It is that time again!

It is that time again when I like to put my weight behind something or someone I believe is worthy of putting my weight behind!

From the early days of arriving in London, UK, I have been involved with an amazing organization. Pearl Education Foundation is an organization that provides FREE English, and IT classes to men and women of all backgrounds. Their motto is “From the margins to the mainstream”. What does being from the margins mean?

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There are many things I can be, but a major aspect of my life is that I am defined as an immigrant. No matter how much I try to escape that word, I am forever etched as an Immigrant-albeit a Modern Day immigrant. The modern  immigrant doesn’t necessarily look like the earlier generation of immigrants. I speak English, I am fluent in modern-day slang, well-aware of popular culture, I dress “Western” with slight ethnic adjustments, and have only a slight accent to clue anyone into my ethnic background. I have spent more years of my life in Vancouver, Canada, than I have in my birth country.  I went through the earlier stages of settling into my new life about 16/17 years ago when I first moved to Vancouver. At that time, unlike many others, I was very lucky to already be fluent in English, and did not have any need for ESL or TESOL classes. Of course the transition was not easy, but it wasn’t impossible.

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Since then, I have lived in New York City, and adjusted to the fast-paced life there. Recently, I moved to London, UK. At times I felt alien, often lost in translation-because believe it or not British Slang is a lot different than American or Canadian slang. I like to think I have adjusted well. I have often thought what if I was a woman in a foreign land, unable to speak English and had no family or social ties to my new land? It is a scary thought. Starting my life anew in New York City, despite the many advantages of an education, fluency in the language, complete capability of using the computer/internet and the courage and freedom to move around and find my own way through New York, I remember being scared. I depended  on my husband to help me plan out my routes. I would wait for him to approve of the destination as being “safe” in order for me to go and wander on my own. For an independent girl, this was a huge blow!

When I moved to London and started volunteering with Pearl Education Foundation, I met many women who came and attended our English classes. I saw how some of them had zero ability to speak English. Some of them had lived here for over 40 years and only now after their kids had grown up had the courage to learn English for themselves. I met women who were victims of domestic abuse, and Pearl Education Foundation was their first step to independence. I met older women who came to learn English after having put up a fight to attend the classes-just so they could connect with their grandchildren. I met men from countries like Afghanistan, who sat in the same room with women and came to learn the language. I saw young mothers with their new born children soaking up knowledge like a sponge. In one of the centers, I saw young students from European countries, with dreams of making it big in London, attending their English classes. What lures all these people to these classes is that they are ABSOLUTELY FREE! They are for anyone and EVERYONE to join. There are no tests, no limitations on who can join. People can bring their children. All they have in common is a desire to learn and become a part of the greater British community. They all want to be productive parts of a productive society.

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More dedicated than the people who attend the classes, are the volunteers. All of them committed to teaching their students. There is no monetary benefit to them from teaching these classes, They prepare and plan despite limited resources and teach their students. They are like a Fountain of water, pouring all their knowledge into the thirsty vessels -their students. Words are not enough to describe the emotions, and/or the power of seeing this organization in motion. Every time, I have attended a class, I have become teary-eyed. Every student is inspirational. Every time, I feel gratitude for not being lost in translation, for being able to get on the tube read the signs, ask the questions and get to my destination. I couldn’t imagine a life of being alone in a foreign land, unable to speak, share, or ask for directions or even go to buy milk at the grocers. I would be utterly depressed.

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Pearl Education Foundation has given hope to so many lives. It has brought the gift of language to these otherwise invisible people and made them visible! That is what it means to be From the margins to the mainstream. You don’t have to take my word for it. Her Majesty the Queen recognized the work Pearl and her CEO has been involved in and the difference it has made to hundreds of lives.  In 2012, Durdana Ansari, the CEO for Pearl Education Foundation was awarded the Order of the British Empire for her hard-work. Pearl needs Your support to continue its work and to keep its doors open to everyone. I urge you all to take the time to check this organization out at http://www.pearleducationfoundation.com or on twitter @pearleducation or on facebook and get to know the volunteers, the CEO, and the organization. Please look deep into your hearts and donate generously to this wonderful organization.

Revelations As A Result Of Hidden Cameras in Sweden’s Mosques

My recent post on Muslimah Media Watch
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mmw/2012/06/revelations-as-a-result-of-hidden-cameras-in-sweden%e2%80%99s-mosques/

In the latest episode of Swedish television channel SVT’s investigative news programme Uppdrag granskning, ten Swedish mosques were visited, and in six of them, imams were caught on camera giving advice harmful to women and contrary to Swedish law. (An unofficial subtitled version of the episode, thanks to MMW writer Tasnim, is available here.) Using a hidden camera and recording equipment, two women, one posing as an abused wife and the other as her supportive friend, went to ten of Sweden’s largest mosques and asked questions relating to polygamy and wife-beating. Imams were then caught on tape telling the wife not to report the husband to the police, even after he had beaten her and not to deny him sex under any circumstance.

In reference to polygamous husbands, six of the mosques said not to deny the husband sex, and also advised against reporting abusive husbands to the police. Nine out of the ten mosques said that men had a right to multiple wives under certain circumstances. Two mosques gave advice to report abusive husbands to the police and one mosque said that men didn’t have a right to marry several wives under Swedish law and their husbands need to follow Swedish law.

These violations are particularly glaring given that many of these mosques receive government financial support. Mohammad Fazlhashemi, himself a Muslim and a professor of history of ideas at the Umeå University, commented on the imams’ advice in the episode and noted that:

“As the mosques have received state support they have also acknowledged their obligation to follow Swedish law and the basic democratic principles. Now there is a need for self-examination. They need to clean up.”

This episode has become big news in Sweden, a country hailed as a leader in championing gender equality in the world. The episode has become a hot topic of discussion on many websites fuelling hatred against Muslims as evidence for Islam’s backwardness especially for those at the forefront of the Islamophobia machine, such as Jihad Watch and Pamela Geller.

Fazlhashemi points out the parallels between Islamophobes and extremist literalists, noting that the literalist mosque-representatives provide support to the anti-Muslim forces’ ideology: “This confirms their hateful view of Muslims. This is extremely unfortunate that they (i.e. the six mosque representatives) live up to the Islamophobic prejudices.”

The episode has drawn criticism, including from Abdul Rashid Mohammed from Gothenburg mosque, who is critical of the editing process, which stripped an hour-long phone conversation down to its bare bones. This has been exacerbated by the fact that there is no official transcript in English, although an unofficial subtitled version is available. Many of the Islamophobic websites resorted to the Google translator feature to translate the Aftonbladet article, a news report and not a transcript, and so most have focused solely on the sensationalist sound bites.

Another problematic aspect of the format is that we are given little information about the women, and never hear them speak outside their roles in the interviews with the imams. All we know is that the one posing as a battered wife is Muslim, while her supportive friend is an ex-Muslim. A point that was overlooked by Jihad Watch is the repeated insistence by the “weak” woman playing the battered wife on not wanting to leave her husband. It is a general rule of thumb in dealing with domestic violence victims to give them options and let them make their own decisions. Several of the imams actively discouraged the woman from reporting her husband to the police, justifying this by saying it would lead to more problems especially if the woman does decide to forgive the man, since the prison system won’t and he would have to serve out his sentence. Others were more vague, and one pressed her to report him. And that is another point: it would have been encouraging to see more of the mosques that did indeed give the women advice that was in compliance not only with Swedish law, but also with basic human rights.

Mahmoud Khalfi, who is an imam at Stockholm’s mosque and chairperson of the Islamic Association in Sweden also criticized the episode’s heavy focus on just Muslims and Islam as a monolith. Uppdrag granskning has done a similar episode on the niqab in the past. It might have been helpful to explore other religions recognizing that double standards exist in other communities as well, although the show does briefly mention similarities in Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims. Many advocates of women’s rights, and those against domestic violence always highlight that anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, irrespective of age, religion, race, education, economic situation etc.

The episode makes it seem that all imams condoned violence against women and allowed for it to persist. Upon watching the subtitled version, it becomes clear that most of the imams do say it is NOT okay to hit (see video 20:55-20:59), while two imams show with a gesture that the only thing allowed is to lightly tap the woman’s hand or arm (see video 29:27-29:35 and 21:10-21:17. I am not suggesting to accept this definition of acceptable hitting, nor is it justified; it is demeaning and provides an unnecessary amount of power and privilege to the husband. By imparting advice to ask for forgiveness for his wrong doing to earn his love is putting the blame on the victim and is in no way justified or should be tolerated. However, the episode and the commentary that follows the episode, the underlying advice by the Imam is to try and work together to solve the issues and to keep the family together (see video: 25:39-25:47, 33:35-35:44, 37:03-37:09) before bringing authorities into the equation. The presenter and subsequent commentators don’t keep in mind that maybe the woman wants to keep the family together (see Video 25:39-25:47) and does not want to leave her husband. Similarly, in reference to polygamy, most imams say that a man is allowed up to four wives in the Islamic tradition, but that he must be fair to the wives and equal in treatment. The episode fails, just as the Imams fail, to understand the difference between Islamic allowances and Swedish laws.

Ultimately however we cannot deny that clearly men in position of religious authority did impart advice that was not only contrary to Swedish law, but also violates human rights. As Fazlhashemi says: “What these men (imams) had said to the women clearly violates their human rights.” As Muslims, we can no longer start crying Islamophobia every time our dirty laundry is aired. We have to admit that the fact that these women did get such advice is not shocking, as a simple Internet search would also turn up several Islamic sites emphasizing not to aggravate him, endure with patience and forgive when it comes to domestic violence.

The unfortunate truth is that such misogynistic thinking does exist in the Muslim world. Like in many other cultures and religions, Islam is being used as an excuse to perpetuate male superiority and continue spreading misogyny by cloaking it under Islam. Polygamy pre-existed Islam and is not unique to it, and nor are the ideas of obedience, submission or subjection limited only to Muslim tradition. Many Muslim women would end up succumbing and not arguing with religious scholars on the count that they are more knowledgeable in the matters of religion, and also due to a deep reverence for the religion they follow. Islam has been misused for far too long at the hands of men who abuse the rights of women; it is time that we implement serious measures to ensure that tribal mentality is not continued to be imparted to our youth under the guise of Islamic jurisprudence. There are many known imams and scholars who continue to be a beacon of hope for many of us, but it is important to put in place stringent criteria and tests before imams are hired for our mosques, including training in the local laws of the country of residence and it needs to be made crystal clear in their trainings that certain allowances that may exist in Islamic law cannot be implemented under Swedish law and therefore are illegal. We cannot continue to perpetuate a double standard that does not fit the framework of the countries we reside in. It is important to learn to make that distinction.

Change does take time to occur. Sweden may have championed equal rights for men and women, but the topic of domestic violence was still a matter of shame in that progressive society as per an Amnesty International Report. As Muslims, if we wish to champion human rights, it has to begin with taking a serious and deeper look at ourselves. Domestic abuse is not a laughing matter, and by imparting such advice as that given in the episode, we are only giving more power to the abusers and pushing victims of domestic violence further into silence.

A 5 year old’s charity dream: Come on Guys, lets build a house

Remember Rayan?

Guess what, so far we have raised roughly about 90,000 Rs (1755USD)—
We have only a little more ways to go to meet our goal of 125,000 Rs (2384USD)
The money has been donated from friends and family across the globe. Sumaiya reached out to her friends, and I happened to be one of those friends. I reached out to mine and so far the response is tremendous.

I urge you all to help out please. Those who have pledged already, please transfer to my paypal account, as I will transfer to Sumaiya through HSBC and she will to the family. The reason we are doing this is to limit the Western Union transfer fees and get the most money to the family in need. We are ALMOST THERE GUYS—let’s make it happen!!!

I am keeping a detailed record of who is donating what and I promise I will send an email to everyone after the money is transferred and I will ensure Sumaiya sends me the receipts as well:)

With love to everyone
Thanks for all your help so far

please email me for further details mnusrat@gmail.com