From Marrakech to Berber, The Charm of Morocco!

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Marrakech is an enchanting must see, known for its narrow winding streets that call for adventure, a labyrinth of souks, mysterious snake charmers, locals singing and dancing – not understanding a word that leaves their mouth. You are left mesmerised in the heart of the city Djemma El Fna, the charm echoes through the Medina with the peaceful call to prayer.

The endless variety of craftsmanship from leather goods to coloured silks, baskets, spices and oils make the Marrakech souks the largest in Morocco and are world famous for the most exotic place to shop.

The vibrant culture captivates the city that doesn’t sleep, surprisingly you find yourself sipping mint tea in the early hours of the morning with multilingual locals that keep you fascinated with their historic Berber tales.

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But who are these Moroccan Berbers that the City speaks of?

The roots of the Berber culture reach deep down into Morocco’s proto-history. Berbers are proud raiders, they fought against the Romans, Arab, and French invaders. Despite the Romans and others who have attempted to colonize the Berber people, they have managed to preserve their own language and culture.

I wanted to know more, see more and feel more of this culture, so we set out to the historic Berber village, it felt as if we stepped back into time as we climbed up the narrow (non-existent) pathway lined with clay houses, set to the backdrop of the majestic Atlas mountains which we tirelessly hiked, every step of the way was marked with prevailing silence from the awe of our surroundings. The awe continued as we rode the camels into the sunset of the captivating Sahara Desert where we were hosted by Berbers, entertained by Berbers, dressed like Berbers, ate food made by the Berbers and lived a night without all our comforts as Berbers.

When I set off on this travel I kept asking why it was that these people, who had also visited the vibrant city of Marrakech chose to live in their villages with no electricity, running water, paved roads or schools. Children have to walk for five hours to get to Tilmi, the nearest village with a school. All food is home grown and clothes home stitched.

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The more I spoke and stayed with the villagers I understood that they illustrated a phenomenally strong link with their land that leaving it would be betrayal to their identity. They were proud, happy people with a sense of community, hospitality, sharing food (no matter how little they had) and a specific relationship with spirituality.

As we rode the camel’s back into the sunrise, it marked a new day, a new thought  – ‘WHAT IS A BETTER LIFE?’

As a true Brit I entered the foreign land assuming that these people were less fortunate, required aid, and had been left so far behind. Yet they embraced the fortune that we disconcertingly map out and treat as a destination rather than a way of life.

Their imperishable happiness and the way in which their wise eyes looked at me left me with one question –

Who really is better off? Is an easy life necessarily a better life?

Written by Sameera Rafiq

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BURKINI BAN REMOVED… World order restored

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Oh thank the Lord after years of struggle with ISIS, Jihad, suicide bombers and terrorist attacks we finally have a saviour and it’s called the BURKINI BAN.

This mighty law will strike ISA where it hurts… their beachwear!
Muslim women will now have to wax, wear sunscreen and pay for triangles attached with string because of course everyone should conform to the western way of life..loh crap I meant the democracy we live in.

Or maybe this will isolate those women, it will dictate what they can and cannot wear, if they do not conform it will be clear where they can and cannot go and further pull at the string of difference… oh sorry, I got that wrong, that was her bearded Muslim husbands job , right?

We are in a grave mess that none of us are even close to understanding from meaningless wars, man made poverty, economic turmoil, natural disasters escalating and Trump…lets just throw him in there too.

Yet, we want to sit here and discuss what women can and cannot wear. In particular, one religious group of women who have been targeted because they themselves have decided that covering up their junk in the trunk by wearing nothing more different to a wet suit is an issue. But hey France you are going to free all Muslim women by telling/fining/intimidating them on what to wear…you son of a liberator.

But worry not world, everything has been put back into place because since then protests and petitions have taken place and France has decided that the Burkini Ban being enforced on the countries beaches is now illegal and a violation of fundamental liberties. Phew…

Now let’s ignore the mayors in the country that are refusing to action this, of course Burkini banning boards will be removed ASAP, fines will be refunded ASAP with compensation, those women and families who have been humiliated will wake up tomorrow as if nothing happened and everyone can enjoy their summer holidays at the beach again because of course nothings awkward now and everyone feels comfortable about who they are and what they can do.

The Burkini Ban incident has shown the world at what a pathetic stage of solving the terrorism problem we really are at and now the sexism problem might as well be dealt with since we are here.

But I’m just a vulnerable Muslim girl who doesn’t have a voice and needs to be told what to do and think…right?
Or is that how society has created the majority of us out there who browse endlessly on celebrity red carpet images, best dressed and worst dressed lists so we can comment and scrutinise who wore what, whose body has changed, what’s the new trend so we can all obsess over what we need to conform to and ignore the bigger problems in life or just life itself…there’s nothing bizarre about that right?

From the receptionist sent home earlier this year because she wasn’t wearing high heels, to Venus Williams wearing a skirt that is ‘too short’ for her powerful thighs, to the Burqa ban in France since when did women give anyone else permission to tell them what was right or wrong of them to wear.

Or did we even have this power to begin with.

Is the Burkini vs. Bikini debate a religious one? A sexist one? Or is it a symptom of scared, lost, powerless people in powerful positions?

All I know is that this is not the end.

By Sameera Rafiq

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You choose…Sun or Rain?

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The most beautiful of souls are those who have been timelessly burdened before scars can even heal, yet still guard the flame of light with their forlorn hands.

candle-in-hands-400x400But forget not my friend that even guarding the light for too long can only burn those hands that once reassured into nothing more than skin and bone.

Remember that darkness, that once leaked through like a raindrop on a summer’s day, then there was thunder, maybe some lightning and why not add a dash of hail stoning. Until we were left with nothing but believing our summers were full of rain and thunder that even when a scarce beam of sunlight flickered through that summer’s morning we just waited for the inevitable rain and thunder. Even if on that day the beam was strong enough to carry through til the night we still awaited the next morning or the next week or for the next year for rain and thunder – oh and hail stone.

But then again even if it was just for a short moment why did we not dance in that light

Why did we not forget the rain and just for a moment humour ourselves on what it feels like when the sunlight touches our unwitting skin.

How did we start believing in the rain and thunder and forget that ever longing summer where we were reminded of tranquillity, peace, joyous times in the parks and BBQ’s on the weekend.

Was it because if the rain wasn’t enough to make us believe in our lost summer, then the thunder was, and if the thunder wasn’t enough then the hail stoning was and if the hail stoning was still questioned by those wise few then there was something else waiting until it was Us Vs Summer…is that all it takes for such a grave crime against humanity to take place?

Push those barriers, break through those locks that exist only in our minds – take an umbrella to the park or a raincoat to the BBQ but never let something else convince you that, that beam of sunlight will never return.

And to those that decided to go against the weather forecast, never lower yourself to such a state where you have to justify why today you decided to wear a summers dress.

If the light doesn’t shine today, don’t trap your soul in memories of those long days or bare the burden of guarding the light alone for too long because too much of anything is destructive.

Instead sunbathe on that cloudy grim porch and keep sunbathing even if the biggest storm hits you, it can’t hurt more than believing that there is nothing you can do… You ALWAYS have a choice

P.S Black Friday has some amazing deals on sunscreen and swim suits!

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Afterall, who said only sunshine brings happiness…

ISIS: The Verdict

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ISIS – the criminals responsible for the brutal killings of American journalists Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff, the beheading of British aid workers David Haines and most recently Alan Henning – let’s not forget the thousands of unnamed Syrians and Iraqis slaughtered at the hands of this evil.

No words can describe the brutality of this barbaric group…and Muslim is definitely not one of them.
Just as saying ABRACADABRA does not make someone a magician, exclaiming ALLAH HU’AKHBAR before a beheading does not make ISIS Muslims. #notinmyname

If by adopting one word you represent Muslims worldwide. Then I’m sure the Ku Klux Klan who killed thousands of African Americans represent white Christians worldwide.
Doesn’t quite add up does it?

ISIS are the definition of evil but there is more to them than meets the eye.
What I find quite interesting is that ISIS control a generous amount of oil fields in Syria that would comfortably supply them with a few million a day. So why the need of government ransom money?

And the people they’ve murdered… Let’s take Alan Henning for example… taxi driver, married, two kids, lives in a red brick house, charity volunteer, middle aged…seems to be someone everyone could relate to. Someone who you’d naturally feel for and defend.
A bloke you’d meet at the pub or see at a football match.
The kind of guy that every person from Britain would feel as if they lost or be reminded of a friend, father, son or neighbour. “He was one of us”…”ordinary man”
Are specific people being targeted? Do the killers have their own type of “prey” that would be strong enough to divide a nation and condemn a religion?

Commander in Chief Obama stated the United States military would take on ISIS in Iraq/Syria by attacking them from the air.
Yes ISIS is evil
Yes ISIS needs to be stopped
Yes there is no excuse for their barbarism

But… does military action resolve anything?
Will dropping bombs on innocent civilians destroy a hate filled ideology or will it fuel revenge attacks? Will it give reason to draw the innocent closer to ISIS – upset, angry people who have lost their families due to no fault of their own are the most vulnerable people to recruit..it’s an ISIS wonderland… what will be stopping ISIS from recruiting angry fighters from inside Iraq’s Sunni communities?

How will cruise missiles help build a national civic identity…to unite Iraq…one where there is no divisions between different sects or tribes?

And of course dispatching drones has always been the answer to producing inclusive governments… the cure to heal long standing rifts and ultimately give people confidence to reject ISIS.

But let’s not worry Obama and his entourage (including David Cameron) have got it all under control…let’s not forget Americas got years of experience where military action resolved it all… Vietnam? Afghanistan? Yemen? Libya? I’m sure the peaceful, serene, utopian Middle East says it all.
For over a decade military action has been used to destroy the Taliban. Yet they still seem to exist in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Al Qadea have found a new home in India.

When will we learn that air power does not make us superior. It is not the solution. It will not eradicate the problem, rather make it worse.
When a husband and wife have a dispute. If a man raises his hand to his wife, has this resolved the situation? Or has the wife turned bitter towards her husband? Called her brothers over, involved her parents in the situation, they’ve gone round in circles over the same issue and then hit a dead end.

Relationships between countries are just as delicate. Issues should be confronted and tackled head on. Why don’t we go back to basics and actually speak with our mouths about what needs to be done without dropping the B**B word.

Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Qatar, United Emirates, Baghdad…let’s all put our pride and ego to one side and work towards the same goal… peace.
Confront ISIS ideology
Tackle the oil fields that are funding this reign of terror
Give justice to the families who have lost loved ones at the hands of this evil
Ensure Sunni participation in the new Iraq government.

Or will the bombs do all the talking for you?
The same bombs that have failed to show any results in the last decade?

I will leave you with the words of Napoleon Hill:

“The majority of men meet with failure because of their lack of persistence in creating new plans to take the place of those which fail.”

Written by Sameera Rafiq

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ISTANBUL… WHERE EAST MEETS WEST

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The city that is the literal definition of British Muslims – sitting between East and West…. Istanbul.

Turkey was never on my top ten list of destinations to visit. Or any list for that matter. I always thought of it to be a touristy holiday that enticed people with halal meat… How we love our meat! Yes we travel to the corners of the world, fly with Emirates, and eat big macs at the airport for a 5am flight because…we finally can!

But oh how wrong I was!

It is impossible for me to capture my experience and amazement of such an enlightening trip in one blog… A spiritual journey sums it up beautifully.

I found myself doing the Muslim version of a pub crawl…hopping from mosque to mosque praying alongside my sisters from different countries, ethnicities and cultures… even sitting alongside non Muslims from all corners of the world in awe of the architecture and peaceful atmosphere.
Yet there was one similarity we all shared… the experience.

There was no prejudice, judgmental behavior or any form of rudeness I experienced or witnessed.

Men and women both tourists and locals were kindly given appropriate garments to cover themselves, shown the dedicated areas to carry out ablution (wudu) and not bombarded or pressured with charity boxes.

Yet what I found the most refreshing was the coexistence of Islamic history with modern thought.

Under the Ottoman Empire, each religious community was autonomous in domestic affairs and could apply its own religious law in its own courts.

Sultan Mehmet the Conquerer, increased the population of the city by bringing in immigrants from different regions, and started to reconstruct the deserted and wrecked city. He granted freedom of worship and social rights to the former inhabitants.

Even today Turkey believe in the freedom to practice all religions: the infamous Topkapi Palace that inhabits the valuables of the Prophets is situated next door to a Church.
The Galata Tower being one of the wonders of Istanbul inhabited the Jewish community and acted as a safe passage for Jews seeking refuge from the horrors of the Bolsheviks and Nazis.
Also the must see Hagia Sophia that was converted from a Church into a Mosque once the Muslims took power, still exhibits Christian artefacts.

Seeing people from all walks of life in awe of the rich pedigree of history, culture and commerce was breathtaking.

However, on my return to Manchester I was welcomed with headlines of: “Woman stabbed 16 times due to wearing a hijab” and “Third Jihadists in Isis.”

What happened to the Islam that people travelled across sea and land to experience?
The perception of a peaceful and welcoming religion was shattered with extreme antics.

But it didn’t seem to sit quite right with me.
The memories of minarets and domes dominating the skyline, the call to prayer (Azaan) five times a day uniting all, the welcoming and friendly behaviour of locals, not having to worry about pick pocketers, feeling safe traveling even when sat near men with 5ft long beards and women fully veiled that nothing will surprisingly explode.

Why is the world not being exposed to this Islam…the only Islam. Not a manipulated version that strikes fear into people’s heart.

Yes, there are different perceptions of Islam across the world. Unfortunately there are prejudices and stereotypes that we all have to suffer with from time to time.

But isn’t it refreshing to know that somewhere in the world the very religion that is now associated with terrorism and extremism is showing its true peaceful and pure teachings that even non Muslims visit to indulge in the experience.

The biggest lesson I learnt from Istanbul was the history I had to be proud of… the astonishing architecture of the palaces, the ruling of the Ottomon Empire, how they were welcoming to all even though at a similar time Muslims and Jews were tortured and kicked out from Spain, which was supposedly the intellectually flourishing country at the time. The exhibitions of armour, jewels, religious artefacts and art… the list is endless.

The chance to see this side of Turkish society shed a deep light on religious and spiritual practice.

A priceless experience…

By Sameera Rafiq

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HALAL-ISM. The Muslims are back!

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Not these Muslims AGAIN! We are still incapable of understanding the whole veil (nikaaq) bonanza and now they hit us even harder. OUR MEAT. “British school kids are being forced to eat halal meat”, “Britain goes halal…but no one tells the public”. Oh how we owe our lives to these tabloids, otherwise no one would actually know the truth.

It is almost as if Muslims were behind some sinister plot to inflict halal meat on innocent Non-Muslim Brits.

What is the actual issue? The fact that Muslims simply have their meat slaughtered in a different manner? And ofcourse this is just news to us all as it hasn’t been the case for centuries, and I am sure nobody was taught about it during Religious Studies at High School. Or how cruel Muslims are to animals? Oh and how the 3 percent Muslim population is dominating so called multi-cultural Britain.

The theatrics stop here.

The term halal has thrown up such a frenzy lets actually take a moment to define what it means. The literal translation is “lawful” and refers to any object – not just food – or action or behaviour that is deemed permissible under Islamic law.

For meat to be considered halal, three conditions must be met:

1) The animal must be healthy and uninjured and, crucially, it must be killed with a cut to the throat.
2) All the blood must be drained from the animal’s body.
3) The slaughterer must recite the appropriate Islamic prayer at the time of slaughter.

Islam, like Judaism, prescribes a single-cut method of slaughter: the animal is killed with a quick cut to the throat using a sharp knife. This allows the blood to drain out and, it is believed, makes the meat cleaner.

I understand the image of blood draining out of an animal’s body can be quite graphic. I still remember witnessing a cow being slaughtered in Pakistan and the blood flowing through the valley. But Muslims, like Jews, insist that so-called ritual slaughter is humane and pain-free because the animal quickly loses consciousness. In the words of Dr Majid Katme, a former spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain: “There is no time to start feeling any pain.”

Joe Regenstein, professor of food science at Cornell University in the United States, who leads the university’s Kosher and Halal Food Initiative makes some worthy points, “the traditional or Prophetic method might actually be equal or possibly superior” because the initial pain of the throat cut results “in the animal releasing large quantities of endorphins, putting it in a state of euphoria and numbness”. The cut thus serves as its own stun. The scientific evidence against halal slaughter, Regenstein says, “is extremely weak and has often been done poorly with an agenda driving a desired outcome”.

To then argue that Muslims do not care about animal welfare is ludacris. There are several Quranic verses and sayings of the Prophet warning Muslims not to harm livestock; mistreatment of animals is considered a sin.

If this issue is really about animal cruelty, we should also label those meat products that have been subject to a pre-slaughter intervention – like having their skull cracked open, being electrocuted, or put in a gas chamber. More so, there should be labelling on meat that has come from animals who have been victims of “mis-stunning”, which leaves the animal conscious and in pain, and occurs “relatively frequently”, according to a 2004 report by the European Food Safety Authority.

Why not label all meat with detailed explanations of how exactly the animal in question was killed, and let consumers decide? Why is only halal meat in question here? Despite Jews having similar conditions regarding meat being slaughtered why is there no outcry towards the Jewish population? Why are there no headlines aimed at the Jews?  

To even consider for a moment that food outlets are serving halal meat is a sign of Muslim domination is beyond belief. It all comes down to the fact that we live in a capitalist society. Therefore, businesses will invest in what they believe will bring in the money, and not simply to please the Muslim population, which I would like to remind everyone, sits at 3 percent.

Whether Pizza Express or any other food outlet is ‘secretly’ halal is not a mission set up by Secret Services that has somehow been leaked, it takes looking no further than their website to see what options are available.

And if people want to turn this halal issue into a moral panic and vow never to shop at Asda again. May I remind you that also means never to have a kebab again from the takeaways that im sure you undoubtedly enjoyed after a Saturday night. And oh do you remember that curry you was just ‘gorgeous’, yep, that was halal meat too my friend.

So I think we should put this back into perspective. And remember I am the student, like many other Muslims, who in the university canteen is spoilt by choice – either it will be a cheese sandwich, or maybe we will go crazy and get a tuna panini! Your choices have not been limited.

But I would like to leave you with this thought:

Has halal become a substitute for much deeper fears and worries about the presence of a growing and vocal Muslim population.

If this was a debate about animal welfare, it would be about all forms of slaughter; if it was a debate about ritual slaughter, it would address kosher, and not just halal meat.

Is the issue really with the meat or the religion?

 

Written by Sameera Rafiq