Don't We Muslims Need Some Self-Assessment?
M Ghazali Khan
Milli Gazette Online
“I've been trying to imagine what it must be like to be a Muslim in Britain.” wonders daily Guardian’s Jonathan Freeland in his write up, “If this onslaught was about Jews, I would be looking for my passport” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/religion/Story/0,,1924743,00.html). The heading of his article summarises the anti-Muslim fervour spread by the media and created and abetted by the politicians, including Prime Minister, Tony Blair, his cabinet members and the leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron.
“I guess there's a sense of dread about switching on the radio or television, even about walking into a newsagents. What will they be saying about us today? Will we be under assault for the way we dress? Or the schools we go to, or the mosques we build? Who will be on the front page: a terror suspect, a woman in a veil or, the best of both worlds, a veiled terror suspect.
“Don't laugh. Last week the Times splashed on ‘Suspect in terror hunt used veil to evade arrest’. That sat alongside yesterday's lead in the Daily Express: "Veil should be banned say 98%". Nearly all those who rang the Express agreed that ‘a restriction would help to safeguard racial harmony and improve communication’. At the weekend the Sunday Telegraph led on ‘Tories accuse Muslims of 'creating apartheid by shutting themselves off'’ ", writes Mr Freehand.
|Universities Urged to Spy upon Muslims
Lecturers and university staff across Britain are to be asked to spy on "Asian-looking" and Muslim students they suspect of involvement in Islamic extremism and supporting terrorist violence, the Guardian has learned.
They will be told to inform on students to special branch because the government believes campuses have become "fertile recruiting grounds" for extremists.
The Department for Education has drawn up a series of proposals which are to be sent to universities and other centres of higher education before the end of the year. The 18-page document acknowledges that universities will be anxious about passing information to special branch, for fear it amounts to "collaborating with the 'secret police'". It says there will be "concerns about police targeting certain sections of the student population (eg Muslims)". (Courtesy Guardian October 16, 2006)
Of all the anti-Muslim remarks made over the last few weeks, former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw’s article in Lancashire Evening Telegraph attacking veil has enraged the Muslim community most. In his article Mr Straw said, "wearing the full veil was bound to make better, positive relations between the two communities more difficult". He also said that he had been asking Muslim women visiting his surgery to remove their veil so that he could not only hear what they said but could also feel what they meant. He said that he made sure that a female staff was present when asking someone to show their mouth and nose.
Before Jack Straw’s remarks Home Secretary John Reid had asked Muslim parents to spy on their children. He was joined by Communities and Local Government Secretary who attacked the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and declared that the Government would not fund any organisation that did not support “our values”. Her anger was at MCB’s refusal to attend Holocaust Memorial Day. (MCB had agreed “to participate in such a commemoration provided that it gave equal respect to the innocent victims of all genocides and mass killings around the world, regardless of their racial or religious background…” ). Not to be left behind Conservative Party’s Leader David Cameron referred to Muslim schools as “Muslim ghettos” and promised his party members that after coming to power he would ban them. However, it was particularly after Mr Straw’s remarks that attacks on Muslims, specially women, have increased. It includes a Bosnian Muslim family being fired at.
The real motive behind Jack Straw’s attack on veil can not be anything except attempting to convince his party to give him a safer seat in the next election. With Labour’s fast decreasing support among voters and with his growing unpopularity with his constituents, especially Muslims, Mr Straw has realised fully well that in the next elections he risks losing his seat. As an MP for the last 27 years, in a constituency with 30% Muslim residents, he has never expressed his discomfort with veil. Even if he saw veil as an obstruction in communicating with his veil wearing female Muslim constituents, 27 years is a long period for someone to get used to talking to women in veil. If Mr Straw has been unable getting used to communicating with veil wearing Muslim constituents, how can he claim to be different from someone who has been living in Britain for the same amount of period and has failed in learning English and familiarise himself/herself with indigenous culture? By his cunning and reckless provocation Jack Straw must have collected enough evidence to convince his party that he needs to contest the next election on a safer seat.
Not only has Mr Straw played a clever but selfish tactic, he also provided an effective weapon to Tony Blair to divert public attention from Iraq, especially after the statement of head of the British Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, that the presence of British troops in Iraq had 'exacerbated' security problems in the country.
Notwithstanding the fact that prior to Jack Straw’s remarks there had been enough incidents in the country to polarise the atmosphere, his comments have given the traditionally anti-Muslim British media yet another opportunity to demonise Muslims and present them as the most unreasonable lot. One has to admit that like before, due to its over reaction even on issues where it could do better by remaining quiet, Muslim community has fallen into the trap. In this background honesty demands that British Muslims review their situation and assess their actions and admit the fact that as a community they have been proving to be useful idiots and playing in the hands of those who had been looking for an opportunity to give vent to their Islamophobic feelings. Recent media onslaught is merely the culmination of the shrewdness of some of the bigoted politicians and Muslim community’s own naivety.
Only the next day of Jack Straw’s provocative comments there came the news of a Muslim cab driver being fined for refusing to carry a blind woman along with her guide dog. While, according to Muslim scholars, a blind man/women can be allowed to keep a guide dog, but this “strict Muslim” saw it against his religion and by his absurd and unethical argument put the whole community in an embarrassing situation. Ironically he felt no repugnance in ferrying ghair-mahram (men or women with whom one is allowed to marry but is not allowed to mix otherwise) ladies and that he has been doing so for many years.
I was not surprised at this news item because this is what we should expect from a situation when people with little knowledge of their religion and no knowledge of the problems of present day society are being called from remote villages from India and Pakistan and appointed as Imams. Only a few months ago during a Friday sermon an Imam in a mosque in North London declared that watching TV was haram and the marriage of anyone who had a TV set in his house became void. It was lucky that there was no non-Muslim journalist in the mosque otherwise it could have become banner headlines.
Then came the news of Ms Aisha Azmi’s suspension from her job as a teacher for refusing to remove her veil in front of her pupils.
Ulema are divided on the nature of hijab. Some believe that covering the face is compulsory while others think that veil is not necessary. The section of ulema that believes in the covering of face also believes that a Muslim woman should not come out of her house without being accompanied by a mahram. However, all of them agree that Muslim women are not allowed to work in a mixed-sex setting.
Ms Azmi’s veil gives the impression that she follows the strict interpretation of hijab and thus by coming out of her house and take up a job she has been violating her own principles. And by accepting employment in a mixed-sex school she is violating all schools of thoughts and contradicting her insistence in every way.
It would not be out of place to narrate an incident of a friend who also happens to be a leading alim. His family had joined him in Britain in the early seventies when hardly anyone would have known about niqab. One day as he went out with his niqab-wearing wife and daughters everyone started looking at them with prying eyes. According to him he was embarrassed as, according to him, this is the country where no one looks at you in such a manner no matter who you are and what you are wearing. He came home and said to his family that since their niqab was attracting unnecessary attention of the public, “Therefore the Purdah in this country allows opening up your faces. This is my fatwa.” His wife did not listen. Only a week or so later she went out shopping with another lady like her in a busy Sunday market. There again everyone started staring at her and out of curiosity a white man came and abruptly lifted her niqab to look what was behind it. He was neither a racist nor an Islamophobe for neither did he swear at her nor insulted her. He gave her a smile and went away. Embarrassed and shocked she rushed home and said to her husband “You are right the purdah in this country is definitely opening your face.”
There is a vision and a lesson for everyone in this episode. One wonders what image of Islam are we presenting by our ill-judged stands and careless decisions? This is the time when we review our actions and assess ourselves. We live in a multi-religious, multi-cultural, predominantly non-Muslim and a secular society. There is not a single day when each one of us has to make compromises on our principles and we do it out of our own free will. Why then make fuss for petty issues and invite hostile responses. Don’t we really need do some self-assessment?
Let us honestly ask ourselves the question what would be the reaction of someone to these news items who has had no interaction with Muslims and is being continuously fed upon anti-Muslim and anti-Islam propaganda and who had read Jack Straw’s provocation, Tony Blair’s politically biased endorsement and Cameron’s opportunistic agreement with him. On top of that he has been reading the garbage thrown at us and members of our own community providing them with foolish instances the reporting of which does not need much spice.