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The Way It Is - Emdad Rahman

The M Connection

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Fundamental misunderstandings about the fastest growing faith on earth


“Thanks to a moronic, violent few I have a completely irrational fear of groups of teenagers in hoodies.

“And now, after the events of the past few weeks I'm suspicious of young Asian or Middle-Eastern men, with or without beards. Just looking like someone similar to those who bombed or tried to bomb London is enough.

There I've said it, and I hate myself for it. But, just ask yourself - would you get on a bus if you had queued next to such a guy with a rucksack? I'd like to say I would, but in truth I know I'd wait for the next bus.”

These were the words of Daily Mirror columnist Fiona Phillips (30 July 2005) and it really had an effect on me.

Firstly I thought that was the most pathetic justification for generalized views that I have ever heard.

Phillips goes on to describe an Asian man with a bag sitting like a leper on the train. No one was brave enough to take a chance on the fact that he was just like them.

Hmm… Is stereotyping built into the British psyche because there’s no getting away from it?

I am a front line worker and in my experience racism or stereotyping is either on the increase, or people feel it's acceptable.

I was born in the UK and am extremely proud and 110% loyal to the country of my birth. I will always strive to adhere to its rules and regulations. (read Amerigo Bonasera; “America has been good to me.”)

For 29 years I too have played the role of a guest who has been put up by his generous host. For this I am eternally grateful.

But, I don’t think non whites will ever be accepted. Remember there is a difference between acceptance and tolerance. I listened radio comments after 7/7 and it was full of some chav describing black ,purple, yellow and martian friends but he’d never been to the pub with a Muslim (or as my buddy John Dangas would say; “I’ve never consumed alcohol with you brother”) and hence could not understand why he had no such friends. Hmm…”If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”

What’s religion got to do with it?

I am a practicing Muslim and my loyalty to the British flag stems largely from the fact that my religion encourages me amongst many things to respect my host. We should never forget that at the end of the day we are all guests and grateful we should be. Which other country in the world would you be able to assemble Muslim leaders to discuss concerns with the PM.

When western citizens are kidnapped by extremists with Muslim-sounding names, the reputation of Islam is hijacked. When western citizens are murdered and executed, Islam is also being murdered and executed. When western citizens are the target of injustice, Islam is treated unjustly. Yes, the worlds not fair and I can hear you squeal “but these incidents happen in all conflicts, not just with Muslims. Look at Srebrenica.”

1.48 billion Muslims worldwide have been smeared with the ghastly events of recent years.

Nearly one in five people in the world today are Muslim. Spanning the globe over fifty countries have Muslim-majority populations, while other groups of believers are clustered in minority communities on nearly every continent.

Although Islam is often associated with the Arab world and the Middle East, fewer than 15% of Muslims are Arab.

Like it or not, White is the new black and Muslims are the new bogeymen. Grown men are crying into their conflakes. Hmm… smell the coffee man, you’re a guest remember. Deal with it.

By the way amidst all this has anyone ever asked the sisterhood, the female Muslim populace of their feelings. Surely they too must be seething and have a lot to get off their chests.

It is inevitable that Muslims will continue to face hostility.

 

A middle aged male came out of a newsagent last Thursday and as he walked past I lip read “expletive Paki expletive off back to your expletive hole in expletive Afghanistan.” As he walked off I told him that native Britons were actually pagans who were massacred by the Christians and if he checked his lineage he might be surprised. It was only when he opened his mouth did I walk away. I mean he was South African. Give me strength. It’s the revenge of the springboks part 1. Hmmm….. Pot calling kettle…

We must educate our children, more or less from birth, not only to tolerate each other but also to be grateful and to feel honoured that we live in a multicultural, multifaith country. By the way if a multi-racial and multi-cultural society is so popular, why are so many native Britons not hanging around to enjoy it, but instead, selling up and moving to parts of the country or to continental Europe that George Galloway would probably describe as being "hideously white"?

Integration is another buzzword. Will social problems end if we fully integrate? I don't think so. What does it mean to me? Most people everywhere prefer to live among people of their own race and culture and social background. Can you imagine a predominantly Jewish, Hindu, Sikh or any other such population, being happy to see their society slowly transformed before their eyes by an infusion of different ideologies and culture no matter how worthy and wonderful they are? I certainly cannot. In fact, I'm pretty sure that they wouldn't allow it to happen. I think I am a perfect example of what integration should be.

Mr Bonasera again offers a useful insight; “I believe in America. America has made my fortune. And I raised my daughter in the American fashion. I gave her freedom, but - I taught her never to dishonor her family. She found a boyfriend, not an Italian...Two months ago, he took her for a drive, with another boyfriend. They made her drink whiskey. And then they tried to take advantage of her. She resisted. She kept her honor. So they beat her like an animal...She was the light of my life - my beautiful girl. Now she will never be beautiful again...I-I went to the police like a good American. These two boys were brought to trial. The judge sentenced them to three years in prison - suspended sentence. Suspended sentence! They went free that very day! I stood in the courtroom like a fool. And those two bastards, they smiled at me.”

Despite my love and loyalty to the UK I am also fiercely proud of my heritage and despite dialogues galore with my colleague Jason Beazley I FEEL I am Bangladeshi, simply because I AM A HUMBLE GUEST in the UK. There’s nothing wrong with that. Our differences are what makes this island GREAT.

And how should we Western Muslims respond to the backlash? Should we cry discrimination? Should we remind our fellow citizens that we are just as English or American or French or Australian as they are?

Or should we appreciate their fears and uncertainties? Should we empathise with their feelings of vulnerability as they feel besieged by what appears to be yet another attack by extremists using our faith as an ideological weapon?

Which leads nicely to whether Muslims and non-Muslims can live together?

Palestine was captured by Umar, the second caliph of Islam. The entry of Umar into Jerusalem, the incredible tolerance, maturity and kindness he showed towards people of different beliefs introduced the beautiful age that British historian and Middle East expert Karen Armstrong describes in her book Holy War;

The Caliph Umar entered Jerusalem mounted on a white camel, escorted by the magistrate of the city, the Greek Patriarch Sophronius. The Caliph asked to be taken immediately to the Temple Mount and there he knelt in prayer on the spot where his friend Mohammed had made his Night Journey. The Patriarch watched in horror: this, he thought, must be the Abomination of Desolation that the Prophet Daniel had foretold would enter the Temple; this must be Antichrist who would herald the Last Days. Next Omar asked to see the Christian shrines and, while he was in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the time for Muslim prayer came round. Courteously the Patriarch invited him to pray where he was, but Umar as courteously refused. If he knelt to pray in the church, he explained, the Muslims would want to commemorate the event by erecting a mosque there, and that would mean that they would have to demolish the Holy Sepulchre. Instead Omar went to pray at a little distance from the church, and, sure enough, directly opposite the Holy Sepulchre there is still a small mosque dedicated to the Caliph Umar.

In short, Muslims brought 'civilization' to Jerusalem and all of Palestine. Instead of barbaric beliefs that showed no respect for other peoples' sacred values, and which killed them simply out of differences of belief, there reigned the just, tolerant and moderate culture of Islam. After its capture by Umar, Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in peace and harmony in Palestine. Muslims never tried to use force to make people convert, although some non-Muslims did so of their own free will.

On 2 October 1187 Saladin and his army entered Jerusalem as conquerors and for the next 800 years Jerusalem would remain a Muslim city. Saladin kept his word, and conquered the city according to the highest Islamic ideals. He did not take revenge for the previous massacre of Muslims. Not a single Christian was killed and there was no plunder. The ransoms were deliberately very low...

The Ottoman Empire was administered under what is known as the 'nation (millet) system,' the fundamental feature of which was that people of different faiths were allowed to live according to their own beliefs and even legal systems. Christians and Jews, described as the 'People of the Book', found toleration, security and freedom in Ottoman lands.

I know it’s controversial but I think that if we are to continue living in the UK then we must play the role of guest and host. I mean it worked for our parents right?

Historically Muslims emigrated to Abyssinia in 615 and 616 AD. The king of Abyssinia welcomed the Muslim refugees into his kingdom. He gave them sanctuary, and they enjoyed peace, security and freedom of worship under his aegis.

Muslims spent 13 happy years in Abyssinia and lived there in peace before returning to their new home in Madinah.

London has been to many Muslims what Abyssinia was to the early Muslims who fled to its Christian government, seeking sanctuary and protection from their oppressors. And just as the King of Abyssinia granted the early Muslims a fair hearing, natural justice and security, so has London done the same.

Amongst too many to mention young Ken Livingstone has been a prominent supporter of human rights for Muslims whether it’s the war in Iraq or the Hijab ban in France.

I guess by allowing an insight into my world I may have dived headfirst into a hornets nest.

Don’t all write in at once.

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Move over Mr Ermes

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Jamil Ahmed talks to Emdad Rahman

Jamil Ahmed is an Artist who lives in London. Born in Bangladesh, the 33 year old has been concentrating his spare time for the last ten years on Islamic and Arabic themed arts, which includes canvas painting and visual arts.

Jamil who arrived in the UK in 1983 has been actively engaged in projects to introduce and promote Islamic visual arts to the world. He has an active passion relating to art in Islamic culture.

“Muslims are educated, aware and proud of their religious, cultural and historical heritage” he says. Moreover the creative spirit of Muslims stems from thousands of years back. In Iraq for example, this knowledge formulates from an early age, as school children are taken on trips to the Baghdad Museum, Babylon and other archaeological sites where they are exposed to, informed of and educated about their rich historical background.

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In The Hotseat: Mrs Taifur Rashid: MBE

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Taifur Rashid is a force to be dealt with.

With so many reports of arrogant and self-important personalities, it is a pleasure to report that Taifur Rashid is a thoroughly nice woman. During our brief encounter she was extremely hospitable, generous and full of advice.

Mrs Rashid, 46, of Beehive Lane, Redbridge, is married with two sons. She was born in Bangladesh and has lived in Redbridge for the past 16 years, after first immigrating to Britain in 1974. She also works as a full-time senior housing officer for Toynbee Housing Association in Spitalfields but started her career as a sales assistant/ section Manager in the fashion department of a South London shop. Mrs Rashid also worked at the Royal Bank of Scotland before taking a part-time post as an information team leader at the Ethnic Advice and Community Centre in Aldgate. She has also worked as a higher clerical officer for Tower Hamlets Health Authority before taking up her current job 15 years ago. She is also the first and only women chair of the Tower Hamlets Race Equality Council.

Two years ago Mrs Rashid was honoured in the Queen’s Birthday honours list and was rewarded with an MBE in recognition of her sterling efforts for the community. She spoke of her joy at being recognised, after years of tireless campaigning for a better deal for people. The erstwhile campaigner of human rights informed me that she was "speechless" when she learnt about her MBE award. She said, “ I was speechless and over the moon when I heard of the award. Words cannot describe the elation I felt at the time.”

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Bibi Russell: Artiste Extraordinaire

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‘Everyone thinks Bangladesh is a poor country. For me - it's rich in culture and everything. It gives me a lot of energy _ I live in Bangladesh. Most of the time I'm in villages and I'm competing with top designers.’

 

Bibi Russell is the delight of many Bangladeshis. She was born in Chittagong and comes from a very well known family. Her father known as Sadhu Bhai (Late Mokhlesur Rahman) - and mother Begum Shamsunnehar Rahman (Rose) were very prominent personalities in the media world.

After finishing secondary school, Bibi realised that she wanted to study fashion design. As Bangladesh did not have a design school, her parents sponsored her to study in abroad and hence became the first woman from Bangladesh to study at the London College of Fashion. When she graduated in 1975 she modelled her own graduation show. She was swiftly offered modelling assignments with an impressive array of designers, Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld and Giorgio Armani to name a few. Bibi worked as one of the leading models for Yves Saint Laurent, Kenzo, Karl Lagerfield and Giorgio Armani for nearly a decade. In the past she has been featured in top magazines including Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Cosmopolitan.

Bibi has choreographed and arranged many fashion shows and exhibitions in Bangladesh and Europe, using hand woven cotton and jute fabric. With the help of Dr. Federico Mayor, secretary general of UNESCO, Bibi launched a fashion show in Paris in 1996. ‘He gave me my first big break,’ she said. The show was called ‘Weavers of Bangladesh’. Her second show was also with UNESCO a year later on, was aptly named ‘The Colours of Bangladesh’, and was held in Palma De Mallorca, Spain. It was launched and supported by the Queen of Spain. In September 1998, with support from UNESCO and the British Fashion Council, Bibi brought her third show to London, called ‘Stars of Bangladesh’”. Bibi was the first designer from the developing world to participate in the 1998 London Fashion Week. This was the first London collection to emerge from the villages of Bangladesh where about one million people depend on weaving glamorous silks and cottons for their livelihood. In addition to her success at London Fashion Week, Russell has developed a following in France and Spain. The queen of Spain was so taken with Russell's designs that she visited Bangladesh and invited her to present a show in Madrid. Bibi made her US debut in the same year at the closing ceremony of the State of the World Forum (a six-day gathering of activists and global decision makers). A year later she received the Women Awards 1999, at El Palauet Luca, Barcelona in recognition of Bibi Productions in Bangladesh. The Barcelona Chamber of Commerce supported the event.

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The Lungi Legacy?

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‘What is the height of fashion? A Lungi with a zip!’

Once upon a time Deshis used to be proud of their ability to wear the clothes of the venerable English gentleman. Outside Desh those who aspired to the same thing were known decisively as ‘booted and suited’ and denied the status of the westernised Deshi babu. These days you receive an invite to a mate's wedding in Sylhet, which is full of Deshi traditional garb. No problem there. The 68,000 dollar question is do you wear a Lungi? You are probably on holiday on a beachy resort in Sylhet being laid back, relaxed and doing what the locals do, which is probably watching Indian films on the Satellite TV. Do you wander round in a Becks-style sarong on your way to the olive grove eaterie? You are a normal sort of bloke so think, would you wear a Lungi on the tube on your way to work? Of course not; you'd be scorned, ridiculed, derided, laughed at, almost as much as if you admitted to owning a Morris Minor, enjoying Big Brother or listening to Kumar Sanu. Even the Reformist Jyoti Basu hates them. He told the Times News Network in September 2002 that he did not like Lungis any more. The quintessential Bengali babu, now feels that India will go to the dogs unless people give up wearing the Lungi. ‘This country will surely be ruined if we do not stop wearing Lungis. How can you travel in a bus or a tram in a Lungi? How can you work?’

Designer Lungis….

Lungis, I would like to say are a great form of clothing. I don’t usually wear them outside, but are great for around the home. However, funny things happen in London, and you do, very occasionally, see a man in the street so attired. But do not forget we are talking about a Deshi in Sylhet here. This is despite dozens of attempts by modern fashion designers - including Jean-Paul Gaultier, famous for his, er, open-minded designs - to prove that a bloke in a skirt can look good. However it should be said that a ‘Moklis Brand’ Lungi does not somehow have the same appeal as a pair of Gucci’s.

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