Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The African Boycott of Monreal 76

Having had a bit of a pop at the BBC over their sloppy reporting of the 2012 University Application statistics, BFTF is chuffed to be able to big-up the BBC over a programme that is screening on BBC4 even as I write this : "The World Against Apartheid".

The programme looks at the battle against Apartheid that was fought on the sporting fields of the world and is an absolute revelation.

One, frankly gobsmacking, story that was told related to Peter Hain, who was a prominent UK anti-apartheid activist in the 1970s. He was accused of robbing a branch of Barclays in 1974 but was aquitted, with his family claiming that he could not have left his house in time. Hain believes that the South African Bureau of State Security was responsible and that they had used a double to carry out the robbery. Hain wrote a book about his experiences called "The Putney Plot". You can read about the incident here and here.

And another event that BFTF has been unaware of occurred in 1976 and was focussed on New Zealand. . .

The 1972-75 Labour government had adopted a policy of blocking contacts with the South African Springboks rugby team. For a country where rugby is the major sport, this caused some division in society and the next election, in 1975 was won by the National Party, led by Robert Muldoon, who had campaigned on a policy of restoring sporting ties with Apartheid South Africa. In 1976, the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team undertook a tour of South Africa. This caused such outrage in Africa that 28 African counties boycotted the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal in protest at the presence of the New Zealand team at the event (South Africa had been banned from the Olympics since 1964).

If you were black, how angry would this make you?

The programme contained interviews with New Zealand sports correspondents at the '76 Games. They explained how they had been shocked to find that many of the black athletes at the Games had simply not wanted to speak to them becaues of the All Blacks tour. The correspondents had trouble understanding why anyone could think that the All Black tour was anything other than a wonderful sporting event! More info about the Sprinkboks in the 60s and 70s can be found here.

On the other hand, a BBC article states that the New Zealand Olympic Committee felt it was unfair to single them out as there had been 26 countries playing sport in South Africa that year.

As an aside, Austalia did not win a single gold medal at the '76 Games and threw such a collective wobbly at this failure that they set up the Australian Institute of Sport - which is one of the reasons they win so many gold medals now !

In more recent times, the All Blacks training has used out-of-the-box techniques such as this Marcel Marceau tribute routine

Image Source : All Blacks, Sign

Monday, 30 January 2012

The REAL statistics on University Admissions

Reports on the BBC today stated that there had been a drop in university applications in England of around 9%.

This is presumably based on data from UCAS.

But if you go to the Media Releases part of the site, you will be able to see that the notes of the press releases state that:

"One way to measure demand for higher education is through application rates. These report the number of applicants from a group divided by the size of that group in the population. The advantage of application rates (in this case of young people) is that they show trends in this measure of demand without being affected by year to year changes in the population size. This is important as changes in the population size can have a substantial effect on applicant numbers, often as large as any change in application rate."
(bold on original UCAS text)

Helpfully, they also provide this data, a small portion of which is shown on the graph below :

You can see that the drop in application rate in England has only dropped slightly, by perhaps 1 percentage point (or about 3%), not the 9% stated in news reports.

The implied impression from news reports (to BFTF at any rate) was that there was a higher takeup in Scotland, becuase of they had no fees. As you can see, this is not the case.

And why did no one big-up the sterling performance of students in Northern Ireland?

A note about Litter

Litter - just thinking about it makes me go Grrrrrrr.


Just read a review of a book about litter called "Litter:How other peoples rubbish shapes out lives" by Theodore Dalrymple in which the reviewer quotes the following line from the book:

"Britons now drop litter as cows defecate in a fields, or snails leave a trail of slime. That is to say, they do it naturally, without conscious reflection"

BFTF thinks that the UK is actually a pretty clean place, but the phrase above certainly strikes a chord and one wonders whether it might be a powerful statement to mention to those who litter without thinking.

Image source : Litter

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Extremists and the Internet

An article in the Times back on 31st Aug 2011 by Arno Michaels, a former white power skinhead in the US, describes the mentality of such extremists (a mentality which, ironically, they share with Islamic and other extremists).

Arno explains that they had been told repeatedly that they were in a war, and that this war has been declared by the Jews against the white race over 2000 years ago. They were convinced that the "Jews" were trying to wipe out white people with a series of "mud races" such as Latinos.

Tellingly, he says that it was hard work defending this viewpoint against the evidence to the contrary that was all around him, and he would often retreat to his attic of Nazi memorabilia if he felt in any doubt. Arno explains that contact with someone who could challenge their controntational narrative "poses tremendous risk to egos built on such conflict". Yet, at the same time, all the problems and ills that plague society must be allowed to percolate through so that they can "feed an insatiable appetite for righteousness"

Perhaps most frighteningly, the horror stories they told themselves of what would happen if they were not victorious resulted in them denying themselves the compassion of sparing even children.

He points out that, back in the 80s and 90s, those in the white power movement would go to considerable efforts to maintain contact with each other, using post office boxes and calling cards, and would attract new members by causing enough havoc to get the interest of the media and also leaving lots of flyers around to give people a point of contact. But, at heart, it was still a face-to-face method of recruiting people.

Today, the internet has changed everything. It is now easy to immerse oneself in a world where one is cut-off from society yet still receiving evidence of all its defects.

You can find out more about Arno at the Forgiveness Project
And Arno's book can be found online at America's Black Holocaust Museum

See also Life After Hate

The Life After Hate Site

For the Wikipedia article on white supremacy, click here.

For a disturbingly long list of white nationalist groups, click here

Industrial landscapes by Rick Davies

BFTF is fascinated, and often very moved, by the industrial landscape around us.

Derelict buildings in particular make BFTF wonder what they were like when they were alive with the sound of people and equipment, and they make BFTF sad that they are no longer required. What happeded to those jobs? Did they move elsewhere in UK? or overseas? or did the whole sector die? and what was the effect on the local communities?

It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that BFTF is entranced by the photography of Rick Davies who captures the industrial landscape of South Wales in detailed and arresting panoramas. You can see a feature on his work here.

Crimean honour killing that wasn't

The 24 June 2011 issue of the Muslim News (going back a bit I know, click here to see why) has an article entitled "Crimean Honour Killing that never was" which describes the sad case of Kateryna Korin, who was found dead in a forest, having been hit by a "blunt object".

Initially the incident was reported with the simple facts of the case - that Korin had been found dead in the forest. She was last seen going into the forest with Bilyal Gaziev, an admirer who had been adopted by a non-practising Muslim family.

But a day later, Russian language websites in the Ukraine began claiming that Korin had been "stoned dead" by a "radical" Muslim admirer.

Soon reports were describing Korin as a "glamorous Muslim beauty queen", that Gaziev was a "Wahhabi" and that he, together with two other men had stoned Korin because she had violated Sharia Law by participating in a beauty contest. Headlines included "Aspiring Miss Crimea killed under Shari'a Laws in Crimea" (Po-Kievski paper), "Radical Islamists murder young Girl in Crimea" (Svobodnaya paper) and, in the UK's Daily Mail "Muslim Girl, 19, stoned to death after taking part in beauty contest".

The level of inaccuracy was such that the Crimean of Ukraines Interior Ministry issued a statement saying that the muder "was an absolutely routine crime (that) does not have any underlying reasons like religious, national orinterethnic motives"

A report on this story can also be found at the Radio Free Europe site (click here)

Crimea (dark green) is part of Ukraine (medium green)

Why this post is here
BFTF hopes to use this an example of why papers such as the Daily Mail should check stories before publishing - especially when they have the potential to cause damage to community cohesion.

Image Source : Wikipedia

The Reason for lots of posts at the moment

Having been blessed with the memory of a sieve, it always seems best to tear out and keep any interesting newspaper articles that BFTF reads.

These are generally kept with the intention of doing something useful with them, but what actually happens is that they just form a bigger and bigger pile of paper in the BFTF laptop bag.

With the situation now reaching crisis point, BFTF has decided to go through them all and put the key point on the blog. The idea being that these key points of information can be used when presenting arguments to companies, MP's etc.

Hope you find something of interest in them, apologies if you don't (normal transmissions should resume in the not too distant future)

The 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement

Having recently read a review of a book that looks at the history of European powers in the Middle East, BFTF decided to dig a little deeper into the story of the Sykes-Picot agreement, which was one of the key events of the period.

As ever, a good starting point is Wikipedia, which helpfully has an article on the subject and describes it as a "secret agreement between the Governments of the UK and France, with the assent of Imperial Russia, defining their respective spheres of influence and control in Western Asia after the expected downfall of the Ottoman Empire during World War 1"

Map or areas affected by the Sykes-Picot Agreement
Dark Blue : French occupation
Red : British occupation
Green : Russian occupation
Light Blue : French Protectorate
Pink : British Protectorate
Purple : International Zones

The agreement negated the promises made to the Arabs by T.E Lawrence for an Arab homeland in Greater Syria - promises that were made in return for the Arabs supporting British forces against the Ottoman Empire (see here).

The agreement also conflicted with the Balfour Declaration which promised to the Zionists that Palestine "should be the national home of the Jewish people, but that nothing should be done to prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine"

Eighty-five years later, in a 2002 interview with The New Statesman, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw observed "A lot of the problems we are having to deal with now, I have to deal with now, are a consequence of our colonial past. .. ..The Balfour Declaration and the contradictory assurances which were being given to Palestinians in private at the same time as they were being given to the Israelis - again, an interesting history for us but not an entirely honourable one."

Image Source: Wikipedia

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Somalian refugees, drought and al-Shabab

The Guardian reported recently from the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya, where over 400,000 people are fleeing drought and war in Somalia. The testimonies of some of the refugees provide a vivid account of the difficulties they have faced.

One of the refugees, Ali Maolim Hassan (46) comments how he had a small farm in Somalia, growing crops and keeping livestock. Whilst life was not easy, “there was enough rain and animals would feed well”. In addition humanitarian agencies ran clinics and provided other services. Change came when the al-Shabab group took power in the area. They would enforce the zakat (obligatory charitable donation) very strictly. “They would take your animals forcefully, not according to Islamic rules”, comments Hassan. Then came the drought which forced Hassan to sell his few remaining animals cheaply and travel to the refugee camps inside neighbouring Kenya.

16yr old Madahir Borow Mohamed, who was a cattle herder in the Middle Juba region of Somalia, comments that whilst al-Shabab took part of the crops, “they did not force children to join them”. He does not want to return to Somalia because of “the drought and because of al-Shabab”.

At the other end of the age scale, Halima Ahmed (65) describes how al-Shabab prevented people from fleeing the hunger, as this would deprive them of “tax” revenues. She comments “Women caught escaping were taken back to the village, but if men were leading the way, they would be beaten or even shot.” A measure of how severe the droughts are is that Halima says she has never known a drought this bad.

Young mother Suroro Mohamed (18) had never been to school and, like others, said that the drought had pushed them over the edge and forced them to become refugees. Regarding al-Shabab, she comments that “They came with very strict rules. . . If you have something, the Shabab can take it.” Even so, she adds that “If there are rains in Somalia, we will go back”.

Quran teacher and small-holder Maolim Adow Maolim (45) commented that, when al-Shabab took control of their area, “they just went around taking animals by force. If you resisted they could slaughter you, even if you were a Quran teacher”. As with the other refugees, the drought resulted in there being no food available for his animals. Food prices had risen dramatically and al-Shabab were not allowing in any aid. With two wives and nine children to support, the situation was becoming intolerable. He comments that “We made the decision to leave because of three problems: drought; a lack of food and water; and al-Shabab. But if relief had been allowed in, we would have stayed”.

Somali  school in Dadaab refugee camp

Why is this post here
There is a tendency for us in the West to think that we know what is best for the developing world. But we are wrong. The people who live in developing world usually know best, not least becaues they are the ones who have to live with the consequences. This post provides some testimony from the people of Somalia - perhaps we all need to pay good attention to what they are saying.

Image Source : Wikipedia

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Daily Mail and the "Strict Muslim" - Part 1

Quite a nasty article in the Daily Mail today entitled "'Strict Muslim' raped four women at knifepoint to 'punish them for being on the streets at night' about one "Sunny Islam" who has been jailed for a series of vicious rapes in London.

There is no evidence whatsoever that he is a "Strict" Muslim (although his family are reported as being so).

Section 12ii) of the Press Complaint Commission Code states "ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

On that basis, BFTF has complained to the PCC with the following :

"The man concerned did not act out of Islamic teachings.There is no evidence he was a "Strict Muslim". Using the phrase "Strict Muslim" implies that his acts were committed out of Islamic conviction and that it was the behaviour of a devout follower of the faith.This kind of demonising reporting has an adverse effect on community cohesion."

(You can read about the response to that complaint in Part 2)

BFTF has also sent emails to the companies advertising around the article, a typical one goes something like this :

"I'm hoping you can help me out with a concern regarding (company) advertising that I have. Yesterday I saw an article in the Daily Mail today entitled "'Strict Muslim' raped four women at knifepoint to 'punish them for being on the streets at night'". The article concerned a man named Sunny Islam who has been jailed for a series of vicious rapes in London.

The fact that he has been jailed is good news. The fact that the Daily Mail chose to imply (against all the evidence) that he was a "strict Muslim" and that this was the reason he carried out these crimes is not good news at all. Indeed, it breaks the Press Complaints Commission Code of Practice. This is of concern to you because it was an advert for (company) that I saw next to the story. Essentially, you are paying for the Daily Mail to publish this kind of material. And this kind of article has a deep and adverse adverse effect on community cohesion.

I feel sure that (company) does not want to be associated with articles that break the PCC code.

If (company) does indeed feel this way, it would be great if you could let the Daily Mail know about it, I would certainly regard this as a great response from (company). I appreciate that the details of any communications between you and the Daily Mail are confidential, but I would really appreciate it if you were to let me know that you had contacted the Daily Mail.

Responses were as follows :

UPDATE 27-JAN : Got a call saying that Tesco have no control over where the Daily Mail puts its adverts. BFTF told them if they could please put their response to me in writing.

UPDATE 13-FEB : Been bouncing emails back and forth a few times. Tesco have emailed that the issue ". . . has been passed to our Marketing Team so that they can raise this with the paper."

Marks and Spencer
UPDATE 13-FEB : Having emailed M&S saying that ". . .I understand that you do not have control over where the ads are placed. . ." BFTF was disapointed to receive a reply saying ". . . I am afraid we have no control over where stories are printed in relation to adverts with in the paper. . ."

UPDATE 20-FEB : Sent M&S another email informing M&S that they had not answered my question and pointing out, again that ". . .I feel sure that M&S also doesn't want its advertising pounds being used to pay for articles that break the PCC code and damage community cohesion . . ." and that "Perhaps M&S could contact the Daily Mail to tell them how you feel about this issue."

UPDATE 21-FEB : Received a response from M&S stating that BFTF's comments would be ". . . passed to our press team. They will address any issues they have with the location of adverts printed in the daily mail. . . " and that they ". . . now consider this matter closed. . . "

UPDATE 13-FEB : No response yet.

UPDATE 15-FEB : Received an email from Experian saying, rather curtly, that they "will not be making any comment on the contents of either of your emails."

Laura Ashley
UPDATE 13-FEB : No response yet.

UPDATE 18-MAR : Having received no response, filled in another online feedback form, adding that whilst it was understood that Laura Ashley couldn't control advert placement, they COULD tell the Daily Mail that they were unhappy with their adverts being placed against inflammatory articles.

UPDATE 30-MAR : After a little email tennis, received a response saying that that "the advertisements that appear next to the article are not fixed but are dependant upon the viewers browsing history. . . Unfortunately neither we nor the Daily Mail have control over which advertisements are displayed"
BFTF responded with "I understand that, under the current system, neither you nor the Daily Mail have control over where adverts appear. But I don't quite understand how that stops Laura Ashley from telling the Daily Mail that you are unhappy with the your adverts being placed against this kind of article. . . it would give me great reassurance if you could let me know what general messge you have given the Daily Mail regarding future placement of Laura Ashly adverts.

UPDATE 02-APR : Received a further response saying that ". . .Please be assured that any necessary action with the publication concerned will be taken as a matter of priority."

UPDATE 13-FEB : No response yet.

UPDATE 18-MAR : Having received no response, sent another email chasing this up.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Interview : Mohammed Yaseen and Emmanuel House

This interview was a great opportunity to talk to Mohammed Yaseen(Director of Youth Services, Karimia Institute), one of most articulate people to guest on the BFTF radio show, about a recent project in which Karimia Institute had run a campaign in the Muslim community to raise money for the Emmanuel House charity.

As is often the case, the discussion took a few fascinating detours along the way. . . .

BFTF : Welcome to the show Yaseen! To start off, could you give a small clue about what Emmanuel House is and the project that Karimia has been involved in.

MY : “Well, I first came across Emmanuel House when I was working for the local authority. I used to work at Carlton Street for the Youth Service. I used to run the “Youth Shop”. Carlton Street is the street that runs directly behind Nottingham City Council building in the square and it you go over the top of the hill and drop down as though you were heading towards the Victoria Market, you come across EH right at the bottom of the hill where the traffic lights are..

It’s an old 50s-60s kind of building and I remember always seeing people who looked homeless in fact. You could tell that some of them were alcoholics, some of them would have been just very shabbily dressed and they would be hovering outside this building.

Emmanuel House

The reason I got to know about this project at least 10-15 years ago, was because every time we used to do events at our premises in the Youth Shop for young people, we would have food and other things left behind at the end of the event. Some of the volunteers used to say “shall we just take this stuff down to Emmanuel House?”. Well, it did occur to me one time to say “Well, I’ll take it down with you” just to find out what this place was and when I went down I realised that it was essentially an advice and support type service for people who were homeless and then I realised who all these people were that were standing outside waiting to go into this building. They obviously had a timetable for when they had to go in. And essentially, that was my first introduction to Emmanuel House. But I didn’t know what the service was, in terms of who it was organised by, why there were volunteers there. And it wasn’t until Dr Musharraf called me and said that through the Christian Muslim Forum, a request has come to see if the Muslim community might support this organisation which is meeting the needs of people who are homeless in the city of Nottingham, that I realised that there was a connection on the other side with the churches. So I think their church is supportive of the work that they are doing. This is slight departure from the type of routine work that Muslims would tend to get involved with.

Having said that, I think there may some listeners out there that might be able to reflect on the principle of helping people who are homeless, people who are poor, people who are needy. We come across this all the time. When I was last in Pakistan, people would go to a darbar(shrine), they would give, they would volunteer, donate money, a goat or something. So I don’t think it is an alien concept to look after people who are hungry, who are poor. But to do it in this country, that is a departure.

What’s happened with Emmanuel House is that with these current financial cutbacks that the local authority has decided that it was going to make some cuts to Emmanuel House’s budget – and these were really significant, they were to the bone to be honest. There was some sense that the whole of the operation helping homeless in Nottingham might collapse and their chief executive decided that she would start a local campaign to see if she could generate community support for it. Their (the community’s) initial responses were that people would come in with tins of money, children would come in with piggy banks and that’s when they realised that actually the community is very supportive of supporting people who are really vulnerable and likely to get into even more trouble, at worst, die on the streets of Nottingham city. So they approached Karimia Institute and said “Do you think the Muslim community would support this?”. I think that is a really big challenge. On the one hand I thought it was quite cheeky that the churches, who are so wealthy, would have the gall to ask the Muslim community “Would you like to support something that we are supporting?”.

But after I had thought about it, you know, who are the beneficiaries?. Is the church the beneficiary here, or is it the people? And whom are we supporting? Are we supporting the church or are we supporting the people? It wasn’t very difficult for me to conclude that our intention is the most important thing. So what is our intention? It is to help people to safeguard themselves, to help them get out of poverty, to get a roof over their heads and to feed people as well. So when I met with their marketing manager, she asked me how the Muslim community would view supporting a charity like theirs. I said the frankly, we have a very great spirit of feeding people who are hungry and that would be a really excellent mission and something that I think Muslims would feel empathy for. And if there was anything we would want to support. So I kinda narrowed it down a bit because I thought that I wouldn’t feel comfortable about seeing my donation propping up the churches work, as it were, and there mission. I wouldn’t want it to be seen in that way, if I was going to help people I would want to help people who are really in need.

Joe and a volunteer in the kitchen

To help your neighbour is important, They have rights over us so we have a responsibility to them and, in the same way, people who are living in Nottingham on the streets, they are our neighbours. We walk past them, drive past them, sometimes taxi drivers will see them lying in the street. These people are our neighbours. We have a responsibility, as Muslims, to do something about that.

Our neighbours

With the support of Zameer from Radio Dawn, we decided to launch a small campaign to support them. We were very keen to make sure that we supported the aspect of work which was going to have the greatest impact. It is admirable that all those people (who donated) looked beyond the initial thing that they saw, which was a white non-Muslim charity that was doing work, to the people that it was going to benefit.

I remember my father telling me that Christianity did well because they gave the Bible with one hand and bread with the other. You show humanity when you feed people, you show that you care for people – and if you can show that you care or people you can influence their perception of what you are and what you believe and maybe that it one of the ways we can bring people to Islam.

This project is not the first time I have come across this practice. When I was a student in Bradford University, I was cajoled by some of my student colleagues into doing some volunteering that would “blow my mind”. They took me to an underground hall of a church and in the underground part of the church and when I went inside, Lo and Behold, there were all these Muslims who were cooking and preparing food and I asked “What is going on here?” and they replied “Well, the church is allowing us to have this space so that we can feed homeless people” and that was for me the first shock - I anticipated that I would see white non-Muslim people walking through with a tray, with food, picking up an apple and some fruit and going back to a table and eating. And the number of Pakistani people, men and women walking through - and I could tell that they weren’t people who had homes, they were genuinely homeless, you could tell from their dress. Some had mental health problems, that was very apparent, and it dawned on me that I was feeding people here that were not just Muslims but there were other people as well.

I was just given an apron and told, put the food on the platter, smile, give them some water and let them pass by. And after one hour of doing that I was asked to take my apron off and pass it to the person who was walking through the door. What they had was a rota for three hours and a local businessman, who has a relationship with Nottingham as well, was located in Bradford was sponsoring this and paying for the food to be served every single Thursday evening

 There are volunteers somewhere out there tonight, feeding the homeless

I was dragged in as a student to do this one hour and after that I used to go back every Thursday and I did that for six-seven months. That work in Bradford is still continuing today.

So that was really my first experience of actually feeding people, so when I heard about other brothers in Nottingham wanting to do the same, I can support that 100%.

For an hour a week, to make that much impact on that many people’s lives who were walking through, was the backdrop for what I was seeing that needed to be done with Emmanuel House.

That’s one of the things I’ve tried to implement with many of the things done here at Karimia Institute. Things like the Scouts, I’m asking volunteers to come forward and I’m saying to them, “Give one hour a week. Don’t give me two, I don’t want two, just give me one. Just come here, do something good, enjoy yourself working with young people, making a difference in their lives and go home feeling like you have actually done something. If everybody just gave me one hour, I’d be a lucky bloke!

Why not volunteer 1hr a week  to help the scouts?

BFTF : Regarding the fact the some people may say that we need to help our community first. It’s not an either/or, you can do two things at once. It’s like saying that we shouldn’t have gone to the Moon because we should have solved hunger on earth, but I don’t think that if we had not gone to the Moon, the problems of hunger would have been solved. What would be your perception on that viewpoint ?

MY : I think that one of the issues with people saying that we should do something for our own is that what they don’t realise is that there is a ripple effect. And things happen to us as a consequence of us not taking responsibility. For example, if we had taken responsibility over CFC’s, we wouldn’t have damaged the ozone layer - and the damage to the ozone layer affects not just Muslims, it affects everybody so to do something about that is important. Similarly there are plenty of examples where, you have someone who is so desperate that they might be forced to rob somebody and somebody might get hurt there. Now, if they weren’t so desperate, because they had had a meal in their belly that evening, they might not need to have to do that. It’s often the case that people say “It’s not going to happen to me” until it happens to you and then it’s like “Why did this happen to me?” and the reason is that globally, as a community, we failed to do something. And so I think that feeding people who are homeless, who have no home, no food, no livelihood, no work, no place that they can use as an address, can’t get access to benefits - are basically completely detached. Well, those people are human being and they are going to want to fulfil some of their basic desires and that might be getting money from somewhere. Somebody could get held up, somebody could get injured, somebody could be killed - and if that outcome happened because we didn’t feed somebody, that’s our responsibility.

The Ozone Hole over the Antarctic - We did that.

BFTF : Can you give a little more detail on what Emmanuel House does?

MY : Well they do all sorts of advice. Essentially, when you walk through the door they provide you with a free meal, access to a nurse to deal with any injuries you may have sustained and they arrange for you to have a roof over your head. They will also wash your clothes so that you can put some clean clothes back on. These are the very foundation stones of decency in our society.

Our campaign was not about the whole of the Emmanuel House organisation, we felt that the best thing that we could do was to feed those people who are hungry and that that would be an excellent thing to do. And that is essentially what we have done, we fundraised quite a large amount of money for them and that money is going to be dedicated to spending on food for people who are homeless.

We raised about £6000, but they need a lot more than that, their target spend -just on food - is around £13,000. I think this is the first time that the Muslim community and the Christian community have collaborated on a programme like this and consequently it’s clear that the Muslim community are prepared to put their hands in their pockets and are prepared to see beyond the structural differences between the communities, see through that fog to the people who really matter who are those lonely souls walking around on the streets during the day thinking about where they are going to sleep that night.

Imagine if this was your bedroom every evening. . . .

BFTF : If people are interested in this project, how can they donate?

MY : They can send a check to Emmanuel House direct, or they can send it to us at Bobbers Mill Community Centre and we will forward it to them. Or the same thing can be done via a cash donation.

BFTF : What has been the response from the Non-Muslim community, the churches etc?

MY : I don’t think they expected us to come forward as we did and, as always, when Muslims rise to the challenge, people are astounded. If anything, we have demonstrated that we are not easily put into a box. Muslims are much more globally thinking, they are charitable, we are very, very generous compared to many other communities. We both look after our own community and we are prepared to look after other communities. In some ways it is a really valuable lesson to give to people who are non-Muslims because where they have had stereotypes about the Muslim community, about us being insular, not interested in other people, wanting to live parallel lives - that is not the case. I think we are part of our community, part of the city of Nottingham. We reflect both an eagerness to support people who are vulnerable, who are homeless - we are at the frontline.

No-one should be under the impression that Muslim communities are only interested in themselves or that they do not have any part to play in British society. British Muslim are interested in everybody in this country, as we are for people overseas as well.

Some people may think that Muslims are only interested in foreign affairs, well this is a really good example of how we are interested in home affairs - very close to home affairs in fact.

BFTF : BFTF often seen individual Muslims working in a whole range of voluntary organisations, but what is unusual is to see a Muslim ORGANISATION stepping forward to work with the wider society.

MY : What we have done here is to trailblaze for other Muslim organisations in the city. We can demonstrate that we have an interest in helping people and we are building bridges and links with other organisations and I think there is a level of respectability that comes from this as well. Rather than us always being seen, dare I say it, terrorists or radicals and extremists in society, what we can be seen as is humanitarian people who think about their neighbour, who think about their neighbour, who think about other people around them and can appropriately respond when needed to.

I hope very much that anybody who contributed to the campaign, whether they were givers or supporters, will realise is that when we are talking about working with people who are vulnerable, we have vulnerable people in our own community. We have people who are getting into drugs or alcohol, we have young people going to prison - at one of the fastest rates of any community in the UK and there is very little understanding of why we should be sympathetic to their needs. It’s almost like “they have brought it on themselves, so they should pay for it” - but we forget that when these people come out of prison, their behaviour and what they do in society is likely to have an impact on us. So if you get burgled and you find that it was someone on drugs, you may also find out that that person may have been a Muslim. So when we talk about supporting people who are drug addicts in our community, people should not turn their noses up at it and think “That’s their own fault”. . . How do we respond to ALL vulnerabilities in our community? Should we be open handed with them? Should we think about supporting those causes?

Because there are so many of those (causes) but the Pakistani and Muslim communities does not tend to focus on them. But this one campaign with Emmanuel House has, I think, demonstrated that there is a soft spot, a soft underbelly within the Muslim community that is prepared to look at that.

Perhaps a little surprisingly, the Muslim community has a soft side. . .

BFTF : What are your plans for the future of this project?

MY : Emmanuel House are the drivers and what they asked us to do was to support them with their campaign and that is essentially what we have done. Karimia does not have any plans to set up feeding services and I think this is primarily because this was our first trial run at seeing what the community is likely to be interested in doing.

For the future, an idea would be to put people on the street, we are already working with Radford Road Police Station to look at some of the issues with Muslim Youth in Forest Fields, there have been so many complaints and so many arrests carried out of young people involved in anti-social activity and crime that the Police Station is absolutely overrun with cases and they have approached us and said “Is there any way you can help?”so we have come up with a project, we haven’t launched it officially yet, but I’ll give listeners an inkling as to what it is about. The idea is that we are going to have “Imams on the Street”, the idea would be that we have people who are strong in their Iman (faith) who feel that they want to make a difference to their community and they will go out on the street and they will engage people and support them to divert them from crime and anti-social behaviour. That’s our starting point and I am really fortunate to be supported by about 30 people so far, men and women, who have come forward to take a youth work qualification which we have laid on to NVQ level 2. We are appealing to these people to, when they have completed their qualification, to become part of this team of people who will go out onto the streets of Nottingham. Not just in Forest Fields but wherever this issue occurs, where Muslim youth are being led astray or going astray themselves - to interject, to make a difference in their lives.

BFTF : Why do you think this is happening now? Why not 10 or 15 years ago.

MY : Certainly 10 years ago, we didn’t have the same rates of crime, anti-social behaviour and unemployment. There was a higher degree of control by families in terms of supporting their children. I think as time has gone on, certainly into the last decade, more and more people are thinking about working, the cost of living is going up, so there are lots of socio-economic factors that are affecting the make up of our community and also the impact that it is having on the different elements of the community, whether they be the elderly, middle aged parents, young people or even children. So, in some ways, to ask why this kind of work didn’t happen earlier, we are reacting to current needs and maybe 10 years ago these weren’t current needs.

But engagement with young people was and maybe Karimia is in a good position to be able to boast that we were doing youth work . I can certainly remember when I was working in the local authority delivering camps at Overton Park . We would take young people and families camping and they would be able to see the countryside, some young people had never seen the countryside.

BFTF : On a slightly separate subject, I noticed that you were involved with a recent Himmah Institute “Big Supper” event, where they provided food for local homeless people. What’s your perception of their work?

MY : It’s interesting that you ask me that question because I was cajoled into supporting that one as well. I think that it is a very good connection by Muslim young people and I think that it is admirable that it is young people who are at the forefront of this one. They work that they have done is building bridges with organisations that wouldn’t know the Muslim community and certainly they do know the Muslim community now. You know, if you maintain a clear Niyat (Intention) as to why you are doing it then it both benefits us and it benefits them. Perhaps what they should do is to have a calendar of events and invite people along to it, so if there are people out there who are thinking that they could give some time to volunteering, perhaps an hour or two, that might be an ideal way of doing it. Perhaps if they could produce such a calendar we could put it out on the airwaves.

"The Big Supper" - another example of Muslims feeding the homeless

BFTF : Lastly, could you give feel for the quality of mentoring that you and Perwaise do in the Youth Club as listeners may not be aware of everything that goes on behind the scenes.

MY : We are really keen to start supporting and helping young people achieve. As you know, Karimia Institute is about education, our mission statement says very clearly that we are about education.

We are about keeping people IN education for a start. Many of our young people are beginning to find themselves in positions where they are excluded and not only that, they are not succeeding in achieving their 5 GCSE’s and so were are hoping to support that education effort through our tutorial classes.

But in the Youth Club itself, that is an opportunity for youth workers, older young men and women to build a relationship with young people. So if those young people have got issues and they want to talk to someone, they should have someone who they can talk and look up to. I can remember years ago people used to organise events and I would get invited along to them and they would show an interest in me and, as a young person, I used to value that. And that is what we still need to provide - an appropriate adult who can be both a role model to young people but also show an interest and care for young people because that is what they don’t have. Many of them are lacking in people who care and love them for who they are - and certainly in the Youth Club, people may think that the Youth Club is all about playing games but it’s more than that, it’s about building relationships with other people and if these people are building relationships in a place like a masjid (mosque) then that is phenomenal because that says that coming to the masjid is cool, its ok. So we don’t need to cajole young people to come to come here and if they come to the Youth Club and the Azaan (call to prayer) goes then it is the norm that that they will say their Salat (prayers) and them come back to the Youth Club. We don’t want to create an environment where you HAVE to go to the masjid and it has to be done with a stick - how it should be done is through love and association and the youth club provides that and certainly the youth workers here are working with parents to address issues that the parents have identified. So if the parents are concerned and worried about their son, as has been the case - I can think of numerous examples of where people have come to see me and said “Look, I am really concerned, my son continually gets arrested by the Police and I’m really unhappy about that”. So when does he get arrested? “He gets arrested in the evenings”. So if he comes to the Youth Club he is active in those hours when he would be getting into trouble, then we are diverting him from crime.

So we are doing things that people do not see, normally. People see young people in our centre and they think “what are all these young kids doing here, running around” - well actually, they are running around in a good place, in our masjid and that is a really good thing.

Interview with Mohammed Yaseen, Director of Youth Services, Karimia Institute. 29th June 2011 on Radio Dawn 107.6FM

Update 27th Jan 2012
Emmanuel House have, quite reasonably, commented that Emmanuel have "moved away from being such a strongly Christian organisation. It has a much broader base of support now."

Image credits : Homeless, Curry, Ozone, Housing, Soft Toy

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The (counter-intuitive) Monty Hall Problem

There are some things in life that are really counter-intuitive.

We accept many of these because the evidence is right there before our eyes and we are used to them (e.g. a box in my front room that displays a moving image received through thin air? You gotta be kidding me right?)

But some, less common, phenomena still have the capability to confuse us. A good example of this is the "Monty Hall Problem", which is often stated as :

Suppose you're on a game show, and you're given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1 [but the door is not opened], and the host, who knows what's behind the doors, opens another door [that does not have the car behind it], say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, "Do you want to pick door No. 2?" Is it to your advantage to switch your choice?

Intuitively, one feels that switching door should not make any difference - you have a 50:50 change either way.

But, weirdly, this is not the case - in reality, you have a much higher chance of getting the car if you change doors.

I know, I know, it seems to go against common sense, and indeed when this conundrum was published in Parade magazine, some 10,000 readers, including almost 1,000 with PhD's wrote in to complain that the article was wrong and that changing doors did not make any difference.

With the problem being so simple, BFTF decided to simply knock up an excel spreadsheet and see what happens. The geeky stuff is at the bottom of the post, but the take-home-message is that running the problem 100 times gives the following results :

Never switch door : Win 35% of the games
Always Switch door : Win 65% of the games
Toss a coin as to whether to switch or not : Win 55% of the games

Crikey, switching really does improve your chances of winning! How spooky!

Just goes to show how the human mind can be tricked. The Wikipedia article on the Monty Hall Problem is surprisingly long and discusses many of the psychological issues related to how people perceive the problem.

Here comes the Geek bit (from a random line of the spreadsheet, line 3 in this case) :

Column B : Randomly choose which door the prize is behind
Excel Formula: =RANDBETWEEN(1,3)

Column C : Contestant randomly pick a door
Excel Formula: =RANDBETWEEN(1,3)

Column D : Outcome if contestant sticks (win=1)
Excel Formula: =IF(C3=B3,1,0)

Column E : Outcome if contestant switches sticks (win=1)
Excel Formula: =IF(D3=1,0,1)

Column F : Toss to switch (stay=1)
Excel Formula: =RANDBETWEEN(1,2)

Column G : Outcome based on Toss in Column F (win=1)
Excel Formula: =IF(F3=1,E3,D3)

Copy the above onto as many lines as you want and then total up the wins from the different strategies.

Friday, 13 January 2012

The Background to the Space Shuttle

The Space Shuttle Story” was the title of a recent public lecture at Nottingham University. The talk covered a lot of ground and gave an interesting overview of the subject, and provoked BFTF to dig a little deeper into the background of the Shuttle program. . .

One can trace the origins of the Space Shuttle program back to US military projects such as the plane-like Dyna-Soar project in the late 1950s. At the time, manned space travel was the domain of NASA which was designed to be re-usable and have good manoeuvring capability during re-entry, in contrast to other spacecraft being developed at the time. Unfortunately for the Air Force, they focussed so much on the controlled re-entry aspect of the project that they forgot to develop any useful missions for the craft do perform while it was in space. So the project got canned in 1963, before any flight tests had taken place. Doh!

Too late, it became clear that Vaseline was not the ideal sealant for the underside of the Dyno-Soar

Incidentally, the Dyna-Soar used a high performance Nickel alloy called “Rene41”. You can get a feel for the detailed way in which metal alloys are characterised by checking out the data for Rene41 here.

The Air Force remained interested in spaceplanes, however, and ran a series of tests on so-called “lifting bodies” in the 1960s and 70s. These craft investigated the handling and landing characteristics of small wingless planes and were dropped from carrier aircraft before firing a rocket motor, climbing to altitudes well above 70,000ft and then gliding back to earth. Examples of lifting craft were the X-24B and the HL-10

The X-24 was a lean mean lifting body. . .

. . . while the HL-10 was the lifing body that had eaten all the pies.

Those of a certain age will recognise the tubby lifting body as the craft that crashes spectacularly in the opening sequence of the Six Million Dollar Man. A sequence that BFTF is only too happy to link to below. . .

A review of NASA’s activities in the early seventies resulted in the organisation focussing on two projects - the Shuttle and a Space Station. NASA decided to develop the Shuttle first and, in 1972, that President Nixon formally announced that NASA would proceed with the program.

There were many competing designs in the early stages of the program (see below). It is noticeable that many of the early designs featured a carrier vehicle that was piloted and returned to land conventionally under its own jet power. Further development demonstrated that the extra weight associated with the engines, wings and pilot compartment of these carrier planes had an adverse effect on the payload that the actual shuttle could carry. These concerns, together with budget pressures moved the design towards that of the “Star Clipper” (top right in image below). This proposal used an expendable fuel tank and analysis of the design showed that this was a particularly efficient approach to designing the craft.

I'm not saying that the designers were dropping acid, but . . . .

Amongst other concepts, the above image contains the following :
SERV+MURP (top left)
Star Clipper (top right)
North American DC3 (centre right)

Eventually the design was refined into a vehicle that we recognise today. The first Shuttle, Enterprise, was completed in 1976, without engines or a real heat shield, and used for testing, including atmospheric flight tests (Enterprise was carried aloft on a modified 747 from which it separated and then glided back to earth was therefore not capable of spaceflight. Famously, Enterprise was originally intended to be named “Constitution” - until a letter campaign by Star Trek fans led to the change of name to Enterprise.

The flight tests were not without incident. In particular, during the fifth test Enterprise suffered from severe “Pilot Induced Oscillation” during landing - a problem that was cured by a modification to the control computer system. You can read a NASA report about the incident, and the work undertaken to develop a solution, here.

By the early 1980s the program was ready for its first orbital flight. This was performed by Shuttle Columbia on 12th April 1981. This was the first of 135 missions, including 37 missions to build the International Space Station.

Image Sources : HL-10, X24B, Columbia, Dyna-Soar, Shuttle Concepts

Thursday, 5 January 2012

BFTFs Birthday : A post about personal pronouns

With the Building for the Future blog now about a year old, this might be a good time to write from a more personal perspective of what writing it has been like. . .

. . . and to help make things a bit more readable, BFTF is going to ditch the "BFTF" third person malarky for this post and just talk using "I" - which is a personl promoun (did you see what I did there, eh?)

I have to say that using "I" makes me feels like I'm wearing in a new jacket - I want to stretch the arms out and shrug a few times to get it to fit right.

While I'm doing that, I'll just explain why the blog is written in the third person - very simply, it's because "I" don't matter. Put another way, there is no particular reason why you should give a monkeys what "I" think. If a particular post can't make its case on the basis of fairness and common sense, then it probably doesn't deserve your attention.

Ok, I think I'm getting the hang of this "I" thing, so let's get crack on. . .

At number one on this ad-hoc list is that I have learnt that writing a blog is REALLY HARD WORK and takes A LOT OF TIME - and yet is strangely satisfying. I'm not sure whether the mental rush I get when completing a post quite compensates for the evening walks that I missed writing it. Probably not - Note to self - walk more.

BFTF needs to get a better balance of being here. . . .

. . . and being here

Here at number two is the realisation that when I am gathering information for a post and trying to construct an argument, I often find that my initial perspective was wrong, or at least very simplistic. Sometimes I send off an email to an organisation implying that they are doing something wrong and receive a reply that makes their position appear much more reasonable (this seems to happen particularly often when dealing with particuarly "political" issues).

The third thing I have learnt (and which I should have known already) is that, especially when dealing with community matters, there is no substitute for actually talking to people face to face rather than via email. This is partly due to the same effects as mentioned in number two.

The fourth thing I have learnt (and this list is in no particular order, because this item would be top of the list on any objective basis) is that there are a lot of people out there who can write a lot better than me. I wish I could write with elegance, humour and style - but too often I focus on the argument and not on the prose. I think that maybe I need to relax a little more. . . Maybe Having said that, I hope that some of the picture captions raise a giggle.

In at number five is that the there-in-black-and-white nature of posts makes me ask myself whether I am being fair to all sides. Am I practicing what I preach? In particular, I wonder whether I, and the Muslim community as a whole, apply the same standards to wrongdoing within Muslim countries/communities (especially against minorities) as they do to wrongdoings against Muslims in "the West".

New at number six is the fact that there are now sufficient old posts that a number of topics have been covered and I can now just post links to these when making a point in an email, on Facebook etc. As this was a major reason for starting the blog, this is something of a result.

Down at number seven is the huge sense of relief that I still have stuff to write about, indeed, the problem is writing all the posts that come to mind with sufficient quality - if I dare use that term. Inshallah, having too much to write about will continue to be an issue for the future.

A non-mover at number eight is, sadly, that getting Masjids to actually DO anything on help on any particular topic - even when they have already said that action is needed - is very very difficult and takes a long time. Bit of a heartbreaker this one really.

Straight in at number nine is that it is really hard to get significant numbers of page hits on the blog - this problem may well be related to number four.

And just holding on at number 10 is the hope that there are some people out there who find the blog to be, in some tiny way, a Good Thing.

So there you go pop-pickers. It's now time to put the "I" back in its velvet lined box where it can stay safe until its next use, inshallah, in about 12 months time.

Iamge sources : Here and Here

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

British Muslim Christmas in 1905

Before getting to the main part of this post, thought it might be worth mentioning these comments from Al-Azhar University (P52 of this pdf) on exchanging Christmas Greetings with non-Muslims :

"There is no harm in congratulating non-Muslims with whom you have a family relationship, or that are neighbours of yours. Regarding their festivals, however, do not participate in the rituals of Christians, or those in a similar religious category [i.e. non-Muslims]."

Having got that out of the way, the main part of this post relates to the following fascinating account of how British Muslims celebrated Christmas in Liverpool back in 1905 comes from a Facebook posting by Ron Greaves (Chair in the Comparative Study of Religion at Liverpool Hope University) at the "Happy Christmas 4ALL Campaign" (a campaign that aims to combat media stereotypes of minorities attempting to "ban" Christmas)

Christmas amongst the British Muslims - December 1905

The British muslims celebrated the anniversary of the traditional birthday of Nabi Issa (E.P. be U.H) by feeding a large number of poor persons at the Liverpool mosque.

No less than 269 persons sat down to breakfast, and 386 were provided with tea, making a total of 655 poor persons who were thus provided with a substantial meal by the true-believers in Liverpool. In the evening, at the close of the feasting, an excellent musical entertainment was given in the large lecture hall of the british muslim institute to the poor people. At the meeting the shikhzade ahmed quilliam bey, ottoman consul-general at Liverpool presided, and the major portion of the musical evening was provided by professor fry’s amateur pierrot troupe.

The whole of the arrangements for the free meals were under the supervision and personal directions of h.e. sheikh Abdullah quilliam bey, who was assisted by a large body of workers.

Abdullah Quilliam

The British Press on the Proceedings

Christmas amongst the Muslims

It is generally considered that Islam is an anti-Christian faith, but this accusation Muslims always indignantly deny, claiming that they reverence the name of Christ with the greatest respect, hailing Him as ‘Sidna Issa’, one of the inspired messengers sent by the Almighty to enlighten mankind and to lead them into the path of righteousness and truth. The Koran contains a history of the birth and life of Christ, which although differing in some respects from that contained in the four Gospels, yet is highly eulogistic of Jesus and His mother.

It is an Islamic custom to celebrate the birthdays of illustrious men by feeding the poor, and although Muslims believe that Christ was not born in December but at the latter end of September, yet in England it has always been the custom of British Muslims to celebrate the event upon what they term the ‘English official birthday of Christ’. This year was no exception to the rule, and Mussulmans entertained over 700 poor people to substantial meals (breakfast and tea) at the Mosque, West Derby Road. The arrangements were carried out by an efficient committee, of which Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam Bey was president, he being ably supported by a host of workers, some of whom came from distances so widely apart as Hong Kong, Egypt, Kumasi (Ashanti), Baghdad, Trebizonde, Constantinople and India. In the evening, after tea, the poor people were entertained with a concert, the principal artistes being members of Mr Fry’s amateur pierrot troupe, who kindly gave their services on the occasion.

It is worthy of observation to note that during the last 18 years, the British Muslims have entertained in this manner nearly 10,000 persons, and no attempt has ever been made on such occasions to proselytise the recipients of this charity. In this course of conduct the local Muslim community are only acting in accordance with the teachings of their faith, there being a tradition that the Prophet Mahomed said, ‘O true believers, when ye give alms or bestow charity do it for the glory of God, and ask not the recipient thereof to what religion he belongs, and scorn to seek to take advantage of a poor man’s necessities by forcing thy religion upon him. For God knoweth all things, and the innermost parts of men’s breasts are not hidden from Him.’

26th DECEMBER 1905.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Update : Palestinian Statehood at the UN

Updated this post, on recognition of Palestinian Statehood at the UN, with what has been happening at three local masjids in terms of lobbying the Government to support this issue:

A couple of weeks ago, BFTF talked to the Imam at Masjid B, who (so far as BFTF can recall) agreed to feedback to the community (via a Friday Khutbah(sermon) or similarly well attended salat (prayer)) what had been done in their name. Sent a follow up email today to ask if this has happened yet.

Last week, talked to the Imam from Masjid S about the petition signed by the congregation at that masjid. This Masjid has not yet sent off any communication to local MP's. BFTF pointed out to the Imam that the congregation signed the petition in good faith and are expecting that it has been sent off, if the Masjid doesn't want to do that then they need to tell the congregation so that they are not working under a misapprehension. The Imam said that they hoped to have decided on a way forward by the end of the Christmas Holidays.

Although, not mentioned earlier, BFTF also asked a third Masjid (let's call them Masjid C) to participate in this activity. A friend gave Masjid C a suggested letter but BFTF does not know whether the Masjid did anything or not. The same friend has kindly agreed to chase them up and ask what happened.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Jerusalem : 7th to 13th Century

BFTF watched the second in a three part series on the history of Jerusalem recently. Presented by Simon Sebag Montefiore, and screen on the brilliant BBC4 channel, the programme covered the story of the city from the 7th to the 13th century.

It was an absolute revelation.

What was also interesting was that the information age, and in particular the availability of resources such as Wikipedia means that a documentary is can now be viewed much more as a starting point for further investigation than a fully formed package of information in its own right.

The notes below are based on the programme, with some additional material from Wikipedia.

The programme picked up the story in the early 7th Century. At this time the city was ruled by Christian Byzantium and Jews were banned from Jerusalem. However, Christian Byzantium was growing weak and would soon be threatened by the armies of the growing Muslim empire in Arabia. Simon describes how, from its earliest days, Islam had a strong connection to Jerusalem through the Prophet Muhammed’s “Night Journey” (Al-Isra). This was an event where, in a single night, he travelled to a place called “the Furthest Sactuary” and then to Heaven before returning to earth. The sanctuary referred to is believed by Muslims to be the Temple Mount.

Al Aqsa Mosque

Five years after Muhammed’s(PBUH) death, in 637CE, three Muslim armies were converging on Jerusalem. They were driven by political and religious motives and soon besieged the city. Inside, the leader of the Christians, the Patriarch Sophronius began negotiations and agreed to terms of surrender, but only if the terms were personally guaranteed by the Caliph – Umar - in person. Umar duly arrived in Jersusalem to accept the surrender of the city and Sophronius presented him with the keys to Jerusalem in return for the promise that Christians could worship freely. This was the so-called “Pact of Omar”. Umar invited the Jews back to the city so that they too could pray at the Temple Mount.

Western Wall

By 685CE the Muslim empire was rich, powerful and ruled by the Ummayad dynasty of Caliphs. One of these, Abd Al-Malik build a shrine on the Temple Mount, which is known as the “Dome of the Rock”. Simon describes it as “one of the most successful and beautiful religious buildings ever constructed”. Abd al-Malik and his son also built the Masjid Al-Aqsa, which is also on the also on the Temple Mount site. The Ummayads also build a vast palace complex next to the Temple Mount. Surviving carvings from the Palace are of a surprisingly sensuous nature. As Simon points out, “the Ummayads were more like decadent Roman Emperors than puritanical Islamic Rulers”.

Coin Depicting Al-Malik

Dome of the Rock

Over time, some of the spirit of tolerance was lost and, in 720CE the Caliph at the time banned Jews from the Temple Mount, although they were allowed to live in the city. The Ummayads were followed by another Sunni dynasty, the Abbasids and then by a more tolerant Shia dynasty, the Fatimids.

By 1000CE, there was a young Fatimid Caliph called Al-Hakim. According to Simon, “he was a popular and beloved young caliph but he was increasingly obsessed with his own semi-messianic status. He took to wandering the streets at night in mystical trances induced by opium. .. gradually, Al-Hakim was going mad”. He forced the Jews and Christians to wear distinctive clothing and the Jews had to “ring bells to warn Muslims of their approach”. Al-Hakim then gave the Jews and Christians the choice of conversion or death. He also ordered the complete demolition of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as he did not approve of the Christians annual “Descent of the Holy Fire” ceremony.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

It was attacks on Christians, as well as Turkish attacks on Christian Byzantium, that provoked the Pope to order the First Crusade in 1095. This “holy war” was a new concept and the Pope promised remission of sins in return for the services of the soldiers. On 7th June 1099, the crusaders managed to breach the city walls and embarked on a 48hr rampage in which they killed and mutilated everyone they could find – men, women and children alike. Afterwards, Jews and Muslims were prevented, on pain of death, from entering the city.

By 1174, Saladin (founder of the Ayyubid dynasty and Sultan of Egypt and Syria) was making his mark and beginning to challenge the crusader armies in the area. Over the next few years, Saladin scored a number of significant victories and, by 1874, he was besieging Jerusalem. The ruler of Jerusalem told Saladin that if terms could not be agreed, the Christian Franks in the city would kill their own women and children and then destroy the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque. After discussing with his aides, Saladin agreed to accept a ransom for each Christian, with those who could not pay going into slavery. Upon entering the city Saladin immediately set about removing the stables and apartments that the Crusaders had built in the Al-Aqsa masjid. He also banned all church bells and invited the Jews to return to the city.

Muslim Cavalry of the Crusades

The loss of Jerusalem shocked Europe, with the result that Richard the Lion Heart was sent as leader of another crusade to take back the city. Eventually, after many battles, Richard and Saladin (who had great mutual respect) agreed to the Treaty of Jaffa, in which the Crusaders got a base at Acre and access to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but Saladin kept everything else.

Before 6 months had passed, Saladin was dead. And, within a generation, the Crusaders were coming back via Egypt. To try and prevent the Crusaders capturing Jerusalem as a valuable stronghold, the Rulers of Jerusalem destroyed the walls. In the event the Crusaders did not reach the city but the city was now defenceless.

By the early13th century, Jerusalem was ruled by Sultan Al-Kamil (a North African Ayyubid Caliph and descendant of Saladin). Under attack from the fifth crusade in Egypt, Al-Kamil made repeated peace offers to the Crusaders, including giving them Jerusalem in return for the Crusaders leaving Egypt (in support of this proposal, Al-Kamil's brother had the walls of Jerusalem demolished to ensure that the city would not become a crusader power base). In the event, the fifth crusade was a failure and the crusaders did not reach Palestine, let alone Jerusalem.

The Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick 2nd was heavily criticised for this failure and agreed to launch a sixth crusade. His tardiness in untaking this resulted in him being excommunicated by the Pope. As a result, when Frederick finally arrived in Palestine, he received little help from Christian military in the area. On the Muslim side Al-Hakim was also preoccupied with disagreements with the Muslim rulers in neighbouring countries. Thus both sides were keen to avoid a full scale war.

The negotiations between Al-Hakim and Frederick resulted in a treaty that was signed in 1229CE. It ceded control of Jerusalem (with the exception of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque) to the Christians for a period of 10 years, whilst guaranteeing the freedom of Muslim to worship in the city.

The peace did not last. Simon states that the city was soon “tossed between Islamic princelings and Crusader barons”.

The programme concluded with the invasion of the Tartars in 1244, who had been invited to Palestine by Saladin’s feuding descendants. But they were out of control. When they entered Jerusalem they destroyed churches and houses, beheading and disembowelling the priests at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre before leaving again.

The programme left BFTF with a lot to think about and the questions it raised were relevant to many of todays issues. For example, the programme highlighted how the failure of a ruling government to show tolerance to minorities can have repercussions that echo for generations and also makes one wonder about the relationship between the loyalty of a soldier to his ruler and to his faith and ow this does, or does not change if a Muslim is living in a non-Muslim society?

Image souces: Western Wall, Al-Aqsa Mosque, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Dome of the Rock, Muslim cavalry, Coin