Before…

Before, I would write for myself.

To express the vault of emotions that leaked through the ink of my pen.

I would write for the sake of my imagination.

For the sake of my sisters; to uplift and liberate.

I would write for love – all enclaves of love.

I would write about the things that pained me; of which I had no control.

I would write about Islam and my deep love of it.

But now, although I continue to do all these things,

I write to trigger thought.

I write to create a change;

whether it be a ripple

or a shift in tectonic plates.

I write for the future of people of colour.

I write for my children,

and their children.

And I pray there comes a day when there is no need to engage yourself in a fight for

justice, freedom or equality.

Where we can all sit peacefully at a table,

with no difference in treatment of one another,

except by ones piety and character.

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Yusra Diriye

 

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“When you look like me, I feel safe…”

equal

Earlier this year I attended my first Jawaab event and was invited to perform a poem in tribute to the victims of the Grenfell fire. This was the third time I had performed and the first event of mine that held political and emotional meaning to those attending. Jawaab was set up to develop the power of Muslim youth to later become a force of justice, fairness and respect in their respective communities.

One of the victims of Grenfell tragedy was Khadija Saye – who at the time of her death was working with Jawaab. During the course of the evening, we heard from a wide range of Muslims –  in terms of ethnicity and sexuality; breaking down previously firm barriers to the LGBTQ Muslim community.  The question of being Black and Muslim was also discussed, with Mustafa Briggs leading the discussion of the rich history of Black Muslims – noting the fact that the first Muslim community was welcomed in Ethiopia.

I was told to compose a poem for the night and wrote my second spoken word poem ‘fret not’ some days before the event. ‘Fret not’ is my SJW (social justice warrior) poem. It touches upon a wide range of issues spanning from racial bias in the education and housing system to mass incarceration and police brutality.

The night was beautiful and filled with beautiful nur (light) – kindled by our collective love for Islam and the painful struggle of keeping those vulnerable, (i.e. victims of these injustices) warm with hope.

The main reason for this post is because I stumbled upon some great advice that night. Advice that I will shortly share. In the past, when discussing issues of social justice and general things that are wrong in society, I naturally and unconsciously took comfort in a sea of diverse faces. When you look like me, I feel safe. When I perform to audience of people of colour (POC), I experience comfort.    I do not become the host of anxiety in fear of triggering an Islamaphobic or racist chant from the audience. It is with the ignorance of ‘everyone is equal, we live in 2018’, that their eyes will begin to glaze over. However, though this may be true to an extent, a revolution or at least an evaluation of our society’s institutions will only take place if those who NEED to hear it do.

Black people do not need to be told about police brutality, racism and stereotypes. They are buried deep in that reality. By this, I do not mean to say that my poems or posts of social justice needn’t be heard by POC – as the racism ripe in our institutions and media has sadly trickled down deep into the stomach of our POC communities. Thus, the reminder that we have not yet arrived at an egalitarian place is crucial – as many of us are adrift in the bustle of life that these issues are beyond our concern, time and energy.

I was speaking to a sister named Yasmin and was telling her about my sense of comfort in POC spaces which she of course understood. However, she made the brilliant point that for change to be in the coming seasons, our audience (at times) must primarily be whites. This of course depends. My poem on the beauty of a black women needn’t be told to a Caucasian audience; they see it. A poem discussing race, class and the array of racist legislation in the West, however, should be heard by the White audience.

One might squirm when they hear, ‘we won’t be living in an era where whites have private policing’, but it is crucial for them to hear that there is INDEED an, ‘unjust hierarchy in our education and justice systems’. We need to constantly remind them that we are deeply dissatisfied with this capitalist, patriarchal culture that is designed to water the seed that is pale and neglects the one that carries within it; a thic/k melanin gene.

We need to let them know that we will not be apathetic and nonchalant about the racism that continues to brew in our communities (both within POC and non-POC cultures). That we will continue to raise our fists in defiance until we come to enjoy an evening where all people can raise their drinks with the exact amount of opportunity, hope and freedom in their glasses. 

Thank you,

and share this to your white friends please.

 

We were of the same blood,

This poem is about the people of Somalia and for the people of Somalia. Greater Somalia once included Djibouti, Puntland, Somaliland and Somalia. Although Somaliland and Puntland has not been formally recognised as independent states, we cannot ignore the deepening difference between the states and their peoples. From dance, language,  foods, and patrilineal heritage, The Somali is asked are you a Lander or are you from Xamar? to which each Somali, knows their place. Some ask this as a question paramount in determining how they shall treat you and interact with you. Whilst for others, it may just be to appreciate the diverse roots of one another – because no Somali is the same, not even the ones that live in the same guuri. (household)

But despite this, we emitted from the same elixir of beauty and life, of energy and vitality, of fierceness and spirit and it is because of this source, we are most beautifully and inextricably linked. This poem underplays the role of colonialism by utilising the euphemism  ‘we’ve been raised by two families’, so as to not  allow the harshness of colonialism to take the light and softeness away from the true message of the poem; that no colonial power can whiten the deeg (blood) of the Somali and it is in our aura, our essence that we are one.

 

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The Borana Boransi dance of 1900 – Somaliland

 

Somali afro old picWe were of the same blood,

our skin, hair, and gums of a variety of                shades and textures.

and our foods tasted like our own.

 

  We were of the same blood,

we prostrated to the same one and Only Lord

and spoke the same poetic tongue.

 

We were of the same blood,

our ethic, vitality and energy was cut from the same branch.

and we were born on the same day.

 

We were of the same blood,

yet our geographic point marks north and south,

we’ve been raised by two families,

albeit for a few generations.

there is in our difference.

in which we diverge.

like the letter Y,

Our heritage is the foundation and the stem of Y

Can’t you see?

sis, we’re just two beautiful streams,

that share the same source/sauce. 

 

And on separate days do we celebrate our independence.

 

because of our tainted upbringing in the midst of these Western cultures,

we now wave different flags,

we now sing to different national tunes.

 

We were of the same blood, but we

possess different identities and experiences,

but it shouldn’t and cannot negate us from seeing us in each other.

 

me and my sister from the north,

we’ve been raised by two families,

but it shouldn’t and cannot,

stop us,

from converging together as one.

 

one under Our Lord,

one under a flag, and energy that reins supreme.

 

Somaalinimo

by Yusra Diriye

Written at 23.43pm on 21/06/18. 

Why I (verbally) fast for three days every August – and why I have been for the last four years!  

islam 2

It all begins with the nineteenth chapter of the Holy Quran. Chapter 19 of the holy Qur’an is one of my dear favourites. I inquired about its meaning during the end of my secondary school years. I remember I had my GSCE results in August of Year 11 – it was the first time exams in my life actually mattered and although I revised a little, I placed more emphasis on chance, luck and God’s mercy.

I began reading suratul Maryam and a profound understanding hit me. The surah begins with the supplication of prophet Zachariah to God. Zachariah at this age, was frail and had reached old age. His wife was barren and also very old. Out of fear for his lineage, and the longing to care for a child, Zachariah made a very promising dua to his Creator with utmost sincerity. Despite believing in his supplications, Zachariah had his doubts of ever fathering a child – due to his wife’s infertility and their old age. When Zachariah asked for a sign, God had ordered him to be sound (mute) for three nights.

So, off Zachariah went. He told his peers and neighbours about his verbal fast and prepared to be verbally mindful.

God, ever-promising of his bountiful powers, replied to Zachariah’s calls, and blessed him with an heir; with a name given to none other; Yahya (John) with the reminder from his Lord; that He had created man from nothing, emblematic of the known religious saying – God says; Be and it is!

Wait, how does this relate to a teen in the 21st century?

Well, I was a young teen completing my GCSE’s. I read this story in Surah Maryam and I felt myself in the same predicament as the Prophet. I needed something (good grades) that I knew was well out of my reach due to insufficient studying and results day was days away!!

So, I did what any other person would do; I was mute for three days.

Islamic geometric patterns (Aydar kadi moqsue, Bitola)

When I look back on it now, I think about how feeble my worries were. Despite this, my 15 year old self got out the big guns and decided to take Prophet Zachariah’s route and fast for the sake of Allah. My thought processes at the time were; if I verbally fast for three days, all for the sake of Allah, Allah will grant me with the grades that I wanted. So I did, and now for the last four years I have been fasting each August. Now, more so for mindfulness, spirituality and self-care and less to get the grades I want(ed) and grades that at the time, I was undeserving of.

These last four years, have worked. In the sense that, I got better than I deserved – because I know how little effort I put into my studies. But, I never got the grades I REALLY wanted. Which I now know was due to effort on my part.

I think when you sacrifice anything of importance to you, in hopes for achieving something better – something miraculous is bound to happen. I’m not trying to be wishy washy or come across as super religious ( which is not a bad thing – for those people who attach negative connotations to religion).

What I’ve learnt from my past – you’ve got to give God (or the Universe if you don’t believe in a deity) something to work with. You have to meet God halfway. You can’t expect the universe or God to give you what you want/need if you aren’t actively working towards it.

The surah then goes on to Maryam (Mary) and her visit from Angel Jibril (Gabriel) who gives her news of a boy that she would later carry. She explains her confusion as no man has touched her, but as ayah 21 describes; ‘He said, Thus it will be. Your Lord says, It is easy for Me, and We will make him a sign to the people and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter already decreed.’ Chapter 19.21

Which is even more reason to have faith. Don’t limit your goals and aspirations. No goal is too crazy or unrealistic. The two anecdotes shown in Surah Maryam are indicative of that. God provided a child for Prophet Zachariah and his barren wife, God provided Maryam with a child despite never losing her chastity, (even when it was far from what she had wanted – she found a meaning to her suffering.) Both of which defy science!

God/Universe is listening – just ask.

For a Muslim woman, in this very dystopian-like world, this surah is a sign to me and a snippet of the mercy that Allah has stored. A mercy that Allah is willing to share, if we just ask for it. There is great power in dua (supplication), great power in Iman (belief) – (as shown in scientific studies – and placebos) and lastly, there’s a great power in finding a meaning to our suffering. There is a purpose for our living. Each and every one of us. We just have to find it. And ASK.

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An audio link to Surah Maryam – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WclIqepR4F0

 

 

The justice system is not so just…

blog2Hi guys,

Apologies for my long hiatus. My writing productivity has been at an incredible low this year but I am hoping to get back on it! I am promising an abundance of posts!

I am hoping to launch a project very soon focused on the wealth of injustices in today’s UK police system. My project will include a plethora of writings, poems and talks in which I will express here in my blog regarding racial and class bias in UK police practice, probation and the stigma attached to the ‘prison label’ and the disproportionate stop and searches in poor Urban communities in comparison to affluent, white communities.

This project is part of my Action at Home which is the denouement of the ICS development program which I took part in over the summer. I volunteered with Raleigh International in Nepal as part of a Water, Health and Sanitation program. The project I am hoping to launch is completely unrelated to the work we completed in Makwunpur, Nepal. However, that is the beauty of the Action at Home project. It is about what YOU are passionate about and I just happened to choose the police system. During my time in Nepal, I read avidly; and one of the books I read was called ‘The New Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness’ written by Michelle Alexander. This book alone highlighted so many things that I just did not know about. Alexander speaks of a current racial caste system that is similar, if not worse to the Jim Crow era. In her words, ‘we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it’. The book goes into detail on the US ‘War on Drugs’ – and addresses the assumption that the War on Drugs was launched in response to a crisis caused by crack cocaine when in reality, the war was waged first and the floodgates of penitentiaries were opened thereafter. Its a brilliant book and I highly recommend you all to read it. I will soon write a hefty review and summary of the book on my blog as there are so many valid points, cases and arguments related to my project.

The first step in my project is research. I’ll be focusing on increasing my knowledge on the justice system in the UK as I am more familiar with bias in the US police system. I want to use my voice through my blog and poetry to comment on these acts of human injustice and circulate it through social media.

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When I say I want to tackle the UK justice system, I mean that I want to highlight the problems of today’s mass incarceration, to look at the support one receives within prison and whether the support you receive deters you from being a repeat offender, or whether it clears the path for you to commit crime time and time again.

This project is extremely important to me because one, I am black. And implicit/explicit racial bias is a reality. When I was younger, I remember speaking to my sister about how others perceived my father. My father is a tall, dark-skinned Somali man and at the tender age of twelve, I could not conceive of how others could view my father as a violent, aggressive individual. I could not conceive of people crossing the street because my father was walking down it. To me, he was my teddy bear and the biggest softie with a heart of gold. But, today, nineteen, I understand. With the lid of ignorance being slowly removed, I have accepted that implicit/explicit racial bias is a product of the media and society we are exposed to. People of colour are stereotyped much more harshly than white people. It is a reality. These same stereotypes are carried into our police workforce and can account for the reasons why POC are stopped and searched at a higher degree than whites.

In the UK prison system, Black people account for 10% of the prison population. This figure is mindbogglingly high if you compare it to the 2.8% figure that Black Britons represent in the general population.

I am still very ignorant on the UK justice system but I hope to learn more and share more  in the next few months. In the months that I was in Nepal, there had been a few police brutality cases in the UK which have ended in death. Rashan Charles was a 20 year old father who died after a police chase and Edir Da Costa was a 25 year old man who died six days after being stopped by police over a traffic stop. In British society, we tend to compare ourselves to the US which has astonishing levels of police brutality cases. But we mustn’t compare ourselves to those worse off. We should seek to improve and look at systems that are just and fair like the Norwegian prison system and hope one day we can also achieve that level of fairness.

Stay tuned,

Yusra.

Civil war -> Immigration -> ‘Brain drain’

To get a better understanding, read the post on Civil war & colonialism before reading this.

Following World War II, Britain faced a divisive blow to the economy. In hope to repair the economy and to generate fiscal inflation, Britain welcomed migrants from commonwealth countries to come and work in their labor force. The Royal Commission on Population, in 1949, reported that ‘immigrants of ‘good stock’ would be welcomed ‘without reserve’. Britain quickly recognized the negative impact the recent World War had on the economy and chose to repair it by welcoming immigrants in mass numbers.

 

Image result for british commonwealth immigration blacks – African- Caribbean immigrants arrive at                                                                                                       London Waterloo station in 1964.

 

From a contemporary perspective, we are able to witness the refugee crisis from war torn countries such as Syria and Iraq. We hear about countries closing their borders, refusing to welcome immigrants. We hear about the problem of overpopulation and immigrants taking our jobs. What is striking is that they are fleeing countries that are abundant in minerals, oil and agriculture. These mineral-rich countries should be thriving. Why are they so underdeveloped?

In terms of Africa, migration was highly prevalent in 20th century – with the Great Migration spanning from 1915-1960 and migrants fleeing war-torn countries such as Rwanda and Somalia in the 90s.

The Daily Mail claims that, ‘forty per cent believe [immigration] is the single biggest current concern facing UK’. It can be argued that Africa’s underdevelopment is partly due to mass migration and a ‘brain drain’. According to the Cambridge dictionary, a ‘brain drain’ is “the loss of many highly skilled and educated people from one country to another country”

Consequently, Africa’s history of European colonialism and intervention has served and acted as a catalyst for mass migration. As a result, mass migration from Africa to more economically developed countries (MEDC’s) significantly hinder the progress and development of Africa due to the lack of labor force, resulting in a ‘brain drain’. There is a pattern of corrupt and despotic governments among post-colonial states which has led to civil war and mass migration up to the present day. This can be seen in countries such as Rwanda and Somalia during the civil war in the late eighties and early nineties. Rwanda gained independence in 1957 and Somalia followed shortly after in 1960. Many Somalis fled the civil war and migrated predominantly to Canada, UK and Yemen. The impact of this mass migration has been documented as leading to a ‘brain drain’ of an able and educated workforce.

So when academics and intellectuals or anyone in the general workforce leave a country, the country is then left sparse of doctors, bus drivers, teachers and construction workers. Who is then left to teach the uneducated? Or to develop the transportation system? What construction workers are left to build the nation’s roads and houses? Who is there to treat the sick from ailments and help fight the epidemic? No one. This is the problem facing many countries in Africa today. This almost domino effect began ultimately with colonial rule. Therefore, one can soundly argue that Africa’s history of European imperialism had indeed prevented it from becoming a developed nation.

If one observes post-colonial states today, one can witness the evident pattern of corrupt and autocratic governments. Initially, they are colonised by a foreign country, often times from a different continent. As a result, there is an immediate clash of distinct ideologies which leads to a gulf in communication as the two cultures struggle to identify with and understand each other. Once colonised, the imperialists exploit the resources of the country and drain the nation of their oil and natural resources. After a period of colonial rule during which time there has been mass genocide, exploitation of labour and minerals and the erosion of culture, the colonised state often fights for and finally gains independence. Now that the country is independent, they must now elect a leader, however because of their unfamiliarity with the concept of democracy, they will most likely fall under tyrannical rule and will often end up under a dictatorship or totalitarian regime. Corruption continues to spread and there is a lack of focus on infrastructure and development, which keeps the country in a vulnerable and weak state. After this oppressive period, historically a time of unrest follows, commonly signaled by a revolution or rebellion against the state. This can lead to civil war breaking out, which forces people to flee their country in mass numbers. Thus even years after the colonial rule is over, it is clear that historically it still resonates and continues to affect the development.

 

 

Civil war & colonialism

One of the most obvious times that a country’s development is stifled is when it is in the midst of a civil war. A plethora of post-colonial African countries have experienced terrible internal conflicts, fueled largely by ethnic and cultural differences. However, what is often ignored in the historical narrative of African civil war is the direct role that colonialism played in the genesis of these wars. In the Berlin conference of 1884, European powers decimated Africa when they imposed ‘arbitrary boundaries’ on many ethnic groups and kingdoms. The British ‘exploited the linguistic, ethnic and cultural differences of the African people’. By exacerbating existing divisions, they increased tensions between tribes and peoples. The tension between the people helped them maintain the British rule by keeping them further apart. In Rwanda, the Belgians entrenched the idea of using the Hutu’s as a workforce and the Tutsi’s as extenders of Belgian rule. Ostensibly, the ‘politicization of these two cultures would profoundly contribute to the genocide of 1994’. By elevating one tribe and neglecting the other, they created a rivalry that did not exist before. Similarly, in Sudan, the British ruled the Arabs in the north and the Blacks in the south as two separate colonies – only to coalesce them together shortly before the independence in 1956. The result of this act has been relentless civil war. The Darfur massacre of western Sudan has been the latest tragedy that has come out as a result of racial and cultural differences. South Sudan was only recognized as an independent state in 2011.

Likewise, European colonialism cut a swathe through the Somali community in the Eastern region of Africa. The British occupied northern Somalia whereas south Somalia was under the Italian regime. Being ruled by two distinct countries caused a major divide between Somalis – Somaliland to this day, is yet to be recognized as a separate state.

Ostensibly, civil wars act as a major deterrent to development in Africa. Instead of focusing on infrastructure and economic growth, governments are more inclined to spend their limited resources on defense and military equipment. In terms of civilians, internal hostilities tend to generate huge amount of immigrants to countries they deem safe – often first world countries. This in turn leads to a ‘brain drain’ due to the lack of labor force that is needed to develop a country.