Barbaric acronyms

Last week David Cameron accused an imam of supporting IS. When it was later discovered that the imam had in fact been touring the country to talk about the evils of ISIS, Number 10 clarified that David Cameron was not talking about “The ISIS” but, you know, Islamic states in general, you know, like Saudi Arabia. Um, no not Saudi Arabia which is a key ally of the United Kingdom and has our full and unwavering support, and which we will never ever condemn, even when they’re massacring thousands of civilians in Yemen with weapons we sold them. No, not that kind of Islamic state, but you know those other ones we don’t support that are barbaric in a different way. Like, um, you know, Iran, er, Egypt, well it doesn’t matter, but it’s clear what the Prime Minister meant, he meant IS as in Islamic states or the third person singular present of be, which is even worse. Continue reading Barbaric acronyms

Valuing our imams

MuslimView has recently approached several imams employed in UK mosques to find out how much they are paid and has been shocked by their findings. They are being paid between £700 and £1400 per month, depending on where they trained. The upper end of the scale is on a par with a taxi driver, secretary or caretaker salary; the lower end on a par with a cleaner’s salary. It is a paltry reward for people we hope to be guiding lights in our communities. 

Some have responded with the claim that we do not value our imams as Christian and Jewish communities value their priests and rabbis. I am not convinced that this is a particularly reliable argument. Many priests in the employment of the Church of England, for example, are similarly undervalued in terms of pay, living on less than the “living wage” — despite theology degrees and doctorates. And that’s an organisation that annually receives about £750 million in donations from the congregations of its 12,000 parishes and has an income of £1.4 billion.

As Muslim congregations, we give on a par if not more than our Christian counterparts in donations each week, which we understand will be used for the upkeep and maintenance of the mosque, for paying utility bills and for paying salaries. How much more can we do as individual communities, many of which are still impoverished to a large degree?

Is the answer centralised bodies which look after all the mosques and imams of their particular school of thought, like the Methodist Church and Church of England do for their members? Overarching bodies which pay salaries from a centralised budget and make key financial investments to support ongoing development? Some kind of waqf fund, or millionaire’s conscience scheme?

Perhaps the answer to this question can be found in the experience of others. What can we learn from history and the practice of religious authorities in other countries? If our imams are to receive a decent wage and provide the services to the community we so desperately need, we surely need a more sustainable solution than constantly relying on a steady stream of donations from generous individuals. If we demand the professionalism we see in our own employment, then the whole structure will have to change.

The video call

I’m known for my occasional Luddite lapses, but still we should challenge some of the technophobic declarations of our some of our scholars.

My wife has just had a seamless face-to-face conversation with her mother, 1600 miles away, both via a flawless video image on a pair of mobile phones, one out about in the streets of Istanbul…

What untold reward awaits the software and hardware developers that facilitate the coming together of families separated by seas and continents, who make these conversations possible?

All things can be used for good and bad, be it the marketplace, the cafe, the school, the book, the knife, the car…

The internet, television, smartphones and Facebook are no different.

We just need to remember that ethics and manners apply to this sphere as much as any other. That should be the concern of our scholars: how to we navigate these new avenues of communication. Not encouraging us to abandon them altogether.

Truthfulness is an issue on the web because it is an issue in general. Verifying information is an issue for the same reason, albeit amplified by immediacy and reach.

For all the claims that something awful is happening, it could be said that something beautiful is happening. Perhaps access to more information than ever before and exposure to new ideas might be good for us.

Perhaps the perpetual challenge of ideas we are subjected to might help us see a clearer forward path, that would have been impossible in our cloistered life of old, when gate keepers defined for us what is orthodoxy and what is heresy, regardless of truth or godliness.

Technology challenges us, without a doubt: it forces us to ask new questions, to negotiate the unknown, to be ever more vigilant to the pitfalls and obstacles brought ever closer to us.

But we have been placed in this time and place for a reason: in this world where national borders or vast oceans, or treks across sand dunes, rivers, valleys, mountains and ravines, risking the assault of bandits or pirates, no longer need keep loved ones apart. Blessings, if only we would allow ourselves to see it.

Make time for meditation, yes: for quiet and peace and a time for contemplation. Disconnect when you have to. Apply ethics liberally to these new gateways, check your intentions and habits and manners. Yes, all of this is important.

But be open to this world; embrace it. Be grateful, count your blessings. Make a prayer for the software developers that facilitate family time, even if thousands of miles separate you. Be in awe, and amazement, and thankfulness. Make good use of the blessings bestowed on you. We are living in an amazing time: we just have to try extra hard to see it.

Extrapolations

Surely I can’t be the only one perturbed by Trevor Phillips’ analysis of the now famous ICM poll which claimed to find out what British Muslims really think.

Four percent of the 0.04% of British Muslims polled said they had sympathy for terrorist acts. From this the broadcaster extrapolated that 100,000 British Muslims have sympathy for terrorist acts. But all we can really say for sure is that 0.00016% of them do.

How does this compare to the UK population in general? Well we don’t really know, because while the programme insisted on extrapolating percentages for Muslim participants, the pollsters forgot to apply that logic to the control group.

For rather than interviewing 0.04% of the UK general population — around 25,640 people — to make comparative judgements, they selected 0.001% instead. Yes, we had two groups of 1000 people: one representing 2.7 million people, the other representing 62 million.

Would it be fair to extrapolate findings from the control group and claim that 600,000 people in the wider UK population also had sympathy for terrorist acts? Maybe they do. And maybe that many Muslims do too. Whatever sympathy means. But is it fair to make such a claim, based upon how a tiny percentage of a tiny percentage of the population responded to a question?

Maybe it is. The British Crime Survey targets 35,000 households — 0.05% of the UK population —  although they also analyse police recorded crime and a range of supplementary sources to try to build a more complete picture of crime. Something seriously lacking in the anecdotal pastiches stitched into the narration of last night’s television programme.

If we are going to make use of statistics to make bold claims, shouldn’t we at least be consistent? What is more, should we not review all of the figures and not just focus on those which serve a predefined political agenda? How exactly did the other 96% of those surveyed respond to that question? And why was that not significant?

Trevor

I am a strong believer in the need for sincere and serious introspection. It’s my calling card. But tonight’s broadcast claiming to tell us what Muslims really think was absolutely atrocious.

It will not help anyone actually concerned about very real issues in our communities. If anything, it will make those conversations harder still.

Here was a piece of political commentary — a Party Political Broadcast almost — which wheeled out all of the usual suspects beloved by documentary makers everywhere, to problematise one diverse community in order to set in motion further mutual distrust.

It was an entirely depressing narrative, devoid of all nuance — not to mention credibility. It’s Us and Them, once again. We don’t build bridges; we burn them.

Chasms

Trevor Phillips says he has identified a chasm of difference between Muslims and non-Muslims in Britain.

But surely it is only possible to identify that chasm if an equally representative number from both groups have been asked the same questions.

Otherwise all you really have is a chasm between what the selected sample seem to believe and what you assume everyone else believes.

Share with us the findings of the most detailed and comprehensive survey of Atheist, Agnostic, Anglican, Baptist, Buddhist, Catholic, Conservative, Hindu, Humanist, Jewish, Liberal, Methodist and Pentecostal opinion ever, and then maybe we can draw salutary conclusions about worrying trends in British society.

That probably wouldn’t make great television though.

Inshallah

Time and again I am reminded that I have to power to affect change in the world, except by the will of the Most Merciful. Plots and plans fail, grand designs founder. Hard work, dedication, patience, obsessive attention to details: none of these can bring about the result you desire on their own. Only the One can decree the end you desire. And if it is not His decree, it cannot possibly be. Take comfort, if you can, that He has a better plan for you, disappointed though you may be. I am trying to; I am trying.

Ends and means

No, I won’t attend the next great charity fundraiser to come to town. Not because I’m anti-social (though I am), but because I’m tired of being held ransom by professional fundraising consultants, who seem to believe we all have tens of thousands of pounds sloshing around in our back pockets.

Back in the day, you might pay a steep price for a modest three-course dinner and light entertainment, followed by a fun auction, giving you the chance to bid on a decorative wall covering, signed CD or some worthless tat that made you smile. Continue reading Ends and means

These weights

True repentance is undoubtedly liberating, but that does not make it easy. Sometimes it means letting go of all that you have become attached to, to reject a part of yourself, or to turn away from what you treasure, or desire, or wish for beyond the worlds. But in the end you know that you have no other choice: you let go of everything that holds you back, no matter how much it means to you, because you want to regain the favour of your Lord. In your heart there is a pain; a feeling of alienation. You are distant from faith and all that was once so dear to you. It is clear what is wrong and where the problem lies: you know it is a step you have to take. But it is the most difficult step. To say sorry and to tear down the wall that separates you from your Lord. To replace one set of investments with another better than it. To be patient and sincere and to take that final step, to make everything right. Yes repentance is truly liberating, but it exacts a heavy price from the soul.

Another lecture

It’s all too easy to allow ourselves to be bamboozled by the turgid rhetoric of our quasi-phrenic pundits. But scratch the surface and, more often than not, we find there’s nothing there. There is no real substance beyond the esoteric vocabulary that holds us in awe. It is all form over function; the medium at the expense of the message. There is no nourishment for the soul here, just the apparition of another’s superior and ever-so-profound intellectualism. The cult of celebrity renders us blind.