The Significance of Gender Segregation at Jalsa Salana

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By Navida Sayed, Hounslow, UK

Every year thousands of Ahmadi Muslims flock to Jalsa Salana UK (the Annual Convention) in Alton, Hampshire. The aim of the event for the members of the community is to attain spiritual advancement, unite in universal brotherhood and promote peace. Many guests attend for whom a salient feature of the convention is the segregation of the sexes. The separation of Muslim men and women at religious gatherings can be perplexing, misunderstood and sometimes difficult to accept especially in Western society.

Segregation of the sexes exists in all spheres of society including schools, hospitals, prisons, members clubs, workplaces and gyms. Yet when Muslims uphold the same principle it is seen as a medieval sign of the oppression and subjugation of women. Unfortunately some misconceptions are due to atrocities and injustices against women inflicted by bigoted extremists. To make matters worse, the negative biased and sensationalised stories about women in Islam plague the media. Taken together this creates a public narrative that there is a need to rescue and liberate Muslim women from the clutches of the faith of Islam.

In any workforce employees happily comply with company regulations in order to keep safe and protect their rights. Disregard or disobedience could result in disciplinary action or even termination of employment. Likewise practicing Muslims are expected to understand and obey the teachings of Islam, which is the faith of their choice. The commandments of Islam for both men and women to observe Purdah (veiling as a mindset) are for the betterment of society. This does not necessitate that teachings of Islam are out-dated and in need of reform.

For Ahmadi Muslims the separation of men and women during prayers and religious events has always been the norm and stems from Islamic teachings relating to Purdah. Many individuals may be completely unaware that males were the first to be instructed in the Qur’an to lower their gaze. Being aware of men’s weak innate nature, God also commanded women to cover themselves as a preventative measure. In Islam a woman is not regarded as a sex object and is free from exploitation and harassment.

Those who strongly oppose gender segregation on the grounds that both genders are being deprived of each other’s company are not aware Islam upholds the belief that intimate relationships should be confined to the private domain of marriage only. The separation of the sexes in mosques and religious gatherings is a preventive measure both for men and women to maintain the highest standards of good behaviour, dignity, self-restraint, modesty and purity.

The separate spaces are for their own comfort and ease where they do not have to cover up and where they can relax and reap the benefits of attending religious gatherings. Religious settings and gatherings such as the Jalsa Salana are not places of social hangout rather the prime focus is to reap spiritual benefits through prayers and listening to the speeches.

Sitting separately from men at community events or wearing the Hijab, does not restrict a Muslim woman’s role. She is encouraged to seek education and is not restricted to pursue a professional career. Ahmadi Muslim women excelling in highest standards of academic achievement can be witnessed in the award ceremony on the second day of Jalsa. Muslim women have all the rights that Muslim men enjoy, and in some ways, have certain privileges, which men do not enjoy. In a recent survey amongst 323,500 American adults, 56% of working mothers with children under the age of 18 said they would prefer to stay at home and take care of their house and family. A Muslim woman has the right and choice to stay at home and raise the children and for her husband to shoulder the financial responsibility for family. Another privilege is that a Muslim man has absolutely no right to demand anything from his wife’s income, property or wealth and Islam gives her the right to spend it as she wishes.

At the Jalsa Salana we welcome all interested in discovering the true teachings of Islam including the treatment and rights of women. Islam has granted women a position of dignity and honour and was the first religion to formally grant women a status never known before. The moral, spiritual and economic equality of men and women as propagated by Islam is unquestionable.

At Jalsa special guided tours are offered and female guests have the option of visiting the women’s area too. Leading some of the tours over the years, I found the reactions of the female guests were always the same. Whilst walking across there would be an air of silence, suspense and a few questions amongst the groups. Upon entering the ladies arena the guests were astounded, some politely commenting that they expected to see only be a few women behind a curtain in a small space. Of course the prime question always arises, why do we sit separately?

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community made life easier for its members especially for women to enable them to have recognition through their own women’s organisation known as the Lajna Ima’illah. Ahmadi Muslim women around the world have their own mosque areas, offices and at Jalsa Salana an entire ladies arena to themselves.

The women’s organisation works alongside their male counterparts under the direct guidance of the worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (may Allah be his helper and guide).

If anyone still considers that Ahmadi Muslim women are regarded inferior to men because of the segregation all they need to ask is who does the cooking? The answer people maybe expect is the women as there certainly would be no shortage of female participants at the Jalsa. In reality meals cooked over the course of the three day event for thousands of guests attending the Jalsa are all prepared by men, including peeling hundreds of bags of onions and potatoes, cooking and washing the gigantic pots and pans in very hot working conditions. Men could say that this is unfair on them, but they never complain and take on the task voluntarily and happily to serve the guests of Jalsa Salana. Likewise the men do all the cleaning and all of the heavy work.

At Jalsa the women also have the privilege of being addressed by the spiritual Head of the community Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahamd directly in their own gathering on the second day of the convention when he also awards female students for their academic achievements. The Lajna Ima’illah (women) have office bearers and teams of women in all departments such as health & safety, security, registration, administration, press & media, audio visual, camera crew, Voice of Islam radio, hospitality, Humanity First, discipline, first aid, exhibitions and much more. All the women are volunteers and at Jalsa Salana the volunteers comprise academics, professionals and housewives working in unison with the men all united as one. As Ahmadi Muslim women, we have absolutely no problem with the segregation, rather it is a source of great freedom and success for us. Furthermore segregation applies equally to men as it does to women, so any question of inferiority cannot apply for both are bound by this rule in equal measure.

We invite all female guests attending the convention to visit us on the ladies side and witness for themselves women leading women. Within the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, we are well aware and educated about our rights in Islam. The men in the community are also reminded about their womenfolk’s rights. One of the beautiful aspects of Islamic teaching is that by defining the role of women in society, and then by giving dignity to that role, it makes women feel fulfilled, empowered, respected and liberated. As Ahmadi Muslim women who experience this at first hand we can vouch for the wisdom and benefits of this teaching, as the independence we gain from segregation is a source of great strength.


The flower of sweetest smell is shy and lowly


Tooba Khokhar, Cambridge

Once upon a time, a poet of the British Isles remarked “the flower of sweetest smell is shy and lowly”. He wrote in praise of a beauty that was hidden, a charm that was veiled and a loveliness that sought no advertisement. A flower whose fragrance was all the more sweeter and lush for its lowliness and modesty.

Such a reverence for the modest has sadly dwindled from among us. Somewhere in the tumult of history, the shy, lowly flower has been swept away by the winds of modernity. Winds that feed and nurture only the bright, the brilliant and the bold.

So it is that modesty has become a relic of a bygone era. Those who still cling onto antiquated notions like it are told they are like birds, whose unseeing eyes are unaware of the bars of their own cage. We, they instruct us, need only shed our chains and be released from our prison.

There is a kind of humour in this. As Muslim women, our worldview, like that of our sisters of other faiths, is centred not on gaining some token of liberation or trophy of empowerment but on being submissive to the will of God. For it is our conviction that true happiness lies in striving to establish a connection with the Divine and in living life according to the principles He has laid out, principles which if followed bring peace to the heart and contentment to the spirit for they are so perfectly in tune with our natures.

As Muslim women, feminist icons will never be our role models. Instead, we look to the example of the one saintly woman whose praises were extolled in our scripture, a holy personage revered and loved by Christians and Muslims alike, Hadhrat Maryam (peace be upon her) otherwise known as Mary.

Mary is addressed in chapter three, verses 43-4 of the Qur’an which state.

And remember when the angels said, ‘O Mary, Allah has chosen thee and purified thee and chosen thee above the women of all peoples.

‘O Mary, be obedient to thy Lord and prostrate thyself and worship God alone with those who worship.’

These verses enjoin purity, piety and complete devotion. Mary (peace be upon her) exemplified all of these virtues. And as we know, one of the most iconic aspects of Mary’s image was of course her veil.

Islam, being a complete system of life, for every moral exercise or virtue it seeks to inculcate has an ‘outward form’ or practical step. To build a connection with the Divine, we pray. To be compassionate, we give alms. To learn sacrifice and suffering, we fast. And to increase in modesty and inner light, we cover ourselves and conduct ourselves accordingly.

In this connection, the Qur’an enjoys women to ‘show not of their beauty’ and to “draw their head-coverings over their bosoms” for that is closer to modesty[1]. As with all things, the choice lies with the woman whether or not she wishes to act upon this teaching.

The Qur’an is a scripture that encourages this attitude in its followers, “Say, ‘My Prayer and my sacrifice and my life and my death are all for Allah, the Lord of the worlds”. (6: 163)

Love and devotion of this degree must always come from the heart. And if we truly do see the headscarf as a garment of devotion, then we must allow women the agency to enter into this bond of devotion themselves out of love and love alone.

So, the philosophy behind veiling is simple. It is an attitude to life that places at its centre devotion to God and that does away with the objectification of the female form that consumerism encourages and engenders. It is freedom itself. Well a kind of freedom rooted in submission.

However, we aspire to no more. For it is as Wordsworth said in a moving poem dedicated to his wife

True beauty dwells in deep retreats,

Whose veil is unremoved

[1] See Quran 24: 32

Note: Written upon hearing of the ECJ rulings of the 14th of March


Attack On Religion? Hijab In The Workplace


Sameea Jonnud, Aldershot, UK

In recent weeks I noticed a few matters which were pleasant to the ears of Muslim women. Standing out was the news that Debenhams plan to begin stocking the hijab and modest clothing items in their department stores. This ties in with the rising popularity of clothing brands designing modest wear and means the choice and accessibility of fashionable clothes is becoming more extensive and, importantly, the hope for tolerance of the hijab, a symbol of faith.

However the climate has once more turned sour with the news that the European Union Court of Justice has ruled that prohibiting religious symbols in the workplace is not discriminatory. Under this ruling an employer could prohibit the Muslim Hijab, Sikh Paghri, Jewish Kippah or Christian crucifix. With religious freedom being curtailed in this way we are left with the fact of discrimination on the grounds of religion being set in law – a dangerous precedent to be set in a Europe currently witnessing the rise of far-right elements.

This ruling may be seen as acceptable if an item is a danger or restricts the worker from doing their job safely or competently, however when this is not the case a prohibition on the grounds of a neutral look is unjustified. Are we destined to become clones with nothing to differentiate one worker from another?

In cases of the Hijab, Muslim women have been wearing it and finding no restriction to the jobs they do whether they are doctors, teachers, scientists or shop workers and from participating in sports activities. Muslim women in these situations are exercising their free choice and are proud to work and fully participate in society while remaining true to their faith. Any ban on a hijab in the workplace could lead to many Muslim women leaving the workforce which itself could lead to accusations they don’t mix in their communities.

What’s a Muslim woman to do? Many in the West complain that Muslim women are forced to cover their heads by the laws of Islam and by the men in their lives. Now they themselves are passing laws which can require women to uncover their heads. A great deal is made about a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body even in regards to terminating the life of an unborn child; yet where a head covering is concerned she appears increasingly told what to do regardless of her choice in the matter.

Laws such as one allowing an employer to prohibit religious symbols are only taking us down a slope which will become ever more slippery leading to further infringements on the rights of the religious; a grimly dystopian future, so different from a joyful and united free Europe, beckons.


Anything Goes


Sameea Jonnud, Aldershot, UK

“In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking.
But now, God knows,
Anything goes.”

Actually I believe Cole Porter couldn’t have conceived just how apt his lyric would be today when anything really goes.

The subject of how dressed people are these days comes up with great regularity and in recent weeks has resurfaced when some French towns temporarily banned the ‘burkini’ (and any ‘religious’ clothing) on beaches – a move supported by many politicians including former French president Nicolas Sarkozy who has said if he becomes President he will extend the ban across France. The fact that the burkini itself isn’t actually a religious item of clothing means nothing and it leads to the hypocrisy of the Muslim woman fully clothed on the beach being illegal while the surfer in wetsuit and hood is perfectly legal.

The reasons for the ban included ‘hygiene’ (what even does that mean?!) as well as to prevent terrorism, because of course bombs and guns have always been hidden in women’s layers of clothing! But one other cry that is increasingly heard is that items of clothing such as the burkini and the niqab should be banned because they are a backward step in the progress of humankind..

These claims that Muslims should ‘move with the times’ are regularly brought up in regards to clothing as well as integration in general because some people feel that Muslims can’t in fact integrate unless Muslim women discard their veils. This has all resulted in the innocent Muslim woman becoming a target for hate, something even the much loved Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain said she has faced.

In the West the clothing of past times was often seen as restrictive; in Victorian times all those corsets and layers of skirts plus the hats and bonnets. Men wore suits and neckties and didn’t go outside without a hat.

However this stage of being clothed came after Man was first created, unclothed; a state of covering up began afterwards, first with furs and skins then, after needles were invented, with something closer to the clothing of today. So really if Man is discarding his clothes this actually means he is regressing back to his primitive stage.

Except when you look at who is discarding their clothes you will see it is not the males of the human species but the females. It is women who have lost their ‘restrictive’ clothing while that of men has just been modified as often the only difference with the past is they no longer wear hats.

So we are now left with examples such as the male news presenter in a suit and tie sitting next to his female companion who is wearing a short dress with arms, legs and neck uncovered; and this is actually a more modest form of dress. When you see celebrity fashion, something difficult to avoid in news media and television, you will notice that whatever the occasion – awards ceremonies, music videos, advertising – the men will usually be fully clothed while the women will be in various states of undress.

Why do the female singers writhe around semi naked in their music videos? I don’t believe it is for the entertainment of other women. Why do women wear strapless, clinging ball gowns on formal occasions? They sometimes say it makes them feel good but it is the appreciative attention of men that brings on these feelings. Advertising, summer clothing, media; everywhere you look you can see semi-dressed women.

This hypocrisy is the reason I find the burkini debate so distasteful. There are significant numbers of people who believe it is acceptable for armed (fully clothed) police to force a Muslim woman to undress in public on the pretext of liberation even if they don’t believe it prevents terrorism. They want to ban the full face veil because they presume the poor Muslim women are forced to cover every inch of their bodies by their domineering male relatives. Thus the Muslim woman who decides to go to a beach with a full body swimsuit, as well as being provocative is also downtrodden and needs laws to liberate her.

In actual fact true liberation is giving women as well as men the freedom to choose how to live and what to wear; sadly though, it seems women are actually a long way from gaining liberation.



Reply to Allison Pearson’s article on Burkini

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Mubarika Sami, London

Allison Pearson has very strong feelings about the burkini which she describes as a sister of the ugly burka. Each to their own – I don’t find the sight of a bikini particularly appealing. However, as the French courts ruled, if someone chooses to cover up or not on the beach or indeed anywhere should be an individual choice.

Ms Pearson seems to imply that poor helpless Muslim women are all forced into burkinis by their male relatives and have no mind of their own! Islam is actually the youngest and therefore most modern of the Abrahamic faiths and like these other faiths also enjoins women to dress modestly. Men as well as women are advised to dress modestly in the Quran and men are instructed first not to gaze at women.

Secularism has replaced religion to a large extent in western society but the original message in all these holy scriptures is the same no matter where the followers. Allison Pearson ignores the fact that over exposure of women’s bodies has led to body dysmorphism, unnecessary anxiety about one’s appearance from a very young age (thanks to a large part by the media) and women being treated as scantily clad objects. I find women’s bodies being used to sell men’s magazines and any old merchandise offensive and demeaning. Why is it so difficult for Ms Pearson to understand that exposing flesh on the beach for a practising Muslim woman is literally a nightmare scenario and is not ‘freeing them from a fabric prison.’

Ms Pearson’s argument of the ban promoting feminism and modernisation rings hollow. Feminism is not about taking as many clothes off as possible. It’s about women respecting themselves and other women and only then will there be true equality.

Let’s take another look at the Nice terrorist who is the apparent cause of this sudden decision to stop Muslim women choosing to dress as they wish on French beaches.

From all descriptions Bouhlel didn’t even practice Islam. He drank alcohol, took drugs, was a womanizer, ate pork and wasn’t known to visit a mosque. Hardly a model Muslim!

Lastly the UN has called on French beach resorts to lift their bans and labelled it ‘a stupid reaction’ that did not improve security but fuelled religious intolerance and stigmatisation of Muslims, especially women.

A Burqini is not Equivalent to a Burqa

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By Navida Sayed

The barbaric and atrocious terrorist attacks around the globe have put the world on edge. Unprepared and unexpected the sudden and random attacks have left parts of the world shell-shocked. Security is a growing global concern for world leaders and authorities. However, repeatedly targeting Muslim women’s dress code & publicly humiliating them is not a solution.

The latest controversial topic surrounds the burqini, which is not an overt symbol of affiliation with terrorists. Created bearing Muslim women in mind, the burqini is an all in one convenient sun, waterproof swimsuit with a bonus, a swimming hat. Many non-Muslim women who may feel uncomfortable wearing other forms of swimwear for many reasons have benefited from the outfit.

I would like to clarify that a burqini is neither the swimwear equivalent of a burqa nor an Islamic item of clothing. There are no instructions in the Holy Quran or Islamic teachings about it. It’s a modern day innovation which complies with health and safety regulations in a swimming pool. It does not replace the loose outer coat and head covering which Muslim women wear on a day-to-day basis. The reference to the word burqa in the name given to this swimwear has resulted in the confusion and misunderstanding that it is an Islamic form of dress.

While France is desperately trying to seek a solution to terrorism following a wave of terrorist attacks, the Muslims of that country should cooperate with the authorities and assist them to defeat terrorism.

If France has temporarily placed a ban on the burqini it is the duty of every Muslim citizen living within that country to obey and respect the law of the land. The burqini ban does not hinder the daily life of Muslim women.

However, France and other nations in the world also need to protect and respect Muslim civilians and ensure their safety too.

The best way forward to deal with security and extremism is to educate and work with communities, not against them. Only then can the world pave a path for peace

Hijab: A Diverse Icon Of Muslim Modesty

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By Munazzah Chou, Hertfordshire

For many in the West, the modest dress of Muslims, particularly the woman’s hijab has become synonymous with the concept of modesty in Islam.

However, modesty encompasses far more than the clothes one wears.  In the Holy Qur’an, God says:

“O children of Adam! We have indeed sent down to you raiment to cover your shame, and to be an elegant dress; but the raiment of righteousness – that is the best…”

Modesty can be thought of as freedom from conceit or vanity and propriety in dress, speech and conduct. It can be expressed in social interaction by communicating in a way exhibiting humility, shyness or simplicity.

Modesty in Islam is known as ‘haya’, a word which describes both shyness and a deeper modesty that is based on faith; an uneasy feeling accompanied by embarrassment, caused by one’s fear of being exposed or censured for unworthy or indecent conduct.  A sense of haya should affect a Muslim’s conduct before God, before others and even when one is alone. A comprehensive explanation of haya can be found in the following hadith:

Abdullah ibn Mas’ud relates that one day the Prophet said, ‘Be shy of Allah as much as is His due.’ The Companions present said, ‘All praise to Allah, we are shy of Him.’ The Prophet said, ‘That is not the point. Whoever is shy of Allah should protect his head and that which enters it, and his stomach and that which he puts into it (i.e. preserve it from unlawful wealth) and he should remember death and that which is to come after it; and whoever desires the Hereafter should abandon the adornments of this world. Whoever fulfills these duties has been shy of Allah as much as is His due.’
(Musnad Ahmad)

Haya is an attribute which encourages the believer to avoid anything distasteful or abominable, it keeps a believer from being neglectful in fulfilling their obligations for fear of displeasing Allah. The Holy Prophet Muhammad, has said,

“Modesty and faith are interlinked: if either of them is lacking, the other is lacking too.”

When faith is lacking, the life of this world can become the primary preoccupation. This can lead to behaviour that is immodest, overbearing, and assertive. A believer who is convinced of meeting God and having to account for what he does in this life will hesitate before stressing his own importance and acting in any manner considered immodest in any  way. When modesty is wanting, the dictates of faith can never be fulfilled.

Hijab is an Arabic word meaning barrier or partition which in Islam has a broader meaning and includes behaviour as well as dress for both males and females. Islam stresses the relationship between body and mind and the wearing of the outer garments and veiling of the body leads to veiling of the heart and shielding it from impure thoughts.  The Holy Qur’an states:

“Say to the believing men that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Surely, Allah is well aware of what they do.”

“And  say to the believing women that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts, and that they display not their beauty and embellishments except that which is apparent thereof, and that they draw their head coverings over their bosoms…..”

These verses make clear that men and women are to conduct themselves with modesty and propriety at all times, and especially when in each other’s presence. The physical covering is only the first step to developing hijab. The true and full observance of hijab is achieved when “veiling” extends to the mind and heart and then we become impervious to impure and immoral thoughts when in contact with the opposite sex.

All women among the people of the book i.e. Jews, Christians and Muslims have been instructed to observe head coverings but Islam is unique in its philosophy. The Holy Qur’an states:

“O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters, and the women of the believers, that they should pull down upon them of their outer cloaks from their heads over their faces. That is more likely that they may thus be recognized and not molested. And Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful.”

Yet another purpose of hijab is to protect women from unwarranted harm. Often in the West women are considered and treated as sexual objects and Hijab is a physically manifested barrier to that harassment.

The view that hijab inhibits freedom and equality, a most prevalent view in the West may well have had its roots in the biblical explanation of the creation of man and woman and the veil:

“A man indeed ought not to cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God. But woman is the glory of man. For man was not created for woman, but woman for man. This is why the woman ought to have a sign of authority over her head, because of the angels.” (1 Corinthians, 11:7-10)

Thus, according to the Bible, the veil is a sign of man’s authority over woman and the standing of women in society has been clearly defined as subservient to men.

The Islamic rationale for hijab is entirely at odds with this prevailing stigma and numerous Quranic references attest to a woman’s equality to man. In Islam hijab signifies modesty as well as comprising a protective role.

The Promised Messiah, founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, writes,

“The observance of hijab is an outward expression of inner modesty, which is not only an icon, sign and representation, but a means to attain the level of modesty required for faith.”

The hijab is a measure to prevent arrogance, vanity, pride, vulgarity, impurity, unchaste behaviour, as well as a physical barrier to deflect unwanted attention. It is a visible representation of our humility, chastity, simplicity, inner beauty, obedience and faith.

Finally returning to the concept of modesty the word ‘haya’ is from the same root as ‘hayat’ which means ‘life’. Thus, modesty is coupled with spiritual life, and without this we would be living a life that is spiritually dead.

I Built My House Upon a Rock: A reply to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown


By Sarah Khan, London, UK

Nowadays I often feel that I’m standing in a constantly moving pool of quicksand.   There are clear seismic shifts in the ground upon which I stand and often they are caused by events entirely unconnected to me and they reverberate through my life as a direct result of my faith.

Take my wearing of the headscarf, known as a hijab, for example. I’ve made the choice to cover my hair in public for nearly twenty years. I began as a self-conscious teenager trying to find a balance between faith and fashion, wanting to look good and not stick out, a process modern teenagers still endure. After twenty years it has long since become a fundamental part of my life, so much so that it is no longer something I notice. I feel confident in my faith and my style, I have matured into my own image, as most women do. I have been enabled to develop undisturbed in peace by a society that accepted me as I am and as I chose to dress myself. I lived in the hustle and bustle of London, a city which welcomed me with open arms and accepted me as one of their own. Our multicultural metropolis did not require me to change, to be someone other than I am. For two decades I have lived, studied, shopped, commuted and worked here. The headscarf was never a barrier to anything I desired to do. Even in the wake of the atrocious acts of 9/11 and 7/7 I continued to carry on as before, mourning the loss of life and the maligning of a faith I love. But there was never personal attack or comment directed towards me, there was never even an inkling of a feeling that there was a link between such crimes and my law-abiding existence. Sadly, in 2016, this statement is no longer true.

Every time another bomb explodes in a Western nation, or where Western citizens are involved, the ground shifts again. I remain the same, my values and my dress code, I hesitate to go as far as calling it style, remain as they have been for so long. But as the ground shifts, so attitudes towards me change as I walk the streets of my beloved city. Now I am seen as a part of the problem. Despite all these Muslims committing acts of terror, I remain as I was. Where once my headscarf was merely a personal choice, now it has become a visible symbol that I belong to ‘them’, the terrorists and jihadists that live amongst us.

Now I am a figure of suspicion where before I was just another Londoner going about my daily business. This new era of me as a symbol of evil found in others and therefore deserving of mistrust has quickly taken firm root both in Government policy and public opinion. The Prevent Strategy which stretches through all branches of childcare from new-borns to undergraduates sends a shiver down the spine of every Muslim mother. No matter how much the Government half-heartedly claim otherwise, it is aimed specifically at Muslims, designed to catch us in the act of being radical or extreme. Every deed, action and word uttered by our children will be analysed and recorded if someone, probably someone with no knowledge of our faith, deems it to be suspicious. As a mother who has been working for 15 years in the education sector, knowing that children often say ridiculous and nonsensical things, this new added layer of observation is chilling. I send my children to school because I want them to function within wider society and learn how to interact with different people. The new role of teacher/child carer as spy makes Muslim parents feel isolated and targeted. It creates the spectre of ostracising and social exclusion where none existed before. I remain the same mother I was before Prevent, I hold the same values and morals, only now they are being scrutinised. This scrutiny exists within the media also.

On Thursday 24 March the Daily Mail, published an article by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. This article was full of factual inaccuracies and glorified stereotypes but it’s danger was not in the essential falsehoods it spun, but rather in the fact that it was allowed to be published in a national newspaper at all.

Ms Alibhai-Brown speaks of ‘too many’ Muslim families who isolate their children and keep them ‘unfree’ in a free society. She paints a picture of university students unable to drink coffee in the canteen or banned from speaking alone to people on the telephone. My first reaction is to simply laugh at the immature cartoon depiction of adult Muslim students seemingly turning to Ms Alibhai-Brown as their saviour and advisor. Nowadays our phones are mobile and carried with us so unless these students have a family member as a personal bodyguard at university then presumably there are many hours in the day when they can use their phone without problem. I simply cannot reconcile a mobile phone being given to someone for hours a day and then monitored so closely in the home. Neither am I convinced by the tale of a child being slapped and thrown out of the family because he wanted to study art. It’s almost too clichéd to be true.

She claims that ‘it’s common’ for Muslim students to not be allowed to drink coffee in the canteen by their family. Really? Does she actually believe these absurdly ludicrous statements she’s making? Clearly Ms Alibhai-Brown has not seen a London university canteen recently and my question again is – if such students are given freedom and financial support to attend university is it likely that they would be stopped from drinking a coffee? Are Muslims commonly forbidden from Starbucks too? It’s clear from the article that Ms Alibhai-Brown knows she is on shaky ground because it’s full of contradictions. While the headline grabs the attention of the Islamaphobes and ignorant, she also points the finger of blame at the ‘permissive nature of Western society’ itself for forcing Muslims to isolate themselves. She goes on to say in the same article that although in 2004 ‘30% of Muslims refused to condemn atrocities completely’, nowadays that view is far less widespread. The article ends as a confused ramble trying to claw back some moral ground from such a blatantly inflammatory, divisive headline published hours after the tragic loss of life in Brussels.

As much as I would like to laugh, I know it would be more accurate to cry. I weep for the loss of life, of innocent blood shed for no purpose and with no justification. I cry for myself and for my children because I can see before my eyes further proof that, although I remain much as I have always been; a loving, caring mother and member of society, articles such as these widen the gulf between myself and those who do not know me. The stranger on the street does not know my character but they judge me by my clothing and articles such as this create false impression about me which I cannot address as I simply go about my business.

But most of all I weep for my faith because I know that the image of Islam will be further tarnished by such articles and atrocities and the truth of Islam is far from what the terrorists or Ms Alibhai-Brown assert. I know that the Quran tells Muslims to protect churches and synagogues, to serve neighbours regardless of faith, to protect the innocent, the poor and the needy. I know Islam abhors violence and that at the victory of Mecca the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) met his enemies of twenty years with forgiveness, a hand of reconciliation and a flag of peace. I’m glad to be a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, who have been in the UK for over 100 years, because we promote our mantra of ‘Love for All, Hatred for None’ in every corner of the earth. We came to the aid of recent flood victims, we work in partnership with local and national charities, we fundraise, we give food and friendship to our friends and neighbours. But these truths were glaringly missing from the shallow, inaccurate caricatures depicted in Ms Alibhai-Brown’s article.

So now every time I feel another seismic shift within the earth beneath my feet I call to mind the verse of the Quran ‘…let not a people’s enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice. Be always just, that is nearer to righteousness…’ (Chapter 5, verse 9). Because what such articles do not convey is that, like the wise man, I built my house upon a rock, the rock of my faith. And even if the sands shift around me, my faith remain firm in its principles of justice, kindness and truth.

Hijab & Passive Terrorism?


By Navida Sayed

In recent days there has been a lot of talk about a suggestion published in a document about counter terrorism that the hijab contributes to passive terrorism. The document is a US Air Force White Paper entitled “Countering Violent Extremism, Scientific Methods and Strategies” with contributions by several academics; it was originally published in 2011 and reissued in 2015.

One of the authors is Dr. Tawfik Hamid, formerly a member of a radical Islamic organization who now asserts that he had an awakening of his human conscience. At that time recognizing the threat of radical Islam he started to teach modern peaceful interpretations of classical Islamic core texts.

Sadly Hamid has lost sight of true Islam on his way back from extremism to moderation. His arguments, presented in his article for the White Paper, “A Strategic Plan to Defeat Radical Islam” are laughable and unwarranted. Hamid affirms,

“In turn, the proliferation of militant Salafism and the hijab contribute to the idea of passive terrorism… which occurs when moderate segments of the population decline to speak against or actively resist terrorism.” 

Hamid’s argument is vague. When, asked how he can separate an individual, peaceful woman who chooses to wear the Hijab from his assertion that the head covering contributes to passive terrorism, he says, 

“Cigarette smoking contributes to the development of lung cancer, but not every single cigarette smoker will develop lung cancer. The contribution to something in medicine does not mean it’s the only factor.  

Surely it is unjustifiable for leading authorities, such as the US Air Force, to give credence to such a vague theory about the Hijab.

Hamid’s unfounded misrepresentation of the Hijab in his report will only add fuel to an already burning fire and further incite more hate towards Muslim women around the world.  There is no logic in Hamid’s flawed theory that the Hijab can contribute to passive terrorism and his suggestion is deeply disturbing for millions of Muslim women. The Hijab is an outer covering for women but inside they have real beating hearts just like all other humans, of all faiths and ethnicities. 

In the days following 9/11, 7/7 and the Paris attacks, as Muslims, we felt deeply shell-shocked, mortified and numb. In fact we felt double the pain, by the loss of innocent lives and the brutal act of terrorism wrongfully carried out in the name of Islam. 

Unfortunately barbarous and inhumane acts of terrorism have deeply tarnished the image of Islam and Muslim women have become prime targets of hatred because of the visibility of their Hijab. It now appears as if everyone is jumping onto the bandwagon to point the finger at Muslim women in Hijab, to depict them either as innocent suppressed women or as terrorists.  

Little does the world realise  that the Hijab is not to blame for radicalization in any shape or form whatsoever!

The real focus of the world should be in combating extremism and not repeatedly targeting Muslim women and their dress code. 

Muslim Women and the Narrative of Modernity


Source: Flickr

Tooba Khokhar, Cambridge

A lot of the time when I tell people that my Hijab liberates me, they nod indulgently, their expression a little doubtful, whilst they kindly explain ‘no darling, liberation means being free!’ Our interactions, almost inevitably, drift towards an impassé. We might be saying the same word: ‘liberation’, but in my mind and theirs it means different things. To me, my Hijab means liberation. To them, Islamic dress represents only patriarchal oppression. But this cultural misunderstanding sadly goes far beyond the Hijab.

In Britain today, Muslim women are free to wear the headscarf and observe Islamic dress. However while our Hijabs may be accepted, many of the practices and observances which often accompany the Hijab i.e. rules on modesty and mixing are still stigmatised. From David Cameron’s patronising comments on ‘Traditionally Submissive’ or his ill-thought polemic against segregation (never mind the plethora of gender-segregated institutions in Britain) to the new D&G Hijabi range, it is clear that Muslim women today are free to keep their Hijab on, but according to some they really ought leave ‘Islam’ to the Saudis. In other words, the Hijab can stay so long as every other aspect of how we live our lives is in line with the norm in Britain. We may differ from the norm in the way we dress, but not in the way we engage with society or order our homes.

I don’t want to put ‘Islam’ in one camp and ‘Britain’ in another. Many British Muslim women today do lead lifestyles which mirror point for point those of their non-Muslim peers save for an extra garment and five daily Prayers. Indeed Islam is not at all prescriptive when it comes to such matters.

But what about the women, Muslim or not, who of their own volition choose to take a different path? Are their personal definitions of ‘liberation’ accepted? If for instance they find liberation in their mosque, their church or their synagogue? If they find fulfilment in the domestic sphere? Or if perhaps they’re more for Yin and Yang than feminist gender theory? Or is it simply Cameron’s way or the high-way? This goes both ways- with those who would impose ‘traditional’ values (I use this term generally) on all. When some women simply cannot identify with such values.

It is important to stress above all that every woman is on her own personal journey in search of peace and fulfilment. Are we to block off all routes but one? Enshrining in law every freedom and liberty, but nevertheless creating a culture which expects women to conform to an increasingly narrow definition of what it means to be an empowered and liberated female. Telling all women, Muslim or otherwise, ‘be unique, but not too different!’ Thus Hijabi fashionistas or ballerinas are celebrated while their more ‘traditional’ sisters are looked down upon for not fitting into the general narrative of modernity. Surely we should celebrate choice, and accept the patchwork of diversity that is Britain; and not just simply laud conformity to the norm i.e. to standard practices in dress, thought and domestic arrangements.

In the first poem of his Four Quartets, a long, jaggedly flowing piece entitled ‘Burnt Norton’, T.S. Eliot explores perception, time and forms. In this work, a wise little birdy chirps that “human kind cannot bear very much reality”. Alluding to this, to the limitations of human perception and to being open to different experiences, Eliot writes

Other echoes

Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?