Countering Extremism And Instilling A Love Of Britain In Our Children

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Tahira Chaudhry, Croydon

As I walked home today I encountered a ‘gentleman’ who when crossing paths with me decided rather sadly to look at me with disapproval and then spit in my pathway. In my mind, he was no doubt consumed by some form and mingling of both hatred and a lack of knowledge. I even surprised myself because I was not overcome with anger rather I felt a deep sense of sadness for him. What was it that made him react this way? Racism, sexism, the way I was dressed which showed that I was Muslim? In today’s world it could be a plethora of ‘isms’ or ‘phobias.’ It could even have been in actuality a sense of fear of the extremism we are increasingly seeing.

As a mother of four sons the stark reality of extremism is a dim and sad reality. The encounter brought to the surface for me the fear faced by real people in today’s society. No innocent bystander ever wants to have to explain himself but the situation faced by Britain and much of the world today means crucially it is essential to disassociate ourselves with such behaviour and voice the message of the real and true Islam. And so do I begin.

Having been born and brought up in Britain I feel and believe I am very much British. I am a British Ahmadi Muslim woman. It is very much my identity and who I am. So, to even have to discuss with an aim of reassuring others that I am no threat sometimes seems so wrong. My faith also makes me who I am and the fact that loyalty to my homeland is very much a part of my faith makes me even stronger in my vigil. Last month we celebrated International Women’s Day but as I heard so many fellow Ahmadi Muslim women say, ‘In Islam every day is Women’s Day.’ For those that base their thoughts not on hearsay but pursue knowledge they will find the treasures of the great status given to women in Islam. Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community stated: “Let it be crystal clear that in no respect is a woman’s status less than that of a man.”

I am the daughter of an Asian Ahmadi Muslim father who rejoiced at fathering four daughters wishing us to aspire to the highest levels of knowledge and education. There was no suppression and anyone that knows me knows I am anything but suppressed. My parents, my faith and my country give me freedom and liberty and have taught me the values of love and respect for all regardless of creed, colour, religion, race or status. Almost 60 years ago my father as an immigrant brought diversity to British culture and his faith assisted him in integration. He looked up to the values and goodness in British society and then celebrated it his entire life.

Having been born in Britain for me the first glimpse of extremism I had ever witnessed came at 9/11. I was sat at my desk in the centre of London and I remember the shiver of fear that swept down Fleet Street. I remember feeling dumbfounded and questioning how the perpetrators of such an atrocity could call themselves ‘Muslims?’

My four sons are the second generation in our family being raised here in Britain and like me the love of this great country flows through them. But a sad and unfortunate reality is that they face challenges beyond those ever faced by me. Growing up in the 80s and 90s I saw nothing but wonderful British values and an accepting community. In contrast my children face extremism on a daily basis together with a barrage of news and both accurate and inaccurate accounts of it.

In the face of such fear what do we do? Paradoxically a fear of extremism is creating a rush to push through extreme measures and decisions in themselves intended to curb the spread of it but in reality rulings that are themselves extreme and curb the liberty which we so love. It is in these trying times when we are facing such paradoxes and questions of what is ethically right that our children are growing up. No longer just battling teenage hormones our youngsters and tomorrows future are grappling confusion and controversy at a level never witnessed before. History bears testament to the effects of hatred. It is in this fear that I remain content because my faith and my children’s faith teaches us every day to seek knowledge. In the face of adversity to educate, to love and respect is the way forward. It is in adopting these principles that you truly testify to being both truly British and truly a Muslim. To counter extremism and to instil the love I write of, within our children we must lead by example as did our forefathers. Today more than ever before the time has arrived to practice ‘Love for All Hatred for None.’

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MUSLIM WOMEN’S GROUP SAY LOYALTY TO BRITAIN IS PART OF THE ISLAMIC FAITH

PRESS RELEASE

16 January 2017

Some 700 women attended a national Peace symposium titled “Faith and Loyalty to Britain: The Role of Women” on Saturday. The event was organised by women from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association UK to dispel misconceptions about Islam and Muslim Women and demonstrate that loyalty to Britain is part of the practice of Islam.

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It was held at the largest Mosque in Western Europe, the Baitul Futuh Mosque in South London.

Keynote speakers were Baroness Williams of Trafford, Minister of State (Home Office), Ms. Patsy Robertson, Vice Chair of the Commonwealth Association, and Mrs Safiyya Salam, Vice President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association, UK. Distinguished speakers included the Rt. Hon Fiona MacTaggart MP and Siobhain McDonagh MP. The event was also attended by Councillors, Mayors, academics, NGOs and invitees from many faiths and beliefs.

The aim of the event was also to highlight the important contribution made by Ahmadi Muslim women who are dedicated to Islam and its peaceful teachings but are also able to contribute significantly to British society, its culture and its economy. A £5000 cheque was presented to Whizz-Kidz a British Charity which is working hard to transform the lives of disabled children.

Baroness Williams of Trafford, Minister of State (Home Office) said:

It’s so good to see so many women here to talk about the role we can play in promoting peace and integration. Whether we are mothers, religious leaders or politicians, we all have a role in establishing peace.” 

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Baroness Williams also commended the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association and said:

“Your dedication to your faith and your country is an inspiration for us all. Ahmadiyya Muslim Women demonstrate to me their importance to building strong communities. Thank You!”

Baroness Williams also outlined the Government’s commitment to tackling hate crime which includes action on racially and religiously aggravated hate crime and to protecting communities from hostility, violence and bigotry.

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Mrs. Patsy Robertson, Vice Chair of the Commonwealth Association spoke of the advancement of women since the Beijing UN Conference for Women’s Rights, but said:

I have come to know that as a Community, you are accomplished and have done a great deal of work for your fellow citizens … I really do believe that it is incumbent on Muslim and non-Muslim women to end this idea that wearing the hijab is an oppressive tool. We are educated women, we have to speak up and challenge these societal beliefs.”

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The Rt. Hon Fiona MacTaggart MP said:

I want to congratulate you on leading this woman’s only event… Mum’s roles are not celebrated enough in government and the job they do in bringing up moral children and establishing peace within society… The All Party Parliamentary Group for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is I believe the only group in Parliament with a majority of female MPs”

Siobhain McDonagh MP said:

I want to thank you for your contributions. I want to thank you for showing loyalty without condition to your country.”

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Mrs. Nasira Rehman, National President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association UK said:

Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance and unity.  Ahmadi Muslim women have been in Britain since 1913 and adopting modest dress have been determinedly serving society ever since.  We will continue to do so building on our determination to show society that respect and tolerance for true peaceful Islam and responsibility to God and His creation is a source of unity and peace for all of us.

Mrs. Rehman also paid tribute to Councillor Maxi Martin, who passed away in 2016 and was a dear friend of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association.

Mrs. Safiyya Salam, Vice President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association in the UK and daughter in law of Dr Abdus Salam, the first Muslim Nobel laureate in sciences said:

This Muslim Women’s Association was established in 1922 to encourage Muslim women to be improve knowledge, serve the community, and train and bring up children to be righteous and loyal citizens. As practising Muslims, we are instructed to love our country and act as an instrument of peace. Loyalty to one’s country is part of the Islamic faith and there is no conflict between this and our belief in Islam”.

Mrs. Farzana Yousuf, a lawyer and National Secretary for Community Outreach said:

Ahmadi Muslim women believe in loyalty to Britain, we believe in freedom, respect, tolerance and a shared responsibility for our world. In other words, we believe in true Islam.”

Alison Gordon O.B.E, Director and co Founder of Sister for Change, Mitty Tohma President of the Women’s Federation for World Peace, Margaret Ali, Director of the Universal Peace Federation, Councillor Brenda Fraser Mayor of Merton, Councillor Wendy Speck Deputy Mayor of Wandsworth and Deputy Mayor of Croydon Councillor Toni Letts were also distinguished guests who attended and spoke. Their thoughtful sentiments were well received by the Symposium.

 

 

 

Language, Integration And My Mum

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Sameea Jonnud, Aldershot, UK

From time to time in the UK, the subject of integration rears its head and it is almost certain the reporting will be accompanied by photographs of fully veiled Muslim women. It has happened this way with the Casey Review, released on 5th December when headlines talked about how many Muslims were not learning English leaving them unable to get jobs. Women in particular were singled out as being under the influence of a patriarchal society which was keeping them subdued.

This made me wonder which women Dame Louise had studied because the picture she paints does not match up with women I know about here in the UK, or indeed, in Pakistan.

The image I am left with is of the “Casey Woman” who appears to be a quiet woman with limited grasp of English who stays in the house looking after home and family. She mixes with other family members or fellow worshippers at her mosque but has no contact with anyone from the wider society. When she does venture out, she is veiled and has no interaction with anyone beyond that necessary for whatever business had led her out.

There’s just one problem with this picture; it doesn’t match up with any Muslim woman I can think of.

My mother’s generation may once have been closer to being considered a “Casey Woman” except they didn’t let a strange language in an alien country hold them back, and neither did the men in their lives hold them back.

When my mum first came to Britain my dad told her as he would be at work she would have to keep herself occupied. He showed her bus routes to reach family members and left her to it. This way my mum became familiar with travelling by herself and later on with her young children. She wouldn’t stop at just paying a visit to a cousin either and would often go out with that cousin to pass the day. This helped her to become used to speaking English with native English speakers and led to her having friends among neighbours and other parents.

She also worked and passed her driving test down the years and even now encourages girls or older women to learn to drive so they can move about with independence and don’t have to rely on and tie up male relatives. My mum’s fellow Muslim friends and female relatives were similar to her and I can only think of one who didn’t speak English – although she never let this stop her from going out and about and interacting with different people!

As I look at the next generation of girls I see a slightly different picture as they have grown up to become educated in the British system and have gone on to work in many different lines. Their daughters are following a similar path as they go out in the world. I know female doctors, scientists, teachers, architects, lawyers; I also see mothers who have decided not to go out to work and instead stay at home and look after their children.

All of these women speak fluent English, and often another European language as well as their ancestral mother tongue. They mix with non-Muslims and exchange thoughts and ideas with them. In fact they often make an effort by holding interfaith and charity fundraising events which help them to be productive members of their community. As devoted Muslims they understand this is something Islam advocates they do whether they are male or female and so they participate to make their communities better.

My mum’s generation only had the difference of not being born and educated in the UK; other than that they were no more a “Casey woman” than the next generations are. I understand that in some places there are examples of “Casey women” and hope they can escape this description because a lack of fluent English or the desire to stay at home and bring up children is in no way a barrier to their making a positive contribution to the wider society.

The Casey Review – my personal thoughts

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                                                            Sarah Khan. London

We must feel sorry for the Muslim woman, she can never catch a break.  This, in a nutshell, appears to be one of the main themes arising from the findings of yesterday’s Casey Review into integration of minority communities within the UK.  This review took a year to compile and during this process Dame Louise Casey and her team spoke to 800 people in areas of the UK with high concentrations of one ethnic or religious community.  The review released a range of findings and also set out a series of recommendations.  Although the review mentions other faiths, there is no denying that Muslims, and Muslim women in particular, are singled out as being unable to fully integrate into life in Britain.

Muslim women continue to be a symbol of lack of integration and they seem to be an easy target. Why? Well, firstly, many of them are easily identifiable, perhaps more so than almost any other religious demographic.  The wearing of a headscarf immediately signals to anyone that the wearer is a Muslim.  Whereas this would not have been the case 50 years ago. My own grandmother, a Christian English lady, always wore a scarf on her head Hilda Ogden style when she left the house however today such practices are less common amongst English women.  So perhaps it is easy to point the finger of blame when your target is easy to spot.

Secondly, there can be no doubt that some Muslim women do not find it easy to integrate.  They may come from abroad and face linguistic and cultural barriers on the path to meeting new people and forming connections.  When you are young and newly married, it may well be easier to mix with your family members and people who live or worship in the same place as you.  It may be embarrassing to try and speak English to an English person with your heavy accent and limited vocabulary.  There are many hurdles in the way and the Casey Review aimed to understand these complexities.  However, how different are these experiences to any other migrant to the UK?  It is certainly not only the Muslim community which is beset by these issues.  If you’ve ever visited New Malden on the edge of London you will see Korean shops, churches, weekend schools and tuition centres. There could be many parallels between some members of this community and some Muslim women.  Moreover, across vast swathes of the Middle East there are enclaves of Little Britain where British people live together, attend British schools and rarely step foot inside the home of a local person.  There seems nothing particularly unique about the Muslim woman’s British immigration experience.

Far more interesting than the critical, name-and-shame labelling of certain communities in the review are the recommendations for improvement.  Perhaps these recommendations lack a certain originality and do not seem to address the problem.  They include increasing access to English language and IT classes.  However, this is not a new idea and EAL/ESOL classes have long been available, although in recent years’ numbers have dwindled under budget cuts.  There is a call for safeguarding to be stepped up for children who are not in mainstream education.  Again, surely this is already supposed to be done?  It’s not a new idea – just a tightening of existing regulations.  There is also a recommendation that new citizens and public office holders take an oath of allegiance to Britain.  It seems to be business as usual with no new approach, just existing approaches re-emphasised.

The Casey Review unfortunately missed the chance to tackle the issue of extremism and radicalisation from a new angle.  We didn’t need an independent review to inform us that some Muslims (and as a token we are told some people from other minority groups too) feel disenfranchised and excluded from British life.  In some cases this leads to radicalisation which could pose a security threat to society as a whole.  But what everyone is struggling to figure out is how to stop this.  Muslim groups are expected to provide all the answers and to address their failings.  However, integration is a two way street and we also need to look at the rest of the population!  Within the UK, far-right groups are on the rise, emboldened by Brexit and inflamed by increasing immigration.  Britain First and even UKIP do not hide their anti-Islamic policies.  Even Zac Goldsmith resorted to Islamaphobic undertones in his unsuccessful mayoral campaign.  When a Muslim family sits down to breakfast and in the morning post finds a leaflet of one of the candidates for Mayor of London containing policies against the building of mosques or proposals to ban the call to prayer, and notices that this leaflet is featured in the same booklet as the campaign materials of the mainstream parties then is it any wonder they feel alienated?  Extremism exists in many forms and you cannot foster integration while allowing far right rhetoric into the mainstream.  The two cannot co-exist.

The most radical proposal, and one which no Western government has so far embraced, is that Islam itself holds the key to ending extremism.  Yes, while some Muslims are using Islam to violently overturn society, the reality is that knowledge of true Islamic teachings is the solution to both extremism and lack of integration.  Even a cursory study of the life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) reveals how he integrated faiths within his community.  The Charter of Medina, 1400 years after it was written, has stood the test of time as a solid foundation for community cohesion and coexistence.  Muslims are instructed to defend the places of worship of other faiths and to guard them against attack.  The Holy Quran repeatedly instructs Muslims to care for the needy, the traveller, the orphan, the widows, the ill and neighbours.  These responsibilities apply to all humanity, not just other Muslims.  Violence and persecution are not to be started by any Muslim, nor can coercion be used to impose faith on anyone.  These are not ‘modernised’ teachings or interpretations, they are the same Islam taught and practiced by the founder of Islam.

Nor are these teachings simply relics of a forgotten past.  For example, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is a worldwide organisation of millions of members of different ethnicities and cultures. Our Khalifa, worldwide spiritual head, has today given his response following the publication of the Casey Review. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s members integrate into every society where they are found.  Within the UK they have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for the Poppy Appeal, undertaken door-to-door flood relief in Cumbria and other areas and on New Year’s Day they are seen across Britain cleaning up from the previous night’s revelries of others.  They are doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, mothers, and much more beside.  They are the neighbour with a smile on their face who sends food when you are unwell.

And also, coming back to the issue of Muslim women, ladies in the Ahmadiya Muslim Community have equal access to mosques, they run their own organisation, own their own property, educate their own members and provide guidance and skills for their members.  They teach girls their rights as Muslim women; that they are emancipated, they should educate themselves, and that they have equal spiritual status with men.  They are not oppressed or downtrodden, rather they too are at the forefront of serving mankind and the communities in which they live.  Both men and women regularly take an oath of loyalty to the country in which they live as this in an important part of their faith.  This is often done within the mosques themselves and has been the Community’s practice for many years.

So, while the Casey Review may have the best intentions in the world, it does not acknowledge the role Islam can play in dealing with extremism and isolation, thus completely passing over the best solution available to the issue it sets out to tackle.

Service To Humanity

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Luton & Bedford Poppy Appeal Fundraising 2016

by Mrs Hamida Iqbal, Luton, UK

God says in the Holy Qur’an, chapter 2, verse 198.

“.. And whatever good you do, Allah knows it…”

And in a tradition of the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him,

Abu Musa Ash’ari relates that the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Charity is incumbent upon every Muslim. He was asked: If a person should have nothing?’ He answered: He should work with his hands to his own benefit and also give alms. If he is not able to work?   He should help a needy helpless one.   If he cannot do even that? He should urge others to goodness. If he lacks that also? He should restrain himself from doing evil. That too is charity.”
(Riyadh As-Salihin, Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, p.36)

Below are some words quoted from the writings of the Promised Messiah (peace be on him) as related by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V at the International Conference of the charity Humanity First on Saturday, 24th January 2015 at Baitul Futuh Mosque.

“There are only two complete parts of faith. One is to love God and the other is to love mankind to such a degree that you consider the suffering and the trials and tribulations of others as your own and that you pray for them.”

“Ahmadi Muslims bow down in sincere prayer praying that Allah enables them to serve with a true spirit of sympathy, compassion and love for mankind. They seek Allah’s Help to develop a truly selfless spirit whereby they consider the pain and desperation of others as their own pain and desperation. They pray that they are able to remove the tribulations and suffering of other people.”

At another occasion he said:

“To truly love God and Islam requires a person to love his nation. It is clear, therefore, that there can be no conflict of interest between a person’s love for God, and love for his country.”
(Speech delivered at the Military Headquarters in Koblenz, Germany, 30th May 2012)

Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V’s guidance resonates the hearts of millions of Ahmadi Muslims the world over.   And for this reason, whenever there is a need to raise money at charity events, the Lajna (Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association) from Luton and Bedford, like any other Lajna members elsewhere, are always ready to sacrifice their time and money to put into practice the advice of our beloved Caliph and they do this with much dedication and passion.

So, this year when local president, Mrs Huma Qadeer announced that she would like to once again help collect money for the Royal British Legion’s (RBL) Poppy Appeal, many came forward to volunteer.

From 31st October to 10th November 2016 smiling volunteers took turns to sell poppies throughout the day at supermarkets in Luton and Bedford. Included were poppies hand knitted by Lajna which later became a sell-out item. Many customers were amazed to see hijab-wearing Muslim ladies manning the poppy stalls. When asked, Mrs Qadeer explained the importance of being an integral part of society how their involvement highlighted the desire for peace and unity between all peoples, nations and religions.

Indeed, we take our guidance from Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V who has previously commented on the Poppy Appeal:

“Muslims are obliged to be loyal to the country in which they live. Honouring those who fought to defend and safeguard one’s country is an important principle of Islam and in fact is an important principle of peace – especially when it is carried out with a sincere heart and for the sake of winning God’s pleasure.”

Mr Colin Woods, who has been a member of the Royal British Legion (RBL) for 19 years, said:

“I am truly moved by the commitment shown by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women Association in helping to sell poppies and have received excellent feedback from members of the public who have nothing but praise for the efforts of the ladies, some even said that they never thought they would ever see Muslims selling poppies. Unfortunately there is so much bad press about Muslims today, but I have been enlightened and proud to have met and worked alongside the ladies of the AMWA and have a genuine respect for the work they do.”

As a mark of gratitude, Mr Woods extended an invitation to Mrs Qadeer to lay a wreath of poppies on Remembrance Sunday, 13th November in Luton.

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Speaking after the service, Mrs Huma Qadeer said Remembrance Sunday gives us the opportunity to express our sincere gratitude to the many brave men and women of the armed services who had sacrificed their lives to defend and safeguard our country and it also gives us the opportunity to build relationships within our diverse community to promote peace, tolerance and humanitarian support.

Later on the same day Mrs Qadeer was interviewed by Ms Yasmeen Khan of BBC Three Counties Radio.   Ms Khan congratulated her for the huge amount of money collected. When asked what reactions she received while out and about. Mrs Qadeer responded by saying, the public had been absolutely fantastic. They had been so generous in giving and they really appreciated that Muslim women were here to help in such a wonderful cause.

The hard work for the poppy appeal fund raising paid off with Luton and Bedford lajna raising over £11,500 which surpassed previous collections.

We are blessed as members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community that we have our beloved Khalifa to guide us – in this case, towards fulfilling the ninth condition of Bai’at (pledge as an Ahmadi):

‘That he/she shall keep himself/herself occupied in the service of God’s creatures for His sake only and shall endeavour towards the beneficence of mankind to the best of his/her God-given abilities and powers.’

I end with these words of The Promised Messiah (peace be on him) and prayers that we are able to live up to them.

“My countrymen, a religion which does not inculcate universal compassion is no religion at all. Similarly, a human being without the faculty of compassion is no human at all. Our God has never discriminated between one people and another…”
(Paigham e Sulh, Message of Peace.)

The Swiss Interpretation of Integration

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Maleeha Mansur, Hayes, UK

If I may ask, how do you define integration?  You see, the Swiss seem to think it is dependent on participation in swimming sessions and shaking hands. How absurd, you wonder.

Absurd and appalled would be a summary of my reaction upon hearing of two young Muslim teenage girls having their citizenship applications rejected for refusing to take part in swimming lessons with boys (for religious reasons) and hence deemed as not being “Swiss enough”.

This story send shivers down a Muslim parent’s spine. Not because these innocent girls’ applications were rejected or that they must have faced many repercussions from their school but rather due to the sheer burden and emotional turmoil these girls must be enduring. To be torn apart by the injunctions of one’s faith and the absurd demands of one’s country is most testing.

What is integration? Is integration to copy and become a mirror image of a typical citizen (which if I may say would be very hard to define as it is)? Far from it. The Oxford dictionary defines integration as to combine (one thing) with another to form a whole.

What a fascinating description indeed; it is to become part of one another. I could not better define true integration than as that done by the Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad

“In my view integration is to love your country and to be loyal to it. It is to be proud of your nation, to honour it, to work towards its success, to be law abiding and to respect your government. It is not to ask peaceful and law abiding people to forget those beliefs, traditions and customs that they value and which do not harm the peace and law and order of their nation.”

Thus the most important objective is that of a peaceful coexistence. Would forcing girls to swim with boys, when such an activity is unfamiliar alien to them and counter to their faith be a means of promoting peace?

In similar vein, the Swiss have begun imposing fines of up to $5,000 on any parent or guardian who refuses to shake a teacher’s hand. Again, hand shaking between males and females appears to be a fundamental aspect of being “Swiss enough” to be considered for citizenship. In a recent interview with Swedish media, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad beautifully explains

“Just to shake hands is not a sign of loyalty to a country or integration. Some Christians do not drink alcohol – would you say they are not integrating in your society because they do not drink? Similarly, there are still some Jewish women who also do not like to shake the hands of men. You would not criticise them because then you would be accused of anti-Semitism!”

Thus perhaps it is time for the Swiss to focus on what qualities they want from their citizens. Perhaps it is time they considered the efforts and contributions of their citizenship applicants to Swiss society by, for example, obtaining a world class education to broaden their horizons and hence contribute socially, culturally and economically to their new home of Switzerland.

I’m Always Putting Britain First

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Sarah Khan, London

I come from a long line of proud Yorkshiremen.  I was raised on a diet of no-nonsense, plain speaking and hard work.  My father regularly made sure to tell us that we had the right to play cricket for Yorkshire (never mind I was born in Berkshire and a woman).  As I grow older and raise my own children those same values permeate into my own parenting style and I realised it’s virtually impossible to divorce yourself from your cultural roots.  Even if I pronounce my vowels in a long fashion rather than with the shorter northern version and I’ve lived my life firmly in the south, I know that Yorkshire values run in my veins.

So while the murder of MP Jo Cox this week was shocking due to its brutal and unexpected nature, the senseless loss of a woman very much in the prime of her life had a personal resonance for me.  I know my father was a native of Leeds and knew Batley and the surrounding areas well.  While he is no longer here to voice his opinion, I know he would have had absolutely no affiliation with the murderer who yesterday gave his name in court as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain”.

He would have had no affiliation because in 1971 he did the very thing which Britain First and other far right groups fear the most, he became a Muslim.  And I, as his daughter, have been born a Muslim and my children are being raised Muslim too.  So I suppose for some we are living proof of the ‘invasion of Islam, of the conquering nature of this faith’.  My mother, a native of Birmingham, joined him in converting her religion so many years ago.  Three generations of English Muslims, turning their back on their heritage and joining the ranks of the medieval terrorists – according the rhetoric of the far right.  A Facebook video this week showed Jayda Fransen delivering a speech in Dewsbury, a few miles from Batley, telling a crowd Muslims like me were going to Hell for following the religion of the devil.

The tag line for Britain First’s website and literature is ‘Taking Britain Back’.  But the stark reality is that Britain cannot be taken back from me, and other English Muslims like myself.  I am nothing but English.  I have no other nationality or ethnicity and like many English people I’m not fluent in any language other than English.  So when such people talk about traitors, they mean people exactly like me and my family.

I’d like to think that such obvious bigotry should just be ignored.  In failing to give such views airtime or space in my thoughts, they will remain on the fringes of what is acceptable and eventually wither into obscurity.  Surely?  Yet recent events show that exactly the opposite is happening.  First, a leaflet for the London Mayoral Election showing all the campaigning parties landed on my doorstep, happily gaining entry into my personal sphere.  The entry from Britain First outlined how no more mosques would be built in a BF London.  This sent a shiver down my spine and I knew that had a race of people been selected and not a specific religion then more outcry would be heard.  I noted how they had worded it so carefully that it was just within the limits of not being hate speech, but the meaning was clear.  My kind wasn’t welcome or wanted.  Well, I wasn’t going to vote for them anyway and Britain is proud of its freedom of speech and worship, I rationalised to myself.

Then Britain First staged a protest very publically at Sadiq Khan’s victory, their representative Paul Golding turning his back on the new Mayor.  Not good sport old chap I thought as my fellow Brits laughed it off with humour and derision in a truly British fashion.  This was followed by last weekend’s military style training camp for Britain First.  Again we laughed on Twitter at their bumbling Dad’s Army style antics.  But Jo Cox’s murder this week shows that the time has come to stop laughing and to realise that such hate is deep and pervasive and a clear threat to the fabric of British society.  It seeks to divide neighbour from neighbour and, as we have seen, can lead the mentally fragile and vulnerable to extreme acts to express their hate.

So I think that it’s time everyone started putting Britain First.  In my own personal life I have long being doing so.  I’m proud to be British, I love the heritage and values of my country.  I love that I can be a Muslim and worship with full freedom and the protection of the law.  I regularly take a pledge of loyalty to my country.  The exact words are “I solemnly promise that I shall always keep myself ready to serve my faith, my nation and my country and shall always adhere to truth and shall always be prepared to make every sacrifice for the perpetuation of the Ahmadiyya Khilafat”.

This is a pledge I take in my mosque, as part of my faith.  I take it because I am a Muslim, not because I am English.  English law required no such pledge from me but my faith does require loyalty to my nation and my country.  There is no clash between my faith and my country.  This pledge is also taken in loyalty to my Khalifah.  Again, there is no clash between loyalty to Khilafat and Britain.  I know this is true because this Ahmadiyya Khilafat has been based in London for more than thirty years and has been a beacon of harmony and peace.

So, I’ve been putting Britain First for my entire life, I regularly take this pledge of loyalty at every monthly meeting of my faith.  Thousands of others make the same pledge across the UK.  I hope and pray that this hate rhetoric will stop.  I pray that such a senseless murder will give us all pause for reflection that as a society there should be no room for hate.  The motto of my community is ‘Love for All, Hatred for None’, I pray Britain adopts this value into its heart, as I know many British people do.  Because I know that I am not a traitor, far from it, I’m a proud English woman and the hate of a few will cause me to cling to my nation even more in a time of fear and danger for people just like me.  So let’s stop laughing at Britain First and let’s condemn them as the dangerous threat to our national fabric which they truly represent.

Love for All, Hatred for None – The Power Of Words

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Sarah Khan, London

Everyone loves a good slogan. The holy grail of all marketing and advertising executives, a short phrase that will stick in the mind and be associated with their product or association. Some slogans are amusing little word plays, others become memorable for decades. Simply think ‘Just do it’ by Nike or ‘I’m lovin’ it’ by McDonalds. These are simple, effective messages that translate across cultures and languages becoming truly global in their reach. The key requirements of a good slogan are that they should be memorable, should send a positive message and should distinguish your ‘brand’ from others in the same field. But just sometimes, slogans come to mean something more, conveying something beyond the simple words they contain.

The growth of Twitter and social media has seen the rising power of the hashtag. Thousands, sometimes millions of people, rally behind a cause and show their solidarity through a shared expression. In recent years we have seen how hashtags have the power to fuel social change. #Icantbreath or #bringbackourgirls for example caught the attention of world leaders although they started from a grass roots level.

In the sphere of my life I have grown up with a slogan that was coined before the internet age; a simple message with a deep meaning and one which I hope translates into concrete behaviour and is not just words. The slogan ‘Love for All, Hatred for None’ was coined by the third head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Nasir Ahmad, while in Spain for the laying of the foundation stone of the Basharat Mosque. It was in response to concerns of the people there but also came at a time when the Community was facing severe persecution. Homes and businesses had been looted within Pakistan and the situation was dire with riots being held in many places and some Ahmadi Muslims losing their life in the calamities. Instead of taking forceful action or reacting to violence with physical force the then Khalifah urged all Ahmadi people to turn to prayer and it was in this atmosphere that the slogan took hold. During a need to find peace, to find spiritual strength at a time of trial, it was a unifying and beautiful beacon of hope shining in a time of fear and concern.

Since that time more than 40 years ago, the slogan has been adopted into the hearts of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. It is displayed on banners and posters at all of our events whether they be in rural Africa or Urban America. It is emblazoned on badges, t-shirts, bumper stickers and much more. This slogan has come to serve two main purposes; it reminds Ahmadi Muslims to be correct in their approach to everyone and it serves to tell guests in a quick and digestible manner a fundamental core principle of our faith.

With the growth of extremism and terrorism, the impact of this slogan has become more pronounced upon visitors and guests who come across our Community. At peace forums and annual gatherings, the message makes a deep impression on people’s hearts and immediately indicates to them that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is not of those creating unrest and violence in the world.   I have even seen this impact first hand.

A couple of years ago I was travelling to our annual convention in Hampshire by train from London. A man boarded the train along the route with his teenage companion. As he entered the carriage he looked around at the veiled women and Muslim men, many of whom sported beards. He swore loudly, claiming this wasn’t Iraq, and then continued down the train to another section. Within a few minutes he returned, face slightly downcast. He hadn’t realised that the train was full of similar people and he had nowhere to escape from them. He stood in front of me and my young children for several stops, looking uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure how volatile he was and I did not want to provoke any disturbance so I kept quiet and he for his part uttered no further abuse. However, during that journey my children and I were wearing our I.D. badges with a neck chain emblazoned with the phrase ‘Love for All, Hatred for None’ and I noticed this man observing people all around him sported these words in one form or the other. I don’t know what impact this slogan had upon that particular man but I know I felt relief and humble pride that I was wearing my badge that day. The slogan spoke for me and indicated my beliefs far better than any argument or confrontation could ever have done. I realised then the power of words to convey beauty through silence.

This is why you may see this slogan emblazoned on buses across the UK from time to time and from tomorrow on buses in Glasgow and other Scottish cities. The campaign focus is ‘United Against Extremism’ and it has been undertaken to publically declare our stand as Muslims against violence or extremism of any nature. In the wake of the tragic murder of Asad Shah last month, Scotland showed that it is indeed a place where communities can stand united against intolerance. The support of locals for the family and the neighbouring Ahmadi Community was heart-warming for those of us even in far-flung places of the globe to witness. When so many members of our Community live in fear of physical and verbal attacks due to their faith, the solidarity shown by the locals is an act of kindness which touches the hearts of many.

However, while the bus banners will only be around for a few weeks, we, as Ahmadi Muslims, hope that the true meaning of our slogan will continue long after the campaign. Speaking in 2014, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community said that the slogan ‘Love for All, Hatred for None’ could ‘make it clear to the world that Islam teaches love, peace and kindness and it is not correct to associate cruelty and viciousness with the faith of Islam. We employ this slogan to signify that we wish to live together by breaking down walls of hatred. When we serve humanity in any way at all or when we disseminate the message of Islam we do so because we have love for every person in the world and we wish to remove hatred from each heart and instead sow the seeds of love[1]’.

With such a lofty ideal, and such a memorable slogan, backed by concrete actions there is a hope that Muslims and non-Muslims can indeed unite and put out the fires of extremism with the compassion of love.

[1] https://www.alislam.org/friday-sermon/printer-friendly-summary-2014-05-09.html

‘…truly, I am of those who submit to Thee.’

Surah Al Fatihah

Sarah Khan, London

A close friend of mine once recounted to me an action she saw made by a wise person.  This spiritual leader took a thread of black and a thread of white.  He wound them together so they criss-crossed, becoming intertwined.  This, he explained gently, was the path of life.  The black represented the hardship and difficult times, the white represented ease and peace, both were intrinsically linked together and could not be separated.

It seemed, to my idealistic self in my late teens, to be a pretty allegory and a simple illustration of a key religious principle.  But as I have matured and lived through the realities of life; marriage, childbirth, death of a parent, the loss of income, illness, etc. I have come to realise that this illustration held a great depth of truth.  With every difficulty we experience, we also have a measure of comfort and joy.  When you are young and headstrong it is easy to be overwhelmed by emotion, to view life in the moment and to fail to see the bigger picture.  Time and experience tempers your reactions and you realise that difficulties will pass and pain will lessen.  Time does not heal all wounds but it often makes the suffering less acute.  Sometimes, if we are lucky, we look back and see that from difficult situations, something positive arises which would not have happened without going through hardship.

This isn’t just a notion that has struck me alone, it is a key principle of God as described in the Holy Qur’an.  Very simply, but in a profoundly beautiful manner, God makes the statement ‘Surely there is ease after hardship.  Aye; surely there is ease after hardship.’[1].  This short verse offers comfort to the weary soul who wonders at the trials they face and seeks to know if there is an end to their pain.  It is a shining light which glows in the heart of the faithful during their darkest hours and it bolsters the strength of faith for those who suffer.  It is verses such as these which develop a love of God in the heart of every true Muslim and encourage them to develop a personal relationship with their Creator.  The test of time has proven these verses to be true for many people around the globe.

It was this simple illustration mentioned above and the recollection of those verse which came to mind a short while ago on the death of Asad Shah, a shop keeper in Glasgow and a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, to which I belong.  Very quickly it became apparent that this crime was committed by another Muslim and was a direct result of Mr Shah’s belief as an Ahmadi Muslim. Initially, there was nothing surprising about that fact.  Sadly, murders such as this are common place in Pakistan and other countries where the brutality and violence towards Ahmadis is tolerated and often goes unpunished.  However, I knew within a few hours that this particular death would symbolise something greater than the loss of one life.

Within a few hours the death was being reported by media outlets across the UK and this spread across the US and further afield. Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, attended a vigil held to mark the murder and it became very quickly clear that the media were roundly condemning the slaying of a person universally reported to have been kind and friendly towards all members of his local community.  The killer of Mr Shah released a statement saying that the victim had ‘disrespected the messenger of Islam’ and that ‘no-one has the right’ to do that as if this gave him the right to be judge, jury and executioner in this case.

The media interest led the Muslim Council of Britain, a collective of various Islamic groups that acts together to speak about Islamic issues, to condemn the murder.  However, the statement they released was full of contradiction.  While on one hand they say that ‘we affirm the rights of Ahmadis to their freedom of belief’ they directly contradict this by claiming they should not ‘be forced’ to acknowledge Ahmadis as Muslims.  So clearly the MCB is not respecting the Ahmadis right to be called Muslim and the words they share are merely hollow echoes blowing in the wind.

It may seem to some outsiders to be mere semantics, internal factions debating with one another.  But to live the life of an Ahmadi is to know the fear and pain such statements cause.  We are raised as Muslims, we read the same Quran as all Muslims, we love and venerate the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as all Muslims do, we offer the same words of Prayer as all Muslims and we wear headscarves as other Muslim women do.  We face Mecca when we Pray.  In our hearts we are Muslim and we love Islam.  When acts of violence or extremism occur by Muslims who have no connection to our Community and who would probably attack us given half a chance, we rush to defend our faith by all peaceful means.  We know fully well that we are Muslims and we do not need any Council, in Britain or elsewhere, to place their seal of approval upon our claim.  It matters not one jot to us if they refuse to call us Muslim, it will not alter our behaviour or our actions.  The Ahmadiyya Community has thousands of mosques across the globe, we run free schools and hospitals, we distribute Qurans and run satellite tv and radio stations educating people about the beauty of our peaceful faith.

The statement of the MCB does not harm us at all, in fact quite the opposite.  The duplicity and narrow mindedness conveyed in the few carefully chosen words released last week, reflects only upon those who wrote it, not on those about whom it was written.  Nothing the MCB stated places the Ahmadis in a negative light but it clearly indicates that, in refusing to recognise the right of Ahmadis to call themselves Muslim, they have shown themselves to be on the side of the extremists.  They have failed to explain how they have the right to make such a decision about the faith of others.

The first group to declare Ahmadis as not Muslim was the government of Pakistan in 1974.  This was a political decision made by politicians who seemingly had no remit to make such a call. Surely faith should be a matter of conscience and not governmental decree? Since 1974, Pakistan has engaged in the wholesale marginalisation of Ahmadis and has taken all steps possible to criminalise the creed of Ahmadiyyat; Ahmadis cannot ‘pose’ as Muslims, cannot call their mosques a mosque, cannot be buried in Muslim graveyards, cannot use Islamic terms to greet others.  No stone has been left unturned in the attempt to crush the spirit of Ahmadis in Pakistan.  But what has the result of the persecution been?

For the Ahmadiyya Community, it has seen its message spread far and wide.  No demonstrations or protests were held against court rulings, Ahmadis accepted every new attack in law or in body, with dignity and firmness of faith.  The number of Ahmadis in the world has grown year on year by conversion and not natural increase.  Where once no-one had heard the name of our Community, now government leaders and ministers of state acknowledge the good works and good example of our members.  No single member of the Ahmadiyya Community has any link to Islamic extremism or violence, no-one has fled to Syria or elsewhere.

And as for Pakistan?  Sadly, with deep regret, each passing year sees the situation in Pakistan worsen.  Security is growing weaker with shootings, terrorist strikes, drone attacks and more blighting the country.  Political turmoil and corruption is rife.  Minorities suffer intense persecution and live in fear of their lives.  If any person is brave enough to defend their rights and speak out for justice they are killed and no-one will agree to prosecute their killers who are hailed as heroes.  Justice and humanity are diminishing values in a country which has a rich history of culture, art and hospitality, the loving and warm hearts of the people are being overshadowed by the spectre of extremism and sectarianism.

So when the MCB released its statement this week they aligned themselves with the government of Pakistan, they chose to rule on personal matters of faith and chose to stand with those who believe they have a right to say who is and who is not a Muslim.  In doing so they will not affect the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, we will continue as we were before.

The head of the Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, known as the Khalifah, quoted the founder of Ahmadiyyat on this issue at an earlier event of persecution.  ‘The Promised Messiah (peace be upon him) stated that hardships never concern him because he has complete faith in the Beneficence of God Almighty, Who can change despair into hope, Whose favours are always within reach for those who make the effort. The intention of giving up a vice when one is faced with hardships becomes a source of true repentance for him. In such a case, the luminance of hope clears away the darkness of despair, and such a person advances towards spiritual progress[2]’.

So the death of Asad Shah is a sad event, that a young man so kind should be killed for his beliefs.  But from this death, the MCB has made their bigotry known and it is clear for all to see. In the loss of his life he may lead many to investigate why our peace loving Community is so brutally and violently rejected by others who claim to be Muslim.  It will cause the Ahmadi Muslims across the world to reaffirm their faith and reassess their actions. Just as the black and white thread were intertwined, after the hardship of this tragic loss and the hurtful statements of the MCB, steadfastness of faith will see, with the Will of God, the white thread of ease resurge.

[1] Holy Quran: 94:6-7

[2] https://www.alislam.org/friday-sermon/2009-10-02.html

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

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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.