Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Prize presentation for Luton's Zahra competition

Another fun day in Luton. This time went to present the prize to the winner of the town's Create a Character competition.
10 Year Afzol Hussain from Beech Hill Primary school won for his creation Aliyah, an orphan who is very helpful. A very shy boy, Afzol seemed mortified to come to the stage for his prize and pics with me and Luton's mayor.

Also spent the morning at Oakwood Islamic Primary school doing a reading from 'Zahra's Great Debate' and Q&A about being a writer. Such a bright bunch!

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

A little extract from my new book, 'Zahra's Trip to Misr'.

In the third installment of my Zahra series, Zahra and her school friends are on a school trip to Egypt visiting the land of dead pharoahs and pyramids. The following is an extract from the chapter 'The Runaway Camel' where Zahra and her best friend Marya decide to take a ride on the humpy animal.

Zahra and Marya climbed on the camel together and held on tightly to the reins they were given. Marya wrinkled her nose in distaste.
'Boy he smells bad,' she said. 'Why can't they give it a bath?'
Zahra laughed. 'Because he's too busy carrying tourists like us over the desert who moan about how smelly he is ... oh, here we go ... it's so bouncy.'
The camel ride was going to be the distance from the pyramids to the sphynix, the half man half lion statue at the bottom of the hill.
'You want camel run?' the camel owner asked.
'No! No!' Zahra and Marya cried in unison. 'Just walk.'
The man shrugged and continued to lead his animal.
'I'm Ali,' he suddenly said.
'Peace be with you. I'm Zahra and this is Marya.'
'Where from?'
'Britain,' Marya replied.
'Your friend - England.' Ali said, pointing to Zahra. 'You, no.'
'Oh, he knows I'm from Scotland! Marya gushed.
'You,' Ali said, pointing to Marya. 'Pakistan.'
Marya looked puzzled. 'Yes, she is from England. I'm from Scotland. Not Pakistani.'
'You no English,' Ali insisted. 'You Pakistani.'
'He is judging you on the basis of your skin colour,' Zahra said, trying not to laugh at Marya. 'You're hardly a Scot are you? Your ancestry is Pakistani.'
Ali caught Zahra's last words. 'Yes, you Paksitani!'
'Actually,' Marya said haughtily, offended at having her identity challenged. 'I am British Muslim ... what the ...'
Marya's voice trailed off as the sight of a fleeing camel passed them with a girl in the Academy uniform holding on for dear life. A second later, an Egyptian man ran after his camel, his white turban unravelling off his head and gliding like a wave on the desert sand. Behind him ran another two men, trying to catch up with the runaway camel.

This is the third book in the series.
The first title is 'Zahra's First Term at the Khadija Academy' and the second is 'Zahra's Great Debate.'
To find out more, go to my website www.bibipublishing.co.uk

You can also hear a reading of the above extract plus the first chapter at the following link:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p001d7n9

Friday, 9 October 2009

An honour killing

A few years ago I was sat around a dinner table with a group of professional women friends. We were a mixture, descended from different parts of South Asia with a few things in common - we were Muslim, British,university educated and financially independent. I remember the conversation of that evening well and the revulsion I felt for some of the women whom I regarded as friends.

A few weeks earlier a man of Pakistani origin had murdererd his young daughter in my part of London. He had caught her with a boyfriend and feeling 'dishonoured' he had strangled her. On the same day he drove up to the local police station (one that I had walked past for years on my way to school with classmates) and informed the police that his daughter's body lay in the boot of his car. He confessed his crime.

Sitting around the table I expressed my horror at what had been done by a parent to a child but the reaction of some of the western educated, highly articulate women chilled me more.
The response was something like this, 'this is what happens when you step out of line.'

There was no condemnation of the crime, both in legal terms or in Islamic terms.
There was no sympathy for the murdered victim.
There was no sense of a higher moral ground.

There was only an acceptance that this is what happens to Muslim females who step out of line.

My response had been something like perhaps the poor girl should have just been murdered at birth. I mean if her life had such little value why bother to raise her? Have we really come far from the barbaric practise of killing daughters in pre-Islam Arabia that the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) so tirelessly preached against? I was told in no uncertain terms to get off my high horse - oh and that I would never understand because it was not part of my culture.

Too right I would not understand!
What could possibly excuse and justify the murder of an innocent girl by an enraged man?
And why and how were these Muslim women so accepting of the whole situation? What if it was their daughters and sisters that were murdered? What was with the apathy?

As Muslims doesn't our faith teach us to speak up against crime? Against a wrong committed against the vulnerable and innocent? And this young girl from my part of London was vulnerable and innocent and did not deserve to be throttled by her own father.

The newspapers this morning all carried the story of a man in court who is accused of killing his daughter ten years ago. Tulay Goren was 15 years old when she disappeared. She had been trying to marry a man she fell in love with but her family disapproved because they were Kurdish Alevi and the man a Turkish Sunni. Now her mother alleges that her husband and brother in law killed Tulay and buried her in the garden. It has taken Tulay's mother ten years to speak up because she says she feared for her safety. She also has three other children. The case continues.

My heart goes out to Tulay's mother. Imagine knowing that your own husband has killed your own daughter and having to live with it and carry it around as a secret for your own safety and that of your other children. I have no idea what this poor woman's situation is. I can only imagine that she has left her husband and has some protection. But it has taken her ten years to raise the courage to pursue justice for her murdered daughter.

I am left to wonder if it would have taken this long if women like my educated Muslim ex-friends were a little less tolerant of the crimes against women.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

And a boy wins ...

Had a fab Saturday in sunny Luton.
The morning was spent at Luton Central Library where I was invited to announce the winner of the Zahra Character competition. Readers of this blog may remember I've been excited about this competition since the launch in July. I had lots and lots of entries to go through and it was difficult as some were so good but in the end I chose the entry which could slot easily into the Zahra series.

The winner is 10 year old Afzal from Beech Hill Primary School. His creation is 12 year old Aliyah who he described as a fair skinned, brown haired, friendly and graceful Muslim. She is special because she helps people by understanding their feelings and the reason Afzal gave as to why Aliyah from Luton should be featured in the Zahra books was because the people of Luton are very helpful. Isn't that sweet!
Oh, and the deciding factor that made his entry a winner was that Aliyah is an orphan!

Afzal wasn't at the eid event but a school rep was present and I shall be going along to Beech Hill Primary to present the prize along with Creative Muslim Network Director Shemiza Rashid who organised the whole fantastic event.

The winning entry will feature as a new character in my fourth book of the Zahra series, 'Zahra's Second Year at the Khadija Academy' which will, iA, be released in the summer of 2010.

In the afternoon I made my way to Dunstable Downs where an open air Eid Festival was being held for the local community. Bouncy castles, face painting, rock climbing - the list of fun activities for families was endless and a big congratulations to the sisters from the 'Muslim Educational Forum' for arranging such a successful event.

I enjoyed my own slots of story telling. Initially I had thought that I would be reading from the first chapter of 'Zahra's Great Debate' in a tent with a group of children. Imagine my surprise then when I was handed a microphone and given the stage to let my voice soar across the beautiful Bedfordshire countryside.

All in all a fab day and the Muslim men of Luton should be very proud of their women for all the work they do in bringing their community together, and for putting the best face of Luton Muslims forward.
Pictures are on the website, www.bibipublishing.co.uk.

Friday, 21 August 2009

An Islamic Library

I attended a sisters' fundraiser at the weekend in Bolton (have to stop visiting that place but it seems to pull me again and again) and I was not expecting any of the young girls to know me so was very pleasantly surprised when many asked me why I hadn't brought along my third book in the Zahra series, 'Zahra's Trip to Misr.'

I explained that it is due for release later this year and asked why it was that so many of them knew about 'Zahra's First Term at the Khadija Academy' and 'Zahra's Great Debate.'
Well, it turns out that my first two books feature in the top three most borrowed books at the central mosque library, that being Zakariya Mosque. Alhumdullilah.

I must say I was very impressed to learn about this - not about my books being borrowed (actually won't lie, was delighted) but about the fact that kids were using the mosque as a community space. In my part of London there is no space for women in the mosques, let alone a learning centre for kids and young adults. Intrigued I asked some questions and this is what I found out:

The Islamic Library was set up by a Bolton Librarian, Subnum Harif, to achieve the following aims:

- Better understanding of the religion of Islam leading to enhanced social cohesion through the provision of specialised Islamic collections which will be available to all the communities in Bolton.

- Provide an informal environment to encourage learning for children and young people and adults.

- Provide materials to meet the communities' personal, educational, spiritual and professional needs.

The library has now been open for 10 months and has 374 members with over 1,500 book issues and is run by a dedicated team of volunteers.

Subnum Harif:
" I believe reading is vital for young people's development not only in terms of improving literacy skills and assisting in educational attainment but for developing a wider world viewpoint, encouraging creativity and imagination and raising aspirations."

I think I have said before on this blog and I will say it again, Bolton mosques seem to be miles ahead of the game in community support, progress and a commitment to community cohesion and I think a real role model for many other organisations to follow.

The event raised just under £5000 in one afternoon.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Islamic Relief for Swat Valley

It seems I am doing a post a month on Islamic Relief fundraisers this summer. Attended the Islamic Relief Shahid Afridi and Younus Khan fundraiser for the people of Swat Valley in London. An amazing evening where £130,000 was raised. Both cricketers were very impressive in their commitment to the charitable cause, highlighting their own witness accounts of the devastation.

The next day attended the Islamic Relief Photography Exhibition at London City Hall where the work of Stefano Massimo and Shaista Chishty was on display to highlight some of the issues and challenges that people in the developing world are facing today. Both are amazing photographers. Stephano's images from Palestine have been used in a number of British television documentaries and Shaista is an incredible young Muslim woman using her camera for the promotion of awareness, justice and social change.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Girls advised to aim low by teachers.

The new report by the Women and Work Commission is welcome. It highlights how careers advisors and teachers give different advice to boys and girls about the opportunities open to them. Boys are encouraged to aim for the top professions whereas girls are pushed towards careers that are less well paid.

There can be no denying that if a person in authority informs a teenage girl that she is worth less than a boy, this itself will become a self fulfilling prophecy. She will excuse herself from her own abilities, ambition and intelligence. This gender gap is prevalent in our society across class, race and faith.
The Committee's Chair, Baroness Margaret Prosser, is arguing for these preconceived ideas to be tackled. This is encouraging.

Perhaps one way of addressing the issue of low ambition for girls would be to give them their own space. I am a big believer in single sex schools. This is not segragation for segragation's sake but because research has shown that girls thrive in education when they are not marginalised in the classroom by louder, rowdier boys who demand a teacher's attention.
I attended a girls only school and I remember the teachers making it extremely clear that we, the girls, could achieve anything. Would it have been different in a mixed school? Would the boys have dominated discussions, taking valuable time, space and attention way from us girls?
My physics teacher is now the Headmistress of another girls school. Plashet School has for years been delivering some of the best GCSE results in Newham - not the most prosperous parts of London either. I did a book reading at the school a year ago and met confidant and empowered girls, the majority of whom were Muslim. Some talked about wanting to be doctors and others, lawyers. Fine, they were very typically Asian aspirations but at least the girls believed in their own abilities to achieve success.

Would that have been the case had they shared the classroom space with boys? And would the teachers have been supportive of this ambition?

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Creative Writing Workshop in Bolton

Just returned from rainy Bolton after delivering the creative writing workshop.
Great fun and was given some fabulous ideas about what should happen to Zahra in the next book.

Apologies to all the boys and their Dads who wanted to attend. This session was just for girls and their Mums, but very happy to make trip up north again to deliver CWW in Bolton or any other town.

A big thank you also to the Bolton Council of Mosques for arranging the CWW. In my opinion they are one of the leading mosque organisations in the country for realising the importance of engaging with teenagers and children.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Luton's 'Zahra' competition and Islamic Relief

Busy week after getting back from the states.
Attended the Islamic Relief fundraiser in Marble Arch about turning the desert green. The inspiring evening was led by Imam Shakir who had just flown in after speaking at the ISNA event in Washington DC. He detailed Islamic Relief's project in Mali, Africa about bringing water to an otherwise poor desert region that always suffers food shortages and very low rainfall.

What struck me more is that households in Mali - headed by poor women - will have the chance to join a micro-credit scheme that lends them small amounts of money with which to start a small business. All repayments to the scheme will be in line with Shariah guidelines.
Helping poor women who have no other way to earn money features in my forthcoming book 'Zahra's Trip to Misr' which is going through a furious edit at the moment. I happily gave my charity to this cause. I can write about it, but it feels good to put my money where my pen is.
More details of this amazing project is on Islamic Relief's website.

Then after a late night, I got on the motorway the next morning to drive down to sunny Luton to launch a competition in association with the Creative Muslim Network and Luton central library.

CMN's Director Shemiza Rashid, a lovely sister with more energy than anyone I know, has organised a Luton Fictional Character Competition. The task is to create a character from Luton and the winning entry will feature in my fourth book of the Zahra series: 'Zahra's Second Year at the Khadija Academy.'
The competition is open to all girls and boys aged 6 to 16. The children must be from Luton.

The profile of the fictional character can be presented in either:
a form of an illustration, accompanied by a written profile
or a poem describing the new character & the friendship between her and Zahra
or a short narrative, eg, how Zahra meets her new friend from Luton.
All entries should include a short paragraph explaining why a character from Luton should be included
in the Zahra series and the deadline is 18th September. All Luton libraries are participating.

I should point out that we especially want non-Muslim kids to enter the competition. Community cohesion is a two way street and it would be interesting to have non-Muslim kids create a Muslim character.

Back at the launch, I did a reading and Q&A session with a group of girls from Beech School at the central library. As usual I loved every minute and was very surprised when a young grl informed me she was halfway through the first book, 'Zahra's First Term' in her local madressa. Apparently after Quran recitation, the class read from Zahra and then discuss some of the issues raised.
Would love this madressa teacher to get in touch!

Also had a very interesting conversation with one of the teachers about Muslim girls always drawing pictures of English non-Muslim girls in Art activities. She found it strange that Asian Muslim girls do not draw characetrs in their own image. Hmm, are our Barbie dolls from childhood to blame?
Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing the entries. It will be interesting to see what an 'ideal' Luton character will be like. Shall return to Luton for their Eid event in September to announce the winner, ia.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

On way to ISNA 2009

Am very excited at being chosen as one of the writers in the 'Authors Section' at this year's annual Islamic Society of North America convention, to be held in Washington DC from the 3rd to 5th July.

I will be reading from my first book 'Zahra's First Term at the Khadija Academy' on Saturday 4th and will also be signing books.

I wonder how ISNA will be different to the UK's Global Peace & Unity event. I launched my second book 'Zahra's Great Debate' at the last year's GPU. Had a great repsonse from British Mulsims.