British Muslim

Fear + Ignorance = Racist Britain

Last night, while watching #MuslimsLikeUs (more on that later), I tweeted that I had experienced racism myself since converting to Islam and was promptly told that “it never happened.” There seems to be a misconception that racism is reserved for people who are a shade of brown and that the rest of us are exempt from such discrimination. 

Well, as a white British Muslim convert in a biracial marriage with mixed race kids, I’m here to tell you that racism isn’t always black n white – it’s a complex issue, and it’s also alive n kicking in the UK today, along with prejudice, ignorance and a whole heap of hate. 

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Quite often our beliefs are formed at home, for most of us that means that by the time we’re adults we have an understanding of the world around us, how to interact with our community and a respect for those that are different from us, even if we disagree with their views.

Sadly others have a different upbringing – perhaps their parents are ignorant of the society we live in, too busy reading The Sun and sending the kids down to the local ‘*Paki Shop’ for fags on benefit day or maybe they think they are superior in some way and don’t feel the need to expand their horizon any further than the latest episode of Jeremy Kyle. Whatever the case may be the fact remains that racism is rife in the UK.

*This word has become almost acceptable despite the offensive way in which it is used – why wouldn’t it be when a judge can even use the phrase in a court room and get nothing more than a slap on the wrist? 

It starts with the kids…

I have four children and have been married twice – my oldest a boy aged 20 and a girl at 18 are both half Bengali and have very pale skin and blue/green eyes. My son is often mistaken as being mediterranean and my daughter looks white.

mandela

My youngest two, aged 11 and 14 are half Pakistani and have inherited dark hair, brown eyes and brown skin. In fact you would struggle to know they were mixed race at all as they both look full Asian.

United Nations could learn a thing or two from my household…

They have all experienced racism in different ways due to their appearance – the younger two have been called ‘Dirty Muslims’, ‘Terrorists’ and, of course, ‘Paki’ on several occasions. The abuse has changed with the times too – when my 14yr old was in Infant School, a kid told him that his skin was ‘the colour of poo’ and he didn’t want to play with him.

In secondary school this progressed to name calling based on his colour/religion and after the Paris attacks they began to call him a terrorist.

I spoke to my son at length about this and was horrified when he went on to tell me about other incidents of racism that were going on at school on a regular basis:

  • A Syrian classmate being told to ‘get on his dinghy and f**k off back home’.
  • A Jewish girl told that she should have gone in the gas chambers and calling her a ‘dirty Jew’.
  • A black lad being told by a group of white boys that, and I quote, ‘You are our slave. Your name is Cotton Picking Joe and we are your masters.”

I called school the next day to report what was going on and was told that they could only act on what they actually hear and that they would look into it and get back to me. This was in July and I am still waiting for their response….

The school did contact me last year, with a form to fill in for my son with questions such as “Do you have respect for other religions?” and “Do you understand how to play a positive part in society?”. When I questioned why he had been given it when many others in his class hadn’t, the reply was rather mind-blowing.

They explained that the council had asked them to give out forms to all the children that had English as a second language and therefore might need extra help. The school, in all their wisdom, had decided the best way to determine this was to go down a list of pupil names and pick out the ones that “didn’t sound English”……

Wow. This crazy method meant that my son got a form due to him having his fathers (Asian) surname while his classmate with exactly the same ethnicity was overlooked because he had his Mums (English) surname.

My daughter on the other hand often finds herself in a position where people start with the whole racist rhetoric while not realising she is actually mixed race herself – being only 18 she describes this as one of the most awkward situations ever. Sometimes she feels confident enough to call them out on it, others she wishes the ground would open up and feels uncomfortable in her own skin. She also said this is happening more and more often after Brexit, with people blaming foreigners and Muslims for all the world problems from lack of housing to benefit cuts.

She recently started her first job and has already faced racism in the workplace. She has this one work ‘mate’ who insists on referring to all Asians as ‘Pakis’. Fully aware of my daughters heritage, she continues to use this offensive term regularly, often backed up by another member of staff – in fact the manager has heard her use this term more than once but has yet to reprimand her.

3947905971_9b2ddcfe45We had a lengthy conversation where we looked at ways she could respond to people like this and I explained the procedure for making a formal compliant at work. The fact she appears white but is mixed race means that she’s going to encounter this ignorance throughout life and we talked about how she could turn that into a positive. Being Muslim and white but not wearing a hijab means that I am also often in situations where people start Muslim bashing or being ignorant about other races, often they’re shocked when I don’t join in – I use this opportunity to educate them and challenge any xenophobic views they’re sharing and the look on their faces when I tell them that I am ‘one of those bloody Muslims’ is priceless.

I’ve been met with “But you’re white”, “Oh, so did your husband make you convert” and my personal favourite – “Does that mean you speak Muslim then?”

Other times they seem genuinely interested and buzzing to actually get the chance to talk to a ‘real life’ Muslim and are full of questions. I have had several conversations that have started off with an Islamophobic/racist comment and ended on a really positive note – dawah in action 🙂ae3c5c6ea67580434eda1f1f8c6972bf

“You’re not brown enough to be a ‘proper’ Muslim” and other fairy tales

Racism is not exclusively a white people thing – in fact some of the worst racism I have encountered myself has come from Asian Muslim women.

When I converted to Islam a number of years ago I began going to my local mosque which happens to be in a rather nice part of Cheshire. I was met by several Asian women who, whilst appeared welcoming at first, soon made it apparent that I wouldn’t be part of their ‘circle’ any time soon. The reason? I was too white to be a classed as a real Muslim.

Sure, I could attend the prayer meetings but they wouldn’t eat the food I prepared, they would smile as I entered but I wouldn’t be invited to their homes, they would see me5bd10f538d6cf918e0b0120cb9da9ec3 struggle to remember the prayer but would offer no help, preferring to talk about my failings in Urdu. I was even asked if I washed my rice three times?! and how my husband managed with a wife that can’t make chapatis. In fact they made me briefly question if Islam was for me after all.

Fortunately I discovered a far more welcoming mosque in Manchester where there were more reverts, less judgment and even prayer classes for beginners on a Sunday afternoon. I also realised that quite often the ones that refer to themselves as Muslim are not a true reflection of the faith – something that should be remembered when you watch #MuslimsLikeUs on catchup…

 

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#MuslimsLikeUs or Not?

After avidly awaiting #MuslimsLikeUs on BBC Two this week, to say I was disappointed would be an understatement, at points I found myself shouting at the TV, at others I was shaking my head in disbelief.

It would appear that BBC chose the participants using a controversy scoresheet and boy did they tick all the boxes – We were given racism, white privilege, imperialism, sexism and even a controversy involving an onion.  onion

A varied bunch to say the least, one that stood out to me was Mehreen who, as lovely as she is, was reminiscent of Aliyah, the daughter in Citizen Khan – kind of like an Asian Barbie. She did handle the racist blokes at the homeless shelter with class and eloquence though.

Nabil who was the voice of reason at many point, including the absolute gem – “when in doubt, don’t be a dick.” He was portrayed as a stereotypical angry black man and has been on social media to complain about the way it was edited to cast him in such a light, as has Baraa, the Syrian refugee.

For the record I think they were bang out of order for stealing his onion and he handled it extremely well given the circumstances.

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Abdul Haqq….well, and I do have my tin hat at the ready, I don’t agree with everything he said but much of it did sound like Islamic teachings to be fair. He delivered it in a really alienating way and the letters he gave out were on another level but I think he was also edited to fit the whole right-wing, pro-prevent rhetoric the Beeb support.

Talking of agendas, #MuslimsLikeUs was made in conjunction with Love Productions – the same company behind Benefits Street, Make Bradford British and Why Don’t You Speak English?  Hardly educational stuff and that sums up #MuslimsLikeUs really, the show left me feeling angry and struggling to identify with any of the participants and if I wasn’t Muslim already I think watching them would have put me off for life and made me even more confused.

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I wonder if they will be doing a follow up looking at other religions – say ‘Six Jews in a Gym’ or ‘Five Hindus in a hotel….’

Finally, I would like to end on a slightly more positive note…

Looking at the survey referenced in #MuslimsLikeUs it became clear that whilst there were some worrying responses, on the whole the outlook is quite promising.

The 18-24 yr old demographic have done us proud once again – throughout the whole survey the acceptance of Muslims with this age range was higher than the older ones, in fact the older the respondents are, the less tolerant they become. No surprise there then. In answer to the statement “I would feel comfortable if a Muslim moved in next door to my home” 54% of 18-24 yr olds agreed while only 29% of 65+ felt the same.

One telling response was to the statement “Muslims have failed to integrate into British society” where only 24% of the younger demographic agreed in contrast to 64% of the 65+ group.

Maybe this is because the younger generation ARE integrating, as Mehreen said, “We go to school, we go university, we work. How else do they want us to f*****g integrate?” and the older ones don’t see this. Perhaps they see the parents of these first n second generation Muslims, the ones that do prefer their own community and are less likely to strike up a conversation in the street. The ones that could do more to integrate but are as set in their own ways as much as white old folk can be…

The bottom line is this – racism and ignorance are still as prevalent today as they were when my mum was a kid and we need to talk about it in order to make a change. We need to be more accepting, more forgiving and less judgemental of each other, regardless of race, religion, gender or any other defining features. Each of us have our own path and it can be hard enough to keep your footing without others trying to knock you down so try to play nice eh…

hadith12arabic

“Part of the perfection of one’s Islam is his leaving that which does not concern him”

 

 

 

WHAT’S IT REALLY LIKE BEING BRITISH AND MUSLIM IN 2015?

The religious landscape of Britain has changed dramatically in the past 30 years, with Islam becoming Britain’s fastest growing religion. Having doubled in numbers to around three million since 2000, 47% of Muslims are UK born, 33% are aged 15 and under and it’s estimated that one in ten children under the age of four is a British Muslim.

Despite this we know very little about the people behind these statistics other than what the media tell us – do they really want to ‘Islamify’ the UK, can you really be both British and Muslim and what is the truth behind all those scary headlines?

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I spoke to two very different British Muslims to find out more…

Social commentator and civil rights activist, Mohammed Ansar lives in Hampshire with his wife and children. He says British Muslims are facing mass discrimination on many levels, with far-reaching and devastating effects:

British Muslims are having a civil rights crisis. We’re being overwhelmingly and disproportionately discriminated against in terms of employment, housing, health and education – meaning that we have a whole section of society being pushed to the edge and marginalized.

Mohammed Ansar

Mohammed Ansar

The removal of EMA for example means that the hardest up families in the UK are going to struggle to send their kids to college. When we have eighty percent of British Muslims on or below the poverty line, the removal of this one benefit will have a disproportionate impact on that community.

We need to define our narrative. With foreign policy and global events, the media today is defining Muslim life in Britain using people that we would consider to have more in common with terrorism, far removed from Islam and the true Prophetic traditions. Then we have a whole other group at the other end of the spectrum; not really upholding authentic ideals of Islam but at the same time are very secular progressive – so much so that they themselves are quite happy to be drinking and going to strip clubs while defining ‘counter radicalization’ and pressing very hard on British Muslims in a bid to try to reform Islam by telling people how to live. I think there’s a real hypocrisy there.

We’ve had, and continue to have an onslaught of Islamophobic propaganda in the media, aligning the Muslim faith with immigration, terrorism, in fact, when it comes to British Muslims we can be conflated with anyone; child sex abuse claims, drug trafficking, sex trafficking – all the worst aspects of society are being pushed towards the Muslim ‘issue’, helping to demonize British Muslims on an almost daily basis.

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Don’t panic – I’m Islamic (and British of course)

As if this wasn’t enough to deal with, British Muslims are constantly being called on to ‘prove their loyalty to the UK’ and I for one am sick and tired of it. I try not to lend myself to it and have refused to support campaigns calling for such action because it just doesn’t help. It creates a false narrative and takes away from the real issues we’re facing. Sadly, it seems to be the younger generation of British Muslims who, being sometimes less experienced in terms of understanding the political dimensions, are drawn into the debate and see it as being a modern-day ‘Cool Britannia’ – almost like a ‘Cool Muslimia’. Young British Muslims seem to think ‘I can be Muslim, I can be inclusive and contribute to British society but I must be able to put clear water between myself and those with different values.’

We never see this with non-Muslim communities – when there’s a paedophile ring, which has a dozen people in it who are white Christians, we don’t then see those communities marching on the streets saying ‘not in my name’. We don’t see outrage on Twitter or other social media where people feel the need to say these people don’t represent me. We certainly never see outrage when Britain bombs Libya or performs airstrikes in Iran and Syria to support president Assad and we don’t get Christians feeling the need to put clear water between themselves and David Cameron.

The British Muslim community is disproportionately targeted and we’re not treated on the same equal footing as everyone else. It has to change. British values include a sense of fair play and equality but this isn’t what we’re getting. There’s been some really ugly, neo-conservative interests infiltrate both the government and the media, that’s why we’re seeing influence on foreign policy both here and abroad, as well as the media agenda. We need to shine a light on this and ask the people to wrestle it back to some form of fairness.

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Rucksana Malik is a 38-year-old self-employed British Muslim who lives in Manchester with her husband and 2 young sons. Rucksana says British Muslims do face discrimination in the UK but they bring much of it on themselves and should do more to integrate:

Rucksana Malik

The biggest issue the British Muslims in the UK are facing is lack of cohesion. Nobody pulls together and it’s frustrating, we can’t even agree what day Eid is on most years so it’s no wonder that he non-Muslims are confused about what Islam really stands for.

The perception most people have of British Muslims is only what the media show them; the Muslim girl in the pub on Eastenders, comical community leader Mr. Khan in another slapstick scene, or the founder of Quilliam visiting a strip club for his stag night. We need to all pull together to show a more accurate picture of what we’re really about because this is not it.

This misrepresentation has had a massive impact on British Muslims on many levels, including the rise of Islamophobic incidents reported recently. The majority of people who have strong opinions on Muslims and immigration (yes, they go hand in hand now, thanks to the media) tend to get their information from either sensationalist shows on TV or hate filled stories in the paper.

Disinformation stops unity and any good that is done by the British Muslim community doesn’t get reported on. However, there’s a lot more that some of us could do to integrate better. I know Muslims that, although they’ve lived here for over forty years, still don’t speak English and I have a big problem with that – they don’t wear English clothes, won’t eat English food but still want to live over here. That I have a problem with, and I can understand why people who are spoon fed the misinformation on top of seeing this have a huge problem.

Some British Muslims could do well to chill out and put their own affairs in order before getting all stressed about having Sharia patrols outside mosques to stop couples holding hands and other ridiculousness. We need to remember that there’s still places in the world where it’s illegal to practice as a Muslim, and just be grateful for the freedoms we have in the UK.

Some of the blame for how we are portrayed must lie with us, the British Muslims. Yes, we want to keep our identity, so I’m not going to integrate to the point where we go down to the pub together and I have a pint with you, but, if you’re my neighbour or

Rucksana and her son

 Rucksana and her son

in my local community, I want to know what you’re called, I want us to have enough of a rapport to have a chat. I want you to take an interest. I want to know if you’re not well or if you need any help with anything. Yes, it’s nice that you send me a Christmas card. I don’t celebrate it and I’m not going to send you one back but I’m going to find a nice way to tell you to tell you that.

I’m not just going to come out with ‘Kafir this, kafir that’ which, incidentally just means disbeliever, not the bad, almost swear word the media have alluded to. British Muslims seem to over react to a lot of things, like when it’s Christmas and some nitwits will start a petition to ban the lights because ‘we don’t do Christmas’. The reality is that it doesn’t matter, even if they are all over your street it doesn’t mean that you’re participating. Incidents like that do get a lot of media coverage and, in turn, does a lot of damage.

Some of the scaremongering headlines have even got people terrified that we are trying to ‘take over’ the UK. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I wouldn’t say I was a ‘moderate’ Muslim, I’d probably fall into the category some would label ‘extreme’ but even I have no wish to ever try to make this an Islamic country and don’t know anyone that does. It’s nowhere on the Muslim agenda and I wish the media would stop implying that we are some kind of imminent threat to British civilisation.

Some of the things that so many British Muslims make priority are rather strange too, like cartoons. They organize big marches and get everyone all fired up about things like that. Yes, as a Muslim I do find it offensive and I don’t agree with it but there’s far more important things to focus on, like educating the Muslim youth and getting them out of the houses, the bars, the strip clubs, and into a mosque. It’s hypocritical the things we choose to make an issue out of. They’re like sheep, everyone jumping on the bandwagon ‘I’m a Muslim, I’ve pride in my religion but I don’t pray or go to the mosque’. I wish they would save their breath and stop making it difficult for the rest of us.

I’m proud to be British and Muslim; anyone who says you can’t be both has clearly misinterpreted the religion, there’s no conflict and I’m happy to be both a fully practicing Muslim and a totally integrated member of British society. I don’t expect anyone to make allowances for me as a Muslim in any way. If I go somewhere to eat and they don’t have halal meat I’m not going to make an issue, complain or even start a petition – I’d either choose something else or choose not to eat there. There is literally nothing that I have to do as a Muslim that being British would prevent.

I don’t celebrate Christmas anymore but I don’t have a problem being off for the festive holidays. I don’t have an issue with seeing a Christmas tree in the town centre, the countless fairy lights or even hearing carols for the 3 months before and during the event. I don’t find it offensive because it’s not offensive – it’s just what other people do and we’re supposed to be the religion of tolerance after all. These are all examples of what could show British Muslims in a really good light with how we choose to react.

As with any community, we do have issues, one of the most worrying is the number of British Muslim youths being radicalized by UK foreign policy. It’s given them a channel for their aggression and their free time, because, let’s face it, nobody is encouraged to work. There’s no incentive for anybody to do anything positive then comes along the perfect excuse to get fired up and excited about something. These ‘Muslims’ don’t have a purpose or focus because religion isn’t taught enough at home so they have no fear of anybody, whether it be God or the police; they have no boundaries in that respect and are just looking for trouble, it’s more a political issue than religious uprising.

The government needs to stop interfering with things that are nothing to do with us; we’re not at war with anyone and I would have no problem fighting with the British Army if we were, regardless of whom that was against, but we’re not at war. That’s not to mention that the millions of pounds spent meddling in these distant lands could be much better spent over here.

Maajid Nawaz - before the strip club 'incident'...

Maajid Nawaz – before the strip club ‘incident’…

My biggest fear as a British Muslim living in the UK is not my racist neighbours or the lads who shouted abuse at me when I visited the park with my children. It’s not even the group of ‘men’ that spat on me as I was walked home from the supermarket just last week. What really scares me and makes me fearful for my children’s future in the UK the most is Maajid Nawaz and other so-called moderate Muslims; those that seek to vilify the rest of us that don’t fit their self-styled mould. We have more to fear from them than any non-Muslim as they undermine everything the rest of us are trying to achieve. Nawaz was the one who said that Muslim women don’t need to wear hijab in this country because ‘you’re putting yourselves in danger’. No, we’re not – you’re putting us in danger by coming out with idiotic comments like that, and then you’re caught in a strip club!

The reality is that real Muslims, the ones who follow the religion correctly, are not the ones you should be concerned with. We’re the ones that don’t try and impose our views on other people, respect other religions and, despite what the papers say, manage to integrate perfectly well in our society – yet we are labeled as extreme. It’s the ones that don’t pray 5 times a day or go to the mosque that are the deemed ‘moderate ones’ and yet they’re far more dangerous than we could ever be.

They’re the ones that breed the idiots who want to go and join ISIS, thinking it’s the answer to their prayers, not us. All this goes undetected while the ones they have monitoring these people, like Quilliam, focus instead on people like me that are just trying to live a peaceful life in the way I see fit. It’s the ‘non-Muslim Muslims’ that are a real danger to society, not the ones truly following Islam – it’s about time the media realised that.

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