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The Eastern Toilet: A Hajj Reflection

Muslim Matters - 9 May, 2017 - 15:20

When I began telling people that I was planning on going for Hajj, I was surprised to hear one piece of advice over and over again—use the squatting toilets in Mina. Although I was eager to hear suggestions on how to make my Hajj easier and better, deep down inside I knew the issue of the Eastern toilet was one that I would have to fight the most with. The only previous exposure I had to the Eastern toilet was when I avoided it at all costs during the two-and-a-half month trip I took to Pakistan when I was fourteen. I thought the toilet in the floor was gross and primitive and I had no interest in using it then, and honestly no interest in using it while I was at Hajj.

Ultimately, I decided to follow the advice I heard about the squatting toilets, but I knew I had to figure out how to use one and then get used to it. One of the things our Hajj leader emphasized was that the easiest way to spoil the Hajj is through complaining about small things. Getting used to the squatting toilet for me also meant getting over myself, so I promised myself to exclusively use the squatting toilet while we were in Makkah the days before Hajj started. I would keep up this regiment to prepare myself mentally and spiritually for the days of atrocious bathroom accommodations in Mina, and then as soon as I was out of my ihram, I’d go back to the Western toilet. So, I began to use the Eastern toilet in our building before the days of Hajj actually started.

Little did I expect, a terrible stomach bug kicked in a couple days before Hajj started and it continued to plague me for the rest of my trip, including the days of Hajj. My stomach bug and subsequent GI issues were so horrid that I went from forcing myself to using the squatting toilet to wanting to use it. Using the squatting toilet ended up being the only way I could relieve myself painlessly. Coming to that realization broke down years of prejudice I had against the Eastern toilet and, by extension, its users. Having a Western toilet in Pakistan is considered “modern,” or “keeping up with the Jones’s.” I had internalized that idea while I was in Pakistan, and it added to my already negative opinion of the Eastern toilet. Coming from my cushy American point-of-view, previously swearing to never use an Eastern toilet in my life—I’m just so glad that I was proved wrong.

It’s sad to admit this, but yes, my prejudice against the Eastern toilet exposed that the superiority I felt towards many of my brothers and sisters in Islam simply because of the place I was born in and continue to live in, and the subsequent lifestyle of luxuries that being an American in my socioeconomic position affords me. It was disgusting to feel that way deep inside, but I discovered it during my Hajj journey. I heard from many people who have been on Hajj mystical and mysteries sayings like you find out who you truly are at Hajj and Hajj is the biggest spiritual test. In many ways, I expected another issue to come up along my journey, like getting mad or feeling lazy. But I was truly surprised that a deep-rooted arrogance  born out of nationalistic and capitalistic ideals turned out to be the issue that revealed itself to me.

It wasn’t a glorious spiritual moment, nor something to feel proud about (nor something to feel proud for sharing with whoever reads this article.) Allah taught me in the most disgusting place with the most disgusting instrument while I suffered from a disgusting sickness that I am not superior to any other person of the Ummah, no matter where they are from or what they have. This kind of mindset, which I attribute to the American paradigm, is exactly what keeps the Ummah from being together as one. I’m not saying I’ve been illuminated and have healed my heart from this sickness yet, but my eyes have been opened, at least, through my humbling—no, I’d say humiliating—lesson. The first step to fixing something is knowing that it is broken, and inshaAllah one of the things I hope to work on is to rid my heart of all and any arrogance.

Thanks to my Hajj roommate’s suggestion, I currently have in my possession a Squatty Potty stool, which is the best I think I’m going to get for the time being. It’s not as great as a real Eastern toilet, but hey, it’s halfway there. When I think about using the stool now, I am reminded that I have looked down upon others based on minute cultural differences and that I have a lot of work left to do to rid myself of those prejudices.

Ahok supporters cry as court jails Jakarta governor – video

The Guardian World news: Islam - 9 May, 2017 - 13:06

Supporters of Basuki Tjahja Purnama, or Ahok, react with dismay as the Jakarta governor is jailed for two years after being found guilty of blasphemy against Islam. His trial was seen as a test of religious tolerance in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation. Some Muslim groups were unhappy with the length of sentence, while the Christian governor’s supporters said he was innocent

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Jakarta governor Ahok sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy

The Guardian World news: Islam - 9 May, 2017 - 08:26

Shock sentence comes after hardline Islamist groups called for Christian official to be jailed for referencing Qur’an verse

An Indonesian court has found Jakarta’s Christian governor guilty of blasphemy and sentenced him to two years in prison, in a trial that was widely seen as a test of religious tolerance and pluralism in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known by his nickname Ahok, was “found to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy, and because of that we have imposed two years of imprisonment”, the head judge, Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, told the court.

Related: Jakarta governor Ahok's blasphemy trial: all you need to know

Some Protestors not happy with 2 year sentence for Ahok. Wanted 5 pic.twitter.com/cuYdlD3XGq

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“Exmuslims” that used to hate and has retained their hatred

Loon Watch - 9 May, 2017 - 07:44

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

There are several “ex muslims”, that hate Islam.  They were radical Islamists and filled with hate as Muslims, today as “ex Muslims” they claim that all Muslims are just as filled with hate and radical as they once where.
Today she claims that “all Muslims” are as filled with hate as she once was. But only 7 percent of the Muslims worldwide believed that the attacks against USA 2001 was justified, and only a fragment of those cheered when the twin towers collapsed.

  • The overwhelming majority of Muslims – 93 percent – condemned the Sep 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, and most said the biggest obstacle to better relations with the West was the latter’s lack of respect for Islam.

Mona Walter claims that all Muslims are like she was. But she was so extreme that most Muslims would have rebuked or condemned her. She belonged to the 7%, more probably the 1-2% or the most extreme radical islamists.

Hirsi Ali

Another such famous exmuslim, that has retained her extremist view of Islam, is Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

In 2014 she gave a speech at Yale, Great Britain.  She explained that she had a teacher in Kenya had radical ideas about Islam that affected her very much. She became indoctrinated with his ideas about Jihad, hate against Christianity, clothes, and that it was a good “to destroy the Jews” and “hang gays”.

He preached like all the others, incessantly about hell. … Jihad – we were to wage Jihad for the sake of Islam. Martyrdom, the best thing to ever happen to us was to die while fighting for Allah. We were to strive for the establishment of Sharia law in our society and beyond … be suspicious of Christians if they refused to convert to Islam … and aspire to destroy the Jews, all Jews, not only the ones in Israel. The preacher teacher would rant against gays, they were to be hanged, and women were to know their place … their place was at home (and they were to) sacrifice everything, even life and the lives of their children for the sake of Allah. … We were supposed to cover ourselves from head to toe when running errands outside the home.

This process of indoctrination that I describe, that affected me, I considered myself once a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, it’s this the process of indoctrination that I have seen from up close and personal that makes my experience relevant. It’s this process of indoctrination that is overlooked. We focus on the Jihad, the violence, but we ignore the Dahoa, we ignore the years and years and years of preaching.

She no doubt had a weird childhood and youth.

In Kenya, she was beaten so severely by her Qur’an teacher that he fractured her skull. At Qur’an school, Hirsi Ali remembers a classmate who was bullied mercilessly for being a girl with an intact clitoris. … Hirsi Ali learned from her mother that Jews were her darkest enemy. In songs, children’s textbooks, and newspaper articles, Jews were routinely called pigs, donkeys, rats, and cockroaches. “Our religious tutors and the preachers in our mosques set aside extra time to pray for the destruction of Jews,” Hirsi Ali writes.

It is understandable that Hirsi Ali fled from that environment of hate. Unfortunately she still believes that all Muslims are as insane as those few that “affected” her in her youth.

There is no doubt a lot of mutual hatred between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East and the surrounding parts of the world. PEW polls and reports that was published some years ago tell us that only 9% of Israeli Jews were positive to Muslims. In the nations bordering to Israel only 1 to 6% of the Muslims were positive to Jews. In Palestine 1%, The negativity ratings are high. Above 90% view Jews in a very unfavourable way in large parts of the Middle East.

But prejudices and hatred is not the same as wanting to murder lots of innocent Jews. I have seen no polls about Muslim attitudes to killing Jews  because they are Jews but would imagine that very few share that idea, in Europe amd the USA hardly none. Homophobia is not uncommon and in some parts of the world homosexuality is punishable by death, in some Muslim nations too. But Muslims in the western world do not share that view.

The choice

This phenomena is one that is not limited to “exmuslims”. There are a number of “ex Jews” too that are gaining fame in parts of the world and that believes that all Jews are evil. One such is Israel Shamir, that is one of the most famous antisemites in Russia today. His worldview is exactly the same as Hirsi Alis, and because of that he claims that all Jews are like he once was.

As a Muslim you face the same choice as a Jew or a Christian: to “love your neighbour” or hate him or her. To let the things that happen in the Middle East affect your heart and mind so you hate, or to love, despite of power politics and wrongdoings of a corrupt elite.

As an “ex Muslim”, or “Ex Jew” or “ex Christian” you face the same choice. Either you describe the religion you once belonged to in the worst possible way, or you admit that not all are insane and radical. As an ex Muslim that once were filled with hate, you face the choice to describe all Muslims as just as radical as you once where, or to be more honest and show that not all would have agreed with the hate you once bore in your heart.

Unfortunately, too many “ex Muslims” claim that the view of Islam they once bore is the one all Muslims share: thus claiming that all of Islam and all Muslims are evil.

 

 

A Scintillating Secret To A Successful Marriage

Muslim Matters - 8 May, 2017 - 15:34

A study published in the journal Personal Relationships has suggested how just a little display of gratitude between spouses is the key to improving a marriage.[1] It is not just one study, rather several that have found such levels of effectiveness of gratitude in one’s marriage. According to Dr. Katia Sol in her Tedx talk on gratitude, The Gottman Institute, renowned for their  work on marital stability and divorce prediction, found that the number one predictor of success in marriage is the level of gratitude the spouses express to one another.[2]

What does gratitude, Shukr شُكْر, really mean?
  • Linguistically: It is that which is apparent (هو الظهور).
  • It is taken from when the Arabs used to say (شكرت الإبل).[3] “The camel has expressed gratitude,” meaning, the camel ate a lot of good food so it grew and it was apparent on it the effect of the food it ate.
  • Technically: It is when the blessing is apparent on the one it is bestowed upon (ظهور النعمة على العبد).

And there are three pillars to correctly be grateful and had we not fulfilled all three pillars then we would not be considered truly grateful for that blessing:

  • Internal: sense, feel and believe that you have been blessed. You simply do not take that blessing for granted.
  • Verbal: express your appreciation verbally, especially to the bestower.
  • Physical: express your appreciation physically by utilizing that blessing in a pleasing way to its bestower.

Indeed, Allah is ultimately the Bestower of all blessings but remember that He uses certain beings to facilitate for you these blessings. Hence, Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said: “مَنْ لَمْ يَشْكُرِ النَّاسَ لَمْ يَشْكُرِ اللَّهَ” “Whoever is not grateful to the people, is not grateful to Allah.” [At-Tirmidhi].

Diving deeper into each of the 3 pillars of gratitude: 1) Internal: Sensing the blessing:

Do you recognize your spouse as a blessing? Do you feel and believe that your spouse has done any good to you?

Please realize that sensing and believing that we have been blessed with a specific blessing is the first step towards expressing true gratitude. Without it, our verbal and physical expressions of gratitude become very much ineffective and insincere.

But how can we sense that we’ve been blessed, that someone is a blessing in our lives?

Use the technique which Allah has taught us in the Quran to be grateful towards Him where He said:

  • “…وَاذْكُرُوا نِعْمَةَ اللَّـهِ عَلَيْكُمْ”
  • “And remember the favor of Allah upon you…” [5:7].

Start recalling the good that person, your spouse for the purpose of this article, has done for you. Recall all the blessings that have been brought to your life because of Allah and then your spouse.

Disclaimer: You know best what good your spouse has done to you and what they have sacrificed for you. However, provided below are some examples that may be applicable to some married couples and you can customize examples of your own to help you maximize the benefit of feeling and sensing the blessing of having your spouse.

Realize how Allah described the relationship between husband and wife and how it is one of Allah’s signs and miracles which you should ponder upon; Allah said:

“وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ أَنْ خَلَقَ لَكُم مِّنْ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا لِّتَسْكُنُوا إِلَيْهَا وَجَعَلَ بَيْنَكُم مَّوَدَّةً وَرَحْمَةً ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ”

“And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought.” [30:21]

Yes, my respected brother and sister, give it some thought…

Your spouse knows you inside out, the good and the bad. Allah described the spousal relationship as:

“هُنَّ لِبَاسٌ لَّكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ لِبَاسٌ لَّهُنَّ”

“They are clothing for you and you are clothing for them.” [2:187]

Remember my brother, the good your wife has done to you and perhaps to your children and family; carrying your child for so many months, multiple times! To some and perhaps to you, it is she who takes care of the house, cooks, cleans and spends more time than you with the children. Have you truly appreciated her efforts?

Brother, it is true that your wife has shortcomings but so do you and so does she have good qualities. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said:

“لاَ يَفْرَكْ مُؤْمِنٌ مُؤْمِنَةً إِنْ كَرِهَ مِنْهَا خُلُقًا رَضِيَ مِنْهَا آخَرَ”

“A believing man should not hate a believing woman; if he dislikes one of her characteristics, he will be pleased with another.” [Muslim]

Remember, brothers and sisters, how the spouse is the purest source of having the sexual desires fulfilled in the most permissible and pleasing way to The Creator whereas others struggle and go as far as committing a major sin. May Allah guide and forgive those who do.

Remember my sister, how much of your husband’s life is spent providing a livelihood so you and the children can live with as much of your needs fulfilled as possible. or perhaps remember his contributions to the home: when he mows the lawn, or takes the trash out or wakes up at night when the baby is crying.

Sister, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said:

“لا يَنْظُرُ الله إِلَى امْرَأَةٍ لا تَشْكَرُ لِزَوْجِهَا ، وَهِيَ لا تَسْتَغْنِي عَنْهُ”

“Allah does not look (with mercy) at a woman who is not grateful to her husband when she cannot live without him.” [As-Silsilah As-Ṣaḥīḥah].

Brothers and sisters, it is very critical that we spend some time recalling the good our spouses have done in order for us to feel and sense that we have been blessed.

Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, the greatest husband of all time, was grateful to his spouse and recalled the good she has done even after she has passed away! It was narrated in the collection of Imam Ahmad how Prophet Muhammad ﷺ would frequently remember and then praise his wife Khadijah (may Allah be pleased with her) after she has passed away. He would recall the good she has done to him and say: “She believed in me when the people have disbelieved. She assisted me with her wealth when the people refrained. And Allah has blessed me with children through her when He refrained me from getting children from other women.”

Do your best to make it a habit to recall the good your spouse has done to you especially when things are not going too well.

2) Express your gratitude verbally: Thank you! Merci! Gracias! May Allah reward you with goodness!

William Arthur Ward said: “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”[4]

When was the last time you sent a random text to your spouse saying how much you love them and thanked them for their support and existence in your life? When was the last time you walked slowly towards your spouse without them noticing and gently wrapped your arms around them and said: “I am so blessed to have you.”

Please, do not say the following, implying there is no need to verbally express your appreciation: “Well, my spouse already knows that I love them and appreciate what they do.” Regardless, we need to verbalize these feelings. A man was with the Prophet ﷺ when another man passed in front of them, the man with the Prophet ﷺ said: “O Messenger of Allah! I love this man.” The Messenger of Allah ﷺ then asked: “Have you informed him?” He replied: “No.” He said: “Inform him.” He then went to him and said: “I love you for Allah’s sake.” He replied: “May He for Whose sake you love me love you!” [Abu Dāwūd]

If that was Prophet Muhammad’s advice to two companions then isn’t our spouse even more worthy of hearing such words?

Prophet Muhammad ﷺ did not just make it clear to his wife, Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her), that he loves her but he would not shy away to let the people know how much he loves her and how much she means to him had he been asked. Amr ibn Al-As (may Allah be pleased with him), the commander of the troops of Dhat-us-Salasil, asked Prophet Muhammad ﷺ: “Who is the most beloved person to you?” Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: “’Aisha.” Then Amr asked: “From among the men?” Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: “Her father.”… [Al-Bukhari)

Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said:

“مَنْ صُنِعَ إِلَيْهِ مَعْرُوفٌ فَقَالَ لِفَاعِلِهِ جَزَاكَ اللَّهُ خَيْرًا فَقَدْ أَبْلَغَ فِي الثَّنَاءِ”

“Whoever some good was done to him, and he says: Jazaka Allahu khairun (May Allah reward you with goodness) then he has done the most that he can of praise.” [At-Tirmidhi]

Indeed it is painful when our “Thank you” and our “Jazakumullahu khairun (May Allah reward you with goodness)” is mostly said to strangers, friends and neighbors but rarely to family members.

Be sure to express your thanks with beautiful words on a consistent basis. If our spouses are shocked and start questioning our intention when seeing a text message from us with an emoji of a kiss or a flower then possibly that is a sign that we do not do it often. However, it is never too late to begin such a beautiful practice, in shaa Allah. If you are not in the habit of expressing your gratitude verbally to your spouse then try applying the following tip: add to your calendar a reminder that says something along the lines of, “Give Thanks to (Insert your spouse’s name)”. Time the reminder to appear on your phone screen at a time when you are about to get home from work or so. Upon seeing it and entering the house, you should know what to say ; be sweet and creative. Keep such reminders and continue to tweak them until it becomes a habit of yours to always verbalize your gratitude.

3) Express your gratitude in action! The Epitome of Gratitude!

A man would tell his wife: “I love you” and in return she’d say: “You are a liar.” He asks: “Why would you say that!?” She says: “Because I do not see it.” He then sarcastically asks: “Do you want me to write it on a board for you or text it so you can see it?” She finally clarifies and says: “I do not see it in your actions!”

Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said:

“مَنْ آتَى إِلَيْكُمْ مَعْرُوفًا فَكَافِئُوهُ فَإِنْ لَمْ تَجِدُوا فَادْعُوا اللَّهَ لَهُ حَتَّى تَعْلَمُوا أَنْ قَدْ كَافَأْتُمُوهُ ‏”

“Whoever does you a favor, then reciprocate”, and if you cannot, then supplicate for him until you think that you have repaid him.” [Abu Dāwūd]

Seek to give back to your spouse for the good they’ve done to you. For example, did your spouse cook you a meal? If yes, then why not cook them a meal in return? Would you destroy the kitchen if you attempted to do so? Then invite them to their favorite restaurant, not yours. Once again, seek to find examples that best fit your marriage for maximum benefit. At minimum, we need to include our spouses in our prayers!

The epitome of gratitude is when we utilize a blessing in a way that is pleasing to the bestower. Allah said about the family of Dāwūd: “اعْمَلُوا آلَ دَاوُودَ شُكْرًا ۚ وَقَلِيلٌ مِّنْ عِبَادِيَ الشَّكُورُ” “Work, O family of David, in gratitude.” And few of My servants are grateful.” [34:13] Of the best ways to thank your spouse for a gift they’ve given you is to utilize it in a way that is pleasing to them.

I will end with this story: As I was teaching a weekend class on gratitude and began talking about gratitude between spouses I noticed an older gentleman starting to cry. The more I spoke about that specific topic and mentioned reasons of why one should be grateful to their spouse, the more he cried! At the end of the class, on Friday night, that brother came up to me in tears and started to thank me for sharing the Prophetic teachings and scientific research on the importance of showing gratitude between spouses.

The next day of the class, on Saturday, I saw him again. During our break, after the first session of the class, he requested to speak to me privately. He started to explain to me his marital situation: he and his wife have abandoned each other for three months, sleeping in separate rooms, hardly communicating with one another and when they do communicate it mostly ends up in a fight in the presence of their children. As a result, he has decided to divorce his wife very soon. However, he told me that after last night’s session on gratitude he felt that he has been a very ungrateful husband and that he only focused on his wife’s shortcomings and overlooked some of her great qualities and the good she has done to him and the children. So he approached his wife that night with a sense of remorse and apologized over how ungrateful he was towards her. He shared with her what he has learned about gratitude and wished to always have an attitude of gratitude. He started expressing his gratitude by verbally recalling some of the many great things she had done in the past and is still doing for him and the children. In return, his wife was very touched by his words, accepted his apology and was regretful for her shortcomings as well. They had a blessed and emotional night after they had reunited once again since three months ago. He said that they woke up the next day feeling very happy and rejoiced. He freshened up and was very impressed at how his wife took good care of herself and how she prepared a delicious breakfast for the family. As I was hearing this great news I could not help but hug the brother tightly with tears of joy and thank him for sharing such great news as I was very happy for him, his wife and children. He too got emotional, teared up and informed me that his wife and children are going to come soon to attend the remaining talk on gratitude, God-willing. Upon their arrival, he introduced me to his family and they expressed their appreciation for learning such content and how having such attitude of gratitude makes one’s life meaningful.

My favorite part of the story is when he called me after perhaps weeks after the class ended and expressed how his family has been very united since and how blessed they all feel to have such an attribute of gratitude. I pray to Allah that He keeps him and his family steadfast and to grant you and I this attitude of gratitude towards people, especially our spouses.

 

[1] The power of thank you: UGA research links gratitude to positive marital outcomes https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-10/uog-tpo102115.php

[2] The transformative power of gratitude: Katia Sol at TEDxMission The City2.0 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VcN1kgN3eI

[3] لسان العرب Lesan Al-Arab by Ibn Manthur

[4] http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/189187-feeling-gratitude-and-not-expressing-it-is-like-wrapping-a

‘We must protect our country’: extremist Buddhists target Mandalay’s Muslims

The Guardian World news: Islam - 8 May, 2017 - 07:30

Ultra-nationalist Buddhist group Ma Ba Tha has been spreading anti-Muslim rhetoric across Myanmar for years. Cosmopolitan Mandalay is at the heart of this hostility – which many fear is here to stay

In a cluttered room in a monastery in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second city, a group of crimson-robed monks and their followers feverishly smoke and talk. One monk wearing black, thick-rimmed glasses feeds paper into a photocopier. Another lies on the floor, stapling pages of propaganda together. Hangers-on laugh loudly and flick cigarette butts into an ashtray.

They’re forming petitions, explains a monk with oversized sunglasses perched on his forehead. A local journalist recently criticised the group’s front man, the vitriolic monk Ashin Wirathu, known for his violently anti-Muslim rhetoric. They now want the reporter arrested.

Interfaith activists in Mandalay operate amid a climate of severe hostility and fear

If you remove Ma Ba Tha, another group will come. We have to remove the powerful guys behind

Related: Story of cities #47: Myanmar rising – how democracy is changing Yangon's skyline

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Before you trust the Tories on mental health …

Indigo Jo Blogs - 7 May, 2017 - 15:32

 West End, 2062-2068 Hessle Road". A red brick building with a bright blue door stands in the background, while right behind the sign stands a tree whose leaves droop down to partly obscure the building.So, today it was announced that Theresa May has promised new legislation on mental health if her party wins next month’s election, which will “rip up” the 1983 Mental Health Act under which people can currently been detained (the term ‘sectioning’ refers mostly to sections 2 and 3 of that Act) on the basis that “it has allowed the unnecessary detention of thousands of people and failed to deal with discrimination against ethnic minority patients”. According to the Observer’s advance copy of her announcement:

“On my first day in Downing Street last July, I described shortfalls in mental health services as one of the burning injustices in our country,” May will say. “It is abundantly clear to me that the discriminatory use of a law passed more than three decades ago is a key part of the reason for this.

“So today I am pledging to rip up the 1983 act and introduce in its place a new law which finally confronts the discrimination and unnecessary detention that takes place too often. We are going to roll out mental health support to every school in the country, ensure that mental health is taken far more seriously in the workplace, and raise standards of care.”

The Observer correctly states that campaigners consider lack of funding to be as big a problem as badly-drafted laws; opposition politicians, including former Coalition care minister Norman Lamb, have dismissed her proposals as being based on “thin air”. From my contacts with current and past mental-health service users, I’m aware that one of the worst problems is lack of locally-available mental-health inpatient care, which has regularly resulted in people having to travel out of their home area, sometimes hundreds of miles, to access a bed as a result of a mental health crisis. This has been the case in far-flung rural areas like Cornwall, which is only now getting an adolescent inpatient unit as a result of years of local campaigning, in small cities like Hull where the well-regarded West End adolescent unit was closed in 2013 as NHS England was no longer willing to support five-day inpatient facilities and would not fund a week-long unit in Hull (a replacement unit is going to be built new, to large cities including London. I have regularly seen messages on social media that there is only one bed, or no beds at all, for an entire large population group (e.g., women, adolescents) in the country.

It is not only with minority-ethnic patients that legal reform is needed to curb abuses. The use of the MHA to enforce decisions about the care or housing of people with learning disabilities, particularly autism, needs urgent attention also. A major part of the problem is that clinicians who are trained in mental health apply their training to behavioural issues stemming from autism; thus someone is sectioned as a result of an incident, usually in an institutional setting, leading to the person remaining sectioned for an extended period because their likely behaviour when living in the community is judged by their behaviour in a closed, unfamiliar, unfriendly institutional setting. In some cases, it has been apparent that someone has been sectioned on a pretext so as to facilitate their transfer, as clinicians and managers can have a patient transferred out of area, such as to a secure unit, without there being means for the affected person or their family to challenge the move. Any new law must also address the abuse of the secure unit system and its use to treat people who need long-term care but not secure conditions, as well as making sure they cannot take patients who are outside their remit.

It is not only the lack of funding itself that is the cause of the mental healthcare crisis; it is the funding culture, the attitude that we cannot have too many beds, such that if a unit is deemed to be ‘surplus’ to requirements, it is closed. In November 2014, it was reported that 468 beds had been closed over the previous year and that occupancy rates had hit 120% in some mental health trusts during some months; the recommended level was 85%. Over-supply must not be a dirty word; there must be empty beds, so that if someone needs a bed, there is one available. (Of course, a service persistently unused over a long period cannot be continued, but if this happens, a similar use could probably be found rather than simply closing the ward.) It is not only poor funding for mental health care that results in unnecessarily long detentions; getting the staff to care for people with learning disabilities at home also costs money, and it is difficult to recruit or retain staff, or train home-care staff adequately, when wages are poor and better-paid work is available in other sectors, or abroad. It is well-konwn that local authorities have had their funding cut drastically since the Coalition came to power and have cut services accordingly.

Finally, for many people with mental health issues or autism, a major source of anxiety is money, and if you are reliant on benefits because you cannot work reliably or at all, financial instability or the threat of benefit withdrawal can have a serious impact. Someone I used to know once told me that most of her mental health problems cleared up when her housing and finances were secure and this security was based on benefits that were axed in the Coalition’s “welfare reform”. Many of the disabled people I know dread the arrival of the “brown envelope” informing them that their Disability Living Allowance is to be re-assessed for the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP), often because it is based on criteria that exclude their impairment and disregards its complexity or impact on their life. Physical impairment is often associated, either as a result or a cause, with severe illness, violence and trauma and all of this has mental health ramifications. The Tories, since they came to power in 2010, have subjected disabled people to continual harassment by interfering in the benefits system which gave them some degree of security and peace of mind.

The Tories are trying to win parts of the country which have traditionally voted Labour, at least partly on the strength of Brexit and Labour’s ambivalent stance on it, and some of these places are those badly hit by health and social care funding cuts and bed shortages. No doubt their publicity will include a few heartstring-tugging stories about teenagers sent far from home and promises to end this kind of thing. However, talk to those affected, other than those who are very wealthy, and they will tell you it has got worse since 2010 and they know who to blame. Legal reforms are certainly necessary but unless Theresa May is willing to disavow the past decade of Tory policy, including the “flagship” welfare reforms policies, and face up to the dire need for new money, we should all know that her rhetoric is empty and will deliver only limited results.

Some of the stories I’ve featured on this blog since 2010:

  • Joshua Offer-Simon, a teenager with autism from London who spent more than two years in mental health units in Manchester and Birmingham (also here)
  • Maisie Shaw from Hull, sent to numerous units out of area on multiple occasions because of the West End unit’s closure. This also featured in the documentary Kids in Crisis which also featured two young people from Cornwall, reviewed by me here.
  • Thomas Rawnsley, who died of unexplained injuries (inquest pending) in a care home in 2015; his family wanted him home but were denied this by courts
  • Claire Dyer, who was sectioned and later sent more than 200 miles from her home. Currently awaiting a bespoke housing/care placement; one has fallen through because of local authority incompetence.
  • Connor Sparrowhawk who died of neglect in a mental health unit in Oxfordshire in 2013. Inquest found neglect contributed to his death.

Some of these people could have been helped by reforms to the mental health laws, but a recurring theme is lack of local inpatient treatment and of places to live outside hospital after discharge, if a hospital admission was ever necessary. As far as I know, the issue of how the Mental Health Act applies to people with autism as opposed to mental illness has not been addressed.

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If you want to know about Muslim women's rights, ask Muslim women | Susan Carland

The Guardian World news: Islam - 7 May, 2017 - 03:57

Islam’s patriarchy and western feminism have said a lot. Now Muslim women who fight sexism (yes we exist) must be heard

Within minutes of arriving to collect my professionally bound thesis, I found myself on the receiving end of an unsolicited and impenetrable rant about female genital mutilation.

“What’s your paper on?” the shop owner inquired.

Related: As a Muslim woman, I'm expected to detest Jacqui Lambie. I don't | Yusra Metwally

I have been asked, challenged, harangued and abused about 'Islam’s treatment of women' countless times

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Texas adoption agencies could reject Jewish, Muslim, gay or single parents

The Guardian World news: Islam - 6 May, 2017 - 22:51

Republican sponsors of bill set to be debated in state legislature next week say it supports the religious freedom of adoption agencies and foster care providers

Parents seeking to adopt children in Texas could be rejected by state-funded or private agencies with religious objections to them being Jewish, Muslim, gay, single, or interfaith couples, under a proposal in the Republican-controlled state legislature.

Related: Why there’s hope for LGBT rights under Trump | Steven Thrasher

Related: Could Trump's 'religious liberty' executive order embolden progressive Christians? | Cayleb Gayle

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In Battling FGM, We Must Center Muslims Women and Girls

altmuslim - 6 May, 2017 - 16:00
By Samar Kaukab Here is a well-known aphorism: It is hard to see that which is invisible. Take oxygen. It surrounds us; without it we would cease to exist. Yet, most of us do not walk around “seeing” oxygen. Like oxygen, there are other invisibilities that permeate our worlds, are unavoidable even. Unlike oxygen, sometimes [Read More...]

Osama bin Laden’s family on the run: ‘I never stopped praying our lives might return to normal’

The Guardian World news: Islam - 6 May, 2017 - 08:00

In the days after 9/11, the world’s most wanted man retreated to Afghanistan. What happened to his wives and children?

On 10 September 2001, Osama bin Laden’s wives were ordered to pack one suitcase each. No one would say why, only that their husband wanted to move them and his youngest children away from Kandahar. His older sons were to join their father and other brothers at an undisclosed location. The only boy left behind was nine-year-old Ladin, a timid child who flinched at the sound of gunfire. He, the women and other children filed on to a corroding Soviet-era bus smeared with mud, setting off on a dirt track parallel to the Silk Road.

When the engine stops, you get off, Osama told them.

The children fought over a battered Nintendo or scanned their father’s transistor for snatches of Madonna

Osama’s grandsons pelted guards with stones, shouting, 'We have been illegally kidnapped and hidden in this secret jail'

Slipping off her niqab, Iman swaddled a doll as if it were a baby, and made her escape

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Trump's second pick for army secretary drops out of consideration

The Guardian World news: Islam - 5 May, 2017 - 22:12

Mark Green, facing criticism over his comments on LGBT people and Muslims, becomes second nominee to withdraw from seeking post

Mark Green, the Republican state senator from Tennessee picked by Donald Trump to be army secretary, withdrew from consideration on Friday.

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Royal fake news?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 5 May, 2017 - 17:29

A black and white photograph of Prince Phillip and a male companion on horseback; Phillip is holding a horse-whipSo, yesterday it was announced that Prince Phillip, the 95-year-old Prince Consort to the Queen, was retiring from public royal duties as of this coming autumn. This followed an awful lot of speculation after it was revealed that the household staff had been called to an “emergency meeting” yesterday morning; there were suggestions that he or the Queen might have died or Princess Kate (Prince William’s wife) might be pregnant again. The revelation, when it came, must have disappointed a lot of people, but was predictable, as a household staff meeting would not be used to announce such a major event as a royal, let alone the Queen, dying. However, the ‘event’ became the major news story the whole day, as pundit after pundit and royal ‘friend’ after royal ‘friend’ came on to discuss the prince’s years of public service, and even Jeremy Corbyn paid the usual obsequious tributes. What nobody, including Corbyn, mentioned is that the prince has a long history of making racist and otherwise offensive comments.

There are whole lists of the crass remarks Phillip has made over the years, and they are sometimes quite unpleasant stuff, appealing to the crudest of racial stereotypes, including telling British students in China that if they stayed there much longer they would become “slitty-eyed”, and remarking that the Cantonese would eat anything “if it has got four legs and it is not a chair, if it has got two wings and it flies but is not an aeroplane, and if it swims and it is not a submarine”. You can read a bunch of them here; a few of them are funny, some of them are just rude or unpleasant, and some of them are downright racist. He also once remarked to the Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner that “it’s a pleasant change to be in a country that isn’t ruled by its people”. Phillip was able to get away with saying these things because of who he was; a boiler repairman who said something like this to a customer, for example, would be sent packing. Terence Blacker, who wrote a spoof royal column for hte Independent under the name Talbot Church, wrote that the prince was an “old bore” even when he was young but “has become a perfect, unimprovable example of how the royal family can reduce millions of people, some of them quite bright and normal, to a state of unquestioning idiocy”; some of the collections of “his brilliant aperçus and stunning one-liners” are published in book form.

It’s the second time in just a couple of weeks that a royal non-story has been elevated into something of national importance; the earlier occasion, on Easter Monday, was when one of the younger princes revealed that he had needed to take bereavement counselling after his mother (Lady Diana) died in 1997, a revelation hailed for raising awareness of bereavement and male mental health, but really, is it news? No! Lots of people have needed counselling after losing parents or other close relatives, and I’m sure paying for it wasn’t a problem for the prince; the fact that it isn’t cheap for everyone, and high-quality mental health care isn’t easy to come by for everyone (especially young people; keep in mind William and Harry were teenagers at the time), hardly got a mention. It seems it would take a major disaster to keep any royal non-story off the top of the news bill for the whole day, although the usual alternative — the latest bit of political point-scoring — doesn’t really count as news either, much as it’s often presented as such.

As I’ve written here in the past, it’s really not befitting of a democracy to elevate trivial royal stories to top of the news bill for a whole day. It is more redolent of a dictatorship or one-party state where the media invariably report “what the president did today” and always uncritically. It’s not exactly fake news, as fake news usually means stories which are both false in themselves and feature faked news trappings (e.g. a local newspaper which does not really exist or a mocked-up story from a real news website), but it is a case of making news out of something that isn’t. Prince Phillip is not a nice man; he never was and will not be missed, so let’s not pretend otherwise.

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Trump hopes to make a splash on first foreign trip – but perils remain

The Guardian World news: Islam - 5 May, 2017 - 11:00

Later this month, Donald Trump will visit Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican on his first trip abroad as president – and despite the risks, his aspirations are grand

The aspirations for Donald Trump’s first trip abroad as president are as grandiose as anything he has done in the White House – with the same perilous gap between rhetorical flourish and the likely real outcomes.

Later this month, the president will visit the homes of the world’s three biggest monotheistic religions – Saudi Arabia, Israel and Rome – on a tour billed as a new beginning in the struggle against extremism, before attending a Nato session in Brussels and a G7 summit in Sicily.

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