Friday, March 28, 2008

Foot in the sink and cultural convention

Anyone with a moderate disposition please look away now. Many of us have been faced with the rather embarrassing situation of placing one’s foot in the sink at a public toilet in order to complete ablutions before prayer. I usually get looks: ‘What’s he doing with his foot in the sink?’ The cause for discomfort is that something is out of its place. Our feet should be in our socks, in our shoes, not in the sink. But this has made me think about cultural convention. Also in public toilets, one can find urinals. I have always found urinals unpleasant and the social convention around walking up to a urinal and then revealing the most intimate part of the body to others very uncomfortable. But others treat this as a norm and walk away as if nothing strange happened, and that is because according to cultural convention, nothing strange did happen. But don’t put your foot in the sink, that’s just ‘wrong’.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Call to Muslim bloggers

This is a call to Muslim bloggers and all Muslim internet types to do some more journalism. We need more more journalism and less comment. The war of positioning that has been on-going for the last few years has meant that many of us have written, rightly so, on the various matters and issues around the debates (I will be posting on these issues). Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ed Hussain and Anjum Chowdhury amongst others provide a plethora of debate about how Muslims should respond to the various issues that face us today and we should rightly be enagaged in these debates, whether it is about the niqab, or terrorism, or Muslim schools etc. However, what has happened simultaneously is that there has been less and less journalism. Journalism is the documentation of recent history whether this is about arrests. politics, funding decisions, reports etc. Though some of this is being covered in the blogosphere, there are still many issues and events that are going completely unnoticed. This is especially important because narratives are built upon events - or reported events - it is therefore very important for us politically to ensure that all that is happening on the ground is sent out into the public sphere. As you are all aware, parts of the media are very selective about what is reported. Whether this is about the Charity Commission investigating an important mosque in Bradford, or deaths in custody in Armley jail, or attacks on Muslims in the streets, or the nature of government spending on counter-terrorism (neighbourhood policing versus community development), or the many, many other things that should all be followed and monitored as a matter of justice, in the absence of any effective news journalism from the main national Muslim media outlets, it remains the job of the bloggers to inform the rest of us in straight, evidential detail as to what exactly is going on in the rest of the country.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

More deaths in Leeds prison

There have been two more deaths in custody at Leeds prison. This is after a report was published by the Independent Monitoring Board into conditions at the prison. Kassa Osebu was awaiting trial for the murder of his wife and he was found dead in October last year and this last week, Masuillah Hafesjee, a convicted sex offender, was found dead as well. David Hanson is Minister with responsibility for prisons at the Ministry of Justice.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A tale of two mosques

I have spent a considerable amount of time hesitating about whether to post on this topic but recent events have suggested that it is no longer a matter which should be left undisclosed. At the heart of the debate on the future of the Muslim community in Bradford and in Britain is the issue of the role of the mosque. Most mosques have committees which organise and manage their affairs and Imams are brought in to conduct the rituals and sermons. As such, the Imam is usually under the jurisdiction of the committee. This takes me back to a post I wrote on the nature of leadership in Muslim culture in which I identified four characteristics: the Imam, the Mufti, the Amir and the Wali. It is certainly the case that there are some individuals who are able to combine all four roles within their expansive personalities but these individuals remain as exceptions. Instead, usually there is some informal division of labour within the community. The Amir tends to be a councillor or a secretary of the committee, the Imam may be the Mufti as well (but may not be), and the Wali is the man who stands next to the radiator. What we are looking for in these turbulent times is leadership: spiritual leadership (how to take us beyond the dunya – the temporary – towards the Eternal) and political leadership (how to respond to the various issues that Muslims face in Bradford). There are many aspects to this and many shades in between. I would like to term a certain form of leadership moral leadership. This is about spiritual and political leadership – it is about how one responds to the justification of terrorism, or how one responds to violence against Muslim women by Muslim men, or how one responds to benefit fraud, or how one responds to the way some young Muslim men treat others in the streets of Bradford – this is all about moral leadership which is political in that it is in the world but it is lead by a spiritual vision that approaches the world with a clear understanding of what counts and what does not. The mosques should really be the places – the sources – of moral leadership. But they are not. Practically speaking, they fulfil, at most, the function of teaching the rules of the religion and even this is something which I would say is failing – I will post on the madressa system as it is operating in Bradford later. What is required is clear direction, moral courage and honesty. But many Muslims seek all of these things from elsewhere, either from the internet, books or elsewhere...

This brings me on to the tale of two mosques in Bradford. On one side of Bradford, in Bradford 3, is Madani Mosque which recently won Islam channel’s mosque competition to seek the best mosque in the country. On the other side of the city, in Bradford 8, is Hanfia mosque. Madani Mosque’s strength is the involvement of its second generation in the management of the mosque itself. They have access for women, have organised many events for the youth and have active outreach programmes into the wider community. Hanfia mosque was heading in the same direction until they unceremoniously released their Imam from his duties. This is a mosque in the heart of a community that has suffered two riots. This particular Imam has secured the confidence and enthusiasm of hundreds of young men from the area. He has helped guide many of them towards becoming model citizens. But the committee asked him to leave. A complaint was made against the mosque. The committee has since been disbanded and a new committee formed which is now investigating the matter (this is changing week by week) and I understand that the Charity Commission is now involved. It may be that all those accused are innocent but my question here is how is it that institutions which are paid for by the community and from which we expect some kind of leadership around the many serious problems that we have is able to continue without any call for accountability? This is where if we wish to improve things, then we need to begin to ask questions of those bodies that are there to serve us.