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Faces behind the faith
Intro by Shagufta Yaqub, site user
Who and what is a Muslim? Five very different Birmingham Muslims share their faith and tell us of their lives.
They use faith as their disguise, and debar others from the path of God. Evil is what they do.
When Birmingham City Centre was evacuated on Saturday night, so soon after the 7/7 atrocity in London, the terrorist threat became very real and personal for residents of the city.
As soon as it emerged that the perpetrators of the London bombings were likely to be Muslim, many thoughts went through the minds of ordinary Muslims. One of them was, “How can followers of our faith commit such an evil crime against innocent people?”
Kindness and mercy
It is a question we are still asking ourselves and finding the answer is not easy. The more we explore Islam the more we discover that it is a religion of kindness and mercy. Being a Muslim means believing in a Merciful God and showing kindness towards God’s creation. By no stretch of the imagination can it be equated with what happened in London on July 7th.
But that doesn't make it a less difficult time to be a Muslim in Britain. Since Thursday’s bombings, Britain’s Muslim community has been suffering doubly. As British subjects we are horrified that our capital city was attacked and that so many of our people were killed regardless of race, religion, or nationality. As Muslims, we are afraid of another terrorist attack and what people will think of us and our faith.
We pray to God that no more lives are lost to the evil of terrorism and we desperately hope that Britons will not associate this act with Islam and the Muslim community. It will be a great shame if relations and friendships are set back as a consequence of the London bombings and it will be a lost opportunity if people do not unite in their condemnation of this tragic event.
My name is Taslim Rashid and I was born in Moseley back in the 70s! I teach for City College on a project called ‘Moving Forward’. My role is to deliver classes at various Day Centres throughout the city in an attempt to offer opportunities for knowledge and skills development to people recovering from mental illness.
I am also the founder of ‘Tranquilart’ which I started under the name Bint-eh Adam or Daughter of Adam. This is a personal arts project which aims to influence peoples’ way of thinking and, ultimately, acting. The aim is to use art to achieve a philosophy of peace and harmony. Tranquilart asserts itself with the logo of a butterfly; the universal metaphor for change. There are several levels of change, the highest one is of course, that, which affects the spiritual being within us. It is my intention to demonstrate that change is possible.
The inspiration for a lot of my work, both in my occupation and my arts project has come from my faith. The Islamic Traditions teach us to work towards the betterment of society and those around us. My field of work has taught me about the importance of humbling oneself, as is taught by my faith.
In 2003 I performed the Hajj; my visit to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. For the first time I saw flags of all nations side by side. I saw people from all colours, nationalities and backgrounds, and was swamped into a human sea of tranquility. Since then, this experience has served to remind me that the one thing that relates us all is our humanity. And it is, thus, for the cause of humanity that we should strive to work towards.
My name is Naseem Akhtar and I came to Birmingham as a year old toddler, having been born in Kashmir, Pakistan. I have lived in Balsall Heath all my life and am a co-ordinator at the Balsall Heath Forum. I work within the community in this area for resident involvement in different aspects of development.
In particular I am keen in getting young women involved locally, an example of which is the Saheli Womens’ Group which was set up in 1999 as a small residents’ group and is now a registered charity. The group promotes sporting activities such as rock-climbing, skiing and quad biking for those aged between 13-19 years. I am able to achieve my philosophy of gender-only activities which relate to my religious beliefs by creating an environment whereby women can achieve their potential within a safe and secure environment. We have also secured funding worth half a million pounds from Sports England to renovate a local college facility into a gym, run by women for women. In this manner I am helping address health issues prevalent in my neighbourhood.
My prime duty is to think about the women of my community, and what is in their best interests, whoever they are. My religion does not teach me about hate, and tells me that I am accountable for my actions in this world. I am here to ensure whatever I do benefits other people and give them opportunities irregardless of their race, colour or background.
My name is Abdullah Mussa and I have lived in Britain all my life and I am a Muslim. I am 100 per cent Muslim and I believe I am 100 per cent British as I grew up in Scotland and now live in England. I believe it is my duty as a Muslim to enjoy being good and forbid evil. Everyone can do their part to make the world a better place.
I am currently working in a team developing Muslim scouts in the UK. I see this as a small effort but with big results for the future. For people who have gone through scouting they claim this is an essential part of the development of a well-rounded individual, as it teaches all the skills schools fail to teach. I believe currently some of the Muslim population in Britain are deprived of this and this can lead to close-mindedness and bad social skills.
Scouting addresses this problem and we help to develop young people in a well-rounded socially creative way. This helps them to be better individuals and put back into society. At the same time Muslim scouts are taught with a Muslim ethos and are proud of their faith. Our children are the only way we can work towards a better future are to change things here and now.
I work for Islamic Relief, an international aid agency based in Birmingham. We work in many countries around the world, providing humanitarian assistance to those who need it most. The inspiration for our work comes from Islamic values that require us to help the poor and be kind to people. As Muslims, we care about the welfare of all humanity and see it as our duty to help, wherever we possibly can.
I grew up in London and moved to Birmingham two years ago. When the bombs went off on Thursday I quickly called my family and friends to see if they were ok. Personally I felt a little safer being in Birmingham. But then there was a scare in Birmingham too and suddenly it felt like nowhere was safe anymore.
It really hurts me that the people who committed this evil act are likely to be Muslims. I feel that something, somewhere has gone seriously wrong if people who should be honouring and defending the sanctity of human life end up threatening it, in such a horrific way.
Just three days before the bombings I was in Srebrenica in Bosnia, where 8,000 Muslims were massacred just ten years ago. It was the worst atrocity to be committed in Europe since World War II. The mothers and widows of those who were killed were still grieving but they had only this to say: “Please, don't let this happen to anyone, anywhere, ever again.”
Our work and our faith is a world away from the hatred and rage that leads people to commit evil crimes against humanity. Our faith teaches us to work towards making society a better and safer place and there are many people in Birmingham and elsewhere who are trying to do that, in our own small way.
I have spent most of my life in Birmingham. From that very first day I drew breath back in September of 1981 when a doctor at Marston Green Hospital must have disappointed my mum by announcing "Yam can boffle screamen an' shut yer chops noo love, you've got a noggen yedded looken babby eya, I fink it's a boy...seems a bit of a hairy lard 'ed. Anywoy, yam alrooyt? Oo miskin ya feelen duck?" to today when I'm writing this - most of my memories are of Birmingham. I'm a born and raised Brummie. I don't love everything about the city but it's mine. The city is me and I am the city.
A large part of my childhood was spent on the inner city streets where people have very little hope and enough trouble putting food on the table, let alone having time for their kids. This especially used to apply to the elder generations who were waiting for their children to grow up and have a better life than they could offer. Unfortunately, in the inner city 'ghettos', that rarely happens. Some kids do well in life and usually never return to the dumps but most are caught up in a street culture of crime, drugs, violence and lack of education. There's very little opportunity and hope in places like that and change always come too late for one generation but in time for the next.
Most of the smart people I went to school with ended up getting to university and studying what they wanted to but a lot also ended up in dull offices or working in retail. They are still hopeful they will achieve their dreams and maybe they will. You have to get through a lot of obstacles before you can even start to buckle down and concentrate on that perfect career and even then it doesn't fix all of your problems.
When I was at school, I wanted to be a journalist. I had a rough patch in my last years at secondary school, dropped out of college, didn't attend university, had loads of 'high-effort but low-pay' jobs and along the way; personal and family life didn't make it any easier. Yet, today, at the age of 23, I am a journalist and have done most of the things that I wanted to do. Of course, there are plenty of things I'd like to do and some are just fantasies as far as job prospects go but I like a challenge. That's not to say I have a problem-free life either. I face all kinds of difficulties, social dilemmas and financial problems everyday but that's what keeps me focused, I guess.
There's a reason I don't give in so easy, a reason why I wouldn't compromise my relationships and the trust of others. There's a reason I try not to do anything that would offend or harm people or bring me down to an appalling state of depression (which I know I'm capable of sinking to) and a reason why I don't get angry and give up on life despite what happens to me and that reason is my faith. I may not be the most shining role-model of a Muslim you've ever come across but a Muslim I am, and it is from my faith that I take so much inspiration to do the things I do.
I may move on in life but I will never forget the people from the 'ghettos' who have less of an opportunity than myself. I believe everyone carves out their own future if they are committed enough and this is why I am the co-founder of the Saltley Gate Peace Group, a project that works with inner-city residents in raising awareness about community issues and social problems such as racism, education and drugs using religion as a foundation for motivation. Currently, I am also the Interfaith & Community Liaison Officer for the Birmingham Stop the War Coalition and have been committed to the anti-war movement since 9/11.
My dream is that people of all backgrounds, faiths and no faith, ideology, race, ability and diversity can and will come together to work with each other and help make this city in which God placed me a better and more beautiful home for us all. Whenever there is an international tragedy, we always seem to unite in our grief and something is always born from that unity. It happened after September 11th and has happened many times since. We will continue to cement that bond we have and a day will come when people will look at Birmingham and say "There's that city where people have no quarrels, where everyone stands united and where love is the fuel that keeps it alive'"and we shall reply: "That's roight, we welcum people of all beliefs, unity is ar strength. noo 'oo abart a curry an' sum faggits?" Peace.
last updated: 16/07/2008 at 10:18
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