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Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Matters of (Islamic) Opinion


Last Saturday, another teacher and I were having a discussion of Islamic sects and schools of thought with our 15/16 year old students. I'd typically only teach A Level Maths but on this occasion I helped out with the Islamic Studies class. Our discussion was prompted by a question around how flexible Islam is and why Muslims are not required to be identical and why Muslims can, in fact, hold different opinions on the same issue and all be correct. One of the students mentioned that he had once been praying and a friend of his tried to physically correct a minor detail in how he was praying during his actual prayer and later refused to accept that there were multiple acceptable styles. It was different to how he did it so therefore it must be wrong - and he refused to back down until eventually his father explained to him.

As the discussion progressed, we talked of the differences between Sunni and Shia, the differences in madhdhabs (schools of thought) and differences in practice. We outlined the madhdhabs and made clear that they were not the work of the one single eponymous person but large bodies of work by numerous scholars spanning all the centuries. We touched upon how the variations in practice came about and held firm that variation is not just tolerated but is a blessing. Most importantly we tried to explain that different does not necessarily mean better or worse.

The best example we could give was the narration covering the time a group of the Prophet's (peace be upon him) companions had gone to visit a specific place. Before their departure they'd been given instructions not to pray their (Asr) afternoon prayer until they arrived at the place. However, the travel took longer than expected and sunset approached well before they arrived. With time for the afternoon prayer fast running out, a discussion broke out over whether they should pray now or continue on. Some said the point of the instruction was to get them to make haste, others said the instruction was definitive in when they should pray. Without settling the disagreement, some prayed there and then and the rest waited to pray until arrival - going beyond sunset and outside the specified timings.

Upon their return, they put the question to the Prophet (pbuh): who was in the right? He said both views were acceptable. Put simply, while there are certain inviolable and immutable beliefs, reasonable differing opinions on matters of law were and are acceptable.

Later that same Saturday I was as at a friend's house for dinner and during the course of the evening I was talking with a married couple that I hadn't met before. The husband had been brought up as a Muslim and the wife was a reverted Muslim. Alongside the excellent and fascinating food, they both had fascinating stories of the journey to Islam, the expectations of their different cultures and how their own expectations of difficulties with cross-cultural marriage didn't really materialise as predicted.
For example, when the British Christian parents were due to meet the Pakistani Muslim parents, there was considerable nervousness but they got on astonishingly over a mutual shared interest in Medicine and Science! One pair were doctors and the other pair a nurse and a scientist. Those of you with friends in medical fields will know about medic-chat - on this occasion it was certainly welcome!

One curiosity which did intrigue me was the issue of how a revert to Islam chooses a 'type' of Islam to follow. Those who are brought up as Muslims tend to passively go with the type that they were raised as but it must be difficult when having to actively make a choice. I asked the question and the answer I got was quite pleasing. The choice she'd made was to be Muslim - a strict sub-type choice wasn't necessary. She continued that one of the first questions people would ask when she told them that she had reverted was "Which sect are you?" and in the initial instance everyone would try and persuade her that theirs was the best way!

This brought to mind the discussion at school and the people for whom my way is the only way and any variation from this is inferior and wrong. It's quite a contemporary and historical phenomenon, not just in the Muslim faith but in general human history.

In Islam there are different schools of thought and paths and there is an ever present danger that when someone doesn't take the time to learn about themselves and others and their beliefs they can forget that that the road to salvation is not a tightrope. It is exactly a road - with people in many lanes and travelling at different speeds. You might find yourself veering off if you're not careful but justifiably doing things a little differently to someone else doesn't keep you from continuing in the right direction. Different does not necessarily mean better or worse.


Previous Article: Are you single? I know someone.

P.S.

We're always keen for volunteer teachers - no experience necessary!

If you are interested in teaching, volunteering or working with the school please contact the headteacher Shaimaa at ccwestsatschool@gmail.com.

The school runs every Saturday (subject to the school timetable) from 10am-1.30pm at the MCHC, 244 Acklam Road, W10 5YG. (Year 4 to A Level)

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Are you single? I know someone.



Part and parcel of the single life is that friends and acquaintances may try and introduce you to someone they know. It's usually a noble goal and usually it's well-intentioned. And usually it's gratefully received - it gives a nice fuzzy feeling that someone is thinking of you and also thinks well enough of you that they're comfortable with allowing you to meet other people they know.

That said, there are good ways to suggest an introduction and there are ways that are not so good. Coming from a Muslim background where casual dating is not part of the single lifestyle - there's a lot riding on a successful introduction. This might be better in a flowchart but relationships are not often spoken about in Muslim circles so allow me to break down what good looks like:

The first question normally asked is clarification if you are still single. Understandably important because there's no point going any further if you're off the market. A simple yes or no deals with this one and if it's a "Yes" then we're good to progress to the next level.

The next comment/question is where you can usually tell if someone's made introductions before or if they're unpractised.

If they say "I know someone who's also single. Do you want to know more?" it's a strong indication that they're new to this. It's not an issue if they are new, but you on the receiving end of the introduction will have to be prepared to be just a little bit patient and to help them while they're trying to help you.

Of course you want to know more. You're very much aware that there are numerous singles of the opposite gender out there in the world and you very much want to know more about them! And as I've already pointed out - the Muslim way is to accelerate from zero to married which means it's a high-stakes game.

Some people may well be happy to meet someone armed with only the knowledge that they are also single. "She's female. You're male. You should obviously get married." Maybe I've been affected by modern thinking but I like to know that there might be some compatibility and that it's not a random roll of the dice by the introducer. I myself like to pretend I'm a busy person which means I theoretically don't have time to follow up on every whim and fancy.

Information is important. If you are the singleton on the receiving end of this, play nicely and ask the introducer the following four questions. And if you are the introducer - as a minimum be prepared to answer the following four questions:
  • How you know the person? 
  • What you know about them? 
  • Why you think we'd do well together?
  • Do you have a photo?
Detail is very welcome but answers don't need to be extensive and thorough - just enough to provide an indication that the introducer has put some thought into the introduction. "I know them from a place I volunteer. They're x years old, funny, creative and a practicing Muslim. They have an above-average interest in memes." is a perfectly good answer.

On to the photo. Human beings are visual creatures and we've learned to identify people by their faces - don't feel embarrassed to ask for one. Blind dates can be interesting but better to know who you're dealing with. As a minimum the photo should be clear enough that it could be used to successfully identify the person (without third party assistance) if and when the first meeting happens. Nothing blurry or low-resolution please. And definitely nothing with Snapchat rabbit-ears.

As an introducer be prepared to answer a few more questions (e.g. job/hobbies etc) but if you've got the above covered then you can pat yourself on the back - you're on your way to a job well done!

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Thursday, 23 March 2017

London standing proud



Yesterday's event outside the Houses of Parliament was bad. Simple and straightforward. Murder is never good and neither is attacking innocent people. It wasn't a large scale 'planned' attack like that in Paris so it's debatable if it was terroristic in intent or whether it was an opportunist but even still, it doesn't make it right or at all OK.

When such events happen, unless you're in the immediate area while it's happening, the only thing you can really do is keep on as normal and not panic. Countless cars drive in and through Westminster and other crowded places on any given day. Multiple knives are readily available in every household. 99.99% of these are being used as they are meant to be and we can't be afraid of doing our everyday activities in case someone decides to use an everyday tool with malicious intent. The city has 8million people and for the most part they're quite normal and nice but in every barrel of apples you'll be able to find a few that are rotten. This doesn't mean you discard the whole barrel or start panicking that every apple is going to kill you.

I happened to be at work a few miles from Westminster when the news broke and for the most part, my colleagues and I carried on with our day, slightly unsettled and keeping on top of the news and various social media, but otherwise continuing on as normal. As the hours went by, a few more facts emerged about the actual incident and numerous of my civil servant friends who work in Westminster reported their offices being on lockdown for a few hours.

The news was piecemeal and facts were few and far between - most likely by police intent to help them conduct rapid investigations. Given the information vacuum, news agencies tried to fill in gaps with conjecture and theories on motives and perpetrators. Channel 4 ended up naming someone who later turned out to be in jail and not at all involved but who fit the theory they were trying to spin. Other opportunist hate-mongers used it as a vindication of their hate.

Generally speaking, I'd say we can be better. It's perfectly human to be scared, anxious, hateful and suspicious but it's equally human to be brave, calm, loving and trusting. Let the dust settle, see what happened for what it was and recognise that while there are those who wish ill on others, most people aren't like that. I'd say London is doing an outstanding job of this and is representing itself very well as a leading global city. And long may it do so in sha allah (God willing).

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Monday, 20 February 2017

A Question of Wardrobe

One of my WhatsApp groups took a shot of adrenaline today and came alive after a few days of quiet with a fascinating and long discussion about clothing and not from a fashionista point of view but rather a spiritual view.

It began, as these things do, with a message on a totally different topic. Someone shared a video with a scholar/preacher encouraging his audience to take an active part in their society/community and boost their civic engagement. A fine and noble goal and the video sat there unassumingly until someone else questioned the potential irony in the fact that the preacher was wearing a thawb -  a garment typically associated with the modern Arab Middle East.

Aside from the question of whether the thawb is islamic or simply arabic (two distinct categorisations), the underlying question being posed was Is it better to wear 'islamic' clothing or 'contemporary' clothing? Simple enough question but from here the discussion simply blew up and so began a long multi-partisan talks covering various factors that each person thought were relevant and important. Points were made and evidences supplied along with hadith and scholarly opinions and even quotes from various texts.

It rapidly became clear that the main point of contention was borne out from that if we begin from the axiom that the way of the Prophet (peace be upon him) was the best way, it naturally follows that how he dressed is then the best way to dress. But as a man of his time, he dressed like the society around him. Modestly, yes, but in the style of his local culture. So it becomes a question of should Muslims dress literally like him or figuratively like him?

The discussion went on for several hours but the eventual residual conclusion was that really people should wear what they want. The explicit rules of clothing simply require modesty - anything after that is purely dependent on your purpose and intention. Either dress literally like the Prophet (pbuh) did and wear similar clothing to him because of your love for him or dress figuratively like the Prophet (pbuh) and wear contemporary clothing from your culture because of your love for him.

The essential fact in the decision making process is that as Muslims we love the Prophet (pbuh) and actions are by intention so what others might think of your clothing is a lesser concern so long as it's bringing you closer to Allah (God).

That said, in the world we live in today, it would be foolish to disregard the power of branding and the message it sends to your audience. There's probably a blogpost in this on its own but how you clothe yourself is very much part of your personal brand and if a simple change of clothing (that fits in with your beliefs) allows you to reach multiple audiences with your message then by all means make the most of that flexibility!

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Monday, 30 January 2017

#NoMuslimBan


I went along to an emergency protest today outside 10 Downing St. Unless you're living in a cave, you will have heard about the Trump administration's ban on people originating from various countries in the Middle East. It's resulted in widespread condemnation and rightly so as despite claims that other countries also have visa requirements, the context here is that it's an early stage fulfilment of his campaign pledge to ban Muslims from the United States.

Having not been to a proper protest for quite a while I wasn't sure what to expect given the cold weather and the short notice but when I turned up to Westminster Station I was met by a slow moving queue of people all streaming towards the protest, many of whom were carrying banners and placards. I found this to be reassuring - seemed like there'd be a sizeable crowd - and upon following the crowd found that Whitehall was heaving with people. 

In the open space it was easier to read the placards that people has put together and it was alhamdulillah (praise be to God) heart-warming to see so many people standing behind and supporting Muslims against the oppressive nature of this latest political/social development. A number of banners were aimed at UK Prime Minister Theresa May who recently visited Trump and ostensibly made no measure of disagreement with his policy plans, other posters were focused on refugees but the overwhelming majority were aimed at Trump. Some of the chants were quite witty - "Trump can't build a wall, Trump's hands are too small" was one memorable example. 

Finding people you knew was a close to impossible task given that it was night-time and that phone signal was terrible with such a volume of people but the general atmosphere was friendly and welcoming and I did eventually bump into a couple of familiar faces. It was good to see that people were being active and demonstrating concern for this new world state of affairs and having now checked my social media I am even more pleased to see other people posting their photos of the protest. 

All in all, a worthy protest to go to but for me there were two interesting aspects. 

Firstly the sheer number of different reasons people had for protesting against Trump - human rights, women's rights, islamophobia, anti-capitalists, racism. The man has distinctly antagonised a wide range of groups. In a weird way this somewhat diluted the effectiveness of the protest with so many different messages that it was hard to focus on a particular thing (similar to the challenge faced by Hillary Clinton in the campaign). 

And secondly that given that this protest was organised in reaction to the Muslim Ban, that there were so many people who were out in support of Muslims who weren't 'visibly' Muslim. It's reassuring to know that despite the general negative portrayal of Muslims by some parts of the media and now also by national governments, there are people who care and who are willing to provide support to try and make sure humanity does not go down dark and dangerous roads.

Last thing to say is that if you get a chance to go along to a protest - make sure you do so and make your voice heard. Change may not happen immediately, but by applying pressure and showing that we won't stand for injustice or allow our representatives to stand idly by, we might just make change happen.



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Thursday, 19 January 2017

President Trump



Tomorrow, 20th January 2017, sees the handover of executive power in the USA from Barack Obama to Donald Trump and I'm still in a state of confusion about this whole election. It's been a while since my last post, during which I've been exploring alternative avenues of creative expression (Periscoped Life and Muslim Harry Potter) and dealing with a couple of personal issues but now that we're so close to the official transfer of power, despite being in the UK and not directly affected by it, I can't help but be a little nervous about the new situation.

In conventional elections, people generally vote according to the political party representative that they feel holds the best policies and when the election is over the person makes an effort to fulfil the pledges and promises they made. You vote with a rough idea of what to expect.

The bizarre situation that the Americans are in now is that Trump was voted in on a whole lot of rhetoric and numerous ridiculous policies (anyone for a Mexican-paid wall or bringing back torture?). We'd have been in a pretty dire situation if he had pursued these policies but now that he's backtracked on quite a few of them and established that he's not interested in keeping his word or integrity, we're in a position of not knowing what on earth he plans to do other than his well documented attempts at being friendly with Vladimir Putin of Russia. So far as his promise of 'draining the Washington DC swamp' of lobbyists and special interest groups goes, he seems to be going for the approach of replacing the lobbyists with the people the lobbyists were representing. The best example of this being choosing the CEO of ExxonMobil - the world's largest oil company - as Secretary of State - the country's most senior diplomat.

Those of us in other countries can take some solace in the fact that we're not directly affected, but still be anxious in the fact that we'll be indirectly affected. The USA does hold the title of world's most powerful nation and - like it or not - decisions and actions that take place there have ripple effects across the world and as the country pushes a more divided and unpredictable line, this leads to unpredictable reactions by those affected and fairly soon we'll end up with a whole lot of uncertainty and find ourselves living in an even more reactionary and even more suspicious world.

However, while the average person can't do so much about what goes on in the upper echelons of the corridors of power, we can do a lot with our own actions and choices. When all around you is uncertain and seemingly going to hell in a handcart, keeping a level head and not giving in to the lure of suspicion and fear of your fellow man at an individual level is the only way to counter the forces that seek to divide.

To quote from the Quran 13:11 "Indeed, Allah (God) will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves." This verse has multiple meanings and contexts but the essence of is that change has to come from within and with personal and individual effort, not whimsical hope for an undeserved or unearned saviour/miracle to remove what hardship the people are facing.

So rather than run scared and full of fear, keep praying and show love, affection and good judgement to those around you. Keep fighting ignorance and injustice where you see it while being careful not to indulge in those vices yourself. Maintain your own environment and help those around you maintain theirs without encroaching on the rights of others and with a little luck perhaps we'll all live to see another inauguration in four years time!


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Sunday, 15 January 2017

Wedding Speech #2

Below is the transcript for a speech I gave at my friend's wedding yesterday. I'm getting better at them! You can watch it in Facebook Live. I used one of my old instructional videos to make sure I had covered all the important aspects of a good wedding speech. (video link at bottom)


Assalamualaikum everybody

For those of you that don’t know me, I’m Yusuf and I’m a friend of Suhayb’s. My job here is to pretend that Suhayb is just the most amazing person in the world. Obviously he’s already managed to somehow convince Maheen of this but the rest of you are probably undecided on the issue and may take more persuading!

Before I get into that – a quick shout out to the party planning committee and the crawley mosque. It’s been a great afternoon so far and the food has been really good.

OK. Suhayb. I’ve known Suhayb now for a number of years. We met when we were both working at Tesco head office. Life has taken us apart and elsewhere but at that time he was a freshfaced graduate trainee accountant looking to make his mark on the world. Well, I say freshfaced but he has had that beard for quite a while and already had it back then. In terms of making his mark, I don’t want to point fingers but I think it’s interesting that he was at Tesco before and during their recent accounting scandal. We met over lunch with another friend who can’t be here today and we have had many lunches since.

At the time my initial thoughts were something like “Oh dear, look at this guy’s beard!” And then he explained he was on the finance graduate scheme wanting to become an accountant and then I was thinking “Wow this guy is going to be so dull.” But happily I was surprised and wrong and he turned out to be a rather interesting guy with well-reasoned and sensible opinions. And in the years since we met he’s made it through his accountancy qualification, travelled and lived in the Far East, come back home, added on several extra muscles and settled into the adult world mashallah.

As he begins this new journey into serious adulthood with Maheen, I thought it might be handy if I gave a quick pointer to help her navigate the next few weeks. The main point I want to get across is food. Much as he claims to like to go the gym and eat clean, Suhayb is a man who likes his food. If you look at his before and after photos from China, you can see the visible impact that food can have. He’s lost the pounds now but the photos are well worth seeing. For a short while the Great Wall of China wasn’t the only structure visible from space. And if you’re sharing a pizza, just let him have the last slice - otherwise years later you’ll never hear the end of it. And if he’s ever angry, make sure to give him some food before talking to him. A well fed Suhayb is a happy Suhayb.

Before I wind this up I just want to say that we started as strangers, but over the time I’ve known him, he gone through ups and downs, grown in wisdom and experience and even more importantly he’s become family and I’d be proud to call him my brother. If you ever just talk to his parents, it’s plain to see how proud they are of him and it gives me great pleasure that mashallah today he’s taken this giant leap forward in fulfilling the Sunnah of the prophet SAW and I pray that Allah blesses your union and that both of you bring joy to each other’s heart and that you grow stronger in faith today, tomorrow and always.




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