Can You Be Gay and Muslim?

This is a topic that I think about often, yet avoid writing about just because I’ve never really known how to articulate my views on this properly. Even now, I’ll be honest, I am still confused about some of the issues that go hand-in-hand with this wider, highly debated subject matter, and with Western society increasingly normalising homosexuality day-by-day, it seems if anyone airs an opinion that even slightly goes against homosexuality even if all they are trying to do is better understand it, there is an instant rebuttal and all of a sudden that person is labelled as a homophobe, even if they actually aren’t.

Early July this year, in Birmingham, another gay couple got married. This isn’t really a big deal anymore as same-sex marriage was legalised in England over three years ago, but this particular marriage made the headlines because one half of this couple identifies himself as a Muslim. As much as I try to avoid reading comments on news articles online, in this particular instance I couldn’t help myself and was disgusted to see hate comment after hate comment coming from people with Muslim names. These people weren’t even attempting to have a debate on the matter; they were out rightly condemning the marriage and the people within it, stating that the Muslim brother shouldn’t even call himself a Muslim and deserved to be punished/killed, and so on and so forth. Seeing this, I asked people on my social networks what they thought about homosexuality and religion and whether they thought the two could mix. All the responses, bar one, came from non-Muslim women who mostly agreed that homosexuality is natural and that God loves all his creations, including those that have same-sex relationships.

At this point, I had seen two starkly contrasting views on the same matter, but I wanted to go deeper within and what better way to do that than to actually go within? I was lucky enough to interview a queer Muslim female about her sexuality, her faith and her views on this whole subject and I can honestly say it was an eye-opening experience. She told me that despite all her struggles and veering off the path of Islam that she was brought up with, she still identifies as being Muslim and has come to understand that even within Islam there is scope for her to be who she truly is. She told me that although the guidelines of religion are important, religion to her is more about being a good person. I asked her whether she believed her sexuality was something that could be changed and she told me that she was made the way that she was and according to religious scriptures, to be punished for that, just seems wrong.

She told me,

“The way I see it is, if you ask someone straight to imagine one day being told that being straight is wrong and… being attracted to someone of a different gender was weird or not normal, would you be able to change it? I think we can choose how we act, yes, but then to ask someone to not ever be with the person they are in love with is horrible… the question is, if things were the other way round, would we still be asking people not to be themselves?”

 The conversation with this remarkable young lady really struck me and definitely gave me food-for-thought and I think more and more conversations need to be had with people whose life choices/views/opinions we don’t understand, in order to broaden and better ourselves as human beings.

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Personally, I am not a homophobe and I am not anti-gay. Surprisingly, in my very early twenties, I had many gay Muslim friends (you would be shocked at just how many gay Muslims there are!) and their sexual orientation never really came into play – in fact, it was something that I didn’t really even see, notice or pay attention to apart from the occasional “but how did you know”s – despite growing up being told that homosexuality was wrong. Around the age of 22, six years ago now and just after most of these friendships fell apart, I found my faith again after having nearly almost rejected it. Having read the Qur’an (the Islamic holy book) with new eyes and a newfound spirituality that wasn’t there before, I can now quite openly say that although I am not anti-gay, I am not pro-gay either, but I still have love for my homosexual Muslim brothers and sisters.

You see, this is the way that I see it. We are all, every single one of us, creations of God and He has given each of us our own struggles and battles. We are all human. We are all connected – despite the fact that so many of us are ignorant of it – as we all came from and are going back to the same place. I don’t believe that homosexuality is the natural order of the world no, but that does not mean that I hate homosexuals or see them any different to how I see any other person. Faith is faith and if someone wants to consume alcohol, wear revealing clothes, have relationships outside of marriage with the opposite sex or with the same sex and still call himself or herself a Muslim, then so be it. Your faith is your faith and that is between you and your Lord – no one can take that away from you and no one has the right to say that you are not a Muslim. And despite whatever you do, however you act and whatever you say, you still have the capacity and power to be beneficial to the whole of humanity which is what I believe to be the ultimate goal in life.

As a global community of Muslims, we need to practise the core principles of our religion: to treat everyone on this earth equally, to live in peace and harmony, and ultimately, to not judge one another. I believe the hate comments that I saw online in regards to the gay Muslim marriage are because people simply do not understand homosexuality, and sometimes it is easier to remain ignorant and be hateful rather than to do the opposite.

So today, even if you do not agree with homosexuality and even if, like me, you do not believe it is natural, I ask you, as one human being to another, please treat your gay Muslim brothers and sisters with love, decency and respect. These are the very basics we should be giving to each and every person every single day if we want to make the world a better place, despite the rainbow of differences between us.

Light & Love,

Sabah x

– don’t forget to breathe

I sat looking out over the horizon, gently swinging my legs back and forth, the weight of the world nestled deeply atop my shoulders. 

I looked enviously towards the trees, emerald leaves dancing in the breeze, and muttered, “It’s so simple for you – all you have to do is breathe and be.” 

I felt the wind blowing softly through my toes, in my hair; and then it was in my ears and it whispered, “But it can be simple for you too Sabah – all you have to do is breathe and be.” 

18.07.17 

Palestine: 50 Years of Occupation

As if enough had not already been done; as if enough pain had not already been endured; as if enough lives hadn’t already been mercilessly taken…. This week fifty years ago, Israel shocked the world even further by ripping the remaining Palestinian territories from the hands of their desperate people, clutching on to the last remaining parts of their homeland with all their might. It has been fifty years since the occupation of Palestine’s remaining lands by the State of Israel, so why, still, has no peace solution been found?

Growing up and being educated in England, I had honestly never even heard of Palestine until I was 17. Israel, yes. Palestine? No. After all, Western education teaches young, impressionable minds the history it wants them to believe – rarely the truth. It was only in my 20’s that I really started to explore the story of Israel/Palestine further, and to this day, each time I read about it or see something on the news to do with the conflict, I still can’t believe that it has happened and that Palestine is still illegally occupied, with no one really doing much about it.

Now, I am really no expert, but today I’ll break it down for those who may not know much about the situation in an as-easy-to-understand way as possible.

How did it all begin?

Small groups of Jews have always lived in Palestine. It was home to Muslims, Christians and Jews; the latter lived in small groups amongst the indigenous Palestinian people. The 1940’s were a hugely difficult time for Jewish people as most of us are aware, and many were fleeing harsh persecution in anti-Semitic Europe, especially from the Nazi holocaust, which murdered millions of Jews heartlessly and unjustifiably. At the time, Palestine was a British colony and Zionists encouraged mass emigration to the country – it seemed that Jews were finally going to have a new place to call home, something which they were so desperately seeking.

The State of Israel was created through the United Nations 1947 Partition Plan, which offered the Jewish immigrants the majority of the land of Palestine, to claim as their own country, despite it already being home to the Palestinians. This massively destroyed life for the Palestinians. Imagine it happening to you – someone marching into your house, claiming it as their own and forcing you to live in a cupboard. Obviously, the Palestinian people were not happy and rejected the UN’s plan, leading to several Arab states subsequently invading the new state of Israel. Fighting commenced and from the time it began to when it ended in 1949, Israeli forces erased over 400 Palestinian villages and towns and ended up controlling 78% of historic Palestine. It gets worse.

The 750,000 Palestinians who had fled or were expelled during the fighting tried to return to their homes, where the new State of Israel stood, but horrifically were permanently barred by the Israeli government. Simultaneously, the 100,000 Palestinians that didn’t leave during the fighting suddenly found themselves as second-class citizens to the Jews. Ironically, in the process of one group of refugees (the Jews) finding a much needed home, another group of refugees was created (the Palestinians). It’s pretty hard to digest, but it’s true.

50 Years Occupied

Unsurprisingly, Israel never defined it’s borders, which means that during the Six-Day War that took place between 5-10th June 1967, they were able to take control of the remaining Palestinian territories including the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, as well as Syrian Golan Heights and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. Military occupations are meant to be temporary – however, after fifty whole years, this one looks like it is pretty much permanent and the Palestinians living in those occupied areas have had to endure struggle after struggle.

From what I know of Judaism, it is as beautiful and as peaceful a religion as any other, promoting equality, peace and brotherhood. Israel was created as a Jewish state; therefore you would think these same principles would be at the core of its foundation. But, no.

Israel, rather than following the core values of Judaism, was rather built on a blueprint of exclusion where the Israeli government wanted maximum land and resources for the Jews, but not for the Palestinians. No equality at all.

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Today…

Today, Palestinian refugees and their relatives number in the millions, many living in refugee camps seeking nothing but to return to their homeland. Inside Israel, although Palestinians still make up 20% of the population, they are denied special privileges that are reserved only for Jews – such as rights to land and housing.

Since the occupation fifty years ago, Israel built Jewish settlements throughout the occupied West Bank, building Jewish-only cities and providing them with infrastructure such as roads and schools. Here, the Palestinians and the Israeli-Jewish settlers live under two completely separate and unequal systems of Israeli law, where even water and natural resources are restricted for the Palestinians. To maintain the occupation, Israel has made life so difficult for the Palestinians that they will either leave or be too afraid to resist, by completely destroying thousands of Palestinian homes and orchards, bombing the captive civilian population in Gaza and punishing resistance with raids, arrests and assassinations. Can you even imagine what it must be like to live in a land where all you have ever know is the occupation? That’s reality for all of the Palestinian refugee children in these occupied areas.

Peace Talks

Those words are an actual joke as almost three decades of US backed ‘peace talks’ have only made the situation worse, being a theatrical cover-up allowing Israel to continue its illegal occupation and to snatch away more and more land, and rights, away from the Palestinians. Add to this the fact that the Israeli military is the biggest recipient of US foreign aid – and therefore enabling Israel to completely destroy Palestine – and you truly realise the extent of how fake these ‘peace talks’ really are.

Solution?

Well, the ideal situation to reach a peaceful and secure future for both sets of people would be a two-state solution, but the likelihood of this happening is not very high.

I believe that harmful patterns need to be broken here for any of this to be resolved, and in the way of consciousness, it is clear that through judgement and taking on a state of victimhood after the Nazi holocaust, the Jews in Israel are literally reproducing their past, but this time taking on the role of the oppressors, rather than the oppressed. The Palestinian people too, despite the pain and hardship they have endured, somehow as a people, need to find a way to forgive the Israeli’s and together move forward towards a better future.

Will this ever happen? In my lifetime, probably not – but it definitely could if both sets of people stop their judgement of one another and of the past, and learn to forgive. I honestly think that is the solution to everything.

In the meantime, I will continue to dream and hope and pray that one day, Palestine will be free.

Light & Love,

Sabah x

(First written for and published in Defi Media’s News on Sunday, Mauritius – 12.06.2017)

 

Is Social Media Making Us Crazy?

What lengths would you go to, to up your social media game?

Maybe climb a tree to get the perfect shot? Stand on a chair in a posh restaurant to make sure you can get all the overpriced dishes in the square box? Maybe apply a full face of makeup despite spending an evening in alone, all so you can spend a good few hours taking selfies just to get that one photograph that will make the cut? This might all sound a little crazy to those reading right now, but for some people around the world, this is reality. Yes, to them, social media really is that important.

This week, I was casually scrolling through my Instagram feed when I came across a post from a mummy-blogger that I follow, sharing her heartbreak with the world over the fact that her friend had been lying to her for the past six months. As I continued reading, I was stunned to discover that the same friend to whom she referred, was another blogger that I followed online too – a lady who came across as really down-to-earth, cool, calm and collected but someone who had shockingly been lying to the whole world for the past six months, including her close family, friends and thousands of online followers, that she was battling cancer.

It’s pretty hard to comprehend, right? How could someone do that? What could have possibly been going on in this lady’s life and going through her mind for her to conjure up a story like that – knowing that thousands of people are really battling the dreaded disease, not knowing whether it will take their life, all around the globe? Well, the whole point of this article is not to judge her, but it’s just to highlight that this particular situation really did get me thinking about the reality of social media today and the extremes that people will go to, just for ‘likes’. This poor woman must have been craving attention so badly that she went to the extreme of faking cancer – which gave her what she wanted, as it was from this point that she racked up her online follower numbers. But are there not many of us just like her – faking the reality of our lives online just to make ourselves feel better?

Social Media Networking Time

Running a Social Media Management Company alongside my partner, I have to keep up-to-date and on trend with happenings in the social media world, which means that I use social media a lot of the time. And yes, although social media can do so much good and be used for positive purposes, equally it can be extremely harmful to individuals and entire communities of people. Here are a few of the reasons why I believe social media is driving some of us crazy and how we can attempt to stay sane in this constantly moving world…

  1. The constant comparing of yourself to others

Honestly, even some of the most ‘social media famous’ people do this – and it’s pretty hard not to when other peoples ‘perfect’ lives/relationships/bodies/looks/friends are constantly being thrust in your face as you scroll. Have you ever heard the saying ‘comparison is the thief of joy’? It’s true. Comparison leads to envy or jealousy and steals away gratitude – and it is only through true gratitude that we can find real peace.

  1. The seeking of approval or validation from other people

Have you ever posted something online just for the ‘likes’? I’m sure we all have at some point. Whether it is a selfie, a picture of something you have created or an achievement that you’re proud of, somehow the higher the number of likes and comments it receives, the better you feel about yourself. At the same time, when you post something and it gets hardly any online engagement, you can begin to feel really down about your own self-worth. I’ll leave these words by Rupi Kaur here, which explains self-love beautifully…

your art

is not about how many people

like your work

your art

is about

if your heart likes your work

if your soul likes your work

its about how honest you are with yourself

and you

must never

trade honesty

for relatability

 

Basically, do it for yourself, not for other people.

  1. Seeing things/people from the past which/who you’d rather not see

It can be painful when something that mattered a lot to you comes to an end… a friendship, a relationship – whatever it may be. Sometimes social media can make the healing process ten times more difficult when all you want to do is move on, but you get constant reminders on your social networks due to mutual friends. In my own experience, the best thing to do is remove yourself from the situation – but in a world that is increasingly becoming more connected online, this is not the easiest of things to do.

And…

  1. The constant barrage of information and alerts

This is something that I find really difficult. There is always someone posting… something. There is always something that someone needs to say. There is always someone that needs to share his or her unwanted opinion about the latest news. It’s just constant information being shoved at us from any which direction and it can all become too much. It can make you feel like your head is spinning and can actually put you into quite a depressed state. I would say it is so important to limit the amount of time you spend scrolling through social media everyday. Maybe even set a timer!

Taking the above into account, it is not difficult to understand why the social media age is creating a generation of insecure, attention-craving people – and now that I have put it all into context, I can kind of see why the blogger I mentioned at the start of this article did what she did. People are faking cancer, people are committing suicide – it really is a sad state of affairs. But I believe the impetus is on each and every one of us to not take the digital world too seriously and to love each a little bit more in the real world – not just the world that we see on our brightly lit screens.

Light & Love,

Sabah x

20.06.2017

(First written for and published in Defi Media’s News on Sunday, Mauritius.)

A Month of Atrocity & Tragedy

I’m not going to lie – this past month has not been the easiest. It seems as the days go on, the world is being thrown even deeper and deeper into turmoil and chaos. Seeing the news everyday, my heart breaks as I sit here helplessly, watching the human race destroy the planet and destroy each other with no regard. It’s all just such a sorry state of affairs at the moment and I just don’t know when, if and how things will get better.

If for some reason you’ve been living under a rock and have no idea what I’m talking about, let me take you through this past month and all the huge atrocities and tragedies that have occurred in the Western world in such a short space of time; the reason why many people in the UK and also probably around the world, are feeling hopeless, helpless and heartbroken- just like me.

It all began around a month ago when a terror attack hit my beloved home city of Manchester in the UK, in which a bomb was detonated at Manchester Arena after the Ariana Grande concert, mercilessly stealing away the lives of 22 innocent people (the youngest of whom was only eight years old) and injuring a further 120. The attack shook the world and especially the people of Manchester; particularly because the lone suicide bomber chose his final destination to be a concert arena filled with young children – and I don’t possibly think you can stoop any lower than this. Setting out on a mission to murder anyone – but especially to murder young children – disturbs me to the very core.

Just as everyone was trying to come to terms with the Manchester attack, around ten days later another attack struck the country’s capital – the second terrorist incident in London this year. This time, a hired van ploughed purposely into pedestrians on London Bridge after which three crazed individuals got out and began a stabbing spree in Borough Market, an area filled with restaurants and bars. Five innocents were killed and a further fifty more injured.

With both attacks having been carried out by deluded and lost individuals who believe that the barbarous acts they are carrying out are in the name of Islam and Allah (anyone who has any sense whatsoever knows that Islam out rightly condemns the killing of innocent people – as does any religion), it was obvious that the backlash would be felt by Muslim people just trying to go about their day-to-day lives as normally as possible, around the globe.

Two men were killed on a public train in Portland, Oregon on 26th May when they stepped in to defend two young girls who were the subject of anti-Muslim slurs from a hate-filled man, who, it was later found, was a well-known white supremacist from the area.

Just in the last few days from the point at which I write this article, another two atrocities have occurred; one, the murder of a 17-year-old black Muslim female in Virginia, United States at the hands of a deranged man and two, the Finsbury Park Mosque terrorist attack in which a man with the intent to kill Muslims ploughed down worshippers leaving the mosque, killing one and injuring seven, three of which are in a critical condition. The bias of the mainstream Western media in both of these cases has been so ridiculous, with neither case being described for what it really was: hate and terrorism. And once again, here I am questioning the sad and desperate reality of the broken world in which we are living in today.

Finally, I must talk about the Grenfell Tower fire – one of Britain’s biggest ever tower block fires that has quite obviously killed hundreds of its residents, which the media again refuses to acknowledge, referring still to the dead as ‘missing’.

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Grenfell Tower on fire

The Grenfell Tower fire occurred on 14th June at a 24-storey block of public housing flats in North Kensington, West London, which was home to hundreds of working-class people, mainly those from ethnic minorities – a disaster which could have been avoided, had the authorities and the Government done their jobs properly. See, Grenfell Tower is situated in a mainly working-class housing complex in the affluent borough of Kensington and Chelsea and only last year, the whole building underwent renovations worth £8.7million. Unfortunately it appears that the millions of pounds that went into refurbishment were just to spruce up the outer appearance of the building, making it more aesthetically pleasing to those living in the affluent neighbourhoods surrounding it, rather than to make it safe and as disaster-proof as possible for the residents within. The cladding that was used on the outer building is actually even banned in the UK, making this whole situation so much worse.

Safety concerns from the residents went ignored by the local council (there were no sprinklers fitted in any of the flats and only ONE stairway in the entire 24-storey building) and it is only now, when people are dead for reasons that could have easily been avoided, that their cost-cutting, rich-pleasing ways have been brought to public attention in a way that they haven’t before.

Everything that has happened recently, for me anyway, highlights massively the extent of the problems that we are facing today. Extremism, terrorism, racism, classism, austerity… the list goes on, and as the list grows, it seems more and more people will end up dead before their time. It pains me to know that our children are growing up in a world that is bleeding and grieving from every which angle. It breaks me to know that most of the world is living in a deep slumber, easily and willfully blaming one another for society’s problems, when the trouble actually comes from those much higher.

I know it is so easy to say, but the only cure for healing the world is love. It is the only way. And for Britain, there’s always Jeremy Corbyn. I love that man.

Light & Love,

Sabah x

26.06.2017

(First written for and published in Defi Media’s News on Sunday, Mauritius.)

– motherhood musings

Motherhood pounced on me after an unplanned pregnancy back in 2013, when we welcomed our wonderful baby boy into the world quite calmly just three weeks before my 25th birthday. As smooth as his delivery into this world was, I cannot say the same for the weeks, months and years that followed. Even today, I cannot say that motherhood is a smooth and easy experience and I don’t think I ever will.

My now three-and-a-half year old son was born in England and after a day-and-a-half in the hospital, we were sent on our way; my husband and I, two complete strangers to parenthood, two complete strangers ten months previously to even the thought of becoming parents at this point in our lives. But there we were, thrown head first into a brand new world of chaos, confusion and heaps upon heaps of dirty nappies and literally constant sleepless nights.

Those first couple of weeks or even months with your first newborn are nothing less than hectic and even, dare I say it, a little bit strange. Anyone that has experienced this too may understand when I say you feel as if you are in your own little bubble, cut off from the rest of the world feeling like the sole purpose of your existence is to make sure you do whatever it takes to keep this little being alive, happy and healthy, while at the same time being completely and utterly exhausted, overly emotional and in actual physical pain from childbirth and breastfeeding.

Motherhood hit me hard. I absolutely adore my son, but yes motherhood hit me so hard that sometimes I found it difficult to even breathe. I think physically, I took to the role of being a mother really well, especially with the support of my husband who is a totally hands-on dad. But mentally and emotionally it is something that I struggled with – and even now, three-and-a-half-years down the line and another baby later, I sometimes still find it difficult, although those times are thankfully very few and far in between.

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Mostly I think this is because I wasn’t expecting or planning for my life to change so drastically, so quickly. In my head, I had so many other plans and goals to achieve before even thinking about becoming a mother. Motherhood was something you did when you were an ‘adult’ and I guess at the time, I just didn’t feel ‘adult’ enough. Now I look back, I can appreciate that maybe I was experiencing symptoms of post-natal depression, although it may not have been fully-fledged and didn’t manifest completely. But it was there; this heavy feeling of not feeling ready, not feeling good enough and just generally, not feeling happy the way that apparently a new mum is supposed to.

I had my second child, a little girl, just five months ago right here in Mauritius and I must say, it has been so much easier emotionally and mentally this time round (although the exhaustion and sleepless nights are still ever-present – and maybe now, even more so!). Sometimes I still find it hard to believe that I am a mother of two children and although I really do struggle some days, I feel so incredibly blessed and honoured to have these two beautiful, pure souls around me every single day.

So, what is the reality of being a mother?

Well, motherhood is exhausting. It’s arduous. It’s lonely.

Motherhood is dragging your eyelids open and forcing yourself out of bed to get your child breakfast at 7:30am on a Saturday morning when all you want to do is sleep. Motherhood is mustering every ounce of strength you have in you to persevere through those first few weeks of torturous breastfeeding – and then, enduring two years of interrupted sleep to give your child the best possible start in life that you could physically give them. Motherhood is spending your days and nights cleaning and mopping up poo, wee and vomit. Motherhood is sacrificing your alone time, for more time with them. Motherhood is cancelling plans last minute with friends and family because your child is getting the sniffles. Motherhood is spending hours putting your children to sleep after running around after them all day and then working well into the night to meet work deadlines. Motherhood can be so incredibly lonely, despite never actually being alone – a strange type of loneliness in itself.

Motherhood is… hard.

But, let me tell you something.

Motherhood allows you to experience a love so pure that it simply cannot be expressed in words. Motherhood is waking up to see a gorgeous little toothless grin waiting for you, as the sun begins to peak silently through the curtains. Motherhood is gasping in amazement as your child tells you the most wonderful, imaginative story about his day. Motherhood is cuddles and kisses with the most special people you will ever know, knowing that these moments will not be forever. Motherhood is those precious times when both children fall asleep and you just look at them in awe, not quite believing just how incredibly lucky you are. Motherhood is knowing that the bond you share with them is one that can never be broken. Motherhood is a love so fierce and so strong that it can and will take your breath away, many, many a time. Motherhood is the most blessed and most beautiful experience that I believe a woman can have.

And as challenging, demanding and painful as it can be, and despite the days when I reminisce over my life before kids, motherhood is absolutely amazing and I would not have it any other way.

Light & Love,

Sabah x

(First written for and published in Defi Media’s News on Sunday, Mauritius.)

Mashal Khan, Silenced Forever

It really makes you question what kind of a world we live in when you come across a video circulating on social media of a broken, battered, bloodied body being forcefully kicked and beaten to a pulp despite it’s soul clearly already having left it. What makes you question the world even further however, is hearing how people shout and scream the name of God while doing so, as if the murderous hate that is flowing through them is somehow doing justice to their beliefs in a higher power. What kind of a society allows this to happen?

As I sit here scrolling through the public Facebook page of Mashal Khan, the Pakistani journalism student who was murdered by an angry mob on 13th April, I can’t help but shake my head in disbelief at the way his time on earth came to an end. As I scroll past post after post, I am learning that this was a young man who felt deeply about the state of the world; a man who stood for humanity; a man who wanted change and wasn’t afraid to voice his opinions in a society that continually tried to shut him down. Now, Mashal Khan is a man whose life was cut short far too soon; a man who was brutally killed in the most despicable of ways – simply for speaking his mind.

The 23-year-old was known amongst his peers and the following he had acquired online for speaking out against injustice and corruption in the world. A few days after a heated university discussion at Abdul Wali Khan University in Madan, Pakistan, Mashal was hunted down for accusations of blasphemy, seized from his dorm room, stripped naked, beaten and shot dead. It is still not fully clear what exactly triggered these accusations, but in Pakistan blasphemy is punishable by law and in some circumstances punishment results in “death, or imprisonment for life”. Although people have been given the death penalty, so far the state has not actually executed anyone. That is not to say that no one has died however, as this case also reinforces: since the 1990s, at least 65 people accused of blasphemy have been murdered by locals taking the law into their own hands – misusing the blasphemy laws for their own revenge or personal gain. Shocking.

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Mashal Khan – Murdered for speaking his mind.

What I do not understand is how religion, a force for good and a force for peace, can cause so many divisions and controversies between people – especially between people, as in Pakistan, who apparently share the same belief system. I feel like the true purpose and message of all religions has been lost, as people choose to focus on their differences, continue to judge one another and carry on worshipping their own egos rather than a God. Why can we not live and let live?

Coming from Pakistani heritage myself, I grew up being aware of events throughout the years similar to this that had occurred in Pakistan: these two young brothers being murdered in the street for this, that man being killed for that… and I always wondered how and why a country that was born from a vision of hope with a basis on egalitarian ideals could be so backward and corrupt. It always made me think where were the people standing up against these injustices? Where were the people fighting for what was right? Today, I understand that those people are the Mashal Khan’s of Pakistan that always end up dead, way before their time.

In 2011 the governor of Punjab and a critic of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, Salman Taseer, was assassinated for voicing his support for Asia Bibi – a Christian who was accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Even after Taseer’s assassinator was executed, public opinion was still heavily against him as well as Bibi, who to this very day remains behind bars. This case is one among many that demonstrates how the general public of Pakistan will not come together to defend someone accused of blasphemy. However, the case of Mashal Khan has sparked uproar across the country with protestors coming together to condemn the murder and demand justice. This leads me to believe that some good may actually come out of this horrible, horrible situation. There is hope.

So how does Pakistan move forward? Well firstly, I can only hope that these blasphemy laws will be abolished. People should be free to speak their mind without the threat of execution or murder. But I know that even if the laws are abolished, the deepest problem lies in the mindset of the people and I have no solution as to how to change the deeply engrained beliefs of a whole nation of people. I guess the answers lie with the next generation who through consciousness and education and the amazing tool that is the internet, could begin to have a ripple effect on the rest of the nation. Be that as it may, I know that this will take a long, long time and I myself will probably not be alive to see the change in Pakistan that is so desperately needed.

Since the murder, police have arrested 33 people, shockingly including 6 members of university staff. What makes this case even worse is that after all that has happened, they have found no evidence at all to support the accusation of blasphemy.

The only reason I can find for Mashal Khan’s untimely, unfortunate and horrific death is in the words of his heartbroken father,

“He was the kind of a person this society can never tolerate. You can call him a revolutionary, reformist, humanist, whatever, but he wasn’t a conservative person. My son was a voice of the voiceless.”

Pakistan must wake up.

By Sabah Ismail 08/05/2017

(First written for and published in Defi Media’s News on Sunday, Mauritius.)