Muslim charity to put ‘Allah is great’ posters on buses to portray Islam in a positive light

Hundreds of British buses will carry adverts praising Allah as part of a campaign launched by the country’s biggest Muslim charity to help victims of Syria’s civil war. Islamic Relief hopes the posters, which bear the words “Subhan Allah”, meaning “Glory be to God” in Arabic, will portray Islam and international aid in a positive light.

Buses will carry the advertisements in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leicester and Bradford. These cities have large Muslim populations and the charity hopes it will encourage people to donate generously ahead of the start of Ramadan on 7 June.

Imran Madden, the UK director of Islamic Relief, said: “In a sense this could be called a climate change campaign because we want to change the negative climate around international aid and around the Muslim community in this country.

“International aid has helped halve the number of people living in extreme poverty in the past 15 years, and British Muslims are an incredibly generous community who give over £100 million to international aid charities in Ramadan.”

The new campaign will appear on buses from 23 May on 640 buses around the country. The adverts will have a special resonance in London as the city elected its first Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, on Thursday – despite a Conservative campaign, which repeatedly accused him of having connections to extremists.

Why we talk about Zaha Hadid’s gender and ethnicity even though her architecture transcended both

To say that the sudden death of Zaha Hadid last week has left a gap in architecture is an understatement.

She was a woman in a field dominated by men. An Iraqi-born, secular Muslim who made her home in clubby Protestant England. A flamboyant, cape-wearing figure who was recognizable, Madonna-like, by simply her first name. Most important, she was an architect who pushed the field forward, toward ever more complex, organic shapes that seemed to take their inspiration from the webbed patterns of biological tissue and the globular shapes of cells.

“She charted new territory for all architects with her vision,” architect Sharon Johnston, founding principal at Johnston Marklee, an L.A.-based firm, stated via email. “Zaha’s passion, personality and sheer talent were all essential to her success and her undeniable importance in the history of contemporary architecture.”

She was far more interested in pushing the boundaries of design than of society. And yet, there’s no denying that Hadid’s gender and ethnicity were part of what made her an outsized role model for so many. Hadid, after all, was the first woman to win the Pritzker, architecture’s most prestigious prize, as well as the first female to be awarded the Royal Gold Medal by the Royal Institute of British Architects. She was, as Kriston Capps notes over at Citylab, the first real-deal female starchitect — a figure whose name and designs resonated way beyond the architectural community.

In addition to buildings, she also designed jewelry, yachts and even a jelly shoe.

“I never use the issue about being a woman architect,” she told the Guardian in 2004, “but if it helps younger people to know they can break through the glass ceiling, I don’t mind that.”

The focus on her storied career in the wake of her death shows how much it is possible for a woman to achieve — and how much more ground women have yet left to cover.

A report published by the San Francisco Chapter of the American Institute of Architects last year revealed that though women make up 42% of graduates from programs accredited by the National Architecture Accrediting Board, they make up only 28% of architectural staff in AIA-member-owned firms, and only 17% of principals and partners.

In addition, a study released this year by the national AIA shows that women and minorities in the United States, two groups underrepresented in architecture, both cite a lack of role models as one of the major reasons the profession remains largely male and white.

The women who do labor in these environments have had to contend with dismissive or downright hostile behavior. In an interview I conducted with architect Denise Scott Brown in 2013, she described everything from direct insults to not being invited to architect parties because she was the “wife.” (She ran a firm with her husband, Pritzker Prize-winning architect Robert Venturi.)

Hadid, who was based in London, had to deal with some bad behavior herself. Anissa Helou, a cookbook author, teacher and chef, was a longtime friend of the architect’s. The two met in the early 1970s, at a dinner party hosted by a mutual friend.

“Being a strong woman and a foreigner in London in a man’s field [at the time] did not make it easy for her,” she stated via email. “Also, being so ahead of her time in her thinking and designs and being so uncompromising about what she wanted to do did not help, so she had to contend with a lot.”

When Hadid accepted the Royal Gold Medal earlier this year, she said in her remarks: “We now see more established female architects all the time. That doesn’t mean it’s easy.”

Moreover, there was the issue of her Iraqi heritage, which wasn’t always well-received.

“It’s a triple whammy,” she told the BBC Radio 4 in February. “I’m a woman, which is a problem to many people. I’m a foreigner — another problem. And I do work which is not normative, which is not what they expect. Together, it becomes difficult.”

In the mid-1990s, Hadid won a competition to design a new opera house in Cardiff, Wales. As concerns about the purpose of the building and its budget hit the press, xenophobic remarks began to surface. One Welsh minister of parliament said that her geometric design was identical to the shrine in Mecca.

“It was disgusting the way I was treated,” Hadid told the New Yorker in 2009. “These British women would tell little jokes. … It was awful. ‘We don’t want a fatwa! Tee-hee!'”

“There were people,” she added, “who wouldn’t look me in the eye.”

Like any high-profile architect, Hadid was expected to produce strong, functional designs. But as a woman, she also faced the added pressure of having her work interpreted as some sort of gender statement. One of her designs for a stadium was compared to female genitalia in the press — something she described as “nonsense.”

“You are vulnerable as a woman because there is pressure for what you represent not just for the profession, but in society,” said Annabelle Selldorf, principal of Selldorf Architects in New York. “She didn’t marry. She didn’t have a family. She didn’t represent the conventional model.”

Hadid also wasn’t the sort of woman who stood around meekly asking for permission to join in, something that made her a significant example to other women.

“She was a big deal for women in architecture and not because she made that her thing,” said Selldorf. “But because she was simply a powerful person. … She was so unequivocal and so powerful. That’s what made her an idol.”

Her toughness, however, was also used against her. Hadid’s imperious manner — directed at architectural selection committees as well as magazine writers and her staff — often got her characterized as a shrew by the press. In fact, much has been made of her “diva” behavior, even in her obituaries.

As Guardian critic Oliver Wainwright noted in an essay last fall, petulant male architects get described with words such as “maverick” instead. When the irascible Philip Johnsondied in 2005, the New York Times referred to him as an “enfant terrible,” a label that comes off as charming and continental.

Certainly, there are aspects to Hadid’s career that are unsavory — such as her work in locations where serious human rights issues have come up (such as the cultural center she designed in Azerbaijan). It’s important, though, to note that in this regard she was no different from some of her male starchitect colleagues — figures such as Norman Foster and Rem Koolhaas, who have taken on morally questionable assignments in locations such as Kazakhstan and China, respectively.

But whatever the ramifications of individual buildings, the fact is that Hadid’s death leaves an enormous void. She remains the only individual woman to have won the Pritzker in its nearly 40-year history, and the only woman to have won the Royal Gold Medal in its 168-year history. On so many occasions, she has been the lone female architect in the room — and with her absence, some of those rooms may revert back to being all male.

Women have made tremendous gains in architecture since Hadid launched her career in the 1970s. They build towers and design museums and magazine-worthy weekend homes. But they still remain sorely underrepresented.

Hadid’s death has prematurely taken a powerful emblem from our midst, a woman who commanded respect and prestige — and who didn’t feel the need to be all cuddly about it.

“I just do what I do and that’s it,” she told the BBC nonchalantly back in February.

As far as a whole generation of women architects are concerned, however, what she did was just the beginning.

Three British schoolgirls flee to Syria to be “Jihadi Brides”

Three British schoolgirls from London disappeared from their homes in February and were en route to Syria when police were alerted. From left: Kadiza Sultana (16), Amira Abase and Shamima Begum (both 15).
Three British schoolgirls from London disappeared from their homes in February and were en route to Syria when police were alerted. From left: Kadiza Sultana (16), Amira Abase and Shamima Begum (both 15). (Photo: BBC)

The police hunt for three British ‘jihadi brides’ who ran away from home to join Islamic State fighters has intensified in a bid to stop them crossing the Turkish border into Syria. The three students from Bethnal Green Academy in east London, were at the centre of an increasingly desperate international hunt to find them before they managed to enter territory controlled by fighters from IS, also known as Isil. The family of one of the girls urged Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16 and Amira Abase, 15, to come back home, warning on Saturday that their lives would be in danger in Syria.

The police hunt for three British ‘jihadi brides’ who ran away from home to join Islamic State fighters has intensified in a bid to stop them crossing the Turkish border into Syria. The three students from Bethnal Green Academy in east London, were at the centre of an increasingly desperate international hunt to find them before they managed to enter territory controlled by fighters from IS, also known as Isil. The family of one of the girls urged Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16 and Amira Abase, 15, to come back home, warning on Saturday that their lives would be in danger in Syria.

MPs have now called for an inquiry into the effectiveness of border controls in stopping British youngsters travelling to the region with the intention of joining IS. Counter-terror experts estimate that as many as 50 young Muslim women and girls have made the journey from Britain to Syria and it emerged on Friday that Shamima, Kadiza and their friend were close to a 15-year-old girls from their school who travelled to Syria last December.

It remains unclear how the girls became radicalised enough to take the step of travelling to Turkey with the intention of joining what they regard as their “brothers and sisters” in IS. However on February 15 – two days before boarding their flight – Shamima used the social media site twitter to get in touch with 20-year-old Aqsa Mahmood, a privately educated woman from Glasgow who joined IS and married one of its fighters.

Last night Yasmin Qureshi, a Labour member of the home affairs committee said more needed to be done urgently to dissuade young Muslims from “the illusion” that they are helping their religion by joining Isil.

New theatre production looking at Muslim conversion

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About 5,000 people in the UK convert to Islam every year, the majority of whom are women. It is a religious and cultural choice still largely treated with suspicion, but a new play opening at London’s Tricycle Theatre is aimed at shedding light on the journey of conversion and British perceptions of Islam as a whole.

Multitudes is the debut work of John Hollingworth, an actor who has appeared in productions at the National Theatre, the Old Vic and the Tricycle, and is set in his hometown of Bradford, West Yorkshire, just after the forthcoming general election.

With characters ranging from a British tutor who converts to Islam and a moderate British Muslim councillor, to a teenage girl who has become radicalised and wants to join the Islamic caliphate, it is a play that grapples with varied and often ignored facets of the Muslim experience in modern Britain.

Christian Preacher in London may hold vital information on ISIS

A Christian preacher in London may hold vital information about a man suspected by the security services of being an accomplice of Jihadi John, the Islamic State murderer.

Daniel Downer, who is not accused of any wrongdoing, was sent a message by Nero Saraiva, who travelled to Syria two years ago. Mr Downer, from Chingford, east London, was asked to provide photographs of Saraiva’s young son, who is thought to live in the capital with Saraiva’s former partner.

It is believed the security services are keen to speak to everyone with knowledge of Saraiva’s movements after it emerged that he appeared to have advance knowledge of an ISIL beheading video.

Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, claims jihadists are ‘sexually frustrated losers’

Mayor of London Boris Johnson says that jihadis are "sexually frustrated losers."
Mayor of London Boris Johnson says that jihadists are “sexually frustrated losers.”

London’s mayor had some choice words Friday for Muslims who turn to radicalism, calling them sexually frustrated losers who turn to terrorism out of a deep-seated lack of self-confidence. Johnson further contended that turning to radical Islam was a form of compensation for men with deflated egos and a lack of purpose: “They are just young men in desperate need of self-esteem who do not have a particular mission in life, who feel that they are losers and this thing makes them feel strong — like winners.”

The 50-year-old politician, who reportedly has his eyes on the premiership, went on to criticize elements of the Islamic community for not doing enough to convince young men to turn away from extremism: “I often hear voices from the Muslim intelligentsia who are very quick to accuse people of Islamophobia… But they are not explaining how it can be that this one religion seems to be leading people astray in so many cases.”

“Somebody in a position of responsibility should be making responsible comments,” Mohammed Khaliel, director of the community cohesion organisation Islamix, told the Guardian on Friday. “For somebody allegedly aspiring to be prime minister of the country, is this really the style and level of comments that he should be making?

Charlie Winter from the Quilliam Foundation, an organization set up by ex-Islamists to challenge and counter extremism, called the mayor’s analysis “ludicrous,” stating that many defy the caricature painted by Johnson.

Ramadan tent project

July 25, 2014

Student volunteers have been organising an inter-faith charity project in London during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan for the second year running. The Ramadan tent invites the public to join Muslims breaking their fast at sunset every day. Organisers say the aim is to provide opportunities for young Muslims to meet people from London’s diverse communities. The Ramadan Tent Project is based at Malet Street Gardens in central London.

Young Muslims defend decision to fly Islamic black flag at gates of east London council estate

August 13, 2014

Young Muslims today defended the flying of a black flag above the gates of an east London council estate. Youths at the gates to the Will Crooks estate, in Poplar, branded objectors to the flag – which has been adopted by some jihadist groups – as “racist”. The flag was removed yesterday for the second time following two visits from Met officers in as many days. It was hung there alongside the Palestinian flag as part of an “end the siege in Gaza” protest.

Today one youth outside the estate said: “It’s just racists complaining. If it was the St George’s flag, it would be alright. But this is our version and there’s this big reaction.”

Another added: “I don’t understand why it has caused so much reaction. All it is a declaration of the belief in Allah. It’s not the ISIS flag.”

A Met spokesman said they first attended on Friday but the flag had been removed when they arrived. “It was not an ISIS flag. There are no criminal offences arising from this incident.”

University student caught with 20,000 euros in knickers denies terrorism

19th May 2014

A university student who was caught with thousands of pounds worth of banknotes in her underwear at Heathrow airport has denied funding terrorism. Nawal Masaad, 26, is accused of trying to smuggle the cash to Turkey on January 16 this year, from where the prosecution alleged it would be taken by a contact to Syria. Notes totalling €20,000 (£16,300) in €500 notes were discovered wrapped in cling film in the young woman’s underwear when she was searched by airport security officers.

Prosecutors claim she was recruited by Amal El-Wahabi, 27, to take the money to Istanbul, where she would rendezvous with El-Wahabi’s husband, who the court heard was involved in terrorism in Syria.

Masaad, of Holloway, north London, and El-Wahabi, of north-west London, both deny “becoming concerned in a funding arrangement” and having “reasonable cause to suspect that it would or may be used for the purposes of terrorism”.

The maximum sentence for the offence, if convicted, is 14 years’ imprisonment. The pair are the first British women to be charged with terrorism offences related to the conflict.

British citizen appears in ‘war crime’ execution video

A British citizen fighting in Syria is believed to have committed a war crime by taking part in the execution of a prisoner. A video that has been made public shows a rebel fighter, thought to be from London, firing a weapon repeatedly into a man who has his hands bound. A note that accompanies the video – which was uploaded to the photo and video sharing service Instagram – says the victim is “one of Bashar’s dogs”, a reference to supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It adds that the man admitted to killing four people and raping a woman.

 

The chilling footage is likely to reinforce the fears of UK security services that British citizens fighting in Syria pose a serious threat if they ever return, due to the likelihood that they will have been radicalised by the war.

 

The clip was uploaded by an account linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) –the most extremist rebel group in Syria. It is thought the incident took place within the last two weeks near the Isis stronghold of Raqqa, in northern Syria. After a fellow rebel shoots the prisoner in the head, the man believed to be the British citizen fires several shots into the prisoner’s body. The murder or ill treatment of prisoners is considered a violation of the Geneva Convention, which defines war crimes.

 

Researchers at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), which monitors the activity of British fighters in Syria, identified the gunman as the same person who appeared in previous videos calling on fellow British Muslims to join the fight in Syria. The man goes by the name “Abu Abdullah” and speaks with a thick London accent.

 

A Government spokesman said: “This demonstrates why we have consistently called for the situation in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court. Whether this barbaric act is specifically a war crime is for a court to decide. Horrific atrocities have been committed by both the Assad regime and by extremists. The international community must ensure that all those responsible are held to account.”