Tag Archives: Muslims

Zip It!

10 Jan

‘Zip It!’ A popular expression in our house. Normally employed for smaller human beings who are gobbing off beyond a reasonable level. But the recent horror of Charlie Hebdo has left me and many other parents that I know, wondering if we now need to be uttering this phrase a bit more at the kids.

Interestingly, it seems to be the more switched on, politically aware, well-read and generous folk who are fretting the most about their children saying or doing something that might offend someone else – in this stoked-up atmosphere of religion, politics and race.

Regular readers of this blog will know that me and mine represent everything that your anti-multiculturalist sorts love to hate. So you might think that I have all of the perfect answers when it comes to discussing such sensitive issues with my kids. In fact, no. No. And I certainly didn’t have all of this off to pat before Charlie Hebdo.  Here are some recent examples of the level of dialogue that has always been ongoing within My Fam:

Scene 1 Namibia (southern Africa). Me, Him and 2 kids.  Driving through a police check-point on the road outside of the Capital. Unlike the rest of us – my 6 yr old lad is a chap of very few words….

10 yr old: It’s not fair! They never stop us. They never search us!

Him: You don’t want to be searched. Look at the people in the cars over there. They’re really naffed off.

10yr old: But it’s not fair! I really wanna get searched! We’ve been through these road-blocks about twenty times now and they never stop us. Why?

6yr old: It’s because we’re white.

Me: Whaaaat?

"I'll swap you a Stop n' Search exemption for the Right to Wee"

“I’ll swap you a Stop n’ Search exemption for the Right to have a Wee”

Scene 2- Namibia (southern Africa) a few days later. Visiting a national monument which is only usually visited by people from the different black ethnic groups. We are desperate for the loo.

10 yr old: This is awful! They keep telling us the wrong way to the toilets and we’ve been back three times now and ask and they still just flap their hand at us and tell us to go the wrong way.

Me: The seem to think that we’re just being a nuisance. We should have gone to the loo before we got here, though. Oooh – I’m bursting!

10 yr old: Well, they’re hardly busy… we’re the only ones here in the car park! Why are they being so rude and unhelpful? I feel like they don’t like us! People! Why aren’t you helping us? Before our Mum wets her pants!

6 yr old: It’s because we’re white.

Me: Pardon?!

Of course, in both of these instances the normally oh-so quiet 6 yr old was making a mere observation. One which very much shocked us. Because of his lack of verbosity, we simply haven’t  sat with him and explained to him issues of race, apartheid, politics etc in the way that his older sibling might have had our attention…

Scene 3Leaving our semi-rural immediate neighbourhood we are now driving through an inner-city suburb, somewhere Up North.

6 yr old: Hey, Mum! I think you’ve got us lost, Mum. Hey!

Confused of Africa? Or of UK?

Confused of Africa? Or of UK?

Me: Why?

6 yr old: Because I think…we’re in Africa

10 yr old: What are you on about? You little weirdo.

6 yr old: Look – outside – everyone’s looking like…we’re in Africa! It’s well cool!

10 yr old: Yeah, right – Stupid! Do I see any giraffes? Or those termite mound things? It’s raining! Are you totally thick, or what?

6 yr old: Well – that one over there in the doorway-thingy is a street child. I think.

10 yr old: It’s a drunken man asleep in a pile of sick! You idiot!

Me: Stop being horrible to your brother. I think he only means that there a lot of black people in this area.

6 yr old: Yes – that’s what I meant. I just never knew there were so many black people in England.

Him: (to Me) Keep him away from the English Defence League and their lot, eh?

6 yr old: (sulking) And anyway. I want to go back to Africa now. It’s better than living with you lot.

Me: (to Him) I don’t think his sentiments lie with the EDF, dear. It’s just his use of language and terminology that we perhaps need to work on…

Scene 4 After a troublesome time in the playground

6 yr old: I don’t like them brown boys. I won’t ever play with them.

Me: (shocked) What do you mean? What’s wrong with them?

6 yr old: I just don’t like them.

Me: But … well. You can’t say that you don’t like ‘brown boys.’ You shouldn’t…

6 yr old: Well I just don’t like any of them.

Me: But you can’t say that! You can’t go round saying things like that. Your cousins are… well – ‘brown.’ Aren’t they?

6 yr old: Yeah. But they’re different. I know them.

(NB – It turned out that what he meant was the Pakistani-British boys all knew each other and he found it hard to break into their games. One week later it was “Mum – I always play with the brown boys now and they’re all my best friends!” “Great,” I replied. “But shouldn’t we maybe not use the word ‘brown?'” Only to be corrected by daughter who goes “Well, my auntie always says she would rather be called ‘brown’ because that’s the shade she is as she isn’t the colour of black or of Pakistani. And calling someone a ‘Paki’ is just nasty and upsets people and like… has gone out with Martin Luther King’s time. Or whatever. Although…I heard someone say ‘that Paki shop’ the other day. But there were old and a bit stupid so you can forgive ’em”)

Scene 5 – Our kitchen. Children sharing out coloured sweets.

10 yr old: I’ve made little piles of the different ones, see? But I’m not having any of the blacks as I hate them…..(thinks)  Oh no!! Did I say something racist, Mum?

6 yr old: It’s okay. I hate the whites. So it all works out fair dunnit?

Got sick of discussing matters of race. So promptly lobbed the bitter lemons back at the grown ups.

Got sick of discussing matters of race. So promptly lobbed the bitter lemons back at the grown ups.

These kind of conversations go on all of the time in most households across the land. And each of these little scenarios were remembered by me – not because the kids said something cute and funny – but because my own reaction felt confused. Blustered. I wanted them to know ‘how we try and say things’ in the adult world. But without doing the whole politically-correct overkill thing on them and without squashing their right to expression and to just be… an innocent little kid.

But sure – there was a bit of me that was thinking ‘Gawd, PLEASE don’t say that in school – will you?’ Even though the school knows us, our background and work etc and probably realise that I don’t stomp around in jackboots of a weekend.

So if I feel like this – with my own family, experiences and interests… how the hell must most other caring and concerned parents feel about what their kids hear, see and say – at this particular moment in time?

I can only remind others (and myself) that all of us – whatever our ethnic or religious background – we are only human if we trot out some ‘corkers’ from time to time. At my Nan’s funeral for example, the Minister said “Edith was the kindest soul ever. Who still clung to what some perceive to be old-fashioned language. But this ‘Blackie Preacher’ knew the love in her heart and the kind of woman that she was, so he never minded the out-moded words.”  And a Pakistani friend told me that on preparing to marry a white woman he was told by his elderly relative “first thing you must do is to teach her to wash her hands properly. If they’re not a muslim, these goras are very dirty.”

So maybe we shouldn’t be panicking and maybe we should be more gentle with the kids and with ourselves. Less of the gut reaction of telling the kids to Zip It (unless they’re calling me a ‘clumsy old tart’ again.) If we are the kind of people who are worried about causing offence then our hearts are already in the right place.

And maybe those of us who genuinley care about this kind of thing are exactly the sort of people who can stop the status quo from worsening. I believe that the attach on Charlie Hebdo was a deliberate act to kick off yet another secular versus religious and racial war.  It didn’t even have as sophisticated an intention as trying to flag up discussions about the freedom of speech. It was an act of contempt and hatred –  spread by psychotic nutters who claim to be religious but who haven’t got a breath of compassion or love left in their bodies. People who are rubbing their hands with glee at the confusion and division that they have created between folk this week and because of whom – hundreds of thousands of more innocent civiliants in the Middle East may well end up losing their lives.*

So let the kids speak. They often make far more sense than the adults do.

*Note the cunning refusal to write ‘muslims’ and ‘non muslims’ there. Because we are all just human beings at the end of the day…


10 Reasons *Some People* Hate Yorkshire

31 Jul

***NB – this blog has been written with a very large slice of Tongue In Cheek. And Indeed – By a Lassie Of The North…***

Yorkshire Yorkshire Yorkshire. It’s all that we ever hear these days. I think that it’s about time that we had a full and frank commentary in relation to the damned place.

So here are 10 good reasons why you should not even contemplate visiting Yorkshire. Or having anything to do with Yorkshire Day.

1. It’s Bigger Than Yours

Try saying something like this to someone from Yorkshire;  ‘Hey – I’ve got an Auntie in Yorkshire. The next time I visit her, I’ll pop by and see you!’  And just watch them do this sort of sardonic sneer and go ‘Ha! Do you actually KNOW how big Yorkshire is?  We’re the biggest county in the UK! It’s not like your London! It’s not like you can jump on the tube and be at Stepney Green in 10 minutes flat. No, lad. You’ll have to climb, hills, valleys, dales for many a year before you can even catch a whiff of yer fish n chips in Whitby, you know…”

2. Tour de France/ Tour de Yorkshire.

They Got Too Giddy

They Got Too Giddy

Say no more.  I mean – how giddy did they get about all of that? Did you see people living in the other parts of the country that hosted the race? Did they get all emotional and start showing off their great tracts of land and all of that? No. Yet again, the Yorkshire folk went over the top and got all up- themselves and no doubt are still riding about on bicycles with yorkshire puddings balanced on their heads. Or whatever weird pastime they’ll be engaging in for the next 100 years as they tell their kids how glorious the nation of Yorkshire is and how a Yorkshireman invented the wheel, or whatever.

3. The Arts

Yorkshire people are simply not content with their lot. Lots of counties would be perfectly happy with the fact that they spawned Emmerdale, Last Of The Summer Wine or Heartbeat. But no. The tykes want to prove that they can do more than mass TV appeal. They start getting all la-di-dah about being literary and all of that. Like – “Oooh – we have the Brontes, Simon Armitage, Barbara Hepworth, Alan Bennett, David Hockney. the Yorkshire Sculpture Park nad oooh have you ever visited Hebden Bridge? It’s SO bo-ho y’know!”

4. They inject their Extremism into Neighbouring Territories

Not content with brainwashing their own offspring into their regionalist bigotry, they are now mounting covert campaigning over the border. Now me – I’m a Manchester, Lancashire born lass – but do you hear people from Lancashire wittering on about the red rose? About being ‘Proud to be from Lancashire!’  No. But there is now a disturbing trend of Lancashire folk who we all *think* to be living in Lancashire…. but who are wanna-be Yorkies. Get this folks – thanks to border confusion/changes – Oldham Council (a Lancashirebased Council!) actually supports – nay – champions Yorkshire Day and seems to be PROUD of the fact that many folk in the Saddleworth area feel strongly that they live in the west Riding of Yorkshire. They even have their own White Rose Society! There is still quite a lot of wrangling/consternation about this whole issue – but one thing is for sure –  travel around these Lancashire villages (according to the UK government) at the moment and see them bedecked in the white rose.

I ask you. Where will it all end? Pity the poor children of those part of Oldham who are already growing up all of a muddle about whether they are Lankys or not. If we aren’t too careful – these innocent kids will soon be neglecting their Eccles cakes in favour of a Fat Rascal.

5. They are Hugely Endowed

I feel sorry for the kids. It's all "Ooh! Look at our Yorkshire hills! Aren't you proud To be Yorkshire, eh?"

I feel sorry for the kids. It’s all “Ooh! Look at our Yorkshire hills! Aren’t you proud To be Yorkshire, eh?”

The hills, I mean. They have hills. Bloody great big buggers. Much better than the silly, roly-poly things that pass for ‘hills’ down south. And I mean – do we ever hear the end of this? So yeah, we all then have to agree that they do have the most stunning countryside in the country. And on top of that they have the seaside resorts, the moorlands, Bolton Abbey, the North York railways etc. etc. But I bet those tykes are all too tight to pay for the petrol for those *vast distances* involved for them in travelling there…


The Yorkshire folk seem to think that they do the best food and drink in the country. They’re off there – spouting about their pork pies and their fish and chips and don’t even get them onto tearooms! It’s all ‘Betty and Taylors’ this and ‘Dark Woods poshest coffee in the world’ that.  As though when they turn the pig into bacon it has a white rose running through the middle of it! As though they grew the coffee beans in their own last remaining Yorkshire coal mine!  They’d probably lay claim to having invented Lancashire hot pot or making the first ever pan of Scouse, if you let them.

7. Historical claims

Recently, I read a most frightening little book (or should I say ‘propaganda’) named ‘Yorkshire’s Strangest Tales’ that stated that Robin Hood was not from Nottingham – but was a Yorkshire man. Along with Dick Turpin! And the author (this dreadful woman named Leonora Rustamova)  also waxed lyrical about the fact that Britain’s road network was invented by this dude named ‘Blind Jack’. From Knaresborough in Yorkshire. Or course. He probably invented the Concord, back in 1772, as well, didn’t he?Yorkshire strange tales

There is also much talk about Yorkshire being the base for the Saints – the first Celtic Christians that came to England. They also refer to their county as ‘God’s Own Country.’ Blasphemy! Utter blasphemy!

And I bet you that they reckon that Buddha had a flat in 1960’s Bradford, as well.

8. House Prices

So those Yorkshire folk, they sit there, all full of it lording it over the rest of us “Eee – I can own Harewood House, a yacht off Filey and a block of luxury flats in city centre Leeds – for the price of that cat-flap what you live in, in that London.”

And I think that this is due to something more than Yorkshire – tightness. There’s even a business group called ‘The Yorkshire Mafia’ and … call me a conspiracy theorist if you will – but I reckon its more than just a name!

9. Lost In Their Own Identity

Recently I have heard several famous people/pop stars etc claim “I’m Yorkshire, I am.” Or along those lines. I mean, have you ever heard someone say; “I’m Worcestershire” or “I’m London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, me I am.”

Exactly. The arrogance of these people is growing to monstrous proportions.

10.  Possible Neglect of Animals

I just find it strange… that Yorkshire people will pull anything out of their flat cap and claim it to be theirs – or to be better at anything and everything – than the rest of us. But think on this my friend. When was the last time you heard them getting excited about Yorkshire Terriers? No, indeed. There seems to be some kind of deep-rooted shame in the psyche of Yorkshire people when it comes to mentioning these small but hairy pooches.

In fact, I would go as far to say that Yorkshire Terriers are suffering from abject neglect when it comes to the marketing of Yorkshire.  The Yorkie terrier is the lost innocent in all of this madness!

A furry victim of prejudice? or simple neglect?

A furry victim of prejudice? Or simple neglect?

So dear reader – whilst certain commentators or politicians would like to see your concerns over extremism and issues of race and nationality being directed towards refugees, asylum seekers, muslims and the scottish – I think that we all need to look a lot closer to home.

Beware of Yorkshire Day, I say! These people are serious and they mean to take over the world…



(NB – if you got this far, finished the blog and still think that I am anti-Yorkshire, then you truly don’t get northern humour! And I feel pretty sure that Leonora Rustamova. Saddleworth White Rose Society and the Yorkshire Mafia will ‘get the plot’ too. But I do extend apologies to all Yorkshire Terriers everywhere. Because you deserve more PR than you are currently getting and I don’t mean to make light of this dreadful situation for you.)


*note* – this blog was inspired by a REAL conversation that I overheard. Thank you Crazy People On The Train!

Sister Fatima dodges the Soldiers…

30 Jul

Last year I was lucky enough to attend the FODIP study tour of Israel/Palestine. http://www.fodip.org/  This tour consisted of a group of Muslims, Jews and Christians who wanted to work together as UK citizens to try and understand how the issues in Palestine/Israel had arisen and how we can work together better in order to alleviate the conflict.

When our group stayed in Jerusalem, I was a little shocked to hear that non-muslims were not allowed – not by devout muslims – but by the Israeli authorities to go into the famous Al-Aqsa mosque. This is a sacred place to muslims – as the Quran tells us that Allah took Mohammed (pbuh) on a night journety from the Kabah in Mecca to the Temple at Jerusalem.  So when I heard that it wasn’t the muslims who were forbidding christians to visit the incredible Al Aqsa, I was appalled. There seems to be something in my genes that naturally rebels against injustice and oppression. I would still have been peturbed if muslims had said that the place was not available for christians to visit and to respect (as yes – sorry muslim pals – but I still would like to visit Mecca!).  So when the Israeli authorities are dictating which religions can and can’t… as opposed to even the religious group that the place is held sacred by…Well.

Matters were not helped byt the fact that other christians in our group *had* seen Al Aqsa from the inside during previous visits, were waxing lyrical about how amazingly beautiful this mosque was. I was jealous…

So, me being the bolshy lass that I am –  I spoke to my brother, and  to my other muslim friends on the trip about their thoughts on the matter.  Should non-muslims never enter Al-Aqsa?  They were in favour that non-muslims should indeed be able to enter. And to share worship.   They had no problem with a Christian attending prayers  there. But more than that – even before I asked them, they had offered to help me to access Al Aqsa.

I decided to give it a try.  So, I woke up that Friday morning and put on my hijab and my best baggy trousers and loose top. Incidentally,  I had been wearing anywaya hijab for a few days now anyway –  it gave me an interesting perspective of how women tend to be perceived in this part of the world.  It was rather a shock to the system, the first day that I covered my hair,  when I instantly felt ‘respect’ and a ‘distance’ from Palestinian men.  In a way, I instantly felt more invisible and accepted. I could integrate, silently, at last. (As a feminist I am still trying to withhold judgement on all of this. Yes – I experienced less sexual harrassment and staring, being blonde and blue-eyed in this region of the world –  but during the times that I was stared at when I was wearing the hijab and when I met someone’s gaze – it was the MEN’s eyes who were lowered after the first look. Not mine. It seemed that the hijab was presenting me with the sense of  either;  ‘No Go Area’ or ‘Like Us – due Respect’.  Either way, if I ever toured the Middle East again, I would certainly wear a hijab, if only for the feeling of personal safety and acceptance.  If a man wanted to engage me in discourse about the western female and liberation, I would be more than happy to give my views, but in terms of that curious blend of ‘When in Rome’ and personal need to get to the nub of how the culture and religion operates, the hijab won every time…

And  (rather more flippantly of course) I thoroughly enjoyed no-one realising if I was having a ‘bad hair day’ or not….

So on that Friday, as Jumu’ah approached, two of the female muslim participants on the tour who had been keen for me to see Al Aqsa,  linked arms with me amongst the throng of eager bodies towards the Dome. They took the decision to support me on that seemingly long, long walk,  past the Israeli soldiers.  My brother and several of our other male muslim companions walked ahead of us. Occcasionally checking over their shoulders to see if we were all still okay.

I have never felt so terrified in my life, as I noticed in the corner of my eye, the eight, armed Israeli soldiers at this particular All Aqsa gate’s checkpoint.  Panicky questions streamed through my mind….  What would they do if they found out that I wasn’t a muslim? What would happen to my muslim friends who were clearly taking a huge risk to sneak me in to experience Friday prayers there? Was I being really stupid and jeapordising our whole study tour?

But if I hadn’t witnessed the behaviour  by female Israeli soldiers ‘on duty’ at the Western Wall- just some 24 hours before – I wouldn’t have felt so unnerved and intimidated about the military presence.  Because, as the Call to Prayer echoed across the City the night before, I had witnessed a most unpleasant deeply seated contempt and disreguard for the people who were choosing to move towards Al Aqsa for Maghrib.  Three young female soldiers, all around the age of 19, had been staring warily at our little group of Jews, Muslims and Christians. for some twenty minutes.  Wondering perhaps, why such an odd assortment of people would want to visit the Western Wall together? So when the Call to Prayer began to float across the City, and our muslim companions left us, to go to Al Aqsa to pray – I noticed the atmosphere lighten amongst the soldiers in the small area that we were standing, close to the male section of the Western Wall.  Now, instead of looking across at us – the bizarre ragbag of UK Jews and Christians, and frowning, they were now smoking and laughing.  Those muslims had buggered off to pray. Nothing to worry about now.  Their departure almost automaticaly led two of the female Israeli soldiers to hold their rifles to the air, faking gun shots –  and the women yelled ‘Allah Akbar’ several times .  After this, they all burst into laughter at their ridicule. And lit another fag.

The suspicion and the oppression felt overwhelming. For me, seeing ‘nothing but mere kids’ wielding guns (and  the gun-wielders and disrespecters being females to boot) added into this new revelation of mine.  A real sense of this  heady cocktail of power and arrogance that I had inhaled as our little group had all been searched as we entered the Western Wall area in order to see this incredible place, of such importance to the three faithers.

So now, as we walked past the checkpoint at Al Aqsa, with only ten minutes until Jum’ah, I could feel the sweat of fear trickle down my back. Here there were only  male Israeli soldiers, their eyes boring across the crowds flocking through the gate and into Al Aqsa.    On my left was the marvellous Tahara, holding my arm firmly and quietely acting like a protective mother. And on my right was Uzma, stalking ahead and almost defying the soldiers with her fixed stare towards the dome – to stop us. Each of us knew the story that we would tell the soldiers if they asked about this rather pale looking muslim woman. ‘Sister Fatima’ was a new english convert who was not yet fluent in the Arabic of the Quran…

I practically stopped breathing when I saw that my brother – a white British muslim convert of many years – and two of his friends (UK-Pakistanic origin) had been pulled out of the crowd by the soldiers.  Yet somehow,  I carried on walking, moving towards the female side of the ablutions area. Uzma and Sonia showed me how they made wudhu (ablution) with the water there.  As they dried themselves off, we were then relayed a message via one of the male companions – that my brother and the other men had gotten past the checkpoint fine. Nothing to worry about after all.

By the time we arrived at the central worship point, the women’s side was completely filled – overflowing with women preparing for prayer.  I stumbled over the mountains of discarded shoes and felt clumsy. Like people were watching me for my obvious inexperience. But the place was heaving.   We had to move outside again,  to an outside praying area under a smaller (yet still enormous) stunning tiled dome – which I was told had originally been built asa ‘practice’ for the larger Dome. I found a little space to sit at the back and felt even more nervous by now.  I couldn’t pray with my muslim sisters.  Whilst as a Christian, I didn’t  feel that anything they were saying or doing contradicted my own faith…I honestly believed (still believe) that we have very much a shared God and faith…I just couldn’t begin to try and engage in the prayers.

For starters, I didn’t know what to do – what to say.  When do you do the bending down bit? Was was it that they say exactly? How would I manage to copy them – without that 3 second delay, and drawing attention to myself?  I felt like a Christian – more used to a spontaneous evangelical service – must feel when attending a high church Anglican, or Roman Catholic service. I managed to generate a smile though, as I recalled the memory of my brother telling me how odd it had been for him, a Sunni muslim, mistakenly attending Friday prayers at a Shia mosque -when he first began working with the community at Glodwick, Oldham. ‘They did the prayers totally differently!’ he told me ‘I felt a right prat!’

Thankfully Tahara anticipated my embarrassment and said ‘Just do what you want. ‘ Uzma added ‘Sitting at the back is fine. If a woman is on her period she doesn’t have to join in with the praying’.  So, somewhat relieved, I crouched on the little wall at the back.   I tried to look like I was suffering with period pain, so I grimaced every now and then.  I thought that perhaps I should give off  a deeply spiritual impression – that I  was actually putting my devotion to attending Friday prayers before my need to be in bed with a hot water bottle and some paracetomal. After a few minutes, I felt a little bit guilty about my crappy attempt at acting. But I still felt strangely righteous. As though God was smiling at me in fond amusement. ‘Hey – you made it! Don’t worry – you’re fine here. No Do’s and Don’ts…’ I closed my eyes and managed to relax.

It was mesmerising and humbling at the Al Aqsa.  Watching the hundreds of women praying in rows before me.  I spent a bit of time wondering what on earth the Imam was talking about over the very LOUD loudspeaker (I hope though, that I don’t sound too unfair here – but  he really *was* ranting.   He reminded me just a little bit of a USA televangelist –  his intonation I mean. Still, it all being in Arabic,  I wasn’t really in a position to judge.  I didn’t understand a word that he said. He could have been blessing the marriage of Charles and Camilla for all that I knew ).

After ten minutes, I became a ‘smiling friend’ of a beautiful little Palestinian girl, who couldn’t stop staring at the odd-looking female at the back. I suppose that I looked like a very peculiarly dressed woman. I was wearing baggy trousers, a clumsily tied hijab, had strange blue eyes and freckles. But we smiled and rolled our eyes, and grinned at each other. I wondered at what age she would feel that she had to engage in the prayers. Like y nephews – I recalled them getting more involved at the age of around 7? Or perhaps earlier. Either way, I hoped that she would enjoy her staring and her obvious ‘drinking in’ of what was occuring, for as long as she possibly could.

When the little girl couldnt stop staring at me, and nudged her Grandmother next to her to look at ‘the odd lady’ (as I imagined it).  I began to earnestly wish that my brother had taught me the word ‘menstruation’ in Arabic.  I wanted to explain why I was looking, and behaving, so oddly, at the back of the building. But the only Arabic I could remember was ‘Ya Helwa Azim’. This was something my brother had told me he had learned from the locals in  Egypt when he had studied Arabic there as a student.  Something that the male of the species feels obliged to call out to the female of the species when a particularly  pretty young lady saunters by them in the city of Cairo. Still. This was clearly NOT something that I would be able to utilise right here and now…

I sat tight and drank in the architecture, the atmosphere and the patience of the women.

Halfway through the prayers I realised to my genuine horror, that the carrier bag which I was clutching so tightly in front of me,  advertised one of Israel’s most prominent Kibbutz-Hotels. Our group had stayed there earlier on in the week as part of the study tour.  When all of the women bowed down on their hands and knees again, I used the opportunity to promptly plonk my bum onto the bag, in a very hurried and undignified manner.

When prayers finally ended,  we retrieved our shoes. Uzma and Tahara  introduced me to the elderly mother of our Palestinian coach driver who they had arranged to meet for Jum’ah. The older woman didn’t speak any English, but she hugged me and nodded and smiled.  She laughed and laughed when she saw my scruffy carrier bag advertising the Kibbutz. Leading my muslim friends to explain how I hadn’t realised that I had been wielding it so defensively in front of me and had suddenly realised that it might be a rather sensitive accessory in this particular place. So, to make me feel better about things,  she showed me her own shoulder bag.  It was a large, tapestried affair. A tourists ‘Visit Bethlehem’ bag- a skyline in pretty impressive stitching, of the Bethlehem vista. But there were  weird, uneven blue splodges of ink across it too.  She laughed  again and grinned, shrugging her shoulders, as our son, the coach driver translated to us

Ah – she says that she bought this bag when she was in Bethlehem because she thought it was beautifully made by local Palestinian women, but when she first came to Al Aqsa with it the men in charge painted blue ink over the crosses on the church spires. She says won’t get rid of it though. She says it is a good, strong bag – so why should she do that, just because it had a few crosses on it?’.

As we waited for Uzma to hand over the donations to ‘Friends of Al Aqsa’ which her  Brummie relatives had dispatched with her, our male companions turned up as we neared the exit gate. All were jubilant that ‘Sister Fatima’ had made it past the checkpoint and were eager to hear what kind of experience that she had encountered.  ‘Just beautiful – just amazing. Very peaceful’ – was all that I could honestly say at the time. I was still breathless from the experience, and struggling to process it.

My older brother was pleased that I had enjoyed the visit and been impressed by the whole experience, but he himself was still stinging a little from the fact that the Israeli soldiers had pulled him from the crowd and asked him to recite Shahadah as proof that he was indeed, a muslim. He muttered,  with a healthy dose of outrage;

I told them that I reverted to Islam some 20 years ago and I ended up reciting stuff to them that I never even KNEW I knew!’

Then he continued to shake his head in disgust as Khalid, Pasha, Amin and Shamim all chuckled away at their friend,  with Pasha adding;

Yeah – and Sister Fatima here hasn’t been a muslim for more than two minutes –AND she’s miles paler than you and she STILL she waltzes right past the soliders and into Al Aqsa on her first Jum’ah.  Typical eh?! The unfairness of it all!’