blokes making fun of my religion isn’t one of them.


Right so let’s start with a disclaimer:

I am not in any way condoning racism, anti-Muslim hatred,  or any other form of discrimination. There is no room in our society for the insidious form of hatred currently taking root in society – a hatred that we have seen in Nazi Germany, Rwanda and just twenty-one years ago in Bosnia. And we know only too well where this can ultimately lead.

But earlier this week I watched the clip of Louis Smith MBE and simply thought ‘what an idiot’. If you are one of the lucky ones that have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, give yourself a pat on the back. To get you up to speed, Louis Smith and his fellow Olympic gymnast were filmed taking a rug off the wall at a wedding reception; they then pretended to pray and shout ‘Allah Hu Akbar’ (God is Great). OK so they were some what inebriated at the time. But let’s give credit where credit is due, in this case to their RE teachers. There knowledge of Islam clearly extended to them appreciating that in order to pray they needed a mat that was clean and to begin by proclaiming the greatness of God. They were clearly paying attention in their RE lessons. Was I offended – no. Did I find it funny?  Actually I did. Unfortunately, despite his sincere apology,  Louis Smith is now getting death threats and the Gymnastics association are ‘investigating’ the incident.

I can remember watching Dave Allan at Large on a Saturday night many years ago and his closing greeting,” Good night thank you and may your God go with you” is one that is now iconic. His short clips are just as iconic, particularly the ones involving Catholic priests and particularly the Pope. I remember the one about ‘the fart’ or perhaps you remember the one with the Pope doing a striptease? They were funny right? Saturday evenings were made for comedy acts like Dave Allen – a Catholic making mockery of his own faith whilst the rest of us watched and laughed on. I didn’t find anything remotely offensive about that. Indeed I found it hilarious. But then – I’m not a Catholic. There were those who did – Mary Whitehouse was always writing to the BBC and complaining about the blasphemy (his own mother called him a blasphemer). He was banned from Irish TV and had death threats from the IRA. He mocked and offended the Catholic church to a degree that is quite unimaginable. And I would say he got away with it too.

Every religion has at some point found itself at the sharp end of a comedy act – whether Dave Allen or Jim Carrie in the Wrath of Ganesh. The depiction of Prophet Noah in the recent film left many from the Abrahamic faiths uncomfortable and who wasn’t upset by Bruce Almighty, right?

But what it is about Muslims that makes us belief that we should not ever be mocked or our beliefs made fun of? What makes us think that above all other faiths and beliefs there should be a moratorium on being offensive towards Islam and Muslims. Folk like Azhar Usman and Preacher Moss make there living out of being funny Muslims (‘how come Muslims speed everywhere but are still late for everything?’)  In fact, what makes us believe that Islam requires us to defend it to the point we become so angry that we lose sight of something more important – perspective. When are we going to stop being offended by bacon sandwiches in a buffet, or our children taking part in an Easter egg hunt, or being sent a Christmas card (‘honestly don’t they know we’re Muslims?’).

Our Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said “The powerful man is not the one who can wrestle, but the powerful man is the one who can control himself at the time of anger.” But this takes strength, especially when we see something so important and special to us being abused or ridiculed. But surely our faith is big enough to defend itself. Shouldn’t we be channelling our energies and our anger to rectifying the bigger wrongs in the world? If we must get angry, let’s get angry about the REAL physical and verbal abuse being hurled at Muslims going about their daily lives. Let’s get angry about the 7 million tonnes of food and drink being thrown away annually that could have been used to feed the hungry (we are the worst offenders in Europe). Get angry about the hundreds of thousands of Britons being forced to go to food banks. Get angry because of the housing shortages, the cuts to benefits that leave 185,000 people sleeping on our streets. Get angry about the 22,000 children who die in one day across the world because of the abject poverty they are living in. And if you’re really brave, speak out about the persecution of minority faiths in Muslim lands where even the slightest objection can result in individuals being accused of blasphemy and finding themselves under the threat of execution. Or women who have faced years of domestic abuse, some from very tender ages, being tried for murder when they could take no more and took matters into their own hands.

The world is full of injustices – a couple of blokes making fun of my religion isn’t one of them.


Fatima Manji – A response from The Sun Ombudsman

I recently wrote a blog about my thoughts in relation to the disgraceful article written by Kelvin MacKenzie about Channel 4 newsreader Fatima Manji – you can read it here https://hifsahiblog.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/when-the-sun-doesnt-shine-on-muslims/ 

I reproduce below the response I have received from the Sun Ombudsman Philippa  Kennedy OBE:


Dear Mrs Haroon-Iqbal,

Ref: Kelvin MacKenzie’s column about presenter wearing a hijab.

Thank you for your email. I am sorry that this column has upset you.

Kelvin MacKenzie is a columnist for The Sun but does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the newspaper. The Sun’s views on this issue are better reflected in this piece by our reporter Anila Baig https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/1463714/anila-baig-the-fact-that-fatima-can-present-a-news-bulletin-and-also-wears-a-headscarf-shows-how-great-britain-is/ and our ‘United Against IS’ campaign https://www.thesun.co.uk/archives/news/393327/united-against-i-s/.”

The Sun carries a wide range of columnists whose views are often robust and controversial. The newspaper believes that it is its job to give writers freedom to express these views that are often shared with many readers.

You may be aware that this matter is now being investigated by the Independent Press Standards Organisation. They have already rejected several similar complaints on the grounds that the article was ‘opinion’ and the columnist was entitled to express that opinion. They also rejected complaints that the article was discriminatory on the grounds that the Editors’ Code of Practice is designed to protect individuals mentioned and does not apply to groups of people such as Muslims.  

Until IPSO has concluded its enquiries, I would prefer not to send you a formal response but your concerns have been noted by the Editor.

Yours sincerely

Philippa Kennedy OBE

Sun Ombudsman

When The Sun Doesn’t Shine on Muslims

Dear Mr Gallagher

What sort of odious creatures are you employing at The Sun in the guise of professional journalist?

Are these people for real? Is this the only way they can find of ‘making it’ in a world where fame is judged by the number of friends on Facebook, followers on twitter or the number of retweets that you get?

Whatever their reasons, it is becoming more and more evident, that we are living in a world that is far too accepting of hatred towards Muslims,  whether that comes in the form of abuse whilst travelling on the buses or from within our media. We are living in a world that once upon a time judged our ‘Britishness’ by which cricket team we supported, but as Baroness Warsi put it, has progressed to one where  Islamophobia had passed the dinner-table test and become socially acceptable in the UK.

Forget the fact that Muslim women work in every walk of life from teachers, barristers, doctors, dentists and politicians. It would appear that whilst a Muslim woman can be Chair of the Conservative party, a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf can win British Bake Off and go on to bake a cake for Her Majesty The Queens 90th birthday party, a Muslim man can become Mayor of London. But Heaven forbid a Muslim woman wearing a scarf should be seen on mainstream television reporting on a terrorist atrocity without some hate fuelled tirade by a petty-minded bigot. And I use the word bigot very carefully after having been reminded a few times recently that ‘Muslims aren’t a race’. Muslims do however constitute the second largest world religion and in accordance with the Equality Act 2010 must not be discriminated  against because of belonging to a particular religion or holding a particular philosophical belief.

However that is exactly what The Sun and your highly professional reporters appear to do on a regular basis. Why has this not been challenged?  Why has this been allowed to continue – both by yourself as Editor in Chief, from your reporter Kelvin MacKenzie and us as British Muslims?  Are OFCOM, the communications regulator, not able to see that there is something grossly wrong in the blatant messages certain media outlets are trying to put out there? The appalling language designed to divide communities, promote pure hatred and I believe incite physical and verbal abuse of Muslims has left me and many people disgusted and yes, fearful. Not only for our own safety but for that of our children, our families and our friends. The implication that there is no such thing as a good Muslim, that no Muslim should ever report on a terrorist attack or anything that is even remotely ‘Muslim related’ shows the pure stupidity and mindset of not only the people writing these things but the audience it is aimed at. So should a man never report on a rape attack on a woman? Should a white man never report on an incident of domestic violence by a white man? Or a person who is overweight not present a report on obesity? Was it ‘appropriate’ for a Muslim woman in a scarf to report on the Nice attack? Damn right it was because guess what. Fatima Manji is a highly skilled professional journalist working for Channel 4 and has absolutely nothing to do with a man who allegedly  has a history of violence , domestic abuse , petty criminality and a religious affiliation that is highly questionable. She had nothing to do with the attack any more than I or the 1.6 billion peaceful, law abiding Muslims across the world did. It is not Channel 4 that hosts unprofessional journalists – I think we all know where they are currently residing. And Fatima Manji is the epitome of a professional British Muslim, let’s not forget that tiny fact in all this. Reporting of this nature is not only irresponsible it is contemptible and it is dangerous. So dangerous that it should be investigated by OFCOM and the police as it fuels the growing tide of far right extremism, it not only condones but promotes hatred and quite simply glorifies prejudice, division and racism. Should you be in any doubt at the rising levels of far right extremism currently facing our country, I suggest you take a look at Tell Mama’s most recent report ‘The Geography of Anti-Muslim Hate’ (http://tellmamauk.org/geography-anti-muslim-hatred-2015-tell-mama-annual-report/ ). Or just ask a Muslim woman next time you get to meet one.

People like yourself in positions of great authority have a duty to society around you to report responsibly and use your powers to create cohesive societies, not create more division. We should all be responsible for creating communities where the most vulnerable feel safe and secure. History has taught us the harsh realities of what happens when a group of people are targeted and turned into pariahs by their friends and neighbours. We have seen the destruction in Nazi Germany, Srebrenica and Rwanda.  I hope you and your journalists at The Sun reflect on their words and the actions that they could potentially lead to.

Kind regards







Dear Katie Hopkins

Dear Katie

I woke up this morning feeling quite chirpy and happy, considering I’d only had 7 hours sleep in total, had been up at 2.30am making breakfast for the family and knowing my next meal wouldn’t be until 9.30pm tonight.

Then someone sent me your article from the Mail. And quite frankly I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I’m not sure who does your research for you before you write / speak about things you clearly know very little (if anything) about. Whoever they are, I would sack them.

So where do I start? As the much loved Julie Andrews once sang, ‘Lets start at the very beginning, a very good place to start’.

Thirty days of not eating or drink or having sex? Say what? You may like to be made aware that if you gave up eating and drinking for 30 days you wouldn’t actually last 30 days. Most human beings in the wealthy parts of the world tend to have three meals a day, numerous lattes, ice creams and snack and various intervals. We eat and drink simply because we can. During Ramadan this is reduced to just 2 meals a day, breakfast (suhoor) and iftar (the evening meal). We do eat and we do drink. It’s just that there is a considerable length of time in between meals. It’s doable, and as you rightly point out (surprisingly), those who can’t for a variety of reasons such as ill health, old age or pregnancy, don’t. And no sex for 30 days? Where did you get that one from? OK yes it does mean that there is no sex during daylight hours, but hey, there is still a good window of 6 hours for a bit of action if that’s really what you want!

Now let’s talk personal safety. Absolutely agree with you on that one. If you feel that you are going to put someone else’s life at risk should you be fasting? I know many dentists, firemen and doctors for example who feel that they can’t fast because they don’t want to risk putting someone in danger. And they can make that personal choice and many people do. I’ve driven when I’m fasting and actually my senses are more alert at times and at others I will opt not to drive because I’m feeling drousy. If a Muslim taxi driver is working it’s because he feels he is able to. You have the choice of getting into the cab with him or not. He wouldn’t be working if he didn’t think he was up to it. Let’s not forget that most adult Muslims will have been fasting since they were children. The body is an incredible machine and over many years learns hope to cope with all sorts of hardship. Much like a body builder who over many years trains to lift heavier and heavier weights by increasing the load slowly. I can remember fasting in these long summer months when I was 15. Boy they were hard! This time round, it’s not too bad as over the last 33 years I’ve trained my body and built up to the long fasting days again.

There is a lot of nonsense in the media about employers having to make special arrangements for Muslim staff who are fasting. This is what you’ve alluded to in referring to rearranging breaks, changing exam timetables, giving people ‘special treatment’. But actually that goes against the very grain of the religion. The idea is not to rearrange one’s lifestyle around the religion. The religion is a way of life and we shouldn’t be changing our normal patterns to accommodate it. The vast majority of Muslims will continue their normal routines, still getting to the office for 9 and leaving at 5 (but not having smoking breaks or a lunch break so actually they would be entitled to leave a bit earlier anyway).

Katie how many Muslims have you been around who have become ‘weak and dizzy’ from lack of a cheese sandwich? I have worked since I was 20 (over 30 years). I’ve had three children, worked with many different people and I can say with hand on heart not a single one of my work colleagues will ever describe me as has having become ‘weak and dizzy’ from hunger or thirst. Where young people and exams are concerned, my daughter is currently taking her A levels and over the next few weeks I will not allow her to fast until her exams are over. I’m certain this will be the same for many other young people. It’s about choice and how you feel you can cope. Why does it become ‘madness’ just because you can’t understand it?  Have you ever tried fasting?  I’s a great way to detox, think about those less fortunate than yourself, develop some self-control. Try it – it might do you good!

‘Ramadan typically coincides with a spike in terror violence”. Seriously Katie where do you get this from? Yes I know there has been a bomb attack in Istanbul today and our hearts go out to all those innocent victims killed or injured today. But this attack has not been carried out by your ordinary mainstream Muslim.  This is why it becomes really important that you don’t misrepresent what Aaqil Ahmed Head of Religion at the BBC said;

“I hear so many people say ISIS has nothing to do with Islam – of course it has. They are not preaching Judaism. It might be wrong, but what they are saying is an ideology based on some form of Islamic doctrine. They are Muslims. That is a fact and we have to get our heads around some very uncomfortable things’

ISIS / Da’esh might be Muslim but all Muslims are not ISIS /  Da’esh, nor do we support ISIS  / Da’esh and have absolutely no affiliation to this terrorist organisation. The vast majority of the 1.8 billion adherents of the Islamic state world-wide are peaceful law abiding citizens. Islam is to ISIS /Da’esh what Christianity is to the KKK. But you already know that don’t you.

There is absolutely no tension let alone a ‘strange’ tension in what Ramadan means to the Muslim population in the UK.  For British Muslims as well as those across the globe, Ramadan is a period of self reflection, prayer, supplication and self-control. It is a period of time when we make a conscious effort to think of those less fortunate than ourselves, to give more in charity and to feed the hungry. Up and down the country people will be organising evening meals in their homes, community centres, churches, mosques and synagogues. Personally, I have organised an Iftar in my home for a group of non-Muslims who have probably never had a meal with Muslims in their home before. I’ve also organised an evening meal at the homeless shelter local to where I live. Four Muslim women, cooking a meal for however many non-Muslims during Ramadan and we will be feeding them at 6.30pm, whilst we are still fasting. Britain and Europe are not ‘hosts’, it is  home to Muslims who play a full and active role in the political, social, economic and civil society they live in. ‘We’ are indeed tolerant. ‘We’ are the most tolerant society in the world, where anyone can say and do more or less what they like so long as they’re not breaking the law. And that includes nasty, bigoted individuals vocalising their hateful views and opinions in print and over the airwaves, designed specifically to cause division, hatred and further their own media image. And just for the record. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Head of the Church of England, who I have had the pleasure of meeting on more than one occasion, might disagree with you about this being a ‘truly secular society’. Britain is and always will be a Christian country. Get over it.

It’s such a shame that your comments have caused so much upset to people. Only you could have turned what is for Muslims ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ into something to be feared and  despised. You have had something to say about anything and everyone; ginger babies, drug addicts, the overweight, prisoners, stay at home mums, breast feeding mums, working women, feminism, tattoos, children named after places (your daughters called India right?), ebola, grooming gangs, refugees, Muslims and now specifically Ramadan. Nick Hewer said that you had created a new brand , The Katie Hopkins – “Katie Hopkins in a white suit, Pollyanna hair, red lips shaped for sin and so much vitriol and I don’t understand where its taken you, its made you famous but its made you loathed”.

(P.s. I don’t like to finish on a nasty note especially as during Ramadan I try to be nicer than normal. So with that in mind, let me invite you to come and dine at mine one evening during Ramadan and see for yourself what it’s really all about! And if you don’t want halal we’ll go veggie for you (but you’ll miss out on a couple of mean lamb dishes!)


What One British Muslim Woman Really Thinks

“I think there are two ways in which people are controlled. First of all frighten people and secondly, demonise them”. (Tony Benn)

In a different life I used to be a researcher and know how easy it is to manipulate your study to say exactly what you ultimately want it to say. The ICM poll looking at the views and opinions of British Muslims from the onset set out to prove Muslims are a ‘nation within a nation’. And that is exactly what it did. Shame on you Channel 4.

The ICM poll clearly had three things in mind; to stir up racial and religion tensions, damage community cohesion and further isolate and stigmatise Muslims. It was designed to prove ‘they’ (Muslims like me) aren’t like ‘us’ (everyone who isn’t a Muslims) and ‘we’ needed to be suspicious of ‘them’. The ‘us and them’ narrative came from Trevor Phillips, a 62-year-old black man whose family are originally from Guyana and who held the role of Chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (that he admits he took on purely so he could shut it down). The poll seems to have been constructed to provide oxygen to the likes of Katie Hopkins and our newspapers who the next day came out with the sensationalist headlines ‘what do British Muslims really think? Now we know and its terrifying’; ‘we’re all going to hell in a hijab’; ‘Muslim views have a different ‘centre of gravity’ and ‘UK Muslim ghetto warning’. Not to mention the fodder that has been provided to fuel the thousands of vile comments on social media describing Muslims as ‘the enemy hiding in plain sight’ who need to ‘adapt to our culture or do 1’. There has, admittedly, also been a very humorous side to the whole affair with some very funny comments being made using the hashtag ‘what British Muslims really think’.

Funnily enough it reminded me of the Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt film ‘What Women Want’. If you haven’t seen it, it is worth watching. It tells the story of a male chauvinist whose world of advertising is being taken over by women. When a freak accident renders him able to ‘hear’ the thoughts of women around him, he decides to use the ‘gift’ for his own benefit. I am going to save you the trouble of having to encounter an unfortunate electrocution before you can hear the innermost thoughts of a woman, so I’m going to share with you what this one British Muslim woman thought during and after wasting 60 minutes of my life.

I could have predicted exactly what was going to be ‘revealed’ and it was really not worth staying up for.

Let’s look at some of the headline grabbers, but be warned. This is not any sort of scientific analysis of the research findings, just #WhatOneBritishMuslimWomanReallyThinks.

According to the ICM poll, one in three believe men should be able to take more than one wife. Okay – but don’t you think it’s fascinating that 2/3rds of those surveyed believe one is more than enough for anyone? It was unfortunate that some sensible Muslim women had been duped into appearing on this programme in the first place. I was more disturbed by the comment made by one of them who stated that {marriage} ‘for a man is a huge responsibility. For a woman it’s a privilege’. I had to rewind that bit three times because I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. What an insult to women and a disgraceful comment to make. What does she think married women should be doing, thanking their men for marrying them? And what of those who are single or divorced? Are they not ‘good’ enough for any man, that they should be elevated to the status of being someone’s wife? Marriage should be seen as a bond between equals. If it isn’t, you fall down at the first hurdle. Our Beloved Prophet Muhammad (Upon Him be Peace) married a wealthy, strong, rich businesswoman. She was incredibly lucky to have Him for a husband. He was just as privileged to have had her for a wife. A wife who believed in him, supported him, financially and emotionally, cared for his children and his community and worked hard all her life. Her role and the role of all women should never be down played in this way. Least of all by Muslim women themselves.

Just over half of Muslims surveyed thought homosexuality should be illegal. Actually, that means that just under half of those surveyed don’t believe that. That’s pretty reassuring to me and indicates that views and opinions have come a long way and are changing. Muslims are becoming more tolerant, understanding and accepting that everyone, whatever their sexuality, has the right to choose how they live their life. Isn’t that the conclusion that should have come out of this part of the survey, instead of yet again looking at the negative?

Apparently almost a quarter want the introduction of Sharia law in this country. That still means 75% of those surveyed really do not want Sharia in Britain. And perhaps if the poll had gone further and asked what those who wish to live under Sharia should do, the response would probably have been to offer them a one-way flight to the nearest Muslim country (and I use the term Muslim country loosely and definitely not to mean a region currently inhabited by a group of murderers claiming to be a state).

It appears that a ‘frightening’ 4% of those polled support violence, including suicide bombings, to ‘defend’ Islam with only one in three saying they would report a suspected terrorist to the police. So let’s get this right, because 43 out of 1081 people surveyed allegedly support violence and suicide bombings, we can conclude that 4% of the 2.7 million British Muslims (that’s 108,000 people) support violence and suicide bombings? This is when I want to say WTF but won’t, because Muslim women don’t swear do we? However, what I will say is this has to be the biggest pile of horse **** this survey came out with. To come to this conclusion is not only flawed but indicates the deeply sinister motives of the question; to create fear, division and alarm amongst society and further turn people against each other. Well done Trevor! The man who coined the phrase Islamophobia is working hard to ensure it not only survives but thrives.

I would have preferred the makers of this programme and subsequently our media to make more of the fact that the survey found that 83% of Muslims are proud to be British, that 77% identify strongly with Britain, over 86% have a strong sense of belonging and 82% want to live in diverse communities, 94% felt they could practice their religion freely and 77% felt British society treated women with respect. But that doesn’t quite fit into the image we’re trying to create about Muslims in our midst, does it.

And seriously, what’s with all the questions relating to how Muslims ‘feel’ about people of other groups, when really all the survey wanted to ask about was how Muslims felt about Jews and Israel? Talk about leading questions! ‘Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country’ and ‘Jews have too much power in the business world’ are just 2 examples of how these questions were worded and clearly suggests the answer the survey wanted to get from people. And the respondents sadly obliged.

What worried me most was the fact that the poll selected those individuals who were living in areas of 20% or more Muslim populations.  Whilst there may not be data available to suggest that those who live in areas with fewer Muslims are more liberal in their views, I do know (from very personal experiences) that when you live in close proximity to a community you identify with (whether that’s based on race, religion, politics, social standing or professionally), you do become part of that group. You will share commonalities, opinions and discuss issues of mutual interest. You will become part of a group who may start to hold similar views because those are the views you will hear more regularly. You will, albeit inadvertently, become locked inside an echo chamber where certain views and opinions become voiced again and again, they become the norm, constantly reinforced and ultimately accepted by everyone. That is how most societies work. And that is what I see when I look at the responses to many of the questions in the survey. People responding to a survey in a way that they feel is expected of them, not necessarily what they really think. People answering a question with a response they do not necessarily agree with themselves, but believe that as a Muslim that is what they should be thinking, because they have been told it often enough by someone else. The survey results do not necessarily reflect what Muslims in Britain really think, but what they believe society expects them to think.

Not long ago, I was challenged by a 16-year-old boy in college. He wanted to know why I and another Muslim female colleague, were doing the job we were doing and not a ‘White British person’. So I asked him what made him think I / we were any less British just because we weren’t white? I explained (as politely as I possible could), that I had lived in Britain for over 50 years, longer than he’d been alive. I explained that my family were working in the fields of medicine, law, engineering, technology, teaching and government. Between us we had most probably paid millions in taxes – taxes that were being used to pay for his education and his health care. I had voted in every single election since I turned 18. I supported a number of UK charities. I had friends who were Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhists, Spiritualists and friends who had no faith. (And by the way I see these friends outside of just work and shopping and definitely more than once a year!) I went to churches and synagogues because in no way did this compromise my own faith and belief but strengthened my friendships and our mutual understanding and respect for each other. And these same friends would attend Eid and Ramadan events to support me. Democracy; the rule of law; individual liberty; mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith. These are not just British values to me, demonstrated by posters and words. These are Islamic values I have lived with all my life. And this child had the audacity to try and tell me I was not British because of my skin colour and my religion.

One of the things that used to make my late father very angry was if anyone ever said they could not be ‘bothered’ to vote. I remember my brothers saying that to him just to wind him up – never a good idea! His response was always the same. If you can not be bothered to vote, do not bother complaining when you get the government you do not want. Do not be surprised when society cannot be bothered with you, because you do not want a stake in your society. Do not complain about anything; schools, university places, taxes, state of the roads or your bin collection. Because by not voting, you are opting out of the system. A system that is in effect giving you the opportunity to have your say and make a difference. He was always a believer that it is best to be part of a system and change it from within rather than criticise it from the periphery.

My father would often remind us of how fortunate we were to live in a country where we had the power to to put people into power (and remove them as well). A power not afforded to many people in other parts of the world. I was reminded of what my father used to say in January 2005, when the first free elections were held in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussain. A good friend of mine, an Iraqi, came to drop off her daughter at a Muslim Youth group I was running. She was walking towards me, shaking her finger at me, which I found rather bizarre. Her finger was purple, she had tears in her eyes, but her face was a beaming smile.  She explained that for the first time in her life she had been given the chance to have a say in who she wanted to see govern Iraq. If only people in this country could, like my friend, understand the importance of having a say in the democratic processes. Saying our Politicians are all the same, nothing ever changes, what’s the point, they all lie, is a poor excuse for not taking part in the democratic processes that give us the power to decide who will govern us and how. One vote really does matter.

So there are two things that I want to see.

I want the British media to give ‘us’ a break. How about you stop the ‘us and them’ rhetoric. We are all part of this one tiny island trying to do what we can to make a good life for ourselves and our families. Stop associating religion with perpetrators of criminal acts, you are only legitimising their heinous and barbaric actions and effectively criminalising 2 billion others worldwide. Call them what they are; murderers, butchers, terrorists, groomers, rapists. Just please, do not call them Muslims. And how about occasionally having something positive to say about British Muslims, there is lots out there for you to use. You wouldn’t have to look too far and it might actually build some bridges as well as confidence amongst Muslims that the media is able to be ‘balanced’.

However as Muslims we also need to accept that we have a problem. We have a problem within our communities, we have a problem in the way we have allowed our faith to be misinterpreted and hijacked by a tiny vocal majority. We have not been outspoken enough against those Muslims seeking to put a wedge between us and the rest of society. We have to speak up and we have to speak out. We have to stop being critical of Muslims who are prepared to put their heads above the parapet and do something about the growing problems within our own communities. We have to stop hurling abuses and recognise that we are doing this for the good of society. We must never defend the indefensible. We need to ensure the security and safety of this and all future generations of British Muslims. I do not want my grandchildren growing up in a Britain where they are feared or where I fear for their safety.  My grandchildren will be the next generation of British Muslims and I want them to play a full and active part in the society that is their home, I want them to be respected but I expect them to afford the same dignity and respect to the whole of society, regardless of race, religion, colour or creed, gender, disability or sexual orientation. Always.

Calais – A Life in a Day 12-13 February 2016

“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”                          

(Saint Francis of Assisi 1181-1226)


The last 48 hours has been quite a whirlwind of events and emotions.

When in the Shakespearean play All’s Well That Ends Well the Countess bids her son farewell she provides him with sound advice as he sets out on his journey to join the royal court of Paris. She tell him to “love all, trust a few, do wrong to none”. A great motto to live by and certainly one that I think very much covers how I felt before, during and  certainly after, a very emotional trip to Calais last weekend.

A trip that started with a very simple conversation along the following lines:

Hifsa; “I’d love to go to Calais myself, hire a van, fill it with food and clothes and go see for myself what the situation on the ground really is”

Uzma: ” I’m sold – let’s do to”

So we did. The following are just a few very personal perceptions from the day.

Last Friday  evening, a group of six individuals, Uzma, Chris, Sedky, Rizwan, Amir and myself (most of us from the quiet county town of Stafford), headed down to Dover ready and eager to catch the 7.30am ferry to Calais on Saturday morning. Thanks to the sterling efforts of some amazing volunteers and supporters,  a phenomenal amount of donations of food, tents, duvets, sleeping bags, toiletries, books and medical supplies came pouring in as soon as people heard of the trip we were about to embark on. People from Stafford and across the country were putting their trust and confidence in us to ensure their generous donations reached those most in need. What follows is my reflections from the trip. I am certain that my fellow travellers would have similarities in their experiences, but our perspectives will also be very different. It took me a long time not to judge myself through someone elses eyes. Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent”.

I wasn’t quite sure how I was feeling when I left. Delighted that it was happening, apprehensive about what I would see and unsure about how I would cope emotionally on a personal level. Having returned, I’m still not entirely sure how I feel 48 hours after arriving home.

The first thing that hits you as you drive out of the port at Calais is the barbed wire fencing and the blue ‘tents’ on the other side. The fencing was more like something  I’m more used to seeing around prisons. Along the route to our destination were police vans, every quarter of a mile or so. 3,4,6 police officers appeared to be in the vans that were on the main road, down little side roads and on the flyovers. I counted about 7 or 8

We arrived at the ‘warehouse’ at 10.00am local time. This is the place where donations are sorted, organised and distributed. The place was a cross between a giant warehouse and a massive scrap yard / garage  (think a cross between IKEA and Kwik Fit) with lots of people milling around in high vis jackets and waistcoats, directing arrivals to different parts to unload. The warehouse was split into different sections with the tents, duvets, blankets, tarpaulins and sleeping bags we had brought going in one direction

Food donations went to another side of the warehouse whilst the medical supplies we had brought with us had to be taken to another venue not far away. The operation is run like a well oiled military manoeuvre. It has to be. Goods unloaded, we all chipped in to help where we could. The longer term volunteers were clearly well versed in what needed to be done. Our small band of merry women and men helped sort clothes, chop ginger, garlic and onions (for the 2500 meals cooked daily in the kitchen). We helped make up the food bags that would be handed out to the refugees later that day. 1 kg of rice, sugar, salt, pulses, onions, fish and anything else that was available that day. It was good to see the donations we had brought all the way from Stafford being distributed whilst we were there. Bags are packed for 2 people and contain supplies that should last over 2 days. It was sad to see how much food people were being provided with to last them a couple of days. Coming from a country where almost 15 million tonnes of food is thrown away every year (and half of that comes from our homes) it was hard to imagine people with so little having to rely on the generosity of others to live.

During the short time we were in the warehouse, I spoke to many people from England, Scotland, Wales, Germany, Italy and even Ecuador. Every one of them was there because they simply wanted to help. They had seen scenes on their television screens, their smart phones and on social media showing the extent of the humanitarian crisis and they wanted to ease the suffering in any way they could, however small. I met Barrie, a teacher from Wales. Having visited during the Christmas break to help, he returned back to Cardiff, handed in his notice and went back to Calais. You can see what Barrie has to say about the crisis here.

I spoke to a student from Ecuador doing a Masters at the London School of Economics. He had a weekend free, so hopped on a bus and came over to Calais to help. He too was happy to share his feelings.

It was heartwarming to see the number of young people who had come because they just wanted to DO something. Young people get a bad press wherever they live in the world. I saw a giant pot overflowing with young people of so many nationalities, who had more compassion than I had ever witnessed. People who jumped into their cars, hired mini vans, got on the train, because they could; so they did. I asked many people why they were there and the response were always the same. Because we want to help.

We went into the refugee camp during the early afternoon. Having been at the warehouse and witnessed a hive of activity, cheerful faces and a real sense of camaraderie, the camp had an eerie, almost haunting feel about it. It was cold, it was muddy and there were very few people about. It resembled something you would expect to see in a third world country, or the townships I had seen in South Africa . The ‘homes’ didn’t even appear to be tents. More like frames covered in waterproof sheets, which didn’t appear to be doing a particularly good job, on a very wet and cold day. Occasionally you would see a small group of men running behind a van that had come for distributing duvets or clothes. I saw one woman during the short time I was there. Men were praying, heading to the makeshift churches. The people didn’t want to make eye contact. They were embarrassed and I felt uncomfortable Despite all the concerns that others had expressed to me about going into the camp I didn’t feel scared. I did however feel like I was invading their privacy in the worst possible way, bordering on voyeurism. The refugees would look at you with suspicion then quickly look away. One or two stopped and told us where they were from. I felt awkward. I felt like I was dehumanising these individuals by coming to ‘look’ at them and look at the degrading, humiliating circumstances they were having to endure. Did it achieve anything? No. Would i have been better employed remaining at the warehouse and giving hands on assistance, possibly. Would I go again to the camp? Yes. But what is needed is better organisation around the practical support that can be offered in the camp when volunteers go. I do not believe that anyone should be able to just walk in off the street nor would I recommend anyone ever go to ‘take a look’. It’s upsetting for you and for the refugees. By doing so we are putting those most at risk at even greater risk. The report in The Independent gives a very good reason as to why the refugees are suspicious (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/calais-jungle-refugees-targeted-by-armed-far-right-militia-in-brutal-campaign-of-violence-a6870816.html). How can they distinguish the compassionate from the abusers? How do they know whether the three men walking towards them are going to speak kindly to them, or try and break them not just physically but mentally and emotionally too. The camp has been referred to as a place more commonly associated with wilderness, animals, and savages. The word ‘jungle’ in Urdu means an area of forestry. I prefer to use the term The Village. Because with somewhere in the region of 6000 people living there, it is the size of a small English village, minus the quaint houses, the lawned gardens and 2 cars in the drive. In the Village I walked through there were just muddy lanes, mattresses covering the hardest of rocks, torn tents and desperate people. But like any English village, it had its church (or two), library, children’ play zones, and barbers.

The migrants in Calais are a patchwork of global turmoil: the Syrians are there because they are desperate to start new lives away from the bombs raining down on Damascus. I was told by one volunteer about the doctors, engineers and architects that were there. He told me about the law student who was there because he was unable to complete his studies in Syria, after a bomb blew up his university. There were refugees from Sudan’s Darfur, Afghans fleeing their nation’s decade-long conflict, political asylum-seekers from Eritrea and Ethiopia. And there are children as young as ten, without parents, without guardians and open to all sorts of abuse and safeguarding issues. Desperate people who are simply seeking safety and security for themselves and for the people they love. Isn’t that something we all want?

Someone said to me during the weekend that arguing with an idiot is like turning the light on for the blind. I am not going to embark on a political discussion about the how, why’s and where-fores of the current situation let alone why we find ourselves in this mess in the 21st century. Everyone has an opinion. The only factor we should be addressing is the humanitarian crisis. 2016 – we have people who are hungry, cold, wet and desperate. I wonder what history will write about this period? ‘History is written by the winners’. I wonder who the winners are going to be? I know who the losers are.

Uzma and Chris discussing the events of the day on the ferry back

The first opportunity for the six of us to have a group photo. #TeamStaffordToCalais are homeward bound