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Casey pulls no punches but will anything change?

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Pic Credit: Neil Moralee/Flickr
Pic Credit: Neil Moralee/Flickr

This is a cross-post from Sedaa

 

A much-awaited report which contains no big surprises received reactions that were entirely predictable.

From segregation and misogyny, to the child grooming gangs and Sharia councils, Dame Louise Casey’s lengthy, evidence-based report pulls no punches.

Towns and cities with high Muslim populations, such as Oldham, Rochdale, Blackburn and Bradford are mentioned as places of concern.

Some of them are areas with large numbers of people who came from Pakistani-administered Kashmir, particularly the rural region of Mirpur. They came to the former mill-towns which now suffer from industrial decline and high levels of deprivation.

Parents still ship their children ‘back home’ to get married, creating ghettos and a “first generation in every generation problem”.

Immigration itself is not a bad thing. The problem is when large numbers of immigrants arrive into areas where there are already large numbers of people from the same background. There is less of an incentive to integrate and learn English if most people in your neighbourhood are going to be from the same village in Pakistan or Bangladesh.

Last week’s Policy Exchange survey “Unsettled Belonging” showed Muslims overwhelmingly identify with Britain. And there is a hope that Muslims will become more liberal and secular. But if Muslims choose to live in areas with a high Muslim population, those who are more liberal or non religious will find it difficult to express their views openly, for fear of being attacked. Islamists benefit from this type of environment, as they can say they are trying to cater for the growing Muslim population – remember the Trojan Horse scandal in Birmingham.

Of course, some have suggested that “white people need to integrate too”. The report says:

“In recent decades, it appears that in some respects, rather than becoming more of a classless society, sections of white working class Britain have become more isolated from the rest of the country and the rest of the white British population.”

White British boys are falling behind students from other ethnic backgrounds, which will no doubt only help foster the narrative that no one cares about the white population. It partly explain why we have seen Britain voting to leave the European Union and the rise of parties such as UKIP.

In Oldham, two schools with one dominant ethnic group were merged to form one large school. The majority white Counthill School and majority Pakistani Breezehill School became the Waterhead Academy. Though the school is not doing so well academically it is helping bridge the divide among two communities.

If this model can be replicated then this can help community cohesion, as secondary schools tend to be places where young people from different backgrounds will mix. But there is no point in the Government talking about the need to end segregation if it is continuing to approve the creation of faith schools.

The report also finds – again, to no one’s surprise – that Muslims tend to marry spouses from abroad, particularly Pakistan.

But even if those people marry their fellow Brits, it is more likely to be someone from their “own community” – that is to say, someone who is either related to them or has links to the same village/town in their parents’ country of origin. So communities are hardly becoming more diverse.

Dame Louise also mentions Sharia ‘courts’ and the fact that many Muslim women are in unregistered marriages, which leaves them vulnerable. Critics of the report claim Muslim women are unfairly targeted in the review. Let’s admit it. Muslim women do face more barriers – mostly from their own communities.

When Muslim women themselves are saying that they are restricted by their own spouses or families, then why is it all being dismissed as being ‘Islamophobic’? When Muslim – and south Asian women in general – used to speak out against forced marriages, or African women were speaking out against female genital mutilation, were they also being racist and ‘Islamophobic’?

An important part of the review, which has been missed by most, is the reference to Prevent, which was introduced following the July 7, 2005 attacks on London as part of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy CONTEST.

Dame Louise talks about the anti-Prevent lobby who “appear to have an agenda to turn British Muslims against Britain”.  The report states:

“These individuals and organisations claim to be advocating on behalf of Muslims and protecting them from discrimination. We repeatedly invited people we met who belonged to these groups, or who held similarly critical views, to suggest alternative approaches.  We got nothing in return.”

Well that’s a surprise…

The report tackles the myths behind some of the stories which were very critical of Prevent.

Dame Louise writes about the infamous “terrorist house” case, in which Lancashire Police were reported to have interviewed a pupil referred to Prevent, after he had simply misspelled “terraced house” as “terrorist house” in a class exercise.

In fact, the pupil had also written that “I hate it when my uncle hits me”.  The teacher quite appropriately and acting in the best interests of the child, raised a concern.  A social worker and neighbourhood police officer then visited the family and concluded that no further action was required.  No referral to Prevent was ever made.  No Prevent officers were involved and Lancashire Police rightly maintain that they and the school acted responsibly and proportionately.

In an earlier case in May 2015, the parents of a 14 year-old boy started legal action after their son was questioned following a French lesson in which he had been talking about “eco-terrorists”.  After the lesson, he was reported to have been taken out of class and asked whether he was affiliated with ISIS.  His parents sought a Judicial Review, saying he had been discriminated against because of his Muslim background.

The truth is that the pupil was never referred to Prevent or Child Safeguarding (nor removed from the class), and there was no police involvement.  A concern about the boy was correctly raised by a teacher to the school’s Designated Child Protection Officer, who spoke to the pupil in an interview two days later which included asking whether he had “heard of Isis”. The Judicial Review was thrown out of court as totally without merit.

Yet the latter is still used as an excuse to bash Prevent and the boy’s mother, Ifhat Smith, still tells this story to anyone who will listen, despite her dubious links.

It is important that we discuss the issues mentioned in the report and the problems with segregation and mass immigration, rather than denouncing it all as ‘racist’. Indeed, some Muslim commentators have come out with the usual accusations of racism and Islamophobia; they are only interested in being defensive rather than actually coming up with any solutions.

No wonder we are having the same debate today as we were ten years ago. We’ve had similar reports in the past and I have no doubt we will have more in the future, saying the same things. There is little point in recommending what should happen now because it will only fall on deaf ears. Until there is a real political will to actually do something then nothing will change. In the meantime, I await the next report.

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Wearing the hijab doesn’t mean you’re no longer objectified

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Last week I had an article published about a video on the Guardian that went viral, in which a British woman named Hanna Yusuf describes her hijab as a “feminist statement”.

Since then Hanna decided to follow up with an article, which does not really address some of the points that I, or others, raised. I won’t repeat everything I wrote earlier – for that you can read my piece here and here.

Hanna begins the piece by writing:

It seems that the only time a hijabi’s voice is valued is when she gives a testimony describing her struggle for emancipation from Islam. Otherwise, she is either lying or in denial. I found this out the hard way in the past 10 days.

First of all, Hanna herself chose to make a video to talk about the hijab. She wasted an opportunity to make a video about any subject to show that women in hijabs do – shock horror – have opinions about other things.

And I’m sorry but I have very little patience with this, oh woe is me attitude, when there are two women in Morocco who are being prosecuted for indecency for wearing summer dresses in a souq. As far as I am aware, no one is arresting Hanna for wearing her hijab nor is she being forced to remove it.

By implying that women who don’t wear the hijab are slaves to glossy magazines and consumer pressures, Hanna makes the same patronising generalisations that she claims people make about hijabi women.

You cannot criticise or shame a woman for her decision to wear a mini-skirt, bikini or any dress deemed as “sexually alluring”, but play the victim card when questioned on your decision to wear a hijab. The respect and acceptance of the other’s choice goes both ways.

She says she is standing against sexual exploitation, but why must women make up for the shortcomings of others? Is she implying that women are responsible for their exploitation and abuse?

“The control hijabi women have over their bodies,” Hanna continues, “Challenges existing structures”.

Where do I begin with this? Firstly, this idea that hijabi women have control over their bodies is not only simplistic but also ludicrous. Women are told to cover so that they do not provoke men’s desires – where is the control in that? If anything, the hijab maintains existing patriarchal structures.

As for this idea that wearing hijab means you’re no longer objectified and no longer focusing on your appearance is nonsense. We’re humans at the end of the day and always concerned with our appearance. Women in headscarves are no exceptions to this.

Many women who wear hijabs embrace the Western, fashion industry, matching their hijab with the latest trends. It is hypocritical of Hanna to denigrate other women as somehow being sexually exploited because they choose not to wear a hijab, when she herself is wearing full make-up and stylish clothes that are bang on trend.

If capitalism controls our bodies, as she claims then so, too, do religions. From the way we walk, talk, behave and dress, religious clerics still continue to police and regulate our bodies and minds.

If it were just about covering the hair then there would be little issue. But the concept of the hijab is much more than just about covering the hair and Hanna knows it. As other Muslims wrote under my initial piece, it is an entire way of dressing, behaving and believing. Hence why she needed to research for three years before she decided to wear it, because once you put it on there is no going back. Women are free to wear one, just not free to remove it. And as soon as you wear the headscarf you are judged more harshly for your actions because of your perceived piety. If women without hijabs are “exploited” and “objectified”, then so too are those with hijabs, being upheld as models of good Muslim women.

The strange thing in both Hanna’s video and article is that there is very little mention of Islam and the Qur’an. All the traditional schools of Islamic thought agree that women should cover everything but their face and hands so that they are not harassed by men – which, by the way, is insulting to both men and women. Some progressive and liberal Muslims do not believe there is a requirement for women to cover the hair, but unfortunately they are a vilified minority.

Why the omission of this fact on Hanna’s part? I suspect it is too embarrassing for women to simply say that God commands us to cover our hair, so the goalposts are shifted in order to justify its requirement.  At the end of the day, isn’t covering your body from head to toe an admission that you are a sexual being that needs to be covered?

I am glad that Hanna can make a free choice, and is able to have her free choice accepted by a tolerant society – despite insisting that is she faced by a wave of hostility. It is a pity that some of the societies where the headscarf is either compulsory or desired are not so tolerant.

An amended version of this article was published on The Nation

Written by Iram Ramzan

July 10, 2015 at 10:49 pm

Posted in feminism, islam, Muslims, women

Tagged with , , ,

Is the hijab a feminist statement?

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I don’t know about you all, but I’m getting rather bored of the I-love-my-hijab sentiments now. It means, unfortunately, you have to put up with my lengthy rants.

The Guardian (who else) recently posted a video in which Hanna Yusuf asks, in a tone usually reserved for naughty schoolchildren, “why a simple piece of clothing is seen as the very epitome of oppression.”

She goes on to say that “many women find empowerment in rejecting the idea that women can be reduced to their sexual allure – and we should not assume that every women who wears the hijab has been forced into it.”

I was not aware there was so much outrage against the hijab. In this country, where the (visible) Muslim population has grown, the headscarf is not really that controversial, as opposed to the full face veil – niqab – which is seen even by many Muslims as extreme.

Let us tackle the first point about oppression. By contrast, why is the hijab seen as liberating, or a symbol of feminism? In fact, Muslims themselves – whether that’s imams or scholars – are the ones who make such grand claims about the hijab in the first place. If they didn’t then I doubt anyone else would care.

Hanna goes on to say that the hijab “resists commercial imperatives that support consumer culture”. It is true that in the world we live in, capitalism has made consumers of us all – including Muslim women.

In fact, Muslims comprise one of the fastest growing consumer markets in the world! The ‘halal’ industry is huge. Everywhere you go there will be an Islamic store selling you all sorts of ‘Islamic’ goods including hijabs and hijab accessories for women. Far from sticking two fingers up to Western consumerism, Muslim women are embracing it, matching their hijab with the latest trendy garments on offer in British high street stores and offering tutorials for other Muslimahs to follow.

Hanna wants us to respect her choice to wear hijab while denigrating women who don’t wear it, suggesting they’re slaves of the western fashion industry. So what does your decision to wear hijab make you, Hanna?

Then there is “false dichotomy” (as Kate Maltby puts it in the Spectator) between the hijab and bikini, which is “one of the oldest anti-feminist tropes in the book, a mild reframing of the old Madonna-whore complex, for which my own Christianity has been rightly pilloried.”

And, correct me if I am wrong, there are no countries in the world that make the wearing of a bikini mandatory unlike the hijab, which is compulsory in Iran and Saudi Arabia. Women in those countries are flogged if they disobey the strict dress code. What happened to their choice? It is easy for Hanna, a privileged Western woman, to insist it’s her choice, but about the rights of her sisters in Muslim countries? They do not have that luxury.

If wearing the hijab is a feminist symbol of rejection of western objectification of women as sex objects then does that mean wearing the full Afghan style burqa or Saudi style niqab is a stronger feminist statement, as both garments remove all identifiers of the woman as a sexualised individual?

As for the argument that women aren’t objectified with a hijab on, that is simply not true. Those who don’t wear a headscarf are likened to uncovered lollipop which have flies buzzing around them (great metaphor and not at all demeaning towards men by the way). Covered women, however, are like precious pearls or diamonds. Is that not objectification?

When I was nine years old, I was taught in mosque that if I did not cover my hair, Satan would urinate on it. No wonder it looks great, I hear you say. Jokes aside, imagine hearing that as a young child. Not only was it terrifying but the concept of shame was instilled in me at a young age, something which is the case for many young girls around the world. Many Muslim women who do not wear the hijab are constantly made to feel guilty about it. In fact, some women over compensate by defending the right for women to wear hijab (and rightly so) but are not so vocal about their own right not to wear it.

For ‘just a piece of cloth’ it seems to do so much. It’s a feminist statement, it’s a two-finger salute to capitalism, it’s an anti-rape shield, etc.

There is no consistency with the headscarf argument. On the one hand women are told to wear because it has been instructed by God 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? If you must reveal yourself, do so to your close male relatives, e.g. your husband. Why is dressing for one man more empowering? Either way, you’re still factoring a man’s opinion into what you decide to wear.

For years, many Muslims would insist that we don’t need feminism because Islam is more equal and superior. Now, however, feminism is compatible with Islam. I can’t keep up.

Few people will approach a man and inquire about the way in which he is dressed. Yes, yes, men must “lower their gaze”, but a man 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.

Hanna, like many women who wear the hijab, wants to be judged for her mind,not the way she is dressed. But the only reason non Muslims have focused on hijab is because, as mentioned before, Muslims themselves have put too much emphasis on the headscarf. If you don’t like people focusing on your hijab then don’t make it the centre of attention in the first place.

It is also slightly ironic that she says this while wearing a trendy lace black dress (what was that about consumerism?) and bright blue hijab with a face full of make up.

Many of these women claim, “I’m more than my hijab”, but then have stupid events like world hijab day where you can experience what it means to be a Muslim woman by covering your hair, thereby reducing a Muslim woman’s experience to a piece of cloth.

Rather than promote modesty, the hijab does reduce a woman to her sexual allure. Islamically, any girl who has reached sexual maturity must start covering, which then tells the world – specifically men – that she is is sexually available for him and ready for marriage.

Hanna constantly talks about choice, but here is a question for her and for women who wear the hijab: would they ‘ choose’ to wear it if they didn’t believe it was a religious requirement, or if they weren’t told on a regular basis that good women are supposed to cover?

In fact, whenever women put on the headscarf and post a picture on Facebook for all to see (how very modest) the response is usually greeted with “Mashaallah!” or, “you look so much more beautiful with hijab on.” I thought the whole point was to see the woman for who she was? Sounds contradictory, don’t you think?

Also, if the hijab really is about obedience to God  then why is it not obligatory for post-menopausal women? Qur’an 24:60 states, “Such elderly women as are past the prospect of marriage, there is no blame on them if they lay aside their (outer) garments, provided they make not wanton display of their beauty; but it is best for them to be modest; and Allah is One Who sees and knows all things.”

That is a great feminist statement.

Unfortunately, women who do wear a headscarf are judged twofold. When they are seen doing things they are not “supposed to do” (smoking, talking to strange men) they are told that they are hypocrites because, like it or not, they are seen as walking, talking, breathing examples of Islam. Anything they do is reflected on the religion.

One point I wish to end on is that if a woman is not free to remove her headscarf without the fear of scorn or ridicule, then it is not a choice. I am glad Hanna can wear what she wants but far too many women do not have choice.

Published for The Nation on 26/6/2015

Written by Iram Ramzan

June 25, 2015 at 11:25 pm

Who represents Muslims? The answer is a resounding – no one

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Originally published for Left Foot Forward on March 25

Who represents, or who speaks for, Muslims? After countless debates and articles dedicated to this question, which is asked every so often (usually on a slow news day), it is posed once again.

On Monday’s Newsnight, Quilliam Foundation’s Maajid Nawaz had just this debate with Huffington Post’s political editor (UK) Mehdi Hasan and Twitter celebrity Mohammed Ansar.

Oxford academic Myriam Francois Cerrah was also supposed to be on the show but was dropped at the last minute for ‘editorial reasons’ in favour of another male (Mohammed Ansar).

What we eventually saw was a group of South Asian Muslim men, aged 30 plus, shouting at each other (because we clearly don’t see enough of those do we?) The result was a tit-for-tat argument that descended into chaos, which left even Jeremy Paxman left looking bewildered.

There is clearly no love lost between Mehdi Hasan and Maajid Nawaz, but the pair wasted an opportunity to come together to have a much needed discourse on the issue of Muslim representation.

Ironically, Myriam Cerrah complained about the all-male panel, claiming it was not representing a diverse range of views but then suggested that ex-Muslims should not be able to speak about Islam.

Far too often, Muslims complain that there is no unity within their communities yet when debates such as the one on Newsnight are aired, they take one side against the other, declare one, or all, participant(s) as non-Muslim, or non representative.

This is a problem we have – as soon as a Muslim, or someone of Muslim heritage, gives an interview, they’re immediately pounced on, attacked, or vilified as not representative or not ‘Muslim enough’. Yet no participant, or writer, who ever speaks about Islam or Muslims purports to be representing everyone.

And, as much as I agree with many of Maajid’s views, even he does not speak for me. I speak for myself, though I understand that there are many people out there whose voices are not represented in the media.

This is why it is important to have a broad range of opinions (and this goes goes for anything, not just Muslims), meaning we cannot just play host to liberal voices. We must allow liberal, conservative, reactionary and even extremist voices, regardless of whether we agree with them or not

This includes people such as Maajid or Mona Eltahawy, Mehdi Hasan, Myriam Cerrah, even the extremist Anjem Choudary and those from groups such as the Islamic Education and Research Academy, who advocate segregation at University lectures, because stifling debate is not the answer.

As soon as you forbid one opinion or one person’s views, you send them underground and make them martyrs for their cause.

So who does does speak for Muslims or Islam? The answer is a resounding – no one. No one can, or should, speak for the 1.6 billion Muslims on the planet, and nor does any one person or organisation represent Islam.

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Written by Iram Ramzan

March 30, 2014 at 9:29 pm

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

‘Grooming’ Is Not A Racial Or Religious Issue – It’s Societal

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Originally published for The Backbencher on 30/06/2013

 

abuse

 

Throughout this week, the story dominating the headlines and discussions has been of the Oxford grooming gangs. We have been asking ourselves: what made the men do this? Was it their culture  and religion; do they view women as lesser beings? And so on.

No doubt these questions should be asked and debated. We live in a free society after all and when many of the men who have been convicted are Asian and Muslims, then it is almost inevitable.

However, we have become so obsessed with what part race and culture may have played in this that not once have we stopped to think: why were these children failed by the system, what help and guidance are the victims receiving and what action is being done to support them now?

 

There is no doubt in my mind that social services, the police,  families and friends knew, but all kept silent, as was revealed in a BBC Asian Network discussion.  In fact, one of my sources informed me that authorities showed ‘willful blindness’ because of political correctness; they were too scared to take action because of the ‘race card’.

It was not just white girls who were abused. I know of Asian girls who have been raped and abused in such a way but because communities were too concerned with appearances – not wanting it to be broadcast that one of their ‘own’ girls had been ‘defiled’ – the reports and stories were buried, especially by those in positions of power.

As a result, the EDL and BNP were able to exploit it because they depicted themselves as breaking the silence.

Dispatches grooming gang reconstruct

 

Some action is finally being taken by a number of communities to tackle this issue. Together Against Grooming (TAG) said imams at hundreds of mosques had pledged to read a sermon to congregations during Friday prayers condemning the sexual grooming of children.

However, Alyas Karmani, the imam and youth worker from Keighley who wrote the sermon, admitted on Friday’s Newsnight that it was unknown how many mosques had actually read the sermon.  

It was bold in the sense that mosques and imams do not usually discuss these topics, least of all for a Friday sermon, and shows that they are finally taking action.

I am sure TAG’s intentions are good, but with all due respect, the sermon fails to address the issues. One part of the sermon says:

“Islam promotes a strict moral code of conduct on men and forbids any sexual activity outside of marriage. We are obliged to be active in ensuring the prevention and avoidance of any behaviour which can lead to inappropriate and unacceptable sexual behaviour and indecency.”

I do not see how abstinence would have prevented those girls from being abused, especially when some of the groomers were married, and it is rather insulting that they do not even make a distinction between pre-marital sex and the rape of children. It seems to be more of a PR exercise full of piety quotes from the Qur’an and hadith, trying to save the honour of Islam rather than actually addressing the issues.

We are all taught from a young age what is right and wrong and certainly Muslims in particular are brought up to abstain from alcohol, drugs and sex before marriage, so it is not as though this is brand new information. But what does need to be reiterated is that if anything like this is happening in our communities – if children are being abused – then we must all speak up against it.

People are still burying their heads in the sand. Some Muslims believe that a mosque is not the right place to talk about such things which is quite ironic because many Muslims always insist that scholars and imams are the first people we should speak to on such matters, (“leave the debating to the scholars”, they say) yet now that some mosques are doing something at last, they are complaining.  It is a no-win situation.

oxford-skyline

 

Monawar Hussain, founder of The Oxford Foundation, which runs educational programmes to promote religious and social harmony, said the sermon was a “fundamental error of judgement” that would play into the hands of far-right groups.

We are so concerned with keeping up appearances and refusing to tackle the problems in our communities lest the far-right groups will exploit this, but brushing this under the carpet actually fuels the far-right even more.

BBC’s Adil Ray, who explored the subject of on-street grooming in a documentary , has been vilified in the past and recently for daring to speak out. Many of those have been Pakistani Muslims, who have accused him of being a sell-out. The attitude seems to be to keep your head down and keep quiet.

The phrase ‘culturally sensitive’ is thrown about when such stories are brought to our attention.  But as Guardian columnist Zoe Williams rightly said , “If cultural sensitivity is going to be used as a junk drawer, to toss things into when you can’t find a place for them in mainstream debate, that’s not good enough.

 

See-what-children-feel-like-stop-child-abuse-8860789-295-321

 

According to some of the victims , they are still being let down by the authorities.

Anjum Dogar, one of  the groomers from Oxford, said: “The way I see it is troubled kids making up allegations. I can get people to talk about their characters here. They are well known, some of these girls.”

This is precisely the problem. These children, for that is what they were least we forget, were treated like dirt, dismissed as ‘unreliable witnesses’ whose stories would not be believed by ‘respectable’ members of society. It is no wonder then that it took so long for them to receive justice, if at all.

Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, issued ‘Ground breaking’ new guidelines for prosecutors on how to tackle cases involving child sexual abuse earlier this month. This is certainly a welcome step and I whole-heartedly hope that this leads to the protection of our young people.

But as we all know, the problem is not always with the law, but when it is not being enforced. Victims must not be left to suffer in silence and those who exploit them should be brought to justice.

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