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.’

Midweek Musing

Last week, just after International Womens Day, I sat, like I am now, in front of my laptop and mulled over what to write.

There were a couple of stories that I had seen doing the usual rounds on social media that troubled me. The first was the furore over the dancing hijabi. Those of you who missed this, basically someone filmed a woman wearing a headscarf twerking in a city centre. That video went viral and the woman was publicly shamed. She received death threats, abuse and it eventually led to her publicly apologising on some guys YouTube. It is fair to say that the majority of people had an issue with the woman twerking because she was wearing a hijab. They felt she was ‘dishonouring’ the religion, bringing ‘disgrace’ upon herself, her family and her community. I saw people making comments along the lines of ‘she should have removed her hijab before doing such a disgusting act.’

The second story was that of Bangladesh reducing its legal marriage age from 18 to 0. Yeah you read that right. On February 17th, the Bangladesh government proposed this new law which would effectively allow girls under the age of 18 to marry in ‘special cases.’ But it has not specified what those special cases are. What it means in practice is that, any girl under the age of 18 can get married to a man, regardless of his age, as long as the parents of the girl and the courts consent.

The reason why I was most perturbed by these stories was because they have one thing in common, they assume ownership over the women concerned.

In regards to the dancing hijabi, it was assumed by people at large, that because she was wearing a hijab, she was to conform to a uniform code of behaviour. A code of behaviour all hijabis must adopt. I don’t know what that it is but given the comments I have read, it is that hijabis must be ‘modest,’ ‘decent,’ ‘respectful,’ ‘represent their religion properly.’
It is as though once a woman decides to wear the hijab, she becomes the property of the Muslim communities at large. It is as though she is then accountable to them and at their mercy. She is to expect to be publicly shamed, threatened and abused if she displeases them.

Not only is this unjust. It is a display of a delusional, irrational and an ignorant attitude towards women. It is a total disregard of the autonomy of a woman. She does not represent anyone but herself. She is accountable to no one but herself. She is free to do as she pleases, whether she wears the hijab or not.

The fact that this woman was abused to such an extent that she felt the need to publicly apologise is disgusting. How gratuitous of the man who facilitated this apology. Who will never endure the stigma she has experienced. How gratitutous of the people for forgiving her. What about those who threatened her with death? Will they too be subject to a public trial? What about those who cursed her, frothing at their fingertips. Will they too be subject to a public trial?
No. because mob mentality doesn’t work like that. It stifles rationality. It dehumanises its victim and after it has achieved what it set out to do, it waits for its next target.

It is as though some people do not want to accept the fact that hijabis are women with free independent thinking. Free to do as they please. Whether they have a lapse in judgement or not. That is the womans prerogative. Certainly not yours.

Which leads me on to the Bangledishi marriage law,
In Bangladesh, 52% of girls are married before they turn 18 and 18% are married before they are 15.
On the Girls not Brides website, Samira, from Bangladesh writes about her experience.

“I am victim of early marriage. When I was 14, I was forced into a marriage as I was considered a burden on the family. My family suggested this marriage [because] the groom didn’t ask for dowry. My husband was 35 – double my age.”
“During the marriage I had the horrible experience of marital rape. [Unable] to tolerate it anymore, I went back to my parents’ home and am living with them again.”

If the new law receives Presidential approval, there will be more girls like Samira. Why? Because parents have this view that girls are a burden, and it is better to get rid of them as soon as possible. The earlier they get them married the better. The only thing that can change this mindset is education. But if a society views its girls as a problem rather then a solution, who will care to invest in them? If a government feels it can make such laws without considering the long term effects on future generations, then what does it tell you about its value for women?

As I write this, news has come in about the European Court of Justice legalising a ban on headscarves in workplaces, as long as the employer enforces a blanket ban for all religions.
I cannot help but wonder how this will affect Muslim women who are considering re entering the workplace. In 2015, ONS found 58% of Muslim women are economically inactive. That may be due to the fact that some are full time carers, others experience language barriers and a portion feel discriminated against because of their faith and how they choose to dress.

This is the first ban on headscarves of its sort. The culmination of a debate that has been raging across Europe regarding the dress choices of Muslim women. From the banning of the niqaab to the burka to the controversial forced removal of the burqini on a beach in Nice. It is everywhere. This desire to reduce Muslim women to the clothes they wear. To empower them by means of limiting their choices.

I cannot help but wonder, will this battle for the freedom of Muslim women ever end? Whether it is the Muslim communities who throw stones at hijabis for displaying ‘unusual’ behaviour, or the legislators who want to ensure ‘neutrality,’ by legalising the ban on headscarves.

It is as though Muslim women are incapable of making decisions for themselves.
Too oppressed to truly make our own choices.
Too irresponsible to be given free reign.

When will this distorted fantasy end?

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”