Muslim ‘heroes’ in the wake of Manchester Attack

Muslims ‘heroes’ were prominent in the initial response to the Manchester attack. This article highlights the stories of three Muslim men who made a  difference.

Tawqeer Rashid is a surgeon at the Manchester Royal Infirmary. After the crisis, he was called in at 1am and worked straight for 14 hours. He reported serious injuries and was shocked at the “level of depravity” necessary to carry out such an act.

Another Muslim man, Sam Arshad, owns a local taxi company, Street Cars. When his company started to receive calls from desperate families, trying to escape the area, he decided to direct his drivers to provide free rides from the stadium.

Zaffer Khan, who owns a restaurant, Bukhara, near the stadium provided free food and water to victims and emergency response workers.

There has also been a Muslim organisational response as Human Appeal, a Muslim charity, had raised £15,000 for victims and families between the attack and 27 May.

‘Halal days’ for French Muslims

The fourth annual “halal days” were held May 18-21 and took place in schools, associations, and other Muslim organizations. The event aimed to “raise awareness about the importance of eating halal and eating well.”

Participating organizations agreed to open their doors to the public to better understand “the foundations of halal food, its culture, and its characteristics, as well as the processes used by all to guarantee that products are halal compliant.” Last year, 1,250 people signed up for the events.

“It was mostly attacks by the National Front on the halal market in 2014 that made us think of this event, to create a zone conducive to debate,” explained Lynda Ayadi, the director of the marketing company Heaven Strategy which organizes the “halal days.”

“We felt a strong demand from the Muslim community to provide perspective and information on the halal market,” she added. “More recently, this feeling was reinforced following the polemic sparked by the animal protection association L214’s video of French slaughterhouses, which they blamed for animal suffering.”

Ayadi insisted that the event’s goal was not to “spread propaganda,” and invited those who oppose halal “to come and participate in the debates.”

Halal supermarket ordered to sell pork and alcohol

A halal supermarket in a Paris suburb has been told by local authorities it must start selling alcohol and pork or else it will be shut down.

Good Price discount mini-market in Colombes has been told by the local housing authority, from which it rents its premises, that it has not followed the conditions on the lease that stipulate that the shop must act as a “general food store.”

The authority argues that all members of the local community are not being served properly if there are no alcohol or pork products in the Good Price store, which is run as a franchise and which last year replaced another small supermarket.

“The mayor of Colombes, Nicole Goueta, went there herself and asked the owner to diversify the range of products by adding alcohol and non-halal meats,” the mayor’s chief of staff, Jérôme Besnard, said.

He said locals, particularly older residents, had complained that they could no longer get the full range of products at Good Price, which replaced a regular supermarket, and had to travel some distance now to do their shopping.

“We want a social mix. We don’t want any area that is only Muslim or any area where there are no Muslims,” Mr Besnard said, adding that the town’s reaction would have been the same had a kosher shop opened on that spot.

The Colombes housing authority argues that the store breaches French republican principles by prioritising a certain group within society rather than catering to all categories.

It has taken legal action to bring an end to the lease which would normally run until 2019. The case goes to court in October.

Soulemane Yalcin, who runs the shop under franchise, said he was merely catering to the demands of his customers in this area of large public housing estates.

“It’s business,” said Mr Yalcin.

“I look around me and I target what I see. The lease states ‘general food store and related activities’ – but it all depends on how you interpret ‘related activities’,” he told Le Parisien newspaper.

He has hired a lawyer to fight the housing authority’s bid to get him evicted.

Ramadan in Finnish refugee reception centers – compromises and opposition

Ramadan in summer times poses a dilemma for Muslims in the Northern countries. Daylight times are long and in some cities the sun does not even set at all. Different courses of action were taken in the the refugee reception centers in Finland to facilitate the fasting for the Muslim refugees currently waiting for their asylum decisions. For instance, In the reception center of Evitskog, run by the Finnish Red Cross, Muslims observing the fast were of 26 different nationalities, which caused discrepancies for their individual wishes in the times to start and to end their daily fast. Many of the men would namely fast according to the respective times of their home countries, and some according to the times in Finland – although in the high summer it would mean a more or less 20 hour fast. The director of the center commented in an interview that the staff was prepared to work extra hours to offer meals even in the night times, despite the lack of extra payment for those taking on extra night shifts.

In the reception center of Hennala however, the approach was slightly different. Special arrangements to serve food were not made, although there, unlike in many other centers where refugees have kitchen facilities to prepare their own foods, the daily meals are included in the service. Instead, those who wanted to fast were given “lunch packs” which they could warm up in microwaves and ovens for their evening meals and breakfasts.

Although the arrangements in some reception centers have not always been as flexible as they were in the case of the Evitskog center, the representative of the Finns Party Youth Wing Juha Karjalainen expressed his discontent with the fact, that even arrangements of any kind to facilitate and respect the refugees religious traditions and practices were made. In his post in the blog platform “Uusisuomi” he argued that the task of reception centers is to offer accommodation for the time of the asylum application is processed and not to facilitate special religious or cultural demands. Hence, Karjalainen maintained that as no one had forced the refugees to choose Finland as their destination country, the refugees are the ones who should make compromises and be flexible, not those working in the centers. Facilitation of religious practices such as fasting in Ramadan would in his view have a negative impact on integration as it sends the wrong message about the necessity of being flexible in one’s religious practices in a Christian but secular country such as Finland.

UK Muslims welcome the homeless in Christmas

A British Muslim has invited the needy and homeless to enjoy Christmas day for free in his restaurant in the British town of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire.

“I’m Muslim, I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I’m open on Christmas Day, to celebrate and help someone else’s religious festival,” Usman Majid, the owner of The Grill restaurant on Buckingham Street.

However, food was not the only service offered during the day. Currently, the staff are handing out clothes and are hoping to offer haircuts to all of those who have nowhere to go on Christmas day.

Usman also told us donations for it have been amazing.

“It’s cold, it’s bitter outside and we have a nice warm place, a nice warm meal, new clothes and a haircut if we can do it,” Majid said.

“We’re not saying we’re going to change your life, that’s unrealistic, it’s not going to happen, but for 8 or 9 hours I can affect your Christmas Day,” he added.

Suspected Jihadi Maher H.: “I provided assistance in Syria.”

Maher H (20) is suspected of terrorist actions in Syria. He is the first one to stand trial. He claims he has provided (humanitarian) assistance; organizing package with food, clothing and medicines, but he doesn’t name the organization he was working for. Explaining a picture of himself posing with a kalashnikov he stated it is not allowed to show off your good deeds in Islam.

Imad el O. was convicted today for wanting to take a 16 year old girl to Egypt and Syria. Imad el O. claims they didn’t want to go to Syria, but to Egypt to study and to marry. His lawyer stated that the girl wanted to go with him, because she didn’t want to live with her parents anymore.

Law aims to boost halal, kosher food for poor

DETROIT — For the first time, the federal government is required to purchase and provide food banks emergency supplies of kosher or halal products, serving a population whose survival could otherwise be at odds with strictures of faith.

The void was first revealed in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which wreaked havoc on the East Coast in the fall of 2012 and led to food shortages for those most in need.

A Jewish philanthropic organization in New York alerted lawmakers to the rising numbers of people coming to its food banks and often finding shelves devoid of kosher offerings. That led to legislation aimed at boosting emergency supplies for food prepared in accordance with Jewish and Muslim dietary rules, and, after some unsuccessful attempts at passage, the measure was tucked into the sweeping federal farm bill signed into law in February.

Federal agriculture officials now must implement the novel law, which requires them to buy food prepared in accordance with the faiths’ dietary rules but isn’t more expensive than regularly produced food. Then, it must be tracked through the distribution chain and properly labeled to ensure it gets to food bank operators and meets the needs of their clients.

The U.S. Agriculture Department’s challenges include gauging the demand and finding vendors that can supply the appropriate amount of food to keep it cost-neutral.

Demand for kosher food is high in the New York metropolitan area, and both the New York and Detroit areas are major centers of halal consumption.

The USDA currently buys some kosher and halal foods but not in an organized, regulated fashion. It’s hard to know how soon the full effort can launch or how successful it will be, but a test run that predates the Farm Bill’s passage is underway.

M&S apologises after Muslim assistant refused to sell customer alcohol

December 23, 2013

 

Marks & Spencer has apologised after a Muslim member of staff refused to sell a customer alcohol. “The issue arose after an unnamed customer at a London store was “taken aback” when an “extremely apologetic” Muslim checkout worker asked them to wait for another till to become available.

The customer told the newspaper: “I had one bottle of champagne, and the lady, who was wearing a headscarf, was very apologetic but said she could not serve me. She told me to wait until another member of staff was available. I was taken aback. I was a bit surprised. I’ve never come across that before.”

Drinking alcohol is forbidden in Islam, and some Muslims refuse to handle it. M&S said its policy applied to staff of all religions, not just Islam. The spokeswoman said: “Where we have an employee whose religious beliefs restrict food or drink they can handle, we work closely with our members of staff to place them in suitable role, such as in our clothing department or bakery in foods.

The case highlighted differences among retailers on whether religious staff should have to carry out certain jobs, the Telegraph said. Sainsbury’s guidelines say there is no reason why staff who do not drink alcohol or eat pork on religious grounds cannot handle them, the newspaper reported, while Tesco said it made “no sense” for staff that refused to touch items for religious reasons to work on a till. Muslim employees at Asda do not have to work on tills if they object to handling alcohol, while Morrisons said it would “respect and work around anyone’s wishes not to handle specific products for religious or cultural reasons”, the Telegraph said.

 

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/dec/23/marks-and-spencer-muslim-alcohol

The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/10533728/MandS-faces-furious-backlash-from-customers-over-Muslim-policy.html

My 18 months with former EDL leader Tommy Robinson by Mohammed Ansar

October 18, 2013

 

It was April 2012, and it was my first face-to-face meeting with Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon), the leader of the English Defence League (EDL). We were appearing on a BBC1 programme called The Big Questions. Little did I know this would be the start of an 18-month journey together that would end with Tommy leaving the EDL.

It was an odd position to find myself in. I had spent years as an outspoken advocate against Islamophobia, working to counter extremism and trying to address what I felt was an emerging civil rights crisis for Muslims in Britain. Muslim communities everywhere were under threat, attacks against mosques and individuals were at epidemic levels and rising. Yet the Islamic tradition is that you do not try to crush those who wish to oppress you, you try to educate them. You pray for them. You enlighten them. Despite the heated exchanges that day, I was able to extend to Tommy an offer: that we have dinner.

Three hours of debate followed. Tommy meanwhile seemed to enjoy ordering the most expensive thing on the menu. He liked his steak on the rare side. At the end of it we both tweeted two statements from Tommy – that I “must be reading a different Qur’an to everyone else” and “if every Muslim was like you there would be no problem”. The response was shocked and sceptical. That I had passed the Tommy Robinson test for acceptability was nothing to be pleased about. He had to meet more people. We needed to do more work.

So our journey together continued. Despite both my mother and wife questioning my sanity, I had always wanted to stand up and address an EDL meeting, and come face to face with Tommy’s supporters. A town hall-style meeting was arranged at a hotel in Luton. Because of the risks, the crowd was limited to around 50 people, and I was given a four-strong security team, including my own bodyguard, a Jehovah’s Witness called Rudi. It was a stressful experience. The anger and hostility from EDL members surfaced over things I thought long gone, with the National Front-daubed brick walls of 1970s Britain: coming over here and taking our jobs and our women, erosion of culture (they even believed they were limited from practising Christmas), multiculturalism, and immigration. It was important to listen – they are not uncommon views. Painful ones.

At the end of the meeting, I had to break my fast, as required in the month of Ramadan. I invited Tommy back to my room and he stood with me as I offered a dua supplication/prayer. We ate food from a local Indian takeaway. Tommy’s insistence on refusing halal meat on camera was a regular theme throughout our time together, despite the fact he eats it at Nandos and his favourite Turkish kebab shop. As I prayed maghrib (sunset prayers) he watched, quietly. Tommy has always been much better to talk to in a one-to-one setting. We could have a real conversation. When the camera was rolling, I felt we rarely saw the real Tommy.

Later Tommy held a conference with Maajid Nawaz, of the counter-extremism think-tank Quilliam, and announced he was quitting the EDL. I was cautiously optimistic. Throughout the journey my aim had been simple – to see if we could move Tommy on his views and to see if the British public would shift on theirs. My view had always been that any new future should be conditional on Tommy distancing himself from former extremist pals, and that shared ideology.

My journey with Tommy has shown one thing – that to embrace diversity in modern society we need to work out our differences. It’s often a messy and imperfect process, but it’s vital that we remain hopeful. Discourse and dialogue can work. How else can we tackle hate and prejudice?

 

The Guardian:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/19/my-journey-with-edl-tommy-robinson