A Visit from Aunt Flo

‘We menstruate and they see it as dirty. Attention seeking. Sick. A burden. As if this process is less natural than breathing. As if this process is not love. Labour. Life. Selfless and strikingly beautiful.’  Rupi Kaur

I remember when I started my periods; I don’t think it’s a moment you can easily forget. I was young. It wasn’t glamourous. I didn’t know anything about periods at the time. Sex education didn’t start as young as it does now. It’s no exaggeration when I say I thought I was dying. I didn’t understand what was happening to me.

I was told it was part of growing up. A part that involved stomach and back pains, mood swings and an insane addictive craving for chocolate. Yes, I was that stereotypical girl.

I share this with you because there’s been much talk over the past week or so on this subject, particularly given that it’s Ramadan at the moment, and many Muslims are fasting. But there are those who don’t have to, particularly if you have a serious health issue, are pregnant, breastfeeding, too old, too young, basically you fast only if you are mentally and physically able to.

Now within the category of those who are exempt from fasting, are menstruating women.

The reason why this is being talked about a lot at the moment is because some Muslim women have taken to social media to share their experiences of how they’ve had to ‘fake fast,’ ie pretend to fast so their families, particularly the men folk, aren’t aware that they are menstruating.

Now firstly I want to point out that this isn’t a new phenomenon, this has been going on for decades, generations even. It has been discussed before but perhaps not so open and publicly. I think social media has helped break down some of the barriers that existed before, it has provided people with a space to discuss and relate to others experiences. I also think there’s an increasing appetite for change particularly when it comes to issues affecting women.

Growing up, I never really felt any shame when it came to periods, I normally hate menstruating for the reasons I listed earlier, but in Ramadan I welcome it as a sweet reprise, a mercy from God, to provide a much needed break in what can be a challenging month of fasting.

I come from a family of six girls, so menstruating was as normal as breathing. We didn’t hide it from my dad and he admirably took it in his stride, often buying us the necessities we needed, whether that was chocolate or pads.

But this wasn’t the reality for some of my friends at school, who often expressed shock when I told them that particularly in Ramadan, my dad would get us to taste the meals he was preparing. In fact as sisters, we knew if dad was shouting you from the kitchen in Ramadan, it was only for one reason, he had created a recipe akin to Heston Blumenthal ’s and you were his guinea pig.

Halima Mohammed is a 31year old Somali Muslim, she had a similar experience growing up to mine;

‘I have never understood how some Muslim girls hide their periods from their brothers and dads, that doesn’t exist in the Somali community, it’s just not in our culture. If someone asks you why are you not fasting, we have a Somali saying which loosely translates as ‘God has excused me.’ I think generally when I read items in the media about British Muslims I find it’s actually centred around the experiences of British Pakistani Muslims. For Africans this is a non-issue.

It’s important to point out also that there is a huge difference between the woman who isn’t eating in front of men because she is hiding her reasons from them and the woman who isn’t eating in front of those who are fasting out of respect for the fast.

I remember when I moved from a girl’s school to a mixed school for sixth form, it was Ramadan, and I wasn’t fasting. A non Muslim approached me and asked why I wasn’t fasting, I couldn’t believe that in the 6 years he had been at this school he hadn’t seen a single Muslim girl not fast during her periods. When I told him I was on my periods and was exempt he went bright red and walked away. But I was in shock more because this was the first time he had encountered someone eating whilst on periods.’

Sana Nosheen aka LookAMillion is 21 and a social media influencer, she believes it’s got less to do with culture and more on individual preference

‘I’ve never hid that I’m not fasting from my brothers or my dad, I’ve not been fasting this year due to health reasons, and I’ve been eating and no one’s had a problem with it. But I remember at school, whereas other girls were more open about being on their periods, I would never tell people. Not because I felt shame but because I was just shy.

There are many reasons why people don’t fast, periods is just one of them and the most popular, people need to understand that there are a whole host of other factors and also to mind their own business. Ramadan is about focusing on your own spiritual journey, you should be less concerned about the actions of someone else.’

Nabeelah Hafiz says culture does have a big part to play

‘When we were younger, we were taught to conceal our periods, we were taught it was a natural experience but  told it should be kept between women. So although we weren’t taught it was shameful, it became an object of shame because you were hiding it.

As time has moved forward, I have taken ownership of my body and that has involved me learning to empower myself through my cycle, I am woman who bleeds and that’s powerful. It’s not something I learnt overnight. It’s something I learnt how to fully embrace. But definitely I know for some families it’s still a taboo subject.’

Nabeelah is right, it is still a taboo subject within some communities and one that is rightfully being addressed. To put it simply it’s a matter of fact that half of the worlds population experiences menstruation, it’s this fact that allows women to have babies. It’s part of our biology.

Being on your periods can be traumatic, painful and deeply uncomfortable. To have to lie and cause yourself more discomfort for the benefit of those who should be supporting you is not only unfair but unjust.

If boys aren’t taught how to care and empathise with women during times of need, if they are taught implicitly to ignore them when they are most vulnerable, if they are taught that periods are shameful and should be hidden, then how will they ever grow to understand the emotional and physical needs of a woman?!

 

Undercover Muslim

Brown contact lenses, a prosthetic more Asian looking nose, complexion darkening make up, a hijab and some arabic words. Five things you need to complete your Muslim woman Halloween Costume.

I am not kidding.

According to a new documentary, soon to be televised on channel 4, this is all that is required to go ‘undercover as a Muslim.’ Apparently this reverse White Chicks transformation allows an individual to ‘walk in the shoes of someone from a different background and what it is like to be a part of the British Pakistani Muslim community rather then just observe as an outsider.’

Allow me to break something down for you. Especially for those of you sitting at the back, who suffer from tunnel vision and selective hearing.

Muslims come in all shapes, sizes and colours. A toddler will probably be able to grasp that notion better then some adults. To be a Muslim it means you subscribe to a faith- Islam. Now that faith is not limited nor restricted to race or ethnicity. There are roughly around 1.8 billion Muslims in the world. Here in our glorious nation, there are again roughly about 2.8 million Muslims living amongst you. Now according to the 2011 census, the largest group of Muslims are of Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage. Smaller groups include Turks, Arabs and Africans.

Oh and by the way, there are also around 100,000 Muslim converts in the UK, so within them ‘White British’ folk who are also Muslims. So this individual didn’t even need to black her face or brown her eyes….she could have just been herself and pretended she had converted! (if you really are insistent on role playing)

2) Now within this largest group, THE PAKISTANIS, there are numerous sub groups, so you have Kashmeris, Balochis, Mirpuris (subgroup of the Kashmiris), Sindhis, Punjabis, Karachiites etc. The name refers to where they come from in Pakistan. Within all of these sub groups there are even more sub groups. Basically I could subgroup until the cows come home.

3) Conclusion: There is no single homogenous Muslim community. There is no single monolithic Pakistani community. Kashmeris who hail from the northern regions of Pakistan can have fair skin, blonde hair and green eyes, we also have massive noses. I was only blessed with the latter feature. Sindhi’s, who come from the Southern regions of Pakistan, can have darker complexions and darker eyes.

Back to my original point, being a Muslim is adhering to a faith, how it manifests itself is dependant on a whole host of varying factors. Now I sound like I am in a Biology lesson. So your Islam can be determined by where you come from (anywhere in the world,) by the culture you were brought up in and your own personal identity and ideology.

Muslim women particularly have long been categorised as a uniform group. We are a fascinating and intriguing species, folk love to talk about us, at us, but not to us. We are presented as a collective, when in actual fact we are not. Not all of us wear abayas. Not all of us wear hijab. Not all of us speak words of Arabic.

I understand what this programme was trying to do, I get it. It’s trying to create empathy. But it concerns me, do we really have to put on a costume to empathise with someone? Do we really have to get abuse shouted at us to feel ashamed of our own prejudices? If we do, does that not reflect on the state of our society?

Why does it take someone to experience the negativity to be able to fully empathise what life really is like for some Muslim women? Why can’t the accounts, narratives and perspectives of Muslim women be taken seriously without someone else having to come and appropriate them?

When I was growing up in the heart of Bradford, surrounded by so many different communities all striving to make ends meet, my mother taught me a very valuable lesson. She told me empathy was not innate. I had to learn it. I had to practise it. I had to feel it.

How do you do that? In punjabi ‘mu band kar kay, ankhain tay kaan kol kay.’ Shut your mouth and open your ears and eyes. It’s meaning runs deeper then its literal interpretation. When you shut your mouth, essentially you cut off your own words, you cut off your own thoughts, you silence yourself. When you open your eyes and ears, you see the other person, you hear what they hear, you see what they see.

You feel what they feel.

So rather then going through the trouble of all the makeup and props, surely it would have been far better if the individual had gone on a girls night out with Muslim women from all spectrums.

If we want a more tolerant, open and empathetic society, we can’t all don costumes. Although It would be great to be able to transform myself for one day under the guise of seeking to empathise with the indigenous population, (I would probably get my nose straightened, forehead lowered and hair thinned, ) it wouldn’t work practically.

So remember if you want to empathise with someone:

Shut your mouth. Open your eyes. Open your ears

Kebabs. Kebabs. Kebabs

I woke up today thinking of kebabs.

Chapli kebabs in particular. Round and juicy. With a side of chutney.

By noon it was driving me crazy so I decided to make them. So I called my eldest sis up who gave me the family recipe, handed down to her by my aunt. 

As she hung up the phone, she mentioned oven cooked flour based samosas. My mouth was drooling. Safe to say I spent most of my time in the kitchen today.

Normally I have to force myself to cook but today the smell of the fresh food was intoxicating.

So in honour of this, I am sharing our family recipe with you. Please bear in mind that my mum & aunts don’t use specific measurements. They taste as they go along and use their experience to guide them. So you may want to add/deduct as you please

To make approx 15-20 kebabs:

Ingredients:

  1. 1IB chicken mince
  2. Very finely grated onion & green chillis to accompany the mince. (Any Pakistani butchers/superstore will have this pre one for you)
  3. 1 tomato finely chopped
  4. A handful of coriander finely chopped
  5. 1 potato grated. (Be sure to squeeze out the water)
  6. Salt (to taste)
  7. 1 level tbsp Tandoori Masala 
  8. 1 tbsp chapali kebab mix (found in your local Asian superstore)

I also added an egg and some gram flour to thicken the mixture allowing it to stick easier. But that is optional.

Method:

  1. Mix everything together with your hands thoroughly. 
  2. Rub some some oil or egg on your hands and scoop up small portions of the mixture to form mini doughs.
  3. Use a heavy circular object to flatten the doughs as you go along.
  4. Shallow fry each side till the meat is cooked through.
  5. Serve with chutney and naan or whatever else you please! 

ENJOY!!! 

Deluded Defenders of God

‘Either grant me the bliss of the ignorant or give me the strength to bear the knowledge.’ Mashal Khan

Seventy years ago Pakistan was born from a vision of hope. It was born with egalitarian ideals including rights for minorities who would be permitted to live with full protection and freedom from oppression. It was never intended for Pakistan to be a religious state and especially not one with religious divisions. Yet sadly, this is what is has become synonymous with, especially in the last decade or so.

The Blasphemy laws of Pakistan date back to the 1980s , where a number of clauses were added to the Pakistan Penal Code, these are categorised in two sections, the anti-Ahmedi laws and the blasphemy laws. The Anti-Ahmedi laws state that Ahmedi’s are forbidden to call themselves Muslims, use Islamic terms to describe their religious practices or places of worship. The laws have been modified over the years. In 1982 a clause prescribed life imprisonment for “wilful” desecration of the Quran, the Muslim holy book. In 1986, a separate clause was inserted to punish blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad and the penalty recommended was “death, or imprisonment for life”, in that order.”

Since the 1990s at least 65 people accused of blasphemy have been murdered.

The latest killing in the name of God occurred six days ago.

The victim was 23 year old student Mashal Khan. Beaten to a pulp at Abdul Wali Khan University where he had been studying Journalism.

His crime was simple. He dared to critically think in a society which suffocates those who have the gall to do so. He had the nerve to openly share his humanist views on social media. He had the audacity to question the University’s officials.

His punishment was inconceivable. Stripped naked, severely beaten and then shot. But it didn’t stop there, his lifeless body was thrown from the second floor of the building and beaten by wooden planks.

A crowd of over a hundred gathered and watched. Reports suggest over 20 police officers were on site during this heinous atrocity.

They intervened only when the mob was about to set fire to Mashal’s dead body.

45 people were arrested after the attack.
The mob included officials from the university who accused him of blasphemy. A term that apparently gives you licence to kill whomsoever you choose. McCarthyism is reincarnated.

Initially there were claims that Mashal was an Ahmedi Muslim. Like that would make any of it any better or justifiable. Like it would suddenly stifle the criticism just because he adhered to beliefs you don’t ascribe to.
But these were quickly discarded. He was a Sunni Muslim and there was no evidence of blasphemy.

His grieving mother lamented ‘tell me the mistake of my son.’ His ‘mistake’ was freedom of thought. A gift that distinguishes us from animals. A gift that set him apart from those who set upon him braying for his blood. It appears that those who killed him didn’t even possess the kindness that animals display to each other.
As Mashal wrote himself last month ‘The more I know people, the more I love my dog.’

I have agonised over mob mentality for a while now. Its prevalence disturbs me deeply.
The very fact that university officials were among the mob that murdered Mashal is beyond depressing. A university is universally recognised as a sanctuary for debate, discussion and development of ideas. But not in Mardan, Pakistan.

So what’s next?
Some politicians and government officials have condemned the attack including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chairman of PTI, Imran Khan. But to what effect?
Take for example Nawaz Sharif, he stated that he was ‘shocked and saddened’ by the murder of Mashal Khan. He went on to further say ‘the state will not tolerate citizens that take the law in their own hands.’
Yet at the same time, Mr Sharif has widely supported a crackdown on blasphemous content online. Content, if found, could lead to death. Freedom of expression comes with limitations. Nawaz Sharif is in favour of this.

Imran Khan, visited the family of Mashal Khan and later tweeted that he would bring the perpetrates to justice. But how is this possible? How is it possible when vast swathes of a society believe that if you do not agree with an individuals’ values you can accuse them of blasphemy and kill them.

Take for example the assassination of Salman Taseer in 2011 by Mumtaz Qadri. Taseer was a revolutionary, dedicating his life to protecting the lives of the minorities living within Pakistan, yet more people turned out in solidarity towards Qadri then they did for Taseer!
Take for example the case of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who was accused of blasphemy in 2009 and sentenced to death in 2010. She was accused of blasphemy after a group of women she had been arguing with over harvesting berries accused her of insulting Prophet Muhammed.

These cases are endless. So what is the solution?
A tolerance of a plurality of thought. It is the backbone of a free and healthy society.
But this puts those in power in jeopardy, it allows room for criticism, accountability and justice.
This is the problem in Pakistan, the religious elites seek to manipulate and control the masses by promoting uniformity of beliefs. They exploit the uneducated by means of religious knowledge. Yet the knowledge they teach is so far from the truth it does more harm then good. And the state is too weak to dismantle their power.
And on it goes. How much more blood will be spilt in the name of blasphemy, when the biggest sin in the eyes of God is the murder of an innocent individual.
How many more Mashal Khan’s will be murdered before Pakistan realises its visionaries and future leaders are being annihilated in front of its very eyes paving the way for a darker, more draconian future?

Mass education and re-education is required, starting with the youth so that they have the tools to build a safer, diverse and open society.

It seems the solution lies in Mashal’s scribblings on his hostel room wall

‘Be curious, crazy and mad.’

The Drama in The Viceroy’s House.

Lets talk about Viceroy’s House.

Firstly I want to say, if you haven’t watched the movie, GO WATCH IT! Stop reading all the reviews, watch it and form your own opinions.

Secondly, what you are about to read is my response to watching the movie. If you agree/disagree that’s fine but these are my own personal thoughts.

Thirdly this is not a review of any sort. Just an opportunity for me to gather my thoughts and articulate them to you.

Now that we have got the formalities out of the way, lets begin.

Viceroy’s House is a really good film.  It took me about 15 mins to get deeply drawn into it, but once I did, I was gripped.  It is moving, funny and thought provoking. There were moments when I was sat at the edge of my seat holding my breath. There were moments when I was holding my sisters hand,  tears rolling down my face. And there were moments when I groaned with frustration, thinking no, it wasn’t like that!

I was already invested in this film long before I watched it. This year marks the 70th anniversary of Partition. 70 years since the birth of Pakistan, and the independence of India from a long and debilitating British rule.

My grandparents survived partition. For those of you who have listened to my podcast, you will know that my grandfather, Mirza Khan Butt, served in the 2nd world war.  He, along with millions of other Indians, served because they had been promised freedom if Britain was victorious. This is touched on in Viceroys House. So I guess in one way, I watched this movie, hoping to see some of the stories I had heard growing up. And I did. The stories of co existence, friendships and mutual respect all came through.  But Chadha didn’t shy away from the reality of partition. The stories of rioting, rape and devastation weaved in between the various narratives within the movie. And this was done seamlessly.

What made me feel uncomfortable was the portrayal of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.  He was presented as this aloof, arrogant and stubborn man, who was intent on splitting India in half to create this new state called Pakistan. There were points throughout the movie when Jinnah was portrayed as a spoilt child who refused to compromise because he wasn’t getting what he wanted. It was as if Mountbatten was left with no choice. Pakistan seemed to be this vague idea Jinnah had dreamt up, with no considered thought and he wasn’t going to rest until he got it.

Viceroy’s House does touch on the fact that Jinnah pursued Pakistan because he wanted to guarantee the safety of the Muslim minority living within India and he was convinced that without a separate state this would not be ensured.

But Jinnah did not conceive this idea independently. Nor so flippantly. Those who know the history of Pakistan and the struggle for a separate state will know that Jinnah was heavily influenced by philosopher  Muhammad Iqbal.

Furthermore, it was created to be a secular state, as Jinnah said in the days leading up to independence

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan … You may belong to any religion or caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the State … I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”

But you see the more I think about this movie, the more I think, this wasn’t a historical story. It isn’t a documentary. It is a drama. It is entertainment with some factual basis. It is Gurinder Chadha’s story as she rightly said today. It is her narrative.

So although some of those who are linked to Partition will want to see their struggles represented, this is unfair to ask. Because a story has a million sides. Especially one that involves the independence of a nation and the creation of another.

At the end of the movie we are told that Gurinder Chadha’s grandmother survived partition, she crossed from Pakistan to India, her baby died on the journey there. She was one of the many millions of refugees. It is this story that will frame Chadha’s storytelling. I am not saying that Viceroy’s house is biased or partial. But your reading of history is influenced by your own experiences or of those who are close to you. They mark you because it becomes your history. Your heritage. Your identity.

So we cannot look to claim our history with Viceroy’s House, but what we can do is offer different perspectives.  It is only by encouraging others to tell their own stories of this traumatic and hugely significant period, that we can begin to truly understand its impact not just then, but now.

Gurinder Chadha has done a fantastic job with Viceroy’s House. She has told her story. It is up to you now to share yours.

Small Talk.

I’ve never been good at it. Its not that I lack the ability to schmooze. I just don’t enjoy it. It makes me feel like im at a speed dating event, passing through a number of people, exchanging snippits of information.
‘Hi I’m Sabbiyah, I’m 27 & I’ve got 3 kids, what about you?’
And on it goes until every subject is broached and the tennis ball drops. If you’re lucky someone else will join your convo and you can start from scratch.
I always find myself leaving events feeling dis-satisified, is it normal to want to go abit deeper? Continue reading “Small Talk.”

From Syria to Bradford: A refugee family’s tale

Last week it was revealed that almost half the Syrian refugees who have resettled in the UK have been housed in one area of Bradford.

Of the 216 refugees given sanctuary so far under the government’s Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme 106 have been resettled by one organisation – the Horton Housing Association, based in Little Horton.

BBC Look North communities reporter Sabbiyah Pervez was born and raised in Little Horton as the daughter of Pakistani immigrants and has been back to her childhood home to meet one Syrian family who represent the newest incomers to the area. Continue reading “From Syria to Bradford: A refugee family’s tale”

Malala Yousafzai – a product of education

“If you educate a man, you educate one person. If you educate a woman, you educate and liberate a whole nation.” Malcolm X. Sabbiyah Pervez is a voice from Bradford on the shooting of a brave young woman
School girls pray for the recovery of gunshot victim, Malala Yousafzai, in Multan, Pakistan. Doctors removed a bullet from the 14-year-old child campaigner shot by the Taliban in a horrific attack condemned by national leaders and rights activists. The attack took place in Mingora, the main town of the Swat valley in Pakistan's northwest, where Malala had campaigned for the right to an education during a two-year Taliban insurgency.

Schoolgirls pray for Malala Yousafzai’s recovery after doctors removed a bullet from the 14-year-old. Photograph: S S Mirza/AFP/Getty Images

Continue reading “Malala Yousafzai – a product of education”