Breaking the Idol of Mockery — Tamim Faruk

https://www.safinasociety.org/post/breaking-the-idol-of-mockery

Me gusta this article, and I have decided to (procrastinate a little and) think about my thoughts on it:

You cannot consider ‘liberalism’ – which, all in all, holds that ‘liberty’ is the most important thing – without due consideration of its colonial histories. To be ‘free’ means to be without (or, to act in spite of) constraints. And when liberty, in and of itself, becomes the primary value for a people, abstract values (for example, concerning the sanctity of certain things, and the mutuality of social rights and responsibilities) become less important; a threat, even, to liberalism’s primary focus. ‘Individual freedoms’.

If one is to be ‘free’, then one is free to offend. One is free to cause harm. One is free to exploit others, and to generate endless amounts of wealth, at the expense(s) of just about anything.

Truly, in ‘liberal’ societies such as France, who is ‘free’ to act in accordance with their own individual desires? The powerful or the (comparatively) powerless? Would an Islamic magazine satirising, say, the concept of democracy (which even Plato, for example, had criticised) garner the same response, from the French public, as secular magazines mocking Muhammad (SAW)? Probably not. Based on the nuances of history, and as a result of ensuing sensitivities, such a thing would likely stir up a lot of anger, fear, and intolerance… just as the donning of the headscarf would appear to do, in France.

In its colonial past, France has had control (gained and maintained through violence — through one group exercising their ‘freedoms’) over a number of different nations, including a handful of Muslim-majority ones. Bloody and brutal are many aspects of this history, and now France has, within its borders, roughly five million citizens who are of Muslim descent.

The definition of bullying is using power in order to belittle, taunt, and degrade those who are less powerful than oneself. Muhammad (SAW) is a very important figure, in Islam; to Muslims. Just as Jesus is, to (believing) Christians.

Fundamentally, as the author of the above article mentions, there is a difference between bullying and mockery, and attempting to engage in discussion and debate. In fact, the former tends to be designed in order to, a) stifle the latter, and to b) evoke strong emotional responses… for the sadistic pleasure, I suppose, of the powerful.

And, yes, one can bully another not solely directly by insulting them, but also by insulting what is important to them. You know, how some insult others’ mothers, to bring about a potent emotional reaction in them? Like that, no?

The point of satire, in general, is to keep governmental authority and such in check. But when the relatively powerless are mocked, or when something or someone deeply important to them is mocked, it is bullying.

I like to think in terms of abstract things and comparisons, I guess. So: if there were two households, and Household A were to take some of Household B’s belongings, brutalise some of their family members, and put them at a strong economic disadvantage… and then, if they were to blame Household B for their own suffering, labelling them “savages” and “barbarians” and then, several years later, if later members of Household A were to openly mock B’s religion and/or whatever is, or has been, sacred to them… Would this be, in any way, morally justifiable? In the name of ‘liberty’, and through feigning the moral upper hand?

Liberalism. Liberalism for whom, and at the expense of what and whom? I think, when one group freely, and without accountability, indulges in their ‘freedoms’ (which are naturally augmented as a result of power, and also in turn leads to the augmentation of power) necessarily, another group’s ‘freedoms’ – those of the less powerful – are constricted. Read: the colonial history of France, and the supposed bastion of ‘liberty’ the nation has become, today.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

“Should Muslim Women Work?”

Assalamu ‘alaikum folks,

I hope you are well. I just wanted to share this video – a stream by ‘Muslim Skeptic’ Daniel Haqiqatjou and his (ridiculously cool, Allahummabārik laha) wife – which I found absolutely fascinating. Gender, Islamic principles, modern notions surrounding feminism and liberalism, ‘work’ and ‘worth’, and more…

I personally do agree with the bulk of what has been said. But, even if you are not Muslim, and/or fundamentally disagree with Islamic takes on gender roles and their sacred value, I can almost assure you that you, too, will find this video very interesting indeed. Educational, certainly. Watch it in order to challenge your current perspectives, may-haps…

The world of ‘modernity’, as we know it, is sort of a mess. Ideas pertaining to what human beings are; what life is for. There is, underlying all this, a deep and wealthy history of reasons as to why things today are (or, seem) the way they are.

And, even in spite of such things as the detrimental high pressures that we are faced with, courtesy of the ways (I would say, ills) of modernity: we are still human beings, at the end of it all. Human men; human women. Created by Allah. Allah knows us best, and these sacred laws are certainly not without reason.

Have a watch – or, rather, a listen – to the video, Insha Allah. [Perhaps, since it is rather lengthy, you may wish to view it in chunks.]

Personally, I find it essentially and authentically liberating that, in terms of economic work – partaking in economic labour – this is not an obligation upon me, Islamically. Yet, it is something I may do, if it is good; if I enjoy doing it, and want to do it. Teaching, writing, for example: I do so enjoy doing these things, Alhamdulillah.

I think: men are men, and women are women. We are both human; we have numerous similarities between us. However, man’s nature is essentially masculine. A masculine essence, if you will. While woman’s nature is essentially feminine.

I have definitely fallen prey to the whole ‘careerist’ ideology, before. And, to the whole ‘I need to be more like men in order to be ‘liberated”, ‘Yasss queen’, mentality. These ideas are ubiquitous, so it would seem. Even quite a few of the girls I currently teach argue bitterly and vehemently that “men are trash”; that they will ‘get rich’ and ‘be independent’, all on their own.

The ‘social sciences’. There is no better way to deeply understand ourselves — humanity: in groups, and as individuals, than as tethered to Al-Haqq (Truth). Allah fashioned us – every atom, every molecule, every hormone, everything within us that facilitates thought and reason; from which social (including political) structures arise. He also authored Al-Qur’an; sent Muhammad (SAW) as our main Example, to be followed.

As Muslims, we know that men are men. With their own Divinely-ordained essences, and rights as well as responsibilities. Same with women. And men are to honour their womenfolk in a particular, tailored way, whilst women are to respect their menfolk in a particular way.

Women and men. The Qur’an elucidates that we are spiritually equal [see: Qur’an, (33:35)]. And, in terms of nature and certain gender-specific things that are asked of us, also different. It is not ‘oppression’ for something to be different to another.

In the ‘world of modernity’, where Religion is done away with as a central consideration: other things are brought into central view, as attempted substitutes. The ‘Economy’, if you will, as well as social status, which serves as being ancillary, almost, to this first ‘god’.

Whereas we Muslims are to find the Meaning of Life, as well as the very core of our identities in Islam: ‘modernity‘ enjoins individuals to ‘find meaning’ through economic work; this is where people are expected to ‘find themselves‘, too.

School. At school, I think, I had been, and children are being, strongly inculcated with this primarily ‘Economic’, careerist mentality. See, man is, by nature, a slavish creature. Whom – or What – is it that we currently find ourselves primarily serving, or seeking to serve?

When I was twelve, I identified as a ‘feminist’, and wanted to be an engineer. Not really as a result of any deep, true passion for engineering. More so… as a result of the whole ‘Prove People Wrong’, ‘Break the Glass Ceiling!’ mentality. I compared myself to my same-age cousin. Why would my aunts ask him to carry out this DIY task, or that one (for example)? Why not I?!

And now, I think I understand these things better. Life is not ‘easy’ for men, while being inordinately ‘hard’ for women, by comparison. They (men) have their rights as well as their responsibilities – and their struggles (some, gender-specific. Others, simply broadly human). And we women have ours.

The fact that this cousin of mine, at age twenty, for instance, is partially (truly) responsible for the financial upkeep of his household; driving his siblings to various places daily because he has to, while keeping two jobs and studying for a degree. It is a lot; I am proud of him.

And we could be reactionary, yelling: “How come men get to…”, “How come women have to…” and more. Or, we could (realistically) come to the conclusion that (when addressing the gender-specific realm of things) men have their own blessings and challenges. Rights, and responsibilities. Strengths and weaknesses. Azwāja. Strengths: a particular type of practical intelligence, for example. Thriving as a result of competition, too, perhaps. We women have ours. [Emotional intelligence 100. The urge to – and the talent with which – we are able to make places more homely. Have you ever seen a male-dominated workplace, in contrast with a female-dominated one? Or, male bedrooms in contrast with female ones? The differences are quite self-evident.]

These, though there are great [I hate to sound like some pompous academic here or something, but] nuances between individual people [one woman’s individual expression of femininity will likely look at least a little different from that of the next woman. One man may be completely different, compared to another man. But if you were to group all men, and all women, together, and compared between the two groups: here, perhaps, the differing essences would make themselves far more apparent]

I am just so glad that I can (finally) sink into my essence[s] more, now. Careerism, truth be told, stresses me out. I love teaching and writing; they are passions of mine. But my primary worldly ‘goal’, if anything, really is to have and to run and to keep, if I may, a wonderful home – a good little world of our own – Insha Allah.

I recently came across an anecdotal story about how a (formerly, non-Muslim) police officer – female – who had been stationed in East London, ended up converting to Islam, as a result of watching some of the Muslim families. Going from praying Jummah at the mosque, to eating out at the nearby restaurants; having an authentically good time, together.

The individualistic, atomistic, mainly economic-productivity-driven ways of ‘modernity’: they run antithetical to the fundamental callings of our souls, and, quite often: they leave us spiritually starving.

The Fitrah, my dudes: the Fitrah, deep within you, already knows where it’s at. Religion. Family. Fulfilment, Meaning. Strength. Due rights, and due responsibilities.

And I have been thinking: would it be a ‘waste’ of my human ‘potential’ if I were to continue to not absolutely prioritise economic work, in terms of my life-based considerations? The answer, as I have concluded, is no: not at all. I lose nothing if I work part-time, instead of full-time, for example. I lose nothing if ‘climbing up the career ladder’ is not a central goal of mine. In fact, I gain. More of my humanity. Lessened feelings of stress and exhaustion; a more ‘filled cup’, to give from. To those who deserve; have rights to, even, the ‘best’ of me.

I realise: ‘modernity’ would enjoin me to believe that some things are simply not ‘enough’. It is not ‘enough’ that I am teaching Year Sevens and Eights, for example; maybe it would be ‘enough’ if I were to be, someday, a lecturer at a university, or something. I have certainly been susceptible to being overtaken by these modes of thinking, before. That, for example, in order for my writings to be ‘more meaningful’, I need to work on publishing a book.

The truth is: these Year Sevens and Eights are just as valuable as human beings, as university students, or something. Also, I can achieve as much Khayr from publishing blog articles, as I can, perhaps, as a result of writing a book. I choose to consider the ‘spiritual’ value of things first, Insha Allah.

In Islam, there is this Qur’anic idea that “whoever saves one soul, it is as if he has saved mankind entirely.” [Qur’an, (5:32)]. Subhan Allah, how liberating. In Islam, it is not the ‘numerical outcomes’ of our actions, which ‘count’. It is the spiritual weight of them, stemming from the intentions underlying them. Therefore, if I aim to impart some good unto just one human being (a family member, a friend, maybe) perhaps this would be equal to imparting some good unto a hundred, or even a million, human beings. Ultimately, we are responsible for the intentions underlying our actions, as well as the steps we may take, with those intentions in mind; while Allah is in control of their outcomes.

I think it is quite common for many people my age to have a bit of that “we-need-to-save-the-world” impulse, within us. How lovely this is. However, first and foremost, it is my own (relatively small) world that requires my due attentions.

I wish to not put economic considerations first. I also do not want to put otherwise-social (i.e. the fleeting opinions of every man, woman, and child I have ever had the pleasure of being acquainted with) considerations, first. When you put Islam first, though some things may prove somewhat difficult, in the short-run: ultimate goodness (lasting, liberation, fulfilment, deep love) surely ensue.

Some are out, in this world, seeking ‘gold’. Others are out there, seeking ‘glory’. We Muslims, however: it is goodness that we ought to strive for; it is God whose countenance we strive to seek.

The video: I would really love to know what you thought of it. Anything you would like to share: please comment down below, or send me an email at: hello@sincerelysadia.blog


With Salaam, Sadia, 2020

On Debating

“Point of information!”

“No thank you,” accompanied by a simple ‘sit right back down’ gesture. 

 

Debating is, undoubtedly (and when done properly!) an art form – the art form that concerns facts, figures, rhetorical devices, humanity, logic galore. Impassioned speeches, appeals to the…humanness… of humans (to all three – logos, pathos, and ethos – components). Witty comebacks, tensions, a heightened sense of intellectualism, coupled with a (deliberately) heightened sense of its seeming opposite, emotion. Disagreements and/or discovery, with a necessary helping of civility and perhaps a touch of theatricalism. 

Recently I came across what would appear to be an ongoing post-debate debate – an  intellectual back-and-forth – between two of my most favourite debaters. And it really got me thinking about what the point of debates might be, as well as the foolishness of the use of personal attacks, among other things.

Honestly (and my apologies if I sound glib and condescending here but) I do pity those who have never been part of a debate club before, or who have not taken part in a debate before. Of course, some debates take place ‘informally’ (i.e. without formal adjudicators and/or hosts and moderators) – at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park (London), over dinner tables [I have this one uncle who has always, since my childhood, initiated ‘deep conversations’ and debates with me – on topics ranging from time and space, to the properties of water. I have him to thank for so much – insert cheese – of who I am and for how I think, today] and indeed while with friends, talking about certain things.

Something that is not fun, in my humble opinion, is constant argument – bickering. Arguing for the sake of arguing; tendencies that tend towards utter solipsism. Indubitably, the point of debating should not be the surrender to, nor the ardent nurture of, the ego.

Ah, formal debating, how I miss thee. The unparalleled joys – the motion being set; things being set in motion. Moments of inspiration under timed constraints, rushing to brainstorm various things on paper, trying to get your team to agree on things and to complement one another. You will forgive me, dear reader, for my shameless displays of nerdiness here, but the rush. Knowing how to win over the audience; knowing how – and when – to expose perceived faults in the opponents’ lines of reasoning.

But, thinking bigger here, the point of debating is not to commit to consistently being right. Something that I love about traditional debate clubs and competitions is that sometimes one is forced to assume a place on the opposite side of the table – to argue for something that normally, one disagrees with. What does this do – what benefits could come from this? These particular challenges do much to boost a person’s cognitive skills, as well as one’s capacities for empathy – for appreciating a range of perspectives.

The person representing the view or idea being debated is undoubtedly important. I must stress the aforementioned point that we are human, centrally emotional creatures. We love humour and narratives and imagery, among other things. And any debate would just be… fleshless, robotic … without all of the things that render it a potentially brain-stimulating, mind-expanding art form.

Rhetorical questions, lists, statistics, anecdotes. Points of information, rebuttals. Anacoluthon, analogies, apophasis, anadiplosis, litotes. And in bigger debates, the unique opportunity to witness the power of your words in action, (potentially) shaping the atmosphere of the entire hall.

And then, some of the things to steer clear of: ipsedixitisms [I love that word], shouting and heckling [you’d think that the folks who sit on those infamous green benches over at Parliament would be above all this puerile stuff, at their ages and in their positions. But, alas… the House of Commons might as well be renamed ‘the House of Heckles’. Many MPs, with all due respect, often debate in a completely uninspired manner, sometimes just reciting statistics from a piece of paper, sometimes not even including any facts in their addresses at all. Some even take naps on those very benches while debates go on. But I digress. Order! Order!] And then, of course, there’s the ever-prevalent tendency of things to sometimes be taken a little bit too far… thus leading to things descending into hyper-emotionality, irrationality, and ad hominems – personal attacks, which do nothing to bolster or undermine any actual arguments. In general, these signify a pathetic attempt to divert attention away from the actual topic at hand, and more towards a (pathetic) battle between egos.

Something I need to constantly remember, in any debate-resembling situation (that is not an actual formal debate where the very point is to stubbornly stick to a view even if I myself do not agree with it – though even then, my ultimate purpose should be to learn something, no?) is that intentions are paramount. What is my intention here? To prove that I am ‘right’, at any cost, even if I am actually wrong? And, are they attacking me or just a view of mine that I may sometimes mistake as being an unchangeable part of my identity? And, am I being fair to them? Am I truly listening to what they are saying? Do I really, truly agree with these views I have chosen to be a spokesperson for, or am I simply being unproductively stubborn, deploying ego defence mechanisms where, perhaps, they are unneeded? 

I love that debates can easily become awfully – tremendously – conceptual, abstract. You put some sort of ideology or view – all these intangible things, figuratives, potentials – on a metal plate, under surgical lighting. And you proceed to poke and jab at them; attempt to dissect it from a a range of different perspectives. What might the economic implications be? And the political ones? How would this motion affect…women? What might the physical sciences have to say, on the matter [oof, pun not intended, but what a pun indeed, right]? All in all, I have learnt so much from partaking in, and from watching, debates – both formal and informal ones. I have learnt about Islam, about Philosophy, about abortion, the education system… Knowledge in action, interdisciplinary considerations, and all this (hopefully,) with a fine helping of humanness and enjoyability: this all makes the learning component so easy!

Usually, with these things, there is no single ‘right’ answer. And perhaps this is one of the things that makes such oratory duels so interesting. No two people are the same; people’s perspectives – the bases of their speeches – tend to be wholly unique, too.

One can – and should – always try to respect a debating ‘opponent’ (partner) and their humanity. Ad hominem attacks ought to be avoided at all costs – and, actually, from my observations, it is clear that the use of these personal attack tools (falsely) promise a quick and easy way out – and to ‘victory’. It is easy – and quite pathetic – to state or insinuate that a Muslim dialectical partner is being… threatening or ‘terroristic’, or that a woman who identifies as a feminist is being ‘whingey’, or that someone who is a supporter of the political right is, by default, a ‘Nazi’. Ad hominems – insults – can be effective in causing offence to, perhaps disgruntling, one’s opponents. But they do nothing to fortify one’s own arguments; if anything, they only perceptively undermine one’s integrity and authority in the given dialectical situation. So, respecting human beings is paramount [- that is, if you buy into the whole ‘innate value’ thing. If you are, instead, of the opinion that this is a wholly indifferent universe, in which we are happy accidents and biological robots with no objective morality or purpose, then… you… do your thing.]

But also, the merits of freedom of speech should certainly never be overlooked! We (only, really) become more learned and wise through discussing things with others; in the process, we may grow in security in terms of sticking with certain views of ours. Or, we may find ourselves outgrowing certain views.

Anecdote time: before beginning my time at sixth form (which was almost three years ago, now – wow!) I had always staunchly identified myself as a feminist and as a leftist- in terms of everything. And, it is true what they [who is ‘they’? And is it the same ‘they’ that DJ Khaled constantly expresses remonstrances with?] say – about how the issue with definitions is that they tend to result in us overlooking the capacity for change, and sometimes, for nuance. This notion had certainly held true for me, during the majority of my pre-Year Twelve days. And what did it result in? An inability to truly see and listen to the other side.

It can be so easy to dehumanise, in our minds, people who share very different views from us – and to create false dichotomies. Us versus them, us versus them, us versus them.

But, at sixth form, I met a friend who also loves debating. And we would debate all the time. I must admit, I began to take things a little too personally when we began to discuss topics like racism, sexism, and Islam, respectively. But this friend – who is different to me in terms of race, religion, gender, political leanings – truly challenged some of my established ways of thinking. He remained respectful throughout all of these discussions of ours, even when it would have been easy for him to resort to actual personal attacks; props to him for this.

I ended up learning a lot from him. I ended up developing my critical thinking skills, through these debates, and as a result of them, some of my views certainly changed.

Now, another random tangent [which makes sense, because this friend and I used to debate in our Maths class, the most] – I used to love debating with Twitter trolls, back when I was fourteen years old. Why? I don’t really know. I probably just wanted to debate more, but Debate Club (which I had acted like it had been a personality trait of mine that I had been President of. Weird, weird flex) had unfortunately come to an end. So I debated topics like politics and Hadiths on Twitter, and learnt much through researching to take part in these arguments, along the way. And insults like the P-word (something I had been called a couple of times, when I was younger, by random strangers), insults pertaining to my being Muslim, and a Muslim woman, at that… they were all hurled at me, left, right and centre.

Now, this aforementioned friend of mine – he had experienced his fair share of ad hominem insults, too. Labelled a Nazi, for stupid reasons, when his own grandparents had campaigned against the Nazis during the War.

These labels are not helpful. They prevent us from being able to really see people, and their humanness. Echo chambers are not helpful. Bad manners in debates simply just have the adverse effect of pushing people further away from what you want them to come to understand. And, surely, every person you meet has something – at least one thing – that you can learn from them. So (I hope you will) debate. And, welcome debate.

Some pet hates of mine, though: that… academic arrogance that can often be brought into such discussions. Stubbornness, mocking others, those ice-cold glares, at times. Seeking leverage through means of big words and sophism. If your views are defendable, I entreat you to defend them! Your views need not be permanent; your mind need not be in a state of closed-ness and stagnation.

Debating: I think it is wonderful, and, when done well, is one of the greatest skills a person can have. Enjoyable, a potentially hugely educational thing to do, facilitating discovery and connections between communities.

Words can indeed change worlds; debating is one of the very cornerstones of democracy and of intellectualism. But it can all become extremely ugly when what should be a battle of ideas – the things we ought to place on that dialectical silver plate [main course: discourse!] – devolves into a senseless exchange of personal attacks, or indeed, when people gratuitously take things too personally [e.g. “I love to debate. But I hate it when people want to debate about Christianity, since I am a Christian and these are my views and I don’t want to hear opposing views”] or when irrationalism, along the same lines, is allowed to take centre-stage: “I believe in this thing because I believe in it. Because… I believe in it. And that is all.”

Put the thing on the plate – first. And let this be the focus, the centre, the point, of it all.

Also, argumentation for the sake of argumentation is futile and foolish. It’s like that quote: “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell” [Edward Abbey]. I find myself being deeply sceptical of (most) things being done for the sake of… themselves. In debating, this is precisely what provides the perfect breeding ground for ego-based bickering, arrogance, irrationality, the counter-productive encouragement of close-minded behaviours.

Intentions and intentionality, maintaining good Adab – decorum, decency, humanness – and having a purpose, there and then, which is perhaps greater than the lodging of your flag into someone else’s ego. These are certainly some debate-related principles that I seek to go forward with.

And oh, how I long to be in a debate club again. 


Sadia Ahmed, 2020 

Hijabs & Hysteria

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Photograph: muslim abaya | Tumblr

“Do you sleep with that on?”

“Do you shower with that on?”

“I don’t think girls should be allowed to wear it until they’re at least sixteen”

“Why do you even wear it? It detracts from your individuality. I can’t tell you apart from the other ones”

“Rag head”

“You look like a child bride in that”

“To different extents, the hijab is always a burden that is placed on women”

“Do your parents force you to wear that? Will they force you to get married, too?”

“Are you Shamima Begum?”

“Towel head Muslim b****. Go back to where you came from!”

The symbols that adorn the flags that line our embassies, the ones that are stamped onto our letters and passports, the ones that govern us, and compliment and dictate what we come to see as valuable and desirable (or the opposite) and, of course, the ones we wear: symbols are undoubtedly of remarkable significance in politics and wider society. Since Muslim communities first began settling in Europe, certain garments have come to be perceived as symbols of ‘Otherness’, which often give rise to feelings of discomfort, or, in many cases, hatred, among numerous individuals. The hijab – and its related but different cousins, the niqab and burqa – are, in the West, popularly associated with misogynistic abuse and are seen as impediments to Muslim female agency. Everybody seems to have their own take on the topic of the Islamic headscarf and what it represents, but it seems as though discourses around the veil are often, well, thinly veiled, with (racialised) misogyny.

It is understandable that certain individuals cannot empathise with women who say that their wearing of the hijab is a personal choice. In the media, any mention of the garment tends to be linked to terrorism, or Islamophobic abuse, or, once again, to wider ethical discussions on the perceptive sinister meanings of such symbols. Politicians in the Western world frequently offer impassioned commentaries on the issue; Burkini bans have been discussed; plans to sell hijabs for female runners have been abandoned in light of public furore; more recently, with the notorious case of Shamima Begum, pictures of the teenager’s former hijab-less ‘liberal’ self have been dug out to juxtapose with her current fundamentalist hijab-observing self. In the eyes of those on the outside looking inward, the Islamic headscarf has come to represent oppression, concealment, an alarming forfeiture of individualism, and a protest against Western liberal values – of which certain norms pertaining to fashion appear to be a crucial element (even if said norms necessitate the existence of sweatshops in Third World countries which depend on the curtailment of the human rights of numerous women). I have seen too many a white man sharing pictures of Islamic societies in the 70s, of women who are hijab-less, and thus, ‘happy’. And, to build on the recurrent theme of irony within such discussions,  the topic of modesty culture in Islam tends to be approached from a variety of political, philosophical, and sociological angles, but the Muslim woman – irrespective of how intelligent, accomplished, or ‘free’, she may be – is rarely ever meaningfully consulted.

What might seem, upon first glance, as a mere piece of cloth – in some instances colourful and florally decorated, in others plain and colourless – that sits on the heads of many Muslim women is, in fact, a highly politicised symbol that embodies and inspires a number of debates on agency and feminism. We, even we highly educated, capable Muslim women, breaking through in the spheres of the arts, politics, literature, sports (the list goes on) will always be seen as oppressed so long as we continue to choose to observe the religious practice of outward modesty. But what many fail to acknowledge is that the principle of hijab is not restricted to just women, nor to the covering of one’s hair. It is about modesty – not simply in outward appearance – but also in mannerism and demeanour. What we are witnessing increasingly, from Western and Islamic (and combinatory Western-Islamic) commentators alike is a reductive emphasis on hair-covering. The concept of hijab, if you delve into the matter through the consultation of the Qur’an and Hadith, is more abstract and complex than we are often led to believe.

It is undeniable that copious numbers of Muslim women are subjected to torrents of misogynistic abuse on a daily basis –  from raging Islamophobes and racists, and, unfortunately, from Muslim men, alike. These respective groups are united in their implicit emphasis on the perceptive inability of Muslim women to make beneficial decisions for themselves, in conjunction with the belief that men must take a paternalistic approach towards such women – to guide, govern and protect us.

Understandably, the idea of choosing to don the hijab is typically incomprehensible to the Western mind, especially in a society where female ‘liberation’ tends to be imaginatively tied to adhering to the forces of consumerism, fashion, and, dare I say it, of choosing to satisfy the Male Gaze, that we are bombarded with on a daily basis. We must come to understand that, in any case, liberation lies in choice, and that even then, absolute freedom in ‘choice’ is never truly possible. In being ‘free’, we essentially get to choose the practices and belief- and value-systems that we subscribe to – whether they be political, cultural, religious, or otherwise. Working menial jobs for measly pay, for instance, might be perceived as oppression to some. In the same vein, wearing a headscarf – irrespective of whether or not you actively chose to do so – might be seen as misogynistic oppression by (many) others. But if we are all truly committed to the intersectional feminism movement (saying yes to ALL women) we must not accuse neither the bikini-wearer nor the burka-wearer, nor anybody who sits somewhere in between, of being traitors to the cause or shameless proponents of the patriarchy.

Islamophobia is a multi-faceted, ever-present, ever-growing phenomenon here in the West, and most European Muslims have absorbed it into our collective consciousness. It – especially in its gendered form – contaminates our experiences of daily life. The more conspicuously ‘Muslim’ you look, the worse it tends to be. We casually talk to each other (and try to make light of and laugh) about our psychologically exhausting experiences of being subjected to slurs, and, at times, physical abuse, in public. Too many hijabs have been ripped off of the heads of Muslim girls and women going about their daily lives. Mutters, mistreatment, slurs. Pregnant women have been kicked. Women have been accused of being enemies to the West (in US rep. Ilhan Omar’s case, ‘anti-Constitutional’, as a result of her hijab) pushed down stairs, shoved, spat at, had beer cans thrown at them. Prominent hijabis such as American journalist Noor Tagouri have been reduced to tears as a result of the repulsive messages and death threats they receive on a daily basis, for being ‘terrorist rag-heads’. You cannot, on principle, oppose the perceived misogynistic oppression that you deem the hijab to symbolise whilst simultaneously oppressing the women you claim to be protecting, by actively abusing us, or even by playing into the harmful narrative of us being mere political icons, accessories to men, or voiceless, homogenous, unintelligent beings. The growing disdain towards the hijab seems to be less emblematic of a criticism of ‘modesty culture’ – which, when forceful, state-sanctioned and uncompromising, can be very detrimental – and more of an expression of hatred towards everything that is characteristically associated with Islam, and is thus conveniently categorised as ‘Other’.

One thing is for sure: many individuals who are in potent opposition to the observance of the hijab claim to have the best interests of Muslim women at heart. But, in truth, there is an element of fundamental hypocrisy here, especially when the protection of ‘British values’ (and indeed, of ‘Western liberal values’ as a whole) trumps our acknowledgement that Muslim women have brains too, and are capable of rational thought. In certain nominally ‘Islamic’ nations (Saudi Arabia immediately comes to mind) Muslim women are seen as incapable of such rational thought and are thus infantilised. In countries where hijab is obligatory, many women (justifiably) develop a strong sense of resentment towards it. But here in the West, whether or not you can fully comprehend why this is the case, millions of Muslim women choose to wear the hijab. They are not forcefully pushed into doing so, nor is the practice inherently misogynistic simply because it applies solely to women. Not everything that is ‘feminine’ is fundamentally oppressive. And yes, there are modesty laws in place for Muslim men, too.

As the forces of consumerism – via the spread of Western hegemony – continue to grow, many Muslim women are coming to favour fashion and outward beautification over outward modesty. This must be positively acknowledged, and we must allow women to make their own decisions. But, in line with wider discourses – particularly in the media, and indeed, throughout history – Muslim women are often depicted and perceived as being elusive, oppressed creatures who need to be unveiled, and thus ‘rescued’ by Western knights in shining armour. But, once again, it is hypocritical to encourage women’s choices to undergo the perceived ‘liberalisation’ of unveiling whilst simultaneously criticising women who choose to do the opposite by veiling themselves. The irony intensifies when violence against women in the Middle East gives rise to intense criticism, whilst violence against Muslim women in the Western public realm is brushed under the carpet… or, perhaps more pressingly, when politicians claim to be liberating these veiled, oppressed women by… bombing them. We have been conditioned to immediately associate veiling and the adherence to modesty principles with female silencing and oppression. But liberation lies in choice. And choice is about relative freedoms – about being able to choose the cultural structures we adhere to, if we believe that those structures can liberate us and enhance our personal quality of life. Countless Muslim women choose to wear it in order to physically express, and thus, constantly remind themselves of their desire to become closer to God; to direct attention to the content of their character, as opposed to outward beauty.

Of course, we must take into account the fact that numerous Muslim women have chosen to stop wearing the hijab – some, out of fear of negative responses to it in public; others, after giving the Qur’anic mentions of modesty some deeper interpretative consideration; some, simply because they wish to show their hair. These Muslim women also receive tirades of abuse – notably, from ‘extreme’ Muslims (Salafis in particular) and Islamophobes alike – on a daily basis. When renowned Muslim influencer and blogger Dina Tokio made the decision to stop wearing her headscarf, she was forced to endure countless daggers of criticism, on top of the abuse she had already received, being such a successful female Muslim public figure. In ‘Islamist’ countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, women have been arrested and persecuted for choosing to remove the hijab. But does that render the garment itself fundamentally oppressive? Any state-imposed requirement like that might impede on an individual’s freedom of expression, however, as Libyan-American writer Hend Amry points out, the argument that the hijab itself must be intrinsically oppressive because of its enforcement in such places is directly comparable to making the claim that the institution of marriage is, at its core, oppressive, due to the unfortunate and undesirable existence of forced marriage.

The Islamic world has played a crucial role in shaping Western thought and culture for centuries (and, especially more recently, vice versa) however large-scale immigration of Muslim families only truly began in the mid-twentieth century. Here in Britain, we required manpower to rebuild the country in the wake of the two devastating world wars. Thousands of Muslim men settled here and eventually brought their families. The first generation of these immigrants understandably identified more with their original cultures. But racism (notably, viciously attacking black and Asian people became a popular pastime) was rife, and so many women opted against wearing the headscarf here. In fact, many first-generation Muslim immigrants never even wore the hijab in their home countries. But with the cultural fusion that inevitably came into being – especially among second- and third-generation immigrants – we needed to find ways to navigate our hybrid European-Muslim identities. Having been born and/or raised here, we attend European schools and speak European languages and work for European corporations and institutions. Many of us embrace our Islamic identities by praying daily, fasting in Ramadan, giving Zakah (charity). Some of us express this component of our identity through the way we dress. This is certainly within our rights in this liberal society, which prides itself on its values of freedom of expression. Yet, due to the deeply negative connotations that have come to be in the collective Western psyche, being Muslim – strongly, outwardly – is not desirable.

I have read many articles written by Muslim students about their own disgusting experiences of Islamophobia. From a student at UCL recounting how a professor stated that he “[didn’t] want any blacks or hijabis to sign up to [his] course”, to a Warwick law student receiving torrents of anonymous abuse from her peers, who were not subject to any consequences whatsoever… these incidents are significant and certainly not uncommon. Islamophobic apologists habitually proclaim that “Islam isn’t a race!” and that therefore, Islamophobia should be treated as a matter completely divorced from modern discourses on racism. But the truth of the matter is that this ‘phobia’ is often highly racialised: the main victims of Islamophobic abuse tend to be black hijabi Muslims, and other Muslims with distinctively ‘foreign’, non-European features. A heterogeneous, Orientalist simplification of the religion is often passed as an acceptable view of the religion itself, and it really is surprising to learn of the amount of ignorance that is allowed to fester within apparent establishments of ‘enlightenment’.

Structural oppression is usually multi-faceted. Discussions on the hijab have brought topics such as gendered Islamophobia, as well as the potential misogynistic side of ‘modesty culture’, to the forefront of our political and social discourses. Ultimately, the hijab is a symbol, onto which people project varying significances. For many, it signifies a refusal on the part of the Muslim woman to fully integrate into Western society. For some, colourful headscarves, wrapped ‘turban-style’ or in an otherwise unorthodox way is acceptable, but plain black hijabs coupled with long-flowing abayas is where they draw the line. And, of course, for many Western Muslim women, the hijab and the religion that it is a synecdochical symbol of– even if such a fact proves extremely difficult to resonate with – is a tool used in the way of spiritual actualisation, and not oppression.

There are girls who secretly take off their headscarves as soon as they leave their homes. Equally, though, there are girls who secretly put their hijabs on as soon as they leave their homes, and schools, and workplaces. Some desperately want to remove their hijabs, out of fear of Islamophobia, or perhaps, simply because they want to show their hair. Some desperately want to put it on, but are afraid due to the same factors, or are simply confused or unsure. Whose struggle is the more commendable? Do we only care about women exercising their personal freedoms when it subscribes to certain mainstream Western feminist agendas?

Frankly, although I think it is always important to rally in favour of those women who are being forced to wear the hijab against their own wills under Salafi regimes, it is equally important to harness and redirect the insane amounts of energy we dedicate to the constantly scrutinising Muslim women. We need to celebrate the waves that Muslimahs are making in various fields (I am fortunate enough to be personally acquainted with numerous inspiring female political activists, artists, photographers, sportspeople, businesspeople, influencers, and more) and have always made (the first university in the world was established by a Muslim woman, Fatima Al-Fihri) instead of reductively focusing our attention on scarves. And, yes, too many Muslims – like their Islamophobic brethren on the other end of the spectrum of the misogynistic obsession with women’s clothing – are guilty of placing excessive significance on the hijab. We need to see women for who they are, rather than what they look like, or what they choose to (or choose not to) wear. We need to fully acknowledge that the applauding of women’s choices should not only be restricted to those who choose to show their hair and beauty; we must also humanise, celebrate, those who decide to cover themselves.


Sadia Ahmed, 2019

Ruminations on running a political campaign

Recently, following a rigorous training process and campaign period, I was elected as Deputy Young Mayor of my borough (Tower Hamlets) for the term 2017 to 2019. As cliche as this may sound, this entire experience has been wonderful; I have learnt so much, about different people and their cultures, about who I am, and about politics in general. 

I will not lie by attempting to claim that this process has been easy for me: following a training period that spanned over the course of three months and consisted of various meetings, interviews and training sessions, the number of candidates was narrowed from an initial cohort to approximately fifty, down to ten final candidates. Promptly after this, we were left to our own campaigns for over a month- from mid-December 2016 to late January 2017. This allowed me to develop my organisational skills, as I needed to create a necessary balance in my life, what with my political campaign, alongside preparation for imperative mock exams, as well as preparation for my entrance exams to get accepted into my desired sixth form.

Below are some of the lessons I have been taught during my campaign, which I would have given to my former self prior to my campaign. I have decided to share these words of advice in order to assist anyone who may be going through a particularly challenging stage in their lives:

1) Some people will hate you for no apparent reason. 

The unfortunate reality of the world is that some people will find a reason to detest you, without even knowing you. Perhaps they are members of an opposition party’s campaign team, or even a random person from a different school. They may dislike you based on something as trivial as your accent or facial structure, but the key thing to remember is that they do not know you; they are simply attempting to fill an unfillable  void in their lives. So keep your head up and shrug off any negativity.

2) The support you receive will be overwhelmingly heartwarming.

This process will reveal to you who your true friends are. They will rush to the streets to campaign with you, attend meetings with you and relentlessly update your social media feeds for you. However, most importantly, these friends will (metaphorically) hold their hands out beneath you, ready to catch you if you fall, and catapult you back on track.

But the support you receive will not solely come from the people you know and love: you will receive an overwhelming amount of support from people you have never even met before, and new friendships will undoubtedly be forged.

3) This will be tough. 

But you are tougher. These months will drain you- mentally, physically and spiritually, but eventually you will respond to the strenuous nature of your situation, and you will adapt to it accordingly. It takes courage and determination, but most of all, it takes a high degree of organisation. Sometimes I was forced to endure days that comprised of meetings, followed by lengthy revision sessions, followed by family gatherings, followed by an hour or so of outdoor campaigning. Thankfully, this allowed me to develop my skills (especially those pertaining to communication and organisation) and have fun with my friends.

4) Some may start to view you as nothing more than a vessel. 

Through this comparatively small-scale political campaign, I have realised that people are quick to perceive political candidates as mere political vessels, rather than human beings with true emotions. The amount of hostility one can receive simply by running for a political position is absolutely atrocious. Despite this, it is important to focus on the positive rather than the negative aspects of life, for we become whatever we ponder upon constantly.

5) Hold on to who you are, but be open to positive changes. 

Ultimately, the best possible advice I can impart is as follows: know yourself, accept yourself, and seize every opportunity made available to you. Success lies not in winning, but in taking a chance, and in being the very best version of yourself that you can possibly be.

I am extremely grateful to everyone who voted for me, and I look forward to working alongside my friends Fahimul and Shaiam over the next two years to make a positive impact on our borough.

And finally, good luck to anyone considering running for the role of young mayor in two years’ time!

Meanwhile in Syria…

Recently, many regions of Syria (Aleppo in particular) have been subjected to mass airstrikes and bombing- a furious war between extremists, rebels and Western interveners claiming to be carrying out their innate responsibility of “defending democracy”. Caught between the crossfire are little children who once lead ordinary lives, going to school, talking about superheroes and princesses, and living the boundless, colourful lives that children are supposed to live. 

A lot can change in a few years. Whereas before, the children of Syria went about their daily lives very much like the children of Britain or America, their state of being today is a whole different story. Countless documentary-makers, journalists and photographers have sought to capture the daily plight of Syrian children in photographs and films, and although these productions give us a glimpse of their struggles, we can never truly understand what these children are being forced to endure on a daily basis.

A chilling picture drawn by a Syrian child: Notice how the dead, mutilated corpses are smiling.

Two days ago, a very overwhelming image of a little Syrian boy was released, and took the world’s media by storm. His name is Omran Daqneesh; he is around five years old, and he was pictured sitting dazed, afraid and alone in an ambulance, after being rescued from the rubble and remains of what was once his home; the other three children within the vicinity sadly passed away. Their last memories of this life were of missiles, shouting and being trapped under piles of rubble.Thousands of Syrian children have been killed, scarred for life, and forced to grow up beyond their years due to the atrocities they are being subjected to incessantly.

A CNN newsreader breaks down on live TV as she reports on Omran Daqneesh

These children should not simply be dismissed as ‘collateral damage’. They deserve to enjoy the deliciousness of childhood without the constant anxieties associated with bombs and attacks. In truth, Western intervention is largely counterproductive; airstrikes by Russian and other Western governments are, in reality, feeding the flames and sustaining the war and merciless bloodshed. These incendiaries are destroying Syria’s remains of centuries of rich history; they are killing children as they sleep in their beds; they are killing newborn babies as they fight for their lives in incubators, and then heartlessly denying these children entry into their lands. Where is the humanity?

A powerful political cartoon by Khalid Albaih: Omran Daqneesh’s home in Aleppo was destroyed in an airstrike, and he was extracted from the rubble. Aylan Kurdi (right) drowned in the sea after his family tried to escape a similar fate.

Ultimately, there is only one clear solution, and that is to stop bombing Syria. 


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

Twitter: @sadiaahmedj | Instagram/Snapchat: sadiaahmedj | Youtube

Was Corbyn being anti-Semitic?

This morning, I logged into Twitter to find that the phrase ‘Israel to ISIS’ was trending in London. After further investigation, I discovered that Jeremy Corbyn (the current leader of the British Labour Party) was (yet again) being pressured to resign amid claims that he had made a strikingly anti-Semitic comment in Parliament.

Here is the exact statement he made:

“Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organisations”

I had several initial reactions to this statement in contrast with the intensely negative responses it received. Firstly, what kind of anti-Semitic person in his right mind would refer to Jews as “friends”? Moreover, Corbyn did not compare Israel to Daesh- rather, he compared the relations of ordinary Jews and Muslims in the UK to fundamentalist organisations, such as the Netanyahu government and (presumably) corrupted governments like that of Saudi Arabia. Daesh was not mentioned in this particular assertion, and yet this is what hundreds of Brits are focusing on.

Corbyn has always voiced views in support of British Jews and Muslims, and yet, due to the above statement, people have deemed the Labour Party “unsafe” for Jews under Corbyn’s leadership. Many gentiles seem to be anointing themselves as spokespeople for the Jewish community, criticising Corbyn’s ‘antisemitism’. But is it really anti-Semitic to oppose the actions of a particular government? Similarly, is it Islamophobic to oppose the actions of the Saudi government? Is it anti-Semitic to actively oppose anti-Semitism on the basis of scapegoating? No. These ideas are fundamentally absurd- they are mere excuses for people to thrive on in order to meet a political objective (in this case, pressuring Corbyn to resign from his position).

Corbyn was right in declaring that Zionism should not be conflated with Judaism, as far too often, ordinary Jews are forced to pay for the crimes of IDF soldiers, and (in a similar sense) ordinary Muslims are forced to pay for the crimes of various ‘Islamist’ organisations. This unjust culture of scapegoating is precisely what Corbyn spoke out against.

Many Jews are tweeting in anger and frustration against the calls for Corbyn to resign, arguing that the Labour leader was right to make such a statement, as people habitually conflate Zionism with Judaism, and physically and verbally attack Jews as a result of this foolish notion. Ironically, the statement that many are branding as ‘anti-Jewish’, was in fact, to protect the best interests of the British Jewish community.

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Source: lbc.co.uk

What I find most disconcerting is that many of the politicians who have criticised Corbyn’s leadership (especially in the past few hours) have never championed the rights of the British Jewish community until now- this is an example of political tokenism at its worst. The interests of the British Jewish community are, once again, being exploited to conform to a political agenda.

Here’s how one of the Jewish activists I follow on Twitter expressed her views on the topic:

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Source: twitter.com

Post-Brexit, British politics have morphed into a thing of childlike folly and deceit, and politicians of high morals and integrity are being held liable for the actions of their (polar opposite) counterparts. Corbyn is not a monstrous anti-Semite as British media outlets are currently portraying him, and anyone claiming Corbyn has an antisemitism problem because ‘compared Israel to ISIS’ is in desperate need of a remedial lesson in basic logic.

 


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Here in Britain, we are fortunate enough to have the collective right to freedom of speech. We are allowed to outwardly express disapproval of the actions of certain governments; our favourites to criticise include North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and of course, our own government. When people criticise North Korea and Saudi Arabia, they rightfully speak of oppressive restrictions and abuses of universal human rights. I do not deny that the Israeli government has violated numerous human rights and UN laws, however I do not believe that people are justified in their criticisms when they blame ‘the Jews’ or, worse still, when they allude to the Holocaust.

Expressing disapproval towards the actions of a certain government should never- not ever- be used to convey racist (namely anti-Jewish) sentiment. The Holocaust was a very dark period of history- many Jewish people lost hundreds of relatives and ancestors to the unspeakable genocide, and we cannot use such a sensitive matter to convince people that Israel does not have the right to exist. In truth, both Palestine and Israel share equivalent rights to existence, but neither state possesses the rights to self-determination.

I am strongly in favour of a two-state solution. From an objective viewpoint, I am able to discern that the answer to the issue lies not in war and bloodshed, but in talks of peace, acceptance and unity.