Bruv, is Dis Topia?

I cannot recall the last time the sun’s rays stroked this place with tenderness. Bitter cold has long gripped this broken, decayed city. Apart from the few hours of murky light, impenetrable darkness settles over us. The trees are gnarled, naked and pale. All the colour has vanished and a deathly silence permeates the Rock. Cars travel almost solemnly, as though each is part of an endless funeral procession. This is a place of the living dead. Did I mention the cold? It slices through the flesh and gnaws at your mind, burrowing deeper and deeper into your thoughts, unyielding. And the putrid breath of evil diffuses through the heart of this community. Everywhere there lurks the hand of evil, crushing the last quivering breaths of humanity. The sun, it seems, has abandoned us because we chose to be confederates of evil.

But I should stop speaking in metaphors and furnish you with some facts. Today, I left my grandparents’ house in the morning and saw, across the street, a police cordon at the end of a row of terraced houses. I assumed that there had been a burglary, and felt fortunate that my grandparents had not been the victims. About fifteen minutes later I learnt that the body of a young man had been found. The charred body of a young man. Opposite the house I was sleeping in that night. That night the flesh of a human being had been set alight. In the stinging cold, in the dead of night, someone’s son, brother, friend, was killed and burned (it hardly matters in which order). He was found slumped, discarded in an alleyway. This could be a scene from some imaginary dystopia . But it is real, and it is the world we already inhabit. A man was killed by other human beings and his body was desecrated. Why? I am not looking for a reasonable explanation for what is evidently barbaric; but instead I would like to know what possible course of events could have resulted in this outcome.

It is clear to me, by now, that where I live savagery manifests itself in relation to two main causes:

1) Drugs   

2) Sex and honour

Drugs pump through this community’s veins as though they are its lifeblood. The streets reek of cannabis just as much as curry. People here like being drugged- whether legally or illegally. They want to forget their sorrows with pills and powders, they want to magic themselves into some positive state of mind. Where drugs of the illegal kind are concerned, disputes naturally arise- over money, over territory, over prestige. It is a zero-sum game, some must win and others must lose. In some cases, only your life will repay a debt. Business is business.

I would like to believe that the man who lost his life was wholely innocent, but perhaps it is more likely that he was involved in some drugs-related affair, where the stakes got too high and he was made to pay the ultimate price.

Another possible reason for the young man’s death could be his involvement with a girl. There is astounding hypocrisy in this area, where sex and gender relations are concerned. Many people are bound together in loveless marriages where it is natural for the man to treat his woman as chattels. Because, it is perceived, she owes him for the fact that he has to endure her as a life-partner. But the men remain highly repressed, and no doubt seek gratification elsewhere, whilst maintaining the veneer of outward respectability. (It is a wonder that the national scandals involving men of Asian origins grooming young girls have not spread here.)

The women are compelled to wrap themselves up in layers and layers of cloth. Some seem almost mummified, whereas others dress like Muslim Barbie dolls. What is common to them all is that their actions and their conduct affect, profoundly, the honour of their men. These men do not recognize any inconsistency between shouting sexual obscenities at any woman walking by herself on the street; and deeming such abuse aimed at their own sisters or mothers as unacceptable.

Still lingering in our collective memory is the ‘Pak supermarket sex scandal’. A man had taken his phone to be repaired at a phone shop, when, apart from repairing the phone, the the phone-fixers also found an explicit video of sexual acts between two identifiable individuals. The video spread like wildfire, because most people here have an appetite for the tawdry and debased. The rumours that circulated in the aftermath were to the effect that the girl had been taken to Pakistan and shot dead.

In the context of the popular conception of honour and respect, then, it would not be a surprise if the man who died had been involved illicitly with a girl. Someone’s honour had been comprised, you see, and so no response could have been as adequate as murder.

It becomes more and more difficult to find any goodness in this increasingly god-forsaken place. It is ironic, indeed, that I should describe it as ‘god-forsaken’ because mosques abound, the men sport magnificent beards and the women cloak themselves in veils. Outwardly, God is here; but inwardly he does not occupy our thoughts. How else can we account for the moral decay, the lack of culture, the culture of abuse? Only a few days ago I found a Bangladeshi woman wailing over the phone in a shop because her husband had publicly beaten her. Only a few weeks ago a young woman was left in tears after thugs had swatted her aside and stolen her car. Only a few weeks earlier a self-styled sheikh with a history of gang-related brutality was between to a pulp, stabbed, and left collapsed on a pavement.

It is no surprise, then, that many people yearn to escape this place. The lashing black tides are wearing away our humanity, and some of us recognize that collapse is imminent; that our souls will come crashing down to oblivion if we do not rage against its force.

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18 Responses to Bruv, is Dis Topia?

  1. Yahya Birt says:

    Please keep writing. This is wonderful and important stuff.

  2. convencia says:

    So heart rending. It reminds me of this ayah “Surely God never changes the condition of a people until they change what is within themselves.”

  3. hassanat says:

    An accurate and hard hitting description of our ‘ghettos’. The first step towards raging against the tides is the awareness that they are approaching. Your our lantern. Keep writing.

  4. Minaretmuse says:

    An eloquent description of savage streets. Odd how ghettos may be geographically distant yet share the same soul-sickness. I read that the case of the burned man is being treated as a suicide, but his death is no less tragic for that.

  5. Mohammed says:

    Thank you for this wonderful peice, you have have highlighted some of the many ills that are prevelant in our areas. However, I hope you can also highlight some solutions, which is what we are really in need of in our current climate.
    Seems like someone’s beaten me to it and mentioned that the case was in fact a suicide.

    • bonobo12 says:

      I’ve thought about this before, and my opinion is that to fix the problems we have will take generations, not years. It starts with the urban landscape- rows of cramped terraced houses and no greenery isn’t conducive to anyone’s mental health. That is one of the most basic problems, and I don’t see how that can be changed.

      • Mohammed says:

        I believe that this change is imminent and can be achieved within a year and not years or generations. Rows of cramped terraced houses have hardly been a cause for the problems you have mentioned and it seems the issue is not the lack of greenery because we have many parks in the local area (Ward end, Adderley, Morris) which are often left empty. This is something shakyh Abdal Hakim Murad noticed when we went for a walk in the park a couple of years ago in Handsworth, the fact the we have such big open spaces which are not being utilised rather people prefer to sit in a dark room on Facebook and other ‘social’ media. Therefore in my opinion the issue is more of isolation where people are busy with their day to day lives and not bothered about their fellow brothers and sisters, community or environment.
        Also, in regards to cramped terraced housing, people have moved to Hodge Hill and other areas and continue to face similar issues in those areas which don’t have cramped terraced housing; therefore anti-social behaviour seems is more a societal problem not necessarily to do with housing and location, although of course this doesn’t help.
        In regards to positive solutions I mentioned to our students last week at the Beginning of Guidance course in Alum Rock after stumbling across your blog that we need to sit down and discuss these issues collectively as a community and in person. I suggested we arrange a public meeting to raise awareness and listen to the local community and then aim to help in generating a change.
        This type of grassroots activism is not only needed in Alum Rock but I think it certainly is a good place to start from and is much needed. May Allah give us the Tawfiq.

  6. bonobo12 says:

    I’m only saying change is a long way away because I’m personally acquainted with all sorts of people from this area on a day-to-day basis, and have been for some years. I have noticed the problems get worse, not better. People’s habits are deteriorating, not improving. There is more aggression, more coldness and lack of concern than before. I would like to see the statistics for the rate of depression and other mental illnesses in our area as compared to the national average. Because daily I see people who are nothing more than automatons, and looking into their eyes you either a stunning hollowness, or you see a kind of all-encompassing desperation- as though the weight of the entire universe is on their shoulders and will never be lifted.
    I appreciate what you are doing, May God assist you in your endeavours. But to say that our problems can be fixed within a few years is too optimistic.
    Do let me know how I can participate in any projects you have planned.

    • Mohammed says:

      It’s good to be acquainted with local members of the community but our acquaintance needs to be utilised for the purpose of instilling change, this can only occur if people are actively engaging with locals especially those affected by the problems you have mentioned.
      After living in the Middle East for a number of years and listening to the people’s ‘loss of hope’ in regards to change, and suddenly now seeing change far quicker than anybody could have imagined, this shows that we are certainly closer to optimism than scepticism.
      Also dealing with children on a daily basis and adults to a lesser extent from these deprived areas we have found that many of them are thirsty for guidance, inspiration, role models and above all a place to ‘hang out’, or take refuge from their depressing surroundings. Our communities are lacking inner spaces more than outer spaces.
      I agree things are worsening on the ground but change can only happen if we begin to change our situation, because sadly our institutions and so called representatives whether religious or political are failing us, therefore, as sheikh Abdal Hakim also mentioned, we need to build parallel institutions and solutions to resolve our problems.
      The beginning of this endeavour is raising awareness which many seem to be doing but not much progress is being made thereafter. Not sure why this is, but a possible explanation is escapism, physical for those who can afford to do so and mental for those trapped in this gloomy reality.
      In regards to your willingness to participate, which we need more people like yourself for there to be a possibility for change to manifest, I suggested last saturday to our students that we sit together after class and begin with a plan of action, your more than welcome to come along. Please let me know and I will forward you the details inshaaAllah.

  7. afzal hussain says:

    A very bleak but realistic description of our areas and community, thank you for sharing. Keep up the good work you are clearly a very talented writer. I feel as Mohammed has commented that grass roots action needs to be taken to tackle the issues that we face in our areas. I would describe the problems that are affecting our area in two categories. The first are structural problems for example Birmingham having the highest unemployment rate in the UK. This has many consequences such as a rise in aquisitional crime and people adopting a more ‘creative’ approach to gaining an income. Another example of this is low educational attainment mainly caused by underperforming schools in our areas, leaving the coming generation with very little prospects of further education/life opportunities. The bombardment of negative images and messages about Islam throughout the mainstream media, often leading to our youth being ashamed and embarrassed about their religion.

    The second category of problems are specific to us as Muslims such as:
    1) The rise of drug dealing and drug/ Alcohol abuse.
    2) The lack of youth clubs and extracurricular activities for our youth.
    3) A lack of positive role models for our children to emulate and provide them with much needed inspiration
    4) The rise of gang culture amongst our youth.
    5) Domestic violence within Muslim homes which leads to-
    a) Sister becoming desperate and turning to the community and local Imams for support, only to be told to be ‘ a good wife and be patient.’
    b) Leading to many sisters turning to non Muslim organisations for support as they are not receiving it from the Muslim community.
    c) Which leads to sisters becoming homeless, ostracized from the community.
    d) Many Muslim women result in having a very negative opinion of Islam and their community because they received no support in their time of need.
    6) Many Muslims who grew up in our areas and who are considered to have ‘made it’ and gained professional jobs, subsequently move themselves and their families to other areas including Hodge Hill, Solihull. People feel that our areas are ‘going to pot’ and they do not want their children to be influenced by the issues within the area. This is a tragedy as it is very likely that it is these same professionals who have the skills and networks needed in order to bring about positive change.

    Solutions to the more specific problems within our areas can be found, and would bring about change fairly quickly, this would however require a concerted effort from individuals within the community, and that I feel may be the biggest hurdle.

    • Mohammed says:

      MashaaAllah well written by afzal. I agree these are certainly the many issues we are facing as a community but again change can not begin to manifest without us walking the talk as they say and as you mentioned a concerted effort which clearly is the biggest hurdle. Believing we can make a difference.

      I think this blog is a good place to start showing our interest in wanting to make a positive change therefore if we list our names and then take it from their.

      1- Mohammed

  8. afzal hussain says:

    2- Afzal

    I am definetley interesed in wanting to make a positive change. If you will still be discussing these issues on saturday after the Beginning of Guidance class then i would like to attend the discussion.

    On a positive note there are some third sector muslim/Asian organisation who are carrying out some fantastic work, howvever there is a need for many more as most of these are not specific to Aulm Rock.

    • Mohammed says:

      MashaAllah the ball is rolling and hopefully this show of aspiration can increase and become fruitful.

      Sorry I just saw the message by brother Afzal when tabbasam’s message came through.

      All are more than welcome we are here at St. Peter’s college, college rd Alum rock

  9. Afzal hussain says:

    Sorry Mohammed saw your reply fairly late. I came to st peters around 1pm but the class had finished. Here is my email address ( if you held the discussion i am very interested to hear what other peoples opinions are regarding the problems facing our community, and more importantly what possible solutions people suggested. On a side note i am currently studying the Isyllabus course, and i know there are many brothers and sisters attending this course who could add a great deal of insight into this topic.

    To the blogger, your blog seems to gaining some very positive attention on deenport, maybe you should rethink your career path, you would be wasted in Law!

  10. Daalchini says:

    Who’ll change it if we don’t? The educated folks get their degrees and leave, which they have every reason to if they feel they need better. But home is home, sometimes regardless of its disadvantages.

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