“It was and It was Not: Identity and the power of storytelling” Staging th Ummah. Part 2.


Abdul-Rehman Malik

It was a slightly damp cold evening in East London. My husband and I had been at a workshop with Jamie Catto entitled “What about intimacy?” We were tired and hungry but arrived at Richmix in just enough time to grab the a couple of the last few remaining seats in a packed theatre. There was a buzz in the air as the crowd awaited proceedings to begin. The stage looked very exotic and befittingly dressed and the team of organizers had everything working with military precision.

Hassen Rasool

The first mistake I made when struggling with this post was trying to make it somehow represent everyone there…wrong! This is my personal response to the evening with my perspective and warped perception of the world. The great thing is we all have our own story to tell of that evening. From the heckler at the back ranting about the American embassy to the woman who told a story about visiting Israel. So resisting the urge to write a cultural critique and quote Said and Fanon, here are the bits that stood out for me.

Wajahat and Riz

The hosting was fabulous (thanks American embassy) and that’s Leaf network and Radical Middle way. The mc Abdul-Rehaman Malik held the floor with entertaining and inciteful precision for which he should be awarded something equivalent to a Bafta….one should also go to the panelists Riz MC and Wajahat Ali. (maybe they have one alkready) They shared with us their journeys to making it in the Arts as young muslim men.

I can liken the experience to being on a bus tour entitled “The muslim cultural tour” Abdul-Rehman Malik was the conductor complete with funky hat and leaf badge. The VIP seats were reserved for Wajahat Ali and Riz MC. The first few stops were a on whistle-stop tour through very personal stories and experiences shared by fellow travellers on this exciting ride. These were largely not professional performers. It was raw, unpolished, anecdotal, edgy and quite often very funny. The audience was captivated in a way that only a highly personal story can engage the listener. This was the delivery of what the evening had promised. this was the practise of the theory; this was raw and personal storytelling. If I am completely honest I was rather jealous of their courage because I could not imagine myself standing up in the middle of the bus to tell a highly personal tale. Largely for fear of being judged or taken the P out of. Kudos fellow passengers, I take my hat off to you. Specially the lady who practically grew balls and stood there unapologetically to tell a story called “The day I pretended to be jewish”

 Riz and Wajahat

You see there is a very interesting by-product of listening to authentic story tellers and it relates very much to what we had learnt in the course during the daytime. It gives everyone permission to do the same, to stand in their own power and speak with their own voice. Not to project and expect others to speak for us. Not to rant and rave about what is wrong with so and so’s work or writing or acting or drama. It was a call to arms by the conductor and his VIP’s to take it on. To Bum Rush the Show in the words of the great Shaykh Chuck D as referenced by the Wajahat Ali. We were challenged to find your own ‘Rumi of London’. I glanced around the eager audience looking at who this may possibly be…will he have a beard or not..perhaps he will be a SHE in a hijab?!

Wajid the poet

In the field of the creative Arts there is no one muslim voice. There are many voices, differing from one end of a city to another let alone one country or continent. The Arts demand nuance, variety, openness and a great deal of resilience. If a muslim artist has made it to the mainstream it does not automatically mean they have sold out or bowed to stereotypical typecasting. They have faced many challenges from family and community in a quest to find themselves through their Art. That is not an easy path to walk and these special group of beings have ny utmost respect and gratitude because without them there would be no dialogue, no conversation about “Staging the Ummah”, zilch!

A watershed moment for muzzies across the globe; that’s what we are facing. Share experiences, tell anecdotes, make paintings, model sculptures, write poems and stories. Real stories that don’t fear judgement because these human stories are written in a universal language where the boundaries between race, religion and nationality become blurred and human beings connect. Lets move the discourse away from a collective muslim identity. Instead lets give each other space to share what we create. Like the bus only bigger….much bigger.

Bilal Hassan

Reflecting upon the nature of intimacy discussed in the workshop I get it. Perhaps true intimacy is not feeling responsible for being true to anyone but oneself.

Special thanks to Radical Middle Way, Leaf Network and Samir Malik for use of his sexy photos in my blogūüôā

Art Therapy; experiential workshop.


Day 3- the hardest lesson

I am attending a foundation course in Art therapy at BAAT. (The British Association of Art Therapists)

Part of the course involves 3 days of experiential workshops where you get down and dirty with the raw materials. Paint, pastels,pencils, charcoal, crayons, glue, paper, glitter to name but a few tools on offer.

Through the process you begin to experience Art therapy and face some of the demons that rise up quickly to great you as you beigin creating visual images. I have witnessed what holds me back from giving myself permission to create Art. Amongst this group of 20 women this repeatedly manifests as a guilty pleasure of which one is only worthy when all other things have been attended to.

The image as created by oneself leads to things bubbling up, surfacing, reaching for air.
What we do with that relationship can radically change who we think we are and it is in this space that the power of Art therapy may be felt.

One of the final excercises was to create a collective piece. Upon completion it looked like this..Image
We put together a large oval piece of paper in a large ovular shape witha rectangle jutting out so as to make it like an enormous Q….a question mark perhaps.

The first task part of the group task was very directed. Close your eyes and mark the paper with a pastel. Now 20 women crawling around on a piece of paper with a pastel in their hand was like some kind of surreal comedic scene from Monty Python.  At one point I lost my crayon and giggled nervously as lots of women drew around my redundant hands with their eyes closed.

Next we had to chose a section of what I called the warp of the collective piece and begin ‘weaving’ the weft.¬† I immediately found hearts and lovers. Lying together¬†bound in a loving

Then we moved on to a new area and added to the picture that was already emerging. It was not easy as other hands had worked at the picture and without wishing to draw over or alter their expression we all found ourselves being terribly British and polite. This was ironic as many nationalities were present including Spanish, Venezualen, Portugese and Jamaican.

Stories and pictures emerged and it seemed each time you looked a new bit of the tapestry caught your eye. The final piece was approximately 4mx2.5m. We stood in awe and looked at the piece we had created-20 women joined expounded their creative energies onto one patchwork piece of paper. It was a sight to behold.

Just before we broke for lunch the facilitator asked us what we wanted to do with the piece… How we wanted it to end. Roll it up someone said. Throw it away¬†said another. I found it difficult to process that, lots of emotions came up as I struggled to understand why you would discard a piece of work in such¬†a way.

It was a few days later that I smiled internally at the self destructive impulses that run through our lives unchallenged and often unidentified. The collective Art piece was a metaphor for creativite process as well as being a creative piece. One that I, and hopefully 19 others, are increasingly mindful of.

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner neccesity. The creative mind plays with objects it loves.”¬† Carl Jung.


Staging the Ummah; A provocative look at Muslim Culture Today; An evening with Wajahat Ali.


“There cannot be one simple story; there can only be ways of seeing”
~Arudhati Roy. Taken from her essay “Come September”

Wahajat Ali is the author of “Domestic crusaders” A play about a Pakistani family, set in post 9/11 USA. He is a playwright, author, journalist and attorney and also a very funny man who can muster a punchline from the most heart-wrenching story.

The audience¬†listened mesmerized by this man’s journey. Supported by an atypical Pakistani American family through his education and how he came to become a playwright almost by accident. Along the way aquiring the title of¬†America’s Muslim¬†correspondent to the media post 9/11. Shouldering the projected responsibility of 1.4 billion Muslims, it must have been such fun. Not.

There was a¬†lot of discussion around identity. How is it defined by whom and with whom. Can there be one Muslim voice and why are artists¬†always defined as Muslims before all other labels are applied. These an¬† cultural, geographic, sexual, political, ethnic etc etc…It was a little depressing for 20 years ago I
wrote a thesis¬†entitled ”¬†Multiculturalism: and post modernist myth?”. I came to the conclusion
that multiculturalism was a western construction designed to ‘control’ the ethnic minorities. Last year Cameron gives a speech stating that multiculturalism has failed the blame was placed at the feet of the minorities for lack of integration.¬†The model was constructed on very flawed base.

Wajahat spoke of enlarging the Muslim Artists tent. A metaphoric space that can be defined and broadened by those willing to take on this challenge. To me this would suggest moving away from defining ourselved through endless discussion and letting the collective creative output define the space. This territory is constantly evolving as such and all are rightful owners. All agreed that it is a very exciting time for Muslims in the Arts.

‘The Domestic Crusaders’ is set to come to a¬†London stage¬†next year. Having heard the very entertaining and painful back story very I will be going to see it for sure. Wajahat’s closing¬†plea for more storytellers to take up the pen ¬†reminded me of a beautiful quote by Harold Goddard,

“The destiny of the world is determined less by the battles that are lost and won than by the stories it loves and believes in.”

Special thanks to the Radical Middle Way, The Leaf network, The Cordoba foudation and Rumi’s cave for making this event happen.

To Shoot or not to shoot? -that is the question

To Shoot or not to shoot? -that is the question

The most bizarre experience in a long time…

If my heart could speak I would be intrigued to hear what it had to say at this moment in time. It is
racing and heavy. There is a sadness and and a shit load of adrenalin rushing through its core. In an hour or two I will experience what behaviour analysts call the post event depression …and at that point I know there will be tears….and that too shall pass.

The Event-Roughly an hour ago a complete stranger offered me the opportunity to fire a weapon. A heavy,
aggressive and ear piercingly loud weapon; A semi-automatic shotgun.

I live next door to a field. It’s green belt land that is farmed for wheat. The farmer sells his crop to Kellogs. The wheat is in the process of being harvested and this morning it looked particularly beautiful in the glorious sunshine. I ventured into the field through a hole in the fence armed with a camera.

As I walked round the field I caught sight of a jeep in my peripheral vision.  It was driving slowly towards me. This is going to be interesting I thought to myself.

Two middle aged white men in camouflage gear looked curiously at me through the rolled down windows.
“Are you the farmer?” I said.
“I am terribly sorry. I know I shouldn’t be here, I was just
taking some photos”

They began telling me of their job in the field today.
“We are pest controllers, employed by the farmer to keep the pigeons
down. They are eating all of his crop and he is not happy. They also pose a
threat being so near to the runway. The police know we are here and so do the
airport authority”

They then proceeded to explain the merits of pigeon shooting and the pscychology  of attracting the flock by placing shot pigeons in a certain way. Fascinating stuff. I asked if I could take a photo and did not
anticipate  what happened  next.

“Do you want to have a go?”

It took a moment to register and within a few seconds I had the butt of a semi automatic shotgun perfectly poised on my right shoulder. It was an incredibly surreal moment.

“Let me take a photo.”¬† he said.

As he loaded the cartridge into the barrel I felt my heart contract sharply. He assured me of its safety and¬† instructed me on where to point. I wasn’t aiming at a pigeon but into the middle of the field where they were gathering ready to be startled by the loud bang. I couldn’t do it and gave the chap his gun back. He took the shot and it’s noise penetrated to my very core. At this point I felt tears well up in
my eyes. This was not for me.

To give some idea of this weapons power. If he had shot at the jeep the cartridge would have blown a hole the size of a watermelon and come through the other side of the vehicle. This was what he told me and I had no reason not to believe him.

So what of the kill? The frugal farmer sells them to up market restaurants in central London. Heathrow pests are fodder for the posh.I thanked the two gentlemen for a rather unique opportunity and walked back to my house. As I sit here now I can hear the shots going off every every 20 minutes. I picture the pigeons lying dead in the field and their friends gathering to bid them farewell.


Beautiful post, really moving…

The Green Study

I‚Äôve spent much of the last few weeks working in my garden.¬† The timing for hard labor and solitary weeding and planting is perfect. I‚Äôve been fending off a depression that has lingered on longer than usual- perhaps the remainder of an impotent winter ‚Äď little snow and mild temperatures. It feels more like mid-summer rather than spring and I lack a sense of time or purpose.

By happenstance I began to read The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets by Bill Moyers. The book is based on a PBS series of interviews Mr. Moyers did with well-known poets. When I skimmed through his conversation with the poet Jane Kenyon, her words immediately resonated with me. She suffered from depression and spoke of how gardening and being outdoors helped. Aha. This I can understand. She went on to say “When you get to be my age and you’ve lived…

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War and Peace-Waterloo festival


St John’s Church in Waterloo¬†was host to the ‘War and Peace Festival’ from 12-17 July.The cryptat St Johns had been used as an air raid shelter during WW2¬†protecting the locals but the church was destroyed. This festival marks the 60th anniversary of it being rebuilt.The Meridian singers sand choral music on the evening themed ‘Love is strong as death’.

Interestingly the only Artists invited to be a part of this were of the Muslim faith. Islamic Art in a festival about War and Peace is a brave angle for the curators¬†to persue and yet the work sat seemlessley in open ecclectic space of this building. In his piece the 3 meems, Lord Richard uses calligrapy to symbolise the prophetic leaders of the Abrahamic faiths. Mohamed, Messiah and Moses. Underneath there is an inscription from the quran. “We (the Lord) made you into¬†nations so that you may know each other”. Quran 49:13 It seems that is what the festival is setting out to achieve through its interfaith aspect.

Samir Malik’s canvases each draw upon different religious traditons and pools of wisdom. The collection is 5 pieces entitled ‘…from the shores of a great silence’. The visual and verbal justaposition of these elements creates a sense of harmony. Of unity of respect for the ‘other’ and their values and ¬†beliefs. One of the most poignant illustrations of this was during the choir recital. In between listening to Latin psalms¬†Samir recited¬†a short poem from chapter 23 of the Tao Te Ching.

“Be like the forces of nature;

when it blows, there is only wind;

when it rains, there is only rain;

when the clouds pass, the sun shines through.”

Alongside this quote Samir linked it with a quote from Imam Ali, “Be like the flower that gives fragrance even to the hand that crushes it.”

The translations of the quotes are veiwed alongside the original texts inscribed in the canvases.

Siddiqa Juma’s exquisite canvanses draw heavily upon the symbolism of the Ka’bah in the series of works entitled “La ilaha illalllah”, translated to mean “There is no God but Allah”

Displayed next to the Blue Jesus one cannot but reflect upon the relationship between these¬†two heavyweight faiths. In her piece entitled “Uniting Nations – Kaabah” she puts nails into a piece of hardboard with a map of the world on it. Wrapping a black thread between these punctuating points,¬†an ethereal image of a¬†black cube of the Ka’bah¬†emerges.

In its desire to capture something of the essence of ‘War and Peace’ the festival has reflected something much deeper. That the journey to peace is through mutual understanding of the here nd now. The cultural definition of success is perhaps not as important. The planet needs more peacemakers, healers and storytellers. Peace need not be an aspiration but a reality.

This body of works will be going onto the Old Royal Navy College Chapel in Greewich and will be on display during the Olympics and ParaOlympics.

The Quran- twice in 40 years.


They tell us Ramadan is the month of the Quran. Its relevation¬†was completed in this month and the reward for reading it is multiplied many fold. Unfortunately the style of teaching back in the day was somewhat lacking in inspiration. We were taught phonetics with very little emphasis upon language and meaning. In today’s world¬†this would quite clearly fail a Ofsted inspection.¬†Rote style we read I read the Quran when I was 7. After that I never really focused despite much
good intention. Last year my son completed the Quran in the month of Ramadan for the second time;age 12. I used this slightly embarrassing fact to motivate me. I thought to myself it has been a good 30 years. I must follow my sons
example. I began reading it with the intent of completing it in Ramadan. I failed miserably! But I persisted, and read a page or 2 each day. One year later in this years Ramadan I completed my goal. There was no great epiphany, just a quiet reflection¬†upon the long journey.¬†Twice in 40 years ain’t bad!