Finding my faith

What does it mean to practice faith as a student? Altaf Kazi, a 24 year old Muslim studying MSc Publ

Over the summer before I started my Masters, I had decided to make some changes in my life. I had decided to make an effort to get closer to my religion. What inspired me? The realization of knowing that I needed to be closer to my Creator before I returned to Him. I thanked Allah for the fact that I had found my faith. Never before had I felt more at ease and comfort. However the changes I had made so far had been in the confines of my house.
 
And so I started my first day of University thinking to myself if my experience be different from my times at Birmingham as an undergraduate? Would people recognize me and what would they think? For now I was wearing a white robe and had a beard growing. I knew that for my mid afternoon prayer, lunch and just walking around campus, I would have to confront this and have those awkward conversations with people.
 
My first major test came on my first day when I had to go to the prayer room. I can remember it quite vividly. As I reached the prayer room, I saw many smiling faces leave the prayer room which put me at ease. I had already preformed my pre prayer ablution in the gents' toilet downstairs only to realize that the prayer room has a ablution facility provided! I thought argh! I didn’t have to struggle in the sink!  But that was my first day, and I blame my nervousness and lack of confidence to ask others. So I lined up in prayer, but before it started I knew that trying to practice my religion at University wasn’t going to be as hard as I thought.
 
I thank Allah that after that first day my fears have been put aside. Through the Islamic Society I got to meet a lot of like-minded people. The people I met shared their experiences and I drew strength from their confidence. It's true that being alone is better than bad company and being in good company is better then being alone. This is something that I experienced. Being a part of the Islamic Society meant that I could feel comfortable discussing issues that faced young Muslims such as how bad the weather was, how we wanted a pizza from Broadway 2 or Pizza Haq; we also discussed other issues like identity and the world and how it is today.  
 
My experiences of the role of faith as a student has led me to strongly believe that only a shallow person judges a person on appearance; a wise person waits for him to speak and watches his actions. My experiences in University and more importantly with my Creator have enabled me to be the strong and more confident person that I now am. I have met many talented Muslims and non Muslims and had many conversations with them. I feel confident about the future of this country in knowing that people understand the role that faith can play in life and how they should not simply tolerate it but accept it for the value that others hold.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.