Almost everyone will remember exactly what they were doing the moment the first aeroplane hit The Two Towers in New York. I was working in a bookshop at the time and myself and the two other shop assistants present watched in shock and disbelief as the second aeroplane hit the second tower on live TV. We watched as the chaotic scenes unfolded before our eyes, debris flying everywhere and then our eyes watering in utter dismay as we spotted silhouettes of people jumping out of the burning building. It was surreal; the only thing that desensitised us was the fact that it looked like a movie scene, the firefighters, the people, the noise, the newsreaders- it couldn’t be real life, could it?
The second shocker of the day was that these psychopaths who committed such an atrocity were Muslims and were doing this in the name of Islam. Islam? My religion? But why? When we’d been taught what a kind, just person our beloved Prophet Muhammadﷺ had always been. Islamic history states that there had been no fighting whatsoever until 13 years after he received the first revelation and was given the news that he was a prophet. Even though Muslims had been unfairly persecuted in Mecca since the onset of Islam, they were told not to retaliate. And then, even when they did, the rules in battle were to not harm women, children or any living thing i.e. animals and plants. And most importantly, an article written by Imam Zaid Shakir reminds us the Quran explicitly states ‘that whosever takes an innocent life… it is as if he has killed all of humanity, and whoever saves a life it is as if he has saved all of humanity.’ Then, why? how? When we weren’t even fighting ‘a war’ did these people justify the killing of 1000s of innocent people? It was not justified, not right and now innocent people had been murdered and innocent muslims around the world would have to bear the brunt of this calamity. Despite these thoughts running through my mind, I was still blissfully unaware of what a massive impact this would have on my life. Click here to watch a very moving Ted talk by an inspiring American muslim lady, Dalia Mogahed on how this event affected her life.
So, shortly after September 2001, I looked inwardly and began to practice my religion with more fervour than ever before. A massive influence for me, and a lot of other muslims in my generation, is a scholar called Sheikh Hamza Yusuf. Through his recorded teachings of the Quran and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, I learnt traditional Islam. I began to separate the events that occurred, from my religion. Not in my name. These actions are not connected to us or our beliefs. I know you’ve heard this all before, but Islam is actually a peaceful religion and contrary to popular belief it was not spread by the sword. In it’s doctrine, it is closest to Judaism and Christianity, being one of the 3 mainstream monotheistic religions of our time. We all take Abrahamic roots and believe in only one God; Jesus is believed to be a prophet and not the son of God and Adam was our forefather and first man on earth. If you want to learn more about the basic nature of our beliefs, please listen to this song.
Whilst living in London, I used to use the underground tube everyday to travel to university at the time. I’d recently begun to wear the headscarf and this highlighted my beliefs to people around me. I would get stared at and was given a wide berth whilst travelling. Some people actually seemed scared of me.
A few years later, I went on to get married and moved to a small town up north and, coming from a multi-cultural part of London, it was a massive culture-shock for me. I wasn’t driving and would walk everywhere. I got treated as though I couldn’t speak English;I got stared at, shouted at, publicly ridiculed and nobody wanted to sit next to me whenever I took public transport anywhere. I had got used to this ignorance all around me.
But, I’ve got to say, I was given the most fantastic couple for neighbours. An elderly couple lived next door and, although it took me a while to understand his Black Country accent(!), the gentleman and I got on famously well. He would always have a smile and a kind word to say to me as our paths crossed and would always mow our lawn whenever he did his own, bless him. One day, we had a conversation where he told me he admired my style of dress, He said it was modest and ladylike, ‘much like it used to be in my day, before the war and shortage of material’. He was talking about the Second World War, of course, and I think it suffices to say that only 100 years ago women in Britain were seen as ‘loose women’ if they wore their dresses above their ankles! I think dressing in a modest fashion and being British can most definitely go hand-in-hand. It’s a shame that these days, people can’t see beyond the way someone dresses when looking at integration. I, for example, was born and bred British, I grew up in a loving Islamic, British environment. Our childhoods were spent building dens, strawberry-picking and collecting ladybirds, to name a few pastimes. We grew up with TV programs like Grange Hill, Neighbours and memorable adverts for milk (‘It’s what Ian Rush drinks!’), beans (Heinz builds Brits!) and Quality Streets (Magic moments!). I went to a multi-cultural high school in North-West England and then moved to London in my teenage years. I am not only fully integrated, I am immersed; this is my home. I don’t belong anywhere else. To think that people have judged me, are judging me at this present time and will continue to do so in a ‘free’ society, is shocking in this day and age.
To give you an example, I visited my local supermarket the other day and I needed change for the trolley. The machine stated that it accepted £20, £10 and £5 but I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand where to put in the £20, as the slot looked very small. I went to ask for help and honestly, the lady talked to me like I was a very small child who was hard of hearing. She said (in a very loud and slow voice) ‘The machine does take £20, you just have to put it into the slot where the red light is.’ I explained to her that the slot was too small and she said ‘Do you want me to do it? I’ll make it disappear for ya!’. With a big, exaggerated smile on her face, she proceeded to walk me to the machine, put it into the same slot I had tried earlier (I didn’t realise you had to turn the note up at each side) and then when the pound coins came clinking out, she repeated again ‘Look see! Disappeared! Turned into coins’, then gave her colleague look and rolled her eyes as if to say, ‘Tut, these people!’. Ugggghhhh I felt so annoyed!! On the one hand it’s nice that she must give people who speak English as a second language some immediate practical help, but on the other, what would it take for her to realise that just because I wore a scarf it didn’t make me foreign or indeed slow of understanding? I felt like I should wear a sign on my scarf saying ‘I understand English perfectly well, thank you, even though I am choosing to cover my head in this free country’!
Anyway, to go back to my narrative, when Miss Craft was 7, we discovered our local Steiner School. Here were a people who were generally non-judgemental, non-materilistic and welcomed myself and my family into their community with open arms. (Side note: Love you guys!) One of my first encounters with some staff and many older pupils was when I invited a famous Muslim singer, the fantastic Sidi Mahmoud Norris from Shaam, to sing this song in an assembly. I’d like to thank my good friend Jamilah, his sister, for this fabulous opportunity. We had a fantastic response and it encouraged an open, honest and safe environment to discuss Islam and ask questions. It’s a good time to say that I love questions. It’s natural to want to know more about my beliefs and by answering your questions maybe you’ll find out some thing that you’d never known before.
After a few years in this safe haven, we moved to the large and diversified city of Leicester. There we enjoyed anonymity among the masses of people who came from the Asian sub-continents, as we lived close to the city centre and we were all able to wear whatever we liked without getting a second look. We came back a few months ago (as I told you in my first post we’ve been through multiple house moves!), and I’ve realised that people have moved on and things have changed and as I’m getting older now I’m less willing to lean towards what people want from me and (hopefully!) am happier as I am, in my own skin. I am aware that even though ignorance exists it’s very easy to get paranoid and always feel that everyone treats me differently according to what I look like when it’s not true. There are plenty of good people in the world who see our hearts rather than our outward appearance and who accept me just the way I am. And I’d like to thank you for that!
Hashtag campaigns like ‘#not in my name’ and ‘#you ain’t no muslim bruv’ really help as they are educating people not to hate us and not to believe the media hype that all muslims are to be avoided and have fundamentally evil beliefs. Today I was forwarded a video that really made me smile. Liverpool FC fans have made up a new song, singing the praises of Mohammad Salah. And here it is. I love the fact that football can be a uniting factor in our country- and anyway who can be racist watching so many foreign players playing on our beloved football grounds across the country?
There are certain people in the media that have actually made big difference to our day-to-day lives in these small towns. God bless Nadiya Hussain! The fact that she’s out there as a public figure is a great reminder of what can be achieved if we put in the hard work! Well done Nadiya- may you go from strength to strength!
A very exciting phenomena that has come about recently is the fact that famous brands are now selling modest clothing and head scarves, targeting Muslim women. Hopefully this will increase the tolerance for our choice of clothing in the future. Truly, the advantage of living in a free country is being able to wear what we want without being questioned.
These quotes of ‘Rumi’ come to mind and it is what I will leave you with today:
‘I am not this hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lies within.”
‘Love is the bridge, between you and everything’. It truly is.
Until next time then,
Peace and love,
PS To help me on my journey to enoughism I will write down 3 things I am grateful for at the end of each post. These are:
- All the beautiful loving people in our lives who love and accept us all, just the way we are.
- Coming back to this small town in the Black Country this summer and despite having lived in 7 different areas of the UK in my life, feeling like I’ve come home.
- Amazing inspiring muslim women, including Dalia and Yasmin Mogahed, Nadiya Hussain and Ayisha Malik, Mariah Idrissi, Bushra Shaikh, Farhana Shaikh and all the other fantastic muslim women out there who refuse to bend to the stereotype. Thank you for being such a huge inspiration and for being yourselves.