Oxford University, UK’s oldest seat of learning, now a place more Muslim students are calling home

Oxford University, UK’s oldest seat of learning, now a place more Muslim students are calling home
East meets West in the dreamy spire of the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies. Top left, students gather to pray and break their fast during Ramadan. Reuters
Updated 10 July 2018

Oxford University, UK’s oldest seat of learning, now a place more Muslim students are calling home

Oxford University, UK’s oldest seat of learning, now a place more Muslim students are calling home
  • The Oxford Center for Islamic Studies, set up in 1985 to promote the study of Islam and the Muslim world, has been instrumental in broadening the remit of oriental studies at the university.
  • Muslims account for 10,320 of the city’s population of 151,906, according to a 2011 census

OXFORD: Arriving at the University of Oxford to begin her studies, Mahdiyah Rahman suddenly felt anxious. “I didn’t know how many other Muslim students would be there. I wasn’t sure what to expect.”
During her first week, the 19-year-old student discovered that there were just two other Muslims in Oriel, the Oxford college where she would eat, sleep and study during her time at the university. “I was the only one there wearing a headscarf,” she recalled. Over the summer Rahman had given little thought to the realities of practicing her faith at university, but standing in the crowded hall at Freshers’ Fair, surrounded by hundreds of stalls advertising student clubs and societies, she felt overwhelmed.
Then a banner for the Oxford University Islamic Society (ISoc) caught her eye. “They make you feel like there’s a community that will look out for you while you’re here,” she said. “No one who has joined the ISoc ever wants to leave.”
Muslim students starting out at Oxford University — an institution steeped in tradition where the earliest colleges date back to the 13th century — can struggle with a profound sense of alienation.
“A lot of the Muslims here are also ethnic minorities, so there is already this feeling that you’re going to be on the periphery,” Rahman told Arab News. Historically seen as the preserve of a white, upper-class elite, the student body has grown gradually more diverse, reflecting the changing character of modern, multicultural Britain in the country’s oldest seat of learning.
Faith societies such as ISoc allow students to engage with people who share their values and beliefs, and expand their network outside college life. Attending some activities during Freshers’ Week, as well as college parties and balls, can be difficult for Muslim students trying to avoid the alcohol-fueled atmosphere of university social life.
Getting halal meals in the college dining halls can also be a challenge, as Ayesha Musa, 19, the ISoc secretary, discovered when she arrived at Jesus College, Oxford to study medicine.
“That was a big adjustment — having to be vegetarian,” she said. “I wanted to eat with people in college and was reluctant to miss out on that social experience for the sake of getting something different to eat.”
But many Muslim students say they are “pleasantly surprised” by provisions made to accommodate their faith. “Overall I’ve been really impressed,” Musa said. Being part of ISoc means “you never miss an aspect of practicing your faith the way you would do at home with your family.”
Rahman was surprised by the size of university’s central prayer room, which “even has ablution facilities.”
Famously described as the “city of dreaming spires” — a reference by British poet Matthew Arnold to its scholarly atmosphere — Oxford, in southeast England, is one of the UK’s fastest-growing and most ethnically diverse cities.
Muslims account for 10,320 of the city’s population of 151,906, according to a 2011 census — up from 5,309 Muslim residents the previous decade. The findings also showed that a third of people living here were born abroad, contributing to the atmosphere of multiculturalism flourishing in the country’s oldest seat of learning.
“It’s very cosmopolitan. We live in one of the most beautiful and cohesive places in the country,” said Imam Monawar Hussein, who founded the Oxford Foundation to support disaffected young people and is also the Muslim tutor at Eton College, another of England’s renowned academic institutions.

In the university, this is reflected across the departments, where course names are beginning to reflect the demand for a wider educational experience in branches of Islamic studies.
The theology faculty, one of the oldest and most distinguished in the world, now offers a paper in Islam, while the Department of Economics has a professor specializing in the economics of Muslim societies.
“Oxford is possibly the most international university in the country and the preferred (higher learning) destination for many around the world,” said Farhan Nizami, founder director of the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies.
In recent years, he said, “the complexion of the Muslim student body has changed,” with most, he expects, now British citizens rather than overseas students.




Woven with devotion: The curtain, known as “sitara”, forms the most elaborate part of the kiswa and covers the door of the Kaaba in Makka. Reuters

Set up in 1985 to promote the study of Islam and the Muslim world, the center has been instrumental in broadening the remit of oriental studies at the university to incorporate Muslim societies outside the Middle East and, increasingly, the study of Muslims in the West.
Last year the center, which is under the patronage of Prince Charles, opened the doors to an impressive new facility that rivals the traditional Oxford colleges for scale and grandeur.
With its domed roofs and columned cloisters opening on to the King Fahd quad — named after its Saudi benefactor — the building captures the lofty feel of its older neighbors with a design rooted in Islamic architecture.
“We wanted a building that would blend with Oxford and sit comfortably here,” said Nizami.
Inside the center’s white walls, which still have the gleam of fresh paint, different areas are named
after the countries that funded them, including the Malaysia Auditorium. Downstairs, polished bookshelves laden with volumes are tucked under the well-lit arches of the Kuwait Library, which is empty on the first day of the summer holidays.
A few professors eat lunch in the sunny Oman hall ahead of a guest lecture, part of a program of prestigious speakers that includes heads of state, members of the Arab League and royalty. From here, glass doors open out into tranquil gardens, where a satellite fountain runs between rose beds and down through an immaculate sloping lawn.
The mosque — a gift from the UAE — is one of four in Oxford, where for many decades Muslims had to make do with makeshift prayer halls, starting with the basement beneath an Indian restaurant in Jericho, which is one of the oldest quarters of the city.
Today, the eatery is a popular venue for university students, its faded facade now painted a smart powder-blue and the shabby neon sign replaced by elegant gold lettering.
Tables booked by groups from the university reflect the social, religious and ethnic diversity of Oxford social life, which groups such as ISoc actively promote. “I know in other universities the Islamic societies can be a bit polarizing and are sometimes inaccessible to non-Muslims,” but the ISoc, first-year student Rahman said, is open to all.
“I often bring my non-Muslim friends along to our events,” she said, adding that some envy her extended ISoc family. “They offer so much support. After exams I had messages from at least 20 ISoc girls congratulating me.”




King Fahd quad, named after its Saudi benefactor, at the Center. Reuters

During Ramadan, 80 to 90 students congregated every evening to pray together and break their fast. “I’m a bit sad it’s over, actually,” said Rahman, who found that the communal atmosphere made up for spending Ramadan away from home — a first for many students.
The society also hosts interfaith events as well as weekly socials and activities such as the Sisters’ Mocktails Party “to make sure Muslims don’t feel alone and can socialize with people who have the same values as them.”
“It is difficult and does require a thick skin,” Rahman said. But looking back on her first year, the experience of being a Muslim student in Oxford has been “overwhelmingly positive.” Now she is more daunted by the prospect of a whole summer away from college and her ISoc friends. 

 


Bangladesh imposes strict COVID-19 lockdown after lifting rules for Eid

Security personnel positioned on the road to enforce a lockdown imposed by the Bangladesh's government to curb the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus in Dhaka on July 23, 2021. (AFP)
Security personnel positioned on the road to enforce a lockdown imposed by the Bangladesh's government to curb the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus in Dhaka on July 23, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 19 min 7 sec ago

Bangladesh imposes strict COVID-19 lockdown after lifting rules for Eid

Security personnel positioned on the road to enforce a lockdown imposed by the Bangladesh's government to curb the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus in Dhaka on July 23, 2021. (AFP)
  • A strict curfew for four weeks and acceleration of mass vaccination may help Bangladesh control the delta variant by September

DHAKA: Bangladesh on Friday imposed a two-week nationwide lockdown after having eased coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions to allow millions of people to travel for Eid Al-Adha celebrations.
Authorities had lifted measures on July 13 in consideration of “the need to maintain normal economic activity” and allow for the second-most important religious holiday in the Muslim-majority country to go ahead relatively unhindered, despite a surge in virus cases and deaths.
The highly infectious delta variant of COVID-19 has contributed toward pushing up the rate of positive tests in the south Asian nation to more than 31 percent.
At least 1.14 million people among Bangladesh’s population of 169 million have contracted the virus since the pandemic outbreak and nearly 19,000 have died, 166 in the past 24 hours. However, figures on recorded cases and deaths are thought to be grossly underreported.
Farhad Hossain, state minister for public administration, said on Thursday the latest lockdown would be stricter than before, with not only all government and private offices shut, but also garment factories. During the previous lockdown, the garment sector, which is the country’s largest source of income, was allowed to operate.

FASTFACT

National 2-week shutdown will see all businesses, including garment sector, close as virus cases, deaths surge.

“Offices, courts, garment factories, and all other export-oriented industries, everything to be precise, will remain closed,” Hossain added.
He pointed out that those who had traveled to their villages for Eid, would not be allowed to return to the cities until Aug. 5.
Although the lockdown is now again in place, health experts fear damage will already have been done by the government’s decision to lift preventive rules for Eid.
Prof. Dr. Alamgir Chowdhury, principal scientific officer of the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), told Arab News: “The lockdown restrictions were lifted at a moment when we just started noticing a downward trend in the positivity rate.
“But now it will increase again, as people from the cities rushed to their villages, flouting health and safety protocols in the last week.”
And Prof. Dr. A.S.M. Amanullah, a public health expert at the University of Dhaka, said that while the country was currently recording between 10,000 and 15,000 new daily infections, the real figures were likely to be “much higher.”
“In this situation, lockdown may not work to bring the infection rate down. A strict curfew for four weeks and acceleration of mass vaccination may help Bangladesh control the delta variant by September.
“It was not wise to relax the lockdown restrictions during Eid Al-Adha. Health authorities didn’t care about the advice of the national COVID-19 control committee. As a result, it is only a matter of time before there is a surge in new infections, probably in the next two weeks,” he added.
While businesses are expecting huge losses from the lockdown, especially in the garment industry, some economists claim the situation would have been worse had there been no restrictions.
Dr. Mostafizur Rahman, of the Center for Policy Dialogue, an NGO involved in economic research, said: “Bangladesh needs a circuit-breaker for this second wave of coronavirus. If this wave continues for a longer period, the country may face a negative branding as a hotspot of COVID-19 infections which will be even worse in the long run.”
He noted that the government had taken some difficult decisions, especially as the country had received numerous apparel orders for the coming winter season.
“To make up for the losses of this lockdown, manufacturers may consider increasing working shifts at their factories. Some factories may require air shipments to meet buyer delivery times and the government may facilitate this.
“Port facilities should also be prepared on a high-priority basis for exporting the garment products while the lockdown is lifted,” Rahman added.


Nigeria receives six warplanes from US to fight insurgency

A-29 Super Tucano military aircrafts fly over targets during a drill by the Lebanese Airforce in the northern Lebanese village of Hamat on April 11, 2019. (AFP)
A-29 Super Tucano military aircrafts fly over targets during a drill by the Lebanese Airforce in the northern Lebanese village of Hamat on April 11, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 34 min 6 sec ago

Nigeria receives six warplanes from US to fight insurgency

A-29 Super Tucano military aircrafts fly over targets during a drill by the Lebanese Airforce in the northern Lebanese village of Hamat on April 11, 2019. (AFP)
  • In August 2017, the State Department under Trump informed Congress it had approved the deal, which includes supplying the Nigerian armed forces with ammunition, training and aircraft maintenance

LAGOS: Nigeria has received six of 12 turboprop light attack aircraft from the US to help fight mounting insecurity, its air force said.
Africa’s most populous nation faces several security crises, including a 12-year-old insurgency in the northeast, herder-farmer clashes in the center, kidnapping for ransom in the northwest and separatist agitation in the south.
“The first batch of A-29 Super Tucano aircraft have arrived in Kano,” Nigeria Air Force spokesman Edward Gabkwet said in a statement.
He said on Friday that six out of 12 had arrived, and the next batch would arrive in October.
The planes are built in the US by Sierra Nevada and its Brazilian partner, Embraer Defense and Security.
The $593-million deal was initially unveiled in May 2016 under former US president Barack Obama.
However, the Obama administration froze the sale just before handing over to Donald Trump, after the Nigerian military accidentally bombed a camp for people displaced by conflict in the northeast, killing 112 civilians.

HIGHLIGHT

The planes are built in the US by Sierra Nevada and its Brazilian partner, Embraer Defense and Security.

Boko Haram and rival offshoot Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) have killed at least 40,000 people and forced more than two million people from their homes since 2009. The violence has spread to parts of neighboring Chad, Cameroon and Niger, prompting a regional military coalition to fight the jihadists.
In August 2017, the State Department under Trump informed Congress it had approved the deal, which includes supplying the Nigerian armed forces with ammunition, training and aircraft maintenance.
The Super Tucano is already used in Brazil, for border patrols, and in a dozen other air forces including in Afghanistan, Colombia and Indonesia.
On Sunday, the Nigerian air force said it had lost an Alpha Jet, a European-made trainer and light attack plane built in the 1970s and 80s, after it came under fire from criminal gangs in Zamfara state in the northwest of the country.


UN ‘extremely concerned’ by Tigray humanitarian situation

A woman attends a rally in Addis Ababa to condemn Tigray People Liberation Front. (FIle/Reuters)
A woman attends a rally in Addis Ababa to condemn Tigray People Liberation Front. (FIle/Reuters)
Updated 39 min 12 sec ago

UN ‘extremely concerned’ by Tigray humanitarian situation

A woman attends a rally in Addis Ababa to condemn Tigray People Liberation Front. (FIle/Reuters)
  • Phiri said a WFP-led convoy of more than 200 trucks carrying food and other essential humanitarian supplies was on standby in Ethiopia and was expected to depart for Tigray once security clearances are assured

GENEVA: The UN said it was “extremely concerned” at the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, where severe shortages of food and supplies are taking their toll.
The UN’s World Food Programme called for unimpeded access into Tigray to reach the 4 million people facing acute food insecurity and needing emergency assistance.
“The WFP is extremely concerned,” the organization’s spokesman Tomson Phiri said in Geneva.
“The humanitarian response in the region continues to be challenged by a severe lack of sufficient food and other humanitarian supplies, limited communication services and no commercial supply chain.”
He said the WFP had delivered food assistance to more than 730,000 people in parts of the south and northwest of Tigray in the past month.
That figure includes 40,000 people in the Zana area who were reached with food assistance for the first time.
The agency hopes to reach a further 80,000 people in the northwest in the coming days.
“Once this is completed, food stocks in the northwest are likely to run out,” said Phiri.
People in Zana “had been completely cut off and living in dire conditions,” he added.
“These are people who have been displaced and now shelter in schools and other impromptu shelters.”
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray last November to oust the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a move he said was in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps. Though the 2019 Nobel Peace laureate declared victory later that month, TPLF leaders remained on the run and fighting dragged on.
Phiri said a WFP-led convoy of more than 200 trucks carrying food and other essential humanitarian supplies was on standby in Ethiopia and was expected to depart for Tigray once security clearances are assured.
“WFP renews its call for faster, free and unimpeded access into Tigray to reach millions in need of life-saving food,” he said.
Phiri said the WFP’s target was to reach 2.1 million people who are at risk in Tigray. He said it had been projected that more than 400,000 people would be suffering from catastrophic levels of hunger from July onwards.


Manila tightens virus curbs as local transmission of delta variant is confirmed

Manila tightens virus curbs as local transmission of delta variant is confirmed
Updated 23 July 2021

Manila tightens virus curbs as local transmission of delta variant is confirmed

Manila tightens virus curbs as local transmission of delta variant is confirmed
  • The Philippines has the second-highest number of coronavirus cases and related deaths in Southeast Asia
  • Under new restrictions, the Philippines will ban travelers from Malaysia and Thailand from Sunday

MANILA: The Philippines tightened coronavirus restrictions on Friday, after health authorities confirmed local transmission of the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19.
The Department of Health said in a statement on Thursday night that while half of the confirmed delta variant cases are of Filipinos returning from abroad, recent phylogenetic analysis showed the emergence of local clusters related to the more aggressive COVID-19 strain.
The local transmission of the delta variant, which is wreaking havoc in other Southeast Asian countries, has prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to approve the recommendation of the country’s pandemic response body to place the metropolitan Manila area — the capital region with more than 13 million inhabitants — under general community quarantine “with heightened restrictions” from Friday until the end of the month.
The provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Davao de Oro and Davao del Norte have been placed in the same quarantine category.
“This action is undertaken to prevent the further spread and community transmission of COVID-19 variants in the Philippines,” Duterte’s spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.
Indoor sports and tourist venues have been closed, the operating capacity of indoor dining venues was scaled down to 20 percent, and open air dining is allowed at 50 percent capacity. Children between the ages of five and 17 are not allowed to leave their homes.
As part of the new restrictions, the Philippines will ban travelers coming from Malaysia and Thailand from Sunday until the end of July. The two Southeast Asian nations join the other countries on Manila’s travel ban list due to delta variant outbreaks — India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Oman, the United Arab Emirates.
With more than 1.53 million infections and nearly 27,000 deaths, the Philippines has recorded the second-highest number of coronavirus cases and related deaths in Southeast Asia after Indonesia and its health authorities are increasingly coming under criticism.
Senator Panfilo Lacson has accused the Department of Health of being unprepared in responding to the delta variant crisis.
With the Philippine presidential and vice presidential elections scheduled to take place in May next year, he called on the country’s leaders to find more competent health officials for their cabinets.
“Knowing the delta variant has already gripped India and Indonesia, it seems they have not prepared adequately,” he said. “The first order of the day for the next leader of the country is to scout for a more qualified person at the helm of the Health Department.”


In seasonal makeover, Pakistani barbers decorate camels with ancient motifs

Customers wait as barber Ali Hassan decorates their animal at a camel market in Karachi, Pakistan on July 20, 2021. (AN photo by S.A. Babar)
Customers wait as barber Ali Hassan decorates their animal at a camel market in Karachi, Pakistan on July 20, 2021. (AN photo by S.A. Babar)
Updated 24 min 26 sec ago

In seasonal makeover, Pakistani barbers decorate camels with ancient motifs

Customers wait as barber Ali Hassan decorates their animal at a camel market in Karachi, Pakistan on July 20, 2021. (AN photo by S.A. Babar)
  • Most of camel art designs are a continuation of southern Pakistan's thousands of years old artistic heritage
  • Demand for camel barbering increases during Eid Al-Adha when Pakistanis want to buy the best and most beautiful sacrificial animals

KARACHI: When the season comes, Ali Hassan often switches off his phone as camel traders from rural Sindh flood him with orders to decorate their animals with elaborate haircuts and ancient Sindhi motifs.

Now in his fifties, Hassan has been practicing camel barbering for the past four decades and is one of the most famous masters of the art.

Demand for his craft usually peaks in the first weeks of January, and again during Eid Al-Adha when Pakistanis want to buy the best and most beautiful sacrificial animals.

"People reach out to get their camels a new makeover, so much so that at times I have to switch off my phone to avoid the influx," Hassan told Arab News at a camel market in Karachi earlier this week, as he finished decorating a camel's hide with rilli, a complex embroidery pattern used in the traditional art of Sindh.

Camel barbering in Pakistan is a distinctive blend of art and symbolism. The artists make the patterns by cutting the rough hairy coat of the camels with scissors in multiple stages. Later, some of them apply natural henna dyes to color these motifs.

Camel hair tattoo designs at a camel market in Karachi, Pakistan on July 20, 2021. (AN photo by S.A. Babar)

"Not every barber is an artist," Hassan said, "but there are many whose artwork has breathed a new life to the Sindh’s traditional culture."

His hometown, Daulatpur in Shaheed Benazirabad district of Sindh, is particularly famous for camel barbering, with hundreds of craftsmen practicing it in the region. At least 40 of them are Hassan's students.

BACKGROUND

Demand for camel barbering increases during Eid Al-Adha when Pakistanis want to buy the best and most beautiful sacrificial animals.

"I tell my students that you can only learn this craft if you are passionate about it," he said, as it takes lots of time, patience and precision to produce good designs.

Most of the designs are a continuation of Sindh's thousands of years old artistic heritage.

Hassan's customers usually choose Sindhi artwork patterns such rilli and the famous ajrak. But some also ask for ancient cities and forts. Or the moon and stars.

His prices range from Rs1,000 ($6) for Hassan said for a simple makeover to even Rs10,000 for special, more complicated designs.

Despite the price, camel owners still want their animals to be decorated by the best barbers whose touch everyone would notice.

"Artwork on camels costs much more than simple hair dressing, but everyone wants their camel to look different," Allah Bux, a camel owner, told Arab News.

Hassan knows exactly which motif would look best on the animal.

"When I glance at the camel, I instinctively know what to design," he said. "I've been doing this since my childhood. This scissor is my companion. I love the art."