ALL PRINCESSES MATTER

Dear Parents

I read an article recently that described how we should rethink all those bedtime stories we know and love so well. In the article Five Reasons To Stop Reading Your Children Fairytales Now, journalist Olivia Petter warns us quite directly:

They’re the bedtime stories we’ve been telling for centuries; they’re the inspiration behind the box office hits that indoctrinated our childhood – and yet, fairytales are riddled with prejudicial and archaic stereotypes. Stories like Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast are so ingrained in popular culture that it can be all too easy to overlook the damaging ideologies that they perpetuate via misogynistic characters, degrading plot lines and racial uniformity. – Olivia Petter

She goes on to reveal that the 5 reasons are: 1) women in fairytales are passive damsels who can only be saved by men, 2) marriage is the ultimate reward, with many fairytales presenting marriage as the sole goal for both the male and female characters, 3) there is a lack of racial/physical/sexual diversity, along with unrealistic body standards set by whippet-thin Belles and Ariels, 4) female characters are either bound to the home, 5) or they are evil step mothers/sisters/witches.

She ends the article by saying:

While fairytales can be brilliant for inspiring imaginative discussions in children, parents must be vigilant in their way of sharing these tales so as to avoid promoting outdated ideologies they continue to foster. – Olivia Petter

Disney Girls

An interesting article I’m sure you would agree, especially in light of the all the recent sexual harassment allegations and #MeToo discussions. I recently read another interesting article on the same subject of ‘princess culture’, this time by Stephanie Merritt (worth reading in full), and I also came across a story about PR consultant and mum Sarah Hall, from Newcastle, who said that Sleeping Beauty should be removed from her six-year-old son’s school curriculum, based on fears that the story may be giving young children the wrong message about consent.

She also says:

It’s not ok to wake a stranger with a kiss so why teach our kids it is?…I think it’s a specific issue in the Sleeping Beauty story about sexual behaviour and consent. It’s about saying is this still relevant, is it appropriate? In today’s society, it isn’t appropriate. – Sarah Hall

And then along comes comedian Hasan Minhaj who does a brilliant stand up routine about how “all princesses matter.” Hasan recently performed at the Night Of Too Many Stars benefit gig, which is a charity event held to raise money for autism.

Night Poster

In America the biggest charity helping people with autism is Next For Autism. Starting in 2006 and held about every 2 years since, the charity joins forces with Comedy Central and holds a star-studded event with A-list comedians and Hollywood stars. The event is known as the Night Of Too Many Stars, and proceeds from the event benefit a variety of autism programs across America. Over the years they have raised an impressive $18 million.

The most recent event was held this year on November 18th and was hosted by Jon Stewart. The show featured Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, Robert De Niro, Paul Rudd, J J Abrams, Ben Stiller, Billy Joel, and many others. As expected stand up comedy was high on the agenda, and this year featured some brilliant performances from Kumail Nanjiani, Michelle Wolfe, John Mulaney, and the aforementioned Hasan Minhaj. The clips are featured below but please be warned, some of the dialogue is a bit risqué, so adults only. Enjoy!


Michelle Wolfe on how womens bathrooms are very mysterious…

I think no matter whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat we gotta give Trump credit when he deserves it. Like, he pulled out of the Paris agreement and I think you should get credit for that cuz he said he was gonna pull out and then he did, and that’s a refreshing quality in a man. – Michelle Wolfe

And if you think that joke was rude wait until you hear her final punchline!


John Mulaney on being zoned out since 2014…

Have you ever just been sitting there thinking about something for 20, 25 minutes, and all of a sudden you’re like “Oh my God! I’m driving!” And you remember “I’m going 75 miles an hour. I have been for a while. I could have changed so many lives.” – John Mulaney


Kumail Nanjiani on how he is such a star now…

The other day I was sitting at this coffee shop and this young woman came up to me, and she was shaking and she looked at me, tears in her eyes, and she said “What you do is so important to me. Thank you for being you. I love you on The Big Bang Theory.” And that’s how much of a star I am, people see me in everything, even stuff I’m not in. – Kumail Nanjiani


Hasan Minhaj on why all princesses matter…

He looks at me and he’s just like “Look man, I just don’t get you guys.”

I was like “What?”

“I don’t get you guys. You guys got the beards. You’re women dress like ninjas. I don’t get it. Why do you repress your women?”

And I’m like “Why do you repress YOUR women?”

He’s like “What? No! No we don’t. This is America. We don’t do that.”

I was like “Look man, I grew up in America. Every Disney movie I’ve ever watched, every white Disney princess, super repressed.”

He’s like “What are you even talking about?”

I’m like “Look at all of them. Cinderella. Cinderella is a white princess, right, her family sells her into human bondage and then her best friends ARE MICE! What sort of sick backwards culture makes their women befriend mice? Sleeping Beauty. Sleeping Beauty is a princess from Caucasia. We know that. Then she falls asleep and some dude Bill Cosby’s her and we’re all like ‘Oh, this is a normal healthy loving relationship.’”

Don’t groan, these are just facts. And he’s like “No no no no, that is not a white princess problem, that’s just a Disney problem.”

I’m like “Nah man, every black or brown Disney princess, super liberated. I’m sorry, every single one of them, all of them. Mulan. Mulan changes genders and becomes a general in ancient China. You guys! She has gender fluidity and she achieves the highest military ranking in ancient China. Moana liberates the Polynesian islands, you guys. She’s ten, okay. Meanwhile Ariel’s like ‘I want to be where the people are. Here’s my voice.’ Believe in yourself Ariel! Lean in. Sheryl Sandberg. Defeat the patriarchy. And don’t even get me started on Princess Jasmine. My first crush, okay. Princess J. The entire movie she’s wearing a two-piece. Bananas! Then when her dad’s like ‘Get an arranged marriage,’ she’s like ‘Screw you dad,’ she leaves on a magic carpet with this shirtless Muslim dude, whose best friend is a monkey and a possessed blue man that lives inside of a bong. That is the most liberal shit ever. And that was in Saudi Arabia! So we got to liberate these poor white princesses because all princesses matter, okay.”

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TO CHRISTMAS OR NOT TO CHRISTMAS? IS THAT THE QUESTION?

Tesco Muslims

Christmas. The season to be jolly. The season of peace and good will to all. But perhaps not to us British Muslims. Perchance a little context to that last statement. In recent years a new Christmas tradition has begun, that of the festive TV ad. So much has this tradition taken prevalence that journalist and author Caitlin Moran said the following:

In an increasingly non-secular age, where we are on the wane, culturally, the British Christmas is no longer defined by either the church or new Christmas singles from Wizzard, Slade and Wham! In 2017 the meaning of Britain’s Christmas is down to the real power-players: multinationals and their blockbusting Christmas ads. – Caitlin Moran, 17 Nov 2017, thetimes.co.uk, from an article entitled What Christmas Is Really About — Adverts For Supermarkets

For a good few years now the leader of the pack has been the department store John Lewis, whose ads are now eagerly awaited by millions. This years blockbuster campaign was easily the most anticipated in the 10 year history of their TV Christmas ads. Featuring a cover of The Beatles song Golden Slumbers, performed by the band Elbow, the ad tells the story of a boy called Joe who is afraid of the dark, and his 7 foot guardian monster named Moz who lives under his bed.

Not that you will notice but there are actually two men hiding inside Moz’s costume while Joe is played by two actors, twins Ethan and Tobias. The ad runs for 130 seconds, cost £7 million in total (including buying air time), and took 8 months to make, which perhaps takes away from the sweet sentimentality a bit. For that amount of time and money you could probably get 3 Bollywood movies, each one about 3 hours long.

John Lewis were not the only ones trying to capture our TV watching hearts. According to the Advertising Association, due to intense market competition, especially within the retail sector, and the rise of big-budget campaigns, this year brands will be spending a record £6bn on Christmas ads, with spending jumping nearly 40% in just seven years. So this year on your TV you will also find glossy ads from Amazon, Lidl, Argos, Toys R Us, Aldi, Currys, Asda, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, McDonald’s, Debenhams, Swarovski , Boots, H&M, and Sky Movies, to name but most of them.

Whilst the John Lewis ad was the most eagerly awaited, it was not the most controversial. From all of these ads 2 controversies arose. The lesser controversy came from the Marks & Spencer ad, which featured the children’s character Paddington Bear. Paddington helps a would-be robber discover the true meaning of Christmas, and the robber in return, rather than saying a simple “thank you” apparently drops the f-bomb instead. The Advertising Standards Authority has said that he doesn’t, but judge for yourselves:

The far greater controversy came from the ad from Britain’s biggest supermarket Tesco. Their ad featured several British families all preparing for the festive season in their own way. One such family happened to be Muslim. Shock horror indeed. The ad was supposed to be one of inclusivity, showing the diverse make-up of our population by featuring families from all walks of British life. As well as the Muslim family, the ad features 14 families in all, including a black family, a same sex couple, a single parent family, and a stressed mother ordering people out of her kitchen.

This is the first time that Muslims have been represented by Tesco in a marketing campaign. It is ironic that it happened to be for a Christian holiday. And what heinous acts were these Muslims committing? In no more than a couple of seconds of the full 60 second ad you see 3 hijabi Muslim women and a young child greet and embrace each other in a tinsel-decorated house, with a wreath hanging on the front door, and you see them exchange festive gifts. The ad ends with the phrase “Everyone welcome”.

Surprise surprise, Twitter was aflame with opposing opinions. Here are just some of the many online comments from those offended:

And here are some comments making opposite points to those mentioned above:

Aside from Twitter the ad has been discussed elsewhere, such as on the radio station LBC by Maajid Nawaz:

We even have Trump supporter and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones weigh in on this ad:

The aforementioned journalist and author Caitlin Moran also commented on Muslims and how they celebrate this most festive of seasons:

“This is PC gone mad! Muslims don’t celebrate Christmas!” various columnists have scolded, clearly unaware that most (practising) Muslims treat Christmas exactly as (non-practising) Christians do: as a bank holiday to lie on your mum’s sofa stuffing yourself silly and bickering. – Caitlin Moran, 17 Nov 2017, thetimes.co.uk, from an article entitled What Christmas Is Really About — Adverts For Supermarkets

When I the read article by Moran, I noticed the following in the Comments section, from a Dr Annabelle, making a rather intriguing point: “I’ve just returned from Dubai where shops and malls are already festooned with bounteous amounts of Christmas decoration, apparently not offending anyone.”

All of this digital noise just adds to the usual annual debates that take place for us Muslims. Every year I find myself theologically debating with others questions such as: Are we Muslims allowed to say “Merry Christmas”? Are we, according to some Muslim scholars, integrating too much if we celebrate Christmas? Are we, according to some non-Muslims, not integrating enough? Are we allowed to up tinsel and a tree? Do we tell Christians that this is all a pagan festival? Are we allowed to eat mice pies? Is it mincemeat in there? Do I have to take part in the office secret Santa?

And now we have this ad which has opened up other cans of non-halal worms: Do such ads erode Christian values? Do they erode British values? Is this another example of political correctness gone maddeningly too far? Do such ads attack Islamic religious principles by moving Muslims towards assimilation rather than integration?

These seasonal issues all feed into the rhetoric that there is an open ‘war on Christmas’, something that is heavily debated not just here in Britain but also across the Atlantic in the United States. Only recently President Trump, a twice-divorced casino owner, stood before a mainly evangelical Christian crowd in October this year, and told them (to rapturous applause), “Guess what? We’re saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” fully unaware that nobody really stopped saying it in the first place, but never mind.

Back here in the UK Tesco, feeling the heat from the backlash to their ad, felt the need to respond. In an official statement the supermarket said: “Everyone is welcome at Tesco this Christmas and we’re proud to celebrate the many ways our customers come together over the festive season. We want our customers to know that however they choose to do Christmas, and no matter what they need, we can help – Everyone’s Welcome at Tesco.” The supermarket also said it “will celebrate the many ways we come together at Christmas, and how food sits at the heart of it all.”

In a satirical piece journalist Patrick West suggested that maybe Tesco had not gone far enough:

John Lewis and Tesco should hang their heads in shame. Their Christmas TV adverts are an outrage. They depict Muslims, people of Afro-Caribbean heritage, gays and women, but what is so glaringly absent, so disgracefully airbrushed out, is any representation of Britain’s Aztec community. Britain’s Aztecs, who first arrived at Southampton in 1876 on the SS Chapultepec, and who now mostly live in Southend-on-Sea, are an integral part of Britain’s vibrant, diverse, multicultural landscape, with their practice of human sacrifice and cannibalism adding so much to the rich tapestry of the nation. – Patrick West

I find it interesting that for some people a profane Santa-wannabe and a monster with a phallic shaped nose who physically handles your sleeping child (not creepy at all as I am sure he is fully CRB checked), are deemed to be more in the spirit of Christmas than a British family (who happen to have brown skin and follow the religion of Islam) buying things from Tesco. These same people, who openly object to the inclusion of Muslims in Christmas ads, will then be the same Islamophobes who accuse Muslims of not integrating, but then paradoxically, at the slightest sign of Muslims integrating in any way, will talk about how Muslims are taking over.

Another interesting point is that of how negatively Muslims are represented on TV. Here in this Tesco ad we have Muslims in non-stereotypical roles. There are no terrorists, no oppressed women, no forced marriages, no racist chants, no burning flags, no dodgy accents, no one longing for the motherland, and no one shouting “Allah-hu-akbar.” This is a point also recognised by journalist Melena Ryzik:

It has never been easy to put a Muslim character on American screens. Even in this TV renaissance, most characters are on shows that rely on terrorism — or at least, terrorist-adjacent — story lines. Other kinds of Muslim characters are woefully absent across the dial. – Melena Ryzik, 30 Nov 2016, nytimes.com, from and article entitled Can Television Be Fair To Muslims?

The same sentiment also applies to British TV. In this day and age where Islamophobia is well on the rise, where Trump is trying to reinstall his Muslim travel ban (fourth time lucky?), and where the far right march openly in America and Europe and beyond, we Muslims need all the positive representation we can get. In that light, I for one am more than happy at Tesco and their ad, even if others (Muslim and non-Muslim) are not.

I will leave you with a brilliant article written by Ruqaya Izzidien in the New Statesman. Enjoy!


If You Find Muslims In A Christmas Ad Offensive, The Grinch Of The Year Is You

Ruqaya Izzidien, 10 Nov 2017, newstatesman.com

Is the idea of a seeing a British Muslim on your telly really more outlandish than an Antarctic penguin?

This week Tesco released it Christmas advert for 2017, featuring snapshots of British families preparing, eating and squabbling over the Christmas turkey. It portrayed families with different races, classes, ages and sexual orientations, but one element that – predictably – brought out the PC police – hijabis.

One scene in the advert depicts Muslim women greeting each other at the door, with tinsel-adorned walls. The response has been overwhelmingly negative, with critics lamenting the lack of overt Christian symbols in the advert. Right, because who can forget the celebrated Christian symbolism of adverts past, Buster the bouncing boxer dog, the man on the moon and that bastion of religion, Monty the penguin?

Christian symbolism is always absent or, at best, an undercurrent in Christmas supermarket adverts, whose modus operandi is to evoke nostalgia in order to sell products, not to promote Christianity. The only reason critics are offended by this advert, is because they dared to acknowledge that Muslims exist.

As British Muslims, we spend our whole lives being told to integrate, to be part of British culture, to embrace British traditions. So we win medals at sports days, we bake in county shows, we cure your colds and complain about the rain. We have roast dinners and shepherd’s pies, we vote for our councillors and we petition to have that terrible road fixed.

But God forbid we exist during Christmas. Because, yes, critics of this advert expect us to integrate, but not too much. Not so much that we have good jobs, that we celebrate British holidays, that they have to see our integration, not so much that we break the stereotype that they’ve thrust upon us.

It’s a predicable cycle. A television channel, or newspaper article, or advert features a Muslim in hijab, and it is perceived as an incitement, of giving Muslims special treatment. Our mere existence is a political statement, and an explicit example of our integration is – as this advertisment has been called time and again – “offensive”.

The fear that Christmas is being Islamicised is unfounded. The Tesco advert didn’t imply that Muslims are filling up the churches on Christmas morning – it didn’t even suggest we are all guzzling turkey come the 25th, since Tesco doesn’t actually produce any halal turkey – all it did was demonstrate that Muslims, like any other Brits, get together during holiday seasons. We throw a bit of tinsel up, have dinner at friends’ houses. And if you find that offensive, then the Grinch of the year is you.

Opponents of the advert were quick to point out that Christians – or normal Brits – don’t celebrate Muslim holidays. That is not entirely true, the difference is that British Muslims welcome solidarity fasts in Ramadan, and plenty of us celebrate Eid with non-Muslim friends. Integration is a loaded word, and its meaning is a lot more nuanced than its general usage; there are those who argue that the word should be cast aside for another that doesn’t imply assimilation. But for those Muslims who attempt to integrate, whether they ought to or not – there is always the inescapable obstacle that we see with this advert; integration is a two-way street.

No matter how many Olympic medals we win or how many music records we sell, even if we bake a birthday cake for the Queen, the idea of a seeing a British Muslim on your telly is still more outlandish than an Antarctic penguin, magical creatures under your bed and an elderly man living in a shack on the moon.

To all those people who tell us that their problem with Muslims is that we don’t want to integrate, this is your moment. Either you accept our integration, and rejoice in the Muslim celebration of the holiday season, or admit that the sight of a brown woman in hijab showing festive cheer offends you. It would just bigot if you could admit it.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH MADE ME SAY “ALLAH-HU-AKBAR”

BLUE PLANET II

I was watching the brilliant BBC TV wildlife program Blue Planet II, narrated by broadcasting legend David Attenborough, and they were showing these amazing crystal-like coral reef sponges. They showed a shiny silver coral known as Venus’s flower basket, which lives several miles down in the bottom of an ocean trench. Living inside this particular sponge were two shrimp who had crawled in when they were young but were now too big to crawl back out the same way they came in. These shrimp, one male and one female, had mated and the female was now pregnant. You could clearly see it was carrying several eggs. As I was watching this I just sat there amazed and dumb founded, so much so that I involuntarily whispered “Allah-hu-akbar” under my breath. I said this Arabic phrase because I was genuinely astonished at what I was seeing. Now, here is my question: does saying this Arabic phrase make me a terrorist?

The reason I ask is this phrase has once again hit the headlines because a certain Muslim was heard shouting it repeatedly as he killed eight people in New York on the 31st of October 2017. As can be imagined the phrase has been widely discussed and dissected in the media since the attack. Even the Sun, a right wing British newspaper, felt the need to write a somewhat positive article about it. Likewise, CNN’s Jake Tapper, who said the phrase was “sometimes said under the most beautiful of circumstances,” got caught up in then trying to defend his comments from various Fox News pundits:

As someone who says “Allah-hu-akbar” many times each day (I did the math and can confidently say that I have said this phrase over 1.1 million times in my life so far, and continue to say it over 150 times per day), I personally believe this phrase should not be so violently misaligned just because some hoo-haa-numb-nut decides to yell it loudly (and probably with incorrect syntax) before killing innocent people for a twisted ideology that, under close scrutiny, makes no sense whatsoever. (For more on this please read the brilliantly satirical article ISIS Wondering Where Insane Medieval Fantasy Project Went Wrong by the always hilarious Daily Mash). As Hassan Shibly, executive director of CAIR-Florida, said in response to this recent terror attack in New York, “That is the biggest act of heresy, to shout God’s glorious name when committing the worst crime against God.”

Unfortunately one can choose from a plethora of morons who over the years have committed atrocities while shouting “Allah-hu-akbar” at the top of their lungs. Another recent example that springs to mind is that of a man who was arrested outside Buckingham Palace in August 2017, armed with a 4-foot sword. He was shouting (you guessed it) “Allah-hu-akbar” as he struggled with London’s Metropolitan police officers. Three unarmed officers suffered minor injuries as they detained the 26-year-old man, whilst two were treated at a hospital for cuts. The man drove his car at a police van and stopped in front of it in a restricted area near Buckingham Palace. He was eventually incapacitated with CS spray.

In order to try and bring some reasoned context to the debate surrounding the phrase “Allah-hu-akbar”, I thought it best to examine what it actually means and what Muslims actually feel about it.


What it looks like in Arabic…

Before we get to the deeper meaning, this is what it looks like when written fancifully in its original Arabic form:

Allah-Hu-Akbar


How to pronounce it…

And this is how to actually say it:

The phonetic transliteration is “Al-law-hu-ak-bur” and the simplest translation is “God is great.” However, after the New York terror attack, it is noticeable that various news readers clearly not versed in the Arabic tongue were mispronouncing this as “Aloo-ak-bur” which literally means “potatoes are great.” This small and weird bit of comic relief, in the context of a horrific tragedy, was noticed by the likes of journalist Aisha Sultan, lawyer Rabia Chaudry, and the journalist Mehreen Kasana. Chaudry even offered her services to help those in linguistic need, tweeting:


What it does and does not actually mean…

Before we get to what it really means, let us start with what the phrase is not. Contrary to the bigoted views of some, the phrase is not the war cry of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He first uttered the phrase whilst praying and meditating in the mountains around Mecca. Likewise, when translated by some as “God is greater” or “God is greatest,” this is not meant comparatively to other gods and religions. Muslims are not saying Allah is greater than your God. These words are therefore not, to refute the magazine American Thinker, “a statement of Islamic supremacism and war.”

There is indeed a comparative nature of the phrase which is explained simply as follows:

Allahu Akbar means “God is greater than…”; it suggests that Allah is greater than any noun with which one might choose to complete the sentence. – from the book The Complete Idiots Guide To The Koran by Shaykh Muhammad Sarwar and Brandon Toropov

And here are a few other definitions that hopefully bring greater depth to what this phrase actually means:

Allah is Allah-hu-akbar, Allah is greater than anything I could ever say about Allah. We can’t praise You as You have praised Yourself. You are as You praise Yourself. Anything I say about Allah, it’s deficient. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

For the record, “Allahu Akbar” has no inherent political/violent connotation meriting instant terror diagnosis. I say it like 20 times a day…If you understand how it is used in common parlance amongst Muslims for nearly every single situation maybe it would make sense…Favorite team wins? You say it. Fav team loses? You say it. Something wonderful happens? You say it. Something terrible happens? You say it. – Rabia Chaudry

In the West, “Allahu akbar” is commonly confused for only being a battle cry but in reality, millions and millions of Muslims say this phrase in a variety of situations. From extraordinary contexts like when someone gets cured of a debilitating disease to everyday and ordinary situations like praying or even getting up from bed, there is no fixed situation for which “Allahu akbar” must be uttered…In the wake of the Tuesday terror attack in New York City, there’s going to be a ton of discussion on the phrase, its meaning, and how in some cases it has definitely been used by terrorists. But the resounding majority of Muslims use “Allahu akbar” for innocuous matters and things that are utterly harmless. – Mehreen Kasana

“Allahu Akbar” is a powerful declaration used by Muslims on many occasions and in many prayers. It is a celebration of life, not death and destruction, the first words fathers whisper in the ears of their newborns. They are used to indicate gratitude when God bestows something upon you that you would have been incapable of attaining were it not for divine benevolence. It is a prayerful phrase that reminds us that, no matter what our concerns may be, God is greater than them. – Imam Omar Suleiman, founder and president of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research

The phrase Allahu akbar has a long history of use within Islam. It expresses a sentiment that is at its heart a theological reflection about humanity’s place in the world: That no matter what trials or victories people face, God is greater than it all…Allahu akbar is an affirmation of a belief in a monotheistic God…since it suggests that God has no partners. Belief in absolute monotheism is a core part of orthodox Islamic theology. – Carol Kuruvilla


When do we say it…

We Muslims say this phrase all the time, in a myriad of different situations. Aside from the example above of Sir David making me involuntarily say it several miles deep in the ocean, here are a few more examples just to illustrate the wide and varied usage of this phrase.

A friend of mine used to work for the computer giant Cap Gemini. He was part of a test team working on a complicated project. They were testing a particularly complex piece of code. My friend hit the button and several people from the project team, including a few managers, stood there anxiously waiting to see what would happen. After a few minutes the computer returned a result: success! The stunned silence was punctuated by the voice of my friend, who just uttered “Allah-hu-akbar!” My friend said this made a few people laugh, and everyone present was pleasantly surprised, as such an intricate piece code worked first time. The phrase was uttered and no one died.

In an episode of the BBC TV program Have I Got News For You, Adil Ray (aka Citizen Khan) explains how context really is everything:

Here we have a few more differing examples:

After every sneeze a Muslim is taught to say “Alhamdulillah” (thanks be to God). – Faisal Kutty

I say “Allahu akbar” out loud more than 100 times a day. Yesterday, I uttered it several times during my late-evening Isha prayer. Earlier, during dinner, I said it with my mouth full after biting into my succulent halal chicken kebab. In the afternoon, I dropped it in a conference room at the State Department, where I’d been invited to address a packed room of government employees about the power of storytelling. Specifically, I expressed my continuing gratitude for the election of Barack Obama, whom, in a joking nod to the Islamophobic paranoia that surrounded him, I called “our first Muslim American president,” adding “Allahu akbar!” People in the crowd laughed and applauded, the world continued to spin, no one had an aneurysm, and only a few people seemed to wonder with arched, Sarah Sanders-like eyebrows, “Wait, is he …?” I even confess to saying “Allahu akbar” two days ago in a restroom after losing the battle, but ultimately winning the war, against a nasty stomach virus. – Wajahat Ali, 01 Nov 2017, from a brilliant article entitled I Want ‘Allahu Akbar’ Back

It is a powerful expression that can also lend strength and fortitude in difficult times. In his final days, before succumbing to the cancer that lent us nineteen years with him, my father often invoked the words. In the midst of enduring unimaginable pain, we’d find him calmly and quietly reciting “Allahu Akbar. Sabr aur shukr.” God is the Greatest. Be patient, be grateful. – Dr Zainab Chaudry

In fact, we say it so many times that Eric Nagourney may be right when he says:

Allahu akbar is so commonplace a saying as to be utterly unworthy of note. It’s quite an innocuous expression. – Eric Nagourney


When not to say it…

Here we have a few examples of the phrase being used way out of context. We start with Ahdaf Soueif who, somewhat incorrectly, uses it for less divinely inspired and rather more prosaic matters:

Let’s say your football team is mounting an attack. You can say, ‘Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar,’ and you’re pushing them along, like, ‘Go for it, go for it, go for it.’…You see a really beautiful woman or a good-looking guy, you go, ‘Allahu akbar.’ – Ahdaf Soueif, an Egyptian author

Another bizarre example of the use of this phrase comes from the 1987 movie Beverly Hills Cop II, where Axel Foley (iconically played by Eddie Murphy) says the phrase in order to wriggle his way out of a difficult situation:

And here we have the animated TV program Family Guy using it rather controversially as a literal wakeup call with their Palestinian alarm clock:


What other Muslims are saying about it…

Sarah A Harvard uses this phrase and Muhammad Ali as daily inspiration:

In my room, hanging on the wall across my bed, is a framed poster of Ali holding a copy of Muhammad Speaks, once the official journal for the Nation of Islam, with a headline that reads “Allah is the Greatest.” It serves as a reminder every time I wake up in the morning that even Ali—who, at the boiling point of the Civil Rights Era, convinced America that a black man was “the greatest” and also submitted to one God. He was never afraid to shout “Allahu Akbar.” Ali was proud to say it and the world loved him for it. – Sarah A Harvard

Ali Newspaper

She goes on to say:

“Allahu Akbar” unites over 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, who all speak different dialects and languages, as well as Arab Greek Orthodox and Christians who use the expression. It’s a versatile, humble phrase, said about 100 times a day during our five daily prayers. It’s whispered into a newborn’s ear. It’s muttered as the last words before one’s death. It’s said at the sight of a beautiful sunset or a starry night, and roared during moments of chaos and strife. It’s a reminder that no matter how invincible or vulnerable we feel, God—the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful—is greater than all other powers and has always sought out the best for us. – Sarah A Harvard

Mehreen Kasana explains why is it important to understand this phrase properly:

Social vilification of such a common phrase among Muslims is dangerous because it gives a distorted portrayal of a religious minority’s practices. It depicts an ordinary phrase in exaggerated and negative light, only leading to more animus against a community that has already been witnessing Islamophobia for years now. A phrase can be used in both good and bad contexts, and remembering to take a nuanced stance on that as opposed to panic and paranoia will help people learn more about a community and bridge divisions. – Mehreen Kasana

And here we have Karim Shamsi-Basha who grew up with the phrase:

I grew up saying “Allahu Akbar” numerous times every day. And no, I wasn’t, and am not, a terrorist. I wasn’t someone who blew buildings up, killed people or shot a missile from my rocket launcher. As far as the West is concerned, those are the events associated with the saying when something bad is about to happen. People of the West are terrified of the phrase…The phrase is to remind Muslims that God is supreme. That’s it. It was never to be used as a battle cry during horrendous actions furthering political agendas with evil motives. – Karim Shamsi-Basha


Final point…

After all is said, done, and written by myself and others, be they Muslim or otherwise, the truth of the matter is that this murderous idiot in New York and all the other zealot idiots can say what they like as it actually makes no difference in terms of body count. This cold harsh reality was pointed out by Nathan Lean, author of such books as The Islamophobia Industry and Understanding Islam And The West:

This sentiment was also shared by the aforementioned Wajahat Ali and Imam Omar Suleiman:

It’s easy to forget that language is often hijacked and weaponized by violent extremists. Some people yell “Allahu akbar” and others chant “heritage,” “culture” and “white pride.” The preferred slogans of a killer don’t make much difference to the people whose lives are lost or their loved ones, but they make all the difference in Americans’ collective understanding of a tragedy. – Wajahat Ali

We mustn’t allow terrorists or agendas of fear to own any of the words, concepts, or devotions found in the sacred text of a quarter of the world’s population. That would give them exactly what they want. And God is far greater than the ugliness committed in His name. “Allahu Akbar…” – Imam Omar Suleiman

NEW YORK HIGHLIGHTS THE SAME OLD DOUBLE STANDARDS

Saipov Varvel

On Tuesday 31st October 2017 Sayfullo Saipov, a 29 year old immigrant who moved to the US legally from Uzbekistan in 2010, drove a Home Depot rental truck southbound into a pedestrian and bike path along the West Side Highway in Lower Manhattan in New York City, close to the Hudson River. He killed eight people and injured eleven in the deadliest terror attack on the city since 9/11. Six people died at the scene, while two others died at a nearby hospital. Five of the dead were friends from Argentina celebrating a graduation anniversary. An unnamed Belgian mother of two was also among the dead.

Saipov was shot in the abdomen by a New York City police officer at the scene, and was then taken in custody to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. As he exited his truck he was heard to shout “Allah-hu-akbar”. He left a note in the truck, written in Arabic, that said the “Islamic State will endure forever.” As expected, ISIS are more than happy to take credit for this atrocity, calling Saipov a “soldier of the Caliphate.”

The truck driver started his rampage near Houston Street, tearing down approximately 20 city blocks on a bike path along the Hudson River, a site popular with cyclists and runners. The truck came to a stop after it collided with a school bus near Stuyvesant High School, near Chambers Street, the location of several schools which were letting out children for the Halloween evening. He then is said to have waved a pellet gun and a paintball gun in the air while pledging himself to Allah. It was at this point that he was shot by police. At least four passengers — two adults and two children — were on the school bus when the pickup driver slammed into it. The children were among the injured.

His sister, Umida Saipova, speaking with Radio Free Europe from her home in Uzbekistan, said her family had not noticed any signs of radicalisation in her older brother. She claimed they had a “normal” conversation with him the day before the attack, in which he said he was eating his mother’s favourite pastry, and was on his way to pick up a client at the airport (Saipov worked as an Uber driver). She went on to say: “We don’t know who has brainwashed him. We don’t know his circumstances. We don’t know. Perhaps he’s become part of some organised group. My mother said she would have brought him back to Uzbekistan had she noticed anything. I don’t know, honestly, how long it will take for his head to get rid of that poison, but I’m sure he will come to his senses, God willing.”

She also added: “We don’t think he should be given the death penalty immediately. We are hoping for a fair trial. We are ready to go there, if it’s possible, to talk to him. Please pass my message to Trump, if possible.” Good luck with that.

Whilst ISIS maybe losing real ground in the physical world, this attack in New York shows how it is gaining virtual ground in the digital world. Saipov was found to have about 90 videos and 3,800 images on his cell phone featuring ISIS propaganda, including a video of a beheading, shootings, bomb-making instructions and several images of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He also wanted to hang the group’s flag in his hospital room after the attack. Again, good luck with that. He has also told prosecutors he was inspired to carry out the truck attack by watching these ISIS videos on his mobile phone.

An imam in Florida who knew Saipov was increasingly worried that he was misinterpreting Islam. “I used to tell him: ‘Hey, you are too much emotional. Read books more. Learn your religion first,’” said Abdul, the imam, who does not want his last name used because he fears reprisals. “He did not learn religion properly. That’s the main disease in the Muslim community. He had a character problem. He became more obsessed with the physical trappings of Islam: the long beard, the ankle-high pants. He never spoke of violence, though.”

As has become the norm with such atrocities, the talk of double standards rears its ugliest of heads. Below are just a few things I have come across that refer to the hypocrisies that arise in the media coverage of these types of events:


Moustafa Bayoumi

Writing in the Guardian, Moustafa Bayoumi, in an article entitled We Must End The Terror Double Standards, talks of the misguided logic used by some when analysing attacks carried out by Muslims:

The White House is also pushing a position of collective guilt that will only bode ill for Muslims and foreigners and is completely unlike its reaction from just weeks ago. The Las Vegas shooting prompted the White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, to say that since “there is an ongoing law enforcement investigation” then “it would be premature for us to discuss policy when we don’t know all of the facts.” And yet, here again, a gross double-standard stares us squarely in the face, as Donald Trump exhibits no such restraint when it comes to this attack. “I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program,” the president tweeted last night. He is now also targeting the Diversity Visa Lottery, a system established in 1990 with the laudable goal of expanding the pool of immigrants that are admitted into the country. In their rush to connect this attack to international terrorism, journalists and politicians are missing a key fact. It takes no special training to run people over with a vehicle. You don’t need to be a dangerous foreigner to buy fake weapons like a paint gun or a pellet gun. Anyone can shout “Allahu Akbar”. It’s easy to say you claim allegiance to ISIS. – Moustafa Bayoumi, 01 Nov 2017

He goes on to say:

In American culture today, terrorist attacks by Muslims are still reflexively seen as the expression of a problem shared by all Muslims worldwide, hence the kneejerk demands that Muslims everywhere denounce all attacks by individual Muslims anywhere. Terrorist attacks by white Americans, by contrast, continue to be seen as individual psychological puzzles that are begging to be solved with sympathy and care. This logic is as dangerous as it is misguided, since it feeds the notion that Muslims, who are nearly a quarter of the world’s population, are a unique threat who require their own special set of security measures. To adopt such measures would be to abandon the very principles of equality that our society is supposed to hold dear. – Moustafa Bayoumi, 01 Nov 2017


Stephen Colbert

Late night talk show host Stephen Colbert commented on how President Tweets-A-Lot reacted to the incident. Colbert tweeted himself that “The terrorist attack in the Big Apple is quickly politicized by the Big Orange.” Very clever word play, I am sure you will agree. In his talk show he went a little further:


Trevor Noah

On a recent episode of The Daily Show, Trevor Noah also made some rather poignant remarks about how Trump has reacted to the New York city attack.


Mr Fish

The always controversial cartoonist Mr Fish makes an indirect point about the attention these killings are receiving as opposed to others in America.

Saipov Ourselves


Wajahat Ali

In a brilliant article that is well worth reading in full, Wajahat Ali made the point that we need to reclaim the phrase uttered by Saipov as he was shot:

It’s easy to forget that language is often hijacked and weaponized by violent extremists. Some people yell “Allahu akbar” and others chant “heritage,” “culture” and “white pride.” The preferred slogans of a killer don’t make much difference to the people whose lives are lost or their loved ones, but they make all the difference in Americans’ collective understanding of a tragedy…If only the hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico, leaving American citizens in desperate need of power, food or water, could have yelled, “Allahu akbar,” triggering that kind of tough response. Perhaps our president would have been able to see the storm as evil. Perhaps he would have been energized by a “them versus us” rage to insist on swift action to repair the damage. – Wajahat Ali, 01 Nov 2017, nytimes.com, from an article entitled I Want ‘Allahu Akbar’ Back