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Posts Tagged ‘self development’

Like much of what we see on the news these days, the burqini issue was all consuming when it trended but ephemeral in its media shelf life. Media outlets would rather repeat what Donald Trump has to say over and over again. Given he repeats himself often, the double repetition serves as a hypnotic trance to which America and the world is slowly falling prey. But that’s another topic for another day. Right now I want to focus on the burqini – because as we’ve seen – the outrage was fleeting and victory was sweet. When the High Court of France overturned the burqini ban, everyone patted themselves on the back and got back to their daily lives, even though several French mayors said they will continue to fine those wearing the burqini despite the high court’s decision. David Rachline, the mayor of Frejus, called the court’s ruling a “victory for radical Islam” and said the city’s ban on the garment will remain.

What does this mean? Has any extremist group issues a fatwa that the burqini must be worn? How is a piece of cloth a representation of any radical faith? The answer is simple – It isn’t. But the concept itself is not so simple. Attached to this simple answer are socio-economic issues; racism, deep rooted misogyny and the male gaze and most of all Islamophobia. But I am not a stranger to complex and concurrent themes. I am a Muslim Australian born in Bangladesh and living in Canberra. My identity is rich in its history and known for its struggle. I am Muslim and Islam is known for ….well a lot. Google it and you’ll see. I am Australian and this country is nothing if not the land of the underdog. I am Bangladeshi and take pride in my county’s victorious independence after years of oppression. And I am woman – by virtue of that fact I am struggle personified. Struggling to be accepted, to be recognised, to be valued, to be free.

When I was 10, my school used to take us swimming and very soon I became the recipient of an award that authoritatively confirmed my floating skills. Then I moved schools and although my love for being in the water grew with each visit to the beautiful beaches of NSW – my aquatic skills did not. This was largely due to the fact that if I wanted to do anything more than dip my feet into the water I had to wear a swimming costume, Lycra tights or pants, a long sleeved shirt, a cap and a scarf.

Every time I went into the water dressed to the nines while bikini clad women swarmed around me – I was less conscious of people watching me than I was of the sand working its way into each and every layer and the dread building up inside me of have to wash it all out. It didn’t matter which beach I went to – no one cared what I was wearing. No one stared, commented or showed that they were offended. Everyone was more than happy to enjoy the beach in their own way. And so I stubbornly continued to layer up and venture out till the water reached my knees because I was too scared to go any further.

Then 2.5 years ago – I got married. And my husband, God bless him, started teaching me how to swim. First at the local pool, where he waited patiently before and after each session while I worked myself in and out of all my layers, and then at the beach. It was at the beach that my friend flaunted her Ahiida burqini and encouraged me to get one. I went online and made my purchase of a loose fitting green and pink suit with cap for $80AUD. A few weeks later my purchase arrived and I made my way to the beach. I cannot explain to you the joy of entering (and leaving) the water in this amazing creation. The material is light yet loose, the design is stylish yet thoughtful (shout out to the strings keeping the top tied to the pants so your top doesn’t float up and reveal anything) and the sensation of water against skin is not minimised at all. The best part – it dried on my body within 10-15 min of getting out of the water. No more strategically placed towels on the car seat, no more sandy wet tugging of numerous layers. This thing was a godsend. And everywhere I wore it people stared… and then smiled. Because they could see this piece of cloth I was wearing was making me radical…. Radically happy. I was ecstatic! My love of the water and outdoors was finally able to be expressed alongside my faith.  

Unfortunately not everyone has the same positive experience. My friends have been taunted and abused and akin to women in France – they felt humiliated and ashamed for no good reason. Thankfully, the need to isolate and radicalise a garment based on who wears it is being turned on its head as Burqini sales have skyrocketed since it’s been in the limelight and non-Muslim women are purchasing the burqini for various reasons including “skin cancer or body image, moms, women who are not comfortable exposing their skin—they’re all wearing it.” Asian women have been wearing face masks to the beach to protect their skin for years, not to mention nuns, Goths and other people of a race culture or creed who wear clothing or symbols of their faith or identity.

There is no good reason to stop a woman from wearing something they feel comfortable in – this is discrimination.
There is no good reason to prevent a woman from enjoying herself in clothes that define her identity – this is racism.
There is no good reason to dictate to a woman what she can and cannot wear – this is sexism. 

It saddens me that those in positions of authority that have been elected to serve and protect the people are the ones who greedily perpetuate the economics of fear. They who have been elected to oversee peaceful and harmonious societies are the ones sprouting hate speech and dividing communities with ignorance. They who claim to be democratic and stand for the freedoms and liberties of all, are the ones robbing women of their right to be and act as they wish without the diction of misogyny oppressing their actions. And so we women continue to be struggle personified. We continue to wear what we want and act as we do in physical protest of the ignorant rantings of men who neither understand the values of freedom and liberty nor wish to avail it to anyone besides themselves. Society can radicalise my burqini and lace my identity with its vitriol but it won’t’ dissuade me from enjoying what I love. To get in the water and appreciate the beauty and bounty God has provided us with… in my burqini.

burkini-ban

 

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Tell me do I look opressed, unhygenic or like a terrorist in these pictures to you? If you said yes to any of them above then please click here and check yourself!

Kudos to the creator of the Burkini – Ahiida designs.

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The ‘Other’ is not a new concept. As a society we have marginalised minorities and those that we disagree with or misunderstand for hundreds of years. It is a social construct by which we develop not only our own identity but shape the identity of others. And it is the group or groups with greater political and economic influence that have the greater ability to shape and represent identities. It is important to note then – that an identity, especially the identity of the Other is not something we are born with – rather it is a social construct we step into and live in by design.

Zygmunt Bauman said on Otherness that Woman is the other of man, animal is the other of human, stranger is the other of native, abnormality the other of norm, deviation the other of law-abiding, illness the other of health, insanity the other of reason, lay public the other of the expert, foreigner the other of state subject, enemy the other of friend (Bauman 1991: 8). This is an awareness that we form our own identity through the inclusion of an element of exclusivity. In order to define the self or society you must also define what you are not. Man identifies himself as a superior being by comparison to the animal in attributes that are similar but also attributes that are different or lacking.

Societies have advanced through time by defining identities of civility as opposed to barbarity, colonial as opposed to indigenous, black as opposed to white and free as opposed to oppressed. These same societies have wielded their substantial political clout to shape and re-shape the identity of the other based on characteristics that would be most economically beneficial at the time. When Colombus ‘discovered’ America, the marginalisation of the Indian as Other was economically motivated. How else would Columbus and the ensuing British colonisation have been able to usurp land and build profitable a profitable society? How else would Manhattan be bought for $24?

 

When the British colonised India, Africa and Australia, the characteristics of being poor, dirty and inferior were associated to the colour of their skin and Black became the Other to White. This too was economically motivated. How else could the Dutch East India company convince it’s men that Indian were slaves to be herded onto ships bound for the fields of Africa? How else would the British have been able to commandeer and mobilise large contingencies of colonised peoples to work on infrastructure and fight in wars that were of no material benefit to them? How else were members of the Pakistani Army and society convinced that Bengalis were not Muslim, not human and thus ripe for raping, looting and killing? Man identifies with Man till society finds an economically beneficial reason to distinguish differences and draw boundaries.

Societies of economic influence wield the authority of their social institutions such as the law, media, education, religion to hold the balance of power through their representation of what is accepted as Normal and what is considered Other. Organisations such as the UN are a prime example of a selection of powerful economies distinguishing themselves as leaders and thus authorises to interfere in the societies and economies of other countries. This is not to say the UN is bad – No. Rather it is to understand that our world is governed by a man made awareness of who we are and who we are not based on the economically motivated decisions of the politically and financially privileged.

When we understand and are aware of this concept and remember that none of us are born as the Other, our minds can awaken to the political hegemony being played out on a global scale. Our minds can awaken to the realities of being the Jewish Other in 1940’s Europe. Of being the Asian Other in 1970s Australia. Of being the African American Other in America … always. Of being the Muslim Other in America, Australia, Europe and Burma. When we understand that we have a choice to accept or reject the identity of the Other, we can explore and seek to learn about the so-called Other. If we only venture outside of the propaganda sold 24/7 on mainstream media we can come to an enlightenment on what Islam really is and who Muslims really are. If we do this we can strip the fear we associate with the tag other. We can remove the animosity that drives decisions like the Burkini ban in France and we can celebrate the diversity through embracing our similarities as well as our differences.

What kind of society have we become when a 10 year old boy cannot feel safe in his own front yard? When the very figures of authority that are sworn in to serve and protect are the ones that run down and gun down first and ask questions (or provide weak justifications) later. What kind of society exhorts the values of Liberté, égalité, fraternité and yet leads the way in dictating how a woman should and should not dress? If you ban someone from covering, is this not the same oppression and banning someone from revealing? What kind of society have we become when we spin bias on everyday actions based on the attire of the individual. Would these women have been singled out as ‘members of Isis’ (a horrible thing to accuse someone of!) for being on their phones if they were not in Hijab? Surely there is logic and common sense left somewhere in the world?! Thank God for Canada where Hijabs are not part of the official uniform of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Justin Trudeau who says the burkini ban has “no place in Canada,”

Allah swt says in the Quran, O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. (49:13) We are encouraged to know each other for where there is knowledge and enlightenment there can never be fear and animosity no matter how profitable it is to the ruling elite. We are the masters of our own fate and we the masses shape the direction of our society. So don’t let an economically motivated Big Brother tell you who to like and dislike, don’t let faceless corporations teach you to hate – go out and talk to people who you don’t know, who you don’t understand and who you don’t like – you might just find you have more in common with them than you think.

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The short winter days have made the month of Ramadan as easy as it will ever get this year in Australia. In contrast, there are Muslims in the Northern Hemisphere (such as Iceland) who are fasting almost 20 hours a day! With less than 12 hours of fasting, Australian Muslims have more than half their day to make the most of a month that demands the believer dig deep and cleanse their core in order to be deserving of the celebration at the end of the journey – Eid-ul-Fitr.

To understand and appreciated Eid, a culmination of a month’s efforts, the month itself needs to be understood. Like all major religions, Islam asks its followers to abstain not merely from food but from distractions for a regulated period as a beneficial practice. Ramadan is very important to more than a billion Muslims around the globe because:

  • All the Books in major religions (Torah and the Bible) were revealed to the apostles in their time in Ramadan. Muslims believe that the prophets of Judaism and Christianity are also Prophets in Islam.
  • The Divine communication from God was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in a cave close to Makkah, Saudi Arabia in the month of Ramadan
  • All these books and the communication therein is a mercy from God to his creation to inform us of our past and reveal secrets of His creations and that which shall occur in the future and it guides those who believe and accept the divine communication to follow a path from darkness to light and thereby become successful in this world and the hereafter.
  • The Holy Quran states, O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint. (Fasting) for a fixed number of days; but if any of you is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed number (Should be made up) from days later. For those who can do it (With hardship), is a ransom, the feeding of one that is indigent. But he that will give more, of his own free will, it is better for him. And it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew. [Surah Baqarah: 183, 184]

The verses allude to the wider requirements of fasting such as charity and self-restraint in addition to the health benefits of intermittent fasting, which modern societies are still discovering. The popularity and proven benefit of the 5:2 fast diet, the experience of non-Muslims who fast and are surprised with the results on their health and wellbeing are seeds of proof that are garnering belief in a practice Muslims follow with blind faith. Fasting is also abstinence from daily distractions and the negativity of bad practices we indulge in throughout the year. Fasting is about regulating our excesses and becoming both physically capable as well as spiritually improved. Ramadan is the Muslim month of detox and Eid is the day we celebrate successfully completing the detox program. The efforts of the month result in an Eid that is a celebration of the improvements we make on ourselves and the hope that we can maintain the good practices we’ve adopted till the next detox month.

But Ramadan is more than just fasting and abstinence from food and bad habits. It’s also disciplining ourselves and striving to feel closer to Allah spiritually. Allah has specified that the first ten days (1-10 of Ramadan) are the days of Mercy and Muslims should seek Allah’s Mercy in these days. The next ten days (11-20 of Ramadan) are the days of Forgiveness and Muslims should seek Allah’s forgiveness and repent for sins in those days. The last ten days (21-30 of Ramadan) are to seek Refuge in Allah from the Hellfire and thereby remind Muslims of the finiteness of this life and the repercussions of our actions in the hereafter. All of this is seen by Muslims around the world as a blessing from Allah and the excitement, love and care between Muslims and all we come into contact with multiplies in Ramadan when we all break our fast together and stand together in prayer.

Fasting allows us to broaden our perceptions and empathise with others who cannot enjoy the privileges of food and shelter we take for granted. When our world view broadens, our problems become smaller and we have time and scope to acknowledge and address the problems of others. Ramadan is a time to give generously to charities at home and abroad and to share what we have with the less fortunate. Celebrating Eid with Muslims and non-Muslim alike gives people a chance to learn more about each other’s faiths to bridge the cultural and religious gaps, and in doing so shed our prejudices and phobias. A festival is a great start to that journey of knowing.

On Eid day, Muslims will get up early to bathe and cleanse themselves, put on new or special clothes, perfume themselves and attend the Eid prayer. This year Eid falls on a weekday and many Muslims will go into work after their morning prayer. As a Muslim, this is the perfect opportunity to celebrate Eid with colleagues and tell them about the month just passed and what it’s meant for your personal growth. Telling your story and showing the precious care Islam affords its believers will go a long way to dispelling the misconceptions, mistrust and hate that surrounds Islam today. It will set up our society to be more understanding and respectful of each other.  If we all become the best person we can be, Muslim or not, if we can all understand and makes space in our hearts for each other, then hate will have no place in society.

Eid then is not so much about the activities we indulge in but rather the people we share it with. People strengthen their ties of family, friendship and community, through rituals of prayer, gift giving and parties. Communities create an identity for themselves and a legacy for their children in a country so open and welcoming to us and our way of life. Eid is about sharing what we have and caring for who we are with. And most of all Eid is about being grateful to our Creator for all the bounties and blessings he has bestowed upon us – a celebration of the life he has endowed.

Check out your local mosque or community centre and attend the myriad of festivals and fairs that are being held in your locale. The food, festivities, clothes, henna and general air of merriment and togetherness will warm your heart.

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Friendships are selfish

Last night, I watched ‘This is where I leave you’ before I went to bed and then I had a dream about an old friend of mine with whom I no longer have contact. There is a line in the film where one character says to the other, ‘You were one of my only real friends’ to which the other says, ‘I was your employee’. And there we have the crux of all friendships. Perceptive advantage.

This by no means underestimates the great and enduring friendships I have in my life. But what I realised in watching last night’s movie is that all friendships are selfish in that we find and form bonds with people where there is the potential for an exchange of emotion, intelligence or material gain. I have friends who inform my intelligence, who make me feel love, respect and admiration and those who provide great networking opportunities or updates on the latest fashion. Outwardly they are all my friends, but subconsciously each has been categorised to fulfil a need.

When the perception of being advantaged by a connection or a friendship fades, that is when the friendship also begins to dwindle. If one party fails to see a continuing ‘return on investment’ from the effort they put in to the friendship then their enthusiasm for it may dwindle which results in a close knit bond becoming a ‘hi bye’ kinda thing. Things become interesting when one party is heavily invested in benefitting from the friendship (socially, emotionally or financially) whilst the other has clearly moved on (late replies to texts, non-committal promises to catch-up and then the inevitable dreaded silence). The drama resulting from such a scenario ranges from heated texts/emails/phone calls to name calling, fits of rage, disappointment, tears and binge eating.

Friendship therefore is subliminally an individual’s way of moving forward in life by latching onto friends who hoist us onwards and upwards like rungs on a ladder. There is no way to stay in contact with rung number 1 when you are on rung number 9. We can try as much as we like, we can Facebook stalk our primary school friends maiden names and delight in the initial ‘oh my god! It’s you!’ conversation that ensues an ‘add friend’ moment. But eventually if that friend has no common interests, no material, social, emotional or spiritual input into your life – they will fade deep into the depths of your Facebook friends lists only to resurface when they post ‘major life events’ as stipulated by your/their Facebook ‘privacy’ settings. Why is this? Why is it that research shows that though Facebook says you have 756 friends you really only have 5?

I have a theory. My theory is that as we get older our tolerance for ‘extraneous’ associations lessens. Think about it. At uni you were more than happy to ‘catch up’ with limitless people, groups, societies, clubs etc. The older you got, once you got a job, once you got married, had a kid – not only do you have less time to form and maintain friendships but you also have less patience. You have developed an opinionated personality and an outlook on life which is compatible with certain people. And all the rest are outgrown. Such is the natural progression of a friendship. So when I say friendships are selfish I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. In fact I would encourage selfishness in friendships. The kind where forming a friendship to help, learn, teach, grow, love, respect someone is possible – that is what a good friendship is all about. All the others are acquaintances. NOT friends. Regardless of what facebook says, learn the difference between the degrees of  friends (from the 2am text about a great burger to the ‘hey we hvnt spoken in a while but I was wondering if you could help me…) and an acquaintance (Someone you know. That is all.)

But what if you are in a bad friendship? What if your friendship was detrimental to your sense of self? Love is a sophisticated emotion but at its base is friendship. I read this the other day. “Why I Hope My Ex Was A Once-In-A-Lifetime Kind Of Love” and it made me realise just how important it is to pick your friends wisely and dare I say it? Selfishly. There is good reason the evangelical voice in my head once told me, ‘Save your deepest darkest, most passionate obsessive love for God and God alone.’ There is no good that can come out of a friendship in which your emotions make a mockery of your self-worth. There is no good that comes out of a friendship in which the object of your affection is also the cause of your misery and self-doubt. That’s what friendships with parents are for! At the end of the day, no matter how much they make you want to scream – the bond you share with your family is a friendship that will always encourage you to strive and grow and better yourself. The bond you share with God is the only one in which you should lose yourself. All your other friends – choose them wisely. Learn from them, teach them, laugh, love and grow with them. But let go when the time comes. And always always be on the lookout to make a new friend who can help you become the person you want to be because a great friend can make you feel comfortable, confident and on top of the world.

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If the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, does this mean the rich have to curb their dreams and aspirations to lift up the status of the poor? When David Beckham earns $100,000 a day, should he be giving that away to live in Ingleburn so that the poor can rise up to a proper standard of living? The reality of modern society is that the rich are rich at the expense of the poor. We live off the poor, we take their land, their oil, their minerals, their gemstones and their labour at such horrifying low costs that we create a socio economic divide responsible for the brain drain and resource drain of other countries. In doing so we make ourselves wholly responsible for the growing economic divide and the misfortunes of those less well off.

Does this mean the rich are not allowed to aspire? No. But everyone is entitled to aspire. The garment worker who is only paid 50c for a dress you bought at $110 is also entitled to aspire. But she lives in a society where you have contributed to the death of her dreams. We have built a Socio-economic arena in which third world countries are pitted against first world countries like gladiators with little to no hope for success. Shouldn’t we work towards a society where her labour is duly paid and her right to dream is duly respected and given a fighting chance? Islam’s way of wealth distribution gives people that chance. The concept of Zakaat which is to donate a small portion of ones wealth to the less fortunate means that if we all gave a little of what we have then there would be no poverty in this world. But we don’t. We would rather spend on a new house or another car than give even a cent more than what is expected of us.

It is here that I believe it is our collective responsibility to judge each other and remind each other of our boundaries. Of the risk of hedonism. A reminder between friends that extravagance leads to loss of values and sense of self should not be taken offense at. Rather it should be gratefully accepted so that we do not lose ourselves in the consumerist mad dash for materialistic satisfaction. So no. I don’t think David Beckham should live in Ingleburn. He has worked very hard to get where he is, by virtue of his looks, his talent and his efforts at harnessing his fame. But he should remember that the privileges he takes for granted which position him in the crème de la crème of society are but a dream for 90% of his fellow humans. And he remembers that. His efforts with Unicef and those of Meryl Streep and Angelina Jolie with other NGOs shows that there are celebrities who take on the responsibility of helping those fortunate and take it very seriously.

So the next time you look at that amazing red sports car, or the brand new housing complex in which you can build a mansion, remind yourself that you having food, shelter, clothes and access to education puts you in the top 10% of society. Remind yourself that we live in a world of 6 Billion people in which the majority go hungry every day, have little to no shelter or are facing religious and cultural persecution. Recognise that the current socioeconomic status, division of wealth and labour and  of the political hegemony only perpetuate this divide and drive mankind to total despair and apathy. Remind yourself that YOU can make a difference by doing your bit for your fellow humans, buy fair trade, look behind the façade of materialism, refrain from extravagance, put aside some portion of your wealth for charity.

The most important thing you can do to stop the perpetuation of our consumerist culture is to educate your children, families and friends. Teach them the value of money. Show them through your own actions that simply because you have the means to deck yourself in Louis Vuitton doesn’t mean that you do. For somewhere in some dark decrepit factory, there is a little girl who makes those lush things you crave with no hope of ever wearing them herself. Remember that while you have aspirations – you are not the only one that does. And there is nothing more rewarding than giving back someone’s right to aspire – in whatever way you can.

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