Welcome to my blog. I may write copy here that I would not present elsewhere. This blog allows me to comment while reporting for clients which can include subscription-only platforms. I use it to take a sideways look at running stories, and all views presented here are my own.

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Sunday, 21 August 2011

The first time ever on British television; the Life of The Prophet

Three one hour television documentaries for a series called “The Life of Muhammad” were on BBC Two recently. It was the first time that British television had shown a biography on the Prophet, whose message forms the religious base for one and half billion people round the world.

Filmed on location in Saudi Arabia, Jerusalem, Turkey, the USA, the UK and Jordan, all the drama, tragedy and triumph of the epic narrative of the life and teachings of one of the most important religious figures of all time was laid out for the viewer. One of the biggest names on the subject was part of the production team; author, scholar and broadcaster Ziauddin Sardar wrote the whole series.

The documentaries traveled to the place of the Prophet’s birth, and re-traced his actual footsteps from his early years in Mecca, his struggles with accepting his Prophetic role, his flight to Medina, the founding of the first Islamic constitution, his successes and failures, militarily and politically, through to his death and his legacy.

Mr Sardar, who agreed to be interviewed by email, said that non-Muslims could “learn a lot …and get a thrilling story as a bonus” –while Muslim viewers might discover things from the series that they did not know before. He said, “We based the film on classical biographies –particularly Ibn Ishaq’s Life of the Prophet, regarded by all Muslims as the first and most authentic biography.” The program makers interviewed with, among others, John L. Esposito, professor of religion, international affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, H.R.H. Princess Badiya El Hassan of the Jordanian Royal family, author Karen Armstrong and Sajjad Rizvi, associate professor of Islamic intellectual history, Exeter university.

Mr Sardar explained that he wanted to show that the details of the life of the Prophet are alive and vivid for Muslims today, so image sometimes contrasted with narrative. “We often used contemporary scenes and related them back to the time of the Prophet.”

The first episode, which got 1.8million viewers, was acclaimed for its sensitivity and intelligence in dealing with the visual challenge of finding ways of talking about the Prophet without depicting him. (Depictions of the Prophet are not allowed in Islam).

“Another challenge was to get the balance right, and ensure that the diversity of Islam, and all the different views – from the orthodox to the liberal, Sunni, Shia, Sufi, as well as western critics, and the voices of women –are all represented…we had a Shia consultant, an established scholar in the field, who advised us and made sure we took his views into account. Yet another challenge was to explore how Muslims today use the Prophet as a model, how close or [how]far they are to the spirit of his life. It was like walking a tightrope”

In keeping with Mr Sardar’s back catalogue of books and television programs, authenticity and respect were hallmarks of the series. “We took particular care to be respectful to the Prophet. As Muslims we could not do otherwise.”

Mr Sardar wrote all of the presenter’s links, including the introduction, in which the narrator said “Peace be upon him” after the name of the Prophet. It set the tone of the films.

“But we also had to deal with the controversial aspects of his life fairly and objectively. So we took particular care both to be deeply respectful and honest in our treatment of difficult subjects.” Using excellent sources and referring to them constantly gave the series an authoritative platform.

The writer’s role in this series cannot be overstated, for it is through the words and stunning images that programs about the past can work best. “The Life of Muhammad” is the first biographical documentary that not only features no visual images of its subject; it also has no dramatic reconstructions of the subject’s life. Strong landscapes, art and architecture accompanied by atmospheric music work well with the powerful narrative and set a benchmark which led one Guardian reviewer to write; “Visually at least, many television directors should consider converting to Islam.”

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Rani's physical health - I love my gym!

I've been a gym member for over a decade and in 2010 when I wanted to find a new one I did a thorough survey of all the good gyms in West London. Some of the prices were astronomical.

The one I settled on is part of a set owned by Charlie Bourne, called "Eden Fitness" in Ealing.

The main reason I joined was because this gym offers a class I haven't found anywhere else; Total Cardio, which is 45 mins of interval training on three separate machines- the treadmill, the crosstrainer, and the cycle. Sometimes we play the Fish Game on the rower. It is such a simple concept and so many gyms have dedicated cardio sections I am really surprised not to find it anywhere else.

The second thing about Eden is the amazingly high level of hygiene- the facilities and cloakrooms are always clean and the pool area has a special "saunarium" -ideal for relaxing.

But I think what is really adding to the quality of my life is the standard of the staff. Reception people are chatty and friendly.

I adore all my instructors in the cardio teaching team; Carlos Newton,Paul Stribling, Matt Fox, Steve Perkins, Roz Gerber, Darren Carroll and Gavin Mehta. It has taken me quite a long time to appreciate how prodigiously talented my instructors are as they don't do any hard selling on special trainer sessions -I just found out they are good by talking with them and having classes with them. Each of them has a different technique -so the blend of working out with them all over a fortnight is a perfect, heady cocktail. They all keep an eye on me when I am on the gym floor -proactively checking
my posture etc as opposed to some instructors in other West London gyms who practically ignore members.

Gavin has been introducing me to kickboxing over the last few weeks and since he is a martial arts specialist I am hoping to get some self defence training from him further down the line. After returning from India last year and seeing how the Special Protection Group, in common with other international military units, study Krav Maga, I approached Gavin. He has devised his own form of self defence suitable for someone like me- using techniques from many established styles, including Krav Maga.

Lastly, I love my yoga teacher -Shanti Gill -who teaches a special class of Chiyoga- a blend of Tai Chi and yoga- as well as the more intense forms the rest of the week. If I concentrate, I can feel my mind going into a meditative state during Chiyoga.

During the English riots last week, Charlie Bourne, his wife and around eight others spent the night on the couches of the reception area to protect the premises in case of attack so we didn't lose access to the gym though the hours were shortened on the worst days.

I lost some fitness toward the end of 2010 and during the first six months of this year while I was writing intensively so I will need to work hard over the next few weeks to return to form.

Eating right will be my biggest challenge!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

India's Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee meets UK Minister George Osborne

Last month journalists had quite a day with the Indian finance minister and his delegation to the UK.

On the 25th of July 2011, there was a morning press conference in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with the two gentleman, their heights in inverse proportion to their numbers of years in government, when they expressed deep satisfaction with trade relations between their two countries.

They proudly stated that India is now the third largest investor in the UK, and the UK is the fourth largest investor in India.

They announced that billions of dollars' worth of trade deals had been signed, and pointed to a recent BP/Reliance deal which represented the single largest foreign investment ever in India.

They both sidestepped my question to them about which country had greater need for the other, replying that each had a healthy respect and need for the other, refusing to be drawn on the precise balance of power.

The press conference finished before 12.0pm. Some of the Indian journalists were going to wait around for another briefing with Mukherjee at India House, the Indian High Commission, at 5.0pm that day. One of them said, "It's going to be a very long lunch."