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Become A Villager | Sh Yawar Baig

Muslim Matters - 22 November, 2017 - 14:05

In 1985, when I was studying at the IIM Ahmedabad, our Professor of Organization Behaviour (OB) Area was Prof. Pulin Garg. One day he told us a very interesting story which has remained in my mind all these decades. He told us that some years earlier Ford Foundation, the American NGO, did a project to help village farmers to enhance crop yields by using metal plowshares instead of their traditional wooden ones.

They adopted one village and set up their experimental and control plots. The experimental plots were plowed using metal plowshares, made from cast iron, while the control plots were plowed in the traditional way using wooden plows. They monitored the crops over three cycles and proved to the villagers that simply by using the metal plowshare, their yield would be enhanced by over 20%. I won’t go into the scientific details of why this happens here but will suffice to say that this benefit was made clear to the villagers.

The day before they were to leave the village to return home, the Ford Foundation people called for a meeting with the village Panchayat and asked them if they were happy with the experiment and believed that the use of metal plowshares would benefit them. The Panchayat members and all the villagers agreed that they had watched this experiment and had no doubt about the benefit of the metal plowshare. The Ford Foundation people were delighted and as a parting gift, gave the village enough metal plowshares for all the farmers. The villagers were very grateful and thanked them profusely for their generosity.

Three years later, Ford Foundation returned to the village to assess their project to see how successfully it was functioning. To their complete astonishment they discovered that nobody was using the metal plowshares. They asked the Mukhya (head of the Panchayat) what had been done with the plowshares that they had gifted the village with. They were taken to a storage hut and shown the plowshares, wrapped in sacking, stacked in one corner.

‘They are safe Sir’, said the Mukhya.

‘But why are you not using them. We came all this way to teach you this better way of farming. We proved to you that this way is better and you all agreed. We gave you the plowshares as a gift so that you wouldn’t need to spend any money to buy them. But you are still not using them, why?’

‘Sir we are so grateful to you for coming all the way from America to teach us. You are big people. We are nothing compared to you. Yet you took all this trouble for us. You are Mahan (great) people. We are very grateful to you.’

The Ford Foundation project leader tried his best to get an answer out of the Mukhya but any Indian who knows our culture and the trouble we have with direct rejection or criticism will understand, he got nowhere. This is where my professor came into the picture. When he heard this story, he offered to go to the village and find out what was really going on. Ford Foundation needed an answer for their project report, so one afternoon Pulin arrived in the village. Let me tell you in Pulin’s own words, what he told us about this entire incident.

‘I arrived in the village and the Mukhya welcomed me. Naturally we don’t simply start asking questions as soon as we arrive. So, I drank the water they gave me, then tea. I was honored by being invited to stay with the Mukhya in his home, but opted for an empty house which they used for guests (usually Revenue Department officials) because when a stranger stays in a Jat home, it is a lot of hardship on the women, who are in purdah (veiled). I had a bath and changed into a new dhoti (Prof. Pulin Garg always wore a dhoti, even in the IIMA) and we met for dinner. We chatted about everything under the moon except the Ford Foundation experiment. They knew why I was there, but the propriety of the culture must be maintained. You don’t ask the guest any questions and the guest will not tell you why he is there until the basic hospitality is over.

After the evening meal was over, we sat and smoked a hooka when I opened the topic. ‘I believe the Americans were here to show you some new farming ways!’

‘Yes Sir, such nice people. They came all the way from America to teach us how to plow our fields.’

‘What did they do?’

‘They took two fields for their experiment………….(he gave Pulin a detailed description of the entire experiment and admitted that the yield was 20% higher with metal plowshares)

‘Are you happy with what they showed you and are you using the new plowshares?’

‘Sir, we are convinced that their method is superior but we can’t use the metal plowshares.’

‘Why can’t you use them? Is there any problem with the design? Is it difficult to use them? What is the problem?’

‘Sir, there is nothing wrong with the design and it is not difficult to use them. But we have another problem if we use them.’

‘What problem?’

‘Sir, we have a family of carpenters in our village. If we use the metal plowshares, they will lose their livelihood. So, we decided to remain with our traditional method because their well-being is our responsibility.’

Pulin told us, ‘Then I made the biggest blooper of my career. I spoke to them like a management consultant. I said to them, ‘But that is simple. You will get a 20% higher yield. Out of that just pay them what they normally earn by sharpening your wooden plows.

The Mukhya looked at him with a mixture of amusement and pity and said, ‘Sir you are one of us but you don’t understand us. Forgive me for saying it, but you are not in touch with your village. We can’t do what you said.’

‘Why not?’ Pulin was not one to accept defeat so easily.

‘Because Sir, they are artisans (Kareegar) not beggars (Bhikari). We can’t simply give them money and they won’t take it. It is not a matter of money. It is a matter of dignity and pride. Izzat ka sawal hai Sir. They are our brothers and we can’t do this to them.’

Pulin said to us, ‘This was one of the biggest lessons I learnt in my career of consulting about the importance of culture in acceptability and applicability of solutions.

The lesson for me when I heard this story over 30 years ago was even more importantly in the context of our interpersonal relationships. Over the years and decades this lesson has only become more and more clear, more and more urgent. That is why I believe that we all need to become villagers. Naturally I don’t mean that in a literal sense of going back to living in villages and farming the land, though let me say that it would be a wonderful thing to do if we could. I mean that we need to start thinking as villagers; at least like the villagers in this story. Thinking about others, as a part of us.

Let me explain. There are three principle differences between village and urban life. A village is a living being. It is whole. It functions by interdependence and understands how every element fits into the larger scheme of things for the whole village to prosper. In a village everyone has a place and every place is valuable and appreciated. The three elements of being a villager are to think in terms of:

  1.       Mutual responsibility
  2.       Mutual liability
  3.       Mutual accountability

This produces a sense of community which is expressed in terms of shared feelings and reactions i.e. Gaon ka beta ya gaon ki beti (child of the village), Gaon ki izzat (dignity of the village) etc. That is why it is only in a village that you have a Panchayat. Mutual decision making by a group of respected elders (not necessarily in age, though age does play a part in selection to the Panchayat, all other things being equal) who are trusted to consider the welfare of the whole village when deciding a matter.

I know that what I am saying here doesn’t cover the issues with caste discrimination but I beg your indulgence and request you to consider this as an example, which may differ somewhat from reality but still holds true. The difference in terms of caste privilege and discrimination is something to be addressed and eliminated to get to the true benefit of what I am describing here.

Cities and urban living on the other hand are the embodiment of the modern individualistic society that we have created for ourselves, much to our own detriment. It is not to say that everything about a city is bad. It isn’t. But one sure characteristic of the city is that it is all about individualism. Of disconnect between people. Of people living on their own, without concern for those around them, imagining that they are free of them and owe them no responsibility. The biggest icon of this mentality are the thousands of expensive houses in cities surrounded by abject poverty. How can anyone build and live in a million dollar or billion dollar house in the middle of abject poverty, unless he feels no connection at all with those living in squalor all around him? This is not an indictment of the individual but of the urban mentality. The tragedy is that there are thousands of such houses in Mumbai, Dhaka, Johannesburg and almost every other city, which are far removed from their neighbors.  They are like fortresses in hostile territory and can’t exist without electric fences, guard dogs and security agencies. Huge disparities in wealth that don’t produce discomfort or compassion or concern for those who don’t have enough are a typical product of urbanization.

The reason I have mentioned this is to draw your attention to my contention that the problems of our world today are the result of global urbanization. It is the ideology of urbanization, not so much about real cities. Even villagers seem to aspire for it.

We have all heard the term, ‘Global Village,’ which refers primarily to the fact that thanks to technology, distances have shortened and communication has become much faster. While this may be a way to look at things, in my view, it is more useful to look at the term ‘village’ in the more fundamental sense of what it is that makes a village, a village. It is not size, but identity, mentality and relationship. It is not affluence or size. I have stayed in very affluent villages in Northumberland in the UK and very small cities in the United States. I was the defacto ‘headman’ of a ‘village’ on the bank of the Berbice River in the Amazonian rain forest, in Guyana. It is how you think, feel, relate and see yourself in relation to others, that makes you a villager or a city dweller.

Globally speaking, if we look at our problems today, they are all related to lack of compassion, not lack of resources. We have enough wealth to ensure that not a single person goes to bed hungry, every child is guaranteed basic education, every home has clean water and electricity and every person has access to good healthcare. But instead we have 62 people whose net worth is more than the combined assets of 50% of the rest of the world. We have countries which over produce grain and dump it into the ocean while there are other countries which have millions living on the edge of starvation or starving. We have countries which are unable to produce food to feed their own people while we have others, where farmers are paid to leave their fields fallow so that the price of grain doesn’t fall due to over production. We know about EU’s butter mountain.

It is price, which drives decision making. Not compassion or concern for those whose need for survival must surely be more important than making money. We have countries whose defense (really offence, but called defense) budgets exceed their budgets for education, healthcare, elderly care, scientific research and housing, combined. This means that the country invests its assets in destruction instead of construction. That this is the case of even some of the poorest countries on earth, is an indicator of the individualistic mentality that I am talking about. Decisions are made to help the rich to get richer, not to alleviate suffering or develop those who need development.

I believe that it is necessary for us to become villagers.

You may say that this is easier said than done. That is the usual reaction I get when I say these things. But my response is very simple. I ask you, if I were to ask you, ‘Show me a way in which we can create a world where just 62 people will own more wealth and assets than 50% of the rest of the world’, you would say that I was crazy. You would say that this was absolute nonsense and simply couldn’t be done. Yet that is exactly what we have managed to create and that too in less than 100 years.

It is my contention that if we change our focus from individualism to concern for one another, reversing this situation is not difficult at all.

The change must begin in the home. It must be reflected in how we treat our neighbors, especially those not related to us directly or indirectly. It must be heard in our conversations. It must be seen in our manners. It must be a heading in our budgets; spending on others. It must be felt by anyone who comes into contact with us.

Being a villager begins by getting rid of strangers by making friends with them. In a village everyone knows everyone else. That is why there is very little crime in our ideal village. Crime is difficult because you don’t steal from friends and you can’t escape from those who know you. So, get rid of strangers by getting rid of strangeness. Make friends. Friendship is built on trust, so build trust. The nourishment of friendship is giving and in that everyone receives. So, give. Make it a habit, to give something to someone every day. It is not about money or material giving. A smile is a gift. Opening a door is a gift. Offering to help is a gift. Sharing food is a gift. Believing the best about your neighbor is a gift. Give gifts, because this brings hearts closer.

I submit to you that we need to see the term, ‘Global village’, not as a statement of what we are but of what we need to become. We need to go back to our beginnings and become villagers and shed our urban covering. We need to meet each other, recognize each other, appreciate each other and acknowledge how each one of us is essential to the other for him or her to fulfill their lives. This is not philosophy or wishful thinking. This is the reality. It is only when we understand how we need one another that we can hope for global peace and harmony. When the head pains, the whole body feels the pain. That is what we need to realize, that we are one body. It’s time we see this.

 

British law must recognise Muslim marriage ceremonies | Bilal Hassam

The Guardian World news: Islam - 22 November, 2017 - 13:52
If the UK could do it for Quakers 250 years ago, is it too much to ask parliament to consider the needs of newer faith communities?

When I had my nikah, my Islamic marriage ceremony, I considered myself a married man. In the presence of our nearest and dearest, squeezed into my partner’s front room in Grimsby, an imam led us through a series of vows and the signing of our marriage certificate before offering a prayer and declaring us husband and wife.

It was a beautiful, intimate and uniquely British ceremony, captured by British Muslim TV and featured on Channel 4’s documentary The Truth About Muslim Marriage. This groundbreaking film highlights the toxic fallout of our legal system’s failure to recognise an Islamic marriage as valid.

Related: Most women in UK who have Islamic wedding miss out on legal rights

Related: SingleMuslim.com: how the Yorkshire dating site transformed Muslim romance

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It is absurd and prejudiced to suggest that hijab ‘sexualises’ girls | Letter

The Guardian World news: Islam - 20 November, 2017 - 19:16
Will Ofsted now extend primary school inspections so that they cover questions about skullcaps and turbans as well as female headgear, asks Dr Sana Ramiz

Amanda Spielman, head of Ofsted, says “creating an environment where primary school children are expected to wear the hijab could be interpreted as sexualisation of young girls” (Inspectors to question girls in primary school who wear hijab, 20 November). These inspections and the accusation that hijab “sexualises” girls are absurd and reek of prejudice.

As a Muslim mother, I do not believe, according to Islamic jurisprudence, that my daughters should wear hijab before they are young women and I will never coerce them to wear hijab at any stage. Yet, in an attempt to copy my mother, I stubbornly wore hijab as a young girl against the wish of my parents then. So, I would like to ask Amanda Spielman, will Ofsted inspectors be “questioning” young girls copying their mothers, whether by wearing hijab, lipstick or stilettos?

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Cherry Picking Religion – Roy Moore’s Twisting of Faith

altmuslim - 20 November, 2017 - 18:58
While it is important to condemn these abuses of faith, condemnation is not enough. As laity, we must demand more from our political and religious leaders. Faith belongs to each individual, not to morality police or appointed councils, and abusive behavior and bigotry cannot hide behind the words of any religion.

Most women in UK who have Islamic wedding miss out on legal rights

The Guardian World news: Islam - 20 November, 2017 - 15:15

Poll for Channel 4 documentary finds 61% have not had separate civil ceremony to make marriage legal under British law

Six in 10 women in the UK who have had a traditional Muslim wedding ceremony are not in legally recognised marriages, depriving them of rights and protection, according to a survey.

It found that nearly all married Muslim women have had a nikah, a religious marriage ceremony, but 61% had not gone through a separate civil ceremony which would make the marriage legal under UK law.

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Who Really Are The Ones Possessed By Evil Jinn?

Muslim Matters - 20 November, 2017 - 06:54
by: Mohammad Akram Nadwi ​The worst and the lowest of human effort is the effort of those who seek out fellow-human beings in desperate need – it may be grave sickness, dire poverty or ignorance – and exploit that need to extort money from them and enjoy dominance over them. Moreover, many who do this do it with the pretence that they are helping those whom no one else will help. If they believe this pretence, if they believe that they are good and intend good, then they are deluded. A clear, common example of this is the practice of loan-sharks who lend desperate people money at cruelly high rates of interest and claim to be providing a valuable social service. Even among Muslims there are people who do this though they well know that God has condemned lending in this manner: it is against the law of God to charge rent for the use of money, as if it were just a simple commodity like land or buildings or tools or other property of the kind that can be lawfully rented out. Nevertheless, the loan-sharks claim to be doing normal business, seeking an honest profit by renting out their property and carrying a business risk. This is a lie. If they really do believe this lie, it is as God has said (Surat al-Baqarah, 2:274): they have been so disoriented by the touch of Satan that evil appears to them as good, and goodness appears to them as foolishness: ‘Those who live on usury shall be raised before God like men whom Satan has maddened by his touch.’ Satan and the evil jinn who obey him have no power to dispossess human beings of their will, but they do have power to course through their veins, to whisper suggestions into their hearts and minds. Thus the jinn can tempt and torment human beings but they cannot compel them. If a Muslim intends a good deed, the jinn cannot erect a physical barrier to his carrying out that intention, still less take possession of his will and make him commit an evil deed instead, or postpone or not do the good deed. What the jinn can do is, by their whispering, distract the Muslim from what he intends so that he does something else, or make him doubt his capacity to do the good he intends, or make him suspect his sincerity in what he intends. All that I have just said of what the jinn can do by way of ambushing human beings and urging them to deviate from doing the good they intend, human beings can also do – they too can do the work of the evil jinn. And yet, no one has ever claimed that one human being can ‘possess’ another human being, that is, control them from within so that they are no longer themselves. In the Qur’an and Sunnah there is strong emphasis on Muslims encouraging one another in good deeds, and on preferring the company and the lifestyle of believers whose behaviour is consistent with their belief, who steadfastly preserve their religion through both teaching and practice. It hardly needs saying that when sickness of body or mind, or some disaster or grief, causes someone to lose their self-command, the duty of those around them is to offer comfort and kindness, to stand by and help them, to act for them until they regain their dignity and self-command as human beings. Through the whole of the way of life of Islam, private, individual acts of kindness or worship have a counterpart in public, collective acts of kindness or worship. The latter are mandatory, the former voluntary, and the pairing is mutually supportive – zakah and sadaqah, to give just one example. As Muslims we are not answerable only for our private thoughts, intentions and actions, but also for the culture and ethos in which our thoughts, intentions and actions have some influence. What we think and do informs what others think or do. If a person takes intoxicants (which is forbidden to Muslims) but never to the point of becoming intoxicated himself, he nevertheless contributes to the tolerance of intoxication in the culture around him, and is party to the consequences of intoxication in the lives of others. It is fundamental to a sound conception of God to know that He is essentially and always good. It follows necessarily that His creation of life, especially human life, is also essentially and always good, even when that life is subjected to severe trial, and indeed every life is subject to its unique burden of trial and proof. It does not follow that trials and sufferings are in themselves desirable. They cannot be. But they are eventually good in that they bring out the best in human qualities of endurance, co-operative effort, ingenuity, and adaptiveness. God has endowed human beings collectively with quite extraordinary capacities and powers, enough to colonise every kind of environment on this planet, which indeed He created in such a way that it is hospitable to the exercise and development of those human capacities and powers. We are the only species that can survive well in extreme climates like arid deserts and ice-bound lands where vegetation disappears for most of the year. This versatility is made possible by the gift of language by which God distinguished properly and fully human beings from any others like them before. Language is the vehicle for our thoughts in response to experience or separately from experience, and for the storing, shaping, and sharing of thought between people and across generations. While we can conceive of thought that is not uttered, or not communicated, we cannot conceive of thought without some vehicle for it. There is no thinking without some language of some kind. Now whatever kind of language it is – speech and writing, the language of words, is only the most common kind – it has to be, to a considerable degree, separable from an individual thinking his or her thoughts. Language is collective, not individual: it is hard to see how thoughts could arise in the individual heart or mind if they could not be somehow spoken and then, if spoken, understood by (at very least) one other individual. However internal language seems, it is always necessarily an opening up to the external: if I can think and speak, it is because I know (or wish) that you can too; we could not have thoughts if we could not give them to each other. Everything to which we give the name ‘culture’ or ‘civilisation’ is a product of language. Like language, culture is not just prompted by experience; it functions separately from experience and it is itself something that we experience. Language and culture are constitutive of the human world through which we experience all that is outside of us, human or non-human. Language makes human beings capable and useful to each other; it also makes them vulnerable to each other. In particular, it makes them suggestible. If it were not so, words and images could not make us weep or laugh, could not inform our beliefs, desires and motivations, could not make us part with our money and our effort. The satans among jinn and humankind know this suggestibility well. They exploit it by whispering in our hearts and minds, so that we are tempted to desire and do what we know we should not, and tempted not to desire and do what we know we should. But, it is most important to remember, the doing or not doing remain our responsibility – we are answerable for our failures and, while there is strong hope, there is no certainty of forgiveness hereafter. When God wills a matter, He says to it Be! and it is. This is a Power exclusive to Himself. There is no boundary to what we human beings may will or desire, but having words for it will not make it be. Rather, there are processes and procedures that we must work through, in the right order and in the right place at the right time, with the right tools and with the right help from others, so that we achieve our desire or we come to realise that it is not achievable at all, or achievable by means unavailable to us at present. Because we can have words for a thing, it does not follow that this thing can be real. The persistent discrepancy between how intensely we desire or need something and our inability to make it happen leads often to wishfulness. Fantasies of power afflict people most severely when they are most aware of their incapacity. It is absurd that people are impressed by claims that a man is able to walk on the air or to walk on water, but they are impressed and flock to attend demonstrations of such feats. There is no point in them. Why would anyone with superhuman powers waste them on feats, the demonstrations of which can be duplicated by illusionists and charlatans? How much more useful than walking on water it is that people learn to build a bridge or a boat! The condition of unsatisfied needs and desires is the fuel of modern advertising. It is a vicious craft, now performed with such skill that people are induced  to spend their (actual or borrowed) wealth on images with which the sale-objects are associated, are disappointed but then repeat the purchase when the same objects are re-packaged with a variant image. It is absurd – false eyelashes can express ‘the real you’ – but it must be effective since advertising expenditure is now a major component in the production cost of most mass-produced goods. This habituation of the great majority of people to wishfulness intensifies their frustration and their sense of incapacity to achieve what they believe they desire or need. It makes them less self-aware, less self-reliant, less active, less willing to improve themselves, less able to make common cause with other human beings to do good things together, and less aware of the world around them and how it works. In sum, the success of modern advertising makes people less aware of the reality of their lives; it renders them much more exploitable than people ever were in the past, and much easier to manipulate. Because people do not have the confidence to face reality, reality does not face them and does not prompt them to think for themselves. They let others think and imagine for them; they put their trust in experts who do not have their interests at heart. Although we have no need to use this idiom, we would be right to describe the success of advertising as a victory for the evil jinn, a sort of ‘possession’, since people are not themselves when they respond to advertising by spending their time and money while claiming that they know it is not true. They are right that it is not true; but if it is not true, why do they act on it? ​Among the most vicious and evil exploitations of human beings is exploitation of those who have physical or psychological health problems. Such people deserve our care, sympathy and love. For the drugs companies these people are a business opportunity and their aim is to addict them to their products, and they are succeeding in producing more difficult sicknesses among more people in more parts of the world, and by weakening people physically and psychologically, they make them more vulnerable to sicknesses, which increases their market. How much more vile than these highly organised, centralised, rationalised and bureaucratised predators are those dispersed Muslim preachers and scholars who fabricate lies, accuse the sick of being ‘possessed’ by the jinn, and claim expertise in releasing them from ‘possession’. Then, instead of offering to treat them free for the love of God, they charge exorbitant fees, beat them cruelly and, in many cases as reported to me, sexually abuse them. If anyone is possessed by demons, surely it is these vile predators on human suffering. ​People face difficulties and problems of all kinds in their lives. Some deficiencies that people perceive in themselves and wish to change cannot be changed in fact, they can only be managed, accepted and lived with, with the help of family, friends and neighbours and, most especially, with faith and trust in God. But people in dire trouble are vulnerable to the suggestion that their trouble is the work of dark forces which, for the right sum of money, self-styled healers offer to correct by means of skills special to themselves. ​In reality almost all difficulties and illnesses are the effect of causes in plain sight, which can be put right in the normal ways without resort to (horribly expensive) magical procedures. Also, as I have acknowledged, there are some illnesses for which the causes are not (yet) known or not so well understood that intervention to cure them is feasible. In these cases, we show patience and kindness, and we admit our ignorance, and we resort to prayer. In better times, those of our true scholars who believed in jinn possession and in procedures to alleviate it, did not resort to violently thrashing the sufferers or abusing them sexually. They intended good, not harm; kindness, not exploitation; they did not adopt haram means to achieve halal ends. They prayed intently, recited the Qur’an, counselled patience to the sufferer and their family. Because there was a firm, justified belief in the devoutness and sincerity of such healers, it was not unreasonable to hope for some degree of relief from the exercise of their authority and care. Having said that, I would remind people that charlatans have always existed in all communities, even among the Muslims of old – some of the anecdotes recounted by Jahiz would suffice to illustrate the general human weakness. ​It is our duty to study the realities around us and solve the problems that we face in light of those realities. We should prefer to rely on the faculties of observation, experience and reason that God has given in such abundance to humankind, and for which we do not thank Him abundantly enough when we have resort to charlatans to cure our ills. No doubt we must also pray for God’s help, while making every effort to ensure that all the open, public and known means of solving a problem are being conscientiously engaged. We direct prayer only and exclusively to God. What we are explicitly forbidden to do is to believe that other human beings have acquired special, supernatural powers, or that they have special privileged access to God. If we believe that, we will produce in our communities frauds and charlatans who will exploit us, take our time and money, and sometimes dishonour our women, while giving us nothing in return except increase of misery. The special responsibility and special authority of prophethood ended with the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace, because what God revealed by him is sufficient for humankind for the rest of time. His life-experience, which is authoritative for all believing and practising Muslims, included illness, his own and those of his Companions: his resort was to prayer and patience and the medical knowledge of his time, which Muslim scholars after him greatly expanded. Should that not suffice for those Muslims who, as the Qur’an commands, think, reflect and ponder, and put their trust in God? ​People do suffer psychological and emotional problems which lead them to behave in strange ways, as if they were no longer in command of themselves. Most of the time the strange behaviours express profound depression and disorientation brought on by sustained neglect and mistreatment by the person’s near family, or the result of chemical imbalances in the body or some malfunction or undetected injury in the brain. Trained doctors can usually prescribe drugs that will calm the person down so that the other processes necessary to healing can begin. It is utterly stupid, cruel and useless to beat a person senseless and claim that a demon is being driven out. The person is only being beaten and hurt even more, nothing else. Even worse is when some of the charlatans claim that sexually abusing the person will drive out the demon. This is disgusting, immoral and irreligious in the extreme. No one should submit to this. On the contrary it is a crime of assault and rape that should be reported to the authorities and appropriately punished. As with most illnesses any treatment should be motivated by kindness, not by greed, sexual lust and the pleasure of dominance. The treatment should be invited by the care and concern of the family of the person who is ill, and they should never entrust treatment to anyone who seeks exorbitant fees and offers violence and worse suffering as a cure. Of just such a person it is permissible to say, figuratively, that he is the one who is demon-possessed.

Home-schooling: the Muslim and autistic perspectives

Indigo Jo Blogs - 19 November, 2017 - 18:49

A young girl of Somali appearance wearing a pink jacket and black and white flower patterned headscarf, running.The Sunday Times reported today (gleefully as you might expect) that Alexandra Spelman, the head of Ofsted, the British schools inspectorate, had announced a plan for her inspectors to ask primary school-age girls who wear hijab to school about who or what had prompted them to wear it in the light of “concern that girls as young as four are being forced to wear the Muslim headscarf” (paywalled, but the story is also on the Guardian website). Earlier today on Radio 4, I heard a discussion about this in which a woman (who had a posh accent and who I would guess was white) was pontificating about how the hijab supposedly sexualises young girls, and there was no Muslim voice in the discussion to point out that this was not actually why a young girl would wear hijab (see earlier entry); it was strictly “about us, without us” as is usual with these arrogant crusading do-gooders. It reminded me of a study I had been alerted to by other friends on Twitter last week, published from Durham university (in England) in late 2000, which revealed that children of all social classes who are educated at home do better than those of similar socio-economic backgrounds who have attended state schools.

The researcher, Paula Rothermel, a lecturer in learning in early childhood at the university, conducted the study through face-to-face interviews with 100 randomly chosen home-educating families across the country and “found that 65 per cent of home-educated children scored more than 75 per cent in a general mathematics and literacy test, compared to a national figure of only 5.1 per cent”. The average score in the test was 81%, compared to 45% for school-educated children. She also found that home-educated working-class children did better than home-educated middle-class children (i.e. those with parents in professional careers), a finding she put down to the latter being more relaxed and “less likely to push their children”.

I know a number of parents of children with special needs, particularly autistic children, on Twitter and Facebook and this study has aroused intense interest. Many of them have said that school was an intensely stressful experience for their children and sometimes caused serious crises, in one case (documented on the blog “It Must Be Mum”) resulting in the child having to be hospitalised, and being out of school for some time allowed the child to get over the crisis and learn at their own pace for a while before being reintroduced to the school environment — a different one to the one that had caused the crisis, obviously. Of the cases I followed a few years ago of teenagers spending years in mental-health units (or in and out of them), the problems that led to this started at school, not at home. Yet the idea that there is something seriously wrong with our school model never seems to occur to anyone.

It’s disturbing that home education is always presented as a problem in the media. Another recent story about home-ed is that the numbers in Wales have doubled in four years, with the Welsh section of the National Autistic Society suggesting that many were autistic and had been struggling to cope in school; the children’s commissioner for Wales, Sally Holland, has said that schools were encouraging parents to home-educate because the presence of their children causes results to drop for their school or the whole local authority. Parents were quoted as saying they would not do this if they did not have to; home education is not being presented as a positive choice but as a last resort. Worse was the recent scare story about Muslim parents home educating, which a senior London policeman called a “breeding-ground for extremists and future terrorists”, despite the total paucity of evidence of it having contributed to any terrorist incident whatever. I answered that claim in a previous entry and gave reasons why parents home-school by choice as well as by necessity. A lot of the same factors influence liberal and conservative parents; the state (and the ruling party’s house media) fears it because it thwarts the other purposes they have for schooling, namely surveillance and propaganda, particularly through their “Prevent” programme or demands even for childminders to teach “British values” to children as young as nursery age.

A number of years ago the American Muslim scholar Hamza Yusuf teamed up with John Taylor Gatto, a home-schooling advocate, to give some lectures with a critique of the modern (American) school system, and among the most important points were that it failed to teach important life skills and discourages individuality. It not only crushes individuality but fosters harmful social attitudes. A few years ago I read an article by a female author who wrote books for teens with strong, female central characters. I can’t remember her name. She said that boys and girls came to her book signings and readings, but that nearly all the boys who came were home-educated. The reason was that boys who attended schools were discouraged by their peer group from being interested in anything written by a woman or with identifying with a girl character. I attended a mixed Catholic junior school and can easily see how this disconnect comes about: boys and girls played in separate playgrounds and ate at different dinner tables and had no contact with each other except in lessons.

At secondary level, of course, boys and girls see even less of each other as many go to sex-segregated schools, most of the more prestigious schools (state and private) falling into this category — all while mixed religious schools run by minorities are hounded for separating boys and girls. One of the issues that has come out of the exposure of widespread sexual harassment and abuse since the Weinstein scandal broke last month is how little men understand about the realities of being a woman, of how much effort some women — even their wives or sisters — have to put into avoiding or appeasing abusive men, yet the cut-off starts in childhood, when boys are steered away from doing or reading anything ‘girly’. Some commentators have remarked on this, but the model of school itself is, again, never questioned.

I have no answers as to how most children will be educated if not at school; not all parents have the ability, the resources or the inclination to home educate, especially not throughout their children’s school life. It would have been more possible in the time I was growing up, when more families had a single wage earner (usually the husband) who earned enough to pay for the rent or mortgage and other living expenses while the other parent (usually the mother) would work one day a week if that. The cost of living in some parts of the UK, particularly London, makes that impossible for most families today; the cost of an average house today is the same as the cost of a detached five-bedroom house in an exclusive estate set in an acre or more of land in the late 1980s. What I do believe is that the state should be helping home-schooling families, especially those who home-school by necessity because the mainstream schools available are unsuitable given the child’s special needs and the only option is a boarding school. (History shows, however, there are also parents who are just unwilling, not unable, to do this for their children, whatever special needs they have and however damaging school is to them.)

Is the problem school per se or is it the way Britain does school? It would be interesting to see how home-schooled British children fare compared to those on the continent, particularly in those countries where home-schooling is illegal but also where multiple models of school are available and have state funding — for example, Germany, where (some) Steiner schools are available, or Scandinavia where much of the learning in the early years is through play. Our school system is too fragmented (it was even before academies were introduced) and too routinely subject to political interference, and we have a class system which means the political and media élite do not send their children to the same schools as the majority of people. British state schooling has been described as a colonial system of education for other people’s children. One exchange that highlights who exactly dominates our media was between Mic Wright, who formerly wrote for the Daily Telegraph, and Nick Cohen of the Observer, a liberal Sunday newspaper:

Grammar schools in the UK are selective state schools, currently favoured in areas where ‘hard times’ mean that some middle-class parents can no longer afford private school fees. They are, and always were, notorious for favouring the children of middle-class families. According to Peter Wilby of the New Statesman:

To understand how iniquitous grammar schools were, you need to have attended one, as I did. Primary-school friendships were ruptured, usually along lines of social class. The grammars were rigidly stratified. I was in the A stream and do not recall any classmates from semi-skilled or unskilled working-class homes. They were in the C stream and left school as early as possible with a few O-levels. No minister who wants a “one-nation Britain” should contemplate bringing back grammar schools.

There is also a lack of choice — more than one institution in most areas, but all of basically the same type: large, uniformed and impersonal, and schools without uniforms have decreased in number.They function as if they were communities in their own right rather than something which serves the whole community. There is an imperious attitude from on high, with heads allowed to play power games (e.g. splitting up friends for no good reason) and parents lectured to support the school (e.g. by acquiescing to demands about such matters as homework) and forbidden to take their children out during term-time on the supposed basis that it would impact their education permanently; it is as if they were there to support the school, rather than the other way around. There is no access, in many communities, to a smallish, friendly school which does not have a uniform, prefects or pointless rules. Private schools generally offer more of the same, with added snobbery. Alternative forms of education are commonly dismissed as failed experiments or misguided idealism. These attitudes have become more prevalent since the Rothermel study was published in the early years of the Blair government, not less.

So, there are different groups of families who have something particular to gain from moving to home-schooling. The state school system benefits from families of autistic children pulling them out of schools as it saves them providing extra learning and behaviour support to those children (which, if done properly, requires an extra trained member of staff — not just someone’s mum) or the cost of a boarding school which, as anyone who has been in one will know, may do more harm than good; the state should provide support for them, perhaps including flexible part-time schooling or school-based or community-based support. For us Muslims, however, home-schooling is our way of avoiding our children being targeted for surveillance or propaganda without our consent, such that we may talk freely around them without worrying that they may repeat something they hear to a teacher or be interrogated about it by a school inspector, or worse, that something they say may be misinterpreted. We should, as a community, be helping each other do this for their children so that parents do not have to do it on their own (for example, groups of parents banding together to educate all their children, not just their own, although there is a limit on how many children can be taught this way at a time).

I personally would be very reluctant to send a child into a mainstream school after my experience of it, and wouldn’t raise children in a country where home-schooling was not an option. Anyone who is able to should seriously consider it, but especially if you fear school is impacting your child’s mental health, teaching them bad habits or attitudes, or turning them into somebody you don’t recognise. It is my belief that herding hundreds of teenagers into the same space for six hours every day to be taught and (minimally) supervised by strangers is a bad idea; it’s not natural and, as presently imposed on everyone, is a very recent innovation yet one that society does not question when its ill-effects are reported on. Right now, we have the right to withdraw our children from it, and it’s a right we should make use of while we still have it.

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Inspectors to question primary school girls who wear hijab

The Guardian World news: Islam - 19 November, 2017 - 16:06

Ofsted head says move is to tackle situations in which wearing head covering ‘could be interpreted as sexualisation’

School inspectors in England have been told to question Muslim primary school girls if they are wearing a hijab or similar headscarf, the head of Ofsted has announced.

Amanda Spielman, the head of Ofsted and chief inspector of schools, said the move was to tackle situations in which wearing a hijab “could be interpreted as sexualisation” of girls as young as four or five, when most Islamic teaching requires headdress for girls only at the onset of puberty.

Related: The hijab is not for children. It was right to drop these distasteful images | Amina Lone

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Seerah Competition 2017 Essay – Aina Zaidi

Muslim Matters - 19 November, 2017 - 05:24

“How do I deal with a difficulty in comparison to the people before us?” This is the question we should all ask ourselves when reading the Makkan Seerah. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)’s entire life was plagued with obstacle after obstacle, yet he overcome each and every one and proved himself to Allah. Not once did he completely give up his preaching because someone told him not to. Based on his character we should all take a step back and truly evaluate what it means to us when it comes to overpowering an obstacle. Are we patient and kind? Do we slump into a depressive mood for months at a time? How wrong are we when it comes to being in touch with our emotions? Allah has told us how to deal with the problem by sending down the Prophet Muhammad: through persistence, humility, and patience.

To begin with, a primal focus in Rasoolullah’s story is how, despite the objections of his own tribe, he continued to preach because he knew that he was right. An exemplary example of this comes to mind when we read about how Nadir bin Harith treated the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) during the early stage of the call to Islam. He would invite singing girls to distract the people from Rasoolullah’s preaching. If that was not enough, he went to Hira and Syria to learn stories of old kings so he could tell them to people while Rasulullah delivered his message. Imagine someone going to these lengths just so people disregard what you say. How unmotivated and off-put would you be? Yet this is in the early stage of the call to Islam! Rasoolullah preached for decades after this, and Nadir bin Harith was merely a stone in his path, whereas, to us he might have seemed like a tsunami standing in our way. From this we see how much Islam truly teaches us about not caring about what people think. The Western world tells us ‘haters going to hate’ in this circumstance, but Islam teaches us by the most beautiful example: The Prophet never stopping doing what was right.

Furthermore, the Prophet had a very defining characteristic that is not often mentioned in regard to is problems. This quality of his was humility throughout his life wherever he faced a problem he faced it quietly. He did not broadcast his troubles like we enjoy doing today. At most, he would confide in Khadeja raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) or Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), but it was not a practice of his to tell everyone about his battles. When Jibreel 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) came to him with the revelation, he was terrified. Yet he did not tell all his companions about what had just happened. He simply went to Khadeja who provided him with the comfort he needed. Similarly, when men members of his family turned against him, such as Abu Lahab, he did not spread rumors or slander them like it is common to do in a family nowadays. If Rasoolullah did not spread rumors or twist words even when dealing with the family (which is the hardest and most ‘messy’ branch to deal with), imagine how much humility Allah must have given to him. In current times we love posting about our daily troubles on social media and ‘one-upping’ people. We enjoy throwing a pity party for ourselves, and more troubling is that we seek comfort in people primarily. We believe our problems by the right presidents and higher powers when Allah is the one who gave them their ranks! This is why we need to input humility in our situations when a problem arises; it is truly one of the most significant and effective ways our beloved Prophet dealt with problems.

Lastly and most importantly Rasoolullah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) had patience when dealing with any issue. It is stated very often and has become a cliché of sorts because the Prophet did not have ordinary patience like we might have. It takes a lot to understand how much sabr Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gave him. For us, patience would be keeping our anger down when in a heated situation or not panicking at every little thing. The Prophet’s patience was getting stones thrown at him until his feet bled, and still asking for the mercy of the people of Taif. If someone harassed us to the point that we had pools of red in our shoes would we ask for their forgiveness? Or would we say ’yes’ to the angel who asked if we wanted the mountains to crush them? When Abu Talib died, then Khadeja died, and then he was rejected by Taif, the Prophet took time to himself but it was not a long term process of grief like we make out to ourselves these days. Imagine losing the people closest to you, being rejected, and then getting up to preach again! We can’t imagine such a pain, yet the Prophet was a living example of pain being a temporary. God erases our sins when we are in pain; for Rasoolullah he revealed Surah Yusuf! Allah showed him that his hardship would not always trouble him through the story of Yusuf. When the disbelievers challenged Rasoolullah by asking him questions from the Jewish Rabbis, he did not worry himself sick. Allah was on his side and he would take care of him! The answers were soon revealed in the Quran such as Surah Kafirun. Today, we worry ourselves silly over mundane things like a schedule not going to plan. At that time, they were asking him those questions to prove his prophethood, and he still remained at peace. Thus is the true tawakkul of the Prophet in his Lord, it is what our patience needs to be in order to leave this world with a guaranteed destination to Jannah.

All in all, the verse of relief coming from Allah in difficult times embodies the Rasulullah in very way. He was a man who overcame his hardships simply because of his persistence, humility, and passion that were given to him by Allah. We need not worry about our troubles when our Lord is by our side. The tests we face are a blessing to us, first and foremost. We are able to rid ourselves of sin while being given the opportunity to implement what the Prophet taught us during his life. Allah says in the Quran, ‘Verily with hardship comes ease’. If our Lord sent down the best man to teach us this and he himself continues to reassure us, then surely this world can be lived in successfully. Surely we can become among the dwellers of paradise. We can overcome each and every obstacle that stands in our way to the hereafter.

The dregs

Indigo Jo Blogs - 18 November, 2017 - 23:07

A picture of Lauren Booth, a middle-aged white woman wearing a cream headscarf with blue and brown patterns on it, standing against a lectern with the Turkish words "Hasan Kalyoncu Üniversitesi" on it.A few years ago you may have noticed lots of people adding “Pleb” to their name on their social media accounts. This followed the Tory chief whip being accused of calling a police officer a “f**king pleb” when the officer refused to allow him to take his bicycle through the gates of Downing Street (the scandal became known as Plebgate, and unusually for such scandals, it actually involved a gate). Today, in response to viciously bigoted article by Julie Burchill in the Spectator, I saw Muslims suggest among other things that we form an “ultimate dreg street fighting team to take down an army of racists”. Burchill’s article claimed that while Judaism attracts the supposed cream of western society as converts (she names Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and herself), Islam only attracts the ‘dregs’, among them “dozy broads who gravitate to it for kinky reasons after watching one too many Turkish Delight ads” like Vanessa Redgrave and Lauren Booth (right), “half-witted types who learn to build a bomb online”, “imam-huggers of the left” with “suppressed feelings of resentment towards the march of feminism”, and Prince Charles. This is, as you can see, an extraordinarily broad selection of people.

To begin with, the number of people over the centuries who have converted to Judaism has been fairly small, principally because the community does not put any effort into proselytising. This has not changed since the Jews ceased being a persecuted minority and became a prosperous and generally respected one. All sorts of people convert to Islam, however, and the religion now has adherents on every continent, but particularly Asia and Africa, who speak most of the world’s languages and come from every social class. I’ve been a Muslim for nearly 20 years and I’ve known people who have converted to Islam from every religion and none, and they include people of every class, some very ordinary (and some with serious problems) and some quite wealthy.

Of the three people she names as attracted to Islam, only Lauren Booth is a Muslim. Vanessa Redgrave is a Marxist and was part of a cult-like Marxist party in the 1980s whose leader was exposed as a sexual predator long before anyone thought Harvey Weinstein capable of it (at least those who didn’t know him). She just has a few Muslim friends. Prince Charles also isn’t, despite numerous rumours to the contrary over the years. But I also dispute her description of him as among the ‘dregs’ based on his mediocre grades when he was at school and college. Charles always knew that he was not destined for a career in academia; he was first in line to the throne and the usual career for a young royal was, and remains, the armed forces. Besides his extensive involvement in charity work, he is a major landowner and in many districts his estate is one of the few landlords who will accept tenants on housing benefit; my friend was in that position in Dorset a few years ago, and the flat she was able to rent was a good one at that. It is fine to disagree with his views on architecture, homoeopathy and conservation in Africa or to believe that a very wealthy family should not automatically produce the head of state, but he is very far from being the ‘dregs’.

She quotes a few passages from a letter he wrote to his friend, the South African writer Laurens van der Post, in 1986 which suggests that he is sympathetic to their side in the Arab-Israeli conflict and advocating that the US government “take on the Jewish lobby”, and then claims that his own mediocrity and his jealousy of the clever Jews with all their Nobel prizes is what inspires his “Islamophilia” rather than, say, admiration for the classical Muslim world’s architecture or its poetry, since he is likely to have heard of Rumi, Omar Khayyam and others. She calls his “Jewish lobby” reference a “classic anti-Semitic trope” when in fact — in terms of the idea of it being what guarantees American support for Israel — it’s much younger than the state of Israel. It’s more true to say there is an “Israel lobby” than a Jewish lobby as such, as much of the support for Israel comes from evangelical Christians, but the facts of the influence of the pro-Israel lobby over American politicians are well-known.

Her stereotype of the “clever Jew” is as useful to anti-Semites as it is to mawkish philo-Semites like herself; Christopher Hitchens noted a few years ago that anti-Semites were different from normal racists (who characterised those they despised as scum, or at least as inferior to them) in that they often appeared admiring, characterising the Jews as clever, well-organised and supportive of each other — they couldn’t form a coherent lobby, much less the global conspiracies some people accuse them of, if they were not. (A simiar phenomenon can be found with conservative Islamophobes like Mark Steyn, who praise the Muslims’ strong family values and warn that we are out-breeding everyone else because we love kids.) Burchill’s embrace of the Jews and Judaism and the excuses she makes for it makes some Jews rather uncomfortable because they do sound too much like anti-Semitism for comfort, especially coming from someone who displays such bigotry towards numerous other groups of people.

And really, what on earth is this drivel doing in a mainstream media publication — a magazine with a fairly small circulation admittedly but still considered the opinion magazine that members of a major political party read? It is poorly argued, offers unrepresentative examples, peddles stereotypes without realising their significance and throws around slurs and wild generalisations that are mostly untrue. As with the Observer which printed (and then withrdrew) an earlier rant of Burchill’s (about transgender people), there was plenty of content for the editors to choose from and they chose this hate-filled piece of dreck. When Burchill says “Islam only attracts the dregs”, readers will not be thinking of Prince Charles or Lauren Booth but the ordinary Muslim in the streets, and this is the sort of writing that leads to hatred and ultimately violence. There must be stronger laws about this type of thing, and editorial codes with more teeth and fewer loopholes.

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