Benefiting From The Majesty Of Divine Will | Thirteen Points In Making The Best Of The Situation

Muslim Matters - 26 March, 2020 - 23:45

In the Name of God most Merciful Most Compassionate

Peace Be Upon Prophet Mohammad, His Family, Companions and Brothers. Ameen

“God will never punish them while they are seeking forgiveness” (al-Anfāl, 8:33)

As we observe imposed isolation or social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus that has disrupted life as we know it, maintaining and elevating our faith becomes both a necessity and a great opportunity. The awakened believer is the one who never excludes the hand of God in everything that happens in the world–good or bad. We ask Allah Almighty to show us kindness and mercy in everything that He decrees for us.

“And We have already sent [messengers] to nations before you, [O Muhammad]; then We seized them with poverty and hardship that perhaps they might humble themselves [to Us]. (42) Then why, when Our punishment came to them, did they not humble themselves? But their hearts became hardened, and Satan made attractive to them that which they were doing. (43) So when they forgot that by which they had been reminded, We opened to them the doors of every [good] thing until, when they rejoiced in that which they were given, We seized them suddenly, and they were [then] in despair. (44)” (al-An’ām, 6:42-44)

Now is the time of seeking forgiveness and repenting to Allah. Now is the time we seek the counsel of our rich tradition in how to deal with collective and universal calamities and hardship. The awakened believer looks at what Allah brings about in His universe with a Divine Light and resists the calls of ignorance and heedlessness in any form they appear.

From the pure well of Prophetic guidance we draw thirteen beautiful, practical, and spiritual counsels:

The pandemic that is frightening everyone is the creation of Allah released by His Power for reasons He only knows. Losing sight of this basic fact is a sign of the blindness of our inner eyes. And your Lord creates what He wills and chooses; not for them was the choice. Exalted is Allah and high above what they associate with Him. (Al-Qaṣaṣ, 28:68)

1. When the Masjids are closed and Jumu’ah is suspended and the Honored Ka’bah and the Prophetic Mosque are emptied and there is rampant panic, the guided believer rushes to Istighfār. Let’s repeat and teach our children and households one of these Prophetic expressions of seeking forgiveness:

                 Astaghfirullāh wa Atūbu ilayhi, at least 100 times a day. (Muslim)

أَسْتَغفِرُ اللهَ وَ أَتُوبُ إِلَيْهِ


               Rabbī Ighfir Lī wa Tub ‘alayya Innaka Anta Attawābu ArRahīm, at least 100 times a  day. ( Al-Tirmidhī, Abū Dāwūd, Ibn Mājah)

رَبِّ اغْفِرْ لِي، وَتُبْ عَلَيَّ، إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ التَّوَّابُ الرحيم 

The Best time for Istighfār is before Fajr.

Let’s be among those who seek the forgiveness before dawn that God praised in the Qur’ān:

“Those who say, “Our Lord, indeed we have believed, so forgive us our sins and protect us from the punishment of the Fire,” the patient, the true, the obedient, those who spend [in the way of Allah], and those who seek forgiveness before dawn.” (Āl-‘Imrān, 3:17)

2. Pray two Rak’āt of repentance often throughout the day.

3. Make our living spaces spiritual abodes by designating a place in the house as a Muṣallā. This is a forgotten Sunnah that the companions of the Prophet, God bless him and grant him peace, established. Let’s revive this Sunnah in our homes.

4. Perform prayers at the beginning of the time in congregation with an Adhān and Iqāma (assign our children to do so). If we can’t pray together while we are all quarantined in our houses then we surely have a bigger problem than coronavirus.

5. Stay after the prayers in your place and make Du’ā’ and Istighfār.

6. Don’t miss any Sunnah prayers before or after the obligatory prayers.

  • Make it a habit to pray Ḍuḥā prayer after sunrise or by midmorning as 2, 4, 6, or 8 Raka’āt.
  • The Prophet, God bless him and grant him peace, used to say that the prayer of Ḍuḥā is the prayer of the Awwābīn (repenters). (Muslim, Ibn Abī Shaybah, al-Ḥākim, Ibn Khuzaymah).
  • 4 Raka’at before Dhụhr and 2 after. 2 Raka’āt before Aṣr. 2 Before Maghrib and 6 after. 2 before Ishā’ and 4 after.
  • Make your Witr a Prophetic Witr: 11 Raka’āt before Fajr. If you can’t wake up, then pray it after Ishā’.

7. Read the Qur’ān every day even if just for 15 minutes.

8. Constant Dhikr and remembrance of Allah Ta’ālā with all kind of expressions while giving precedence to the expression of Tawḥīd لا إله إلا الله   since it is the best expression of Dhikr as the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said. (Al-Tirmidhī)

9. Be a good subordinate and adhere to your community’s collective decisions and experts regarding gatherings, Jamā’ah prayers, Jumu’ah, social distancing, and cleanliness. Our recalcitrance and selfishness sometimes appears in a religious form. At times of hardship going against the consensus is spiritually damaging even when we realize that we might be partially right. Not all debates have to be won.

من أطاع الأمير فقد أطاعني 

“Whoever obeys the leader has indeed obeyed me.” (Muslim, al-Bukhārī)

10. The best among us are those who are the best to their spouses. Spending more time with each other should add to our compassion and respect for each other. Let us understand that   everyone going through this situation is experiencing a level of anxiety that might affect their normal behavior. Many of us are not used to staying at home for such a long period. Let this be an opportunity to connect with each other and strengthen the bonds of the family. Let’s Fear The Thieves !! (See point 12.)

11. Attend at least one of the online events that your community is offering even if you know everything that is known about the religion. Showing the sentiments of solidarity by attending these events encourages those who spend time preparing and sacrificing their time to continue their Da’wah work that is necessary for the community.

12. Fear the thieves for yourselves and your loved ones: None of the suggestions above will bear any fruit in advancing our cause with Allah and in bringing us towards a genuine reconciliation with ourselves if we spend all day with WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Netflix and such. In the digital wasteland and on our phones or glued to the TV all day, sharing and re-sharing nonsense makes us lost, nonsensical and trivial people. The last thing we want to find ourselves doing is spreading forgetfulness and heedlessness under the guise of spreading useful information.

Let’s not readily and voluntarily enlist as the agents of Shaytan at the time we have to be servants of God. Think before you send anything shared with you because you will be asked about it. One post a day is too much for those who are busy with all the obligations we all have. By now, everything that needs to be known about the epidemic has probably reached all corners of the globe. Let’s be wary of succumbing to the appeals of our lower selves or nafs and finding ourselves losing this great opportunity with Allah. The same advice goes for our children as it is a great opportunity for them to be creative in how they constructively spend their leisure time.

13. Give in charity, no matter how small, to your local and national Muslim organizations who might be going through difficulty meeting the needs of those who have lost their wages due to the freezing of the economy. This is both a pandemic and an economic crisis and sadaqa is our spiritual remedy to financial matters.

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A soft lockdown

Indigo Jo Blogs - 24 March, 2020 - 23:49
An almost empty shopping street with a mostly red-brick pavement. A Foot Locker shop is prominent near the foreground, with a Russell & Bromley shoe shop behind it.Clarence Street, Kingston, 4pm Monday (23rd March)

So, last night Boris Johnson went on national TV (programmes were interrupted or rescheduled on at least two channels) and announced that the British public was being ‘instructed’ to stay at home other than for buying groceries, seeing to medical needs, caring responsibilities and for a bit of exercise, and that all shops other than those selling food and pharmaceuticals (in particular, clothing and electronics) have to close. This followed an outrage on social media at the spectacle of large numbers of people thronging parks such as Richmond Park in London, eating and drinking ‘takeaway’ food at picnic tables or just outside a cafe, and heading out to holiday homes and beauty spots in Wales and to the coast, following Johnson’s decision to order pubs and clubs to close and cafes and restaurants to stop allowing people to eat in last Friday and to encourage people to stay at home if possible. On Monday morning, with the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, having demanded that people stay off the roads unless they are “key workers”, and having reduced bus and Tube services, images circulated on social media of packed Tubes and the traffic news reporter on BBC London proclaimed that the roads were busy and “they can’t all be key workers”.

I have the impression that this decision was as much a reaction to the social media clamour over those scenes than to the facts. It was only last Friday, after all, that most of the schools finally closed (after mounting public calls) to other than children whose parents are deemed “key workers”. I was in Kingston town centre yesterday (Monday) afternoon and the place was almost deserted. All but a handful of shops in the Bentall’s centre were closed: Smith’s, an opticians, Boots and (strangely) a couple of jewellers were still open, but the department store, the Apple Store and all the food outlets had shut. Outside, most of the shops were also closed and those that were not were going to be closed from today anyway, often in response to staff protests about having to deal with bosses and customers who were oblivious to their health, especially last Saturday. The crowding on public transport, widely complained of by those forced to endure it as well as by the Twitter mob who had the privilege of being able to work from home, happened because people still have to travel to work because not every job in fact can be done from home.

The definition of “key worker” seems to have expanded somewhat: last week I saw a list that included delivery drivers. Usually, it refers to particular professions which are often underpaid but socially necessary, such as teachers, social workers and nurses — professions that traditionally are often if not usually the domain of women. We hear the phrase in such contexts as “key workers cannot afford to live in St Albans because of the sky-high house prices”. But as people are being encouraged, and now forced, to buy anything except food and medicines online, delivery drivers actually need to work as well. Many bosses have resisted calls to close shops and pay workers for the time they will not be able to work; construction sites have carried on working (Sadiq Khan claims he argued for them to be included in the ‘lockdown’, but was overruled). If there is no guarantee of being able to pay the bills without working, people have to work.

The ‘lockdown’ hardly merits the name, anyway. A friend whose daughter has been in a number of secure or locked mental health units wrote on Facebook that her daughter told her, “a lockdown is when they lock all your doors and won’t even let you into the garden, like they do in all places [I’ve] been”. The term originates in prisons, to my knowledge. This does not approach the degree of restriction that people in Italy or Spain have to put up with, where people can only go out alone for groceries or medicine, or to walk their dog (but not take their children for a walk), or to do a protected job (which they have to be able to prove); they are not even allowed to use shared areas of housing blocks. A curious omission from the Monday announcement, and from the media coverage of it, is any reference to the legal basis for the demands: what Act of Parliament or court order justifies it? Last I heard, a speech by the prime minister does not constitute a change in the law. In Kingston today, where I cycled (alone) to get some groceries, there were no police to be seen and only one shop had a queue, although a picture taken in St John’s Wood showed a queue outside a food shop with police alongside them “scrutinising people’s behaviours” from the safety of a van. (This echoes the fears that friends have expressed, that policing of the lockdown will target minorities and ignore the white suburbs, like Kingston.) I found no cafes open, but despite Johnson’s demand that electronics and clothes shops close, a branch of M&S, which has a food hall but the other five sixths of its floor space is taken up by clothing, was open, including the clothing sections. I did not visit Sainsbury’s or Tesco, which sell electronics as well. (John Lewis, which sells clothing and electronics, was closed but Waitrose, the food division, was open.)

Despite the threat of tougher actions if the terms of the ‘lockdown’ are not adhered to, I do not expect Johnson to make good on his claims. It would require the government to guarantee people’s social security — their homes and access to food — while they are unable to work, and it is simply not in his or his party’s ideological DNA to do so. Like Donald Trump, they have been far more concerned to keep the economy going and to ensure that as many people as possible have jobs to go back to after the outbreak is over. With all the talk of the government doing “whatever it takes” to protect businesses and jobs, they have not spelled out where the money for any of this will come from; indeed, businesses have been given a “VAT holiday” and the tightening up of the rules on who can be considered self-employed (which also closes a tax loophole) has been delayed for a year. For what I suspect is the same reason, they have not tested anyone who shows no symptoms of the virus nor traced the contacts of those who tested positive (of the few who were tested, which has only been done in hospital, never in the community). They have also taken over the franchised railway services in order to protect the franchisees, a move some have interpreted as re-nationalising the system but is quite the opposite.

Their intention appears to be to be seen talking about comprehensive measures to help people through the pandemic, but only to do what does not cost money, while blaming the public for the consequences. There is no effective response to this crisis that will not cost money and is compatible with the low-tax, laissez-faire libertarian ideology which has been dominant in this country for the past four decades, much less with the disdain for expert authority that has been cultivated by the British popular press for about the same time. When people are conditioned to believe that “evidence they don’t like is a myth invented by the metropolitan elite”, it should come as no surprise that when the government suddenly appeals to expert opinion to try to persuade the public to change their behaviour.

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Coronavirus: Muslim ‘Ulama – A Failure of Leadership

Inayat's Corner - 22 March, 2020 - 10:56

Just a few days ago, I lamented how slow some Muslim “scholars” were in recognising the danger posed by the coronavirus and questioned why many of them had not yet called for the suspension of congregational prayers in our mosques. After all, last Monday (March 16th 2020) the government – following advice from our leading scientists – had updated their guidelines to make clear that we should now “avoid all unnecessary contact” and called on people to stop going to places where people congregate including pubs and restaurants and cafes. It was naturally obvious to all human beings with active brain cells that this “unnecessary contact” must also include all forms of communal worship. Hence, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Anglican Church and the United Synagogue (the largest Orthodox Jewish grouping) all very sensibly issued a call for an immediate suspension of communal prayers at their respective religious places of worship.

Sadly, this was not taken up by many Muslim religious “scholars”. Some associated with the Dar al-Ulums (ironically “Houses of Knowledge” in Arabic) in Blackburn and Bury advocated that mosques should remain open for congregational prayer “until and unless the government places a total restriction on religious places.” Yusuf Shabbir who runs the Islamic Portal website associated with the above two institutions wrote an article entitled “How can Coronavirus be stopped?”. His answer was not to say that we should immediately adopt strict social distancing measures and avoid all unnecessary contact as our scientists had advised. In a 10-point plan he said the answer was to perform the five daily prayers, fast, pay zakat etc.

Over at, Haitham al-Haddad issued a fatwa on Friday 20th March 2020 saying the following:

I have stated on many occasions that I categorically disagree with the full closure of mosques (when there is an alternative such as reducing congregations), the reason being that no one has the right whatsoever to control the Houses of Allah. He assigned them for Himself. One of the scholars of the second generation (tābi’īn), Amr Ibn Maymūn al-Awdi said: ‘I found the companions of the Prophet ﷺ saying: The mosques are the houses of Allāh on the earth and it is a duty on Allāh to honour those who visit them’.

In the days following the MCB’s statement last Monday, many mosques to their credit announced that they would not be holding the congregational Friday prayers on their premises and said they were suspending all daily congregational prayers until further notice. Their actions have undoubtedly contributed to reducing the numbers of people that will be affected by the coronavirus.

However, many other mosques decided to continue holding daily congregational prayers and to go ahead and hold the mass Friday prayers. A video has been circulated online showing a large queue of people waiting to go inside Masjid Umar in Leicester (where many mosques remained open for congregational prayers) for Jumu’ah just two days ago, for example.

This represents a colossal failure of leadership and a failure to understand the most basic teachings of Islam and the sanctity of human life. People like Yusuf Shabbir and Haitham al-Haddad simply do not deserve the title of religious scholars. They are not. They are actually a menace to other human beings – as stupid people often are.

Just last month, a Tablighi Jamaat mass gathering in Malaysia facilitated a massive outbreak of coronavirus which the country is now desperately trying to contain and which doctors believe has now spread to other neighbouring countries. Two-thirds of Malaysian CV cases have now been traced back to that religious gathering.

This is because CV is often asymptomatic. You may look to be perfectly healthy but you can still be a carrier of the virus and pass it on to others. This is why the government and scientists have been so strongly urging us to avoid all unnecessary contact with others.

Earlier today, some of the religious scholars associated with the institutions I have named above issued a new announcement in which they now grudgingly appear to accept that their congregation should now pray at home though they say the mosques should still remain open for “a limited group (four or five) of appropriately selected individuals” to continue to perform the congregational prayers. How they intend to ensure that these individuals will not be or become carriers of coronavirus is not made clear.

In the coming days many of us in the UK will lose our loved ones – especially the elderly and those with weakened immune systems – to this virus. It is regrettable though not unsurprising given their past performance in previous years that many of our religious “scholars” failed this crucial test of leadership regarding protecting human lives. If this tragic episode encourages UK Muslims to become more prepared to question, criticise and challenge the views of people like Yusuf Shabbir and Haitham al-Haddad and other religious leaders who advocate stupidity then that will at least be one positive outcome from this terrible crisis.

May God grant us all knowledge and the ability to utilise it for the greater good of others. Ameen.

Coronavirus: panic buying and the dangers to disabled people

Indigo Jo Blogs - 20 March, 2020 - 22:43

The medication review I talked about in my previous post happened today. The surgery texted me at 8am to tell me they would be carrying it out over the phone rather than face-to-face. This was after I had turned down paid work yesterday evening so that I could make it to this appointment, something I mentioned to the doctor who told me that they had only decided to carry out the consultation over the phone this morning because “things are changing every day”. I could see when I booked the appointment that the situation would escalate considerably by the end of this week, so I’m surprised it took this long to implement that policy.

A group of people sit on benches in front of a glass lift outside a McDonald's restaurant, where seats are on top of tables. Some of the people are eating food from McDonald's. A flight of steps down to the basement is visible in the foreground and an escalator up from the ground floor is visible in the background. Directly above the McDonald's is an optician's shop.A group of people sit outside a McDonald’s in the Bentalls centre, Kingston, some of them eating.

Britain so far has no formal ‘lockdown’ policy of the sort which has been imposed in Italy, Spain and France. However, gradually, companies that serve the public are changing the way they operate: even before the government’s announcement tonight (closing pubs and all other leisure facilities and restricting restaurants to takeaways and deliveries only), some chain cafes and restaurants have switched to takeaway only, to not accepting cash, to not accepting reusable cups (which they have previously encouraged with discounts). Both Starbucks and Costa will serve you coffee in one of their disposable cups and still give you the discount if you present a reusable cup. I walked past a Caffe Nero in Kingston this afternoon and there were still people eating and drinking at the tables outside (and probably inside), making no attempt at the social distancing we are all being encouraged to practise. McDonald’s was one of the first to ban in-house dining, but at the branch in the Bentalls centre in Kingston this week, people were still sitting in the indoor mall just outside McDonald’s eating the food they had brought there.

There is increasing social pressure to stay at home: even Boris Johnson at his daily press conference this evening had slogans on each of the three podiums, “stay at home”, “save the NHS”, “save lives”. I am seeing a lot of appeals on social media to stay at home because going out spreads the virus. Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, posted an appeal on Twitter not to even go to work unless your job is ‘critical’. However, it’s difficult to minimise your time away from home when it’s so difficult to find basics in any supermarket. Some open 24 hours, others from first thing until 11pm, and the things everyone wants are gone within a couple of hours. It’s nearly impossible to find bread, butter, eggs, common vegetables (luxury vegetables like olives are still plentiful) and, worst of all, soap. Yesterday I must have visited 11 or 12 shops, big and small, supermarkets and pharmacies, in this area and did not find much of what I needed. This took me five hours which I had wanted to spend at home, ironing or writing this. For all the talk of the virus being a big win for the planet, with pollution levels down and dolphins appearing in the seas off Italy for the first time in ages, this situation is benefiting neither public health nor the environment.

The lack of availability of soap is the biggest scandal here: soap kills the coronavirus, it’s essential to protecting ourselves from it, yet shops seem to be ordering no more of it than they usually do. There is a mixture of panic buying, hoarding and simple increased use at play here; people will have started washing their hands at times they previously would not have, or would not have used soap (e.g. before they eat, rather than just after they use the toilet). I visited three branches of Boots in the Kingston area today and not one had any and far from having a large supply of it on a stand prominently signed “SOAP”, they had about three shelves for the stuff which was at the back of the store, past all the hair and holiday products and luxury skincare items. Shops all have these signs asking customers “think before you buy!” but a policy of only selling any customer three units of any high-demand item means it will run out very quickly. Some places still have sanitiser, but I don’t like using the stuff; I want something I can wash off, and in any case, anti-bacterials are useless against viruses and produce resistant bacteria.

Quite a number of my friends have children and other relatives who have learning disabilities, particularly in combination with autism. Many of them have fought long and hard to get them home to them or into places where they can live in the community. Yet the things that they enjoyed doing are now being made impossible and unlike the rest of us, they may not understand why; for example, going to the pub with family members or carers for a drink. Others are finding that carers are resigning or self-isolating. Some care homes both here and elsewhere have imposed lockdowns and barred residents from seeing their families either at the home or elsewhere. The government’s new Coronavirus Bill which they intend to pass into law very quickly contains ‘temporary’ amendments to the Mental Health Act which makes it easier to section (detain) someone (though some of the existing ‘safeguards’ are often worthless, as with the two doctors who in practice almost never disagree) and suspends local authority duties under the Care Act to provide care for disabled adults. The latter has serious ramifications for those with physical impairments, of course, but to deprive a person with a learning disability of social care when it could lead to difficult behaviour stemming from the confusion and sudden change in routine puts them in serious danger of ending up in an ATU (assessment and treatment unit) or other mental health setting, which as experience shows, need not be anywhere near home or easily accessible.

The government has a huge majority and the bill is expected to go through on the nod. I accept the need to stem the transmission of this virus; thousands have died in countries where it has taken hold. But people have died worse deaths in ATUs than from COVID-19 and there are other categories of ‘vulnerable’ people besides the elderly and medically fragile.

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Coronavirus: Science versus the religiously blinkered

Inayat's Corner - 18 March, 2020 - 23:42

It is sobering to contemplate how so much of the world has been gripped – and so quickly – by the Coronavirus pandemic. Many of us are understandably worried about the implications in the coming days and weeks for those who are most vulnerable to the infection including the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

Still, we know that we are not entirely without hope. The physicist David Deutsch notably urged us to write into stone the phrase “problems are soluble”. We know that acting vigorously to suppress the chain of transmission will slow down the spread of the disease. We also know that the Coronavirus will have a unique genetic code and that scientists are examining it with a view to creating a vaccine that will eventually immunise us against it. And we should not forget that the word science comes from the Latin “scientia” – meaning knowledge. So, it is  people with knowledge – scientists – that will find the vaccine.

One thing we can be pretty damn sure of is that the vaccine will not be found by a Mufti or an Imam (or a priest or a rabbi – unless they happen to also be scientists).

So, it has been curious to observe the response of some Muslim religious “scholars” (I use the word in the loosest possible way) to the Coronavirus pandemic and to see what they have been advising their followers to do.

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson notably flanked by two scientists, Chris Whitty (Chief Medical Officer) and Sir Patrick Vallance (Chief Scientific Adviser) called on all Britons to immediately avoid all unnecessary contact and travel and to stay away from meeting places such as pubs and theatres – for the obvious reason that it would help slow down the transmission of the virus and therefore help to save many lives.

Fortunately, several of the UK’s main religious organisations including the Muslim Council of Britain, the Anglican Church and the United Synagogue took note and very sensibly urged the immediate suspension of all communal prayers in their respective places of worship. After all, prayers can be performed at home where there is much less risk of unwittingly transmitting the virus to others.

However, some in the Muslim community do not appear to have got the message. At Islamic Portal, in a note written by Yusuf Shabbir (and “approved” by Mufti Shabbir Ahmad and Mufti Muhammad Tahir) he urged that mosques should remain open for congregational prayer “until and unless the government places a total restriction on religious places”. Apparently, the government’s guidance that “all unnecessary contact” be avoided was not explicit enough for Yusuf Shabbir.

In a separate article the day previously the very same Yusuf Shabbir had written an article entitled “How Can Coronavirus Be Stopped?“. What do you think Yusuf Shabbir suggested was the way to stop Coronavirus? To support and listen to our scientists? Erm, no, not quite. Here is what he said – and I quote:

In addition to adopting precautions and abandoning sins, the following are some actions that can help bring this epidemic to an end:

  1. Perform the five obligatory Ṣalāh
  2. Regularly do Istigfār and Tawbah (repentance).
  3. Engage in the dhikr of Allah Almighty especially Tasbīḥ & Takbīr
  4. Regularly read durūd
  5. Give as much optional charity
  6. Perform two Rakʿat Nafl Ṣalāh individually
  7. Supplicate to Allah with masnūn supplications for well-being and protection (see this link for some examples)
  8. Do not panic-buy or hoard goods
  9. Exercise Ṣabr (patience), Shukr (gratitude) and Tawakkul (reliance)
  10. Contemplate death and the power of Allah Almighty

May I perhaps suggest that a sure fire way for UK Muslims to reduce the level of ignorance amongst their ranks is to stop listening to people like Yusuf Shabbir?

Coronavirus: no let-up from NHS bureaucracy

Indigo Jo Blogs - 10 March, 2020 - 16:55
A queue of trucks waiting to deliver food into Wuhan which is under quarantine. (Note the outgoing lanes are empty.)Trucks queue to deliver food into quarantined Wuhan

With cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus continuing to rise everywhere except China, where the outbreak has peaked and even in Wuhan, the quarantine measures are being lifted, life here in London is continuing surprisingly normally, the only thing that has changed is the increasing difficulty in getting hold of soap, loo roll or certain staple foods such as pasta because of people panic-buying or hoarding it. I misplaced my bottle of hand soap in a workplace loo in Thatcham a couple of weeks ago and have been trying to replace it, to no avail: every branch of the Co-op has run out. Italy, where hundreds have died, has been placed under quarantine with only those with valid work- or family-related reasons are being allowed to travel (though a look at the traffic status of the country’s roads on Google Maps still shows traffic jams and no closures that look like a cordon sanitaire, suggesting that people are still travelling). Here, schools and every other public facility remains open; some people are amazed at our complacency.

I have a medical condition called hypothyroidism or myxoedema. I have had it most or all of my life and have been taking medication (thyroxine) for it every day since I was about four or five years old. I have to have a blood test every year but my dosage has not changed since I was in my teens and that was more than 20 years ago. I get annual prescriptions which I collect every two months from a pharmacy linked to my doctors’ surgery. I currently have a month’s supply, then I have another prescription to collect and I then have to book my medication review and blood test. I’m also a truck driver, doing agency work where I mostly cover for people who are off sick and meet all sorts of people in every part of London and the south-east of England every day. So, I called the surgery today to see if they were doing anything differently given that they don’t want people coming into the surgery (where there are sick people, including the elderly who are most at risk of serious complications from the coronavirus) who might be infected and when it’s not necessary.

So, I was hoping they might just waive the annual review and renew my prescription automatically. (It would be very convenient for me as well as perhaps better for everyone’s health.) But no, the rules say that they cannot bypass the annual review and they are still being conducted as normal. They told me they have some kind of screening to make sure people don’t bring the virus into the surgery, but the best way to avoid bringing it in is not to bring people in when it’s not necessary, given that this virus can be passed on for several days before any symptoms start to show. And as medical staff are likely to have their hands full over the next few weeks, they should not be seeing patients with stable conditions for pointless reviews.

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What? Trevor Phillips was in the Labour party?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 9 March, 2020 - 22:35

Yesterday it was announced that Trevor Phillips, the former head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, the body set up under the Labour government to monitor all aspects of equal opportunities (there had previously been specific bodies related to race, gender, disability etc), had been suspended from the Labour party over Islamophobic comments; this was apparently triggered by a joke he made with Peter Tatchell about who best deserved the “Islamophobe of the Year” award from the Islamic Human Rights Commission (which although it does some good work monitoring the human rights situation for Muslims here and abroad, has pro-Iranian directors). This immediately attracted howls of derision from the right-wing press and from apologists for ‘populism’ on social media, among them Matthew Goodwin:

There is a subtle appeal to authority here: how astonishing that the former chairman of the EHRC, of all people, has been suspended for racism, of all things. The answer to this is that umbrella equality bodies were always controversial because they allow a single, ‘acceptable’ establishment figure who belongs to one nominally ‘oppressed’ group to represent everyone who might have a claim to have suffered discrimination even though he or she may have no understanding or sympathy for some of the different groups’ experiences. In Phillips’s case, he is a Black, middle-class, Christian man from an English-speaking background; this affords a certain amount of respectability, particularly if coupled with overt suspicion of other minorities that are perceived as ‘trouble’ or as making ridiculous or audacious demands. During his leadership, six of the body’s commissioners resigned, accusing him of a leadership style better suited to a political organisation and of not briefing them about policy announcements but leaving them to find out from press releases that had already gone out.

It is ironic that his right-wing defenders point to his past record as an anti-racism campaigner; it was also claimed that he was one of a number of “anti-racists” who signed a letter to the Guardian last year saying that they would not vote Labour because of antisemitism. In fact, Labour has thrown out others with a long record of anti-racist campaigning and service to the party after they were found guilty by its panels of antisemitism, often on much flimsier grounds than those for calling Phillips an Islamophobe (Marc Wadsworth springs to mind). The Labour party, under every recent leadership, has expelled members for campaigning for non-Labour candidates, even by writing letters to local papers giving advice on voting tactically in places where the official Labour candidate was not Labour or socialist by any common definition.

 Nation within a nation developing says former equalities watchdog".Daily Mail’s front page from 2016, featuring Phillips’s “What British Muslims think” survey

His expulsion is also consistent with the party’s drive, egged on by many of those in the right-wing commercial media now howling in Phillips’s defence, to rid itself of real or perceived antisemites. He has used both national TV, which has given him hour-long slots for his polemics, and major national newspapers to stoke suspicion and hostility towards Muslims and make sensationalist and exaggerated claims about Muslim communities. The worst was the ‘documentary’ titled What British Muslims Really Think, based on a ridiculously small survey, but he has made a living for years rehashing tabloid talking points about race and claiming to say the ‘unsayable’ when some of these things are in fact stated on a fairly regular basis in tabloids and on radio talk shows. Then there was his article for the Sun in 2017, after the Times’s story about a ‘white’ British girl in a Muslim foster home being “deprived of her cross” and forbidden to eat bacon had been debunked; he claimed it was “like child abuse” to put the girl with the ‘conservative’ Muslim family (it later turned out that the girl was from a Muslim background herself).

His record for attacking Muslims almost rivals that of Boris Johnson. In fact, his output is in some ways worse, as it is in more prominent newspapers and makes specific claims that are calculated to inspire suspicion and, at worst, hatred. He invariably presents it as a threat when too many members of a minority are found in one place, and demands that this be arranged never to happen in a school, for example. He rails against ‘multiculturalism’, communities being allowed to live on their own terms to a certain extent, yet this attitude is as antisemitic as it is anti-Muslim, because Jews have similar population concentrations and community institutions such as schools, family tribunals and food monitoring bodies, particularly for meat. Some Jewish groups are more isolated and insular than any section of the Muslim community in this country. Muslims mostly attend the same schools as everyone else and work alongside others daily.

In all honesty, I do not know why someone with his attitudes would still be in the Labour party. As for why it has taken so long to suspend him, I can only assume that his membership was only just noticed. It’s entirely consistent that a party seeking to rid itself of racism should suspend someone for obvious incitement to racial hatred and fostering of prejudice, regardless of how popular the sentiment is or how unpopular the group targeted are. Phillips is no asset to the Labour party; he is embittered by his failure to secure any meaningful elective office in the early 2000s, when he had hoped to become Labour’s candidate for the first mayor of London, and by the Muslims’ challenge to the authority of the old secular “race industry” from the 1990s onwards. I will be watching the responses of the Labour leadership contenders to this issue with great interest. I hope the Labour party sticks to its principles and does not back down in the face of criticism from racists and hypocrites.

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Coronavirus versus ritual ablution

Indigo Jo Blogs - 7 March, 2020 - 18:34

I’ve been seeing a tweet being retweeted all over by Muslims, which lists an “anti-coronavirus protocol” which consists of washing the hands, face, hair and feet, washing the mouth out, and snuffing water into one’s nose and then blowing it out. This is the ritual ablution or wudu (variously also spelled wazu or wudhoo’, the latter being the precise transcription of the Arabic letters) that Muslims perform before praying if they have used the toilet or done any of a variety of other things since they last prayed. Here’s an example:

As you might guess, this type of wash is not designed to stop a virus and will not do so. It is a ritual purification to prepare for a ritual prayer. A coronavirus is a respiratory tract virus which spreads through bodily fluids, specifically those emitted into the air through the mouth and nose. This is why we are being encouraged not to touch our faces, especially our mouths, nose and eyes (while masks, and indeed niqaabs, do not provide much protection against the virus itself, they do make touching two of these three orifices, or all of them in the case of the full niqaab, much more difficult). This particular virus is one that none of us has any immunity to, because it is new. When the common cold virus, also a coronavirus, was transmitted to natives in the Americas following the voyages of Columbus, huge numbers died. It is something we get every year or so and it gives us a runny nose and sore throat for a while and then we get over it; that is because we have immunity. We will only develop immunity to COVID-19 over time from exposure to it.

A row of four ablution areas with a white stool in front of a white ceramic sinks with a tap over the top of each, with a drain at foot level. There are slate tiles on the wall and marble tiles on the floor.A modular wudu area in a mosque in Moscow, Idaho. There is no divider between the modules so that when a worshipper blows his nose out, he may blow it over the hands and into the immediate environment of his neighbour. (Source: WuduMate).

In fact, given the layout of many mosque wudu areas, where people sit with no barrier between them, the way people do wudu and then walk away with dripping wet hands might actually help spread the virus, not stop it. When you blow the water out of your nose, some of it will go on your hands and into the air. Washing your hands afterwards might get rid of a lot of it, but not all of it, so shaking your hands dry with a huge flourish as you walk towards the door will give everyone in the surrounding area a dose of it. In our fairly cool climate, hands stay wet longer than they do in a hot climate such as Egypt. People should be encouraged to dry their hands and faces before going into other communal areas and, if possible, do wudu before they leave the home (although this is already encouraged at busy times). Paper towels should be provided so that hands and faces can be cleaned before people leave the wudu area; there should also be dividers between the seats so that nobody is blowing anything at their neighbours. People should also be encouraged to dry things like toilet seats after using them; I have lost count of the number of wet seats and floors I have encountered in Muslim restaurants where there are water jugs for cleaning oneself after toileting. People must understand that just because something is not impure (najis), this does not mean it is healthy and that others should be expected to sit in it. (Lots of things that are not impure can contain and transmit pathogens: raw egg, for example.)

It is not only mosque wudu areas, of course, that should be redesigned to impede the spread of this virus. Any public hygiene area should be. At least temporarily, paper towels should be provided because they dry the hands quickly; electric hand dryers are worse than useless because the air is tepid and the flow weak, and the air itself is drawn straight from the immediate environment, i.e. the toilet (it is better to locate them outside the toilet or at least as far as possible from the toilet cubicles). Doors should open both ways so that anyone can push them with their feet or elbows, not grip a handle and pull it. Toilet bowls should always have lids, and the flush handle located behind the lid so it can only be used with the lid down (very few toilets have this latter design feature); this prevents filth being spread around when the toilet is flushed, especially if the user has had a bowel movement. This prevents other pathogens being spread to other users, including the enteroviruses (gut/bowel viruses) which cause neurological illnesses.

I am not suggesting for a moment that we should not do wudu; it is absolutely necessary for us to practise our religion, but to claim that wudu is an “anti-coronavirus protocol” in itself is hugely irresponsible. Being clean and being in the habit of cleaning ourselves as we go are hugely beneficial, but if anything, these other forms of purification are more relevant to maintaining good health than wudu itself. If this virus starts spreading wild in the general populations, open wudu areas may well become a thing of the past and mosques will have to invest in paper towels and dispensers as well as the exquisite marble washing stations many of them have.

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Review: Who Killed Malcolm X?

Inayat's Corner - 23 February, 2020 - 07:02

Back in 1992, the Spike Lee movie Malcolm X was showing in UK cinemas. On those evenings, a small group of us from The Young Muslims UK dutifully stood outside many of those cinemas in a number of our towns and cities to sell our youth magazine TRENDS which had a dedicated front cover feature on the African-American Muslim leader to tie in with the movie release.

We had all come to know the broad outline of the life story of the civil rights leader Malcolm X. Malcolm had been a petty criminal in his youth and during a stint in prison he came into contact with the teachings of the black nationalist movement, the Nation of Islam, led by Elijah Muhammad. The NoI had played a key role in helping to empower black people who were facing racism and discrimination in the USA and helped to instill in them confidence, self-respect and discipline.

Following his release from prison Malcolm was mentored by Elijah Muhammad. Given Malcolm’s own charisma, devotion and oratorical skills, he rose rapidly up the NoI hierarchy over the next few years and helped to bring in many thousands of new members until he widely became viewed as the No. 2 to Elijah Muhammad and his heir apparent. This rise created jealousy amongst some in Elijah Muhammad’s inner circle who started a whispering campaign against Malcolm and sought to turn Elijah against Malcolm. That break between the two came at the end of 1963 and over the next year Malcolm was the target of a hate campaign by many of his former colleagues in the NoI until his assassination in Feb 1965 at the hands of NoI members.

That much is known. What I did not know and my younger 1992 self standing outside those cinemas most certainly did not know – until I watched the Netflix documentary Who Killed Malcolm X? – was that the person who had allegedly fired the shotgun which actually killed Malcolm X in the Audubon Ballroom in New York on that fateful day back in 1965 was still alive and living under a new identity in the USA and had never been arrested for the murder. In fact, the Netflix documentary argues that two of the three men convicted of Malcolm’s murder were innocent and were not even present at the Audubon Ballroom on the day of the killing. The actual killers were a five-man hit team of whom only one was actually caught and convicted. This is stunning news. How on earth did this happen?

Malcolm X gave his life to spread the egalitarian teachings of Islam among the African-American community and the tremendous success he was achieving in his  mission was feared by J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI who was determined to prevent the rise of a “Black Messiah.”

Our main narrator in this six-part documentary is Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, a likeable and humble historian-activist who works as a tour guide for a living. Abdur-Rahman says that he became obsessed with uncovering the truth about Malcolm’s murder after realising that the official prosecution version of the killing just seemed to leave too many questions unanswered. For over thirty years, Abdur-Rahman worked to gain access to official police and FBI files and talk to living witnesses to try and obtain answers to his questions.

Amongst the many astonishing revelations in this documentary is the news that the FBI had nine paid informants sitting in that crowd of four hundred people who were attending Malcolm’s talk that day in Feb 1965. Shockingly, none of the nine informants present at the scene of Malcolm’s murder were called by the authorities to give evidence at the trial.

An official note uncovered from the FBI makes clear that they were committed to preventing the unifying of radical black movements and had therefore created a network of both informants and paid agents who had infiltrated leading black organisations including the NoI and Malcolm’s new organisation. Interviews undertaken by the documentary makers with the relevant law enforcement officials still alive today show that they derived much pleasure at sowing division amongst the black nationalist movement.

The documentary is also very good at revealing the human cost paid by two of those accused of being involved in Malcolm’s killing but who were actually innocent according to Abdur-Rahman Muhammad. One of the two, Thomas 15X Johnson, died in 2009, but the second, Norman 3X Butler (now called Muhammad Abdul Aziz) is still alive and has always denied being involved in Malcolm’s murder. Muhammad Abdul Aziz spent twenty years in prison and was unable to form a proper relationship with his children. When asked if things had now gotten better, he shakes his head in sorrow. Later, we see him walking in a park where points to the trees and says:

“The tree is a representation of life: power, structure, development, response. And its branches respond to light. Light is a metaphor for knowledge. When branches don’t get enough light they will bend and twist and do whatever they have to in order to get light. And people should do the same thing. But they often don’t.”

Our narrator Abdur-Rahman Muhammad keeps digging in order to find out who fired the shotgun that killed Malcolm and encounters some Muslims in Newark who try to discourage him from going any further. “The chapter’s closed,” “Leave him alone,” “Why open old wounds?” But, determined that truth should be revealed, Abdur-Rahman perseveres and finally manages to track down the man who allegedly killed Malcolm X and has been living under a new identity all these years.

Following the release of this Netflix documentary just over a week ago, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office announced that they were going to review the case of Malcolm X with a view to re-opening the case. It could perhaps lead to the exoneration of the two men who were apparently wrongly convicted of murder.

This documentary is testament to the difference that one person can make and the need to always be wary of unquestioningly accepting the authorities’ version of events. Abdur-Rahman Muhammad has done Malcolm X and all of us a true service by helping to shine some light on a very murky tale.

Boris Johnson’s vision: tabloid mob rule

Indigo Jo Blogs - 21 February, 2020 - 18:57
Monument and fountain, Devizes

There is an article in this week’s New Statesman from Danny Kruger, newly-elected MP for Devizes (right) in Wiltshire, replying to two pieces from last week’s edition which called Boris Johnson’s government aimless in one case and revolutionary in the other. Kruger claims that Johnson’s project is not a revolution but a ‘restoration’, the “re-establishment of democracy and the creation of the common good”. Alarmingly he claims that public services are not where “the profound changes we need today” are; anyone familiar with them will disagree. Johnson and co, however, want to strip away the right of the people to a judicial review of legislation designed to strip their rights or their supports away. He, of course, frames this as “the judicial review process by which judges can make policy” and promises a “re-balancing”:

Most immediately it is the restoration of politics to its proper place at the apex of our common life. Last week’s reshuffle put Michael Gove in charge of the government’s reform of legal rights and responsibilities. This will examine the judicial review process by which judges can make policy. Politicians, on behalf of the people, should take the decisions and make the rules: civil servants and judges should implement the decisions and apply the rules. That balance will be restored under this government.

When Tories want to strip away people’s access to the law, they typically frame it as an attack on over-mighty judges or “fat cat” lawyers. The upshot is, of course, that people defending themselves in the criminal courts or fighting to secure access to their own children, or to protect their children from an abusive ex-partner, have to represent themselves in court, often against wealthier opponents who can afford legal representation. The legal profession largely do not approve, because they have learned from their first week at law school that a founding principle of justice is equality before the law. (Another result is that, when public legal aid is removed, lawyers seeking to serve people leave the profession and the real fat cats, who work for corporations on things like intellectual property, remain.)

Most modern democracies have constitutions, i.e. a supreme law that statute law has to be judged against, and can be overturned if it falls short by violating people’s rights or enabling an arm of government to overreach its powers. Britain does not; its ‘constitution’ is sometimes defined as “what happens” but consists of a mixture of law and tradition. Any of this can be overturned with one act of Parliament, and unlike in other two-chamber parliaments, one of the chambers is unelected and cannot guarantee that any of its amendments will make it into law if the other disagrees. In addition, the voting system often means that the largest single party in terms of popular vote — 43% in the case of the present government but in the past, even less — has an outright majority of seats. Let’s imagine that a party can come to power after a purge of dissenting voices within the party, and acquire a large number of new MPs from places that did not traditionally vote for it who might not have had time to develop independence of political thought, and you may well end up with a kind of elective dictatorship or tyranny. This state of affairs is exactly what modern constitutional democracies are designed to at least make more difficult. But Britain is not a modern constitutional democracy.

It amazes me that commentators and politicians familiar with the American constitution or most European ones, often working for newspapers with American owners, are so outraged at British judges whom they accuse of trying to frustrate the implementation of legislation: in other countries, that is part of their job and this is a matter of national pride. America has rather the opposite problem from the UK: a constitution mostly drafted in the 18th century with a number of absurd or plainly undemocratic features that can often be traced back to the demands of slave-holding states, which cannot be changed without a long and involved process that requires the approval of two thirds of those states, some of which have eight-figure populations and some barely a million and the two have equal weight. (More usually, a constitutional change requires a referendum with a two-thirds majority.) In ours, we have a parliamentary system in which the government, if it has a large enough majority, can do pretty much what it likes. Judicial activism is a natural consequence of both problems: urgent change that cannot be implemented because of a constitutional lock, or a pseudo-majority government with no respect for people’s rights or even the rule of law.

Boris Johnson was born in New York, albeit of British parentage, but his programme would deny British people the rights he enjoyed while he was an American citizen. British politicians are not used to having checks on their power, of judges in particular being able to tell them they have overstepped the mark, and British newspapers (tabloids like the Sun and Daily Mail especially) do not like it when their demands cannot be met. These demands often consist of a kick in the head for someone; usually, someone with numerous family connections here is being expelled for a reason that morally does not justify it, in some cases putting them in grave danger, or a much-needed benefit being stripped away while the cheerleader press stereotypes the recipients as scroungers. (Constitutions do not generally protect benefits, but they do protect the rights to citizenship and restrict the grounds on which it can be stripped from someone.)

“The people”, of course, did not agree to Boris Johnson being PM. His party won a numbers game, not a popular vote. He is like every demagogue who justifies their tyranny by appealing to the “will of the people”, meaning the loudest voices of the meanest, richest and most powerful members of society. The deprivation of the right to the law is something that people will fail to notice until they come to depend on it, by which time it will be too late.

Image source: Mike Faherty, from Geograph; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (BY-SA) 2.0 licence.

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