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Open Letter to Home Secretary Sajid Javid: APPG Islamophobia Definition Threatens Civil Liberties

Addressed to the Home Secretary Sajid Javid

The APPG on British Muslims’ definition of Islamophobia has now been adopted by the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats Federal board, Plaid Cymru and the Mayor of London, as well as several local councils. All of this is occurring before the Home Affairs Select Committee has been able to assess
the evidence for and against the adoption of the definition nationally.

Meanwhile the Conservatives are having their own debate about rooting out Islamophobia from the party.

According to the APPG definition, “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”.

With this definition in hand, it is perhaps no surprise that following the horrific attack on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, some place responsibility for the atrocity on the pens of journalists and academics who have criticised Islamic beliefs and practices, commented on or investigated Islamist extremism.

The undersigned unequivocally, unreservedly and emphatically condemn acts of violence against Muslims, and recognise the urgent need to deal with anti-Muslim hatred. However, we are extremely concerned about the uncritical and hasty adoption of the APPG’s definition of Islamophobia.

This vague and expansive definition is being taken on without an adequate scrutiny or proper consideration of its negative consequences for freedom of expression, and academic and journalistic freedom. The definition will also undermine social cohesion – fuelling the very bigotry against Muslims which it is designed to prevent.

We are concerned that allegations of Islamophobia will be, indeed already are being, used to effectively shield Islamic beliefs and even extremists from criticism, and that formalising this definition will result in it being employed effectively as something of a backdoor blasphemy law.

The accusation of Islamophobia has already been used against those opposing religious and gender segregation in education, the hijab, halal slaughter on the grounds of animal welfare, LGBT rights campaigners opposing Muslim views on homosexuality, ex-Muslims and feminists opposing Islamic views and practices relating to women, as well as those concerned about the issue of grooming gangs. It has been used against journalists who investigate Islamism, Muslims working in counter-extremism, schools and Ofsted for resisting conservative religious pressure and enforcing gender equality.

Evidently abuse, harmful practices, or the activities of groups and individuals which promote ideas contrary to British values are far more likely to go unreported as a result of fear of being called Islamophobic. This will only increase if the APPG definition is formally adopted in law.

We are concerned that the definition will be used to shut down legitimate criticism and investigation. While the APPG authors have assured that it does not wish to infringe free speech, the entire content of the report, the definition itself, and early signs of how it would be used, suggest that it certainly would. Civil liberties should not be treated as an afterthought in the effort to tackle antiMuslim prejudice.

The conflation of race and religion employed under the confused concept of ‘cultural racism’ expands the definition beyond anti-Muslim hatred to include ‘illegitimate’ criticism of the Islamic religion. The concept of Muslimness can effectively be transferred to Muslim practices and beliefs, allowing the report to claim that criticism of Islam is instrumentalised to hurt Muslims.

No religion should be given special protection against criticism. Like anti-Sikh, anti-Christian, or anti-Hindu hatred, we believe the term anti-Muslim hatred is more appropriate and less likely to infringe on free speech. A proliferation of ‘phobias’ is not desirable, as already stated by Sikh and Christian
organisations who recognise the importance of free discussion about their beliefs.

Current legislative provisions are sufficient, as the law already protects individuals against attacks and unlawful discrimination on the basis of their religion. Rather than helping, this definition is likely to create a climate of self-censorship whereby people are fearful of criticising Islam and Islamic beliefs. It will therefore effectively shut down open discussions about matters of public interest. It will only aggravate community tensions further and is therefore no long term solution.

If this definition is adopted the government will likely turn to self-appointed ‘representatives of the community’ to define ‘Muslimness’. This is clearly open to abuse. The APPG already entirely overlooked Muslims who are often considered to be “insufficiently Muslim” by other Muslims,
moderates, liberals, reformers and the Ahmadiyyah, who often suffer persecution and violence at the hands of other Muslims.

For all these reasons, the APPG definition of Islamophobia is deeply problematic and unfit for purpose. Acceptance of this definition will only serve to aggravate community tensions and to inhibit free speech about matters of fundamental importance. We urge the government, political parties, local councils and other organisations to reject this flawed proposed definition.

Emma Webb, Civitas
Hardeep Singh, Network of Sikh Organisations (NSOUK)
Lord Singh of Wimbledon
Tim Dieppe, Christian Concern
Stephen Evans, National Secular Society (NSS)
Sadia Hameed, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB)
Prof. Paul Cliteur, candidate for the Dutch Senate, Professor of Law, University of Leiden
Brendan O’Neill, Editor of Spiked
Maajid Nawaz, Founder, Quilliam International
Rt. Rev’d Dr Gavin Ashenden
Pragna Patel, director of Southall Black Sisters
Professor Richard Dawkins
Rahila Gupta, author and Journalist
Peter Whittle, founder and director of New Culture Forum
Trupti Patel, President of Hindu Forum of Britain
Dr Lakshmi Vyas, President Hindu Forum of Europe
Harsha Shukla MBE, President Hindu Council of North UK
Tarang Shelat, President Hindu Council of Birmingham
Ashvin Patel, Chairman, Hindu Forum (Walsall)
Ana Gonzalez, partner at Wilson Solicitors LLP
Baron Desai of Clement Danes
Baroness Cox of Queensbury
Lord Alton of Liverpool
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali
Ade Omooba MBE, Co-Chair National Church Leaders Forum (NCLF)
Wilson Chowdhry, British Pakistani Christian Association
Ashish Joshi, Sikh Media Monitoring Group
Satish K Sharma, National Council of Hindu Temples
Rumy Hasan, Academic and author
Amina Lone, Co-Director, Social Action and Research Foundation
Peter Tatchell, Peter Tatchell Foundation
Seyran Ates, Imam
Gina Khan, One Law for All
Mohammed Amin MBE
Baroness D’Souza
Michael Mosbacher, Acting Editor, Standpoint Magazine
Lisa-Marie Taylor, CEO FiLiA
Julie Bindel, journalist and feminist campaigner
Dr Adrian Hilton, Academic
Neil Anderson, Academic
Tom Holland, Historian
Toby Keynes
Prof. Dr. Bassam Tibi, Professor Emeritus for International Relations, University of Goettingen
Dr Stephen Law, philosopher and author

See letter in pdf here: islamophobiaopenletter

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Ramadan, Woman’s Hour and No Platforming

Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour contacted the Council of Ex Muslims of Britain (CEMB) regarding a feature they were doing about child fasting. They were going to be discussing Ramadan falling during exam times and the guidelines produced by Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) entitled Ramadan: Exams and Tests, 2019, Information for Schools and Colleges.

Debate participants on the programme today were going to be CEMB Spokesperson Sadia Hameed, Writer of the Ramadan guidelines from the ASCL Anna Cole, and a former president from the Muslim Teacher’s Association (MTA) Rukhsana Yaqoob.

An hour before the programme, our spokesperson was informed that she was no longer needed via email. Unsurprisingly, the programme disinvited the only person opposed to child fasting. CEMB has initiated a campaign during the month of Ramadan to show how child fasting is harmful to children and child development. It causes sickness, dizziness, migraines, sunstrokes, lack of focus and tiredness as a result of dehydration or lack of sustenance. It can also lead to depression, anxiety, mood swings, irritability, anger, apathy, reduced alertness, diminished comprehension… Children have been known to faint at school as a result.

Also, CEMB would have been the only organisation on the programme to expose the troubling ASCL guidelines, which entertains a discussion about children fasting in primary schools, a wholly inappropriate discussion for an advisory body for educators.

The guidelines also fail to take in account a single health professional; rather all of its advisors and endorsers are Islamic “scholars”, “experts”, imams, chaplains and Muslim educators. Though the ASCL think these guidelines were well intentioned, they have only taken the advice of the most conservative Muslims in Britain. There are many Muslims who do not fast, nor do they permit their children to fast during the month of Ramadan, particularly in the long hot days of the summer. It is noteworthy that those voices were missing from the ASCL “guidelines”.

As usual, regressive do-gooders have negotiated with religious conservatives and fundamentalists to create a guideline from the dark ages for British children from Muslim families. Had someone created a policy of child starvation for non-Muslims children, they would have been sanctioned and rightly so! This is indeed the modern face of institutional racism!

Worse still, throughout the guidelines, there is much discussion over what age a child should be starved from and whether they should only be starved for a short part of the day.

Had a non-Muslim child been sent to school, without food and water and had been told not to eat or drink anything for 19 hours, the school would have triggered safeguarding procedures and the parents would have been investigated for neglect. Safeguarding is a key role of educators in the UK, however, this is disregarded in the case of children from Muslim families.

During the discussion on Women’s Hour, Rukhsana from the MTA discussed the fact that though for the last few years Ramadan arrived during GSCE examination period only, this year some 11-year-old students would be taking the Key stage 2 and 3 SATS exams whilst fasting and that educators needed to be mindful of this. Furthermore, they discussed the fact that puberty starts at different times for girls than boys, giving the impression that they fully support child fasting from a young age, as by the age of puberty, it become farz (an obligation) on the young person to fast.

Rukhsana also discussed the fact that some young children see their elders fasting and want to fast. Some young people see their parents smoking, too. I am assuming that Rukhsana and Anna will be working on an advisory policy for child smoking next? Or perhaps a guideline for child flagellation, as this too is s requirement for some Muslims?

In a previous interview that Rukhsana gave, she claimed that she had been motivated into teaching because of the educational gap between Muslims and non-Muslims. Fasting and dehydration reduce cognition and performance, surely, therefore, it would go against her principles of bettering the odds for children from Muslim families to encourage them to fast.

The discussion of Woman’s hour was one sided and failed to show the serious harms of fasting for children, particularly during long hot days and during examinations.

Child fasting is child neglect. If adults wish to fast, they may do so, however, for schools to be failing in the statutory duty of care for children from Muslim families requires a serious discussion. One that Woman’s hour failed to facilitate today.

This is nothing short of shameful.

CEMB calls on the public to join us in a protest at the Department for Education on 17 May at 12pm to highlight the Department’s inaction with regards to child fasting in schools during Ramadan. Child fasting should be banned as it is harmful to children.

For More Information, Contact:

Sadia Hameed

CEMB

hello@ex-muslim.org.uk

www.ex-muslim.org.uk

#RamadanStories

5 May-4 June

Send your Ramadan Stories to be posted on our social media on a daily basis to sadia.hameed@ex-muslim.org.uk or use the hashtag #FastDefyingRamadanStories

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Ramadan Advice For Educators

1st May 2019

 

Dear educational providers,

 

Ramadan is fast approaching, a holy month within Islam requiring Muslims to fast from dawn to dusk, which in the summer months can be up to 13+ hours without food and water.

 

The Minnesota semi-starvation study found that by reducing an individual’s daily calories to half their daily allowance had dramatic effects such as:

  • A substantial increase in food preoccupations, such as odd eating behaviours, obsessions in food/cookbooks/menus, spending the day planning how and what they would eat, binge eating, reports of feeling “out of control with food” and feelings of guilt and shame following a binge.
  • Emotional and personality changes included, depression, anxiety, mood swings, irritability, anger, apathy, hygiene neglect and some psychotic symptoms
  • Social changes in behaviour included being Withdrawn, isolated, decreased sense of humour and increased self-criticism
  • Cognitive Changes included impaired concentration, decreased alertness, reduced comprehension, impaired judgment
  • Physical changes, included gastrointestinal discomfort, dizziness, headache, cold, hair loss, visual & auditory disturbances, loss of muscle mass and decreased basal metabolic rate by 40%.

 

Semi starvation in a medically controlled environment had such drastic effects, but crucially the participants were still permitted to drink water throughout the day during the study. Something that fasting children are not permitted to do.

 

During Ramadan, children from Muslim families are sent to school, without food or water under the excuse of fasting and religious requirement. They are expected to carry on with their day as normal without nourishment and hydration. There have been cases of children passing out from dehydration and hunger in schools during the long and uncomfortable summer days. If this was a child from a non-Muslim family, this would immediately trigger safeguarding concerns regarding child neglect, without the abuse being subjected to cultural or religious debate.

 

These double standards are an abuse of children from Muslim families, first by their parents and then by education providers. This year we ask that children’s health, wellbeing and educational attainment be prioritise ahead of the religious and cultural beliefs of their parents and families. Remember, schools are for learning, not for pandering to the beliefs of the parents. Adults are free to fast if they wish, however, they should not have the right to force children into religious practices that will hinder their education and wellbeing.

 

Should you have any questions or require further information, please do not hesitate to contact me on sadia.hameed@ex-muslim.org.uk

 

Yours Faithfully,

Sadia Hameed

Spokesperson

Council of Ex Muslims of Britain

Join us for fast-defying protests during Ramadan and to defend LGBT Rights, Apostasy and Blasphemy

Hello dear friend

We hope you are well.

We are just writing to give you an update of our upcoming activities, namely fast-defying during Ramadan and defending LGBT rights and apostasy in the run up to Gay Pride in London.

 

17 MAY – CHILD FASTING IS CHILD ABUSE PROTEST AT DEPT FOR EDUCATION

This year, CEMB’s fast-defying action will include a protest at the Department for Education on 17th May at 12pm to highlight the Department’s inaction with regards to child fasting in schools during Ramadan. We are calling on the Department to ban child fasting in schools and for child welfare to trump religious demands of parents. #ChildFastingChildAbuse. For more information, click here.

1 JUNE – FAST-DEFYING RAMADAN PICNIC AND STORIES

CEMB will also be organising a fast-defying picnic for members on 1st June, 1pm and is asking for supporters to send in Ramadan Stories using the hashtag #FastDefyingRamadanStories, #FastDefyingMyRight. To register to attend picnic or publish your stories on our social media during the month of Ramadan, please email hello@ex-muslim.org.uk.

17 JUNE – PROTEST AT BRUNEI EMBASSY AGAINST STONING LAW FOR HOMOSEXUALITY

In the run-up to Gay Pride, CEMB will be organising a protest outside the Brunei Embassy on 17 June at 12pm to condemn Brunei’s new stoning sentences for gay sex and adultery. More information here. (In April, CEMB also joined protests at the Dorchester Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan of Brunei)

4 JULY – EVENING OF FILM, POETRY AND DISCUSSIONS ON LGBT RIGHTS, APOSTASY AND BLASPHEMY

On 4 July, we are organising an evening of film, poetry and discussion on LGBT Rights, Apostasy and Blasphemy, 6:00-10:00pm in London. The evening will include a screening of a short film, ‘Ferdous,’ by Shakila Taranum Maan; poetry by Kenyan Somali Poet Halima Salat; and a panel discussion with Drew Dalton (Hidayah Chair), Jimmy Bangash (CEMB Spokesperson), Khakan Qureshi (Birmingham South Asians LGBT Founder), Nadia El Fani (Tunisian Filmmaker), Sadia Hameed (CEMB Spokesperson), Shakila Taranum Maan (British Director) and Syed Isteak Hossain Shawon (Bangladeshi LGBT activist and Editor of Boys Love World). Maryam Namazie (CEMB and One Law for All Spokesperson) will facilitate the discussion and Nahla Mahmoud will MC the evening. We will also have a Coming Out Ceremony for those coming out as ex-Muslims. For more information or to buy tickets (£5 waged; £3 unwaged), click here.

SUPPORT CEMB CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN FOR GAY PRIDE ACTIONS

As many of you know, CEMB has fought hard to take part in Gay Pride after the East London Mosque and Mend (Islamist bodies) filed official complaints in 2017 with Pride for our placards. It took Pride 8 months to finally allow us to march again in 2018 after we stressed the importance of normalising blasphemy when one can be killed for it. Our presence at Pride for a third year is particularly important as it is one of the few public spaces where ex-Muslim and gay members can openly assert themselves without fear. It is also important given the recent religious justification of homophobia at the Parkfield school in Birmingham and the new stoning sentence for gay sex in Brunei. CEMB is the only group that is critical of Islamic homophobia, focuses on the death penalty in Islamic states, and attempts to normalise and celebrate LGBT rights as well as apostasy and blasphemy at Pride.

If you are able to, please support our crowdfunding page to help with the costs around our participation at Gay Pride, the protest at the Brunei embassy, and our evening event. No amount is too small. We are grateful to Pink Triangle Trust, National Secular Society and others that have already contributed to our actions for LGBT rights.

Thanks to all of you who are able to donate and join in our efforts; without you we will not be able to carry out our important work, which makes such a difference to the lives of those forced to suffer in silence or forced to live in the closet – be that the LGBT closet or the apostasy closet.

Please visit our website for more information on other upcoming events, support group meetings, monthly meet-ups and socials, media coverage, actions and statements, including our joint statement with other groups expressing our outrage at the heinous Islamist terrorist attack on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka.

We hope to see you at some of our upcoming events and actions.

Warm wishes

Maryam and Sadia

Maryam Namazie and Sadia Hameed

Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain

www.ex-muslim.org.uk

 

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