Friday, 1 March 2013

Sarah Joseph at UoN

Nottingham University Islamic Society and Nottingham based grass-roots social action charity Himmah teamed up to host a talk by Sarah Joseph entitled “The Importance of Social Justice”.

Introduction by Sajid Mohammed
Sajid described how child poverty, to take just a single example of social injustice, was widespread in Nottingham :

Nottingham North : 37% of children in poverty
Nottingham South : 24% of children in poverty
Nottingham East : 33% of children in poverty
Rushcliffe : 5% of children in poverty
Broxtowe : 11% of children in poverty

and how a single support agency had helped some 167 rough sleepers in Nottingham.

Sajid pointed out that there were 27,000 Muslims in Nottingham (9% of the population) and asked whether they believed that God had taught us to love his creation - and would they act on this belief?

And he listed Himmah’s activities which included lobbying, work with foodbanks and work with the homeless in Nottingham.

Lastly, Sajid explained that actions such as supporting foodbanks were important - but only treated the symptoms, so Himmah was also involved in activities aimed at taking people out of poverty entirely. One example of this is the new draft protocol to give discretionary funds to people seeking sanctuary. Whilst another is the campaign Himmah and Nottingham Citizens are undertaking to give a living wage to the 2,200 Nottingham council employees on “zero hour” contracts. Whilst a third example can be found in the work that Himmah is doing, in collaroration with Nottingham Citizens, the Police and Nottingham University to research why it was that black men were 9 times more likely that white men to be stopped and searched.

Talk by Sara Joseph
Sara began be giving a little background on her childhood, during which she showed a remarkable amount of confidence as well as a keen sense of right and wrong - for example, when aged 8, she would ask to speak to the local supermarket manager to challenge them on why they were selling apples from apartheid South Africa. Or, on seeing a Rolls Royce, wondering aloud how many people could have been fed with the money the car had cost.

Sarah Joseph at the UoN

It was later, as a young adult, that Sarah embraced Islam, and for a while she did not do any social justice activities, and practical work to improve social justice was not something that was discussed in the local Muslim community.

But when Sarah began to search for examples of social justice in the Quran and Hadith, she “found them in abundance”.

She found them in the stories of the Prophets who “spoke truth to power” and “were the social justice activists of their day”

And she found them in the Quranic verses such as , “…never let hatred of anyone lead you into the sin of deviating from justice…” (Surah 5, verse 8) and the many verses that mandate the feeding of the poor and the care of orphans.

Sarah commented on how there were ample resources in the world, adding that “it is us who are hoarding and creating the injustice”. Railing against those who blame “the West”, she pointed out that we are part of the West, our ipads, our trainers, our clothes are part of the injustice.

And the injustice is not only in far off lands, Sarah commented on how 50% of Muslim youngsters were not achieving 5 GCSE’s including Maths and English [with the percentage for students as a whole not being much better]

Importantly, Sarah pointed out that the “beautiful verses of the Quran were abstract unless we can make them practical in this world”.

Taking one example, Sarah commented on how the so-called “clash of civilisations” could perhaps be more usefully (and more productively) viewed as a “collaboration of civilisations” and asked what the University ISOC was doing to engage with Friends of the Earth on environmental issues, or to work with the Christian society on issues such as homelessness.

Sarah asked people to consider being for the small kindness, the little acts and reminded the audience that, but for the grace of God, any one of us could fall victim to problems such as mental illness and quickly find ourselves homeless. And she recalled how, as a child, she had been through periods of homelessness, having to share a kitchen and bathroom with forty other people.

Pension poverty was another important issue that Sarah asked the audience to consider as this was an issue that was leaving the elderly having to choose between eating and heating their homes. Sarah challenged the audience on this, asking them “Is that just? “

The question and answer session that followed Sarah’s was as interesting as the main talks had been.

One questioner asked whether Islam was the answer to a long list of social ills. Sarah responded by recalling how, when she was at University, the phrase that “Islam is the answer” was given to questions on any social problem. Sarah felt that this was rather a glib response and that the reality was rather more complicated. Importantly, Sarah commented that whilst solutions for social problems were clear in Islamic teachings, the actual implementation of these solutions (such a Fairtrade, humanely reared food, a living wage) had a price and the question was whether Muslims were prepared to pay that price.

Another questioner asked for Sarah’s response to Muslims who refused to participate in events where, for example, alcohol was being served. Sarah responded to this by saying that it was indeed hard to participate in some events but that some guidance could be found in the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, where Muhammed (PBUH) signed a treaty that had very unfavourable terms, and did not even allow the Muslims to perform pilgrimage that year. But this treaty gave provided peace, stability and dialogue - and soon Muhammed (PBUH) was able to enter and conquer Mecca without a drop of blood being spilled. As Sarah commented “You engage, you take risks, it is the harder path”, also challenging those who lived in isolation from society by saying “What is a life of isolation going to do? How can you be a help for mankind by doing this?”

Lastly, Sarah gave a short homily on the importance of everyone making their own small, practical contribution to social justice issues by relating the tale of a King who asked the citizens of a town to each contribute a single silver coin towards a public works project by dropping their coins into a large collection pot. Some of the citizens said that they would be extra generous and donate two or more silver coints but one of the citizens was short of money and did not have any silver so decided to drop in a small pebble instead, figuring that no-one would notice. He breathed a sigh of relief when he managed to carry out his plan successfully. Then, a few days later, the King publically broke open the pot to reveal….. a large pile of pebbles.

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