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The Bridge Oxbridge Muslim Alumni Newsletter Issue 08 AUTUMN 2011

THE MEDIA ISSUE FROM BOLLYWOOD TO FREELANCE JOURNALISM TO KEEPING A BLOG, IN THIS ISSUE WE CELEBRATE THE OXBRIDGE MUSLIM ALUMS IN THE MEDIA

PLUS All you need to know about the upcoming OMA ANNUAL DINNER Reflections on Birds and Men AND find out what some of your fellow Oxbridge alums have been up to in ALUMNOTES


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SNEAK PEEK AT WHAT’S IN THIS ISSUE

03 EDITORIAL This issue focuses on Oxbridge Muslim alums in media. We have tried to cover a range of mediafrom a blog writer to a freelance journalist to a film actor. Add to this media-crazy theme some reflections from an interesting piece of Persian literature and we have an issue that has a little bit to please everyone!

04THE NEWSLETTER TEAM Meet the people behind this edition of the newsletter- the permanent and the guest contributors.

05 MARK YOUR CALENDARS: OMA ANNUAL DINNER All you need to know for the annual reunion dinner hosted by OMA.

07 DIARY PIECE-

THOUGHTS FROM A FREELANCE JOURNALIST

Mohamed Madi kindly agreed to write a piece for The Bridge about his adventures and professional life as a freelance journalist. An insightful read for those who are thinking about journalism as a career.

09 FEATURE PIECE-

ABOUT A BLOG THAT’S A BREATH OF FRESH AIR

Q&A round with Iman Khalaf, former Editor of The Bridge and the woman behind A Breath of Fresh Air- a good news blog for the Muslim community.

11 INTERVIEW-

FROM CAMBRIDGE LAW TO BOLLYWOOD

What better way to round up the media issue than by featuring a conversation with a Cambridge graduate turned Bollywood actor. Isra Jeelani interviews ARMAAN KIRMANI about his experience filming Patiala House and transitioning from a Cambridge alum to a Bollywood actor.

13 REFLECTIONS-

ON THE CONFERENCE OF BIRDS (MANTIQ-AL-TAIR)

Samrah Ahmed provides some food for thought by reflecting on the importance of dhikr or Divine remembrance in our busy lives while we cross the bridge that is our life.

Find out what some of the alumni have been up to. Send us your news and see it published in the next newsletter.

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15 ALUMNOTES


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EDITOR’S LETTER THE BRIDGE NOV. ISSUE Vol. 08 Autumn 2011 THE NEWSLETTER TEAM EDITOR Amna Jabeen ____________________ CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Samrah Ahmed Isra Jeelani ____________________ COPY EDITOR Saba Jamall ____________________ LAYOUT Amna Jabeen ____________________ COVER PAGE PHOTO Isra Jeelani Wani ____________________ GUEST CONTRIBUTORS Mohamed Madi Iman Khalaf CONTACT newsletter@oxbridgemuslima lumni.org

To Join the mailing list, please fill out the membership form found at www.oxbridgemuslimalum ni.org Form can be found under CONTACT US

THE BRIDGE is an OMA publication Online Edition

This issue is the first in many themed issues to come where we ask Oxbridge Muslim alumni in a particular field or profession to reflect on their choice of career and to write about their experiences. The idea is to celebrate the intellectual, academic and professional diversity that is found in the OMA community. This diversity is often veiled over by the fact that an overwhelming number of Oxbridge Muslim alums (OMa) have studied subjects related either to Medicine, Law, Management or Finance. This also seems to be the impression one gets of the current Oxbridge Muslim students (OMs). But is such a generalisation true? We, at The Bridge, want to bring forward the contributions the OMa and OMs are making to the ‘unconventional’ professions or fields. The thought that we must do more to advertise and promote academic and professional diversity within the Muslim community took its root in my mind whilst I was having a lovely Eid dinner last year. There I was sitting in a restaurant amidst numerous undergraduates and fellow postgraduates when I realised that among the fifty or so people gathered in the restaurant, I was the only one pursuing a degree that was not related to Medicine, Law, Politics or Management & Finance. During the entire dinner, whenever I mentioned my area of studies, it caused quite a bit of (genuine) surprise every time. By the end of the dinner, I must admit that I did start to feel like an oddity- just a tiny bit. As a post-grad in the department of Archaeology, I haven’t met many fellow Muslim students either. And so I began a personal quest to try to find what the statistics are of Muslim students in non-professional programs. The search, let me just say is like searching for the contents page in the first few pages of the Vogue among the many fragrance and designer handbag adverts: trying but when you do hit the target, it is very satisfying. And so I have had some luck and that has been very encouraging. We decided to begin with media. We have tried to cover a little bit of everything- journalism, blogging, acting and the good old written word. We were very lucky that Mohamed Madi, a freelance photojournalist in the Middle-East, agreed to write a short insightful piece for us. Iman Khalaf who was the editor of The Bridge before I took over is also a media enthusiast and talks about the numerous ways she has been engaging herself with this field although her profession is medicine. A very efficient teamwork by Saba and Isra secured an interview with a budding movie star who made a move into Bollywood after getting a degree in management & law. And finally, Samrah brings the media issue to a close by highlighting a very interesting piece of Persian literature and the ingenious use of bird simile for our spiritual quest. We hope it has a little bit for everyone to enjoy! The next few issues will continue to celebrate this diversity and we hope to be able to put together issues that cover a variety of ‘nonconventional’ topics and professions such as fashion, travel, not for profit & charity, academia, etc. This newsletter is a platform for the members of OMA to express themselves. It is written by you and for you. Consequently, this issue would not have been possible if not for the contribution by the OMa. It is therefore important our dear readers that you send us your suggestions and contributions. The alumnotes section is yet another way we celebrate the diversity and success of OMa. So keep reading and keep writing to us. -Amna Jabeen

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CELEBRATING THE PROFESSIONAL DIVERSITY


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MEET THE NEWSLETTER TEAM

ISRA JEELANI WANI MPHIL'10

SABA JAMALL BA LAW '06

Contributing editor- &cover page

Copy editor Saba read Law at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge. Whilst at Cambridge, she was the Editor of the Cambridge University Law Society Magazine for two years, and President of the CU Pakistan Society. After graduation, she completed the Legal Practice Course diploma at Nottingham Law School in 2007, and then spent a year working at Clifford Chance LLP. She has since worked as a legal aid lawyer, initially as a Housing law Adviser for the charity Shelter UK, and currently as a trainee Solicitor at a West London law firm, where she specialises in Housing law, Welfare law, and Public law. Her most exciting case so far involved successfully issuing a Judicial Review claim against a local authority in the High Court (Royal Courts of Justice, London) due to the local authority’s failure to provide emergency housing to her client when it was under a statutory duty to provide housing. In her spare time, Saba enjoys keeping up to date with current legal affairs, spending time with family members and friends, and generally ranting about human rights. She also likes to tutor A-Level English students, and write poetry.

After studying the MPhil in Politics at Linacre College, Oxford, Isra spent an amazing couple of months in Sudan where she worked for the Carter Center as an observer for the historic referendum. She is back in the UK now, doing some research and job-hunting, and is very excited to be part of the OMA newsletter team! Check out the cover page!

MOHAMED MADI

Guest contributor PHILOSOPHY, POLITICS, ECONOMICS’ 09 TRINITY COLLEGE, OXFORD Mohamed Madi is a recently graduated British Libyan who has worked as a freelance photojournalist in the Middle East and was previously the editor of Embox, a magazine aimed at young British Muslims. He is currently working for the BBC’s Global News division. You can follow him on twitter @m_madi.

SAMRAH AHMED PHD COGNITIVE NEUROSCIENCE’ 08 Contributing editor

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IMAN KHALAF

Guest Contributor

MEDICINE 2007, CAMBRIDGE Iman Khalaf is the former editor of The Bridge. She graduated from Cambridge with a Medical Degree in 2007. In her spare time outside of Medicine she now writes regularly for The Muslim Weekly national newspaper and maintains a Good News community blog called Fresh Air.

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I read cognitive neuroscience at the Cognition and Brain Sciences unit at Darwin College, Cambridge. I am interested in delineating the clinical phenotype of early dementia syndromes, and diagnostic mechanisms for these degenerative disorders. I am currently undertaking clinical research in this area in a collaborative effort between St George’s University of London and University of Oxford. When not writing about degenerating brains, I will act as contributing editor to The Bridge.


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MARK YOUR CALENDAR NOW!!

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ANNUAL REUNION DINNER SATURDAY 19th NOVEMBER 2011 HAZ RESTAURANT, 9 CUTLER STREET, LONDON E1 7DJ

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Assalamualaikum Oxbridge Muslim Alumni would like to warmly invite you to the 2011 Reunion Dinner.

Please note that The Dinner is a ticket-only event and even if you have accepted the Facebook or LinkedIn invitations you must still purchase a ticket in order to attend. The Reunion Dinner is the highlight of the OMA social calendar and is a fantastic opportunity to reconnect with old friends from days gone by and connect with new friends. We hope that as many of you as possible will join us for a 3 course dinner on 19 November 2011. We are privileged to be joined on this occasion by our special guest Shaykh AbdalHakim Murad (TJ Winter) who is closely involved in the Cambridge Mosque Project and will be updating us on its progress inshallah. The Reunion Dinner is open to all Oxbridge alumni, students and their guests.

OMA Reunion Dinner 2011 Date: Saturday 19th November 2011 Time: 5pm reception Venue: Haz Restaurant, Premier Place, 9 Cutler Street, London E1 7DJ A short walk from Liverpool Street Station (Central, H&C and Circle lines) or Aldgate Station (Circle and Metropolitan lines) Tickets: ÂŁ36 Alumni/Guests, ÂŁ26 Students Tickets are available online at www.oxbridgemuslimalumni.org/events. Places are limited so please book early to confirm your place.

Wasalaam

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Your OMA committee

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THE DIARY PIECE

Thoughts from a ... FREELANCE PHOTOJOURNALIST IN THE MIDDLE EAST

ight now, the media is changing in ways that no-one has quite figured out yet. Gone are the days of the muckraking Fleet Street reporter or the swashbuckling war correspondent who would go out, get the scoop and bask in the glory of tomorrow’s headlines come out. The media today is a non-stop, 24-hour free-for-all where you’re only as good as your last story. This upheaval means a few things. Firstly, to get started in journalism these days you need to be able to do a lot more than have a flair for words. The media has always been a notoriously difficult field to break into, as there are few direct-entry schemes which take in a cohort of graduates each year. Many existing graduate recruitment schemes have been postponed, cut down or cancelled. The economic downturn has also squeezed media organisations hard as advertising spending has dropped dramatically. However, I think it is precisely because the field is in such a state of flux that young aspiring journalists can have a real advantage. The technologies used to gather data and the platforms where information is published change daily. Tech-savvy students and young people who have grown up with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are at a distinct advantage when it comes to getting maximum leverage from these new tools. Also, media organisations are increasingly looking for people with specialties that they can bring to the job. That means people with degrees like Economics, Engineering and even Medicine are in demand, as they offer something that the generalist does not. The best advice I can give to any aspiring journalist is to try and write or produce THE BRIDGE: OMA NEWSLETTER ISSUE 08 AUTUMN 2011

something new every day. Luckily, the rise and rise of social media and web publishing tools now means nobody has an excuse for not doing this. I was at an industry event recently when the Managing Editor of the Washington Post said he would think twice about hiring anyone who wasn’t adept at using social media tools in their work. If you’re not yet confident with the technical aspects of blogging, livestreaming, and tweeting then there are plenty of classes and one-day-courses that will give you a good grounding. It also really helps if you have another language, especially a relevant one like Arabic or Urdu. Likewise, extra skills such as photography, multi-media production and web design are guaranteed to make you stand out from others. Of course, that said there is no doubt that the principles and philosophy of quality journalism do not change with the seasons. There will never be a substitute for rigorous verification, proper attribution and accurate sourcing, whether the platform is a live internet broadcast, a TV documentary or a magazine feature. For that reason, I think that the best route into a media career is to get a wide range of experience early on. You also need to be prepared to get on with the “boring” tasks of copy-editing, image research and fact-checking. One thing I’ve realised is that your knowledge of the depiction of gender-rivalry in early Mayan pottery will count for little in the newsroom. Ask around your college and town if there are any writing or design opportunities, and be ready to produce a portfolio of work, however small (another reason why having a blog or other outlet for your writing is so crucial). I’ve been very lucky in that Emel, the Muslim lifestyle magazine, was willing to take me on as

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Mohamed Madi is a recently graduated British Libyan who has worked as a freelance photojournalist in the Middle East and was previously the editor of Embox, a magazine aimed at young British Muslims. He is currently working for the BBC’s Global News division. In this feature piece, Mohamed Madi reflects back on the journey that started at the end of his Cambridge days and has shaped his career in journalism. Read on if you wish to get some inside advice on what to expect from a career in freelance journalism.


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an intern on the recommendation of a friend just after I graduated. I worked on a version of the magazine aimed at British Muslim students, an audience I knew well. Working with a team of writers, designers, photographers and sales staff I saw first-hand how a publication was planned, executed, printed and delivered, which gave me the confidence to attempt to go it alone as a freelance journalist in the Middle East. After landing in Jordan I emailed my CV to all the editors of the English-language press and quickly got writing about topics as diverse as art and economics. I really enjoyed working as a freelancer, as it allowed me to travel, meet interesting people and cover the stories that I felt were really worth covering. For instance, I remember once when I was in Jordan and I heard that the Viva Palestina Aid convoy to Gaza would be passing through Amman. If I could just get someone to let me on, it would make for a great story and a great experience, but the organisers gave me a flat refusal. “You have to have registered months in advance” I was told. I turned up anyway, with my bags already packed and passports and cash ready, and after hanging around for the best part of two days I eventually found a group of guys from Bradford who were willing to argue my case. The next morning we set off in a minivan-cum-ambulance, and after a crazy three week journey by land and air through Jordan, Syria and Egypt we finally arrived in the Gaza

Strip. I blogged throughout the trip then wrote some longer features when I got back to Amman, and the journey has certainly been the highlight of my journalism career so far. I’ve also been very lucky to have embarked on my career just as the biggest Middle East story of my generation is breaking, in the form of the Arab intifada, but I think that there is so much happening in the world that isn’t reported that lack of material is never an excuse for not producing compelling work. Finally, it’s important to note that journalism and the media might not be the most highly paid career available. In fact, unless you make it really big the monetary rewards will always be modest, especially in comparison to peers working in finance or consultancy. But being in journalism is rewarding in other, unique ways. The buzz of being on a breaking story, the excitement of not knowing what the next day or even the next hour will bring and the opportunity to shape people’s awareness of key topics are all reasons why many journalists, myself included, wouldn’t have it any other way. You can follow Mohamed Madi on twitter @m_madi. Mohamed Madi

OMA Newsletter is looking for guest contributors for the next issue. Whatever you’re up to and whatever thoughts you’d like to share, why not share them with the rest of OMA in our summer edition e-newsletter?

Please send your articles/thoughts to newsletter@oxbridgemuslimalumni.org by January 31st 2012 FEATURE PIECE THE BRIDGE: OMA NEWSLETTER ISSUE 08 AUTUMN 2011

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Are you passionate about a contemporary issue that is making the news? We’d love to publish it in our QUESTION DU JOUR section. Are you attending an exciting event? Why not send us information about it or send an invite one of our corresponding editors to the event. We’d love to hear what our alumni have been up to... send us your ‘bio’ for our ALUMNOTES section or ask a friend to send theirs! Do you find your work fascinating? Then why not write a DIARY PIECE and see it published?


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FEATURE

GOOD NEWS BLOG, ANYONE? HERE’S A Breath of Fresh Air FOR YOU! Iman Khalaf graduated from Cambridge with a Medical Degree in 2007. In her spare time outside of Medicine she now writes regularly for The Muslim Weekly national newspaper and maintains a Good News community blog called Fresh Air

What is Fresh Air and how is it different from any other blog? Fresh Air is a ‘Good News’ blog written for and about the Muslim community. Its aim is to inform and better connect us, give Muslims hope that lots of positive change is underway, put a smile on people’s faces and reward great work with publicity.

The blog is really a response to the question, ‘Why do we never see Muslims condemning extremism and doing good things for society?’ A question asked by Non-Muslims and Muslims alike. Of course one of the main barriers to Muslims having a positive image is the mainstream Media which is very slow to take up Good News stories. As a community we then have a number of choices if we want things to change: working for the Media, giving up totally in a sort of ‘learned helplessness’ or establishing our own alternative quality Media. In my view there is no right answer as to how to respond but I believe that independent initiatives enable us to retain the creative control to exercise Islamic values such as optimism, the benefit of the doubt and responsible referencing. When I started looking at blogs I realised that there are few that attempt to cover News THE BRIDGE: OMA NEWSLETTER ISSUE 08 AUTUMN 2011

stories and so hoped that this would be a gap in the market. How did the idea first come about? It was a fusion of lots of influences. Following a research project on Muslims and the Media in which I reviewed the work of the academics Elizabeth Poole and John Richardson, it became apparent that even Non-Muslims could perceive the extent of Media bias against Islam. Poole even quantifies this graphically and numerically and offers linguistic analysis on intrinsic bias. I realised something really needed to be done. About a year later I attended a fantastic course by the Al Kauthar Institute on Purification of the Heart. In this, Sheikh Abu Abdisalam detailed the importance of verifying news before passing it on and the importance of avoiding backbiting and slander. He even clarified that backbiting includes referring to a person in a way that they would dislike, such as calling them short. I realised that Western Media falls into all sorts of trouble this way and that Muslim journalists can easily begin emulating this. I knew then the importance of writing responsibly. Page9

I write about Community and Voluntary work by Muslims, wonderful initiatives and ideas such as convert support networks that we all need to know about and build, reviews of responsible journalism by authors such as Pilger, Chomsky and Finkelstein and events organised by NonMuslims in support of Muslim issues like rallies in support of Peace in Israel and Palestine.


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I began to look at Muslim Newspapers as part of the remedy to these problems but was dismayed to see very few actually covering positive news stories. At the time, Panorama had just released its ridiculous documentary on Islamic schools and this was a real driver to push forwards and start articulating the voice of the practising Muslim. With this, I approached The Muslim Weekly explaining the need to see our community better represented.

Did you have a background in journalism? Not at all, aside from writing the odd local article here and there and editing for the OMA magazine for about a year. How did you begin writing for The Muslim Weekly? When I approached the newspaper the editors quickly realised that I could contribute to the paper and invited me to a meeting to draft up a regular column. Things have gradually progressed from there. What have you achieved to date?

How has the response been? Alhamdulillah I have had lots of messages of support and the name ‘Fresh Air’ is becoming familiar in my local area. What are your hopes for the future? In the long term, I would like to see the birth of a Muslim Newspaper that represents Muslims as the informed active contributors to society that we are. It would be the living embodiment of the transformative effect that Islam has to a believer’s heart, articulating goodness, generosity, love and respect for all, whilst simultaneously protecting the boundaries of conduct that Islam sets forth. Not only would it respond to Islamophobia with Ihsan, returning negativity with positivity but it would emerge as an inspirational model for Western Media outlets to copy. The aims are lofty but that is the way of a Muslim, because we know that actions are by intentions, I hope that even if I never reach this goal that someone reading this will be inspired and carry the torch forwards into future generations. To visit Iman’s blog or feedback suggestions go to www.freshestair.blogspot.com Iman Khalaf MEDICINE

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Alhamdulillah, I have been writing weekly for a couple of months covering lots of different stories. I tend to forward relevant pieces to organisations I have reviewed such as IERA and Mercy Mission so they can see they are being fairly represented. It is also very rewarding to raise the profile of people whose work I adore,

such as Solace who support new converts and Mercy Mission who bring Islamic knowledge and practical community work together e.g. through charity projects and Hospital work. I am also working to bring other journalists to the Newspaper, such as Saiyyidah Zaidi who now writes an ‘agony aunt’ column on work difficulties as a practising Muslim. I hope insha allah to expand the readership of the Newspaper so it is a One Stop Shop of everything a Muslim needs to know each week.

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INTERVIEW

FROM CAMBRIDGE LAW & MANAGEMENT TO BOLLYWOOD: THE TALE OF ARMAAN KIRMANI Isra Jeelani chats with Armaan Kirmani, about his experience in working in the Bollywood scene. Kirmani reminisces about his Cambridge days and talks about his career change from thinking about law school to Bollywood!

You may have seen him in Bollywood films like Patiala House and Shortcut. Or you may remember him from Mastana 2007 at the Cambridge Corn Exchange. He has come a long way in just a few years, and he is determined to go much further. Armaan Kirmani has two sisters, one cat, one dog, one African grey parrot, and a promising future on screen. Here follows an exclusive interview with this Musim British Asian Cambridge alumnus, who is passionately following his unconventional dream.

Let’s start with Oxbridge? Oxford or Cambridge? Which of the two did you attend and how was your experience there? Cambridge. I was at Queens' College and I read SPS then Law in my second year before going to The Judge Institute to read Management. A very unusual Tripos, but I wanted to make the most of my opportunity at Cambridge. So from management to acting, that’s quite a change! When and how did you decide to pursue acting?

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I was working in Business Development after graduation and considering going to Bar School to train as a barrister. I felt that going to acting school would help in improving my court room presence, my diction and public speaking - but once at acting school, I realized that I wanted to be a Professional Actor. It felt right, almost like my natural calling.

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And your family's reaction to your chosen career path was‌ Deep concern! Look parents always want the best for their children and my parents were supportive but questioned my prospects as I would be competing with actors with many years more experience. They also wanted to know that I was committed, because acting was never really something I had considered previously. Having said that, they always supported me, financially and morally. Without their love and support I would have lost interest. Do you think getting a degree first helped or hindered your journey to films? It's very difficult to say. My education has helped broaden my horizons and make me a more rounded individual. All good actors need a wide range of experiences to use as references to their characters in different situations. So in that aspect my upbringing as British Asian in Western society and having been educated in the state and private sector combined with my degree from Cambridge has certainly allowed me to learn from very different aspects of life. I don't think education can ever hinder anybody. But I do think that the examination culture is not conducive to self development. How has your experience in the entertainment world been so far? It's been wonderful! I am fortunate to have received so much love from around the world since Patiala House. Recognition is always nice, but I am hoping that this is only the start. Are you only interested in Bollywood? No, I am only open to being part of stories that I believe in. As a young actor I would not want to be bracketed into only certain types of roles or cinema. I am hungry to learn and grow and hope that my western lifestyle combined with my Eastern cultural roots will help me to be a part of films around the world. What would you say are the barriers or difficulties for a British Asian actor to enter Bollywood? Equally, what would you say are the barriers for an Asian-origin actor to get mainstream British assignments? British Asian actors do not get formal training in Hindi. If they want to act in Hindi Cinema, they must be fluent in Hindi. I also feel that they need to be open to a different style of working and be very driven. Tens of thousands of people travel to Mumbai daily to try and pursue a career in Hindi Cinema and so there is very little scope for actors who are not organized, passionate and committed to the craft. In terms of British assignments - well there simply are not many that have Asian actors in significant roles. I am reluctant to work in stereotypical roles that negatively represent the Asian community - it is not what I went into this field for. So it is extremely tough - but things are improving. Thanks so much for your time Armaan, and wish you the very best of luck!

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You can find more information at newkidontheblog.co.uk and armaankirmani.com

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REFLECTIONS

OF BIRDS AND MEN rabic literature, al-adab al-Arabi, is derived from the Arabic for etiquette, implying a means to enrichment and decorum. The Islamic literary canon is dominated by the Quran, at once dynamic and accessible, yet allusive. The Quran was a key determinant of later literary compositions. Early Arabic prose came of a need to decipher and understand the Quranic injunctions and grasp revelation, and extended across the growing Islamic world. After the Arab conquest of Persia in 7th century, knowledge of Arabic was essential since it was the dialect of the new rulers, and the new religion and learning they brought with them. However, with the later weakening of the central government, an assimilated Persian and Arabic structure emerged, that is the modern Persian in use today. While Arabic continued as the language of choice of Islamic writers; AlGhazzali for example, was of Persian birth and a foremost scholar of Arabic literature, Persian quickly emerged as the vehicle of a great literature.

The Nightingale declares that the journey is too strenuous, that her love of the rose is enough for her. But the Hoopoe issues warning; do not become a slave to a love that is fleeting and interfering of the quest for self-perfection: So long as we do not die to ourselves, and so long as we identify with someone or something, we shall never be free. The spiritual way is not for those wrapped up in exterior life.

The coy Duck is satisfied by the perfection the water she calls her home. The Hoopoe reminds her of its ephemeral nature: Your life is passed in vague aquatic dreams, which cannot last- A sudden wave and they are swept away.

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Farid ud-Din Attar was born in approximately 1136 in Neishapour, the birthplace of another great Persian poet Omar al-Khayyam. Attar subscribed to Sufism, the doctrine advocated by mystics of Islam, and exercised an influence on the likes of Rumi and Chaucer. The best celebrated of his works is the Mantiq at-Tair, the Conference of the Birds, an allegorical poem portraying the quest of a group of birds in search of a new king, an analogy for mans’ search for a spiritual focus. The framework of the poem follows the Hoopoe, who comes forth as the leader, and recommends the Simurgh as the King that they all seek. The birds are at once enthusiastic, but as they embark on their journey and realise the difficulties ahead, they begin to voice doubts and excuses.

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Sins stains my soul; How can the wicked ever reach our goal? To which the Hoopoe replies with assurance: Do not despair of His benevolence. Seek mercy from Him; throw away your shield, And by submission gain the longed-for field. A cowardly bird protests his weakness, and the Hoopoe reprimands him: if we must perish in this quest, that, certainly, Is better than a life of filth and grief... I’d rather die deceived by dreams than give My heart to home and trade and never live. Each bird represents the imperfections of the soul. While not meant as a spiritual guidebook, it is an admonishing comment on the shortcomings that are identifiable in our very own natures. Moreover, the bird’s journey crosses seven valleys to the Simorgh, symbolising yearning (talab), love (eshq), gnosis (marifat), detachment (istighnah), unity of God (tawheed), bewilderment (hayrat) and, finally, selflessness and oblivion in God (fuqur and fana). Each valley is a representation, in Attar’s context, of the ranks that a Sufi must pass through, and indeed, these valleys are those that each one us must contend to realise the true nature of Allah. At the journeys end, the birds do not see the mythical Simorgh. Instead, they see a lake and their own reflections. It is striking image of the Sufi doctrine that Allah is not external to the universe, but is the totality of the universe. The birds realise that the Simorgh is intrinsic in each of the birds’ reflections and their entirety. Attar’s word play here is masterful; in one short verse he transforms the focal creature Simurgh into a realization that Si murgh translates as ‘30 birds’ in Persian. The conference of the Birds is a masterful contribution to Islamic literature, and has

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influenced writers to the East and West. The poem is a profound commentary on the quest for the Divine, and ends with the discovery that the birds, as indeed we, have no existence distinct from that which we seek.

Pilgrim, Pilgrimage and Road Was but Myself toward Myself, and Your Arrival but Myself at my own Door..... Come, you lost Atoms, to your Centre draw And be the Eternal Mirror that you saw: Rays that have wandered into Darkness wide Return, and back into your Sun subside. Samrah Ahmed PhD’08 You may be interested in: http://muslimwritersawards.org.uk/ http://www.londonbookfair.co.uk/ http://www.adbookfair.com/cms/ The Conference of the Birds is available from Penguin publishers (Please see photo of cover page in this article

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A sinful birds cries out:


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ALUMNOTES: WHERE ARE THEY NOW? NAYAAB ISLAM, BA Economics ‘07 FITZWILLIAM COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE Is currently working for the global ticketing ecommerce startup, viagogo. From its conception just five years ago, viagogo has grown tremendously to revolutionise the way people buy and sell live event tickets. Nayaab has been working across the business from finance to product development to help make viagogo another ecommerce success story.

This is a fun and interesting new section and we require your assistance to turn it into OMA newsletter regular. This space in the OMA Newsletter will be used to publish short biographies of Oxbridge alumni. So if you are someone who is a Oxford or Cambridge grad/alumni please send us a few short lines about yourself, or, alternatively, if you know someone who has done something interesting lately and think they should be mentioned in this section, please forward them this email or nominate them on their behalf! We really want to hear from as many of you as possible for the Alumnotes section! Please send your emails to newsletter@oxbridgemuslimalumni.org.

VIKHAR AHMED SAYEED, M. St (History)‘08 ST. HUGH’S COLLEGE, OXFORD I work as a journalist with Frontline magazine and am based in Bangalore, India. Frontline is the most respected news magazine in India and is widely acclaimed for the quality of its reportage and analysis. I have written widely on Indian politics, human rights, development, issues of discrimination, film, literature and culture among other things.

MOHAMED MASHAAL, BA/MEng '07 CORPUS CHRISTI COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE Has completed the 3-year Drilling Engineering graduate scheme at BP Exploration Operating Company Ltd. Having spent the first year of the programme on offshore rotation on the Clair Platform (90 minutes away from Aberdeen, Scotland by helicopter), Mohamed is now based in BP's Aberdeen North Sea Headquarters office where he is busy designing, planning and executing the drilling of North Sea Platform wells, namely on the Magnus and Harding fields. Mohamed is also undertaking the Institution of Mechanical Engineer's Monitored Professional Development Scheme, with a view to achieving Chartered Engineer status in 2012, in shaa Allah.

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Oxbridge Muslim Alumni, or OMA, is a young and rapidly growing organisation run voluntarily by Muslim alumni of Oxford and Cambridge Universities in their spare time. We always open to new ideas and welcome any feedback or comments from our members. To become a member or to join our mailing list please or if you are interested in getting involved please visit our website www.oxbridgemuslimalumni.org and follow the link under the Contact Us tab.

If you would like to get in touch with our featured alumni, please contact THE BRIDGE and we’ll happily put you in touch.

THE BRIDGE: OMA NEWSLETTER ISSUE 08 AUTUMN 2011


THE INTRODUCTORY ISSUE

The Bridge reflects the intellectual and professional diversity of the OMA as a society. We are always keen to get the OMA members involved with its production. There are many ways in which you can contribute to The Bridge. Here are a few ideas: Passionate about a contemporary issue that is making the news? We’d love to publish it in our QUESTION DU JOUR section. Are you attending an exciting event? Why not send us information about it or send an invite one of our corresponding editors to the event. We’ll compile them in our NEWSBITE section ALUMNOTES ALUMNOTES ALUMNOTES! What better way to tell your fellow Oxbridge Muslim alumni about what you have been up to than sending us a few lines to publish in our ALUMNOTES section! We’d love to hear from you... send us your ‘bio’ for our ALUMNOTES section or ask a friend to send theirs! Do you find your work fascinating? Then why not write a DIARY PIECE and see it published? Read an interesting piece of Arabic literature or want a specific piece to be covered by Samrah, our REFLECTIONS editor? Then send her your suggestions!

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Please send your articles/thoughts to newsletter@oxbridgemuslimalumni.org by January 31st 2012

THE BRIDGE: OMA NEWSLETTER ISSUE 08 AUTUMN 2011


OMA Newsletter 2011A - Issue 08