Islamic stores dream of ‘Muslim economy’ glory

Vela Andapita, Apriadi Gunawan and Gisela Swaragita

Islamic stores dream of ‘Muslim economy’ glory

Indonesia has seen growth in Islamic convenience stores that tap into Muslim consumers’ wish to buy halal products and their dream of the glories of a “Muslim economy”.

Nunukan resident Fahira Putri, 22, said she preferred buying personal items at Islamic convenience stores, or minimarkets, because she could be sure the items were halal. The area where she lives in Nunukan, North Kalimantan, is home to several Islamic minimarkets

Fahira, who wears a niqab, said she was happy to find easy alternatives to shopping at conventional stores for Muslim customers like herself. “I feel relief [knowing] that the items I bought are alcohol free,” she told The Jakarta Post recently.

Such stores operating under Islamic economic principles are not new to the country. However, growing Muslim conservatism and identity politics have seen a renewed surge to these businesses. Some of the stores even use “212” in their branding, as in 212 Mart, in reference to the Dec. 2 protests in 2016, when hundreds of thousands of people rallied in Jakarta. The protesters had demanded the dismissal of then Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a Chinese-Indonesian of the Christian faith who was later convicted for blasphemy against Islam.

The diverse groups of these “Defend Islam” rallies, from conservative Muslims to hardliners, later branched out into various economic and political movements that they dubbed the “Spirit of 212”. One of these economic movements was Sharia Cooperative 212, under which the 212 Mart brand was established.

The Sharia Cooperative 212 boasts prominent Muslim figures in its all-male board, including the Nahdlatul Ulama’s Ma’ruf Amin, celebrity preachers Arifin Ilham and Abdullah Gymnastiar and economist Ichsanuddin Noorsy.

Aside from 212 Mart, Sodaqo Mart is also a relatively popular brand. Such stores are popping up in small towns and big cities alike, growing primarily in middle-class communities. Unlike regular stores, Islamic stores usually do not sell cigarettes, condoms or products containing alcohol, including cosmetics. Their employees also take breaks for the daily prayers, closing the stores when they do.

Opportunities for small Muslim businesses

Most of these Islamic stores still sell regular products from secular brands or from producers that are owned, partially or fully, by non-Muslims or Chinese-Indonesians. It sells instant noodles from publicly listed Indofood Sukses Makmur and toiletries from publicly listed PT Unilever Indonesia, a British-Dutch multinational consumer goods company. Chinese-Indonesian Sudono Salim, also known as Liem Sioe Liong, founded Indofood and the company’s current CEO is his son, Anthoni Salim.

However, the stores have a vision to build Muslim-only trade networks and are trying to accommodate small Muslim-owned businesses. The website of Sharia Cooperative 212 stated that one of their goals was to close the gap between the small number of Muslim-owned national productive assets and the 87 percent majority Muslim population. The website also provides a directory of Muslim businesspeople and encourage them to support each other. Up to Apr. 24, the directory listed about two dozen entrepreneurs providing goods and services, from sterile underwear to homeschooling.

Fahira said that she opted for Islamic brands whenever possible, such as purchasing Wardah cosmetics over those with a secular image.

She believed that in buying goods at Islamic stores and consuming products from Muslim producers, she would contribute to the development of the Islamic economy. Fahira also intends to contribute more directly by starting her own business.

“I have a dream of starting my own Islamic business. I want to start a sharia cafe,” she said. In her dream cafe, instead of music, she would play the recorded sermons of her favorite preachers.

Sharia investment

Thousands of kilometers from Nunukan in Sumatra, 212 Mart head Sehrin Hamonangan Damanik has observed an increasing demand in Islamic outlets.

Sehrin operates the store in Medan, North Sumatra, and aims to open 25 new stores this year, in addition to the five 212 Mart outlets currently in Medan.

“People respond [to the business] well here, so we have a pretty good target market. We want to expand so that there is at least one store in each district,” he said.

Sharia Cooperative 212’s partner, PT Berkah Anak Negeri, ran all 212 Mart stores in Medan, said Sehrin. Outside of Medan, 212 Mart has opened in several regencies in North Sumatra.

More people were motivated to join the 212 Mart businesses, Sehrin claimed, because of its sharia profit-sharing scheme. “Every Muslim can gain ownership in 212 Mart by buying 20 shares, which are Rp 100,000 [US$7.30] per share,” he said. “Alhamdulillah, one 212 Mart in Medan can earn up to Rp 9 million per day.”

“We’re not afraid of competition [from mainstream convenience stores]. Our customers are Muslims and our goal is to improve the Islamic economy,” said Sehrin.

Islamic economy expert Adiwarman Karim said Islamic stores had the capability and potential to compete with established stores such as Alfamart and Indomaret, even though they played in a different league.

“It’s cheaper and easier to open Islamic stores,” said Adiwarman. “The more people put their money into the business, the more sense of ownership they will have, as well as the desire to shop at such stores,” he said.

Political concerns

The promising business concept and market, however, could see a backlash if their operators failed to maintain their focus on improving the Islamic economy, Adiwarman added.

“Don’t allow political interests to piggyback [Islamic convenience stores],” he said.

Gadjah Mada University sociologist Arie Sujito said that the rise of Islamic convenience stores was indeed connected to political motives, especially with those of 212 groups.

“Some people want to keep the [212] spirit alive through economic symbols,” he told the Post.

“It’s anyone’s right to start any kind of business, but don’t let it trigger political sentiments that could potentially divide the people ahead of the 2019 presidential election,” said Arie.

Even though he considered such minimarkets as a new form of religious movement, Arie believed that many people still cared to preserve the nation’s heterogeneity. He called on moderate Muslims, interfaith figures and rights activists to raise their voices in keeping the country united.

“We can’t counter the [Islamic] stores with other faith-based minimarts. We should instead embrace them, while at the same time ensuring that we’re not being lured to embrace certain political views through their existence,” Arie said.

Coroner told to drop ‘cab rank’ rule and prioritise Jewish and Muslim cases

Mary Hassell told the court that she was concerned about the "negative impact that prioritisation of one sector of the community above others has had upon the families of those other deceased".

coroner who operated a “cab rank” system for burials has been told by the High Court to drop her policy and release the bodies of Jews and Muslims first.

Judges said the “equality protocol” policy introduced by Mary Hassell, the senior coroner for inner north London, was “discriminatory” and “incapable of rational justification”.

The protocol said that “no death will be prioritised in any way over any other because of the religion of the deceased or family, either by the coroner’s officers or coroners.”

This meant cases were assessed and bodies released for burial by the coroner’s office in order of when they were received, taking no account of any religious requirements.

Ms Hassell introduced the policy at the end of October last year, prompting protests from Jewish and Muslim groups, whose beliefs require a funeral to take place as soon as possible after death.

She told the court that she was concerned about the “negative impact that prioritisation of one sector of the community above others has had upon the families of those other deceased”.

She also relied on guidance issued in 2014 by the Chief Coroner which said “the law does not allow the Coroner to give priority to any one person over another”.

But in a judgment released on FridayLord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Whipple said her understanding of the law was “misguided” and the guidance was incorrect.

“What on its face looks like a general policy which applies to everyone equally may in fact have an unequal impact on a minority.

“In other words, to treat everyone in the same way is not necessarily to treat them equally.

“Uniformity is not the same thing as equality,” they said.

They ruled that the policy was unlawful and said she should introduce a new one.

Religious groups welcomed the ruling.

Rabbi Asher Gratt, speaking on behalf of the Adath Yisroel Burial Society, a charity which arranges burials for Orthodox Jewish people in north London, and which originally brought the case, said: “This legal victory will bring immense relief for grieving families to bury their loved ones with respect and dignity, preventing further unnecessary anguish at the darkest moment of their lives.”

Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said Ms Hassell must “consider her position”.

“She has previously said that she does not believe that using her discretion to order cases, which she needs to do to uphold the religious freedom of the diverse communities she is meant to serve, is ‘fair’.

“If she cannot carry out this basic function of her role, she must vacate her position.”

A statement issued by Ms Hassell’s office said that she would implement a new policy following a consultation process.

The Chief Coroner is also expected to issue new guidance reflecting the ruling.

“In future, instead of considering no family for prioritisation, the Senior Coroner will consider every family for prioritisation.

“In deciding the order of priority, she will take into account all relevant considerations, including the special needs of each individual family,” the statement said.

Muslim Fashion Is A $254 Billion Market—But Big Brands Can’t Crack It

Burberry and DKNY missed the mark, but these startups–founded by Muslim women who understand Muslim women–nailed it.

Earlier this month, the fashion elite gathered in Dubai for the first-ever Pret-A-Cover, a glamorous event during which designers from around the world showed off collections specifically targeted at Muslim women.

On the surface, it looked like any other fashion week. The runways lit up for models dressed in embroidered dresses, colorful chinoiserie prints, and flowing evening gowns. But upon closer inspection, the looks were less form-fitting than the ones you might find on the catwalks of New York or Milan. Most of the models sported some sort of head covering, although some did not.

Pret-A-Cover was organized by the Islamic Fashion And Design Council (IFDC), a five-year-old organization founded by New York-based Alia Khan. The Council has offices around the world–from Russia to Turkey to Canada–and helps support a fashion industry that has risen to serve the Muslim market, which is currently driving a $254 billion industry worldwide.

“When we launched, there was really nothing to support the industry,” she says. “It was a fragmented space. I found this surprising because it’s been the strongest, most in-demand category of fashion since Adam and Eve,” Khan claims.

Pret-A-Cover was specifically geared toward drawing attention to emerging designers from around the world who are putting their own spin on modest dressing. After the brands flaunted their latest collections on the runway, they could enter a marketplace where corporate buyers from places like Harvey Nichols and The Modist (a luxury e-commerce site focused on modest fashion) might order merchandise for their stores.

Pret-A-Cover [Photo: courtesy of IFDC]

The event made it clear that Muslim clothing features a lot of diversity and color. Around the world, Muslim women adhere to different cultural norms when it comes to modesty. In places like Saudi Arabia, women are fully veiled. In Indonesia, there’s more variety; women choose different degrees of covering, and some skip it altogether, though still opting for looser-fitting body garments.

This variety was obvious in the design seen at Pret-A-Cover. Talabaya, a line designed by Czech designer Mirka Talavašková, is full of military-inspired details–think structured trench-coats and button-downs–but still manages to look feminine thanks to silky materials and pastel colors. Schmiley Mo, founded by Indonesian designer Diana Rikasari, is pure pop streetwear, all covered in emojis and cartoon designs. Blue Meets Blue, an evening wear couture lined designed by Chicago-based Shahd Alasaly, features glorious tulle and satin confections.

Over the last few years, major fashion brands have been trying to tap into the lucrative market by creating Muslim-focused lines, often timed to come out in time for Ramadan, an important holiday in the Islamic tradition. Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana, DKNY, and Mango have all released modest collections, and Macy’s announced in February that it will soon sell products just for Muslim women.

While IFDC’s Khan favors offering Muslim women more fashion options, in her focus groups she found that most of the target audience was not thrilled with what these big-name brands were putting out.

Often, these Muslim-specific lines were not as fashion forward as the lines those high-end brands offered non-Muslim customers. The clothing was often less colorful and interesting. Dolce & Gabbana’s collection, for instance, centered around the “abaya,” a cloak-like outer layer favored by many Muslim women. All the pieces were black and white and almost identical in silhouette.

When these collections came out, Muslim fashion observers were not impressed. Dolce & Gabbana, Aaleen Zulquarnain wrote in HuffPo, “is repeatedly being hailed as ‘progressive’ and their announcement is supposedly an exciting development in the fashion realm, but for some Muslim women, there is nothing exceptional or remotely noteworthy about this line at all.” In the Guardian, Requais Haris wrote: “This range rather looks like an appropriation of existing traditions without giving them any real recognition.”

This supports what Khan has found in her own research on Muslim women. “Brands have tended to miss the mark,” Khan says. “They don’t understand that this audience is just as stylish and demanding of their fashion wardrobes as anybody else. What these women really want is the same miniskirt they saw on the runway, but slightly looser and longer.”

To Khan, the big brands’ approach to Islamic fashion is symptomatic of a deeper lack of understanding about what makes Muslim women tick.

“These brands prove to their audience that they haven’t done their due diligence,” Khan says. “In some cases, it was a bit offensive because we had feedback like, ‘I feel like they want me to wear my grandmother’s tablecloth because they’ve kind of pigeon-holed me into a certain image that they have of me that is absolutely not true.’”

Tulle Blouse [Photo: courtesy of Blue Meets Blue]


Khan feels many of the emerging designers who showed at Pret-A-Cover are more in tune with their target audience than fashion bigwigs like Burberry and DKNY. Designers like Blue Meets Blue’s Shahd Alasaly, for instance, are Muslim women themselves. Since Alasaly is based in Chicago, her tastes are also inflected with American culture and fashion.

“I love the fact that there are so many more choices now,” says Khan. “Shahd, for instance, sees the abaya as just another piece of outerwear, not something uniquely Muslim. And she puts her own Chicago spin on it.”

Blue Meets Blue founder Shahd Alasaly [Photo: courtesy of Blue Meets Blue]

BlueMeetsBlue’s aesthetic lies at the intersection of luxury and modesty. Like other makers of high-end evening wear, a dress can cost as much as $1,250. But unlike competing brands, Alasaly’s designs are looser-fitting and provide more coverage. Since she launched three years ago, she’s been selling her clothes at trunk shows and pop-ups, as well as through her website.

While there are women of all backgrounds who favor more modest looks–orthodox Jewish women, for example–many of Alasaly’s clients are Muslim.

Another big thing that sets Alasaly’s brand apart is her social mission: All her clothes are made by recent refugees to the U.S., many of whom hail from predominantly Muslim countries.

Amera Maxi Dress [Photo: courtesy of Blue Meets Blue]

Khan is encouraged by the talented batch of Muslim designers she is helping to promote. She wants to give Muslim women as many fashion options as possible, since they are currently profoundly underserved.Indeed, Khan hopes that these new designers help more famous Western designers better understand how to cater to the Muslim market.

“There is a learning curve,” Khan says. “It’s not even a difficult learning curve, but I feel some some brands just didn’t bother to go through that process,” she emphasizes.

Zahra High Low [Photo: courtesy of Blue Meets Blue]

Ultimately, it’s in the interest of fashion brands to make clothes that Muslim women want to buy. By 2030, Pewestimates that Muslims will make up more than a quarter of the world’s population. If you calculate the combined spending power of the global Muslim population today, it would be equal to the economy of the third-largest country in the world, after the U.S. and China.

Khan points out that Muslim women have some consistent needs that are relatively easy to accommodate and aren’t likely to evolve dramatically in the future. If a brand learns how to get modest fashion right, the long-term payoff could be enormous.

“Businesses have a lot to gain,” Khan says. “Modesty is not a passing fancy for these women; it’s not going to be ‘in’ this year and ‘out’ the next. And there’s real spending power behind it.”

Norway party to seek ban on Islamic call to prayer

Norway party to seek ban on Islamic call to prayer

Norway’s anti-immigration Progress Party, part of the ruling two-party coalition, is set to vote on banning the Muslim call to prayer in Norway when it meets for its national meeting this weekend.
The proposal is aimed to counter alleged plans by some mosques in Norway to begin issuing the Islamic call to worship, as has been allowed at two mosques in neighbouring Sweden.
“In several places in the country have now established regulations under which mosques have permission to issue the call to prayer over loudspeakers,” claims the local party in Buskerud county, west of Oslo, which made the proposal.
“A great many people perceive this as annoying and inappropriate. In Norway we have freedom of religion, which should also include the right not to be exposed to public calls to prayer.”
The party’s former leader Carl Hagen presented a proposal for a similar ban in 2000.
But in the past, the Ministry of Justice has concluded that such a ban would be contrary to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
The party’s immigration policy spokesman, Jon Helgheim told the Vårt Land newspaper that he was not concerned with whether the law was permissible under the Convention.
“I don’t give a toss what human rights provisions say in this case,” he said. “What I care about is that people get peace and quiet in their neighbourhoods, and that means not being disturbed by the call to prayer. If there are conflicting provisions in the Convention on Human Rights, I simply don’t care, because it’s completely stupid.”
Vårt Land said it had managed to find no actual examples of mosques in Norway that are planning to begin issuing the call.
But in 2013, the Fittja mosque in southern Stockholm began issuing the call to prayer on Fridays, and in 2017 a mosque in Karlskrona was given permission to use speakers for five prayers a day.
The mosque’s head said that it would “in the initial phase” only issue one call to prayer a week on Fridays, as it was a residential area.

Group of Episcopal Church bishops adds voices to Supreme Court case on Trump travel ban

More than 50 bishops of the Episcopal Church are among the hundreds of voices the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing as it considers the constitutionality of President Donald Trump’s travel bans.

The current and retired bishops have asked the court to rule that the ban violates the establishment clause of the Constitution, which prevents the government from establishing an official religion, acting in a way that unduly favors one religion over another or preventing people from exercising their faith.

The main question before the justices is whether any president can ban travel and immigration to the United States based on nationality if that ban contradicts the power over such immigration and travel given to Congress in Article I of the Constitution. The state of Hawaii and others asked the Supreme Court to review Trump’s ban. The court heard arguments in the case April 25 in the last scheduled hearing of its term.

Trump’s executive order suspends entry, subject to exceptions and case-by-case waivers, of certain categories of people from eight countries that do not share adequate information with the United States or that present other risk factors.

Protesters gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., April 25, while the court justices consider a case regarding presidential powers as it weighs the legality of President Donald Trump’s latest travel ban targeting people from Muslim-majority countries. Photo: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Other challengers have argued that Trump’s campaign speeches and tweets about Muslims were a clear indication that the ban was aimed at a particular religious group and not justified by security concerns. The ban sought to restrict travel from eight nations — Chad, Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Venezuela and North Korea — six of which are predominantly Muslim. Chad was recently removed by the administration.

The 57 bishops told the justices in an amici curiae (friends of the court) brief that among the central tenets of the Episcopal Church is a call “to welcome and assist strangers, especially those who are poor, sick, and most in need of help, to provide a safe haven for those seeking freedom from oppression, and to uphold the dignity of every human being.

“To those ends, the Episcopal Church has long supported a robust refugee resettlement program for those fleeing their countries to escape persecution, oppression, and war,” they wrote, referring to the church’s more than 75-year-old Episcopal Migration Ministries, or EMM.

The bishops said Trump’s travel ban has “significantly undermined the efforts of religious organizations in the United States, including the Episcopal Church, to render aid to those fleeing war and oppression. For many Americans, this type of refugee-assistance work is an expression of their faith and one of the ways in which they keep their covenant with God.”

The travel bans, they wrote, “have caused and will continue to cause significant harm to these religious organizations and to the very vulnerable people that they serve” and “have debilitated and will continue to debilitate the vital mission of religious organizations, and will deprive Americans of the opportunity to practice their faith through service to others in need.”

EMM is one of nine agencies that contract with the U.S. government to resettle refugees. The other resettlement agencies are Church World Service, Ethiopian Community Development Council, HIAS (formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), International Rescue Committee, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, and World Relief.

Diocese of Olympia Bishop Greg Rickel organized the amici brief effort, following his work ontwo similar actions when challenges to the travel ban were being heard at the federal court of appeals level. Rickel invited the church’s bishops to sign on to the brief.

The bishops were not the only Episcopalians who have raised their voices in the case. Thomas H. Kean, who was the Republican governor of New Jersey from 1982 to 1990 and chairman of the 9/11 Commission, and John Danforth, a Republican senator from Missouri from 1976 to 1995 and an ambassador to the United Nations, are among a group that filed their own amicus brief. Kean and Danforth, both of whom have ties to the Episcopal Church, signed the brief with other former Republican members of Congress or lawyers who have worked in previous Republican administrations.

Kean, Danforth and a third Republican in that group argued April 22 in the New York Times that the Constitution grants Congress the power to make immigration and foreign travel laws, and “Congress cannot give any president the power to dismantle our immigration statutes.”

As the Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments in the case April 25, the Washington Post reported that some religious freedom groups had avoided taking a stand on the constitutionality of the travel bans and “are more concerned about how the court will consider the legal issues than they are with the actual outcome.” The article notes that other groups, such as the group of Episcopal Church bishops, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Muslim Justice League and the Muslim Public Affairs Council, actively oppose Trump’s executive order.

Many observers who listened to the oral arguments seemed to think that, in the words of SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe, “a majority of the court (and perhaps even a solid one) appeared ready to rule for the government and uphold the order in response to concerns about second-guessing the president on national-security issues.”

The Muslim Ban Is Working

If the Supreme Court needs proof of the ban’s discriminatory intent, just look at the numbers.

Activists march toward Trump International Hotel during a protest against the Trump administration's proposed travel ban on Oct. 18 in Washington.
Activists march toward Trump International Hotel during a protest against the Trump administration’s proposed travel ban on Oct. 18 in Washington.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

It might sound strange to say that when I was a child in Kabul, Afghanistan, I was lucky. There was a war, there were armed militias stopping families and raping women. There were rockets and blackouts. In the end, though, my family was able to get outbefore it was too late. We came to the U.S. and were granted asylum. We settled in California, and 10 years later my parents earned their U.S. citizenship.

Ultimately, I was lucky, and I’m grateful. But I can’t help but compare my story to the stories of thousands of refugee children on whom we have turned our back as a nation. Children are being gassed in Syria, drowning in the Mediterranean, and being pulled out of the rubble while our president is on the record demonizing them as security threats.

The United States has resettled 44 Syrian refugees since October and just 11 since the start of this calendar year. During the same 3 ½–month period in 2016, that number was 790.

Against this troubling backdrop, it is chilling to confront the reality that the highest court in our nation, the gatekeeper of justice and equal treatment before the law, may move to uphold a ban based on religious animus in a country that claims to aspire to uphold religious liberty.

The shamefully low refugee intake numbers over the past year demonstrate that refugees are already suffering the devastating effects of Trump’s xenophobia and anti-Muslim prejudice. I work for one of the nine refugee-resettlement agencies in the U.S.—Church World Service—and I have witnessed this firsthand.

I think of a client who spent most of his life—more than two decades—in a refugee camp in Kenya. After being registered with UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, he was cleared to come to the United States. His caseworkers advised him that he should go to the U.S. without his wife because revising her application to reflect their newlywed status would mean having to start over for both of them. Shortly after he left, his wife told him she was pregnant. Nearly a year later, she and their son were cleared to join him. But the White House blocked their entry. My client’s son is now 2 years old, and he has never seen his father except through FaceTime. How this toddler might be a national security threat to the United States has never been explained.

For the average citizen, it’s very difficult to envision the real human suffering that attaches itself to our disgraceful refugee policy. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the Muslim travel ban. Our leaders have been closing the country’s doors on the international community since Trump took office, and if our highest court upholds the Muslim ban, those doors will slam shut.

It is hard to look at that stomach-turning discrepancy and not see transparent prejudice.

The travel ban has barred U.S. entry for foreigners, immigrants, and refugees from Muslim-majority countries for months now, with the devastating drop in refugee entry as perhaps the most startling example of this. The U.S. is now on track to resettle less than half of the 45,000 ceiling Trump promised this fiscal year. This is 63,000 fewer people than the almost 85,000 that were resettled in the final year of Obama’s presidency.

According to the Niskanen Center, of the already low number of refugee resettlements, Trump’s State Department is resettling European refugees at more than four times the rate as refugees from Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean; more than twice the rate as refugees from East Asia; and more than five times the rate as refugees from the “Near East/South Asia.” It is hard to look at that stomach-turning discrepancy and not see transparent prejudice.

Not only is our nation turning its back on refugees, but the current administration is selectively closing our borders to refugees of primarily African and Middle Eastern majority-Muslim nations. The only plausible explanation is racial and religious discrimination: If those numbers aren’t definitive proof of this administration’s xenophobic agenda, I don’t know what is.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that Trump’s discrimination has always been overt. During his campaign he shared lies about the American Muslim community in New Jersey, and called for a total and complete shutdown of Muslim immigration to this country. Upon taking the presidency, he shared anti-Muslim tweets from an avowed hate group in the U.K.

While a ruling against the Muslim ban wouldn’t magically increase our refugee intake numbers, it would allow already vettedrefugees and immigrants their right to entry. It would unite separated families. It would underscore our constitutional commitments to freedom of opportunity no matter someone’s religion, race, or ethnicity.

As a nation, we’re now faced with a moral choice. As Americans, we can tell our Muslim, refugee, and immigrant neighbors that they belong, and affirm our belief in freedom of religion and equality of opportunity. Or we can turn them away and reject the very promise of our own Constitution. The Supreme Court has a checkered history on these issues, but it must stand on the right side of history—or be rightfully remembered for this moment in lasting shame.

Times distorted Muslim foster case, regulator finds

The Muslim Council of Britain said it was the first time a story relating to Islam had been corrected on the front page of a newspaper.

Girl holding handsImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

The press regulator has ruled the Times “distorted” its coverage of a five-year-old Christian girl who was placed with Muslim foster carers.

The newspaper ran three front-page stories in August 2017 after the girl was removed from her mother’s care by Tower Hamlets council in east London.

It said foster carers stopped her eating bacon, confused her by speaking Arabic, and removed a crucifix.

A Times executive acknowledged the story caused “enormous offence”.

The complaint was made by Tower Hamlets, which had taken the child into care.

The council said a front-page headline, “Judge rules child must leave Muslim foster home”, was misleading because it had sought to move the child to live with her grandmother – who herself had a Muslim background.

The judge had already ruled that the girl had been given “warm and appropriate” care by two foster families.

A council investigation – whose findings were agreed by all the parties in the case – found the allegations raised in the Times had been unsubstantiated.

The Times mentions the Independent Press Standards Organisation ruling on the front page of Wednesday’s paper and publishes the full adjudication on page two andonline.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation ruled the paper should publish the adjudication on page six or more prominently, as well as on its website.

‘Distorted information’

On Tuesday, Ian Brunskill, the paper’s assistant editor, addressed the Commons Home Affairs Committee investigation of the reporting of minorities.

He said the paper’s reporting had caused “an enormous amount of trouble for us, for other people.”

He added: “It’s caused enormous offence, it’s caused enormous upset.”

But he denied the paper had set out to cause offence.

“The suggestion that we might have set out to do that is frankly absurd,” he said.

The Times front page of a story on the case from August 2017Image copyrightTHE TIMES
Image captionThe Times published three front-page stories on the case – this one is dated 30 August 2017.

The chief executive of Tower Hamlets council, Will Tuckley, said it had complained because it wanted to defend its own foster carers.

He said: “From the start we had concerns about the validity of the allegations about the foster carers.

“For example one allegation was that they did not speak English, even though that is a prerequisite for any foster carer.

“The allegation that the foster placement was a bad choice by the council was also found by Ipso to be distorted information.”

The Muslim Council of Britain said it was the first time a story relating to Islam had been corrected on the front page of a newspaper.

Harun Khan, the organisation’s secretary general, said: “It is about time the Times was forced to apologise for promoting what was widely known to be an inaccurate, misleading and bigoted narrative about Muslims.

“We hope that this will mark a turning point in the tolerance the Times has shown for anti-Muslim bigotry in its coverage and commentary.”


In or about the year 570 the child who would be named Muhammad and who would become the Prophet of one of the world’s great religions, Islam, was born into a family belonging to a clan of Quraish, the ruling tribe of Mecca, a city in the Hijaz region of northwestern Arabia.

Originally the site of the Kaabah, a shrine of ancient origins, Mecca had, with the decline of southern Arabia, become an important center of sixth-century trade with such powers as the Sassanians, Byzantines, and Ethiopians.  As a result, the city was dominated by powerful merchant families, among whom the men of Quraish were preeminent.

Muhammad’s father, “Abd Allah ibn” Abd al-Muttalib, died before the boy was born; his mother, Aminah, died when he was six.  The orphan was consigned to the care of his grandfather, the head of the clan of Hashim.  After the death of his grandfather, Muhammad was raised by his uncle, Abu Talib.  As was customary, the child Muhammad was sent to live for a year or two with a Bedouin family.  This custom, followed until recently by noble families of Mecca, Medina, Taif, and other towns of the Hijaz, had important implications for Muhammad.  In addition to enduring the hardships of desert life, he acquired a taste for the rich language so loved by the Arabs, whose speech was their proudest art, and also learned the patience and forbearance of the herdsmen, whose life of solitude he first shared, and then came to understand and appreciate.

About the year 590, Muhammad, then in his twenties, entered the service of a merchant widow named Khadijah as her factor, actively engaged with trading caravans to the north.  Sometime later he married her, and had two sons, neither of whom survived, and four daughters by her.

In his forties, he began to retire to meditate in a cave on Mount Hira, just outside Mecca, where the first of the great events of Islam took place.  One day, as he was sitting in the cave, he heard a voice, later identified as that of the Angel Gabriel, which ordered him to:

“Recite: In the name of thy Lord who created, Created man from a clot of blood.” (Quran 96:1-2)

Three times Muhammad pleaded his inability to do so, but each time the command was repeated.  Finally, Muhammad recited the words of what are now the first five verses of the 96th chapter of the Quran – words which proclaim God to be the Creator of man and the Source of all knowledge.

At first Muhammad divulged his experience only to his wife and his immediate circle.  But, as more revelations enjoined him to proclaim the oneness of God universally, his following grew, at first among the poor and the slaves, but later, also among the most prominent men of Mecca.  The revelations he received at this time, and those he did later, are all incorporated in the Quran, the Scripture of Islam.

Not everyone accepted God’s message transmitted through Muhammad.  Even in his own clan, there were those who rejected his teachings, and many merchants actively opposed the message.  The opposition, however, merely served to sharpen Muhammad’s sense of mission, and his understanding of exactly how Islam differed from paganism.  The belief in the Oneness of God was paramount in Islam; from this all else follows.  The verses of the Quran stress God’s uniqueness, warn those who deny it of impending punishment, and proclaim His unbounded compassion to those who submit to His will.  They affirm the Last Judgment, when God, the Judge, will weigh in the balance the faith and works of each man, rewarding the faithful and punishing the transgressor.  Because the Quran rejected polytheism and emphasized man’s moral responsibility, in powerful images, it presented a grave challenge to the worldly Meccans.


After Muhammad had preached publicly for more than a decade, the opposition to him reached such a high pitch that, fearful for their safety, he sent some of his adherents to Ethiopia.  There, the Christian ruler extended protection to them, the memory of which has been cherished by Muslims ever since.  But in Mecca the persecution worsened.  Muhammad’s followers were harassed, abused, and even tortured.  At last, seventy of Muhammad’s followers set off by his orders to the northern town of Yathrib, in the hope of establishing a news stage of the Islamic movement.  This city which was later to be renamed Medina (“The City”).  Later, in the early fall of 622, he, with his closest friend, Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq, set off to join the emigrants.  This event coincided with the leaders in Mecca plotting, to kill him.

In Mecca, the plotters arrived at Muhammad’s home to find that his cousin, ‘Ali, had taken his place in bed.  Enraged, the Meccans set a price on Muhammad’s head and set off in pursuit.  Muhammad and Abu Bakr, however, had taken refuge in a cave, where they hid from their pursuers.  By the protection of God, the Meccans passed by the cave without noticing it, and Muhammad and Abu Bakr proceeded to Medina.  There, they were joyously welcomed by a throng of Medinans, as well as the Meccans who had gone ahead to prepare the way.

This was the Hijrah – anglicized as Hegira – usually, but inaccurately, translated as “Flight” – from which the Muslim era is dated.  In fact, the Hijrah was not a flight, but a carefully planned migration that marks not only a break in history – the beginning of the Islamic era – but also, for Muhammad and the Muslims, a new way of life.  Henceforth, the organizational principle of the community was not to be mere blood kinship, but the greater brotherhood of all Muslims.  The men who accompanied Muhammad on the Hijrah were called the Muhajiroon – “those that made the Hijrah” or the “Emigrants” – while those in Medina who became Muslims were called the Ansar, or “Helpers.”

Muhammad was well acquainted with the situation in Medina.  Earlier, before the Hijrah, various of its inhabitants came to Mecca to offer the annual pilgrimage, and as the Prophet would take this opportunity to call visiting pilgrims to Islam, the group who came from Medina heard his call and accepted Islam..  They also invited Muhammad to settle in Medina.  After the Hijrah, Muhammad’s exceptional qualities so impressed the Medinans that the rival tribes and their allies temporarily closed ranks as, on March 15, 624, Muhammad and his supporters moved against the pagans of Mecca.

The first battle, which took place near Badr, now a small town southwest of Medina, had several important effects.  In the first place, the Muslim forces, outnumbered three to one, routed the Meccans.  Secondly, the discipline displayed by the Muslims brought home to the Meccans, perhaps for the first time, the abilities of the man they had driven from their city.  Thirdly, one of the allied tribes which had pledged support to the Muslims in the Battle of Badr, but had then proved lukewarm when the fighting started, was expelled from Medina one month after the battle.  Those who claimed to be allies of the Muslims, but tacitly opposed them, were thus served warning: membership in the community imposed the obligation of total support.

A year later the Meccans struck back.  Assembling an army of three thousand men, they met the Muslims at Uhud, a ridge outside Medina.  After initial successes, the Muslims were driven back and the Prophet himself was wounded.  As the Muslims were not completely defeated, the Meccans, with an army of ten thousand, attacked Medina again two years later but with quite different results.  At the Battle of the Trench, also known as the Battle of the Confederates, the Muslims scored a signal victory by introducing a new form of defense.  On the side of Medina from which attack was expected, they dug a trench too deep for the Meccan cavalry to clear without exposing itself to the archers posted behind earthworks on the Medina side.  After an inconclusive siege, the Meccans were forced to retire.  Thereafter Medina was entirely in the hands of the Muslims.


The Constitution of Medina – under which the clans accepting Muhammad as the Prophet of God formed an alliance, or federation – dates from this period.  It showed that the political consciousness of the Muslim community had reached an important point; its members defined themselves as a community separate from all others.  The Constitution also defined the role of non-Muslims in the community.  Jews, for example, were part of the community; they were dhimmis, that is, protected people, as long as they conformed to its laws.  This established a precedent for the treatment of subject peoples during the later conquests.  Christians and Jews, upon payment of a nominal tax, were allowed religious freedom and, while maintaining their status as non-Muslims, were associate members of the Muslim state.  This status did not apply to polytheists, who could not be tolerated within a community that worshipped the One God.

Ibn Ishaq, one of the earliest biographers of the Prophet, says it was at about this time that Muhammad sent letters to the rulers of the earth – the King of Persia, the Emperor of Byzantium, the Negus of Abyssinia, and the Governor of Egypt among others – inviting them to submit to Islam.  Nothing more fully illustrates the confidence of the small community, as its military power, despite the battle of the Trench, was still negligible.  But its confidence was not misplaced.  Muhammad so effectively built up a series of alliances among the tribes that, by 628, he and fifteen hundred followers were able to demand access to the Kaaba.  This was a milestone in the history of the Muslims.  Just a short time before, Muhammad left the city of his birth to establish an Islamic state in Medina.  Now he was being treated by his former enemies as a leader in his own right.  A year later, in 629, he reentered and, in effect, conquered Mecca, without bloodshed and in a spirit of tolerance, which established an ideal for future conquests.  He also destroyed the idols in the Kaabah, to put an end forever to pagan practices there.  At the same time ‘Amr ibn al-’As, the future conqueror of Egypt, and Khalid ibn al-Walid, the future “Sword of God,” accepted Islam, and swore allegiance to Muhammad.  Their conversion was especially noteworthy because these men had been among Muhammad’s bitterest opponents only a short time before.

In one sense Muhammad’s return to Mecca was the climax of his mission.  In 632, just three years later, he was suddenly taken ill and on June 8 of that year, with his third wife Aisha in attendance, the Messenger of God “died with the heat of noon.”

The death of Muhammad was a profound loss.  To his followers this simple man from Mecca was far more than a beloved friend, far more than a gifted administrator, far more than the revered leader who had forged a new state from clusters of warring tribes.  Muhammad was also the exemplar of the teachings he had brought them from God: the teachings of the Quran, which, for centuries, have guided the thought and action, the faith and conduct, of innumerable men and women, and which ushered in a distinctive era in the history of mankind.  His death, nevertheless, had little effect on the dynamic society he had created in Arabia, and no effect at all on his central mission: to transmit the Quran to the world.  As Abu Bakr put it: “Whoever worshipped Muhammad, let him know that Muhammad is dead, but whoever worshipped God, let him know that God lives and dies not.”


With the death of Muhammad, the Muslim community was faced with the problem of succession.  Who would be its leader?  There were four persons obviously marked for leadership: Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq, who had not only accompanied Muhammad to Medina ten years before, but had been appointed to take the place of the Prophet as leader of public prayer during Muhammad’s last illness; Umar ibn al-Khattab, an able and trusted Companion of the Prophet; Uthman ibn ‘Affan, a respected early convert; and ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law.  Their piousness and ability to govern the affairs of the Islamic nation was uniformly par excellence.  At a meeting held to decide the new leadership, Umar grasped Abu Bakr’s hand and gave his allegiance to him, the traditional sign of recognition of a new leader.  By dusk, everyone concurred, and Abu Bakr had been recognized as the khaleefah of Muhammad.  Khaleefah – anglicized as caliph – is a word meaning “successor”, but also suggesting what his historical role would be: to govern according to the Quran and the practice of the Prophet.

Abu Bakr’s caliphate was short, but important.  An exemplary leader, he lived simply, assiduously fulfilled his religious obligations, and was accessible and sympathetic to his people.  But he also stood firm when some tribes, who had only nominally accepted Islam, renounced it in the wake of the Prophet’s death.  In what was a major accomplishment, Abu Bakr swiftly disciplined them.  Later, he consolidated the support of the tribes within the Arabian Peninsula and subsequently funneled their energies against the powerful empires of the East: the Sassanians in Persia and the Byzantines in Syria, Palestine, and Egypt.  In short, he demonstrated the viability of the Muslim state.

The second caliph, Umar – appointed by Abu Bakr – continued to demonstrate that viability.  Adopting the title Ameer al-Mumineen, or Commander of the Believers, Umar extended Islam’s temporal rule over Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Persia in what, from a purely military standpoint, were astonishing victories.  Within four years after the death of the Prophet, the Muslim state had extended its sway over all of Syria and had, at a famous battle fought during a sandstorm near the River Yarmuk, blunted the power of the Byzantines – whose ruler, Heraclius, had shortly before refused the call to accept Islam.

Even more astonishingly, the Muslim state administered the conquered territories with a tolerance almost unheard of in that age.  At Damascus, for example, the Muslim leader, Khalid ibn al-Walid, signed a treaty which read as follows:

This is what Khalid ibn al-Walid would grant to the inhabitants of Damascus if he enters therein: he promises to give them security for their lives, property and churches.  Their city wall shall not be demolished; neither shall any Muslim be quartered in their houses.  Thereunto we give them the pact of God and the protection of His Prophet, the caliphs and the believers.  So long as they pay the poll tax, nothing but good shall befall them.

This tolerance was typical of Islam.  A year after Yarmook, Umar, in the military camp of al-Jabiyah on the Golan Heights, received word that the Byzantines were ready to surrender Jerusalem.  Consequently,  he rode there to accept the surrender in person.  According to one account, he entered the city alone and clad in a simple cloak, astounding a populace accustomed to the sumptuous garb and court ceremonials of the Byzantines and Persians.  He astounded them still further when he set their fears at rest by negotiating a generous treaty in which he told them: “In the name of God …  you have complete security for your churches, which shall not be occupied by the Muslims or destroyed.”

This policy was to prove successful everywhere.  In Syria, for example, many Christians who had been involved in bitter theological disputes with Byzantine authorities – and persecuted for it – welcomed the coming of Islam as an end to tyranny.  And in Egypt, which Amr ibn al-As took from the Byzantines after a daring march across the Sinai Peninsula, the Coptic Christians not only welcomed the Arabs, but enthusiastically assisted them.

This pattern was repeated throughout the Byzantine Empire.  Conflict among Greek Orthodox, Syrian Monophysites, Copts, and Nestorian Christians contributed to the failure of the Byzantines – always regarded as intruders – to develop popular support, while the tolerance which Muslims showed toward Christians and Jews removed the primary cause for opposing them.

Umar adopted this attitude in administrative matters as well.  Although he assigned Muslim governors to the new provinces, existing Byzantine and Persian administrations were retained wherever possible.  For fifty years, in fact, Greek remained the chancery language of Syria, Egypt, and Palestine, while Pahlavi, the chancery language of the Sassanians, continued to be used in Mesopotamia and Persia.

Umar, who served as caliph for ten years, ended his rule with a significant victory over the Persian Empire.  The struggle with the Sassanid realm had opened in 636 at al-Qadisiyah, near Ctesiphon in Iraq, where Muslim cavalry had successfully coped with elephants used by the Persians as a kind of primitive tank.  Now with the Battle of Nihavand, called the “Conquest of Conquests,” Umar sealed the fate of Persia; henceforth it was to be one of the most important provinces in the Muslim Empire.

His caliphate was a high point in early Islamic history.  He was noted for his justice, social ideals, administration, and statesmanship.  His innovations left an all enduring imprint on social welfare, taxation, and the financial and administrative fabric of the growing empire.


Election of Uthman

Umar ibn Al-Khattab, the second caliph of Islam, was stabbed by a Persian slave Abu Lu’lu’ah, a Persian Magian, while leading the Fajr Prayer.  As Umar was lying on his death bed, the people around him asked him to appoint a successor.  Umar appointed a committee of six people to choose the next caliph from among themselves.

This committee comprised Ali ibn Abi Talib, Uthman ibn Affan, Abdur-Rahman ibn Awf, Sad ibn Abi Waqqas, Az-Zubayr ibn Al-Awam, and Talhah ibn Ubayd Allah, who were among the most eminent Companions of the Prophet, may God send His praises upon him, and who had received in their lifetime the tidings of Paradise.

The instructions of Umar were that the Election Committee should choose the successor within three days, and he should assume office on the fourth day.  As two days passed by without a decision, the members felt anxious that the time was running out fast, and still no solution to the problem appeared to be in sight.  Abdur-Rahman ibn Awf offered to forgo his own claim if others agreed to abide by his decision.  All agreed to let Abdur-Rahman choose the new caliph.  He interviewed each nominee and went about Medinah asking the people for their choice.  He finally selected Uthman as the new caliph, as the majority of the people chose him.

His Life as a Caliph

Uthman led a simple life even after becoming the leader of the Islamic state.  It would have been easy for a successful businessman such as him to lead a luxurious life, but he never aimed at leading such in this world.  His only aim was to taste the pleasure of the hereafter, as he knew that this world is a test and temporary.  Uthman’s generosity continued after he became caliph.

The caliphs were paid for their services from the treasury, but Uthman never took any salary for his service to Islam.  Not only this, he also developed a custom to free slaves every Friday, look after widows and orphans, and give unlimited charity.  His patience and endurance were among the characteristics that made him a successful leader.

Uthman achieved much during his reign.  He pushed forward with the pacification of Persia, continued to defend the Muslim state against the Byzantines, added what is now Libya to the empire, and subjugated most of Armenia.  Uthman also, through his cousin Mu’awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan, the governor of Syria, established an Arab navy which fought a series of important engagements with the Byzantines.

Of much greater importance to Islam, however, was Uthman’s compilation of the text of the Quran as revealed to the Prophet.  Realizing that the original message from God might be inadvertently distorted by textual variants, he appointed a committee to collect the canonical verses and destroy the variant recensions.  The result was the text that is accepted to this day throughout the Muslim world.

Opposition and the End

During his caliphate, Uthman faced much of hostility from new, nominal Muslims in newly Islamic lands, who started to accuse him of not following the example Prophet and the preceding caliphs in matters concerning governance .  However, the Companions of the Prophet always defended him.  These accusations never changed him.  He remained persistent to be a merciful governor.  Even during the time when his foes attacked him, he did not use the treasury funds to shield his house or himself.  As envisaged by Prophet Muhammad, Uthman’s enemies relentlessly made his governing difficult by constantly opposing and accusing him.  His opponents finally plotted against him, surrounded his house, and encouraged people to kill him.

Many of his advisors asked him to stop the assault but he did not, until he was killed while reciting the Quran exactly as the Prophet had predicted.  Uthman died as a martyr.

Anas ibn Malik narrated the following:

“The Prophet once climbed the mountain of Uhud with Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman.  The mountain shook with them.  The Prophet said (to the mountain), ‘Be firm, O Uhud! For on you there is a Prophet, an early truthful supporter of mine, and two martyrs.’” (Saheeh al-Bukhari)

British Muslims for Secular Democracy Mark 10th Anniversary

LONDON – Celebrating their tenth year, British Muslims For Secular Democracy (BMSD) held an event at the University Women’s Club in London, bringing together a panel of speakers, supporters, and activists supporting rights and freedoms of British Muslims.

The evening included comedy from British Muslimcomedian Zahra Barri and a discussion on the meaning of the term ‘Islamaphobia’ by Dr. Omar Khan, director of the Runnymede Trust.

Speeches on the night addressed a broad range of subjects, some serious, some entertaining before the evening concluded with drinks and canapés.

The following quotes are from the speeches delivered.


Dr. Nasreen Rahman (Co-founder of BMSD)

“What it means to be a Muslim in Britain or elsewhere in the world is changing continually.

“True democracy and equality are possible only and only if the state is neutral in matters of religion. In a true democracy, people should have the freedom to practice their religion, the law of the land must be uniform and treat every citizen as equal, and the state must not fund religious activities.”


Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (Journalist and Co-founder of BMSD)

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

“Some of us live in one way, others live in another, we have Ahmadis, we have Ismailis, we have Sunnis, and we have every shade under the sun. That was one of the purposes. We are not here to judge who is theright kind of Muslim. Who will be saved? Who knows who will be saved? In a sense, we are a broad mosque.

“What you want from your life and this country and you use the democratic system to argue, to object, and don’t get lost in ways which lead you to dark places.

“We should be able to disagree, we should be able to argue in a civilized way: whether it is about faith, religion, foreign policy, or whatever.

“Bit by bit we are holding up true democratic values which are not just about the vote, it’s about young people, women having their individualism and autonomy respected. It is being able to accept that there are different voices in a complex democracy. It is changing your mind which is why for me #Brexit is such an undemocratic thing, that we are now not supposed to carry on talking about it, whereas democracy depends on carrying on talking about it.

“I remember asking some angry young Muslims, who were very angry with this country, saying this that and the other. So I asked them, what Muslim country do you want to go to and live in? Say I gave you £5,000 and you could go first class to this country. Where would you go? There was a silence. – This was in Bradford – Then two of them said, but miss we can’t be speaking like this over there. Which tells you something that at present, there isn’t a Muslim country, maybe one or two at best, where you can speak freely, where you can exert your democratic independence.”


Nazir Afzal OBE (Lawyer, former Chief Executive of the Association of Police Crime Commissioners)

Nazir Afzal OBE

“I remember growing up in the 60s and 70s in Birmingham, next door to Enoch Powell, and the recognition that you had visible racism on the streets. Skinheads everywhere left, right, and center. I remember going up to them at one point and saying: sticks and stones may break my bones but your words won’t hurt me. And it worked. Because after that it was only every sticks and stones. That carried on well into the 70s.

“Nobody is voiced. That’s nonsense that they don’t have a voice. They all have a voice. We just don’t listen. And we as authorities need to start listening.

“My faith doesn’t define me, my faith refines me. It makes me a better person. Absolutely it makes me a better person. Whether you have a faith or not, I don’t judge anybody. Unless you commit a crime and I’m the prosecutor. Generally, you have your own life, and you make your own mistakes, just as I have.

“That attack by Salam Abedi in Manchester last May (Manchester Arena bombing) was an attack on women and girls. He chose a concert by Ariana Grande which was attended, 95%, by women and girls.

“He could have chosen the KISS concert, a heavy metal concert two days previously, or the Wrestling two days later. He chose that concert specifically because that was the message he wanted to deliver. Because we know the first victim of a terrorist or an extremist is a woman in her own home. That research goes back decades.

“That’s how we tackle this issue. It’s about how we actually deal with the core issues. And one of those core issues is what women and girls have to endure in those families and those communities.


Baroness Warsi (Lawyer, Politician, Member of the House of Lords, former co-Chair of the Conservative Party)

Baroness Warsi

“I probably went through a phase, and I’m probably still in that phase, where I rarely find it hard to think that somebodies version or interpretation of their faith is wrong.

“As a young British Asian, and it was British Asian long before it was British Muslim, it was quite difficult as a child to be yourself. You have an Asian version of ourselves which we had at home, we had a public version of ourselves which we had at school, and I came to a point where I realized that I wanted to be my version of me.

“I didn’t want to be your version of me. And I think that’s probably where in many ways British Muslims, started to find it quite difficult to try and start to get society to accept them for the very versions of them.

“One of the things that I do in my book, is an open conversation with my dear co-religionists where I say, you we, we are not all terrorists, but are w fit for purpose? Are we the best community we could possibly be in the time that we find ourselves? And I think the challenge that we have is because we did not raise our game during peacetime, I think we are finding it incredibly difficult to now do it as we have a war around us. I call it that as to be a British Muslim is an incredibly difficult thing to be. Every aspect of your life is questioned and scrutinized because I genuinely believe in the widest possible engagement. Almost anyone you speak to is considered to be beyond the pale.

“I feel as a Conservative, I am definitely a center-right politician on lots and lots of issues, but I’m finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile some of the Islamophobic content and approach that is within my (political) party, and it deeply disturbs me and the impact that will have on British Muslims.”

Reading an extract from her book, ‘The Enemy Within: A Tale of Muslim Britain’ Warsi spoke,

“For me, reason and religion go hand in hand. The lawyer in me needs to see the evidence and the politician in me needs to hear the argument. And it’s why belief for me is not a stagnant position, it’s a journey, not a destination. It’s evolutionary, not revolutionary. And ultimately it’s a source for daily reflection, self-evaluation, at times of great success and a source of strength at times of distress.

“My faith is about who I am, not who you are. It is a rulebook for me, not a forced lecture series for you. Its strength is a source of peace for me, not ammunition with which to fight you. It’s a ruler I have chosen to measure myself against, not a stick with which to beat you. It allows me to question myself, not to judge you. And recognizing myself and being sure of who I am, being comfortable in my identity, does not mean having to downgrade, erase or reject who you are. Because I can only truly accept you for who you are if I am truly sure of who I am.”

Open temple: Muslim community centres and mosques open their doors

The founder of Benevolence Australia, Saara Sabbagh Photo: Stephen Mckenzie

The founder of Benevolence Australia, Saara Sabbagh Photo: Stephen Mckenzie

It’s easy to fear what we don’t understand, believes Saara Sabbagh, founder and CEO of the Melbourne-based Muslim social organisation Benevolence Australia.

“Muslims are only 2.6 per cent of the Australian population, which means the average Australian will not get to meet the average Australian Muslim,” she says.

“They’re just going to hear about them and reinforce their fears and prejudices via the media and via Hollywood.”

A University of South Australia study found in 2016 that one in 10 Australians were “highly Islamophobic”, while an Essential Research poll in the same year found 49 per cent of Australians supported a ban on Muslim immigration.

Sabbagh was hoping to counter some of those fears at this month’s Victorian Mosque Open Day (April 15), when Benevolence Australia and 12 other Muslim community centres and mosques around Victoria opened their doors to the public.


In its second year, the open day included information sessions, mosque tours, sausage sizzles and even hijab tutorials, all in an effort to encourage Australians to meet face to face with Muslims in their community.

“Anyone is welcome to come,” says the president of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Mohamed Mohideen. The council represents the state’s 200,000 Muslims and organises the event.

“We want people to reach out and ask questions.”

Just interacting with Muslims who are smiling and laughing is enough to change negative stereotypes, says Mohideen.

“We are always portrayed as angry,” he says. “But we are the same as anyone else. You prick us and we’ll bleed.”

The open day also saw Benevolence Australia hosting two information sessions at its Doncaster East centre, which gave non-Muslims the chance to come and ask questions they might normally avoid.

Last year, Sabbagh fielded queries about headscarves, prayer and terrorism. It was “refreshing” she says, to talk openly about issues affecting the Muslim community.

“I don’t think people assume they can talk to us on that level,” she says. “But we don’t shy away from any questions.” And yet, the open day wasn’t all about serious discussion.

Like many of the participating mosques, Elsedeaq Mosque in Heidelberg Heights hosted a barbecue, with halal food provided by the mosque’s Somali and Egyptian communities, as well as face painting, gardening demonstrations and a jumping castle.

Elsedeaq’s imam, Sheik Alaa El Zokm, says an encouraging 300 people attended last year’s event, which included a tutorial showing people how to properly put on and wear a hijab (or head scarf).

“We took photos of them wearing the hijab and we sent it to them,” he says with a laugh. “It was very fun.”

Zokm says the day provided an important opportunity for the mosque to introduce itself to its neighbours, who might have only seen Muslims in the news or on TV.

“We need to spread the right information about Islam, especially when there are those who will misrepresent the religion by showing violence and extremism.”

He also wants to show Muslims in his community that they are welcome here. “We are encouraging Muslims to talk, because we are not here to isolate ourselves from the community,” he says. “We have to share in building this society.” ●