Thoughts on Healing in Islam

As we gather here today and try to reflect and look towards healing for our communities on a local basis, there are many others who are congregating and remembering today. That reflection takes into account the events of 9/11 and 7/7 and those who have passed away in other parts of the globe such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan due to the actions on that sunny day in New York.

For those who conducted the acts, their actions went against the very tenets of the protection of life in Islam. A fundamental pillar of Islam where the relationship between God and man / woman is based on the spiritual, mental and physical protection of life.

And as we gather here and reflect on healing today, I thought I would briefly talk about the spiritual, physical and mental perspectives of Islam. These elements, Islam discusses are aspects of human life that are gifts from God. Islam places great focus on God’s grace, his ability to provide a solution and for his mercy when people feel his presence even at the darkest times and the darkest depths of despair. That Islam suggests, is sometimes when the power of God is felt the most.

Healing or Shifa in Islam therefore encompasses all three elements, the spiritual, physical and mental elements of a person. At the root of grief and despair Islam suggests, communities jointly can find a solution. Indeed the history of Islam is based on this, for when the first Muslims were consistently persecuted and chased from land to land, they sought comfort and healing as Muslims from people of other faiths. That healing was undertaken jointly and collectively with people of other faith. For example, when they sought refuge in Ethiopia under a Christian king they were asked whether they believed in God and they answered that God gave them the power to heal through belief in him, but also healing came through his creation – through people and by belief and trust in one another. That I believe is key in today’s world – the ability to believe that we can all forgive and we can come together as people to heal ourselves and our communities.

So, today’s commemoration is a chance to heal as we come together, and a chance to reflect on what took place 10 years ago. Let us also reflect on those communities in other countries who have lost loved ones and whose communities have been affected by death and destruction. They deserve healing as much as any community and may we also reflect on a world where we respect each other on the basis of how we treat each other, rather than on the basis of which religion we are from, or where we have originated from.

Categories: Faith Communities, MyBlog

The Muslims of Poland. The Tatars and their Rich History

Bohiniki mosqueThe Tatar Muslim turns to me and laughingly says that on the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Muslims from other countries like Indonesia looked puzzled when they queried where he was from and the response left them with a look of disbelief. Poland he replied, to which the answer was always the same. ‘Poland? Are there Muslims in Poland?’

It seemed to me that this summed up the position of one of the most incredible, resilient and integrated communities in Europe. The Tatars of Poland are a success story in integration, yet their history is one which is neither acknowledged nor celebrated for what it is, beyond the borders of Poland. It is a story of human survival, patriotism, a desire to belong and in many cases, the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield for God (Allah), King, Country and Poland.

The interview with the Tatars of Poland in the North Eastern Polish village of Kruzyniany started off with a brief ice-breaker. As the Tatar community representative sat next to me, I mentioned that I brought salaams (greetings) from his cousins from India. The line of Tamerlane, I mentioned, meant that we were distant cousins and that the Tartars were the distant cousins of the Mughals of India. Descendants separated by geography, time and experience, but genetic cousins nonetheless. The response back was even more heart-warming as they acknowledged the link and smiled. Some of the Tatars the community representative said, are called Tomasz; he then smiled and went onto say that their original name was Tamerlane which over time had been adapted to Tomasz.

The first historical mention of the Tatars took place at the end of the 14th century and they were officially recognised in 1410 at the Battle of Grunwald between Poles and Teutonic Knights from Palestine who had been invited by the Polish Duke of Mazowsze, Konrad Mazowiecki, some 200 years before in order to fight against pagan Prussians. In 1410, at the Battle of Grunwald, the first military reference to Tatar Muslims were made as they fought for the independence of the country against the occupation of the Teutonic knights who had by now, expanded their control over Polish lands.

Tatar Muslim Graveyard, Kruzyniany, Poland

What is also interesting to note is that at the Battle of Vienna, which took place on September 12th, 1683, TatarMuslims allied to Polish forces who defended the City as they stood against their fellow co-religionists from the Turkish Ottoman Empire. This important fact is conveniently left out by Islamophobes who choose to talk about the Battle of Vienna in terms that promote ‘a clash of faiths’ and who think of the Battle of Vienna in terms of Christians fighting Muslims. The real fact is that Tatar Muslims fought with and for King Jan III Sobieski of Poland, a myth now busted as I sat in the wooden cabin in Kruzyniany.

In fact, it was because of the support that Tatar Muslims gave to King Sobiesksi that led to an agreement which shaped the lives of Tatars in Poland for the foreseeable future. The King realised the military importance of the Tatars and acknowledged their support at the Battle for Vienna. In return, they were gifted with land in the village of Kruzyniany and with the right to worship and the opportunity to marry Polish women. In return, the King regarded the Tatars as his special crack troops and could now be able to muster them when needed in the defence of the Polish realm. Therefore, as I sat in Kruzyniany listening to the Tatar Muslims of Poland, I was sitting in an area of land given to the Tatars in their defence of Vienna against their co-religionists from the Ottoman Empire.

Military Careers

The over-representation of generals from the Tatar Muslim community within the Polish military was well recognised given the fervour and patriotism of the Polish Tatars and given their loyalty to the State. Tatars acted as bodyguards for leaders of the State and given that the Polish army was so much a part of their lives, a Tatar Imamat or chaplaincy service to provide pastoral care for Muslim soldiers was set up, so as to ensure that the spiritual needs of soldiers were met. The State had clearly recognised the importance of these units and to ensure that they were able to focus on the military tasks at hand, an investment to support their pastoral care was made.

Interestingly, in the 2nd World War, a unit of soldiers from Vilnius (Lithuania) was made up of Tatars who saw action and the War also saw Tatar involvement in the horse units that so bravely charged around and against German Panzers as they invaded Poland in a Blitzkrieg In 1939. Many of them simply had no chance of survival, yet they faced the odds and with sword and lance in hand, they stood bravely against the German war machine.

Monuments of History and Numbers of Tatars

Kruzyniany Mosque, PolandThere are 56 ‘Monuments of History’ in Poland which provide a national protected status to historical, cultural and religious monuments in the country. The two Tatar Muslim mosques in Kruzyniani and Bohiniki have protected status as Monuments in History.

These titles were provided to the mosques in 2012 by the President of Poland showing how important the leadership of the country sees its Tatar heritage. After the loss of nearly 3 million Jews due to the Final Solution implemented by the Nazis, the loss of heritage and cultural diversity in Poland has meant that it has actively tried to protect the remnants of diverse communities in the country. This is to be lauded and valued, given that Poland is still trying to recover after decades of foreign powers controlling the country. Furthermore, moves are afoot to try and register the two mosques in Kruzyniani and Bohiniki as UNESCO World Heritage sites and this work is ongoing.

Lithuania currently has about 4,000 Tatar Muslims with 6,000 resident in Belorussia and between 2,500 to 3,000 in Poland. Many Tatars, like Poles were deeply affected by the Nazi occupation. The murder of approximately 3 million Jews and the work camps that saw the death of non-Jewish Poles and Tatars meant that every segment of the country was affected. Tatar communities ended up in work camps which literally worked them to death and the country, its history and heritage was simply trampled on by the marauding German war machine. Yet, 70 years later and after Soviet occupation and interference, Poland is starting to grow into the nation that it wants to be.

The Resilience of the Tatars

Islamic Interior of the Kruzyniany Mosque, PolandIt is interesting to note that one of the first organised Muslim communities in the United States was a small Tatar community that emigrated from Poland in 1890. This small Tatar community built their mosques and maintained their heritage once again in the New World and with overwhelming odds stacked against them. A look at their first constitution which was lodged to register the organisation with the State of New York shows a list of names that are clearly Turkic and Polish in their origin, yet a picture of the first founding members also shows the Turkic genetic influences that are so evident in the Tatar community to this date.

Descendants of this first Tatar Muslim community can still be located in New York and re-enforce one of the most important elements of the Tatars – their desire to maintain their community, yet their willingness and flexibility to integrate into countries where they find themselves. This was the overwhelming perspective that was evident when I sat with the Tatars of Poland. If anything, they are an example to other communities about people can maintain their sense of identity whilst being a part of the fabric of the adopted country. Could they then possibly be called the Muslim Jews of Europe?

Whilst this may be somewhat simplistic, it certainly has a ring and truth to it on the basis of shared histories and a desire to survive against overwhelming odds. Poland, the Polish people and the Tatars are an inspiration who need support. At the very least, a visit to this country can enrich the soul and open the mind and help to counter some of the bigotry and ignorance that is targeted to this wonderful country and its welcoming people.

This interview was conducted by the Director of Faith Matters, Fiyaz Mughal OBE. Faith Matters would like to thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland in supporting this visit, Sebastian Rejak, Filip Slipazeck, Konrad Adamowicz, Andrzej Saramowicz and the wonderful people of Poland. Further articles on the Tatars of Poland will appear on Religious Reader, a web-site focusing on faith communities in the UK and which will be launched by Faith Matters in December 2014.

Categories: Faith Communities, MyBlog

Hate Crimes and Intersectionality of Language

Sitting at the Diamond Hate Crime meeting of Scotland Yard and cogitating about the nature of where hate crimes are today. According to mapped data, in 2014 there was an increase in anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic and race hate crimes. Trans and disability hate crimes exceptionally low showing that much more work has to be done to ensure the confidence of these communities.

Also been tasked with conducting an on-line review of hate crime reporting processes and their handling within the MET. An area of work that we have been grappling with and where social media companies have been woefully unwilling to tackle some of the most persistent and pernicious of hate promoting accounts. We can only but keep trying as they say!


Categories: Hate Crimes, MyBlog

Twitter and Facebook are Refusing to Take Down Hundreds of Anti-Muslim Postings

Twitter and Facebook are refusing to take down hundreds of inflammatory Islamophobic postings from across their sites despite being alerted to the content by anti-racism groups, an investigation by The Independent has established.

 Front Cover of the Independent 03012015

The number of postings, some of which accuse Muslims of being rapists, paedophiles and comparable to cancer, has increased significantly in recent months in the aftermath of the Rotherham sex-abuse scandal and the murder of British hostages held by Isis.

The most extreme call for the execution of British Muslims – but in most cases those behind the abuse have not had their accounts suspended or the posts removed.

Facebook said it had to “strike the right balance” between freedom of expression and maintaining “a safe and trusted environment” but would remove any content reported to it that “directly attacks others based on their race”. Twitter said it reviews all content that is reported for breaking its rules which prohibit specific threats of violence.

Over the past four months Muslim groups have been attempting to compile details of online abuse and report it to Twitter and Facebook. They have brought dozens of accounts and hundreds of messages to the attention of the social-media companies.

But despite this most of the accounts reported are still easily accessible. On New Year’s Eve the author of one of the accounts reported wrote: “If whites had groomed only paki girls 1 It would be a race hate crime. 2 There would be riots from all Muslim dogs.”

Other examples of extremist postings on Twitter include:

*A user posted an image of a girl with a noose around her neck with the caption: “6 per cent of white British girls will become sex slaves to the Islamic slave trade in Britain”.

*A tweet which reads: “Should have lost World War Two. Your daughters would be getting impregnated by handsome blond Germans instead of Pakistani goat herders. Good job Britain.”

*On Facebook a posting in response to the beheading of Westerners in Syria is also still easily accessible despite being reported to the company weeks ago. It reads: “For every person beheaded by these sick savages we should drag 10 off the streets and behead them, film it and put it online. For every child they cut in half … we cut one of their children in half. An eye for an eye.”

When the comments were reported, Facebook said that they did not breach the organisation’s guidelines.

Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, an interfaith organisation which runs a helpline called Tell MAMA, for victims of anti-Muslim violence, said he was disappointed by the attitude of both firms. 

“It is morally unacceptable that social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which are vast profit-making companies, socially engineer what is right and wrong to say in our society when they leave up inflammatory, highly socially divisive and openly bigoted views,” he said.

“These platforms have inserted themselves into our social fabric to make profit and cannot sit idly by and shape our futures based on ‘terms and conditions’ that are not fit for purpose.”

Mr Mughal said that Tell MAMA regularly received reports of anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate from concerned Facebook and Twitter users.

He added that the far-right group Britain First relied on Facebook to organise, campaign and misinform followers about Islam and Muslims.

The rise in online abuse would appear to mirror a rise in hate attacks during the past year. In October the Metropolitan Police released figures to show hate crime against Muslims in London had risen by 65 per cent over the previous 12 months. Latest figures also suggest that, nationally, anti-Muslim hate crime has risen sharply following the murder of Lee Rigby in 2013.

One man, Eric King, was recently given a suspended sentence for sending a local mosque a picture smeared with dog excrement depicting Mohamed having sex with a pig. However his Facebook account, which he used to send abusive messages to the same mosque, is still active and promoting anti-Muslim hatred.

Mr Mughal added that social media platforms needed to make their content management procedures stricter.

“If users were to express such unacceptable opinions about ‘shooting’ Black British citizens or discussed Jews as a ‘cancer’, their speech would not be legal. The same protections should be forwarded to references to the Muslim community,” he said.

In a statement Facebook said it had a clear policy for deciding what was and what was not acceptable freedom of speech. “We take hate speech seriously and remove any content reported to us that directly attacks others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition,” said a spokeswoman. “With a diverse global community of more than a billion people, we occasionally see people post content which, whilst not against our rules, some people may find offensive. By working with community groups like Faith Matters, we aim to show people the power of counter speech and, in doing so, strike the right balance between giving people the freedom to express themselves and maintaining a safe and trusted environment.”

A Twitter spokesman said: “We review all reported content against our rules, which prohibit targeted abuse and direct, specific threats of violence against others.”

Categories: Hate Crimes, MyBlog