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Making Muslim Brum Beautiful

July 27 2007:

A cleaner medina's a greener medina.

Young British Muslims in Birmingham are joining together this summer on a “people action” to make their city greener. Dubbed the “clean medina campaign” – named after the Arabic word for old city – the event will include rappers, film crews, coffee, music, jingles, and a lot of brushes and dustbin bags. Here, founder and inspirator for the programme Ayman Ahwal explains what is being planned – and why.

Why the “clean Medina” campaign?

At present every one blames every one else for the swirling rubbish. The council blames the people and the people blame the council. The “Clean Medina” Campaign is a spontaneous people’s “Just do it!” effort. The film of the campaign intends to pull the triggers of people-motivation which hopefully will make the campaign self sustaining. It is meant to shift the Muslim mindset from houseproud to streetproud. “Bash the trash! Our Medina will be cleaner! Allah Akbar!”

How will it work?

The launch operation will hopefully be in late August – with a film set outside Birmirmingham's oldest neighbourhood mosque in Sommerville Road, Small Heath. With all the paraphernalia of performers, props, cameras, extras, “cast of thousands” fully choreographed, a litter-picking battle scene will take place before the cameras and your eyes.

As recycling bays and wheelie bins are rolled in front of the mosque, the battle for Brum will unfold in the immediate neighbourhood on the streets and on the pavements and on the front yards of houses. Of course the entire “cast” takes part followed by multiple camera teams. The tone is ‘hip hop’ and stylish. Rappers rap, choruses chant and egg on, rhythms trance and dance the street warriors. As each house front is cleaned, campaign publicity is slipped through the letter box, which exhorts the householder to send recyclables to the mosque, where recycling bins will have already been installed. “Food will be served on set for stars, unit, all comers, long beards and the beardless.”

Why Birmingham?

Swathes of Birmingham are sometimes categorized as “inner city squalor” - with entire neighbourhoods of industrial-age Victorian terrace houses. To an outsider they might look the same, but if you belong to this community you will know that each street sports its own stylistic variation in design, brickwork and Victorian fantasia. Most of these neighbourhoods are now occupied by post-empire immigrants, the majority of whom are Muslim.

Birmingham has large communities of Pakistanis, Bengalis, Yemenis, Somalis, North African and other Asian inhabitants. Together they make a global Muslim mix. The community is now well into its second generation. The sons and daughters of the factory workers who came to Britain and built the numerous mosques of the city are now often well-educated, in touch with their Muslim identities and in tune with the here and now in urban Britain. It is these young people who make the Clean Medina Campaign.

What’s the rap?

Steps are being taken to clean up the city ...
“Muslim” Brum is notoriously strewn with litter: Haram horrible and nothing to be proud of. “…You wouldn’t think that keeping clean is part of Iman (faith) and that we’re supposed to be Khalifah of our patch and watch it nice; Keep it clean, keep it green….”

What are the main Muslim elements in the campaign?

The campaign is designed to appeal to the Muslim psyche. Islamic principles and imagery constitute both motivation and modus operandi. Indeed the great cleanup is presented as a veritable jihad. At the same time a very contemporary “living in the UK” look is retained, designed especially to appeal to young people, “defending their patch”

In a nutshell, what’s the aim?

"The film of the campaign intends to pull the triggers of people-motivation which hopefully will make the campaign self sustaining. It is meant to shift the Muslim mindset from houseproud to streetproud. “Bash the trash! Our Medina will be cleaner! Allah Akbar!”
We want cleaning up and recycling to become “the thing to do” for Muslims – and particularly younger Muslims.

We want to prompt a self-generating and self-sustained movement to clean up the dirty, haram inner city areas of Birmingham all which happen to be predominantly Muslim.

How about the media?

The film as well as music, radio jingles, posters and slogans are key to the campaign. It might be unclear from the outside whether “Clean Medina” is a grass roots operation being portrayed in a film or whether the entire operation is nothing more than a contrived film set. Until the campaign gains its own momentum with outside media and others beginning to take an interest, both will be true.

The future

In the future it will move from “clean Medina” to “green Medina” as the tidying up gears up into recycling. In an area by area, street by street approach, the mosques will become the focal points of both tidying up and recycling operations. Operations are even now organized on a mosque by mosque basis: Friday preaching, followed by Sunday Standby!....Action! . Each clean up operation is filmed, and becomes a mini festival.

This is an edited version of an article posted by Birmingham Friends of the Earth, July 12.

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