religion

peace

The Atheist Delusion

I was 5 years old the first time I entered a mosque. As with every other situation in my young life, I wasn’t given a choice or informed about this new experience, I was simply led to this new building and I did what I was told to do. I learnt Arabic and Urdu, I wore a burqa and I memorised the last 30 surahs of the Quran. I didn’t exactly pray 5 times I day but my early years were spent in preparation for this. Even when I was asleep I would dream that one day I would do a pilgrimage to Mecca and all would become clear, I was somehow chosen and enlightened and my faith would get me through this, my living nightmare, because God knew and only He could make it go away.

My grandparents were staunch Muslims, or at least their definition of it. When I think about some of the cautionary tales told to me as a kid and how hungrily I lapped them up, I am amazed at myself that I am now a ‘non-believer’. Hellfire was a common feature. For the first decade of my life, I believed I had an angel on each shoulder, documenting all deeds good and evil. I was told we had to cover our hair was because otherwise Satan would urinate on it. I was told I couldn’t cut my hair because our religion forbade it. There were a million and one reasons to control every aspect of my life and I guess this is why I rebelled.

One of the first things to occur to me was the number of non-believers destined for Hell. I couldn’t understand why God, all knowing and omnipresent would condemn a large portion of his creation to destruction, in this way. What a waste of His time.  And if they merely existed to serve as reminder to us, the Chosen Ones, of how we must not stray, well, how is that even fair? Born to die for our sins. That’s just weird isn’t it? And the worse my life got, the more my innocence was chipped away, the less afraid I was to challenge God and seek answers. If it was God that created me then He created this desire for the truth and I didn’t believe God to be so tempestuous as to admonish me for needing to know. Anyway I was angry, he’d made me a girl and apparently girls weren’t worth a helluva lot.

I left my faith at the door of the last mosque I would ever attend. Aged just 10 I’d had enough of the Imam and his inappropriate use of my body. I was glad to be free. I would endure weeks of hurtful comments and physical abuse because I’d rejected my teaching, my family were none too happy about this. I was expected to memorise the whole of the Quran and bring praise on my family but I’d done the opposite. But I didn’t care. I was beyond all of it.

As an early teen, I’d sneer at the Muslim boys. I’d happily feed the little racists group about how I was more in control of my life as an atheist (though it was many more years before I would actually feel this way). That period of my life reminds me of Richard Dawkins. Smug, free, privileged, hurtful, bullying. I had this new found feeling of superiority, I’d cracked the God code and I was gonna laugh at everyone too stupid to figure out the truth. Except, I was a kid and I grew out of that phase. I met more people and realised the world was too big a place with too many different shades of everything to just conveniently slap one label on them all. I met Muslims I actually liked! And get this, Catholics! And all the other religions and ways of life. Because people, all the people on this lonely planet, are full of good and bad. Being atheist doesn’t give you a get out of jail free card, like somehow you can’t be hateful and controlling because it’s righteous hate and control, check yourself and your privilege and take it down a notch or ten.

Muslims slaughter their animals by slitting their throats? That’s common practice in non halal UK abattoirs. Yes, the animal is stunned first but stunning isn’t always accurate and are you telling me those animals don’t know they’re going to die? (Watch the series Kill it, Cook it, Eat it). And how dare one person killing and eating an animal tell another person their method is not to their liking? They’re all killing and eating animals, why is one worse than the other? Is it so convenient to tell half a truth to a sycophantic audience? It’s downright dangerous and he knows this.

I don’t like Richard Dawkins because he is just as bad as the fundos with their beards. He is in a position of great power and he uses this to control. How dare he try and define trauma for victims of sexual abuse? I’ve never heard a single survivor use the word ‘icky’ to describe a sexual violation. They haven’t just trodden in dog poo; they have been physically/sexually harmed. He is the voice of patriarchy and patriarchy is white and middle aged.

I don’t want him to speak for me.

When you think like a feminist..

 

..You draw like one too

Religious men and child abuse

It was a long hut made of corrugated metal and plastic. They’d constructed it to fit on the side of the house, the back door in the middle just to the right of where the molvi sat on his throne of cushions. There were long benches, a foot off the floor, leaving a space where you would put your knees. We would sit in the prayer position, legs tucked underneath, feet splayed out to the side. He had a shorter bench in front of him; when it was your turn, you would go to him to read. The girls sat to his left and the boys to right. Being closer to the door, the boys always got to leave first. We’d stare on, those few minutes dragging.

I was 4 the first time I was sent to a madrassa to be taught Arabic and Urdu. It was a fair distance from where we lived but my mother would walk us there every day after school. There was just enough time for a quick cup of tea and a couple of biscuits before setting off to arrive just before 5pm. I vaguely remember the noise and close proximity of other children; all rocking back and forth, reciting parrot fashion the Arabic/Urdu alphabet; Aleph – Annar, Beh – Bakra, Theh, Tahthi.. Snapshots of a space in time I have very little memory of but a period during which I happened to learn an alien alphabet, progressing onto the first few chapters of the Quran. Alien because I could read it; recite it off by heart, but with very little understanding of what I was saying. Urdu and Arabic have a very similar alphabet and structure. Urdu was easy to understand, it sounded very similar to the languages spoken at home. But Quranic Arabic is art. It is complex and difficult to master. It was a language I didn’t understand. Shortly after I’d begun the evening classes, we were moved to the plastic and metal madrassa closer to home. By the time I left aged 11, I had read and recited it 3 times and was preparing to memorise the whole thing. I left because I could not take anymore. I had reached an age where I was able to make the decision that what I was experiencing was not normal and I did not want it. I was prepared to face the consequences.

When finding my niche, I did not have to struggle too much. I found learning fun, possibly a distraction, and had an aptitude for it. It helped endear me to the family; they had someone to pin their hopes and dreams on. I progressed very quickly through the Quran; chapter by chapter I impressed not only my family but my teacher. He would ask me to read louder so the other children could hear and ask for me to perform prayer, to show them all how it was done. I cannot remember feeling any joy in showing off my talents. Whilst eager to please, I was painfully shy. Inside I was sinking but I would do what was requested of me because I was afraid. He had a selection of sticks, bamboo and walking, in varying thicknesses. The thinner they were the more they stung. The thicker ones would leave a bruise but he saved those for the boys. Depending on his mood, your punishment was either swift; with a lash on your hand or behind or more in the way of suffering over a prolonged period of time. Children, as young as five and as old as 14, were made to hold stress positions. Kursi means chair in Urdu. Standing, you were required to hold your body in a chair like position, for maybe an hour at a time. If he saw you straighten or you shifted through pain from a cramp, you were beaten with a stick and made to resume position. Make like a chair, or a chicken. Bent all the way forwards, your arms round the back of your legs, you had to grip your ears from between your legs, holding the position for more than an hour.

We were all subjected to these punishments, boys and girls. The molvi relished barking these orders, his eyes moving over your body as you struggled to keep still. I can’t remember how old I was when I first recognised his gaze as something that was unacceptable. I had chosen to sit with my friends at the far end of the hut; it is there I first learnt about sex. I had already seen porn; my father didn’t think to protect us from such things. Aged 7, I’d innocently pressed play on the VCR on his room, my siblings sat on the floor around me. At first, I struggled to identify what I was seeing, I thought they were wrestling. And then, a close up. Horrified I reasoned the man was hurting the woman and hurriedly turned it off, shooing my siblings out of the room. I would later discover all manner of magazines and videos and toys. As I joined the dots in my head, I became increasingly distant and withdrawn from my father. Once, I discovered a video of a couple with their daughter. I never let my dad hug me ever again. We weren’t particularly tactile but that was the nail in the coffin for our father/daughter relationship. I was afraid. And I was also determined to leave the madrassa.

He picked on me exclusively. Or maybe he didn’t and I just felt alone. Aged 10, I was a young developer. My chest had begun to swell and I was due my first period. I’ve read up on studies where girls whose fathers are estranged from the mother begin menstruating, on average, 6 months before their secure peers. From my place at the far end of the hut, I could have a giggle with the other girls; we would make fun of this stupid sex thing and vow it was never going to happen to us. But it wasn’t to last. Just as I began my first period, he insisted I move to sit right next to him.

Knees tucked in, facing the wall, he was sat to my left facing the opposite way. He sat so close to me, his thigh was right against mine. He would stroke my side, pinch my ribs. It was all unwanted. Where once he had stroked my knees, now his hands would wonder up my inner thigh, stopping short of actually touching me between the legs.

In Islam, girls and women are prohibited from touching the Holy Quran during their periods because bleeding is considered unclean.  I risked damnation by continuing to do so. I didn’t want anyone to know I had begun bleeding. I was ashamed of it; I was only the 3rd girl in my class at school to have started. At this very early stage of womanhood, I was disgusted by the way my body functioned and utterly afraid of how God would punish me for touching the Quran with my unholy fingers. I would wrap a corner of my burqa around my finger so I wasn’t directly touching it.

He yawned, loudly and stretched his arms up wide and then brought his hand down hard to slap me square on the chest. Of course, this was incredibly painful but I stifled my reaction. He felt my barely even there breasts, lingering and stroking. I knew this was wrong. The way he sneered at me, touched my body at his every whim, I was completely dominated. And unable to tell anyone. I was sure they wouldn’t believe me anyway, he was like a local celebrity. A man of God, he was respected and the community would bend over backwards for the good work he did for them.. Educating a new generation of Muslims. He had the opposite effect on me. I became very un-Muslim. I had started to challenge God and thought he must be a pervert too, for allowing these things to happen. This wasn’t my God but a God for men who did whatever pleased them. It was the same God my father, grandfather and uncles held up as an example. And they were all bad people.

Finally, aged 11 I summoned up the courage to say no. My mother would complain that I was a lovely little girl before I’d started secondary school and she could just not understand why I was rebelling now. I refused to get ready for mosque. On arriving home after school, I would lock myself up in the bathroom. A couple of times, my father managed to beat the bathroom door down and slapped me about for being so defiant. But this would last at least half an hour into the lesson so I successfully managed to avoid it. It was only after one of the last beatings in this chapter that I disclosed what had happened to me. My father had dragged me onto the ground by my hair and was kicking me on the floor. I managed to escape and ran upstairs to my bedroom, my mother followed behind. “What is wrong with you?” She pleaded. And I just blurted it all out.

“You, you send me there. To that man. But he touches me! And you won’t stop him”.

She froze. I remember clearly that her eyes darkened and glazed over and she stopped, her breathing silent again. And that’s all I remember. Nothing was ever said or done. It was never mentioned to me again.

I remember it every time I hear a Catholic church story, and wonder how many millions of children suffer in silence at mosques. Of course they might not, but how would we know? Grassroots madrassas are rife in local communities. They are not affiliated with the local government and there is no way of ensuring they adhere to child protection guidelines. I am also reminded of the practice of removing body hair as part of your religion. I have made an association between religious men, the rules and paedophilia. I don’t think anyone could blame me for feeling this way.

Honour Based Crime: It’s Their Cultural Right

Domestic violence is illegal in this country. The term domestic violence extends to threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) and it doesn’t just affect spouses but also family members or members of the same household, irrespective of gender or sexuality. When an assault or threat of an assault is reported the police have a duty to investigate. Except in some cases they say they cannot undertake their duty lest they offend on grounds of cultural differences.

I am yet to encounter a culture where domestic abuse is enshrined as one of their respected practices. As in any culture across the world, the majority of people are peaceful and benign in their actions. They can be reasonable and resolve issues without resorting to harm. Islam, a religion that is touted as punitive and regressive to the development of women is often held up as an example by right wing pressure groups and media in the West of how men in the East continue to control their women because their holy book says so and somewhere in this book, it is alleged that God decrees domestic abuse as the right of man, it is not apparently a religion of peace as its followers believe but one of violence and control, oppressive and archaic. I’m not a Muslim by a long stretch of the imagination but I was institutionalised once upon a time. And I was victim to such abuses. However, I cannot say that I was abused because the good book said so. I was abused because the men in my family were hellbent on control.

Having arrived in the 60s, my grandfather (ex-army) had to muddle his way through British life by himself for the first few years. He found work as a foreman for British Steel. Without their wives and children, groups of men in their tens would share grotty bedsits in an effort to stay alive on the meagre wages they were paid but also to save so they could bring their families over. It was a time of deprivation and disorder; they were not wanted in this country. I think my grandfather was a very angry man, put upon and controlled by other men he could not afford to say boo to. And so the cycle began. They would bark orders at him and he would beat it down to her, my grandmother. She was a poor village girl he’d fallen in love with and eloped. Strange that my grandparents had what we term a love marriage whilst they forced most of their own children into marriages they did not want. I believe they did this because they felt they had to protect their culture. I remember my mother laughingly telling me how my gran had reacted to the news a distant relative had recently got married to a white man. My grandmother was adamant my sister and I should not hear about it, just in case we did the same.

Whenever any group migrates to new shores, they become insular, protective of who they are and where they come from. The culture in the Motherland will continue to move on and adapt, becoming modernised and globalised. When I went to Pakistan in 2002, I was shocked to find my girl cousins wearing short sleeves and getting their eyebrows done at the local beauticians. We were forbidden from doing such things. When your culture is not being oppressed, it is easier to move with the times. My cousins were not beaten, they were all studying and one was even going into engineering. Domestic abuse is not part of South Asian culture.

It is not part of Islam either. You’ll get the fundos with their beards and cropped trousers offering dawah, with their various takes on Islam and the role of the woman. One offered “if God did not exist (wait for him to finish saying his astagfirullahs) then woman would look to her man as her God”. Wait a minute, last time I checked it was women who had the power to create. If God did not exist (sorry god), then surely it is woman who takes the place of creator?

In relation to abuse, I have found two teachings which shed some light. Firstly, there is a passage on chastisement (domestic abuse to you and me). It is recommended, if the woman should speak out of turn (my mind usually wanders at such a sentence) then it is permissible to strike her on the arm with a ‘miswak’. A miswak is a twig from the Salvadora Persica tree which is used to clean the teeth. It is no bigger than your hand and about the thickness of a standard pencil. Texts are largely open to interpretation but I believe this to mean, you shouldn’t hit your wife. There is another teaching from the hadiths which suggest that if an argument ensues and your opponent is not a physical match to you, one must lay down on the ground. The change in stance has a calming effect. Perhaps I have chosen to focus on the bits where confrontation and violence are discouraged but when Muslims the world over call it the religion of peace, maybe it’s time we started listening.

Domestic abuse is not a cultural practice. It is the worst manifestation of control by people who feel the need to exert their control. I personally believe that statutory agencies are using this excuse to avoid having to deal with people they might not understand or actually care for. This excuse has gone on long enough, why are these agencies not putting some of their budget into courses designed to tackle culturally sensitive issues? For if they did, they might realise that saying domestic abuse aka ‘honour’ based crime  is a cultural thing, they ‘d be saying the same about us Brits. Where one person has intentions to harm another’s body or state of mind, the state has a duty to protect. Irrespective of the excuses the perpetrators think up.

Hijab

It’s a tough Hijab but someone’s gotta do it

Hijab – A personal choice

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HT @MrChrisEllis