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Book review: Western Fringes

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When I read the blurb of Western Fringes – a Muslim man trying to find a Sikh woman who has run away from home to escape an arranged marriage – I admit that I was sceptical  at first. I thought, not another cliche that is often played out in Bollywood movies; they’ll probably end up marrying one another and showing love triumphs all.

Not quite.

A woman I follow on Twitter had recently received a copy of the book by the author, Amer Anwar, and when I expressed interest he also sent kindly sent me a copy, along with a masala chai teabag. I wanted to read it on holiday but unfortunately it arrived in the post just after I had left, so I had wait until I returned to read it.

Western Fringes is set in the bustling, diverse district of Southall – often described as ‘little India’ due to its large Sikh population.  It tells the story of Zaqir (Zak) Khan, an ex-con who works in a dead-end job at a builder’s yard.  One day his boss, the formidable Mr Brar, calls him into the office and orders him to find his runaway daughter Rita, or he’ll send him back to prison.  Mr Brar’s meathead sons Rajinder and Parminder are ordered to keep an eye on him but they have their own agenda in Zaq’s search for Rita and don’t make it easy for him.

This is Amer Anwar’s debut novel, which won the Crime Writer Association’s Debut Dagger award. I was entertained and engaged throughout the novel and found it very hard to put down. Although most of the characters are South Asian, they were  unique and far removed from the stereotypes.  Frankly, it is not the genre of book that I usually go for so I was unsure how I would respond do it. Nonetheless, I gave it a chance and I am glad I did.

The story also goes into the historic tensions that have existed between Muslims and Sikhs and how they have an impact even here in the UK. Being of Pakistani heritage I am aware of these issues but non Asian readers might find this aspect of the novel interesting.

What I loved most about the book was the hilarious banter between Zak and his best friend and partner in crime Jags; it is probably the best thing about the book. In fact, I think a sitcom could be made, centered around these two protagonists. Something for TV producers to consider – if it happens, you heard it here first.

The book is littered with some Punjabi phrases which I understood perfectly well, though I am sure non Punjabi speakers will get the gist. Punjabi curse words are so rough that they have the potential to raise the dead so don’t worry if you don’t understand – that may not be such a bad thing!

One of my criticisms is that I would have liked to have known more about Zak’s family and how his prison sentence affected their relationship with him. Furthermore,the other characters are described in detail, while no description is given of Zak – perhaps that was deliberate?

Nonetheless, I was surprised that this was a debut novel as it is written very well and does not read amateurish in any way. I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to read a crime fiction novel with a bit of a twist.


Written by Iram Ramzan

August 16, 2017 at 3:55 pm

When is a mosque not a mosque? When it’s an Ahmadi mosque

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A large fire broke out at a prominent mosque in South London on Saturday. The blaze, at the Baitul Futuh Mosque in Morden, was tackled by 70 firefighters, and a man was taken to hospital suffering the effects of smoke inhalation.

About 50% of the building’s ground floor was reported to be damaged as well as part of the first floor and a section of the roof. Thankfully, only a handful of worshippers were inside the mosque when the blaze started and they were evacuated safely from the site.

Usually, such incidents unite most Muslims (and non) who will find a common humanity to express commiseration. Instead, what we have seen is certain Muslims more preoccupied with semantics. The reason – this was an Ahmadi mosque.

The Pakistani channel Geo News describes Baitul Futuh as an “ibadatgah“, or place of worship. Not a mosque. This is, unfortunately, expected from a country where Ahmadis are officially declared as being non Muslims.

Sadly, such views are not confined to the Indian subcontinent. The 5 Pillars website, which runs the tagline “What are Muslim thinking?”, repeatedly refers to the mosque as a “temple” and its name is inserted in very snide quote marks.

Considering that its deputy editor Dilly Hussain once alluded to Ahmadi Muslims as being worse than monkeys, one should not expect any less.

On their Facebook page, there are comments lauding 5 Pillars’ “correct” use of the word temple to describe the mosque.

The Muslim Council of Britain states on its website that it is a “non-sectarian body working for the common good without interfering in, displacing or isolating any existing Muslim work in the UK”.

How ironic then that not only did the MCB not refer to the Baitul Futuh as a mosque, but it once put a statement on its website declaring it as “not a mosque”, adding “It is clearly misleading to describe [Ahmadis] as Muslims”. So much for non-sectarianism. The statement disappeared from the website quite recently.

These are the same people who often cry Islamophobia, when in fact a lot of the bigotry towards Muslims comes from fellow Muslims themselves.

Perhaps they should take note of the Ahmadi motto: Love for All, Hatred for None.

UPDATE: Two teenage boys have now been arrested on suspicion of arson

Written by Iram Ramzan

September 27, 2015 at 12:44 pm

Terror across three continents

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If you’re anything like me, you were expecting to have the Friday feeling as soon as you left work. The anticipation of the weekend was unfortunately blighted by the horrific news that terrorists attacked sites in France, Tunisia and Kuwait.

In Tunisia, a gunman opened fire at a beach resort, killing at least 37 people before security forces shot him to death. In France, an attacker stormed the a chemical plant near Lyon, decapitated one person and tried unsuccessfully to blow up the factory. The suspect was identified as Yassine Salhi.

And finally, in Kuwait City, Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in one of the largest Shiite mosques, killing nearly 30 people. The suicide bomber was identified as Khalid Thamer Jaber Al-Shamri, a Saudi citizen born in Kuwait.

My heart goes out to all those people who have lost a loved one in these barbaric attacks.

After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, many commentators predicted that it would not be long before we would see another terrorist attack in Europe.

The Institute for the Study of War predicted earlier this year that IS would launch global offensives a year after declaring a caliphate. Unfortunately, they have all been proven correct.

Progress at last


While some people are determined to keep us in the Middle Ages, others are keen for us to progress. Well done to the US Supreme Court for ruling same-sex legal nationwide.

In a landmark decision, the court ruled, 5-4, that the Constitution requires same-sex couples be allowed to marry in all 50 states.

On a day where there were three separate terrorist attacks, this was the light at the end of the tunnel.

Children should not be fasting

Barclay Primary School in Leyton, east London, issued a letter to parents informing them that it would not allow children to fast in order to ‘safeguard the health and education of the child’. In the letter, the headteacher said children would not be able to fast without meeting with him first.

Some Muslim groups were in an uproar, and said schools should support parents instead of ‘blanket enforce’ their own rules when it comes to religion.

I am with the school on this. They are put in a position where they are responsible for the child’s welfare and all heath and safety matters.

Children should not be fasting. True, only healthy adults are required to fast during Ramadan. And I appreciate that  the school felt it had to consult with Islamic scholars in order to win round some Muslim parents. But at the same time, it is not within the remit of a secular school to decide what is or is not Islamic, and I fear this will be heading into dangerous territories.

On the BBC Asian Network (15 minutes in) the father of one 11-year-old was happy that his son was fasting because it’s “a challenge”. I’m not sure about you, but ‘challenge’ is not quite the word I would use to describe a child being deprived of food and water for 19 hours.

The children being interviewed said fasting is difficult, with one feeling guilty because he was unable to for half the month. This comes down to parenting. One teacher, a Mr Ishmael, said the children feel pressured by the parents to fast. Parents should not be encouraging their children to fast. Even if they do not actively encourage them, they will not discourage them, citing ‘choice’ as a reason.

My mum forbade me from fasting when I was in primary school, after I came home one day insisting I had to fast because one friend of mine was doing so. But when I saw my friend being very sick the next day, I decided perhaps it wasn’t for me! Children, naturally, want to copy what adults do and this is no different in Ramadan. When one of my young cousins insisted he was going to fast, my aunty played along and said that of course he could fast – between breakfast and lunch! He was none the wiser and thought he was sharing in the Ramadan experience.

Tahir ul Qadri – an ideological salesman?

Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, of Minhaj-ul-Quran International, is a respected figure in the West. He gained widespread media attention when he issued a 600-page Fatwa on Terrorism, in which he said that “Terrorism is terrorism, violence is violence and it has no place in Islamic teaching and no justification can be provided for it”.

Earlier this week, MQI  announced the launch of the first Islamic ‘counter-terrorism curriculum’ (aka this has nothing to do with Islam), which was welcomed by both the counter-extremism think tank the Quilliam Foundation and Faith Matters.

There’s just one problem. As the ever eloquent Pakistani journalist Kunwar Khuldune Shahid pointed out in Left Foot Forward, Qadri proudly takes ownership of formulating Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which has been abused to intimidate and incite the murder of religious minorities through mob violence.

He goes on to write:

Qadri is renowned for saying whatever sells, whether it’s anti-government fascism through his politics and a bigoted version of Islam back home, or apologism in the garb of Islamic ‘moderation’ in the West.

With Islamist terrorism reverberating all over the world and over 700 British citizens having fled to fight along with ISIS, the need for reform among Muslims around the globe is evident.

However, ideological salesmen who change their ideas to suit the audience’s demands can never be reformists.

If the aim is to counter extremism, why invite the man responsible for one of the most abused laws in the world? Surely that is counter productive?

And if one is to argue that there is a ‘true’ version of Islam, what would stop the extremists from preaching that theirs is the authentic one?

Written by Iram Ramzan

June 26, 2015 at 7:33 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.”


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




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.



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.




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.

Pervez Musharraf – how not to make a comeback

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There are efforts to scare me, but these people don’t know that I’m not among the afraid”, said Pervez Musharraf to a rally of about 8,000 supporters in the commercial centre Karachi via videolink from Dubai.

For someone who insists he is ‘not scared of anyone’, ex Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has spent the past few years in exile, hiding away, and hiding behind Saudi Arabia, seeking their guarantees that he would not be detained once he lands in Pakistan.

He said he will return to the country at the end of January to contest elections, despite an announcement by prosecutors that he will be arrested for the killing of former premier Benazir Bhutto upon arrival.

Musharraf has promised to make a comeback, one worthy of Rocky Balboa’s I expect, but will it turn into a dull nostalgia trip? Already it seems so, he does reiterate how great the economy was during his time in office. But unfortunately, he has made a few blunders.

The first was to suggest Pakistan should be open to the idea of establishing relations with Israel. Perhaps Musharraf, in all those long, three years of exile in Britain, has forgotten just what Pakistanis’ attitudes are towards Israel. Clue: they’re not amicable.

He was correct when stating that Pakistan and Israel are both ‘ideological’ states, but that is where the similarity ends. If the Arab Spring has taught us anything, it is that the Muslim world is tired of foreign interference from the United States and its favourable stance towards Israel, which brings me on to my second point.

Running to the US and the Saudis will also scupper any chance he may have in the elections. The Saudi royal family has often played the role of an arbitrator in Pakistan’s domestic politics.

It played a key role in facilitating a deal whereby former premier Nawaz Sharif was allowed to leave Pakistan after he was deposed in a military coup led by Musharraf in 1999 and lived in exile in Saudi Arabia.

Already a state in turmoil, the last thing Pakistan needs is even more Saudi influence, which has been detrimental to its society. Musharraf has underestimated Imran Khan, leader of the Tehreek-e-Insaf party, perhaps even dismissed him as a credible opponent, but where Khan gains a lot of support with the voters is with the notion that ‘outside interference’ needs to end.

Despite the odds, Musharraf’s desire to return is based on his belief that he alone can “save” Pakistan. During his speech to supporters on Sunday, Musharraf repeated that he provided strong economic growth and foreign investment during his presidency, and they could expect more of the same.

But do the people want him back?  It looked possible maybe two years ago, but that was before Imran Khan gained popularity in the polls. Like Musharraf, he is a ‘saviour’, someone to ‘rescue’ Pakistan.

Pakistani Journalist Ayaz Amir reckons Musharraf’s electoral chances are ‘not very bright’, but “he hinks the people of Pakistan are waiting for him and that he’s the Messiah. He’s a person who is really a part of Pakistan’s yesterday, but he thinks he’s the future of Pakistan”.

The media is in a frenz yover the possible arrest of Musharraf but it seems unlikely to happen. If, and that is a big if, he is arrested as soon as he lands in Pakistan, it won’t be for long.

American-Pakistani businessman Raza Bokhari, one of Musharraf’s close associates, is expected to meet US Ambassador Cameron Munter in Islamabad to prevent this. Musharraf is not stupid; he has been biding his time in exile and rallying international support to prevent this from happening. Why else would he delay his return and refuse to give a precise date?

Pakistan is a country where the tail, i.e. the military, wags the dog. If you’re not in with the army you may as well be out. The army will be divided over their former ruler and their current leader; even Khan’s support within the army is unpredictable. Either way, Pakistan is definitely one to watch this year.

Written by Iram Ramzan

January 12, 2012 at 10:25 pm

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