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Panto Update

// March 13th, 2010 // No Comments » // Blog

For anyone who's interested, both end-of-IAW performances went really well, māshā’Allāh. Annoyingly, certain individuals insisted on comparing the brothers' panto to the sisters', even though those certain individuals were male, and thus had no idea what went on in the neighbouring lecture theatre. Pfft.

Anyhoo, there was a surprisingly good turnout for both shows, and in spite of certain technical difficulties (e.g., I managed to mess up the tech within 20 seconds of the sisters' play starting, and the brothers couldn't get all their videos running), the audience seemed to really enjoy themselves, māshā’Allāh. It was also very reassuring to see the girls laughing in all the right places when my videos played, as I was genuinely worried that I'd be the only one.

Admittedly, I am a little gutted that the guys will never get to see our routine, and therefore will continue to fail in their appreciation of the fact that girls can do comedy. However, there is something extremely liberating about knowing that your production is for female eyes only. Many things are made easier: for one, both the players and audience can get away with less 'dignified' behaviour, by acting the fool, and laughing freely, respectively. Even little things, like more freedom in the costume and makeup department, make all the difference.

In the case of filming, I don't have to fret about whether all the women in the shot are wearing hijab, or whether I'm too zoomed in onto their faces (I was instructed that this is a no-no for ISoc videos – fair enough). This means that the production can be far more inclusive, allowing the mingling of all types of Muslims, and even non-Muslims, which is the first step in the dawah process.

There are clearly downsides. In order to keep a tight control on who gets to see the films, I can't upload them online, which means realistically, only a handful of people will ever get to see them. I'm even loathe to place it under restricted access as it's not very difficult for passwords to be shared, and who knows who is in the room when the video is being played? It may seem paranoid, but the sisters who agree to star in my videos have placed their trust in me, and therefore, I have to be extra careful on their behalf.

Besides, if the only way such productions could be viewed securely is in person, it might be a great opportunity to allow women to regularly socialize in a safe, relaxed environment, especially in a world that is becoming increasing detached, superficial and impersonal. The internet is a powerful tool, but we shouldn't forget the traditional methods by which we seek to interact with our fellow human beings.

I'm aware that those who are against any kind of gender segregation will most likely be scoffing right now at all the efforts I'm going through, but I don't really care anymore. I've personally witnessed the benefits, so you can keep your arrogant sneering to yourself, thankyouverymuch. In the game of Science, observation always trumps theory, so in a word… ner.

I hope to kick start the Film Club soon. Now that I've worked with some sisters, and we have something to show for all our efforts, the recruitment process should become a lot easier, inshā’Allāh. May Allāh make it a beneficial endeavor for all involved, āmīn!

Panto Time

// March 12th, 2010 // 1 Comment » // Blog

This post is partly an extension of a message I left on TweetBook recently. Imperial College ISoc is sending off Islam Awareness Week by hosting two plays/pantos: each of which was written and shall be performed by the guys and gals of the ISoc, respectively.

Both plays take place on the evening of Friday, 12th March (i.e., in less than 24 hours!), in the SAF building (no. 33 on the map), at the South Kensington campus.

The sisters' play starts at 6.15pm (female-only audience), and the brothers' (all welcome) is straight after at 7pm, inshā’Allāh. I pray that the show runs by GMT, and not MST!

I'm not performing, but I have made three short videos for the sisters' play, and as of yesterday night, will be taking care of 'tech' (which basically means playing a list of odd, a capella sound effects on cue!).

Regarding the vids, this was my first time filming 'fictional' pieces, as opposed to conducting interviews or covering events, so I'm quite interested to see how well they're received, especially by the non-Muslim attendees. The ideas and scripts were written by other sisters; I was roped into filming and editing at the last minute, i.e., making their crazy ideas a reality!

At first, I was reluctant to help, mainly because the publicity team hadn't yet finished making the IAW trailer, I only had a week left to make the videos the girls wanted, and tbh, I kinda hate editing these days.

But when it actually came time to film, I had such a blast, I actually felt a bit guilty for not being more keen initially. And even better, going through the 100+ clips that we had amassed over two afternoons of filming was a joy in and of itself. I was often creasing with laughter during playback – which made me realize: it's not that I find editing a chore; it's that I find editing boring stuff a chore.

Anyone who regular goes through the process knows what I mean: you're sat alone in a room for hours on end, your backside getting progressively more numb whilst you traverse backwards and forwards through hours of footage, in order to find the best five minutes worth. Then you have to decide on the cuts and transitions between scenes, where mere microseconds can mean the difference between glory or disaster.

If you're lucky, you'll have a good soundtrack (music-free, if you swing that way) to work with – it really makes the job of editing 1000 times easier. But the 'No Musical Instruments' (and sometimes, no musically stuff whatsoever) barrier presents a real challenge. And frankly, I am getting pretty tired of the same five anasheed that every Muslim video-maker seems to use these days. Please people, we need some new material already!

Anyway. This whole experience has served as a nice prelude to the 'women-only film club' idea, that I recently proposed. At first I was umm-ing and ahh-ing about whether women-only would work, but māshā’Allāh, it really does. Especially when you have access to bright young minds. The results speak for themselves – which you can judge for yourself, if you're around tomorrow night, inshā’Allāh. :)

Actions Speak Louder

// February 14th, 2010 // 4 Comments » // Blog

I always find it awkward to directly ask a potential about Islam-related matters. So here's a rishta tip for those single girls who care about whether their potential spouse prays or not, and wish to gauge the level of importance that he places upon salat: pay attention to the meeting time.

For example, if he sets it to five minutes before or after Maghrib, that's not a good sign. When does he expect to pray it, and doesn't he care that you have to pray too?

Also, if he is already at your house, and the time for Maghrib is fast approaching, or even worse, it has already started, and he hasn't made a single mention of it – well, it's another bad sign. The same applies to any prayer he's about to miss having spent a few hours in your family's company.

An exception to the rule is a guy who has travelled a long distance in order to visit, as he may have the option to join the prayers (i.e., dhohr & asr, maghrib & isha) – depending on the opinion he follows.

I could probably write a few more “rishta tips” from my five plus years of experience. But I'm saving them up for the book that I plan to publish once I have actually succeeded in getting hitched. Right now, it reads too much like the opening chapter of Bilqis Joneswala's Diary. The story will only be worth reading if and when Mr Darcy decides to show.

Do Not Push

// January 22nd, 2010 // 4 Comments » // Blog, Photos

I snapped this while changing the tapes on my HV20 camcorder. I thought it was a good message.

Anyhoo, I have been discussing the possibility of setting up a film club within my ISoc. I am tempted towards making it a sisters-only gig – mainly cuz I've been wanting to recruit a talented woman to help me edit all the footage I have sat on my external hard drive for a while now. Inshā’Allāh, a fruitful legacy will be born out of my selfish needs.

The good news is that everyone I have spoken to thus far seems keen. The challenges include: a lack of equipment (I seem to be the only one with a camera, and decent editing software), and most of the people with the necessary skills and experience have a Y-chromosome.

The answers to both problems shouldn't be too difficult to solve, inshā’Allāh. I think the university TV station is still going; we may be able to tap their resources. And we can always hold training sessions for sisters to pick up basic film-making skills. You mainly learn through doing, anyway; the only formal training I've had thus far is a crash course on Final Cut at the Apple Store.

The women-only suggestion is more about pragmatism than anything else. I want it to be a safe-space to learn, and channel creative energy; like a women-only book club, or an art class. I do not believe that men are the 'enemy' (though I admit to going through phases in that regard).

I won't be restricting membership to Imperial students; it's just easier to establish this kind of thing within the framework of an existing community, such as an ISoc. So if you're based in London, and are interested in joining in, then stay tuned to this blog. I'll let you guys know if/when we have our first meeting, inshā’Allāh.

Your suggestions are welcome.

Letter from Haiti: A Haitian Muslim’s Request for Help

// January 17th, 2010 // No Comments » // Announcements, Blog

An excerpt from a message written by a Muslim based in Haiti:

My brother Didier Ambroise is missing and we have not been able to find him. My Uncle Roblain Legagneur and my cousin Namu Corvington and his wife died buried under their house.

Brother Ibrahim Abdoul Salam's house was destroyed and his cousin died.

Also brother Abou Bakr's house was crumbled and his sister died.

Many brothers and sisters are unaccounted for. We do not know if they are alive or dead. May Allāh give ease to them in whatever state they may be. Āmīn.

Read the full letter.



A Musical Interlude

// January 10th, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Blog

# I heard there was a secret chord, that David played, and it pleased the Lord.
But you don't really care for music, do you?
The first lines from the song “Hallelujah”

One of the arguments used by those in favour of the permissibility of music is that Prophet Dawood, 'alayhis salam, is reported to have used instruments – Allāh knows best.

That is why I thought the above lyrics would be quite fitting for my début stage production, based on one of the most fiercely contested fatwas in Islam…

“Music is Haram!”… The Musical

Of course, the score would have to be either voice-only, duff, maybe some b-box… just to ensure neutrality/ respect/ bums on seats. And, cuz, y'know, I also kinda follow the 'music is not good' ruling myself. Shh.

You can book your advanced tickets to the hottest show in town (most likely as the theatre will be fire-bombed in protest) by placing a comment in the box below.


// December 28th, 2009 // 15 Comments » // Blog

Akmal Shaikh is a British man who was found guilty of smuggling heroin into China, and was subsequently awarded the death sentence. His family has challenged the verdict, claiming that he suffers from bipolar disorder, and that he had been taken advantage of by criminals based in Poland, who gave him the suitcase containing the drugs. Yet, in spite of their pleas, Mr Shaikh is now facing the very real possibility of execution in less than 10 hours.

Virtually every news story serves to remind us of the sad reality: there is little justice in this world. So why does this particular one move me sufficiently to speak out?

Because I do not understand how a judicial system can be so devoid of justice. That is the very definition of absurdity. What grants a system the right to exact justice, when it lacks clear rules about personal responsibility? That is, the attributes that make someone accountable for a criminal deed.

Firstly, the individual has to be aware of their own actions. They should be capable of distinguishing right from wrong – at least to the obvious degree, e.g., is murder right, or wrong? Is it right for a rich person to steal? And so on. There should be no compulsion on the individual towards committing the crime, or deceit that would make them unaware that they were doing so to begin with. These are just a few universal rules that underpin the laws that govern most lands.

So what went wrong in the case of Mr Shaikh? I really do not know. Is his family lying about his mental illness? If so, it wouldn't be difficult to arrange for a doctor to visit the accused, to verify or reject their claim. Then, why has this not been allowed? Do the Chinese authorities refuse to acknowledge the existence of psychiatric disorders, and their effect on the ability for patients to make informed choices?

Word usage is very significant. If Mr Shaikh is truly ill, then what is needed here is not 'mercy' or a 'pardon', but common sense, and a retraction. If Mr Shaikh is mentally incompetent, then the terms 'execution' and 'death sentence' are but a guise for the ugly truth: that what is scheduled to take place at 02:30 GMT is nothing less than murder; the purposeful taking of an innocent life. And perhaps the greatest horror: most premeditated acts of evil take place in secret – yet this one has been announced publicly, for all to see.

Millions will learn of his death within moments of it being declared. I will be one of them. It is as if I am being made witness to murder. And as selfish as it may seem, I do not wish to be.

We all die. We all die. Death is inescapable. But murder is a choice. I pray that the Chinese authorities will make the right one.

More Muslim Firemen Please

// December 22nd, 2009 // 4 Comments » // Blog

Here is a random thought I've been having lately that was frankly too long for Twitter. Besides, my poor neglected blog needs feeding.

Muslims that 'serve'

Such a big hoo-haa has, and continues to be made of Muslims serving in the British army. I understand the controversy, but it's not the only career choice that involves service with an associated risk of personal injury, and possible self-sacrifice. What about the brave souls that face the daily hazards of working for the emergency services?

I wonder, how many Muslim firemen, paramedics, police officers, coast guards, etc, are there in the UK? They are not career choices that I hear spoken about much, though admittedly my circles are limited, and I haven't bothered to look up the stats.

I understand there being issues about institutionalised racism in the force, so a lack of Muslim police officers would not be surprising. I'm not sure that same excuse applies elsewhere though.

If I were a guy, I think I may have considered signing up to the Police, at least to eventually join CID. I love detective work: problem solving, chasing down the bad guys, the free donuts. Or is that just the Americans?

If my hypothetical sons were not budding imams, scientists, engineers or doktars, I think I'd approve of one of the above. Hey, I'm not so liberal a hypothetical parent to accept any career choice. For example, circus clown is definitely a no-no. Though if he spent his life bringing smiles to the faces of sick orphans, then maybe? Darnit! I haven't even conceived yet, and I'm already a pushover.

Anyway… have you ever considered working for the emergency services? Sure, the pay isn't amazing, but I'd hope it wouldn't just be about the money. Lots of akhira points to be earned, and several worldly perks methinks.

For example, have you heard the phrase: “there's something about a man in uniform”?

Yet Another Harrow Mosque Protest: Stewards Wanted

// November 26th, 2009 // 4 Comments » // Blog

I met one of the trustees of Harrow Mosque, Mahmood Awan, during my trip to Bristol last weekend (read more about why I was there in the first place, and see my photos here).

We briefly discussed the recent SIOE protest, where a small group of protesters were greeted by several hundred Muslims, many of whom were youths. Though I commend their loyalty to the community, we all know how notoriously hard it is to keep large groups of young men calm, even at the best of times! Therefore, I, and many others, felt justified in our fears that the counter-protest would quickly descend into chaos, without proper stewardship.

I mentioned to brother Mahmood that, at the time, I had posted a request on MuslimMatters, calling for self-restraint, and suggested that in the future there should be more leadership through action, from the older, more level-headed individuals amongst the male members of the Muslim community.

Now in the face of yet more threats from SIOE to protest, the mosque has taken the responsible step to train a small army of community volunteers to help diffuse any tension that may arise during the next mass gathering.

Assalam alaikum

As you may be aware Harrow Central Mosque is once again the focal point for right-wing Islamophobic extremists who will be holding a protest on Sunday 13th December.

Harrow Central Mosque would like to have a number of community volunteers to act as stewards to try and make sure that the young people, and others attending, are kept safe and are not encouraged to do actions by others which will simply damage the image of Muslims in Harrow and the reputation of the mosque.

The key group behind the protest, Stop the Islamisation of Europe (SIOE), had made it very clear that the intention of such protests is to show how violent the Muslims are. It is our intention to refute this by making sure those who attend are not pulled into actions which may break the law or allow the media to get that “money” shot.

We are looking for up to 50 volunteers. You should be calm and level headed and be able to speak with people in a manner which will deflate tensions. We are not here to police the event nor expect you to assist the police in making arrests or controlling opposing protesters. We simply want to make sure that we do all we possibly can to prevent the young people attending, majority of whom will be Muslim, from getting into unnecessary trouble with the Police and providing a voice of reason and trust.

Training will take place on:

Sunday 6th December
Harrow Central Mosque
(after Maghrib salah)
Duration: approx 1 hr.

If you are interested in helping please contact info[@] . Please do let us know if you are coming so that we can make adequate arrangements. Training will be provided by the head of the security firm hired by the mosque.

Please feel free to pass this email onto other brothers and your networks.

If you're a brother based in London, and wish to help on the day, please contact the mosque asap. I'm sure any respectful advice would also be most welcome from those with experience in handling such potentially volatile situations.

The Surprising Science of Motivation

// November 17th, 2009 // 2 Comments » // Blog

I've been quickly getting through my pile of unwatched TED videos, during my daily one hour commute to and from uni. Everyday I say to myself: “Wow! I must post this on the blog!”, only to forget… which is probably a good thing, considering the number of “wow” moments I have recently experienced which would lead to the blog becoming a TED mirror site.

Anyway, the following video evoked a much larger 'wow' than the rest, because of the extent that the advice contained therein is so contrary to widespread public opinion. The engaging speaker, Dan Pink, proves that when it comes to motivation, the carrot and stick approach doesn't always work. Who knew?

Consider the impact that such research has on the city's 'bonus culture', which has been dominating the headlines of late? And of greater import: the nature of mainstream education. I feel like I've been bred to only perform in the presence of pressure, which means I'm always leaving things to the last minute. If only I could work effectively without threats of failure looming over my head!

Therefore, I urge you to watch the video… but I won't offer you any extra incentives to do so. ;)

Career analyst Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation, starting with a fact that social scientists know but most managers don't: Traditional rewards aren't always as effective as we think. Listen for illuminating stories — and maybe, a way forward.