Remembrance, sharing and Love

It been a week for reflection: The United Kingdom got a new Prime Minster, the Queen died and her son succeeded, with ceremonies that were televised for the first time in history. Today, her coffin was driven from Balmoral to Edinburgh and it’s the anniversary of 9/11. 9/11 or 11 September 2001 is significant but a lot has happened since that awful date too: The Covid Pandemic, War in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, hurricanes, floods and earthquakes, to name but a few. The news seems relentless, particularly if you found yourself in the midst of the story. Working in mental health and spirituality, I spend a lot of time wondering how people cope with such devastation! One of the things that seems to have helped people, with the death of a much-loved monarch and 9/11 is coming together and sharing stories. In creative writing today, we were asked to reflect on the personal and collective aspects of events that were significant in our lives. I also recall teaching a class of year 7 boys and when they realised that all the people we were going to study were dead, they decided to reflect on that and say a prayer. A very loving gesture that reminded me of the quote from Corinthians: there are three things that last, Faith, Hope and Love and the greatest of these is Love

The article, below, was first published in Multicultural Teaching Volume 20 Number 1 Autumn 2001 and on Medium 11 September 2017.

Tuesday 11 September 2001 was an ordinary day. Well ordinary for a student that had only four days in which to hand in her dissertation and the UK was hosting its largest ever arms fair. The subject of my dissertation was religious minorities in Pakistan. I woke up early in order to write the conclusion. After doing this I emailed it to a friend for comment and prepared for my next task, which was a job interview.

Travelling to my interview I was forced to stop outside a television rental shop. Although I could not hear the commentary I knew immediately that the burning World Trade Centre was no accident or movie.

On my return, I received a phone call from my friend. She had been reading my conclusion, been watching the news all afternoon and was distraught. As Muslim women, we could not accept that Islam was in anyway responsible for such an act but realised that media speculation would put Islam and us on trial.

Everyone hoped that, as with the bombings in Oklahoma non-Muslims would eventually be found responsible. At least Christianity, being part of the dominant culture, would not go on trial in the same way because people understood that it was not the religion but extremist who were to blame for such inhuman acts. There has been some excellent coverage of Islam in recent years and in August the BBC series ‘Islam in Britain’ demonstrated the basic humanity within the Muslim communities. The programme on the Muslim football team and the Home Front where they redesigned the home of a Muslim couple in London were particularly enjoyable.

Despite these, however the general view one gets is that there is something in the religious culture of Islam that inspires, in even ‘the humblest peddler or peasant… an explosive mixture of rage and hatred which leads him to espouse kidnapping and assassination.’ The message at the heart of the Quran, ‘Salaam (Peace) a word of salutation from a Lord most merciful’ is lost.

After handing in my dissertation I did what most students do at the end of term. I went home to my parents. I was hoping for some home cooking and forgetting about my dissertation. However this was not to be! Islam and Pakistan had been put under the International spotlight and it was the only topic of conversation. There were a variety of opinions expressed but the greatest concern was for all the victims of the atrocities. The definition of victim went beyond America to all the Muslim communities, others who were being harassed and the world, which would be involved in a war. Friends and family in Manchester, that weekend, were all of Pakistani origin so a great deal of discussion was about Pakistan’s role.

The situation in Afghanistan has had a profound affect on Pakistan since 1979 when the Soviet army invaded. US support then sustained the military regime of Zia ul-Haq (1977–1985). Zia in turn compromised the legal foundations for civil liberties, so deeply and {for} so long that it had a profound affect on political stability. His government made amendments to the constitution and instigated a programme of Islamisation that left permanent scars. The other long-term affects have included what has been referred to as the ‘Talibanisation of Pakistan,’ a large number of refugees, an increase in arms and rapid growth in the heroin trade. Islamists, despite never achieving any electoral success, have continued to exert considerable pressure on all Governments. The current government had presented a human rights agenda but due to the above pressure some of the reforms have had to be delayed. Despite the above, a knowledge of other failings on part of the US and other government and perhaps because of Pakistan’s own struggle against terrorism all agreed that Pakistan needed to take part in any international effort against terrorism.

No one felt that America was competent to a lead such a struggle and deliver ‘Infinite Justice’ but highlighting the mistakes of a family during a bereavement was not compassionate. The world should be allowed to grieve in peace.

Muslims continue to be harassed on the streets and in mosques despite the number of Muslims who died in the World Trade Centre, Muslim Governments who have declared support for the US and individuals who have expressed deep sympathy for the victims and their families. One of the most moving images were pictures of Muslim school girls on the Gaza strip, who despite their own precarious situation, stood in empathy with the suffering of fellow human beings.

There are a number of possible reasons for the continued harassment. Firstly there, is a feeling that Muslims are only expressing sympathy because of American power and its declaration that you are either with ‘us or against us’. After all when a lion is in pain its roar can be heard throughout the jungle. There are also a number of regional struggles throughout the world that involve different Muslim communities and it has proved advantageous for people such as Putin and Sharon, for instance, to link their specific struggles with one generic one against International Islamic terrorists.

More importantly, however, the current situation has given racists and bigots the excuse they needed to justify their actions. An indication of this is the mixing of the debate on asylum and Islamaphobia, which has made some call for the closure of borders to prevent Muslim terrorists entering the country. The situation would be radically improved if politicians and the media stopped using the word Islamic when they referred to terrorism. Terms such as Jihad and Fatwa send a shiver throughout the world. Bush after making the mistake of using the word crusade went on to omit the word Muslim in a speech he made illustrating whom ‘these people’ targeted. The headline at Evening Standard news stands on the 21 September screamed out ‘British Muslims prepare for Holy War.

That very evening my brother spoke of the sermon that had been delivered at his Friday prayers. This was not a preparation for holy war but a condemnation of the atrocities in America. Greater understanding will only be achieved once we all appreciate that not everything people do or say in the name of any religion necessary adheres to its true principles. These actions are beyond the understanding of most of us! All Muslims continue to pray for Peace, Peace with Allah, within themselves and with their friends and neighbours.

May we all be well, healthy and strong:

May we all be happy.

May we all abide in peace

May we all feel safe and secure

May we all feel loved and cared for.

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