18 December 2009

Green Muslims greening our Mosques

The notes I used for the Jumah (Friday) lecture I gave at Musjidul Islam in Brixton on Friday 18 December 2009. Good response from the congregation and more thought/discussion definitely needed on the idea of 'greening' our Musjids! And just to be clear - that does not mean painting the domes and minarets green...
There is not an animal (that lives) on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but (forms part of) communities like you. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they (all) shall be gathered to their Lord in the end. (HQ 6:38)

O ye who believe! Make not unlawful the good things, which Allah hath made lawful for you, but commit no excess: for Allah loveth not those given to excess.” (Al-Maa’idah: 87)

The UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is attempting to secure a new international deal to cut the emissions of greenhouse gases, which most scientists blame for causing climate change. It ends today and from what the media is reporting, things don’t look that great for us and the planet.

Since the industrial revolution, humans have been putting ever more carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, through burning fossil fuels in power plants and cars, boats and planes, as well as by cutting down forests, growing crops and rearing livestock. These gases trap more of the sun’s heat and prevent it escaping into space. It’s a totally natural process which has remained balanced for hundreds of thousands of years - but scientists argue that humans are now upsetting that balance by putting more such gases in the atmosphere, trapping more energy and pushing temperatures up.

On the direst predictions, temperatures could rise by an average of 4C (7.2F) as soon as 2060, transforming the landscape of Britain. It would be possible to grow Mediterranean fruits in the South West, while melting polar icecaps would cause the sea level to rise, leading to flooding along the low-lying east coast.

If all this happened, many parts of the world would become uninhabitable. The sea could indundate the large deltas in areas of South East Asia like Bangladesh, displacing millions of people. Droughts would cause famine and floods destroy homes. Many species of animals and plants could die out as forests die back and fertile lands become deserts.

Sounds bad. What can we possibly do about it?

Most scientists - though not all - say we have to cut emissions, and fast. The IPCC reckons that the world must cut carbon emissions by half by 2050 to stand a chance of keeping temperature rise within a “safe” limit of 2C (3.6F). To achieve that, the developed world would need to make cuts of 80 per cent - and at least 25 per cent by 2020, says the IPCC. Poor countries would also be expected to take action.

The developing countries want money to help them switch from dirty fossil fuels, like coal, to clean technologies like wind and solar. They also want cash to prepare for the problems that climate change will bring, by measures like building sea defences against floods.

Is there anything I can do to help?

You don’t have to wear a hair shirt and move to a cave. There are relatively simple things people can do, such as switching off lights, turning down the heating and driving less. Eating less meat, which can cause global warming because of the methane produced by cows, is another.

Would cutting carbon emissions change my life?

Yes. Carbon taxes would increase the cost of electricity, and flying anywhere would become more expensive. However, on the plus side, pollution would be reduced, electric cars would be quieter and you might even discover a taste for tofu.

Islam is a beautiful religion that has always viewed animals as a special part of Allah’ creation. The Qur'an, the Hadith, and the history of Islamic civilization offer many examples of kindness, mercy, and compassion for animals.

Thanks to modern factory-farming methods, animals suffer hideously in the industries that kill them to produce meat, milk, and eggs. These products not only bring pain and suffering to the animals themselves, they are also implicated in a variety of human diseases, including cancer, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. The intensive production of animals for food is also extremely damaging to the environment.

How many of us eat meat three times a day – for breakfast, lunch and supper – and thing nothing of it.

There is no suggestion in the Quran or in any other of the Islamic sources that eating meat is good for physical or spiritual health. Islam's approach to the eating of meat is neutral. While it has left the choice to the individual, the Quran does urge those that do choose to eat meat, to do so in moderation.

Muslims in the past were semi-vegetarians. The Prophet was, technically, in that category. He was not a meat-eater. Most of his meals did not have meat in them.

And the proof of that is in the Muwatta—when Sayyidina Umar says, 'Beware of meat, because it has an addiction like the addiction of wine.'

And the other hadith in the Muwatta—there is a chapter called 'Bab al-Laham,' the chapter of laham, the chapter of meat. Both are from Sayyidina Umar. And Umar, during his khilafa, prohibited people from eating meat two days in a row. He only allowed them to eat [it] every other day. He saw one man eating meat every day, and he said to him, 'Every time you get hungry you go out and buy meat? Right? In other words, every time your nafs wants meat, you go out and buy it?' He said, 'Yeah, Amir al-Mumineen, ana qaram,' which in Arabic, 'qaram' means 'I love meat'—he's a carnivore, he loves meat. And Sayyidina Umar said, 'It would be better for you to roll up your tummy a little bit so that other people can eat.'"

As a Muslim, I often need to explain why I promote the curbing of meat consumption.

The hadith of the Prophet Muhammad caution against the pollution of rivers and seas. He also promoted planting of trees to curb deforestation and a hadith records that he kept an area a forest by saying: “Whoever cuts a tree here should plant a new tree instead.”

The Prophet was a man of the earth, totally against any form of wastage, over-consumption or cruelty. He expressed love for the earth and all its inhabitants – even the mountains. He said of the Mount Uhud near the city of Madina: “This is a mount which likes us; we also love it.”

If you study the modern meat industry, you will find out that a lot of the famine in the world is a direct result of the over-consumption of meat, because the amount of grain needed to produce 1 pound of meat, is 8 times greater.

Recycling – the amount of waste we generate that ends up in landfills is huge. Just making a conscious effort to reduce this will have a number of positive effects.

Mosques – our Musjids need to be green. But that I mean that the Musjid should take the lead in encouraging people to live more responsible lives.

30 November 2009

Minarets not Islam...

Minaret ban in a country that only has 4 minarets (Switzerland) – I don’t mind.
Islam is not in buildings. Buildings don’t do much for Islam.

But posters like this are scary. And plainly nuts!

Reminds me of these that I saw when I was there last year.

18 November 2009

Green Muslims

With roughly one-fifth of the world population being adherents to the faith of Islam, I thought it apt to highlight how this religion requires Muslims to behave with the environment.

The recorded sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (hadith) caution against the pollution of rivers and seas. He also promoted planting of trees to curb deforestation and a hadith records that he kept an area a forest by saying: “Whoever cuts a tree here should plant a new tree instead.” The Prophet was a man of the earth, totally against any form of wastage, over-consumption or cruelty. He expressed love for the earth and all its inhabitants – even the mountains. He said of the Mount Uhud near the city of Madina: “This is a mount which likes us; we also love it.”

The Muslim festival of Eid will be celebrated next Friday, 27 November. It involves commemorating the willingness of the Prophet Abraham to sacrifice his son, by slaughtering an animal. The actual purpose of the sacrifice is to create piety, devotion, obedience and submission to God. There are strict laws over the treatment of animals used for food from their rearing and breeding; the pre-slaughter; and handling during and after slaughter.

There is no suggestion in the Quran or in any other of the Islamic sources that eating meat is good for physical or spiritual health. Islam's approach to the eating of meat is neutral. While it has left the choice to the individual, the Quran does urge those that do choose to eat meat, to do so in moderation.

As a Muslim, I often need to explain why I promote the curbing of meat consumption. Here are some good reasons:

1. Environment - eating vegetarian is better for the environment. Too much meat consumption = too many farting cows = too much gasses being released into the environment.

2. Faith – as described above, the Prophet was an avid environmentalist and would probably not be pleased that tracks of forests are being cleared to make way for cattle grazing ground. Also, during his time people ate meat quite rarely, and were discouraged from gorging on it.

3. Suffering – unless you’re eating an animal that was humanely slaughtered by your father during Eid, there’s a good chance that your fried chicken was battery reared in terrible conditions.

4. Health – eating locally produced vegetables will leave you feeling healthier and happier. You’ll sleep better, wont need as much sleep and can lead a healthier lifestyle.

5. Change – having survived on a meat intensive diet for most of my adult life, switching to vegetables meant more creativity and excitement in my diet. Limited options of healthy vegetarian ‘fast food’ also means cooking myself more often.

Zuma, go to Copenhagen

It takes only 20 countries to emit nearly 90% of the world's greenhouse gases. And South Africa is the only African nation amongst these 20.

South African President Jacob Zuma knows very well that the impacts of climate change will be devastating for Africa, as he reminded the world during his latest address to the UN General Assembly.

But Greenpeace has criticised our climate strategy for failing to focus on energy efficiency and failing to invest in renewable energy. Our strategy is currently based on expensive, unproven and unsustainable technologies such as nuclear and CO² dumping. This could change when the Climate Bill comes before South African Parliament in 2011 – if politicians are made to understand the importance of the issue and the science behind it.

Greenpeace has said that we can cut our emissions by more than 200 million tonnes by 2050 without sacrificing economic growth. This is enormous and what the climate treaty summit in Copenhagen would like to hear. In order to do this, we need to use energy more efficiently and increase our wind and solar power production, claim our green crusaders.

In the past few months South Africa has had widespread and violent service delivery protests – which is a nice way of saying that people, who have been deprived of basic services since the days of Apartheid, have reached their tolerance limits. Greenpeace argues that rather than following the “polluting path blazed by the West”, we can provide what people need “in a smart way - it's about smart development and smart energy.”

South Africa, and other developing countries, want rich countries to pay to help the poor get clean technologies. With Obama and Hu having recently declared their determination to tackle climate change together, Zuma needs to be there in Copenhagen to try and make sure a good deal is made. Sixteen other South African lawmakers were there last month, making up the largest delegation at the climate-change forum for legislators. At the last forum we had only one representative.

More than getting money from countries that got rich messing up the planet, Zuma needs to lead the way and commit South Africa to play its role in stabilising the world’s climate.

Photo: greenpeace

12 November 2009

Last night in Joburg city centre

Osama bin Laden is still my best friend in the whole world.
This was the writing on the wall. Trust stood in front this graffiti, having his soup and bread. He is from Zimbabwe and has been in Joburg for just over a year. He was a painter back in Bulawayo, but struggles to find work here in South Africa. The occasional ‘piece job’, off loading containers in the Newtown and Fordsburg areas, is what he depends on to survive. The weekly Wednesday night soup kitchens that are run by Paballo is his culinary highlight for the week.

Like the hundreds of other homeless people that live in Joburg’s city centre, he sleeps where he can. It’s not that bad now he said – things have improved since the harsh winter. All the ‘communities’ that existed since I first joined Paballo four years ago, have been split up. The abandoned buildings and properties where they had established themselves as communities, looking out and assisting each other, have all been reclaimed by the city administrators and owners.

The 2010 World Cup is coming and they want these homeless people out of the way so that the city can be poshed up for our many new international guests. Nobody seems to care where they go or what happens to them. I wonder if that has anything to do with why the person wrote that graffiti on the wall…

28 October 2009

Zionists target Westerford School

Westerford High School in Cape Town came first in the Sunday Times's Top 100 Schools project. The school achieved a 100% matric pass rate last year with 166 of its 168 candidates qualifying for university admission. Its a fair assumption that many future South African leaders will come from this school.

The school recently hosted a group of Israeli youth, the Shministim - Israeli high school students who have been imprisoned for refusing to serve in an army that occupies and terrorizes Palestinians. The South African Zionist Federation has since been invited to present "the alternative view" to the pupils.

What follows is my email exchange with the school. The school can be contacted on: admin@whs.wcape.school.za

Dear Principal Rob le Roux

I am writing to you with great concern.

Your school is a shining example of all that is right in this country, and this has been recently noticed by the Sunday Times recognising Westerford High School as the top state school in South Africa.

It is my understanding that the school recently hosted a group ofIsraeli youth, the Shministim, Israeli high school students who have been imprisoned for refusing to serve in an army that occupies and terrorizes Palestinians. Hosting this group was very much in line with your schools ethos of "respect, respect for oneself, respect forothers (including other beliefs and customs) and respect for possessions and property". The Zionists have absolutely no respect forthe lives, property or well-being of millions of Palestinians.

The South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) now seeks to discredit theimportant work that the Shministim have done. Prominent South African Jews, such as Ronnie Kasrils, have been outspoken against Zionism as a form of racism. The SAZF supports a state that Desmond Tutu says is"practising apartheid-style policies". Rabbi Weiss from the USrecently told South African audiences that, "Zionism is blatant racismand against true Jewish values".

Westerford hosting the SAZF is akin to the school hosting the Apartheid government to justify their rascist policies, during the dark days of Apartheid. I hope that the school decides not to host this racist organisation. If this has been the decision already taken, I apologise for sending this email out of turn.

His reply:

Dear Mr Randeree

Thank you for your email of concern and for your kind words about the school.

I firmly believe that one of the reasons for the success of the school is that we have fully integrated in all aspects and provide our children with a balanced education going way beyond the confines of the classroom. We encourage questioning and debate particularly with respect to current affairs.

Our HCA (History and Current Affairs Society) have been given the freedom (with educator intervention obviously) to choose whom they would like to invite to speak to the students.

When they requested to invite the Shministim group it was permitted as long as the
alternative view was also aired, hence the invitation to SAZF.

We do realise that it is bound to be controversial but we believe this is the
essential part of education that makes this such a great school.

Once again than you for taking the time to respond, I hope I have satisfied you that
we have matters under control.

Yours sincerely

R le Roux
Westerford High School

My reply:
Dear Mr R le Roux

Thank you for you prompt response.

I understand your perspective and it is indeed a difficult situation that the school now faces in dealing with this racist organisation. I am sure the pupils at your school are astute and knowledgeable enough to see through the lies that the Zionist Federation will undoubtedly try to express to them.

However, in terms of the Palestine-Israeli issue, both the Shministim and the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) both reflect only one side of the debate: the Israeli side. Their debate and differences are an internal Israeli debate and presenting both these views to your students, is essentially giving them an incomplete picture - the Palestinian side is being ignored.

If the SAZF is indeed permitted to address the pupils at Westerford, then I hope that the school will also be willing, in the interests of listening to all sides - to host a Palestinian or a Palestinian solidarity activist as well.

There are many activists in Cape Town (Ronnie Kasrils for example) that will be more than willing to present the other side of the Palestine-Israeli issue. Please feel free to contact me for the details of any of these people.

I look forward to your response in this regard,

Yours sincerely

Bilal Randeree
Independant freelance
South Africa

21 October 2009

Pink Hijab Day

Support a good cause by wearing a pink scarf on Global Pink Hijab Day 2009. The day focuses on the importance of being conscious of breast health.

The Muslim Professionals Network and ABSA Islamic Bank are running a campaign this year in South Africa - are you a sister (or brother) in the workplace that will like to get involved? Please let me know asap!!

The aim is to raise awareness of breast cancer nationally and women across all cultures are invited to participate. Please join Pink Hijab Day 2009 in South Africa and around the world....
Click here for more information..

15 October 2009

African continent united for the environment

Africans have come together to demand that wealthy countries take responsibility for messing up the planet. Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said that Africa demands equal partner status at the global climate summit to be held in Copenhagen this December.

“Africa will not be there warming the chairs or making token statements,” Zenawi said. Africa has contributed the least to global warming but is potentially its’ worst victim. Burkina Faso's environment minister, Salifou Sawadogo, said that $65billion dollars in reparations are needed to just deal with the effects of climate change. “We are all on the same planet so there is a duty of solidarity to help the most vulnerable countries, like we are, implement policies to adapt to climate change," he added.

The reparations need to be paid by the G-8 countries which comprise of the seven major industrialised nations and Russia. These countries make up about 14 % of world population, but are responsible for more than 65% of the world’s economic output, and the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions.

The developing world could suffer 80% of the damage due to climate change reported the World Bank. The African Union reports that the entire African continent only accounts for about 3.8% of global economic output, while the USA on its own is responsible for over 26%. Reason enough for President Obama to carry his shiny new Nobel medal to Copenhagen – these facts might remind him that the prize equals justice.

Oxfam reports that over 23 million people across East Africa are facing critical shortages of food and water following successive years of failed rains and worsening drought. Experts also report that sub-Saharan Africa is one of the worlds regions most affected by global warming.

While Africans remain committed and optimistic, Saudi Arabia has wacky ideas of its own. The Saudi’s are trying to convince other oil-producing countries to demand compensation from wealthy countries that intend to reduce their oil consumption. Yes, you heard right. The Saudis want other countries to PAY THEM if they decide to stop killing the planet.

“It is like the tobacco industry asking for compensation for lost revenues as a part of a settlement to address the health risks of smoking,” said one expert. Oil prices peaked last year, swelling the Saudi’s oil revenue by 37 percent to $281 billion. That is more than 4 times the amount of reparations that Africa needs.

“If needs be, we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threaten to be another rape of our continent,” said Zenawi.

15 October 2009 was Blog Action Day

02 October 2009

A basic guide to Islamic finance

Q & A - FINANCE - Faith-based lending - A guide to the growing Islamic finance industry - Islamic financial institutions are those that comply with Sharia, a set of laws from the Islamic faith.

Conventional financial products that charge, pay or have any element of interest are generally excluded, but Islamic banks are able to structure various Sharia-compliant contracts to offer a range of products that closely mirror those of conventional finance. A commonly used mode of Islamic finance is Murabaha, which is cost plus financing. This is commonly used for vehicle and home financing.

Simply, the bank buys the item, adds a profit and then sells it to the buyer with fixed instalments over a fixed period.

For home financing, a common mode is Musharakah, which is a partnership between the bank and the client. The house is bought together, and the buyer pays rent for that portion of the home value that the bank still owns. Over time, the buyer pays out the bank and in doing so continuously reduces the rental amount due.

While Sharia-compliant finance is a tiny percentage of conventional finance, interest in the field continues to grow globally. The collapse of many conventional financial institutions has prompted economists to consider alternative financial solutions and new approaches to banking.

A report by Asian Banker states that despite the financial crises, Islamic banks’ assets climbed by 66% last year and according to ratings agency Moody’s, the sector is worth US$700bn. International consulting firm Oliver Wyman estimates that by 2012, these assets will reach 1,6 trillion. Professor Habib Ahmed from Durham University in the UK said that the sector has grown by 15% to 20% per year for the past few years.

“There is a lot of interest at the moment. People are looking for alternatives after the economic crisis,” he added. Professor Rodney Wilson, also from Durham, claims that no Islamic bank failed during the financial crises and none have needed government funds to save them from collapsing.

Islamic finance products are available globally from Islamic financial institutions, but many conventional banks also offer Sharia-compliant products. Al Baraka Bank in SA is an Islamic bank and conventional banks, including ABSA, First National Bank and Stanlib offer Sharia-compliant products. Globally, Lloyds TSB, HSBC, Deutsche Bank and Citibank all offer Sharia-compliant products.

The fundamental difference between Islamic and conventional banking practices is that Islamic banks do not charge interest. Rather than borrowers and lenders, the system is supposed to be based on buyers and sellers. Business lines prohibited in Sharia include conventional finance, alcohol, pork-related products, gambling, pornography and weapons manufacturing.

“Conventional banking is biased to the seller,” said Islamic finance scholar Aly Khorshid. “People think the Islamic system is based on faith, but it’s based on justice for the two parties. How you get to the justice is extracted from Islamic faith,” he said.

Though the Financial Times cites evidence that suggests “what happens in the world of conventional finance affects the Islamic financial world with a time lag”, popular opinion is to the contrary. Daud Abdullah at Deloitte expects double digit growth in global Islamic finance in the next few years.

But the growth of Islamic finance has brought its own problems.

“Islamic banks are also driven by profit and sometimes that can dominate the ethics,” said Ahmed. Critics say some banks use Islamic finance to package what are essentially conventional products. Industry commentators Tarek el-Diwany and Haitham al-Haddad argue that it is partially just a soft version of the conventional system.

These allegations raise serious questions around Islamic finance’s ability to be a viable alternative. Besides the fact that Islamic investment funds tend to invest in better performing companies by avoiding investing in companies that are heavily indebted with interest-based loans, a close look at the industry explains the reasons the industry is better performing. Islamic banking, primarily in the Gulf where it’s predominantly based, benefits from the cash inflows of oil revenue, and is relatively smaller than its interest-based counterpart.

These characteristics allow the industry to deal with problems quicker and without huge public bailout packages. According to El-Diwany and Al-Haddad, if the industry continues to develop the way it has, it will suffer from the same systemic problems as the conventional system.

They call for a total reconsideration of the objectives, frameworks and methodologies of the modern Islamic finance industry before it is presented as a viable alternative.

This article first appeared in FM campus: http://www.fmcampus.co.za/features/article.aspx?id=1069264

29 September 2009

Grahamstown Moli

Grahamstown Moli saab: From Russia to Israel to Joburg to Azaadville to India and Pakistan!

Maulana Amir Sherman has been living in Grahamstown for almost two years. He was born in Yahud, a city in Israel in 1973.

“My parents were from Russia and had immigrated to Israel the year before I was born,” he said. They lived there for 12 years and then moved to South Africa in 1985.

“I was schooled in Johannesburg and went to Technikon there where I studied many things – mechanical engineering, computers and electronics. I also used to do tricks on horses for the circus.

While at Technikon I met Muslim friends whom I became very close to. We used to smoke, drink, take drugs and womanise together,” he reminises.

In the 10 years they were friends, he would occasionally accompany them to the mosque for prayers on Fridays.

“They used to speak about the practical aspects of Islam - cleanliness, shaving of pubic hair, prayer and so on.They also told me that Moses, the Jewish prophet, was mentioned more in the Q'uran that the Prophet Muhammad himself,” he said.

“They were not practising Muslims but what attracted me to them was that they had warm hearts, good characters and when I was high on ecstasy, they used to comfort me.”

When his parents got divorced, his dad moved back to Israel and his mother and sister moved to Germany. He was 25 years old at the time and moved in with one of his Muslim friends who was living in Johannesburg.At this point he started asking himself questions about life and death and what happens to a person after they die. He wanted to worship but had no Jewish friends to show him how to pray.Sherman was then employed by one of his friends who ran a business selling, among other things, air fresheners.

“This friend of mine then went on the straight path, grew a long beard and started wearing a robe. I used to be with him most of the time and visited the mosque with him,” he said.

In this way he was invited to Islam, after returning from missionary work in the Indian sub-continent.
“My friend saw that I was inclined to Islam as I visited the mosque with him regularly.

He said to me that I needed to choose whether I wanted to remain a Jew or become a Muslim,” said Sherman.

“He also said that whatever I choose, he would still be the same friend to me and this touched my heart.”
“I decided that I was ready to become a Muslim and said to myself that if there was anything I didn’t like, I could always turn back,” he says of the time.

He then became a Muslim in June 1998 and joining the missionary work that his friend was involved in. It was here that he met a group of Maulanas (Islamic scholars) who had just returned from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
“I spent 40 days with them and this was the best time of my life,” he said. “I saw these scholars standing and preaching and prayed in my heart that that was what I wanted to do with my life,” he said.

When he returned from the missionary work, he joined a Muslim seminary school in Azaadville near Johannesburg. He studied there for seven years and then went on missionary work in the Indian sub-continent. There he met an American born Muslim man living in Pakistan that had a Jewish father and Christian mother. Sherman married this man's daughter while he was in Pakistan and moved back to South Africa with his new bride.

On his return to South Africa in December 2006, he worked at a motor spares shop in Johannesburg during the day and taught Muslim children in the afternoons. In March 2008 he moved to Grahamstown where he engages in some social work during the mornings and teaches Muslim children in the afternoons.

“I lead the prayers and I am a spiritual leader for the Muslims here,” he said. He feels that the Muslim community in Grahamstown is growing with people moving here from other places and some locals embracing Islam.

“I like Grahamstown. It is very peaceful and green and the people here are kind, hospitable and helpful,” he said.

This article first appeared in Grocott's Mail: http://tinyurl.com/gtwnmoli

21 September 2009

Eid in The Hague (& later Copenhagen)

After the wonderfully different iftaar I met with Asma, a Dutch woman who stars in a local TV show “Girls of Halal”, and Zana from Sweden who is an organizer of major Islamic and other events. We went to pray the last Taraweeh at an Indonesian Musjid in West Amsterdam but we got there a bit late and the doors were locked. We then quickly rushed to another nearby Musjid where the three Imaams recited beautifully.
After Taraweeh, even though it was getting late, we decided to visit a third friend, Faisal, in Den Haag, or The Hague, a 40 min drive from Amsterdam. We chatted Muslim society and politics the whole time and before we knew it we were outside Faisals house. He took us down to the beachfront where we had some good discussion.

Having not slept the well on the plane the previous night, I was knackered. Fell asleep in the car on the way back to Amsterdam and only got up when we reached my hotel. I knocked out and had a solid sleep till late Saturday morning.

Caught up with some emails and admin when I woke up and then went out to explore Amsterdam. This was my second visit to this tourist filled city so I was quickly bored and returned to my hotel room after a short excursion. Checked out of the hotel and walked to the central station where I was picked up by Asma. We took Zana to the airport to catch his flight to Sweden and from there I took a train to The Hague. Met with Faisal who took me to visit a good Jordanian friend of mine working at the ICC. Spent the afternoon with him and then went to a local Indonesian Musjid for the last ifar of Ramadan 09. On the way I got a call from Islamonline radio where I discussed my experiences.

We arrived at the Musjid as Maghrib azaan was going and the atmosphere was amazing. From the foyer to the building, people were bustling all over the show. Young and old, males and females, mainly Indonesians and a few others were breaking fast with delicious Indonesian goodies. It was strange to see Indonesians all speaking to each other in this Afrikaans sounding language. In no time I was stuffing my face and chatting to many of the friendly young people there. Everybody filed upstairs to the Musjid area to pray, men from the front of the hall and women from the back. After Maghrid Salaah the Takbir was melodiously recited in a manner that reminded me of Cape Town. I suppose many Muslims in Cape Town have similar Indonesian roots. What also really impressed me was that after prayer everyone lines up and greets everyone else – but men and women separately of course.

More delicious food was served after the prayer and I chatted to a Dutch revert, married to an Indonesian, who was an active “Green Muslim”. His group arranged regularly for the slaughter of have animals that are organically reared and well treated. He felt, and I totally agree with him, that Muslims need to be at the forefront of the movement promoting conscious and ethical consumption. Rounding the meal off with good strong coffee and delicious ginger tea, we joined the takbir recitation before the Esha prayer.

After prayer we headed to Faisals home where I spent the night. His family was really warm and welcoming and we were up till late talking. Had a hard time waking up for Fajr and then again for the Eid prayer. I’ve experienced Eid in a few different countries in the past few years and one universal Eid experience is the rush in the morning to shower and get done in time for the prayer! Even though it was only 9am here (compared to 6.30am in SA) we were still quite panicky and rushed and just made it to the hall in time.

The Eid prayer was hosted by an organization called Minhajul Quran and was almost totally Pakistani. I obviously couldn’t understand the Imaam during his Khutba, not becaues he spoke in Dutch but because it was in Urdu. Someone from the Pakistani embassy was a VIP guest and hence was given a few minutes to address the crowd. Anyone who knows Pakistani politics, would appreciate this more. After prayer we greeted hundreds (ok, but it was a lot) of people and then left. On the way to the car we stumbled across another little Musjid on the corner close by. Faisal spoke to people there who explained that it was a fairly new center for people of Indonesian decent who came from Surinam. There is a special Dutch word for them too, as they are very different from the immigrants who came straight from Indonesia. I guess its like the difference between someone like me and someone from India moving to London.

The rest of the day was a constant buffet feast. We moved around a bit and ate loads wherever we went, often not by choice. Before I knew it it was time to pack my bags and head for the airport so that I could spend the rest of Eid in Copenhagen.

Typed this out while waiting for my flight. Made a mistake of sitting near the escalator, so the Dutch voice is stuck in my head now: Mind your gap!

19 September 2009

Ramadan in Amsterdam

The BA flight from Port Elizabeth to Joburg had an incredible amount of leg room - I could have sat a fat person on my lap and still had more place! I guess I have been flying kulula and 1time way too much the past few months...
The plane left before sunset and I was then confused about what time to break my fast - coz the higher you go, the more of the sun you can see right? Well, waited for it to disappear beyond the horizon and then whipped out the tupperware of pies that my wife had equipped me with - there were loads there, shared it with fellow passenger and there was still left over. And that was only the first of two tupperwares.I then felt really guilty when the whole plane was smelling of delicious home made pies as the bland airport food was being distributed.

Met up with some of the boys at the airport while waiting for my international flight. But as they were leaving and I was trying to get through passport control, I got stopped:
"What is the liquid in your bag?" asked the lady looking at the weird xray screen?
"I got no liquids," I said. They then proceeded to empty my bag and the whole area filled once again with the smell of delicious home made pie.
"What is this?" she asked, holding up a purple gift pack of bubble bath and perfumed stuff.
"Erm, oh that! Its a gift for my wife's friend," I said, kicking myself for not packing it away with my check in luggage.
"You can't take this with you," she strenly informed me.
"What? Why? It's just shampoo and stuff!" I struggled.
"But it could be a bomb!"
With all the travelling I've done, this was the first time I had been stopped for carrying purple bubble bath and smelly girly stuff! Thought I'd just throw it away and tell the wife's friend to say she got it, but didn't want to risk any disaster by doing that. Called the boys back and was going to send it back home with them, but then I managed to get another bag and checked it in. An hour later, I was sorted out and going back through airport security. Managed to get a few minutes in the airport lounge - I have free access so have to make use of it - and then was one of the last passengers boarding the plane. It was a good thing I did online sear reservation as I was able to sit right in front of the plane.

The KLM flight was quite average - I think I'm too used to travelling with Emirate and the other fancy Arab airlines - and I was quite unimpressed. Didn't manage to get much sleep becoz my back was aching, so I twisted and turned the whole night. By sehri time, or what I thought was sehri time, I had actually fallen asleep. Was bummed when I woke up but decided to take advantage of my traveller status. Landed in Amsterdam and got stopped between the plane and the airport by some security.
Guard: "What are you doing here?"
Me: "Nothing much hey."
Guard: "What? Do you have a visa? Show me your passport."
Me: "Here you go."
Guard: "So what will you do in Amsterdam?"
Me: "Think I'll go look for a Mosque now and some Muslims. But nothing else planned. Anything interesting or fun that I should know about?"
So even though I was the one of the first out of the plane, most people had gone past me while I explained to this genius that I was actually enroute to a conference in Denmark and was just stopping over for 2 days in Amsterdam. I told him that I would be visiting friends and spending Eid here before flying to Copenhagen.
But that was not the last of it. Got stopped at airport control again and then after the baggage collection again. All the same line of questioning and same attitudes. And I had fun annoying the hell out of all of them - they're quite suprised if you not all nervous and shivering when they giving you this big scary security personnel attitude..

Eventually managed to get train tickets and get onto the train to Amsterdam central. Sat near two Syrian women who were speaking in that wonderful Syrian dialect about how the young girls don't wear Hijab anymore and the other juicy gossip. Sitting there and listening to them brought back at the wonderful memories of last Ramadan in Damascus.

After eventually finding the hotel I was booked in, I found out it was the wrong one. The one I was in was through the flower market, along the canal on my right and then across the bridge. I didn’t have much luggage for my short stay so the hot weather didn’t get to me that much. Checked in at the correct hotel and then asked the guy behind the counter, Abdurrahim, to direct me to the closest mosque for Jumah. We googled it and he pointed it out on the map, claiming that it was a mere 15min walk. Over 30mins later, and when I noticed more beards, hijabs and graffiti filled walls, I knew I was near the Mosque. I was pleasantly surprised at how big it was and the number of people there. At least a thousand or even close to two I would guess. The imam was giving the lecture in Arabic but it was quite simple and I understood most of it. I can’t remember when last I heard a Jumah lecture that was actually enjoyable and that didn’t leave me frustrated and disappointed. Ok, maybe not disappointment coz I guess you can only disappointed if you any expectations to begin with.

After Salaah there were some announcements about Eid, in Arabic, and I was about to ask the brother next to me to translate them, when he asked me the same thing. Mohammed from Ghana was new to Holland having lived and worked in Spain for the past few years. We then both asked Bilal, a Dutch of Moroccan descent, who explained the times that Eid prayer would be. Chatted to these two brothers for a bit and then headed back to the hotel.
On the way I stopped at a place called the 1%Club. Anna, the founder, was at the Highway Africa conference in Grahamstown two weeks ago, but we were both so busy that we never had chance to talk. We discussed the 1% model in their small and funky offices: they try to get people to donate 1% of their earnings or money and then match these funds with various social initiatives around the world. I found it quite interesting and explained to her the similarities between their ideas and the Islamic pillar of Zakaah – a compulsory 2.5% tax that Muslims are required to annually pay to the poor. I plan to get more involved with them and will be discussing them again soon. Made use of the internet there and then headed back to the hotel to shower and freshen up.

A Palestinian-Dutch friend of a friend arranged to pick me up for iftaar. We went to a community centre that hosted an interfaith iftaar with people of all backgrounds and faiths. A representative from the local municipality, a women’s group and a Muslim guy gave brief lectures. The food was good – arab salad, arab rice, kibbeh & those vine leaves wrapped with rice. Then we had nice arab sweets – it was like almost being in an Arab country, but everyone around me was speaking this Afrikaans sounding language. The meal was wrapped up with a very different kind of whirling dervish and then I headed to find a mosque to pray in with some other friends.

This is as far as this train ride allows me to write. My stop is coming up but I'll write about the rest of my journey the next time I make use of this extremely efficient and comfortable public transport system.

16 September 2009

Women attending the Eid prayer

Fatwa from Darul Ihsan Islamic Services Centre issued by Shafiq Jakhura:

Whether or not it is correct for ladies to attend the Eid Salaah?

A narration of Umme Atiyyah (R.A.) indicates that in the time of Rasulullah (s.a.w) females would come out for the Eid prayer and participate therein. (Tirmidhi)

However, Hazrat Aisha (R.A.) mentions that if Rasulullah (s.a.w) was present among us to see what the ladies were doing (adornment-wise), he would most certainly have prevented them from attending the Musjid just as how the ladies of the Bani Isra’eel were prevented (Sahih Bukhari).

In other words, during the time of Rasulullah (s.a.w), firstly there was less chance of evil and sin and secondly, women would come out without any form of beautification. Therefore they were permitted to attend the congregational Salaah. However, after the time of Rasulullah (s.a.w) women gradually began to beatify themselves when leaving the home and the chances of evil and sin spreading also increased.

Hence, they should no longer attend the congregational prayers and if Rasulullah (s.a.w) were present in that time he would have most certainly prevented women from attending. Hence, the fatwa of the latter jurists is that it is not correct for women to attend the congregational prayers, whether they are the daily prayers, Jumuah or Eid.

Imam Tahaawi (R.A.) has mentioned that the reason for permitting women to attend the Eid was to show the number of Muslims to the enemies of Islam. This reason and wisdom no longer exists in our times.

There has been a difference of opinion among the Scholars with regards to females attending the Eid prayer. Some have permitted females attending the Eid prayer under all circumstances, whereas other Scholars have prohibited this under all circumstances. On the other hand, other scholars are of the view that young females are prohibited from attending the Eid prayer, whereas the elderly are not prohibited.

Nevertheless, according to the overwhelming majority of Scholars, it is not permissible for a young female to attend the Eid Salaah. This is in keeping with the verse of the Holy Quraan, wherein the Holy Quraan commands females to remain in their homes. The reason for this prohibition is that the coming out of such young females could become a cause of spreading immorality in the society. This is especially clear in our times.

Question relating to above from Quraysha Yousuf:

Re your circular stating the majority of scholars deem it impermissible; this is not true as the majority of the Muslim countries worldwide have Eid salaat for women. Please clarify which majority you are speaking off?

2) In the Quraan, Allah mentions the words of the Prophet SAW "today I have completed your religion for you", hence to assume any actions other than the ones the Prophet SAW has deemed appropriate to leave behind as his final sayings, is to go against the Prophet's testimony that he has completed the deen for us. The Prophet SAW predicted many severe fitna and especially from
women and their dress, are you implying that in spite of knowing these prophecies he 'failed' to predict the 'harm' of women attending the mosque?

Perhaps you might consider the Prophet's greater wisdom than ours, he knew of many of the women's fitnas to come, yet he clearly stated more than once, 'do not prevent them.' And all the Khaiphs, the Ummayds and Abbasids all continued in this practise, only South Africa and a few isolated societies prevent it, so how do you define majority?

07 September 2009

Mxit'ing with addicts (by addicts)!

I first found him on twitter and then tracked him down through his
blog, where I found him online so I chatted using the chat function.
Marlon Parker, lecturer at Cape Peninsula University of Technology
(CPUT) is a social entrepreneur who is using technology to empower
Re-constructed Labs (RLabs) is an initiative that came out of the
impoverished Cape Flats area in Cape Town. With 80% unemployment, the
community suffers from serious drug and gang related issues. “My
brother was involved with drugs and gangs and is currently in prison,”
Parker said, explaining his personal interest in this project.
“We have developed a system that allows us to have conversations on
various mobile chat platforms – Mxit, The Grid and even twitter”, he
explained, “With this we transform, or re-construct, ex-gang members
and drug dealers who use social media to express their stories and
help others.” They started off using blogs to share their experiences
and this has evolved through the use of the other mobile chat
Started early last year, already 10,000 people have used the service
and at least 600 have got help and gone on to the next level of
further offline counselling said Parker. “We have 19 advisors and
offer drug counselling and advice.” He explains that the challenge is
to get the mainstream media to listen to the community. In this short
time, he says they have had at least 50 articles written about this, 3
television appearances and more than 20 radio interviews.
“We now also offer debt counselling, Aids counselling and advice for
women in the community who suffer from abuse,” he said. Together with
the organisation Cell-Life, they offer counselling for those with Aids
through the National Aids Helpline.

04 September 2009

Racism still haunts Rhodes

Rhodes Rejects Racism. Posters and stickers with this slogan were
spread widely around the university this week, following
Vice-Chancellor Saleem Badat's call for action against racism. The
call by Badat, for members of the university community to acts against
racism, was prompted by a racial attack against University Professor
Fackson Banda and his family. Banda and his family were driving
through the university during the Inter-Varisty weekend when a Rhodes
student allegedly shouted the racial insult ‘Niggers’ at them.

Badat was "hugely distressed by this despicable behaviour" and called
for a series of activities starting from Monday 24 August, to promote
“human dignity, human rights, equality, non-sexism and non-racialism
at Rhodes”. Ribbons, posters and stickers were distributed throughout
the university along with a circular from Badat, and lecturers were
asked to have discussions on the issue.

Professor Jen Snowball was one of the lecturers who heeded the call by
handing out copies of the circular to approximately 800 of her
students. "Although there wasn't much discussion, the majority of
students listened to the explanation of what had happened," she added.
Adrian Visagie, a computer science student, wore a ribbon and said,
"Racism is so close minded, it not thinking. Campaigns likes this make
people aware that racism is there."

Professor Alan Kirkaldy issued a statement on behalf of the National
Tertiary Education Staff Union (NTESU) condemning racism and extended
it to sexism and homophobia. The statement condemned the "sexist
slogans on a number of the overalls worn by Rhodes students" during
Inter-Varsity, as well as the alleged homophobic attack which resulted
"in a student being stabbed in the neck by a broken bottle". Kirkaldy
said that the university has very good policies on racism, sexism and
other forms of discrimination, "but is sometimes not rigorous in
implementing, perhaps due to the fear of bad publicity." He said that
the campaign has been quite well received, but he has heard concerns
from students about the university's commitment to change.

Banda expressed his appreciation for support and solidarity and said
that the campaign has been well recieved. "This campaign can't solve
the problem of racism but it will help," said Banda. "This is not an
isolated incident. Many people suffer from racism and they must be
able to report it without feeling that it will be swept under the
carpet." He feels that the university has shown strong leadership in
responding and this has allowed people to express what lay dormant in
their minds about all forms of discrimination. "For me this was about
democracy and education. During their university years students are
meant to cultivate the values of democratic citizenship - tolerance,
respect, civility, non-racism, etc. - that they will need to live
their adult lives successfully in a multicultural setting."

The SRC and Sports Council joined other student and academic groups in
condemning all forms of discrimination. "Our objective remains to have
sport at Rhodes be a
medium for genuine integration and promotion of social cohesion of
various peoples," said the Sports Council statement.

Vuyo Sileku, a chemistry student, said that "campaigns have been going
on for ages. How long are we going to have campaigns for? How long are
we going to keep wearing ribbons and stickers?" He said that there are
deeper issues that need to be tackled but nobody was willing to tackle
them. "People are criticizing this campaign now. Racism won't end at
Rhodes until mindsets change," he added.

A student, who wished to remain anonymous, said that while this
campaign is a positive step, the university is "still reluctant to
make real changes". She said that Rhodes has come a long way from
being a traditionally white university, but many are still unhappy.
Last year, the South African Students' Congress (Sasco) called for the
name of Rhodes University to be changed, because of its connection to
British colonialist Cecil John Rhodes. "Rhodes was a mass murderer and
a racist," said Kirkaldy who is a history professor. "I had a guest
visiting here who was astonished that there is still a residence
called Jameson House." The Gender Action Committee at Rhodes is trying
to remove portraits of "old white men" from the university's council
chambers, but is facing massive resistance from lecturers and some
students. Kirkaldy said that the art on display at the university
should also "reflect a commitment to change". "People have to know the
good and the bad about these people who's names and faces are still
part of the university today. Most student don't know who Rhodes was -
they think he was just another diamond miner."

But Banda said that the issues of renaming have always been a part of
a larger debate on campus and must not crowd out the more important
issues on hand.

This article first appeared in the Grocott's Mail - http://bit.ly/WKcTU

27 August 2009

More clear evidence

Here are more pictures from Europe.
These dates are being sold all over and because it doesn't say Israeli Dates anywhere on it, they are getting past boycott efforts in Europe.

Jordan International is a brand name for Hadiklam. See: http://www.hadiklaim.com/buyers_brands.asp

Karsten Farms and Produce of South Africa is all over the box.

Until Karsten Farms cuts all ties and publicly announces that it has no dealings with any Israeli settler companies, these companies will continue to use these tactics to circumvent boycotts.

26 August 2009

Pressure Karstens to cut links..

Karsten is a South African company.
Hadiklaim is an Israeli company.

Karsten is doing business with a settler company - this business between Hadiklaim and Karsten, among other things, allows Hadiklaim to market dates in Europe as 'Produced in South Africa' - therefore circumventing European boycotts of Israeli goods - Hadiklaim also sells their OWN dates packaged as South African dates...

Here is a reply to an email from the company:

Dear Mr Karsten

Thanks for your reply.

I am sure you are aware by now the furore surrounding this whole issue. There is an active international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign underway to isolate Israel and Israeli businesses in order to put economic pressure on them so that they relinquish their discriminatory and apartheid practices.

As with apartheid in SA, the wheels of change only gained momentum once the international community decided to boycott South Africa economically, socially and culturally. Human rights violations and discrimination based on race is something that cannot be tolerated in our days and times. As consumers we encourage responsible business practices and responsible partnerships.

I urge you to be totally transparent in your associations, especially with companies from Israel. Hadiklaim is one such company which economically benefits from the occupation - having many of their farms on Palestinian West Bank territory and they are also known to employ Palestinians who are forced to work for them for a pittance and are thus economically enslaved.

I encourage you also, to be clear in your explanation to Hadiklaim as to why you wish not to be associated with them.

Thanks and Kind Regards

Dr M Raiman

2009/8/26 Pieter Karsten Jnr <pieterj@karsten.co.za>

Dear Dr Raiman,

Thanks for your inquiry.

We are farmers and we are South Africans. We do try to make a difference in this new South Africa by setting an example of non-discrimination. We do employ

at peak grape production about 5000 people of all races and all denominations in South Africa.

The Karsten Group is a 100% South African company.

Our family owns 51,95 %

IDC (Industrial Development Corporation) 36.95%

Yarona Farms (Workerstrust) 11.06% (Yarona means “OURS” in Tswana)

Land Merit Investment (A SA individual) 0.04%

We are more than willing to give you all the evidence you need to proof the above facts.

We are totally independent. We do furthermore own companies in Egypt (Karsten Middle East) and the UK (Karsten UK).

Hadiklaim is a CUSTOMER of ours and I have already instructed them to rectify the wording on there website.(They referred to Karsten as “our farm”)

I need to make it very clear that we imported 10 tons of dates from JORDAN in 2007. Except for this once of transaction

all the dates we sold have been our own production(95% SA 5% Namibian).

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need any more answers.

Kind Regards


MD New Vision Fruit (Pty) Ltd


Tel. +27 54 491 9300

Fax. +27 54 491 9352

Cell. +27 82 770 9920


Here is a letter sent to the company:

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: sayed dhansay
Date: 2009/8/26
To: pieterj@karsten.co.za

Dear Pieter

I am writing to you out of great concern.

As I'm sure you know, dates form an important part of our diet as Muslims, especially during this month of Ramadan.
Your company, Karsten Farms is a producer of the popular Kalahari Medjoul date, that is widely consumed by our community.
In the last few days however, I have been made aware that Karsten Farms has a business relationship with the Israeli Date Co-operative, Hadiklaim.
I would appreciate it if you could confirm whether Karsten Farms does indeed do any business with Hadiklaim?

As Hadiklaim is based in and operates out of an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied Jordan Valley, we take an extremely negative view of the company.
In 2005 Palestinian civil society called on the world to implement boycotts, divestment and sanctions on the state of Israel in order to pressure Israel to comply with international law and cease its egregious violations of human rights in the illegally Occupied Palestinian Territories.
This movement pertains even more strongly to companies that operate out of illegal settlements in the West Bank and Jordan Valley.

As this call is being increasingly heeded internationally, as well as in South Africa, I would be very grateful if you could confirm whether Karsten Farms has a trading relationship (whether this is uni or bilateral) with Hadiklaim.

I look forward to your response.

22 August 2009

Israeli dates in South Africa

Just got these pics from a friend in Portugal with this note:

This company, Hadiklam Ltd. is no doubt a settlement company and there is much written about them online, especially about their tactics to hide the origin of the product. It would be an important victory if we got their partners in Southern Africa to divest (I suspect they have more than one, Karsten Farms being one of them).

One argument to stress is that even if these dates are in fact from South Africa, they should be boycotted because of their links with settlement companies. I don't think that the ones we have here in Portugal come from South Africa. They come from Israel but they make use the South African box because perhaps a percentage might come from there and it avoids the boycotts in Europe.

{packed for Hadilaim (settler company) by Karsten Farms Ltd, South Africa}

20 August 2009

Leave Caster Semenya alone!

I join the ANC, Cosatu, SAFPU and others in condemning those that are making ridiculous accusations against Caster Semenya. She is a hero for all South Africans and especially young athletes. The ANC issued a statement condemning this and said, “Such comments can only serve to portray women as being weak.”

Semenya clocked 1min 55.45sec for the year's fastest time and this caused the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to request gender verification test. SAFPU is claiming that “imperialist countries are pushing their racist agenda” against Africans, and while that may be going a bit too far, one surely does wonder why they only decided to do such tests now. Not that they are justified or not in doing them – they should have done their tests timeously and with greater respect and sensitivity.

According to Dr Ross Tucker, these allegations have been following Semenya for a few years now and there was ample time to have cleared up any concerns that anyone may have had. Tucker also implicitly blames her management for not being the ones to clear it up, but with such a sensitive issue, it would have admittedly been quite difficult.

He says that it was reported that Semenya was born a hermaphrodite (having both male and female reproductive organs) and that she was cleared by testing done by Athletics South Africa. But Semenya is going to be a victim any way that this pans out. She is running and winning and getting medals. If they somehow go through with this process and find that she is not "entirely female" and possesses secondary male characteristics as a result of some natural condition, then she will possibly lose her medals and titles. If the tests show nothing, then was all this really necessary for an 18 year old to go through?

She is not being humiliated for cheating or taking drugs or because she committed any crime. “Her crime was to be born the way she is born," said ASA predident Leonard Chuene.

13 August 2009

Print media still survives

Newspapers around the world have been collapsing, mainly due to the advertising boom on the internet. Not only do advertsisers choose online adverstising over print, but the crisis has been exacerbated by the global credit crunch. But "print media is not going away in South Africa just yet" said Vin Crosbie, media consultant and lecturer at Syracuse University in the USA.

The way that the media works has been revolutionised by the internet and newspapers are sourcing news content and opinions from their readers. Newspapers are also presenting the news online, often as it happens, audibly, visually and interactively. But merely publishing an online version of the story published in the newspaper is not good enough and Crosbie said that newspapers should harness technology to improve print and online editions. "When the Grocott's print edition has a story about crime, the online edition could have a crime map, constantly updated using data from the police and Hi-Tec," he suggested.

Crosbie visited South Africa to conduct a workshop at Rhodes University's Sol Plaatje Institute which was attended by media professionals from various publications around the country, including Media24, The Big Issue and Muslim Views. Regarded as one of the most outspoken critics of the newspaper industry's response to the digital media revolution, Crosbie argued that countries like South Africa can learn from the mistakes of others.

With phones now increasingly being used to access the internet, and media institutions developing content specifically for cellphones, Crosbie expects it to be the best means of internet access for most South Africans. Crosbie said that the rapid improvement in technology means that millions of South Africans will soon be able to access the internet via their cellphones. People will have cheap, fast access to news and information online, and will be able to use their phones to contribute information and post their opinions.

Grocott's Mail is involved in citizen journalism projects with the journalism department at Rhodes, which has learners training to use their mobile phones to report news. While some journalists feel threatened by citizen journalism, Crosbie said that technological advancements actually make this a great time for journalism. He trains journalism students to investigate ways of harnessing the power of new technologies.

"Imagine getting your own personalised copy of Grocott's Mail", he said. "If there is a story about new property taxes, your copy would include a calculation specific to you and your neighbour's paper would be different." Crosbie reckons that Grocott's could soon be at the forefront of exciting developments in the newspaper world.

New printing machines will make it possible to print different versions of the same edition of a newspaper. Publications like this are currently available online, but Grocott's subscribers could soon choose to have articles in a range of languages, or to have more news from certain areas in Grahamstown said Crosbie. "The current printing machines use these big plates which means the editor has to decide what stories will appeal to the most people, but with this technology each reader's paper can be customised to suit his preferences."

A version of this article first appeared in Grocott's Mail: http://www.grocotts.co.za/content/print-media-still-survives-20-08-2009

12 August 2009

Jokes at Mosque this Friday!!

Do not be suprised if you hear a joke or two at Mosque this Friday. The Jamiatul Ulama, Council of Muslim Theologians in South Africa, in the Friday Lecture summary of their newsletter, encouraged Imams to speak about 'Light-heartedness in Islam'.

The Jamiat, as they are known on the streets, serves the spiritual needs of Muslims of South Africa, as it states on their website.

The summary states the "companions of the Prophet (pbuh) were serious people and were least heedless of the commands of Allah, yet they used to joke. Ibn Sireen was asked about the companions of Rasulullah sallallahu alayhi wasalam, ‘Did they joke?’ He replied: ‘They were just like normal people (i.e. yes they did).’

It also includes examples from the life of the Prophet (pbuh) when he made jokes and it clearly claims that Islam does not prohibit joking and teasing. However, there are guidelines that it states needs to be followed.

"It is widely misunderstood that Islam is a religion of suppression and harshness, where laughing and joking is not permitted," the Jamiat newsletter states and seeks to challenge. A full copy of the newsletter is available at www.jamiat.co.za

Muslim comedians probably welcome statements like this :)

23 July 2009

Bread baking and yogurt making

Picture this – you open the bread tin and, shock horror, there is nothing there. So you jump in your car and rush to the supermarket. No parking so you drive around the parking lot looking for a spot. Eventually you find one and go in to get the bread – which was baked at a bakery a long way away and transported by truck to the supermarket. Think of all the carbon emissions from your car and the delivery truck, not to mention how expensive bread is these days. But that’s not all – the normal bread we eat has gluten which only gets to break down in our stomachs, giving one that bloated feeling. Most of us are somewhat used to it so we don’t even notice it unless we pay attention.

But there is an easier, cheaper, healthier and more fun option – bake your own bread. Follow these easy steps.

1. Grind some wheat grains and add a little water and flour to it. Leave it for 3 days, adding a tablespoon of flour & water daily, and you have what we call the starter. It should be enough to fill a cup and then you’re ready.

2. The bread making process takes about 10 mins of effort over a 24 hour period – that means some planning initially, but work it into your routine and you’re set. Add a cup of water and a cup of flour to your starter and leave it for 12 hours.

3. You now have what we call the sour dough. Take two cups out of it and mix up with two cups of flour and some salt to taste. This will give you enough dough to bake a loaf of bread for two people. Keep the remaining sour dough in the fridge and use as a starter for the next loaf of bread.

4. Knead the dough for a few minutes and you’ll have a nice smooth loaf, pat with oil and leave to rise for 12 hours. Coat with yogurt (see below) and sprinkle some sesame seeds, then pop in the oven and bake for about 45 mins. Voila, you have a delicious loaf of home baked bread.

Yogurt is muuuuch easier – not that bread was hard at all! Buy a little tub of yogurt that has live AB cultures. Talk a cup of milk and warm for 2mins in the microwave. The milk should be room temperature – add two tablespoons of the bought yogurt and leave in a flask for 24 hours. Voila, delicious homemade yogurt. Salt or sweeten as you like, depending on how you eating it.

23 June 2009

A “How to eat organic and not feel like a Buddhist monk” guide

Somebody asked me to write a How-to-eat-organic-and-not-feel-like-a-Buddhist-monk guide. Firstly, I must admit that my knowledge of Buddhist lifestyles is almost non-existent – apart from the fact that some live under extreme religious and political suppression, wear bright colours and have shiny bald heads! There is much more to this deep and rich cultural and religious group, but that is not the discussion here and I will leave the Buddhists alone for now.

But to the thing I know a bit about, eating organic – eating organic is not for extreme tree-huggers! It’s for those people who are not happy with the idea of eating produce that is laced with potentially harmful pesticides and chemicals – that may or may not cause strange deformities in our offspring – but I’m not taking any chances.

There are different grades of organic, and depending where in the world you are, different standards that are enforced – but generally you want to be looking for non-chemically treated, fresh or minimally processed food. Organic foods have been proven to contain a higher percentage of nutrients, taste better and have positive benefits on the environment and the people who farm them.

Now, while some sceptics may see organic food as the stuff that uber-cool too-bored-to-do-anything-better-people from Sandton buy at Woolies, it’s not! Depending where you live, there are small farmers close by that sell fresh produce – that’s the kind of organic that I support. Small scale farmers are increasingly being supported by sustainable development initiatives, and buying their produce is both good for our health as well as the broader well-being of our communities.

Growing your own food is also a good idea. While it’s possible to perhaps even totally live off your own produce, my humble little garden is only the size on an old tyre. Currently growing spinach, basil and kale (a type of cabbage), all I do is water it with collected rain water daily and harvest as I need to. Once the weather improves, I hope to get another tyre set up next to it and get the carrots, coriander and chilli growing.

Baking your own bread is healthier, tastier, cheaper and much more fun that buying the boring sliced loaf from the supermarket. I will soon share some recipes and tips on bread baking and will also explain a simple way of making your own delicious and cheap yoghurt. I don’t know if the bread or yoghurt we get from the supermarket is organic or not – our home made variety is just better!

Back to the swanky boutique store organic produce – perhaps the biggest issue is weighing the pros and cons of, for example, an organic apple grown miles away and transported to me and the local apple that is not totally organic! The organic apple is perhaps healthier, but it causes more damage to the environment because it travels so far. The easy answer is to check first where the organic food you buy is actually produced and, unless your life depends on it, don’t buy it. The world is suffering because of our desires to eat apples during orange season and we need to be more aware of the unintended consequences of our actions.

Which brings me to our consumption habits in general – we consume too much, in terms of food as well as all the packaging that comes with it and ends up in rubbish dumps. The amount of kitchen waste that can be added to a compost heap is amazing – and these days it takes little effort to recycle glass, paper, cardboard and cans.

P.S. There is currently a Recycle Week campaign running from Monday 22 – Sunday 28 June - www.recyclenow.com

20 June 2009

Book review – Tell me no lies.

Tell Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs edited by John Pilger

John Pilger presents a collection of almost 30 articles from journalists and writers who have either witnessed first-hand or carried out investigations into the most fascinating, shocking, horrible and, at times, simply unbelievable events of the past few decades. Himself a seasoned and fearless journalist, he pays tribute to those he calls ‘the greatest practitioners of the craft’ of journalism. As a student of journalism, and an eager incumbent, it will be difficult to view the role of journalists through traditional lenses again. This book remembers the heroes who made personal sacrifices, went beyond what was expected and took risky steps to “not only keep the record straight, but to hold those in power to account”.

Every single article in this book is gripping and, being historically recent, those events that I have a vague memory or recollection of are simply fascinating –Max du Preez on Apartheid’s Death Squads, Robert Fisk on Israeli sponsored atrocities in Lebanon, Anna Politkovskaya on the war in Chechnya, Linda Melvern’s investigation into the Rwanda genocide, the never-ending deaths of children in Iraq and Gaza – these are all events that I have lived through and now struggle to understand how they happened in this modern era, while I was growing up, schooling and getting on with life.

Not all are gruesome war stories – Jessica Mitford exposes the multi-million dollar funeral parlour scam, Edward Murrow challenges the propaganda of Senator McCarthy, Seumas Milne covers the smear campaign against British labour union leaders. These are just some of the examples of why good investigative journalism is ever more vital today.

This book is important for all. For those that are journalists or serve some role in the media, reading this will be a clear reminder of the role that needs to be filled. For those that are consumers of media (which is most of us that can read), this is an example of what we should be demanding from our journalists. For those that can’t access the media, who can’t read or can’t speak out – either because they are being prevented from doing so actively or passively – this book is an example of what is needed for liberation.

Appendix – snippets of my favourite chapters:

Martha Gellhorn, Dachau, 1945 – Gellhorn is an American war reporter who writes about a Nazi death camp that she reported from at the end of World War 2. She gives a gripping account of the spine-chilling horrors that occurred in the camp. Lest we forget.

Wilfred Burchett, The Atomic Plague, 1945 – “I write this as a warning to the world…’ started Burchett’s story on the Hiroshima. Being the first news correspondent to enter Hiroshima after the atomic bombing, this story came to be described as the “scoop of the century”. He detailed the horrible after effects of the H-bomb that he witnessed firsthand, but the Americans authorities denied this and sealed the area, preventing any other journalists to get in. History eventually told the truth about the events in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Lest we forget.

Edward R. Murrow, The Menace of McCarthyism, 1947-54 – Pioneered a form of broadcast journalism that he called ‘being there’. The transcripts of some of his broadcasts, from a programme called See It Now are published. He exposed the anti-communist witch hunt of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Reading the transcripts after a glance at the picture of Murrow in the book, one can actually hear the bellowing force of his voice.

Jessica Mitford, The American Way of Death, 1963 – In this well researched and meticulously recorded investigation into the ‘death industry’ in North America, Mitford exposes what has become a multi-million dollar industry. The family or friends of a deceased, at a most emotional time, are lied to and deceived into spending obscene amounts of money for what is dishonestly called ‘law of the funeral.’

James Cameron, Through the Looking-Glass, 1966 – Cameron was the first Western journalist to report from the North Vietnam during the American attacks there in 1965. He was accused of being a ‘conduit for the North Vietnam Communists’ but claimed that he recorded and reported on the diverse people in North Vietnam. His account told a very different story from that being reported by other journalists who were in the south, concentrating on the battlefield being won or lost. Cameron instead, looked at the people of Vietnam who faced the most sustained aerial bombardment in the history of warfare.

Seymour M. Hersh, The Massacre at My Lai, 1970 – Hersh uncovered the story of a massacre in a Vietnamese village, My Lai, that the US Army was trying to keep out of the newspaper. Up to 500 women, children and old men were systematically murdered on 16 March 1968 by American soldiers in a few hours. Hersh interviewed those involved and repaints a graphic picture of what happened on that horrid day.

Max du Preez and Jacques Pauw, Exposing Apartheid’s Death Squads, 1988-94 – Max du Preez founded the Vrye Weekblad, the only Afrikaans newspaper to oppose Apartheid. For this, he was subjected to abuse, persecuted, threatened and eventually sued until the paper was forced to close down. He and Pauw reflect on their experiences of investigating and exposing Apartheid’s death squads. They uncovered the stories and risked their lives trying to protect their sources and spread the truth of the atrocities of the Apartheid government.

Paul Foot, The Great Lockerbie Whitewash, 1989-2001 – Foot died as the book was getting published and Pilger dedicates the book to his memory. He covered the saga of the Lockerbie bombings in 1989 that carried on, down a windy track until 2001. He reveals what appears to be a massive cover-up by American and British authorities, finally ending in a theatrical court case that pegged a Libyan national as the scapegoat of an obviously much wider conspiracy.

Robert Fisk, Terrorists, 1990/2001 – Fisk is a journalistic legend and is hailed as one of the greatest modern war correspondents. He gives a firsthand account of being one of the first journalists (as well as human beings) to stumble upon the massive Israeli sponsored killing fields of Sabra and Chatila in Lebanon. He describes the bodies of children, women and the elderly that were still warm when he and other journalists found them. He then describes how the Israeli propaganda ensured that those ultimately guilty have still not been brought to justice for these atrocities.

Seumas Milne, The Secret War against the Miners, 1994 – Dubbed by Pilger as “one of the finest political exposes in our time”, Milne’s essay provides a thorough and in-depth look into an astonishing smear campaign against the leader of the Britain’s National Union of Mineworkers, Arthur Scargill. The mainstream media, British intelligence, politicians and even Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher are implicated in this sinister plot to discredit a man who came to wield significant popular support in the fight for workers rights.

Amira Hass, Under Siege, 1996 – An Israeli correspondent for the Ha’aretz newspaper, Hass did in 1993 what no Israeli journalist had ever done – she went to live and report from the ‘open air prison’ of the Gaza Strip. Living in such close proximity to each other, Palestinians and Israelis live such different lives that they could be living on two different planets. She, an Israeli whose parents moved to Israel after surviving the Nazi persecution, describes the Israeli’s “extremely sophisticated method of restraint, reminiscent of Apartheid” under which millions of Palestinians are forced to live.

Philip Knightley, The Thalidomide Scandal: Where We Went Wrong, 1997 – By the time it was discovered in 1961 that thalidomide was responsible for abnormalities in foetuses, over 8000 deformed children had been born throughout the world. Knightley reminisces on his experiences as a journalist trying to expose the cover up by the corporations, health officials and so many within the legal profession.