Archive for the ‘Around the World’ Category

Mysteries in the West – Strange Rites

June 20, 2018

Mysteries in the West – Strange Rites

It is the night of Saturday, especially consecrated to a ritual which is awesome to us, faithfully followed by the devotees of a certain cult.

Two groups of twelve, dressed in colourful costumes, carry out complicated movements within an enclosed space. They at times respond to musical stimuli applied through a primitive instrument by a man of seeming authority who, with a few assistants, supervises their activity. Entirely surrounding the area devoted to the ritual, a congregation gives its responses. At times the people sing, sometimes they shout, sometimes they are silent. Some wield an instrument which gives forth a strange sound.

Much care has evidently gone into the planning of the geometrically designed arena. Around it are colourful insignia, flags, banners, decorations probably designed to raise the emotional pitch of the individual and the group. The atmosphere is eerie partly because of the abrupt changes in emotion. Their reaction to the ecstatogenic processes being enacted in their midst is so explosive at times that one wonders why they do not spill over into the sacred enclosure. Both joy and sorrow are manifested among the votaries.

Here a man writhes on the ground, another grimaces, sweat pouring from his face. One of the audience strikes himself, another his neighbour. The totem rises into the air, and is hailed by an awesome roar from the assembly … Then we see that blood has been shed.

We are observers at a floodlit association football [soccer] game …

[Idries Shah, The Sufis, pp. 232-3 with slight edits]

Advertisements

REFLECTIONS FROM KUNAR 1990 AND HELMAND 2010 – THE TRAGEDY OF AFGHANISTAN’S WARS

November 10, 2017

With the Name of God, All-Merciful, Most Merciful

REFLECTIONS FROM KUNAR 1990 & HELMAND 2010

– THE TRAGEDY OF AFGHANISTAN’S WARS

Introduction

I am publishing this partly because I am tired of telling the same story about Kunar to dozens of journalists and academic researchers, partly because I am fed up of questions about my one-minute video message in support of British troops (2010), and partly because I hope that people may benefit and learn from the story.

I began writing this on the last day of Ramadan 1433/2012, and completed the bulk of it shortly after Eid.  The recent death of two British soldiers in Nad Ali in Helmand (Matthew Smith http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19228325 and Robert Chesterman http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19227317 ) brought back vivid memories of our FCO-sponsored four-man delegation’s “Projecting British Muslims” trip to Helmand during Ramadan in August 2010, a visit that included ISAF’s Forward Operating Base at Nad Ali.  As I finalise it, I’m reading about the 2,000th US soldier to die in Afghanistan since 2001.

*Update: I am finalising and publishing this on 10th November 2017 – it has been sitting in my draft folder for five years.*

 

Memories from the Jihad in Kunar, 1990-1

This was my second 10-day visit to Afghanistan: the first had been in December-January 1990-1991, during my second-year Cambridge University holidays, as part of a three-man fact-finding mission of senior JIMAS (www.jimas.org ) figures to Kunar.  The other two people were up to a decade older than me: Abu Muntasir and Abu Aaliyah.  I was fortunate to have the strongest Arabic at the time, and served as interpreter for much of the trip, although of course other mujahideen helped also.

We drove to Afghanistan from Islamabad via Peshawar and Bajaur, and spent a week at a training camp near Asadabad, Kunar, for Arab fighters run by Jama’ah al-Da’wah ila l-Qur’an wa l-Sunnah (JDSQ, “Group of Calling to the Qur’an and Sunnah”), the major Salafi organisation that controlled large parts of Kunar province as well as of neighbouring Nuristan.  There were separate training camps for Arab, Afghan and Pakistani fighters – we chose the Arab one, for access to more Arabic-speaking scholars.  The camp rules stated that disagreements would be solved in a last resort by referring to the fatwas of Sheikhs Ibn Baz and Albani. On our introduction to the camp, I introduced myself with my first name, upon which I was immediately corrected by a Kuwaiti mujahid: “In Jihad, we only use aliases.” Specifically, he meant aliases of the kunya type that take the form of “Abu X” meaning “Father of X.”  My colleagues were fathers and already had kunyas, so I used, for the first time, my middle name that my grandfather had given me when he named me upon birth: Abu Dharr, after an austere, ascetic Companion of the Prophet.  The emir of the training camp was a tall, well-built, muscular, fair-skinned, charismatic and learned Palestinian fighter called Abu Asim.  In appearance and character, he reminded me of Abdur-Raheem Green, then also a senior JIMAS figure.  I shed many tears upon hearing about Abu Asim’s reported death in a training accident some years later, when a weapon exploded accidentally.

Upon joining the training camp, we had to fill in a registration form, giving personal details and skills that might be useful for the jihad. The three of us all put down our computer/IT skills, and I also mentioned my mathematics and physics knowledge. A quarter of a century later, ISIS, who had turned defensive, liberating jihad into bloodthirsty terrorism, had similar registration forms, with one striking addition: asking registrants whether they wanted to be regular fighters, suicide-bombers or suicidal attackers (inghimasi).

This was Abu Muntasir’s second trip to the same region: he had trained and fought at the front line in 1989 or early 1990 also, with a close companion known as Brother Mushtaq.  JIMAS’ contacts with the Afghan mujahideen had come about via salafi scholars in Holland and meetings in London that had involved Dawood Burbank (d. during Hajj 2011, may Allah have mercy on his soul) and Brother Mushtaq.  Abu Muntasir later fought in Kashmir and even in Burma with Rohingya militia in the early 1990s.

Note that JIMAS (Jamiat Ihyaa’ Minhaaj al-Sunnah: The Society for the Revival of the Way of the Messenger) had earlier been called HISAM (Harakatu Islahish Shabab al-Muslim: The Movement to Reform the Muslim Youth) but had recently had a name-change after an offshoot insisted on retaining the name HISAM.  During this episode, one of the suggestions for the name of JIMAS was in fact JDQS – this was directly copied from the Afghan group.  The current Pakistani salafi/Ahl-e-Hadith jihadi group Jama’at-ud-Da’wah, linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba, may also have based its name on the Afghan one.

We also met and interviewed Sheikh Jameel-ur-Rahman, an Afghan salafi/Ahle-e-Hadith muhaddith-mujahid (scholar of Hadith and warrior), founder and emir of JDQS.  Sheikh Jameel was an elderly, learned man with a long beard, dyed with henna.  He was accompanied by elders who constituted his shura and by a group of younger, heavily-armed men who served as his bodyguards.  Abu Muntasir conducted the interview in English: Sheikh Jameel replied in Arabic.  One of the questions was whether or not the Jihad in Afghanistan was fard ‘ayn or fard kifaya, i.e. an individual or collective obligation: his reply was the former.  The interview was recorded and it was many months before Dawood Burbank translated it into English for the benefit of other JIMAS members.  Abu Muntasir may still have this material in his possession.

The Arab mujahidin credit Sheikh Jameel with having begun the “Jihad against the communists” in 1973, way before the Soviet invasion.  Sheikh Jameel gave a talk after dawn prayers on one occasion whilst we were at the training camp, during which the camp generator failed, leaving the prayer tent in darkness.  At the end of that talk, he took questions.  One of the questions was about whether or not there was any dhikr to be recited during the prostration of gratitude (sajdah al-shukr) – this was related to the story of The Prophet’s disciples Ka’b bin Malik, Murara bin Rabi’ah and Hilal bin Umayyah and their missing a military expedition followed by their subsequent ostracism and eventual repentance recounted in the long hadith of Bukhari and Muslim in reference to Qur’an 9:118 (Surah al-Tawbah or Chapter: Repentance).  In this heart-rending story that had been recounted by one of the younger scholar-warriors at the camp after dawn prayers the day before, Ka’b performs such a prostration of gratitude.  Sheikh Jameel replied that no specific dhikr had been narrated about this prostration, and therefore any dhikr would suffice, but a young Saudi mujahid argued vehemently with him that there was no dhikr in this prostration for the same reason.  Salafism in a nutshell!

Sheikh Jameel had announced an “Islamic emirate” (imarat-e-Islami) in Kunar. One day at the training camp, one of the commanders gave us the “good news” of the full establishment of Sharia in the emirate: predictably, this involved the hudud, with which islamists are obsessed: a thief’s hand had been amputated as corporal punishment for his crime.

We were holy warriors: ascetic monks and soldiers, simultaneously. With regular congregational prayer, scriptural study, physical exercise and weapons training. Being halfway up a valley, there wasn’t much food: on one day, the camp had run out of food and all we had for 24 hours was a glass of milk and an orange. Soldiers know all about the rationing of supplies. At the firing range, Abu Muntasir embarrassed our instructor by being the only one to hit the target during a sniping contest. (This reminds me of a story about Caliph Omar: he came across some people practising archery and found that they weren’t very good at hitting their target. When he enquired as to why this was the case, they replied in ungrammatical Arabic that they were learners. “Your Arabic is even worse than your archery,” the Caliph quipped!)

Around 1993/94 we heard the awful news that Sheikh Jameel had been assassinated by an Arab fighter – many salafis blamed this on forces loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (Hizb-e-Islami), who was backed by the Jamat-e-Islami of Pakistan and the Arab Muslim Brotherhood.  Hekmatyar denied these accusations, but the incident was one of the many causes of tension between salafis and the Brotherhood, a tension that continues all over the world until today.  A few years later at Imperial College London, I asked the Riyadh-based Syrian salafi Sheikh Adnan Arour, who had taken part in Saudi-sponsored mediation amongst the warring mujahidin groups after the fall of Kabul in 1992, about Hekmatyar’s denial of being behind Sheikh Jameel’s assassination.  He replied, “Who killed him then, Ibn Baz and Albani??!”

With hindsight, it was probably for the best that the Kunar emirate had fizzled out with the death of Sheikh Jameel, otherwise the obsession with hudud might have led to a situation similar to ISIS.

Around 2004, I briefly met one of Sheikh Jameel’s sons who was studying at the Islamic University of Madinah during my only visit there, facilitated by Yasir Qadhi.

Back to Kunar: we spent a day and night at the front line, taking part in the Jihad against forces loyal to President Najibullah.  The Soviets had of course withdrawn in early 1990, but most mujahideen groups fought on, firstly against Najib’s communists, and then against each other during the vicious civil war of 1992-6.  The latter war helped me realise the emptiness of the Islamist dream that the mujahideen were going to establish the ideal “Islamic state” after taking Kabul in 1992.

The Saudis subsidised half the cost of mujahidin’s flights to Pakistan, but kept a record of all names. There was, of course, close co-operation amongst the US, Saudis and Pakistanis during the anti-USSR Jihad.  We met a couple of Libyans at the front line who had burnt their passports, since returning mujahideen were not too welcome in Gaddafi’s police-state.

The training camp’s courtyard had a disused Soviet tank in the centre and was covered in snow: many of the Arabs, religious scholars and committed warriors, had never seen snow before and thoroughly enjoyed their first snowball fights whilst we, the British trio, looked on bemused.  The Arabs were from various countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Libya, Egypt and Palestine.  There was also a trio of Indonesian or Filipino fighters who kept to themselves since they didn’t know Arabic.  At the camp, we received basic weapons training: Kalashnikov/M16 and also studied scripture after regular, congregational prayers.  In between the prayer rows would be lines of AK-47s belonging to the warrior-worshippers. At the front line, we exchanged artillery fire with invisible communist forces, as several mountain ridges separated us.  Our guns were 76mm cannon.  One enemy shell, fired from several miles away, landed a hundred feet from us but we were quite safe: this taught me about the fragility of life, but not to be afraid of the ever-present danger of death.  A disturbing scene throughout Kunar was the sight of large cemeteries in place of villages.

At the front line, I had hoped to use my expert Further Mathematics A-level knowledge of precise mathematical calculations of projectile motion to help with the accuracy of our shelling. (18 months earlier, I had been the only one to score 100% in our Lower Sixth Form mathematics examination at the City of London School for Boys, where I held the John Carpenter Scholarship, 1987-9, and been awarded the Mathematics Prize in the Upper Sixth Form, although a couple of Jewish friends were better mathematicians than me.) But we were only there for a day, and there were no PCs or calculators. The mujahideen’s method to ensure shelling accuracy was simple: it was piety – we were encouraged to mention and remember God in dhikr every time we fired a shell!

There were many funny incidents during our stay: a sense of humour helps in tough situations.  The Kuwaiti who stopped the jeep to pick up snow for the first time: “This is not like the snow in our freezer!” (Snow and ice are synonyms in Arabic: thalj.)  The young Saudi who had studied English “whilst he wasn’t religious” in Cambridge some years ago and knew the Pakistani-run Nasreen Dar store there, famous amongst Fitzwilliam and Churchill College students for selling cheap, out-of-date biscuits.  This was a surreal moment for me: I had travelled thousands of miles from Cambridge to meet an Arab mujahid in the mountains of Afghanistan and talk about a shop back home.  (Partly due to our salafist influence in Cambridge, Nasreen Dar eventually stopped selling alcohol. And it finally closed recently.)  Abu Muntasir nicknaming the Indonesian or Filipino mujahid, “Brother One-Bullet” since he could only afford one bullet for his M16 gun (these bullets were much more scarce and therefore expensive, compared to AK-47 bullets). Abu Muntasir saying to Abul Qa’qa’ (named after a Companion of the Prophet), “They’re calling you,” when a flock of crows crowed loudly: caw! caw! The 007-style “pen gun,” disguised as a heavy ink pen that housed a bullet instead of an ink cartridge, with the pen clip as the trigger, and used for close-range assassinations.  The Arabs called it the “ben gun” since there is no “p” in Arabic, and this made me think of my primary-school days spent reading Treasure Island.  At the front line, I described the “man in the moon” that I could see in the full moon through binoculars.  Our Arab guide there, unfamiliar with the nuances of the English language, rebuked me gently although unfairly with the teaching of the Prophet (pbuh), “Tell the truth, even if you are joking.”

My parents, siblings and extended family, plus the JIMAS group in the UK, were very supportive of our jihad trip and very proud of us. My grandfather, Sheikh Abdul Ghaffar Hasan, a very senior salafi scholar of India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, quoted to me the hadith of the Prophet, peace be upon him, upon my return, “There are two eyes that will not be touched by the Fire: an eye that watches guard at night in the path of God [esp. holy war], and an eye that weeps from the awe of God.” My grandfather added, “I hope that you will qualify on both counts.” It was a quarter of a century later, prompted by a journalist’s question, that I asked my dear mother how she felt whilst I was away for a fortnight – I had remembered her tears upon both my departure and return. She told me that there were some days when she couldn’t eat, out of worry. The FATE video showing a family of a jihadi fighter at a dinner table gives some idea of how she must have felt.

JIMAS and other UK groups later sent dozens of fighters to Afghanistan and hundreds to Bosnia (1992-5).  One young man from Southall spent months in Afghanistan and described fishing in the river by use of hand-grenades: the explosion would blast the fish onto the banks.  One Londoner I know, currently a primary schoolteacher, spent a year or so in Afghanistan in the mid-90s, having gone there with the intention of a “sacred migration to the Islamic state” (hijrah), but became disillusioned when he heard talk of plans to attack western countries: some of the mujahideen were of course building Al-Qaeda.

So, fast-forward 20 years to 2010, almost a decade after 9/11 and the whole idea of Jihad had become utterly confused, including in the UK after the 7/7 attacks.  British involvement in the war in Afghanistan was deeply unpopular amongst UK Muslims, so when the FCO offered me a trip to the country to project British Muslims, I jumped at the chance, deciding that I would also treat it as a fact-finding mission again as to what was going on there.

 

Ex-Taliban Mullahs at the UK Embassy in Kabul, August 2010

We flew from London to Kabul via Dubai, after having undergone two days of “Hostile Environment Training” in Shropshire provided by ex-army people.  The training included practice in wearing the body armour (with ceramic plates) and helmet that we would need everywhere in Afghanistan, a simulated roadside bomb attack on the armoured jeeps in which we would travel and advice on what to do if we got kidnapped (co-operate with your kidnappers, don’t try anything silly, and hope to get rescued).  Whenever I wore the body armour, I thought of the Qur’anic story of Prophet Sulayman, or King Solomon, manufacturing iron armour under divine inspiration for protection in war: modern body armour, with its light but strong material that is ever-improving due to science and technology, is the latest manifestation of the Solomonic Sunnah.

At the heavily-fortified UK embassy in Kabul, we had iftar with a couple of ex-Taliban, including Mullah Ishaq Nizami, who had once served as a junior communications minister for Mullah Omar.  Nizami spoke of the need for human rights and corruption-free institution-building in Muslim-majority countries, something much stronger in western ones. He was also working with other, higher-profile ex-Taliban, including Mullah Mutawakkil and Mullah Zaeef (author of My Life With The Taliban, http://www.hurstpublishers.com/book/my-life-with-the-taliban/), in negotiations between Karzai’s government and Taliban leaders.  The iftar was hosted by Ambassador Sir William Patey and his staff.

 

Lashkar Gah ISAF Base, Helmand

The next day we flew to Lashkar Gah (“Lash”) via the formidable Kandahar Air Base.  At Lash we met the Commander of Task Force Helmand, Brigadier Felton.  (He had the England v Pakistan cricket test match from Lord’s on TV in the background via satellite: Sky Sports, but switched it off when we entered. This was the test match when Mohammed Amir bowled “those no-balls.”) I led the delegation in that meeting and my first question to him was about civilian casualties: his reply was that the Taliban were now killing more civilians than ISAF were, and that the new strategy under US General Petraeus was to minimise civilian casualties.

The head of the civilian mission here was Arthur Snell, formerly head of UK Prevent and now (2012) our High Commissioner in Barbados.  At the Lash command centre, one poster showed a big gun with the caption: “One size fits all: Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Haqqanis and HIGs” – the latter referring to Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, i.e. the fighters still loyal to our old friend-or-foe Hekmatyar.  (Hekmatyar finally laid down his arms in 2017, after almost 40 years of fighting.) Another striking recruitment poster read, “Who is fighting in place of your son?”

One striking feature at Lash was the presence of a handful of young, female soldiers. I saw a couple of male soldiers pumping iron whilst staring lustfully at a young female who was jogging in her shorts, and looking quite scared. I felt an air of fear and tension, as these young, British men and women had been transplanted into the midst of a war against a ferocious enemy: they were thousands of miles from home, and millions of miles away from any understanding of the surrounding Afghan Muslim culture. I asked the base chaplain about sexual ethics in the camp. His reply was that the soldiers were advised “not to have sex” but that if a female soldier became pregnant, she could return home immediately.

We also met the local mullahs at Lash’s rebuilt Central Mosque, including the Chief Mullah. A few years ago, a suicide-bomber had destroyed the mosque and killed the previous Chief Mullah: his shrine was next door.  There was a long queue of local men waiting to apply for the Hajj programme.  All of the mullahs were anti-Taliban; most were vehemently anti-Pakistan also, blaming the country for supporting insurgents.  The day before we eventually left Helmand, the Chief Mullah was arrested on charges of corruption relating to the embezzlement of Hajj application fees.


Nad Ali and the death of a young, British soldier

We also spent a few days in Nad Ali, where facilities were much more primitive compared to the relative luxuries of Lash (nicknamed “Lash Vegas” by soldiers).  We flew there and back by helicopter (RAF Merlin and Chinook, respectively): my first rides in a chopper.

We again met local mullahs in the main Nad Ali mosque.  There was almost a riot outside because two ISAF soldiers, both Muslim (one British male, one American female), had entered the mosque: a mob became very angry at the fact that foreign soldiers and a woman had “desecrated” their place of worship: they found it very difficult to comprehend that NATO soldiers could be Muslim.  Some of the mullahs accompanied us back to the base to show the public that NATO were not anti-Islam.

A Scottish army major here told me that many of the young Taliban recruits were clearly very devoted and brave fighters who believed in their Jihad, attacking NATO posts in their flip-flops, armed only with AK-47s: they stood no earthly chance against NATO’s superior firepower.

During our stay in Nad Ali, Lance Corporal Jordan Bancroft (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-11068103 ) was killed.  All private communications by troops were disabled whilst the MoD officially informed the family, rather than them receiving the news via friends.  Back at Lash, almost everyone turned out for a moving memorial service.  Bancroft’s commanding officer read a tribute to him and the chaplain read from Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer.  The service happened to occur at the time of the late afternoon Muslim prayer, so throughout the ceremony, the Islamic call to prayer rang out from the speakers of local mosques.  The total effect was something like:

The Lord is my shepherd

God is Greatest! God is Greatest!

I shall not be in want

He makes me lie down in green pastures

I bear witness that there is no god but God

He leads me beside quiet waters

He restores my soul.

I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Come to life-giving prayer!

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil

Come to life-giving success!

For you are with me; your rod and staff they comfort me.

God is Greatest! God is Greatest!

There is no god but God.

God is Greatest! God is Greatest!

Our Father, who art in heaven

Hallowed be thy name

I bear witness that there is no god but God

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done

On earth as it is in heaven

I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God

Give us this day our daily bread

And forgive us our trespasses

Come to life-giving prayer!

As we forgive those who trespass against us

And lead us not into temptation

Come to life-giving success!

But deliver us from evil

God is Greatest! God is Greatest!

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory

For ever and ever, amen!

There is no god but God!

 

A friend commented that many of Bancroft’s comrades would have been offended by the Islamic prayers, that they associated with the Taliban, throughout his memorial service, but this was a poignant moment for me: here we had thousands of western soldiers and Jihadist insurgents fighting each other, with no understanding at all of their shared, Abrahamic, religious heritage that is utterly devoted to the Glory of God.  As a Muslim believer in the divine origin of the Torah, Psalms, Gospel and Qur’an, the futility of the war was summed up for me in this scriptural and liturgical encounter: when will the Children of Abraham ever stop killing each other, I wondered?


Visit to a British-run training camp for Afghan police recruits

 We visited a British-run camp training Afghan police to take over security roles.  Helmand has a very high illiteracy rate, and the literacy levels of these police officers after training was that of 5-year-old children.  As may be expected, “unlettered” nations like this rely heavily on oral tradition and word-of-mouth means of communication and education.

 

Visit to the British-built Lashkar Gah Prison, and the would-be suicide-bomber aged 16

We also visited a relatively state-of-the-art British-built prison, where a significant minority of the inmates were Taliban or Pakistani and there was a separate wing for women, who were probably in the safest place for them.  Here we met 18-year-old Umar, a madrasa graduate from Pakistan who had served two years of his sentence ever since being intercepted before he could carry out a suicide-bombing attack.  “I came for Jihad,” he told me, “… The people who sent me are not good.  I won’t return to them when I’m released.”  I also asked him whether or not he got to exchange letters with his parents in Pakistan.  (Twenty years earlier, I had met a Pakistani fighter at the front line of the Jihad whose family home happened to be near my parents’ one in Karachi.  He had given me a letter and message to convey to his family, since he hadn’t seen them for years: my mother had accompanied me when I did so, feeling the pain of another woman whose son was at war in a far-off land.)  But Umar’s reply was a sign of the times: “I speak to them via mobile phone, two or three times a week.”

Another tragic story at the prison was that of the child imprisoned, mainly for his own safety, after he shot dead his own father in a fit of rage after the latter had shot dead the family’s pet goat in a fit of anger.  The authorities said that there was no drug problem in the prison, but we noticed a discarded hypodermic needle lying in the yard.  They also told us that they had procured TVs for the prisoners, and that all of the Taliban had gratefully accepted these, despite Mullah Omar’s fatwa banning television.

 

Other visits in Lashkar Gah

We met officials dealing with the problem of poppy-farming and opium-production: most of the world’s heroin supply originates in Helmand.  We were shown official UN figures to this effect, which also recorded the remarkable anomaly of near-zero poppy production in summer 2001 after Mullah Omar’s decree prohibiting it: 9/11 followed soon afterwards and narcotics production resumed.  Instability and war are clearly in the interests of the drug-traffickers, and the drugs trade is of course a massive source of income for warlords and insurgents.

We met a senior local judge whose work was supported by British officials: a traditional version of Hanafi Sharia law was applied, but the penal code consisted of fines, imprisonment or the death penalty by hanging: there were no floggings, amputations or stonings to death.  The judge maintained that Sharia embodied justice in all matters.

We had iftar at the official residence of the Governor of Helmand, a humble and educated man who served us personally.  Governor Mangal has come to the UK several times on FCO-sponsored trips.  He was himself not from Helmand but from one of the other 33 provinces: bringing outsiders to govern provinces is a common practice in Afghanistan due to the tribal rivalries everywhere.  I discussed with him the importance of education for the future of Afghanistan, having noticed the fledgling Helmand University in Lash, occupying two floors of a multi-storey building and reminding me of universities similarly-housed in simple surroundings in Pakistan.

We also had suhur (the pre-dawn meal in preparation for fasting) with the local head of the Afghan National Army, after which I remember seeing the familiar and reassuring sight of the Pleiades, Taurus, Orion and Sirius rising in the eastern sky.  In the middle of war-torn Helmand, it was nice to be reminded that we were actually still on the same planet as our comfortable homes in the UK.

Our scheduled 3-day stay in Helmand was extended to a week due to a large sandstorm that grounded all flights – a common occurrence, during which insurgent attacks are more dangerous since air cover is not available.  Back in the UK, families and civil servants were desperately worried about an official delegation being stranded in a war-zone, but we took the opportunity to benefit as much as possible from the experience.  I even did a half-hour interview by phone for Edinburgh’s Radio Ramadan, discussing lunar visibility, Islamic dates and prayer-times etc.

  

Reflection: three decades of brutal war in Afghanistan

During this trip, talking to many experienced people helped me build up a picture of the tragic story of Afghanistan over the past century, a story of which I had been entirely oblivious when joining the Jihad as a well-intentioned but naïve undergraduate in 1990. Here is a rough timeline:

1919-1973: A monarchy rules Afghanistan.  (In the mid-90s, I saw the copy of the Qur’an used in the early 20th-century initiation ceremony of the King of Afghanistan into Freemasonry on public display at the United Grand Lodge near Holborn – and no, I am not a freemason!)  By the end of this phase of history, the royals are living in obscene luxury whilst most of the people are in abject poverty.  Hence, it is no surprise when …

1973: A coup overthrows King Zahir Shah.  Many of the various political factions and warlords are in touch with the neighbouring Communist superpower USSR, vying for influence and funding.

1979: The USSR invades to support the Marxist-Communist coup of 1978.  Warlords and tribal leaders announce a Jihad against the “atheist, communist enemy.”  The Jihad is backed heavily by the Pakistani, Saudi and US governments.  Thousands of Jihad fighters (mujahideen) flock to Afghanistan from all over the Muslim-majority world.  The Soviets commit many massacres: between 600,000 and 2 million Afghans, mainly civilians, die in the war.

1989: The Soviets withdraw, defeated by a combination of mujahideen operations and US-supplied Stinger anti-aircraft missiles that erase Soviet mastery of Afghan airspace; the Jihad continues against Afghan communist forces.

1992: Kabul falls to the mujahideen.

1992-6: A vicious civil war ensues, as the various Afghan mujahideen warlords fight for power: Hekmatyar (backed by Pakistan’s Jamat-e-Islami), Massoud, Mujaddedi, Rabbani, Sayyaf, Dostum, etc.  The Saudis attempt to broker peace, with limited success.  The warlords commit many massacres, notably including the regular, heavy shelling of Kabul by Hekmatyar’s forces, said to be far worse than any Soviet bombardment.

1996-2001: The Taliban emerge and rapidly take over most of the country, disarming the warlords.  Civil war continues as the Northern Alliance fights the Taliban.  Both sides commit atrocities.  Massacres of Afghan Shias almost lead to war between the Taliban and Iran. (Religious sectarianism is a serious problem in Afghanistan, as in many countries: in the Lash prayer-room, I found a polemical Shia text deeply offensive to Sunnis; no doubt, reverse cases are in abundance too.)

2001-12: The US-led invasion force removes the Taliban from power after 9/11 and  continues fighting Al-Qaeda.  NATO and the Taliban (the latter allied with Al-Qaeda, the Haqqani Network and remnants of Hekmatyar’s fighters) commit many atrocities in over a decade of fighting.

 

Conclusion: hope from Helmand?

Back in the UK, I was asked by a video-wall company to record a short message of support for British troops in Afghanistan who were obviously missing their families back home.  I obliged, wording it carefully with the hope that we could help end the war, leave the Afghans with the peace and freedom to rebuild their devastated country, and bring our troops home as soon as possible.  With UK combat troops set to withdraw by 2014, that hope is closer to fruition.  And with it being an open secret that NATO is negotiating with the Taliban and GIROA (Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan), the talks being hosted in Qatar, the seeds of peace and mediation efforts that we saw in 2010 seem to have also borne some fruit.

But what next for the Afghans?  I had asked many people this question whilst in the country, and of course everyone was very uncertain.  One thing they generally agreed upon was that the country was caught between brutal, religious extremists and corrupt, secular politicians, with most people simply wishing to get on with their lives in peace: sadly, a familiar story in Muslim-majority nations.

Wherever we had driven in Helmand, children had mostly waved at our prominent, armoured jeeps but a few boys would always hurl pebbles at the convoys.  During one of our excursions in Lash, I had watched a very old woman slowly cross a busy road. (She reminded me of my Indian-Pakistani grandmothers and great-grandmothers).  It struck me that this woman had probably been in Helmand all her life, and would have lived through most of the history described above, including three decades of near-constant war.  What’s more, there were probably millions of men and women like her in Afghanistan: all touched by war and death, yet determined to achieve the best for themselves and their families.  The old woman’s enduring, wrinkled face was a tribute to humanity’s courage, faith and perseverance in the midst of constant tragedy: a message of hope from Helmand.

© Usama Hasan

London, UK

30th September 2012 (minor edits & publication: 10th November 2017)

Some thoughts on the Tunisia massacre, including why it is absurd to link an attack against a Muslim-majority state to Islam

July 1, 2015

Bismillah.

I would like to express my thoughts and prayers for the victims of the Sousse massacre, about 30 of whom are British citizens.

This was a monstrous attack, accompanied by a disgusting statement of justification (see previous blog post). The Imperial Hotel was hardly a “den of prostitution, vice and unbelief” – it was a legitimate holiday destination authorised by the state of “Muslim Tunisia” (to use ISIL’s own phrase). Rezgui is not a gallant knight, but a coward who attacked unarmed men and women holidaying with their families and friends, often with little children, some of whom are now traumatised and emotionally scarred.  Many of the victims were old enough to be the killer’s parents or grandparents, but he still showed them no mercy during his attention-seeking, narcissistic rampage.  “Look at me!  I am a deluded, wannabe holy warrior!”

The previous week, another deluded young man massacred nine African-Americans in a church in Charleston.  Some of the victims’ families have already forgiven the killer.  I hope that at least some of the British victims’ families will find it in their hearts to forgive the Tunisia killer, although that is of course easier to say than do, and it will be a painful internal journey for all the survivors and relatives – life is a constant journey, outwardly and inwardly, of course.

We are just days away from the 10th anniversary of the Al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist attacks in London on 7 July 1995. The ringleader of that attack claimed it was on behalf of “his people,” i.e. the people of Iraq, even though he had never set foot in that country. British Muslims should all stand in solidarity with the victims of 7/7 and of the Sousse massacre, and make it clear in no uncertain terms to the members, supporters, sympathisers and apologists of Al-Qaeda and ISIL everywhere, that include hundreds of deluded Brits, that the British people are “our people,” as are the vast majority of decent, civilised people everywhere. And all British people should come together against the horror and barbarism being perpetrated by ISIL and similar groups worldwide.

The terrorist mass-murderer, Seifeddine Rezgui, was clearly a loser who became a monster. The attacker’s title al-Qayrawani is carefully chosen: it claims that he is from Qayrawan or a graduate of it, an ancient Islamic city in Tunisia, and site of one of the oldest mosques and universities in the world. Hence the symbolism: a holy warrior, steeped in prayer and learning, slaughtering the Crusaders to protect them from “Muslim Tunisia.” This illustrates the utterly delusional, fantasy world of ISIL, although unfortunately, given the right conditions, there are millions of people seduced by this stupid and monstrous, ahistorical narrative. In reality, “Muslim Tunisia, a 99% Muslim-majority country, has an overwhelmingly secular constitution, approved by a coalition of post-Islamists and Muslim secularists, and this “Muslim Tunisia” is an enemy of ISIL, committed to protecting itself and its economy from being ravaged by ISIL madmen. Rezgui was clearly, utterly ignorant of the centuries-old ethical tradition of Islam, including in regard to warfare, never mind somehow being al-Qayrawani, or a graduate of Qayrawan, one of the oldest universities and centres of learning in the entire world.

Muslim Tunisian hotel workers saved the lives of their holiday-maker guests at the Imperial hotel. Muslim Tunisian doctors and nurses, including veiled and unveiled women, saved lives and treated the injured in the hospitals of Sousse. Crowds of Muslim Tunisians chased the ISIL fanatic, putting themselves in great danger, and some of them threw rubble at him from rooftops. It was Muslim Tunisian security forces and snipers who finally shot him dead, cutting short his rampage and saving many more lives. Since the massacre, crowds of Muslim Tunisians have rallied in protest against the massacre, carrying Tunisian and British flags, making heart signs in solidarity with the victims, and holding candlelit vigils in their memory.

This reality destroys the fiction entertained by both Muslim extremists and anti-Muslim bigots, that somehow Rezgui represents Islam or Muslims in any meaningful sense. It also illustrates the absurdity of linking this terrorism, overwhelmingly rejected by a 99% Muslim nation on the basis of their faith, to that faith itself.  Similar logic applied when terrorists murdered Muslim schoolteachers and schoolchildren last year in Peshawar, Pakistan, a 95% Muslim-majority country.  Just as no serious Brit associated IRA terrorism with Christianity, knowing the sublime ideals of that religion, no serious Muslim has any doubt about the disgusting, filthy nature of takfiri terrorism.  It is only to people outside the faith, often swayed by ignorance, fear and/or prejudice, that such questions are unclear. Westerners associating ISIL with Islam is equivalent to Easterners associating Breivik, with his symbols of the cross and crusade, with Christianity.  Neither position makes any meaningful sense.

Tunisia has produced the most ISIL foreign fighters ‎because of the relative success of the democratic process there: takfiris go abroad to live out their fantasies. In neighbouring Libya, the civil war provides ample opportunities for takfiri violence.

Thus, Muslim Tunisia has embraced democracy and secularism as antidotes to both dictatorship and islamism. This ISIL attack is a pathetic, cowardly attempt by childish, attention-seeking islamists to stop the consensus of the good people of Tunisia in favour of liberty, democracy and religiously-neutral secularism: the separation of mosque and state, a principle praised by one of the leading Sunni Muslim theologians of our time, Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, in his Sina’at al-Fatwa as far back as 1428 / 2007.  A full translation of his arguments may be found in my essay, From Dhimmitude to Democracy, available elsewhere.

I end with my translation of a few selected phrases from the new Tunisian constitution (2014) that illustrates this “Islamic civil secular democracy”: for study, discussion and analysis. Note that this constitution has been endorsed by (the party of) Sheikh Rachid al-Ghannouchi [Rashid al-Ghannoushi], who has a Muslim Brotherhood background, but is effectively post-islamist:

Tunisia is a free, independent, sovereign state …

Islam is its religion. Arabic is its language. Democracy is its system …

It is a civil state, based on citizenship, the will of the people & the primacy of the law …

The people are sovereign, and are the source of authority, which they practise via elected representatives …

State slogans are: freedom, dignity, integrity, order. [hurriya, karama, ‘adala, nizam – all of which are maqasid or universal objectives of the ethical and legal tradition of Islam known as Sharia]

And because ISIL and their apologists do not believe in freedom, dignity, integrity and order, and have effectively lost the intellectual argument about the future of Islam, they will continue threatening their childish attacks and terrible violence whilst throwing a massive, global tantrum. And they will lose, because this madness is unsustainable in the face of the millions of decent, civilised people who will continue to stand strong for truth, justice, mercy and beauty, all of which are reflections of the Names of God, and will therefore always attract Divine help, intrinsically and extrinsically.

Interview with a Syrian opposition activist

March 11, 2012

Bismillah.  Better late than never.  The following is a brief interview conducted on 26th Ramadan 1432 (26th August 2011) with a Syrian journalist & opposition activist, Mohammad Fizou.  The questions and mobile phone number (registered in Turkey) of the interviewee were supplied by a UK-based journalist.  The line was quite poor, hence the brief interview.

1. You coordinate the Syrian Army Defectors’ Facebook page. How many defectors are there in total?

 We have 8,000 people on our Facebook page.  There is much more information on there about our members.

2. Which city do you come from?

I am from Ladhiqiyyah (Latakia).

3. What makes the defectors choose to do so?

They defected from the army (there are over 7,000 of them) because they were ordered to fire with machine-guns at unarmed, civilian protesters.

4. Have ex-soldiers been the only ones shooting at & killing army regulars, or have protestors engaged in violence against the regime at all?

The only people killing soldiers have been the regime’s people.  They killed soldiers who refused to shoot at civilians, and blamed it on the protesters in order to give the world media the impression that the regime had been attacked by the protesters.

5. Do you want a no-fly zone like in Libya, or will you and your men be able to fight against the regime yourselves?

We have about 7,000 men but the regime has many times that number, as is well-known.  Therefore, we need as much support and help as possible.  The Syrian regime’s aircraft have been bombing civilian protesters, so any action that will stop them will be very important.

6. There are different groups of ex-soldiers, such as the Free Officers’ Movement led by Hussain Harmoush and the Free Syrian Army led by Col. Rifal al-Assad.  Is there any plan for them all to come together and form a united army against the regime?

These movements all have the same aim, and therefore they are united in purpose.  They tend to be regional, i.e. composed of defectors from different parts of the country.  The regime tries to make out that we are disunited, but we are not.  We all have the same demands, as the protesters do: stop the killing; stop the massacres; let us have reform.

7. How credible are the Turkish Army’s threats to establish a safety zone inside Syria? Will this affect the revolution, do you think?

Turkey is a friendly country, as are its people and its army.  We would welcome help from any friendly countries, such as Turkey or Britain, since they would not be invading or occupying our country.  But Turkish soldiers have not entered Syria.  The Syrians have fired repeatedly on Turkish troops and have even launched rockets into Turkish territory, but the Turks have not retaliated.  The Turks gave the Syrians a 15-day ultimatum to stop firing on them – this expired yesterday evening (25th August 2011), but the Turks haven’t taken any action in response.

Thank you for your time & answers.

True Story of a Survivor of Terrorism – Sayra Mobeen

March 3, 2012

Bismillah.

This relates to the twin suicide attacks at the International Islamic University of Islamabad in October 2009.  One of the targets was the women students’ cafeteria.  (Here is BBC and Guardian coverage.)  An injured survivor of that attack has written a brief piece about her experience, over two years later.

I received this from Major (Retd.) Tahir Wadood Malik, who was featured along with IIUI survivors in a moving Channel 4 Dispatches documentary about terrorism in Islamabad: City of Fear.  His comments are given below, followed by Sayra’s story.

Sayra Mobeen is a student at the International Islamic University at Islamabad. she was badly injured in the twin suicide attacks in the university on 20th October 2009.

The extent of trauma can be seen by the fact that it has taken her over two years and lots of persuasion to write her story.

May Allah help us all to overcome this menace of extremism that we are faced with in Pakistan, aamin.

If you have any comments or want to send her a message, these will be passed on to Sayra Mobeen.

Thank you Sayra, our prayers, and support for you and your friends will always be there.


Victims & survivors of terrorism, please come together to ‘speak truth to terror’
Pakistan Terrorism Survivors Network, Islamabad, Pakistan
http://paktsn.webs.com/

True Story of a Blast Victim

SAYRA MOBEEN

Student BBA (Honors)

Islamic International University Islamabad

The morning of 20 0ctober 2009 was delightful and astonishing for me not for the country; I was happy to go to classes for my studies and be with my friends. Ignoring the years of unending dilemma of Pakistan facing the threat of terrorism; that every face showed pain did not matter to me.

I am not a keen follower of the news, and that is why I could not feel the pain people faced by being in a bomb blast, or of losing a loved one in a terrorist attack.

The twin blasts in my University that day changed my life, as it was the first strike on women students in Islamabad. This incident left deep effect on my life. Bringing me face to face with a disaster which in its wake brought a lot of challenges for me.

Sadly I am a victim of that incident, and have been lucky to survive to tell my story, and look at life in a different perspective.

I remember that day after classes I came back in my hostel room at about 2:45 pm. My friend Umme Kalsoom came to my room and asked me to accompany her to the cafeteria, so I got up and we left.

We went to the cafeteria fruit shop but they had sold out the fruit etc. I don’t know why we were in hurry that day to go in the café, as we both ignored our class fellows who were sitting outside the café asking us to join them, and entered the main hall of the cafeteria.

We bought salad and some other eatables and sat inside the café on the left side of the hall, we still did not join our friends outside! We realized that we had not bought soft drinks so I went and bought these.

As I reached near the fountain in the hall, on my way back to our table, I suddenly heard a dreadful sound, and saw lots of smoke; my ears were deafened. I felt as if I had been hit by something forcefully. I was disoriented and fell down. The pain made me realize I was hurt and I could feel the pain on my body, arms, legs, forehead and chest. Later I found that the major injuries I received were on my chest.

Humble thanks to Almighty Allah that I was in my senses and tried to walk away from the cafeteria to save myself, but could not. I then saw my friends coming back to look for me; my shirt was full of blood which was coming from the wounds on my head and chest; when Umme Kulsoom  she saw me in this critical condition she started crying.

I asked Umme Kulsoom to look for my cell phone which I lost in this melee so I could call my family, she asked a female employee of café to look after me while she went to look for help.

I was feeling afraid because of the blast not for the pain or my injuries. The café staff told me I had severe injuries so I should go to the hospital, and tried to put me in a taxi, I refused because I did not want to go alone by taxi. The staff then left me and walked away, which hurt me more. I missed my family and friends and started to cry.

In the meanwhile my friends came looking for me, and picked me up, I was in great pain, and they took me to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences. The doctors decided to undertake surgery because of the nature of my injuries. I was very afraid because I knew my family was not with me, and I did not know what would be the result of the operation. But that is perhaps what saved my life.

After initial treatment in the PIMS and in view of the nature of my injuries, I was sent to the Combined Military Hospital at Mangla Cantonment for treatment. I underwent treatment at Mangla and suffered lots of pain and surgical interventions, for approximately four months. During this period my family and I suffered a lot, as they had to arrange for a place to live at Mangla, and commute from Abbottabad to Mangla regularly.

My injuries were similar to the injuries that soldiers receive in the battle field. The doctors at Mangla took great pains to remove the pieces of shrapnel and other stuff in my body, but even then, they could not remove all, and some non-life-threatening pieces of the material that was used in the suicide jacket, are still in my body and will remain in me for my life. It hurts at times, but at least I am alive.

As I said I did not pay attention to news of bomb blasts when I saw it on television or read about this in the newspapers, therefore I could not assess the pain of others; especially those who suffered during terrorist or suicide attacks.

Since my ordeal, I can recognize the pain and difficulties of survivors and victims’ like me, and Alhamdolillah I can empathize with them and help them in their recovery from trauma.

This unpleasant incident did not close the door of life on me; it showed me the other and pleasant direction of life. I am happy, and grateful to Allah that I am passing my life normally, thanks to my family, friends, and many other people who helped me recover, and this has strengthened my belief in the saying that “obstacles come in life to polish one, or make one like a diamond.”

 

Three Upcoming Lectures in Cambridge, God-willing

January 31, 2012

Bismillah

1) Wednesday 1 February – The Libyan Revolution and its Future

Aref Ali Nayed in conversation with Edward Stourton

5.00 pm – 6:30 pm

Runcie Room, Faculty of Divinity, West Road, Cambridge CB3 9BS

Aref Ali Nayed is the Ambassador of Libya to the United Arab Emirates and was the Chief Operations Officer of the Libyan Stabilisation Team. In Cambridge as a Visiting Fellow with the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme, Dr Nayed is in conversation with the distinguished BBC print and broadcast journalist, Ed Stourton.

A reception, open to the audience, will follow the event.

This event is FREE but booking is essential: book now at libya.eventbrite.co.uk or call 01223 763 013.

In February 2011, Islamic scholar Aref Ali Nayed took part in demonstrations in Tripoli, where he was born. There, he witnessed first-hand the brutality of the Libyan regime against its own people. Together with other religious scholars, Nayed established the Network of Free Ulema. In their first press release, on 19th February, they wrote, “STOP THE MASS KILLINGS OF PEACEFUL DEMONSTRATORS IN LIBYA”. As the days progressed, their statements became more desperate, calling for international action, until on 2nd March, they called for the world to recognise Libya’s new Interim National Council and Government.

 Nayed was one of the first prominent Libyans to publically decry Gaddafi. He set up a Support Office for the Executive Team of the new National Transitional Council (NTC) in his Dubai premise, which worked around the clock towards the transition to NTC authority, working on matters which included humanitarian, financial, diplomatic, telecommunications and security issues.

In June, Nayed was appointed coordinator of the Tripoli Taskforce.  When Tripoli was liberated in late August 2011, the remit was broadened and he was made the lead coordinator of the Libya Stabilization Team.  Nayed’s team worked intensively and restored electricity, telecommunications, and water supply and fuel. In early August the NTC announced Nayed as the new Libyan Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and he was given possession of the Libyan Consulate buildings in Dubai. He was the first ambassador to be officially appointed under the NTC.

Dr Aref Ali Nayed is a Libyan Islamic scholar, and Libyan Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. He is also the founder and director of Kalam Research & Media, based in Tripoli, Libya and Dubai. Until the outbreak of the revolution in Libya he lectured on Islamic theology, logic, and spirituality at the restored Uthman Pasha Madrassa in Tripoli, and supervises graduate students at the Islamic Call College there.

Aref Nayed is also Senior Advisor to the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme, Fellow of the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute in Jordan, and was appointed to the Board of Advisers of the prestigious Templeton Foundation.

 

Cambridge Muslim College – Lecture Programme: Lent 2012                                                          

Cambridge Muslim College is pleased to announce its public lecture programme for the Lent Term 2012. The College welcomes distinguished speakers, each addressing a timely and scholarly topic.

Both lectures take place at the Runcie Room, Faculty of Divinity and will begin at 6.30 pm.

2) Wednesday 22nd February

The Islamic Garden: An Opportunity for ‘Bridge-Building’ Between Cultures

Emma Clark, Garden Designer and Senior Tutor, Prince’s School of Traditional Arts


3) Thursday 8th March

Images of People with (Mental) Disabilities in the Islamic Tradition

Mohammed Ghaly, Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies, Leiden University

Reflections from Bosnia – by the UK Christian Muslim Forum

October 26, 2009

Bismillah. A piece of hope here, as the trial of the rabid killer Radovan Karadzic, butcher of Srebrenica, is delayed by his spoiling tactics. Let’s hope he gets his just desserts, as have Hitler, Mussolini, Pol Pot, Ceaucescu, Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam before him.

Reflections from Bosnia

This is the most recent news item posted on our News and Events page. It never ceases to amaze me, the human ability to forge strong and sustainable friendship between strangers. Our journey to Bosnia was a testimony to this, both as a group of Christians and Muslims from the UK and among the Christians and Muslims of Bosnia.

Travelling to Bosnia was both a pleasure and a challenge to us all and a test of our faith. Bosnia, like many other countries that conflict and war has visited, is surely one of the most beautiful countries I have seen. War and genocide does not discriminate along lines of aesthetic beauty, it appears where it likes, making use of existing tensions and conflict. This is certainly true of Bosnia where unresolved conflicts of the past resurfaced during the war between 1991-1995. I would like to be writing here that those wounds caused by war are being treated sufficiently by those who have the ability and power to do so, but this is not always the case, and more needs to be done at both national and international levels to heal those wounds.

However, we as a group certainly witnessed the highest sort of faith, manifest in those wishing to heal the wounds between communities and make strong and lasting friendships. I witnessed this ability and desire to reconcile many times whilst in Bosnia, but those most memorable to me are an Imam and an Orthodox priest telling ‘Imam and Priest’ jokes whilst travelling with us. To be accompanied by an Orthodox Priest, an Imam and a Friar whilst visiting various different places of worship is certainly a picture of hope for Bosnia, a picture of hope that needs to be shared not only in Bosnia but among our culturally diverse world.

Our belief in forgiveness is often challenged as people of faith, and I would like to take this opportunity to present a challenge given to us as a group whilst visiting Srebrenica. A mother who had lost all her family in the Genocide in Bosnia asked “how can we forgive if no one is asking for forgiveness” one of the answers might be found in the fact that this courageous mother had returned to Srebrenica and was living among those people that might ask her for forgiveness.

What follows is an inscription found in the cemetery at Srebrenica:

In the name of God, almighty, merciful and compassionate, we pray that sorrow may turn into hope, that revenge may turn into justice, that mothers’ tears may become prayers, and that nowhere and never again will there be a Srebrenica.

Daniel Edge
Peace Worker

Other members of the group also wrote about their experiences. You can read the reflections of Catriona Robertson in her blog which contains many photographs from the week. We hope to add more from the others and invite them to let us have links that we can add to this piece.

Christian Muslim Forum
70 South Lambeth Road
Vauxhall
London SW8 1RL
Telephone 0207 820 0444
http://www.christianmuslimforum.org
Company Registration 5461960
Registered Charity 1114793