Families, Picnics and Jihad
Most weekends I’m out joining the MPACUK team from one branch or another in their jihad - hitting the streets with our campaign leaflets, sitting down to discuss updates and plans and afterwards hopefully having a chance to chill and catch up.
Last bank holiday weekend was different – I was down in Devon with all my family. My dad’s house is by the river in a little village in the countryside. There aren’t many Muslims in the area unsurprisingly (I’m the only hijabi in the village!). The nearest mosque is an hour’s drive away and halal meat is nowhere to be seen. But, unlike in London, I’ve never experienced any abuse or even any funny looks because of my hijab. It’s a really friendly place, and it’s very much home for me.
A lot of Muslims seem surprised to hear that not only have I had no problems venturing out of the inner-city in a hijab, but that my family has had no problem with me becoming Muslim. Unfortunately however, this year our annual Family Picnic - gathering the descendents of my great-great-grandparents (a lot of people!) - fell during Ramadan. But my aunt made sure that me and my husband went home with a little package of homemade quiche and cake for our iftar. And the real point of the picnic isn’t actually the food of course – it’s the amazing experience of coming together as a whole extended family.
Maybe it’s because I come from this big extended family that when I first started reading about Islam the concept of Ummah instantly made sense to me. The really beautiful thing about the Ummah is that it is a global extended family, not based on ties of common ancestry, but founded on shared values.
In the media and political arena our belief in valuing that connection as an Ummah is under constant attack. Is your loyalty to the Ummah or to Britain? Is it only the Muslim Ummah you care about? So you couldn’t give a damn about the rest of humanity?! Personally I find those questions ridiculous because they are based on a total misunderstanding of what being part of the Ummah means to me.
Our sense of belonging to the Ummah isn’t some sort of tribal loyalty. It is a loyalty based on the universal justice preached by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), whom God sent as a ‘mercy to all people’ (Qur’an, 21:107). It doesn’t mean that we automatically side with our Muslim brothers, whether or not they are on the side of justice. When the Prophet (pbuh) said, “help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is oppressed”, he explained that the way to help an oppressor was “by preventing him from oppressing others.” (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Hadith 624).
Being part of the Ummah means we have a special duty to our Muslim brothers and sisters, and in turn the Muslim Ummah has a fundamental responsibility to strive for justice for the whole of humanity. Our Prophet (pbuh) taught us that we also have a special duty to our neighbours, whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims. We all have multiple circles of belonging and share many different connections – whether with our neighbours from the same area, our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters across the world, or (dare I mention it) even with the army of fellow Arsenal supporters up the road in Islington!
But our most basic connection is the sense of belonging we have with our own family. The best time of my whole bank holiday was when we took my baby nephew to the beach – glorious sunshine, golden sand and gentle waves to paddle in, watching my nephew splashing away and laughing with joy…
But that’s when the memory of those haunting images of a beach in Gaza intruded into my mind, with that little girl screaming, “Daddy, Daddy!” as she ran to the lifeless body of her father – with the family’s picnic things all strewn about next to the corpses of her brothers and sisters.
Back to London, back to the jihad.