29 December 2008

In Solidarity?!

I sit at home and watch the carnage unfold in Gaza. Not much I can do to stop it from here, but I will do my best. Trying to support the actions that are being organised here in South Africa...

South Africans have been discussing this, blogging and facebooking about it- and then going out to have a McDonalds and Coke. And eating that Halal certified product 'Made in Israel'. What solidarity is this?! Got loads more to vent on this, but not now...

Like to share this from safiyyah:
One thing is for sure, those who use the name of Islam, but are nowhere to be seen or heard (except for the usual, "we condemn these acts" rhetoric) today when the Ummah needs them the most, are worst then the Zionists, who are quite clear about who and what they stand for. These western lackey "Muslim" governments must go before Gaza, and al Quds, can even take a snail step towards freedom.

I cannot help but liken Gaza to Karbala, as we fast approach that day of mourning. The Prophets (saw) family were mercilessly killed, at the hands of Yazid and his cronies, who ruled under the pretense of "Islam". Nothing has changed. The rulers of the current "Muslim" world are today's Yazids, and as responsible for the atrocity that is Gaza as they were for the slaughter of the Ahl Bayt.
And also liked this from Ayesha:
From protest to protest
from march to march
our brains in our mouths
our hearts in our pockets

we will give ,
till it doesn't hurt
and shout
till it doesn't rattle

and a slumber
will be lifted
at a time inopportune

and the people shall be sorted
and the scales will be tipped
and regret shall have no virtue

for the ones who spoke
but didn't do
Use these pictures on your facebook, myspace, blog and other profiles.

07 November 2008

Palestinians on Obama

I came to Palestine so that I could begin my Hajj journey from the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. I managed to interview some Palestinians to get their thoughts on the new president of the USA.

Hala from Ramallah:

It is like a dream for the minorities of the world- that a person of colour can be president of the United States- the country that virtually rules the world. But it is not important that the president changes, because as long as the Zionist lobby controls the USA, it will not be possible for things to change in Palestine.

Even if Barak Obama said that he is a 'Friend of Israel' only to get votes, and he really wants to make a change, will he be able to do so? Was Kennedy not assassinated because he wanted to make a change in Vietnam?

I find it strange that until now you have people who are so racist in the USA- they seem to hate Obama just because of the colour of his skin. It is complete backwardness to hate a person because the colour of their skin- and they say that us Arabs are backward!

Talal from Ramallah:

One needs to look at the USA from both the inside and the outside. From the point of view of people on the inside, this is big. But for us on the outside, there is only so much change that Obama can bring. He will be made to work within a margin that is set by those more important and powerful than him- he cannot move out of this margin. That is, he can't oblige the Israelis to withdraw, but he can do what Clinton did- make smaller steps towards peace. He can't do much in terms of big changes.

I read somewhere that over 60% of people who voted Obama did so due to his internal financial policies, and only 10% voted due to his international policy of wanting peace in Iraq and Afghanistan. So I think that peace in the Middle East is not Obama's priority.

Ayah from Bethlehem:

I don't believe that Barak Obama will make much difference for us. He will make a difference for the American people now, and maybe over time he can make bigger changes in the world. But he is not the one who decides- he does not have much say about America does in the world. And maybe if he does do big changes, he will be assassinated like Kennedy.

Clinton was supposed to be for the Palestinian people but he didn’t make much difference. Barak Obama says himself that he is a friend of Israel- but we hope he said that just to get more votes.

29 October 2008

Irony of South African Muslims

How ironic is this- Sami Yusuf is hosted on a national tour of South Africa by a ‘Shariah compliant’ investment fund. From what I hear his concerts were awesome- I like Sami Yusuf too- saw him at Wembley in London performing for a 10000 strong crowd. And the 1400 odd year old debate on whether music in permissible is now on almost every blog, Facebook group, dinner table and ask-a-mufti session!

Reminds me of the sad story about the grandson of the Prophet of Islam- a person from the region where the terrible atrocity occurred, was discussing the Shariah ruling of the blood of a mosquito with a scholar, and was told something like: ‘You, who comes from the people who brutally tortured and murdered the beloved of the beloved of God, now while the blood of the Prophets grandson is still flowing in the streets, you are more concerned about the blood of a mosquito!’

Do you see the irony? South African Muslims, those that come from a middle class bourgeoisie background, in the wake of a global financial crisis, are busy with discussion on the music, while the show was hosted by an institution that belongs to the global economic system! South African Muslims, who some say are ‘the very same people that REPRESENT inequality and injustice’, are more concerned about the blood of a mosquito!!

Could the similarities be any more obvious and shocking! And what is most surprising, is that the only discourse now if from those very (ifta) institutions that supported Western Capitalistic Economy initiatives under the name of Islam, without at all qualifying their support, without realising a long term vision; it is them who are now speaking about ‘Losing The War Against Allah’! Do we know which side of the war we are on?!

To quote some advice from a friend, ‘We need to realise that Muslims, like you and I, serve to perpetuate inequality in the world though our lifestyles and through our deviation from the principals set down by the Prophet of Islam.

Why do we eat when our neighbours go hungry? Why do we live in expensive homes in cities where people have no homes? Why do family's and communities not co-operate to fund each others homes and businesses? Because of the USA and ''capitalism''? Its amazing how people fail to see the failures in their own behaviour and put the blame on everyone else.’

28 October 2008

Syrian drought exacerbates food crisis

Syrian drought exacerbates food crisis

Syria, a country that is usually self sufficient, now finds itself importing wheat from other countries for the first time in 15 years. The country is trying to cope with the effects of the worst drought in 40 years. Farmers and villagers in the east of the country are worst affected by the poor rainfall of the past 2 years, according to Abdullah Mawazini, the Public Information officer with the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) in Damascus. People are leaving the countryside and heading for the city, looking for food and jobs. Beside causing other social issues, the long term effects of this migration is expected to further affect agricultural production.

The government is involved with plans to deal with the crises and has already distributed aid to around 29 000 families. ‘We cannot do anything with the help of the government’, says Mawazini, ‘and the work is also more strategic ac the governments knows the people and the areas and provides us with some lists of beneficiaries.’

Basic commodities are government subsidised and bread is prepared in government bakeries and prices regulated. ‘Bread is very symbolic’, says Mawazini, so people will not tolerate increases in bread prices. Hence the ongoing global food crisis has not affected the price of some basic commodities for Syrians. But the increases in fuel prices has caused significant increases through transport costs and related expenses.

Robin Lodge, Regional Public Information Officer with WFP, is based in Jordan but was in Damascus this week and answered the following questions:

The global food crisis is being felt throughout the world to varying degrees. The current drought in Syria obviously makes the issues more severe. How does this issue affect the region within which you work?

The countries in this region are defined as low to middle-income countries. You are unlikely to see starvation, although there are some areas with "alarming" malnutrition rates. The figures for severe acute malnutrition are for the most part within levels defined globally as "acceptable". Food insecurity, however, is a considerable problem, with many of the poorest living on less than two dollars a day and struggling to provide themselves and their families with sufficient food. The soaring food prices over the past year have meant that many such families are being pushed over the brink and regularly going short of food, or having to give up other services, such as health and education, to be able to afford food. It has also pushed many people who were hitherto able to provide for themselves into the vulnerable category. And while global prices have come down recently, this has not yet been reflected at the level of the market.

What exactly is at stake and how serious is this?

People's livelihoods are a stake. Growing discontent can also lead to violence and extremism. Governments are finding it harder to afford the food subsidies they are providing as social safety nets, yet any efforts to reform the subsidies is likely to provoke further discontent and violence. It is very serious.

How is the situation being exacerbated, if at all, by financial crisis worldwide? - The United Nations recently appealed for $20 million to help one million people in Syria cope with the drought. Do you anticipate a delay in financial assistance requested?

The effects of the financial crisis are twofold. First of all, it limits the ability of the countries in the region to provide social safety nets and secondly, it may inhibit donor governments from continuing to provide the desperately needed support to organisations like WFP. Our costs are going up every year, but we anticipate a harder struggle over the coming months to raise funds.

Could you comment on how different the situation is to Kenya's drought, and other places in the world suffering from drought and food shortages at the moment?

The drought is in Syria and Iraq too. But the main difference is one of scale. In developing countries like Kenya, where many of the poorest are living on the edge of survival, the effects of drought can be catastrophic. Here people are better able to withstand the effects, although humanitarian interventions are still required and urgent.

Is this a long term situation or do you anticipate better weather or planning to mitigate the consequences going forward?

I certainly do not anticipate better weather in the foreseeable future. But we can mitigate the effects with better preparedness, so we are not taken by surprise. Our colleagues at FAO are working on developing drought resistant seeds.

Besides the immediate funds sought, what else is needed in this region?

We are constantly working to improve and streamline our operations to bring down the costs. In many cases, we are looking at cash or voucher systems as opposed to food deliveries, particularly in urban settings, where food is available, but people do not have the funds to buy it. Such schemes also help to reduce our costs, as they obviate the need to pay for shipping, handling, storage and distribution.

Do you expect that this could become an emerging trend in developing countries?

I fear that, without huge investment in agriculture in the developing world, this trend is to stay with us. Specifically on the food prices issue, however, even the world's leading economists - who know far more than I do about the issue - are reluctant to give long-term forecasts.
A version of this article was published by the Industrial Organizational & Labour Studies Research Unit at the University of KwaZulu-Natal

13 October 2008

Email from Mrs. Aishwarya Rai

I'm so lucky:) See who emailed me!

On Sat, Oct 4, 2008 at 10:41 PM, Mrs. Aishwarya Rai wrote:

Salam alaikum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuh, Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem,

Assalamo Alaikum,

Wasalaam to you,and how are you doing?. My intention
of contacting you is to solicit your assistance for a
project, which will be mutually beneficial.
Though I know my decision to contact you is to a large
extent unconventional, the prevailing circumstances
necessitated my action. I am Aishwarya Rai,from India.
I am married to Late Mallam Mustafa Rai of blessed
memory was an oil explorer in Libya and Kuwait for
twelve years before he died in the year 2000. We were
married for twelve years without a child. He died
after a brief illness that lasted for only four days.
Before his death we were both devoted Muslims. Since
his death I too have been battling with both Cancer
and fibroid problems. When my late Husband was alive
he made a huge deposit in millions of US dollars.(I will
tell you the amount as we proceed).

Recently, my doctor told me that I have only six
months to live due to cancer problem. Though what
disturbs me most is my stroke sickness. Having known
my condition I decided to donate this fund to either a
Muslim organization or devoted Muslim individual that
will utilize this money the way I am going to instruct
herein. I want this Muslim organization or individual
to use this money in all sincerity to fund mosques,
orphanages, widows, and also propagating the word of
ALLAH and to ensure that the society upholds the views
and belief of the Holy Quran.The Holy Quran emphasizes
so much on ALLAH'S benevolence and this has encourage
me to take the bold step. I took this decision because
I don't have any child that will inherit this money
and my husband relatives are into some radical
Organizations and I don't want a situation where this
money will be used in an Unholy manner. Hence the
reasons for this bold decision. I know that after
death I will be with ALLAH the most beneficent and
the most merciful. I don't need any telephone
communication in this regard because of my health,
because of the presence of my husband's relatives
around me always. I don't want them to know about this

With ALLAH all things are possible. As soon as I
receive your reply on: Email:mrs.aishwarya_rai@rocketmail.com
I shall give you the contact information of my Lawyer
and other important information where the money was
deposited. I will also issue a Will to my lawyer
authorizing him to assist you receive the said fund
have being willed to you and a copy of such authorization
will be forwarded to you.

I want you and the Muslim community where you reside
to always pray for me. My happiness is that I lived a
true devoted Muslims worthy of emulation. Whoever that
wants to serve ALLAH must serve him in truth and in
fairness. I will not stipulate any precise amount to
reward you, as it will have to be on pre-negotiated
terms, based on your level of involvement. Please
always be prayerful all through your life. Any delay
in your reply will give room in sourcing for a Muslim
organization or a devoted Muslim for this same
purpose. Until I hear from you by email, my dreams
will rest squarely on your Shoulders.

May the Almighty ALLAH continue to guide and protect

Allah Hafiz.
Mrs. Aishwarya Rai.

28 September 2008

Damascus Bomb

Damascus, 27 September 2008, 27 Ramadan 1429
Saturday- 10:31am

I was just woken up by a frantic call from my brother in South Africa.
‘Are you ok? What happened?’
Dude! Relax, I am still sleeping. Was up the whole night, trying to find Laylatul Qadr (The Night of Power), and I’m just really tired.
‘We just heard about the bomb blast in Damascus. News doesn’t have many details and we wanted to check if you’re alright. Let us know what’s happening hey.’

My phone has a few messages already and as I end my brother’s call it rings again. If you’re reading this anywhere else in the world- where there are no restrictions and censorship on the internet and media- then chances are you probably have more details on the story than those of us here in Damascus.

All I could find out is that a car laden with explosives was detonated near the airport, and 17 people are dead and 14 more injured. There was something else about it being near a Shia shrine, but I can’t find any more about that. I think the gravesite of Sayidinna Zainub R.A is close to the airport, so that is perhaps the shrine mentioned.

If you are able to find out any more details, please let us know. I will just take this opportunity to describe Damascus over the past few hours.

Woke up around the same time yesterday and prayed Jumah Salaah at the Abu Noor Musjid. The Musjid is in an area called Ruknudeen, on the foot of the mountain, in a fairly old part of the city. Ruknudeen is supposedly the more religious corner of the city (even though the dirt and behaviour in the streets might lead you to think otherwise) and the Abu Noor Musjid also houses a religious school and an Arabic language centre.

At the end of the Jumah Sermon, the khatib went on to speak about the President. After only 3 months of living here I may have missed a bit, but I did get his message loud and clear. He spoke about how the President is doing so much to help and protect Islam, about how he is supporting the scholars of Damascus, and then he made a prayer asking God to bless the President and the government. I only plan to leave this country in 3 months, so I will not comment on this right now.

I usually pray Taraweeh Salaah in a different Musjid every night. Not all the Masaajid complete the entire Quran during the month, so we have been doing additional prayers at my apartment after Taraweeh. Last night I went to Jamia Lalabasha for Esha and Taraweeh. Being the 27th night of Ramadan, the Musjid was packed to full capacity- my friend joked in his thick Spanish accent: ‘Wow, this looks like it’s a Backstreet Boys concert or something!’ His comment was aimed at the madding crowds trying to fight their way into the Musjid and was in no way meant to be disrespectful.

There is only so much concentration one can have in prayer, when there are multiple elbows sticking into all your sides. Hence began our Musjid crawl for widely perceived Laylatul Qadr- Night of Power. Our next stop was Jamia Abu Noor where the air conditioners were slightly more effective and the crowd slightly less desperate to fight to pray. Stayed for as long as possible and then headed back to my apartment to meet the boys and drop a few.

Jamia Badr was where everybody was heading for the 2am rendezvous- with God, not each other. But it was literally everyone, so when we got there we couldn’t even find space on the grass or pavement outside. So an hour later we’re walking on the streets of Damascus, towards the beautiful recitation of Quran in the distance.

This Musjid (Hadikat Tishreen) was also packed to capacity, but the space outside, around the Musjid was more open and less chaotic. We managed to find pavement space and joined a few rakaats. The powerful voice of the Imaam had everyone around me sobbing and tears, but there was something about the traffic on my right that just didn’t allow me to reach the same spiritual heights. I tried though.

When the knees had enough of the pavement, we headed back to Jamia Badr to seek a spot of grass. Managed to get a fairly decent spot and would a prayer mat of newspaper- it was Arabic so I couldn’t read in prayer- I sought forgiveness and made a prayer for family, loved ones and myself. It was time for Sehri soon and it was a good thing that padkos (for non-South Africans: road food) was packed coz trying to get a taxi at that hour is more difficult than a South Africa trying to get a Hajj visa!

The last Musjid for the Great Musjid Crawl of 27th Night in Damascus was Jamia Shaykh Mohideen- the resting place of the famous Ibn Arabic. Unfortunately though, the route to the Musjid is via Souk Jumah and Jamia Abu Noor- and the masses that had just finished a night of prayer in Abu Noor were now hungry and determined to get to food at any cost. Getting through that crowd, alive, while going in the opposite direction, should be rewarded with a bountiful reward- tea and toast never tasted so good!

So with Fajr in the courtyard, the night officially came to an end and Damascus returned to some level of sanity- or should I say normality! That was until a few hours ago when this bomb went off..

24 September 2008

Halal interview with Hashim Amla

From Ramadan.co.za : Halal Bilal interviews Hashim Amla-

Hashim Amla topped the averages and the run charts for South Africa during the recent England tour, including a century in the first Test at Lord's, which helped to save the game. The stylish right-handed batsman is a solid and dependable man for the South African team, yet he still has time to share with his Muslim brothers and sisters.

The first half of this blessed month of Ramadan has passed. How do you feel about this?

There are a few emotions that are brought up when reflecting., over the last few years I have spent Ramadan in a few other countries so Alhamdulillah I am thrilled that this year I have been fortunate to see many days of Ramadan at home. Every country has its unique flavour of Islam which I absolutely love and of course the cuisines are a pleasant bonusJ. However the feeling of regret dominates me- not enough Quran, Salah, reflection etc. Alhamdulillah there’s still time left so I’m hoping to make merry while I can, Inshallah

Does the fasting affect your performance during matches, or if no games are being played in Ramadan, is your training being affected?

Yes, it does affect the matches and training- positively mostly- Alhamdulillah. People get amazed when I tell them that I have learnt so much in my game while I had been fasting. There has been instances on hot and humid summers days in Durban when I had been batting, and I remember thinking to myself with a bone dry mouth and throbbing headache...’when am I going to get out because I cannot handle this anymore’. I went on to make a big score, Alhamdulillah, but I have learnt after passing that stage of thirst and mental fatigue, that the limits we put on the body and mind can, and at times, must be challenged.

What advice would you give Muslim youth who are busy with studies/work/etc and find it difficult during the month of Ramadan?

I think time and energy management is key for us. I try and do my activities later in the day.
The truth is, Ramadan is a rewarding and testing month for all and experiencing difficulty and weakness is, I believe, one of the means of creating humility and submission in us to our lord. So when it’s tough, I am thinking sabr.

What do your other team mates have to say about Ramadan? Do they think it’s an issue that you fast?

There is no real issue and all I try and do is create a better understanding in their minds. Some have asked the significance of fasting, and I explain to them that this practise is not just in the Islamic faith, but in most of the world religions as a way of instilling discipline and God consciousness and that we believe Islam to be the final revelation to humanity. Other guys are just amazed that we don’t eat food or drink the whole day and still play cricket.

Does Ramadan provide extra opportunities for giving Dawah and speaking to non-Muslims about the beauty of Islam?

Yes indeed. Alhamdulillah.

What is your favourite verse from the Holy Quran?
Ala bidhikrillahi tutma innul quloob
La in shakartum la azeedanna kum
Innallaha ma'as saabireen

Who is your favourite reciter of the Holy Quran? I love Sheikh Mishari Raashid.

I enjoy listening to Sheikh Abdullah al-Matrood.

What general advice would you like to give the Muslim youth out there?

Let us strive to keep good friends, those that encourage towards the path of faith and knowledge.In our daily life we have interactions and the best form of attraction and understanding of Islam we can offer is that of the beloved Messenger (saw) and he (saw) has mentioned:

“ballighoo anni wa lo aayah” - “Convey from me even if it be a single aayah”

May Allah make it easy for us to follow the way of His Prophet (saw).

Halal Bilal is a South African comedian. He has toured with Riaad Moosa (The funniest man in South Africa) and many other South African comedians. He has also toured with the American group - Allah Made Me Funny - in South Africa and the UK.
His shows can be seen at www.skit.co.za
Picture from : www.tribuneindia.com

20 September 2008

Ramadan Post!

Ramadan here in Damascus is sooo busy- been meaning to blog and also right for ramadan.co.za, but just no time! So I'm going to recycle some blog posts from 2 years ago! Don't worry- they are some of my better pieces so I'm sure you'll enjoy them even if you read them before :-)

25 September 2006 - Happy Ramadaan

1 October 2006- Taraweeh Memoirs

22 October 2006- Ramadaan Unplugged!

Enjoy! Remember us in your prayers..

25 August 2008

Why I’m a vegetarian

**Update: the UN even agrees with me!! http://tinyurl.com/5qlxdt **

I don’t believe that animals should not be killed for human consumption. In fact, I think that God has most definitely provided certain animals for man — some to assist us in our daily tasks and others to provide us with the nutrients and proteins (isn’t that what meat supplies?!) that eating meat provides.

But I have been vegetarian for almost a year now. And I must say, as a meat lover, it has been really difficult to resist the urge and go for the greens. But having spent a good portion of this time travelling through many different countries, I think I have had the opportunity to taste delicious local produce that I otherwise would have missed out on completely (to be honest, some vegetables should be missed out!).

So if I’m not an animal lover or a hippie tree hugger (I’m an accountant by profession!), why don’t I eat meat? Now let me say that, while I am no expert (but I’m sure many ‘experts’ are going to be challenging these statements!), read this with an open mind and then give it some serious consideration.

While beef consumption is said to play a major role in the development of heart disease, strokes and cancer, the over-consumption of beef is being increasingly labelled as a major cause of human hunger and poverty, deforestation, global warming and numerous other global/social issues.

More than one third of the grain produced in the world is fed to cattle and other livestock. The fact that more than a billion people around the world could receive proper nourishment if all this agricultural land was used to grow food for human consumption, rather than livestock, is clearly not widely known.

With the current food crisis (being labelled by some as the Silent Tsunami) wreaking havoc across the globe, you may be shocked by these facts, but similar events have occurred in our recent past: at the height of the 1984 famine in Ethiopia, some of its agricultural land was being used to produce grains for export — to feed livestock in Europe.

The building up of various gases in the atmosphere blocks heat from escaping the planet and is expected to cause a global climate change of catastrophic proportions. Grain-fed cattle are a significant factor in the generation of three major gases – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. The burning of the world’s forests for cattle pasture has released billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. The over 1.3 billion livestock in the world annually release some 60 million tons of methane through their digestive systems. Moreover, to produce the feed requires the use of fertilisers which emit vast amounts of nitrous oxide.

Eight kilos of grain are used to produce each kilo of meat. While in Africa, nearly one in three people is undernourished. In Latin America, nearly one out of every seven people goes to bed hungry each night. In Asia and the Pacific, 22% of the people live at the edge of starvation. In the Near East, one in nine is underfed. So consider that these stats could be reduced by around seven for every burger meal that we eat.

Now for the chicks — celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has managed to cause quite a stir in the UK with his expose on battery chickens, Jamie’s Fowl Dinners.

But groupie mentality aside (I’m not a fan of the glorified cook), there is a tragic tale to be told. Rather being allowed to roam freely, choosing from a salad board provided by grass, herbs, insects and tree fodder, chickens are ‘grown’ in boxes these days — under the most disgusting conditions. Yet again, how many consumers are aware of the suffering of the birds and the extremely poor quality of the meat?

Mass poultry production as a whole poses serious health and environmental hazards with the ammonia and other chemicals found in the feed. In addition, the amount of energy used to transport and process this billion dollar industry makes it hard to justify that box of fried chicken.

So, I am not on a crusade to convert the masses into salad munchers — the main objective of sharing this is to try and remind ourselves that we need to be conscientious shoppers. We need to have critical minds and consider all the implications of our purchases, and taking this line of thinking to its end, our daily actions and decisions as a whole.

If you believe the claims made above and now know that kids in poor areas around the world are dying due to the shortage of basic foodstuff, perhaps you will not want to eat meat three times a day in huge portions — maybe you will start cutting down and encourage others to do the same. One of the most effective ways that you, as an individual, can do your part to reduce human hunger, poverty and global warming is to reduce your consumption of animal products.

For me, it’s not so much about not eating meat. What I try to do, and would like to encourage others to do, is to have a critical mind. Know what you are buying and the effects that your purchase has– all the way back to the source of the ingredients! While it may sound impractical and over the top, it takes a little bit of research and thought and you will know whether the coffee farmers behind your cappuccino and being exploited, whether your avocados were grown on land stolen from Palestinians or whether peasants in Paraguay were killed to ensure the demand for GM soy beans was met!

So no, I’m not a conventional vegetarian. I do eat meat. But I make it a very rare occasion when I do this, usually when a guest in someone’s home. But I still make known the facts noted above. And if it’s chicken, it must be a chicken that has been allowed to roam the earth freely and live a good life. Yes, I only eat happy chicken.

15 August 2008

Food shortages (Updated) [AGAIN]

** Update: Now in the Mail & Guardian :) ** http://tinyurl.com/6xmkls

Prices in Syria have been skyrocketing over the past year. I am here to study Arabic, like many others from all over the world, and I was told that this influx of foreign students may be responsible for the pushing up demand and hence prices. However, that argument has not convinced most. Just a week before I arrived, the cost of transport increased overnight by 100%, from SYL5 to SYL10. By transport, that means buses and the ‘service’ mini-buses (pronounced sir-vees).

Abu Ahmed is owner of Mu’ajaanaat Al-noor in Ruknudeen, the suburb on the foot of a mountain in Damascus. In his 40’s, he has his young son helping out now in his school holidays, and daily after school during the term. His bakery is a typical Damascene style bakery take-away, making and selling pizza-like bread in a clay oven. Customers usually bring their own toppings like cheese, tomato and the delicious local spice- Zattar.

Abu Ahmed complains about the price increase. The price of cheese increased from SYL150 per kg to SYL250 per kg in the past year. 50 kilograms of flour was SYL900 and is now gone up for SYL1400!

100 litres of diesel was SYL8,000 and is now gone up to a whopping SYL26,000.

A ration is available from government outlets at 8000 SYL, but only to households. Each household has a limit. He uses most of his household limit for his shop, and hence has little left for personal use. He is willing to buy a ration card from someone who is willing to sell theirs...

Down the road Abu Maajid runs a small supermarket, selling basic groceries, cool drinks, snacks and other odds and ends. He used to sell Egyptian rice (Zarzour) for SYL30 per kg and claims that the price has increased steadily to SYL90 per kg. ‘But not for long, it will go up again soon. I just know it!’ He used to sell 100kg of rice a week and now he sells anything around 5 to 10 kg a week.

Many people have stopped eating rice and now eat local wheat known as ‘Burghur’. Even this has gone up from SYL20 to SYL50 per kg so sales have only marginally increased. ‘One customer is my friend- he told me he is now eating just tomato and bread! Things are really bad and people are suffering’, says Abu Maajid in broken English.

Canisters of gas used to sell for SYL175 when the cost price was SYL150. Now the government outlet is selling it for SYL275, the man who transports it adds on SYL25 and it’s sold for SYL325 with a SYL25 SYL mark-up. ‘Petrol is the problem’, he says. But he has no idea why the petrol price has gone up or who is to blame. There is no time to worry about that and there is nothing one can do but just try to work harder.

In some shops the employees make more than the owners. But jobs are not easy to find- his four married sons are all struggling to get proper jobs. The supermarket used to give him SYL10 SYL profit for every SYL100 of sales- this has now dropped to 5%, and with the drop in sales, it is really tough to make ends meet. He has not paid the last 4 electricity bills and his phone has been cut because he couldn’t pay the bill. He forces me to take the phone and listen- the line is dead and I’m greeted only by silence.

SYL- Syrian Lira
ZAR- South African Rand
Effective exchange rate: ZAR1 = SYL6.5


This was written as part of a global project to raise awareness on how the food shortages are causing strife across the globe. For the full article, please visit: http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/49918

Food shortages: stories of strife across the globe

07 August 2008

Patani- The forgotten suffering (Draft 1)

26 July 2008- The former Malay kingdom of Patani is composed of what are now the three Thai provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat. They are home to 1.8 million Muslims or 80 percent of the populace. The most that people from other countries know about this region, is that it has a majority Muslim population in a country which is overwhelmingly Buddhist.

Like many of the states in island Southeast Asia, its rulers and then its people embraced Islam and this led them into various societal and behavioural norms that differentiated them from non-Muslim people. Diet, dress and language were all affected, for example.

Thus, The General Union of the Patani Revolutionary Students held a Patani cultural day at the University of Damascus on Saturday 26 July 2008. The event, which showcased the dress, music, language, dance and martial arts of the Patani people, was attended by university students from many different countries.

Almost without exception, university students from all over the world knew little of the suffering and abuse that the people of Patani are enduring. The people of Patani, who have been resisting the suppression of their language and culture by the Thai authorities, have met the most brutal of torture and oppression which has largely escaped any significant attention of global media. The wish of the Patani people to obtain independence from Thailand has led to the deaths of hundreds in an armed struggle that has intensified over the last couple of years.

The issue goes back to the arrival of the British in the region. With the seizure of both Malaya and Burma, a very pronounced threat to the Siamese throne appeared, since Siam became squeezed on all sides. The Malayan peninsula became something of a buffer state between British and Siamese and gradually the questionable territory in between was annexed by one side or another. In 1902, Patani finally came under formal control of the Siamese throne.

The southern region has a heavily Malay-speaking Muslim population, which historically formed the Muslim kingdom of Patani until it succumbed to Siamese control in the 1700s. People here share similar cultures and habits with the Malay Muslims in Malaysia, but Bangkok has traditionally suppressed their identity, for example by discouraging the use of the Malay language. This cultural imperialism has been opposed by the Malays, culminating in an armed struggle in 1948 by Patani Muslims to break away from the kingdom, and again in the 1960s by the Patani United Liberation Army, the armed wing of one Thai group, the Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO), whose members laid down arms in response to Bangkok’s blanket amnesty in the 1990s.

The people of Patani feel not just that their independence has been taken from them but that their traditions and history have been suppressed. Siamese (and now Thai) authorities have taken steps to try to integrate the Kingdom into one people. Thai Muslims have long complained of heavy-handed practices by the military in the South.

Ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra flooded the south with 30,000 troops and police, further alienating the Muslim population, especially after 78 Muslim men arrested after a protest died of suffocation in army custody.
After Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont travelled to the south to apologize for the heavy-handed military response, but the "hearts and minds" campaign failed to stop the violence. Mr. Surayud apologized for the harsh policies of his predecessor during his six years in office, promised to investigate abuses and restructured the military command for the south.

After General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the former coup leader of Thailand’s military government, offered to negotiate with the ‘insurgents’, PULO, which is often accused of perpetrating attacks in the south, welcomed the suggestion of dialogue by General Sonthi, amid accusations by pro-Thaksin and anti-Muslim voices in Bangkok that Sonthi was being pro-Muslim.

Kasturi Mahkota, PULO’s exiled foreign affairs spokesman in Sweden, even said that PULO were prepared to talk about autonomy: something that had previously been non-negotiable in the Muslims’ quest for complete independence. Speaking in Damascus, Mahkota said that his organisation is fully committed to finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The situation appears rarely in global mainstream media, even though more than 3,000 people have died in recent years. Most have been innocent bystanders, both Buddhists and Muslims. The question is whether the Thai authorities take any serious steps towards a reasonable solution while there is such media silence from this region.

19 July 2008

26 May 2008

Protest in Paris

Protest in Paris

May 17, 2008- Thousands of French filled the streets, carrying placards and banners, singing songs and shouting slogans. This is Paris, May 2008, 40 years after the social revolution known as “May 68” shook France. The uprisings in the 60s saw a series of student protests and general strikes that caused the eventual collapse of the French government.

One could have easily mistaken the protest to be one of those marking the strike in Paris, by thousands of teachers and public sector workers, to protest against job cuts and education reform. But if one listened closely and read the banners, it was clear that this protest was in support of the Palestinian people.

May 2008 also marks 60 years since the Nakba- the Catastrophe- when thousands of Palestinians were driven from their homes by the Zionists, who then went on to form the state of Israel. And while Israel celebrates its 60th birthday, many around the world, like the thousands of French protesting in the streets of Paris, are asking, ‘What is there to celebrate about?’ How can anyone celebrate when the Israeli occupation and attacks against civilians in Gaza and the West Bank continue unabated?

The protesters marched in the streets carrying Palestinian flags and posters condemning the Israeli attacks against Palestinian civilians, calling for an end to the siege on Gaza, the right of return for Palestinians, and an end to Israeli occupation. This is part of a campaign by Palestinians and social activists in France, demanding the French government pressure Israel to stop its abuses of the Palestinian people and to assist the Palestinians in achieving independence.

Sabrina, a student of law in Paris, says that the government is seen as being too supportive of the Zionist state of Israel. Nadia, who studies political science, went on to explain that it comes down to business- the French state wants good relations with Israel and continues to encourage business and trade. And the French public is not being shown an accurate and balanced view of the situation, they argue. ‘If you only watch the mainstream TV, you will think that it is the Palestinians that don’t want peace and that all Israelis are good!’

Naseem, a Palestinian computer science student from the town of Baqa al-qarbia, was happy to see so many French out on the streets, supporting the cause. He happened to be passing through Paris when he heard of the protest, co-organised by other Palestinian students studying in France. ‘I thought that the world has forgotten us in Palestine!’

Another Palestinian, who had been living in France for the past 10 years, said they will not forget. ‘We want to return to the land of our grandparents- and show people that Jews, Christians and Muslims have lived together on this land for hundreds of years.’

For now, they hope and protest, and the song that has become popular with Palestinians and their supporters, rings through the streets of Paris:
I hail thee, hawk of Lebanon
I welcome thee, Hassan Nasrallah
Here are your men, Hezbollah…

08 May 2008

60 years of Israel

The State of Israel turns 60 today.
Scratch the surface and see what it's built on...



3.On-going ethnic cleansing

4.An Apartheid regime

What's to celebrate?

This message was attached to bikes and we cycled through London for the day. This was a Nakba60 initiative. Visit the website: www.nakba60.org.uk

London will host a huge demonstration for Palestine on Saturday 10 May 2008 @1pm, Temple Tube Station. Loads of banners have been prepared for this!

07 May 2008

Mr Karzai, pass the rice please

Kuwait’s Deputy Prime Minister Faisal Al-Hajji, Kuwaiti Prime Minister Nasser Al-Sabah, Kuwaiti Prince Nawaf Al-Sabah, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Jordanian King Abdullah, Kuwait’s Amir Sabah Al-Sabah, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, Bosnian President Haris Silajdzic, and many more heads of states and government ministers attended the World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) in Kuwait from 29 April to 1 May 2008. The names and titles were almost as long as the convoy of coaches, luxury petrol guzzlers and police escorts from the Kuwait Sheraton to the Bayan Palace.

Kuwait pledged to donate $100 million towards a fund, aimed at providing basic foods to poor people in Islamic countries. "Kuwait ... is offering an initiative to establish a fund for decent life in Islamic countries to provide basic foodstuff for those who are in need quickly," Kuwaits Amir said during the opening of the fourth WIEF.

In Kuwait, the world's seventh-largest oil exporter, inflation hit a record 9.5 percent in January as housing costs jumped 16.1 percent and food prices rose 7.7 percent. Several Arab and Muslim capitals have witnessed protests by people demanding government intervention to ease the impact of rises in the prices of foods.
Hamid Karzai, having just survived an attempt on his life, spoke about the fact that both, some of the richest and poorest countries in the world, had Muslim majority populations. ‘Islam encourages trade and innovation,’ he said, and called upon Muslims to societies to concentrate on scientific education to aid development and growth.

He also touched on the negative perception of Muslims in the world- ‘Our area is engulfed in many disputes and we have enemies that use the situation to destroy the Muslim nation. The extremists are keeping girls from education and there are 60,000 in Afghanistan who left school,’ Karzai complained. ‘A Ummah (nation) of 1.4 billion, with 40 million youth of working age- yet we still face the most difficult problems of the world- ignorance, unemployment, shortage of food, lack of development…’

In a brilliant oratory exercise, King Abdullah of Jordan wooed the crowd with his powerful words. ‘This is no ordinary international meeting!’ he bellowed to the crowd. ‘What you achieve here, and the efforts you carry forward, will have an impact- not only in the Islamic world, but the entire world will enjoy the economic benefits,’ he said. ‘Whether Muslims, not only in Islamic countries, but everywhere in the world will have access to the economic promise of the 21st century. Whether our community can achieve its rightful place in the global economy, not just sharing in prosperity but helping to write the economic rules, giving voice to Islam's values of co-existence, justice, and a better life for all.’‘Our combined resources and geo-economic position make the Islamic world key to every major economic issue of our time, from creating a green global economy, to energy sustainability and more,’ King Abdullah said. ‘The world Muslim population is almost one-fifth of humanity and predominantly young, giving us a significant force for productivity and market growth. With one-quarter of the world's landmass, the Islamic countries are channels to every corner of the global marketplace. We stand on a long Islamic history of enterprise and learning - and we are empowered by the unity, values, and the purpose of Islam,’ said Abdullah.

‘Nothing is more important than our people. Among our countries we have one of the largest youth groups in the world. They are full of ideas, energy and vitality.’ Yet, he added, there is a perennial shortage of skilled manpower. Of those students that study abroad, half do not come home. Not only are we are losing their expertise, which is key to the future of business, science, education and other priorities, but we are also losing their local knowledge - a mine of cultural and national understanding, needed to shape developments to the needs of our people and ensure success.
Abdullah said, ‘We need to break this cycle. Many of our countries have taken bold steps to advance the private sector, trade-led growth, and the jobs and development it creates. But to meet our goals - to truly help our people realize their aspirations - we must also do more to unleash the potential of our creative class. Above all, this means restoring the tradition of innovation in the Muslim world. Our governments, companies, and development leaders must support innovation, with the same deliberate approach that we apply to building infrastructure or attracting investment.’

President of Bosnia and Herzegovina Haris Silajdzic said that Bosnia can be used as prime example on coexistence between people. He said forgiveness is key to living in peace, and pluralism and acceptance of the other, are ways to development and prosperity. He said, ‘We are living in a global village which calls for mutual respect. In Bosnia we are living a model of pluralism. It was the reason for a war that was imposed on us. Models such as this must be preserved...pluralism and forgiveness’.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said that Africa is facing a crisis due to increases in food prices. He said ‘Problems are keeping us from achieving our goals’, adding that ‘countries must pay close attention to agriculture as we were surprised by the high prices.’ He said that poverty must be eradicated to ensure development. Wade said oil has been discovered in Senegal and will soon be used, and investment funds should contribute to the proposed fund against poverty.

03 May 2008

60 years of Israel in Palestine

Israel: 60 years of oppression

60 years of violence, ethnic cleansing, and dispossession.

60 years ago, over 530 Palestinian villages and towns were destroyed. Half of the Palestinians were ethnically cleansed by Zionist militia even before Israel was unilaterally declared a state. Palestinians call these events of the late 1940s the ‘Nakba’ (Catastrophe).

Palestinian refugees are the largest remaining refugee population in the world, with seven million refugees or displaced people. They are prevented from returning to their homes and lands even though International law and UN resolutions demand it.

The Israeli Knesset adopted a set of laws that are contrary to International law that ensured no refugees are allowed to return and that their land is confiscated for use by Jews only. The removal of 75-80% of non-Jews from what became Israel by 1950 was a necessary but not sufficient condition for creating and maintaining a Zionist-defined Jewish state. What the nascent state did subsequently was expand its borders and continue to appropriate native Palestinian lands, expel many of them and discriminate against those who remained at all odds.

Israel has no constitution but promulgated a set of basic laws that govern it essentially for the benefit of the Jewish people. These laws recognize members of a particular religion (including converts) as nationals of the state regardless of where they live or their current citizenship. In Israeli law, all Jews are part of Am Yisrael (the people of Israel). To get papers of citizenship all they have to do is show up in the state and claim their automatic citizenship.

Israel is unique among the nations in not being a country of its citizens but of Jewish people everywhere. No other country defines itself as a country for members of a particular religion (including converts) regardless of where they live. No other country has supranational entities that have authority superseding state authority and native rights. For example, the Jewish National Fund is not a state agency but it has on its own website the amazing statement that ‘The Jewish National Fund is the custodian of the land of Israel on behalf of its owners, Jewish people everywhere’. 91% of the land (most taken from the 530 Palestinian towns and villages depopulated between 1947-1949) is not privately owned but turned over from the custodian of absentee property to the JNF for lease by Jews.

Israeli law considers one fourth of the remaining Palestinians (300,000 of the 1.3 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship) as present absentees. This means that their land and/or homes were confiscated from them and turned to the Jewish Agency/JNF. By international law they are considered internally displaced people (refugees).

Israel maintains an illegal occupation and colonization of the West Bank and Gaza for 40 years. This includes: 133 illegal Israeli settlements, 562 military checkpoints, 610 flying checkpoints, Israeli-only roads and settlements built on Palestinian lands, denial of residency rights, 11,500 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails and, just in the past 7 years alone, 35,000 more Palestinians were made homeless by home demolitions and land confiscations. The Gaza Strip was turned into a large concentration camp were 1.5 million Palestinians (most refugees) are held in a desert strip with what the UN Human Rights commissioner declared as catastrophic conditions.

Israel is funded to the tune of $5 billion (3 billion in direct aid, 2 billion other) from US taxes and shielded from International law and basic human rights conventions by the US government (37 vetoes at the UN security Council).

Israel is an Apartheid state

Israeli Artists declaration of 2002:
"If the state of Israel aspires to perceive itself as a democracy, it should abandon once and for all, any legal and ideological foundation of religious, ethnic, and demographic discrimination. The state of Israel should strive to become the state of all its citizens. We call for the annulment of all laws that make Israel an apartheid state, including the Jewish law of return in its present form"

Zionism is not Judaism

Albert Einstein
"My awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power, no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain - especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already had to fight strongly, even without a Jewish state."

Zionism is Nazism

Ehud Olmert, 5 December 2003
"The formula for the parameters of unilateral solution are: To maximize the number of Jews; minimize the number of Palestinians; not to withdraw to the 1967 border and not to divide Jerusalem.

A Palestinian Holocaust

Yitzhak Rabin, 23 October 1979
"We walked outside, Ben-Gurion accompanying us. Allon repeated his question, ‘what is to be done with the Palestinian population?' Ben-Gurion waved his hand in a gesture which said 'Drive them out!'"

From oppressed, to oppressor

Israeli psychologist Avigail Abarbanel
"If a day comes, and I hope it does, when Israelis decide to stop living in denial, they will have to realise that real peace will only come through justice. Justice in this context means one thing- that the ideal of an exclusively Jewish state at the cost of an entire people might have to be abandoned. Only a bi-national state and a right of return for the Palestinian refugees will come close enough to rectifying some of the injustices committed in 1948 and since. Having been ethnically cleansed, this is also what the Palestinians are entitled to under international law and common human decency."

30 April 2008

Silent Tsunami

I calculated that my flight from London to Italy for the Human Rights Film Festival resulted in 0.340 tonnes of CO2. The flight to Dubai was 1.259 tonnes, and then another 0.130 tonnes to get to Qatar for the Aljazeera Documentary Festival.

Was the benefits gained from these events worth it? Many human rights causes and other global issues that I had no knowledge of were highlighted, and if I spread that out in the world, urging people to act, then perhaps the benefits outweigh the costs..

And then my flight to Kuwait to attend the World Islamic Economic Forum added on 0.241 tonnes, leaving me with a total of 1.970 tonnes of CO2 for the past few weeks. And according to www.carbonfootprint.com that calculates your carbon footprint for you, carbon emissions are responsible for global warming. The effects of global warming caused by carbon emissions are also understood to play a major role in the current food crisis, dubbed the Silent Tsunami!

The World Bank has finally taken emergency measures to help countries cope with the rising food prices, and the crisis is also being blamed on the demand for biofuels in developed countries, and a myriad of other causes- 23 countries are said to be at risk of social unrest as the poor panic to survive! China, with a growing population and economy, is worried, but they are not alone.

North Korea- over a quarter of the population does not have enough food. Bangladesh- there is major turmoil and social unrest.
India- exports of rice have all but completely been halted, amid quotes from famous Indian economist, Amartya Sen that ‘famines do not happen in democracies.’
Cote d’Ivoire- two days of violence have delayed government elections and widespread riots have occurred.
Cameroon- at least 24 people have been killed in riots.
Egypt- army ordered to start baking bread.
Philippines- hoarding rice may be punishable by death.

In some places, between January and April, rice prices have gone up almost 150%, and some type of wheat went up 25% in a single day! Food markets are in turmoil, civil strife is growing, trade and free market aspects are being candidly challenged- hence globalisation itself may soon be challenged.

The World Islamic Economic Forum is being held in Kuwait from 28 April till 1 May, and while contributing further to carbon emissions by being chauffeured around in big flashy cars with police escorts, speeches by leaders of Muslim countries are being delivered under the ‘Islamic countries: Partners in The Global Development’ theme of this years forum.

Detailed reports of the proceedings to follow shortly, but for now let me leave you with a thought. Following the addresses by King Abdullah of Jordan, Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, Dr. Silajdzic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, the Prime Minister of Kuwait was asked how the gap could be bridged between the richest countries and the poorest countries in the world- which both have Muslim majorities- his reply was translated from Arabic into English as, ‘…natural resources are the source of wealth and success in the world, and those countries that have this must share with countries that don’t…’

23 April 2008

Bloggers of the World, Unite for Charity

My name is Bilal and I am a blogger. Who is a blogger? A blogger is someone who keeps a blog. What is a blog? A blog is basically a journal that is available on the Web.

Whole blog communities have sprung up around topics that put people into contact with one another where they can learn, share ideas, make friends, and even do business with people having similar interests from around the world. Blogging is another modern-day platform that influences how the youth of today connect, interact, and engage with their peers.

But like every medium out there, the Internet can be used for good or bad. The online environment could sometimes be an obstacle, presenting many immoral features, which deter us from thinking, knowing, and practicing Islam daily. We need to contribute toward the spiritual, moral, and physical development of the youth and the community. An important aspect of our Islamic identity is the development and encouragement of social service and charity work.

(For those who give in charity, men and women, and loan to Allah a beautiful loan, it will be increased manifold, and they will have a noble reward.) (Al-Hadid 57:18)

Blogs are one of the effective tools that help in spreading and discussing charitable ideas and activities among youth.

But unfortunately, not many people are using their blogs for this purpose, in spite of the influential role it plays.

[Click here to continue reading this article..]

16 April 2008

Hijab Revolution

[Grand Mosque of Paris]

May 1968 was a month of revolution for France. It was a series of student protests and a general strike that caused the collapse of the De Gaulle government in France. The events were seen as an opportunity to shake up the "old society" and traditional morality, focusing especially on the education system and employment.

And 40 years later, the legacy of the 1968 clashes live on in the cafes and on the streets of Paris. This April students and teachers have taken to the streets to demonstrate against government cuts. Thousands of school students and teachers demonstrated on the streets of Paris against a proposed reform of the French education system- job cuts in secondary schools- the government plans to cut education jobs this year, including thousands of teaching posts.

Cafes are deeply associated with political and intellectual life in France, and with rebellion. Whether standing at the bar and drinking espresso, or sitting on the old, plush furniture and munching a delicious pastry- the settings seem to rarely change. It was from a cafe at the Palais Royal that the French Revolution started. And today, there is a new symbol present in the cafes- the hijab (headscarf worn by Muslim women).

Statistics show Muslims in France count between about 5 and 6 million, which is about 10 to 12% of the French population. That is the highest percentage of Muslims in any Western European country.
Muslim immigrants to France came mainly from Algeria until the early sixties, which was still a French colony at that time. As France traditionally had no coordinated labour immigration policy, many immigrants also arrived from other North African countries such as Morocco and Tunisia as well.

Today, most Muslims in France live in and around industrial centres such as Paris, Marseilles, Lyons and Lille. As many Muslims are part of the unskilled or semi-skilled work force in France, they tend to live in the suburbs (some would call them ghettos) where the living conditions are rather difficult and the crime rates high.

The concentration of Muslims and problems in these areas led to the denomination of these areas as "Suburbs of Islam." As more and younger Muslims not only realize the discrimination and disadvantage in the system (especially for education and employment) the protest movements increasingly base their critique on a renewed Muslim identity.

As one of its basic principles of state, France has the "Laicite" system (a total separation between state and religion). In 2004 a law was passed that forbids state school students from wearing "conspicuous" religious apparel. The hijab, Jewish skullcaps, Sikh turbans and large Christian crosses were banned. The prevention of Muslim students from wearing the hijab to school caused protest from Muslim youth groups as well as anti-discrimination groups in France.

Young Muslims took this as a chance to express growing frustration about cultural and religious marginalization and discrimination in French society. A growth of right wing movements in some parts of France are said to be xenophobic and discriminatory towards Muslims.

In the 1968 revolution, barricades where used in the streets and became the symbols of the revolution, so perhaps the hijab is a symbol of a current revolution. While the hijab is banned in schools, it is not banned in universities. Speaking to a group of young girls wearing the hijab at the Jussieu University, I was told that when a woman wears the hijab, many doors are closed for her- she perhaps can’t get a job in government and it will be very difficult to find employment elsewhere, unless she removes her hijab.

They said that many French are prejudiced and some think that the hijab is a veil on the mind as well. The girls, students of biology and maths, said that even though the future employment options look bleak, they still seek knowledge for personal satisfaction. They hope to show other young Muslims that a woman in hijab can fight the prejudice by excelling at university and expressing themselves in a good way. ‘One day we will have Muslim women in hijab that are doctors, lawyers and teachers’, says one girl.

So what can be done to speed up the positive change that these students are so confident about? ‘Muslims need to start communicating’, a student says, ‘there is not enough communication between Muslims and the rest of French society. For example, people don’t understand that Muslim women choose to wear the hijab.’ A student group, the EMF (étudiants musulmans de france), is working in this regard- trying to build bridges of understanding between Muslim students and others.

For the male Muslim students, life and opportunity is not that much different- they also face discrimination, especially those from immigrant backgrounds, together with immigrants of all other faiths.

‘A student from an immigrant background needs to work harder to succeed, as he may not have the same opportunities as others who are more settled and stable,’ says a student of history at the famous Sorbonne University. This student is of Tunisian and French parentage and has already completed a degree in nursing. ‘Many of my friends from immigrant backgrounds are becoming lawyers, doctors and teachers- they are proving to the youth out there that even though we come from the ghettos (suburbs), where things may not be that easy, with hard work, determination and the blessings of God, we can accomplish things and make change!’ This is the new spirit of revolution- to be confident, determined and still faithful to your beliefs.

So while students complained to me about the discrimination, the widely perceived lack of opportunities, and the difficulties associated with growing up in the suburbs, some French Muslim youth are driving change and continuing the French tradition of revolution- as the Hijab revolution!

‘So what do you think needs to be done to integrate into mainstream French society?’ I foolishly asked. The female student snapped a fierce retort, ‘We are French! We were born here and have lived here our entire lives. We are already integrated- others need to accept us for who we are- French Muslims!’ I remember reading a quote of a veteran of May 1968- “Barricades close the street but open up the way”- and I wonder just how similar is the hijab to the barricades- it covers the head but opens up the mind!

14 April 2008

Last King of Africa?

Anyone seen or heard anything about this:

A new documentary from director Michael Skolnik (On The Outs) about the last ruling monarchy in Africa, King Mswati the III of Swaziland. "Without the King"paints the picture of a distant figure living in opulence while his subjects suffer from crushing poverty and the world's highest HIV infection rate. The film offers an unprecedented insight with Princess Sikhanyiso, King Mswati himself, as well as many Swazi citizens who are plotting his downfall.
The film opens on April 25th at the Quad Cinemas in NYC. For more information visit the Myspace page

Here is the link to the film's trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o37iJhBo7VU

Share your thoughts...

07 April 2008

from Thought Leader- Bob Mugabe

...Mugabe, the liberator of Zimbabwe and one of the most promising leaders the African continent would ever witness, later won 1980’s election, becoming president.

Unfortunately, even though Mugabe allowed for Ian Smith to live on in Zimbabwe, untouched even while Smith waged numerous campaigns against him, the British never made good on what was a fundamental and crucial aspect of independence...

[Click here to read whole article..]

27 March 2008

B, wannabe V- overlooking Old Bailey

A few weeks ago my firm hosted a charity abseil and we raised over £73,800 for the Safer London Foundation- www.saferlondonfoundation.org

Those of us that volunteered to do the abseil were allowed to dress up as any super hero that we wanted. Guess what I choose!

Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant and vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a bygone vexation stands vivified, and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition! The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it's my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.

I stood atop the building, dressed as an anarchist, in the V costume- there in the distance was the Old Bailey. I could almost here Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture as I stood there, making such a strong but hardly understood statement:)

"Remember, remember, the Fifth of November."

The truth is that there is
something terribly wrong with this
country, isn't there? If you look
about, you witness cruelty,
injustice and despotism. But what
do you do about it? What can you

You are but a single individual.
How can you possible make any
difference? Individuals have no
power in this modern world.
That is what you've been taught
because that is what they need you
to believe. But it is not true.

This is why they are afraid and the
reason that I am here; to remind
you that it is individuals who
always hold the power. The real
power. Individuals like me. And
individuals like you.

19 March 2008

To all South African Pessimists

Below you will find a speech from the headmaster of St Stithians, Dave Knowles which he recently delivered to his boys.

Happy reading!

"I wanted to spend some time with you today reflecting on the last two or three months we have experienced as a nation. Some commentators have called this the "post-Polokwane Syndrome", after the events at the ANC National Conference in December, the outcome of which many have seen as negative.

Added to this negative feeling, has been the electricity crisis, now seen as a result of poor planning by the state and acknowledged as such by President Mbeki in his State of the Nation address in Parliament, where he apologised to the nation.

Also knocking us have been higher world oil prices; higher interest rates in SA and the start of a world wide recession, particularly in the UK and the US with their major housing crisis. Added to these have been the on-going crime situation and negative press articles.

So, it is quite easy to fall into the trap of feeling and thinking negatively about our country.

I have never regretted that decision.

Why not? Not just because South Africa is such a beautiful country – it was because I believed in the people of this country and I believed that God had a plan for us. This was proved right for me when the miracle of 1994 happened. And it was a miracle.

All of you sitting here, matrics and younger, were born either in the year Madiba was released, in 1990, or afterwards. And most of our Grade 8s are "born-frees" – born in 1994 or afterwards and what a privilege that is!

As a passionate South African, here's what gets me mad:

· The levels of violence and crime that have touched many of us – and many of you sitting here.
· As an adult, on behalf of all adults, I believe that we need to apologise to our youth for not doing more to protect you.
· I get mad when I visit black schools and see how little they have and how poor some of the teaching is.
· I get mad that there is still massive poverty in our country and an Aids pandemic.
· I get mad that there are some instances of incompetence when it comes to areas of social and service delivery.

But being mad about these issues doesn't make me any less passionate about South Africa.

I especially get mad that some of our leaders lack moral standing – whether they be a judge, the top policeman or the top politicians.

In 1998, interest rates hit 25%.

Are we better off now? – in a lot of ways we are.

· 1980s – 1% growth
· Early 1990s – SA was technically bankrupt – defined as when national debt is more than 3% of GDP – in 1994, it was 9%.
· During the Mandela years, we had 2% economic growth
· For the last seven years – 5%!
· Next year – 4% - despite world wide recession, oil prices, electricity crisis.
· JSE – 2001 – 8000 points and everyone was pleased; 2007 – 30 000 points (although it has lost some growth now)
· Platinum – up R5000/ounce since January
· Here's a thought – with cuts of electricity, less platinum comes out of ground but what's left is not going anywhere and while it stays in the ground, the price goes up!

What else is up?

· Business confidence (until January)
· Employment is up
· Number of houses built – up
· Tourists visiting – up
· Car sales:

20 000 per month in 2001 – everyone was pleased!
30 000 per month in 2007

Look at our budget, announced by Trevor Manuel on Wednesday. Tax income has gone from R188bn in 2000, to R660bn in 2007!

At the same time, he has cut personal tax and has not borrowed any money. The Americans are so envious of us.

Individual tax cuts - i.e. money given back to tax payers
2006 R12bn given back to individuals
2007 R8.4bn given back to individuals
2008 R7.2bn – in a supposed-to-be recession
This is a major achievement, particularly as in 2000, there was a R25bn deficit on the budget and for the last three years we have not had a deficit on the budget.

Money for housing for the poor has gone up
2000 R9bn
2007 R51bn
And we have built 2.6 million houses since 1996.

Yes, we have challenges:

Eskom is one of them and there is now a 2c levy on every kilowatt hour. But think about this

· Electricity was cheap, now we are paying more
· We had electricity cuts before. In 1981, there was no power in the whole country for 18 hours
· We are not the only country to have power cuts – New York; China – over Chinese New Year this year – 12 million people were left stranded.

There are other challenges

· The world oil price has gone from $60 per barrel in 2007 to $90 now and it is not coming down.
· We may be heading for a situation like the UK where they pay R15 per litre.
· HIV/Aids is another major concern, as we see fit to spend R17bn on the World Cup but less on handling this pandemic.

So what am I saying?

Yes there are concerns and challenges BUT there are also many positives.
There are no easy answers or solutions and 2008 will be tough.
However, we have had it tough before and we handled it and boom years will come again – such as in 2010.

Finally, here is my resolve and my truth:-

· To be positive
· To stop whingeing
· To stop blaming
· To ignore the doomsday jokes sent out by people who want you to feel as bad as they do.
· To read the Good News website regularly
· To join the "stop crime, say hello" campaign
· To find goodness in people
· To commit, regularly, to this beautiful country of ours
· To believe in God's plan for us

I know this – that if I do not work to create the life I want, I will have to endure the life I get.

One final thought:

Matthew Lester writes a column in the Sunday Times Business Times Money. He is Professor of Tax Education at Rhodes University and an advisor to Trevor Manuel.

Yesterday he had this to say:

"South Africa is my life, it always has been and it always will be."


Some interesting thoughts. Have any opinions on this? Share them

10 March 2008

Facebook Charity Groups: Join Now!

If you haven't heard of Facebook yet, any young person (and even some of our elders!) will be able to show you how to navigate your way through its simple, easy-to-use interface. Facebook is not only having an entertaining role, but it also has a charity and developmental one.

Charity Role
Facebook was launched in 2004 as a university project. Membership was initially restricted to university students only, but slowly the doors were opened to high-school students. University students started inviting those that they liked and thus inevitably made Facebook "the cool university thing"!

With its very public profiles and the famous Facebook wall that seems to host the most private conversations publicly, what is most significant is the obvious influence of Facebook upon Muslim youth? Prophet Muhammad is reported to have stressed the importance of modesty for a believer, and this is probably the most obvious hurdle when navigating a social-networking tool, which has the innate ability to allow one to show off!

But can this tool that may obviously be used for bad be used for good as well? Mohammed Ziyaad Hassen, a young man from South Africa, an active member of the community and has been working in development, charity, and youth work for many years, said that Facebook allows various youth to create awareness around pertinent issues that face their societies.

He has been contacted by many people regarding projects and initiatives they wanted to get involved in or needed more information about. "Many times, even though people are not directly getting involved, they are still notified and informed of community activities or projects that take place," added Hassen.

Islamic Relief Groups
Islamic Relief Worldwide is an international relief and development organization. A search on Facebook yields many Facebook groups for the different Islamic Relief offices all over the world.

The Islamic Relief US group reminds us of their mission: To alleviate suffering, hunger, illiteracy, and diseases worldwide regardless of color, race, religion, or creed, and to provide aid in a compassionate and dignified manner. In fact, Islamic Relief groups with growing youth memberships, whether in South Africa, all over the UK, the US, and other places .

The Islamic Relief South Africa group, set up by country director Cassiem Khan, is geared toward creating dialogue and advocacy around the issues that face not only Muslim youth in South Africa, but also broader issues such as the role of communities in the development perspective.

Hassen, who works with Islamic Relief - South Africa, recently returned from a relief mission to Mozambique, following recent floods in the area. They distributed emergency relief kits to a community on a remote island in northern Mozambique. The community living on the island are isolated from the rest of society and any viable economy.

Hassen has loaded pictures of his trip and documented an account of his experiences on the
Islamic Relief - South Africa Facebook group. says that after posting the pictureson Facebook, the response that he received was fascinating.

He added, "Many friends whom I thought had no interest in relief or development now expressed interest. Many others sent messages asking about the trip. It shows that the younger generations just need to be more exposed to the issues that contribute to poverty and the lack of development."

As a social-networking utility, Facebook allows communication and interaction to take place on a virtual platform. An increasing amount of young professionals and youth are able to network and share ideas, thoughts, and opportunities.Many non-profit organizations, like Islamic Relief, are active with groups and causes, which is great as it allows one to receive information and updates about activities and projects undertaken.

Facebook can and has proven to be an effective tool for reaching out to future generations. A difference can be made as it transcends space and creates a platform that did not previously exist.
The challenge for the youth is to use Facebook in a way that benefits rather than allowing it to consume precious time. It is a superb opportunity for Muslim youth around the world to discuss ideas and projects in order to develop society.

So go on, next time Hassen or someone else sends you an invite to join some community project or attend an event, at least forward the invites to all your Facebook friends, even those you don't even know!

This first appeared on IslamOnLine.net