The Shy Activist- Attain that Taqwa

If you don’t know already, Ramadan is the holiest month of the year for muslims as it’s the month that the Quran was revealed. One of the pillars of Islam is fasting and this is what we do for the whole month of Ramadan, from dawn to sunset. Fasting makes us understand the physical pain of hunger, it encourages us to carry out more good deeds, it improves our will power by abstaining from our physical wants and it is a month that helps us to attain Taqwa.

If you are muslim you will know that familiar feeling in Ramadan when you think about how you are hungry but realise that is how millions of people in poverty feel. Or when you are about to get super angry but don’t want that to jeopardise your fast being accepted. This is because we are very aware of our actions during Ramadan.

Last year I went to the light upon light conference just before Ramadan and I really enjoyed one particular lecture about how the purpose of Ramadan is to attain Taqwa.

“O You who believe! Fasting is prescribed upon you as it was prescribed on those before you so that you may attain Taqwa” Quran – [2:183]

Taqwa means to become closer to Allah and being constantly aware of the presence of Allah. 

“Taqwa is not about performing religious obligations such as prayer and fasting: it is about living a pious life. A person possessing taqwa …chooses to live a moral life.“ 

“It strengthens a Muslim’s belief and enables him to become a better human being and an even better follower of the Islamic faith.”

This lecture particularly interested me because the focus was on our actions as consumers and how we need to be more aware of the presence of Allah in everything we do. 

The speaker was Ustadh Asim Khan who discussed how in the UK we waste 200k tons of food per year and we waste a whole load of clothes too (we’ve had a blog post on this before). The next speaker Zahir Mahmoud lectured about the the Prophet (peace be upon him) and how he hardly had any possessions or money and his home was very modest. This shows the contrast between the lifestyle we’re all so used to and the one we know would be should live as close as possible to.

I think there is a very strong connection between remembering our faith in everything we do and consumerism. Because consumerism and capitalism does not encourage us to think about other people. It encourages us to think about ourselves and what we need. “The love of this world, greed, hatred or enmity towards a fellow human, pride, etc. are all examples of such traits that hurt a believer’s Taqwa.”

One of my favourite quotes from the Prophet (PBUH) is:

“The best of people are those who are most beneficial to people”

We can be beneficial to others in many ways. But we can accidentally be detrimental to people in many ways too. By remembering our faith in everything we do we know we should consider how our choices affect the planet and everything in it. Hopefully this weekly blog helps to consider the bad impact some of the most seemingly harmless things have on our environment and other people.

I hope we all attain the fruits of Ramadan and attain taqwa. Not just by doing the things we are obviously obligated to do like praying, paying zakat, being good to our family and friends etc but being honest in everything that we do. More importantly being more honest with ourselves that we are doing the best we can because that’s all we can do, the best that we can do as individuals. 

O mankind, indeed We have…made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.(49:13)

SO I will leave you with a very Oh So Ethical quote from the Quran.

“…Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves…” (Qur’an, 13:11)

BE THE CHANGE. Attain that taqwa people.

FAIR FAVOURITES

So since we break our fast everyday with dates we should definitely get dates that are the most ethical they can be!

MEDJOUL DATES

Palestinian Medjoul Dates

sources and further reading

http://www.idealmuslim.com/how-to-gain-taqwa-in-ramadan/

https://www.muslimaid.org/media-centre/blog/ramadan-and-taqwa/

https://www.al-islam.org/message-thaqalayn/vol11-n4-2011/taqwa-part-1-ayatullah-murtadha-mutahhari/taqwa-part-i#term-taqwa

The Shy Activist- Beware of the Plastics

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The world is in love with plastics for many reasons. Not the Mean Girls plastics, everyone hates them.

But the water bottles, shavers, cutlery, toothbrushes etc. It’s lightweight, flexible, durable and versatile. It’s advanced medicine, transport, electronics – and food packaging. It’s great right!

But did you know that the demand for these disposable items mean that plastic is produced at 350m tonnes per years and it’s continuously increasing.

The trouble with this is that plastic never breaks down and every piece of plastic ever made is still living somewhere on our planet. Some of these plastics can be recycled and continue living on earth as a new product. Margarine and ice cream tubs, yogurt pots, fruit punnets and ready meal trays, drink, shampoo and detergent bottles could be reincarnated if you like.

However, there are many different types of plastic and the sorting process is very labor intensive.

“Only 14 per cent of plastic packaging is recycled, with the remainder, worth £60-90 billion worldwide lost as waste.”

There are plastics that can’t be recycled including plastic wrap, cling film, bubble wrap (I know it hurts, I’m sorry), plastic bags, crisp packets, sweet wrappers, polystyrene, soft plastic/metallic packaging, plastic bottle caps TO NAME BUT A FEW.

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Simon Ellin the Chief of the Recycling Association singled out Pringles, Lucozade, supermarket black plastic meat trays and cleaning spray bottles to be themes difficult/impossible to recycle.

So one major problem is that we keep producing tonnes and tonnes and tonnes of plastic and were just leaving it around the world. But there are other negative impacts.

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Look at this little guy. He shouldn’t be eating plastic. He should be eating plants and insects! But the poor thing and 100,000 other marine creatures like him are eating plastic and 10% of marine life have died from being entangled in plastic bags that we are manufacturing and not taking responsibility for. It’s said that by 2050 there could be more plastic in the sea that fish!

It also pollutes the air, land and water as well as exposing worker to toxic chemicals when it’s being manufactured and incinerated. “Serious accidents have included explosions, chemical fires, chemical spills, and clouds of toxic vapor. These kinds of occurrences have caused deaths, injuries, evacuations and major property damage.”

Plastics used in cooking and food storage is also affecting our health. Chemicals that are typically hormone-mimicking and endocrine disrupters are evidenced to be coming from plastics.

There is a link between these chemicals and health problems “chromosomal and reproductive system abnormalities, impaired brain and neurological functions, cancer, cardiovascular system damage, adult-onset diabetes, early puberty, obesity and resistance to chemotherapy. Exposure to BPA at a young age can cause genetic damage, and BPA has been linked to recurrent miscarriage in women. The health risks of plastic are significantly amplified in children, whose immune and organ systems are developing and are more vulnerable.  The evidence of health risks from certain plastics is increasingly appearing in established, peer-reviewed scientific journals.”

We can tackle plastic pollution and we should as soon as possible. In fact there is a prize of £1.5million prize for environmentally friendly packaging design, backed by the conservation charity the Ellen MacArthur Foundation – New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize.

Chris Grantham from the London branch of the global design consultancy Ideo said, designers would need to produce items that could be used again and again as pressure on materials increases from a growing population.
Mr Grantham’s ideas about how to tackle the issue include; if products are bought online products do not need branding and complex designs; supermarkets can fit a mini projector to project branding onto blank containers.

Here’s a short list of ways to reduce plastic pollution with your own bare hands from the Natural Resources Defences Council:

1. Wean yourself off disposable plastics.
Ninety percent of the plastic items in our daily lives are used once and then chucked: grocery bags, plastic wrap, disposable cutlery, straws, coffee-cup lids. Take note of how often you rely on these products and replace them with reusable versions. It only takes a few times of bringing your own bags to the store, silverware to the office, or travel mug to Starbucks before it becomes habit.

2. Stop buying water.
Each year, close to 20 billion plastic bottles are tossed in the trash. Carry a reusable bottle in your bag, and you’ll never be caught having to resort to a Poland Spring or Evian again. If you’re nervous about the quality of your local tap water, look for a model with a built-in filter.

3. Boycott microbeads.
Those little plastic scrubbers found in so many beauty products—facial scrubs, toothpaste, body washes—might look harmless, but their tiny size allows them to slip through water-treatment plants. Unfortunately, they also look just like food to some marine animals. Opt for products with natural exfoliants, like oatmeal or salt, instead.

4. Cook more.
Not only is it healthier, but making your own meals doesn’t involve takeout containers or doggy bags. For those times when you do order in or eat out, tell the establishment you don’t need any plastic cutlery or, for some serious extra credit, bring your own food-storage containers to restaurants for leftovers.

5. Purchase items secondhand.
New toys and electronic gadgets, especially, come with all kinds of plastic packaging—from those frustrating hard-to-crack shells to twisty ties. Search the shelves of thrift stores, neighborhood garage sales, or online postings for items that are just as good when previously used. You’ll save yourself a few bucks, too.

6. Recycle (duh).
It seems obvious, but we’re not doing a great job of it. For example, less than 14 percent of plastic packaging is recycled. Confused about what can and can’t go in the bin? Check out the number on the bottom of the container. Most beverage and liquid cleaner bottles will be #1 (PET), which is commonly accepted by most curbside recycling companies. Containers marked #2 (HDPE; typically slightly heavier-duty bottles for milk, juice, and laundry detergent) and #5 (PP; plastic cutlery, yogurt and margarine tubs, ketchup bottles) are also recyclable in some areas. For the specifics on your area, check out Earth911.org’s recycling directory.

7. Support a bag tax or ban.
Urge your elected officials to follow the lead of those in San Francisco, Chicago, and close to 150 other cities and counties by introducing or supporting legislation that would make plastic-bag use less desirable.

8. Buy in bulk.
Single-serving yogurts, travel-size toiletries, tiny packages of nuts—consider the product-to-packaging ratio of items you tend to buy often and select the bigger container instead of buying several smaller ones over time.

9. Bring your own garment bag to the dry cleaner.
Invest in a zippered fabric bag and request that your cleaned items be returned in it instead of sheathed in plastic. (And while you’re at it, make sure you’re frequenting a dry cleaner that skips the perc, a toxic chemical found in some cleaning solvents.)

10. Put pressure on manufacturers.
Though we can make a difference through our own habits, corporations obviously have a much bigger footprint. If you believe a company could be smarter about its packaging, make your voice heard. Write a letter, send a tweet, or hit them where it really hurts: Give your money to a more sustainable competitor.

So you know what to do. Go do it. Please.

FAIR FAVOURITES

Mean It fashion- it was hard to stop choosing things I like from here. What a great selection!

“Our mission is to source ethical fashion around the world and offer well-designed, desirable and luxurious pieces in one marketplace. Clothing and accessories designed and produced in a sustainable way, using environment-friendly materials. Vegan pieces. Fair trade and upcycled items. All made by teams that have control over the production process, making sure there is no wrongdoing in any sense. Brands we are very proud to sell.”

Maya Day Dreamer Maxi Dress

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Kelly Cotton Chambray Shirt Dress

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Queenie Dress

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Verushka Denin Skirt

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https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/may/16/toxic-timebomb-why-we-must-fight-back-against-the-worlds-plague-of-plastic

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-39953209

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4519380/Prince-Charles-Dame-Ellen-MacArthur-tackle-plastics.html

https://www.lifewithoutplastic.com/store/the_plastic_problem#.WSAkiXeZPqQ

http://www.plasticsindustry.com/plastics-environment.asp

http://www.therecyclingassociation.com/latest-news/ceo-simon-ellin-picks-out-worst-packaging-offenders-for-recyclability-for-the-bbc

https://www.nrdc.org

The Shy Activist- 99 problems and Microbeads are one

Everyday we wash with shampoo, shower gel, face scrubs and toothpaste. 

Have you considered the impact your everyday essentials might have on the environment? 

Microbeads are tiny plastic beads that are used in our personal care products. On average there are 100,000 microbes used in products to refresh and exfoliate our skin.

Microbes are made from “Polyethylene, but are sometimes constructed of other petrochemical plastics like polystyrene and polypropylene. These tiny, seemingly harmless particles are having a giant impact on the environment – so much so that they are now regulated by the US government.”

After we finish scrubbing our skin and teeth microbeads flow down the drain and because they are so small they aren’t caught in sewage treatment plants. They then wash into rivers and canals and sewage sludge fertiliser. 

These microbeads aren’t biodegradable and research suggests that “animals right at the bottom of the food chain are ingesting it and we worry what impact that will have higher up the food chain.” 663 species of marine life are affected in oceanic gyres, bays, gulfs and seas worldwide.

Alternatives

Always check the ingredients of the products you buy to make sure there are no microbeads in them. You can buy products that use natural, biodegradable exfoliants like sea salt, crushed shells, sugar, sand, and ground bark. Big brands are less likely to give up the habit but you can find lot’s of other brands who do; Lush, Green people, Antipodes. Check ethicalsuperstore for more or make your own!

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Fair Favourites

Inayah has beautiful clothing that is always quite loose fitting and comfortable.

Inayah’s ethics-

Our main priority is to maintain an ethical approach towards all aspects of our business. INAYAH’s foundation is based upon care and uncompromising ethical practise, to ensure fair and honest business dealings. We work exclusively with small family run production units, that pay fair wages to their workers whilst providing them with good working conditions. Before we collaborate with a factory, we assess working conditions, wages and their business practises, to determine whether or not they will deliver a quality, ethical service.

Warm Sand Draped Gown With Flare

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Nude Rayon Blend Top

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Navy Wide Leg Trousers

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Stone Maxi Dress With Binding Detail

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Sources

http://greenspirit.com/beauty-environment/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/shortcuts/2016/aug/24/ban-on-microbeads-tiny-objects-massive-problem-environment-cosmetics

http://www.express.co.uk/news/nature/705015/microbeads-what-are-plastic-particles-which-products-toothpaste-face-wash-scrub-cleaning

http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/35261018/why-microbeads-in-shower-gels-are-bad-for-marine-life

http://www.ethicalsuperstore.com/category/beauty-health-and-wellbeing/skin-care/cleanser-toner-and-facewash/?page=2

Soomaiya Syeda- Child Exploitation VS Child Labour

Child labour is always exploitative…or is it. I want to explore why sometimes it isn’t considered exploitative.

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It seems obvious. If children work they miss out on a lot of things we consider to be vital; educational, physical, social and mental growth. As consumers are becoming more and more conscious about what bad business practices they are funding, calls for child labour to end have increased over the last few decades.

Most recent action against child labour was taken by Apple who discovered that their cobalt supplier Huayou employed children and suspended their operation. The Netherlands made human rights due diligence for the first time to cut child labour. They will be looking at suppliers and ensuring there is no human rights violation further down the supply chain.

Whilst it is a welcomed change that capitalist corporations are now trying to run their businesses more ethically, it does feel a little like greenwashing the situation. Greenwashing is when a company appears to be more ‘green’ but fails to truly minimise the environmental impact. In this instance it would be to understand why children have to work, rather than just cutting off their only source of income.

Child labour in the UK was reduced in 1880 with the Education Act which made education compulsory for children up to the age of 10. This age was raised to 15 in 1944, 16 in 1973 and then 17 in 2013. So the UK’s stance on education has dramatically changed only very recently. The policy that someone must be educated until 16 years of age is younger than my mum!

As the UK, a 1st world country, is still trying to understand what the best age to be educated until is, we have to consider that this is not going to be what is best for children in other countries.

We all know the history of colonisation and the whitewashing of cultures all over the world. This could be described as a way of whitewashing and greenwashing cultures that need us to understand them in order to better help, rather than forcing them to become like us, which could lead to more hardship.

In an interesting podcast the Guardian held with various people including those who work in charities, previous child workers (now adults) and government workers, child labour is explored in a different way. We see how child labour is an important role within a family. As a part of the family children must contribute to the wellbeing of the everyone. They may even work for their family business, or as described by an ex child worker, sell “jellies, I worked on mini vans opening the doors, charging the clients. Also in construction, I carried bricks, washed dishes, all kinds of work [that] I could find.” I can’t imagine that if a child’s income is vital to the family’s essential needs, they’ll have much chance of being able to afford an education. Therefore banning child labour could potentially lead to worse outcomes.

There is also line between child exploitation and child labour here. Another interviewee explains that the difference lies in the type of work for example child prostitution vs child labour in the ways mentioned before.

In 2013 Bolivia revised the code protecting the rights of children and adolescents to raise the age of children working to 14. This caused children to protest because this directly affected their livelihood and the government had to reduce to the age to 10.

This says a lot about the priorities of people in Bolivia, whether children or adults. They may agree that education is the best way forward for future generations so that they can avoid the hard work and physical toil, and increase chances of making better a better living. But this isn’t a reality that can be implemented today or even tomorrow.

In India educational policies have increased child literacy however children are increasingly dropping out of school to work for their families.

30% of people in India live below the poverty line and they have no contingency plans of what happens in cases of illness, poverty, death or other unexpected costs. As a debt adviser in East London I see the way unemployed and employed people in the UK have no contingency plans and are living day to day. I see clients who live on food bank vouchers or regularly have to borrow from friends and family. The difference is if they are capable to seek advice there is help out there in the form of debt and money advice charity services. Just living day to day becomes a job in itself.

Child exploitation is unacceptable but I am weary of trying to change a country/cultures social system by just suspended our operations. Although it is a good way to send the message to the company, the corporations should use their economic leverage for a better attempt at having a good impact. I also think we must consider and accept that how we believe is the right way to live can be completely different in a different place. In Bolivia they have their own child care act where they diagnose if a working place is suitable and necessary for a child but without funding they cannot implement this act. They cannot just put laws in place to resolve a situation.

We can think learn about this grey area between child labour and child exploitation to understand how to have a better impact on the world with our consumer power as well as any other super powers. For example; pressurising companies like Apple to do more than just suspend operations. They CAN do something about ensuring working conditions are better, like Bolivia intended to.

FAIR FAVOURITES

Mirembe Makes sells jewellery made in Uganda from recycled paper beads aswell as jewellery made in the UK from recycled glass beads from Ghana. All chains used in the jewellery made in the UK are sourced from charity shops and are then upcycled when they are combined with the beautiful colourful beads from Krobo, Ghana. Each of the pieces made in the UK are unique and no two are the same. To find out more about Mirembe Makes you can find them on instagram; @MirembeMakes or visit their website; www.mirembemakes.bigcartel.com

Mirembe Makes £10

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Mirembe Makes £13

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Mirembe Makes £15
 

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Mirembe Makes £15

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Mirembe Makes £10

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Mirembe Makes £15

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I got my information from these sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/feb/24/is-child-labour-always-wrong-the-view-from-bolivia-podcast-transcript

https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/03/03/netherlandss-plan-cut-child-labor-out-products

http://news.trust.org/item/20170227145130-br2gz/

http://news.sky.com/story/child-miners-firm-refuses-to-apologise-over-cobalt-sourcing-10785313

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_labour#The_Industrial_Revolution

https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/child-labour

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/how-effective-are-social-security-and-welfare-in-india/article6823320.ece

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Social_Assistance_Scheme

Soomaiya Saturday- Eggs

In the UK we consume 12 billion eggs a year, and only 2% of these are organic. What is the difference between free range and organic?

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When I started to work at the farm I noticed that there were some chickens who looked like they were bullied by the other chickens. They are bald in areas and looked skinny and generally quite strange compared to the healthy looking chickens. I found out that these were rescued from battery farms. 

There is a very clear visible difference between the happy healthy chickens and the battery farm chickens and it’s really sad to see that difference. In the farm’s blog they describe how the battery chickens didn’t go outside for 2 weeks on their own without encouragement, showing a clear psychological impact from being at a battery farm. You can read about the chicken’s at the farm on the farms blog post.

So why do the organic chickens look so different from battery farm chickens, and how do free range chickens compare?

The egg farmer from Wirrebee South argues that it would be impossible to cater to the demand which will double by 2050, with organic farming- ‘farmers had moved to caged eggs in the 60s because of consumer demand for a cheaper, cleaner product.’

Like the exploitation in the garment industry, consumers can be seen as the force driving it. By creating a demand we are pushing for cheaper and faster products.

If you eat eggs and you want to be a conscious consumer you can look for the soil association logo when buying your eggs. The farm I work at is certified by the soil association and I can see how they live, with room to roam and to follow their natural behaviours. Let’s change that 2% to 100%. We are the change we want to see.

Fair Favourites

This weeks favourites are from Arthouse Meath. 

‘ARTHOUSE Meath presents the skills and talents of men and women living with complex epilepsy, learning and physical difficulties. With high quality artwork and products ARTHOUSE Meath aims to create a platform of positive change in attitude towards people who are often marginalised. 100% of sales revenue goes towards sustaining the enterprise, helping it to grow and evolve.’

Swim with Whales Forever Weekend Bag

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Beach Hut Snug Pyjama Set

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Keep Wildlife Wonderful Jug

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Birds Apron

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I got my information from the following sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/30/free-range-eggs-con-ethical

https://www.soilassociation.org/blogs/2017/february/organic-vs-free-range-eggs-whats-the-difference/

http://www.bhwt.org.uk/free-range-free-range-egg/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/19/-sp-inside-the-battery-hen-shed

http://stepneycityfarm.org/are-our-hens-happy/

https://www.riverford.co.uk/blog/2016/08/18/ethical-eggs-organic-vs-free-range/

Soomaiya Saturday- Every Penny Counts

Note- This is not a money saving guide

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We all like to give to charity regularly. We might have a monthly direct debit set up or give to the homeless. In Islam we give 2.5% of our wealth as it is a pillar of our faith. 

We do this because we want to help people who are less fortunate. We want to make a difference to someone’s life. We want to improve someone’s situation. In Islam we believe that you can’t lose anything from giving.

But what if every penny you spent had a positive impact on someone’s life. What if you offered Trade and not Aid. (I’m not suggesting we stop giving to charity).

At Oh So Ethical we believe that one of the biggest powers individuals have is their consumer power. We have to spend to survive- housing, food, clothes, other essentials.

What if every time you needed something you looked into the best option. Not just the best option for you as the customer but the best option for it’s impact on everything behind the item. Think about the environment, the person who made the goods, what the company believes in. Become a conscious shopper and not a zombie-like consumer.

When I started to think about spending ethically I started with the basics that I would always buy. Items such as soap, shower gels, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste (find them in the OSE directory). It feels good to know I am regularly contributing to businesses that are having a good impact on the world.

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I always think of it this way- if your friend and your enemy were selling the same thing, who would you buy it from?

In Islam we believe in attaching blessings to everything we do- “And spend of your substance in the cause of Allah, and make not your own hands contribute to destruction; but do good; for Allah loveth those who do good.” (2:195) It’s our mission to have a positive impact with every choice we make. Let’s use our choices to make people happy!

Soomaiya Saturday- “The Plurality of my Strangeness” (Kieran Yates-The Good Immigrant)

I’ve been inspired to write about race and prejudice after I started reading The Good Immigrant.

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Between Brown and British

To celebrate New Years I learned how to play ‘My Dear Acquaintance, A Happy New Year’. This is a Peggy Lee song, covered by Regina Spektor and now it’s been covered by me. I love old songs. I love the “golden age” of Hollywood. I love Postcolonial and 19th Century literature. I love period dramas. I love 80’s John Hughes teenage movies and artistic Ingmar Bergman films.

People often tell me I was born in the wrong era. I agree except for the fact that being brown, if I had been born in any of the previous era’s I would not have had the privilege to enjoy the art I enjoy now. It often occurs to me that it might be strange seeing a brown girl sing such an old, frankly put, white culture song. To be so passionate about art that doesn’t represent my ethnicity, culture or religion.

I mean imagine Ashwarya Rai singing “Tonight, you belong to me”. I can’t imagine it. I’m still getting used to Priyanka Chopra on Jimmy Fallon and having her own music video with Pitbull (eurgh). And I’ve never even seen a Priyanka Chopra movie so what do I even know. Don’t get me wrong, having more South Asian representation in mainstream pop culture is important. But the strangeness of these two cultures coming together has just been ingrained into my mind.

I wish that they could retain and almost exaggerate their South Asian roots rather than camouflaging into the Hollywood standards. Then I feel guilty that I am not Bengali enough myself.

Btw the autocorrect tried to change Ashwarya to ashtray and Priyanka to praying. Let’s try my name- Someday, Somalia, Someway. It sounds like a lovely name for a novel or movie.

I often have to confront the fact that I am so Western when I am around Bengali people. Many incidents decorated my life experience growing up that forced me to hide in the wilderness of my bengali culture. My mum tells me that I was fluent in Bengali until I went to school. Now when I visit my family, whether in Bangladesh or in London, I find it difficult to hold conversations in Bengali. I don’t know exactly when I started becoming so shy about speaking Bengali. I don’t think there was a defining moment.

I would say one thing that contributed to it was that we all speak English at home, except for my dad. I stopped being close with my dad from the age of about three. When I visited family I would always obviously spend time with those of my age who were born and brought up in London so we would speak English. I never formed close relationships with people who I would have spoken to in Bengali like my grandmothers, aunts and uncles. I was close to my grandfather but unfortunately he passed away when I was 10. If he had stuck around longer I might have had a better closer relationship with my Bengali culture.

I think when I started to get a bit older and adults started to really want to have conversations with me in Bengali I realised how inept I was. I had lost out on important Bangladeshi education during my childhood.

Every conversation I have is in question and answer form. I never ask the question.

I just say ji? Ji-oy. Ji-na.
Pardon? Yes. No.

And then after a few questions I get one of these two reactions:
A blank face and sigh from giving up on talking to me
Laughing about how I don’t know how to speak Bengali well

And then some moaning about how my parents failed.

I probably shouldn’t draw attention to this huge flaw of mine but it is relevant.

The thing is, I do know how to speak Bengali quite a bit. I am not amazing at it and I can’t read it, but I can speak it. It’s just that I’m so terrified of sounding stupid that I just stick to what I definitely know. The fear didn’t come from being crap at being or speaking Bengali, but the rigid line I had to walk between being too Bengali or being too Western, and that sometimes they accidentally overlapped. As Kieran Yates describes in her essay “The plurality of my strangeness”.

In one half of my family there was a clash between generations.  This clash was conceived with my mother who was the first of her siblings to be born in London. Her older sisters grew up in Bangladesh, her younger siblings in London. I was quite young when he died, but from what I can tell their father was the epitome of a strong breadwinner and enforced that stereotypical strict asian discipline…until he brought his second wife to London. At which point I believe he let the ball drop trying to juggle his two lives and his influence weakened. That may be why my older aunts are so different from their younger siblings. My time spent with this half of my family was soundtracked by Garage, R’n’B, Pop and some Bhangra. Hardly any Bollywood and we never spoke Bengali.

One particular moment that haunts me so often is when I had just arrived to my nan’s house after mosque. I forgot to take my scarf off. By the time I realised it was still on my head I couldn’t be bothered to take it off. Someone said ‘You don’t have to wear that here’ and everyone laughed. I felt really embarrassed because I knew that no one here was muslim and in fact they quite disliked Islam. I was a child at that point and I didn’t have a strong religious stance. I just wanted to be liked.

We still did Iftar at Ramadan and visited each other on Eid. We ate Mcdonalds but avoided pork and alcohol. We did Secret Santa at Christmas and visited Tower Hill on New Years Eve. In comparison, my dad’s side of the family never celebrated anything apart from Eid and were very traditional.
I grew up balancing on a tight rope between being called a kufar for playing guitar and being made fun of for choosing not to eat haram food anymore. Although we are talking about race I feel like religion is interwoven. So often I have felt that people assume I am not religious because I am not very cultural.

(I would like to point out that majority of the people who provided deliciously painful memories like these have completely changed their mindset and aren’t quite such dicks. I guess they were also navigating their way through two cultures too.)

I was recently part of my cousin’s wedding. I’ve never been part of anyone’s wedding before. I had to help make decorative food presentations called Taals and I enjoyed it! I felt so in touch with my Bengali heritage (although the Spock side of my brain doesn’t quite understand Taals). On the wedding day lovely Indian music played, I dressed in a blue lengha (my favourite style of asian clothes) and carried the Taal into the hall with the rest of my family. It was really beautiful and I had seen this happen so many times in other weddings. But I had never done it myself and it felt so alien. I felt like I was acting.

In the summer I went as a plus one to a white wedding. It was the total opposite of a traditional, Bengali, Muslim wedding and I felt much more myself there. I feel a bit guilty to admit that because I feel like maybe I NEED to be more Bengali, or I’m letting my side down.

I live in what used to be a predominantly Bengali populated building until very recently when redevelopment moved majority of my neighbours to brand new housing 5 minutes away. Now my neighbours are mostly white and black people.

My mum has told me about the racism she has faced growing up here. Children setting their dogs on her and her siblings on Commercial road in the 70’s, teenagers intimidating her on Poplar high street while she was pregnant in the 90’s, racist slurs in arguments on a bus in Hackney in the noughties.

There was recently a documentary on BBC2 about skinhead culture and the racism that took over it. This documentary sort of illustrated what my mum was telling me about. A clip taken from the old archives will never leave my mind where the white skinheads explain that they like black people but they hate ‘Paki’s’.

In The Good Immigrant Vera Chok talks about how racism towards Chinese people is ignored in the UK despite being the highest occurrence. Racism really works in strange ways with its own sort of hierarchy. Even within ethnic groups racism is highly prevalent.

I myself had not experienced direct racism until very recently. When a white working class family (think as annoying as Vicky Pollard from Little Britain) moved in next door, they decided to mark every Asian household door with a handprint. “Paki house” was written on the palm of each hand. That palm was a metaphorical smack in the face right on my doorstep. When I cut my hair short the neighbours decided I was Shabnam from Eastenders. I don’t mind being Shabnam, she’s beautiful. But they didn’t mean it as a compliment.

Another time when I was walking home a white man in a cab (driven by a bengali man) shouted to my family that the newly built housing is for immigrants like us. I’m an immigrant? I was born here.

It forced me to wonder what it would be like if I went back to ‘where I belong’- Bangladesh. Well that seems alien to me. Sure the hot weather would be welcomed, but even when I spent two wonderful weeks in the Palestine sunshine I longed for the chilly bite of London air, my home. And more than that…I wasn’t from Bangladesh. I was from Britain.

It is scary to be in certain places or around certain people for fear of being a victim of racism. I might be quite religiously and ethnically ambiguous and perhaps that is why I can usually avoid these attacks. But I am still afraid. It still happens. At times I can feel the tension of being the only person of colour in the room.

I am uneasy when the room is empty of people of colour (I can’t help but be reminded of my otherness with terrible pronunciations of my name) and when there are too many Bengali’s around (whose banter I will never understand). I don’t fit into a category. It doesn’t help that I hate social situations and give myself a migraine trying not to look like an idiot. Whilst I understand that no one fits into a category, as a person who suffers social anxiety I find these situations exhausting.

Malcolm X noted that when he went to Mecca he saw that everyone treated each other equally but they still stayed with their own ethnic groups. It makes sense to be naturally drawn to the people who share the same language, foods and habits. As much as I like being alone, when in the company of others I agree that we gravitate towards those that are similar to us. But I am such a mix that it’s hard to identify where I draw the line with each side. Where am I welcome? Where do I fit in?

Despite the painful memories of wondering why I don’t fit in, I realised that over time I have subconsciously decided to stand strong about the different parts of my identity.

I love the female empowerment and dance in Devdas. I love the noughties songs from RDB. I have enjoyed the poetry of Tagore. I have watched and loved Kuch Kuch Hota Hai like every brown person in the world.

London is home. I am a living and breathing noughties emo. I sort of enjoy smooth jazz…I look forward to the Christmas atmosphere every year.  

I’m a little bit of this and that. I am constantly in the process of building a world from two cultures. Trying to make it okay to be just the way I am.

Aside from culture and ethnicity there are some other things that I consider just as important if not more. For instance; I am passionate about my religion; I am passionate about music; I am passionate about having a positive impact on the world. These things matter the most to me and as long as I can touch base with each of these things I feel the best version of me.

Between brown and British.

So this is a snapshot into my perspective on being an unapologetic ‘good immigrant’; although, I’m not an immigrant.

If you identify with anything I have said you should read The Good Immigrant, you’ll love it. If you don’t identify, you definitely need to read The Good Immigrant.

I think my Best Nine 2016 perfectly illustrates that I love Islam and that I enjoy both Western and Bengali culture.

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Soomaiya Saturday- Moving between optimism and defeatism

Most people will know how it feels to constantly weave in and out of ‘whats the point’ and ‘we need to save the world’.

I go through an existential crisis about every 2 hours. I always wonder what the point of anything is since we will all die any way.

But strangely, hope is something I feel all the time too. Hope to give someone dignity, make them feel valued, allow them to have the basic necessities whether through charity or trade. It might be because it makes my heart feel better and puts my mind at ease. I suppose it sounds quite selfish.

I think these two feelings in constant motion help me to stay focused on the bigger picture.

On the one hand, I don’t want to be a defeatist who just thinks that’s how life is and it will never change. Infact, I can’t be that way because I always need to progress in some way. I For one thing I am muslim and I believe I will answer to Allah for all my actions, so everything I do has to have a well thought out reasoning behind it. I also think being a defeatist means having no passion. For all the rejection and failures I have had (and there have been many) inherent hope has motivated me. And that stops me from being a complete defeatist. No matter how often I just want to give up on everything, I just don’t.

I think a good aspect of defeatism is the realist aspect. I fall into a regular existential crisis because I am extremely logical and I always need to know the reasons for things I do. (I ask questions that I don’t always find the answers to- do we need to be happy or can we just be content, why do we love, why do we need other people. One thing that I accept and still cannot explain is love and compassion for the beauty of nature, the universe, words among other things.)

Being so logical forces me to be as objective as possible, allowing me to put my ego to one side.

Ego often stops us from making the right decision. We have to tame our anger and emotions to see clearly. Often when I discuss ethical living with people who aren’t familiar with it, they become defensive. I think this is because their ego is telling them that they are being attacked for their lifestyle. But I often have conversations with people who immediately understand where I am coming from, even if they don’t agree or might not be able to make ethical choices for whatever reason.

I often have to fight my own ego when I feel like making the wrong decision. We know that the worst things for us feel the best. Like the most unhealthy foods are the ones that ruin our health. Or contributing to the unethical meat industry to have a delicious chicken burger. That enjoyment is only short term and I know it would leave me feeling guilty long term. So this is how I make decisions about things. From a gut feeling guided by my logical thinking process.

So like everyone in the world I don’t just fall into one category- optimist, realist, defeatist. I am everything in rotation throughout the hours of the day. But the one thing that underlines it all for me is logic. I just always know what the right thing to do is no matter how much I want to give up or do the wrong thing.

What do you think is your outlook on life and how much does it affect your decision making? Do you take full ownership if your decisions?

Inspiration of the Week

This weeks ethical feature is Mister Kittoe – an ethical clothing business run by three bright young entrepreneurs from Leytonstone. Their range of ‘Indie fashion for the Concious man’     combines ethics and sustainability to bring guilt free clothes ‘right to your fingertips.’  

‘The brand was created by 3 brothers hailing from East London, and we go by the names of Tevin, T’rone and TJ. Mister Kittoe was officially launched in May 2015, and we have massive dreams for Mister Kittoe. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, if you like what we’re about then join us as we embark on this journey!’

Brothers in Business  

Me and my brothers wanted to go into business together, and we wanted to go into something that would compliment all of our different skills sets. Myself (Tevin), I come from a more fashion related background. T’rone comes from a more business background and TJ is the creative/media guru amongst us. We also wanted to go into a business that would make some sort of a positive impact. We decided to go into fashion, and at first we wanted to create a blog with the idea of promoting up and coming designers – giving them a platform to showcase their work.

Getting into Retail

After brainstorming it dawned on us that we wouldn’t be making as big of an impact as we would have liked to. Reading books such as Naked Fashion and researching the fashion industry, prompted us to open an online retailer selling ethical fashion from indie or independent designers. That way we keep our original USP of working with emerging designers or brands and at the same time we are promoting a larger cause and helping to make the sort of impact that we like to.

The Dark Side of Fashion

The men’s fashion market in the UK alone was worth £12.94bn as of 2013, and is forecast to carry on growing. The fashion industry is one of the largest industries globally and is one of the only industries that continued to grow through the recent recession period in the UK. The fashion industry does have a dark side though. There are an estimated 20-30 million slaves in the world at the moment – more than there ever was during the height of the slave trade – and many of them are working within the fashion industry producing clothes for global companies so that we can enjoy cheap, fast fashion.

The fashion industry is just one industry, there are forms of modern day slavery in many different industries in the world that are happening right now. The very well publicised coffee industry for example. In recent years we have seen fairtrade coffee rise, but people are still being exploited so that consumers can save a little and big corporations can continue to see big profits. The mineral in mobile phones used to make phones vibrate are mined by slaves, some children, in the east of DR Congo.

Modern day slavery is a global epidemic. We can start to help stomping it out by looking into how everyday items we purchase have been produced. Most of us would probably be very surprised by what we find out. And we can start purchasing ethical alternatives to items.

Our Future

Exploitation like this isn’t fair – and in running Mister Kittoe we want to help push ethically made fashion to the forefront of the fashion industry. We have a global vision for Mister Kittoe, we want to see a major change in the world in us running Mister Kittoe.

Join our Ethical Jouney

For anybody looking to start an ethical business of some sort, we would give two main pieces of advice. The first is to do your research! Research into everything thoroughly and don’t go purely on assumptions.  What you and your family/friends think could be very different to what your target audience thinks. Secondly, network! From our experience, when you are trying to do something good people will rally to your cause and help you help. We have met and gained some very valuable contacts and gotten very valuable advice from networking with people who believe in our cause.

Find Mister Kittoe

http://www.misterkittoe.com

Email – [email protected]

Twitter – https://twitter.com/misterkittoe

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/MisterKittoe/

Pinterest – https://www.pinterest.com/misterkittoe/

Instagram – https://instagram.com/misterkittoe