by Sahrish Hadia
Image by DGT Portraits c/o Pexels
It has been a poorly-kept secret that in the last few years, tensions in Britain have been high. Brexit may have been our ‘official’ indicator – but to those who did not ‘fit the mold’, we noticed the tears in the fabric of our society long ago. As a country, we have been fraying for some time. Changing immigration laws, vitriolic attacks on innocent pedestrians, the rise of far-right groups; Britain is becoming increasingly less ‘united’ as the years progress.
Conversely, it seems that as the world is getting bigger, our minds are becoming smaller.
This problem is not limited to the UK, of course. Many of the major human rights’ debates have revolved around women, and their autonomy – with a recent focus on the hijab and the face veil. It would have been difficult to miss the protests in France, the Netherlands and further around the world, over what is essentially a woman’s right to wear the clothes she chooses.
A little over a year ago, the “burkini” was released, and the internet exploded. Panels, articles and councils were hurriedly revived or put together to justify this new fashion option – months were spent on debating something that was virtually and visually identical to wearing a wetsuit with a swimming hat.
Then, the face-veil was banned. I understand the security concerns – I really do. Yet again, Muslim women were not consulted. If asked, these same women would have informed you that they would be happy to reveal their faces for the purposes of identification, provided they could do so in a private room with a woman in attendance.
Recently, and to the consternation of many, the UK brand Marks and Spencer’s recently released a hijab for young Muslim girls to wear as part of their school uniform.
The outrage over a simple scarf is baffling.
I was born in England, and I have lived here for the entirety of my life. I know this culture, because it is mine.
In my primary school, there weren’t exactly many children who looked like me. A short Indian-Pakistani girl, with a short bob-cut and fringe, with two incredibly pronounced front buck-teeth that would stick over her bottom lip, even when she kept her mouth closed.
In other words, not exactly a prime candidate for the stereotypical British school experience.
I grew up singing “This Little Light of Mine” and “Whole Wide World” in the morning assembly; we sang them so often I still remember the words. At seven, I was cast as the lead in the Nativity play as Madeline - an intrepid, young shepherdess who went on a journey to meet the newly-born baby Jesus. A year or so later, my class then took a trip to the local church, where I was asked to sit in a dark box and confess a sin to a man I had never met. Bemusedly, I had complied.
I am Muslim. I was born into a practicing Muslim family. The entire concept felt strange to me, but I was curious, and gamely dove in.
When I went to a (decidedly non-religious) secondary school, in my first year I sat through an hour’s presentation on the Bible by a guest speaker, and we all left with a brand-new copy of the New Testament. I think I still have it. I took Religious Education, and my school chose to make Christianity its core religion – so I spent another two years learning about Christian beliefs and ethics. In my first year of university, I was again given a copy of the St James’ edition of the Bible. By this point, I think I had owned more Bibles than Qur’ans.
The result of all these interactions? I am a Muslim woman who is very familiar with Christianity. I can explain Christian concepts and beliefs to people who do not understand them. In a multicultural society, I feel comfortable mixing with people I do not know. It is no different from learning about Sikhism or Judaism. But when people hear the word “Islam”, they fear it.
This fear of the unknown is a poison to our society. To rectify it, the people of this country must realize that knowledge is power.
To all the parents, grandparents and relatives who fear their children being ‘changed’ – forgive me, but you’re giving them a bit too much credit. Because the Muslims you’re scared of? They are children too. Most of them, like myself, are just waiting for lunchtime.
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