Friday, 30 April 2010

The voice of a desert flower (FGM series)

This is the 5th post in a 6-part series on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM, or female circumcision).

Any one who is following the multitude of campaigns that are active across the world to eradicate the great evil that is FGM, will know that the name of Waris Dirie, is synonymous with great suffering, sacrifice, patience and wonder. Her journey from a nomadic existence in Somalia to world famous supermodel, is truly the stuff of fairytales! No wonder then, that her autobiography shot to the top of the best-seller list on its release, and more recently, a Hollywood film is in the offing, and possibly a theatre production of her extraordinary life. Her vivid descriptions of her circumcision at the age of 5 will make you squirm in your seat and cause rain to fall from the eyes of even the most hardened of readers, while her confidence, tenacity and conviction are a continual source of inspiration and motivation for me.
Read a shortened version of her remarkable story here:
www.fgmnetwork.org/articles/Waris.php -

8 years ago, Waris Dirie was appointed as the United Nation’s leading spokesperson and campaign representative, steering their work towards abolishing FGM. So far, 28 African countries have outlawed the practise, but as we all know, law in the 3rd world means little unless it is implemented from the ground up, and work is carried out with rural people towards finding other ways for them to express their cultural identities safely, and with equality and respect.
The below videos are taken from ‘African Voices: a journey with Waris Dirie, visit her official website for more: www.waris-dirie-foundation.com
In the below extracts, she talks some more about her incredible life, the beauty of destiny and how her painful past helps to shape the manner in which she raises her own 2 sons. She also talks about her work within the campaigning sphere: what she has achieved, and how much is still to be done.

Part 1:
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Part 2:

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Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Female Genital Mutilation in Islam (FGM Series).

This is the fourth post in a 6-part series which began earlier on this month, examining the subject of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM or Female Circumcision).

Since the series began, many of you have sent in comments, questions and observations regarding the series and the material covered. I was pleased (for want of a better word), that so many of you were as repelled and disgusted as I was by this practise: its only when a society recognises evil/wrong doing for what it really is, that things can start to change. But recognising alone, is not enough: the acknowledgement has to be combined with sustainable, meaningful action for something tangible to take place. You and I alone can’t stop this deep-routed engrained cultural practise, but if we work together and raise our voices with other campaigners across the world, then our words, deeds and disassociation is really truly worth something!

A number of you have sent in questions on the topic of FGM, and while I was once again encouraged by the interest out there, the volume of anonymous questions I received showed me just how much fear, embarrassment and stigma there is out there regarding this practise. To my Muslim brothers and sisters, I have to remind you, that there is no concept of embarrassment in Islam. Both men and women, came to our Prophet (PBUH) and the Imams (A.S) with their questions and issues, they learnt from them all (A.S), debated and questioned on topics ranging from love, marriage, finance, child raising and sexual etiquette! If we need to ask a question in order to inform, educate and elevate ourselves, we should do so, openly, with confidence, dignity and conviction: if we do not, then what differentiates us as rightly guided Muslims from the wahabi sheep that have unfortunately become common place in the world today and who continue to propagate practises such as the subject in question!
This perhaps brings me on to the question that was asked by at least 12 of those who contacted me:

1. Is FGM an Islamic Practise?

Given that FGM is practised in a wide range of mainly Islamic countries, one would be easily fooled in to believing that Female Circumcision was somehow an Islamic teaching/obligation. Its influence in the Muslim world is far-reaching, and spans most of Eastern and Northern Africa, Egypt, Yemen, Turkey, Kurdistan and parts of Pakistan.
The practise however, pre-dates Islam, and owing to the unwritten/oral nature of history in many of these regions, no one really knows where/why or how FGM came in to being. Indications show that it was viewed as a right of passage ritual, or a means of controlling sexual desire among women.
When the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) came to educate and reform his people, he had a mammoth task on his hands! Mainly relating to how to remove and eradicate such vile illiterate practises from the Arabian tribes. We all know how dangerous innovation has been within the religion, but innovation did not simply become a feature of Islam post the death of Mohammed (PBUH), even in the early days of Islam, it was used to justify tribal injustices, or those pagan practises that the people wished to continue with. In 2 of the suni hadaith collections (that is, those 2 that are not given credence by the shia), the books of Aabu Daood and Tirmidhi, you will find 2 alleged hadaith in support of FGM. The first is the narration of a discussion between Umm Atiya (a tribes woman who’s employment involved circumcising women), and the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). The Prophet is alleged to have said “Oh Umm Atiya, do not be severe when cutting, and leave something behind: this will be more pleasing for her, and for her husband”. This hadaith, if true, would indicate Islamic endorsement of type 1 circumcision, pricking or removal of the clitoral hood, but would denounce types 2 and 3 respectively (infibulations), though given that biologically and physiologically all types carry risks, it is completely irrational to assume that Islam would demand that a woman mutilate herself for the pleasure of her Lord!
The second narration concerns the Prophet (PBUH) advising his people on how/what should be excised:
“do not be severe in cutting: and remove only the top part of the organ, that which resembles a rooster’s comb, and leave something sticking out: this will be easy for her and pleasing to her husband.” While this alleged hadaith would also support type 1 circumcision, it contradicts the earlier hadaith by advising women to remove the entire clitoral hood, which again, biologically can cause multiple infections, scarring and tightening of the vagina thus causing pain during intercourse and in particular during child birth.
Out of the 4 suni schools in Islam, only the school of Imam Ahmed ibn Hamble states that female circumcision is sunnah (a practise endorsed/pleasing to the Prophet of Islam and in the sight of God). His ruling comes from another incredibly weak hadaith found in a number of his books where the Prophet apparently said “when the 2 circumcised parts come together: purification (ghusl), is required thereafter.”
while the other 3 suni schools do not support it, neither do they explicitly advise against it: doubtlessly adding to its spreading across the Muslim world. Many of those so-called Muslim Scholars who support FGM, try to link it to male circumcision in terms of the need for purification and preventing of infections, though it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the female anatomy is not designed in the same way as the male genitalia and therefore mutilating a female and stitching her up again would not prevent infections in this way, quite the contrary: it would add to them!
All of our imams (A.S), in the shia school of thought, along with our modern-day ayatollahs have explicitly forbid their faithful from any kind of flagellation, mutilation or deliberate harm caused to one’s own body, or intentionally caused to others, thus you will find many ayatollahs forbidding azadari performed with swords, chains or other sharp objects. While I could not find a hadaith from any of the ahlulbayt (A.S) specifically dealing with the impermissibility of FGM, the above would indicate this clearly enough!, coupled with the fact that our Prophet (PBUH), did not circumcise his daughter, neither did any of the Imams (A.S) advise their wives, sisters or daughters to carry this out, surely, if this was a recognised sunnah practise, it would have been implemented by the people of the house?
Furthermore, Pleasure during sexual relations between husband and wife is given a high rank and position in marriage, and within the hadaith of our Imams (A.S), and you’ll find many hadaith discussing how to give pleasure, the need for foreplay and mutual satisfaction/orgasm experienced by both the husband and his wife. Why then, would a horrific operation be prescribed to eliminate sexual climax for Muslim women?

Given that FGM clearly has no basis in Islam, Why then, are more Muslims not speaking out against this practise? Why are the shia in particular, not adding their voice to the multitude of campaigning organisations (mainly from the West), who speak out against this horrific practise? Why does not one care about the 150000 girls and women who suffer this barbaric mutilation every year (and those are just the numbers that are known about). I put this question to a range of people from across the Muslim community: most of them used lack of awareness as a primary get-out claws, others pointed at a fear of speaking out against wahabis/sunis, others felt their interfering would be seen as unwelcome supremacy (who are these white/foreign people telling us how to run our countries?). While all of these have weight in their own ways, none of them justify sitting back and doing nothing! One who is your brother in Islam is your brother in humanity. If we can cry over the martyrdom of our beloved Imam (A.S), and the mutilation of his companions, why do the death of thousands of innocent young girls and children through FGM not provoke the same reaction? If we can sign petitions, push governments and other equalities groups to give us equal rights, to allow our women to ware hijaab/niqab out of choice and respect, why aren’t we shouting at authorities to grant these tragic young girls freedom, safety and security from FGM? I’ve asked why, over and over again on this blog, but when, as an activist, I am seeing the lackadaisical nature of our people increasing on a minute-by-minute basis, I have no option but to keep asking, asking and asking, until one day, Insha Allah, we will see a much-needed change finally coming to our universe. The tragedy surely is, that instead of Muslims being a people who are instrumental in bringing about positive change and reform, we are becoming known as a people who propagate fear, terrorism, injustice and suffering, ignorant cultural/social norms that are accepted by us, not questioned and followed blindly rather than trying to adopt another way. If only, just a few of us, were moved/concerned by this very, very sorry state of affairs!

(Note: the other questions sent to me regarding FGM will be answered by experts in a later post).

Friday, 23 April 2010

Would you care? if ...

Sabrina over at Slice of Lemon was chosen to ask the $100 question today over at blogHer.com be sure to surf over if you want to be in with a chance of winning: every little helps right now!
Her question is an interesting one, hence I thought I’d write about it here: she asks, what you’d do if your best friends didn’t like your partner? Now, there’s a thought!

I’ve got plenty of experience at this one, at both ends of the equation: (that is, the seeking approval/disapproving of another) (I don’t know if I’ve ever been the one disliked: but if readers know different, enlighten me!).

When I was married first time around, I was married to a jerk: every one knew it (even me!), but as I’d taken the decision in my own wisdom (or lack of it), I thought that would be enough for people: it wasn’t! those I thought were friends went out of their way to jeopardise the marriage through creating unnecessary disagreements, upsetting my parents and constantly trying to brain wash me in to their way of thinking! They didn’t let up after marriage either, constantly bringing me down by telling me of the bleak outcome I was sure to face in this marriage: how dull my life would be, how useless my husband was and how useless he would make me!
In the fullness of time, the inevitable happened: the marriage fell apart! But to my amazement, they weren’t lining up to say “I told you so”, rather, they all disappeared in to their own incredulous Burroughs, avoiding embarrassing recriminations with me for fear of seeing me break down or tell them precisely where they could stick their guidance!
Since then, I’ve had plenty of time to mull over the ins and outs: and I often wonder if things would have been different had they kept out? I mean, was it the pressure and the pressure alone that broke us apart? Had they kept quiet, would we have been able to build strength and resolve within the marriage, or would things just have fizzled out on their own? Or, above all, would I still have my friends if we’d all just kept our mouths shut? Many people in the Muslim community, (well, women as apposed to all people!), generally try to keep their private lives private these days: and who can blame them, when there is always some one yelling unhelpful advice from the side lines, telling you how you should live your life according to them, whether you wish to listen or not!

Years have past since then, and now I find myself in a totally different situation: my very best friend is the one dating the jerk this time around! The man she is head-over-heels for is stupid, uninspiring, a drug addict and with a horrific criminal past behind him! When I look at him, he makes my former waste of a husband seem like a heaven sent Angel! It upsets me greatly, my friend is charming, pretty, loving and oh so innocent!! She clearly doesn’t see the flaws I see in this guy: and to her, he is her dream man: the answer to her prayers! There is little that I or any one else close to her can do or say to change her mind it seems. At times, when the topic comes up, she occasionally lets something slip: a hint of insecurity: or realism, subtly trying to let us know perhaps that she is not as naive as we may think she is. She is adamant on marrying this guy: and from what I can see, neither her family nor social networks will accept him: her parents are already searching for a suitable guy for her, and things have almost reached crunch time. I worry for her, but contrary to what my so-called friends did with me, I want to support her: I may not endorse her decision, but ultimately, I want her to be happy. I want her to be safe, and I want her to know that when times get rough, she has friends: real ones, that she can turn to and gain support from, whether with this guy or not!
If she marries him, I’d tolerate him: as Sabrina wrote: providing he is not forced in to my life: I certainly wouldn’t be forcing my spouse in to any one else’s!

Then there is my own husband-to-be, and how friends might react to him this time around!
Very few (if any one), who was in my life at that time is in it now, so I don’t expect the same treatment: Insha Allah! And I’m thankful to say, that most friends have been very supportive of my engagement, and the description I gave of the man I had found, but then, its easy for them to do so: he is not living here yet: and they have not met him! Neither Reza or I would be especially bothered about whether or not friends approved of our marriage: most of Reza’s do, but they were still hesitant about his decision to marry a blind, divorced woman and did spend allot of time trying to advise him against the same: thus building our commitment and resolve even further!
When all this was going on, I fully expected him to give up, throw in the towel and let go of what we had: either because of my past insecurities, or because I’m not that good at trusting men: in either case, I don’t know: but I was certainly shocked that he didn’t seem bothered!
Strangely enough, we haven’t talked about how he’d react to my friend’s not liking him! I too had a few acquaintances who advised me against this relationship, but they knew little about it, and when I talked to him about it, he seemed to view their interventions as concern for a sister rather than interfering annoyances!
I do know myself however, that no matter how much I pretend I don’t give a dam, in almost all cases, I do: I’m hopelessly over sensitive, and can find myself analysing Emails and subtexts of conversations for days, terrified I’ve said something wrong or misinterpreted like for disapproval, etc. And then there is the massive issue of family disapproval: something I’ve encountered almost all the way through my life: from my marriage, to my friends, dress code, lifestyle choices and of course, being Muslim! And though I’m fully prepared to face it all again, with a vengeance, it still hurts, and only puts further distance between me and them!

It is impossible to judge from this distance how things will play out after my marriage, for now, all I can do is stay strong, pray for the best, but most importantly, try to be the friend, daughter and sister I’d want others to be to me. Even if they treat me badly, I can walk away, knowing that I have no dirt on my face and I did every thing in my power to keep the peace!
So! What are your views? Would you care if family/friends didn’t like your partner? Would you stay or go? And how far would you really be prepared to fight in love? Do tell me, and be sure to tell Sabrina if you want to be in with a chance of winning!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Random apnay moments from Pakistani Politics!

If you are finding the UK election coverage a little dry of late, perhaps this will serve as an apt reminder that less is more, and silence is golden! Can you imagine if Andrew Knielle had to control this lot?

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I haven’t really made up my mind which one is worse, though on balance I suppose Kashmala Tariq did come out shining: (its incredible how the victim card can do that!).
Maybe its just out-of-the-pind Syndrome, I don’t know, but I do know that I’ve never liked Firdous Ashic Awan! When I first met her in person during our House of Lords conference last year, her accent sounded remarkably like my x-mother-in-law, and by the end of the 2-hour event I’d become more than certain that they were related. When I walked up to Rubab and asked her a question regarding press, I didn’t know MS Ashic was behind me!! She turned to Rubab and said, in her finest Sialcoti dialect: “eh kitho pharia?” (translated: where did you find THAT?) (the THAT being me, presumably being blind transforms you from a she, to an it!). While Rubab found it funny, I didn’t: I only became more determined that she was a reincarnation of my X’s mother!
As you watch this, please keep in mind that a ‘lota, in this case, is not the mere jug you use to clean your privates after the toilet, its rather an inanimate add-on (apparently how others apart from me viewed her role!). I don’t know if ‘Hiramundi has a Sialcot equivalent, but for one who claims her career didn’t start there, she seems to know a hell of allot about it!! Firdous Sahiba was given a warning from the leader of the people for this one (a warning, well cushioned by her Punjabi bureaucrat friends who have collectively inflated her way above her station!).
Finally, as to the deep debate about the price of daal, (I was speechless!!), she’s been reading my blog!! No really, she has!! I thought I was the only one who used idioms like that! Go Ashic: you’ve redeemed yourself with that one (well, only a little!).

On a lighter note, there is of course the new romance of Pakistani politics: namely that of Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Hilary Clynton!

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The synchronisation in this video is totally amazing for a Pakistan made production I must say!
When MR Qureshi was asked by a journalist friend of mine regarding his “getting his head together” with Hilary Clynton (Note to readers: that’s about as direct as you can get in Pakistan without being indirect), he smiled smugly and said “I had some work, that needed doing, and sometimes you need to put your head together with some one in order to do that work!”
….., I think I’d be doing an injustice to that infinitely wise observance if I spoke more!!

A Heart-felt Appeal from me to you!

Salaamun Alaykum brothers and sisters, Insha Allah this message finds
you in the best of health and Iman.

I am writing to you today on behalf of the Revert Muslims Association
(RMA). As you know, RMA is the only organisation of its kind,
providing mentoring, friendship, education and support to new shia
Muslims, or those wishing to know more about the path of Ahlulbayt
(A.S).

We do this work, purely for the pleasure of Allah (SWT), but also
because we recognise how much of a dire need there is for this work to
be carried out from a shia perspective: all other websites fulfilling
this remit generally come from a wahabi perspective, causing its own
difficulties!

Since our inception, RMA has worked tirelessly to support new Muslims,
and the work has paid off: we now have 2000 registered members from
across the world, as well as countless others who contact us
periodically for advice, counselling and information. One of our
biggest outgoings is our ‘welcome packs! When a brother or sister
comes to Islam, we make a point of sending out a welcome pack to them.
This pack contains an English to Arabic Qur’an, a tasbih, a turbah, a
prayer mat, a prayer learning CD and other assorted literature to help
them on their way. Through the welcome packs we extend the hand of
friendship to people in isolated areas and situations, and insure they
have learnt the basics in order to begin their Islamic life.

Like all other voluntary organisations, RMA is suffering from extreme
financial hardship. Our account is down to its last 100£, and we have
also run out of qur’ans to send to new brothers and sisters. RMA is an
independent voluntary organisation, and although we periodically
receive funds to conduct lectures etc, we have no sustained funds
coming in to help us run our website and related services. We
desperately need your help in order to continue functioning and
bringing others to the path of Islam.

How you can help:

1. We are in urgent need of qur’ans, English Islamic books, Turbah and
tasbih to send out to new Muslims. We also need hijaabs and Islamic
clothing for sisters. If you wish to donate any of these, please
contact me for our mailing address.

2. Visit our website:
www.revertmuslims.com
if you are able to donate
funds to us. You will find a link to our paypal account on the front
page. Any amount you can spare, big or small will enable us to
continue this Important work, Insha Allah.

3. Create awareness!

4. Despite the huge numbers of people who discover
www.revertmuslims.com
every day, we know there are many more who do
not know of our existence! Please circulate this link to every one you
know, and especially to new Muslims who are in need of help and
support. Send this Email to family, friends and leaders in the
community and encourage them to donate items or funds to us: perhaps
even take collections in your local centres. Insha Allah through
raised awareness we will be able to take the sacred message of the
Ahlulbayt (A.S) to even more new Muslims or would-be Muslims.

Jazak Allah Khayron for your support, should you require any further
information, please contact me directly.

Yours sincerely,

Roshni Hafeez and Jennah Heydari,
Directors,
Revert Muslims Association.

www.revertmuslims.com

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Breaking out of the silence (FGM series)

This is the 3rd in a 6-part series on the topic of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

What follows is the transcript of an interview I carried out with a survivor of this horrific practise. It is extremely apt that she agreed to be interviewed, as she was the very individual who prompted me to run this series on the blog. In order to protect her anonymity, we shall refer to her as Asma.

Roshni: “firstly, thanks Asma for agreeing to be interviewed for the FGM series I am producing on the blog. Can you tell us firstly a little of your background and how you came to be living in the UK?”

Asma: “I am in my early 30s, I am from Somalia. I am a single mother with 2 sons. I came to the UK with my children seeking political asylum. My case was accepted, and I have lived here for 14 years now”.

Roshni: “You agreed to this interview because you wanted to promote awareness of FGM amongst the readers of this blog, can you tell us about your experiences?”

Asma: “well, I too am a survivor of FGM. I was circumcised when I was 7 years old in Somalia. My circumcision was maybe better than what some people suffer. My family lived in the city and we had money, the operation was performed in a hospital with proper cleanliness, tools and doctors. I was not told what I was going to hospital for, I had been having stomach problems and was told I needed to rest there. I had no suspicions when the operation took place, but when I woke up I had the traditional leg bindings which are required for the wound to close up, that’s when I knew what has happened with me”.

Roshni: “it is rare for such a procedure to be performed in the hospital I believe, is the procedure less traumatic if performed that way?”

Asma: “hmm well I think so maybe yes it is, because you have less chance of developing shock and infections and you don’t remember the trauma of the circumcision, and even the pain afterwards is less severe because you have proper access to pain killers and doctors and etc”.

Roshni “how long did you stay in hospital? And what happened to you after that?”

Asma: “I was there for 3 days, then was carried home by my mother with my leg bindings, I was unable to move for 40 days till the cuts heeled. I was in terrible pain, urinating would make me cry and took 20 minutes at a time to release it. I felt very alone, sad, depressed and cried allot, I don’t know but after my circumcision I spent allot of time in my room, I was not interested in school playing with friends or any of the usual things”.

Roshni ”Do you think your withdrawal from life was a direct result of your circumcision?”

Asma: “oh yes definitely. My family said it is normal: part of growing up and the circumcision is necessary and the withdrawal is also necessary because it is part of growing up and being mature, but I don’t agree, I knew something was wrong and it turned my world upside down”.

Roshni: “How did the circumcision affect the rest of your life?”

Asma: “I had lots of pain, lots of infections nearly every 2 or 3 months. The pain got worse as I got older, and when my parents arranged my marriage, I got scared of the sexual act and the pain it would cause and how I would have children. My periods were always traumatic for me and I spent almost 5 days in bed each month.”

Roshni: “how did the circumcision affect your married life?”

Asma: “my husband could not open me on my wedding night, and I had to visit a female doctor to have some stitches removed. I felt shame, pain and embarrassed but my husband seemed happy and said this way he knew his wife was pure and he was satisfied. I didn’t enjoy the sexual act, it hurt and I always prayed for it to be over. My husband got angry and sometimes hit me when he said I did not give him any pleasure, but I didn’t know what pleasure is and how to make him pleased with me. I went deeper in to depression and started cutting myself. This made my husband more angry. When I got pregnant I thought the children would help things between me and him”.

Roshni: “did the children help?”

Asma: “No!! it can’t help!! If a marriage is broken, so it is broken, you can’t mend it with children! We had one son, and my husband was pleased, but he was also drifting away from me and took a second and younger wife, but I also saw he was unhappy with her too and hit her like he hit me. I don’t know but maybe it was also because of circumcision!
I got pregnant again, but this time my husband sent me to my parent’s place for delivery, and I never went back to him!”.

Roshni: “how did you come to the UK?”

Asma: “when my husband finally gave divorce, my parents didn’t want me around. It was shaming for them to have a daughter alone with 2 sons at home! So they had a political contact who helped me to leave the country. I came to London first, then was told by a cousin already here to go Scotland because it’s a nicer and quiet safe place.”

Roshni: “how did you adjust to the life here?”

Asma: “it was very hard, I was alone with the children and know no English! Even now my English isn’t good but its somehow better than before: I got to know a Somali neighbour in the flats where I lived, she started taking me to English classes and put me in touch with other Organisations. I was very depressed and didn’t like to go out, but she would force me and I think it was good for me”.

Roshni: “was your circumcision ever a problem living here?”

Asma: “well, I didn’t think about that. I thought its normal and that women here are also circumcised. One day I was attending a women’s support group and one of the other women there started talking about circumcision and how its bad and dangerous etc. I was very shocked when she said that women here are not circumcised and it shouldn’t happen!”

Roshni: “how did you feel when the woman told you that?”

Asma: “I was shocked!! Very, just so shocked! I didn’t know this only happens in Africa. Even I didn’t know it is wrong and so dangerous, because women in Somalia don’t talk about it ever, not even between mothers and daughters! I felt embarrassed to talk about it but she told me I should see a doctor and get help with the pain and that they can make things better for me.”

Roshni: “did you take her advice and see a doctor?”

Asma: “no!! I was very ashamed! But I developed cervical cancer when I was here and the doctor came to know about this when running tests! He was very shocked and didn’t know much about female circumcision! They sent me to a special doctor, who was able to make the opening better for me and repair some of the tearing in my vagina. They also helped me with continence as I had some problem with urinating due to this. Doctors here are very good and I would still be suffering without them”.

Roshni: “what are your views on circumcision now?”

Asma: “I think it is wrong, its very wrong thing to do! I think boys must be circumcised because Islam says it is must: but not women! It is damaging and dangerous for them! I know some women who even now said they would circumcise their daughters and take them back home, but I am always trying to teach them it is wrong, and if I had daughters, I would not circumcise my daughters”.

Roshni: “now that your sons are grown up, do you ever talk to them about this issue?”

Asma: “yes I talk to them about this issue! I know some people think I am some kind of weird because boys shouldn’t know about it, but I see that even in the Somali boys here they think it is better to marry a circumcised girl because she won’t sleep around and is more faithful, I want my sons to be more educated and see things different so I try to teach them a better way, even I am campaigning in some of the women’s groups here on this issue.”

Roshni: “what advice would you give to a girl who is afraid of circumcision?”

Asma: “you must be strong and fight against it. Tell your parents you will not go through with it and don’t let them take you back to Somalia. Even I know that some people manage to carry out circumcisions in this country but it is still rare and safer here so try to stay here. If the girl is in school she can talk to the teachers or other adults if she need help. Circumcision for the girls is illegal here and not aloud so there is protection for them.”

Roshni: “why did you ask me to run this series on my blog?”

Asma: “because we must educate the people, all people wherever they are. Lots of other Muslims don’t know this goes on because it is not practised in all the Muslim places. We need people to break out of the silence and talk about this issue. If more people campaign then we can start to make changes for the new generations”.

Roshni: “is there any final comments you would like to make?”

Asma: “well just thank you for the interview and just again ask people to speak on this issue: mine is a real story and there is many stories like this so listen to the women and try to help them in every way possible”.

Once again, my sincere thanks to Asma for her strength, confidence and desire to tell her story. Please pray for her and her family, and all of those battling against this horrific practise.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Why circumcise me? (FGM series)

This is the second in a 6-post series on the topic of female genital mutilation (FGM).
Thanks to Stacey AKA Fahaeema of Livin in Layla Land for supplying this particular film.
• gudniin
is by far one of the most disturbing yet affective pieces of campaigning material I’ve ever seen on the subject of FGM. It is produced by a group of activists from Sweden, and filmed on location in Somalia using true stories and relevant yet sometimes troubling footage. The film is in Somali with English subtitles, and may contain scenes that some viewers may find distressing.

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"Think Again" (FGM series)

Among the many causes I actively work and campaign for is the horrific and sadly widespread practise of Female Genital Mutilation (female circumcision/FGM).

For those unfamiliar with the terminology, FGM is similar to male circumcision in that it removes part of the female genitalia, though differs significantly in extent and severity. FGM can be as mild as a partial removal of the clitoral hood, and as gruesome as all of the clitoris, inner and outer labia and clitoral hood being removed. The opening is then stitched up, leaving a whole no bigger than a match stick for excretion of urine and menstrual blood. As you might imagine, the social, sexual and psychological consequences of such a barbaric practise are life long, and international movements are now established to fight for the practise to be band.
Though FGM predates Islam, certain factions among the vile wahabis have worked hard to integrate this practise in to the faith, thus justifying it and increasing the numbers of those participating. The practise is most common in Eastern and Western Africa, but can also be found in Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan and a small part of south America. With the settlement of African communities in the UK, FGM has become a problem for UK governments, faith communities and activists alike, I am certainly seeing an increase in those affected by it in my work with survivors. The most significant consequence is the failure of marriages: as women no longer have any interest, desire or understanding of pleasure during sex, thus frustrating their husbands and leading to divorce.

This post marks the first in a series examining FGM, in order to spread awareness and encourage you in your own respective circles and communities to add your voice to the campaigns working to see this practise stopped.

The below film is entitled “think again”, and was produced by a group of Somali girls between the ages of 11 and 23 (the most common age period during which a girl may be circumcised). The women in this clip talk openly about their fears and the ramifications of FGM on themselves, their families and their future. My respect to the young women involved and the team at Forward UK who produced this short, sharp and powerful piece of film: we need allot more of the same!
Watch, be affected and use this footage as the source that drives you in helping us to stamp out this evil practise.

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Monday, 12 April 2010

From a blown fuse!

Well: I think the below pretty much sums up where I am at right now! Because I’ve got a headache, and because life sucks (not in that way!!!), and because I’m tired and facing some really tough family issues right now, I thought we should all stop and enjoy a profound, random moment combined with a little stupidity and maybe a snigger or 2? Make of this one what you will, cheers to Kaveer for the forward: I did need it: and hey: send me a few prayers and vibes (I will try to explain why: if my poor little head can take the pressure!).

There was once a washer man who had a donkey and a dog. One night when the whole world was sleeping, a thief broke into the house, the washer man was fast
asleep too but the donkey and the dog were awake. The dog decided not to bark since the master did not take good care of him and wanted to teach him a
lesson.

The donkey got worried and said to the dog that if he doesn't bark, the donkey will have to do something himself. The dog did not change his mind and the
donkey started braying loudly.
Hearing the donkey bray, the thief ran away, the master woke up and started beating the donkey for braying in the middle of the night for no reason.

Moral of the story “one must not engage in duties other than his own"

Now take a new look at the same story...

The washer man was a well educated man from a premier management institute. He had the fundas of looking at the bigger picture and thinking out of the box.
He was convinced that there must be some reason for the donkey to bray in the night.. He walked outside a little and did some fact finding, applied a bottom
up approach, figured out from the ground realities that there was a thief who broke in and the donkey only wanted to alert him about it. Looking at the
donkey's extra initiative and going beyond the call of the duty, he rewarded him with lot of hay and other perks and became his favorite pet.

The dog's life didn't change much, except that now the donkey was more motivated in doing the dog's duties as well. In the annual appraisal the dog managed
"ME" (Met Expectations).

Soon the dog realized that the donkey is taking care of his duties and he can enjoy his life sleeping and lazing around.

The donkey was rated as รข star performer". The donkey had to live up to his already high performance standards. Soon he was over burdened with work and
always under pressure and now is looking for a NEW JOB…!!!!

All characters in the story are not at all imaginary. Any resemblance to person living or dying of work is purely intentional.
Block quote end

Saturday, 10 April 2010

When Google wipes you out!

Under normal circumstances, I thoroughly enjoy the entertainment one finds in running a google name search. When I last searched my English name (Ruth Forrest), I found that I was not only a world famous woman’s snooker champion, but also a renowned philanthropist living in Japan! Searches for ‘Roshni Hafeez generally throw up more relevant results, but If you search far enough down the many pages that appear, you’ll find me writing profound Urdu poetry (yeah I know, if Only my Urdu was good enough!), and also running an elderly care home in India!

Inevitably, time, space and circumstances sometimes result in us being separated from friends, colleagues and acquaintances, and for the most part, this is where google name searches come in to there own, (that is, if you have been round the block enough times!). One of the main problems with said name searches is that, if you’ve not been standing on your head, shouting or creating scandal in the right places, you’ll be virtually non-existent on google, and, if you have been doing the above in the early nineties, but have piped down in 2000, all searches will be completely irrelevant to the frustrated and disappointed searcher!
My advice? Blog, make news! Create and post to Egroups and forums, write your name randomly any where you can on the net in order that you can be found! This message is to all of you hidden majority out there (though apart from the lurkers, most reading this blog have made a sufficient internet mark I expect!), that said, often the people you expected to be vocal and easy-to-find are often the most hard to reach!
This happened to me today when searching for a long lost friend and colleague by the name of Deven Kainthola.
Deven, his family and I were incredibly close when they all lived in Scotland from about 1997 to 2006. The family returned to India, leaving Deven behind in Edinbrough to do phenomenal things for humanity. I don’t quite know why or how we lost touch: I suppose, I went to Pakistan, was out of work when I came back, went through a period of depression, counselling etc, and it took some time to get my life back on the conventional track it had been running upon.
Deven Kainthola was a Hindu spiritual guide, teacher and community worker. Searches on his name now will reveal a list of his qualifications, and his selfless dedication to serving and improving the social and economic potential of India’s mountain communities. He worked in Scotland, building trade links with India, completing his education, and serving on a multitude of local voluntary organisations spanning homelessness, religion and health/well-being.

I was trying to track down Deven, not just because of the friendship aspect, but also because I am currently organising an Interfaith event to take place in June 2010 (watch this space for more), and truly couldn’t think of a better speaker to take on Hinduism. So, I ran a google search, only to find all the entries I knew of from early 2000 staring back at me. The latest entry I found was 2008, along with a vague news paper column that said Deven was from Greece (I think not!), so, although I have a couple of old leads I can follow up, I am stuck for the most part! This got me thinking the worst about my dear friend: is he dead or alive? Is he in India or the UK? Where are his wife and daughters? Is his health OK? Why hasn’t he tried to contact me? …, and so on!

While this entry may not necessarily find my friend, my aim is to do 2 things, by writing his name, Deven Kainthola, continually through-out this post, I have assisted the poor soul by increasing his paw prints in the online world as it were! Some one might read this, know where he is and contact me! Or better still, if he has a 3 PM moment, as I often do, he may run his own name search and jump with joy when he sees that the tubelight is after his back (that is, so long as he happens upon a 3 PM moment prior to June 9th so that he can speak at my seminar!).

So, Deven Kainthola, if you are reading this (remember me!!), drop me a line, tell me you are well and agree to travel to London with me in 2 months time (that too will increase your much needed net presence!). Even if my friend doesn’t read this, stats show you are in reality only 10 people away from any one you wish to contact! If, between my lurkers and my 5 followers we can reach 10, then who knows, we might just track my friend down! He has a tough call to fill come June, and I’m counting on net power coupled with tubelight optimism.
I leave you with that mission one and all, oh, and just in case Deven is reading this, you owe me an aloo and shimla mirch sabji: you promised me in March 06!! No kidding! And …., I’m waiting!!!

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Sif smells trouble!

If you’ve endured this blog for the bulk of its first year, you will doubtless remember my dabbling with the great Muslim secret that is/was, the Scottish Islamic Foundation (SIF).
Those who know me better advised against the same (and rightly so), but I’d attended a few of their seminars and was all hyped up on the clever hot air they spouted, and genuinely believed I could make a real difference! After all, the SIF is sadly the only representative body Muslims have North of the border, so why not get behind it! while it has its faults, and its leaders are known to have muddied their hands in the Ekhwan and the MCB, you can’t win em all! And who hasn’t screwed up a little at University!
My motivation for joining SIF was not purely humanitarian though, it did trouble me that the then newly Elected Nationalist Government had seen fit to grant the SIF over 400000£, and demanded little return or action on the said funds!
This might have had something to do with Osama Saeed’s budding SNP career, the proverbial: being in the right place at the right time! Besides, Osama would have known that the SNP have sadly a rather appalling track record when it comes to equality groups, he struck them in a weak point, and came out with a golden handshake!

Soon after the 2008 SIF conference I attended, an Email was circulated, requesting volunteers to join the SIF board of directors. This too impressed me: after all most Islamic organisations go down the ‘incestuous route! I immediately sent off my CV: I was on a mission too! I was certain SIF and its wahabi origins would have no shias on their board, and certainly no disabled people! I was right, and once again, Rosha saves the day by filling the appropriate box with the appropriate tick! But it suited me: I was fully aware of their assumptions, but knew they wouldn’t be aware of how completely I would crush each one!

At my first board meeting, I was troubled by how “in the family”, SIF was, more than 50% of board members came from Osama’s immediate family (or those soon-to-be admitted!), and when it came to electing office bearers, Family prevailed! I still remember the moment when the young Hamza Yusaf suggested I be vice chair! The room fell silent: people shifted awkwardly in their seats: (it was fine to have me tick a box, but what would a shia blind woman know about running an organisation, or worse still, she might ask questions, look at accounts: stuff of the family!), to their relief, another, more docile feminine candidate from the inner sanctum received more nominations than me, so the fledgling brotherhood could heave a sigh of relief once more!
I always felt like something of an anorak at SIF meetings: my voluntary sector experience meant I knew way too much about constitutions, funding, auditing and the like, and felt that the only way to get noticed here was to make allot of noise and keep my expectations high. I was listened to on the outset, but my only internal ally was Hamza Yusaf himself, and on his departure, the ‘family were happy to demote me to the box they had built for me. Each board member was allotted funding targets, (unsuspecting members of the community were to be signed up to pledge so much to SIF each month). While under normal circumstances I’d be expert at this, I fretted over how to bill it to people, after all, its not like they were getting much for their money! And despite the 400000 donation, SIF had delivered very little at that stage, were we really just to saunter up to people and say “hey, Osama needs cash!”. This got me wondering if all the speculation about SIF being feather bedding to cushion Osama’s nationalist aspirations was true. I then started demanding accounts, constitutions, all to my inbox by the end of the working week. None of this I received, instead, I was bombarded with invites to free training (some of which I used to teach), tackling the above topics! I refused to attend such patronising talking shops (and that too on Sunday mornings!), as did a number of the directors. I was angry at the fact that I had not been asked to deliver this stuff internally: if I had the governing papers in my hands, I would have been able to deliver bigger, better sessions, tailored to meet their needs!
I plodded on a little more, but quickly got bored of the inactivity SIF seemed comfortable to accept from me. Only 3 months in, I made my excuses and resigned from the board (along with a fair few others!).

I was more than a little bit relieved when my name was removed from the companies house records: what none of the directors seemed capable of registering, was that should the proverbial faeces hit the fan, we, as named directors and board members would be personally and collectively responsible for any debts, fraud or fowl play carried out by ‘the family, and I for one, didn’t want what little I had to be torn away by a SNP hopeful out for his jollies!!

I followed SIF for the months to come from a discreet distance. Osama Saeed continued to be attacked by the national press, sometimes for being a nationalist, other times for his salafi past, and increasingly because of his inability to manage SIF’s finances. The festivals he promised did take place at the beginning of this year, but in a very ramshackle manner, reminiscent of the programmes run by Osama and his brothers during their radical student Association days!
They organised countless fundraisers, some above board, (others completely bazaar, like the signed photo of Eric Cantana they were flogging at auction!) (er …, scraping the barrel me thinks?), but one fundamental question remained: what the H*** was happening to all the cash!
In February this year, SIF’s auditors produced a damming report regarding the state of SIF’s accounts. In particular, it drew on the fact that few of the donations received were appropriately documented, and that huge amounts of money simply no longer existed on the SIF systems: as though they never received them!
It was around this time that Tom Gordon of the Scottish Herald on Sunday took up the story. As an ardent supporter of the labour Sarwar’s, he had all the ammunition he needed to start framing Osama! Fuelled further when, just a week after the auditor’s verdict, Osama announced via Email to his members and supporters that he was standing down from the SIF with immediate affect! No explanation, no apology, one would have thought that the faithful who had kept him on a comfortable 40000 salary deserved a little better than a “hey I’m off” note!
The obvious explanation says that he leged it when he saw that he was likely to be hanged by the party, the public and his board alike for screwing the funds, but he justifies his departure by “needing to concentrate on winning the Glasgow Central seat”, (if you still have a seat to fight for mate!).

Today, the SNP faces pressure from the Muslim community and activists who are horrified at the 400000 that never was, to deselect Osama from the running, and conduct a full and thorough investigation in to SIF and the disappearing wonga!
Amidst all this, Osama updates his blog regularly, (‘the famous rolled up trousers!), while dodging requests for interview by the Jewish Chronicle and badgering from the aforementioned Tom Gordon!

My involvement you may ask? Ah well, this is where it gets interesting! Up to now, Osama has been happy to feed titbits to Tom Gordon in an effort to keep him at bay, the scathing character assassinations of the Sarwars and others posted on Osama’s blog provide entertainment enough, and testament to just how much he is feeling the pressure! But clearly with an election only a couple of months away, the papers need to get clever. If you’ve been following the articles, you know that Tom Gordon is in love with the labour mob, and spin alone will gain him few favours in a closely run contest such as this!
Never the less, it came as a surprise to me when I received an Email from Inclusion Scotland, telling me that Tom Gordon was looking for me? Maybe it was too early in the morning, or I was lost in a blond moment, but I stupidly linked the enquiry with the WC affair which lead to my own resignation, and was left puzzled by who had tipped him off and above all, why they would actually be providing me with his contacts to fill his ears!
As you will have doubtless guessed by now, Tom was out for dirt on the Saeed scenario! As a former director, he assumed I might have something of the inside story on what went wrong (perhaps an article on what went right would be more scintillating!). These situations are tricky, because, although you are itching to dish, you know you can’t say too much for fear of both Muslim and non-Muslim repercussions. Plus I only had unanswered questions myself, Osama had kept the rest pretty stitched up, especially from me (our paths had crossed a couple of times when I was at the BBC and he was busy building extremist support for a British Caliphate).

Now, all that is left to do is to sit back and wait for the article to hit the press this Sunday, and pray like hell I don’t end up with a group of Salafi Neds battling for my blood!

The whole saga does pose allot of interesting questions. Where IS that money! Why did the SNP give it in the first place? Did Osama know what was going on, is he exclusively responsible or should his collective go down with him? Does he warrant his SNP status or should he really be deselected? Is it right to expect any thing else from hard line activists like Osama? And should the SNP pay for throwing random cash at a former extremist without trying to tackle Muslim community relations internally?
Each of these is deserving of a post on its own, but the question I find myself returning to over and over again is, has Osama been framed?
It seems to me that it was convenient for the SNP to elevate him through the ranks to increase votes and detract from the popular Sarwars. The SIF would only serve to win them further q-dos with the intelligent and the activists, while giving Osama something convenient to do when not parading around in a kilt in a token attempt to demonstrate that “Brown People are Scottish Too!”.

While Osama might be naive, he is fairly sharp, and incredibly charming! It doesn’t take a genius to work out that he too ticks a box, just as he wanted me to do last year! As minorities, we often tick boxes, sometimes willingly, and other times unwillingly! But more often than not we enter a box believing that we can manipulate it to our own advantage, play the system as it were. Now that Osama’s game plan hasn’t worked, there are all too many waiting in line to stab him in the back! The Muslim community in particular rarely gets behind any one, and while people like Sarwar can count on the old and the newly migrated massive, Osama has a very tough nut to crack in terms of winning over the young and the English speaking Muslim audiences!
He has given up the comfort blanket that was SIF, and be assured the SNP will drop him like a hot exploding potato should any more dirt be dragged up about money, the brotherhood and all that lies between them. As easy as it is to say “he asked for it”, the more I reflect on his mistakes and his current position, the more uneasy I feel about the reactions being generated. I have sympathy with him: who’s to say I or any one else reading this wouldn’t have done the same with the right intentions, and then, when the chips are down, you can’t count on Muslims to either take responsibility for the fallout or to support the underdog when he/she is down!
And so it goes, good luck Osama, in every sense, Allah knows you are gonna need it during the weeks to come!
… (watch this space for The Sunday article and other updates as the drama unfolds).