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London. 2011. The world’s most multicultural and cosmopolitan city.

Gay Pride – Saturday 2nd July.

Surely gays and lesbians don’t need to parade their existence down Oxford Street anymore…we’re sorted in this city, right? What is Gay Pride anyway?

Is Pride about going to the gym every day the week before and getting your haircut just right, or perhaps volunteering to help one of the many organisations that need help on the day and truly feeling part of a community?

Come Pride, will you be with those ‘shiny new people’ you now interact with on Facebook, or spending time with actual friends who have invested genuine energy into your friendship and given a crap about you?

I remember seeing the London Gay Pride marches on television news, growing up in school, itching to one day be able to go, as a proud adult fighting homophobia with other homofriendly adults. My first pride in the 90s didn’t disappoint! It was a sensory feast. A sea of movement, walking with purpose. Cheering, friendly people, hot guys and hot gals, music, everyone happy – it was most definitely a powerful, ‘we’re here, we’re queer and we (don’t!) drink beer’ moment. Feeling suppression being defeated. Feeling part of a community. And then the glorious Trafalgar Square rally. Beautiful!

Fast forward to 2011. Millions descending onto the streets of London, marching, whistling, partying. Dancing in Leicester and Soho Squares. Who but a boring party-pooper would not be excited by all the revelry?!

But, we can do this every weekend. What’s so special about one day?

The difference? The march. The first march for gay rights in the UK was in 1970, when 150 gay men protested through Highbury Fields in north London, The first official UK Gay Pride Rally was in 1972. Since then the march has grown in number and importance, originating from the 1969 Stonewall riots, through to Section 28, age of consent and equality for all.

Huge issues that had / have serious consequences on our well-being. The only reason we can still celebrate today is because of the march and the ongoing fight for gay rights.

London Gay Pride March - 1972

Which is why the march and rally are always important. Having fun with loved ones too. But inbetween all the ogling at half-naked torsos, perhaps drinking and drugs, and general carefree merriment, it’s important to remember why we can be free in the first place, and why other places unfortunately can’t.

Iran, Uganda, Malawi, Russia, Latvia, Serbia…just some of the countries where our LGBT community are struggling to have the same rights we take for granted, sometimes even just being alive. We must march for them.

But in London we still have battles. Homophobia still exists in sport. Hate is still being preached by bigots in the name or religion, be it a minority of youths flyering Tower Hamlets ‘supposedly’ they claim in the name of Allah, or Christian leaders who think Jesus would equate homosexuality with paedophilia. Or atheists who will never treat an LGBT person as an equal.

For some, the march may be redundant. ‘Who cares? I don’t need to fight for anything anymore’. For me? Marching as a British Muslim who is gay and out has impassioned me. Obviously some people may not be able to relate to that.

But there is a growing divide between gays whose families are secular and their perception of what’s left in the gay struggle, and those gays whose families are from minority groups, e.g. blacks, Muslims etc. The first time I saw a group of gay Muslims marching together was a lightning-bolt moment, my eyes nearly popped out, I felt fired up. Years later, I spoke on stage at the 2007 Pride Rally at Trafalgar Square, as a trustee on behalf of Imaan (LGBT Muslim support group). The square was as packed as ever, but it was the day after police arrested a few individuals outside Tiger Tiger club in Piccadilly for an alleged terrorist bomb plot. I expected animosity and jeering, but was overjoyed that the whole crowd rallied together, cheering with full gusto at fighting homophobia, Islamophobia, all prejudice, and celebrating our diverse community, both it’s similarities and differences.

London Gay Pride 2006 - Me and other LGBT Muslim supporters

Speaking personally, as a double minority it is much easier in the short-term to bury your head in the sand, to not confront the issue, and this is also true for secular gays and religious straights. Showing the world you’re gay and Muslim can be twice as hard than being a secular gay. And shunning people who associate with religion / gays is cowardice, whether you’re gay or straight. But for me the greater good, forcing Muslims to accept the existence of gays and forcing gays to accept the existence of other minorities, is vital to escape the ‘dark ages’. If I/we don’t do it, than who will? We can’t depend on others or the next generation to do the hard work for us, as much as it would be a much more peaceful life for us! A journey not without heartache, but hopefully one that avoids future heartache for many.

It’s not normal to get on with everyone and like everyone, it’s human nature for people to have things in common with some, and have not much in common with others. But there can be a danger of the gay scene becoming ‘ghettoised’. Unnecessary factions. For example, it would be bad if gay Muslims just stuck to each other and didn’t socialise with others. I am heavily against the new trend of some minority groups, such as some Muslims, being completely segregated. My grandparents came to London in the 1960s and wouldn’t have bothered coming if they did not happily integrate as proud British Muslims.

It works both ways. Everyone’s heard the paradigm of it being a ‘straight, white male world’, a comment on the least oppressed, people on top of the ‘dog eat dog’ world. Anyone who is ‘missing’ at least one of these characteristics will have experienced the pain of oppression, and would have fought to assert their rights, e.g. gay white males, straight white females, straight black males. Those who are oppressed usually become more accepting overall of other minorities, not just their own, as they understand the shared struggle for universal human rights. But worryingly, there seems to be a trend where those that were once oppressed have forgotten. My theory is that, just for example let’s say some gay whites, you get to the ‘top of the tree’, you’re in the big city smoke and finally feel accepted, and you can do what you want and no longer feel oppressed. And for some, that might mean that at best you’re not bothered about socialising with other minority groups and at worst you ‘ghettoise’ yourself from them, maybe because for some, finally being at the ‘top of the tree’ really is important (e.g. taken to extreme, the fact that some gay people join far-right political organisations). I will defend an atheist’s right to question my or anyone’s religion, but that’s a completely different thing from being anti-Muslim / anti-whatever religion / anti-minority, which is just as bad as being homophobic.

But like I said, it works both ways.

More than being LGBT which is one strand of our being, we are people; a false sense of elitism achieves nothing.

Pride is about having self-pride. Respect, love and honesty for yourself and others. Be with positive people. Help those in need. Maximise time with those who appreciate you and minimise time with those who don’t. Remembering your real friends and family.

AND…Pride also means not feeling you HAVE to go out on the day, fearing you’re missing out; it is OK not to go sometimes, have a quiet one in solitude or with loved ones.

As long as homophobia exists in this country or indeed any other, and as long as people aren’t inclusive of all gay people, religious to atheist, black to white, young to old, fat to skinny, as long as people aren’t accepting of the rainbow of diversity that the LGBT community is and instead want to create divisions in soulless cliques…

…then yes, parading is important to show we are united…and a damn site more fun and sexier than the haters too. 😉

So whether you’re parting hard and celebrating, or having a quiet reflective one, solo or with loved ones either here or in memory of those who’ve passed, Happy Pride.

Love Fiez X

Bit random to include Gaga and no this isn’t a plug for her, as much as she’s fabulous! But this advert came on while blogging and I like the happy sentiment.

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Who can cast their mind back 10 years?!

January 2001 – Wikipedia went live…Apple introduced iTunes…George Walker Bush marginally defeated Al Gore to become the 43rd President of the U.S.A….Channel 4 launches E4…Rui Da Silva featuring Cassandra were Number 1 with “Touch Me”…and I came out to my sister.

20 years old, at uni, balancing study with trying to have a fun social life. But nursing a broken heart.

Well…kind of. I had met someone in a Soho coffee-shop after a night out. There was an instant attraction; like most chance encounters, it was exciting, spontaneous, and intense. We met again, and had a magical night of wining (him), dining (me!), dancing and more. Leaving my flat late at night, I wondered when I would see him again. He wanted to go for a day-trip but didn’t want me to call. He rang several times to try and speak, leaving voice-messages as I was busy…but didn’t want me to ring back. And then on a Friday, I got a text saying he was sorry but did not want to meet me again and wanted no contact. He had a boyfriend and this had happened before. He wanted to call the shots but didn’t want to get hurt by not being able to be with me as and when he wanted.

I was stunned. And felt crushed. For months I was depressed; I remember it as being one of my darkest times.

“But why?” I asked myself. OK, I had heartache before…but I’d only met this guy twice! “Am I that pathetic?” Why did I care so much about this time compared to the others? My brain was saying one thing, but for some reason it was poles apart from my heart’s voice.

I was desperate to talk to people, and found myself confiding in many whom I would normally not confide half as much.

But still I needed help. And that was when I found myself yearning for family.

I had come-out to my parents at primary school but after it wasn’t taken seriously, I had decided to keep schtum to my immediate family until I was financially independent, had my own roof over my head and had more stability. It was agony…but I had to do this after I qualified from uni.

So with this in mind, there was some serious chewing of cud. I had no plans to come-out while at uni. And no plans to come out to one family member a long while before any others. But realising I needed to speak…there was only one person I could think of. My sister.

Taken by Mum – 1980

I had always kept a lot of stuff private from my family and sister when it came to personal life…but more so than most normally do, mainly because I was gay and didn’t want to attract any suspicion until I was ready to come-out.

But feeling at dire-straits, I had no choice. Speaking to her on the phone, I mentioned how it was important to share things…I knew she immediately thought I sounded odd in saying that. Still confused as to why I was so affected by someone I had met so little, I had decided to myself to tell her on the coming Saturday…20th Jan.

So there we were, in the living room, just finishing breakfast, Mum pottering in the kitchen, Dad somewhere out or busy. The usual Saturday morning telly. CD:UK was on ITV…I loved watching music television and performances, but that day it was going straight through me. “How was I going to say this?”, I thought. So…general chat it was, my sister saying what song she liked or didn’t like, me vaguely joining in, then turning to what she’d been upto recently, hoping she’d ask me too.

And then…onto what I mentioned on the phone. I could tell she was trying not to squirm and yet engage at the same time. “Ignore it!” I thought, and carried on. So…was I just going to come out with it? Of course not. So I continued by saying I had been really sad and didn’t know what to do about something that happened recently…I got really close to this guy…we had a great time…but now he said he doesn’t want to have anything to do with me…he said he likes me and has got a boyfriend…and I feel really bad.

Inbetween this she interjected with “OK” and “I see”, and nearing the end while I wasn’t stating it, it would have been obvious that there was a strong link with this guy. So she gave her support and said “Don’t worry”. I said “I just feel bad for him, like I’ve done something wrong”. “You haven’t”, she said. “I know. But I miss him”.

After some silence, she asked more about my feelings for him, and I was honest. Until the last thing I was asked was, “Do you see your future with a man or a woman?” With a man”, I replied.

She cried. I came-out to my sister, but she was the one crying, lol! I had been prepared for the worst for years, so we consoled each other and she apologised for crying, and I said she didn’t have to apologise. She said it explained some things, that she had wondered for a while. She didn’t want me to think she was upset at me, but just hearing it out loud was a shock.

The rest of the day was a bit of a haze. There was a family dinner that night for my approaching birthday, and the meal at the restaurant was great, was fun, but it seemed a little surreal. I couldn’t believe I had said it but was glad I had. And so night drew to a close, we all went to our homes, and my family retired for the night and we all went to bed.

Next morning I woke up. For a few seconds nothing, then I remembered. “Gosh”, I thought. I really did it. What would the future bring? I checked my mobile. And saw I had a text. It was from my sister. She sent it the night before while we were in our beds. I still have that text now. It read “Don’t worry about me brudda I’ll be fine, just look after yourself and take each day as it comes. See you in the morning. Night night, X”.

For the first time, I cried. Out of nowhere, it just hit me. Her text really brought it home, and I felt she had listened.

A few months before, Farrah on a night out and me studying at uni…hence her looking hot and me not!

So…what about this guy? Well, I did a lot of soul-searching over the weeks. And I realised exactly why I felt so lost. It actually wasn’t really about him – I had questioned myself already as to why I was so affected by someone I had met only twice. But the last time we met, I was a little blown away. I met his friends, we talked about university, background, he was 36 and I was 20, holidays, sharing anecdotes, then just us two onto a posh restaurant, then more chat, to a bar, then mine…it was a very intense evening and I had a taste of a world I was able to now have. Be free and open as a gay man with a potential partner, or even just with friends but have a social life that was fun and honest and fulfilling. Having lived a life in secret, it was that night that blew me away. So when he said he didn’t want to see me anymore, I landed back to Earth with a bump right on my heart. It wasn’t so much him, but more the reminder of my double-life I had been living for so long, which at that point had been going in completely different directions. It felt like the life I had a right to was suddenly being taken away from me, and there I was, back at university, back to rewardless hard graft, back to my horrid, torn, secret existence, back to lying to my family where I was tired of this facade. So I had a meltdown. I was sick of it, and found myself telling friends, even acquaintances. But I had to tell family. Tell someone. Tell my sister.

I told my friends that I came-out to my sister. It was a big deal for us, and they were all excited. My friends would joke, ‘Oh she must be a fag-hag!”. It couldn’t have been further from the truth! A combination of things including the friends she had at the time, her goals in life and her own views on a ‘gay’ in our family meant that while she wanted to support me, she found it difficult. She had been to gay clubs a handful of times, found it fun and novel…but that was someone else’s life. Of course, I was expecting it to take a long time for her to get used to it, I didn’t after all take just a few months and think, “Hey, I’m gay, it’s all cool!”. And of course my sister had serious cultural and religious misgivings, and yet was a modern girl. But after all, this was me and it was the start of telling my family, ‘Love me as me, as I love you as you”.

She spent time with her friends and talked about gay issues. Then would go to gay bars with her friends, sometimes with me, and had fun. Waiting from the sidelines, I was looking forward for her to meet my friends. Seeing her getting comfortable, I was really happy for her progress, and with our lives we started to share. I did wish there was a lot more of this sharing. Being gay; it was the life her brother had but had never shared, part of my identity, and I expected, and I wanted – most of the time at least – to share my sister’s new experiences, to be the one to introduce her to ‘my world’ as it were, after so long. She preferred to explore the gay scene with her own friends separately. And it’s important to have separate experiences and not do things together always. But for the longest time she’d feel reluctant if I encouraged her to explore the scene, then tell me about being out all night at a gay venue! But hopefully there’ll still be time for sharing.

10 years on she’s a fully-certified fag-hag. 😉 Ha! Clubbing every week…wish I could rather than study! But seriously, looking back, it was an important milestone. Melanie Phillips recently wrote on how kids were essentially being brainwashed into being gay. What she refuses to understand, is that if schools and families continue to ignore the fact that gay and lesbian kids exist and do not choose to be that way, instead of talking about it as natural and something that has and will always exist, then the millions of queer kids’ suffering will never cease. No more years of having to hide who you are, living as a ghost with your family, never knowing what your full potential in life is, growing-up with a daily, never-relenting fear of being disowned. I wonder if she and journalists like her will be doing anything worthwhile for LGBT History Month this February.

After telling my sister, the days of questioning about girlfriends or having to tell half-truths about my socialising were no more. And it was the first time there were no major secrets from me to someone in my family. Now our Mum’s died, it’s more important than ever to keep it together.

Thanks for listening to me that day 10 years ago Farrah. 🙂 Gotta teach you some dance moves now! 😉

Brighton Pride 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year all!

Hope everyone enjoyed time with loved ones and ate loads. 😉

I had Christmas on my own this year. It’s normally a time for families of sorts to come together. I had a reflective one.

And I also took part in something I had wanted to do for a while.

Sadly we’re all no strangers to seeing homeless people on the streets. And maybe for some Christmas can be particularly difficult.

Crisis is a charity for homeless and rough sleepers. Like other such charities, they work year round to help provide accommodation and improve lives for those affected in this way. At Christmas, many charities have a particular push, and for the past 39 years Crisis have launched an increasingly successful campaign.

From 23 – 30 Dec, Christmas Centres are opened across London that offer vital companionship, food, warmth, and a variety of important services that homeless people often are unable to access.

The charity estimates that this year, more than 2,500 guests will visit their nine centres across London; for some this might mean leaving homelessness for good.

After applying online, I found out that there are different volunteering roles. I had wanted to be a ‘service volunteer‘ – those who provide a particular service to the homeless guests, such as hairdressing, podiatry, legal advice to name a few. Many guests are also in urgent need of dental treatment, which is what I offered. However, luckily for the guests (but sadly for me!) I was informed that this was full, I had applied too late!

So, I plumped for the ‘general volunteer‘ role, and as this was my first ‘Crisis at Christmas’ I was more than happy. This includes greeting guests, providing companionship, giving out clothing and toiletries, feeding guests and more. You have to do a minimum of two 7-8 hours shifts on different days, and so after picking my days and submitting all necessary details, I was set!

My first shift was at a Day Centre in Stratford. After an introduction, we were allocated different roles randomly. It was a great to see so many people eager to volunteer. And it was clear to see that the senior volunteers were really passionate about bringing everyone together, and it was nice to be part of a team. And the place was teeming with guests; chatting, watching performances, playing games, eating, having a wash or just chilling. It was nice to see so many people happy, but sad that there were so many.

So…my roles! First up!…toilet duty. (Great!) Well, someone has to! We were all rotated at 1.5 hourly intervals and worked in pairs. So I cleaned the toilet-rooms, and then monitor the cloakroom, help carry food and equipment, and man the registration desk. In between I had a chance to speak with the guests. That was the best bit for me. It was great to chat together, especially when so many repeated the same thing, ‘we only ever see people’s knees’. If I don’t have money I apologise and say so, and was told that is so much better than just being ignored. But even when I give change, after hearing of some of their stories, it can feel like just a drop in the ocean.

Crisis also have Residential Centres over the same period where people can stay over night. As you can imagine, these are hugely sought after, and sadly after just one day there were no more spaces, leaving the rest to take comfort in the Day Centres, but from which they must leave come nightfall.

The Day Centres close at 9pm. Transport is often arranged to take people back to an easier location. This bit sucks. As much as they appreciate somewhere to stay in the day, you can feel rotten knowing they’ve got to go back to the streets at night. But they were cheery all the same, singing songs and making jokes (some very blue ones at that!).

So my first shift was over. Volunteers are normally required to do all their shifts at the same centre. But hit by a bad cold over Christmas, the thought of also travelling to Stratford again but with limited public transport wasn’t exactly appealing when I just wanted to stay at home and make the most of the 4-day weekend! If you’re ill you can of course stay away, but it wasn’t a flu and I felt I made a promise. And what I felt was nothing compared to how some of the guests sometimes feel.

The Day Centre in Bermondsey was supposedly fully-staffed…but as I live in Bermondsey, was a bit poorly but wanted to volunteer, and it was a possibility that some volunteers might cancel (as is the way), it was seen as probably totally fine if I go there first thing in the morning and explain.

So at 8:30am, Christmas Day I rocked up to the Bermondsey centre (having slept at 5am from a fun night at the 2 Brewers before…! :-/ ). I was told I could of course stay – hoorah! But even better…some of the dentists were based here. Explaining I was a dentist, I was warmly encouraged to make myself known to the clinicians, and luckily for me this time, I was informed they were actually under-staffed. Win-win!

I got to do what I had wanted originally after all! And as a bonus, I met a friend and fellow dentist – Soureya – who also happened to be volunteering her services (and who also had a cold!). Oral hygiene & dietary advice, smoking cessation information, scaling & polishing, restorations and extractions was what I achieved for the different guests over the whole shift. It was good to see the difference it made, and hear about the other services they had that made them feel good, whether a haircut, podiatry or even massage. The government have recently launched centres making it easier for the homeless to access dental care, starting in London, so it’s nice to know that when Christmas is over hopefully dental services for the homeless won’t be.

After the shift, I made it just in time for a late Christmas lunch at Balan’s restaurant in Soho. At the window, I coincidentally saw a homeless ‘Big Issue’ seller. I looked at the mince pie and christmas cake left on my plate which I was too stuffed to finish, and hoping I didn’t appear patronising, signed to ask if he wanted it…I was glad he said yes! His name was Jay. We had a chat after, and I gave him some change on leaving. Not expecting him to jump for joy – I was after all buggering off to a home and yet he was still on the streets – I nevertheless thought he looked a little disappointed. I had to turn back.

Sorry, that’s all I have. Is that OK?
Oh thanks, it’s just I needed some more.

I told him about Crisis and where I had been in Bermondsey, and I wondered to myself if there was anywhere similar nearby (there wasn’t unfortunately). Bless him, I knew he was wondering if I could take him there, and I explained they close at 9pm, and so I wouldn’t want to take him there if he’d be stuck with nowhere to go.

Oh, no problem. I just need £18 for a place I know at Victoria where I can get food and a shower and somewhere to stay overnight.
Oh, sorry, I’m out of money!’
OK, well, if you have a card and draw out money, I could wait?
Oh, it’s just I’m in a rush!’
OK, well, would it affect your life much if you were £18 less off? It would make a huge difference to me.’

Hmmm. Being 100% honest, I was trying to think of an answer! LOL. But I couldn’t. He was right. And even if he was lying about exactly why he needed £18, it would help him much more than I needed it at that point.

OK. Just stay here, I just need to get to my car. I will draw out money for you and come back, don’t move!

I got to the car and was about to pull-off, when there was a knock at the front passenger window, before the door opened. It was Jay.

There’s a cash machine just there!

And he sat in and closed the door. I won’t lie…I did think, ‘Oh goodness…I bet this looks great‘. But, who cares! He looked so comfortable, bless him. I drew out £20 for him and dropped him off at the corner. He gave me a ‘thousand blessings’, and we shook hands and wished each other a Merry Christmas. Driving off back to my flat, I thought it a funny coincidence meeting him after volunteering. I wondered what he would do over this period and felt sad, but after our encounter I did feel a little less alone over Christmas.

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CRISIS

This is kinda off the record, but there was a lady I met there who’s story particularly touched me. She’s American, hasn’t got on with her family there, and came to the Stratford centre having just had an operation in London which she owes the hospital money for. She’s got by with some donations from people she knows here. I got her email address and promised her I’d try and help her out too…so if you’re interested in donating and want to know more, feel free to contact me! But otherwise, if you fancy doing something different next Christmas, or even throughout the year, you must check Crisis out! They are always looking for help and it’s great to see a good difference being made. www.crisis.org.uk

Albert Kennedy Trust

This is a great charity that for many years has helped lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans young people to live in accepting, supportive and caring homes, providing services to help individuals who would otherwise be homeless or in a hostile environment. www.akt.org.uk

Shelter

Since 1966, Shelter has helped the homeless by giving advice, information and advocacy, and by campaigning for political change to ensure a world where everyone has a home. www.shelter.org.uk

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HAPPY 2011 ALL. Have a happy and healthy year! XXX

My latest blog is inspired by a practice, it’s simplicity and good-naturedness I may have taken for granted that non-Muslims also understand, in a seemingly ever-increasingly ‘phobic’ world.

Halal meat.

Now, half my friends eat pork, don’t eat halal food, get intoxicated etc, and like other Muslims, I really have no issue with that because it’s none of my (God-damn! 😉 ) business. People observing my way of life can either join me or not. It’s not my business to preach and indeed I’m not blogging to convert anyone, just to be clear.

But over the years, likely to be exacerbated post-9/11, I have heard rumblings of discontent over this practice, culminating in a piece on The One Show in September this year where a particularly disgruntled member of the public was speaking about why many British people are against halal meat. Initially surprised years ago when I first heard that people could possibly have an issue, this very soon changed to not-being-surprised-at-all considering people can be just plain prejudiced, particularly post-9/11.

Negative Islamic stories in the media being the norm these days, I was nevertheless surprised to first hear in 2009 a mini-uproar at KFC’s plans for some of it’s chains to serve halal chicken. Mainly because, Muslims who before couldn’t get themselves a fix of some of the ‘Colonel’s’ fried-chicken now could, it wouldn’t stop non-Muslims from eating it and it would surely be better for KFC’s profit, so everyone’s happy….no?

It appeared not. People were up in arms over their ‘freedom’ being compromised and objected to this ‘barbaric’ practice. And the guy on The One Show, before being informed of the practice on site by halal butchers, said he had the right to know if meat he ate was halal or not, as non-Muslims have the right to not take part in this practice.

Hmmm.

So, doing my bit to help people make an informed decision for themselves, here is an attempt to cut through the offal to get to the meaty truth. (Sorry 😉 ).

POSSIBLE MISCONCEPTIONS…

Cruelty

First things first – unless you’re a vegetarian, you could say that sacrificing any animal for consumption is cruel, full stop.

The One Show mentioned that in the West, animals are stunned before sacrifice, and as most halal butchers don’t, this is therefore cruel.

First of all, if no halal methods are available, then Muslims can of course eat what animals they like to survive.

So what is halal sacrifice exactly? It is where animals are slaughtered by a human making a swift, deep incision with a sharp knife on the neck, cutting the jugular veins and carotid arteries of both sides together with the trachea and oesophagus but leaving the spinal cord intact in this initial cut. Within seconds, the blood pressure in the brain falls to zero and the animal becomes unconscious, and so feels no pain as the knife is sharp. And this is done while a prayer is said, which is for the animal and also to bless the meat.

This is fundamental – if the animal feels pain, it cannot be considered halal.

But halal doesn’t stop there.

Animal Welfare

Like ‘kosher’ for Judaism, halal for Muslims means anything that is fit for consumption / inclusion in life that is good and respectful for all.

Most people have probably heard of halal food, where like with kosher, livestock that are permitted to be consumed are sacrificed in a certain way in God’s name to allow them to be fit for consumption. It also bans the consumption of pork, blood, carrion or animals killed by strangulation, being beaten, by predators or other non-halal means.

But the concept of halal is not just for food. It extends through life, complimenting Islamic principles to help guide individuals in living a decent life and in considering each other’s welfare.

In exactly the same way, halal food means the welfare of the animal throughout it’s life is of utmost importance. The privilege of eating animal protein implies a duty to animals from their rearing right through to their slaughter. So battery-hens or stunning cooped up animals on a conveyor belt are equally non-halal. Organic principles anybody? Yup, Islam had them from the beginning.

People’s rights to choose what they eat

I’ve come across some internet forums where people have expressed not only their disapproval of eating halal food, but that it represents an ‘Islamification’ of the West – Muslims forcing their way on non-Muslims.

Not to go off on a tangent, but the vast majority of Muslims don’t want to force people to do anything, because to do so is against Islamic principles.

But coming back to the point, I agree that any place where meat is served should state not only whether it is halal or kosher, but also whether it is organic or not, and other such factors. Totally agree that people should have the right to know what is on offer so they can choose to eat it or not.

But really…let’s be honest about what this exact ‘disapproval’ is of. Is ‘Joe Bloggs’ really that concerned about the welfare of the cow used for his beef-burger or the pig used for his hotdog? Mmmmm? Of course not. OK, of course more and more people these days genuinely are concerned, and so they should be. But I think for a lot of people, it’s more the fact that they just don’t want to feel that, at best, they are ‘encouraging’ or supporting Muslims, and at worst, they just don’t want anything to do with them. Am I right? Am I wrong?

I uphold anyone’s right to have the freedom to live how they please. But not if it’s through ignorance or lying about what the real reasons are.

So there you have it. 🙂

It turns out that some of the KFC branches had to revert to non-halal food as they also had to stop serving bacon on the premises, which led to a big reduction in sales (I know, I know, the Daily ‘Hate’ Mail). And quite right too! It’s simple business and the unwritten ‘law’ of the majority. If more people are going to be disadvantaged / inconvenienced from eating somewhere than those who would benefit, then it’s completely wrong to change things.

But in KFC branches located in parts of town where the vast majority aren’t going to touch bacon products, then why not have it halal? And non-Muslims who may be in the minority in that small town just won’t be able to have bacon – OK, I can see that as seeming unfair, but they can still have chicken if it’s halal, if they want to, and eat bacon elsewhere, it doesn’t make a difference. After all, large numbers of Nando’s are halal and have been for years and most non-Muslims eat there happily side by side with Muslims…when you’re hungry, you’re hungry!

Interestingly, there was a study done on comparing halal slaughter with non-halal slaughter. By no means is this post an attempt to criticise non-halal slaughter, but it makes for interesting reading where it states that ‘stunning’ and the subsequent procedures actually cause pain and not the opposite. See what you make of it, Deutsche Tieraerztliche Wochenschrift (German Veterinary Weekly), 1978; Volume 85: Pages 62-66.

So be a vegetarian, be a meat-eater, but use your (meat)loaf.

Light-Hearted Comedy Bit!

I tried to find the Pam Ann sketch on her dealings with offering halal food…but found this Malaysian skit. It’s a bit weird! :-/ But it’s not afraid to use humour and is actually quite informative, so I like it, hope you do too!

This Saturday 23 Oct 2010, from 7pm – 9pm, sees the 2nd annual candlelit vigil at Trafalgar Square to mark International Day against Hate Crime. Speakers include Peter Tatchell, Rikki Beadle-Blair and Stuart Milk, nephew of the trail-blazing Harvey Milk. The vigil is a chance to galvanise all in uniting against prejudice, driving out hatred and celebrating our differences as equals, globally.

Last year’s vigil was highlighted by a string of homophobic killings, the most high-profile being Ian Baynham, 62, who after retaliating to homophobic verbal abuse, was punched and kicked to death by 3 teenagers in Trafalgar Square.

No doubt you’ve all heard of the tragic number of suicides reported in America, of those tormented, desperate children driven to taken their lives, because they just couldn’t take it any more.

But the sad truth is, the media often report on similar stories in a ‘cluster-like’ fashion; I know suicides such as these have been going on around the world for years, and will continue to do so for the forseeable future. Here’s a link to a great project for all those in despair, urging them to know, it will get better: It Gets Better.

No doubt this news will have boosted a greater number of people to attend. And for those who can’t make it, there will be a 2 minute silence at 8pm around the world, so even at home you can do your bit and light a candle.

I’m sure (and hope!) those reading this don’t need my encouragement to observe this day.

But just in case anyone was a little ‘meh’ about the whole thing, 2 happenings this week showed me some people should be rounded up and forced to take part.

The first was Saturday evening. At my bus-stop on the way to town. Shortly joined by 3 girls, barely ‘double-figures’ in age, full of the usual self-aware ‘pomp and circumstance’ in their loud chatter that a lot of young girls from Bermondsey possess.

Bless.

As we all know, young ones these days like to be loud. Waiting for my bus, it was impossible to not hear their conversation. Unsurprisingly banal, attention-seeking of course, but inoffensive even if rather annoying. And then they spot a bloke going into the pub opposite, a renowned gay pub.

“What do you think they do there?” “Probably fuck each other up the arse.” “FAGGOT!” “BATTY-BOY!”

Now to be fair, if this infamous pub wasn’t so grotty with a sleazy-reputation, less niche shall we say, and looked more welcoming, you could argue that those comments wouldn’t have arisen.

But the pub’s been there for years, and it troubles no-one. It doesn’t hold loud parties or interfere with anyone else’s business. The punters aren’t raucous or troublesome. They keep themselves to themselves.

And yet, it’s deemed clever and acceptably bullish for some young people to shout abuse at people. And that’s probably the kind of abuse all those kids faced for years before topping themselves. It’s ‘learned’ as acceptable in schools to say this to anyone who’s different.

OK, everyone gets bullied at school. And if you’re ‘different’, you’re going to get a bit of stick. BUT the difference is, apart from LGBT adults particularly since Section 28 was scrapped, who ever sticks up for LGBT youth in schools? Because if teachers, parents, and all adults don’t, then children ‘learn’ it’s OK to put down anyone who is ‘different’, but ‘learn’ it’s not acceptable to be sexist or racist. (Humour aside – as long as it’s on a level playing-field).

Having not acknowledged them thus far, letting their 60-decibel girly-chat get lost in the wind (as one does, of course), at hearing this I couldn’t help but glare. They looked proud, even when our eyes met, although this was mixed with a distinct look of apprehension.

“Aren’t you brave and clever?!”, I confronted.

At that very moment my bus came, and I stepped on before one of the girls did. They didn’t say anything, or at least I didn’t hear. It probably changed nothing in the short-term, but I wonder if in the long-run they’ll question themselves.

To be honest, a lot of kids are horrible like this, maybe some reading this were / are, and they do change…but some don’t. And again, humour aside, it’s not acceptable for some abuse to be ‘allowed’ and other abuse not.

ALL HATE-CRIMES are wrong, and that is what this vigil is about. Which brings me onto my 2nd point.

Disabled people.

There was a well-documented case recently of the tragedy of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francesca, about a mother and her disabled daughter. But on Tuesday on BBC1, there was a harrowing documentary called Tormented Lives, about a whole series of hate-crimes…faced by those with learning disabilities. !!! I actually want to say that those who perpetrate this must be beyond ignorant, just plain stupid, and realise that that sounds inappropriate. :-/ But really…you know what I mean. If you missed it, here’s the link for BBC iPlayer.

I’m against anyone being bullied, for any reason. Race, sexuality, creed, disability, whatever. I don’t need to preach, I know those reading this don’t need me to remind them why this Saturday is important. But those 2 incidents (the first one unfortunately unsurprising, the second one surprising that it was adults) reminded me why all must fight prejudice. Those kids who commit suicide did so in an environment where it’s ‘OK’ to be victimised, and with high-profile people like 50 Cent trivialising such issues, we must fight harder. Too many lives are being lost to murder and suicide.

Oh, by the way, I heard there won’t be any candles this year due to a health and safety rule, but people can bring their own! Time Out link for Candlelit Vigil Against Hate Crime