An IERA artists impression of Lauren Booth. Rest assured, Thomas Gainsborough is crying somewhere.
Adil returns with an article of the quality we have come to expect from him – a review of a Muslim festival held last month. Although I can’t speak for his motivations, it seems it was written largely in response to a rather nasty article by Lauren Booth, who found much to fault at said event.
Strangely, and don’t take this the wrong way, I like Lauren, she is intelligent, articulate and very presentable, you could even say ‘photogenic’, though you wouldn’t know that from the photo IERA posted of her above, she doesn’t have any problem with hard-core Salafi organisations doing events that are militantly sectarian, dismissing all but Wahhabi speakers as well as segregated in a most fascinating way: women may address women only but men (who are well known for their sexual self control, like some of the speakers of IERA (NOTE: sarcasm) may address not only a mixed audience but even a female only audience.
Not only does she not have a problem with such events, she speaks at them and promotes them herself:
A good analysis of IERA’s ‘policies’ here: http://thesultansjester.com/2013/03/15/iera-too-big-to-fail/
As well as IERA ‘scholar’ and inveterate female genital mutilator Haitham Haddad https://asharisassemble.com/2014/03/10/lies-damn-lies-and-haitham-al-haddad/
More Islamophobes’ fantasies fulfilled by IERA here: https://asharisassemble.com/2013/10/14/hamza-tzortzis-wants-to-love-you-or-else/
None of this bothered Booth, who, sadly, like many converts, has long ago fallen in with a Salafist crowd.
Like all intelligent people, she will be leaving them at some stage (or will have to switch off her mental and moral compass). The only question is how much damage she will do to herself and others before she does.
And I really think I pre-Raphelite looking girl like Lauren deserves a portrait by someone like Rosetti as opposed to the ‘artist’ from IERA…
A review of ‘The Muslim Glastonbury’ (And reflecting on criticisms)
One of the better holiday decisions I have made was signing up for the event dubbed ‘The Muslim Glastonbury.’ Living Islam Festival, as it is formally known, was held on a showground and campsite in Lincolnshire and entailed three and a half days worth of talks, seminars, events, and activities about important and often difficult Islamic issues, along with a few more light hearted activities such as various sports.
We were privileged to have the chance to attend seminars and workshops lead by numerous well known and well acclaimed academics, spokespeople and community leaders, including but not limited to: Imam Suhaib Webb, Husein Kavazovic, Sheikh Atabek, Dr Rowan Williams, Julie Siddiqi, Rabiha Hannan, Dilwar Hussain, Batool Toma, Dawud Wharnsby Ali, Ahtsham Ali, Salma Yaqoob, Timothy Winter, Zahra Macdonald, Sara Khan, Professor Farid Esack, Sarah Javaid, Miriam Cerah, Ajmal Masroor, Nafeez Ahmed, Lubaaba Al-Azami, Colin Nell, Saif Adam, Dr Mohammad Siddique Seddon, Brian Cathcart, Naeem Raza,Rizwaan Sabir and many others.
The talks themselves discussed important and oft otherwise neglected or (poorly addressed) topics in a frank, down to earth and engaging manner; ranging from marriage, jurisprudence, sex, theology, sustainability, politics, sectarianism and history. I felt truly privileged to have been there, and to personally talk to some of the speakers themselves, who deeply embodied the Islamic characteristics of modesty and approachability to compliment their wealth of knowledge. I also had the chance to meet sections of the Muslim community from all across the country and in doing so met some of the best people I have ever known, and made many new contacts. All in all, this events was one which we desperately needed, was much overdue and needs repetition more often. I was sad that I will have to wait for 2016 for the next one; I cannot recommend it to our UK readers enough.
But you can’t please everyone. Following Living Islam, some brothers and sisters (some of whom had not actually attended it), wrote scathing sentiments about the event on social media, and several of my own contacts shared what I feel is a disappointing and slightly mean spirited article written by Sister Lauren Booth about the event.
In this article I give the criticisms a friendly critique by addressing each of the alleged controversies (some of which I have heard others voice, not only Ms Booth).This review is not merely a cheap debunking exercise however, rather I hope by reading the sections below, the reader will get an insight into what the festival was like; as if I had written any other review. In particular, I think the issue with inviting the police and military to be onsite is an important one which I discussed below. So starting from the juiciest first, here are some of the controversies associated with the festival:
The police and military were invited to the event
”Erm, we know quite enough about the British military and our governments arms trade, already, don’t we?”
Many besides Sister Lauren voiced similar sentiments. But the answer is in fact, no we don’t know enough about the British military, not by a long shot. Personally, my conscience would not allow me to join the army, such is the case for many Muslims, who also believe that our governments campaigns in other countries are not legitimate. That’s fine. I don’t disagree. However, many Muslims seem to think that if the military is fighting an illegitimate war, this means that any outrageous or insane accusations we make about the military and its personnel are fair game and probably true. This is exactly what right wing idiots do with Islam and Muslims; if they hear something insane and violent or just purely outlandish about Muslims, they are more than happy to believe it without question; Islamophobic sites do this all the time, an example that comes to mind is Pamela Geller claiming that hundreds of Nigerians who died in an industrial accident had been burned alive by Muslims!
You don’t have to agree with everything the British army does, to still be in favour of addressing misconceptions about how they operate. One soldier who I talked to had been on several tours to Afghanistan but never fired a shot there, but had been involved in numerous restoration projects, a large part of which included rebuilding and maintaining mosques, engaging with community leaders and funding them. What about the army’s stance on collateral damage? As one soldier pointed out, the British military is not the US military nor the IDF; he himself considered the Israeli attacks on Gaza to be tragic and criminal. How does the army deal with racism and Islamophobia? The way some Muslims talk you’d think they actively promote both, yet in reality the army teaches its recruits to respect cultural and religious differences; a soldier involved in this says the line he usually takes it pointing out that Islam is 600 years younger than Christianity and that Christianity 600 years ago wasn’t exactly a picnic all the time. I think there are more rigorous defences of Islam and Muslims out there but this is still an honest and well intended one. How does the army deal with people who break the rules and purposefully kill civilians? Unlike, perhaps the Israeli forces, such soldiers don’t actually get a pat on the back, and invariably will be tried and imprisoned for murder if found guilty. How does the army perceive the far right, who always claim to support them? From what I gather from talking to soldiers, with contempt and distain. Why would the army appreciate a group of youths whose only public platform should be The Jeremy Kyle Show, dressing up in camouflage and ‘invading’ mosques? In other words why would they respect people who pretend to be soldiers, as far right activists usually do in some capacity?
Now invariably, and despite the fact that I have clearly stated that my conscience would not allow me to join the military, I can foresee the responses consisting of ‘They were just there to put a smile on the faces of gullible Muslims,’ ‘That never happens in practice,’ ‘Wake up they are waging a war on Islam,’ and others, which are merely parallels of the stealth jihad/creeping sharia/taqiyya accusations of Islamophobes where a Muslim can say nothing right. If the Muslim is vile, belligerent and obnoxious, he or she is deemed ‘a real and honest Muslim,’ and if the Muslim is civil, polite and peaceful, they are deemed to be lying in order to convince non Muslims that they come in peace. In other words they are damned either way. It is worth remembering also that President of the Islamic Society of Britain who hosted the event rightly pointed out that having the armed forces there was good for them to see Muslims in a different light to perhaps they are used to. All in all, their presence was a useful learning experience for them and for us.
Discrepancies with the Adhan
Granted, there were one or two instances of a lapse in organisation of the Adhan, including the absence of it on Friday morning. Obviously this leaves something to be desired but it doesn’t warrant allegations that prayer was somehow put second, third or fourth in terms of importance, nor justify saying ‘Muslims prayed (or not)’ as if only a few Muslims bothered to pray. As far as I could see, most Muslims kept all 5. In particular, praying alongside thousands of people outdoors was a deep spiritual experience, one which the aforementioned review simply doesn’t adequately acknowledge.
The Lack of Palestinian flags
Okay, we didn’t have Palestinian flags around the campsite. We just had every other person wearing something affiliated with Palestine, whether a t-shirt, jumper, bracelets or the like, and Palestine being one of the first mentioned in the welcome speech. The presenter even got the newly-arrived crowd chanting the highly catchy slogan of ”In Our Thousands, In Our Billions, We Are All Palestinians!” Not to mention, many of the stalls (which have been unfairly maligned in my opinion as being mere shopping outlets) were either directly related to Palestine in some way (e.g. selling fairtrade Palestinian goods, or charities to raise aid for Gaza). Any more Palestine based things and the event could have been a Palestine Festival. It was hardly neglected! If we are to follow the ‘how can we have fun while Children die in Gaza’ line, then we can never consistently have fun, because there are always innocent people dying in the world. The fact that much of the festival was about learning and not about ‘fun’ aside, what justice would not finding it enjoyable give to the Gazans? Sure if we acted as if nothing was happening and there was no acknowledgement of their plight nor fundraising activities this would be unacceptable, but that didn’t come close to being the case.
They played music
Some Muslims do not consider music permissible. I am not amongst them, but I respect people’s conscience. At the festival, there was some music held in the big top tent; some guests chose to go, others didn’t either because they personally don’t believe music to be permissible, or they thought there were better things to do. To me this sounds perfectly accommodating and with no real grounds to gripe; no one was being forced to listen to music nor was it the case that there were no alternatives; I myself chose to instead visit the (unfairly maligned) Bazaar and then a ‘Campus’ talk, not because I consider music impermissible but the other options seemed more productive/like better learning experiences. People who didn’t feel like listening to music were hardly discriminated against!
”Five thousand Muslims shopped together, ate junk food in the sun, prayed (or not), wore hijab (or not), forgot Gaza (or not), listened to funky music, gasped at low flying aircraft and thought about joining the British Military….”
”…The main point of the weekend appeared to me to be the somewhat counter-spiritual business of shopping for everyday scarves and jilbabs and eating, pricey, fried food.”
I have great respect for Sister Lauren Booth but I find these comments to be quite unfair and for the most part unwarranted. The vast majority of the stalls were charitable organisations of sorts, or advertising particular causes; a couple sold sweets and a couple sold clothes, it was anything but an indoor shopping mall! The vast majority of sisters also did wear hijab (and even if they didn’t that wouldn’t diminish the organisation of the festival itself? Surely this has got nothing to do with living Islam but rather people and their own hardships/ trials between them and Allah ). Gasping at the low flying aircraft was also perfectly justifiable because they performed plenty of impressive feats!
I do wonder if Lauren actually spoke to many young Muslims who actually said that they would consider joining the military. She might have for all I know, but if this is mere speculation then such a comment should be withdrawn. From the numerous people I spoke to, none claimed to be ‘turned’ by the military to the point that they stated that they wanted to join it; not once on the several occasions when I spoke to the gentlemen at the armed forces tent did they explicitly or implicitly give ‘military Dawah,’ unless you count their recognition of Muslim contributions in both world wars, something Muslims and non-Muslims really need to read up on.
And pricey fried food? Please. A sizeable Chicken Biriyani was available for £2.50, and sandwiches could be purchased for £1! I volunteered to help serve breakfast myself and we charged £1.50 for all of the following: A bowl of cereal with milk, toast, a croissant, an angel cake, some rusk and tea or coffee! Anyone who went to the event will testify to this! Please, if you want to criticise the speakers or the set up by all means do so but this just sounds like a poor attempt to leave an otherwise impartial reader with a bad vibe!
Towards the end of her article, Lauren states that ‘Last weekend at Living Islam, I felt that my Islam had pretty much stayed at home.’ I commend her for being candid enough to say ‘My’ Islam and not ‘Islam,’ but this is still a very (inadvertently) misleading statement, suggestive that she attended a secular event where people just went to have fun and there was nothing Islamic in nature. I felt my Imaan (Faith) was the stronger for the occasion, my knowledge had greatly improved, and I had met many incredible people. Most people who went did observe all the prayers and went to two if not three seminars per day held by excellent scholars and spokespeople and had a chance to connect with other Muslims. No event or activity should be above criticism but if the sister cannot at least appreciate that most people who went to Living Islam were the better for it, I’m not certain we attended the same event. Influential Muslims like sister Lauren have a responsibility that comes with their influence. Muslims in Britain are faced with so many intellectual and social challenges which need to be addressed. One should think very carefully before trying to dissuade Muslims (which let’s be honest the article at least implicitly did) from attending an event where all important topics like marriage, science, history, theology and various contemporary issues are addressed and discussed. Had I not attended living Islam, I would be a more ignorant person then I am now, and I am far from alone. As always I look forward to any comments or criticisms and of course if anyone who attended this event or previous ones would like to give their views, I would be delighted to hear them.