Friday, 26 June 2015

The Emirates , A Royal Dream

I had a break from blogging and London life and explored United Arab Emirates (UAE) for a week. It is worth boring you with my reflection on the tour. I would also like to give you some travel tips if you decide to visit UAE. You will notice, I am not saying Dubai which is almost synonymous to UAE We often forget other six sovereign Emirates that makes the UAE, namely Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaima (RAK), Ajman, Fujairah and Umm al-Quwain.


The UAE has the seventh largest oil reserve in the world. We are talking about around 1.4 million Emiratis, 16.6% of the UAE’s total population enjoying the benefit of seventh largest oil reserves in the world. That explains the stupendous amount of capitalist luxury the Sheikh’s has created for them and their partners in the West who has provided them with the skills and strategy as the ‘development gurus’. Let us not forget the blood and sweat of South Asians, Philipinos and other millions of human beings working in inhumane conditions to create this so-called heaven on the earth.

I was puzzled and am still to understand the Emiratis. Are they visionaries with great business minds or are they just lazy landlords that happen to be co-incidentally blessed with natural resources which later transformed their economy to attract mass tourism though the economy is still heavily reliant on natural resources.  

In the late 1960s, the British Government realised it would no longer be sustainable to keep British troops guarding the ‘trucial sheikhdoms’ (peaceful existence with some sort of truce between the quarrelling Sheikhs).  The then British Prime Minister Herald Wilson and consequently Edward Heath paved the way for the Sheikhs to initiate their own unions and refused the Sheikhs’ pleas to remain there at their expense. Qatar and Bahrain became independent without joining the seven Emirates that agreed to form a union guided by a constitution. I saw ‘Long live the Union’ photos in many places in my trip and it seem the Union is stronger than ever.


So without spilling a drop of blood the UAE became an ‘independent’ state in December 1971.  In the last 45 years they have remained loyal to their Western allies and have offered air base to US and the France, supporting both the Iraq invasion of 2003 and the Gulf War against Saddam Hussein. The Arab Spring could not weather out the Emirati Royal sands and the Princes remain in their palaces and cruising in their Hummers, Mercedes and mistresses.

The Royals
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai and the Prime Minister of UAE has 23 officially acknowledged children through his senior and junior wives, nine sons and fourteen daughters, of whom many are married into other Middle East royal families. He is also a recognised poet and one morning my only wife showed me an article in The Khaleej Times with news of his book launch. The book of his tweets - called ‘Glimpses of Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Tweets’ - is touted as revealing an “authentic style of thinking”, and marking out a vision for the future.

Photo Credit: Apsana Haque

Hire a Car
Hiring a car from Dubai airport is a wise decision as it allows you immense freedom to roam around and parking is thousand times better than the UK, as someone said it is ‘kullu -free’, meaning all free. The biggest mall of the world Dubai Mall has free parking. I noticed that conversationally the words ‘too much’ are of saying ‘many’. So when I enquired for a petrol station I was told I need to go through the roundabout and then I will find ‘too much’ petrol stations. Driving on the left with traffic on the right took me roughly half an hour to get used to.

Hiring a car also means UAE being a small country as a whole, is pretty much within 3 hours driving distances with petrol cheaper than water. The satellite navigation that I hired was very useful though it did not recognise every single destination but only the key points of attraction. One thing to note in hiring a car though – do it online in advance to get a good deal and be aware of the hidden costs which are called  ‘extras’ once you reach there, i.e. Salim (road tax) tolls, etc. 

Stay outside Dubai to see Dubai

I stayed in Ras al-Khaimah, a 60 minute drive from Dubai through Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road. You will find good hotels there and I believe it is much better than being in Dubai. The car gives you the freedom to not eat in the in-house expensive hotel restaurants and explore local restaurants with a wide range of cuisines to choose from. If you are obsessed with your regular type of food and not wishing to explore outside of this, just go to any shopping mall food court where all options are there, from Burger King to Indian curries.

I became fond of Chinese and Filipino food whilst there but particularly liked going to the top end of Ras al-Khaimah where there were arrays of restaurants literally picking fish from the sea and frying it for you. I found most of the restaurants in the street very clean and hygienic as the authorities are very strict.

Do Some Wise Shopping
My philosophy is only shop if you find good quality products with a cheaper price brand or not. I found Pierre Cardin throughout UAE giving 75% to 90% discount. It is worth buying.
Be wary of gold souks and other souks where your hustling skill is pre-requisite to a good deal.

I did not waste money on getting on top of Burj al-Khalifa and many other skyscrapers, instead spent money on driving through the desert and experiencing some fantastic water sports such as jet skiing, parasailing, etc.  

Money Transfer
Using your credit or debit cards abroad means a two-fold change: a non-sterling usage fee and a cash withdrawal fee etc. I’d recommend you take cash in pound sterling with you and exchange it anywhere outside Dubai International Airport. Exchange rates in London or even in Heathrow Airport are a rip off. Interestingly, if you shop around do some bargaining at some exchange shops you will get good rate and even a waiver of the fees they talk about. The only difficulty is if you find a Chinese cashier whose poker face is sometimes hard to read.


Saturday, 23 May 2015

The price of a Muslim’s promise

1. The Beginning

On a summer night, the full moon was reflecting on Majid’s shaky hand that was busy lighting his Gold Leaf cigarette, the last one from this first packet. It hadn’t been long that he’d started this blissful yet regretful habit. He was finding it increasingly harder to find a secluded space in the house to smoke peacefully. He feared his sister would find out. She would be furious if she found out that Majid had indulged himself with this haram (religiously prohibited) act.

Taking puffs from the last bit of the rapidly diminishing cigarette, Majid looked at the moon and felt immense joy of this life. Nicotine, tar and all other chemicals started deceiving him into a pleasant experience and for a moment he forgot about the worry of being caught in the ‘smoking act’.



2. A Stormy Night

The summer moon passed and monsoon began in Majid’s village, bringing loud storms and furious winds. This was making it impossible for him to smoke outside the house. The weather forced him to relocate his smoking to a more convenient spot and one which came with an increased risk of being caught. Along with such a stormy nights and heavy rain spearing the soil, came the biggest trouble in Majid’s life.

The sister is a pious, hard working woman devoted to her husband, family and God. That night she came by the rear of the house to get some water from the grey water pot (kolosh) for her thirsty husband. While pouring water in the glass, her eyes caught the attention of some sparks of light, a tiny one, not that of thunder. She kept staring through the gap of the window opened by the mighty winds and zoomed into the scene, realising her brother Majid was cursing the matchbox dampened by the wet weather and trying hard to re-light a cigarette.

Out of shock and anger she released the water pot out of balance, breaking it into two pieces released all its water which quickly started being sucked into the soil floor.

She stormed out through the door before even Majid could realise what had happened. She snatched him and his heartbeat started skipping. He could not even meet his sister’s furious eyes. A mixture of shame and fear took over Majid’s conscience.



3. The Trial

Sitting on the palong (bed), frozen with the intensity of the event, Majid was hoping his brother in-law who was sitting in the chair opposite with a strange calmness and disinterest in the event, would ease the situation.

Triggered by this incident, Majid’s 0sister began exploring a whole list of complaints against him. Majid sat there  praying that this hour would end quickly and he would be willing to pay any compensation for it as long as the punishment would not be to return to his Madrasah in a remote island within the Comilla district. He had escaped from the Madrasah after a year of study having successfully memorised a quarter of the Qur’an.

Before Majid’s brother in-law could intervene, his sister thought of the best solution to stop Majid from smoking again. She rushed to other room to bring the Qur’an she recites every dawn (Fajar) prayer and shouted at Majid, ‘go do ablution (wudu) and purify your dirty mouth and hands’.  

Majid prayed Isha (last prayer of a day before midnight) and formed the  opinion that if he smoked again he would just need to rinse his mouth again rather than repeating the whole ablution. Given the situation he would not dare voice anything like that of course. Taking some guilty steps forward, he went and performed ablution.

Upon returning Majid had to hold the holy Quran,his brother in-law as witness and took an oath, saying ‘I will never smoke again’.  A promise before the God, touching the God’s book, Majid was trembling and started to realise how serious this promise was. For a moment he thought of his bloodstreams dependency on nicotine that he become established in last six months.



4. The Struggle

That unfortunate Monsoon passed and then came the summer. Majid remained intact in his promise and strove hard not to break it. He was even trying to utilise his reputation of having memorised  Quran and as such being known as a ‘quarter Hafiz’, to help out the Imam of the local mosque. He helped to perform the Adhaan (call for prayer) and Aaqamah (repeat Adhaan just before congregational prayer) in absence of the Mutawalli. With these responsibilities came more social and religious reputation and smoking again seemed to be a distant dream.

Life was ok and normal to the extent that it started becoming routine and boring for Majid. He was not sure what sort of excitement he could bring into his life. Being a religious man he was a model for the youth of the village. Unfortunately, this meant being excluded from many options like watching Hindi films in small TVs in the bazaar or playing cards by the field which is regarded as gambling by the society. Even the elderly greeted him with ‘Salam’ imposing more pressure. He felt pious, honoured and burdened. However, he could still feel the temptation of a cigarette every now and then and he was constantly trying to resist it.

One depressing afternoon, Majid stole a cigarette from his brother in-law’s packet but just before lighting it, he remembered  his promise. He could feel the weight of the promise he made in the name of God. He broke the cigarette into pieces and felt better after throwing it away. However, he was increasingly getting concerned about what would happen to him if in a spell of devil (shaitaan), he would break the promise. He didn’t want to increase the possibility of going to hell for breaking a promise as he’d already committed many sins.

He thought of consulting the Imam but decided against it thinking it would damage his reputation and help the Imam in building prejudice against him; after all hecalled people to prayer to pray behind this Imam.  Thinking intently, he found a solution: to call one of his teachers, Maulana Abdul Karim Vobher Bazari from the Madrasah in Comilla. The title of the Maulanas includes the area they are from and Majid wondererd about that place Vobher bazar. For some reason that Vobher Bazari sahib left a good trusting impression on Majid.



5. The Price

The next morning Majid went to his local bazar and asked the phone shop owner for strict privacy for the call he was about to make. Having the curtain closed of the small phone booth, Majid dialled the number of the Maulana and heard the loud and deep voice of Vobher bazaari sahib, “Assala Mualikum wa Rahmatullah (Peace and blessing of God be upon you)’’.

Without replying ‘Waliakumus salam’, Majid replied with Salam again ‘Assalamualikum wa rahmatullah’. This being courteous to the elders (murubbis), where givingSalam to them first, before responding to theirs held someone in greater esteem.

Holding the phone in both hands out of respect Majid said ‘Hujur, this is Majid’, praying intently that Maulana forgots the fact that he is that Majid who escaped from the Madrasah a year ago. To his surprise the Maulana replied with a very normal and commanding tone without referring to any previous memory and went straight to the business, ‘”Yes Majid, what do you want?’’.

‘Hujur’, ‘I made a promise with my sister in the name of God’ that I would not do ‘something’. Majid could not dare mentioning what ‘something’ was about. Maulana quickly replied, ‘Have you broken it’?
‘No hujur, I just want to know, if I want to withdraw my promise what I should do’.
‘Hmm’,, Maulana’s pause was of concern to Majid and he took some seconds to think. ‘Majid?’, said Maulana Karim
‘‘Yes Hujur’’, Majid said, listening carefully, eager to find a solution.
‘‘You need to sacrifice two animals in the name of God, it has to be medium sized and something precious and expensive than a chicken or goat.’’
Immediately thinking of two chickens Majid realised it was a cow that the Maulana implied though he was not specific.
‘‘Hujur,chickens?’’ Majid said in a quieter voice, still hoping the Maulana would allow for the easiest and cost effective of options.
‘‘What did I say’’? responded Maulana. Now, his voice sound harsh and scary.
‘‘slamualikum’’, he said quickly, shorter out of anger. He hung up without clarifying anything further.

Paying the phone bill, Majid saw the shop owner smiling with a typical sales gesture, the eye contact was also of guilt, having eavesdropped on the conversation.  Majid was not angry about this however, he was concerned about the cost of the promise. Two cows would cost him 30,000 taka at least. He had two options now, one was to find money to sacrifice two cows and withdraw his promise, or the other, to not smoke ever again in this life. He did not know if he was angry with his sister for giving him all this trouble or happy with her for saving him from a bad habit.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Our Forefathers Journey Through the Salty Water

I don’t know why the theatre brings Abraham Lincoln to my mind. That infamous shooting of a great American President has become a vivid representation of theatre for me. As British Bangladeshi’s living at the East End of London, on the one hand we are privileged to enjoy a very Bangladeshi life which one can live outside of Bangladesh, and on the other hand this often deprives us of enjoying the very best of British culture because we are too consumed in our own community. Theatre is one of the aspects of British culture I often regret not being able to enjoy as much as I would like to.


So when I was invited by some of my associates to watch the play ‘Salty Water and Us’, produced by Purbanat production, a professional theatre company from the West Midlands, I was curious and positively cautious in what I should expect. I was keen on the story of the play. It was about lascars from Sylhet who worked on the merchant ships of the East India Company during the British Raj in India from the 17th to mid-20th century.

Rushing into the medium sized theatre room at the Brady Arts Centre in the heart of the East End of London, I could immediately feel shared aspiration and expectation from the crowd.  Would the drama will take us back to past, to our forefathers when they embarked on an unknown journey in a ship to London? Would the actors let us feel the struggles and dreams that the lascars embraced?

The play began with Samira, a selfie obsessed young student from Birmingham University who craves to find her roots. The play takes us smoothly to the early 19th century when Soidulla, a young man from Sylhet secures a job through his friend Shamruddi at the port of Calcutta and sets off for London in one of the Raj’s merchant ship. The journey of this ship to London through salty waters then introduces other characters of the drama.

The story of the play is inspired by a short story written by prominent Bangla writer, Syed Mujtaba Ali and adapted into a play by the writer Murad Khan. The backdrop is the uprising in Sylhet and Assam that resulted from British Raj’s new tax policy from 1800 – 1810.


Lascar Shamruddi works hard in the ship to earn money and fulfil his dream of owning a large paddy field and building a mosque in his village. Bohemian Kutub Ali, another Sylheti young character wants to see the whole world. The stubborn Soidulla is the grandson of Hada Miah who was a peasant rebel killed by a British personnel Robert Lindsey. Soidulla is seeking revenge.

The journey was beautifully portrayed with a powerful Bengali voice occasionally singing with tragic tone and grief, a powerful grief. The Shareng, the guardian of the ship about whom we don’t learn much about along with others tirelessly fill the engine with coal supply to keep the ship going. 

English Captain Lindsey, Shivani and Kutub’s life gradually comes into light with certain twists in their personality, values and ambitions. The occasional ‘dhuro’ from Kutub made me feel absorbed in a Sylheti atmosphere and the actor did a fantastic job in portraying common Sylheti attitudes.

At times it crossed my mind that there was deliberate effort to keep out any religious reference in the Sylheti characters or it could merely be my own expectation derived from my own experience of first generation Sylheti grandfathers I met who would have certainly uttered a prayer for a deceased friend they were missing. 

Powerful acting by all the actors kept us glued into the perfectly adjusted theatre lights and the simplistic use of dialogue. The flawless maneuvering of the story from the floor did not make me feel at once that I am not in a Leicester Square theatre in Central London.

LASKARS

There was an interesting reference to the famine that the Bengal suffered, though there could have been a clearer indication on why Winston Churchill and the British aministration should have been recorded in history as the cause of the famine. What was brilliant was the effort to resolve the key character’s moral transformation once he reached his desired goal.

Written by Murad Khan a British Bangladeshi writer and directed by Filiz Ozcan, a Turkish director, both came across as sincere and passionate about what they do and the ‘Salty Water and Us’ certainly reflects that.

Though the play depicted early 19th centuries Bengalis embarking on a journey through the salty waters, I returned home with my personal reflections on how I, as a 21st century Bangladeshi, have too become a very subject of ‘the myth of return’. Any Bangladeshi’s in the UK wanting to go on a nostalgic journey to discover your roots, I would recommend watching this play.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

On Piety, Knowledge & Muslims : Part 2

Piety & knowledge of God  

Piety comes from the knowledge of God. The question here is, if someone doesn’t have knowledge of God, does it mean they are by default deprived by God from attaining other branches of knowledge? 

Before we go further into our assessment of piety and knowledge another question needs to be explored: is knowledge independent of God? Or in other words let’s say as believers are we saying God only awards knowledge only to those who believe in him?

History suggests otherwise and we know many knowledgeable men were blessed with knowledge irrespective of their belief in God. The list is very long: Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), Michel Foucault (1926–1984), Karl Marx (1818–1883): John Rawls (1921–2002): Bertrand Russell (1872–1970): Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860): Sigmund Freud (1856–1939): Stephen Hawking (1942–): Alfred Nobel (1833–1896): Alan Turing (1912-1954) Francis Crick (1916-2004), Noam Chomsky (born 1928-) to name a few.

I observe many Muslims not keen at all in exploring the knowledge these scholars have contributed to advance humanity as a whole, depriving themselves of crucial knowledge from many fields and indulging in an ocean of ignorance by restricting themselves with religious texts. Yes this is a mere generalisation and I am aware of some Muslims who are indeed objective in acquiring knowledge, but they are not the mainstream and are fewer in numbers.



Piety & Living by Gods Instructions

The second condition of piety I mentioned was the importance of living by God’s instructions. One needs to understand God’s teachings before following it. We have all sorts of complexity here and history is blood-spattered with contentions of what God’s message is and how to understand and comprehend His instructions. Preserving, interpreting and understanding God’s first testament (Torah), second Testament (Bible) or Final testament (Quran) revealed to his messengers dominates religious and political history of the world, since Moses received the 10 commandments in Mount Sinai about three thousand years ago.

I would argue that in understanding God’s instruction it is important to remember the basics philosophy of knowledge as I have defined above. The changing of context and the time of enquiry is of paramount importance here. Otherwise we risk calling that object in the desert blue and disregard that it had to embrace different colours later on. It is important for new observers to renew their observation than rely on the previous observer’s descriptions and ignore the reality it confronts.

To a large extent comprehensive knowledge is independent of knowledge of God and rather God’s message is heavily dependent on human interpretation, linguistic ability, history, scientific evolution, understanding interactions, societal evolution, psychology, economy, geography, mathematics, astronomy, biology and every other branch of knowledge you could think of.    

Another relevant question here is: what about those who believe in God but failed to comprehend God’s instruction, hence live an irreligious or in other word ‘impious’ life. Does this mean that by default are they are deprived of any kind of knowledge?

All three hypotheses on the knowledge of God, living by God’s guidance and being moral require comprehensive knowledge and are not entirely subjective to piety. 



Being Moral

The third element of piety is the perception that by believing in God and following his instruction, someone becomes moral and this is the only path to true morality. Is human morality dependant on religious belief or believing in God? Many atheists would say no and embarrassingly can show evidence for it. But I would like to look at it from believers’ perspectives. As believers can we claim that God is unable to allow his creation to distinguish between good and bad and award morality irrespective of their belief in his existence? Of course not, thus morality exists and is not dependent on any spiritual or religious belief. God made it inherent for His creation - as it seems. In many war torn countries non believing aid workers are a great example of this and also the indiscriminate killing of them by the so-called believers of the scriptures shows the irony of this.

This is why the whole Judgement Day project is reserved by God and He allowed human beings to follow their conscience with Free will and it is for Him to judge not us His ‘subjects’. So, morality is not inevitably connected to the knowledge of God or being devoted to Him.

Comprehensive knowledge can guide humans towards morality and distinguish between good and bad, either by education or life experience. We Muslims better start living with this reality and promote this fact.




Conclusion 

I have tried to provide explanations for my claim that piety is not a pre-requisite of knowledge. Comprehensive knowledge should supervise religious knowledge. Knowledge of God and His instruction is also not necessarily imperative to attain morality. It is absolutely important for religious individuals and groups to promote knowledge irrespective of what packaging it comes in and irrespective of their piety and spiritual status.

Muslims can and should learn and read from non-Muslims and any impious Tom, Dick or Harry as long as they are contributors to comprehensive knowledge. Muslims should not self-destructively deprive themselves of the available knowledge labelling them as ‘disbelievers of knowledge’.  

It is true we should mot judge a book by its cover. But it is also true that a good book can suffer from having a bad cover. I see Muslims unfortunately being a bad book cover for God’s final revelation, the Quran, and that is because they are reluctant and afraid of contrasting the knowledge of the Quran and take up the challenge that comprehensive knowledge may impose.


Muslim organisations promoting Islam have an obsession with the knowledge of piety and depriving themselves of other knowledge that God has made available to them. They need not shy away from being critical and should ask more questions. Questions - that the foundation of Islam itself. The Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) had questions and sought answers to them, retiring and meditating in the Hira cave before God spoke to him and said Iqra – ‘read’ then he said ‘read in the name of thy Lord’. ‘Read’ here was not just about recitation but about observation and examination. Before the Quran was revealed to Mohammed, he was pious, he was religious and he was knowledgeable. The Qur’an and Sunnah can be a great foundation of comprehensive knowledge but not all of it. 

Friday, 8 May 2015

On Piety, Knowledge & Muslims : Part 1

I have observed a trend amongst Muslims that they regard ‘piety’ as the key criteria or pre-requisite to appreciate knowledge of a scholar or individual. What this means is that someone can have knowledge but if he or she doesn’t fit the religious norms or is seen visibly as a practising Muslim, they do not qualify as someone who can have knowledge of any matter. No distinction is made between religious and comprehensive knowledge and rather the former is regarded as the condition for the latter.  I have observed this as a dominant attitude among the Muslim community in Bangladesh and in the East End, especially in Muslim proselytising organisations.

Though ironically, this Muslim community on the majority of everyday matters, from education to health services, are dependent on knowledge developed, founded and practised by non-Muslims. These non- Muslims are often regarded as ‘impious’ and ‘impure’. Strikingly, when it comes to non practicing Muslims, he or she is discredited for not being religious and their knowledge is regarded as futile and likely to be ignored; as if somehow these knowledge is inspired from the shaitaan (devil).

To unpack the whole phenomenon and asses its plausibility one has to look into what piety and knowledge is and the relation between them. I would argue that comprehensive knowledge is important and that knowledge or God, following His instructions and having an overall pious life, is dependent on comprehensive knowledge.



What is piety?

Piety commonly means to follow established religious norms and practices and to live a disciplined life devoted to God. Conventional Muslims’ definition or understanding of piety is interesting.  The understanding of ‘piety’ is exclusive of other forms of piety (expanded below), and judgments are made strictly on that basis.  Piousness is related to spirituality and God. I assume this is also the case with other religions which I have limited knowledge of.  

We regard someone as pious who fears God or lives a life according to His instructions. They also displays example of obedience that makes us ‘perceive’ him or her as ‘pious’. I use the word ‘perceive’ as I think ultimate status of piety is dependent on God’s acceptance of his devotion and the communication between him and God. We cannot absolutely testify this. If we did, a minority bunch of paedophiles in established religious institutions would deserve our respect just because they seem pious or hold a position that is supposed to promote piety. So piety is an idea and not a fact. So measuring someone's knowledge based on this idea of 'piousness' is irrational. 

A clergy, imam or rabbi by institutional definition are ‘pious’. Followers of Islam, Christianity and Judaism honour them as authorities on religious matters. In other words they seek knowledge of God, Godliness and His instruction as interpreted by them.

A pious man’s piety is unfortunately highlighted with any deed that relates to his devotion exclusively to God rather than humanity or any other cause which can be regarded as ‘Godly’ by their very definition of good and evil. For example, Bill Gates having donated millions of dollars is not regarded as a pious but Mother Teresa is pious by institutional value. So piety is reserved as a religious term for religious people. Hence when knowledge is sought it is unfair to measure it by someone’s piety. 

The third element of piety is that a pious man is moral. They have knowledge of God and lives life according to God’s instructions, thus they are  supposed to be moral.  So we can conclude three elements of piety here; knowledge of God, His instructions in how to live a life and as a result of following God’s instructions they are moral. For the third element, the pious man or woman has an authority in a religious and secular society.  These three elements in total, I argue, is heavily dependent upon human beings knowledge of other matters which I am referring to as ‘comprehensive knowledge’.  



Other forms of Piety

There are pious human beings who knowingly or unknowingly connect with God through many forms of devotion. Whether we like it or not I have seen spirituality in beggars, musicians, poets, politicians, travellers, gypsies, Sufis and singers. Just because they do not fall into our common understanding of piety should not let us justify a judgement on their spirituality or moral status. We do not know what knowledge they have acquired via their mysticism. Here, knowledge of piety differs within each religious community and even independent of even a specific knowledge of God.

A definition of Knowledge

I will not dare going into an in depth discussion of what knowledge is and all the theories that already exist. I will keep it simple.

Knowledge is ‘what we came to know with our experience or observations from past and now we understand it within a context of enquiry and we can use that as a fact or information on any given matter in a specific time’. Socrates simplified it as ‘justified belief’ which is too simple to regard this as knowledge of defining knowledge.

To me the time of the observation, experience, context and the time of the enquiry, is crucial in defining a piece of knowledge. Here evolution of a fact or information is very important in certifying knowledge of a particular subject matter.

Let me give an example to explain. An observer of a newly painted object in blue in a desert will describe the object as blue. Next year another passer-by may observe the same object without any paint because storms have faded the blue paint  from that object. This observer may describe the object as grey or any other colour it took having got rid of the blue. The following year a Beduin decided to renew its paint and painted it in red. Now we have three versions of knowledge of the same object due to its timeframe and changing contexts. Therefore an absolute stubbornness in defining the object as any particular colour would be ignorance.

I often prefer the suspension of judgement than claiming a knowledge which cannot be confirmed. This at least saves you from a state of ignorance. Here, the time of enquiry is relevant to the knowledge of that object. With this pretext, I argue that knowledge of God is subjective to the creation’s perception, experience and time of enquiry. Thus knowledge of God is not exclusive to one individual or religious discipline. Hence piety is unique to individuals and a communal industry of piety is implausible and can often promote classification, segregation and degradation of others. 

(Part 2: Knowledge of God and Morality)

Monday, 4 May 2015

Ajmal Masroor & Tower Hamlets Mayoralty

Ajmal Masroor is a Bangladeshi-born British Imam, broadcaster and politician. He is well known for being a television presenter on political discussions and on Muslim channels. In the East End Ajmal Masroor is more famous for being the dark horse that defeated Respect’s Abjal Miah in 2010 and came second to Labour’s Rushanara Ali in the 2010 general elections in Bethnal Green and Bow. He certainly had entertained himself with the idea of standing for general elections again this year but I am not sure why he decided against it.

However, just when we thought he had resigned from standing as an MP and with another general election due in weeks, the politics of Tower Hamlets has provided him with another opportunity to have a stab in holding public office.



Ajmal Masroor is a very vocal human rights activist and comes second to Rizwan Hussein as a celebrity fundraiser. Through his Facebook page he is tickling his supporters with the possibility of him standing as the  Mayor of Tower Hamlets. 

Below is a commentary from me on what I think of his comments which had to be carefully worded. He could not and should not claim Lutfur Rahman’s legacy, neither can he refrain from not using the anti-establishment lines to capitalise on the British Bangladeshis sentiment, and rightly so.  

He talked about spiritual injurry which is one of 7 counts of electoral offences the courts found Lutfur Rahman guilty of.

.’’Lutfur has been accused of using religion to unduly influence people to vote for him but is that a spiritual inquiry? What about if I am denied my right to use my spiritual guidance to vote for a person who would help me find spiritual contentment?  Would that not be injurious to my spiritual wellbeing?’’

Here Ajmal Masroor raises a very good question and I admire him for his knowledge. I can assure you many people in the East End and from Lutfur Rahman First’s camp do not come near to the sophistication and intellectual ability this man has. Hold on to your horses, I am not promoting him, just stating a fact.

Regarding corruption Masroor is blatantly honest:

‘’Most people in Tower Hamlets know that most local politicians have been steeped in this grand playing field of corruption, cronyism and nepotism.’’

You will not find any politicians or candidates out there being this bold to admitting our state of affairs. While being honest he almost tries to score a political point in saying that everyone in Tower Hamlets does it:

‘’In this borough tactics such as postal vote fraud, using emotional pressure on voters to vote in certain ways, racism to influence votes, food for votes and vote barons gambling votes for favours and political patronage have been used by many candidates from the local Labour Party, Conservative party, Liberal Democrats and Respect party for ages.’’

He then connects this to a national example, almost generalising the crime and this I disagree with:

‘’Don’t we have this as a common practice when appointing members to the House of Lords?’’ 

This is not a fair comparison as House of Lords appointment procedure is not democratic and the process is fundamentally different than electing executive Mayor. I am sure candidates for the House of Lords need not register false votes and certainly do not have the family culture in in many Bangladeshi families which allows a son to fill up a voting form for his mother, father and uncles. Yes they may try and influence their associates and family connections to win votes but cannot physically vote for them.

Tactics such as postal vote fraud, using emotional pressure on voters to vote in certain ways, racism to influence votes, food for votes and vote barons gambling votes for favours and political patronage - all this need to be dealt with the utmost strict enforcement of law, and people as well as politicians need to be united against such culture to improve democracy. Anybody willing to be the Mayor and is sincere in changing the borough’s politics for good  needs to unequivocally declare this. 

Ajmal Masroor goes on to blaming the so-called ‘knights in shining armour’ who took Lutfur Rahman to court, as silent supporters of such criminality. He’s right and this is absolutely true but I would appreciate Ajmal Masroor taking more of a moral stand by pointing out that out of those 7 guilty counts, several has been proved with enough credible evidence. 

Yes we can argue on aspect of spiritual influence etc, but what about the count deliberately taking a strategy to brand John Biggs as racist and then in court denying, lying and being deliberately ambiguous when the Judge asked both Lutfur Rahman and Alibor Choudhury if they believed John Biggs is racist.


Ajmal Masroor


So what does Ajmal Masroor have to say about the Mayoralty?

“’This position is extremely onerous and requires a very well-grounded and unifying person who could carry the community with him of her. It requires a person who can rise above party politics, ethnic divisions and petty childish squabbles that has dominated the local politics of this borough.’’

I believe he is sincere about what he says here, though Lutfur Rahman used these lines every other moon.

Masroor is rightly disgusted about politicians’ incompetency and exercising of tribal village politics and this is something of strength and credit to him but can also be his weakness. However, he does seem ready and prepared to lose the sasa’s (uncles) and Bhaisaab’s (brothers) who steer the tribal votes in Tower Hamlets.

''Tower Hamlets needs to be handed back to credible and genuine local leadership and hardworking councillor. In my view any local councillor who do not speak good English, do not demonstrate right skill sets and competencies should not be allowed to stand for any local seats’’ – Ajmal Masroor

So is he willing to distance himself from Lutfur Rahman and what does he thinks about his‘crimes’?
‘’If Mayor Lutfur Rahman has done wrong so has the process of removing him been terribly wrong and in life two wrongs can never make things right’’

This is the closest Ajmal comes to saying that Lutfur Rahman has done wrong. So should he or should he not stand? He definitely wants his well-wishers to think deep and hard before answering.

Well, after I have thought hard and deep I would say this to Mr. Ajmal Masroor. If you are in politics to change politics - go for it. But be careful if politics sucks you in and forces you to become a new person who these very people commenting to support you do not know. The people in Tower Hamlets have been taken on enough rough rides and Lutfur Rahman’s ride was a particularly dodgy one as the court concluded. It has no appetite for another ride which had its new driver announced last week at the Water Lily. The community should be willing to have you as their fresh and new driver than the replacement of the previous one by yet another similar one.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Lutfur Rahman the 'Muslim Mayor' and Conclusions

 Disclaimer

I write this blog in personal capacity. It is only my opinion and not that of my employer or any other organisation I work with.

My Interest

It’s a serious time in the politics of the East End. A significant event like this will be noted in history and has changed the political arena in Tower Hamlets forever.

I am interested in this because it is the community I am part of and involves my subject of interest - politics and religion, the overlapping of these is fascinating to study.

To quickly introduce my theoretical obsessions:  John Rawls’s political liberalist assertion of overlapping consensus failing to produce stability. I will explain these theoretical matters in a separate post along with Tariq Ramadan’s concept of a universal Islam and its apparent incompatibility in the context of East London-based Islamic movements.



‘The Muslim Mayor’

This is a problematic term and used by either side of the political spectrums very naively.

Firstly, for the right and centre-right labelling on Lutfur Rahman as a Muslim mayor helps them overlook any other personal, professional and political qualities he may have. A certain audience will visualise him as the ‘Muslim’ Mayor, as though a Muslim cannot or should not be a Mayor and if they do, you must watch out for their crimes.

Secondly, the Muslims themselves become romantic and emotional that a man’s ability to serve the people is irrespective and his religious identity becomes the subject of pride and prejudice so much so that they are blinded to see any of his wrongdoing.

Both of these approaches are unhelpful and unhealthy for a democratic society. The community in Tower Hamlets is deprived of an honest debate and scrutiny of the policies and priorities the so-called Muslim Mayor was devoted to.

Therefore I think it is of immense importance that we don’t jump on the bandwagon and rather read between the debates and search for truth and facts. We should not let our prejudices, community and religious convictions or our passion for or against the national or local establishment overshadow our judgment.  Reading the 200 page judgement gives us a good place to start including the PwC report from earlier this year.

The Judgement

I would like to analyse and highlight the judgement given by Richard Mawrey QC and summarise it for the readers of this blog. Many of my friends and associates from both Lutfur ‘s camp and the Labour’s camp are also keen to know what I think about this extraordinary development.
Those who have patience and are keen to read the whole judgement instead of my blog may find the full judgement in the link below , I warn you again it is a mighty read at 200 pages!

What was the task?

Following the petitioners application, the task of the court was to determine that the candidate Lutfur Rahman has, by himself or his agents (read the definition of ‘agent’ below), are guilty of corruption or illegal electoral practices.

Who is the judge?

Richard Mawrey QC

Let me challenge the na├»ve perceptions and rumours beginning to surface on the streets Tower Hamlets and in restaurants of British Bangladeshi community that Richard Mawrey QC is of Jewish origin or has Zionist leanings and has been somehow assigned to this task by the ‘establishment’. A bizarre claim against a professional lawyer with 45 years of professional legal experience and this, mostly in cases relating to local government and electoral fraud. Please just Google it and read his biography.  His CV includes leading the election court in Birmingham City Council in 2004 and Slough Borough Council in 2007.

What needed to be proved?

A. the Mayoral election of October 2014 for the purpose of promoting or procuring the election,  that Lutfur Rahman committed any corrupt or illegal practices or illegal payments, employment or hiring

B. The illegal practices prevailed so extensively that they may be reasonably supposed to have affected the result of the election. In other words, that Lutfur Rahman won the election due to these illegal practices and payments

Who are Lutfur Rahman’s ‘Agents’?

Canvassers are agents, as are supporters who are equipped with rosettes or T-shirts and sent off to campaign outside polling stations. And, as will be seen, members of the wider community who commit themselves to the re-election campaign and work alongside Mr Rahman and his close associates and may properly assume the status of agents for electoral purposes.

The punishment

The consequences for a candidate of being found guilty by himself or his agents of corrupt or illegal practices are serious. In addition to having the election declared void, under s 160 that person is incapable of:
Being an elected MP, Mayor or Councillor in the UK and paying for all the expenses involved in the whole petition process.






What is Tower Hamlets First (THF)?

The evidence in this case all points in one direction; THF was the personal fiefdom of Mr Rahman. He directed its operations,  selected his candidates, and those candidates campaigned on the basis that their job, if elected, was to give personal support to him

    THF had no other aim, objective or ideology beyond the continuation of Mr Rahman in the office of Mayor of Tower Hamlets.

     The accusation of the petitioners that THF was a one-man band has been fully proved by the evidence, with much of that evidence itself coming from Mr Rahman and his witnesses themselves.

Personation and voting offences

The questions were first how widespread were the offences of personation and other voting offences were and secondly, could it be shown that they had been committed by Mr Rahman or those considered by electoral law to be his agents.

False registration

‘’False registration is often the first step in vote-rigging. Ghost voters are registered which are, as said above, either fictitious names or persons who exist but who do not reside at the address concerned. The latter category comprises those who have no connection at all with the property at which they are registered and those who have a connection with the property but are not resident there in the sense that the law requires.’’


The judge then gave detailed evidence of it involving Mr Rahman’s agents and concluded: 

The false registrations are sufficiently numerous to demonstrate that false registration was not the random action of over-enthusiastic members of the public. The false registrations must have been organised.

  As the beneficiary of the organisation was THF, both Mr Rahman and his candidates in the wards, it would be wholly unrealistic to hold that the organisation of these registrations was other than in the hands of THF supporters, ‘agents’ as termed in electoral law.



Personation

‘’Anyone who votes in the name of another person who is falsely registered commits personation. Anyone who has falsely registered himself and then votes commits an offence under s 61(1) of the 1983 Act.’’

The judge gave detailed evidence and findings concludes that:

 It follows that the court is satisfied that false registration, false voting contrary to s 61(1) and personation by persons who are in law the agents of Mr Rahman has been proved to the requisite standard.’’

With regard to the unlawful completion and use of voting documents by third parties, the court was satisfied that both corrupt and illegal practices had taken place and had been committed by persons who were, in electoral law, the agents of Mr Rahman.”

To make my personal conclusion let us go back to the Judge’s intial method:
‘’HOW WIDESPREAD were the offences?’’
Were the voting offences and personation significant enough that it gave Lutfur Rahman a majority of 3252 votes!! It cannot be proved it was this high therefore inconclusive and this reflects some limitation of the legal procedures. 

In my next post I will highlight findings of the court with regards to the false statements made against Lutfur Rahman’s  rival candidate John Biggs, who was portrayed as ‘racist’ as an deliberate election strategy to mislead voters.