Last weekend I took part in an initiative, striking in its simplicity. A group of Muslims, were going to hand out pots of free honey to shoppers in Manchester city centre.
Their aim was threefold.
To raise awareness of the essential nature of this marvelous creature whose place in the fragile ecosystem, is under threat. To hi-light the concern Muslims are expected to have for the environment as part of our faith. And to make accessible verses from the Holy Quran from the chapter ‘The Bee’ in which the fascinating and miraculous nature of bees and their curative produce, honey is made clear.
But I remember with fondness, how abundant they were in my childhood, of adventure and play on Hampstead Heath. Summer’s were abuzz with the hum of pollen-heavy, cotton buds, floating from flower to flower. How different things are now.
Continued use of harsh chemicals in modern farming is largely to blame. Changes in agricultural techniques have also lead to fewer wildflowers in the landscape than previously.
It has been estimated that 97% of our flower-rich grassland has been lost since the 1930s. Bees rely entirely upon flowers for food. So, unsurprisingly their population is in drastic decline
I joined the team from the World Association of Muslim Youth UK (WAMY UK) on Market Street, Manchester. With trays of sweets, flyers and small pots of honey. And the people flocked.
Hate crimes against Muslims in London have risen by 70% in the past year, according to Met Police statistics. Was I a bit nervous of being in a UK shopping area in a hijab inviting the public to talk to myself and other Muslims?
But, Manchester, like so many areas nationwide, is full of people with great hearts and open minds and soon we were non- stop chatting and laughing with lovely mums, grannies and children.
Suddenly, a giant of a man made a bee-line (sorry!) straight for me. I am almost six feet and estimate he was a good six inches taller. He had an angry look on his face, black nail polish and a jacket that said ‘Criminal from Alcatraz’. I made a silent prayer and prepared for the possibility of being punched in the face.
With a gentle stammer, the young man said:
“I know about Islam, it’s about peaceful living. I love nature too, we must all work together for a better world”
Here I was hoping not to be wrongly judged when out in public and I’d let the clothing of someone else taint my first impression of them. We talked for some time. It was one of the hi-lights of my day.
Besides us was an open-mic session being held by ‘War on Want’ and another group who seemed to be combining two issues in one session: Opposing Israeli oppression and a campaign to legalise marijuana. They were, needless to say, a jolly and robust bunch.
I spoke for a couple of minutes to the mixed crowd of shoppers gathered. They had so far been serenaded with a guitar solo, whose chorus was the catchy:
‘You can stick your New World Order up your a**e! You can stick your New World Order up your…’ etc.
I was unsure how they would take a few words by a mother, journalist and convert to Islam, on the back of that.
I spoke for just two minutes. Watching the people’s reaction tells another side of public feeling on the issue of Muslims in the UK. A narrative which politicians and the mainstream media seem intent on ignoring. Here’s the talk.
What unites us in our communities is more than what divides us.
After all, who doesn’t like honey for breakfast?
“And your Lord (Allah) revealed to the bees: Build your hives in mountains, trees and in what people build. Then eat (for females) from every fruit and follow (for females) your Lord’s enslaved paths, from their bellies (for females) exits drink of different colors, in it healing for man. These are signs for those who contemplate”
The worker bees, who gather pollen and make the honey, are all females. The male bees don’t make honey, this wasn’t known until fairly recently. 1400 years ago the Quran refers to honey-generating bees as females (the Arabic grammar is in the female mode).