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My Sun Interview

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I never thought I’d say this but I appeared in The Sun earlier this week, to discuss the niqab debate that just about everyone is having these days.

I do believe it’s a debate to be had, but whenever anything  related to Islam is discussed, some Muslims seem to get defensive and refuse to even allow people to talk about the hijab or niqab. If that woman had removed her niqab in the courtroom, no one would have even known and it would have been the end of the matter.

Anyway, I thought I’d post this because I believe that The Sun sensationalised what I actually said – though I understand that it’s something most tabloid papers do – and I came across as really negative and hostile.

 

DSC_0063

 

Firstly, I told the reporter that I defended every woman’s right to dress how she wishes, niqab, hijab, mini skirt, etc. I would never tell someone how to dress, I only said that it should be removed in certain places. I don’t find the niqab that outrageous, in fact I find the fact that a newspaper still publishes bare breasts on page 3 more offensive. I am, however, against young girls wearing hijabs and niqabs and it’s right that schools should enforce a ban.

Secondly, with regards to my comments about the niqab being ‘alien’ and ‘unnecessary’ – this was said when the reporter asked about my background and I told her that where my family come from, even the more conservative people dislike the niqab and deem it unnecessary, and that only some older women wear a loose headscarf, or dupatta, on their heads.  In our culture then, it is an ‘alien’ concept.

And finally, why do I look fatter?!

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Written by Iram Ramzan

September 18, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Posted in islam, UK, women

Tagged with , , ,

White Girls Are Not The Only Victims Of Sexual Abuse

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Originally published for The Backbencher on 15/9/2013

 

“We shouldn’t get away from the fact that there are gangs of Muslim men going round and raping white kids” – Kris Hopkins, Conservative MP, Keighley.

“Some men of Pakistani origin see white girls as ’easy meat’” –  Jack Straw, Labour MP, Blackburn.

“Our women are not halal meat” – BNP poster.

Asian and Muslim girls are abused and groomed by gangs of men. Disgusted? Yes. Shocked? No. In fact, I wrote an article just a few months ago, stating that the abuse of girls, especially Asian girls, was known by some. After I wrote that piece, I was attacked by some people for denying the cultural link, that Asian men only went after white girls, whom they saw as “halal meat”. Even the judge, upon sentencing the Rochdale groomers, said: “One of the factors leading to that was the fact that they were not part of your community or religion.”

Yet it took an in-depth report by the Muslim Womens Network  that it is not just white girls who are abused and groomed by gangs of men.

silent woman

MWN UK conducted research into the hidden experiences of Asian / Muslim girls and young women so that everyone can better understand how to support and protect them. In such a short amount of time, 35 case studies were collected.

They launched the ‘Unheard Voices’ report on Tuesday and presented its findings at the House of Commons. BBC radio stations covered the findings of MWN’s report on Wednesday, but it has not been discussed in such depth as the Rochdale and Oxford  cases did.

Any comment from the EDL or the BNP? No. They were silent of course, because they’re only concerned with their own, white girls, and more concerned with using the victims for their own political agendas. No one was willing to even contemplate that these disgusting men preyed on their Asian girls, because that would require us to put aside our initial prejudices, get off the racial bandwagon and actually use our brains.

Sunny Hundal wrote a piece soon after, highlighting tensions between Muslims and Sikhs. He wrote:

“This is conveniently ignored by the white, Sikh and Muslim men who want men of other communities to point fingers at. Where are the Sikh vigilante gangs against honour crimes , domestic violence  and rape perpetrated by Sikh men against Sikh women? These gangs don’t exist.”

It’s so convenient to blame race and / or religion.  We would rather believe that girls are being abused in far away places by wicked brown men because otherwise, we would have to consider the very uncomfortable fact that abuse is hidden in every community, including our own.It is a complete myth that white girls are seen as “easy” compared with Asian and Muslim girls. One young man, in the report, said of the Muslim girls:

“It is easy to trap girls just have to tell ‘em you love ‘em and will marry ‘em. Some of the lads are doing secret ‘nikahs’ [marriage ceremonies] to make sure da’ link don’t get broken – that way you don’t lose the link with the girl. Then they offer their wives around. I have heard people I know say, hey bro do you want my wife?”

Mussurut Zia, the general secretary of MWN, helped compile the case studies. What did she have to say about the theory that white girls are more vulnerable because they’re supposedly out on the streets and Asian girls are locked up? “Yes you have white girls going out at night, though now you do you do see more Asian girls going out too,” she points out, adding:  ”On the other hand Asian girls can be tightly controlled but they’re sitting ducks. They’re more vulnerable at home.”

She continued: “Asian girls have extended families coming and going all the time. That’s a mass group of people going in and out, and families have no reason to be suspicious. It’s all hidden. One girl spoke to her mother who then said put up and shut up.”

Speaking of families, the report states:

“There appears to be little or no understanding among families and communities about sexual exploitation and there is a tendency to blame the female victims rather than the male offenders.

Girls were being regarded as “temptresses” and assumptions were made about their lifestyles. Denial about sexual exploitation was also raised as a major concern. There is a tendency to prioritise protecting the “honour” of the community over the safeguarding of vulnerable girls…preserving honour is allowing men to continue operating with impunity, therefore fueling sexual violence against girls and women further.”

MWN's Shaista Gohir

MWN’s Shaista Gohir

 

No one asks why these men were out late at night or where they were going. Because that is the mentality – men are not to be questioned. The most disturbing thing of all is how families were aware. Shaista Gohir MBE, who has been an activist since 2005, set up MWN in 2007.

 “There are young men that I’ve spoken to – a lot of them are in the know,” she said. “It’s not just men in the know, it’s women too. There are enough women that know about it. In one case study in the report , a girl who was13 or 14 at the time, was kept by a man in her room. He locked the door, leave a bucket for her in the corner to urinate in, and went out. At night he would take her out and pass her around.

“When the police went to find her, his family, who was living in the same house, said he was looking after her because she had run away from home. Sorry but how could you allow that? If you’re that concerned you call the police or social services. It’s become like a third income for some families. First it was drugs, then fraud and now this.”

Nonetheless, we continue to be in denial. Whenever Muslims have been interviewed, they will insist that race has nothing to do with this, that religion has no part to play in any of this. But something is not quite right there.

As Mussurut said: “The first thought on Rochdale was that if you’ve got a community in uproar then part of me always thinks, the lady doth protest too much.”

We need to stop burying our heads in the sand.  Victims go for so long without any help due to this absurd notion of honour and shame, as if it is somehow a child’s fault that they have been sexually molested and groomed.

Asian gangs

Shaista added: “It’s our fault. I blame all the community. If anyone asks me why are you talking about it, you’re bringing shame on us, do you know what I say to those people? I say that it’s your fault if girls are getting abused. You may not be doing the rape but your attitude lets them get away with it. The shame is on these people for remaining silent. Shame on you all.”

Many Muslims were outraged that Islam even had to be mentioned in the same sentence as this abuse. But the fact of the matter is, when a society or community is centred around a particular faith and when the culture is influenced by that faith, then to say otherwise is such a huge denial.

Take this account, from  page 58 of the MWN report:

My mate called me and said ‘Bro I have a surprise for you, come over to this house.’ When I got there 15 of them were sitting in the living room. My mate told me to go upstairs for my surprise. When I went into the bedroom, another friend was doing this girl (she was a 20 years old of Pakistani background). The lads went up one by one and took turns and while they were waiting they were calling their mates, cousins and uncles to come over and join in and showing off. Others turned up too including two older men who were taxi drivers, who went straight upstairs. One older man said I am going to call my son over so he can practice on her and later his 15-year-old son arrived in his uniform. Everyone took turns and it took 6 hours. I did get concerned and said, ‘the girl is going to get broke, who will marry her?’ The girl is not paid but she gets looked after, she is given food and the boys make sure she gets home safely if it gets late. There are set days Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays but some of my friends don’t like doing stuff like that on a Friday because it is Jumu’a (holy day) and they go mosque.

Amazing isn’t it – that young lads and men can be abusing and raping girls one day and praying to God the next. How does that even work?

“People know Islam is against it, when you’re brought up, you know it’s wrong,” Shaista said.  “But it’s become acceptable. They think if that you go on Hajj (pilgrimage) or do your Friday prayers, your sins are wiped away.

Asian child abuse

“One girl said to she that she didn’t feel like being a Muslim any more because most of the offenders were bearded men. One man would pick her up after Friday prayers. Another girl, who was 13,was abused throughout Ramadan. Where’s the morality gone?”
Where indeed.

There has been a lack of response in general. I tried contacting several women’s organisations and children’s charities here in the north west, to no avail. One organisation claimed that they had not even heard about this report. That could be down to either the lack of press coverage on this, or that they just did not want to discuss the issue, perhaps out of fear.

The MWN report highlights what some of us have known for quite a while, yet sometimes the obvious needs to be stated. Otherwise, stories such as Safa’s, whose uncle raped her before introducing her to his friends, will never be heard.

Kudos to these activists and others who have worked so hard over many years for women’s rights, and to those brave, young girls who shared their stories of abuse. They are the real heroines out there.

Written by Iram Ramzan

September 16, 2013 at 9:16 pm

The Ludicrous Irony Of World Hijab Day

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Pretty much every day in the year is dedicated to the commemoration of a particular cause or event. Birthdays, anniversaries, and some rather strange ones, such as ‘Ear Muff Day‘. Then there is World Hijab Day. The official one is on February 1 but there was another one (yes, we need more than one) set up on September 4, which commemorates the fifth anniversary of Germany’s “Muslim hijab martyr” Marwa Ali El Sherbini.

Marwa Ali El Sherbini

Marwa Ali El Sherbini

 

Marwa was an Egyptian woman and German resident who was killed in 2009 during an appeal hearing at a court of law in Dresden, Germany. She was stabbed by Alex Wiens, an ethnic German immigrant from Russia against whom she had testified in a criminal case for verbal abuse.

Her husband, who was present at the hearing, tried to intervene. He too was repeatedly stabbed by Weins and was then mistakenly shot and wounded by a police officer who was called to the court room.

Strangely enough Marwa’s husband has not been turned into a martyr for the faith of Islam. Though Marwa is now called the “hijab martyr” by the women in the above video (who are all wearing full-on face veils, by the way) her attacker never said anything about the hijab. She was attacked for being Muslim. So if anything, if they want to commemorate Marwa, they should be campaigning against racism or even religious persecution.

But I am not surprised: Any excuse to promote the headscarf. A ‘Hijab Walk’ was scheduled by the Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan. Note how they are all wearing face veils (which is not compulsory in Islam) and even the young girls are wearing hijabs and abayas (long robes).

A special hash-tag was made on Twitter, #worldhijabday4sep, which attracted hundreds of comments, including this rather bizarre one by @nomanjeet who states: “#WorldHijabDay Hijab covers my head not brain….!” Noman happens to be a man, but hey, let’s not knock his solidarity.

Take this website, which explains what this day is for, albeit for the official February one, but the sentiments and arguments are the same.

“Have you ever asked a Muslim woman why she is so covered in a world that seeks to shed as much clothing as possible? If you asked a Muslim woman, she would inform you that the purpose behind her Hijab is to obey her Creator over the creation. Her Creator, Allah (God), did not legislate Hijab in order to oppress her, but rather to free her from the shackles of this world. He ordered Hijab as an honor and sign of dignity for women.

When a Muslim woman covers her hair, chest and body, she is sending a silent message that she respects her body and like a pearl in the ocean, she covers it with her beautiful shell (Hijab). No one has the right to observe, gawk at and judge a Muslim woman by the highlights in her hair or curves on her body. Instead they judge her for what is in her mind, her character, and her goals and ambitions.”

hijab-lollipop1

Ah yes, the infamous covered-women-are-like-pearls metaphor. Those who don’t are like an uncovered lollipop who has flies buzzing around her (great metaphor and not at all demeaning towards men by the way).

“Today, my sister I have a challenge for you: A challenge in which I ask you to do, not for anyone’s sake but Allah’s. Do not do it for your family or your friends; do not do it for me. Do it for yourself and for your Rabb (Lord). On this day insha`Allah hundreds, we pray thousands of sisters will observe Hijab. Just for one day, we are asking sisters to wear the Hijab and experience it. There will be a worldwide support group. Millions of Muslims behind you and supporting you! At the end of the day, it is upon you and only you to follow through.

“I am not asking you for anything more or anything less than to take one small step which in your heart you know will only bring you closer to my Rabb and your Rabb. One step closer to Jannahinsha’Allah….”

Go on sisters, if you don’t wish to burn in hell for eternity, put on that hijab!

Personally I do not believe that there is a religious mandate for it but I am not going to dwell on that. For a start, I don’t fancy having burning torches brandished at me, and secondly, I believe in personal freedom. You can wear a tutu and sport a green moheekan for all I care.

Several women tweeted: “Your beauty is for your man not mankind.” I thought it was for Allah?There is no consistency with the headscarf argument. On the one hand women are told to wear it per God’s orders and it has nothing whatsoever to do with men but on the other hand, they are then told actually yes, wear it for the sake of it men too, because they can’t control themselves and you don’t want to invite attention on yourself now do you? Why is dressing for one man more empowering? Either way, you’re still factoring a man’s opinion into what you decide to wear.

Men are not seen as visible representatives of Islam (except if they are wearing long robes or have a lengthy beard). That ‘privilege’ is given to women, who literally wear their religious identity on their heads.

Of course, we’re told that men also have to ‘observe hijab’ but for the most part they are not lectured on their clothes or the length of their beards (or lack thereof). Few people will approach a man and inquire about the way in which he is am dressed. He won’t be denounced as a ‘bad Muslim’ nor will his dress code be used as an excuse to prevent him from attending the mosque or other Islamic functions. There aren’t dozens of books dedicated to telling men what they must and must not wear as there are for women and the dozens of guidelines they are given, exclusively by men.

We hear women who wear the hijab constantly saying: “Judge me for what’s in my head and not what’s on it.” Firstly, if it’s not important, why invite women to wear it? Secondly, the only reason non Muslims have focused on hijab is because Muslims themselves have put too much emphasis on the veil in the first place. If you don’t like people focusing on your hijab then don’t make it the centre of attention in the first place.

Two Muslim girls catch up with their mother in...Oldham

Two Muslim girls catch up with their mother in…Oldham

 

They lament that the West has reduced women to their looks and what they wear, yet by creating this day, they have reduced Muslim women to a garment. Such women who use the ‘respect’ factor actually disrespect women who choose not wear a hijab. Where is the respect there? This whole idea, this hijab day, is contradictory and reduces a Muslim woman’s experience to a piece of cloth. Muslim women are more than their hijabs or lack thereof.

To me, feminism is all about choice and respecting women for the choices that they, and they alone, make. Kudos to those women who have made their own choices, because as a woman you are vilified either way. If you choose to wear a headscarf you are oppressed or being forced, or you are the ideal Muslimah. Likewise if you don’t wear a hijab you are an attention seeker, enslaved by the male gaze.

Whether you reduce women to their looks or uphold them as symbols of modesty, comparing them to uncovered lollipops or jewels that need to be protected, you are objectifying women.

It is for this reason why I cannot mark such an absurd day.

Written by Iram Ramzan

September 16, 2013 at 9:12 pm

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