Is Your Womb Yours? Whose Womb is it Anyway?

#TalesFromDeepMotherhood

Guest Blogger

This is a genuine question I’m posing, really. My womb story began when I was 8. I flew out to Somalia in term time with my 7 siblings in Autumn of 1982 for two reasons: my 17 year old sister was going into a forced marriage, and I was having FGM. My older sister managed to avoid forced marriage and complete her A levels. I wasn’t as lucky. FGM changed me forever. At the age of 8 I was being told that my vulva belongs to my husband. I only really understood what had happened once I started puberty. By the time I was 28, I decided that my mother/culture was not going to choose my husband for me, so I resisted and eloped. That was the start of my emancipation.

Later as a mother of 3 young children, at the age of 38 I got pregnant again and I was fuming. I sat down with my husband and informed him that I was having tubal blockage asap after this pregnancy. I explained my reasons and that my decision is contrary to the consensus in conventional Islamic scholarship, but it’s that same scholarship that can’t decide whether FGM is completely prohibited or not. They can’t see past their legal arguments at the blindingly obvious ethical reasons why FGM is antithetical to Islam, and how sterilisation is a good method for those women who want to stop childbearing. The same scholarship don’t see a problem with taking the pill, IUD, patch, or any other pharmaceutical method of contraception. They don’t see that these are unhealthy, invasive, and damaging to the womb and a woman’s menstrual health, and even long-term fertility. No, they don’t see that at all.

I booked my referral at the GP for sterilisation at 6 weeks after birth. I chose tubal blockage because it is less invasive, since the filaments are inserted through the vagina and cervix into the womb, then the fallopian tubes, which then over the coming weeks stick together and become blocked. This meant no general anaesthetic to have laprascopic surgery to cut my tubes (tubal ligation). It took 10 minutes and was less painful than a smear. The recommendation is to use condoms following this till a check-up which showed my tubes were blocked; I had this and all was well (although I couldn’t quite believe it!). I haven’t looked back since. I have monthly menstruation, no hormonal implements in my body, so my cycle is natural and my womb can have a rest from creating babies, and get busy creating other things, eg yoga projects, raising children with more energy and compassion, career and further study, projects with other women/communities, all without the old fear I had of getting pregnant.

Judging from my list of activities, do I sound sterile?I don’t like the word ‘sterilisation’, I’m sure it’s coined by men and since these women are no longer capable of giving birth, they are no longer valuable in their eyes. In Islamic scholarship, too much emphasis is on women having children in my view. There is a deafening silence on the wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him and them) who never gave birth (7/9 of them) and yet had fulfilling lives teaching and serving their communities and advising the Prophet (pbuh) himself.

Pharmaceuticals don’t like us either, so they call us sterile since they can’t make any money out of us anymore because we don’t need their products. Down with them! I prefer the term ‘permanent contraception’ because that’s exactly what it is and it’s not judging me one bit.

Now, what if more Muslim women had permanent contraception after establishing their families? What would they do with all that time on their hands? Perhaps they may demand their rights and educate themselves, even work together to question conventional wisdom in Islamic scholarship. Now wouldn’t that be a fine thing!

Now, what if more Muslim women had permanent contraception after establishing their families? What would they do with all that time on their hands? Perhaps they may demand their rights and educate themselves, even work together to question conventional wisdom in Islamic scholarship. Now wouldn’t that be a fine thing!

Can I just say that I shared this post and all my posts about motherhood and life in general to:

1. Feel connected to friends and share thoughts together so we feel less alone and disconnected, and acknowledge that we have ALL faced extraordinary pain and still live in hope in spite of it, or perhaps even because of it.

2. Feel that our thoughts resonate with others and that we’re not “weird” or “hysterical.”

3. Feel relieved that we’re not alone in facing difficulties in life and share ways of coping by sharing our stories if we feel able.

4. Feel the need to debate conventional wisdom and come up with another way to live ethically and sincerely as a woman of faith.

Please feel free to say something below, or if you’d rather be silent, that’s ok. This is not an exhibition of myself. I did this to show how we all live through pain and come out the other side.

Thanks.

 

(c) An-Nisa Society  (On behalf of blogger)

Image from SETU

Another mother’s heartfelt plea after Asad Khan’s death due to bullying

asad-khan

Umm Luqman (not her real name) recounts her son’s experience with bullying and how Asad Khan’s death has opened up old wounds. She also offers some excellent suggestions for how we can as a  society prevent such tragic loss of a young life.

We were all upset by the news of Asad Khan the 11 year old who took his life on 28 September 2016 in Bradford, England. Asad had only a few weeks earlier started Year 7 the first year of Secondary school.

I read somewhere he just told his mum a few hours before he was found dead, that he wanted to change schools. I read that he did not really tell anyone about the bullying. His parents were extremely shocked, as they did not really know that he was being bullied. In fact, the extent of the bullying only really emerged after his death.

What I write and want to share with you is not just the empathy of a parent feeling for another parent on the other side of the country. I was hit by the news hard because this tragedy has reopened the scab of a wound deep in my heart. That is, my son Luqman’s excoriatingly painful experience (which he is still haunted by) of relentlessly being bullied for three months when he started secondary school four years ago.

I know up close and personal the deep and long lasting effects of bullying by 11 and 12 year old children. So what I am going to share with you is from a parent’s perspective how I feel some schools deal with bullying. I want to scream from the rooftops that something drastic needs to be done. If not, I suspect there will be more tragic deaths like Asad Khan.

A leading educationalist wrote recently that he believes that League Tables should be introduced showing which schools are the best in looking after the well being of their pupils. I bet the school Asad Khan attended would be very low down in that league table. Unlike Asad I am grateful to God that my son Luqman did not take his life and right now he is in Year 11 studying for his GCSEs at a school that really has at its heart every pupil’s well being.

However the bullying that my son was subjected to four years ago, still affects his confidence and has left him with inability to trust others and difficulties in maintaining and building friendships.

My son was teased relentlessly when he started Year 7 for having bushy eyebrows. Yes, bushy eyebrows! The bullying he was subjected to was not restricted to name calling but also because he was the only child from his primary school, being excluded deliberately from friendship groups, being ignored, being shamed, being ridiculed. In fact every single insecurity he had about himself was highlighted to him each day. Most of the bullying came from girls and this destroyed in me the faith that if you send your son or daughter to a mixed school there is less chance of bullying as opposed to the viciousness that exists in single sex schools.

Luqman was desperate to make friends and would have done anything to be accepted. There were times he became aggressive to teachers and other pupils. The more he was not accepted by the other pupils, the more aggressive and angry he became both at home and at school.

What saved Luqman, unbelievably, was that he got angrier and angrier. In retrospect, I know his anger was a blessing. But then I experienced his anger more like a curse than a blessing. I remember him storming off to his uncle’s house at the weekend whenever I asked him to tidy up his room or reminded him about his homework. Everything became a battle between him and me and this drained everyone in the family. Sending him to school became a nightmare because all I got was a barrage full of emails from his teachers complaining about his behaviour and all I ended up doing was reacting to the countless incidents where he had pushed a teacher or refused to do his homework or had not gone to registration or had not attended detention. Luqman refused to play by the rules and looking back I can see he could not understand the rules or the system, as it was not serving to protect him.

I remember one day in September four years ago when he arrived home from school kicking his bag, kicking the walls and wanting to kick everything. He was absolutely furious. All he could say was “Those girls took 2p. I did not understand if he had offered 2p to keep them quiet or they demanded his money. All I managed to muster from him was that some girls from his school had demanded money from him when they saw him on the school bus and they were older than him. Luqman refused to elaborate and stated he did not want to talk about it any further. From that date on he refused to take the school bus and would clam up every time I tried to find out more about the incident.

This is what bullying does it silences children! Their voices are drowned. Their confidence is eroded. Any sense of value they have for themselves is taken away. For me, it is not surprising that Asad did not value his life and took it so quickly after the bullying began.

What pains me about Asad and Luqman is that their sunny warm innocent and sometimes naïve souls are tormented and crushed by the relentless abuse denigration, humiliation and shame that accompanies bullying. I believe Luqman was bullied because those children that targeted him knew he would not “snitch” on them. They knew somehow that he did not have the language skills to complain.

You see Luqman was born with Specific Language Impairment (SLI). However when he started secondary school he had not been diagnosed with this. Luqman was diagnosed with this special educational need a few weeks after he was permanently excluded for hitting a teacher. As his parents we got him privately assessed by a Speech and Language Therapist who remarked that she was shocked that he actually went through all of his primary schooling without any support for it. For those who know little or nothing about SLI, let me enlighten you. SLI means that individuals have difficulties in understanding, analysing and processing and expressing language especially complex language as required in Secondary school. This affects learning and social skills.

You can now understand why I see his anger as a blessing rather than a curse. It means my son is alive. I see now that a lot of the anger he had and the aggression that my son was exhibiting was due to him finding it very difficult to access and process the complex language that is used in secondary school and trying to navigate the complex social skills needed in making friendships. I also believe a lot of the anger was due to his being subject to the relentless bullying.

Fortunately Luqman due to his permanent exclusion escaped the bullies. However even to this day, I am angrier with the school than the bullies. I firmly believe that the school created an environment, which allowed the bullying to occur and flourish in the first place. I firmly believe that the staff at the school did not understand or were not given the training to understand their responsibilities in tacking bullying. I found as a parent that in my son’s case the bullying was minimised as ‘teasing.’

I also discovered an environment where the onus was put on the victim to provide the evidence that he is being bullied. I never felt that the school created an environment where it was the staff responsibility to monitor students and to supervise systematically who was vulnerable and who was bulling. I also discovered that there was an environment of denial of the extent of the bullying and the school was quick to pass on the responsibility to the student or parent to report the incidents instead of understanding the responsibility lies with the staff to monitor and investigate.

Each incident I reported was investigated. Instead the complaints I made regarding my son being bullied was disregarded or minimised. One example highlights the disjoined approach and the fact that even when bullying was witnessed by teachers there were no consequences given to the bullies.

In one incident, my son had thrown a compass at another student. I was not even told about the incident at the time. I found out about it many months later after he was excluded. The teacher was aware that my son was being teased repeatedly about his bushy eyebrows, so he did not reprimand my son. He knew Luqman’s response was a reaction to being bullied. However, to this day I do not know if the pupils who had been teasing him were reprimanded or given any consequences. This incident shows the callous disregard and lack of guidance and consistency in dealing with bullies and managing vulnerable students such as my son.

Of course compared to the grief that Asad Khan’s parents have to deal with the pain of my son’s bullying and the subsequent permanent exclusion is nothing in comparison. In fact his exclusion was his saving grace. It meant he escaped from those bullies and the incompetence of the staff at the school at dealing with bullying and managing vulnerability.

Cyber Bullying

Another thing I want to highlight is how relentless bullying is nowadays because of cyber bullying. Four years ago (luckily for my son) social media was not that developed. Any cyber bullying would have happened via text. I recall that my son hardly went on the computer and as we gave him a very basic phone that he just used for texting or calling. It meant he did not have What’s App. Also, Snap Chat and Instagram were hardly used by young people then. My son was, therefore did not have the added dimension of cyber bullying. Asad, I suspect, may have also been relentlessly bullied via these means.

In the 70s 80 and 90s, bullying happened during school time or on the way to or from school. Unless you gave your phone number you got some respite and solace when you were at home. Now one can be bullied 24 hours seven days a week due to cyber bullying.

Snitching – and young People’s ‘moral’ code

Another point I want to raise, and perhaps that would explain Asad’s death, is that young people discourage disclosures of bullying to adults. They call it “Snitching”. “Snitching” is also something young people do not tolerate. It is the worst thing you can do as a young person. It may not make sense to adults but that is the moral code among young people. Most 11 year olds learn this in primary school if they don’t then children definitely learn it in their first term of secondary. I suspect Asad was very familiar with this moral code.

So children are left with nowhere to turn. They cannot tell on their abuser and they are desperate to fit in and be part of the in crowd. I know now having had lots of discussions with parents at different schools and teachers that some teachers and some schools and some senior leadership teams are better in taking their responsibility in creating environments for Year 7 pupils of safe spaces where bullying isn’t tolerated. This understanding of responsibility is the key.

Staff have to take that responsibility wholeheartedly and bullying should never be minimised, as ‘teasing’ and the onus should not be placed on the victim to come forward. Year Heads and Form Tutors and Subject Teachers all have a role to play.

It was only after my son was excluded I found out in looking at other schools that some schools have far better systems in supervising and supporting vulnerable students. Bullying should never be made into an individual issue but a systematic issue with a systematic response. Surely the onus should be on the adults to monitor and supervise and support and collect that evidence and reprimand the ones doing the bullying.

Of course some will remember that school pastoral care in the old days was a meeting set up quickly after school or the form tutor being available at the end of the phone. However now everything is done by email or appointment and is much more formal. I believe this results in conversations get stifled and vital information gets lost because it is restricted to a certain time frame within a meeting.

I attended a few meetings to do with my son in the first term he was there. Both these meetings I set up as I felt this ‘look and wait’ approach was not working. If I felt lost as a parent to how to deal with my son and the multitude of concerns I had about him starting secondary school, can you imagine how an 11 year old feels?

Asad Khan, I believe, died because like many children he could not cope with the massive transition from primary school to a secondary. Most of them are huge institutions, which are intimidating after a small primary school. There are always a few children who cannot cope.

Surely, primary schools have a responsibility to flag up those children who staff think will have problems with this transition. Some schools have transition classes in Year 6 where they talk about friendships and explore concerns. The dramatic change from the small nurturing environment of primary school where you mostly have one teacher for most subjects to the massive environment of different classrooms, multiple buildings and different teachers is huge. For many children it is extremely difficult to navigate for most pupils, but for some it is a minefield.

Children with Special Educational Needs

Lastly I want to share a crucial point. There are many children whose special educational need never gets diagnosed and secondary schools need more training to spot and identify which pupils in their class may need to be assessed because it was missed at primary school.

What my piece I hope highlights is the struggle of parents of children with undiagnosed special educational needs. Having met many parents now from different backgrounds, I know my story is not unique. One thing that unites us is the fact that most children with special educational needs but especially undiagnosed special educational needs are vulnerable. Not all children are loud and angry like my son. Some children are very quiet and uncomplaining. Perhaps it is these ones we need to think about more.

I know having spoken to teachers that that within their teacher training, they only get one or two training days on Special Educational Needs and unless you have a special interest in this, many do not continue with post qualifying training. I do not find it surprising then that the vast majority of teachers sometimes cannot identify special educational needs.

A crisis led to my son being diagnosed and he then got the support he needed. Many are not so lucky and the profound consequences of being undiagnosed are far reaching where the child or young person is left vulnerable and a target for bullying, misunderstood and unsupported.

We need all parties concerned, such as parents, teachers, government bodies and voluntary groups to look at this together and highlight good practice to prevent more deaths. Unless we take a consistent and systematic approach more deaths will occur. I for one know do not want that. I am sure you do not want that too.

Umm Luqman 
Picture is from bbb.co.uk

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-37563086

https://www.facebook.com/AsadkhanR.I.P/?fref=ts

http://www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk/news/14783741.ASAD_KHAN___Stand_up_to_bullies__distraught_mum_urges_as_she_releases_poignant_tribute_to_her_son/

 

Robin Richardson – An interview with Q-News

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Below is a conversation with Robin Richardson, the man behind the Runnymede Trust Report with Fuad Nahdi, Q-News. The report is entitled Islamophobia – A Challenge to us all (1997).  A summary of the report on this link.

Apologies for poor copy as its very old newspaper print. 

RR1 1
Q-News May 1998
RR2
Q-News May 1998

 

Trevor Phillips & the Runnymede Trust’s Islamophobia report – what really happened

By Khalida Khan, Director, An-Nisa Society

Trevor Phillips Survey

(Image from the Daily Mail)

Trevor Phillips, is presenting a controversial documentary on British Muslims on Wednesday 13th April 2016 on Channel 4, where he has been asked to analyse the findings of a major survey on Muslim attitudes in the UK. This will form the basis of the documentary, What British Muslims Really Think.

While the inaccurate and inflammatory contents of this survey and documentary as reported in the media need to be unpicked and analysed, I am putting the record straight on the history of the Islamophobia campaign and focusing on why Trevor Philipps was the wrong choice to present and analyse this flawed programme that purports to go into the minds of 3 million Muslims. 

Phillips has presented himself as an ‘expert’ on British Muslims because while he was the chair of the Runnymede Trust, a groundbreaking report was commissioned entitled Islamophobia – A Challenge for us all (1997).  A summary of the report on this link.

“Twenty years ago, when, as chair of the Runnymede Trust, I published the report titled Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, we thought that the real risk of the arrival of new communities was discrimination against Muslims. Our 1996 survey of recent incidents showed that there was plenty of it around. But we got almost everything else wrong.” Trevor Phillips, The Sunday Times (London) April 10, 2016 ‘What British Muslims Really Think’

So when Phillips makes these claims, it is assumed that this background gives him a deep insight into British Islam and that if someone ‘behind’ this report could now ‘change’ his mind and do a ‘U” turn, this blatant vilification of a community and scaremongering must be taken very seriously indeed.

However, Phillips has never been an advocate for British Muslims or for anything to be done about Islamophobia. Indeed, some sources say that it was he who made sure behind the scenes that the report got nowhere with Jack Straw and New Labour. (see Q-News piece below)
In his Sunday Times piece (also see below) he gives himself credit for publishing the Runnymede Trust’s Islamophobia report back in 1997. The truth however is not as he presents it. He may have been chair of Runnymede at that time but it was Robin Richardson, the director of Runnymede and Kaushika Amin, a researcher, who took the report forward. This was following extensive discussions with us at Q-News and articles that were written in Q-News campaigning against anti-Muslim discrimination,
 
Robin Richardson and Kaushika Amin were behind the Report not Trevor Phillips.

From the mid 1980’s An-Nisa Society started the campaign against anti-Muslim discrimination and the recognition of ‘religious discrimination’ – it was totally unrecognised then. This was led by myself as the director. I was working in local government and race relations and saw first hand how Muslims were falling through the net in terms of equal opportunities and health and social welfare provision. They were faced with Islamophobia and institutional Islamophobia in all areas of life, including employment and so on. However, a race-focused approach to Britain’s diverse communities meant that Muslims became socially excluded. This is an area which still needs to be fully investigated – that is, the failure of government to address Muslim issues and needs as citizens for decades resulting in their social exclusion. 

No other male led organisation had taken this up this as frankly they had no understanding of the processes taking place that had rendered Muslims an underclass. (I would argue that most still do not). They were too busy campaigning for the blasphemy law to include Islam! We campaigned by writing in MuslimWise, which we helped found and in Q-News. This campaign was highly influential in the debate around Islamophobia. These articles came to the attention of Robin and Kaushika.
I also spoke to great academics and legal experts such as the late Sebastian Poulter and the late Professor John Rex who were very supportive of what we were doing. We brought the issue to the attention of Tariq Modood who was a researcher at the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) at the time and Khurshid Drabu, who was head of Legal there and who later went onto join the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). Iqbal Sacranie, who was later the General Secretary of MCB used a report I had written (with my permission) about the inadequacies of the Race Relations Act 1976 as an appendix to one of the reports by UKACIA (the precursor to MCB who were campaigning for the blasphemy law). The male led organisations, who had little idea of the issues, muscled in. They cut us and Q-News out and it’s they that the government chose to take on board.  And the result is there to see. The issue was not taken seriously by the government and it took years for ‘religion and belief’  to be included in the Equality Act 2010. Meanwhile the community continued to suffer, with the added complications of 9/11 and 7/7 ensuring that anything done around Muslims was now security driven.
“Up until about 1990 the dominant terms in Runnymede’s discourse were race, race relations and colour – the Trust was imbued, at both staff level and trustee level, with the consensus established by the Race Relations Acts of the 1960s and 1976. Everyone, in the world constructed by such discourse, was either white or coloured – or, as terminology developed in the eighties – white or black. (Latterly, since about 1998, white or BME – black and minority ethnic.) The world-view reflected in this language was derived in part from the United States and in part from Britain’s experience as a colonial power. Alternative world-views were in due course advocated within the Runnymede staff team by one of the researchers, Kaushika Amin. She for her part was influenced by the magazine Q News and its predecessors; by the work of the An-Nisa Society, based in Brent in north west London; and by the writings of someone who in those days was an officer at the Commission for Racial Equality, Tariq Modood. She was supported in her advocacy by Runnymede’s new director from 1991 onwards.”

Challenging the Race Relations Consensus – the Runnymede Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, some notes and memories – Robin Richardson, Insted Consultancy, 2004 

We at An-Nisa Society are used to having our work hijacked or appropriated, not only in this instance but as also happened with our work on Prevent and when ‘Islamophobia issues, challenges and action A report by the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia’ was published in 2004. Although, with the latter we provided material and advice, the credit was often given to MCB or not given at all. Something we complained about in a piece in Q-News. As women in particular, this happens all the time. Even Kaushika’s role in the first Islamophobia report has not been adequately acknowledged. In the Muslim community this problem is rife. Everyone wants to be the ‘expert;’  everyone wants to deliver the Muslim community to the government. We will never get the change we want in our community if this keeps happening. 
Robin Richardson and Kaushika Amin’s pivotal role in the crucial report Islamophobia – A Challenge for us all needs to be put on the record.

Why is this important? Is it simply because people want acclaim and kudos. No, it is because when people who don’t understand the issues use other people’s work and ideas so they can be seen as  the ‘experts,’ facilitated by the media and government, we will get people like Trevor Phillips claiming to speak about something they don’t understand or perhaps even want to misrepresent, for what ever reason. 

Q-News on Jack Straw 
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Straw2
Links
 The directors of Runnymede
  • Sukhvinder Stubbs 1996 – 2000
  • Robin Richardson, 1991–1996

Daily Mail 11 April 2016

An-Nisa Society responds to Dr Musharraf Hussain on Prevent

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By An-Nisa Society

First published on 18 Feb 2016

On 11 February Dr Musharraf Hussain posted an article on his blog which he stated was a ‘spiritual response’ to Prevent, the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, and in which he singled out An-Nisa Society for its work on Prevent. In his confused piece, Dr Musharraf seems to imply that An-Nisa Society has acted in violation of Islamic guidelines by calling for the scrapping of Prevent in its robust dialogue with Brent Council. Dr Musharraf believes “that Muslims should protest little but work harder at winning the trust of the wider society by: Not having a sense of victimhood due to current events; Make less use of the term “Islamophobia” since the issue becomes desensitised”
We felt that this lack of understanding by many scholars and ‘leaders’ about what it means to be an engaged British Muslim citizen, their lack of insight into the issues that really affect us and their inability to constructively challenge government is an intrinsic part of the problem we face in the community and needed to be responded to. In our response we state:
“We believe Muslims communities should engage with the statutory sector and government with confidence and that it is not incumbent on us to accept these polices without question. Any leader that expects passive acceptance does not do justice to the British political system or British Muslim communities. Consequently they fail to understand the very nature of the grievances that makes young Muslims in particular vulnerable to charismatic and exploitative preachers and completely dismiss as irrelevant anything that comes from what they consider to be ‘sell-outs’. Young Muslim are looking for a leadership that is batting on their side, who understands the nature of the discrimination they face day in and day out and who do not accept the premise that we need to act as ‘spies’ on our own children. Our young generation deserve better from us.”

Read more on this link

 

Thoughts On The Hijab Poppy Appeal

By Humera Khan, An-Nisa Society

Nov 2014hijab_poppy

“Learn, Unlearn and Relearn” was quoted at a conference I attended many years ago and which affected me then as it does now as a concept that should be applied in all that we do. It came to my mind very strongly yesterday as we heard of the launch of the ‘Poppy Hijab’ by an organisation called British Future and the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB).

Sughra Ahmed, President of the Islamic Society of Britain, is quoted in the Independent (30 October 2014) as saying “It’s a simple way to say you’re proudly British and proudly Muslim.”and also quoted in the British Future website as saying that the Poppy headscarf is a “symbol of quiet remembrance” and “the face of everyday British Islam”. 

 The ‘Learn’ part of this is that the Poppy campaign has a narrative about honouring our ‘fallen heroes’ who died defending the country during the 1st World War (and later including the 2nd World war) and the appeal is to raise money to support current and former military personnel. Yes, this is a well-intentioned aim and the added ingredient in the ISB initiative is the recognition that not only white British men fought in this and subsequent wars, but also thousands of men from Muslim backgrounds (and it must be added, from other commonwealth countries) and died defending the British Empire. Something usually conveniently forgotten and may I add they never received any compensation or support. So, this point has been made – good!  It should be mentioned here that Jahan Mahmood, a military and community historian, with an expertise in Muslim martial traditions, has been in the forefront of highlighting this contribution and the sacrifice of Muslim soldiers and their families.

Today, however, the appeal is mainly used to commemorate servicemen and women who have been killed in all conflicts since 1914.

The ‘Unlearning’ part of this issue is that the Poppy Appeal in recent years has become controversial because it has been seen as something that digressed from its original purpose and used by some to elevate war and perpetuate colonial and post-colonial ideologies.  Lindsey German (Independent Thursday 23 October 2014) explains this in the following way:

“But instead of starting a period of peace, the war marked the beginning of a century of war and the development of nuclear weapons. This country has been involved directly in wars for the past 13 years, wars which have become increasingly unpopular at home, and which have failed even in the most basic of their declared aims.”

 The ‘Relearning’ part is that those who have studied the most basic modern history at O Level or GCSE will have been taught that the First World War resulted due to the scrambling for power and resources by European colonial governments, who drew in their colonies and the rest of the world into the conflict. So, if we look at this history from another angle it can also be seen as a symbol of oppression for those who were colonised and continue to suffer in the post-colonial era. Therefore for it be said that it is a ‘symbol of quiet remembrance’ – seems to forget that there is a flip side to this too – a need to ‘unlearn’ the selective narrative we have been taught.

Having relearnt history or re-contextualised it, there are other questions that need to be thought through. Public rituals, however important they are and relevant in their origin, change their meaning and significance over time and it is not unreasonable for subsequent generations to see the world differently as suggested by Lindsey German (Independent, Thursday 23 October 2014)

“Many of us instead wear a white poppy, the symbol of peace. We do so not because we feel the suffering of those who died or were bereaved any less, everyone agrees that we should commemorate the sacrifice. But we fear that in remembering the First World War, too many people in government and military are using the compassion that people feel to justify present and future wars. While many people buy the red poppy to support soldiers returning from war, the best way of protecting their interests is to stop sending them into these disastrous conflicts in the first place.”

Considering the wider issues ISB/British Future Poppy Hijab campaign should have been more sensitive to the nuances of this debate as well as to the implications of linking it to the battle against extremism.

In the Daily Mail article “ Ms Ahmed said:Thousands of British Muslims already wear a poppy in November. This is just another way for them to show they remember those who gave their lives for their country. It’s also a way for ordinary Muslim citizens to take some attention away from extremists who seem to grab the headlines. This symbol of quiet remembrance is the face of everyday British Islam – not the angry minority who spout hatred and offend everyone.”

 This coupling of the campaign with the need to disassociate from the extremes in our communities opens up the initiative as one to prove Muslim loyalty to the state, playing into the hands of the notorious Daily Mail:

“British Muslims are being urged to wear a new ‘Poppy Hijab’ – as a challenge to extremist groups who ‘spout hatred’ about the Armed Forces.”

 The Muslim backlash was inevitable as this initiative seemed to be projected as if it has some greater intrinsic value than others and that it is a counter narrative to the ‘extremists’. It evokes the feelng that Muslims are more or less obliged to sign up to it as sort of a ‘loyalty test.’ An unreasonable expectation perhaps when even Jon Snow, the celebrated Channel 4 News journalist, refuses to wear one on air as he calls the level of compulsion to wear it as ‘poppy fascism’!

Some Muslim voices of discontent have also channelled their feelings in their increasingly familiar way! The harnessing of young Muslim women to front the campaign to model the scarves has exposed these women to the vitriol of those that troll cyberspace. Having spoken to one of these individuals who is deeply traumatised by this experience, I have understood that she feels that their naivety of how the media works and lack of knowledge about the background to the issue itself exposed them to the worst kind of virulent backlash as only the internet can do! It can be said that Haters-are-Gonna-Hate and they certainly will – but ensuring the protection of those who participate by being open and transparent with them should be in the forefront of all our efforts.

So for me, and I speak only for myself and those who differ from me are certainly entitled to their viewpoints, this Poppy Hijab campaign could have been better thought through if it had to be done at all. It seems that it only stokes up the embers on the one hand of those in the Muslim community who consider that mainstream Muslim organisations have no backbone and are just apologists and on the other those in the fast growing right-wing who consider the wearing of the poppy and now the hijab poppy, as a litmus test of ‘Britishness’. Being anti ‘the extremist’ shouldn’t mean that we swing in the complete opposite direction either.

Personally I am drawn to the White Poppy Campaign whose rhetoric says “The white poppy symbolises the truth that there are better ways of resolving conflict than killing strangers.” and “Lest We Forget to move Forward from Bloodshed””(taken from The White Poppy for Peace Campaign on facebook). If a point had to be made it could have amalgamated the remembrance of those who died with those who continue to be vulnerable to this kind of death whether they be soldiers or innocent victims of war.

The fact that Muslims only have been singled out for this campaign also perpetuates the notion that Muslims are the fifth columnists who are the ‘danger within’. No other community has collectively been expected to deal with their fringe elements like Muslims have, and we have had threats in Britain in my lifetime from other equally politically charged issues in other communities. Whether a scarf has poppies on it or not or if attractive young women are showcasing them or not is irrelevant to the idea that there needs to be something collectively symbolic that confirms allegiance to crown and country.  I am all for Muslims engaging in the mainstream and bringing depth to the idea of ‘Britishness’ as much as I am all for opening up ‘Muslimness’ to a broader group of people where difference is part of our norm. But, the root of much of the alienation in our communities is because there is a feeling of frustration that our leadership is not standing up for what really matters but quick to jump to other people’s agendas. Somewhere in the middle there needs to be a balance.

(c) An-Nisa Society

 

Links:

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/muslims-remember-too-the-poppy-hijab-will-combat-hatred-on-both-sides-9829283.html

http://www.britishfuture.org/articles/news/poppy-headscarf-centenary-victoria-cross-muslim-soldier/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2813500/The-poppy-hijab-defies-extremists-British-Muslims-urged-wear-headscarf-symbol-remembrance.html#ixzz3HqDWIEer