Apr 27, 2013 - londonista    1 Comment

Birmingham

Over Easter break we thought we’d visit some different cities across the UK. So we drove up to Birmingham on Friday hoping to do Jumah there. Birmingham is about 2 hours north of London and the second biggest city in the UK. It seemed a lot more industrial and the houses looked to be all mass made housing blocks like those built in the US in the 70s. Can’t say it appealed very much but then again we only saw the area where the Mosque was. We attended Jumah at the Birmingham Central Mosque which is a huge mosque next to the highway. It was a welcome sight to see a dome and minaret rising above an industrial city.

I went around to the back which is per usual in the UK for sisters and went upstairs to the sisters section. It seemed to be a long balcony gallery section. There were windows in front of us but long strips of tape had been placed down them so sisters couldn’t see/be seen? Like outside in regular society its fine for you to actually see a Muslim brother, but inside the Mosque you’re not allowed to actually SEE the Khateeb giving the Khutbah! :) Yeah, you guys know my views on that. :p Anyway, we were a little early and heard a nice talk in Urdu and then in English. The Urdu dars was very powerful and hilarious and I have to say I enjoyed it a lot and even was able to record a bit for my Mom. He talked about ‘Women’s rights in Islam’ and my favorite part had to be where he said girls should be given the choice of who they marry, just like boys! And anyone who doesn’t do that is a JAHIL! and to keep your JAHALIYYA CULTURAL WAYS back in your own country. Woohoo! It was great. His English “translation” of course wasn’t that eloquent or funny but did the job. Then the actual Khutbah started among Aunties telling everyone in Urdu to move up and make room and line up straight and to donate in the bucket etc. The Auntie next to me asked me if I prayed Sunnah. I was like “Ji haan” lol. I think my Mom would have loved this Mosque.

After Jumah everyone poured out and the parking lot was full of people. There were a few stalls of people selling things but it was so cold we headed back to the car. It’s been the coldest March here in the UK since 1968 and I certainly felt it. Ex-pats from all over seem to complain of the cold here saying they are a lot colder here in the UK than back home in places like Minnesota! I have to add to this and say I never felt cold like this in upstate New York where we have winter for 8 months and below 0 temps with 14 inches of snow on the ground! I think it’s just that nothing was built here for extreme cold and they just don’t heat anything. The restaurants and shops and mosques are not heated, most leave their doors open! Most houses are old and don’t heat properly. UK ppl are used to keeping their windows open even in the dead of winter. In the US in winter we just go from car to house to stores and everything is well insulated and heated. Here there’s a lot of walking and I just think they built everything with summer in mind instead of winter. Anyways! after a very cold bitter walk back to the car we headed up north to the city of Manchester. It was a much nicer experience which I hope to detail in a future post one day!

Toodles!

Mar 24, 2013 - road to damascus series    Comments Off

In mourning for the Damascus I knew

The first time I went to Jamial Iman was probably in late 2001 or early 2002. Damascus was still like it had been for hundreds of years: sleepy, still traditional, a haven for students of knowledge. There was the odd backpacker tourist, the fullbright scholars, the french students, soas came every year; but still no one knew English, no one catered to the ‘ajaanib’ foreigners yet. Being a Quran or Arabic student was still a status of respect. You needed to know someone to come here because Syria was so closed off. A legacy of the stranglehold of dictatorship, there were no foreign businesses, no McDonalds, no KFC, no Body shop. Foreign imports like a snickers bar or pepsi were smuggled in through Jordan and hidden under the counters. It wasn’t unusual to see cars decades old. There were still narrow streets covered with vines of honeysuckle, outdoor cafes, a street full of 15th century madrasas, hidden maqams of righteous scholars of old. Still old covered markets that went back a thousand years that the natives still shopped at. Still fruit and vegetable markets, fresh bread straight from big clay ovens under the stairs for 5 liras. The impact of 9/11 had yet to reach their shores.

Students from all over the world flocked here. They were British, Malaysian, American, African, Australian, Swedish, French. They filled the halls of the University of Damascus, they enrolled in Abou Nour Institute, they hired private tutors and rented old apartments in Rukn ad-Deen with other students of knowledge. They filled the internet cafes and went to the one or two English only darses in town. They ate the local snacks with odd names, ate pizzas made from ketchup from A&M Pizza happily, excitedly tried out their new Arabic in bargaining in the souks. They sought to learn Arabic and Islam in a pure and traditional environment untouched by the outside world. I was one of them.

Our Syrian friends helped us. They helped us get the apartments, they changed our money for us, they invited us for dinner. The Syrian people were just so innocent and generous and kind. You only had to mention to someone at a bus stop you were a foreigner and they would immediately invite you to come to their house right then. The sister shaikhas would come to your house to teach you tajweed and never ask for anything. The hospitality and openess of the Syrian people to us students of knowledge can’t even be put into words. It was a beautiful time and a beautiful place. It is hard to describe and understand all this, it had to be experienced.

It was one of my brother’s friends who took us. He was so happy to bring us to the best, most modern Dars in Damascus. Shaikh Buti had almost a cult like following, but it wasn’t about him, it was about the knowledge. His students were not like ISNA goers or the sisters wearing designer jilbabs to London Islamic events. They were everyday people, young teachers, students going to university, housewives, couples, even taxi drivers, and of course the serious students of knowledge, native and foreign. They loved that he talked about modern things in an Islamic way. The sisters wore their maunteau blue coats with speck free white hijabs. Many we met were also Hafizas, Tajweed experts and evem memorizers of Bukhari. Our friend joked that when someone wanted to get married in Damascus, they would send their mother to the women’s side of this class to find a good girl for him. The sisters had a big upstairs area with closed-circuit tv of the shaikh. On this occasion he was talking about an article about something in a Western newspaper someone had brought him. I only understood maybe 30% of what he was saying at this time, but even as a new student of Arabic I could see he had an amazing way of speaking Fusha. He was not a charismatic speaker as such, but he was one with a lot of knowledge and way of saying things. He was probably in his 70s at this time, a little frail, thin and wiry, but always sitting on the floor with a book in front of him.

After the class we would pray, and then you would see hundreds of people streaming from the Mosque going home. This is how popular this Islamic Dars was, that it was an actual “event” in Damascus every Thursday night.

I can’t look at pictures of the carnage in the Masjid, of blood soaked into the carpets where worshipers had just been putting their heads in prostration, of body parts strewn across the Mosque. I know I, along with every student of knowledge in the world, is in a state of shock and mourning. What can be more sacred in our Deen?? A shaikh giving a lesson in a mosque, with eager worshipers, surrounded by angels. Truly, for them there is no better way to die.

No one has taken responsibility for this heinous act, each side blaming the other, each side, amazingly mourning this great scholar. Yes, he may have been a staunch supporter of the regime, or he may not have been. Yet thousands of miles away on social networks immediately Muslims started calling Shaikh Buti names, saying he had finally been ‘exposed’ and that they hoped he would be in Hell with ‘that dog’ Bashar. Really? How does someone walk into a Mosque with all these beautiful worshipers, with a Shaikh that has spent over 5 decades learning, teaching and doing Dawah for Islam and kill him and them in this way. How can any politics justify this? How can someone do that and claim any amount of faith? It is how I know we are living at the ends of time. Where Fitnah will be so rife, that people will kill and be killed, and neither will know why.

I mourn for the worshipers at Jamial Iman and their Shaikh, I mourn for the people of Damascus and Syria and most of all I mourn for the Damascus I knew.

Mar 15, 2013 - londonista    2 Comments

Muslim Guide to London: Some Top London sites

londonmap

Salam,

Now that I’ve been living in London for a few months, I’ve been able to host a few visitors and seen a few of the more famous sites of London. I’m always asked what the best places to visit are, so thought I’d make my own little guide.

Here are in my opinion (IMHO!!) the top 10 sites you guys shouldn’t miss when you visit London:

But, first some notes…

London is very expensive, so make sure to save your money for your visit and realize that a lot of it is going to go towards transportation fees, like a one day pass on the subway here (underground) costs like £9 which is like $15 and entrance fees to most of the famous tourist sites are going to be like £20 and up which is $35 per person! (Meals will go for about £7 for McDonald’s up to £25 at a nicer place. A Harrods handbag is going to start at £30.) I’d budget like $100 a day just to do stuff, eat and buy stuff (not including hotel). You could go cheaper, and there are free things to visit like all the museums and Mosques are free, but who doesn’t want to buy anything or eat just sandwiches on vacation!

One of the first things that shocked me about London (besides the sticker shock of prices!) is the amount of Muslims you’ll just see… EVERYWHERE. Hijabistas in tight jeans, boots and multi-colored big layered Hijabs, old men in Kurta pajamas, Somalis in long Khimars, Niqabis in full black, men with long beards and Kufis. Some areas in London you’ll only see brown people! With the huge influx of EU visitors and tourists, you’ll also hear every language in the world wherever you go, French, Spanish, Polish, Hindi, etc. Most ppl you think are English are actually tourists or foreigners themselves! It’s incredibly multi-cultural. That said, the English kind of have a love/hate with Muslims/foreigners. Cuz we’re terrorists right ;) … well beyond that Muslims in Britain have a hard time interacting and integrating (and that’s a whole other blogpost). If you are polite and kind or need help most people will be polite and kind back, but don’t expect extreme hospitality or friendliness, from Muslims or non-Muslims.

Next,

I have to highly recommend visiting London in the Spring or Fall. In Summer the city is full of tourists (which we are! but makes it hard to do stuff). The city really comes alive in the warmth with all the greenery and parks and walking around. In winter you will just be extremely cold all the time and while you can see everything it’s just not pleasant.

As for praying there are Mosques dotted around London that you can stop at to pray, but many of them are just men-only :mad: so try to look up the prayer times to arrange things for yourself.

Ok,

1. Regent’s Park Mosque – This is a very beautiful historical Mosque built in 1944 right on the edge of Regent’s Park. It’s built on ground granted to Saudi by the Queen. The sisters have a largish balcony area and there’s a bookstore as well as a tiny sisters store downstairs. Also in the basement there’s a canteen/restaurant that serves Desi food like Kormas, Kabobs and Samosas. After Jumah you’ll see many ppl eating down there and many Arab ladies milling around sharing little cakes and chocolates with those around them. The park is quite lovely and there’s a pond, ducks and a playground. It’s also quite close to the Sherlock Holmes Museum and Madame Tussauds if you want to pop in for some fun.

2. London Eye (seeing Big Ben, Westminster area) – No one can come to London and not do the Eye!! It’s just not right. Spend the day around this area, eating ice cream, walking along the Thames, and viewing Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.

3. East London Mosque – This is one of London’s most active Mosques. The buildings are in the heart of East London and include a big area upstairs for sisters. The Mosque has been associated with many famous names including famous translators of the Quran Abdullah Yusuf Ali and Pickthall. There are numerous classes and programs held here. Around this area are a lot of nice Halal restaurants and a few Islamic stores.

4. River Thames Cruise – While you’re at the area around the Thames make sure you take a cruise! There are many different one’s and you can actually do a duck one or hop on/hop off ones to see different sites or take a long leisurely ones all the way down. It’s fun to see London from the waters and under the bridges.

5. Natural History Museum if you have kids, V&A if you don’t. There are a number of museums very close to each other, so you can see them all on the same day although it’s a bit crazy! The Natural History Museum has great dinosaur exhibits and a giant whale and planet. The Victoria & Albert Museum has a beautiful Islamic art section and occasional interesting traveling photographic exhibits. Extremely useful is the faith/prayer room at the Natural History museum so look for it if you need to pray.

6. Green Street - Green St. is THE desi street in London akin to Jackson Heights or Devon St. It has all the desi shops and restaurants, and even includes an open market called the Queen’s Market with all kinds of stalls of cheap desi jewellery, clothes, Hijabs, toys and even hanging meat or fish! (like the one of 1 pound fish guy fame!). There are a few Mosques in the area, but we ended up praying in a kind Islamic booksellars back room.

7. Muslim restaurants
– There’s no way anyone can come to London and not try all the amazing Halal restaurants. Check out the HMC Halal certification website to make sure the restaurant is truly Halal though before you go. Here are some suggestions: 1. Big Moes -American style diner with yummy Halal burgers and shakes. 2. Chaudhrys -An all you can eat buffet with all kinds of dishes to choose from. 3. Tayyabs- Very good Pakistani food. 4. Jungle Braii – South African steaks 5. Maidah – Turkish/Lebanese food 6. Sahara Grill – nice grilled meats 7. Perfect Fried Chicken – spicy fried chicken etc. etc, there’s just so many!

8. Oxford Street and/or Harrods. Oxford St. is the 5th Avenue of London full of stores like H&M, Topshop, Primark, Monsoon, the famous Hamleys Toy Store and department store Selfridges and many others. Also included are little touristy shops full of knickknacks. (There is a Mosque nearby but it takes a bit of walking and is hard to find.) Harrods is the most famous department store in London and includes 7 floors of exclusive designer items. Formerly owned by Dodi (of Diana fame)’s father it’s now owned by the Qataris who have a little section somewhere inside. It’s fun just to gawk at how rich some people are and view the prices of items. Upstairs there’s an affordable Harrod’s “souvenir” shop with things the non-rich and non-famous can afford!

9. Westfield Shopping Centre – This is the biggest mall in Europe with a ton of floors and restaurants, an ice skating rink, a bowling alley and 3-D IMAX. There’s also a prayer room next to the Nandos. It’s full of all the biggest London stores like Topshop, Primark, Boots, Next, etc. Fun to spend the day shopping and eating and viewing all the Hijabi fashionistas walking around!

10. Brick Lane -
Made famous by a book and film, this is the area where Bangladeshi Muslims first settled in London. Today it’s full of great Desi restaurants frequented by everyone in London who loves curry. There’s a little historical Mosque here as well.

And that’s it! I’m sure there are many other nice places as well, and after I visit more places I haven’t been to yet (British Museum, British Library, Kew gardens, Portobello market) I’ll update this list inshAllah. Any suggestions from Londoners, please post in the comments!! There’s only about a million more places to visit as you can see in the map below!! ;)

In the meantime, welcome to London :D

londonmap2

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