Saturday, 29 October 2011

Initiatives of Change Training Workshop


Initiatives of Change” (IoC) is an organisation to bridge-building within and between communities.
IoC achieves this by providing tools that communities can use to build a dialogue with the “other”. They also have an interesting blog here.

The national director of IoC in the US, Rob Corcoran, discussed a number of these issues in a public talk entitled “Honest Conversations in Community Change” earlier this week.

Assisted by Willemijn Lambert (a graduate in conflict resolution) Rob began by describing how there was a “trust deficit” in the US, between racial groups, between society and business and between citizens and government.

Rob gave a clue as to how difficult it can be to begin a dialogue between groups by pointing out that the four most feared words in the English language are “We’ve got to talk”.

They may not be frightening for the person saying them, but they can certainly be frightening for the person on the receiving end, who may fear being blamed, rejected or having to deal with emotions that they cannot handle.


Trust
To investigate this further, Rob asked the attendees to form small groups and consider what qualities were likely to BUILD trust and what qualities were likely to BREAK trust.

In the time honoured procedure for workshops such as this, the resulting post-it notes were put on a board and then discussed.

Dear reader, if you are feeling in a participative mood, you may wish to spend a couple of minutes thinking about what you feel would build or break trust before seeing how your thoughts compare with those of the group at the meeting (which BFTF will reveal in a moment). Let’s play a little music while you ponder. . .


Ready now? The most common responses from the attendees were :

BUILDING TRUST
i) Honesty - this was mentioned by every group
ii) Approachability
iii) Willingness to learn
iv) Time (added by Rob as something he often finds that younger group members identify)

BREAKING TRUST
i) Lying
ii) Backbiting / breaking of confidentiality.

Richmond, Virginia
This is Rob’s home town in the US. Richmond was the heart of the confederacy during the American Civil War (1861-65) and then became the heartland of what was basically a system of apartheid against the black population under the “Jim Crow” laws. Indeed, it was only in 1954-55 that a series of federal judgements demanded an end to the segregated school system that operated in the South.

In response, a white protest movement, known as “massive resistance” against the integration of schools began in Virginia. This movement continued until well into the 1970s (although many of the discriminatory laws that were implemented by Virginian politicians as part of the campaign were overturned by 1970).

But slowly, surely, the civil rights movement gained ground until, in 1977, Richmond (which by then had a population that was over 50% black) gained a black-majority council and a black mayor.

This change in power structures of the town resulted in a period of soul-searching for the city, part of which resulted, in 1993, in the Hope in the Cities program which aimed at helping to heal the racial wounds of Richmond but using the techniques pioneered by Initiatives of Change.

One reason why the Hope in the Cities program was needed was described by a black civil rights activist who Rob relates as saying that

“we worked so hard to change the structures but because we didn’t change the peoples hearts we have to go back and keep going back to do it again”

This activist thought about what needed to be done to resolve the situation, to “change peoples hearts” and decided to invite the white chief executive of the city council, Mr Todd, and his wife over for a barbecue.

The barbecue allowed the activist and Mr Todd to begin a dialogue which, over time, made a real difference in the way Mr Todd operated. The extent of the difference can be gauged by the comments of another black civil rights activist who, sometime later, told Rob Corcoran that, whereas meetings involving Mr Todd had previously seemed to have all their conclusions decided ahead of time, the activist was now finding that Mr Todd was asking for the activists opinion on the issues being discussed.

That black activist who had made efforts to open a dialogue with Mr Todd had really put their neck on the line. Some other African-American activists could not understand why she was “selling out”, some even stopped talking to her. It was only really when some fruits of the dialogue could be seen (such as the change in the attitude of Mr Todd) that the black community really began to buy into the dialogue. This “movement from the other side” is critical to bringing all the players into the dialogue.

It is also helpful to dialogue when one side admits that they have a problem. In the case of Richmond, the black community only really believed that the white community was serious when the white community itself started to say that it had a problem and that the problem was racism.

***************************

The talk now moved on to another interactive session in which the attendees were asked to form small groups and perform an “environmental scan”. This involves considering what you feel about your community in the following areas :
Past and Present – What are we proud of?
Past and Present – What are our complaints?
The Future – What do we aspire to?
The Future - What are we afraid of losing?

Rob emphasised that we could define “community” any way we wanted - town, faith, local area etc.

Once again, you may be interested in having a bash at this yourself. If so, let’s play a little music while you consider your responses



The results of the brainstorm were as shown below, one thing that was noticeable was that most of the groups had decided to define “community” as Nottingham’s Muslim community for the purposes of this exercise.

Past and Present – What are we proud of
Asian Culture
Understanding between communities
Work of our elders
Branching out of the Muslim Community to reach out to other communities
Lots of Mosques

Past and Present – What are our complaints?
Lack of inclusion.
We need to integrate with other communities.
Standards of education are poor.
Too many mosques/ too much division
Lack of opportunities for young people
We are not open minded and have a ghetto mentality.
We are not tolerant of peoples differences

The Future – What do we aspire to?
Prosperity – leading to lower crime rates
United, trustful community
To be a good British Muslim.
More integration with the host community
Eradicate the ghetto mentality (See note below)
Ensure the Muslims understand Islam (See the other note below)
Become a more inclusive community

The Future - What are we afraid of losing?
Loss of values, identity and spiritual values
Loss of trust within our community
Financial security

The note below
The Imam who wrote this added that the Muslim community was often a long way behind the cutting edge. They would move forward when the gap becomes embarrassingly wide, but are not generally leading the debate by being at the cutting edge of any social issues.

The other note below
The Imam who wrote this comment elaborated by saying that he felt that many Muslims only related the act of worship to Islam and did not implement Islamic values in the rest of their daily lives.

**************************************

Rob now looked at the aspects of Trustbuilding in a little more detail by putting up a slide showing the four aspects of Trustbuilding. The slide is replicated below:


Know yourself
Discussing this aspect of trust building in a little more detail, Rob and Willemijn commented that we can all benefit from spending a little time in introspection each day, time in which we can consider whether we are contributing to and living like the community we want to live in. Rob described how he had fallen out with a work colleague for several years until, one day, while to was considering why this relationship had broken down, his conscience told Rob to think less about how he himself felt and a little more about the fact that his colleague felt that he had been wronged by Rob. So Rob called his colleague and to talk through things. The very next day the colleague called Rob and arranged to drive 100miles over to have lunch, which just goes to show how powerful the effects of reconciliation can be.

Acknowledge history and stories
Rob pointed out that if issues are not resolved, they end up being transferred, which is why race and slavery are still such live issues in the US today, 150 years after slavery was abolished. In addition, this transfer can result in the victims becoming victimisers.


Invite all to the table
Inviting everyone to the table means, by definition, that one has to engage with the “other” – which takes courage and can leave the people doing the engaging vulnerable to accusations of “selling out” or weakness. Rob pointed out to the leaders in the room that “if you want to be a bridge, you have to be prepared to get walked” and that one can spend so much time focussing on the enemy that one forgets to focus on the problem. Difficult times can make it easier to find and blame scapegoats for society problems. As Mee Moua, an ethnic minority politician in the US has commented “In our post-9/11 age, every American has been given tacit permission to unleash their anxieties on those they believe to be 'the Others'


Rob described an Initiatives of Change project in Richmond where leaders of the Christian Evangelical community met with Imams from the city’s Muslim community. As a first step, the two groups were asked to go to separate rooms for an hour and come up answers to two questions.

Q1) What can be do better?
Q2) What would we like to see from the “other”?

After an hour, the two groups came back to the table and discussed their findings

The Evengelicals said that they had not made sufficient efforts to reach out to the Muslim community and that what they wanted to see from the Muslim community was an absolute rejection of terrorism (which the Muslims were happy to provide)

For their part, the Muslim representatives admitted that they had been too insular as a community and that what they wanted to see from the Evangelicals was an absolute commitment to plurality.

Rob described how one of the Muslim representatives invited one of the Evangelicals over for a barbeque and that the conversation they struck up during this revealed that they had many areas of common ground. For example, they were both concerned about the loss of moral values and valued the family. This initial contact provided the basis for a conversation between the groups that is still going on.

The final parting comments from Rob were to ask the attendees to consider the following:
What conversations are not taking place?
Whose story needs to be heard?
Is there one step I can take to have an honest conversation?


ACTIONS
With the “common ground” being a particular theme of BFTF, the following email was sent to a couple of the Imams at the Meeting

“. . . I noted the comments during the meeting regarding the Muslim community often being a long way behind the cutting edge of providing (and practicing) solutions to many of societies problems – and how many Muslims only related the act of worship to Islam and did not implement Islamic values in the rest of their daily lives.

One way of providing at least a partial solution to these problems is to provide leadership to the Muslim community in some of the many areas where we can find common ground with the wider society.

To pick just a few examples where the groundwork has already been done, the Masjid could :

i) Demonstrate Islam’s commitment to safeguarding the environment by only using sustainably sourced paper – and telling the congregation about this

ii) Encourage the community to take advantage of community open days and public lectures at local Universities

iii) Lobby on behalf of the Muslim community in cases where human rights abuses are taking place – and tell the community what you are doing.

iv) Lobby to ensure that legislation discouraging smoking is not watered down – and tell the community what you are doing.

v) Encourage the Muslim community to take advantage of local events where they can learn about the history of their city.

vi) Publicise to the Muslim community any reports on mosque best practice and tell the community whether the Masjid is going to implement any of the recommendations.

vii) Offer to educate the community (both Muslim and non Muslim) about the wide variety of trees that exist within a few hundred metres of the Masjid ( of course, it would be prudent to implement (i) before undertaking this action).

viii) Recommend to the community that simply changes to their shopping habits (e.g buying free-range eggs, FSC/recycled paper products, MSC certified fish)are praiseworthy actions and have the potential to make a real difference to the quality of the world that our children may live in.

(Pt 1) (Pt 2) (Pt 3)


UPDATE(06 Nov 11)
One of the Imams replied, saying thank you and that they would incorporate some of these topics into their sermons as appropriate.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Interview - Hannah Cross - Probation Service

The BFTF radio show was chuffed to have the opportunity to talk to Hannah Cross from the probation service this week. Hannah was promoting a new initiative from the probation service called the “Community Mentors” project.

More about that in a moment, but lets start at the beginning of the interview. . .

BFTF asked Hannah about the origins of the probation service and Hannah explained how it had begun as the work of missionaries in the 18th century who were charged with giving guidance to offenders who were released into the community. Later, the practice became a matter of statute and courts employed “probation officers” to fulfil this role.

BFTF was a little confused about the difference between “probation” and “parole” and Hannah explained that offenders are allocated a probation officer soon after they enter the criminal justice system and the probation service stays involved until well after the offender has completed their sentence, offering help and advice to integrate them back into the community and steer them towards a stable, crime-free life.

In contrast,"Parole" is the term of a report that we write when individuals who have been given long term sentences are due to come out of custody. Its called a "Parole Report" In addition when people come out of prison they are subject to supervision with a Probation Officer which again can be referred to as "Parole or more commonly "a licence"

Hannah went on to explain that one possible source for my confusion is that the US (and thus US made TV crime dramas) use the term “parole officer” to describe the same job that “Probation officers” do in the UK. Hannah suggested that perhaps BFTF should watch a little less Prison Break. . .

One surprise to BFTF was that the stereotypical image of a probation officer is a big imposing ex-army type, so it was a surprise to hear that Hannah, who was the exact opposite of the stereotype, had been a probation officer for several years and had to deal with offenders right across the scale from those who were serving community service sentences to those who were serving life in prison. She explained that a probation officer might typically have 60 offenders allocated to them at any one time and that, without exception, she had found all the probation officers she had worked with to be dedicated individuals who were genuinely concerned with giving offenders the help and support (in conjunction with other agencies) to nudge their lives back to the straight and narrow. Achieving success in this was one of the most satisfying parts of the job as a probation officer.

Moving on to the COMMUNITY MENTORS project, Hannah explained that mentoring was a very effective method of reducing the likelihood of re-offending as well as helping offenders achieve purpose and live as a part of a stable community. In addition, the time spent with mentors was often the only part of the week where an offender was able to talk to someone who was able to give the offender 100% of their attention.

The project aims to recruit some 20-30 volunteers over the next year or so from Nottingham’s faith communities.

Encouragingly, the Probation service has found a number of Muslim organisations interested in promoting this initiative, including Karimia Institute and Himmah.

After training, volunteers are allocated an offender to mentor, typically giving 2hrs of mentoring time to the offender every week for a period of 6-12months. After this time, the mentor would be allocated another offender. Hannah emphasised that, whilst it would be great if mentors could pair up with offenders from similar cultures, this was not mandatory and there was the flexibility to accommodate the preferences of the mentor. In addition, mentors could be of either gender.

In terms of what kind of person would make a good mentor, Hannah suggested that people with life experience would be valuable. In addition. Mentors should be non-judgemental, understanding of people in difficult situations a good listener.

Two events have been organised at which people interested in this project can talk to the people involved and decide whether this is something that would like to pursue further:

Thursday 27th October, 6- 7.30pm - The New Art Exchange, Hyson Green

Tuesday 1st November, 7- 8.30pm - Trent Vineyard, Lenton

For further information, contact :
Hannah Cross, Volunteer Mentor Coordinator,
Nottinghamshire Probation Trust,
9 Castle Quay, Castle Boulevard, Nottingham, NG7 1FW
hannah.cross@nottinghamshire.probation.gsi.gov.uk

Links :
Nottingham Probation Service


Recent Home Office Research

NB: This is a summary of the interview, a more detailed post will be. . .er. . . posted once the audio file has been transcribed, inshallah.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Report - The Mosques in Communities Project

A report entitled “The Mosques in Communities Project” has just been published by the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) and Faith Matters. It contains a wealth of useful guidance and examples of best practice. The report is based on the results of 15 face-to-face interviews and a further 37 postal surveys of Mosques around the country.

MINAB believe this report to be “the start of a process of outlining good practice and we therefore hope to build on this work.” They also recognise that “many mosques around the country are engaged in excellent community work in a number of areas and we would ideally have liked to have listed the depth and variety of the work that they undertake”

The first part of the report provides recommendations based on the research conducted. Whilst pretty much everything was of value and can only help to improve the performance of mosques, a few of the recommendations are particularly worth mentioning.

Transparency and Communication.
Transparency is clearly an issue of some importance, as without transparency there cannot really be trust. To ensure transparency of the Mosque administration the report recommends that “there should be quarterly meetings where the congregation has a chance to meet the Executive Committee so that they can engage, question, challenge, assess and advise the Executive Committee on its general performance”.
Regarding communication, the report recommends that “Members of the mosque committee and service users may want to consider developing an effective communications system for open dialogue, suggestions and for concerns to be shared.”

English
It is well known that fact that many mosques do not conduct their sermons in English can result in many, especially younger people, being unable to understand what is being said. To address this, as well as to ensure that Imams can communicate with the wider society, the report recommends that “Imams from overseas (and who have recently come to the UK), be provided with support so that they are able to speak English equivalent to International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Level 7. “

Sectarianism
The report points out that sectarianism “builds invisible walls around communities” and suggests that these can be brought down if “Imams from other Schools of Thought have been invited to speak in the mosque”. The problems of sectarianism also mentioned in another BFTF post here. BFTF also worries that, sadly, a barrier to this happening is peoples ego’s (as discussed here)

Engagement with the wider society
The report notes a number of mosques who are working hard in this area and distils the advice down to a recommendation that mosques “may want to consider social action days for helping the homeless, recycling community campaigns, ‘helping your neighbour’ and supporting local clean up campaigns.”

Examples of best practice include the Noor Ul Islam mosque (London) who participate in an annual ‘Big Spring Clean’ event which involves the local community getting together to clean up and paint local streets.

Another beacon mosque is Husseinieh mosque (Bristol) which has been able to use the local Safer Neighbourhood officer to “develop programmes for local residents to visit the mosque. This is incredibly helpful in drawing away some of the stigma that may be attached in going to a place of worship that is different to the religion and beliefs of some of the residents“. With commendable foresight, the mosque has also “ inviting the local Neighbourhood Watch group to use the mosque and its facilities. This has allowed the mosque to win over the trust and respect of socially active local residents. It has also enabled the mosque to engage with active neighbourhood opinion formers.”

It was a wish to engage with the wider society more effectively that provoked mosques in Bristol into forming the ‘Council of Bristol Mosques,’ 2007.

Meanwhile, during Ramadhan the Wessex Jamaat Mosque (Portsmouth) has been operating a “‘bring a friend day’ where children all bring one non-Muslim friend to the Mosque to break the fast.”

Engagement with the wider society also means dealing with conflicts. The report notes that parking issues, especially on Fridays, can be a real source of friction and states that “It was suggested that parking has the greatest impact on perceptions and opinions and it is usually a key theme, which can possibly even win or lose elections at a municipal level”. The report goes on to recommend that “mosques need parking advice and information that they can provide to worshippers so that local impacts are minimised.”

Wessex Jamaat Mosque had suffered two examples of negative campaigning and had managed to resolve both of them.

In the first case (involving a campaign by the BNP against the proposed building of the new Mosque) the outreach work that the mosque had been performing resulted in the local community supporting the mosque and its building plans.

The second case involved a local Councillor (who also served on the local Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE)) who left a meeting when the Imam of the Mosque led a prayer in the Council Chamber, returning only after he finished . The Council held an emergency meeting and agreed to suspecd the councillor. However, Wessex Jamaat Mosque responded “with a letter asking others to forgive him as they had. This remarkable response by the Mosque prevented a further escalation of community tensions and showed the real value of tolerance and forgiveness.”

There is a lot more worth reading in he report, but BFTF hopes that this post has covered some of the main themes. You may wish to ask your own mosque whether they could implement some of the initiative that the report describes.

ACTIONS
Firstly, BFTF sent an email to all the local mosques (such as BFTF had email addresses for).

Secondly, BFTF sent emails to Faith Matters and to MINAB thanking them for the report and asking what advice they had for ordinary members of the Muslim community who had tried to get (even very simple) initiatives underway in their local mosques but found the mosque reluctant to take the (very simple) practical steps that were required (even when the mosque says it thinks the initiative is a good idea)

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Innovative Mosque Health Programs (2008)


This article was originally published in The Invitation Magazine in 2008, but is as useful today as it was then in terms of offering examples of the excellent work that Mosques can do when they get their act together. . .

Mosques are generally portrayed in a uniformly negative light in the media, whereas the reality is that there are a number of mosques around the country that are doing some valuable and very innovative work with their local communities. As an example, let us see what is being done in Glasgow, Sterling, Oldham and London. . .

Glasgow
The Central mosque was quick to see that the health of it's congregation was important, they were active in the field back in 2001 when they took part in a British Heart Foundation campaign to highlight the dangers of heart disease (something the South Asians are 50% more likely to die from). The project involved imams being trained on issues relating to heart health such as diet or smoking.

Smoking is a big issue as it is one of the leading causes of coronary heart disease, and surveys suggest half of all Bangladeshi men, and a third of Pakistani men, smoke.

Habib Ur-Rehman, the Imam of Glasgow Central Mosque, said: "I'm very pleased to be part of this initiative as Islam teaches respect for life and health and places a great deal of emphasis on the importance of both physical and spiritual health.” while Muslim MP Mohamed Sarwar commented that "This unique initiative provides the Muslim community with the necessary information and support to take control of their health."

By 2004 the Mosque had widened its remit, with the elderly day care centre providing a medication review clinic once a week in which each patient received a basic medication review, along with health promotion advice, blood pressure measurement and blood glucose monitoring. The organiser, Alia Gilani, then informs the patient’s GP by letter of the service provided.


Stirling
Staying north of the border, a 2007 campaign was run involving women from Stirling's Islamic Centre, NHS Forth Valley and Filza Bhatti from Glasgow Caledonian University.

The project aimed to highlight the damaging effects of eating food that had high levels of fat and salt. This was because statistics show that the Asian community within the UK was more likely to develop diabetes than the general population.

Filza Bhatti, commented that “Even in Islam we are not supposed to over-eat. . . We are meant to think about the poor and how they are actually feeling with hunger pains." Her healthy eating plan includes using wholemeal flour for chapattis and putting less salt and oil into a curry.

The eight-week programme includes a buddying system and physical activity such as brisk walking.

Oldham
Last year, Oldham saw a project involving the local Primary Care Trust's and the Council of Mosques for Oldham. Launched at the Tabligul Islam mosque in Glodwick, the 'Smile With The Prophet' project aimed o encourage more than 700 Muslims in Oldham to look after their teeth and give up smoking.

The message was based on the teaching of the prophet Mohammed who promoted good oral hygiene and good nutrition as an essential part of the Muslim religion. Delivered as part of the religious teaching in the mosque, and project also involved the team speaking to families about oral health and helping them find out ways of improving their children's teeth.

Lynne Smith, oral health improvement lead said: "It is particularly important to help improve the oral health of the children in their community, because on average they have the highest level of tooth decay with 70 per cent of five-year-old children having five decayed teeth."

London (Camden)
Of course, mosques can provide a place where groups of concerned individuals can focus on health related issues away from the hectic nature and many distractions of the outside world. For example, in 2007 Ahmed Rahman, a 36yr old traffic warden from Camden, London, gave up smoking during Ramadan with help of a smoking counsellor at his mosque

Ahmed had contacted his local PCT about his wish to stop smoking and they had suggested that he join a stop-smoking group. The group decided to hold it's meetings in the mosque. Ahmed commented that “There were four to five meetings a week, and we had to go for five weeks. Our coordinator gave us suggestions to help us get through the first few days. Between the meetings, I could phone my support worker whenever I felt like I wanted a cigarette.

London (East End)
The East London Mosque, aware that many of the local community live sedentary lives and so are more likely to suffer from high cardiovascular disease and rising diabetes rates.

The mosque is involved in the “This Healthy Living” project is targeted specifically at Bangladeshi men at risk of developing coronary heart disease and/or diabetes because of their lifestyle. The 12 week program encourages men to incorporate physical activity into daily life. Training is provided in Bengali and the project addresses issues such as risk factors that contribute to heart disease, increased awareness of the importance and benefits of physical activity
Increased knowledge and understanding of balanced diets etc, In addition, the attendees had the chance to participate in Seminars (in English and Bengali), Group discussion around various health topics; Health & fitness screening; Gym sessions and One to one sessions.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Dafur (2008)


This post was written in 2008 and formed the basis of an article in the Invitation Magazine. At the time the humanitarian crisis in the Western Sudanese region of Dafur has shot to the top of the news agenda, but news reports did not always do a good job of explaining what is going on.

The Background
Since its independence in 1956, Sudan had been beset by coups and civil wars, with almost constant unrest since 1983 between government forces in the north and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM, led by John Garang) in the south. A painstakingly slow peace process was undertaken between 2002 and 2004 which resulted in a peace deal being signed in May.

Meanwhile, the last 15 or so years had also seen unrest in the western region of Dafur, where incidents between local farmers and largely northern nomads were common. Conflict escalated in 2007 when two armed groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA), emerged from the local population. The groups demanded a better share in the national wealth, just as the southern rebel groups had done. They quoted statistics showing that some 80% of the government posts were allocated to northerners, who only composed some 5% of the population.

The current situation
The government, whose army was tied up in the south, supported militias known as the Janjaweed who attacked town and villages of the tribes, often with the support of army personnel and the airforce. Indeed, the respected organisation Human Rights Watch states that :

“The government-Janjaweed partnership is characterised by joint attacks on civilians rather than on the rebel forces. . . Many assaults have decimated small farming communities, with death tolls sometimes approaching one hundred people. Most are unrecorded. . . Villages have been torched not randomly, but systematically—often not once, but twice. . . The uncontrolled presence of Janjaweed in the burned countryside, and in burned and abandoned villages, has driven civilians into camps and settlements outside the larger towns, where the Janjaweed kill, rape, and pillage—even stealing emergency relief items—with impunity.
Despite international calls for investigations into allegations of gross human rights abuses, the government has responded by denying any abuses while attempting to manipulate and stem information leaks.. . . The government promised unhindered humanitarian access, but failed to deliver. Instead, reports of government tampering with mass graves and other evidence suggest the government is fully aware of the immensity of its crimes and is now attempting to cover up any record”.

The Charitable sector
After months of trying, charitable organisations had finally are now being given access to the area.

Two of the Muslim charities active in Dafur are Muslim Hands (Nottingham) and Islamic Relief (Birmingham).

BFTF talked to the Islamic Relief Regional programme manager for Africa, Makki A. Mohamed about the causes and effects of the conflict. He commented that:

“A number of interacting factors, including ethnic conflict, an increase in armed robberies, drought and the perceived marginalisation of Darfur has led to the formation of two political military opposition movements. The situation has been aggravated further by the appearance of the Janjaweed militia supported by the government but it seem that now they lost control over them and the fighting became more tribal in nature”, he said, adding that “initially access was very difficult (due insecurity and bureaucratic obstacles) and it was only when under external pressure that the Sudanese Government allowed NGO’s in Darfur. . The peak of the crisis was in January, when there were some 750,000 internally displaced people (now over 950,000), and 130,000 has fled to Chad”

Mr Makki went on to add that it was both insecurity and fear of violence that had caused this huge displacement of people.

Furthermore, he felt that pressure from the EU, UN and US, the Sudanese Government was now trying to reign in the militias, police the areas and use monitors from the African Union, who had also been stung into action.

The Political Sector
A charge often raised against Muslim organisations is that they only care about Muslims when the aggressor is non-Muslim (such as in Kashmir, Chechnya or Palestine), if, on the other hand the aggressor is a Muslim government or group then Muslim organisations turn a blind eye.

To see if this was the case, BFTF asked the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) if it had any comments about Dafur. Their spokesman was unaware of the conflict, or the 750,000 internally displaced Muslims. When sent information on the situation he suggested that western media can sometimes be a little suspect and that perhaps we should contact the Sudanese embassy.

Charity workers have expressed dismay at the inaction of the governments in surrounding Muslim countries, pointing out that they could have done a lot more, especially in the early stages of the crisis.

The Arab League finally managed to send a delegation in March, although nothing appears to have come of that (including a mission report to the public), whilst the OIC has yet to take any action at all.

BFTF tried to contact the Arab League and the OIC, but both organisations appeared to be unable to answer the phone. . .

Islamic Relief (0121 605 5555), www.islamic-relief.com
Muslim Hands (0115 9117222). www.muslimhands.org

MCB (020 8903 9650) www.mcb.org.uk
Arab League : www.arableagueonline.org
OIC : www.oic-oci.org

Further Information can be found at the following :
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darfur