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Help! I Can’t Make Dua For More Than 30 Seconds On The Day Of ‘Arafah

Muslim Matters - 30 July, 2020 - 16:42

Much emphasis has been given on the importance of fasting on the day of ‘Arafah, but don’t forget, this was a day the Prophet Muhammad (upon him be peace) “made du’a from the time of Dhur til the time of Maghrib on the day of ‘Arafah while STANDING.” (Sahih Muslim)

He ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) also said, “The best du’a is that which is made on the day of ‘Arafah.” (Sahih Muslim)

If we can develop the capacity to binge watch on Netflix 5-6 for hours a day, we can develop the capacity to make du’a longer than 30 SECONDS on the day of ‘Arafah.

I used to be a person who couldn’t make du’a longer than 2 minutes.

3 things changed

1. I started writing my personalized du’as on a mini-notebook

2. I started reading du’as using Hisnul Muslim (The Fortress of the Muslim)

3. I started following the etiquettes of making du’a.

As an Imam, I have numerous meetings with members of my community. Sometimes, at the end of my meetings, I asked the community member to end our meeting with a du’a. It is surprising that many of them do not know the etiquettes of making du’a. By following the above etiquettes of making du’a, you can make du’a longer than 2 minutes inshAllah!

Here are 16 etiquettes of making du’a from the Qur’an and Sunnah

1) Have 100% conviction that Allah will answer you

2) Find a way to praise Allah before making your request

3) Use the proper names of Allah

4) Send salutations upon Muhammad (upon him be peace)

5) Raise your hand like a beggar

6) Face the qibla

7) Be in a state of wudu

8) Cry

9) Be a lone wolf (Be alone)

10) Ensuring that your food is pure

11) Acknowledge your sins (Privately)

12) Repeat the du’a 3 times

13) Start the du’a by praying for yourself

14) Expand your heart, pray for everyone (in particular those Muslims in China who wish they could fast on the day of ‘Arafah, but they are prohibited from doing so.)

15) Say Amin after making du’a.

16) Make du’a during the “prime-times” (From Dhur till Maghrib on the day of Arafah is primetime!)

Bonus tip: If you’re like me, you may get stuck when making du’a. An excellent tip given by our master Muhammad (upon him be peace) is to use the “filler du’a”. This “filler du’a” was actually what Muhammad (upon him be peace) and all of the Prophets made on the day of Arafat!

He said, “The best invocation is that of the Day of Arafat, and the best that anyone can say is what I and the Prophets before me have said:

Lā ‘ilāha ‘illallāhu

wahdahu lā shareeka lahu,

lahul-mulku wa lahul-hamdu

wa Huwa ‘alā kulli shay’in qadeer.

Translation:

None has the right to be worshipped but Allah

Alone, Who has no partner.

His is the dominion and His is the praise,

and He is Able to do all things. (Al-Tirmidhi)

To recap, here are 5 action items you and your family can perform on the day of Arafah.

1. Go over the following hadith with your family members.

“Allah frees far more people from Hellfire on the Day of Arafah than on any other day, and Allah comes closer this day and proudly says to the angels, ‘What do these people want and seek?’” (Sunan an-Nasa’i)

2. Say to your family members or whoever you have influence over,

“The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) made du’a on the day of Arafah from Dhur till Maghreb. How long do you think we can make du’a for on this day?”

3. Go over the 16 etiquettes mentioned in this post.

4. Challenge your family members to make a 10 minute du’a.

     Materials needed

  • Whiteboard
  • Markers
  • A Creative mind
  • Brainstorm with your family members what du’a you want to make and then write them on a whiteboard.

5. Whenever you get stuck and you can’t don’t know what du’a you want to make, make the “filler du’a” the Prophet (upon him be peace) made on the day of ‘Arafah.

The post Help! I Can’t Make Dua For More Than 30 Seconds On The Day Of ‘Arafah appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 19: My Mercy Encompasses All Things

Muslim Matters - 29 July, 2020 - 05:00

Now that we have learnt about when the angels surround us, let’s now talk about how Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy encompasses all things.

We say بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ  (bismillah Ar-Rahman ar-Raheem) a lot, right? It means ‘in the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate.’ 

We say it when we pray, before we eat, and we’re encouraged to say it before we begin any new task. But do we really understand what rahma (mercy) means? 

Question: What do you think rahma means?

Do you know that the word rahma comes from the root word, رحم (rahim), which means womb? 

Question: Who can tell me what a womb is?

That’s right. A baby is usually in their mommy’s womb for 40 weeks. The baby gets all the nourishment it requires; the temperature in the womb is perfect, the nutrients are always administered, it is safe and warm. All the baby has to do is grow, and alhamdulillah all its needs are being met. 

Question: How do you think the womb relates to Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy?

Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy is constantly surrounding us like a safety net. That doesn’t mean that we’ll never experience any pain, but Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is constantly showing us mercy with every breath we take. Even blinking is a mercy from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) that we don’t even have to think about. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) even has more mercy for us than a mother has for her own child! 

One day the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was walking with a group of his companions, and they passed by a woman who was frantically looking for her child. She would take any child to her breast and try to feed him/her. Then the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said to the companions: “Do you think that this lady can throw her son in the fire?” We replied, “No, if she has the power not to throw it (in the fire).” The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) then said, “Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is more merciful to His slaves than this lady to her son.”

And guess what? There’s even more mercy in the hereafter than we’re experiencing right now. 

Salman al-Farisi reported: The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Verily, on the day Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) created the heavens and earth, He created one hundred parts of mercy. Each part can fill what is between heaven and earth. He made one part of mercy for the earth, from it a mother has compassion for her child, animals and birds have compassion for each other. On the Day of Resurrection, He will perfect this mercy.” [Sahih Muslim]

99 parts of mercy on the Day of Judgment! That is one reason why it’s so important to have a good opinion of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)! Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) even tells us in Surat Al-A’raaf:

وَرَحْمَتِي وَسِعَتْ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ ۚ

“My mercy encompasses all things” (Surat Al-A’raaf; 156]

And you all, my dears, are all encompassed by Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy, alhamdulillah. 

 

The post 30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 19: My Mercy Encompasses All Things appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Palestinian Activist Taher Herzallah on Solidarity with Black Americans

Muslim Matters - 29 July, 2020 - 03:46

The Middle East Eye recently featured a number of Arab Americans who have taken to the streets to protest the murder of George Floyd. According to the New York Times, at the peak of the protests on June 6, half a million people came out in nearly 500 places across the United States on that single day. The protests brought people together in the call for justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Briana Taylor – all unarmed Black people killed at the hands of police – and an end to police brutality and systemic racism.

In addition to speaking outward, many communities including the Arab and Muslim community have reflected and led initiatives to eradicate racism within their own communities. Palestinian Taher Herzallah was featured in this article and spoke on solidarity with the Black community from his perspective as an advocate for Palestine. Taher has written for Al-Jazeera, spoken for AMP, has been featured in The Electronic Intifada, and has written a manual for activists on university campuses called “Everybody Freeze!

He said, “I feel that as a Muslim American, and as a Palestinian American, I needed to show up where it was needed most, instead of spending time on Facebook, putting [up] a black Facebook profile picture. I wanted to actually be on the ground, putting myself between Black bodies and police, making sure that we were making the best use of our youth and our health to help our brothers and sisters in this moment.”

He goes on to speak on the historic connection between Black and Palestinian movements, saying “The Black Panther Party and Malcolm X were meeting with Palestinian leaders and travelling to the region to engage in these discussions. And I think historically speaking this is a beautiful part of that. We have a history. I’m not doing anything new by participating in these protests, per se. I’m actually just continuing that tradition of solidarity between our two communities and our two struggles.”

Taher has also written and spoken at length on meaningful alliances for the greater, universal cause of justice.

The post Palestinian Activist Taher Herzallah on Solidarity with Black Americans appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

USCMO Secretary General Oussama Jammal Speaks at ILC-NY 30th Anniversary Banquet

Muslim Matters - 29 July, 2020 - 03:44

The US Council of Muslim Organizations is a member organization of Majlis Ash-Shura, the Islamic Leadership Council of New York. ILC-NY’s 30th Anniversary Banquet brought together organizations and individuals that serve the Muslim community, for a night of reflection and fundraising.450 guest attendees were present at the Grand Prospect Hall in celebration of the work and legacy of Muslims in New York. Attendees included community leaders, partners and allies, mosques, elected officials, activists, and students.
One of the many distinguished speakers at this event was USCMO Secretary General Oussama Jammal. He extended his deep “congratulations for 30 years of service, unity, commitment, and dedication to the Muslim community” to ILC-NY. He said, “bringing people together isn’t an easy job, but it’s a must…Our strength, survival, aspiration will come through our unity and working together.”

The post USCMO Secretary General Oussama Jammal Speaks at ILC-NY 30th Anniversary Banquet appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Mohamad Habehh and Other Faith Leaders: United for Mental Health

Muslim Matters - 29 July, 2020 - 03:42

Cynthia Chazen of the Stigma Free Zone News of New Jersey reported on a recent initiative that brought together leaders from a variety of communities to discuss mental health. An event named “Interfaith Roundtable on Mental Health Awareness” was sponsored by the Pastoral Care Team, Central Unitarian Church in Paramus. Exhibitors discussed a range of topics, including similar patterns among different communities and resources that are accessible within the state of New Jersey.

Mohamad Habehh represented and provided insight on the Muslim community in New Jersey, speaking on the struggle for many youth. Bergen County’s Maureen Kerne, Director of Region V Council for Special Education, said, “The mental health of kids is presenting now as the greatest concern for New Jersey educators.” Educator Mohamad Habehh, with the other panelists, agreed that there was a rise in mental illness among youth.

Mohamad Habehh is currently the National Development Coordinator with American Muslims for Palestine, and has been featured extensively for his insight on advocacy, campaigning, community building, and solidarity movements. He spoke on the condition in the Passaic County Muslim community, describing the efforts as “knee-deep in efforts to better understand mental illness and educate.”

The post Mohamad Habehh and Other Faith Leaders: United for Mental Health appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

A tax on progress

Indigo Jo Blogs - 27 July, 2020 - 16:04
Statues of two iguanadons on rocks in a public park.Outdated statues of the extinct iguanadon at Crystal Palace Park, London

Today it was announced that the chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, was considering introducing an online sales tax, citing such reasons as a need to “protect the high street” from fears about coronavirus at a time when a number of department stores have been closing stores or going out of business, as well as the pollution caused by delivery vans. According to Steven Swinford of the Times (on Twitter), the government is looking at two models: a 2% levy on the sale of goods online, which would raise around £2bn annually, or a charge for deliveries of goods bought online, “which would form part of campaign to cut congestion and toxic emissions”. This ignores the reasons for why people prefer to shop online, especially at a time when there is a well-founded fear of the coronavirus but even before. It is clearly discriminatory towards disabled people for a number of reasons.

First, department stores and high-street clothing retailers were having difficulties long before coronavirus hit. People preferred to shop online simply becuase it is easier to find many types of garments in a website or app than in a physical store, because stores are often arranged according to the product range or concession rather than by the category of item. So, say you want to buy a long skirt in a particular colour: on an app, you can just search for it. In the store, you have to know where the item is, as it will not be with other long skirts but with other clothing items from the same range or manufacturer which has a concession in the store (as found in John Lewis, House of Fraser and most others). The department store model relies on shopping being a leisure activity and that you might not be looking just for that item but whatever might take your fancy while browsing. If you just want the skirt, however, it’s easier to just buy it online. Menswear is often a bit more rationally arranged with T-shirts, jeans, chinos and so on grouped together.

At times like these, retail therapy is starting to seem a lot less therapeutic for many people. Especially at weekends, town centres have become crowded and there is no pretence of social distancing. Clearly there are some who are sick of lockdown and just want to get out and enjoy themselves but for others that represents an obvious health risk. Many people are still shielding or have a close relative who is fragile and has to be protected from exposure to the virus. Some people are under mandatory quarantine because of having the virus or having been exposed to it. They cannot just get out and help “save the High Street” which is dying anyway; they are still reliant on online deliveries. Many disabled people cannot easily get out to shop at the High Street, perhaps because of chronic illness, perhaps because of the inaccessiblity of the shopping area itself, lack of reliable public transport, the lack of suitable toilets (my local town centre, Kingston, does not have a Changing Place, meaning anyone who cannot transfer manually has nowhere to relieve themselves), the lack or unreliability of disabled parking; there could be any number of reasons. To people dependent on disability benefits (because their health or lack of accessible employment keeps them out of work), this new tax will mean they have less to live on when they have no alternative, short of sending a friend into town.

As for the tax being targeted at pollution, surely online ordering reduces emissions because it reduces journeys made by individuals to town centres. Many people travelling to town centres to meet up with friends or relatives and browse the shops do so by car (possibly more so at the moment, as public transport is restricted), and cause pollution while queuing for car parking or getting stuck in traffic on the way; newer retail parks are often designed to be driven to, often located off motorway junctions (e.g. Bluewater in Kent). If goods are delivered directly to consumers, this also saves on a truck journey from the distribution centre to the store. There are already taxes on vehicles which are aimed at keeping older vans and trucks which produce more emissions either off the road or out of heavily-populated areas. So, the pollution angle seems like an excuse.

This new tax seems calculated also to support incumbent large businesses such as department stores, while many smaller manufacturers depend on online distribution chains as well as Amazon. These companies offer choice to consumers that the High Street often does not; if you want an item of clothing which simply is not available in the shops because some committee somewhere has decided it’s going to be out of fashion this season, an online seller is likely to offer it. There are also specialist, niche clothing manufacturers which have never had access to high street shops, such as Lucy & Yak and Wash Clothing, which specialise in lightweight dungarees and denim clothing respectively, as well as the various modest clothing vendors here and overseas (such as Shukr and Modanisa) which a lot of Muslims rely on. Just because our clothing choices aren’t mainstream, why should we pay an extra tax to support a few large, outdated companies?

Of course, Rishi Sunak needs to raise tax revenues urgently. People are losing jobs, spending is down, many people do not want to go out for long, companies that were already struggling are facing a final straw, and he has cut VAT to 5% for hospitality services such as restaurants and take-away food, though only for the rest of this year. Much as people always said he was pursuing policies more socialist than Jeremy Corbyn could have dreamed of, we always knew he would have to pay for it somehow, and would insist on doing so sooner rather than later. This tax is a latter-day “red flag” law; it is a tax that seeks to hold back the march of progress. In the past, businesses based on outdated practices and models which were losing out to competition were called “lame ducks” and were refused public support; the same must be true of Debenhams, House of Fraser and other retail dinosaurs which cannot compete with well-designed websites and apps. This tax is regressive (in every sense of the term) and discriminatory and should not be allowed to proceed.

Image source: Jes, via Wikipedia. Released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (BY-SA) licence, version 2.0.

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Garmin’s four-day outage reflects incompetence

Indigo Jo Blogs - 26 July, 2020 - 18:28
A screenshot of Garmin's (@GarminUK) Twitter feed, which contains information and apology about the recent outage but no explanation about its origin or how long it might take to fix.Garmin’s Twitter feed, Sunday evening (26th July)

Last Thursday when I started work, driving a truck for a flooring company, I attempted to connect my new Garmin sat-nav to get software updates. It told me it couldn’t connect to the update server. I assumed it was an issue with my mobile network and resolved to try again later. However, later that evening, the Garmin Express app on my home computer told me the same. I looked at Garmin’s Twitter feed and there was a pinned message that all of Garmin’s systems were down, including their update servers and their phone systems, which meant they could not offer telephone support either. Over the last few days, it has emerged that the outage is result of a ransomware attack, in which a malware program encrypts the victim’s files and demands money for the key to decrypt it, by a Russian-based group which has attacked a number of other large companies and demanded millions of dollars each time. While it doesn’t affect the day-to-day running of my sat-nav, it does affect other devices, including smart watches and aircraft navigation units, which rely on connectivity with Garmin, and this has resulted in planes having to be grounded. As of Sunday evening, the Garmin Twitter feed only offers the notice of the outage and an apology, with no explanation nor any indication of how long the problem will take to resolve. (However, Garmin Express, the update system for sat-navs, seems have come back online as of Sunday evening.)

The new sat-nav I tried to update last Thursday is my fifth Garmin sat-nav. I make a point of buying new devices in the £300-400 price bracket when they come out and reviewing them, sometimes sending them back if they are inadequate (which both TomTom units I bought were). I have been using Garmin devices for most of the time I have been driving trucks and they are the best on the market, which does not mean they are not sometimes frustrating to use. They have the best selection of features available; I don’t need a built-in TV (offered on some Snooper devices), though people might if they have to stay away several nights, but I do need hands-free phone use which is inadequate on TomTom, absent from Snooper and Aguri and a few years ago, Garmin’s Dezl 780 dropped the feature without explanation. Oddly, the smaller 580 retained it; I reasoned that it was the result of the 780 having a new Android back end, so as to enable it to link to new American tachograph systems, but I had to file a report with Garmin to find out that the omission was by design. As I drive different trucks week to week, I need vehicle profiles and not just the ability to set the weight, height etc for the specific journey, which is all TomTom’s devices offer. And I need it to be fast and responsive; TomTom’s truck navigators certainly aren’t.

That Garmin could fall victim to a scam like this is a very poor reflection on their competence, to say the least. Surely their data should have been backed up regularly, so that any malware attack could have been circumvented by simply restoring an update from before the malware took hold. This kind of backup system is easily obtained and built into some operating systems (Mac OS, for example). Surely also their update repositories should have been mirrored on other servers around the world, as is the case with open-source software which can be downloaded from several servers in each country. Admittedly, organisations offer mirror services to open-source projects as a service to the community, but surely commercial organisations like Garmin could pay for space as well. It will need to be investigated how this malware became active on Garmin’s systems; according to Bleeping Computer, it is distributed using fake software update notifications issued by the attackers’ own JavaScript framework. The attacks take advantage of vulnerabilities in Windows, of course. It raises the question of why anyone is still using this operating system for mission-critical back-end use when there are much more secure alternatives available.

The new sat-nav (the Dezl LGV 700, which breaks with the old naming conventions), incidentally, is a moderate improvement on the old one. The new screen is great; the mapping is a lot more detailed than on the 580 which had only a 5in screen with poor resolution (poorer than on the 780). The voice command system has been redesigned and is somewhat simpler, with the old menu system removed (perhaps because it was deemed a distraction) and seems to offer less functionality. You can still use it for hands-free calling, but you have to know who you’re calling because it doesn’t offer call lists or a scrollable phone book (you can access this with the touch screen, though). The new system seems to have eliminated the ‘history’ voice command, which when used in front of an iPhone would cause it to wake up and activate Siri as it mistook the word for “hey Siri”, so you can now turn that feature on your phone back on. It takes a bit of hunting through the settings to get filling stations, parking and other points of interest to show on the maps, which they really should as standard. It also offers only two route suggestions, like the 580; previous 7in units offered three. Traffic news now comes through its Garmin Drive smartphone app; older devices had an antenna attached to the power lead, and the new service is more reliable but invariably uses your mobile data.

There are three devices in the new series, the 700, 800 and 1000, the numbers reflecting the size in inches of the screens, and the two larger units can be deployed vertically or horizontally (portrait or landscape); however, only the 700 is compatible with old mounting devices (this is not made clear in any of their sales material) and no new ones seem to have been produced to accommodate the bigger units’ new larger ball joint. This means that you might find you have nowhere to put your navigator if you buy one of the two larger units; it offers a screw-down and large suction mount on a rather awkward and inflexible mounting arm, as well as a ‘male’ ball joint connector to attach to third-party devices (not the same as the ‘female’ ball-joint connector that is on the 700 and other smaller Garmin units). So, the 700 is the only consumer unit here; the 800 and 1000 are for installation on specific vehicles, most likely by the owner. This is a shame as I would have liked to have had the extra information on screen that a larger screen offered. All in all, it’s a good upgrade, but despite appearances, it’s not that radical a departure from the old devices. If you want a decent-sized unit with hands-free phone access, though, this one is for you.

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Potential problems with face masks

Indigo Jo Blogs - 15 July, 2020 - 21:34
A woman with hair partly dyed purple wearing a pollution mask with white, green, yellow and blue stars on it. To her right are some flower pots and behind her is a light green, three-storey building with wooden cladding.A woman wearing a Vogmask. (Note: masks like these with filters are not suitable for virus containment. Their other masks may be.)

So, finally yesterday the government announced that face masks were to be made mandatory in shops in England, as they have been in Scotland for weeks, from the 24th of July (Friday week), which although it has attracted criticism for lack of urgency, gives people a chance to prepare (ie. buy enough to have one for any shopping trip they may make). This reflects growing acceptance that face coverings do inhibit the spread of the virus in confined spaces such as shops; previously reusable cloth masks were thought to be ineffective (as opposed to medical grade masks) and to make people careless about keeping their distance or, in the early days of lockdown, staying at home. Some disabled people and those with breathing difficulties are exempt although it remains to be seen how these exemptions will be enforced.

I have personally never worn a mask; I have some small surgical ones that my mother bought from a local Korean shop, but it wasn’t big enough to cover my chin; I suspect I will have to remove much of my beard to get a mask to cover me effectively. However, I try to avoid others in shops, often without much success. Shop aisles are too narrow and some of them are too popular to remain uncrowded. The worst experiences I have had are in mini-markets such as the local Tesco stores. You can’t pass people at anywhere near the safe 2m distance. In addition, supermarkets have stopped controlling entry; I have not seen a queue outside any supermarket in weeks. I don’t feel comfortable while shopping and probably won’t until the pandemic is over, mask or no mask. I don’t browse for pleasure anymore.

I don’t have any truck with the idea that masks are an intolerable impingement on freedom. The people that do are typically those who resent having to do anything differently to benefit other people besides their own family or friends, which is reflected in the political choices of many of them. While I have seen many women object on these grounds, another source for the hostility may lie with the fact that face coverings have up until now mostly been worn by Muslim women, making them both foreign and feminine (strangely, I have not seen a substantial uptake of the traditional face coverings among Muslim women recently; those I have seen with covered faces around here and even in parts of Birmingham I have passed through have mostly been wearing masks rather than veils). The only places we are being asked to wear them is in shops and on public transport, which are indoor environments where space is often restricted and it is difficult to keep apart from others. As Covid-19 is a disease which often produces long-term chronic illness even if it does not put someone on a ventilator, needing to wear a mask for a few minutes a day is much less of a restriction on your liberty or that of someone else you might meet than a damaged lung.

However, I can see some teething problems and I hope it is not enforced too aggressively in the first few days. (Shop staff have been told to inform the police if they see someone shopping without a mask; this is likely to amount to an awful lot of calls.) This is new to most people, including me. I don’t know which type of mask is most comfortable, best fitting or most effective. A lot of people are going to be buying masks over the next week and a bit to try and find out which works best for them. It is clear that supermarkets do not have enough to fulfil the demand that is likely to arise over the next week. For example, a branch of Sainsbury’s near where I was working had only a few packs of five with the same set of patterns, two of them decidedly girly (though the website has other pattern sets and says “more stock arriving soon”. I was advised to go online if I just wanted a black one. John Lewis and M&S are only selling the type of face mask that comes in a tube and that you peel off.

Some of us use phones to pay for things that rely on facial identification (newer iPhones for example). They will not identify us with masks on. Of course, it won’t hurt anyone to remove it for just a second, but that depends on shop staff and management having common sense.

So, while wearing masks is a good idea in confined spaces, if they are to be compulsory then they need to be readily available. In other countries governments have provided masks to people; in this country we are expected to just find them or make them ourselves, regardless of our financial state (including indicators of poverty the state knows about, such as receiving benefits). As with soap in the couple of weeks before lockdown, when washing our hands was being promoted as key to stopping the spread of the coronavirus, they are neither readily available nor prominently advertised. We will all need plenty of them — possibly as many as we have T-shirts — and there aren’t plenty available when a large supermarket with something like a quarter of its space given over to clothing has only two packs of five and none for men.

Image source: Liz Henry, via Flickr. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 licence.

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Hagia Sophia: Mosque or Museum?

Inayat's Corner - 11 July, 2020 - 00:04

One of the most memorable highlights of all my visits to Istanbul over the years has always been the time spent in the Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) museum. First founded as a Christian cathedral in 537 CE by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, it was converted into a mosque when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Sultan Muhammad al-Fatih in 1453. In 1934, following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire some years earlier and the establishment of the modern Republic of Turkey, President Ataturk issued a decree reclassifying Hagia Sophia as a museum. Alongside the Topkapi Museum, the Hagia Sophia has been the most visited and top rated tourist attraction in Istanbul for many years now.

But what will happen now that President Erdogan has reversed that 1934 decree and restored Hagia Sophia’s status to being a mosque? Will people from all backgrounds still be able to visit Hagia Sophia and gaze upon its beauty and many historical treasures?

The official spokesperson for President Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, tried to reassure the world, saying “all are welcome to visit this beautiful house of worship and magnificent cultural site.”

This does not directly address concerns about what those visitors will actually still be able to see – and perhaps more importantly – no longer see when they visit the Hagia Sophia.

For example, will the below 10th century Byzantine mosaic of Christ Pantocrator still be on display or will it now be covered up?

Will the below Apse mosaic of Mary with the infant Jesus on her lap which adorns the central dome in Hagia Sophia still be on display?

The Hagia Sophia abounds in many such historical riches and it would be a tragedy if people were no longer allowed to directly see and study them.

Judging by the remarks on social media, the decision earlier today in Turkey to restore the status of Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque has divided many Muslims living in the West.

When I last visited Istanbul in May 2019, I stayed in the Sultan Ahmet quarter, less than a two minute walk away from the Hagia Sophia. It was Ramadan at the time and early every morning I was woken by the call to prayer and went to the stunning Sultan Ahmet mosque (Blue Mosque) which is situated directly opposite the Hagia Sophia – it was also a two minute walk away from my hotel.

Istanbul is a city of many such glorious mosques. However, there is only one Hagia Sophia.

At a time when the world desperately needs to take steps towards more freedom and greater tolerance, it would be a shame if Turkey took a step in the opposite direction. We will have to wait and see.

Use the justice that’s there

Indigo Jo Blogs - 7 July, 2020 - 23:24
A white woman holding a mobile phone with a small yellowish dog standing up against her, wearing a white face mask, standing on a wood-chip clearing next to a path in a wooded area of a park.Amy Cooper

This morning it was revealed that the woman who was videoed making a malicious phonecall to New York police earlier this year after a Black bird-watcher videoed her with her dog off the leash in an area of Central Park where this was banned, had been charged with filing a false report, which is a category A misdemeanour which carries a maximum sentence of a year in jail (this would be a local jail in New York City, not a state or federal prison). The incident happened on 25th May, a few days before the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis which led to the widespread Black Lives Matter protests. The news was greeted with dismay by a number of ‘abolitionists’ who are against using the ‘carceral’ justice system to achieve redress in a case involving racism. These included a Twitter thread from Josie Duffy Rice (of The Appeal and the Justice Podcast) who said, “I do not believe those consequences should be criminal charges, because I do not think this system has the legitimacy or value to address her wrongdoing”. In response to another thread from Marc Lamont Hill, I responded that the system was the only one there is. This produced a reaction from Dr Usaama al-Azami:

I don’t think using the law to punish a racist who tried to use the police to get a Black man at best roughed up and at worst killed amounts to condoning slavery or Jim Crow on the grounds that it’s the law. Making malicious reports to the police is a crime pretty much everywhere, although it’s called different names, and it should be. That it rarely results in punishment does not mean that when it is done obviously and caught on video, that it should be. Rape, in many parts of the world, is difficult to prosecute, especially where the victim knew the attacker, but when evidence is sufficient (or it’s caught on video, as in the case of Reynhard Sinaga in Manchester last year), nobody sensible would argue not prosecuting and locking up. There’s no restorative justice that can make a serial rapist safe to be on the streets. Sometimes testifying to a crime is more traumatic than it is worth, but this may not prove to be the case here as the evidence is all on video and it is the City that is bringing the charge, not the victim (Christian Cooper).

No society has ever done without a criminal justice system. No civilisation has relied purely on restorative justice for serious crimes; they used physical punishments and the death penalty. Islam’s criminal justice system makes little use of prison; the standard punishments consist of the death penalty, floggings, amputations, retaliation in the case of personal injury and financial penalties although of course the Muslim world has always had them except in the very early days. Western justice systems have prison as a standard punishment for most serious crimes as a replacement for the physical punishments it used in pre-modern times (in fact, the birch — flogging — remained part of British justice until the mid-20th century and the death penalty persists in the USA to this day) along with preventative measures such as banning someone from running a company or having custody of a child. In the US specifically, punishment is often disproportionate as a result of racism, poverty and resulting disparities in the quality of legal advice and representation and because of lobbying from the prison industry (in such guises as victims’ rights groups) and demands from the right-wing media. People are in jail for long periods, in some cases life, for sometimes very trivial offences. But that doesn’t mean imprisonment is wrong in itself.

No oppressed group should martyr itself and sacrifice its right to justice or safety on the grounds that the system itself is corrupt or the hope of a better one some day and it’s irresponsible for activists and commentators to encourage them to. The options are to use the system there is, to resort to illegal and violent means to punish people who threaten your community, or put up with the threat. Campaigning for a better system or against corruption does not mean abstaining from using the system where someone has committed what is justly a crime. And sure, jail might not make her any more racist, but it might teach her (and others like her) to think before they reach for their phone and call the police any time a Black person annoys them. Such people already know that Amy Cooper has a court case hanging over her (she is not expected to be arraigned until October) and this already may have a chilling effect on them. This may not deal with the underlying problem, but it will have some benefit at least in that immediate area.

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Book Review: Darwin’s Notebook

Inayat's Corner - 5 July, 2020 - 10:28

In September 2019 BC (Before Covid-19) I undertook a long cherished trip to Down House, the former residence of Charles Darwin. The pictures below were all taken at Down House. It is located approximately 15 miles south-east of London and is now a Museum under the care of English Heritage. Whilst there I purchased “Darwin’s Notebook”, a biography of Charles Darwin by Jonathan Clements. Clements’ biography was published in 2009 – the bicentennial anniversary of Darwin’s birth.

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by means of natural selection has been described by the philosopher Daniel Dennett as “the single best idea anyone has ever had.” When you consider some of the other scientific giants of recent centuries: Newton, Faraday, Clerk Maxwell and Einstein – that is high praise indeed.

First publicly explained in Darwin’s landmark 1859 book, On the Origin of Species, natural selection is today viewed as unquestionably the most important theory in Biology. Clements writes that Darwin’s theory “fundamentally changed our concept of who we are and where we come from.”

Darwin argued that all of us, human beings, apes, pigs, fish, plants – indeed all forms of life – were all related and descendants of common ancestors if we went back far enough in time. Species were not static, they changed over time. This idea was not new, but Darwin provided a mechanism for how it had occurred: Natural Selection.

Creatures that possessed traits that helped them to adapt more successfully to changes in their environment were more likely to survive and pass on those traits than those that did not. This process – natural selection –  causes species to change and diverge over time.

This was anathema to many religious leaders who argued that each species had been individually created by God and were unchanged. They bitterly resented Darwin’s theory, and in the case of a number of evangelical Christian groups and many Muslim “scholars”, they still do.

For over 160 years they have been trying – and failing – to undermine Darwin’s great insight. Rather than being undermined, Darwin’s theory only continued to gain further credibility with the discovery of dominant and recessive genes in pea plants by Gregor Mendel – now viewed as the father of Genetics. Mendel’s experiments with pea plants resulted in him finding the mechanism for heredity (how traits are passed on from one generation to another) – a topic that Darwin had struggled to find answers for. Mendel found that traits were passed on by genes. And almost a century after Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species, Crick and Watson discovered the structure of the DNA molecule and provided forensic molecular evidence for evolution by natural selection. All life forms that we know of are made of DNA and it is the random changes in the DNA molecule that provide the raw material for evolution to occur. No wonder that more thoughtful religious leaders have now made their peace with Darwin.

Darwin’s Notebook covers Darwin’s privileged upbringing (he was the son of a wealthy doctor), his meticulous observations and careful accumulation of data during the five year sea voyage aboard the HMS Beagle and the subsequent development of his ideas once he was back in England in 1836. The book is attractively laid out with every two-page spread being on a particular topic and this makes for very easy reading.

It should be remembered that prior to setting out on his sea voyage, Darwin had believed in the literal truth of the Bible and was intent on becoming a Christian clergyman when he returned from the voyage. It was what he saw with his own eyes during the voyage that made him question his beliefs and the teachings of the Bible.

During his voyage around South America he noticed how the fauna on islands off the coast of South America would often resemble but not be exactly the same as the fauna on the mainland. Why would this be and was there a natural process that could account for the differences?

Back in England and now married and living the life of a virtual recluse at Down House, Darwin corresponded by letter with amateur field workers around the world to gather additional data. He was determined to try and make sense of what he had seen during his sea voyage.

In 1851, Darwin witnessed the illness and death of his beloved ten year old daughter Annie from scarlet fever. Darwin later wrote:

“We have lost the joy of our household and the solace of our old age…she was my favourite child; her cordiality, openness, buoyant joyousness and strong affections made her most loveable.”

Darwin stopped attending church following the death of Annie. Even though he could not bring himself to believe any longer in the doctrines of the Christian church, he did not regard himself as an atheist.

People often wrote to Darwin to ask about his religious opinions and asked whether it was possible to both believe in his theory of evolution by means of natural selection and also believe in God. Darwin replied:

“It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man can be an ardent theist and an evolutionist…I may state that my judgment often fluctuates…in my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an Atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God. I think that generally (and more and more as I grow older), but not always, that an Agnostic would be the more correct description of my state of mind.”

You cannot read Darwin’s Notebook without being impressed with Darwin’s gentle, considerate nature and thoughtfulness. And by showing us how all life forms are related to each other, Darwin provided us with a wonderfully unified vision of the history of life on earth.

If seeking to understand the truth about ourselves, the world around us and how it came to be is to be regarded as a virtue, then Charles Darwin will surely be amongst the best of us.

Hong Kong migrants: where will they live?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 3 July, 2020 - 23:39
Hong Kong protests, 2019

In reaction to the new security law the Chinese government have imposed on Hong Kong, a former British territory returned in 1997 which in theory enjoys autonomy from China under an arrangement known as “one country, two systems”, the government has promised to provide a path to citizenship for the British Overseas nationals living in the territory. This would consist of leave to remain for five years, at the end of which one could apply for citizenship. There are about 350,000 such nationals in Hong Kong who are entitled to enter the UK for six months without a visa but may not remain here longer; according to the BBC, about 2.6 million others are eligible for the status; this would amount to nearly half Hong Kong’s total population of 7.5 million. (Wikipedia, quoting British Foreign Office figures from 2014, estimate that 3.4 million British Overseas Nationals live in Hong Kong.)

Under the government’s plans, all British Overseas Nationals and their dependants will be given right to remain in the UK, including the right to work and study, for five years. At this point, they will be able to apply for settled status, and after a further year, seek citizenship.

Updating MPs on the details, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said there would be no limit on numbers or quotas and the application process would be simple.

“This is a special, bespoke, set of arrangements developed for the unique circumstances we face and in light of our historic commitment to the people of Hong Kong,” he said.

Raab conceded, however, that there was little the British government could do to “cohesively force” the Chinese government to allow British passport holders to leave the country. Labour supported the government’s action, but insisted that there be no discrimination on grounds of income or anything else; Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, also said that the UK had a responsibility to those unable to leave or who wished to remain in Hong Kong. I find this to be a hugely irresponsible stance on both sides. Under pressure to free itself from the perception of antisemitism, Labour fears being accused of racism again here as well as having turned 180 degrees to become an anti-immigrant party. But this scheme must be resisted, not least for the sake of existing ethnic minority populations here.

First, although I suspect that the government are gambling on most eligible people in Hong Kong not taking up the offer and that many may choose to move to Australia, the US, Canada or elsewhere (which they will be able to if they are rich), let’s be clear that 2.9 million is a huge number of people who will all need to live somewhere. This is the entire population of the West Midlands metropolitan county (which includes Birmingham, Coventry, Solihull, Wolverhampton, Walsall and the Black Country). If only a quarter or a third of the eligible people take up the offer, we will still need a whole new large city — the size of Leeds or Sheffield, say — to accommodate them. Despite the enthusiasm of the political classes and doubtless the jingoistic right-wing media, there is no guarantee that the sudden influx of this many people will meet the acceptance of the general population; it is as if they have said “of course they will” on our behalf. The last time we had such an influx, in the 2000s, it set the ball rolling on Brexit and this was also the result of a political miscalculation: that a few thousand, maybe tens of thousands, of good white workers would not cause any social disruption or resentment.

It’s possible that the government assumes that the new arrivals will take places vacated by departing European Union nationals. This is a big assumption; many of those EU nationals have families, lives, jobs and businesses here and will not be able to just up and leave. Have the government given any thought to what skills the migrants will bring and what the people departing to the EU will take with them? Hong Kong is an almost entirely urban territory. How many people from Hong Kong go to China for labouring work on farms? Another trick up the government’s sleeve might be to do with the position of the existing ‘immigrant’, i.e. non-white, population: we have already seen people who were nationalised being stripped of their nationality and sent ‘home’, as well as dual nationals (or presumed dual nationals, as many in fact have no other citizenship) being stripped after being deemed undesirable (admittedly sometimes for proven criminal acts, but sometimes not), so a stepping up of this policy might be the government’s intention.

Finally, as the government admits that this may result in British Overseas Nationals being barred from leaving Hong Kong or at least China, the possibility arises that some of them may join overland refugee or migrant smuggling routes across Asia and Europe. This is obviously a hazardous journey and opens them up to exploitation. They may also try to reach Vietnam by boat in the hope of being able to travel to the UK from there.

I have nothing against the UK accepting people genuinely in danger from Hong Kong or anywhere else as refugees. That’s our duty. We simply cannot accommodate hundreds of thousands, let alone millions, from Hong Kong just because there is a new security law any more than we can accommodate any other whole, large population when there is a downturn in their political situation. We knew we were handing Hong Kong back to a communist-run one-party state for decades before it happened (China was not a democracy when we acquired Hong Kong, though neither was the UK then as women and the working class did not have the vote). We knew that any agreement we made to protect Hong Kong’s autonomy would be unenforceable once we left and that the danger would grow the longer we had been away. As a former imperial power that is now a mere medium-sized country, we simply cannot save the world. We have no territory or base anywhere near Hong Kong anymore.

It would, of course, be advantageous to the Tory party to have a large number of new citizens indebted to them for their citizenship who regard socialism as a dirty word given what it means in China. As Hong Kong has one of the most liberal economies (in the sense of free markets and low tax), this would strengthen the hand of those who seek to privatise or do away with public services and those whose vision of a post-Brexit Britain is that of a “rainy Dubai” though with fewer Muslims. As Hong Kong has a substantial finance industry and the second-highest number of billionaires in the world, they will no doubt be appreciated by anyone who needs to sell a house though not necessarily by those looking to buy one (though not all Hong Kongers are rich and there are significant inequalities). Given the current housing situation and recent policy, the likely result is that London and maybe other major cities become even more out of reach to ordinary people, let alone poor people.

If we were staying in the EU, of course, we could just give them British passports which would allow them to settle anywhere in Europe they liked. If we were, however, the matter of EU nationals leaving would not arise. As it is, anyone newly acquiring British nationality can only settle here. The government talks about its responsibility to overseas nationals in Hong Kong, but they have no sense of responsibility towards their own people in their own country, as quite amply demonstrated during the recent crisis. This policy is intended, I believe, not to enrich but to displace. Short of building a whole new city, displacement would be the only way to accommodate this many people.

Image source: Studio Incendo, via Wikipedia. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 licence.

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How do we solve a problem like the police?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 30 June, 2020 - 19:12
A police recruitment ad from the Metropolitan Police which shows two officers, one a white woman and the other Asian and probably male. The text reads "Do the job where you look out for each other. Do something real. Become a police officer."Police recruitment ad in London. According to Nazir Afzal, a former British Crown prosecutor, police officers frequently refuse to testify against other officers in the event of a civilian death, in contrast to civilian behaviour.

Since the killing by four Minneapolis police officers of George Floyd, a former work colleague of one of them, there have been worldwide street protests and a revival of the Black Lives Matter movement that grew up after the murder by a Neighbourhood Watch vigilante of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American boy. This has led to a revived interest in the ideas of abolishing or defunding the police, which seems to mean different things depending on who is advocating it; to some it simply means abolishing it altogether, while to others it means drastically reducing the departments’ funding and using the balance to improve funding for other public services which might help to reduce crime, especially crime that stems from poverty. Others regard the idea as dangerous naivety, much as with the idea of prison abolition (often in favour of restorative justice, even for serious crimes such as rape); a major objection is that abolishing police departments in favour of “community solutions” would result in a proliferation of vigilantes a lot like George Zimmerman.

Some white Americans seem to have reacted with fury to any suggestion that the police or policing in general are to blame for the widespread harassment and violence against minorities and African-Americans in particular. A while ago I followed a lady in South Carolina for updates on the progress of her disabled (as of 2018) daughter; in recent weeks, the feed has changed to constant cop-worship and demands that anyone who disagrees should just unfollow or unfriend her, which I did. More generally I have seen a sneering response that characterises the supporters of defunding as white college-educated extremists such as anarchists with their heads in the clouds, and ignores that much of the pressure comes from the minorities who endure the persistent harassment and who learn to fear the police from a very young age because, especially in the United States, a simple interaction can lead to summary death.

Most of the debate has been around the issue of ‘defunding’ and what it means than about abolishing it. In the UK, the police (as well as the fire service and other public services) have had substantial funding cuts over the years, especially since the Tories came back into power in 2010, and have had to sell police stations; in many places, the only physical police presence is a small office for the community policing team which cannot be used to report a crime (or seek refuge). In the USA, in many localities (since police departments are specific to the city or county) police funding has increased astronomically and in some places gets more funding than a whole host of other public services combined. Police have acquired military hardware such as armoured vehicles which really have no place in any civilian situation. They escort mental health patients to hospital and between hospitals, often handcuffing and shackling them like felons (though this has been reduced as a result of public campaigning). They go armed to wellness checks for people suffering mental health crisis, in some cases leading to the unwell person being shot dead. They are present in schools, as a result of which children have been arrested, handcuffed, and received criminal records for mere classroom disruption.

The contemptuous responses include this:

Facebook post containing an image which reads "Send in the SWAT -- social workers and therapists -- because violent criminals just need to be held close, not held accountable." There is a heart in the middle of the A in SWAT. Above the image is the caption that simply reads "Yep" and below, the page name Cop Humor which posted this.

There is another thread about the ‘defund’ slogan being misleading and alienating here. Yet I cannot think of a snappier slogan. It doesn’t mean cut their funding altogether; it means only funding them up to what is necessary rather than so as to acquire unnecessarily grandiose hardware and to stick their fingers into every pie, and reallocate funding to other services, some of which can respond to things like mental health crises appropriately and some of which may help alleviate poverty and other causes of crime. The meme on the left misses the point; it’s not violent criminals that need therapy or a hug, but people in crisis who may currently be sent a cop with a gun rather than a mental health professional who knows how to calm them down. I suspect that the quibbles about the phrase are sometimes being made in bad faith by people who know exactly what it means.

I do agree that not only defunding is required but stiff new laws to make sure that police behave professionally, are trained to de-escalate situations and not to escalate them (especially trivial ones such as routine traffic stops), do not use undue force, do not racially discriminate (and are trained not to make assumptions) and that police officers who use excessive force, who terrorise innocent members of the public let alone kill them, are dismissed rather than protected. Another important step to eliminating harassment is to abolish the laws which provide pretexts for it, such as anti-jaywalking laws (we do not have these here) and licence plate renewal (again, we do without them here; police can check from a database if a number plate does not match the vehicle it’s on and if duty has been paid to keep it on the road). Yet I am sure many people will think I am hopelessly naive for even imagining that the police will actually implement any of these things, or that legislatures will force them to in most jurisdictions.

The people laughing at the suggestion seem to be White or at least not Black. The police, while some complain that they are ineffective or aggressive, are not a serious menace to them. They are not the ones who have had to sit their sons down for a talk about what to do when confronted by police who will be armed and probably aggressive and prejudiced. They are not the ones who fear calling the emergency services in the event of a crisis in case the person having the crisis is shot dead, possibly because the officer in attendance decides he “doesn’t have time for this” (the officer responsible in this case was acquitted in a judge-only trial). They don’t put forward any ideas for how to change these situations, and police themselves have the support of the white majority, of the legal system, and of each other and their unions. They are notorious for lying in court to support each other or refusing to testify against each other, even when a civilian has been killed in their custody. They resist reform and demonstrate contempt on the occasions when elected politicians propose reform (such as in France recently, where the use of choke-holds was recently banned and then allowed again after police protests). Someone had better think up some solutions pretty soon as we cannot expect people to tolerate this situation of lawless, violent, racist police terrorising it with total impunity forever.

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Book Review: Islam – An Illustrated Journey

Inayat's Corner - 27 June, 2020 - 20:09

Earlier this year, it was with a sense of some excitement that I found out that a new book “Islam: An Illustrated Journey” had been recently published (in 2018) by the Institute of Ismaili Studies to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of the Aga Khan, the 49th Imam of Ismaili Muslims. The book specifically sets out to be an illustrated version and it looks utterly gorgeous.

It is a very large book – see the photograph below where I contrast it with two other large books on Islamic history that I possess. You will need a large bookshelf to house it.

This large size allows the reader to much better appreciate the pictures inside – just make sure you are seated comfortably when you read the book: it is quite literally not to be taken lightly as it weighs quite a bit.

The account of the life of the Prophet Muhammad and revelation of the Qur’an is narrated well and the differences between the mainstream Sunni and Shi’i interpretations of the succession to the prophet are represented fairly. So, the book serves as a useful introduction to Islam itself in addition to describing the subsequent growth and spread of Muslim civilisations across the world.

Among the history covered in the book we learn about Late Antiquity in the centuries immediately prior to the emergence of the Prophet Muhammad, and then the Umayyads, the Abbasids, the Fatimids (who were Ismaili Muslims), the Mamluks, the impact of the Mongols, the Ottomans, the Safawis, the Mughals, and the modern era. There is a fabulous two-page spread about the travels of Ibn Battuta which graphically charts his multiple journeys across the Muslim world.

The only gripe I had about the history was what appeared to be a rather grudging and cursory reference to Salah ad-Din al-Ayyubi. Although he is referred to as being “arguably the most legendary character of…Crusader lore…” he merits only one paragraph on page 206. As a great unifier and the inspiring mujahid who restored al-Quds to Muslim rule, Salah ad-Din – who died with his sword as almost his only remaining possession after having given away his wealth to the poor, Salah ad-Din surely deserves more than one paragraph in any retelling of Islamic history. The cynic in me wonders whether this might not be unrelated to the fact that Salah ad-Din was responsible for ending Ismaili rule in Egypt.

Still, aside from that, this is without question a formidable and fascinating look at Muslim history. Coming to the troubles of the modern era and the rise of nihilist groups such as al-Qa’ida and ISIS, the book makes a very important and wholly accurate observation, noting that they both “arose in the context of foreign conflict and invasion…”. It is often conveniently forgotten – and the UK government would very much like us all to forget – that al-Qa’ida was only founded following the controversial stationing of tens of thousands of US troops in the Arabian peninsula in the 1990s and ISIS did not exist at all until after the illegal and devastating invasion of Iraq in 2003 by the US and UK authorities.

In conclusion, Islam: An Illustrated Journey is quite possibly the best one volume introduction to Islam and Islamic history that I have yet encountered. It is quite certainly the most beautiful.

Nothing brave about Starmer’s cave-in

Indigo Jo Blogs - 25 June, 2020 - 22:47
Picture of Maxine Peake, a middle-aged white woman with curly fair hair, wearing a yellow and white striped T-shirt with a sticker saying "My union, our strength; proud to be a member of Equity" (the actors' union). There is a crowd of people behind her.Maxine Peake

Today Keir Starmer, the Labour leader elected earlier this year, caved in to pressure from the Board of Deputies of British Jews to sack the shadow education secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, who had shared an interview with the British actress Maxine Peake in which the actress repeated a well-known claim that the police behaviour which led to the death of George Floyd last month was influenced by seminars delivered by the Israeli police or ‘defence’ forces. The decision was widely praised by both the party’s right wing and by right-wing figures in the media generally as a sign that Starmer is ‘finally’ taking steps to “rid the party of antisemitism”. To others, it is a thin pretext for getting rid of someone who has sided with teachers’ unions in urging a delay in reopening schools for the sake of the health of teachers, pupils and the families of both. I have seen many tweets this afternoon from people who said they intended to resign from the Labour Party and not all of them are committed Corbynites.

The interview, which she discusses a number of her recent film roles and her politics, includes a widely-circulated claim that the police tactic of kneeling on someone’s neck, which was what killed George Floyd, had been “learned from seminars with Israeli secret services”, which the latter denied. Her defenders have pointed to a blog post on Amnesty International’s website from 2016, in which it is claimed that Baltimore’s police had received training on “crowd control, use of force and surveillance” from Israeli police, and a number of other cities had received Israeli training. It does not, however, say that this particular tactic was learned from those seminars. Jose Lopez, a former police chief in Durham, North Carolina, who received training from Israel, said his training was not about ‘militarization’ but rather, “it was about leadership, it was learning about terrorism and then learning about how to interact with people who are involved in mass casualty situations and how to manage mass casualty situations”.

I saw a thread on Twitter which claimed that the allegation about Israeli influence on US police forces was antisemitic because it was based on a ‘trope’ that Jews always had to be behind any disaster or other. Like a lot of the “antisemitic trope” claims that were thrown at various people in the Labour party every week or so under Corbyn’s leadership, this strikes me as straining the definition through the needle’s eye but frankly, I believe that people drew the connection, or made the assumption that if American police forces were getting training from Israel it had to be at the detriment of their human rights record not because Israelis are Jewish but because Israel’s human rights record was already atrocious and their contempt for Palestinians’ general rights, their rights to go about their business without harassment and violence, their rights to be unmolested in their homes, their rights to their own land’s water and so on are well-documented and not even concealed. This is why, if someone is wrong about Israel on such a matter, it does not constitute evidence that they are antisemitic. The same goes for an incident in which a Corbyn supporter shared a video which she claimed showed Israeli police or soldiers abusing young people somewhere in Palestine; in fact, it was shot in Guatemala. However, when similar abuses are amply documented, to believe someone who tells you this is from Palestine and share it as such when you do not speak Spanish, Arabic or Hebrew is not antisemitic. One does a serial violent criminal no great injustice by attributing to him one particular crime that he did not commit, when he committed many like it.

Starmer’s action is in my opinion cowardly — typical, in fact, of the New Labour right demonstrated again and again while they were in power: they would do the bidding of the powerful (the commercial media, in particular) by sticking the boot into the powerless. The suggestion that Jews or Jewish interests or lobby groups have undue influence over the media is commonly dismissed as an antisemitic trope, yet Starmer clearly thinks they do otherwise he would not have sacked one of his shadow cabinet for sharing an interview with a well-respected cultural figure. Despite all the flattery, it does not give the impression that Starmer is an independent leader, but rather that he gives in to pressure very easily and is easily cowed when confronted with a display of power.

Image source: Rwendland, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (BY-SA) licence v4.0, via Wikimedia

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