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Monday, 3 September 2012

Rughum And Najda By Samar Habib

Rughum and Najda is a tale of two women living different lives, living in a patriarchal world in which they fall in love and dream of living happily ever after, but does the cliché ever come to plan?

Before reading the novel I had an abstract notion that the Middle East was a fantasy world of riches, gold and powerful rulers. A world with large castles and bustling markets quite similar to the land of Telmar in the Narniaa books, or even the setting of Aladdin for those who have been deprived of the fantasy world of C.S Lewis . The story of Rughum and Najda somewhat revived my preconceived notion of that ancient Middle East yet also matured my understanding of the way the world actually is - rigged with oppressive power structures, discrimination, injustice and tainted with male domination.

The story is set in the scorching heat of the city of Baghdad, a couple of hundred years after the demise of the Prophet Muhammed and the spread of a new Abrahamic religion of Islam. In the opening scene young teenager Rughum is being treated by a sheikh to ‘produce a reduction in her male like-behaviour’. Already scarred by the treatment in her delicate youth she is hastily married off to an old man whom she fails to please sexually due to her hearts’ desire for something she can’t really explain - a desire she cannot seem to fulfil with her loving husband and kind master.

Parallel to the life of Rughum is the story of Najda, an adopted daughter and apprentice of Um Saad, who was a devout follower of the Prophet Mani. Um Saad’s ritualistic treatments and ointments for illnesses brings Muslims and non-Muslims alike from far and wide to meet her. It was Rughum’s failure to please her master sexually and Najda’s mother’s famous mystical treatments that collided both women’s worlds together birthing a sordid and forbidden love story. The couple have aspirations and plans of living happily ever after, quite similar to many tales set ‘in a land far far away’, however quite similar to reality, as we know it, Najda’s past quickly catches up with her.

The novel unravels different perspectives on homosexuality in the 9th century, but does not limit itself to discussion of homosexuality but also explores the various degrees of religious acceptance and tolerance. The author quite effectively grabs the reader’s heart strings in such a way that the reader starts to live and understand the world from the point of view of a person who lives amongst the injustice and corruption and feeds on its riches. Therefore, one becomes accepting of certain occurrences in the book without questioning the underlying inequality in the story.

Samar Habib is simply great story writer, it is quite rare that an author can successfully write on a taboo subject, such as homosexuality within Islam, unless it was writing on the punishments a person should face for being gay. The author shows a now little known world in which gender and sexual diversity thrived under an Islamic caliphate. Simply writing about being gay and having faith provides a platform for many writers yet to come in the future. It also clearly shows that it is not religion that is homophobic; it is the people who practice the religion. Samar Habib effectively portrays this by writing an excellent lesbian love story.

Friday, 10 August 2012

The Rohingya tribe of Burma




Ex-British Colony Burma is faced with major international scrutiny for its treatment of the Rohingya people. It has been just less than a year since Burma had its first general election after the military rule from1962-2011. In 1982 Burma passed a citizenship law which as a result meant that 135 ethnic minorities in Burma were left unrecognised by the state. As a result many people were left jobless and without any official recognition by the state.

The Rohingya are a minority tribe in the West of Burma in 2012 it was estimated that there are around 800,000 Rohingya living in the region and according the UN the Rohingya are amongst the most discriminated against race in the world. The official belief of the Burmese military government was that there Rohingya were refugees from neighbouring Bangladesh and therefore they should not be recognised as citizens of Burma.

However it is very much disputed where the Rohingya actually come from. Some historians state that the Rohingya were people from a ship wreck from a trading ship that came from Arabia were as some state that the Rohingya come from Afghanistan. According to Aye Chan professor at Kanda University of International studies the Rohingya term did not exist until the 1950’s yet this does not mean to say that Muslims did not exist in Burma before the Rohingaya as Muslims also known as the Mohammedians came to the country in the 8th century.

Japanese troops in Burma 1942
During Japanese occupation (1942) a major power vacuum was created when the British pulled out of the Arakan state. This meant that the local Buddhists and Muslims started fighting and so did the Burmese Nationalists against the British loyalists Rohingya resisted the invasion and as a result they were given weapons and aid by the British to try and resist the Japanese movement towards taking power in Burma. The Japanese retaliated by torturing, killing and raping the Rohingya Muslims as a result 22,000 Muslims fled to India. As a way of paying the Rohingya for their loyalty to the British they were rewarded administration in the state of Arakan which was short lived as the state was incorporated with Burma later in 1948. Quickly the Burmese replaces Muslim civil servants and Muslim police officers with Burmese police officers. The refugees who fled to India and Bangladesh ect were seen as illegal immigrants who were not allowed to return back to there home land.

Laws were passed that a Rohinya needs to ask for governments permission to get married and also sign a contract stating that they will not have more than two children according to a BBC report breaching of either of these laws can mean imprisonment for up to 7 years. It is also illegal for the Rohingya to travel without official permission and owning land is also against the law.

For many years the Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh were 28,000 people have been granted official UN refuge and the rest live in horrid and ‘grim’ conditions without jobs and official recognition as people. A large influx of people were also reported to have immigrated to Arabia to grant refuge and start life there but recent Islamic extremism has meant the Saudi Authorities have tightened their borders making it increasingly harder for the Rohingya to travel.

Alleged Murderers of Ma Thida Htwe 
The violence and long lasted tention was reignited on the 28th of May, It was reported that daughter of U Hla Tin, of Thabyechaung Village named Ma Thida Htwe aged 27 was brutally raped then killed by three Muslim men. These men were later arrested. However on June the 5th a bus of pilgrims were attacked by local around 300 Taunggup people after reading pamphlets and posters ordering the locals to take notice of the attacks of muslims upon local women the deadly clash left 10 Muslims dead. A separate report suggests that the local culprits of this atrocity allowed all the Burmese and Arakanese ‘looking’ passengers of the bus to disembark the bus and run away and killed the ‘Indian looking’ 10 people.



The killed were:
1.      Tay Zar Myint (30) from Taung Dwin Gyi Town of Magwe Division.
2.      Aung Myint (40) from Taung Dwin Gyi Town of Magwe Division.
3.      Maung Ni (47) from Taung Dwin Gyi Town of Magwe Division.
4.      Ni Pwe (56) from Taung Dwin Gyi Town of Magwe Division.
5.      Aye Lwin (50) from Taung Dwin Gyi Town of Magwe Division.
6.      Tin Maung Swe (53) from Taung Dwin Gyi Town of Magwe Division.
7.      Zaw Nyi Nyi Htut (36) from Myaung Mya Town of Irrawaddy Division.
8.      Aung Ko Ko Kyaw (27) from Myaung Mya Town of Irrawaddy Division.
9.      Driver Naung Naung (30) from Sandoway Town of Arrakan State.
10.  Conductor Nyi Nyi Htun (25) from Sandoway Town of Arrakan State.

Intikhab Alam Suri, President, Human Rights Network states that the Killing in the bus was fuelled by the fact that a 28 year old Buddhist woman embraced Islam after marrying a Muslim of the region and this sparked tensions resulting in the killing of the 10 passengers on the bus.The violence has escalated over the month it is unclear as to how many deaths have occurred however it is clear that there is a clash between sectarian violence and the oppressed Rohingya.

What other countries are doing?

Bangladesh- Bangladesh has increased there border security to ensure that the Rohingya do not cross the borders into Bangladesh this has meant that the country’s government has come under major scrutiny and criticism
Iran- According to press TV Iranian lawyers and professors has urged ‘strong protest against the Myanmar violence to the international community and the so-called “advocates of human rights.”
Pakistan - Moazzam Ali Khan the foreign ministry spokesman issued a press report stating the governments concern over the situation however no action is taken.
United states – Hilary Clinton state secretary has also raised concern about the conflict and asked both sides of the clashes to ‘exercise restraint’.
United Kingdom- Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne told the BBC that the coalition government is  ‘deeply concerned' by the situation and that the UK and other countries would continue to watch developments closely.

It is important to note that the occurrences in Burma that are recorded in this article may not be entirely a fact despite cross references and a wide range of source’s being used.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Stuck Between Two worlds?



Do you feel like are stuck between two worlds? Do you clashing indenties? This book provides a great insight into some one that has been through exactly that.
JJ Marie is a woman from Midwest America however this has not always been the case. JJ Marie was born a male known as Joe Gufreda. As a young boy he played sports and wa a alterboy at the local church and went to school like many ordinary boys of his age. After his marriage to Jo Gufreda he became a devoted father to three children and also a grandmother. Yet a secret lurked in his life and it was constantly haunting him and after years of internal struggle and fighting with herself Jow finally realised her true identity as a female. JJ Marie now works in the business sector and one of the most sucessful trans-women in the world.
The book provides a great insight into the transitional period that Joe went through to become a person now known as JJ Marie Gufreda. The exceptional aspect of this book is that it can it can be related to by many people living a double life and a constant battle to be two people at once. In the house JJ was a woman and outside in the presence of family a friends she was Joe. This deeply affected everyday life for JJ and overcoming the hurdle of becoming a full time female was a hard yet rewarding life change.

Instead of being a book that provides a step by step guide on advice of how to tell people about your sexuality or how to live as the opposite sex in a clinical serioius way JJ appoaches the issue in a much more humourous manner. She helps overcome simple issues in a effective manner with first-hand experience such as how to approach people and what to say. She proves that there is still a way for those who have faith to keep their faith firm and still be religious at the same time. On a personal prospective I can relate to this book more because as a Muslim who is also gay and and this book clearly shows that LGBT people can have faith and religion.
This book is highly recommended not just for people who are transexual or going through the phase of it but also for LGBTQ, it answers many questions for people who have been caught in a limbo between two identities.

Le Smoking Women in what was Mens clothes


Before the birth of Yves Saint Laurent’s women in suits look, women at work used to wear a long skirt with a high waist, usually accompanied by a long coat or a fur jacket. This simple feminine look differentiated the dress sense of men and women, they looked and dressed very different until the age of androgynous look which was invented by Saint Laurent with his women in suits look.
In 1966 a leading fashion icon and courtier the Frenchman Yves Saint Laurent made the great invention of the women’s Tuxedo. The three button dinner jacket, worn with a white silk blouse and ‘masculine’ trousers brought about the birth of women dressing smarter and more masculine. Saint Laurent joined forces with German Fashion photographer Helmut Newton to shoot the photograph ‘Le Smoking’.
Not only did it make smoking sexy, it revolutionised the way women dressed. The influences of the photograph have stood the test of time and can still be noticed in the high street today. By breaking the stereotypes of the way women should dress not only did he act as an icon for many feminists but also made an addition to the highly volatile fashion trends that were apparent in 1960s. What better time to bring this daring trend than during the second wave of the feminist movement.
The suited woman look was quickly renamed the ‘power suit’ by many critics and the look quickly spread to women working in Wall Street in New York. Publicised by women like Liza Minnelli and Bianca Jagger the suit took a whole new turn to the way women dressed both on the catwalk and at work. Twenty years on after the trend was launched, the women’s Tuxedo was renamed by fashion critics as the ‘power suit’. This seen less as a trend and was internalised by many western business women as a way of life and normal dress sense who would of known that the some what controversial photo-shoot of a woman in men’s clothes would change the way women would dress. The look took into its stride a woman’s feminine look yet protected her from the male gaze. Critics may suggest that this idea of the suit providing power to the women is ridiculous, as it suggests that women have to dress like men in order to be in power, however the new trend spread like wild fire in the western world and is still apparent in today’s culture therefore it has surely provided great influence to women’s fashion.
Women in suits are seen in all work-places now and it has taken off as a trent again as a casual dress sense. Michelle Obama the unarguably the most powerful and fashionable women in the world has also taken this women in suits look. Lady Gaga brought back this look in her music video Born This Way. Yes this look may seem like something you would wear on Halloween, but it’s still different, trendy and an off spin of ‘Le smoking’.

Oppression to Liberation – The journey of Peter Tatchell


Peter Tatchell, often known as the rebel with many causes, lives up to his name. He has been called ‘a national hero’ by The Sunday Times and Elton John has praised Peter Tatchell stating he is ‘incredibly brave’’ and that Tatchell is ‘doing good work in a world where most people are too timid’.
After recently meeting Peter Tatchell at the NUS LGBT conference in Manchester I felt it was appropriate to dedicate my article to one of the leading and most influential LGBT campaigners and politicians in the world.
Who would have known that the former employee at Melbourne’s principal department store in 1969 would stage a citizen’s arrest of Robert Mugabe in 1999 and again in 2001. Peter Tatchell has said this courage and strength as a political activist is paralleled by his adrenaline-filled, risk-taking hobbies such as surfing and mountain climbing, as mentioned in a BBC radio interview.
Peter Tatchell hasn’t always been an activist for gay rights. His life of political activism began in 1967 when he was at school. He started campaigning for Aboriginal rights and for the abolition of the death penalty in his homeland of Australia, despite being accused by his head teacher of being “manipulated by communists.”
Refusing to be conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War, in 1971 Tatchell migrated to London, where he became a leading member in the Gay Liberation Front. GLF protested against homosexuality being labelled as a mental disorder and against police harassment.
Peter helped organise the first ever Gay Pride in London (1972).
It is hard to believe but Peter was denounced by homophobic NUS leaders in the early 1970’s for defending LGBT rights. Yet now the National Union of Students is one of the major groups for LGBT liberation in the UK and probably even Europe. In the same period, he was doing his A-levels part time at West London College and went on to do a degree in Sociology as a mature student.
In 1973, Peter Tatchell was arrested for holding the first ever LGBT rights in a communist country, East Germany, as it was then known.
In the early 1990s, Buju Banton released his song ‘Boom Bye Bye’. It was unfortunately quite popular and called for the killing of homosexuals. A campaign was launched, organised by Tatchell, called Stop Murder Music. This campaign was attacked by supporters of Banton who labelled it racist . However, it was also backed by Jamaica’s LGBT movement, J-Flag, and by the Black Gay Mens Advisory Group in London.
Peter Tatchell hasn’t only protested against homophobia and for LGBT freedom. In the run up to the Iraq war, Peter opposed the US-UK invasion but also strongly supported Iraqis opposed to Saddam Hussein’s tyranny. He hoped that Iraqi self-liberation would inspire democratic and left rebellions against other Arab dictators.
In 2007, Tatchell travelled to Moscow for the attempted Gay Pride parade. Together with Russian LGBT activists, he was physically beaten by neo-Nazis. “I’m not deterred one iota from coming back to protest in Moscow,” Peter Tatchell told PinkNews.co.uk. He has since returned to Moscow three times to support Russian LGBT campaigners.
Peter Tatchell has also done a lot of work opposing the Israeli Occupation of Palestine and Chinese tyranny. Despite criticisms, Tatchell has defended oppressed Muslims around the world and protested against the hanging of two Iranian youths in 2005. He has also worked with the founders of Al-Fatiha, the world’s first LGBT Muslim organisation. His motto is: “Don’t accept the world as it is. Dream of what the world could be – and then help make it happen.”
* For more information about Peter Tatchell’s LGBT and human rights campaigns: www.petertatchell.net

Imaan announces 5th International LGBTQI Muslim Conference.






Imaan LGBT conference 2012

This year the UK has hosted and taken part in many events around the world including the Olympics, the Diamond Jubilee and also the Eurovision contest despite disappointing results from Engelbert Humperdinck came second to last. What next?
Imaan, a London based organisation for LGBT Muslims internationally is hosting its 5th ever international conference. The organisation founded in September 1998 supports LGBT Muslim’s from around the world including their families and friends to address issues of sexual orientation within Islam. Not only is the organisation the largest LGBT organisation for Muslims in Europe it Is also the second largest in the world to its sister organisation Al-Fatiha in America.
Imaan is an organisation that is a safe haven for LGBT Muslims to address their sexual orientation without prejudice in a tolerating and friendly environment. The organisation hosts many meetings throughout the year to help people come to terms with the sexuality and faith conflict and more importantly socialise and get to know people who are in the same situation. More importantly the organisation is run by volunteers without funding and is self-sufficient.
The conference to be held on the 24th of August will bring together people from all around the world hosting a haven for world academics in the LGBTQI and secular world including Christian Jewish, and Baha’i organisations. The organisation is seen as a safe haven by many Gay, Lesbian and Transgender people who struggle with their faith and their sexuality.
The chairperson of Imaan, Tawseef Khan writes, “The announcement of the conference is appropriate, as the questions of how inclusive a faith Islam is and whether its LGBTQI community have a place within it are contentiously discussed by scholars and the mainstream alike. In Imaan, we have worked especially diligently in recent years, on behalf of the membership and are proud to bring a conference to them, which essentially contains the synthesis of our community’s talent and scholarship and the issues we work against daily.”
Due to the fact that many people will not be able to attend the conference a booklet is published with the topics discussed in the conference. This will be made available for people to order soon after the conference. My next article will be about how the conference went ect see you then!
Please visit the website for more information or email me.

Interview with Asifa Lahore



An interview with Asifa Lahore



So Asifa tell me a little about yourself where are you from and what do you do?
I am an Asian drag queen from Lahore. I came to the UK as a baby with my parents and settled in Southall, West London. As I grew up I discovered my love for singing, dancing and the batty boys of Britain. Luckily they loved me too and during my escapades I started working in cabaret venues and clubs in London. Earlier this year I won the bronze medal in Drag Idol 2012 which I was very proud of!a

What is it like to be the possibly the only Asian drag artist in the UK that is also well known for the music videos and shows you do?
On one hand it is amazing as I cannot be compared to anyone else. I use my ethnicity to my advantage as being Asian, Muslim and gay is very current in British society today so I rinse it out as much as I can. On the other hand, it is quite a big responsibility being the only Asian drag queen. I want to represent my community to the best of my ability. Sometimes I can ruffle a few feathers with the issues I highlight during my shows which is always a good thing in my opinion. The support from my community has been phenomenal and it spurs me on to do bigger and better things. 

We have all seen your feisty side behind your drag queen persona and love it! But what are you really like? 

I’m actually a very down to earth person who likes simple things like cooking, swimming, watching films and chilling out. I like to keep some normality in my life and keep the stage antics where they belong.


Now for the makeup tips! How the hell do you get yourself to look so flawless and stunning and keep it like that all night? 
Wow, thank you! That is very sweet of you. I have a confession to make. I have a superb stylist who takes care of my hair, make up and outfits. His name is SG Coelho and he is one to watch in the styling world. Every drag queen can look flawless but it is how you hold yourself that matters so the best advice I can give is be true to yourself as a person, smile and let your radiance shine!





Your videos are hilarious and also have a great hidden meaning to them of acceptance who writes your music and directs your videos?
I write my own lyrics to popular songs that I like to dance too. My songs and videos get a great response and I am flattered that people relate to the songs. I write about everyday issues that affect me as a person. The song Punjabi Girl talks about being a ‘gaysian’ in Britain today. As well as making fun of being Asian on the gay scene, it also highlights the point that some gaysians will get married to the opposite sex in later life which is their choice. Get Batty is an emancipation song which urges unity and for people to be proud of being LGBT. My songs are tongue in cheek but I’d like to think they do a little to push people’s boundaries. The video for Punjabi Girl was directed by the fabulous team at DreamCoat Productions. My previous videos have all been self-directed by me! 

Now for the juicy gossip have you got any knights in shining armour or prince stunning in your life?
Now that would be telling! Haha! I have many admirers from Aladdin to Zayn Malik, from Amir Khan to Shah Rukh Khan, the list is long. I had a marriage proposal from a huge Bollywood star earlier this year. The surprise is that is was a FEMALE star that wanted to marry me! No I am NOT going to tell you who she is because she would kill me. I turned her down as the truth is I’ve been married for the last 3 years to the love of my life. He is gaysian too.


Follow Asifa on @AsifaLahore