On Sunday night 11th January 2015 I had a bad dream. I dreamt that masked gun men, wearing black, broke into a room and shot dead the people inside. I saw it happen. I then went outside the building and saw emergency vehicles rushing to the scene. Everything was in chaos and people were rushing everywhere. People were afraid. Then we heard there was another attack unfolding. Everyone was getting in their cars trying to leave the city and rush away from the scene....the next part isn't clear please don't try and deduce anything from this, this dream may have been guidance to me in my life but I certainly cannot predict the future...
For some reason whilst everyone was rushing away from the scene, I headed towards the next scene, I'm not sure if I was going back in time to the same event or on in time to another event about to happen. I wanted to try and stop what was about to happen. I felt I needed to talk to the people involved, to try and stop them. I went into a room, like some kind of waiting room, there were men and women and kids, just ordinary people, squashed into this room. Maybe it was a station or something, honestly I don't know, I'm writing everything I remember here but I don't want to start filling in the gaps with my imagination. But I know there were some men there in black again and something terrible was going to happen, like an explosion.
Against advice I just walked right into the middle of the room and started talking to these people - who I couldn't see, they were stood back in the shadows, I couldn't see them clearly. All I knew is that they were young guys. I just started talking to them like people, introduced myself, started telling them about how I became a Muslim and explaining that what they were doing was wrong - I wasn't giving them a lecture or anything, or negotiating, nothing like that, I was just talking to them, and listening too. And then I woke up. That's it.
I mentioned the dream in brief to my husband - he's kind of used to my craziness. I didn't go into any detail since I didn't want to 'freak him out' - it was just another of those 'I just had a crazy dream about people getting shot' kind of thing. I've been dreaming stuff since I was little, forever saying 'I had this really crazy dream last night'. On occasion some of these dreams have turned out to mean something, bring some guidance to someone or to myself in some way.
You might call them a coincidence. I'd rather you think of them like that, rather than as some kind of prediction. Some people have suggested maybe it's my subconscious working away at thoughts without me being aware. Of course for me these dreams have meaning because I believe in God and I don't believe in coincidences - but I'm just like anyone else and I do think many of us have significant dreams at times, we just don't often talk about them.
Over the next few days this dream was playing on my mind and I tried to make sense of it. I started wondering if I should try and speak to some of these people who may be having some radical thoughts, whoever they were. Maybe I could use my Twitter platform to reach out to people? I recalled over the months on occasion I have had discussions in public with various tweeps who sometimes express extreme frustration and at times what might be considered some radical ideas on Twitter - who knows how many of these people are genuine people but I always try to respond with patience and help to encourage people towards a path of peace. But maybe I could do a bit more?
By Tuesday night (the day before the terrible attack in Paris) I had a brief chat with one of my dear Twitter sisters who always understands me regarding my crazy dreams, to ask for her prayers because I felt I needed some guidance. I'll post a screenshot of that brief conversation here so you can see I am not making this stuff up (although part of me thinks maybe it is best you come to that conclusion, that I am actually making all this up):
So I felt I should try do something. To try and reach out to some of these people with extreme ideas and try and help them to see things differently. And that's when something similar did actually happen in Paris, the terrible shooting at the Charlie Hebdo meeting on 7th January. How did I feel? To be honest, I didn't suddenly leap up and think 'I just dreamt that' - I just thought that there were some similarities. But there are a lot of terrorist attacks happening all over the world at the moment, so yes maybe I did dream about that before it happened, or maybe it was related to something else or nothing at all. But after thinking about this thing all week, I know for certain I simply must try and contribute in whatever way I can to help be part of the solution and certainly not in anyway contribute towards a further aggravation of the problem. In fact, I think everyone should be doing the same, in whatever way they are able.
But how? Here's the problem: we are all so scared of radicalism. Me included. Terror is terrorising. Honestly I'm such a coward, I even get scared when my kid gets a cold thinking he's got a deadly disease - never mind the thought of talking to people carrying weapons, that just turns me to jelly. These people we see in the media that stand with courage before facing execution - really it just makes me cry to think of their bravery in the face of brutal death.
And that's not all I am scared of. I am scared of all these secret intelligence agents working for our governments. On occasion I have felt some lonely soul in need of advice, in need of someone to talk to, just wanting to talk - and I want to talk to them. I'd like to give them my email so we can just talk about things because often through talking people see reason and don't feel so cut off from society. They say that someone who is considering suicide is less likely to do it if they are encouraged to just talk about that. But I'm scared of who is reading my emails and I don't want to bring any trouble on my family through being associated in any way with someone who may then later turn out to do something bad. This is the problem. Even writing about this is a problem. Thanks God I didn't blog about this before the terrible event in Paris happened - or else maybe I would have been whisked away in the middle of the night, extradited to a place unknown - put in an orange boiler suit and tortured until every dream and dreams I have never had be extracted from my mind.
Now if I'm scared of talking to people who may seem to have some extreme ideas, I'm guessing lots of other people are too. So how do we Muslims reach out to people in our community to try and help resolve this problem, if the first thing we do is just cut these people off from our communications? I follow thousands of people on Twitter, you may have noticed. I like to follow anyone who retweets me or replies to my tweets - and that way if they want to follow up with any questions they can do so via DM (direct message). However, on the rare occasion, I unfollow people who clearly have some extreme ideas - one reason I do this is to not be associated with them, and also because I actually don't want to get anyone into trouble just over something they shared with me in private - like a dark thought that they would never actually act on but just wanted to talk about.
Once I had a young man wanting to share things on his mind, tell me about some of his own dreams. He told me that he was on a permanent fast - every day (just eating at night), for the rest of his life! Can you imagine that? I told him to eat. No-one should do that to himself. I wanted to talk to him, I felt his loneliness, his pain. But I couldn't. I was scared. I pray for him even now - if you are reading this, I want you to know, I pray for you. I wish I could talk to you and tell you that you are not alone, but that you must not punish yourself like that. That's not the way any of us have been called to live our lives, that's really not the way.
What a mess. Really what a mess we have all got ourselves into.
So what can we do about this mess? How can we turn back this tide of hatred, revenge and radical reactions? How can we reach out to these young people who have become separated from society, led astray, had their souls taken by wolves?
The current solution appears to be that we can condemn. That is the human reaction of 'solidarity'. Let us stand together and condemn these evil acts. And then let us get behind our governments as they attempt to 'root out all evil' and stamp it out through brute force. Let us all stand together and shout our condemnation, and if we are not being heard (and usually we are not heard because Muslims condemning acts of violence never makes a good news story) then let us shout even louder. We clearly need to be clear that these acts are terrible, yes we do need to condemn then.
But how much does condemning acts actually help solve the problem? Does condemnation really stop any attacks? Will those young boys who have gone astray listen to us if we stand together and shout louder and hand out the harsh punishments we think they are due? Will it act as a deterrent to stop more young people getting sucked into radicalisation? I fear not. It hasn't yet. Harsh reactions, tough response, seemingly only make the problem even worse.
We all know about the mother who helped government forces to bring back her son from fighting in Syria, and how her reward for helping the government is that she can now visit her son for most of his life in prison - if she is lucky - and if he isn't tortured out of his mind so that he barely recognises his mother when she gets to visit, if she is allowed. So of course, lots more mothers are now going to help reach out to their sons to bring them back home - not!
Time to take a step back, reflect, if you have faith, then pray. We all need wisdom now, from somewhere. Often our natural response is not the one that leads to a solution but only digs the hole deeper.
I have some suggestions. They really only came to me over the past few days, after my own reflection. Please take them, consider them and come up with some ideas of your own. Maybe out of this mess we can bring about something positive. But we clearly don't have much time, this problem is already way out of control, and lives are precious, so after we get our good ideas, let's put our love into urgent positive practical action, fast.
I don't want to get too sidetracked by debate over freedom of speech versus freedom to insult and ridicule, which is clearly an important discussion that is taking place. But rather I want to focus on the problem Muslim communities face regarding our young people being picked off one by one and 'fed to the wolves', in the hope that urgent positive action may actually help save lives.
Please watch this, 10 minutes in, see the young boar is attacked by the wolves:
That's how I feel. Our young boys are being targeted by radical wolves. Only our Muslim community is not (often) doing anything to protect our young. Our youth need to be kept 'centre of our pack'. Instead, they are wondering astray all over the place, and instead of us running out to keep the wolves back, we are just cutting off our young people at the first hint of trouble, condemning them, almost taking flight in the opposite direction.
How about we try to understand what really drives people to take up extreme views in the first place? That way we might come up with some urgent solutions to avoid the process of radicalisation and to bring those people back who may now be just on the brink. This article is a must read, as it is based on real evidence:
In part 2, I will share two true stories regarding the vulnerability of youth and some weaknesses I have observed in the English Muslim community (because I know no other Muslims community, I can only speak from experience from what I see here in the UK). Then following that I hope to share some suggestions on how we might bring about some (rapid) change, to save our youth from radicalisation, insha'Allah. Thank-you for reading.
Part 2 is here.