Alhamdulillah we have been to Islam expo this year which was held from 11th to 14th of July. We have enjoyed our time very much. This was my first trip to expo as a couple and with a baby. That’s why it was a bit different than the first one. I remember I was able to attend most of the lectures and seminars at the first Islam expo which took place in 2006 at Alexander palace. This time as a mother it was a bit difficult to attend the lectures properly. Anyway, I have managed to listen to some of the lectures. Professor Tariq Ramadan who is one of my favourites, was there and as usual has delivered very well-argued talk. May Allah SWT bless him for his great ability to explain critical issues with such simplicity. I really liked his talk on faith in a secular society. According to him, there is certainly space for faith in a secular society. In fact, we Muslims should be the people to propagate the universal values and morals of Islam in this society where ethics are disappearing at a rapid pace never witnessed before. We have to fight individualism and materialism with the true message of love and justice in Islam. Muslims should not be afraid of practising their faith and be confident and proactive in their day to day life as European Muslims. Dr. Jamal Badawi from Canada was there too and talked about how Muslims cannot be Muslims without practising their faith in their public life. In a secular society it is assumed that faith should be confined to private life but for Muslims that’s not possible in any way as Islam is not just a mere religion rather it’s a way of life. It is ridiculous to think Muslim women wearing hijab in their home and not being able to wear it outside of their home!
There was also a debate about whether Muslim women need liberating. I was looking forward to the talk as the panel list was quite interesting. Merve Kavakci, Yvonne Ridley, Salma Yakoob were included but unfortunately sister Salma could not make it. Lot of people in Britain may know about Ynonne and Salma but not familiar with Merve. She is a Turkish politician who was prevented from making her parliamentary oath because of her hijab, being eventually stripped of her Turkish citizenship. She is a hafiz of the Quran and works as a professor at George Washington University. Sister Merve argued that Muslim women do need liberating but it should be from the orientalist assumption of them being oppressed and subordinate to men as well as the local patriarchal culture they are trapped in. Islam as a faith has already liberated women fourteen hundred years ago from the oppression but sadly the culture still undermines their rights as free vicegerent of Allah on this earth. For example, Islam gives women the right to have divorce however, the local culture views divorce as a stigma attached to women and her family. We need to fight for our rights as Muslim women. Sister Yvonne also reiterated the same message and also talked about Muslim feminism. When we talk about Muslim or Islamic feminism, subconsciously the names of dodgy Muslims like Irshad Manji or Amina Wadood comes up who are trying to propagate the message that Islam needs ‘reformation’. However, according to Yvonne, we Muslim women in general do not have any problem with our faith rather it is Islam which gives us our proper rights. Instead we need to combat the negative prejudice the majority in society seem to have about Muslim women. Alhamdulillah there were quite a lot of people especially non-Muslims in the audience. I hope and pray that the debate has been successful in changing peoples’ perspective about women in Islam.
There were quite a lot of seminars held on various topics related to Muslims however it was not possible for me as a mother of a toddler to be there. I would recommend all the sisters who are also mothers to arrange someone to look after their babies while they can enjoy the seminar to its full extent insha-Allah. Now you may think why then I didn’t do that but unfortunately my mother and my mother-in-law both of them are on their holidays in abroad. I strongly prefer to leave my son with one of them as I believe they are the best in this job mashallah.
Anyway, back to the topic Insha-Allah…
There was also an Islamic garden section roughly at the middle of Olympia which provided the visitors with a very calm and relax place to rest and enjoy the beautiful garden. The charity REEP (The Religious Education and Environment Programme) which specialises in education through gardens, have created the Islamic Garden for the exhibition. One of the main features of the garden was the water font. In fact, water is the heart and soul of the traditional Islamic garden providing the single most important unifying element, reflecting the words of the Quran: Jannat tajri min tahtiha al-anhar, ‘gardens underneath which river flow’. They basically divided the garden into four sections and named them according to the trees at the centre of each garden which were apparently the trees mentioned in the Quran: the Olive garden, the Fig garden, the Date garden and the Pomegranate garden. There were brightly coloured scented flowers among various shrubs in all shades of green- green being the colour of Islam. I really enjoyed my time at the garden. Can you imagine how beautiful the garden in jannah (paradise) will be when this man-made one has given us that much pleasure! If you want to know more about the history and different interpretations of the Islamic garden you can go to the site below Insha-Allah:
At expo, there was organised a series of workshop for both educational groups (from schools) and general visitors across the 4 days. There were workshops on Islamic geometry patters, Islamic calligraphy, Islamic glass painting, North African Drumming, Fabric paining which is sometimes known as Batik, Dabka dancing and so on. The Dabka dancing has caught my eyes as it was different but quite interesting. While I was watching the dance they asked me to join in with my son which was quite amusing I must say! Dabka, also pronounced dabkeh, is a lively dance form practiced around the Middle East, most commonly at weddings and celebrations.
There were arts and crafts zone which tried to show the role of mosque in Islam. There was the Hagia Sophia mosque and its surrounding drawn by a sister named Mariama. Hagia Sophia served as a model for many of the Ottoman mosques such as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque of Istanbul), the Şehzade Mosque, the Süleymaniye Mosque, and the Rüstem Pasha Mosque. It brought back my childhood memory of Istanbul. I wish I can go there again and enjoy the beautiful mosques of Turkey especially the Blue mosque facing the Black sea.
There were quite lot of exhibitors at Islam Expo. It was bigger than the previous one as the huge area of Olympia has enabled them to do it in a better way this time. We were able to do lots of shopping especially books. There was an Islamic sticker shop which caught my eyes. Mashallah they have done a very good job. The sister who came up with this great idea, Rahat told me why she has started this business. May Allah SWT bless them and increase their sale. I have been a teacher for couple of years that’s why I am aware of the lack of Islamic resources for children like sticker, reward chart, games, puzzles and so on. So the initiative taken by the sister should be appreciated by everyone. Children especially while they are in primary do like to receive stickers and this technique sometimes does work very well. Even families should try to use them at home to reward children and build up Islamic characteristics insha-Allah. It can also be quite a good gift for children at special occasions. You can have a look at their website and feel free to make up your mind:
Couple of Muslim newspapers and magazines had their stall at the expo such as The Muslim weekly, Emel, Al-Jumuah, the Revival etc. The last two magazines I have been trying to read on a regular basis. They are quite good mashallah. The Revival magazine which is also available on-line is catering for youth in general and tries to cover the social as well as spiritual challenges facing Muslim communities across the UK.
There was a fashion zone for sisters where the organisers tried to highlight the new Islamic trends for women that are fashionable yet conservative, with the view that traditional Islamic dress does not have to mean old fashion and bland. It also tried to show the diversity and unique styles which bridge western concept with Eastern values. It was sponsored by SISTERS magazine. Some of the well-known Islamic clothing companies such as Shukr, Silk Route, Arabian Nites, Imaan Collections, The Aab have participated. I like Shukr dresses a lot as they look very simple but elegant and the colours are very subtle.
With due respect for all the Muslims who participated in the show, I felt uncomfortable with some of the clothing style and in the manner they have been portrayed at the fashion catwalk. There was loud western music at the time of the fashion show. Was that really necessary when we as Muslims are quite aware of the impermissibility of Music?
The basic concept of hijab is very clear. The dress cannot be tight, figure hugging, see-through as well as it need to cover the whole body accept the face and hands up to the wrist. There are also some Muslims who believe that covering the face (niqab) is also necessary. But unfortunately some of the dresses were quite tight and see through. Some may argue that it was done exclusively for sisters but are sisters really confined to only sisters’ arena in their day to day life? Where are they going to wear these cloths? And more importantly, why is it so necessary to wear something which we are not able to wear in a public place? Can’t we muslimahs look beautiful and modest at the same time? I believe of course we can.
I do believe that there are certain fashion trends in West which may seem modest and can be incorporated in Islamic clothing but that doesn’t mean that we should also copy the traits which contradict the basic requirements of hijab for the sake of looking ‘cool and trendy’. In regard to jewellery and make up, it is also strongly recommended to wear them exclusively in front of family members and mahrams (the people who you cannot get married to) and not to show off your beauty in public.
Unfortunately at Islam expo, there were quite a lot of sisters especially the younger ones who have given me the impression that they tend to overlook these basic requirements of hijab. Lot of sisters are trying to follow the new fashion trends in the West without really thinking that much whether it goes with the requirements of hijab. It feels like hijab has got a new meaning now a days, which is to cover your hair but don’t bother about any other parts of your body! You can hardy see the hair even a single one but you can roughly figure out what size clothing someone wears! This new trend saddens me. We are here to worship Allah SWT to the best of our ability. Why are we compromising our faith just to please the people around us? Why we sisters are so obsessed with latest fashion when Allah SWT has honoured us with a great duty to be a Muslimah and help the Ummah (the community of believers) of our beloved prophet Mohammad SAW to get bigger and stronger? I am not saying that we should not look smart and beautiful in our hijab cause we should but what I have issue with is the fact that we are wasting our energy, money and most importantly our limited time on this earth in pursuit of futile fashion trends and strong urge to be ‘up-to-date’ with the pop culture of the day! If we follow the lifestyle of non-Muslims can we then really call us Muslims? The issue of hijab is a huge but very important topic to delve in that’s why Insha-Allah I would like to cover the issue later .
There were so many activities at expo which we were unable to attend such as beautiful Quran recitation by some very well-known reciters such as Sheikh Mohammed Jebril, Sheikh Ahmad Saad as well as the young boy Mohammad Aswat who won the Qirat competition last year which was organised by Islam channel. There were live performances by Khayaal theatre, Pencak Silat demonstration by the Silat centre (Silat is a special practice of martial arts) as well as lute playing, story-telling, poetry reading and so on. There was sport zone where some sport personalities were present. My husband has managed to have a glance of Mohammad Yusuf (previously known as Yusuf Yuhana) the famous Pakistani cricketer who has reverted to Islam alhamdulillah. There was also cookery zone where live cooking demonstration took place across the 4 day event. It was like too many things happening in such a short time to cover! I must say, overall the Islam expo 2008 was done quite nicely. Around 40,000 people turn up to the exhibition. May Allah SWT bless the people who made it possible to have such a vast array of activities to be done under one roof.