Reflections

Journalist by profession, baker by hobby and mum to two cheeky monkeys. Recently made the transatlantic move from 🇬🇧 to 🇺🇸.

Needed a place to gather my thoughts and recommendations so here's a little collection of my random ramblings.

How to talk to your kids about Racism

Education starts at home

By Munazza Khan

It is safe to say, this year has been a roller coaster for all with every individual across the globe experiencing a kaleidoscope of emotions through quarantine, homeschooling, working from home, making sure there is food on the table 3 times a day; and everything else in between.

But the recent news of the merciless killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police has been thrown at us like a fireball! Sadly, Covid 19 wasn't going to be the only thing claiming innocent lives this year. Overnight, #thankyouheroes and #weareinthistogether hashtags are replaced with #wecantbreathe and #blacklivesmatter.

On the evening of May 25th 2020 while the night was still bright, 46 year old Minneapolis resident George Floyd took his final breaths on the road while he screamed “I can’t breathe” to a police officer who had his knee dug into his neck for a whole 8 minutes and more. His crime was hardly that he had counterfeited a $20 bill, but more that he was a black man. He was unresponsive when the paramedics arrived and was pronounced dead as he reached hospital.

The morning after the news exploded all across our TV screens and mobile devices, a family member messaged to ask how we’re coping and if we’ve spoken to the kids about the George Floyd incident. Interesting time to be in the US, he added.

Protests have since erupted all across America demanding justice for Floyd and other black lives. Headlines such as ‘police fire tear gas to clear peaceful protests’ and ‘truck ploughs into protestors seeking justice for Floyd’ with disturbing images have been popping up as notifications on our phones and TV.

Ultimately, my kids (age 5 and 8) who display a keen interest in current affairs (thanks to their media background parents), would be witnessing these horrors as they grab the remote to turn the TV on or as they reach out my phone to FaceTime their cousins across the Atlantic.

A controversial question that arises for parents is what age do you stop protecting them and let them experience the realities of the world?

So to answer the question I’d say they definitely need to be exposed so they can learn to stand up for what’s right and not be submissive to the pressures of unjust superior forces. But at the same time you don’t want to scar them and frighten them at tender years of their life where having fun and feeling safe should be the priority. Feeling hurt, sad or anxious are part of life. Letting kids experience these feelings gives them a chance to practice tolerating discomfort. At the same time, however, we must provide them with the guidance and support they need to deal with the pain and frustration.

As with many families around us, recent issues have sparked many uncomfortable discussions within our home too, but we try to relate to the children as it is, exercising age appropriate honesty. Simultaneously though we relate to them the important lessons we have learnt growing up ourselves taught by our own parents and members of the community. The most significant one is that we must exhibit patience in the face of adversity. God is watching and the ultimate judgment lies with Him.

As practicing Muslims, religion plays a huge part of our lives, so everything we explain is backed up by what Allah has commanded in the Holy Qur’an and examples from the life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings be on him).

I cannot stress the importance of talking to your children about such sensitive topics. One day they will become the decision makers and shielding them from the real world will do more harm to them than good.

Some may believe that speaking openly about racism might incite racism in their kids. The opposite is in fact true. Silence equals submission and we do not want to reinforce racism by staying silent. No matter how independent a child might seem, they still need plenty of guidance and a sense of direction. So instead of staying quiet and letting them draw their own conclusions, it is our job as their parents or guardians to direct their thoughts. That does not in any way mean we are disrespecting their freedom to make their own decisions.

When I spoke to my 5 year old daughter about this, I asked her what do you think we can do to help? I gave her the freedom to express her own thought as well which is vital in a two way conversation. She impressed me with her response: “Maybe we can teach people!” and this is basically what we can and need to do at this moment in time.

In order to do this we must first educate ourselves. An incident arose recently where a white mum requested a black lady on facebook if she could help her out and educate her children on ‘whatever is happening.’ This request sounded so wrong on many levels… ‘whatever is happening’ displays such ignorance on the topic of injustice taking place around us; and to reach out to a random person on social media for this role displays not only laziness on the part of the white mother, but also could be taken as offensive in the eyes of the black lady. This here is white privilege.

You may have also heard of the case of Amy Cooper, who made a dramatic call to the cops after a black man, who was peacefully bird watching at a park in the early hours of the morning, reminded her to put her dog on a leash, as required by law.

In both instances, the white ladies apologised afterwards for their ignorance, but the reality is their white privilege has not exposed them to tolerance of people of other colours and therefore they were ignorant on how to approach the situation.Let this be a wake up call for all the Amy Coopers out there.

What other methods can we adopt to make sure we are raising compassionate human beings and not the next Derek Chauvin or Amy Cooper?

Recommendation #1

EXPLAIN THE ROOT OF THESE PROBLEMS:

Racism has always existed, we are only more exposed to it now through media, as Will Smith put it: “racism isn't getting worse, it's just being filmed”. Talk to them about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Ruby Bridges (see link below) and the challenges they had faced.

Recommendation #2

Speak about emotions - why are people feeling so angry about what’s happening? It is the inaction on part of world leaders despite years of frustration nothing has changed.

Recommendation #3

Encourage your kids to play with children of all colours - befriend their parents yourself and display to them equality through your own actions. We must first be what we want them to be.

Recommendation #4

Read books together that feature characters from all backgrounds. Some recommendations here:

Recommendation #5

Teach them about the different religious and cultural traditions through videos/craft projects.

Recommendation #6

Try to speak to them in a conversational way. Sensitive topics don't need to be explained using an academic method at home.

Whatever you do, just don't stay silent. At least for the families who can't speak up. We can't give up because #blacklivesmatter!

Discover Spain's Lost Islamic Legacy

Golden sandstone buildings, fresh Spanish orange juice in abundance and sunshine galore! There is something so intrinsically astonishing about the Spanish culture. This charming country, ranked second on the World Tourism Organization’s list of most visited countries in the world, with its number of international visitors amounting to over 80 million in 2018.

However, there is so much more to the laid back lifestyle on offer to visitors. The enchanting art and architecture found in the Grand Mosque of Cordoba and Alhambra Palace radiate the rich history of Islamic civilisation in Spain. These indelible stamps that the Islamic Empire left in Medieval Spain are viewed now as prized ornaments of the world, thus attracting flocks of visitors for many years. But first, we shall take a look at the inception of Al-Andalus. How did Muslims end up here in the first place?

HISTORY AND THE CONQUEST

Spain was under Islamic rule for around 800 years between 711 to 1492. Al-Andalus was the name given by the Muslims who ruled the Iberian Peninsula at the time, consisting mainly of the South-Western regions of Spain and Portugal.

The Islamic conquest of Spain is considered one of the greatest conquests in history. In a mere 100 years, Islam had spread from one small city to over 3 different continents. The very origins of Islam dates all the way back to the early 7th Century with the preaching of the message of Islam by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw) in Arabia. Despite initial opposition and suffering severe hardships at the hands of non-Muslims, the Holy Prophet (saw) conquered the hearts of many and reclaimed Mecca in the year 630. Thereafter, the Holy Prophet (saw) along his Muslim followers began spreading the message of Islam and soon the message had been accepted across the Arab peninsula.

By the time of Hazrat Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra)’s caliphate, Muslim troops had taken over Egypt and Libya. Islam had reached North Africa (Tunisia, Libya, Morroco and Algeria) during the reign of the 3rd khalifa, Hazrat Uthman ibn Affan (ra).

Islam arrived in Spain in 711 A.D. Under the orders of the Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid I , Muslim commander Tariq ibn Ziyyad led a large army from the north coast of Morocco, combining his troops at a large hill now known as Gibraltar, derived from the Arabic name Jabal Tāriq (جبل طارق), meaning “mountain of Tariq,”named after him. With his 12,000 troops he advanced to conquer Spain against the Christian ruler Roderick and his army of 100,000. Roderick was killed in the battle and Tariq bin Ziyyad claimed victory over Spain. His aim was to propagate Islam and bring the message of peace to Europe.

Upon seeing the enemy advancing, Tariq ibn Ziyyad courageously burnt his boats and addressed his troops:

“Oh my warriors, whither would you flee? Behind you is the sea, before you, the enemy. You have left now only the hope of your courage and your constancy… Remember that if you suffer a few moments in patience, you will afterward enjoy supreme delight… The one fruit which he desires to obtain from your bravery is that the word of God shall be exalted in this country, and that the true religion shall be established here. The spoils will belong to yourselves.”

This boosting of morale was the result of a dream in which Tariq ibn Ziyyad saw the Holy Prophet (saw) encouraging him to advance forward.

RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE

Encapsulated in the Andalusian era is the significant fact that the Iberian Peninsula was a relatively peaceful place of coexistence for the main religious denominations. It was a predominantly Muslim society that accepted the three other monotheistic communities, letting them freely practice their religion. Muslims, Jews and Christians lived side by side. It was a time when religion and state were not divided, but were in fact united.

What was truly remarkable was that it was the only place in the whole of Europe that harmoniously shared a common culture, a state that many of us yearn for in these modern tumultuous times. The Spanish refer to this state by the phrase ‘Conde Vencia’ which means living together.

According to the Islamic scholar Jacques Berque, one of the most harmonious communities in Europe was Al-Andalus. Juan Goytisolo, a Spanish writer, on the other hand writes: “We suffer from historical amnesia,” implying that they have no such memory of this tolerant era.

Author Fernandez-Morera denotes the notion that al-Andalus was a halcyon period of religious harmony that can be a model for the current relations between Abrahamic faiths.

Though historians agree to differ in their views about the level of tolerance, what they often overlook is the fact that the arrival of Islam relieved the oppression of Spanish citizens at the hands of the Christian ruler Roderick and the significant changes to society it bought.

THE GOLDEN ERA

Many Christians in Spain assimilated parts of the Muslim culture. Some learned Arabic, some adopted the same clothes as their rulers (some Christian women even started wearing the veil; some took Arabic names. Christians who did this were known as Mozarabs.

One of the many achievements of this extraordinary time was that Al-Andalus flourished as a place of learning in the arts. Muslims and non-Muslims contributed towards establishing libraries, colleges and public baths. It was a time when literature, poetry and architecture grew luxuriantly. Medicine, law, and philosophy all have roots in Andalusia with enduring legacies to this day.

THE FALL OF ISLAMIC SPAIN

Islamic Empire in Spain began crumbling due to tensions arising between Muslims and Christians and eventually the Muslim Empire was defeated and punished by 1492. It was a turbulent time for Muslims. Researchers have narrated that Muslim children were separated from their parents and forced to live with Christian families to adopt their ways. Families were forced to convert to Christianity, settle in Valencia or be driven out of the land.
A famous poet and one of the greatest writers and statesmen of Muslim Spain writes a memory of this time while serving time in prison for heresy in 1374: “Great and powerful we were, wretched we have become; Yesterday we used to feast, today we are feasted upon.” Ibn al-Khatib.

HOPE

In search of the Golden Era of Andalus, professor Jacques Berque comments: “I look to the spirit of Andalusia to keep faith alive within ourselves, drawing both on its heaps of rubble and the hopes we must never let go.”

One day Islam was to make a return to this magnificent region with such force that the Islamic faith woud be revived. Remarkably, it was through the efforts of the Ahmadiyya Community, guided by the institution of Khilafat that sowed the seeds for Islam’s eventual return.

The pioneer missionary, Maulana Karam Illahi Zafar sahib was sent to Spain by Hazrat Khalifatul-Masih II (ra) to re-estabish Islam. Through humble steps, Karam Illahi sahib diligently conveyed the message of Islam Ahmadiyya to the Spanish population against the backdrop of civil unrest and intolerance towards Islam in the predominantly Catholic society.

After years of dedicated service, he was tasked with finding a suitable location for the construction of a Mosque and on October 9 1980 the foundation stone for the Basharat Mosque in Pedro Abad was laid by Hazrat Khalifatul-Masih III (rh). The historic inauguration of the Mosque took place on September 10, 1982 under the auspices of Hazrat Khalifatul-Masih IV (rh) marking the opening of the first purpose built Mosque in Spain since the end of the 15th century.

More recently, in 2013 our beloved Huzur, Hazrat Khalifatul-Masih V (aba) had the pleasure of visiting Spain. Huzur (aba) instructed the Azaan to be called. It echoed deep into the valleys of Valencia, where Islam once prevailed. Thus, the fulfilment of the proclamation of Allah to the Promised Messiah (as) “I shall cause Thy message to reach the corners of the earth,” was once again being witnessed and “the word of God'' was being exalted.

Huzur (aba) graciously inaugurated the Baitur Rehman Mosque in Valencia and assured the Spanish people that the new Mosque would be a source of peace and compassion. The Mosque would foster a spirit of togetherness and unity within the society.”

“Whoever comes here with pious intentions, be it a Muslim or non-Muslims, will have the doors of the Mosque always open to them.”

After witnessing the warm welcome of locals and the Mayor of Valencia, Huzur (aba) concluded that he was confident that Muslims will always be welcomed in Spain whole- heartedly. InshAllah may the words of our Khalifa be blessed and may Spain rise again to splendour and sophistication by regaining its legacy of being the cultural bridge between the different religions of the world due to Islamic teachings. May the political leaders of today’s fractured world benefit from the lessons of the golden era of Andalusia.

AMERICA'S NEW CHAPTER?

The year 2021 started with a bang, literally, for the citizens of America. On the evening of January 20th, the D.C. sky and Washington Monument was lit up with a beautiful display of fireworks in honour of Joe Biden becoming President.

It was definitely a memorable day in more than one way. The inauguration of a new President is usually a day that follows decades of traditions, but not this time! Just like all other events these days, Inauguration day was also watched virtually by all. As the world continues to battle the deadly CoronaVirus, crowds gathering to watch and celebrate the swearing-in of the new President were banned from coming into DC. A field of illuminating flags replaced the millions of people who would have otherwise occupied that site.

At noon, Joseph R. Biden Jr. became the 46th President of the United States of America. He defeated Donald Trump in the 2020 campaign and became the oldest President to serve the nation at 78 years old. It was a much awaited moment of his life, having tried out his luck running for President two times prior to this and serving as VP to Barack Obama previously. Despite many obstacles in his life, politics and the importance of bringing about change has always been an important part of his life.

Biden’s speech was a call for unity to heal the wounds that had become exacerbated in the election and had played out in the attempted insurrection on Capitol Hill at the start of the month.

“With unity we can do great things, important things. We can right wrongs, we can put people to work in good jobs, we can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome the deadly virus, we can rebuild work, we can rebuild the middle class and make work secure, we can secure racial justice and we can make America once again the leading force for good in the world.”

Beside Joe Biden, donning purple and pearls, Kamala Harris was making history and stealing the show as the first woman and woman of colour elected as the Vice President of the United States of America, a milestone for a nation in upheaval, grappling with a damaging history of racial injustice exposed, yet again, in a divisive election! “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last,” said the daughter of a Jamaican father and Indian mother.

The other shining star on the steps of Capitol Hill that day was Amanda Gorman, who at 22 years of age became the youngest ever inaugural poet in the history of the US. With her poem “The Hill we climb,” she captivated audiences worldwide through her powerful and poignant rhythmic words:

“The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Making history is only the first step for the President and Vice President, they are now yet to face the monumental task of repairing a fractured America. The fact that it was such a close election and Trump supporters are still manyfold shows that the task at hand is not easy and we are yet to discover whether or not the new President will be able to bring a real change while in office. With a divided cabinet, how much will he be able to achieve legislatively? Biden was however eager to revoke many of Trump’s laws on his first day in office, the most welcome one being the ban of immigrants from some Muslim majority countries and rejoining the Paris climate agreement.

As for Donald Trump, it is unlikely that he will fade away quietly, having enjoyed his 4 years in the limelight. His parting words were that he ‘will be back in some form’. Only time will tell how this will play out. As a man of great entrances and theatrics, one thing is certain, the Trump chapter of American history is far from over.

Article published in Lahore International:

https://www.lahoreinternational.com/2021/02/americas-new-chapter/

Education

The Key to Post COVID-19 Recovery

Returning to schools for in person learning has been one of the most difficult conundrums for policy makers, teachers, students and parents to come to terms with. On the one hand, we still see Coronavirus cases continue to escalate in some parts of the world and wish nothing more than for teachers and students to be in a safe and healthy environment; and on the flip side, there is the growing concern that years of progress risk being reversed.

At the heart of it all no doubt remains the health and wellbeing of students and teachers, but with the announcements of schools and education facilities reopening, the long term implications of lack of progression in learning and how teachers will bridge the gap remains a cause for concern for many.

Studies at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic had already suggested that the pandemic would undo months of academic gains. Researchers predicted that, on average, students will experience substantial drops in reading and mathematics, losing roughly three months’ worth of gains in reading and five months’ worth of gains in mathematics by autumn 2020. For Megan Kuhfeld, the lead author of the study, the biggest takeaway isn’t that learning loss will happen - that’s a given - but that students will come back to school having declined at vastly different rates: “We might be facing unprecedented levels of variability,” she says (Projecting the potential impacts of COVID-19 school closures on academic achievement, 05/2020).

It is not merely the curriculum targets that are of concern, but also the disproportionate impact on students living in poverty and students of colour. As Kuhfeld suggests in her study, these families suffer higher rates of infection and the economic burden disproportionately falls on Black and Hispanic parents, who are less likely to be able to work from home during the pandemic.

Schools have long served as “great equalizers,” bridging the gap for lower income families. Remote learning and social isolation in the pandemic has unfortunately unveiled many inequities in the education system. Despite resources being allocated by schools to students for remote learning, the closure of in person learning has been disruptive for students particularly from these families.

Let’s now also take into consideration the impact of the unprecedented changes in education on students' mental wellbeing. Schools have served as a de facto mental health system for many children and adolescents, providing mental health services to 57 percent of adolescents who need care. Restricted access to these basic resources that give some mental and financial comfort for these households has been amplifying the learning crisis and widening the achievement gap, leaving many students behind.

Post-COVID policy initiatives to improve education will need to rise to the challenges posed by increased reliance on remote learning. Educators will need to consider responses to address COVID-19’s short-term disruptions for children falling behind, while also working on relationship building in a safe and supportive environment. This would lay the groundwork to improve children’s mental health services in the long term in order to provide a more fair and equal education system post Covid-19. That is key to combating inequality in education.

By prioritising investments that can help students achieve their fullest potential, no matter their background, policymakers across the globe can set their countries on the path towards healthier and more productive societies in a post-pandemic world, thus providing a basis for nurturing responsible citizens. These young individuals are ultimately the policy makers of the future who will be using the education provided to them today to rebuild our tomorrow.

External link
OH HEY, FOR BEST VIEWING, YOU'LL NEED TO TURN YOUR PHONE