Shocked and upset like anyone else seeing the events in Paris unfold over the past few days my first thoughts were with the family and friends of those killed. Reports suggest the murders shouted something about avenging the Prophet. Huh? *scratches head*. How on earth are these nutcases trying to justify this Islamically?
No really, how? I’ve grown up as a Muslim in Britain, went to Saturday Islamic classes (OK admittedly I loved the football at break-times but still counts right?), attended lectures at mosque and I can’t remember a single story, parable or mention of the Prophet ever reacting in a violent way when insulted. Not one.
After getting in touch with some friends and asking them I got a flurry of messages and links to stories demonstrating how the Prophet himself reacted to ridicule and persecution throughout his life.
My buzzfeed piece aims to give a 5 min read and 10 examples of the Prophet Muhammad’s mannerisms.
When I was 15 one of my favourite boxers was Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins. His entrance routines were something out of WWF (that’s right in my day it was called WWF) but he used to talk a lot about “hunger” and was a seriously disciplined fighter. I remember reading old copies of “The Ring” and coming across some gems:
“it’s hard to be hungry when your fridge is full of food”
The past 30 days has been the month of Ramadhan and along with other Muslims I’ve been attempting to do without food or drink (yea that’s right water too!) from the hours of 3.30am till 9pm (sunrise and sunset). If this wasn’t a big enough challenge the inner meaning of this month for Muslims surely is, with the abstinence of food playing just a small part as I will explain.
Ramadhan is a month in which Muslims are asked more than ever to spend time reflecting on their lives and improving and perfecting their actions. Of course for Hopkins hunger was the hunger to train harder, to go the extra mile, to get up after being knocked down from a clean hook. But his idea reflects a process to achieve an outcome similar to some of the themes in Steve Job’s amazing Stanford commencement address “stay hungry” (below).
In design the search for a great process to achieve great outcomes is a constant one, some companies invest heavily in adopting various processes to try and design a perfect product. Similarly in Ramadhan Muslims go through a process to achieve a higher outcome. The conditions set for fasting are a unique blend of discipline, will power, patience and reflection which have deep philosophical, social, physical and spiritual meanings.
Having completed the 30 days it’s amazing the effect that this period can have on one’s mind and body. Physically the fast is tough but with some discipline and organisation (drinking enough water, eating healthier foods and getting your waking up times right) each day the body becomes accustomed to it’s new inputs and can cope increasingly effectively. Michael Mosely’s Eat, Fast, Live Longer show’s some of the health benefits which can be achieved through fasting including weight loss, slower ageing and cutting heart disease and cancer risks. After the 30days you feel sharper, more alert and importantly more conscious of what you are eating.
But asides from the health benefits there are much deeper things you experience. For example, I have to confess outside of Ramadhan if my chicken and chips take longer than 5 mins from order to box I start getting concerned, I’ve been trained from years of fast food culture to expect everything, now. Eliminating the fast food mentality which permeates throughout my life (outside of food too) and my addiction to “everything, now” is a liberating feeling and I’d recommend everyone to experience the feeling of being unable to drink a glass of water whenever you want at least once in their lifetime. Ramadhan reminds the person fasting to have patience and that no matter how great our achievements, we are human, we are reliant on the basics of water and food. It sounds strange but this realisation is humbling in a society which coerces people to dominate their surroundings to strive towards invincibility. For me it’s a constant reminder of our dependency on creation around us (regardless of what your belief is about creation itself). It’s also a liberating lesson in how little we actually need to consume to exist.
Inevitably the fast is about discpline; waking up at random times to prepare and train your body, resisting food and water, being extra nice to people, taking time to critically reflect on your life, removing yourself from the normal daily routine is a yearly mental and physical resuscitation.
The social and community side of the fasting is vast, families come together more than ever before, whether it’s gulping down a glass of water at 3am in the kitchen or breaking the fast together at sunset with family and friends with an iftar. Again I’d recommend the experience of sitting at a traditional iftar after a long days fast to anyone. A great little initiative I came across was Dine@Mine where Muslims organise iftars with non-Muslims to share what Ramadhan is all about. Fingers crossed next year I’m going to take part (any takers?).
After 30 days of habitually resisting food and water I’m actually sad to see it go. Most importantly Ramadhan is about taking away something positive each year and implementing it in your life. For me now each time I’m about to sip some water or grab a biscuit I get a bit of an uneasy feeling “no…what am I doing…, no of course…it’s over… I’m allowed now, I mean I can, I am able to…”
In beautiful fashion the Eid at the end of Ramadhan includes a “fitr“ (charity) payment mandatory from each Muslim which goes towards food for those who live most of their lives having no choice but to fast and being unable to chose when to drink water.
In Islam fasting is recommended outside of Ramadhan intermittently and from my experiences in the past few years I can understand why. I hope I can stick to the stay hungry process some more in the future.
As romantic as “kissing the turf” sounds the real meaning behind a sportsman prostrating on the ground is more beautiful.
The past few weeks I’ve been trying to balance out the immense spiritual occasion of the month of Ramadhan with the Olympics taking place just down the road from me in Stratford. It’s been an amazing couple of weeks for anyone who loves sport and a few images remain in my mind. The most vivid one is the sight of Mo Farah (as if you needed the hyperlink!) kneeling down and placing his head on the ground after winning both 5 and 10km races. Like most of you I was out of my seat screaming at the TV urging him on the last two laps.
To most people the celebration made famous also by the likes of Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse (cue dodgy paused screen images below) could symbolize a number of things; loyalty to the crowd, club, stadium or love of the “hallowed turf”.
“As he crossed the line he kissed the track, then lay down for a few sit-ups…” (Esther Addley in the Guardian).
As romantic as that sounds there is a deeper spiritual meaning behind the prostration (“Sujood”) witnessed on millions of screens around the world. It’s hard to break it down into the many aspects it represents but I’ll try and explain from my limited knowledge.
Mo is a practicing Muslim and adheres to the daily ritual prayers; a combination of physical actions and verbal prayers which Muslims practice 5 times a day. The prayer is divided into stages each symbolized by actions with the final of these in each cycle being the act of “Sujood” – placing the forehead on the ground, sitting up and then repeating once more.
To explain this slightly foreign looking act to an onlooker it first needs to be explained that Islam believes it is vital for a human to understand their significance in the universe. The head is without doubt the pinnacle of “highness”; critical thought, reflection, intellect, reason, our whole being initiates from cerebral functions. The ultimate act of humbleness is to symbolically demote this highness to lowness, or as some would put it “placing the highest of creation onto the plane of the lowest creation”. Being a humble person and fighting the negatives of pride plays an important role in Islam.
The Sujood is said to also represent the belief that humans were created in part by earth (the rising from the first prostration) and will return to it eventually (the second prostration).
It was amazing to see that in the emotion and excitement of winning double Gold, Mo immediately performed Sujood as an act of Humbleness and thanks. I was touched by Mo’s words in an interview about his faith with the Independent and also to hear of the great work initiated by him through the Mo Farah foundation.
”It also says in the Qur’an that you must work hard in whatever you do, so I work hard in training and that’s got a lot to do with being successful. It doesn’t just come overnight, you’ve got to train for it and believe in yourself; that’s the most important thing.“
On Saturday I had the honour to once again take photos for the annual Lady Fatemah Trust Gala Dinner, a charity which never ceases to impress me with it’s dedication and global outreach.
Fifteen years ago visionary Amirali Karim formed the charity with the mission of eradicating poverty and suffering. The core belief of the charity is that “everyone has the right to be safe, healthy, skilled and equal, regardless of race or religion” and that using the “philosophy of empowerment it is possible to produce lasting solutions to poverty”.
Amirali Karim’s passion seems to transcend through his emotional heart felt speeches and the army of dedicated volunteers who selflessly commit their time to help organise all aspects of the charity including the highly successful annual Gala. Amirali Karim and his family are exemplars for young British Muslims aspiring to succeed and give back to society. The most remarkable aspect of the charity, aside from it’s current turnover of almost £1.3million annually is that it continues to operate on a 0% admin cost. Many of you involved in charities will know this is simply incredible and a testament of what can be achieved through well coordinated cause-driven voluntary support.
The list of beneficiaries seems to be endless, including cluster bomb victims in Lebanon, assistance for amputees in Tanzania, food and disaster relief for areas in Pakistan, eye clinics in Iraq and Zanzibar, clean water projects throughout rural India and orphan care programmes throughout Gaza, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. A particularly interesting development over the last few years has been the growth of the micro financing programme providing mechanic equipment, sewing machines, agricultural instruments and support to empower communities in poverty stricken areas.
This year’s guest was Nobel Peace prize nominee Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish author of “I Shall Not Hate” and the first Palestinian doctor to receive a staff position at an Israeli hospital treating both Israeli and Palestinian patients. Dr Abuelaish’s life is one of tragedy, victory and sublime patience from putting up with humiliating border checks on his way to work in an Israeli hospital whilst many of his fellow Gazans would miscarry at the border. In 2008 he lost his wife Nadia to Leukaemia and in 2009 a few seconds after closing his daughters’ bedroom door an Israeli shell blasted through the wall killing 3 of his daughters and partially blinding and disabling a fourth (a far too frequent occurrence in the occupied territories). Dr Abuelaish silenced the crowd with his heart-wrenching story and his sincere faith-driven commitment to peace, his national bestseller “I Shall Not Hate” discusses his commitment to use his anger to drive positive change.
“I know that what I have lost, what was taken from me, will never come back. But as a physician and a Muslim of deep faith, I need to move forward to the light, motivated by the spirits of those I lost. I need to bring them justice… I will keep moving but I need you to join me in this long journey.”
Dr Abuelaish founded Daughters for Life in honour of his daughters, an awards scholarship scheme gifted to young women in the Middle East to be used for university tuition, health and other education programs. His talk had me emotionally frozen to the extent I struggled to lift my camera for the first time in my life. Dr Abuelaish’s standing ovation led to the second round of pledging in which donated items were auctioned including photography by Ahsan Abbas, signed sports memorabilia and unique art by Samir Malik. Samir Malik’s piece entitled “Be Like the Flower” fetched £2.5k and in my opinion was an ideal link with much of Dr Abuelaish’s philosophy. The piece was inspired by Imam Ali’s (a.s.) quote:
“Be like the flower that gives it’s fragrance even to the hand that crushes it.”
Special mention was given to late Salima Khalfan a selfless long standing volunteer of the charity who passed away in November 2011 after a twenty month battle with cancer. Salima (a distinguished dental surgeon at Guy’s Hospital, London) continued to serve the charity throughout her battle and the Salima Memorial Medical Education Project was set up in her honour. Her husband and daughter Nylah were presented with a unique memorial award in front of an emotional crowd.
In a single night the Lady Fatemah Trust managed to raise £170k to fund projects for the next year and as event organiser Riyaz Dhalla closed the event and thanked attendees he reminded us that 15 years has been just the beginning of the Lady Fatemah Trust’s mission to tackle poverty and suffering in the hardest hit areas.
It was a pleasure to be involved in the Gala Dinner and I congratulate the entire team and attendees and hope to play a part in the immense work the trust undertakes in the future.