Muslims Need a Mature Debate About Homosexuality

The first same sex weddings became legal in England and Wales last week, but why is it taking so long for Muslims to confront the issue?

I’ve often been asked by Muslims why I report on the gay Muslim community. The question is normally posed in a way that suggests reporting on taboo and controversial subjects are best avoided. This isn’t the right attitude. Sensitive issues should be talked about, because there is normally a group of people who are suffering as a result of it not being discussed. Continue reading

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There’s More to Islam: A Message to Muslims Doubting Their Faith

Recently, an ex-Muslim told me that he knew very little about Islam’s deep, spiritual tradition. And it’s worrying that so many people don’t. It’s one of the reasons why so many people doubt their faith. 

Doubt is a good thing. It enables us to question what we believe and come to stronger convictions about them. Those too scared to doubt can become chained to their views, closed-minded and hostile to those who think differently. Continue reading

Frithjof Schuon on Why Many Atheists Reject God

imgresHere are some extracts from one of the most interesting books written on religion in the 20th century, The Transcendent Unity of Religions, by the metaphysician Frithjof Schuon.

Schuon is the founder of the Perennialist school, which, as his book suggests, believes in the unity of all religions.

Unlike many religious scholars who have argued against promoting esoterism to the masses – out of fear that people might be misled – Schuon believed it was necessary for a society to understand both religion’s outward and inward dimensions. If a religion’s intellectual, esoteric tradition isn’t known about, the inevitable result, according to Schuon, is atheism. Continue reading

T.J. Winter/Abdal Hakim Murad on the future of Islam

Unknown-4Tim Winter or Abdal Hakim Murad, as he is known to Muslims, is an academic at Cambridge University, an Islamic scholar and one of Britain’s most influential Muslims. Strangely, and this is something he admits, the majority of British Muslims have never heard of him.

One of the obvious reasons is because he is an intellectual giant, the sophistication of his language makes him largely inaccessible to the masses and his calm and composed voice doesn’t appeal to those who want to hear an angry Imam shout about the evils of the West.  Continue reading

Young Muslims on Twitter: Hijabis, ‘Akhis’, Marriage and Showing Off

imgres-15There are many interesting phenomena taking place on Twitter, especially when one observes young Muslims. Never in history have young Muslims around the world interacted in such a way: forming friendships, learning from each other, attacking each other, turning into communities and trying to outdo and impress one another. Continue reading

A journey of a lifetime: reflections on Rihla 2013 in Konya

As soon as the plane touched down on the runway of London Gatwick’s airport, my eyes welled up with tears and I felt a sense of grief. The realization had just dawned on me that I had, once again, been separated from the sacred: from a place where you are continuously reminded of the Divine to a world where the Divine is seemingly absent.

Continue reading

The Boston Bombings show Islamophobia at its worst

Following the deadly explosions near the finishing line of the Boston Marathon yesterday, leaving three people dead and at least 140 injured, the reactions by Muslims, Islamophobes and those who do no fit into those two categories have been highly revealing. Continue reading

Ahmadiyya Muslim Community: Controversial Muslim Sect Continues to Grow – The Times

My blog in The Times today.

Ahmadi Muslims challenge mainstream Islam

There is a palpably tranquil atmosphere in the Baitul Futuh Mosque in Morden, London. Hundreds of guests, including: MPs, Secretary of States and Senior Members of the Armed Forces, are slowly making their way into Western Europe’s largest Mosque – which can accommodate 10,000 worshippers – an impressive white building, donning a 16m dome and two lofty minarets.

Continue reading

A reply to Richard Dawkin’s ‘make sense’ tweets

Dear Professor Dawkins,

Today you tweeted a lot and also retweeted a lot. Below are my responses to most of those anti-religious tweets.

“God couldn’t think of a better way to forgive the sin of Adam (who never existed) than to have his son (aka himself) executed. Makes sense.”

Continue reading

My rejection of Islam: Why I stopped believing in religion as it’s taught

One dark winter’s night, I was in bed, sitting perfectly erect, completely oblivious to my surroundings, my eyes fixated on the pages of the book I was reading – a book that was to change my life. Continue reading

One Year Since My Father’s Death – Reflections on: TV, Music, Food, Religion & Sufism

On January 13 2012, my late father, may he rest in peace and light, died of cancer. We know that one in three of us will get cancer some time in our life – it’s a scary prospect but one we must acknowledge. My dad, unfortunately, first got cancer when he was about 41 or 42, which is pretty young. Age, however, is irrelevant: kids get cancer these days.  Continue reading

The female Muslim role model: Yasmin Mogahed

Prominent Muslim women’s voices are generally lacking in mainstream discourse. However, things are changing: Yasmin Mogahed, 32, an Egyptian born American – popular for her public speaking and writing – is defying all the odds. Continue reading

Islam in revolt: evolution and homosexuality

Islam, being the youngest of the three Abrahamic religions, has had the least amount of time to evolve, or “regenerate” as Martin Lings, the English writer and biographer of the Prophet Mohammed, once put it. And it’s strikingly evident: while Christianity has accepted, and welcomed debate around, homosexuality and Darwin’s evolution theory, it pales besides the resistance of change within Islam. However, for the first time in Islam’s 1400-year history, these issues are finally being openly discussed, and rightly so. Continue reading

Is Buddhism the answer to Britain’s problems?

The 2011 Census results, which came out last week, showed that the amount of people who identify themselves as Christians has declined by four million since 2001. What’s more, 14 million people, about a quarter of the population, say they had no religion at all, a rise of 6.4 million over the decade. With the Church of England receiving such negative press lately, largely because of the decision not to allow women to become bishops and its opposition to gay marriage, the future of Christianity in this country is uncertain. Continue reading

Muslim and gay: Islam begins to confront the issue – The Times

A piece I had published on the Times website on 29 November 2012.

For the first time in Islam’s history, a debate about homosexuality is beginning. While homophobia and the persecution of gays may still be rampant in Islamic countries, there are signs of change. LGBT Muslim groups are popping up all over the world, from Lebanon to the UK. Continue reading

Pornified: How British culture became so porn-obsessed

110,000 people in the UK have signed a petition to protect children from online pornography which will be handed to Prime Minister David Cameron next week, to put pressure on him to take action. The petition, signed by everyone from MPs to teachers, aims to combat the rocketing tide of online porn which is affecting young children. Last week, ChildLine published statistics showing that the number of children calling the helpline over the past year has soared by one third, due to children encountering hardcore porn. It’s natural for young children to act in disgust when faced with pornographic images – however, as we get older, innate feelings within human beings slowly dissipate. Continue reading

Understanding Sharia Law

I was talking to a mature Muslim girl yesterday – who prays regularly, reads the Quran and comes across as a good Muslim – who said to me: “One thing I don’t like [about Islam] is Sharia Law.” What she meant by “Sharia Law” was stoning, lashing and chopping off hands, i.e. the corporal punishments and penal codes. I felt compelled to remind her of something: First, the corporal punishments associated with Islam account for a small percentage of Sharia Law. The majority of Sharia is to do with one’s spirituality, like praying, fasting and giving to charity, the Law also encompasses everything from economics to hygiene. Secondly, Sharia Law is profoundly nuanced: not only is it open to interpretation but it is flexible and able to move with the times. According to academic Scott Kugle, Sharia means a “broad pathway”. Continue reading

The Higgs-Boson and why God created the universe

Know your Lord

This is the essential question which lies at the heart of all religious traditions. In the Abrahamic religions, human beings are created in a state of servitude; to glorify, worship and manifest God’s greatness. However, the quintessential, underlying message which runs through all religions, is for human beings to come to know God. Each religion teaches us different ways how to reach the divine, but the goal is one: knowing our Lord. But to come to know God, we must first purify ourselves to reach the level of the “perfected human”. All the religious and spiritual traditions have a head figure – whether it be: Jesus, Buddha, Moses or Muhammad – who ultimately represent human perfection or is used as a role model. Continue reading

Why do we fall in love?

What is love? 

Love is one of those things that cannot really be defined. I’m sure most of us have experienced love in some way in our lives, whether it be for your: parents, girlfriend, boyfriend or even a pet. True, love can come in different forms and at different intensities. Sometimes we probably even confuse love with something else. But how do two people fall in love with each other? Continue reading

Religion for Intellectuals: Redefining Islam

It is easy to say that Islam is a misunderstood religion, but the real problem lies in who interprets it. The Quran, the Muslim holy book, believed to be the word of God, and the Hadith, the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad, are the two authoritative texts in Islam. However, the problem is this: language, by its nature, is open to interpretation and indeed is interpreted differently depending on the reader. The Quran, according to the late Gai Eaton, is like a mirror: one will interpret the book depending on one’s nature and personality.

In his must-read book Islam and the Destiny of Man (1994), Gai Eaton says: If they are by nature superficial they will find it in [the Quran] only superficialities, and if profound, profundities in corresponding measures. If they come arrogantly, they will interpret certain verses as justification for their arrogance…” Likewise if people approach the Quran with no faith and little openness and discernment, it is likely they will leave the Quran just as they started.

Alain de Botton’s book Religion for Atheists suggests that there is much good in religion and its principles can apply to everyone. de Botton, however, refuses to acknowledge the veracity of the metaphysical claims of religion.

But how is the intellectual mind suppose to interpret and grapple with the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad? What people tend to forget is that Islam labels itself as a religion for the whole of humankind – and if this is the case, it must appeal to everyone and speak to everyone, both educated and uneducated.

This is why the Prophet spoke to different people on different levels: to the bedouins, the Prophet often said simple things to appeal to their intellect, and to the highly intelligent, he taught them deeper, more profound things to appeal to their intellect.

According to Shaikh Abdul Hakim Murad (Tim Winter), “Britain’s most influential Muslim”, many of the utterances in the Islamic tradition are both “hyperbolic” and “allegorical”.

Gai Eaton adds: “For the Quran to contain more than a thimbleful of the message it must rely upon images, symbols and parables which open windows on to a vast landscape of meaning, but which are inevitably liable to misinterpretation.”

Metaphysical concepts such as heaven and hell are nothing like what we imagine them to be, nor are they anything like how they are described to us. Furthermore, the anthropomorphic and corporeal traditions in Islam, where God is described in human terms, as if He had a human body, are to be interpreted allegorically.

Hell is not so much a place of eternal barbarous torture, but according to Muslim American Intellectual, Hamza Yusuf, it’s a place of “divine alienation”.

Hell is a very human problem. It’s hard to fathom the idea that some people will be in hell for eternity. Gai Eaton has suggested that nobody will be in hell for eternity and cites a Prophetic tradition where the Prophet Muhammad reminds us that eventually God’s ‘hand’ will pull people out from hell – and His ‘hand’ is infinite so we can expect that everyone will be saved.

Martin Lings narrates a tradition about the inhabitants of hell, attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, in his biography: Muhammad: His life based on the earliest sources. The jist of the [long] hadith is that after the Prophets, Angels and believers have interceded for the people of hell, God, in his infinite mercy, will “take out from the fire those who did no good and will cast them into a river at the entrance of Paradise which is called the River of Life.” (1)

One of the most knowledgable scholars of our time, who emailed me in confidentiality said: The doctrine of infernal felicity [the idea that the flames of hell will eventually become a source of pleasure] indicates that those who remain in Hell after the Prophetic Intercession either have their punishment remitted or enter Paradise. And the scholars agree that the Prophetic Intercession will embrace every sinner.

The only sin which is deemed as “unforgivable” if a person dies without repenting for it, is shirk, associating partners with God. Islam, by its nature, is an iconoclastic faith – it breaks both the outward idols as well as the inward idols. Islam’s aim is not just to stop people from prostrating to man-made idols, but is to stop us from worshipping ourselves. Our egos and desires need to either be annihilated or harmonised so that they are in conformity with the divine Order.

One of the criticisms of religious people is that they only do good because they expect reward and only avoid sin because they expect punishment. Human beings are often emotionally driven – and reward and punishment are emotional drives which make us incline towards that which is good.

Islam also shares many similarities with the Aristotelian philosophy – Aristotle once said: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” The purpose of doing good and avoiding evil in Islam is for it to become habitual and natural to us; we should reach a level where our heart becomes saturated by goodness and only good emanates from us. This is known as Ihsan.

Hamza Yusuf reports a saying in Islamic thought: “Amongst the people and their purposes there are two stations: the purpose of common people is to gain rewards…but the end or purpose for the people of distinction is nearness and presence, to feel near to God and feel his Presence.”

So, we must now ask: What is Islam? In Islam and the Destiny of Man it says: “Islam presents itself as the synthesis of all that came before. The final brick has been put in the great edifice of the divine Revelation, and for this very reason, the Muslim must expect his truth to be confirmed in other religions.” In other words, it is the completion of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity.

The world or the dunya is viewed as something which veils the Divine from us. And this veil is harder to penetrate when one is in a state of disbelief or kufr. Linguistically, kufr means to “cover up” so what many disbelievers do is cover up the Truth and, in turn, justify it to themselves. There are some who incessantly ridicule or attack religion and/or those with a belief in God, perhaps so that they feel better about their disbelief. Others, however, have valid reasons why they disbelieve. Perhaps they can’t explain the problem of evil, or maybe they have only looked into one religion and have painted all the others with the same brush or it could be that they have never been properly introduced to the esoteric dimension of religion. The veil, which hides the Divine, is harder to penetrate when one is in a state of kufr but easier to see through when one has faith or Iman, as one’s heart has greater spiritual insight

One of the most important things Gai Eaton says in the book is: “Muslims are under an obligation to deepen and develop the intellectual bases of their faith and have no excuse for relying on unthinking obedience and emotional fervor to protect it against the searching questions of our time.”

Muslims need to put to aside their sanctimonious claims; we are all equal. Ali (R.A.) the cousin of the Prophet Muhammad said: “You are either my brother [or sister] in faith or my equal in humanity.”

How and why some people believe and others don’t does not always make sense to us, but it shouldn’t be our concern – the final judgement lies with God.

“Re-define Islam but do not de-refine it,” Abdul Hakim Murad.

1) Martin Lings, Muhammad: His life based on the earliest sources, page 94.

The Hidden Secrets Why Muslims Pray

Prayer is often performed in a purely ritualistic and robotic way, this isn’t how it should be.

Timothy Winter, Islamic scholar and academic has described the prayer as having three levels: 1) being a form of worship for beginners 2) a form of purification for the wayfarers and 3) communion with the Divine for the saints. Continue reading

Interview With Talib Kweli on US Politics, Hip-Hop, Drake, The Five Percent & The Occupy Movement

Talib Kweli – an internationally renowned American rapper and a celebrity within the hip-hop scene – once said: “I don’t fuck with politics.” Yet, when asked about his views on the upcoming US elections he becomes animated: “Politics is as entertaining as a soap opera. [President] Obama plays an ill political game, if there were no term limits, he would be President for a very long time!” he says. He also expresses his views on the Republican candidates. “Some of the political rhetoric coming out of conservative right in Americasounds like the same thing that set the stage for Nazi Germany.”

Kweli, known for his politically conscious music, has just finished touring the UK with British-born rappers Lowkey and Mic Righteous – also known for their “conscious” lyrics. “I’m not actually that familiar with them,” he admits in his softly spoken voice, perhaps the antithesis of the bravado with which many other rappers speak. “But I’m looking forward to getting more familiar with them.” It is not just his meek voice that stands out, his diction does too. Kweli, the eldest of two sons, grew up in a highly educated household: his mother Brenda Greene is an English professor and his father an administrator at Adelphi University. Isn’t strange, then, that he decided to pursue a career in rap? “My parents are writers and the writers of my generation are rappers,” he says.

During secondary school Kweli met Mos Def aka Yasiin Bey, a Grammy award winning emcee and DJ Hi-Tech, an American producer and rapper. These encounters would prove pivotal to Kweli’s career: in 1998, he combined with Mos Def to release the seminal album Black Star and teamed up with Hi-Tech, to release Train of Thought, both considered hip-hop classics. While the albums didn’t sell millions, they received critical acclaim and earned the respect of many fellow rappers. Now, five solo albums later (although not all of his records lived up to their expectation) Kweli, 36, is married to DJ Eque as of 2009 – and has two children from his former partner Darcel Turner.

Kweli, who insists his name be pronounced “Kwali”, rose to prominence amid the renaissance of Afrocentric, politically motivated hip-hop in the 90s but, since then, there has been an increase in music which – he believes – portrays, “sex and drugs…the gangster lifestyle…and just having a good time.”

“When I first came, hip-hop was about opening people’s consciousness but now even the great lyricists – J Cole, Kendrick Lamar – are rapping more about having fun,” he says. “Kwali” has never had an ostentatious demeanour – the big chains, flash cars and extravagant lifestyle associated with most high-profile rappers doesn’t seem to apply to him. Likewise, his physical features don’t particularly make him distinguishable: he stands at a height of around 5’8 inches and his soft features resemble that of any other Afro-American.

What does he make of the rampant materialism endemic in mainstream hip-hop? “I’m able to differentiate between what an artist creates based on how he grew up and what he creates as an individual. Jay Z the rapper, is different to Sean Carter. The same way as Arnold Schwarzenegger is different to The Terminator. It’s entertainment – I’m not here to judge.”

In a recent radio interview DMX, humorously, talked about why he doesn’t like fellow rapper Drake. What does Kweli think of Drake? “He is a shining example for mainstream artists – he is a really good rapper, singer and he can write, he is like a triple threat.” Many people have criticised Drake and Lil Wayne, both signed to Cash Money, for doing music purely for the money. Kweli disagrees and raises his voice: “I think that’s a very, very unfair, ill-informed criticism. They [the critics] are not really in hip-hop if they think like that. They just listen to the radio and end up getting sick of them and their lyrics. They forget they [Drake, Wayne and Kanye West] come from somewhere – how many people listened to Wayne’s first album? But everybody knows Carter IV.”

Many critics of hip-hop have claimed that it isn’t the “same” and isn’t as “good” as it used to be. Kweli again becomes annoyed: “Why should hip hop be the same? When I was first listening to hip hop in ’87, you had older artists saying this music is shit. The Cold Crust Brothers didn’t like LL Cool J, now he is  classic MC. They thought he was a young snotty nose punk. People look at things in their own perspective. If we could all see through the same eyes we would welcome new artists.”

Unlike many of Cash Money’s artists, Kweli’s music has always been synonymous with truthfulness and honesty. His views on the current political climate in America reflect this honesty. “A lot of American’s are greedy and selfish so they only want to listen to these messages [from the Republicans]. He describes these messages as “moronic,” “stupid,” “ignorant”. Kweli then speaks about the problems in American society. “The education system isn’t geared so that we know anything that goes on in the world; it doesn’t set you up to be part of the world either. The reason why America is having a crisis in education, science, and finance, is because we’re not prepared to deal with a world that is interconnected.”

One political movement Kweli has taken an interest in is the Occupy protests. Kweli says that he grew up in a protest culture and believes they are a “natural” part of society. “People aren’t just accepting things as they are; people are peeling layers back and seeing things for how they really are.”

Kweli, like many other black rappers have dabbled in the Five Percent Nation, an American organisation that believes 10% of the world’s inhabitants know the truth of existence, 85% live in ignorance and the remaining five percent know the truth and are determined the spread it. “I’ve got huge respect for the five percent,” he says. “When I was a teenager, I dabbled in the five percent, I also dabbled into Rastafarianism and Islam, I was trying to discover myself. I’m very much in touch with my spirituality now. I don’t claim to follow a particular religion.”

Why has he now disassociated himself from the five percent? “Disassociate is a strong word. I don’t like dogma. Even atheists will disagree with me but there is dogma to atheism, there’s a dogma to the five percent, whether people say there is or not. I would like to take something from every thought process. Nothing turned me off [the five percent] it makes a lot of sense, it makes as much sense as Christianity to me,” he says. “But I’d rather be open to see and receive everything,” he adds.


Is praying to God useless?

When we are distressed or when we need sudden help, we often call on our Lord. Non-believers sometimes do, too. There seems to be an innate disposition within the human psyche telling us that we are not alone and that there is something above us. However, what we don’t realise is that we tend to call upon our Lord only when we need help, not when times are good.

The reasons behind praying are multifaceted and can be understood on many levels. Indeed at the heart of all the major world religions is the act of prayer, whether it be in the form of mediation or otherwise.

Praying can be seen as an act of gratitude for the blessings we continually receive; or an act of praising our Creator, simply because He is worthy of praise and, in doing so, we fulfill a primary function as human beings; or simply because we, as the creation, feel the innate tendency to worship that which is above us. Simply put: prayer is natural to us.

For Christians, there is no standardised prayer that one must perform but the purpose — like all the other dispensations — is to gain an awareness and closeness to God.

Buddhism — unlike the Abrahamic faiths — does not propound the body/soul dichotomy but teaches us about focusing the mind through deep meditative practises to attain ‘peace of mind’ – quite literally. Meditation is now used by the religious and the non-religious alike and is widely believed to help the human mind find peace and relieve worry and anxiety.

The Islamic tradition is arguably the only dispensation that has a formalised pattern of prayer that one must follow. While it may come across as a mere ritual, the perfunctory nature that many Muslims treat it as is actually abhorrent to God. The prayer, or Salah, is all about having a connection with one’s Lord, attempting to gain experiential knowledge of the Divine and cleansing oneself spiritually in the process.

Salah should begin by one emptying the mind so that full concentration can be given to one’s Lord. The prayer consists of standing, kneeling and prostrating and is therefore a physical activity as well as a spiritual one.

The prayer begins with Allah hu Akbar, God is the greatest – reminiscent of the ontological argument propounded by the Christian philosopher Saint Anselm. One is immediately reminded that there is none greater than He, and while in the state of prayer, is in the complete protection of his or her Lord.

The prostration — an act also performed by Moses (see the book of Numbers chapter 16 verse 4 in the Old Testament) and Jesus (see the book of Matthew chapter 26 verse 39 in the New Testament) — is one of deep symbolic significance. By putting one’s head on the ground, the most important part of the body and the home of the ego, we are effectively disempowering the ego – forcing ourselves to become humble and freeing our mind from the pride that often permeates it. Furthermore, it is believed that when one is prostrating, it is the closest one can be to the Divine – not physically but spiritually.

Hamza Yusuf, intellectual and Muslim scholar, says that has been mentioned in the Islamic traditions that when we prostrate ourselves before our Lord, we are symbolically (and literally) elevating our heart above our mind.

It is never too late to start praying.

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Atheism is The Answer: Why I Reject The Existence of God

I’d first like to tell you a bit about my past. I grew up in a middle class family: I went to a private school, received a good education and lived with my parents. My upbringing was a bit confusing though. My dad is an atheist but my mother is a Christian, albeit not a very practising one. On the one hand, my father told me there is no God and on the other, my mother told me Jesus is God. I felt a bit confused growing up but ,when I was 17, I made a decision for myself: I decided there isn’t a God, He is made up. In the same way there isn’t — as far as we know — unicorns, werewolves or pixies, what reason is their to believe in a God?

Let’s face it: the universe is far too complex and mysterious for us to say there is a ‘God’. A few hundred years ago, way before the recent developments in modern-day science, a belief in God would have seemed plausible. However, due to the rapid advancements in society, we no longer have any reasons to believe in a Supernatural Being. If I have any belief, it is in science; one day we will eliminate God from the equation. It’s foolish and, in fact damaging to our society to believe in such a mysterious Being when, really, we should be concentrating on the here and now.

Furthermore, I don’t need a moral code or a religious scripture to dictate to me how to behave, I can rely on my own moral compass, thank you.

Karl Marx once said that his idea of misery is “submission“. And it’s true, why should I worship and obey this ‘God’ when, not only is there no evidence for ‘His’ existence, but I have no knowledge of this mystical entity. Why does ‘He’ want us to worship Him anyway, is He that greedy for praise? I once heard someone say: ‘When we worship Him, it doesn’t benefit Him, it benefits us’. Well, that makes no sense, how exactly does it benefit us? All it does is keep us in a state of heedlessness and delusion. It benefits us in that it helps to dismiss our deep-rooted, psychological need for a father-figure and provide us comfort from the inevitable: death.

If ‘God’ really does exist, why can’t He just come down and show himself to us, is He not able to? And the very reason we say ‘He’, shows the inherent sexism indelibly marked in our Judeo-Christian heritage and, in particular, religious scriptures.

Why would God put restrictions on us and tell us what to do if He gave us free will? Why would I believe in a God who tells me that I can’t go out and drink alcohol or eat pork but then implores me to kill non-believers and accept his other barbaric codes of living?

I am not perfect, but who is? I am sometimes accused of being arrogant and having a bit too much pride, but I would like to think I’m a good person. I don’t go round killing or hurting anyone – religious extremists and suicide bombers, however, can’t exactly say the same, can they? But then they are the ones who go to ‘Heaven’? I remember reading the Bible years ago and thinking: what a pile of tripe; the Old Testament in particular is so vociferously condemning of anyone who opposes the Law, and the New Testament is riddled with contradictions. And, if Christians can’t even explain the concept of the Trinity to me, why should I believe it? Admittedly, I agree with the great man himself, Richard Dawkins, when he says Jesus was a great moral preacher. While Jesus may have been a nice person, what reason is there to believe any of his metaphysical theories? I’ve read the Quran too, well half of it, I felt uncomfortable reading it and it was too incoherent to bother with. Muslims sometimes say to me: ‘Look at all these scientific miracles in the Quran, look how amazing linguistically it is’, or worse, ‘look how amazing the Prophet Muhammad’s life was: his kindness, humility and sincerity’ – yeah, he was pretty amazing, at being a war Lord, I’ll give him that.

I don’t need a ‘God’ to make me happy: I have women and money; I live in a big house and I’ve got a great car – I’m happy with all the things I’ve got in life; although I feel a bit disquieted when I’m alone sometimes. I don’t think I’ll ever believe in ‘God’, in fact, I’m willing to place a pretty large bet that I’ll never believe in ‘Him’.

If you have taken what I said at face value, you have not understood this – read it again, think and look at the italicised words.

Book List For 2012

These are the books I would like to read in 2012:

The Secret History of the World – Jonathon Black

Killing Hope – William Blum

The Alchemy of Happiness – Al Ghazali

Al-Ghazali on the Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife: Book XL of the Revival of the Religious Sciences

Al Ghazali’s Path to Sufism

Islam, religion of life – Abdul Hakim Murad

The Time of the Bedouin – Ian Dallas

Sea Without Shore A Manual of the Sufi Path – Nuh Ha Mim Keller

Coming Back: Science of Reincarnation - A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

Bhagavad Gita as It Is

1984 – George orwell

The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic, and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman – Malidoma Some

Prophet – Kahlil Gibran

The Awakening of Intelligence - J. Krishnamurti

The Great War for Civilisation – Robert Fisk (a quarter of the way through already)

The Brothers Karamazov -Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Shock Doctrine – Naomi Klein

The Essence of Buddhism: An introduction to its philosophy & practise – Traleg Kyabgon (a quarter of the way through already)

An interview with Diary of A Badman Star, Humza Arshad

Why do you think your act has exploded and become so popular?

To be fair, its probably because of my looks.  You can’t be ugly and famous. I genuinely believe it’s the looks.

But if you want a serious answer, I owe it to God. He’s given me this opportunity. Nothing to do with talent. I’ve been given this… to use my fame and position in a responsible way not just to entertain but to make people smile and hopefully learn something from it.

Its not just Muslims who watch your videos, why do you think it appeals to so many people?

I think people can appreciate the humour and there is a message behind it, a moral behind it, it’s not entertainment there’s an extra added value.

You don’t have to be a Muslim to respect your mum or women or not finding violence as the answer and I think people can relate to that.

Do you feel comedy is the best way to ‘break the ice’ when portraying Islam?

I don’t think comedy is the best way to portray Islam. But its definitely one way to teach morals and values. I’ve tried to provide entertainment with good message, but allow people to learn from it. The most powerful thing is it engages everyone.

I’ve had people from everywhere saying they like my videos: Mexico, Kenya, China, Singapore, Poland…actually I made Poland up. But in America and Pakistan etc you expect a fan base. People from different countries tweeting me saying ‘I really like your video and you’ve got a massive fan base here.’ I’m like: ‘Do you lot even speak English’?

Comedy is so powerful; it’s a great way to engage people.

What is the real message behind your videos and what is your reason for doing it?

What I think I’m capable of is making people laugh and smile. I’m crap at everything else but I can make a fool out of myself. If I get their attention I want to give back. I want to do something positive. For this particular project [diary of a badman], I wanted to give something back and spread a good, positive light on Islam. Most people don’t realize we are normal human beings as well.

We have the same morals and etiquettes as they do. We’re stereotyped. A lot of the Muslim community – especially the youngsters – get led astray but even if one person might get inspired and go out and do his own research then it’s all worth it.

I was in Birmingham and this guy told me he went off the rails and started drugs and joined a gang, and he said when he saw my Diary of a Badman, it touched him so much he wanted to change. Now he is studying law.

I think the most rewarding thing is when people say ‘I watched your video and now I respect Islam’ or ‘thank you for giving me a better picture of Islam’. Even atheists are saying ‘I’m looking into Islam now’. At least a handful of people have reverted because of it.

It’s just that tickle. If you go full on then people will lose interest. You don’t want to feel you’re manipulating them, jut give them a little advice.

Its up to them to make the choice. It doesn’t have to be about converting people. If people are happy with their faith that’s fair enough but go back and treat your mum with more respect at least.

Sorry for such a long answer blad.

Do you ever get any negative reception for your videos?

One thing I’ve learnt is that no matter how hard you try, you can’t please everyone. I’ve had negative feedback . The first mean comment I got, I was really upset, my brother sat me down and said this is how to look at it: ‘you know you’ve made it when you’ve got haters’.

Jay Z is the one of the biggest rappers of all time. [He's got] more fans than most people but then look at how many haters he has. These people must be ugly. As long as I make more people happy, I’ll carry on doing this.

What did that person say to upset you?

I genuinely can’t remember but it was a stupid thing. It’s jealously.

You can take it two ways. You turn a blind eye or use it to motivate you.

People are very quick to judge. They need to look in their own mirror.  We make mistakes. You don’t have the right to say this is wrong. You have just got to ignore it. These people are trying to bring you down. And they are the ones probably cleaning toilets.

Even this 60 year old was saying to me you’re very funny. I genuinely thought it would just appeal to the youth, I’ve got so many young fans but even aunties and uncles. I went to a BBC Asian network charity football event and the amount of old people taking pictures of me. I don’t know if they were like: ‘all the kids are doing it, so lets look cool’!

Have you always wanted to be a comedian?

Yeah definitely. I would do anything for a laugh when I was younger. Don’t want to get into details but… I was such an attention seeker. Always been naughty kid in the family, Chatting too much tutti.

When I was doing GCSE’s I was genuinely dumb. I couldn’t do anything right, one thing I could do is make my friends laugh so I decided to use it as a career.

I don’t see myself doing anything else now. From a little kid, you’re like: I want be a policeman or a fireman or a rocket scientist but from day one I wanted to be an actor.

Unfortunately there are a lot of similarities between me and Badman. Certain things are over exaggerated though.

You’re going to be taking your act Nationwide, with tours across the country, tell me what the motivation was behind this?

Money Init. Cars or something. Might get my mum a new kitchen so she can make less daal.

No, seriously,  I’ve been asked to do this tour for a long time but I’ve been reluctant but its a great way to give back to the fans. But the buzz you get from it will be completely different to just sitting in my room making a video.

Follow me on Twitter: omar_shahid

Understanding the Muslim festival of Eid-Al-Adha

Millions of Muslims in this country will be celebrating the festival of Eid-Al-Adha today, but what is its significance? And what can Muslims and non-Muslims learn from this special day?

The Quran expounds the story of Prophet Abraham who was told in a dream to sacrifice his one and only beloved son, Ismaeel. After much confusion, doubts and inner disquiet, Abraham decided to surrender to the call – which he knew was from his Lord. But those who are familiar with the Biblical and Quranic story will know that God was not interested in the sacrifice: He wanted to test Abraham and provide humanity with an invaluable lesson.

The Quran differs from the Biblical narrative in that Abraham first told his son that he was going to sacrifice him. However, what is fascinating is Ismaeel’s response, the young boy said: “Oh my father! Do as you have been commanded. You will find me, God willing, amongst the patient and steadfast.” This highlights that both Abraham and Ismaeel were in complete submission to the Divine.

However, God is not a Shylock. Upon raising the knife to sacrifice his son, God made the knife blunt, Abraham received a lamb instead and the test was complete. Abraham, according to Muslims, is our exemplar and the spiritual father of the three monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. All the prophets of Islam: Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad et al, where all given great tests, but the test given to Abraham is unparalleled. Tests are an inevitable part of life, whether it be the death of a loved one, the loss of wealth or being betrayed by someone you trusted – we all go through hardships. But every test and vicissitude can be seen through, and often, the outcome benefits us. “Verily God is with those who are patient”- as the saying goes

Eid-Al-Adha also commences the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca by Muslims who are financially, physically and mentally able to do so. Hajj is the single biggest human gathering in the world, it is believed that more than 3 million Muslims gather together in Mecca in unity. The pilgrimage, which Malcolm X famously went on, is unlike any other human event.

Malcolm X said: “During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept on the same rug – while praying to the same God – with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the deeds of the white Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana.”

And:

“Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures.

Islam is thus the continuation of the messages brought by Moses and Jesus and all the other prophets of God. It is not merely a religion but more a way of life; practising the faith in a purely perfunctory manner misses the point and understanding the profoundly nuanced traditions within the faith is essential.

Eid Mubarak!

Ramadan is approaching: Why do Muslims fast?

The month of fasting for Muslims, also known as Ramadan, is looming. But why is it that Muslims fast?

Fasting is a Quranic injunction prescribed upon the believers so that they may attain self restraint (2:183). The idea of discipline is all about taming the human soul and not allowing the evil that often emanates from it to manifest into your daily life.  Fasting is undertaken to do exactly this: to discipline oneself.

Abstaining from food and drink is just one aspect of the fast: Muslims should also abstain from vain talk; raising their voice; using foul language; having sexual relations with their spouse (between dawn till dusk) and becoming angry. It is therefore a fast of the mind, body and soul.

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is the month in which the Quran was revealed and is therefore held in high esteem amongst Muslims. According to Muslims, the Quran is able to govern a Muslims day to day life with instructions about every matter pertaining to life – it is therefore a holistic and complete book. It advises in 20: 81 “Eat of the good and wholesome things that We have provided for your sustenance, but indulge in no excess therein.” Ironically, Muslims seem to do exactly the opposite of this during Ramadan. Not only do they eat rubbish for both their morning meal (Suhoor) and their evening meal (iftar) but they end up over-eating. Not only is this contrary to Islamic teachings, but it often results in the gaining of weight.

Fasting is about the detoxification of the mind, body and soul after it has become corrupted throughout the course of the year. Fasting helps get rid of the toxins in the body and it also gives the digestive system a break ( a well needed one for some excess-eaters). It is also known that the person who can refrain from eating can stop themselves from indulging in other capricious activities.

Fasting, essentially, is about bettering oneself. It is a time for reflection and contemplation. To look at your character and improve it; to master your ego, and suppress your desires.

Like many other acts of worship, many Muslims treat fasting as a perfunctory ritual. When, in reality, nothing should be done in a perfunctory manner. It is the time, more than ever, to realize your spiritual dimension and return to the fitrah ( a human beings innate nature).

Beautiful sayings of Jesus in the Islamic tradition

The following sayings by Jesus (may peace be upon him) are some of the many derived from the Islamic tradition. They’ve been taken from Hamza Yusuf’s book Walk on Water – The Wisdom of Jesus.

Jesus (pbuh) met IblÏs [Satan] and IblÏs said, “Is it not true that only what has been decreed will happen?”

Jesus replied, “That is true.”

Then IblÏs said, “So throw yourself down from the top of this mountain, and let us see if you live or not!”

Jesus answered, “The servant does not test his master; rather, it is the master who tests his servant.”

Jesus (pbuh), the son of Mary said, “God has given me the power to give life to the dead, sight to the blind, sound to the deaf; but He did not give me the power to heal the fool of his foolishness.”

It is related that Jesus (pbuh), the son of Mary,  said, “It is of no use to know something if one does not act upon it. In truth, an abundance of knowledge only increases one in pride if one does not act accordingly.”

Once someone asked Jesus (pbuh), “How are you able to walk on water?”

Jesus replied, “With certainty.”

Then someone said, “But we also have certainty!”

Jesus then asked them, “Are stone, clay, and gold equal in your eyes?”

They replied, “Certainly not!” Jesus responded, “They are in mine.”

Jesus (pbuh) was known to have said, “Virtuous action does not consist in doing good to someone who has done good to you—that is merely returning a favor. Virtuous action consists in doing good to those who have wronged you.”

Jesus (pbuh) son of Mary, said, “Do not speak much without remembering God, for by doing so, you harden your hearts. Surely a hard heart is distant from God though you are unaware. Do not, like lords, look at the faults of others. Rather, like servants, look at your own faults. In truth, humanity is comprised of only two types, the afflicted and the sound. So show mercy to the afflicted, and praise God for well-being.”

Jesus (pbuh), the son of Mary, was known to have said, “Love of this world is the source of every wrong action, and there is much harm in wealth.”

They asked, “What is its harm?”

Jesus replied, “Its possessor is never safe from pride and arrogance.”

They said, “What if he is free of those two? Is there still harm?”

Jesus responded, “Yes, for by nurturing his wealth, he is diverted from the remembrance of God.”

Some people once said to Jesus (pbuh), “O Spirit of God, inform us about the nature of wealth.”

He answered, “The possessor of wealth always has one of three qualities: he either gains it by unlawful means, obstructs it from reaching the one who deserves it, or by accumulating it is distracted from worship of his Lord.”

Jesus (pbuh), the son of Mary, said, “Love of this world and love of the next world can never reside in the heart of a believer simultaneously, just as fire and water cannot be contained in a single vessel at the same time.”

Jesus (pbuh) once said, “Woe to the possessor of this world, since he must die and leave the world behind. He places his hope in it and is deceived. He trusts it and is forsaken.

Jesus (pbuh) once said, “Woe to the deluded, for this world shows them what they detest. In the end, they must abandon what they love, and depart for that which they were promised. Woe to the one whose constant preoccupation is this world and whose grave mistakes are his very actions. What shame they will cause him soon enough!”

Jesus (pbuh) once said, “You will never obtain what you desire except through patience with what you despise.”

Once a woman said to Jesus (pbuh), son of Mary, as he was working, “Blessed be the womb that bore you, and blessed be the breast that suckled you.”

Approaching her, Jesus said, “And blessed be someone who, having read the Book of God, acted in accordance with what was in it.”

Jesus (pbuh) once said, “Work for God and not for your stomachs. Look at the birds: they rise up at dawn and enter into the evening having neither planted nor harvested, yet God provides for them. Now if you say to me, ‘Our stomachs are so much larger than those of birds,’ look then at the oxen, the wild beasts and the donkeys; they neither plow nor harvest the earth, yet God provides for them as well. Beware of the luxuries of this world, and fear them, for the luxuries of this world are filth in the sight of God.”

For more sayings by Jesus (pbuh) and references for the above quotes please visit:  http://sandala.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Walk-on-Water.pdf

‘Don’t let Cameron divide us’-Multiculturalism & Islamic extremism

David Cameron’s party has a propensity to divide and rule, to blame the poor and to cause rifts within the various ethnic cultures which exist within Britian, so said George Galloway at a talk about multiculturalism I attended yesterday.

I heard David Cameron’s talk last month on February the 5th about multiculturalism where he said that “state multiculturalism has failed” and mentioned “the existence of an ideology-Islamic extremism” and, to be honest, I was not shocked by it, neither did it make my blood boil. The reason for this was not because he was right, or what he said resonated with me, but because I have become accustomed to this sort of rhetoric in order to gain political points. His singling out of Muslims did not surprise me either – especially when Islamophobia is now ubiquitous, or in the words of Baroness Warsi: “Islamophobia has now become acceptable.”

Martin Smith from the Love Music Hate Racism campaign argued at the rally last night that Mr Cameron chose to give his speech about multicultalism in Munich, the hub of anti Muslim sentiment, “the day after Labour went above Mr Cameron’s party on the polls, and the same day the EDL marched in Luton. He is copying [Angela] Merkel, [Nicolas] Sarkozy and the Swiss government in their attacks against the Muslim community.”

One theme prominent throughout the night was the idea that a lot of the backlash we face within our country is a result of the demonisation of Muslims and the continuing bombing of their countries. Therefore, is it really a surprise when a small minority become angered and fight back? As George Galloway said: “If you go to war with Muslims abroad you will make war with Muslims at home.” The 7/7 London bombers said explicitly in their videos that what they are doing was because of foreign policy.

What particularly angered many people – not just Muslims, about Mr Cameron’s speech –  was the fact that it was held on the same day as the EDL march against Muslims. Cameron’s speech, ironically, ended up strengthening the likes of the EDL and the BNP; and once you increase the popularity of these xenophobic, far right groups, multiculturalism will further disintegrate. Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP, gloated after Cameron’s speech that his party’s ideas are now entering the mainstream.

I am certainly not one to call Mr Cameron a fascist, a racist nor a xenophobe-like some of the speakers did at last night’s rally-but he, along with previous governments, have been much more tolerant of the different cultures and religions which exist within our society- as compared to other European countries. What I do take objection to, however, is the singling out of specific communities.

Islamic extremism does exist. But these irregular acts need to be treated as isolated incidents of criminality and not acts of terror by a religion as a whole. When the shootings in Arizona took place recently it was treated as an act of ‘insanity’ and not terrorism. Why should attacks by Muslims be treated any different?

As Mr Cameron closes libraries in areas which are predominantly black and asian, in the name of governmental cuts and multiculturalism, and as he continues to sell arms to autocrats who, as a result, suppress democracy, and oppose pluralism, he further espouses his double standards on multiculturalism.

One speaker from the East London Mosque said at the rally last night, that when his family first came to England, they suffered from an identity crisis-they didn’t know where they belonged. Wherever there lived, white people would move out, and when they did live amongst white people, they were often subject to ridicule and abuse. And therefore the asian and black community often lived with each other for safety reasons.

There is no doubt that Mr Cameron speaks from a position of vested interests, and if he was using multiculturalism as a euphemism for a attack on the Muslim community – as one speaker made clear – he was wrong in doing so. ‘Don’t let David Cameron divide us’ was the overall theme of the night. I agree. Our Prime Minister needs to be more careful in the future, if he is not, the cultural apartheid which still exists in our society today, will only be accentuated.

Omar Shahid

Islam and Homosexuality

This evening, 22nd February, I attended a debate at City University, the topic was: Islam and homosexuality.  An extremely polemical and sensitive issue without doubt. I am not one to shy away from controversy-so this debate was perfect for me.

 The two guest speakers- one a gay Muslim man, and the other- a Muslim lesbian, both believe that their faith and sexuality are compatible. But it wasn’t the two speeches which will be remembered, but the question and answer session which ensued.

The first speaker, Azeem, attempted to use Quranic scripture to justify his position- and also loosely referenced a few Islamic scholars who have a very liberal interpretation on the concept of homosexuality. My personal feelings towards him were that of sympathy, I detected genuineness in his heart, and his timid nature prevented me from forming negative opinions about him. The other speaker, Anjum, however, was extremely emotional in both her speech and her answers to the questions posed to her after her talk. The emotion she showed, I suppose, is only natural, as the life she has had so far must have lead to a great deal of stigmatisation, discrimination and prejudice-hate even. Her speech, though, was as boring as my gcse chemistry lessons. “Im not going to talk about homosexuality from the point of view of scripture or from a theological point of view, but from my life experience, my journey.” A bit rude of me maybe, but, I found myself dozing off at certain points in her speech, as she didn’t really have anything beneficial or constructive to say. Nevertheless, I admired her courage to come forward and speak so openly.

It was the question and answer session, though, which made the event worth attending. One of the moderators announced that questions should pertain more to the speaker’s experiences as opposed to questions pertaining to scripture. The head of the university’s Islamic society was one of the first to raise his hand. His question echoed the catholic position towards homosexuality: having desires, lusts or sinful inclinations isn’t a sin, but to act on them is, he said. Both speakers failed to address his remark, but interestingly, Azeem conceded that his homosexuality probably is sinful. But he still believes that this was how he was made, and he refuses to change himself into something he is not.

Intrigued by the whole discussion, I too had a question to ask. My question was fairly similar to the one asked before.  I first thanked the two guest speakers for attending the debate, and reassured them of two important Islamic premises. The first- no Muslim has the right to say ‘you are not a muslim’, that is God’s decision, and His alone. The second- was that no human being has the right to say ‘you are going to hell’, as this too is God’s decision- and God’s decision is based on his complete and utter justice and mercy. I asked whether  they believed-like many muslim scholars do-that they should be attempting to suppress these natural inclinations and perform jihad (which means to strive and struggle with oneself) in order to prevent themselves from practising homosexuality, which, according to Islam is a sin. As compared to others, my question seemed to be one of the more diplomatic ones, as opposed to the ones asked which mentioned ‘murderers’ and ‘homosexuals’ in the same sentence.

Other questions, however, resulted in Anjum shouting back at the questioner in fury because of what they said. At some points during the debate, the tension was palpable, at some points I felt uncomfortable, and others I couldn’t help but laugh.  

One comment, which particurarly resonated with me,  came from a man who works for the NHS. He said that he has dealt with many Muslims who have attempted to commit suicide because they cannot live with themselves. This issue is something which needs to be dealt with by the Islamic community. If it is not, more Muslims boys and girls will continue to top themselves NEEDLESSLY- when really all they require is the support of others through this difficult time in their life.

One thing I learned by the end of this debate is that no matter what you say to a homosexual- they will not change who they are- no matter how persuasive you may be. Homosexuality, I believe, is not just a choice but something real, powerful and possibly ‘natural’ which exists within a man or woman. Azeem, quite rightly said “God didn’t make a mistake with me.” But whether this statement justifies his position is still debateable, as many would argue that the way he naturally feels is not an excuse for him to manifest this behaviour in the form of homosexual acts.

 One thing I think most people would agree on, though, is that these sorts of discussions help dispel prejudices and lessen homophobia. More dialogue is needed for both sides to understand each other and  help resolve many of the issues which far too often result in misunderstandings, hatred, and worst of all, homophobic attacks.

Omar Shahid