The past couple of years have probably not been the best for you if you look anything like me – a headscarf wearing, visibly Muslim woman, or a man with a beard that’s slightly too long to be a fashion trend.
With the Boston bombings in the US, the murder of soldier Lee Rigby in London and now IS, people seem to have taken an image of Islam and painted all 1.6 billion Muslims around the world with the same brush as the tiny per cent of clearly disorientated people who call themselves Muslims.
If you’re waiting for me to apologise on behalf of IS, or any other extremist group, you’ll be disappointed, as I don’t intend to. But before you go on a witch hunt – hear me out. I personally don’t believe that it makes any logical sense for me as a Muslim to say sorry about a group of people whom I’ve never seen, and don’t even know, just because they supposedly share my religion. Of course I do condemn their actions and I certainly don’t see them as functioning humans, let alone Muslims.
Growing up in the West, I’ve never been familiar with living in a place where I blend in with the crowd. Sometimes I find myself standing out when I’m the only person in a crowded train carriage, or on a bus, wearing my headscarf.
When I was younger it was different; I was the same as most other children in my school with my caucasian skin tone and coloured eyes. But the first time I began questioning why I was being treated differently because of my religion was when I was out with my family taking a stroll in our area.
Did you know that 5 out of last 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners were Muslims – @TheMuslimGuy
I still hadn’t worn the hijab yet, but my mother was wearing it, and a van that was driving past slowed down near us. The driver rolled down his window, spat in our general direction and shouted, ‘Go back to Saudi Arabia’, followed by language that I don’t think is appropriate to repeat. I was initially confused as I’d never been to Saudi Arabia and didn’t understand why he’d think we were from there.
When I began wearing the hijab at the age of 13, I went to an all girls’ Muslim school in northwest London. When we would go on class trips, 20 or so hijab wearing girls outside the school premises, we would notice the stares from members of the public, with tourists even taking pictures of us from aboard the open-top London tour buses. One man also thought it was funny to shout ‘tick tick tick tick boom!’ while we were all getting on the tube. This is when I began noticing the different treatment I would get for being visibly Muslim.
While some may think that these are just harmless words from ignorant people, it can sometimes take a toll on someone who may experience it on a regular basis. There was a time when I would be worried to walk home late at night on my own, as I would remember the instance when a man shouted “fucking terrorist” at me from his car. Occurrences like these regularly went unnoticed by the media and the general public, as the issue of Islamophobia was never spoken about.
Some stories did make it to the media, for example, during the summer of 2013, when a Muslim PhD student in London, who whilst wearing the hijab and a long black abaya (dress), was stabbed to death on her way home from university. The few media organisations that did cover the story called it a ‘race-hate crime’, and the term Islamophobia was surprisingly never mentioned.
It’s also quite interesting to contrast the little media coverage this received, with the type of sensational reporting we see plastered all over front pages when a Muslim is the one committing the crime. Surely religion shouldn’t be the focus when a lunatic decides to go on a rampage.
To be fair though, I wouldn’t want to generalise all British media by the actions of the tabloids and overly commercialised papers. There are news organisations that have spoken about the issue, albeit in a small scale, such as The Guardian and The Huffington Post. I have come across a few articles in The Guardian that have expressed their opposition to a lot of the tabloid’s fear-mongering front pages when it comes to Islam. Mehdi Hasan from The Huffington Post also regularly writes his opinions on Islamophobia, but he is a Muslim himself, so would naturally raise the issue and discuss its importance.
Home Office figures released during the middle of October this year have shown a 44.8 per cent increase from 2012/13 to 2013/14 in religious hate crimes in London. So why has it taken us until the rise of IS for the world to start talking about Islamophobia?
Many will have seen the video of actor Ben Affleck’s appearance on Bill Maher’s TV show in America, where they get into a heated debate about Islam. Bill Maher expresses his clearly Islamophobic, and quite shocking, views that the entire religion of Islam is wrong and a ‘bad idea’. Although I’ve heard opinions like these a lot, I’ve never seen them displayed in such a bigoted and public way that they have become a norm.
I was glad to see Ben Affleck attempt to dispute this and show him how wrong it was to use the actions of a few as a representation of nearly one quarter of the world’s population. It’s opinions like Maher’s that encourage bigotry and hatred towards the rest of us Muslims who are just living our lives, and are not so different from the rest of the world. I came across this tweet that provides the perfect response to this type of Islamophobic hate-speech.
FACT: Did you know that 5 out of last 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners were Muslims (3 were Muslim women)…Please Share! pic.twitter.com/0eZV4sAllm
— Arsalan Iftikhar™ (@TheMuslimGuy) October 10, 2014
Another brilliant response to the spreading issue of Islamophobia, that shows how important it is to talk about the issue in order to combat it, is the social experiment video filmed in Australia to see the reactions of the general public to Muslim women being targeted in Islamophobic hate crimes.
The video shows a young man (part of the experiment) going to visibly Muslim women in public places and shouting anti-Islam abuse at them, and in one instance grabbing one of their bags to ‘search for bombs’.
The reaction of the general public was beautiful, many urged the man to leave the women alone and let them dress as they please, with another even taking the Muslim woman by her arm and leading her away to safety.
The full video can be viewed here:
It’s important that we finally address this issue and realise the significance of it for the benefit of a peaceful society. Russell Brand (regardless of your opinion on his flamboyant character and whether you agree or disagree with a lot of what he says) is one of a growing number who has addressed the issue of Islamophobia in his videos.
Alongside the video above, these are the things that will help educate people in combating intolerance and hate towards any other human being. Quoting Mean Girls, I wish I could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat and be happy!
Photography by © Lauren Towner