Haleema Akhtar provides us with our monthly insight into the events surrounding the Muslim community both here in the UK and abroad. From positive Muslim initiatives such as #VisitMyMosque with the Muslim Council of Britain to more tragic events such as those occuring in Ghouta, Syria, we come together to discuss its repercussions on the Muslim community and what we can do to help.
To start with, the annual #VisitMyMosque initiative facilitated by the Muslim Council of Britain returned on Sunday 18th Feb and saw over 200 mosques from across the UK open up their doors to their local communities and non-Muslim neighbours. With guests such as Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan, the day was a success and showed the best of British Muslim communities.
In an age where Muslims are portrayed negatively, as terrorists, as closed off and as people who refuse to integrate into British society, #VisitMyMosque day shows the exact opposite. By opening our doors to those who have constantly seen Muslims to be the ‘Other’ within society, it can be argued that this process of exposure has gone a great way in breaking down barriers and promoting a positive image during a period where negative representations of Muslims is increasing.
Props to over 200 mosques for having the foresight, the determination and resource to pull this off!
Sticking to the topic of mosques but in an entirely negative light, a young Pakistani girl shared her experience of sexual harassment in Mecca. Soon after, Mona Eltahawy started a hashtag #MosqueMeToo and tweeted about her own experience of sexual harassment whilst performing Hajj. After a while, thousands had retweeted her tweet and were sharing their own experiences of sexual harassment. This experience highlighted a few things which women already know yet find ourselves highlighting again and again:
- Whether you’re fully covered in a niqab or wearing shorts, sexual assault can and does happen.
- Sexual assault is always the fault of the attacker, there is never any blame on the victim.
- Muslim communities need to be open and honest when discussing this. We can no longer shy away from discussing these matters out of fear that Islamophobes will use it as a stick to beat us with. Enough is enough.
Women are sharing deeply personal experiences which in some cases, they’ve never spoken about, thus demonstrating how social media has provided a safe space for women to talk about these issues in a global sphere where they can find allies who can comfort and support them. We should encourage women to talk freely and openly about trauma and not be afraid to have honest and frank discussions on such sensitive issues.
However, the hashtag didn’t appeal to everyone. Some argued that it was another reason for Islamophobes to criticise Islam and highlight that Muslim men are deeply misogynistic. Yet, no one claimed that all Muslim men go around sexually harassing women. No one claimed that woman can’t also be abusers. No one claimed that sexual abuse is a Muslim problem, in fact recent revelations in the Hollywood and charity sector have demonstrated that sexual abuse and harrasment occurs as a result of deeper underlying issues within society. This entire episode has led to comments from all sides of the spectrum and dialogue and debate are welcome but we must be careful in realising that we should not shut down debate nor silence survivors of sexual abuse. There are no two ways about it.
Tragedy after tragedy has desensitised many to the horrors of the world we live in and recent events in Ghouta have highlighted that when victims are not white, people just do not care.
Human Rights Watch have reported that around 400 civilians have been killed since February 19th. That’s around 100 people a day and almost approximately 4 people an hour. Humanitarian efforts are being targeted, children are being starved and families are being torn apart. Throughout, the UN has parroted the same words about a ceasefire that no nation states seem to be taking seriously. The fact that states continue to be silent on these issues, the fact that attempts at negotiating a ceasefire continue to fail demonstrates the wide apathy felt by the global political system for the Syrian people.
However, there are many ways to counteract this and the best thing is that it can start with you. Whilst duas are always important, its also important to use your agency and voice to make lives better for those in need. Do what you can – whether it’s dua, donations, writing to your MPs, tweeting about it to ensure that the news cycle doesn’t just forget about the innocent people being slaughtered, we can all use our agency to make a difference. Here are some links below to see how you can help!
Islamic Relief: www.islamic-relief.org.uk/t/syria
Write to your MP: www.writetothem.com
Tweet, retweet, spread the word: https://twitter.com/hashtag/saveghouta
Here’s hoping that political actors grow a backbone and a conscience.
May Allah (swt) relieve the suffering around the world, may He grant the people of Ghouta sabr and a hefty reward and may He reunite those who have lost loved ones with them in Jannah. Ameen.
Haleema Akhtar is an undergraduate student at SOAS who is interested in social issues facing minorities and wants to work to create a fairer world in which minorities are not scapegoated or vilified.