Take stock

Eating meat regularly and in large quantities is really a modern phenomenon. If I go to stay in my wife’s village back home, their ordinary diet mostly comprises corn, cabbage and beans. From time to time in winter, if there are guests, someone might bring home a bag of hamsi (anchovy), but meat is a rarity. That was also my experience in rural Tanzania twenty-five years ago, where our daily diet consisted of beans and rice alone.

Our modern predilection for consuming meat for every meal would be considered very strange by the generations that came before us. Traditionally, in many Muslim societies, the only time the common people would eat meat would be once a year around Eid al-Adha, when the wealthy slaughter an animal to distribute amongst the poor. For the poorest families, this remains true to this day.

In contemporary Muslim cultures, however, consuming meat has almost been turned into an obligation, as evidenced by the proliferation of Muslim-owned fried chicken shops and burger bars on every high street. This culture can be troubling for some of those attracted to the faith by its ethical dimensions.

One convert friend has commendably managed to maintain his vegetarianism amongst Muslims for over forty years, but most would struggle to maintain that stance. Certainly, my own insistence on eating less meat after visiting an abattoir only lasted a few months before we drifted back towards its consumption. Early on, we would address that discomfort by purchasing meat only from a smallholder, whom we knew to take animal welfare seriously. Theirs, meat that could truly be considered both halal and tayib.

Then eat of what God has provided for you which is lawful and good. And be grateful for the favour of God, if it is Him that you worship.

Quran 16:114

Unfortunately, through the years since then, we have reverted to form, falling under the intoxicating spell of its taste. I think this is forgetfulness more than anything. It is difficult to remain cognisant of the ethical dimensions of faith at all times, especially if you’re wandering amongst those who don’t consider ethics that important at all.

Perhaps, for that reason, it’s a good idea to spend time amongst the older generation, or spend time in rural backwaters, or simply move amidst vegetarians. Certainly, while socialising with colleagues or visiting family, we find ourselves more than capable of turning vegetarian to avoid consuming haram foods. In a way, I wish that in my early days as a Muslim I had simply told others that I had become vegetarian to avoid all the strife that my faith identity brought.

The consumption of meat has been made permissible for us. But as every learned Muslim knows, conditions apply. The prophetic sunna bears no resemblance to modern industrial meat production, devoid of moderation or compassion. The prophetic way entails dealing with each animal as an individual, treating it well during its lifetime and with kindness at life’s end. And as I write this, I am jolted back to reality once more, recalling how far short we fall of those ideals.

Surely the time has come to take stock of our habits, reminding ourselves once more of the ethical dimensions of our faith, which so easily slip from our minds. These the conversations we must have with each other, whenever we realise that our standards have slipped.

Observations

A surge in childhood diseases, resulting in premature death? Shocked? Not particularly. Some (wholly-unqualified) observations:

First: it’s difficult to get a GP appointment these days. Often, adult patients will first be offered a telephone consultation, some days away. If your symptoms are deemed worrying, you may then be invited to an in-person consultation. Timely access to medical care is vital.

Second: many GP practices have outsourced their telephone triage systems to a single nationwide service provider. This may have resulted in some kind of cost-saving, presumably cutting receptionist salaries on site. However, last week, that service was unavailable nationally due to a server fault, leaving patients unable to contact their local surgery.

Third: the established electronic patient record used by the NHS 111 service has been unavailable since August, after the platform provider was hit by a cyber attack. Contingencies have had to be put in place instead, some more effective than others. If call responders and on-call clinicians cannot easily access medical records, it is a problem for patient care.

Forth: though you wouldn’t know this listening to the government and media’s obsession with the so-called migrant crisis (the increase in numbers very obviously having more to do with refugee crises in Ukraine and Afghanistan, than channel crossings), the health service is in crisis. Many NHS trusts are facing acute staffing shortages. This impacts patient care.

Fifth: lockdowns during the pandemic may have impacted the development of children’s natural immunity, in as much as they were exposed to fewer bugs over a period of two years. But I suspect the jury is out on this one.

Grandpa’s wisdom

My grandmother used to tell me that for the whole of his career, my Methodist grandfather was derided by his colleagues for not drinking, smoking or gambling. His ethos was to live within his means and not squander the wealth he earned.

I am sure he would be shocked if he were alive today learning that the average UK household nowadays spends over £900 on alcohol annually. As a non-drinker for 25 years, for me that equates to a saving of over £20,000 to date.

Similarly, the average smoker spends nearly £5,000 on cigarettes per year, amounting to £125,000 over the same period. Then there’s the lottery, on which the average player spends over £400 annually, amounting to £10,000 over a quarter of a century.

There has certainly been barakah in my grandfather’s wisdom. Having followed a similar pattern in my own life, I strangely find myself in a comfortable situation, despite modest means. Although we are a single-income household, we have managed to live debt-free for some years now.

Quite deliberately, we do not possess credit cards, which might tempt us to buy what we cannot afford. We do not have financing deals to pay for a nice new car, choosing to buy a secondhand vehicle we could afford outright instead. We don’t have the latest smartphones either.

To me, it is shocking that the average personal debt in the UK currently stands at over £25,000. But then I suppose it is not so surprising if we consider what we chose to forgo to achieve a debt-free existence. For sure, I don’t enjoy a standard of living anything like my upbringing, but everything is relative.

I am not under any illusion as to how hard life is for so many, however. In the past, we made the mistake of agreeing to be guarantors for a friend’s tenancy, and ended up having to pay off significant rent arrears on their behalf. Likewise, we’ve had to write off many loans to others when it became apparent they could not repay them. We know life is tough when you have money worries.

For sure, we don’t know what tomorrow holds, but we can at least tie our camel, so to speak. In other words, you do what you can to achieve stability in your life. I can say that though I made a mess of my foundations in my youth, repairs such as these helped me get back on track. With God’s help we have been able to live within our means ourselves. Alhamdulilah for that.

Precision

We often feel legitimately aggrieved by the imprecision of language when others associate the whole with the actions of the few. When newspapers seem to associate all Muslims with the actions an extremist fringe, we rightly decry such inaccuracies, if not as plain deception. We would think then that we would be alert to that imprecision for others too. Ah, but not so.

How often do we hear the phrase “Hindu chauvinism” used across the press, unchallenged? Our own Spidey-Sense shoots into overdrive when serious commentators deploy a similar phrase referencing our religion while discussing the behaviour of ruling political movements, but for the unholy other we stay the course, unthinkingly regurgitating those mantras without pause.

So it is that we speak of Hindu extremism, nationalism and chauvinism without making any attempt to clarify that people identifying as Hindu are as diverse as any other group, crossing the full political spectrum, belonging to different ethnicities and social classes, and holding to different religious worldviews. If we are in fact referring to the actions of adherents to the political ideology, Hindutva, we should be precise.

Hindutva is a right-wing supremacist ideology, inspired by the European political-philosophy which underpinned twentieth-century fascism. It is as much associated with the heterodox traditions of Hinduism as Zionism is with Judaism or Hizb ut-Tahir with Islam. It represents neither majoritarianism nor communalism, only a divisive supremacism, which is at odds with the diverse systems of thought and belief which actually characterise the Indian subcontinent.

To speak of Hindu chauvinism would be the same as speaking of Christian or Muslim chauvinism: it is meaningless, for adherents to our different traditions are disparate. On the political spectrum, we reflect both left and right, libertarianism and authoritarianism. In our personal interactions, some are merciful and kind, while others are brutal and intolerant. In religious practice, some are puritanical literalists, while others embrace inclusive syncretism. Some embrace multiple identities and traditions, while others hold to a narrow fundamentalism.

For some, the term Hindu has no religious connotation whatsoever, but is instead a cultural or geographical marker alone. But that is as much true of others. Many Muslims, Christians and Jews might self-identify with these labels, despite neither believing in nor practising the associated faith. Some of the same would assert that converts are not and cannot truly be associated with that identity from a sociological perspective. In other words, these markers of identity are complex, defying the simplistic explanations beloved of commentators and activists everywhere.

For sure, I have more in common politically with my old friend from university, a third-generation Bharatanatyam artist, than with many of my brethren nominally associated with me by faith. In our uncompromising monotheism, I may be inseparable from another Muslim, but in my views on patriarchy and diversity it might be impossible to be further apart. Amongst the Muslims, we find some who would feel politically at home with Jeremy Corbyn, and yet others who would promote a Muslim equivalent of the BJP.

So precision please. Consider that Quranic maxim as guidance: “And do not mix the truth with falsehood or conceal the truth while you know it.” Or even: “Do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just.” The alternative may lead us to a very dark place. Don’t alienate your allies by failing to differentiate between friend and foe, nor let others play the game of divide and conquer once more. Be precise, and wise.

Travellers

Where am I from? I am from dust, and will return to dust. And then I will be raised alive when all are raised alive. In that epoch, we will at last know our final destination. Until then, we are all travellers on the road of life. If you are settled, you have missed the point.

People of the boats

Listen to the beautiful poetic music of the maghreb. Even if you don’t understand the lyrics, you will hear their humanity.

The people of the boats have dreams and aspirations too. They are humans, with hearts, who love and cry like you.

There are no illegal humans. All humans have the right to life and dignity. The earth has been made wide and spacious by the Lord of all creation.

Where are you from?

My wife and I were discussing this question, for it’s been in the news. As an outsider, from elsewhere, she felt such a question is just smalltalk, designed to break the ice, coming after the obligatory comments about the weather and, “Did you watch the match last night?”

But perhaps her response is based upon the different contexts in which we find ourselves: the difference between connecting and otherising. In Turkey, it would be considered perfectly normal for one person to ask another, “Are you Las, Georgian or Hamşen?” each being one of many local ethnicities that might be suggested by accent or dialect. As for me, if I replied that I am English, they would immediately guffaw, “David Beckham!”

I could confirm that such smalltalk is just as common here. At university, “Where are you from?” was a standard icebreaker whenever meeting someone new. In my case, I’d reply, “near York.” New York?! Wow, that’s amazing. “No, no, not New York, near York.” Oh, oh, right, that’s er, not nearly as interesting. At work, too, colleagues will ask exactly the same question because of my subtle northern twang.

But that’s obviously not the context in which this question was asked of the founder of the charity Sistah Space at Buckingham Palace, wherein the line of questions was interpreted more as an interrogation than as friendly conversation. Indeed, it reportedly ended with hostile words in a condescending tone, which made the guest feel very uncomfortable.

Many will relate to that, feeling this line of questioning is less about taking an interest in an individual’s lineage or heritage, and much more about making them feel like an outsider who does not belong. In some ways, I could relate to either position.

In my nearly twenty-five years wandering amongst Muslim communities, I have been asked this question repeatedly. Often those asking are elderly folk, whom I presume to be genuinely curious to work out where I am from, given that I look a little different to the majority of congregations.

If I am out of area, I will first name the town I live in. If they then respond, “No, originally?” I will say that I’m originally from Hull. If they then say, “No, no, originally, originally,” my response will depend on whether I like the person or not. If I feel they’re being an idiot, I’ll simply reply, “Water.” Otherwise, I’ll just describe myself as a restless native, a quarter Irish.

This will satisfy all but the most stubborn of folk. The latter are the type who will go on to persuade me that I’m actually Syrian or Bosnian. You can’t do much about these types. But as for the rest, I think I’d agree with my beloved: yes, it is just friendly small talk, designed to break the ice. For sure, I’d rather this question than some awkward discussion about football.

But I am a white male, whose belonging is never questioned, so this is easy for me to say. My wife, although her skin is more or less the same colour as mine, is occasionally reminded that she is from somewhere else, either as a result of her accent, because she was overheard speaking a different language, or due her dress. But others, more visibly distinct, find themselves reminded of their otherness constantly. For such folk, I can imagine these persistent questions really grate.

So if you must ask, do so carefully. If a person indicates that they think it none of your business, respect that. If, on the other hand, they’re proud of their long lineage, prepare to be bamboozled. Beware, especially, of those who were given a DNA testing kit for Christmas. You may need to grab a chair for the answer to that particular question.

Future success

Aspiring people often send their children to private school, in the belief that they’re investing in their future success.

My paternal grandfather was a working class lad, leaving school at sixteen. Upon leaving the army after the war, he worked his way up the social ladder in local business, becoming director of a manufacturing company, which led to him travelling the world to set up subsidiaries overseas.

My grandfather sent his two sons to what is now the town’s main private school. In those days, it was a direct grant school, with many pupils being paid for by the local authority. Many other families of low means were given scholarships and bursaries, with the intention of providing a quality education regardless of social status.

In the 1970s, it became a fully independent school. My eldest brother would start there towards the end of that decade, followed by my middle brother and then myself. My sister, sensibly, went to the grammar school, which by then was also independent.

In our day, the school was not very diverse. In each year group, there were no more than four pupils of an ethnic minority background. Many of my teachers were openly racist, proudly making a show of their prejudice with glee. My year was also the first to see a cohort of female students join in the second year of senior school.

All of my siblings and peers went on to achieve great things in life. In the end, I achieved decent grades academically, but for reasons out of my control never found myself with those high aspirations. My older siblings in turn have sent their own children to private school.

Today, the school I went to has a very diverse student body. The Sudanese doctors I met on hajj in 2006 sent all of their children to the same school I went to. The head girl is now regularly of Indian or Pakistani descent. It appears that diversity is nowadays celebrated, and pupils from deprived socioeconomic backgrounds are once again encouraged to attend.

Many of my friends, who were themselves raised amidst socioeconomic hardship — often the children of immigrants, attending the worst performing schools in the country — have, upon pursuing professional careers of their own, sent their children to private school. Some of them have made great sacrifices to do so.

The results are plain to see, with growing cohorts of successful professionals from once-deprived backgrounds working in medicine, law, engineering and finance. For those with the right aspirations, it only takes a generation or two to climb that social ladder.

But it is not for everyone. I don’t believe attending private school is a necessity. Indeed, many of my peers have shown that this is absolutely not the case. An acquaintance from college, whose father owned an Indian restaurant and attended the local state comprehensive school, has far surpassed me in pursuing a professional career, as have all their siblings.

I suppose, in the end, it all comes down to aspirations. What are you seeking in life? While we ourselves cannot afford to send our children to private school, we nevertheless encourage them to work hard, to achieve their best, and contribute positively to society. In the end, perhaps that is all our children need: positive role models and encouragement.

Census

If you’re worried about the decline of Christianity in England, go to church. Don’t go blaming those who take their faith seriously. If less than half the population identity as Christian, it has nothing to do with practitioners of minority faiths. It just means more people identify with no religion whatsoever. Hardly surprising. If you don’t like it, only you can do anything about it. Only you can make that change.

Neurons

This will sound daft to all but myself, but daily I grow evermore worried that I’m residing in a VR simulation, for things keep on happening which are simply… well… implausible. Of course, the answer to that from a faith perspective is that material-only explanations of the world are faulty.

While a biologist might posit that the workings of the body are the result of chemical reactions alone — like those packets of glutamate released into our synapses exciting the neurons on the myriad of spines on the dendritic tree, which one of my learned colleagues theorises motivates us to jump out of bed in the morning — our actual experience of consciousness is even more perplexing.

Honestly, I only have two explanations for all that I keep encountering. Yes, the VR hypothesis, that I’m a participant in an advanced synthetic metaverse, programmed with a set of implausible scenarios. Or the other one, that the world is filled with unseen phenomena which defy explanation. Or, well, a third: just lots and lots of mind-blowing coincidences. Take your pick.

To settle

Is it a given that Britain will remain home? Away from the anti-immigrant rhetoric beloved of talk-radio and the gutter press, the aspiring know full well that migration has been a characteristic of the human species for as long as we have walked the earth. If people perceive better opportunities elsewhere, they will naturally move.

My maternal grandmother moved to England to work as a nurse in her youth. Now I hear rumours that my niece, studying medicine, is keen on moving to Germany. Since all we brothers married non-brits, it wouldn’t be particularly surprising if our children consider the world their oyster.

Friends of ours, of Turkish origin, sold their multiple businesses in Old Blighty a few years ago, upping sticks, to move to Germany and start over. Here, they found themselves encountering too much bureaucracy for too little gain. Over there, they now enjoy a high quality of life.

Graduates of all backgrounds, indigenous or otherwise, will now soon be faced by a similar choice. To remain here in the motherland, or to head abroad to seek new and better opportunities elsewhere. Most of my contemporaries from university already grappled with that question, and many of them have spent their working lives abroad.

People will migrate to wherever they find comfort. Everybody’s aspirations are different. Some pursue riches. Some pursue a simpler life. It will be the same for us and our children: in time, we will just have to follow our hearts.

Warm welcomes

We have friends and relatives in Turkey asking for advice on moving to the UK. We say, don’t bother; move to Canada instead. The UK has a “hostile environment” policy. Canada is opening its arms, actively pursuing migrant labour.

The UK’s approach will backfire, damaging economic growth and effective public services. Until this insular mindset changes, this will remain our advice to those seeking better lives and economic stability abroad.

Migration rebuilt Europe, but we’re not a very grateful people, given to communal amnesia. Better to go to a land where you’ll be warmly welcomed, and appreciated.

To respond

Rarely in my life have I ever challenged the slanders and lies that seemed to follow me around. By the time it occurred to me that I should, it was always too late, the moment passed, those responsible long out of reach.

Sometimes I could blame my tongue, always reluctant to submit to me, locking words inside. Sometimes I could blame delayed comprehension, rendering me too slow to respond in time.

Sometimes, it would simply have been cowardice. At other times, perhaps I simply concluded that there was nothing to gain from responding to what was so obviously untrue.

But should I have challenged all that was said? Would it have changed anything at all? Would it have made me feel better? Would it have repaired my self-esteem? It may have done. Equally, it may just have seeded further conflict.

Perhaps there was greater wisdom — or at least benefit — in simply letting it pass. Our faith calls us to repel evil with what is better than it. Perhaps controlling rage and that inner urge for revenge is more fitting. Perhaps it is better for the ego that it escapes that puffed up pride, choosing humility instead.

Perhaps if we choose silence, an angel will answer on our behalf. Perhaps if we choose patience, in time hearts will soften, growing wise with age, realising the error of their ways. As the years pass by, perhaps regrets will be planted inside, and then repentance. If so, may God forgive them and mend their ways.

As for those once slandered: may they find the courage to forgive, and then forget. Perhaps some good may still come of their pain. All of this, the hyperlinks of the unseen. Those strange connections which somehow bind us.

United by…

Emerging from the Bakehouse today, site of our clandestine coffee following the weekly three-mile saunter beneath the trees, it seems we had accidentally stumbled upon a car meet.

Out front, young twenty-something women were found drooling over a dark blue Golf GTI, SLR cameras at the ready to capture it from every angle.

Behind it, a pale blue M3 coupe. Over there, two Fiat 500 Abarths, and yet more souped up cars, celebrated with pride by their owners. As we wandered towards our own cars, a Nissan GTR arrived.

Glancing back, it struck me that this was a diverse gathering, united by a shared passion. Black and white, male and female, of different faiths and creeds. Young and, well, just young. Perhaps I should have dusted down my Qashqai to complete that absent binary.

Somehow, I don’t think the younguns would drool over my sensible middle-aged family crossover in quite the same way. No, but one day they will have to content themselves with one, replacing the sporty coupe with some frumpy car capable of accommodating the kids and all their junk.

For now, let these youngsters enjoy their youthful glee, united by their motors, so diverse. Perhaps it’s good that they have a hobby that brings them together. Maybe I should find one of my own. Perhaps we all need a cause to believe in.

Morality police

I’m not a fan of morality police, who set themselves up as upholders of societal decency. Maybe my distaste has its origins in my own experience with those presumed to be gatekeepers of ethical standards.

Long ago, in the dim and distant past, some such folk thought that for the crime of thinking a girl in my midst was quite sweet, I ought to be smashed to pieces. Naturally, taking the threat seriously, I walked away, but that’s not to say that was the end of it. Actually, that experience had a profound effect on me, lasting years.

Still, I was one of the lucky ones. In many countries and communities, those seen to infringe the boundaries of cultural expectations are not so fortunate. Sometimes the enforcers are family members, parents, siblings, spouses — or the jilted prospective spouse. Sometimes they are complete strangers, whether a self-appointed community leader or a representative of state.

What causes an individual to land in trouble can vary from place to place. In some repressive states, a single Tweet can result in a thirty-year prison sentence. In other places, either wearing a headscarf, or not wearing one, can result in all manner of sanctions.

But I am of the personal responsibility school of thought, shunning compulsion in matters of the heart. In the realm of faith, especially, compulsion seems to fly in the face of both reason and revelation. For sure, a forced faith is no faith at all.

And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed — all of them entirely. So would you compel the people in order that they become believers?

Quran 10:99

There is a clear difference between those actions which cause others harm, and matters of the heart. The robber must be prevented from stealing. The warmonger’s tyranny must be confronted. The terrorist or brigand must be brought to justice.

But as for that which does no harm — seemingly the concern of the morality police everywhere — leave the people be. How strange that so often those strictest on minor issues of personal piety are silent on the major abominations, such as taking a life or depriving others of their rights.

As for those concerning themselves with alleged infringements of morality, here’s an idea for you: consider talking to those involved. Perhaps a kind word, in place of hostility, will change absolutely everything. That too is from our tradition.

Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching, and argue with them in the best of ways…

From Quran 16:125

Superiority

As a nation, we have two problems: that ideologues in centuries past invented notions of racial superiority, and that we believed in those ideas.

Despite having been thoroughly discredited by advances in the study of human genetics, these outdated beliefs continue to be promulgated all around us, forever informing our discussions about the outside other.

The appeal of our universal faith is that it sets those ideas aside, both acknowledging and celebrating the diversity of our forms.

And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your languages and colours. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge.

Quran 30:22

Our faith doesn’t speak of any kind of hierarchy of nation, tribe or ethnicity. On the contrary, nobility is defined purely on the basis of how we behave. Those that conscientiously lead ethical, honourable and upright lives are raised high. Those that subjugate or mistreat others are brought low.

O mankind! Indeed We have created you male and female, and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you. Indeed, God is knowing and acquainted.

Quran 49:13

Most of the scaremongering we encounter in our nation is founded on notions of racial superiority. Frequently is the threat of the marauding other invoked, the spectre of our replacement by another people looming large over our consciousness.

We will gladly accept 1.3 million British people settling in a land 9,000 miles away. But as for our land: we must institute a hierarchy of belonging, grading people according to the quantity of melanin in their skin. Some may choose to do that, upholding such crass stupidity.

But knowledgable people hold to the best of measures: our worth is defined not by what we look like, but by how we behave. God does not look at our appearance or wealth, but rather at our hearts and deeds. This is the way of the intelligent.

Canada

Meanwhile, Canada is having a grownup discussion about immigration, seeking to attract 1.5 million people over the next three years to overcome labour shortages. Will we be amongst them? “Not likely,” says my beloved, already shivering, “Canada is much too cold!”

Charitable souls

They were sponsored to fast for twenty-four hours. I was sponsored to walk back and forth across the Humber Bridge. I don’t recall what their cause was, but I sponsored them anyway. Mine was for Christian Aid Week.

When they came to collect their sponsorship money from me, they refused to say thank you. I didn’t mind, but our tutor told them off. It’s funny: other people could see exactly what was going on, but not me. I had been blinded by my good opinion of everybody, thinking them justified in however they behaved.

It’s so strange to think about it now — all that subsequently came to pass as a result of my runaway heart — for everything was as clear as day. I was hated. Held in complete contempt. Despised. But still, those that despised me asked me to sponsor them, and so I did, expecting nothing in return.

If they ever came across me again, I suspect they would be rather surprised to discover that I myself have fasted annually for the past twenty-four years. Sometimes I wonder if they planted that seed in my heart. Maybe they did; who knows? They were charitable souls, it seemed to me. May they be rewarded for their good deeds.

British industry

The head of the Confederation of British Industry calls on the government to be honest with the public about the vast labour shortages the country faces, noting that immigration would help solve the problem.

Good luck with that one. Today, the Facebook algorithm thought I might be interested in a group which was basically the Enoch Powell Appreciation Society. Before dismissing the recommendation, I had a good gander to see what is exercising the chattering classes this afternoon.

Yep, immigration. “We should take a leaf out of Australia’s book,” griped one moaner. I started to compose a response, pointing out that Australia has been a nation of immigrants ever since the first European migrants arrived in 1788. But since I knew I was engaging with white supremacists, I decided to leave them to it.

Brits don’t like to be reminded that 5.5 million of us live overseas — about 3 million more than the UK’s entire Muslim population. We don’t like to hear that there are 1.3 million Brits in Australia. The number of Brits in each of USA, Canada and Spain is heading towards a million. There are hundreds of thousands of Brits living abroad throughout Asia and Europe.

My neighbour’s son emigrated to Australia. A whole branch of my family emigrated to Canada generations ago. It’s the way of the world. Well, it’s the way of the world for everyone except proud patriots with their daft ethnocentric hierarchies. Actually the number of Brits living abroad is similar to the number of non-Brits living in the UK.

But these aren’t popular truths, so Britain will just have to ride out this storm of diminished productivity, labour shortages and rising prices. The right-wing demagogues are quite keen on this phase anyway, for in their playbook, apocalypse is the harbinger of their own special utopia. They need a crash to remake society in their image.

British industry hopes for a more intelligent solution to the problems of our time, however. But alas, that is one that demands serious engagement with reality. That may be a task too great for any government fighting for its survival.

Superpower

Dear advocate: please stop calling our chromosome disorder a “superpower”. It’s not a superpower; it causes defecits and disadvantage.

Naturally, I understand why you do so: to encourage those youngsters with a diagnosis, helping them to overcome their difficulties.

Perhaps you could say that their natural temperament — that sensitivity and kind character often identified in individuals — is a special gift. Maybe that’s a positive trait to dwell on.

But a superpower? I’m sorry, no. There is no power in the untreated diagnosis. Those who know what they have are the lucky ones: they will now be accessing treatments to counteract its worst effects.

For the rest, they will have only have known a lifetime of struggle, difficulty, delays and fatigue — very much anti-superpowers.

Maybe there’s a better way to advocate on behalf of those bestowed with that extra chromosome which causes so much havoc.

Breaking point

My next door neighbour reports that when he bought his house sixty years ago, its price was £1,300, repaid over 25 years.

When we bought our house just over fifteen years ago, we paid a hundred times that. An eye watering price for a young couple on low incomes, but we would have had to spend at least double that had we stayed in London.

Today’s prices are, to me, mind blowing. I don’t know how any young couple could now afford to buy at all. We were lucky in being able to buy a shell of a house, its price pushed down by those missing essentials, central heating and double glazing.

The cost of living is a real conundrum. Prices are not set up to benefit ordinary people, just trying to make ends meet. If anything, the system forces people into a form of slavery.

Once you have a mortgage, you’re stuck with that job of yours, no matter how much you hate it. There’s no way out, if you wish to hold onto your home. The only way is up.

I don’t know if those millionaires in power really understand how truly broken the system is. Well, perhaps they will soon enough.

Not my cuppa

The Yorkshire Tea company has the best adverts, without a doubt, always funny and irreverent. But their tea? No, not for me. I’m an Assam man.

Or so I just remembered, after buying a big box of Yorkshire muck because nothing else was available. I thought tea would all be much of a muchness, and since my parents drink Yorkshire I was sure I couldn’t go far wrong. Aye, but that was an assumption too far.

I realise Yorkshire Tea is not my cup of tea after all. For my international readers, some clarity: Yorkshire Tea is not grown in the sunlit uplands of the Yorkshire Dales, but is a blend of teas grown in Kenya and India. There’s probably some Assam in there, but not enough to enable me to make a proper brew without composing a long winded blog post to complain.

It’s probably gone cold by now. Damn you, Yorkshire Tea. Sixty-six tea bags to go.

Old man

The old man insists on paying me for helping him with his website. I decline. No payment necessary. He gave me an opportunity to do a good deed. That’s enough. But he insists. So I insist back. I’m not going to take a penny from the old man. Not every deed has to be a transaction. We’re not called to monetise everything. Let some humanity remain. Embrace the gift of an invitation to act.

Unseen

We talk about someone, and at that very moment they call. We think of someone, and all of a sudden they appear. Over and over, we experience this in our lives, and yet still we conclude that there is nothing special about life at all. Just chemical reactions, or something.

Back-to-front

When I was young. I could never understand why kindness was greeted with contempt. Nor could I understand why being nice would so often result in violence, actual or threatened. It seemed so strange that the world was set up to favour the strong, brazen and self-assured.

As for those who go out of their way to help others? It seems that society looks down on them, writing them off as weak-minded folk, to be perpetually mocked and derided. To me, everything is back-to-front, with bold bad behaviour everywhere rewarded.

It all just seems so inimical to the way things should be, wherein the strong take care of the weak, as prescribed by our traditions of faith.

Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but true righteousness is one who believes in God… and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveller, those who ask for help, and for freeing slaves…

From Quran 2:177

Who is there who will actually run to the aid of those now despised by society, against whom our most popular newspapers daily rally with a loud denunciation? Who now will stand with the weak and vulnerable, who don’t stand a chance? Who will stand up against the rising clamour which seeks once more to diminish the poorest, in favour of the rich and powerful?

Petty

Schools and their petty rules. Punish bad behaviour, sure. Create a safe environment in which learning can take place unimpeded: we support you in this completely.

But enforcing expectations which are not even behaviour issues with strong sanctions, disproportionate to the offence? Why? What’s the point of that, except to diminish the self-esteem of youngsters trying their best?

What I want from the school management team is a focus on providing a quality education to our children: to focus on trying to recruit permanent staff, reduce the reliance on supply teachers, to help students reach their full potential.

Instead, week after week, a focus on the peripheral trifling minutiae, of no real importance or value. Parenting is hard enough as it is, without these impositions.

Obscure learning

At university, I studied for a degree that has been of no benefit to me professionally. That’s not to say it couldn’t have benefited me professionally: by now, most of my contemporaries are in director-level roles in the international development space.

But even if my degree did not benefit me professionally, it has been a useful bedrock for my life. I don’t at all regret taking apparently obscure modules like environment and development in South Asia; refugees, returnees and development aid; or border disputes in the Middle East.

For contributing to my understanding of the world through these turbulent times, I very much appreciate studying the development of Iran’s oil industry in detail. In helping me to understand population movements, I’m glad I studied India’s Green Revolution.

Had I had the confidence and motivation, and not been dealing with the heavy maladies of an as-yet undiagnosed condition, I might have built a career on that foundation of learning, rising through the ranks of the Foreign Office or United Nations. Alas, that was not to be.

But no matter. In life, those studies have provided firm foundations of another kind. To have a more nuanced understanding of the world, unswayed by domestic propaganda. To see the story behind the story. To probe deeply, and delve beneath the surface.

Thank God for those opportunities to learn of what was most obscure.

Unfamiliar

In respect to the unfamiliar, people tend to be moved by preconceived notions and prejudices alone. People tend not to engage with what is real, but with what they think to be so, projecting their own perceptions onto the subject. Long-held views, deeply ingrained, are not easily challenged by facts: it must be the facts that are faulty, not the understanding.

We have all encountered this through our lives. We have probably all been guilty of it too. I have certainly had my own understanding of events, which could only be shaken when presented with information that cast doubt on everything I thought to be so. So too have I been forced to reinterpret past interactions in light of my increased understanding of my self, and the impact of factors of character and form I wasn’t even cognisant of at the time.

And so too for others. When I was introduced to my beloved two decades ago, my parents and siblings held that I was having my marriage arranged for me. It was a forgone conclusion, they believed, witnessing our rapid decision to marry, so soon after meeting. It’s true that our union was unusual by modern western standards, but arranged for us? Nope, merely facilitated by mutual friends who thought to bring two souls together.

Through the years, I have experienced so many assumptions based on mistaken understandings of the tradition I follow. I can’t necessarily say I blame others. At school, I only learnt of one religious tradition, that being Anglican Christianity. The only reason I initially learnt anything of other traditions was because I was trying to make sense of events that effected me personally. But most people, I suspect, don’t have that drive and will gladly go through life oblivious to the world beyond their front door.

If you’re going to learn anything of the way of life of the other, you have to have a personal reason for doing so. Perhaps that’s a passion that comes from within. Perhaps it’s a desire to understand one’s neighbours. Perhaps it’s a yearning to turn your life around. Perhaps a need to understand the past. Whatever the impetus, these are all good first steps. It’s good to acquaint yourself with the unfamiliar. Believe me: I know.

Permacrisis

It feels like we’re deliberately being held in a permanent state of agitation, as if to cause us utter despair. Somehow we need to find a way to counteract this morass with hopefulness. Perhaps we can seek that contentment the people of old had, despite real hardship and afflictions.

O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, God is with the patient.

Quran 2:153

“And who despairs of the mercy of his Lord except for those astray?”

From Quran 15:56

Do some good

Well, that’s my good deed for the day. My evening spent doing my community service to an elderly gentleman convinced his websites had been hacked. They hadn’t been. On the first site, he’d just got himself into a pickle running multiple security plugins which decided he was a brute-force attacker, locking out his IP address. The second one caused by an ancient website theme stuffed with deprecated code.

Continue reading “Do some good”