World Hijab Day…2017

Happy World Hijab day everyone, whether you wear hijab or not, and whether you are Muslim or not.

I think it’s pretty apt that it’s World Hijab Day today after so many troubling recent events – whether it is events in America such as the new legislations being put in by Trump, the devastating shooting in Quebec at a mosque or whether it is the general spotlight on Muslims, the attitudes of people around us and even the growing Islamophobia a lot of us have begun to come across.

In the midst of all this, there are so many reports of solidarity, beautiful, moving protests, rallies and speeches which celebrate the beautiful in Islam and helps women be confident in their religion and hijab. I read yesterday a comment from someone on a social media forum who said he was glad Trump was elected, even if he did vote for him – his being elected led to the outpouring of support, the solidarity and the show of friendships being shown from across the world have served to unite us and give us hope that there are people out there who support other religions.

So in that way, at the risk of sounding like an epic fantasy movie, I will say this – in dark times, there is light. I have seen so many examples of the very best of humanity in their celebration of not just the right to wear hijab, but the right to practise our religion. These days, hijab is so much more than the right to cover and be modest – it is our way of life, our right to be Muslims and a representation of women who, amidst struggle and discrimination, show their very best in themselves.

There are some who have criticised World Hijab Day, saying it is too politicised and has been made into an agenda to make money, or even push a non-related feminist idea. I say this is silly, because for ordinary women this is a chance to express their love for hijab, set an example to their families and friends and also show non-Muslims the beauty of hijab. There is also the criticism that celebrating hijab inevitably suggests that non-hijabis or ‘exposed’ women have something to be ashamed of, or that they are doing something wrong. It is very difficult to wear a hijab and be confident with it – yet including myself, most women I know who wear hijab really aren’t trying to make a statement or make anyone feel inferior or less. It is never okay to harass a women just because she chooses not to cover, just as it is not okay to bully and harass a woman for wearing a hijab. It is also not okay to assume that wear a hijab automatically makes you better, more blessed or more privileged than anyone else, just as it is not okay to assume women are oppressed because they choose to wear hijab.

I have been very lucky to be surrounded by friends, work colleagues and family who are very supporting of my choice to wear hijab, and been sheltered from a lot of negativity and abuse from people who don’t understand Islam or our reasons for hijab. It has become so much more normal, acceptable and even fashionable to wear a hijab – just look at any London street and you’ll see plenty of us walking around and leading our lives.

World Hijab Day is not just about  the act of wearing hijab as a human right, but actually protecting the right of an individual to safely make that choice. With hijab comes a lot of responsibilities and rights, and it is great to have a day to celebrate wearing it openly, whether you choose to or not.

In that spirit, I’ll leave you with an image I saw yesterday which I loved – a Jewish father and son allying with a Muslim parent and his veiled daughter. It’s such a simple picture, but beautiful – this is how it should be, united. I have read a few complaints online and from Jewish friends about the concerns of anti-Semitism, particularly from Muslims. I would like to say that this is not all of us, our religion teaches us to respect others’ faith and unite over our similarities rather than fight over differences.

Assalaamu ‘Alaikum Wa Rahmatullah (May Peace and Mercy of Allah be upon You.)

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#CHECKTHELABEL

“There’s a Palestine that dwells inside all of us, a Palestine that needs to be rescued: a free Palestine where all people regardless of color, religion, or race coexist; a Palestine where the meaning of the word “occupation” is only restricted to what the dictionary says rather than those plenty of meanings and connotations of death, destruction, pain, suffering, deprivation, isolation and restrictions that the country has become injected with.”
― Refaat Alareer, Gaza Writes Back

Every year, Israel exports millions of pounds worth of dates to the world, which many people unknowingly buy and use to break their fasts. These dates are often grown in illegal settlements in the Occupied West Bank and the Jordan Valley, on land that has been stolen from Palestinians. By buying these dates, we are helping Israel to continue it’s illegal occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people. With your hard work, dedication and support the #CheckTheLabel campaign has grown significantly over the last 8 years.  The campaign has gone to the heart of the communities in cities and towns across the UK to ensure no one buys these dates.

When buying dates for Ramadan this year, please check the label and make sure they have come from free settlements and are part of a fair trade community. One of the biggest reasons we fast is to recognise and understand the suffering which unfortunate people undergo, and these fasts could be undermined if they are opened with food which becomes a symbol of oppression.

For more information, please visit this site.

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Wicked: A Good Green Witch’s Story

My sisters and I recently went to see Wicked: The Musical at Apollo Victoria recently to treat ourselves, and enjoyed it thoroughly – each of us had been wanting to see this for a while and it was amazing fun to see all the singing, acting, costumes and sets sliding around on stage and creating a funny and emotional story.

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As is the case with most plays, we weren’t allowed to take photographs during the play’s duration (not that I haven’t tried before, but the accidental flash in the past has taught me a lesson if I don’t want to be removed from the theatre!) We did manage to get a quick shot of the stage before the play started (although these are courtesy of my sister who took these ones below) and which shoes a huge map of Oz as well as a dragon on top of the stage which moved every now and then during the play.

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Wicked is a great play – and it’s even more interesting to see if you’ve read the books originally written by Gregory Maguire, who re-imagined the story of The Wizard of Oz to give it more depth, and to tell the story of the misunderstood Elphaba, more widely known as the Wicked Witch of Oz. Having said that (and I was one of the ones who had read the books years ago), it does spoil it a little if you know what’s coming – although in this case, the way the story was translated onto the stage was brilliantly done and a lot more lively than I expected.

Wicked tells the story of Elphaba, daughter of the Governor of Oz who suspects that she is not really his daughter, and resents her green skin – just as she is arriving at University. Meeting the self-absorbed Glinda, trying to protect her wheelchair-bound sister Nessa-Rose and dealing with the isolation from her peers, Elphaba finds love, magic and most importantly, a passion for Animal rights, which leads to her eventual fate as the “most hated woman in Oz”.

The main difference I noticed between the play and the book is the politics and rebellion, which deals with the treatment of talking Animals as they are discriminated against by the laws of the mysterious Wizard of Oz; and Elphaba’s struggles with her professors, her peers and the friends she ends up making. The play does deal with this – but also attempts to wind together a lot of complex issues by focussing the story on Elphaba as a character and what she tries to do – whereas the book has a wider range of characters who all deal with their own struggles and situations that merge under the canopy of the the Animal rights issue.

I won’t talk too much about the novel, since it’s a very different style to the theatre, and translates to a more exuberant show that works. The play itself is brilliantly created – the main characters of Elphaba and Glinda (or Gah-linda, as she pronounces it) are well acted, and easy to love. The songs are, of course, what make the show, catchy, passionate and beautifully sung, with funny dances, subtle expressions and lots of one-liners that catch you laughing.

My favourite scene is one in which the glamorous, conceited and sparkly Glinda tries to teach the socially-awkward and shy Elphaba to be beautiful, to flirt and laugh – it reminded me of so many girls that I know (I won’t name names!) that it made me laugh – what probably made the scene most memorable was the fed up look on Elphaba’s face, as she stands on a stage that she looks like she wants to run away from!

I’m looking forward to seeing more shows – I’ve seen a few in the past with my friends and my husband, and have a long list of more to see! Have you seen this play? What did you think of it?

A nation hold its breath – Pakistan’s 2013 Election

“People started caring, and that’s an accomplishment for Pakistan.”

A nation holds its breath.
The scene, Pakistan’s polling stations. The players, Pakistan’s citizens. The men, women, the young people, the old. The rich upper-classes and the poor citizens. The famous stars and the ordinary public. The story, Pakistan’s day of elections. Landmark amounts of voters crowd by the thousands, queuing up to enter dusty huts, busy polling station, hot, crowded offices and buildings to give their votes. Scenes of voters, politicians, news broadcasters, are on everywhere on television, it’s almost as if the World Cup is playing. But this is a different game, Pakistan fights for its new motto ‘Change for Pakistan’ being echoed everywhere. Voters everywhere proudly hold up their insignia – purple ink on their thumbs to signify their votes, and show how they have done their part to make tomorrow a memorable day.

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Why this buzz? What makes this election so different, so full of tension?

Because the change is being campaigned for by the charismatic Imran Khan, former Pakistan cricket captain, currently a politician, party leader, philanthropist and a man described as “Pakistan’s favourite son”. It can certainly be said that he has won a the nation’s heart, or at least, half of it, as the other half seems to be pushing for his opponent. Yet in such a critical stage of Pakistan’s state of affairs, where the previous President Musharraf is currently on the run in exile, over fears of Taliban’s involvement of affairs, and where corruption appears to  be the norm, Khan represents the beacon which goes against all these. It’s no wonder, then, that he has won the hearts of so many in Pakistan so easily, he refuses to conform to the usual money-grubbing politics of his predecessors, and instead looks to making Pakistan a better places – so far he has campaigned to build hospitals for the poor, gained the love of the ‘bluejean- and T-shirt-clad youth of the country’ and has taken advantage of the discontent that is forming over the political elite.

I first became aware of Imran Khan’s mission to ‘change Pakistan’ from his manifesto, of sorts, entitled Pakistan: A Personal History, which pushes for a new way forward, and speaks of wanting to re-unite founder of Pakistan’s Jinnah’s ideals with the idea of a new Pakistan, through the medium of his own political party, Tehreek-e-Insaaf (Movement for Justice). Khan has since risen through the ranks, becoming more visible in his bid to equalise the rich and the poor, and has particularly charmed the young people.

I was not born in Pakistan, nor do I understand a lot of its politics, I regard myself as Pakistani nevertheless. I have not been to Pakistan for several years, and I would not be able to name all its provinces, rivers or famous landmarks, but this does not mean that I don’t feel a connection with the country, or that I cannot see it’s beauty. My parents are from Pakistan. I have friends from there. I maintain an interest in the country’s affairs, even if I don’t know it as extensively as I may understand British politics. It is easy, then to understand the love for the belovedly-named ‘Skipper’, and the feeling of anticipation which have been growing in the last few months, or even couple of years as Khan’s political party, PTI, has been gaining momentum.

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A nation holds its breath.
The tension, excitement and anticipation has been growing for weeks. It feels like the buzz is everywhere. It’s even seeped into fashion, literature, social media, television, charity events. The ‘I K Kurtas‘ have been showcased on catwalks, and are sold out. Twitter is ablaze with comments, pushing for change, pushing for a ‘naya‘ (new) Pakistan, pushing for a shedding of the old. Rallies follow Imran Khan and his party, who makes a point of appealing to the young, to the poor and to the unfortunate who have previously been ignored.

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A nation holds its breath.
On 7th May 2013, Imran Khan falls from a lifted platform. The result, he rises even more in star-dom, in the nation’s sympathy, and in the polls. While I question how much of the resulting scenes was manipulated to his advantage – Imran Khan woos the voters while on his hospital bed – it certainly has had the desired effect, in that single moment, the undecided voters seem to be following the Khan supporters. Bloggers point out how Khan lies on an ordinary bed surrounded by six other patients (while his opponent, Sharif, is flanked by expensive bodyguards and demands private care), news-broadcasters show images of the public crying and kissing Khan’s posters, and Khan himself humbly excuse himself and proclaimed that the deciding power would be with the people:

“I have done whatever I could do for my country and I did it because Allah blessed me – but on the 11 May decide your destiny. It is time for you to take the responsibility to make a new Pakistan.”

A nation holds its breath.
I don’t often write (or read!) about politics – it’s messy, complex, and depressing. But this has been hard to ignore. Live commentaries have been running on the voting polls all day. My parents have been following avidly on the Pakistani Channel GEO, friends have been regularly updating their Facebook and Twitter statuses to show their support for Khan, and acquaintances who live in Pakistan are giving a blow-by-blow account of their day as they elected. I find it interesting that friends who previously had no interest in Pakistan politics are just as gripped as their Pakistani counterparts in the outcome of today, and supporting Imran Khan avidly. It helps that we can identify with him – like us, he too lived in the UK, like us, he married an English woman, and like (some of) us, he is returning to his roots. Certainly I can say that I am more in tune with my heritage now than I was ten years ago. It helps that we see Imran Khan as ‘one of us’, he is the iconic representation of East-meets-West, and perhaps even of Pakistan finally coming to terms with itself and settling its unrest.

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A nation holds its breath.
A momentous day in the country’s history, however, it not un-marred – there have already been several reports of violence, voters have been speaking of their frustrations of not being able to vote cleanly, and there is already uncertainty about whether Imran Khan really does, as his followers has been insisting, ‘have it in the bag’. Imran Khan’s work finally has come to a momentum after nearly two decades, months of campaigning, years of bidding, weeks of rallies and a final, tense few days of a message – ‘Change for Pakistan’. No one knows what the outcome is yet, as votes are being counted and polling stations are now closed.

The final question, really, is: Will Pakistan be able to change even if Imran Khan does not win the election? How much of this was part of the campaigns, and how much will his fall, both actual (from the lift) and the potential (from politics) affect the country? WIll the public eschew the idea of change and go for a tried-and-tested means of leadership in the opponent, Sharif? Nobody knows yet, and will not know until the resulting after the election.

All I can say now is, whatever the verdict, I hope that the people of Pakistan can continue the chain of hope and change witnessed over the last few months. There have been stories of kind acts, jubilation over the strength of Pakistani’s spirit and dedication, and an amazing amount of involvement from the citizens, the famous celebrities, the students, the poor and of course, the over-seas spectators.

For now, we are all holding our breaths.

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Also submitted as part of the Weekly Writing Challenge post

Imran Khan’s Pakistan – A New Way Forward

The charismatic Imran Khan – former Pakistan cricket captain, currently a politician, party leader, philanthropist and a man described as “Pakistan’s favourite son” – has released his latest work grandly titled ‘Pakistan: A Personal History‘. And a personal history it is for Khan, having merged his own changing identity and with that of the evolving culture and states of Pakistan. Interspersed with philosophical musings of both his own personal life (“I soon realised there was a world of difference between happiness and pleasure-seeking”) and the frank, rich history of Pakistan from it’s very creation in 1947, Khan uses his own cricket career, personal beliefs, political ideals and even his marriage as a prism to reflect on the larger issues at hand in Pakistan today. Beginning first with his own upbringing and family, and juxtaposing this with the creation of Pakistan from its very ‘independence’ and roots in 1947, Khan reflects on the sad beauty of Pakistan, while also highlighting the increasing troubles the state and its people have been undignified with.

Keen to show a side to Pakistan which has previously been defamed by media, and whose identity has become distorted, Khan details the underlying problems Pakistan has faced. After decades of corruption, disruptions from America and their puppets who are positioned in significant places, power politics and the country’s passive role in the ‘war on terror’, Pakistan appears to have reached despair over the state of its nation, as well as impasse over the anger of its people. Similarly, Khan’s own life, previously that of a playboy, and spoiled rich boy, soon evolves into anger at the state of his home country, his depiction in the media and the coverage on both his cricket playing and his marriage to a non-Pakistani woman – and most of all further strengthens his faith in the role of Islam. It is clear then, that Khan’s life and its ups and downs are followed in context with the changing scenarios in Pakistan’s political climate.

Yet Imran Khan does more than just present complaints and criticisms about the current handling of Pakistan by the government, and the intervention by several Western powers – instead, he proposes a solution in the form of his own political party, Tehreek-e-Insaaf (Movement for Justice). Highlighting the ideals of Pakistan’s founder, Jinnah and also praising the ideals of peaceful leader Gandhi, Imran Khan emphasises his own objectives as being similar to these esteemed leaders. In addition to this at the heart of these ideas are the ideals and beliefs of Khan’s favourite poet and philosopher Allama Muhammad Iqbal, who he believes could help reform and re-modernise the country. It is not a coincidence therefore, that Imran Khan has released this book so close to his political campaign which has kicked off, and his bid to be the country’s next President.

His philosophy (among others) revolves around “equal treatment for rich and poor is essential”, changing policies in appointing ministers and incorporating Islam’s morals into the ruling of the country, as well as withdrawing from the war on terror which has, according to Khan, only led to an alternative type of imprisonment for Pakistan under America’s terms, and has led to millions of unnecessary deaths. As Khan sums up, “Colonialism deprives you of your self-esteem and to get it back you have to fight to redress the balance.”
The book then, is divided into several layers. In the first layer, he describes his own personal life and upbringing, and the revelations which he is eventually led to. The second layer is an accurate, sharp account of recent Pakistani political history, and the issues and problems of contemporary politics which need to be addressed. Thirdly, Khan emphasises the role of Islam in history, how its qualities of tolerance, justice, moral values and education are ones which made Islam the leading civilisation for centuries. And lastly, it is a political manifesto for Khan’s objectives themselves, which details his struggles and his expectations for the future.

Yet in all of this, Khan never strays from the overall pervading message in his autobiography – which is that of hope and optimism. Imran Khan states his hopes that Pakistan will overturn its disgraced image, and redeem itself with its rich culture, Islamic morals and with the promising youths of Pakistan and their changing attitudes. Just as Khan himself has resolved his own personal issues, he shows how he hopes to use his own successes in the political sphere, and become as renowned a politician as was his illustrious career as a cricketer.

Pakistan: A Personal History appeals to me because of my own Pakistani heritage, and the fact that Pakistan has had such negative press in the past few years. While Imran Khan has idealistic ideals, my own belief is also that he is an honest, sincere and courageous politician which will not be much appreciated in the world of politics. Khan has certainly done a lot in the name of humane charity, and it is this compassion in him which appeals to the masses. Whether he will be able to carry this over in a potential presidential role, however, is a different story.

Whether you are interested in the cricketer Imran Khan or the politician Imran Khan or just in Pakistan’s current affairs and it’s rich history, this is certainly an enlightening read, and is an interesting insight into the mind of a philanthropist and politician.