Javaria Akbar wrote in the Telegraph that she feels unwelcome in the UK as a Muslim woman, and whilst totally repudiating the women that are going to Syria to join Isis, somewhere she understands their desire to be with more people who understand what being a Muslim is all about.
Well, I am half-Indian, and know plenty of Indian lasses who fit in perfectly well – have British boyfriends / husbands (like me), have an equal or even greater proportion of non-Indian friends, jobs, don’t get stared at or things thrown at them – unlike poor Javaria. Similarly with black people, Chinese people I know, French people – they just get on with things and never complain about strange looks or treatment. If any of us did have weird treatment, we might just put it down to the person being odd, rather than it being about us. This is in London, as with Javaria. She clearly is educated and has a good job.
So I can’t possibly believe that it is matter of either her skin colour or not having learnt British customs – like me she was born here and clearly fitted in well enough to get a good job. If people ask her questions about her background, being Muslim, it is probably because she makes it clear that she is a Muslim. In fact to look at her she could be Indian – and no-one asks me, all Indian looking that I am, about arranged marriage, religion etc.
Perhaps she, like other Muslims who feel ‘left out’ of British society should look closer to home for the reasons that might be.
Actually, the only times I have ever felt uncomfortable or unwelcome were in and around Brick Lane, where the young men, mainly Muslim Bangladeshi, would stare at me (presumably for being in Western dress – they probably believed I was ‘one of them’ and should cover up) and even in a restaurant there, a waiter refused to serve me, presumably again because he thought I ought to be a submissive woman and not going about with white people and ordering food from him (ie being the boss of him).
There are of course racists – but I’m afraid that perhaps I have an extremely thick skin, in London in my experience it has only ever been Muslim men who have made assumptions about me based on my skin colour and way I dress. I simply fit in with the rest of society because I AM like the rest of society. I don’t feel different – so why should anyone treat me differently? They don’t.
The problem is with the assumptions made by Muslims that people won’t like them, that they ‘should’ behave in a certain way to please us, that being looked at equates some kind of negative activity etc. But actually most people just want the same thing – that others like them. So try liking other people and you might find they like you back! Stop making it all about you as a Muslim and reach out as a Human for a change.
Yes it’s true – being non-Muslims we do think it is weird to have arranged marriages, to cover up and pray 5 times per day. We as a people in Britain are mostly very secular and non-religious. We have been attacked by Muslims too often now, including in London, to be completely unfeeling when we are confronted with a Muslim looking uncomfortable or unhappy – because, rightly, we expect a bomb could well go off.
We are confronted with men outside Mosques in traditional dress, women covering up, halal shops and all the other outward shows of being different – how are we supposed to understand that? If people make no effort to mix (in fact – actively prohibit inter-religious friendships often) then really they should not be surprised when they feel left out. Muslims rallying in favour of terror or against free speech or against other aspects of our British culture and complaining about ‘Islamophobia’ in the face of actual attacks on non-Muslims, are the final nails in the coffin of cohesion.
We should not be blamed for this – the Muslim community should be more understanding and look within for ways of sorting out their problems. If you want to fit in – make an effort – don’t wait for everyone else to change for you. Javaria – you look beautiful and are clearly smart and fun – just try and ‘put up’ with the occasional question you find intrusive – you know what – it’s not the end of the world. All of us at some stage probably feel we would rather someone ‘not go there’ or feel we don’t fit in somewhere – but we just get on with it and don’t look too hard for issues where they are possibly of our own making. Most of us have worked in places with complete weirdos who ask inappropriate questions – you’re not alone in that – just watch The Office! Join a club which doesn’t require booze to socialise – art history, rambling, painting, cycling, go to talks, readings, learn a new skill – whatever. Get out there with British people outside of work, just be yourself and you’ll find you will make friends. We’re not that bad – honestly!
If we non-Muslims went to a Muslim country, we would be expected not to drink, to cover up, to act more in keeping with their traditions. In fact, that is the best case scenario. Christians and other non-Muslims – especially Jews – are treated extremely badly – even killed in many Muslim countries. Perhaps Muslims in the UK should consider this, before they complain of being treated differently. Perhaps we treat them differently to how they are treated by other Muslims – but that is because we are not Muslim. Most of us are not really religious at all, and would look on the very religious as a bit odd.
When my father came to the UK from India in the 1950s he immediately fitted in, he made friends amongst white people (there’s photos of him in the early days surrounded by his English nurse friends – he was a nurse in the RAF) whilst still keeping his friends from back in India – but immediately England became his home. He would cook curries occasionally but that was it. He married a European woman and little more of Indian life was ever discussed. This was a shame in some ways, as I would have liked to know more, but it meant I was simply a Brit from birth, and it meant most of the people we knew were not Indian – so it wasn’t strange. The difference? My dad wanted to fit in – he came here because he wanted to live a different life – not bring the old hang ups and superstitions from back home with him. That’s why he succeeded. He never tried to marry me to an Indian – he educated me and let me be free to choose my life.
Perhaps young Muslims should blame their parents for having made too little effort to fit in to the country they presumably chose to come to for reasons similar to my dad. If they didn’t like it so much back home then why still hang on to the old ways in the new country? Why shelter their children from the ways of British culture – surely it is clear they will end up misfits? Muslim children constantly fall in at the bottom of league tables educationally – along with the white underclass. Surely this must have something to do with the culture of being a Muslim – as it does with the anti-school ethic of the White underclass.
Non-religious state schools, of which there are 2,632, had an attainment rate of 78%. Of the smaller religions, which have less schools (making them harder to compare), the 11 Methodist schools had a rate of 92%, followed by Jewish schools with 80% and 7 Quaker schools with 94%. England’s 84 Muslim state secondary schools had a rate of only 24%%. (From The Guardian).
Do Hindus make special demands on the host nation, or complain all day long about not being made to feel welcome? No. Do Jews? No. Chinese people? No. Because we take responsibility for our lives and make changes if we feel we need to in order to achieve what we want.
Very religious Christians I often feel must feel odd in the midst of the secularism and commercialism of modern life. Perhaps they feel the need to hang out with similar people too. Jibes are levelled at them for being ‘Happy Clappy’ or ‘Bible Bashers’ – but they tough it out. They probably feel different too – but presumably are philosophical about it – times change and we must all adapt – sometime unfortunately, sometimes for the good.
There is a lot to be said for that aspect of British culture – taking things on the chin. Perhaps if Muslims took a leaf out of the books of other religions for ways to fit in they would be more successful in society. Or perhaps if that seems a step too far, perhaps it is time to decide that going back to the country your parents or their parents came from is the best option. There you will be with lots of people just like yourself – so why not? Is it because there are benefits to being in Britain? Do you like the jobs, the comforts, the freedoms?
Perhaps you need to decide whether you can start to fit in and contribute in that case. Or is it your religion holding you back? It seems a choice needs to be made – by Muslims themselves. Be happy as Muslims in Muslim lands, or integrate better to be happy in the West. We welcome you – but life is not perfect for anyone – so are you prepared to put up with it or not? Because that is what we all have to do – make daily compromises between what must be done and what we would like to do. It’s called civilisation.