A Reflection on Death

5 minute read

A few months ago, I went through one of the biggest trials in my life.

People say this a lot, but it really felt like the darkest of all my days. Those moments have swelled to tower over all others in my life, eclipsing the days that came before and the ones that have come since. 

I lost someone very close to me. Someone I loved dearly.

I’ve seen loss and grown up aware that we will all feel its touch at some point. After all, Allah ﷻ says in the Quran ‘Every soul shall taste death’ (3:185). I’ve seen the lives of friends, family, and strangers afflicted by death and I’ve seen what happens to the ones left behind. 

Nevertheless, death felt so far away from me. I know now that the signs were there all along and this is a fact of life that Islam prepares us for. But thinking about death & loss, and experiencing it couldn’t have been more unalike.

I guess what I’m trying to say is pondering upon death, for me anyway, was from a position where I could tune in and out, back to the comfort of everyday, worldly life. Experiencing loss, however, meant it became my relentless companion from the moment my eyes opened upon waking, to the nights where I would will myself to sleep because that was my only respite. I don’t know, perhaps if my Iman had been stronger it would have been different.

I think about death a lot now. Maybe it should have been this way all along, and this was the jolt I needed to make me realise that.

I don’t know but I don’t doubt the wisdom of Allah ﷻ. 

Between the tears and the loneliness, I managed to find refuge in Him. I’d pour my heart out to Him in sujood. When I couldn’t find the words, I know He understood anyway. On the more difficult days, between sobbing until my eyes felt raw, I’d manage to squeeze out “inna lilahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un” and that soothed my heart a little. 

For many years when the occasion called for it, I’d utter the phrase To Allah we belong and to Him is our return, almost automatically as a gesture of condolence, but the words seemed to take on a new meaning now.

I’m always reminded of what Yasmin Mogahed says in her book ‘How to Reclaim your Heart’ –

“My body came from the ground and it will go back to the ground, as it came. It was only a shell, a container for my soul. A companion for a while. But I’ll leave it here when I arrive. Arrive—not depart. Because that’s my home. Not this. That’s why when Allah (swt) is calling back the righteous soul, He says, ‘irjiee’: return (Qur’an, 89:28).” 

As a society, we are very negligent of death. It is the elephant in the room. We all know it’s there looming in the corner, but we go about our lives trying to ignore this shadow in our peripheral vision. In the end, this does more harm than good, and we find ourselves feeling lost in the face of death. Rather than avoiding this topic, we need to face it head-on with the tools and insight Islam provides us with. 

Islam allows us to view death through a unique lens, as the afterlife is given so much importance and status over the first:

“And surely the hereafter will be better for you than the first (life).” 

(93:4)

By truly learning to appreciate that this life is temporary, we realise that every trial and tribulation we experience in it is part of a bigger plan, for which we will be recompensed and rewarded if we patiently endure (God willing). This in itself, is a blessing that has been afforded to us by Allah ﷻ.

As for me, I don’t wish any of it happened any differently. I know I had my own shortcomings and weaknesses in faith. I know I had love for this Dunya in my heart. Perhaps, if I had internalised the Islamic attitude to death, I would have been more prepared for this unavoidable eventuality.

Despite this all, Allah guided me in the most painful but beautiful way. Sometimes it takes losing something to be able to see the blessings you had all along. 

Grieving the death of a loved one is not a singular event; it is on-going, perhaps an even lifelong experience. Even within this, which may be the most difficult thing any one of us endure in our time in the Dunya, we can find countless blessings.

Even in the pain and sorrow of death, we can witness the completeness of our Deen.

I cannot enumerate the favours Allah bestowed upon me during this time, and I won’t attempt to. However, for me, grief became a catalyst to reassess and realign my priorities. This separation forced me to reflect on how I was preparing for the day that I would depart from this world. What had I sent forth for my akhirah? How much time had I invested in it relative to this life? Was I doing everything I could? These questions, although difficult, were necessary for me to realise how far I was from the state I wished to die in, but also that as long as I am breathing, I still have time to act to change this. 

I don’t wish to tell anyone how to grieve. And I don’t wish to portray grief and the agony of it as a deficit of faith. After the death of his son Ibrahim, our Prophet ﷺ articulated his own pain so eloquently. Turning his face towards the mountain he ﷺ said:

“O mountain! If you had the sorrow that I have, you would be destroyed and broken into pieces. However, we say what Allah orders us to say, ‘To Allah we belong and to Him is our return’.”

During his lifetime, Allah tested his most beloved slave, حَبِيْبَُ ٱلله, with the deaths of so many of his loved ones – his wife Khadijah (R.A), his uncle Abu Talib, and all of his children but one (R.A), amongst countless others. Through his noble example, and the way in which he conducted himself in the face of unimaginable loss and sorrow, we can find guidance in how we too should cope when confronted with death. 

Further highlighting the depth of his sorrow after the passing of Ibrahim, the Prophet ﷺ was also recorded as saying:

“The eyes are shedding tears and the heart is grieved, and we will not say except what pleases our Lord, O Ibrahim ! Indeed we are grieved by your separation.”

From his example, we learn that not even the Prophet ﷺ was immune to the anguish of separation, despite not being attached to this worldly life at all. From him, we learn it is ok to cry and feel pain and grieve, as he did, however, we should guard our tongues and not let our grief lead us to say that which displeases Allah. Furthermore, he advised us not to wail, tear our clothes, or strike ourselves when mourning our dead but this doesn’t mean we can’t express our grief in other ways.

There is no one way to process loss or a timeline grief should adhere to. But we have been blessed beyond measure with a religion that helps it all make sense. In the end, I know where I am headed and I know, if Allah decrees it, I shall be with my loved one again.

China’s Injustices Against Uighur Muslims

5 minute read

As part of our Islamophobia Awareness Month Campaign we wanted to raise awareness of what is happening to Uighur Muslims in China.

Who are the Uighur?

The Uighurs are a Turkic ethnic group comprising around 13.5 million people. Around 11 million live in the Xinjiang region of Northwest China where they are native to. This region was traditionally known as East Turkestan and is China’s biggest region. Xinjiang is a designated “special economic zone” due to its abundance of oil and mineral supplies. It is also China’s largest producer of natural gas and is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, an infrastructure project whereby Chinese companies are constructing roads, pipelines and railroads globally. It is autonomous, meaning it is theoretically self-governed, however it has faced major restrictions from the Chinese government especially in recent years. There has been a cultural genocide against the Uighur people with human rights abuses, mass surveillance and no freedom of religion. 

History of the Xinjiang Conflict

The Xinjiang Conflict dates back to 1931 and the First East Turkestan Republic was established in 1933, this was then overthrown in 1934 by Sheng Shicai, a Chinese warlord, who received aid from the Soviet Union. Although already in use, it was in this period that the term “Uighur” was first used officially over the generic “Turkic”, as part of an effort to “undermine potential broader bases of identity” such as Turkic or Muslim

The Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region was established in 1955. In the late 1950s and early 1960s between 60,000 and 200,000 Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other minorities fled China to the USSR primarily due to the “Great Leap Forward” – a social and economic plan by the Chinese Communist Party which had the aim of taking the country from an agricultural society to a communist one via the creation of “people’s communes”. The political relationship between China and the USSR worsened and the Soviets formed a propaganda campaign criticising China and encouraged minority groups to migrate. 

From the 1950s to the 1970s, a state sponsored mass migration into the Xinjiang province raised the number of Han Chinese people from 7% to 40% of the population. During this time there was a decreasing infant-mortality rate, better medical care and a laxity in China’s one-child policy which helped the Uighur population in Xinjiang grow from four million in the 1960s to eight million in 2001.

Since the 1960s there has been increasing tension and violence in the region and in 1997, a police roundup and the execution of 30 suspected Uighur separatists during Ramadan resulted in mass demonstrations beginning on 3rd February of that year. This resulted in the Ghulja incident, a crackdown by the People’s Liberation Party who after two days of protests, dispersed protestors using clubs, water cannon and tear gas, some were killed by the Chinese Army gunfire. Official reports say 9 people died, while others estimated the number killed at more than 100 and even as many as 167. According to some reports, in the aftermath up to 1600 people were arrested on charges of intending to “split the motherland”, conducting criminal activity, fundamental religious activity, and counter-revolutionary activities following the crackdown.

“Strike Hard Against Violent Terrorism” Campaign 2014

The Chinese government created a campaign known as the “Strike Hard Against Violent Terrorism” campaign in 2014. They began to increase their military presence in Xinjiang under the Chinese Community Party General Secretary Xi Jinping. They also introduced perverse restrictions on the civil liberties of the Uighurs. China has legitimized it’s policies in Xinjiang by using the global “war on terror” of the 2000s to portray separatist unrest as Islamic terrorism. 

The crackdown on civil liberties includes mass digital surveillance through the regular targeting of phones, computers and other digital devices. Authorities have collected the DNA, iris scans, and voice samples of the Uighur population, they also use digitally coded ID cards to track the movements of the Uighur people, and use CCTV cameras to watch their homes, streets, and marketplaces. The Chinese government had increased surveillance through ensuring the police look out for signs of “religious extremism” that include owning books about Uighurs, growing a beard, having a prayer rug, or quitting smoking or drinking. The government had also installed cameras in the homes of private citizens.

Since this campaign the number of people officially arrested has tripled compared to the previous 5 years, according to official figures and estimates by the nongovernmental organization Chinese Human Rights Defenders. The government has held people in pretrial detention centers and prisons, both of which are formal facilities, and in political education camps, which have no basis under Chinese law. Those detained have been denied due process rights and suffered torture and other ill-treatment

Internment Camps and Restrictions

From 2014 onwards the situation in Xinjiang has worsened for the Uighurs. Since 2015, it has been estimated that over a million Uighurs have been detained in Xinjiang’s internment camps, other sources suggest there are up to 3 million people in these camps. They were established under General Secretary Xi Jinping’s administration with the aim of ensuring adherence to national ideology. There are over 85 camps within Xinjiang, which the Chinese government refers to as “re-education centres”, they have justified their actions as responding to “ethnic separatism and violent terrorist criminal activities”. 

In 2017, the Xinjiang government passed a series of legislation that targets elements of the Muslim identity, such as preventing men from growing beards and women from wearing veils. Giving a child a name that would “exaggerate religious fervour,” such as Muhammad, is illegal. A person can be imprisoned in internment camps for the “crimes” listed and also for having WhatsApp on their phone, having family members who live abroad, or for no reason at all.

Inside the camps, Uighurs are forced to learn Mandarin Chinese, sing praises of the Chinese Communist Party, memorize rules applicable primarily to Turkic Muslims, swear loyalty to President Xi Jinping, and criticise or renounce Islam. They are told they may not be allowed to leave the camps unless they have learned over 1,000 Chinese characters or are otherwise deemed to have become loyal Chinese subjects. 

A former detainee, Omir, said regarding the concentration camps:

“They wouldn’t let me sleep, they would hang me up for hours and would beat me. They had thick wooden and rubber batons, whips made from twisted wire, needles to pierce the skin, pliers for pulling out the nails. All these tools were displayed on the table in front of me, ready to use at any time. And I could hear other people screaming as well.”

Outside of the camps there is no freedom of religion: there have been around 5000 masaajid demolished in the region and those that are left are heavily monitored, however there are no Imams left as they have been put into concentration camps. In one area, Kashgar, over 70% of the masaajid have been destroyed. Praying, fasting, saying salaam, celebrating Eid, halal food, having Islamic weddings at home are all forbidden and the government rewards people that have reported Uighurs with up to approximately £5600. 

The government has encouraged Uighur couples to have fewer children and incentivised marriages between Uighurs and Han Chinese people, giving around £1,085 per year for the first 5 years to intermarried couples. In January 2020, a CNN report based on an analysis of Google Maps satellite imagery said that Chinese authorities have destroyed more than 100 graveyards in Xinjiang, primarily Uighur ones. In 2018, Chinese public servants began compulsory home stays with Uighur families for assimilation aid. Human rights abuses have taken place including forced sterilization and contraception. A 37-year-old pregnant woman from the Xinjiang region said she attempted to give up her Chinese citizenship to live in Kazakhstan but was told by the Chinese government that she had to come back to China to complete the process. She received an abortion and said it was required to prevent her brother from being detained in an internment camp. There have also been allegations of organ harvesting in Xinjiang since the 1990s and in 2001 a Chinese asylum-seeking doctor testified that he had taken part in organ extraction operations

It’s clear to see that the Chinese government has long propagated anti-Muslim sentiment across China and fostered a culture of fear, suspicion and hostility within the Xinjiang region, contributing to the increasing globalised Islamophobia and stigmatisation of Muslims. The Uighur people are victims of human rights atrocities and forced political indoctrination, restrictions on their movement and communication, and mass surveillance in violation of international human rights law. They are facing the erasure of their Muslim and cultural identities as a result of the Chinese government’s state-sponsored genocide.

The Science of Chai☕

2 minute read

Yes, that’s right – I’ve just made quite a bold statement that there is a science to the perfect cup of chai, bear with me. Notice I said chai and not tea, that’s because the humble English breakfast tea cannot compare with chai – a drink of rich culture, beauty and pure happiness. 

To you, chai might be  چائے, شاي  shaah, or even chaa – but regardless of the name, it is truly something that transcends borders and sometimes even continents. With chai being a staple at most ISoc events, we want to equip you with the know-how on a fantastic, fool-proof cup of chai from the comfort of your own homes – for your parents, for those long days of zoom lectures, or even before the weekly story night 😉

For the ingredients, you will need:

–   Water

–   Tea Bags (PG TIPS are elite but we’ll let Yorkshire tea slide)

–   Sugar or any other sweetener of your choice

–   Chai Masala (because as students we can’t be dealing with the hassle of using whole spices)

–   Cardamom (Elichi) Powder

–   Milk (full fat of course, but semi skimmed is calm too – PSA: RED TOPPED MILK SHOULD BE ILLEGAL – FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY NEVER USE IT)

–   Mint/ginger (optional)

Utensils:

–   Mug

–   Saucepan

–   Tea Strainer

[This recipe serves 2]

Step 1: In your mug of choice, measure out a full mug of cold water from the tap ? (or filtered water if you’re boujee like that), pour into a saucepan at medium high heat with half a teaspoon of chai masala and half a teaspoon of cardamom powder – bring to boil [just as you would water for pasta].

Step 2: Add sugar (for me it would be 1 and a half teaspoons – controversial, I know) and add the tea bag when you see bubbles in the water but a roaring boil hasn’t been reached.

Step 3: Allow the tea to infuse in the water and spices, when a roaring boil happens, put your hob on medium heat.

Step 4: Add a mug’s worth of milk ? into the pan and let it simmer on low for about 3 mins.

Note: If you are Libyan ?? and reading this, please add evaporated milk!

Note two: To my Somali ?? people out there, don’t forget to add nido milk powder, your Hooyo will be proud insh’Allah!

Step 5: Crank up the heat to medium, it will eventually start bubbling and rising, when this happens, QUICKLY put the heat on low (spilt chai you’ll definitely cry over)

Step 6: Add mint or a small bit of peeled ginger (it’s especially nice in winter❄️), if you’re too excited you can skip this step and strain your tea into a mug – ready to drink (remember to say bismillah).

I hope all of you guys try this at least once, let me know what you think ?in the comments below, tag your stories with @manchesterisoc so we can assemble our chai family and put these local chai shops to the test! Most importantly, do share your own chai recipes in the comments below and see if you one-up us. We’d love to hear them 🙂