“Since the 1980’s, a shadow has darkened India’s polity and threatened the fundamentals of its social and political existence. This is the Hindutva movement, organized, led and driven by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its front organizations – the Sangh Parivar.” (A Mass Movement Against Democracy: The Threat of the Sangh Parivar)
One will recall that leading Islamophobes in the US, Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, have often over the years appeared alongside fringe elements from within other faith communities who espouse support for the anti-Muslim cause: Sikhs, Hindus, Atheists, Jews and Christians.
These fringe elements all share a common hatred of Islam and Muslims as well as differing supremacist ideologies. In the case of the Hindutva ideologues it is easily and blatantly vocalized in bloodthirsty and violent action against Muslims and Christians. The intersection between these movements was vividly captured when Spencer and Geller posted video of a young Hindutva activist calling for the annihilation of Pakistan, they enthusiastically heaped praise upon her, stating: “the girl is right!”
In Shankar Gopalakrishnan’s, A Mass Movement Against Democracy (quoted above), we also come across the fact that Hindutva groups thrive on and propagate myths about Muslims and Islam that are common features amongst all Islamophobic movements worldwide, including the infamous myth that “all terrorists are Muslims.” This anti-Democratic movement has been the catalyst of much violence, grief and oppression in India at-large but also specifically in the war-torn region of Kashmir (a future article).
In light of these facts we highlight a revealing exchange that we had on Twitter with a fanatical ideologue of extremist Sangh Parivar groups by the name of Anish Jain from New Delhi, India.
Responding to a tweet of ours regarding the killing of Muslims by Buddhists in Myanmar, Jain had this to ask:
Loonwatchers chimed in to condemn and mock Anish Jain’s rank immorality and incredulous stupidity. He was astounded that anyone could condemn killing Muslims whom he compared to “cannibals” and “zombies”.
Most revealing however may have been Jain’s statement that the rise of chauvinistic Buddhists in Sri Lanka and Myanmar is inspired by Hindutva Sangh Parivar groups in India, even to the extent of organizational structure.:
The similarities in anti-Muslim propaganda are obvious and striking between these Sub-Continent groups but are we also witnessing the possibility of increased collaboration?
Over his corpse at Maghrib,
The morning was silent,
Who noticed the sun rise that day?
And you knew my mother,
Knew her name meant rainfall,
So though I was not there,
I was close enough,
For my spirit to make home,
You weaved Falasteen,
Into our hearts,
Like the threads of my Keffeyah,
Bringing Hebron to our doorstep.
Wearing the scars of a massacre,
You still spoke of peace,
Words left your lips,
Like tears falling from olive branch,
My hands outstretched caught words,
That still echo within me.
The bullet that pierced your chest,
Turned borders to dust,
When I speak to your mother,
Translation fails us,
Because tears do not fall,
In English or Arabic,
Hearts like ours will always,
Meet in battlefields,
I hope that she still hears,
The song of your soul,
Echoing from somewhere within me,
Because all that you gave,
Took root here.
And one day I will search for my verse,
On the walls of a refugee camp,
Where your childhood,
From the rubble,
And because she did not forget,
I will write back,
Tracing your words,
Across falling walls,
Because you still teach me,
What it means,
The irreversible effect,
Of a Palestinian heart,
Meeting a tyrants bullet,
It beats on.
For a soul I will never forget,
A presence that brought courage to the surface.
We pray you reach the highest heavens,
Of course Femen will stay quiet on this brutality against a Muslim woman attacked merely for being Muslim and wearing the hijab because they are hypocrites.Swedes don headscarves to support Muslim victim
STOCKHOLM — Scores of Swedish women from various faiths have posted pictures of themselves online wearing hijabs, or traditional Muslim headscarves, to show solidarity with a Muslim woman who was attacked in a Stockholm suburb for wearing one.
Police spokesperson Ulf Hoffman says an unknown assailant attacked the pregnant woman in the suburb of Farsta on Friday by banging her head against a car.
Hoffman said the man shouted slurs which have led police to believe the attack was motivated by the woman’s religion.
Among the women posting photos in headscarves on the social network site Twitter Monday was Green Party leader Asa Romson and Social Democrat lawmaker Veronica Palm.
The initiative’s organizers say they want to raise awareness of the harassment women wearing headscarves face in Sweden.
When I was younger it was Islam's sense of brotherhood that my life needed, not the passivity of Christian doctrine
A seminar was hosted last month by Christians Together in England to consider ways to "stem the flight of black British youths to Islam and radicalisation". In an unprecedented move, Muslims were invited to attend – and they did. Together, both faith groups discussed the reasons why a growing number of young black people are choosing Islam in preference to Christianity. According to this morning's BBC Radio 4's Today programme, one in nine black Christian men are converting to Islam.
Following in my father's footsteps, I was raised as a Roman Catholic and attended Sunday mass regularly as a child. I also attended a Roman Catholic secondary school – initially a cultural shock as I found myself the only black student among a predominantly white class. The religious focus of the school was, however, a refreshing contrast to my urban, street background. Teachers and students were more serious about God than at my previous schools. A student was not considered "nerdy" or "odd" due to their religiosity. I was therefore able to excel in religious studies and was successful in my final O-level exam.
During these lessons, the more we learned about religion, the more we questioned and challenged particular concepts, particularly relating to Christianity. Questions about the concept of the trinity – the Godhead being three in one – caused many debates as some of us; myself and others did not find this logical or feasible. Our religious studies teacher became exasperated by persistent questions on this topic, and arranged for the local priest to attend and address the question. His explanations did little to remove our doubts in this very fundamental and important area of faith.
I recall one particular lesson where we were doing Bible studies and I queried why we, as Christians, failed to prostrate in the same manner that Jesus had in the garden of Gethsemane prior to his arrest. I was unable to identify any relationship between Jesus's prayer and ours as his Christian followers. However, the Muslim prayer most closely resembled Jesus's.
After leaving school, I lost contact with most of my school friends. I also abandoned many aspects of Christianity and instead submerged myself into the urban street culture of my local friends and community – we would make our own religion based on the ethics and beliefs that made sense to us.
The passivity that Christianity promotes is perceived as alien and disconnected to black youths growing up in often violent and challenging urban environments in Britain today. "Turning the other cheek" invites potential ridicule and abuse whereas resilience, strength and self-dignity evokes respect and, in some cases, fear from unwanted attention.
I converted to Islam after learning about the religion's monotheistic foundation; there being only one God – Allah who does not share his divinity with anything. This made sense and was easy to comprehend. My conversion was further strengthened by learning that Islam recognised and revered the prophets mentioned in Judaism and Christianity. My new faith was, as its holy book the Qur'an declares, a natural and final progression of these earlier religions. Additionally, with my newfound faith, there existed religious guidelines that provided spiritual and behavioural codes of conduct. Role models such as Malcolm X only helped to reinforce the perception that Islam enabled the empowerment of one's masculinity coupled with righteous and virtuous conduct as a strength, not a weakness.
My personal experiences are supported by academic research on the same topic: Richard Reddie, who is himself a Christian, conducted research on black British converts to Islam. My own studies revealed that the majority of young people I interviewed converted from Christianity to Islam for similar reasons to me.
Islam's way of life and sense of brotherhood were attractive to 50% of interviewees, whereas another 30% and 10% respectively converted because of the religion's monotheistic foundations and the fact that, holistically, the religion "made sense" and there were "no contradictions".
My research examined whether such converts were more susceptible to violent radicalisation or more effective at countering it. The overwhelming conclusion points to the latter – provided there are avenues to channel these individuals' newly discovered sense of empowerment and identity towards constructive participation in society, as opposed to a destructive insularity which can be exploited by extremists.
Many Muslim converts – not just black British ones – will confirm the sense of empowerment Islam provides, both spiritually and mentally. It also provides a context within which such individuals are able to rise above the social, cultural and often economic challenges that tend to thwart their progress in today's society. Turning the other cheek therefore is never an option.Abdul Haqq Baker
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Original post can be found here.
'Why is my supplication (du‘ā’) not being answered?' is a common complaint that some Muslims make. If we put aside the obvious gremlins (lack of sincerity in making du‘ā’, impatience with the response, asking for something sinful or for breaking family ties, not ensuring one's income; food; and clothing are halal), there are other factors that play a part in the response of a du‘ā’ not being apparently forthcoming. We read in one hadith: 'There is no Muslim who makes a supplication, in which there is neither sin nor severing ties of kinship, save that Allāh will grant because of it one of three things: either He will grant him a prompt response, or store it up for him in the Hereafter, or avert from him an equivalent harm.'1
That the response to a du‘ā’ could be put-off, or be responded to in a way the petitioner doesn't anticipate, is the theme of one of Ibn Ata'illah al-Iskandari's (d.709H/1309CE) famous Hikam – or “Aphorisms”. The Kitab al-Hikam, or Hikam al-Ata'iyyah is the most famous collection of wisdom sayings in the corpus of Islamic literature, composed by the accomplished Maliki jurist and sufi, Ahmad ibn Ata'illah of Alexandria, Egypt. The Hikam has a reputation for its succinct exposition of spiritual realities and practices to spur seekers on to the stations of ihsan. Its appeal is that it combines brevity, energy of expression and layers of meanings, couched in beautiful rhyming Arabic prose. This, together with its numerous large and small commentaries, has ensured its popularity among laypeople and scholars alike till this day.
Below is the sixth aphorism in the collection (in red), followed by a brief commentary by Shaykh 'Abd al-Majid al-Shurnubi (d.1348H/1929CE). The theme of this aphorism, as said before, addresses the issue of du‘ā’ and the subtle wisdom behind why Heaven's response to it is sometimes delayed:♦
6. If, in spite of intense supplication, there is a delay in the timing of the Gift, let that not be the cause for your despair. For He has guaranteed you a response in what He chooses for you, not in what you choose for yourself; and at the time He desires, not the time you desire.
'That is, let not a delay in the timing of a gift [response] – despite persistence and firm continuance in making du‘ā’ – be a cause to despair about a response to the du‘ā’. For Allāh, transcendent is He, has guaranteed you a response, as per His words: “Call upon Me, and I will respond to you” [60:40] in what He chooses for you, not what you choose for yourself. For He knows what is better for you than you do. Perhaps you may ask for a thing, the denial of which is better for you. The author writes later: “Sometimes He gives while depriving you, and sometimes He deprives while giving to you.”2 This is witnessed by those who realise the station: It may be that you hate a thing though it is good for you, or love a thing though it is bad for you. Allāh knows, but you know not. [2:216] This is why one of the Gnostics stated: “His withholding from you is, in reality, a form of giving.”
Likewise, He has guaranteed you a response in the time He chooses, not in the time of your choosing. You ought to cultivate a Moses like patience, for patience and avoiding hastiness more befits the servant. Don't you see that Moses would supplicate against Pharaoh and his people, and Aaron would say: “Amen” to it: “O Lord, destroy their riches and harden their hearts so that they persist in disbelief, until they face the painful torment.” [10:88] Yet only after forty years were their prayers answered, as He said: “Your prayer is answered. Follow, both of you, the right path and do not walk in the footsteps of those who know not.” [10:89] In one hadith [it says]: “Indeed, Allāh loves those who are persistent in supplicating.”3
It has also been related that when a righteous slave supplicates to Allāh, exalted is He, Gabriel says: O Lord, your slave wants a need of his fulfilled. So Allāh responds: “Leave my slave; for I love him and love to hear his voice.”4
So, O aspirant, fulfill what Allāh has instructed you with in respect to supplication, and submit to His will. Perhaps you will be responded to by Him withholding from you and giving you other than what you were seeking, by which you are then granted the greatest good, and even more. [10:26]'5≈
1. Ahmad Musnad, 3:18; al-Hakim, Mustadrak, 1:463, where he declared the chain to be authentic (sahih).
2. Ibn Ata'illah, al-Hikam al-Ata'iyyah (Cairo: Dar al-Salam, 2006), no.83.
3. Al-'Uqayli, al-Du'afa, no.467. Al-Munawi graded it weak (da'if), Fayd al-Qadir(Beirut: Dar al-Ma'rifah, n.d.), no.1876; al-Albani graded its chain as very weak (da'if jiddan) in Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Da'ifah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma'arif, 1992), no.637. The meaning of the hadith, however, is sound and is supported by other hadiths which speak about the virtues of frequently supplicating to Allāh.
4. Al-Tabarani, al-Awsat, no.8442; al-Bayhaqi, Shu'ab al-īmān, no.9562. In his Majma' al-Zawa'Īd (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-'Arabi, n.d.), 10:151, al-Haythami points out that its chain is weak (da'if), as it contains a narrator who is abandoned (matruk).
5. Al-Sharnubi, Sharh al-Hikam (Beirut & Damascus: Dar Ibn Kathir, 2008), 69-71; no.6
Retiring chief rabbi also criticises multiculturalism for leading to 'segregation' and 'inward-looking' communities
Britain's chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, has accused David Cameron of failing to do enough to encourage marriage and says multiculturalism in Britain has "had its day".
Lord Sacks said the prime minister should recognise marriage in the tax system and do more to support mothers who stay at home to look after their children.
"I think the government has not done enough [to encourage marriage]," he said in an interview with The Times.
"Although I don't take a political stance ... I don't think the government has done enough at all."
Lord Sacks, who retires next month after 22 years in the post, said the estimated £9bn-a-year cost of family breakdown and "non-marriage" meant the state had a direct interest in promoting marriage.
"[The government] should certainly recognise marriage in the tax system, it should certainly give more support to mothers who stay at home or for childcare provision," he said.
"I don't believe in getting involved in the details but the principle is pretty clear."
His comments are likely to irritate ministers as the chancellor, George Osborne, has already promised a tax break for married couples in his autumn statement, despite the opposition of the Conservatives' Liberal Democrat coalition partners.
Lord Sacks also said multiculturalism in Britain had had led to "segregation and inward-looking communities".
Comparing it to a hotel where "nobody is at home", he said: "It doesn't belong to anyone, we've each got our own room and so long as we don't disturb the neighbours we can do whatever we like."
But he acknowledged the difficulties faced by British Muslims when they tried to assimilate.
"We've had 26 centuries of experience which most Muslims haven't," he said. "The norm was for Muslims to live under a Muslim jurisdiction and the norm since the destruction of the first temple was for Jews to live under a non-Jewish jurisdiction."
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By Asma Hussein
Teaching myself how not to lose hope
“Think not of those who are killed in the Way of Allāh as dead. Nay, they are alive, with their Lord, and they have provision. They rejoice in what Allāh has bestowed upon them of His Bounty and rejoice for the sake of those who have not yet joined them, but are left behind (not yet martyred) that on them no fear shall come, nor shall they grieve. They rejoice in a Grace and a Bounty from Allāh, and that Allāh will not waste the reward of the believers.” (Ale Imran; 169-171)
My husband, Amr Mohamed Kassem who was 26 years old, returned to his Lord on Friday after ‘aṣr. He was shot through his chin and the bullet exited the back of his neck. He was at a protest in Alexandria, calling for justice for all those who had been killed mercilessly by the army in the previous days and weeks all over Egypt.
Yesterday morning I went to the morgue at a nearby hospital in Alexandria to see Amr before he would be washed and buried in the next few hours. When I arrived, there were many people waiting outside the doors to see their own family members as many people were killed the same day as Amr. Some of Amr's friends and relatives were there, too. After waiting for a while, I entered the room where his body was lying on a table, covered by a long blanket.
I stood beside him and uncovered his face, and there he was, my love, lying there cold even though I had seen him strong and happy and smiling less than 24 hours before that moment. I stroked his beard, part of it was still soft, but part of it felt hard because of the dried up blood. His nose was bloodied and he had a cut beside his eye but he was beautiful, even in death – silent as though sleeping. I touched his lips and his cheeks, they were cold.
I stood there for some time looking at his face, feeling as though my heart was being repeatedly run over by a truck. I refused to cry loudly but tears were streaming down my cheeks, and I told him “I love you Amr, I know that you always wanted to die for the sake of Allāh, and you got what you always hoped for inshā'Allāh, and I'm so proud of you. Ya Allāh forgive his sins and accept him as a shaheed and reunite me with him in the hereafter. Ya Allāh make me patient in knowing that it was his appointed time and that, by Your will and Grace, he is alive with his You as a shaheed.”
I didn't leave him until I was ready, I'm not even sure how long I was standing there. At the end, I kissed his cheek and told him that I would see him later inshā'Allāh, then covered his face and left the room.
The janazah was after ‘aṣr, there were hundreds of people there – his friends, his colleagues from school, extended family. He was a very beloved person to many. There was no dry eye, but everyone was speaking only good words and saying alḥamdulillāh that Allāh took him in the best way anyone can die in this world. We prayed on him, and I went outside to see a crowd of hundreds of men carrying his shrouded body towards the cemetery. The women didn't follow, we were waiting until he was buried to go to his grave and make duaa. After some time, his mother and I and some female relatives walked towards to cemetery and were making our way to where he was.
Suddenly I notice all the men around me yelling for us to go out the side door, to run. I didn't understand what was happening but I started hearing loud bangs behind me, rocks being thrown at us and all the men telling the women to run. So I ran and ran without looking behind me, I was hit on my cheek by a large rock while I was running, but alḥamdulillāh, some of Amr's friends saw me and told me to run ahead of them so they could be behind me and make sure nothing happened to me. The people who attacked us were thugs who had heard there was an “ikhwani” funeral (although my husband was not from the ikhwan, he was just a religious man who believed in something called right and wrong). Many people were injured, some with stab wounds, but as far as I know, there were no causualties alḥamdulillāh. (Update: unfortunately I heard that 2 people were killed during these events, innalillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'oon).
Even in death, Amr's enemies hated him and all those around him! But their hate means nothing to me, after all if an enemy of God hates you, then that is a sign that you are, God-willing) on the right path.
Dear friends, my heart aches in a way I never knew a heart could ache. I miss him whenever I am awake and dream about him when I'm asleep. He was the best kind of husband a woman could ever hope for, kind, generous, soft and loving, but also strong and brave. His clothes are still hung up on the hooks in our room, as though he's going to walk through the door and change into his pajamas before he sleeps. His friend gave me Amr's wallet and cell phone at the janazah, but his wedding band was missing, we still don't know where it is…I wish that I had it.
But through all this, I can't say anything except innalillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un, and continue to make duaa for him. I refuse to dishonor him or myself by asking God “why” he took him or thinking “if only he hadn't gone to the protest on Friday, he would be alive.” No, it was Amr's time to return to Allāh, I know that beyond a shadow of a doubt. And although I wish I had more time with him in the dunya, I sincerely look forward to reuniting with him and being his wife, if God allows me, in Paradise. In Jannah time does not end, there is no fear of being separated from your loved ones. I believe with every inch of my heart that our love was truly a love that can last from this world to the next.
Ya Allāh, You reunited Musa's mother with him after she put him in the river. Ya Allāh, You reunited Yaqub with his beloved son Yusuf after many years of painful separation. Ya Allāh, You are the Only One who can reunite me with my beloved in the hereafter, so Allāh I ask you to not prevent me from being with him again.
Last night after we came home, we received a call from a friend of a relative – someone who had witnessed first hand what happened to Amr after he was shot. [editor's note: Amr was shot by a sniper.] She told us that he didn't die right away, he was alive for a few moments. His left hand was holding his chin where the bullet had entered, and his right index finger went up, and he said clearly “ashhadu anna la illaha ilAllah, wa ashhadu ana Muhammadun rasoolullah” and he had a huge smile on his face, as though it was his wedding day. When I heard this, I couldn't help but cry that Allāh had honored me just by letting me know this wonderful person and allowing me to have his child.
My friends, your words of encouragement have not gone unnoticed. I have nothing but love and respect for you all, and I know now so much more than before that as Muslims, although we have many faults in our community, when we come together we are truly a force to be reckoned with. Your support and love and duaa have touched me greatly. I will undoubtedly need your continued duaa and support when I return to Canada inshā'Allāh.
I ask Allāh to let me never stray from His path, for my own sake and my daughter's, and also for Amr's sake – to honor him in the way that Allāh chose for him to die.
Ya Habibi ya Amr. Ya Habibi ya Amr. Ya Habibi ya Amr. I hope that right now your soul is in a green bird, and you are flying through Jannah, eating and drinking from its provisions and are close to the throne of Allāh , where you will never shed another tear or ever feel any sense of loss or suffering. You are my love in this world and the next inshā'Allāh, you are in my heart always, you are in my prayers always.
Of mosques and meat
ISLAM and immigration have slipped out of Denmark’s political discourse since the centre-left government led by Helle Thorning-Schmidt came to power two years ago and dismantled the ministry for refugees and immigrants. Now they are back in the news, because the country’s first big purpose-built mosque is soon to open its doors.
The mosque, jammed between a railway line and a back street in Copenhagen’s gritty north-west, comes complete with a dome and a minaret, even though local by-laws prohibit any noisy call to prayer. The news of its opening took many Danes by surprise. Denmark’s Muslims have tried for years to have a proper place to worship, but previous attempts failed or were foiled.
When the first news stories about the mosque appeared, the focus was on the architectural elegance of the new building—a pleasant blend of Scandinavian restraint and the strictures of the Islamic building code. But soon articles started to appear that fretted about fights between Islamic sects, radicalisation, foreign influence and even local vandalism. Carl Christian Ebbesen of the populist Danish People’s Party (DPP) said it was wrong to allow the building of a “symbol of a religion that doesn’t recognise democracy and women’s right to freedom”. And when it emerged that the new mosque was funded (at least in part) by a hefty donation from the Qatari royal family, the DPP waded in with a demand for legislation to hinder the financing of mosques by Middle Eastern interests.
A parallel debate has begun about halal meat. It has emerged that many hospitals, schools and kindergartens have been serving meat slaughtered by the Islamic method, and that all meat at some big slaughterhouses was blessed by an imam before leaving the factory gates. Anti-Islam hardliners protested outside a big regional hospital, saying such practices undermined Christian values. Yet many said it did not bother them if somebody said a few prayers over a carcass. Ms Thorning-Schmidt tried to appease both sides by recommending the voluntary labelling of halal meat, but also advising that Danish culture should be preserved. Her effort failed to please the tabloids, which gave her a new nickname: “Hamburger Helle”.
For now, it appears that the two most disparate groups in Danish society will emerge as victors: Muslims, who have at last got their mosque, and the DPP, whose renewed anti-Islam rhetoric has won support. A poll this week has pushed the DPP above 20% for the first time. If that translates into votes in the next election, Islam and immigration will be in the news for years to come.
The BBC’s online “Magazine” last week published three articles about transport issues, one of them about the notion of “road tax” and how it’s commonly used as a trump card in arguments between motorists and cyclists, and two about various major road and railway projects and how likely they are to happen. One of those is a bridge or tunnel across from the mainland to the Isle of Wight, which despite being right next to three small cities on the south coast is linked to it only by ferries; another is a motorway running northwards through eastern England, such as an extension of the M11 or an upgrade of most or all of the A1 to motorway. Having been up the A1 quite recently, I can agree that parts of it badly need upgrading, but not the parts that are commonly assumed.
The article reads:
There are north-south motorways up western England - the M5, M40, M6. The M1 goes up the centre. But east of that is nothing but the A1, which is motorway only in parts. “There’s definitely a bias to motorways taking you west to go up north,” says Paul Watters, head of transport policy at the AA. One plan could be to expand the M11 up from Cambridgeshire to Lincolnshire and the North East. But building brand new motorways is out of fashion. A more realistic option would be to upgrade the A1 to motorway all the way along, Watters says. The most pressing need for improvement is the section north of Newcastle serving the east coast of Scotland, he says. It is currently a mix of single and dual carriageway. Another eastern option is taking the A14, which runs from Felixstowe to the M6, and turning that into motorway, says Jack Semple, policy director at the Road Hauliers Association. Then there’s the A12 from Brentwood to Suffolk.
The mention of the A14 and A12 at the end has nothing to do with the state of the A1: the A14 runs east to west from the Midlands to East Anglia, and carries freight traffic to Felixstowe and possibly Harwich (although the shortest route there is still via London), while the A12 serves eastern East Anglia and any improvements made there will not affect the A1 at all. The A1 currently has five stretches of motorway, three poor-quality old ones, mostly two lanes each way (in Hertfordshire, South Yorkshire and County Durham) and two high-quality stretches with three or four lanes each way (in Cambridgeshire and West and North Yorkshire). In between those it’s mostly dual carriageway with two lanes each way, but the quality of that varies: the remaining bit of non-motorway in North Yorkshire has two lanes each way with a hard shoulder, while the stretch through Bedfordshire is dire, passing through several villages and stopping at about six roundabouts. The section from Peterborough to Donacaster is generally of good quality, with all the roundabouts nowadays replaced with underpasses or flyovers.
On my journey up the A1 two weeks ago, by far the worst stretch was through Bedfordshire which is fairly close to London. There was a long delay approaching a roundabout near Bedford, where traffic turning right off the southbound A1 onto the A421 to Bedford and Milton Keynes blocked the northbound traffic. That road was built only recently, and the roundabout was clearly intended to cut costs, much as with a number of bad junctions in eastern England (the A14 is full of them), but the government currently only intends to install traffic lights at that roundabout rather than build a flyover. The government’s stock response to demands to upgrade that bit of road, which usually come with a reminder of its trunk road status, is to tell motorists to use the M1 instead. The M1 and A1(M) north of Leeds is entirely free-flowing from London to Newcastle; the improvements north of Peterborough also provide a free-flowing route to the north-east from the Kent ports and Dartford Tunnel via the M11 and A14. So, it’s only the “silly motorists” who insist on going from London to the north-east via the A1 when they’re “not meant to” who get stuck at the roundabouts in Bedfordshire.
The problem with the M1 is what I call the “M1 basin” issue: if you look at the M1 as a large river coming down to London from the North, with a large tributary joining it from the north-west at Rugby in the form of the M6, you will notice that the M1’s “basin” includes every major city in the UK except Bristol and Cardiff. The London-Rugby stretch will carry traffic going to Northampton, Birmingham (and every town and city round about), Stoke, Liverpool, Manchester, the Lake District, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Sheffield, Hull, Leeds, York, Middlesborough and Newcastle, as well as every part of Ireland except the far south. The M1 is generally a road people avoid if they can, because it’s old, because it’s often being worked on at one point or another, because parts of it (like near Luton) are narrow, and because it’s extremely busy. This is why many motorists use the M40 to get to Birmingham and even the north-west even though it is a longer way round than using the M1, even from south and west London. The A1, if you are going to Newcastle in particular, is the shortest route and has the advantage of going through no major population centre between London and Yorkshire. The government should recognise this rather than telling people to just use the M1. There isn’t a need for a motorway all the way up the A1; what is needed is for the quality of the Baldock-Huntingdon stretch to be as good as the Peterborough-Doncaster stretch.
I also noticed that on many parts of the A1, the signs need updating as they mention too many tiny places and not enough major destinations. South of Newcastle, for example, the distance signs mention Durham, Darlington and Scotch Corner, the last being not even a village but merely a junction (and not one that would interest someone coming from Newcastle, because the road that leaves the A1 there goes to places that could be more easily reached by other ways from Newcastle). Going south from there, they mention only Borougbridge and Wetherby, both tiny places — perhaps important coaching stations in years gone by, but insignificant along a major inter-city road in the 21st century. Harrogate, York and Leeds should be signposted a long way back, perhaps all the way back to Washington (where the A1(M) begins south of Newcastle). I also came to the conclusion that the speed limits should be reduced on two-lane carriageways, because the likelihood of coming up against trucks that are restricted to 56mph are that much greater; there is also less room for manoevre when people pull onto the road at junctions. I suggest it be 60mph for everyone (and 50mph for everyone on single carriageways).
As a cyclist I’ve never had the “but I pay road tax” line used on me, but I’ve heard it often used in general arguments about cyclists’ behaviour, almost always from motorists annoyed at seeing cyclists jump red lights and so on. As the BBC’s article makes clear, despite high-profile “pay your road tax!” campaigns from the government (including one where the car from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang got clamped), there is actually no such thing as road tax and there hasn’t been since the 1920s; it is a vehicle tax, which goes into the Treasury, and road building and maintenance comes out of general taxation (for trunk roads and motorways it is funded centrally, for other roads by local authorities), and you pay more tax if you have a vehicle with greater emissions, which generally means older cars or those with bigger engines. Bicycles, of course, do not have engines, do not burn oil or emit exhaust fumes, cause minimal wear and tear on roads and are capable of doing vastly less damage to property and injury to people, but more to the point, cycling is a skill we mostly learn as a child and is a simple and easy thing, while driving (and car ownership and maintenance) is an expensive and complicated business that only adults are trusted with. A journey made on a bicycle is one that isn’t made by car, which could have resulted in pollution and noise, and which did not, and if you need a separate licence to cycle, many people who already own cars will not bother, and many of those who can afford one or the other and need a car will choose the car. Much as it annoys some car drivers to see a cyclist get ahead of them, making cyclists pay an equivalent of vehicle tax will be bad for everyone.