Another tangent

I appear to be going off on tangents a lot these days and here I go again.

In an opinion piece on a US website last week, a British Muslim journalist lamented the growth of pop culture within the Muslim community. She was commenting on the response of female audiences to the nasheed performances in a central London concert hall which in her opinion resembled a boy-band fan club. “Eminent scholars throughout history have often opined that music is haram,” she wrote, “and I don’t recall reading anything about the Sahaba whooping it up to the sound of music.” It was a passionate piece, arguing that we Muslims would be better expending our engery listening to the cries of our brutalised brothers than listening to “what is haram”.

While she was undoubtedly correct about the state of the ummah and our need to do much more than we are, her article became something of a rant against one particularly performer in places. I am not intending to rally to his defence, for I am neither familiar with him nor qualified to contribute to the music debate. I just feel like responding to a couple points.

She complained that the British-born performer asked his audience to cheer if they were proud to be British. “How can anyone be proud to be British?” asked the author, a convert to Islam, “The Union Jack is drenched in the blood of our brothers and sisters across Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine.” Now I have studied political geography with particular reference to the Middle East, so I am well aware of this nation’s shameful engagement in those lands and others. But is this all that can be said about Britain?

Pride is not the word I would use to describe my relationship with my homeland, but hatred is not the alternative. The British can be happy to know that we have a national health service which is free at the point of access, providing healthcare to all. We can commend the British for being generous to those in need: whenever there is a disaster anywhere in the world, we will dig deep and give to charitable causes. We can be enthusiastic about British tolerance which – although it has been eroded over recent years – has granted us freedoms unparalleled in many other parts of Europe. I agree that Britain is a contradictory place in which to live, but I disagree with those who say it is all bad.

The author does not seem to like the idea that Muslims should serve this nation of ours. Our minds should always be on the lives of others elsewhere, while we ghettoise ourselves. I feel like inviting her to engage with the UK charities I am familiar with, to see the affect of our over-there mentality. Social depravation, abuse and mental health problems in our own communities are left untackled, the response under-funded precisely because of this attitude which sees only overseas recipients as worthy causes. Responding to the performer’s alleged plea that Muslims should join the Metropolitan Police Force, that author roared:

“Astafur’Allah! Dude, these are the same cops who have a shoot-to-kill policy and would have gunned down a Muslim last year if they could tell the difference between a Bangladeshi and a Brazilian. This is the same police force that has raided more than 3000 Muslim homes in Britain since 9/11.”

It is also the same force that is working to investigate the fire bombings of Asian businesses over the past week in South London. It is the same force that does its best to fight violent crime, street robbery and social disintegration. In light of the growing culture of criminality amongst our youth (the four drunk Pakistanis who kicked another to death in Leicester Square and the Somali gang who beat up a Pakistani imam in Hayes are sadly not queer aberrations), I should have thought the idea that Muslims should join the Police would be considered commendable. Are we witnesses to this society or mere spectators?

The writer concluded thus: “Quite frankly, I really don’t know how anyone in the Ummah can really let go and scream and shout with joy at pleasure domes when there is so much brutality and suffering going on in the world today.” With great fervour she demands: “Oh, Muslims, wake up! The Ummah is not bleeding; it is hemorrhaging. Listen not to what is haram. Listen to the pain of your global family.”

I cannot argue with that. I just wonder whether she is using too broad a brush. There are many, many people doing the little things in their communities. They recognise where their power to implement change lies; the bigger picture just makes us impotent. So they teach in our schools, nurse in our hospitals, care in fractured homes and police our communities. I have seen my own soul and those thoughts that emerge in the face of despair, and they scare me. The middle ground is better. Surely.

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