The Peace You Feel During Ramadan Is Beautiful

Royal Baby

Ramadan started brilliantly this year. The very first day of fasting say a new addition to the British Royal family, when Meghan Markle (the Duchess of Sussex and wife of Prince Harry) gave birth to a baby boy.

However, things started to deteriorate after this promising piece of glad tiding, as the usual news stories of car bombings and suicide attacks in various parts of the Muslim world started coming through, places such as Pakistan, Baghdad, and Syria. Feel free to also add Palestine, Kashmir, China, and Yemen to the list of terror and despair faced by Muslims across the world. Apologies, I forgot one more: please also include the sabre rattling currently being done by Trump and his administration over Iran, rattling that is backed weirdly by both Saudi Arabia and Israel, providing us with a real world example of the ancient proverb ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’

And you also have issues of Ramadan excess. Whilst Ramadan is a month of restraint there are many Muslims who over indulge in their festivities. Ramadan is a month long practice intended to encourage us Muslims to reflect on our daily habits and spirituality through piety and self-discipline. However, the celebrations involved and how they are practiced in the modern era often lead to counter intuitive effects, such as significant weight gain and food waste This food waste can escalate due to a variety of factors ranging from a commercialisation of the holy month, to the generosity of hosts who overcook for events, and to over ordering in restaurants.

The excess problem is such that in Jakarta, capital city of the largest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia, local authorities had to deal with an additional 200 tonnes of waste during Ramadan last year. Over in the UAE, according to their Food Bank project, leftover food waste is expected to go up from an average of 2.7 kilograms per person daily to 4.5kg during Ramadan. The situation in Malaysia is similar, where wastage rises by a third from 15,000 tonnes per week to 20,000 tonnes during this month. Furthermore, a study by market research firm AMRB found that nearly twice as much time was spent cooking during Ramadan than at any other time of year and that there was a 43 per cent increase in the number of dishes prepared at home during the month.

These scenarios are likely to be replicated wherever Ramadan is being observed by a large Muslim population. It can easily be argued that this wastage is in significant contrast to the lessons of the prophet Muhammad who advocated breaking the fast simply with some dry dates and milk. Compare this to a Muslim community that focuses on serving elaborate meals to family and friends as they break their day’s fast. An admirable example of countering this wastage can be found in the UAE where the Ramadan Sharing Fridges scheme allows people to leave cooked food, fresh fruit and vegetables, and drinks, so those in need can help themselves. This beautiful example of a community sustaining itself and cutting back on waste is made even easier this year, all thanks to the ride-hailing app firm Careem who will even come and collect food from your door to deliver to the fridges.

Having said all that, this holy month is still considered a blessed time by Muslims all over the globe, who try to capture the true spirit of Islam throughout these 30 days. And since Ramadan is a tremendous reaffirmation of my Islamic faith, I thought it would be good to share the positive views of others who feel the same way. I will avoid quoting the likes of atheist astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who recently tried to tell the Muslim world that they have been fasting incorrectly all this time (silly 2 billion Muslims!), and the likes of female Muslim comedian Sadia Azmat, who somewhat over shared in an article about her personal desires during Ramadan. Instead please find below selected quotes from recent articles that present a sincere and positive view of Islam, Muslims, and Ramadan. Enjoy!

Lagos

The Islamic month of Ramadan is here, and I am excited by the calmness and reflection that this month brings. Ramadan, the ninth month on the Islamic calendar, is considered the holiest month for Muslims. It is a time where we fast, not just from eating food, but also from our worldly desires including things like shopping, or watching television — it’s a time very similar to that of Lent for Christians. This month is dedicated to feeding our souls through reading more, praying more, and being more patient and kind to everyone, while attaching ourselves more to God. It is a month that is dedicated to spiritually grooming yourself to be a better person for the rest of the year — contrary to the bigoted perceptions that exist against Muslims. – Imani Bashir

What I wish more people knew is that the practices and teachings of Islam are rooted in love. For many other Muslims and I, holding onto traditional practices in a society that is becoming more and more secular is important. Ramadan is a part of my culture, whether I’m feeling particularly close to Islam as a religion or not. Because of this, it has become something that grounds me each year. Fasting teaches Muslims self-discipline, patience, and the value of the things we take for granted every day. It’s a time period during which I tap into empathy, compassion, and ultimately how to value these concepts not just one month out of the year, but all the time. Each year, Ramadan seems to arrive when I least expect it, but also when I need its reminders and inspiration the most. Telling me to harness and redirect all the energy I aimlessly put into superficial and immediate gratification, into something greater than myself. Fasting teaches all Muslims restraint and self-discipline. It teaches me that Islam — like the moon when I search for it each night — will always be there. – Nadra Widatalla

Whether it’s in theatre, comedy, sports, music or politics, Muslims are challenging the traditional stereotypes and showing that they are, and want to be, a part of the mainstream community. That’s why I urge people, particularly during Ramadan, to find out more about Islam, increase your understanding and learning, even fast for a day with your Muslim neighbour and break your fast at the local mosque. I would be very surprised if you didn’t find that you share more in common than you thought. Muslims are at the heart of every aspect of society. Their contribution is something that all Londoners benefit from. Muslim police officers, doctors, scientists and teachers are an essential part of the fabric of London. There are valuable lessons that people of all backgrounds can learn from Islam such as the importance of community spirit, family ties, compassion and helping those less fortunate, all of which lie at the heart of the teachings of Ramadan. – Boris Johnson, May 2019, whilst on an official visit to the East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre

Ramadan is a time for contemplation, taking stock of our eating habits and giving to charity. In the western world, we have such an excess of food. We seem to have a culture of ‘living to eat rather than eating to live’. We are fortunate to have so much food at our disposal, whenever and wherever we need. But what about those people less fortunate than us? In many Muslim countries, come sunset when the fast breaks, mosques and restaurants open up their doors and feed the poor for free. I think that’s a wonderful way of giving back. – Parveen “The Spice Queen” Ashraf

The question I get asked most in Ramadan is, “You can’t drink even a sip of water?” People think that models don’t eat anyway, and so Ramadan should be easy, but that’s not true. For a start, you always end up putting on weight because your body craves heavy, greasy carbs at iftar and then you can’t move afterwards. My mum always says when we’re piling our plates up, “You won’t finish that!”…I look after my body and always eat while I’m on shoots, so this month will be a test, but the peace you feel during Ramadan is beautiful. It’s difficult to explain, because most people can’t get past the idea of no food or drink, but you gain so much spiritually. It’s a different, calmer perspective. You put yourself in the shoes of people who live this reality every day and it reminds you to be grateful and patient. – Asha Mohamud, British-Somali model

Ramadan is a time where we remember to give back and try and feel how it feels to be closer to God, and to remember all the blessings that we’ve been blessed with. It’s something that the Muslim community and individuals really look forward to. It’s something that comes from their heart. It’s a time when we find ourselves connecting with God more because we’re starving our bodies but we’re feeding our soul with God. – Haris Ansari

Western society could learn a lot about the struggles of others through the practice of Ramadan. We have a lot of ease in our society, a lot of comfort, but during Ramadan, people all around us are showing self-control and restraint and sacrifice when they practise their religion. It’s about being uncomfortable in your practice of faith, and there’s a lesson in that. During my research for the book, I was very surprised at the lack of science and studies about what fasting does physiologically to the body, especially considering how many people in the world are Muslim and adhere to Ramadan. – Brigid Delaney, author of Wellmania: Misadventures In The Search Of Wellness

Despite the exhortations about being more conscientious during Ramadan, the most shocking thing is that food waste actually rises during the holy month…We need to start recognising the dissonance between what we say Ramadan is, and what we actually do during those 30 days…Fundamentally, the answer is rooted in Ramadan traditions that already exist: share with those who really need the food. The increase in the amount given to charity during the month of fasting is testament to people’s generosity and open-heartedness. It’s also the key to re-thinking how we share our iftars. Instead of having excessive meals on our own, we can think about how to distribute it. – Shelina Janmohamed

This Ramadan, as grown-ups consciously slow down, turn inward and nurture their inner spirit, one of the important responsibilities is to also inculcate in children the true essence of Ramadan. The values of sharing, generosity and charity are as integral to adults as they are to children. In fact, the sooner children are taught these values, the better will they grow up into compassionate individuals. Like a muscle in the body that gets stronger through exercise, compassion too grows with every act done in its guiding spirit. – Jumana Khamis

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SWIPE EAST FOR LOVE

I think I may have found my purpose in this world, at least digitally anyway. I came across a phrase that piqued my interest because it kind of describes what I am trying to do with this immensely unsuccessful blog of mine. Earlier this year the American TV host Bill Maher was interviewing Professor Seth Abramson, author of the book Proof Of Collusion: How Trump Betrayed America. Maher was trying to find out what it is that Abramson does in his academic endeavours, specifically about being a ‘curatorial journalist’ and what exactly this means. This is the answer he gave:

We’re in the digital age now and what we find is not that there isn’t enough quality journalism, but that there’s actually so much of it that a lot of it falls through the cracks. It gets published, read once, and then forgotten. So what a curatorial journalist does is they look back decades across media that’s being published across different continents and they see stories that are lost, and how they connect with one another, and how they might be important now but weren’t realized as important at the time. So a curatorial journalist connect the dots. – Seth Abramson, 12 Apr 2019, from an interview on the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher

This answer really got me thinking. Upon hearing the phrase “curatorial journalist” I felt an energy-efficient light bulb go off in my mind. In a similar fashion I also try to look back over decades across different forms of media, collecting quotes that are perhaps lost or not so well known. After gathering these various dots together, I then try to somehow connect them. Even if I am unable to connect them then at the very least I am hoping the dots themselves are interesting on their own accord.

Why my obsession with quotes? I shall avoid saying something cheesy like “I don’t know if I choose the quotes or the quotes choose me.” Instead I shall quote Sy Safransky, editor of a quotation anthology, who said:

Was it worth all the effort? Of course. Great quotations are the wisdom of the tribe. They bridge time and space. They connect the living and the dead. The Talmud says the right quotation at the right moment is like “bread to the famished.” May you be fed. – Sy Safransky

Anyways, enjoy…!

Alis Wedding

There is a Muslim version of Tinder, which is called Minder, and to match on Minder you have to swipe east. – Eshaan Akbar, 18 Apr 2019, from the TV show Frankie Boyle’s New World Order

Islamic fundamentalist sex dolls. Do they blow themselves up? – Jimmy Carr

I don’t want to incur the wrath of Islam…’The wrath of Islam’ sounds like a terrible pub. No booze, no women, no fruit machines. What the hell is this?! – Jimmy Carr

I’m brown…I’m Muslim…I culturally identify as a terrorist. – Usman Enam

Trump, a man who came from everything but brings nothing. – Professor Julia Ott

It is better to live like a lion for one day than to live like a slave for a hundred years. – Afghan proverb, from the 2015 documentary He Named Me Malala

Being president is a weird job. People say “I think the President might be crazy.” “Oh, yeah? So? Well, what do you expect?” Anybody who THINKS they should be the president, there’s your test right there. If you actually think for real, in your head, that you should be the president, then you’re out of your mind! You’re crazy! “I should be the president” to me is like “I should be Thor.” “I think I would like to be Dr Neil Clark Warren of eHarmony.com. That’s what I want.” You’re out of your mind, OK?! These are crazy ideas! “Who should be the most powerful person in America, the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and leader of the free world? You know, I gotta say, that sounds like me. It seems like something I would be good at. I can’t think of anyone better than me to be in charge of absolutely everything!” “Because I’m insane” is the rest of that sentence. “Because I’m insane.” – Jerry Seinfeld, from his Netflix stand up special Jerry Before Seinfeld

The Mueller report came out last week. Of course there’s still a lot we don’t know. I don’t want to say that the Mueller report was excessively redacted, but there was so much black on it Trump demanded to see its birth certificate. There was so much black ink the Virginia governor is dressing up as it for Halloween. It was so black Trump thinks it should get the death penalty for a crime it definitely didn’t commit. – Samantha Bee, 27 Apr 2019

It’s really strange because it feels like this argument about immigrants is drifting rightwards. Years ago people were like “I’m not racist but I find sometimes when the call centres phone me, I can’t understand what they’re saying.” And in a way you can kind of see that. But now it’s a case of “I’m not racist but I just batter Polish people on the weekend.” Well that sounds legit! And it’s really hard because where I’m from in north Wales, it’s really rural, it’s very, very white. And I’m trying to explain it to my parents as well, who don’t see any representation unless it’s what they see on the television, and they think they’re right to be scared. I remember at the end of our drive a bungalow came up for sale, and my mum was really scared that Muslims would move in, because she’d heard about them on the news and she was like “I don’t know what to do. What if Muslims live there?” And I was like “It’ll be fine.” And then some Scousers moved in and they kept their Christmas lights up all year, and she was fuming about that. And I was like “Well, if Muslims lived there it wouldn’t be an issue, would it!?” – Kiri Pritchard-McLean, 18 Apr 2019, from the TV show Frankie Boyle’s New World Order

I think it’s important to recognise that these people who voted for Brexit are angry without ever legitmising what they are angry about, or the way that they are doing it. You shouldn’t be angry at immigrants. That is completely irrational to be angry at people who are just as powerless as you. You should be angry at the people who are actually responsible for this, which is the bankers, the chief executives, and all the politicians that are supporting them…The real divide in the UK isn’t between the 48% and the 52%, it’s between the 99% and the 1%. – Grace Blakeley, 18 Apr 2019, from the TV show Frankie Boyle’s New World Order

During the Abbasid Dynasty, a man and his son rode on a donkey. But once they reached the town of Kandahar the people abused them. They said “Poor donkey. You make him carry two fit men.” So the father rode and the son walked. But when they arrived at the next town, people cried “Look at this fellow. He drags his young defenseless boy through the desert heat, and he enjoys the ride of a lifetime.” So in the next town the son rode and the father walked, but people shouted at the boy. “You are young. You are healthy. You make your elderly father suffer. He is marching in the heat.” So, together, the father and his son decided to walk with their donkey. As they passed through the next town, people laughed. “Look at these two idiots. Why don’t they ride their donkey?” And in every town people criticized them. In the end the father said, “Stuff this!” And he and the boy carried the donkey on their back. But…we tie ourselves up in terrible knots, trying to live up to the judgment of others. – from the movie Ali’s Wedding (2017)

THE CULTURE OF THE ISLAMIC WORLD IS PART OF OUR DNA

Alhambra Gardens

The journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has an interesting theory about Muslims. According to Brown, a proud Muslim herself, we have lost touch with our artistic past. We are no longer creative. We have become grey, soulless, conformative automatons who just blindly follow scripture. In articles written several years ago Brown argues that Muslims had a great artistic legacy that is no longer there: “We were once known for our great art, invention, trade and elegance, which helped in the flowering of Europe just as much as Rome and Greece. The Africans selling handbags on the streets of Venice today are only the most recent inheritors of a long history of international commerce that helped make the phenomenal wealth of that city. London, too. Did you know that 300 years before the recent colonisation by Starbucks, places to meet and drink coffee (then called the Mahometan berry) were set up in London by Turks?”

Brown also quotes the Spanish poet and dramatist Federico García Lorca, who said that the Moors (the Muslim rulers of Spain) were “An admirable brand of civilization, of poetry, of architecture, and delicacy unique in the world.” She then deplores: “Look at us today. Iran and Iraq were centres of Islamic arts and culture until vandals of the East and West destroyed both. Islamic countries are so cruel and chaotic that past glories can no longer waken the spirit there. They have extraordinary artists, but they are individual seekers of light in societies lost in pessimism and hungry for kitsch. In our own Muslim ghettos, philistinism and ignorance prevail.”

She goes on to say that “The West regards all Muslims either as terrorists or as ignorant devotees, incapable of rational thought or artistic achievement. Neither sides wants to acknowledge the tight knots of culture which bind them. How ironic.”

Brown further investigated this irony more recently in a 2-part BBC Radio 4 program called From Sensuality To Puritanism: How Muslim Cultures Turned Grey. You know the subject matters covered are deep and personal as part 1 is titled ‘The Vibrancy Of Islamic Culture’ and part 2 is called ‘The Rise Of Islamist Puritanism.’ The two programmes takes us from the early history of Islam to events in the 20th century that saw a shift and a concomitant greying in the lives of Muslims, and most particularly in the lives of Muslim women. Brown asks why the Islamic world that historically represented a vibrant, dazzling and even alluring cultural appeal to the more reserved and conservative West, is now reversing that perception. She also talks to scholars, historians, imams, and others, all of whom seem to remember a less restrained Islamic identity which, in their lifetimes, has been under increasing attack.

Whilst the broadcast is explicit in terms of subject matters covered, the point comes across clearly enough. And to me it seems the point being made goes beyond the desire to wear make-up and mini-skirts, to dance to the music of Prince and Madonna, and to watch superhero and Bollywood movies in cinemas. It goes to what Brown believes is the very heart of Islam and thus to the very heart of what makes all of us Muslims Muslim. In the hour long program she starts by declaring her aims thusly: “I’m trying to understand what happened to that incredible inter-cultural vibrancy and openness of Islam I knew in my childhood. Why does that world now seem so heavily fortressed, defensive, and grey? The very word ‘Muslim’ now conjures veils, segregation, cultural anxiety, rigid social conservatism, and all the qualities that English puritans would have lauded centuries ago.”

And that’s just for starters! She then goes on to ask “how and why Muslim lands and communities have turned from sensuality to puritanism” and why there is a “closing of the Muslim mind.” She “mourns the decline of the Islamic culture we once knew.” She challenges the notion that a Puritanical approach to Islam is a sign of strength. She talks about the increasing power of Saudi Arabia and Iran, where fundamentalist events in the late 1970’s shook both nations and lead to an increasingly hard line approach to religious identity throughout the Muslim world. She reluctantly asks if this fundamentalist tide may yet turn for the better. She talks in historic terms about “the richness of Islamic civilisation” compared to the current “intolerant religious and political dogmatists.”

She says that a “lack of good religious learning leaves Muslims vulnerable” to “the clash between the two Islams, the fundamentalist conservative and the more liberal.” She goes on to wail that the “internal savage clash within Islam makes me and countless other believers feel bereft and disconsolate.” She rues that “Muslims were born free and could live free, with Allah’s blessings” but now we face a “new puritanism” where Islam is “contemporary, puritanical, political, homogenised.”

There is even a brief quote from the internet famous scholar Mufti Menk, about the perils of listening to pop music, a quote that is perhaps taken a little out of context. And then, after spending nearly an hour crying about the greyness of modern Islamic culture, Brown tries to end on a positive note, saying perhaps things are not all bad due to their being “streaks of colour beneath the grey.”

Which is just as well because Brown believes this lost connection to our creative past is something we need to re-establish urgently. In a previous article she has said: “When zealots on both shores can only visualise a dehumanised them and enlightened us, Muslims, cowering between the armies of brutal obduracy, do seek solace in beauty.” And in her radio program she says it is these same cowering Muslims who “In the 21st century…should have more real influence in the arts world.” Given everything that is going on in the world, especially the Muslim world, Brown does acknowledge that hers “is perhaps a petty gripe.” Nevertheless, it is a gripe that I think is important, for fellow artist Saul Bellow has said that “Art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the middle of chaos.” All the chaos that exists in the world, especially the Muslim world, seems to have its own reality, so it feels urgent and necessary to try and find some stillness, even if it comes through the creative arts.

Examples of just how creative and artistic Muslims of yesteryear were can easily be found in current news media. For example, the book Allah’s Automata: Artifacts Of The Arabic-Islamic Renaissance (800-1200) explores the rich and fascinating world of the automata that were developed and built during the golden age of the Arabic-Islamic cultures, the period from the early 9th to the 13th century. The book describes many wondrous machines built to glorify God.

Also, the journalist Stephennie Mulder recently described in detail the interaction between Vikings and Muslims, and the reason for this rich interaction she says is due to a certain level of respect and reverence shown by Vikings for all things Islamic: “Arabic writing was valued by the Vikings as a mark of social status or capital, much in the way we might today buy a perfume with ‘Paris’ written on it. For the Vikings, 10th century Islamic cities like Baghdad, Cordoba or Cairo were the Paris of their day: glittering capitals of art, scientific knowledge, and culture.”

And then you have the example of students from the University of Minnesota who have installed an exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, to better showcase the relationship 15th and 16th century England had to the Islamic world. The Tudor Room, installed at the MIA way back in 1923, is an entire period room from the 1600s that was removed from an English Tudor home, including furniture, the ceiling, windows, and wall-panels. The installation, the oldest Elizabethan-period room in America, clearly shows that influences from the Islamic World were evident among many upper-class English households, including colourful textiles and ceramics. Not only that, Queen Elizabeth I of England turned to allies in Istanbul and Morocco after being excommunicated by the pope and establishing England as a Protestant state.

The University students have said that growing Islamophobic rhetoric and actions are just a few reasons why an exhibit that explains how relationships between the Islamic world and Westerners formed is more important than ever. Katie Sisneros, lead curator of the project, said: “We’re trying to illustrate a part of history that most people just don’t know about…By necessity, an exhibit can’t exist in a vacuum. It has to address the world around it. I hope the work we’ve put in has sort of expressed how much that matters to us. The room tells a story that’s as much historical as it is contemporary.”

Furthermore, it seems Brown is not the only one who holds the views she does. Author and intellectual Ziauddin Sardar does not agree with the confines being placed on Islam by some: “My Muslimness is a great source of liberation. It’s also a source of theological liberation.” He also says of his home nation of Pakistan that, because of the hard line shift in faith, “Pakistan is being dehumanised.”

Another academic and author, Dr Usama Hasan, states: “Historically, intellectually, and theologically, Islam has not been anywhere near as narrow, and shallow if you like, as some of the Islamic regimes have expressed it.” And then you have Raficq Abdullah who reminds us that: “We have forgotten the notion of sacredness in the Western world – with consumerism, globalisation and the secular state. Whereas in the Muslim world a sense of sacredness permeates all areas of the arts.”

A time when this sense of sacredness most definitely permeated all areas of not just the arts, but all areas of life, was the golden age of Islam in Spain, back when the Moors ruled the Iberian peninsula. Régis Debray, author of Civilization: How We All Became American, says that: “’Civilization’ is a hard term to define. But while every society has a distinctive culture, authentic civilizations must offer those they subjugate an attractive way of life. Their imprint outlasts their imperium.”

One could argue that the Muslims did not exactly ‘subjugate’ the locals, many of whom willingly converted to Islam over the following few centuries. Whilst it is true that the ‘imperium’ of Islam is most definitely over in Spain, the ‘imprint’ left by the ‘authentic civilization’ of the Muslims is as extensive as it is impressive, even to this day.

This imprint is described in splendid detail by critic and art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon in the BBC TV documentary The Art Of Spain. Part one of this 3-part program is called ‘The Moorish South.’ In it Dixon travels around southern Spain to tell the story of some of Europe’s most exciting and vital art. For 700 years, most of Spain was an Islamic state and the south was its beating heart. Under the Moors Spain became the most advanced, wealthy, and populous country in Europe, and perhaps the entire world. Dixon goes to Cordoba, Seville, and Granada, where he visits beautiful Moorish palaces and mosques to tell us the story of one of the most colourful and sophisticated cultures Europe has ever known.

The documentary is well worth watching in full, with the selected quotes below doing it little visual justice. Having said that, they are well worth a read. Enjoy!


Too often we think of Spain as two weeks on the beach. But there’s another Spain. Spain has produced some of the most startling and original art ever created. Art that has been unfairly overshadowed by the rest of Europe. Art that we know little about. But Spanish art is the art that we need to know about, because it holds the key to understanding all of Europe and its culture. It was in Spain and its empire that so many of Europe’s great battles were played out. Christianity versus Islam. Catholic versus Protestant. Fascist versus socialist.

For many visitors, the south of Spain IS Spain. But away from the beaches there are magnificent sights. Grand palaces, castles, and mosques. Reminders of a different culture from a distant time, a time when Spain was called Al Andalus. What’s often forgotten is that for over 700 years much of Spain was ruled by Muslims and the South was its beating heart. Southern Spain was a unique frontier, where east met west with explosive results. This is the story of how Islamic Spain became one of the most remarkable civilisations ever seen. One that’s shaped Spain and the rest of Europe ever since.

Right at the tip of Southern Spain, a huge rock explodes out of the Mediterranean. But the rock isn’t Spanish. It’s British. And long before Britain owned it, the Rock of Gibraltar belonged to another foreign power, a power that ruled it for nearly 800 years. On the 30th of April in the year 711, an Arab general named Tariq Ibn Ziyad sailed across these waters from North Africa with an army of 5,000 Arab and North African soldiers and invaded Gibraltar. He gave the rock its name, Jabal Al Tariq – Tariq’s Mountain. He used it as the launch pad for the Islamic conquest of Christian Spain. Just 25,000 troops marched across the country, building fortifications as they went. After just three years, the invasion was complete. Only the far-flung provinces of the extreme North resisted, protected by impassable mountains. But the rest of Spain was now part of a vast Islamic empire which reached as far as India. Even its name was changed, from Spain to Al Andalus, and its new rulers were an assortment of Arabs, North Africans, Egyptians and Syrians. The Moors.

Spain was pretty much used to being conquered by foreign invaders over the centuries. The Romans, the Celts and the Visigoths had all had a go at ruling this vast land and, by all accounts, the primitive peoples of Spain had been a bit of a soft touch. But you might have been forgiven for thinking the collision between Muslim invaders and a Christian people would have had some fairly explosive results. And there was an explosion but not of the kind you might expect. It was an explosion of art and culture. The story of this art and culture remains shockingly neglected but I think it’s the key to understanding the whole of Spanish art and its unique intensity.

The first great flowering of Moorish culture took place in the new capital city of Cordoba. By the late eighth century, the Moors had turned Cordoba into the brightest, wealthiest and busiest city in Europe. Its fame reached as far as a quiet cloister in Saxony, where a Christian nun described the city as “the brilliant ornament of the world”. This glittering city was all the work of one young man. His name was Abd Al-Rahman and he was an exile. His family had ruled Damascus in Syria but in the year 750 they were all killed in a brutal civil war. Abd Al-Rahman was the sole survivor of the massacre and he fled all the way from Syria to Cordoba, where he quickly established himself as the Caliph, or ruler, of Al Andalus. His passage through life had hardly been easy but he was to turn out to be one of the most influential figures in world history, someone who kick-started a complete revolution in Western society. He did so by attempting to recreate the splendours of his native Damascus here in Cordoba. He wanted to turn this place into a kind of paradise on earth. Under Abd Al-Rahman, a great civilisation would be born here on Spanish soil.

 [Speaking to Hashim Cabrera, artist and historian]

DIXON: I’m here really to try and find out about Cordoba as it was in the Golden Age.

CABRERA: There were many, many philosophers and artists that were coming to Cordoba for learning. Modern science has many of its roots in this time, in Cordoba. In astronomy and philosophy, in physics, in all [branches of] knowledge. It was like a revolution, like a cultural revolution.

DIXON: So if somebody say around 900 came from Paris or London and arrived in Cordoba, what impression do you think it would have made on them?

CABRERA: It’s like when if now people who are living in poor countries go to New York, or Paris, or London, or Madrid. I think this would have the same impression.

At the heart of Abd al-Rahman’s paradise on earth was the Great Mosque of Cordoba. When work began here in the 8th century, Islam was only a century old, which makes this one of the first mosques ever built. The Great Mosque is a forest of stone columns which seem to go on forever – as far as the eye can see. The effect is a bit like being in a hall of mirrors. You actually feel lost in here, truly disorientated, and that’s the point. The worshipper feels in the presence of something mysterious and infinite, perhaps God himself. In Islam, the direct representation of God or any living being is forbidden. The designers couldn’t use pictures or statues to inspire religious awe, just the forms of architecture itself. And the design of the mosque is uniform throughout, so wherever you stand in this amazing never-ending forest of stone, you feel the same connection to God. Early Islam was a religion without hierarchy, without clergy and liturgy. You just entered the space and prayed. So it was vital for the architects to create a building in which everyone felt equal. This is spiritually democratic architecture.

I found the experience of visiting the Great Mosque really powerful. I think it’s all the more moving when you think about the man who created it, Abd Al-Rahman. We don’t know a great deal about him but we do know that he left us one poem. It’s a poem about a palm tree that he found that had seeded itself somewhere out on the plains of Al Andalus. He saw it as a symbol of himself. He wrote an ode to it. The palm, he said, was like me, it’s an exile. It reminded him of his family. It was a very important symbol to any Arab living in Spain. It symbolised water, shelter, nourishment. Of course, that palm-tree has gone forever but I wonder if this mosque with its endlessly repeated columns, isn’t a thousand palm trees planted here, preserved forever in stone.

But slap bang in the middle of the prayer hall is something profoundly un-Islamic. A Catholic cathedral. In the 16th century, long after the fall of the Moors, Cordoba’s Christian rulers demolished the central columns of the mosque and erected this vast temple to Christianity. A cathedral planted in the centre of a mosque. It’s like a great parasite in its belly. Even the great Catholic Emperor Charles V, who authorised the construction of the cathedral, realised he’d made a terrible mistake. When it was complete he rounded on the architects, saying “You’ve taken something unique and turned it into something mundane.” I think you can still appreciate the beauty of the mosque, but as an act of cultural vandalism, I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s like a sort of dagger plunged into the heart of the mosque. It represents a really heavy-handed imposition of one set of religious values on another and there’s something quite ugly about that.

So much of the later story of Spain would be dominated by religious conflict. But during the Golden Age of Al Andalus, back in its 9th and 10th century heyday, the religious realities were quite different. The extraordinary fact is that here in Al Andalus, uniquely the three religions lived together in relative harmony. Islam regarded Jews and Christians as “People of the Book” whose holy writings were to be respected as forerunners of the Prophet Muhammed’s final revelation. So the conquering Moors made no effort to convince the Christians and the Jews to convert and they even, as the Koran commanded, gave them freedom of worship.

For over 200 years the three religions rubbed along surprisingly well. Friendships and marriages flourished across the faiths. Many Christians and Jews held prominent positions in the Islamic state.

[Speaking to Antonio Manuel Rodriguez, historian]

DIXON: How fully integrated really were these three different religious groups in Cordoba – the Jews, the Christians, the Muslims?

RODRIGUEZ: There’s a lot of talk about three culture living together in Al Andalus. But strictly speaking, there was only one culture, The Andalusi culture. Al Andalus could have a Jewish emphasis, or a Christian emphasis, or an Islamic emphasis. But really, Al Andalus was just one thing.

DIXON: So was this society a kind of paradise on earth?

RODRIGUEZ: It’s true that the civilisation of Al Andalus was the most universally tolerant, inter-cultural and understanding in the history of humanity. I believe it was a golden age of humanity, and that it was the first Renaissance in continental Europe.

The Jewish population of Al Andalus fared particularly well under Arab rule. Under the Christians in the sixth and seventh centuries they’d been persecuted. Under Islam they prospered, becoming successful merchants, reaching the highest positions in government. Nowadays we tend to think of these two great religions, Judaism and Islam, as naturally opposed to one another, but this space is a reminder that it wasn’t always so, that here in Cordoba, once upon a time, Jews and Muslims lived not as enemies but as brothers.

The Christians of Al Andalus were just as keen to embrace Arab culture. Many even converted to Islam. After 300 years of Islamic occupation, 75% of the population had become Muslim. But even those who didn’t convert were profoundly affected by the Arab way of life. They were known Mozarabs, meaning “Arabised”, and they adopted the dress, language and customs of their rulers. It’s hardly surprising that the peoples of medieval Spain should have been so seduced by Arab civilisation. After all, this was a cultural desert. They were leading dour, simple lives and suddenly along comes this vibrant, colourful, sophisticated, but, above all, sensual culture. For me, almost its greatest symbol is the beautiful Arab bath house, a kind of temple of sensual delight.

As well as luxuriating in the bath house, the Moors introduced new fashions, hairstyles and perfumes. They also brought toothpaste and underarm deodorant to the West for the first time. The Moors treated every aspect of life as if it were a work of art – whether it was clothes, or cosmetics, or food. The Moors also introduced to Spain a whole new world of culinary delights. They brought in the idea of eating in courses and they brought with them a whole new range of ingredients that transformed Western European cookery – rice, coffee, sugar, citrus fruits, coriander, basil. And they turned cooking into an art form.

For the Moors, food wasn’t the only part of the dining experience, surprisingly they also enjoyed a drink. The Koran forbids the consumption of alcohol, but we know that it was produced in large quantities throughout Islamic Spain. Alcohol itself is an Arabic word. They used it in cosmetics and in medicine, but they also drank it, and they even introduced a distillation process that would result in that most Spanish of drinks – sherry.

But as well as indulging the senses, the Moors were also intent on developing the mind. Reading was so valued that they turned script itself into a coiling, ornate form of art. The Koran encouraged learning, saying that it brought you closer to God. And the Moors took this decree to heart. Cordoba was full of libraries, one of which was reputed to contain over 400,000 books – ten times more than the contents of the libraries of the rest of Europe put together. The Moors made great advances in philosophy, literature, science and mathematics.

The Arab contribution to Western thought was truly enormous. Among other things it was through Al Andalus that the West re-discovered virtually all of ancient Greek philosophy, through Al Andalus that we got the Hindu-Arabic number system, our number system. The development of logical thought, how we count and calculate – it’s fair to say that the foundations for all of these things were laid in the great centres of Spanish-Islamic learning, like Cordoba.

As you drive round the landscape of Southern Spain, it’s full of a sense of the Moorish past. There are these little castles everywhere, surrounded by tiny, little white villages. But I think it was the landscape that they altered most of all, because whereas for the Romans, Spain had just been the arse-end of Empire, a dry and barren place, to these people from the desert, this was a land full of agricultural possibility, and they brought with them a whole range of techniques for farming dry land – systems of irrigation, canals. They planted out olives and vineyards. And, as a result, there was a huge population explosion. Suddenly people had more than enough to eat, they had more than enough water to drink. Spain really had never had it so good.

And in the countryside outside Cordoba, the greatest symbol of Islamic power and influence in Spain rose out of the ground. These ruins are all that’s left of the most splendid palace ever built by the Moors – Madinat Al Zahra. It was built in the 10th century to celebrate the might of Abd Al-Rahman III, descendant of the great exile who’d founded the Golden Age. In the year 929, Al-Rahman proclaimed himself not only Caliph of Al Andalus, but ruler of the entire Islamic empire. And to celebrate this audacious act of self-promotion, he built this vast palace complex, the size of a city. It was to become the Versailles of Spain, the epitome of the Islamic palace.

Wow. It is fantastically impressive but just think how much more impressive it must have been when this place was in its heyday, and gold and silver and magnificent textiles decorated every surface. Apparently one room even contained a vast, suspended vat full of mercury, and at the caliph’s command a servant would bang it and the mercury would ripple, and light would dance and sparkle on every surface. It must have been a bit like some medieval, Islamic glitter ball. And the guests would reel backwards in awe and terror.

But this city was also meant to touch the soul. In the Koran, the words of Muhammed dictated in the desert, paradise is described as “a garden flowing with streams” and Madinat Al Zahra was built around gardens and water. This was an attempt to create a paradise on earth, a tantalising glimpse of the eternal garden that awaits the righteous. These arches are the same as in Cordoba’s Mosque. Even the colours are the same, red and white – the colours of the Al-Rahman dynasty. But here, power politics are blended with spirituality. And running through it all is the idea of Paradise.

This is the most impressive of all of the rooms in Madinat Al Zahra. It’s the nerve centre of the entire complex, the throne room of Caliph Abd Al-Rahman III, and here it’s as if the idea of Paradise has been set in stone. It’s been allowed to take over the architecture. Look at that great wall of ornamental carving. It’s as if stone itself has been made to go against its own nature and been turned into a kind of plant life. These tendrils and shoots that grow up the wall. You really do feel that you are in a kind of paradise. Plant motifs aren’t the only decoration in this room. The walls are also covered in patterns made from geometry and Arab writing, both loaded with religious significance. In a world in which the depiction of real figures, real life, was forbidden, the Muslim artist had to turn to pattern and elevate it to an art form. And these stunningly intricate forests of decoration are the pinnacle of early Islamic art. Nothing like them survives anywhere else in the world. They’re the Islamic equivalent of the greatest Christian frescoes, but without a human figure in sight. What you really notice about this space is the way in which every square inch has been decorated. Now that’s unique and it would become one of the hallmarks of Spanish Islamic art. It’s almost as if they developed a terror of empty space.

But the glory of Madinat Al Zahra was to be short-lived. Less than 100 years after work on the palace began, it lay in ruins. In the 11th century, civil war engulfed Al Andalus. The dynasty of Abd Al-Rahman, rulers for nearly 300 years, was overthrown. Madinat Al Zahra was sacked and looted. The Golden Age was over. So why did this golden moment come to an end? Well, some blame fierce political rivalry between the various Islamic tribes that made up Muslim Spain from the start. Others say it was due to corruption within the Caliphate itself. But my own favourite explanation was given by the greatest Spanish Arab historian of the time. It’s wonderful, it’s the Orange Grove Theory of History. He said that any society is doomed once it’s becomes wealthy enough, and therefore sedentary enough, to plant orange trees. Maybe in the end they were just undone by their own success.

In 1031, Al Andalus split into dozens of self-governing city states, fighting amongst each other for territory and power. But things were to get far worse. I’ve come to the city of Seville, two hours’ drive to the west of Cordoba. In the 11th century, this became the most important city in Spain, home to a new set of Arab rulers. For the best part of 200 years, Al Andalus was to be ruled by a much more hard line, fundamentalist Islamic regime. Two successive generations of Muslims from North Africa who invaded and took control. Not only were they much more oppressive to Christians and Jews here in Al Andalus, but they also embarked on regular jihads into the Christian north.

The aggressive behaviour of the new regime would soon provoke a mighty confrontation which would explode onto the streets of Seville and engulf the whole of Al Andalus. The stones of this great building have their own vivid story to tell about the epic struggle that took place in Seville. This was originally a minaret, part of the great mosque that stood in the heart of the city. From its summit, the Muslim faithful were called to prayer. Now it’s topped by a renaissance bell-tower, pealing out the message that it’s time for mass. The tower’s a great symbol of the battle that was to convulse Spain for hundreds of years, reaching Seville in the mid-13th century. It was from here in 1248 that the Moors watched as a new enemy laid siege to Seville, an enemy that threatened the Spanish Muslims’ power and their religion. One so feared that the Moors wanted to destroy this beautiful minaret rather than let it fall into their enemy’s hands.

The enemy at the city gates was the Christians, and they were on the warpath. For 300 years, the independent Christian kingdoms of the North had existed in an uneasy truce with the Moors of Al Andalus. But the Christians were getting hungry for power and territory, and provoked by the rise of Islamic militancy, they decided to crusade against the infidel. And so, the reconquest began – a crusade that was to last more than 400 years – a monumentally long and bloody campaign. This conflict would establish a peculiarly fervent form of Catholicism as the Spanish national religion. It was also the conflict from which modern Spain would emerge.

During the 12th century, the Christians painfully edged into Al Andalus and, one by one, the Islamic cities fell. Then, Seville itself was captured in 1248 after two years’ siege. The Christian conquerors of medieval Seville proclaimed “Let us create such a building that future generations will take us for lunatics.” Some statement of intent. So they demolished the great mosque and they put up in its place what the Guinness Book of Records tells me is still the single largest Christian cathedral in the world. A great, crushing symbol of the triumph of militant Christianity. The cathedral’s built in a North European style. Gothic in design, complete with high, vaulting ceiling, flying buttresses and Christian symbols everywhere. This might be the last place you’d expect to find traces of Islamic design. But if you look closely enough, it becomes clear that old habits die hard.

What’s extraordinary about the Gothic style as done by the Spanish, especially the Spanish in the South, is this incredible sense of over-decoration. Look at this altarpiece. It’s almost as if every inch of space has to be decorated. It makes me think of the Moorish terror of empty space. That absolute covering of every inch. Look at this through half-closed eyes and you might almost be in some Moorish palace. I wonder whether the experience of Spanish Christians, especially in the South, wasn’t so permeated by a sense of Moorish pattern and design that this, so to speak, worked itself into the very soul of Spanish art. So that, although this great altarpiece represents the grand triumph of Christianity over the forces of Islam, at the same time it completely expresses a kind of Moorish aesthetic. It’s deeply Spanish, deeply Moorish and Christian all at the same time. There’s really nothing like it anywhere else in the world.

The cathedral isn’t the only building in Seville to bear the imprint of the Moors. This is the Alcazar, a palace fit for a Moorish king. But this building wasn’t meant for Muslims. Instead, it was built for one of Seville’s new Christian kings in 1364. So, what kind of self-respecting Christian monarch would build himself a palace that looks like this? His name was Pedro the Cruel and, boy, did you have to be cruel in the bloody world of medieval Spain to earn yourself a stand-alone nickname like that. Among other things, Pedro was a rapist and a mass murderer. He murdered his own brother in this room and he also murdered a visiting Arab dignitary who was foolish enough to come here with the largest ruby in the known world. Having nicked it from the corpse, Pedro then gave it to Edward the Black Prince, and it’s now part of the British crown jewels. I like the thought that every time there’s a coronation in Britain, the ritual is stained by a drop of blood shed in this room.

Although he was keen on murdering Moorish kings, Pedro was a massive fan of Moorish architecture and decoration. When he decided to build his own Moorish palace, no expense was spared. The best Moorish craftsmen were employed to create an architectural jewel complete with intricate marble and wood carving, cool, shaded courtyards and tile work in almost hallucinogenic patterns. But why would a Christian conqueror dress up his palace in the style of the Islamic foe? You have to put yourself in Pedro the Cruel’s shoes and think back to 14th century Europe. What else is going on in architectural terms? There’s the Gothic, but that’s for churches. When it comes to palace architecture, there’s really nothing to compare with this for colour, richness, pattern, sensuality. The whole place feels as if it’s made of icing sugar. I almost feel as if I want to eat it. It’s the ultimate Arabian Knights fantasy architecture. If I had my own little Aladdin genie in a bottle and I could wish for anything in the world, I might just choose this palace.

Because the Alcazar was a palace, not a mosque, it didn’t arouse the usual suspicions of Muslim worship. And the Christian kings of Spain clearly felt free to love this place, too. Later monarchs preserved it and made any additions with surprising sensitivity. Sometimes, the greatest compliments are those paid to you by your enemy. It’s a pretty astonishing tribute to the power and grandeur of Islamic art and architecture that generation after generation of Spanish Catholic monarchs should have allowed this place to remain, to stand as a great, shimmering ghost of a culture they were determined to eradicate but could never quite bring themselves to stop loving.

Moorish styles remained fashionable in Christian Spain. So much so that if you were a craftsman, you were given special treatment. But life for other Moors was getting a lot harder. Most fled to the extreme south of Spain, where the last bastion of Moorish might clung on to power. Those who remained were forced to convert or go underground, where they mixed with other outcast cultures, like the Jews and the gypsies. These different groups of outsiders – Moors, Jews, gypsies – came together in down-at-heel parts of town like Triana in Seville. Here, their different musical traditions fused together to create a style that would eventually resurface, so it’s said, as flamenco.

Nobody knows for sure which parts of flamenco come from the Moors, though there are many theories. They brought the guitar to Spain, destined to become the nation’s favourite musical instrument. And the distinctive dance style of flamenco, in which dramatic arm and hand movements are favoured over the legs, is similar to Moorish dancing, which forbade women from drawing attention to their legs. And the singing style is similar to the wailing Arabic style. Even the word flamenco itself comes from an Arab word – felagmengu, meaning fugitive peasant. And flamenco is, above all, the music of the dispossessed.

I’m on the last leg of my journey and I’ve come south of Seville, up into the hills. By the end of the 13th century, the once-mighty empire of Al Andalus had shrunk to this small, mountainous region. This was to be the last battlefield of the centuries-long conflict between the forces of Islam and the forces of Christianity. The city of Granada was the last Moorish capital of Al Andalus – the last city to hold out against the reconquest. The Nasrid dynasty ruled from here, managing to resist Christian invasion for nearly 200 years. Though today, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Moors still run Granada.

If you’re in the mood, you can an Arabic bath in one of the city’s many Moorish bath houses. After taking the waters, you can visit a Moorish tea house and take some tea. And then if you’re feeling peckish, a trip to a Moorish restaurant is in order. It’s all very atmospheric, even if it is completely fake, a confection to put the tourists in an appropriately Moorish mood. But the one really authentic Moorish experience is to be had in the ultimate Moorish palace – the Alhambra.

Even here, you can’t get away from the tourists. Over 6,000 people visit this extraordinary series of royal palaces every day, to hear tales of the Nasrid kings who used to live here. And what bloodthirsty tales they are! According to legend, the Alhambra was built by Christian slaves imprisoned in dark dungeons. And at least nine of the Nasrid kings were murdered by methods as dastardly as drowning, stabbing, and eating poisoned batter.

The Alhambra is above all a palace of myths and legends. It’s a place where people feel a profound need to tell stories, partly to explain to themselves the nature of this place. For example, it’s said that the Sultan used to sit here on his throne. It is said that this door here is a false entrance designed to put off would-be assassins, although everything we know about the bloody history of the Nasrid dynasty suggests that assassins were not to be easily fooled. They usually got their man. The truth is that we know almost nothing about the precise functions of each of these spaces. The only thing that we can be certain of is that the art and the architecture here is absolutely breathtaking.

The Moors might have been coming to the end of their power and influence in Spain, but they were determined to go out in style. The Alhambra is like a greatest hits of Moorish design, with the volume turned up to ten. It’s the absolute summation of everything that made the art of Islamic Spain so extraordinary. A place where the expression of power and deep spirituality, that eternal search for paradise, are absolutely intertwined.

There’s such a scrum of tourists in the Alhambra today that it makes it pretty difficult to appreciate this place as it was originally meant to be appreciated, which is as a space of contemplation and reflection. Each of the spaces in this palace were meant to bring you closer to God, and that’s the fundamental purpose of this wonderful room called the Hall of the Ambassadors, which is all about pattern and geometry. The numbers seven and four are repeated everywhere in this space. Seven signifying the stages by which the soul ascends to God, and four representing the number of areas into which the vault of heaven could be divided, and we see that reflected in this magnificent ceiling. But the seven and the four lead us ineluctably to the one, and that’s the message that’s reinforced in all of these inscriptions. “There is no God but Allah”, “There is no conqueror but Allah.” This is a space that’s designed hypnotically through the repetition of pattern and design and inscription to focus our minds solely and exclusively on the higher reality of God.

But it’s not just the decoration of the Alhambra that invokes God, the very design of the architecture is permeated by the spirit of Islam. It’s a fundamental tenet of Islam that there is no God but God, there is no reality other than His higher reality, everything we experience in this life is impermanent, insubstantial. But how do you introduce the idea of impermanence into architecture – the most stable of forms? Well, here at the Alhambra, they’ve done it by introducing water everywhere. Seen in reflection, even the most solid of things seems ephemeral, shifting. In fact, the whole design of the Alhambra is aimed at making the palace appear to be not quite of this world. The columns are so slender that the arches they support seem to float in the air. And the intricate wood and stone carving makes solid materials seem to dissolve into fragile lace.

I think there’s a wonderful paradox about the architecture of the Alhambra, which is that you get all this effort to create a sense of effortlessness, this tremendous intricacy of structure to create the feeling of a structure that’s on the point of its own disappearance. Look at that wonderful, honeycomb vaulting in the ceiling of this space. Standing in here, it’s almost as if you’re standing at the bottom of a glass of fizzy water, looking up and watching the bubbles sparkle off towards infinity. I think there’s something very moving about the fact that the Moors created a building that seems to be on the brink of disappearing, just as their own civilisation was about to vanish from Spain. The Alhambra today really is the ghost of the ghost of what it was once was. But visiting it is still an extremely powerful and poignant experience. This was the last hurrah of Islamic civilisation in Spain. The very last expression of that beautiful ideal of paradise.

In 1469, Christian Spain was finally united, when the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, married. Hungry to rule over a completely Christian nation, they launched a final assault against the Moorish south. And on the 2nd of January 1492, after ten years of fighting, the last Nasrid king, Muhammed XII, surrendered the province of Granada and the Alhambra. Legend has it that as the defeated Muhammed gazed back at the city he’d surrendered, he burst into tears. His mother, unimpressed, snapped at him “You do well to weep like a woman over what you failed to defend like a man.” The Moor famously sighed his last sigh, and turned his back on Granada forever. The Christian Reconquest was complete. The victors were merciless towards the vanquished. Ferdinand and Isabella made it law that pork should be eaten throughout the region. Then, in 1492, they expelled all Jews from Spain and revoked the rights of Muslims. In 1526, Arabic was banned. And then, in 1610, all Moors were expelled from Spain, whether they had converted to Catholicism or not.

As so often, the victors in this epic struggle re-wrote history to suit their own militant ideology. For centuries afterwards, the whole rich history of Arab Spain was destined to be remembered as no more than the nation’s long journey through a dark tunnel, at the end of which shone the light of the Christian Reconquista. And the Arabs themselves were remembered as no more than pantomime villains in a great story of Christian triumph.

Today, in festivals all over Spain, the Moors are still portrayed as pantomime villains. I’ve come to the small town of Quentar, just outside Granada, to watch the local “Moors and Christians” festival. Every year, the people of the town dress up and re-enact the historic battle between Christianity and Islam. The whole thing goes on for three days until the Moors are finally defeated, forced to convert, and baptised. To the outsider, it does all look just a bit puzzling.

Of course, it is all just a bit of fun, but it does seem a bit depressing that these re-enactments completely ignore the cultural achievements of the Moors. But I think things have begun to change in modern Spain, and it is a culture more accepting of Islam. After all, there are now over one million Muslims living in Spain. And there are 500 mosques. The newest one is here in Granada, directly opposite the Alhambra. On this spot, modern Spain quite literally faces its Islamic past, the distant world of Al Andalus.

Al Andalus is part of the lifeblood of modern Spain, it’s part of what makes the Spanish Spanish. But the fact is that Arab culture has played a vital part in shaping what we often think of as Western civilisation. Its music, its art and architecture, its philosophy. Yet Spain is almost the only place in modern Europe where you can still touch that history, where you can still almost physically grasp the fact that the culture of the Islamic world is part of all of our DNA.

THE NEWS IS JUST A STRING OF UNRELATED WORDS

Dream Big

We do find ourselves in such a sad, sorry state of affairs. Last night my family and I watched the terrible news of the Catholic cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris burning down to ruin, consumed by dancing orange flames that were destroying one of the most iconic and visited buildings in the world, all live in ultra HD. However, we only seemed to have one thought that was collectively going round and round in our minds. The four of us sat there thinking that if this is a deliberate act, if this is the work of one person, then please Lord, please don’t let be a Muslim.

Aside from this tragedy there have been other things happening. The chronicles of Trump continue unabated, Islamophobia continues to rise and rise, the aftermath of Christchurch still ripples through the news, the futility of Brexit continues roil the UK as it is extended ad infinitum, America is in the throes of its most contentious debate about immigration in recent memory, Ilhan Omar continues to be demonised completely out of context, and so much more.

In my own futile attempt to better understand this ever-changing and always-expanding cultural zeitgeist, here are some quotes that I have collated recently. All said subject matters are covered. Will these quotes shed new light on the ongoing craziness? I doubt it, but they just might. Either way, enjoy…


Brexit is short for “brain exit,” the official word for when everything that makes sense goes out the window, and everyone is just stupid all the time. – John Oliver, Apr 2019

Trump is the Republican id personified, driven to express the impulses and desires of conservative politics in their basest form. That dynamic has been on clear display for the past few days, as the president of the United States leads a campaign of racist demagoguery against Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a Somali-American Democrat and one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress…It is easy to tie these attacks to Trump’s history of anti-Muslim rhetoric. But anti-Muslim prejudice was common in Republican politics before he stepped on the political stage with his “birther” charges against President Barack Obama…Trump has simply brought this rhetoric to the bully pulpit of the American presidency. He has taken everything coursing through the last 20 years of Republican politics and made it explicit. It now has an official seal of approval. And if Omar is a target, it has little to do with what she said and everything to do with who she is: A black Muslim woman — and an immigrant — whose very person disrupts the exclusionary ideal of a white Christian America. – Jamelle Bouie, Apr 2019

The essence of Islamophobia in America today is the belief that Muslims are inherently disloyal or un-American: that their religion is incompatible with “American values,” and that Islamic theology necessarily pushes individual Muslims to support terrorism or commit terrorist acts themselves. – Zack Beauchamp, Apr 2019

The Age of Trump is an age whose signature feature isn’t populism or nationalism or any other –ism widely attached to the president. It’s the attempted annihilation of shame…In days bygone, the prescribed method for avoiding shame was behaving well. Or, if it couldn’t be avoided, feeling deep remorse and performing some sort of penance. By contrast, the Trumpian method for avoiding shame is not giving a damn. Spurious bone-spur draft deferment? Shrug. Fraudulent business and charitable practices? Snigger. Outrageous personal invective? Sneer. Inhumane treatment of children at the border? Snarl. Hush-money payoffs to porn-star and centerfold mistresses? Stud! – Bret Stephens, Apr 2019

Actor Jim Carrey got into a twitter feud this week with the granddaughter of Benito Mussolini, because that’s just the kind of thing that happens now and we all have to accept it. News at this point is just a string of unrelated words, like ‘Elon Musk Releases Harambe Rap.’ Or this actual headline I read today, ‘Disabled Chicken Who Survived Weasel Attack Learning To Walk Thanks To Custom Wheelchair.’ Guys, just eat the chicken. – Colin Jost, Apr 2019, from the TV show Saturday Night Live

Things are not in good shape…The whole country is going through some sort of spiritual and emotional crisis. College mental health facilities are swamped, suicide rates are spiking, the president’s repulsive behavior is tolerated or even celebrated by tens of millions of Americans. At the root of it all is the following problem: We’ve created a culture based on lies…No wonder it’s so hard to be a young adult today. No wonder our society is fragmenting. We’ve taken the lies of hyper-individualism and we’ve made them the unspoken assumptions that govern how we live. We talk a lot about the political revolution we need. The cultural revolution is more important. – David Brooks, Apr 2019

Because apparently people are so quick to take offence these days, you have some people who say things like “Everyone’s offended at everything these days.” And in response you think “It’s because you’re hearing from different people that you didn’t have to hear from 10 or 15 years ago, people who now have a platform that they never used to have. And so what you’re actually saying is ‘Years ago I didn’t have to listen to any objections to what I’ve said, and now I’ve got to listen to some objections, and because of that I’ve got to think about what I’ve said, and I’ve got to justify what I’ve said.'” – Richard Osman, Apr 2019, from the TV show Frankie Boyle’s New World Order

I think we’ve got to a really dangerous position where, now, if someone like me who is anti-racist and anti-racism, is in a debate, there is this is need to put me on against a racist, as if racism is like a legitimate opinion. If we were talking about rape, if we were talking about the problem of rape, you wouldn’t have me on TV with a pro-rape activist. You just wouldn’t! You would accept that pro-rape is not a legitimate stance. But when it comes to racism, pro-racism now apparently is so normalised that I find myself having to debate people who are openly and overtly racist. And I think it’s really worrying because it does send a message that these two positions are equal, and we are just having a healthy debate. – Afua Hirsch, Apr 2019, from the TV show Frankie Boyle’s New World Order

Believe it or not, I don’t actually enjoy having to explain that black people are human beings, that the kinds of black kids likely to fall into violent crime come almost exclusively from a very particular set of circumstances, obviously. And those circumstances are the same as the white lads in Glasgow or Liverpool who are likely to fall into violent crime. I don’t enjoy having to explain in the 21st century that simply you being black is not a predeterminant of your behaviour or your future or your aptitude. – Akala, Apr 2019

In the Black Lives Matters era so many white folks do feel judged, first and foremost by their white skin, that so often these days they’re saying why should I give a damn about the content of my Presidents character? In other words, it’s you progressive people who are violating that whole civil rights covenant that you fought, or your people fought so hard to get my people to adopt. So there’s a turning of the tables these days…There are a lot of young men today who are feeling humiliated, and that’s a big word I know, the h-bomb, humiliated by all of the changes that are happening in society, that they feel is being imposed on them. For example, the kind of culture of casual cruelty, and sometimes not so casual cruelty that we’re living in today, means people like me who were once thought to be marginalized but now effectively have these great platforms in our culture, if we continue to tell white men “You’re an idiot, you’re stupid, you have your head up your ass, you’re the exemplars of white privilege, of white supremacy, of white fragility…” The point of course being that that kind of bullying is going to strip people of dignity, regardless of what privilege they come from. So don’t be surprised when the people who are being shamed, blamed, and gamed, don’t follow your rules. Don’t be surprised when you get backlash. – Irshad Manji, Mar 2019, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher

Every single day people like me are subject to a media onslaught. Every single day we are demonised, both by the people who make our laws and by the people who have significant influence over public opinion. And when I say “we”, I don’t just mean Muslims. Because it’s not just Muslims who are losing their lives at the hands of far-right nationalism. It’s Jews and Sikhs and black people. Because when fascism comes to call, it usually doesn’t care what shade of “different” you are. All it knows is that you are different, and it does not like you for it. My fury and my pain is not lessened when a Jewish person is killed, or when a Hindu person is killed. We share a common humanity and that is sufficient for us to feel rage and pain. And it is evident that very many people do feel a sense of shared humanity with those targeted in attacks. Those emotions are not specific to people of colour, or to religious minorities. – Masuma Rahim, Mar 2019

If our politics is becoming less rational, crueller and more divisive, this rule of public life is partly to blame: the more disgracefully you behave, the bigger the platform the media will give you. If you are caught lying, cheating, boasting or behaving like an idiot, you’ll be flooded with invitations to appear on current affairs programmes. If you play straight, don’t expect the phone to ring. In an age of 24-hour news, declining ratings and intense competition, the commodity in greatest demand is noise. Never mind the content, never mind the facts: all that now counts is impact. A loudmouthed buffoon, already the object of public outrage, is a far more bankable asset than someone who knows what they’re talking about. So the biggest platforms are populated by blusterers and braggarts. The media is the mirror in which we see ourselves. With every glance, our self-image subtly changes…On both sides of the Atlantic, the unscrupulous, duplicitous and preposterous are brought to the fore, as programme-makers seek to generate noise. Malicious clowns are invited to discuss issues of the utmost complexity. Ludicrous twerps are sought out and lionised. – George Monbiot, Mar 2019

Pity poor political journalists like me trying to make sense of the situation — sometimes I think you may as well ask a random bloke down the pub…Right now, your guess is probably as good as mine. – Sophy Ridge, Mar 2019, referring to Brexit negotiations

Fox News almost seems to racially profile truth, as if all truth is bad. – Nick Pemberton, Jan 2019

Trump hangs on only because he knows the ruling class has no moral authority anymore. Enough whining about the truth. If you want people to believe the truth, give them an education, or better yet, a roof over their heads. Until that happens, expect the scapegoating of immigrants and all the lies behind it to ring true. And the biggest crime will not be the lie that brought us over the edge, but the condition created that fostered a society where truth did not matter anymore. There are more desperate needs here so when a man like Trump says he can help we do not ask him if he is telling the truth, we only ask how we get to somewhere, anywhere better. – Nick Pemberton, Jan 2019

Ramadhaan 2019 – Some Useful Resources

Kaba pic

We are nearly at the start of the month of Shabaan (moonsighting.com), which means the month of Ramadhaan is just around the corner. Preparations for this blessed month should ideally begin now.

For me this month is an intense spiritual period where we Muslims step up a gear, where we try to be a better version of ourselves compared to the previous 11 lunar months. I remember reading Ramadhaan being described as ‘high altitude training for the soul.’ In our fast-paced world of hyper-consumption, Ramadhaan is a welcome chance to practise restraint. Ramadhaan is the opposite of indulgence and as such it is a month where we can engage in self-reflection and mental self-flagellation, and hopefully emerge some thirty days later a better person, less prone to excess, less rapacious. Hopefully.

This is the month where we use the power of fasting to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves. This month is when we Muslims try to rebalance our spirituality, in order to gain further insight into our faith, a concept best expressed by the Muslim caliph Imam Ali:

Conquer your lustful desires and your wisdom will be perfected. – Imam Ali

With this intention, I am hoping the following list of resources and quotes can insha-Allah (God willing) help us all to make the most of this holy month, myself most definitely included…


Information about the month of Shabaan…

Please see the following PDF file about the month of Shabaan, from the excellent book The Best Of Times by Muhammad Khan. Please read this in order to make the best of this blessed month, and to prepare ourselves for the main event of Ramadhaan.


Islamic lectures…

An excellent lecture about Ramadhaan is Preparing For Ramadan by Shaykh Zahir Mahmood (scroll down the kalamullah.com page please in order to get to this particular lecture).

Another excellent lecture is from Shaykh Hamza Yusuf called Ramadan Advice.


Websites…

A useful website with loads of really good practical hints and tips is http://productivemuslim.com.

I came across a really good website where if you type in a post code it will show you the qibla direction: http://www.qib.la/.


Files…

Five files that will insha–Allah provide some good information:

Complete Guide To Ramadhan

Laylatul-Qadr – guide

Ramadhaan checklist

Ramadhaan preparation pack

Ramadhaan Ashra Duas


OVERALL…

Know that you only get out of Ramadhaan what you are willing to put in. Therefore please make time to read the articles and listen to the lectures highlighted above, before Ramadhaan begins.

To hopefully inspire us all further, here are some quotes related to Ramadhaan and fasting:

We have become like gerbils in the dunya, chasing after things…The job of the dunya is to make you unstable…the more you become immersed in this dunya, the more you become invested in this dunya, then the more unstable you become…Some scholars have said that jahiliya is to see something and to perceive it as something else, that this is ignorance…in Islam true knowledge is to perceive something as it really is, as best you can…people who immerse themselves in this dunya have immersed themselves in a lie, and they are getting played like a piano on Sunday school, and that is why they are not stable…this dunya calls you to become people who are completely insecure with themselves…Fasting and Ramadhaan call us to be stable. – adapted from a speech by Imam Suhaib Webb

Ramadan is not a temporary increase of religious practice. It is a glimpse of what you are capable of doing every day. – Shaykh Abdul Jabbar

The less fasts certain people keep during Ramadhaan, the more eager they seem to be to celebrate Eid. – Anon

This month of Ramadan is about asking “Where is your heart?” Is your heart with God? Is your heart with your own ego? Is your heart with your lust? Is your heart with your passion? Is your heart with your greed? Is your heart with your pride? Is your heart with your envy? Is it with your resentment? Is it with your desire for revenge? “Where is your heart?” That is the question this month is asking us: “Where is your heart?” And this time that we have been given, a few days of reflection, this is the time when you can actually go into yourself, and dig into yourself and ask that question: “Where is your heart?” Because as Sayyidina Ali said “A man lies hidden under his tongue”, because the tongue expresses what is in the heart…“Whoever loves a thing does much remembrance of it”. If you love Allah, God is on your tongue. If you love the world, the world is on your tongue. That is the question: “Where is your heart?” This is the time to return to God, to give the heart back to the One who possesses the heart… – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, from a speech entitled Ramadan Advice

What motivates you? What makes you tick? This is what our Prophet (SAW) called niyah (intention). What is your intention? What is your niyah? What do you want when you’re doing something? What’s your intention for fasting? What is your intention for giving money? Once you begin to address the essence of your own being, you can begin to understand who you are, and that’s why self-knowledge is foundational in our religion. If you don’t know who you are, you’re certainly not going to know whose you are. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

The most common question I get from people of different faiths has to be why we fast. Many people answer this question with a response, “to feel how the poor feel when they have nothing to eat.” Personally, I think that since fasting in Ramadan is not that difficult, it is almost an insult to claim that it is to feel the poor’s hunger. The hunger they feel is much greater, especially since they may not know when their next meal will come. Fasting is a means to gain something called Taqwa. Taqwa is an Arabic word that means many things, such as being aware that Allah (our word for God) has full knowledge of your actions and intentions. In Islam, Allah has knowledge of everything we do and even think. Fasting is more than abstaining from food and drink. It is understanding that Allah has full knowledge. And because of this, we must navigate through the world with caution of our actions and intentions – to be good to our fellow human beings and to yourself. All of our deeds and intentions should be virtuous and for the sake of Allah. Ramadan is an opportune time to be able to reflect and be more aware of this. – Dr Magda Abdelfattah, May 2018, from an interview in the Wisconsin Muslim Journal

Religious fasting traditions — from Ramadan (Islam) to Ekadasi (Hinduism) to Yom Kippur (Judaism) and Lent (Christianity) — are meant to unburden believers from day-to-day compulsions, drawing them closer to their conscience…Ramadan is a month-long spiritual odyssey that is meant to rejuvenate us, both physically and morally. It enables us to detach from worldly pleasures to invest our time in intense prayer, charity and spiritual discipline and focus on our deeds, thoughts and actions…The fast is a reminder of the fragility of the human life and is meant to foster a relationship with God…It teaches us about patience, self-restraint, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to God. The act of fasting for spiritual prowess makes us conscious, not just of our food habits, but of our thoughts, behaviour and interactions throughout the day. Ramadan helps us hone our patience because, by refraining from consumption throughout the day, we learn the benefit of refraining from gratifying each of our desires in the moment. – Moin Qazi

LAUGH IN THE FACE OF HATE

Jacinda Trump

It’s been over a week since an ethno-fascist decided to murder 50 Muslims at prayer, all in a gambit to start a race war. He also injured at least 50 others but, more importantly, he failed to ignite his desired southern hemisphere battle of ideologies, described in detail in his ‘manifesto.’

The shooting, which took place at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, was the country’s worst mass killing since 1943, when an incident took place known as the Featherston riot. Guards at the Featherston camp for Japanese prisoners of war shot and killed 48 prisoners during a riot in 1943, during World War II. Initially a Japanese prisoner was shot and wounded by the camp adjutant. This then led to prisoners either charging or appearing to charge the guards, who opened fire with rifles, sub-machine guns, and pistols. One New Zealand soldier also died in the incident.

Returning back to the present, although the Christchurch massacre happened on the other side of the world, its repercussions have been felt everywhere, not least in the UK, where the killer in his ‘manifesto’ called for the death of London mayor Sadiq Khan.

Ironically, a few days before the shooting I read an interesting article in the Asia Times that spoke of the global spread of Islamophobia. Journalist Ömer Taspinar started with Trump but then travelled across the world:

From Donald Trump’s alarmist speech in 2017 in Poland, where he declared “every last inch of Western civilization is worth defending with your life,” to his more recent fear-mongering about “Middle Easterners” hiding in the Latin American caravan and who were about to “invade” the United States, one thing is constant in the US president’s worldview: the specter of radical Islam on the march, ready to take over the West…Trump, of course, is not alone in exploiting this paranoia. In Europe, populist anti-immigration parties constantly beat the drum of Islamization. Witness France, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium, where large Muslim minorities reside. But even Poland and Hungary, with hardly any Muslim immigration to speak of, appear deeply worried about a looming invasion. – Ömer Taspinar, 13 Mar 2019, from the asiatimes.com article Obsession With Islam Blinds West To Real Problems

Whilst the article wasn’t really telling me anything I didn’t know already, or at least nothing I already suspected, it was still shocking to read when written in such unflinching terminology. With these words still fresh in my mind, two days later news came through of the chilling massacre in New Zealand. As I often do in such dark times, I turned to comedians and satirists to see how they were responding. What wise, witty, and comforting words of wisdom could they offer to help me to make sense of this mass shooting?

Laugh Hate

I actually came across news of a comedy benefit gig called Laugh In The Face Of Hate. The gig is to take place at the Hackney Empire in London next month, and will be hosted by Jarred Christmas, a comedian from Christchurch, and also by British Muslim comedian Tez Ilyas. Also scheduled to be on the bill are Sarah Millican, Russell Howard, Guz Khan, Mo Gilligan, Omid Djalili, Al Murray, Shazia Mirza, Al Pitcher, Fatiha El-Ghorri, Nabil Abdulrashid, Matt Stellingwerf, and Javier Jarquin. All proceeds from the gig are going to Victim Support NZ, a group hoping to provide support to the victims of the Christchurch mosque attacks.

Tez Ilyas said “During these dark times it is even more important that people come together and show those that would divide us that we will not be conquered by hate. Humour is a universal language and a comedy show with such a diverse bill, raising money for this particular cause, is a perfect ‘screw you’ to all the bigots and fascists out there.”

Jarred Christmas added “I am heartbroken by what has happened in Christchurch, my hometown. The only thing I’m good at is comedy and calling friends, so I called my incredible comedy friends and they answered. Their response has humbled me. So this is what we can do. An amazing night of comedy to let the world know that we are all better than this.”

Before I no doubt blog about this gig (which I can’t wait for), please find below quotes and clips from comedians and satirists who have already commented on this event, an event which, due to the likes of ongoing Brexit shenanigans and the anticlimactic dropping of the Mueller report, is slowly being forgotten. As always I hope these quotes provide a fresh analysis on what happened and the continuing fallout. As best as one can in these dark situations, please enjoy…


The world is still reeling from Friday’s terror attack in New Zealand on two mosques by a white supremacist in which 50 Muslim worshipers were killed. All of our hearts go out to those at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques and the great people of New Zealand. I have been down there and it is the most beautiful country I have ever seen, and Kiwis are the kindest people I have ever met…

Many are questioning our president’s reaction. To his credit, he did send a condolence tweet, and called the prime minister, and she had a simple request for him. She said Trump “asked what offer of support the United States could provide. My message was sympathy and love for all Muslim communities.” That’s not really Trump’s brand. Trump has trouble showing love for things that are not him, and he has a particularly bad record with Muslims in this regard. So he’s in a bind. On the one hand, after a terror attack, to condemn the extremist ideology of the terrorist should be a slam dunk. On the other hand, he can’t jump.

Also, he never ever condemns the racists. After Charlottesville, he said there were fine people on both sides. Remember the guy with all the guns in the Coast Guard? He was a white nationalist; Trump never mentioned that. His very first campaign speech called Mexicans rapists and murderers. He called Africa and Haiti shithole countries. He complained that we don’t get enough immigrants from Norway. He said a Mexican judge couldn’t be fair in a case against him. He refused to disavow David Duke. He calls Elizabeth Warren Pocahontas. He said that Nigerians would never want to go back to their ‘huts’ after seeing America. He calls himself a nationalist.

I’m just saying: if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, then why does it keep goose-stepping!?  – Stephen Colbert, 18 Mar 2019


I just love that country…If you’ve never been, go. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world, and the people there are unbelievably kind and welcoming…We want to say to everybody down there how sad, how heartbroken we are for what that country is going through. Because one of the hallmarks of New Zealand, and one of the things that I have always thought of, is it’s this wonderful isolated country so far away from the problems that we take for granted here, north of the equator.

And now this very particular brand of evil has infected that country. Like a ghost, something you wouldn’t imagine. Truly, like an evil creature has arrived on that island. And I pray with all my heart that they take the action down there, and have the courage to take action, that we seem to lack up here in the United States. So, good luck to them, and blessings and peace upon the Muslim community there and everywhere in the world. – Stephen Colbert, 19 Mar 2019


One of the things that got me about this whole thing was people trying to blame Trump for it. And I know this is controversial but I don’t blame Trump. I think in many ways Trump is similar to climate change, in that I don’t think you can pin any one storm directly on climate change, but you’ve got to admit that climate change has an effect on increasing the probability of these storms. And I feel like Trump is the same thing. I don’t think he’s the cause of any of these things, but he does in some way raise the temperature enough that we’ll see more of these things happening.

What I have started realizing, and it’s a scary thought, is that I disagree with people who say Donald Trump inspired the shooter in New Zealand. For me, I feel like Donald Trump is inspired by the same things as the shooter in New Zealand. They’re products of the same white supremacy. They believe the same things. Donald Trump and his people run around always saying “Oh, he’s not a white supremacist.” Yeah, but all white supremacists think he’s a white supremacist. I’m just saying if Beyonce and Justin Timberlake think I’m a great dancer, then I’m a great dancer. I mean, it’s weird to say that I’m not.

But he really is, he’s a product of that. And that’s scary because when you think that he’s the figurehead it makes it almost easy to just go if you just get rid of him then the problem is gone. But I honestly believe that Donald Trump is a product of white supremacy. He’s a product of that fear that has been instilled in many white men in America and in and around the world, who have been led to believe that they’re constantly under assault, and that they’re being replaced, and their place in this world is at risk. They believe they’re being replaced by black people, Mexican people, Jewish people, whoever they’re being told.

But it is a weird fear, it’s a weird feeling that they have. They believe they’re losing even though they’re winning. And it’s hard for many of them to see because, they are winning, but in America people would always argue “Yeah, but you look at how jobs have declined.” But look at this guy, he’s in one of the best countries in the world to live in. So what is his argument? Genuinely. What is his argument? You start to realize that it isn’t only economic anxiety. There’s a larger narrative that’s being spread online to a lot of white men, in a very similar style that ISIS spreads its message, and that is that “Hey, this is your true destiny, this is what’s happening to you, you should be afraid, and this is how you can fight back.” And I think Donald Trump is as inspired by that message as the shooter was. That’s why he needs his Jeanine Pirro’s on TV to help him figure out how he feels about things. That’s why he’s so stressed when they’re not on the air. I think so. Baby needs his bitty. – Trevor Noah, 18 Mar 2019


So, New Zealand. Okay. This is another example of a guy who probably can’t get laid. An ‘incel,’ which, if you don’t know, the term means ‘involuntarily celibate.’ This is a movement now. I’ve said this before, when I couldn’t get laid I kept it to myself! But these assholes? My gosh, when you look at that, Trump supporters, I think there’s some incel stuff going on there. Charlottesville, those look like guys who can’t get laid. Their solution is the government should provide prostitutes. I’m not kidding. They’ve actually said that. Yes, absolutely. Because they think the government should provide things. They’re not getting sex, so…prostitutes. So, actually they’re socialists. – Bill Maher, 22 Mar 2019, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher


While ultimately the perpetrators in New Zealand are responsible for their own actions, they don’t live in a vacuum. Rather, in our increasingly interconnected world, the words of visible people play a role in fostering fear, hate and even violence…I’m angry because for years, I and others in my community have practically begged major media outlets to cover the terrorist plots that have targeted American Muslims. If you’re thinking right now –“What recent terrorist threats against Muslim Americans?” — you aren’t alone, and that’s the problem…

Today is a day for mourning for the families who have lost loved ones. They should be our focus. But I can’t escape the anger I feel watching what we in the Muslim community have long warned is the natural consequence of dangers building beneath the surface — demonizing Muslims and failing to expose the terrorist threats directed at Muslims. And for the good of our nation and the world, these faults need to change going forward. – Dean Obeidallah, 15 Mar 2019, from the cnn.com article An American Muslim’s Anger After New Zealand


Let me quickly explain why the Christchurch mosque shooting affects many of us, not just Muslim communities. If the shooter’s manifesto and social media feed are accurate, he was inspired by a right wing ideological infrastructure that thrives, recruits and radicalizes online. He wrote a manifesto, just like Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik. He cites right wing personalities and military battles glorified by white nationalists, such as the Siege of Vienna in 1863 – where Europe staved off Islam apparently.

Like mass murderer Breivik, he wants to punish Muslims and immigrants for allegedly invading his soil, he wants to take revenge. Notice the language of “invasion” – does it sound familiar? It should. It’s used against immigrants and Muslims in America – 2018 midterms. He left behind a video, live streamed his rampage with a camera on his head, making it like the first person video game DOOM. He shared it on social media sites. He wants to be known. He is a hero, a martyr, the one brave enough to do what others can’t to save “Western” civilization.

Compare his methods & alleged ideology to Quebec mosque shooter Alexandre Bissonnette, who killed 6. He was a white nationalist who loathed immigrants, refugees and Muslims. Christopher Hasson, a domestic terrorist, just caught, also wanted to kill Muslims, inspired by Breivik. Compare this to the Tree of Life Synagogue shooter in Pittsburgh. He killed 11 Jewish worshippers. He shared a post on his Gad account about punishing “filthy evil Jews” for bringing in “filthy evil Muslims.” This was in reference to the Soros-caravan conspiracy theory.

The underlining ideology anchoring all of this is White supremacy and their main fear is “replacement.” That the immigrants, Jews, blacks and Muslims will replace them, the Whites. Remember Charlottesville? “Jews will not replace us.” See Steve King’s tweets about babies. Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief advisor, cites CAMP OF SAINTS as one of his favorite books. He recommends it. It’s a racist novel about brown immigrants “invading” and overtaking France. White nationalists believe Jews are the head of the cabal who use the rest of us. We are dealing with angry, disaffected men, mostly White, who find purpose & community with these extremist groups who give them a hero’s narrative through violent ideology of White supremacy.

They are saving civilization by getting rid of the rest of us. It’s like White ISIS. The victims are not just Muslims, but also Jews, immigrants, refugees, Blacks, Sikhs, Latinos & women (they really hate feminists). It’s a zero sum absolutism. No grey area. Just like ISIS. These groups are rising in the US & Europe. They have mainstream elected messengers. Pay attention. Take this extremist ideology & terror threat seriously. Be wary of politicians, academics & media heads who give it a platform and spout it under the guise of “free speech” and fighting “political correctness.” Look out for each other. Love each other. – Wajahat Ali, 15 Mar 2019, from a series of tweets


I had planned to write my column today about Comic Relief but, well, here we are: cast once again into a pit of disbelief in the wake of the horror in Christchurch, as the very darkest side of idiotic humanity has spilt fresh hell into the laps of unsuspecting people just going about their lives…

Of course, we’ve all been shaken by attacks committed by Islamist fanatics. At the risk of stating the obvious, instilling terror is the primary purpose of a terrorist; the world’s fear is their proverbial made omelette, and the innocent people they murder in the process are just so many broken eggs. I’ve felt that fear myself. I first felt it as a child, when religious fanatics were instructed by Ayatollah Khomeini – the supreme leader of Iran himself – to assassinate a satirist and poet who had criticised the regime and who, by the by, happened to be my dad. He was put on their “death list”, and we got asylum in the UK…

In a masochistic moment, I had a quick rubberneck at one right-wing publication’s comments section, only to find a woman cheerfully sharing that “now they no how it feels not nice when the tables are turned [sic]”. A comment like this, coming from an ordinary British woman who has no worries about her photo and name being published alongside it, is a feather in the cap of the online hatemongers who salivate at the prospect that there might be an immigrant to blame whenever an atrocity is reported, and are conspicuous by their silence if it transpires that there isn’t…

That woman in the comments section will regard herself as a good person. In many ways, she probably is. I bet she and most of the other commenters are lovely to dogs and wouldn’t hesitate to help an injured person in the street, and yet here they are, basking in death and violence and pure distilled misery. But then, she lives in a world where you can casually dehumanise Muslims on a Friday morning without losing all of your friends. We all do. – Shappi Khorsandi, 15 Mar 2019, from the independent.co.uk article Fearing People Because Of Their Religion Is Easier Than You Think – But It Lets The Terrorists Win


I know it’s hard to keep track of all the atrocities happening right now. It feels like every few days there’s a new human rights abuse to be protesting. But we can’t forget about the Muslim ban. We have to fight it as hard now as we did in 2017. Islamophobia is a global curse. It killed 50 people in New Zealand last week and now it is enshrined in our own laws. So dust off your pussy hat…because we have got more work to do. – Samantha Bee, 20 Mar 2019, from the TV show Full Frontal With Samantha Bee


The New Zealand shooter left behind a detailed record of his anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric. And unfortunately, these days, this kind of intolerance is being tolerated in more places than you might think. You have to try really, really hard to not see the rising tide of white nationalism, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim sentiment around the globe…If you think all this overheated rhetoric about immigrants doesn’t have real consequences, then you’re ignoring reality. Hate crimes against Latinos are on the rise. And fifty people were killed in New Zealand because a deranged arsehole became convinced that Muslim lives are worth less. Words matter. So think about that instead of focusing on some pointless wall. – Jim Jefferies, 19 Mar 2019, from the TV program The Jim Jefferies Show


This guy was an Australian in New Zealand because he wanted to stop immigration. I’m not sure what the Maori word for irony is but I reckon it’s being used a lot today. It’s really hard to know what to say in a time like this but, okay, I’m going to say this. There’s a lot of fear and tension in the world right now. Clearly we know that. And in an age of social media we ALL have to be responsible for what we put into that world. We have to ask ourselves if we’re making the situation better or worse.

If you post memes that refer to Islam as a religion of violence, you’re not helping. If you compare Muslim women to letter boxes, or pose in front of a photo of migrants with the headline ‘breaking point,’ you’re not helping. If you refer to refugees as locusts, you’re actually contributing to the hate. If you put videos of the shooting online after being advised not to, and if you continue to sponsor news sites that do that, you’re making things worse. It’s all well and good to say this is an act of senseless violence, but if you sent vans around the country that said ‘we’ll send you home if you’re here illegally,’ you’re not helping either. And if you’re a politician who uses this attack as an opportunity to push a racist agenda…You’re! Not! Helping!

The only people responsible for what happened in New Zealand are those that pulled the triggers, we can agree on that. And it’s too late to stop what happened, but if you’re actively spreading hate and false information, or dehumanizing the people you like to see as the enemy, you’re helping to fuel the fire for the next attack to take place. – Adam Hills, 18 Mar 2019, from the TV show The Last Leg

SERIOUSLY, WHERE IS THE LOVE?

Facing Ali

Watching the news feels like a slow spiralling descent into depression, despair, and madness. There are far too many news stories to keep track of, and none of them show any signs of a happy ending. In the UK we have bitter divisions over Brexit which are making the entire British government a laughing stock. School kids all over the world are protest marching, trying to get the grownups to take the looming environmental crisis seriously.

Then you have poor young millennials who are bearing the brunt of the economic damage wrought by late-20th-century capitalism. If generations are characterized by crises, then many an academic is saying that ours is the crisis of extreme capitalism. Add to this further insecurities such as extreme individualism, and no wonder millennials are thrown into a dizzying state of perpetual panic. Author Malcolm Harris has forewarned that “Workers have always been exploited, but that rate of exploitation is increasing exponentially for millennials.”

And over in New Zealand we had one of the worst acts of violence perpetrated in the name of Islamophobia. Having witnessed the carnage in the southern hemisphere, Donald Trump refused to acknowledge the rise of white nationalist terrorism, despite the growing body of evidence that clearly points to a dramatic and overall decrease of Islamist terrorism, whilst at the same time trends show a very worrying increase in white supremacist terrorism. Instead he continues twittering on and on about the caravan hordes that are about to descend upon the greatest country in the world any moment now from its southern border (not true).

Perhaps Trump is refusing to see the rise in white nationalism because it does not play well with his 30% ever loyal base of supporters. Or perhaps he is suffering from mental health issues. Recently George Conway, husband of White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway, wrote on Twitter “Whether or not impeachment is in order, a serious inquiry needs to be made about this man’s condition of mind…His condition is getting worse…*all* Americans should be thinking seriously *now* about Trump’s mental condition and psychological state, including and especially the media, Congress – and the Vice President and Cabinet.” His wife had to dismiss these concerns publicly voiced by her husband. And then Trump tweeted that George is a “loser.” Oh, to be a fly on the wall of the Conway household.

In addition to Trump and his psychological state, it seems the fuse on the mental health ticking time bomb is nearing its end. Professor Jean Twenge recently stated that “The epidemic is all too real. In fact, the increase in mental health issues among teens and young adults is nothing short of staggering…With more young people suffering – including more attempting suicide and more taking their own lives – the mental health crisis among American young people can no longer be ignored.”

For many months now I have had a nagging feeling that things are generally getting worse all across the globe. Whilst there are occasional pockets of happiness and advance, the far too many negatives outnumber the positives. Also, in some weird way I feel temporarily better when I meet a likeminded soul, someone who feels as pessimistically as myself, people like Hannah Jane Parkinson and Kenn Orphan:

The news is so bleak I, like many of us, am struggling. Sometimes, when I read the news I can barely take it. God, we hear people say, the world is so depressing right now! And it is. I really, genuinely, think it is. My head feels as though I have 20 tabs open and all the autoplay videos are clashing. I know I am not the only one who feels this. I know one doesn’t have to have a mental illness to feel it; these febrile times are affecting the mental health of so many people. It isn’t being a snowflake (and aren’t the people who make those accusations always the most thin-skinned?) It is being utterly drained and drowning, as though every breath is just taking in water. – Hannah Jane Parkinson, Mar 2019, from a New Statesman article entitled The World Is Falling Apart. And So Is My Mental Health

Like many others I have found myself encountering a grief that envelops my entire being more and more. An existential grief that cannot ignore our collective predicament as a species and that often accompanies a sense of panic and powerlessness. And I have begun to relate even more to Edvard Munch’s iconic painting “The Scream.” It seems to me to be the perfect emblem of our times, an unheard anthem of despair silenced by the absurdity of an omnicidal status quo. And so many of us feel that sense of terrorized paralyzation at the madness of rising militarism, fascism and brutality and an unfolding ecocidal nightmare. – Kenn Orphan, 15 Mar 2019, from a counterpunch.org article entitled Grieving In The Anthropocene

No wonder booksellers recently announced that sales of self-help books are at record levels. And what is causing this perpetual increase in hatred? As far as I am concerned, it is a lack of love and understanding. Increasing divisions mean we hate more and love less, and the internet, with all of its misinformation and disinformation, is making it really difficult to truly understand each other. A brilliant explanation of this comes from the journalist David Brooks who recently wrote about “the crisis of American conscience”:

I often wonder who didn’t love Donald Trump. I often wonder who left an affection void that he has tried to fill by winning attention, which is not the same thing. He’s turned his life into a marketing strategy. Even the presidential campaign was a marketing campaign to build the Trump brand. In turning himself into a brand he’s turned himself into a human shell, so brittle and gilded that there is no place for people close to him to attach. His desperate attempts to be loved have made him unable to receive love. Imagine what your own life would be like if you had no love in it, if you were just using people and being used. Trump, personifying the worst elements in our culture, is like a providentially sent gong meant to wake us up and direct us toward a better path. Trump is incapable of hearing any cries except the roar of his own hungers. This is how moral corrosion happens. Supporting Trump requires daily acts of moral distancing, a process that means that after a few months you are tolerant of any corruption. You are morally numb to everything. – David Brooks, 28 Feb 2019, from a nytimes.com article entitled Morality And Michael Cohen

So how does one even begin to counteract this? Perhaps by getting people to focus on love and not hate. Presented below are two recent examples that I personally came across. I hope these two examples can act as a counterweight to all the negativity that we seem to be surrounded by. The first is from the 2016 movie Patriots Day, about the terrorist bombing that occurred during the annual Boston Marathon on the 15th of April in 2013. Even though the movie was heavily criticised about exactly how accurate it portrayed events, there is one poignant scene when, whilst on an intense manhunt for the bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, two police officers have a private conversation where they try to make sense of the mayhem and chaos. Officer Tommy (played by lead actor Mark Wahlberg) is asked by Officer Tommy (not played by lead actor Mark Wahlberg) if these kinds of events are in any way preventable. Officer Tommy responds by telling his colleague a story about his wife Carol and their attempts to have kids:

Seven years ago, on March 11th, we went to the doctor, who said we couldn’t have any kids. Carol couldn’t have any babies. I remember right after that we went home, we parked the car in the driveway, and you don’t make this kind of stuff up, but right there were the Mulaney kids. Three little five-year-old girls out there playing hopscotch. We just sat there dead quiet watching them play. It was like we were in a trance. The sound that Carol made, it wasn’t crying. It was deeper. No, crying does not describe that kind of sound. I looked into her eyes and it wasn’t pain. It was more like war. Like a war between good and evil right there in her eyes. Like the devil attacked and God was inside of her fighting back. I just held her. What else could I do? That’s all I saw today. Good versus evil, love versus hate. When the devil hits you like that, there’s only one weapon you have to fight back with. It’s love. That’s the only thing he can’t touch. What are we going to do? We hunt them down, catch them, kill them, and all that? They’re still going to get us. So no way can it ever be entirely preventable. But if we wrap our arms around each other, let love power us, feed us, then I don’t think there’s any way that they could ever win. – from the movie Patriots Day (2016)

Rather jokingly his colleague Billy then says “I always knew there was a thing of beauty buried deep in the holy soul of Tommy Saunders!”

The last example of love that I found really moving comes from the 2009 documentary Facing Ali, about Muhammad Ali and some of the boxers he fought. One of these boxers is George Chuvalo, who had two fights against Ali. He went the distance both times, in each case losing the decision by a wide margin on the scorecards. The first fight, on the 29th of March in 1966 at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, was for Ali’s world heavyweight title. After the fight Ali said “He’s the toughest guy I ever fought.”

In the documentary Chuvalo gives some rather raw and emotional details about his family. He speaks candidly about how his family, especially his kids, were plagued with problems:

The wife and I had five children, four sons and a daughter. And I lost three sons and I lost my wife. I lost my three sons to drugs. I lost my wife to suicide after the loss of our second son. One son shot himself. Two others died of a heroin overdose. And my wife died, ironically, from pills that she’d taken from my sons in a previous drugstore heist. The hold that drugs have on a person is unbelievable. I was told by one of my sons that drugs had such a strong hold on him that when he and his brother would go down to use them, they would ask the dealer at the bar if he had any, and the dealer would show him the white stuff in the palm of his hand, the heroin. And when they would see the smack in the dealer’s hands my sons would be so desperate for it that as soon as they would see it, within the flash of one single second, the very first single second, both of my sons, on cue, would crap their drawers. They would crap their drawers as soon as they saw the drugs. Then they would pay for the drugs. Then they would take the drugs into the bathroom of the hotel where they were and they would then they would suck it up in a syringe and they would shoot it into a waiting vein. And only then would my handsome sons clean themselves off. Every time I tell that story I get sick to my stomach. When my son died, four days later my wife took her life. That was such a bleak period. I was in bed for a month and a half. I don’t even remember going to the bathroom during that period. I must have, but I don’t remember. But I do remember my son Mitchell coming to visit me. My son Steven was alive at the time. My daughter Vanessa. My daughter-in-law Jackie. My only grandchildren at the time, Jesse and Rachel, who are Steven’s children. And some of my friends coming over, hugging me and kissing me and telling me they loved me each and every day. Every day. And I remember articulating to myself after a few weeks how love made you feel. I said “Love makes you feel strong. Love makes you feel tender. Love makes you feel secure. Love makes you feel appreciated. Love makes you feel important.” I think we all like to feel strong, tender, secure, appreciated, important. I think we all like to feel like that. – George Chuvalo, from the documentary Facing Ali (2009)