Ten faiths, one message…

Today – 27th January – is Holocaust Memorial Day. On this day we remember the barbaric massacre of millions of Jews (alongside other people classed as “undesirables” by Hitler), barely one century ago. As we are called to remember the genocide and we repeat: “Never again“, we must truly reflect. For the utterance of these two words have not stopped the violence, the prejudice, the bloodshed. War, torture, genocide…is carrying on as we speak.

In light of this, I’d like us on reflect on the following – especially as we remember the past and we envisage an unknown bleak future in the current socio-political climate and the fear rising from Trump’s new role as POTUS: we are the people. Humanity is one and we are responsible for the way we treat others and the way we respond to hate rhetoric. Regardless of our differences we must unite, remembering our similarities and enjoining in good. Are we all really that different?! No! Embrace your differences – it’s what makes you unique. The world would be so dull if we all came from one mono culture! However, at the same time: unite in solidarity.

With this in mind, I’d also like us to remember one thing in particular: The Golden Rule. The teaching of: treat others the way you wish to be treated! Whatever your faith, it’s there! And wouldn’t the world be a safer, happier, more tolerant place to be if we all remembered this “rule”? I’m convinced so! So here’s The Golden Rule according to the world’s 10 largest faith groups (listed in ascending order of population size). Enjoy!

…………………………

Shintoism

  • ~4 million followers worldwide (0.01% of the world’s population)

the-heart-of-the-person-before-you-is-a-mirror-see-there-your-own-form

Jainism

  • 4.5 million followers worldwide (0.06% of the world’s population)

janismn-final-final

Confucianism

  • 7 million followers worldwide (0.1% of the world’s population)

CONMF FINAL DRI FINAL.jpg

Bahá’í Faith

  • ~8 million followers worldwide (0.15% of the world’s population)

-And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself.-NEW.jpg

Judaism

  • 20 million followers worldwide (0.3% of the world’s population)

NEW JUDIAMS FINAL FRIDAY.jpg

Sikhism

  • 30 million followers worldwide (0.4% of the world’s population)

SIKHISM FRIDAY FINAK.jpg

Buddhism

  • 400 million followers worldwide (7% of the world’s population)

FINAL BUSSHIDM.jpg

Hinduism

  • 1 billion followers worldwide (15% of the world’s population)

fiunal-hindusism

Islam

  • 1.6 billion followers worldwide (23% of the world’s population)

FINAL ISLAM.jpg

Christianity

  • 2.3 billion followers worldwide (32% of the world’s population)

CHRISTIANOITY FINAL.jpg

…………………………

So, there we have it: 10 faiths, one rule, one humanity. If we really want “never again” to mean something in terms of action, then we need to respect our differences yet remind ourselves that we all have the same obligations towards ourselves and our global brothers and sisters. Ask yourself this when you’re in a situation: Would I want this? How would I feel in such situation…?

Salam! Shalom! Peace! ♥

Sources and credits:

Statistics from: Waterlow, R. (2017) ‘Top 10 Largest Religions in the World‘, World’s Top Most

Original photographs:

Feature image: Leo Reynolds

All images are edited versions of photographs first published under a Creative Commons licence, unless otherwise stated (see credits). For terms of usage visit Flickr.

Photo editing and design: Elizabeth Arif-Fear

20-offpurplebouquets

True Islam – an insight into the global peace campaign with Salaam Bhatti

65117015_d9b5f4cfaf_o.jpg

Image credit: Mayesha K

Back in June, I dedicated a post to the True Islam campaign entitled: True Islam – 11 reasons why ISIS does not represent Islam – detailing the 11 points of the worldwide campaign which dispels common misconceptions of Islam and gives an insight into the true peaceful mission of Islam.

I’ve since been fortunate to have been put in touch with Salaam Bhatti who works on the True Islam campaign in order to get a greater insight into the campaign itself.

Here’s what Salaam has to say about the campaign: its origins, success and future.

Assalam aleykum. Thank you for taking the time to speak about the True Islam campaign.

The True Islam campaign is about teaching the true values of Islam centred on peace, tolerance and human rights. How, when and why the campaign was set up? 

The campaign launched after the San Bernardino massacre, where two Muslim extremists killed 14 and injured 22 people.  President Obama called for a unified effort from the Muslim community to battle elements of extremism within our communities and the True Islam campaign does exactly that by educating away extremism.

Could you summarise for people unfamiliar with the True Islam campaign what it’s addressing in particular?

There are extremist groups which use Islam to spread their terror for their geopolitical goals. They brainwash disaffected youth by using Islamic terminology and convince them that these are Islam’s true teachings. We took 11 of these points and present in easy to understand terms what Islam’s true teachings are about topics like jihad, women’s rights, freedom of speech, etc. This way, Muslims and non-Muslims can know how true Islam is separate and apart from extremism.

What is your role? Could you explain how you became involved?

I serve as a spokesperson for the campaign and work on the social media arm of our campaign. I became involved because my friends and I did not want Islam’s narrative to always be a battle against extremism and we wanted to help our country out. Through this campaign, we not only combat extremism, but we also let everyone know Islam’s other beautiful teachings.

There are 11 points in the campaign. Which issue(s)/misconception(s) do you believe are the most prominent and most at need of addressing? Why? Where do you believe this originates from?

The points about jihad and women’s equality are two I hold very dear. Many erroneously think that jihad is a violent battle with non-Muslims. Jihad and violence became popularly linked through Maududi, a cleric who is celebrated in extremist circles. Jihad is not a violent concept. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who Ahmadi Muslims believe to be the Promised Messiah and Mahdi, defended Islam when it was accused of being a religion spread by the sword by saying, “The sword it wields cuts its own throat before reaching others.” Women’s rights are also important. Many forget the state of women when Prophet Muhammad (sa) was born. They were treated as less than animals.  But Prophet Muhammad’s (sa) teachings raised the status of women so high that paradise lay at their feet. Unfortunately, now we see in the very homeland of Prophet Muhammad (sa) that women cannot drive cars and we see women in general being subjugated in many ways throughout the world. We need to stop killing each other for different beliefs and we need to stop depriving our mothers of equal rights.

313814235_2b8422ceec_o.jpg

Image credit: Ahmed Alper

Where does Sharia law and Islamic guidelines fit in with the True Islam concept of secularism and Islam? Could you explain more about this?

Sharia is a way of life and a code of laws for Muslims only. The popular notion of an “Islamic state” is incorrect because the Quran does not prescribe a political system. The Quran calls for mutual consultation and justice on every level. The Quran and Prophet Muhammad (sa) also teach that we should obey those in authority and to be loyal to our country of residence.  Prophet Muhammad’s (sa) example as leader of Medina showed a pluralistic government and not an Islamic state. If we don’t like our nation, Allah reminds us that the Earth is vast and we can move anywhere else.  Separation of religion and state is very important so we do not end up treating others as “less than”.  Many “religious” states in today’s world have done just that and one only needs to read Human Rights Watch to see the gross injustices occurring against minority groups. So, to nip all this in the bud, Islam is very clear that there is no religious-based political system.

Why do you believe there is so much Islamophobia and Islamic extremism nowadays?

When we did not know about math, we went to class and learned from a math teacher.  When we did not know about science, we went to class and learned from a science teacher. But with 60% of Americans not knowing a Muslim and there being no class to learn about Islam, we see fear based on ignorance. Additionally, there’s a failure in Muslim leadership. This failure results in Muslims not knowing about Islam’s own teachings, which leads to feelings of no unity, which can lead to an identity crisis, extremist thought, etc.

The True Islam campaign is a global campaign originating in the USA. How receptive have people been on the ground? What’s the situation like for everyday American Muslims?

As American Muslims, we launched this campaign so that American Muslims could be connected much closer to their faith and so that our national security would improve once people could differentiate Islamic teachings from extremist ways. It has been well-received from many different people, especially due to our active social media presence.

There is a rise in Islamophobia across the nation. Whereas American Muslims focus on spending time with family and friends, paying bills and mortgages, and enjoying life, there’s an additional concern of worry whether oneself or a family member could be a target of threats or violence. However, it is very important that we do not give into this fear, it is important that we open the doors to our mosques wider than ever so we can educate this extremism away. Extremists want us to be afraid so that we grow resentful to our nation and ultimately join their cause.  We’re better than that.

What has the response been from the local and global Islamic community regarding your campaign?

Before we launched the campaign, we sent a letter to over 2000 mosques, imams, and Muslim organizations in America to join the initiative pre-launch and received no responses.

How have non-Muslims responded to your campaign?

Non-Muslims are impressed with the campaign. It is presented at many venues across the nation throughout the year, universities, interfaith events, and open mosque programs.  The clear, concise language briefly and efficiently explains core Islamic concepts and non-Muslims (as well as Muslims) have enjoyed that.

11326145713_411474d6c4_o.jpg

Image credit: Azlan DuPree

On the website, visitors can see who has endorsed the campaign and its 11 points. Could you tell us a bit more about who’s backed the campaign?

People of all backgrounds, Muslim and non-Muslim, politicians, faith leaders, and others have endorsed this campaign. For 15 years, rhetoric against Islam has been widespread. Many are annoyed and sick of this because it is a false narrative of Islam. This is why so many people are stepping up to endorse this campaign and spread the word about it.

How can “everyday Muslims” educate both Muslims and non-Muslims and work towards establishing peace? What practical steps can people take? What methods has your community in particular found to be productive, engaging and well received?

The best way to educate others about Islam is by our actions and the best action to take is to follow Prophet Muhammad (sa)’s model. We should show patience in adversity, firm resolve during our struggles, and kindness to God’s creation. The True Islam campaign has found it very helpful to disarm internet trolls not by fighting back, but answering in clear terms the issues they present. We have also invited all to mosques across the nation. There was a local politician from York, Pennsylvania who said insulting things about Islam in a voicemail to a church and on social media.  We invited him to a mosque during Ramadan and, in his meetings with Muslims, he was awestruck by Muslims, admitted his error, and now endorses the True Islam campaign.

What’s the future of the campaign? Are there any particular upcoming developments?

We just launched a nationwide event called “Coffee, Cake, and True Islam” where we invite people to chat in a friendly environment, like a coffee shop, about Islam’s true teachings. This is a chance for Muslims and non-Muslims to meet and talk with Muslims to learn what Islam actually teaches.

Do you have a message for Muslims and non-Muslims out there?

Education will erase extremism. It worked for Prophet Muhammad (sa) when he taught his people that extremist ways of killing girls, ruthless bloodshed, and women’s subjugation was not right.  It will work again today.  We cannot let hate divide us. Let us educate away extremism and start by endorsing the points at TrueIslam.com.

6710102155_624dbb4040_o.jpg

Image credit: Ikhlasul Amal

Jazak Allah. Thank you for your participation!

So, check out the campaign and endorse the 11 points here!

You can also check out the campaign via social media on Facebook and Twitter.

Salam!

Credits and Acknowledgements:

I’d like to thank Salaam for taking the time to be interviewed and to wish him and the rest of the True Islam team the very best in the future with their campaign.

Feature image: Jona Nalder

 

The Islamic call for justice and peace (part 2): 30 hadith from the life of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)

In my last post, I included 30 citations from the Qur’an looking at peace, compassion, mercy and justice. In part two, I am now going to finish this series by looking at the second textual source of Islam: the hadith. These are the collections of the sayings, behaviour and teachings of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) as an exemplary guide of the core messages of the Qur’an. So here is an outline of the teachings of peacemaking, just ruling, honesty, kindness, charity and non-violence.

1. The best jihad is a word of truth in front of a tyrannical ruler.

2. ‘Assist your brother or sister Muslim, whether he be an oppressor or an oppressed.’ ‘But how shall we do it when someone is an oppressor?’ Muhammad said, ‘Assisting an oppressor is by forbidding and withholding that person from oppression.’

3. Truly God instructs me to be humble and lowly and not proud, and no one should oppress others.

4. Faith is a restraint against all violence, let no Mu’min [believer] commit violence.

5. Deal gently with the people, and be not harsh; cheer them and condemn them not.

6. Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever has not kindness has not faith.

5259141398_cdb3b38cdd_o.jpg

Image credit: Fahrurrazy Halil

7. Allah will not be merciful to those who are not merciful to people.

8. The proud will not enter paradise, nor a violent speaker.

9. Someone said to the Prophet, ‘Pray to God against the idolators and curse them.’ The Prophet replied, ‘I have been sent to show mercy and have not been sent to curse.’

10. All God’s creatures are His family; and he or she is the most beloved of God who tries to do most good to God’s creatures.

11. The best of people is one from whom good accrues to humanity.

12. What actions are most excellent? To gladden the heart of a human being, to feed the hungry, to help the afflicted, to lighten the sorrow of the sorrowful, and to remove the wrongs of the injured.

5510231781_741c4da566_o.jpg

Image credit: BRQ Network

13. Anyone of you who sees wrong, let him undo it with his hand; and if he cannot, then let him speak against it with his tongue, and if he cannot do this either, then (let him abhor it) with his heart, and this is the least of faith.

14. The most beloved in the sight of God, on the day of resurrection, and the nearest to Him, in regard to position, shall be the just leader; and the most hateful of men in the sight of God on the day of resurrection, and the farthest removed form Him, shall be the tyrannical leader.

15. God is gentle and loves gentleness.

16. There is a Sadaqa [charitable gift] to be given for every joint of the human body; and for every day on which the sun rises there is a reward of a Sadaqa  for the one who establishes justice among people.

17. You will not enter Paradise until you believe and you will not believe until you love each other. Shall I show you something that, if you did, you would love each other? Spread peace between yourselves.

18. You should show courtesy and be cordial with each other, so that nobody should consider himself superior to another nor do him harm.

4263709069_a94471968e_o.jpg

Image credit: Mary Quite Contrary

19. Do not turn away a poor man…even if all you can give is half a date. If you love the poor and bring them near you… God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.

20. Avoid cruelty and injustice…and guard yourselves against miserliness, for this has ruined nations who lived before you.

21. Seven kinds of people will be sheltered under the shade of God on the Day of Judgement…They are: a just ruler, a young man who passed his youth in the worship and service of God…,one whose heart is attached to the mosque…,two people who love each other for the sake of God…,a man who is invited to sin…but declines, saying ‘I fear God’…,one who spends his charity in secret, without making a show…and one who remembers God in solitude so that his eyes overflow.

22. Make your character good for the people.

23. It is better for a leader to make a mistake in forgiving than than to make a mistake in punishing.

24. None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.

277221852_476e8916f0_o.jpg

Image credit: Hamed Saber

25. There is a reward for kindness to every living thing.

26. The worst of guardians is a cruel ruler. Beware of becoming one of them.

27. The most hated person in the sight of Allah is the most quarrelsome person.

28. Whoever forsakes his brother for a year, it is as if he has shed his blood.

29. A true believer does not taunt or curse or abuse or talk indecently.

30. To administer justice between two people is charity.

4903439822_39a118b12e_o.jpg

Image credit: Jonah Bettio

So, that is the concluding part of this brief two part series aimed at giving a core outline of Islam contrary to ISIS ideology, Islamophobic discourse and mass media rhetoric. To be a true Muslim, you must believe in mercy, justice, honesty, truth and and peace and strive to act in accordance with these values in your daily life. Once again – ISIS does not represent Islam!

Salam!

Credits/further information:

Feature image: Steve Browne and John Verkleir

The Threshold Society (2001) ‘A Collection of Hadith on Non-Violence, Peace and Mercy

For a further more extensive list of websites consulted, click here

The Islamic call for justice and peace (part 1): 30 citations from the Qur’an

When Muslims meet, they are obliged to great each other with the words “Assaalam aleykum” (peace be upon you). Such greeting is a reminder not simply of being a believer (Muslim) but of the essence of Islam itself through the blessings and duties that come with being a Muslim. Salam (peace) is the essence of Islam – peace in obeying God, being at peace with your spiritual needs and with family, friends, neighbours through mutual rights and responsibilities. In  obeying Allah’s command’s to give charity, be kindtruthful, forgiving, merciful, to avoid greed and not transgress limits and all that harms one’s soul and community, we can find peace. Alongside peace itself is justice when we are just towards others, Allah is just towards us. We live in a just society and we find peace. This is the essence of Islam.

I’d like to give a brief insight into the call for justice and peace within Islamic scripture. In this article, the focus is the primary textual source of Islam: the Qur’an. Here are 30 citations from the Qur’an which highlight the importance of and call for justice and peace.

  1. Indeed, those who believe and do righteous deeds and establish prayer and give zakah [obligatory charity] will have their reward with their Lord, and there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve. (2:2 77)

2. Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors. (2:190)

3. And when he goes away, he strives throughout the land to cause corruption therein and destroy crops and animals. And Allah does not like corruption. (2: 205)

4. They ask you, [O Muhammad], what they should spend. Say, “Whatever you spend on good is [to be] for parents and relatives and orphans and the needy and the traveler. And whatever you do of good – indeed, Allah is Knowing of it.” (2: 215)

5. Those who disbelieve in the signs of Allah and kill the prophets without right and kill those who order justice from among the people – give them tidings of a painful punishment. (3:21)

6. Kind speech and forgiveness are better than charity followed by injury. And Allah is Free of need and Forbearing. (2:263)

4981944136_bd02b27f90_o.jpg

Image credit: Ahmad Naufal

7. And let there be [arising] from you a nation inviting to [all that is] good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and those will be the successful. (3: 104)

8. O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah , even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted. (4:135)

9. Allah will say, “This is the Day [of Judgement] when the truthful will benefit from their truthfulness.” For them are gardens [in Paradise] beneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever, Allah being pleased with them, and they with Him. That is the great attainment. (5:119)

10. And the weighing [of deeds] that Day will be the truth. So those whose scales are heavy – it is they who will be the successful. (7:8)

11. Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded. (16:90)

12. O you who have believed, fear Allah and speak words of appropriate justice. (33:70)

9544228681_5421fe7b91_o.jpg

Image credit: Phalinn Ooi

13. And O my people, give full measure and weight in justice and do not deprive the people of their due and do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption. (11:85)

14. O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do. (5:80)

15. They who believe and do not mix their belief with injustice– those will have security, and they are [rightly] guided. (6:82)

16. By which Allah guides those who pursue His pleasure to the ways of peace and brings them out from darknesses into the light, by His permission, and guides them to a straight path. (5:16)

17. And do not make [your oath by] Allah an excuse against being righteous and fearing Allah and making peace among people. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing. (2: 224)

18. And Allah invites to the Home of Peace [Heaven]and guides whom He wills to a straight path (10:25)

5316272756_92f2c9defb_o.jpg

Image credit: Bryan se

19. And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace […] (25:63)

20. And if they incline to peace, then incline to it [also] and rely upon Allah. Indeed, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing. (8:61)

21. These are the verses of Allah . We recite them to you, [O Muhammad], in truth; and Allah wants no injustice to the worlds. (3:108)

22. But when He saves them, at once they commit injustice upon the earth without right. O mankind, your injustice is only against yourselves, [being merely] the enjoyment of worldly life. Then to Us is your return, and We will inform you of what you used to do. (10:23)

23. And establish weight in justice and do not make deficient the balance. (55:9)

24. And among those We created is a community which guides by truth and thereby establishes justice. (7:181)

nunzia article.jpg

Image credit: Nunzia Bushra

25. O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is  Knowing and Acquainted. (49:13)

26. It is that of which Allah gives good tidings to His servants who believe and do righteous deeds. Say, [O Muhammad], “I do not ask you for this message any payment [but] only good will through kinship.” And whoever commits a good deed – We will increase for him good therein. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Appreciative. (42:23)

27. Indeed, We have made that which is on the earth adornment for it that We may test them [as to] which of them is best in deed. (18:7)

28. Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah , the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous. (2:177)

29. And give the relative his right, and [also] the poor and the traveler, and do not spend wastefully. (17:26)

30. Who spend [in the cause of Allah ] during ease and hardship and who restrain anger and who pardon the people – and Allah loves the doers of good; […] (3:134)

So, once again – a short and sweet very brief insight into Islam but I hope to have highlighted the command to be just, to look after one another and to leave in peace.

Salam!

Credits/further information:

Feature image: doBot

Quranic citations: Sahih International translation of the Qur’an (see here)

Expat or immigrant? – Immigrant. Why everybody should experience living abroad

Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked in their shoes.” Each and every persons’ life experiences are unique but until you’ve experienced something it can be difficult (if not impossible) to understand. Even though no two experiences are the same, sometimes you have to try and put yourselves in that person’s shoes. In the case of migrants and refugees this can sometimes be difficult yet all the more important.

There’s a lot of anti-immigrant, anti-refugee discourse around at the moment concerning undocumented migrants, the recent refugee crisis and EU migrants. Lots of people form unsavoury opinions without even any direct experience. Well, I’ve been living in Spain now for over a year. I’ve spent time living for certain periods in a few countries. I’m passionate about social justice, human rights, migrants’ rights and about fighting racism and religious discrimination. I want to talk about my experiences here in Spain as a “white” Caucasian, British (EU) Muslim migrant married to a non-EU, North African Muslim who is a migrant himself and what we’ve witnessed in our time here. There are a lot of labels there. Whilst labels can be counterproductive, essentialist, and encourage both discrimination and narrow views on identity, in order to uncover the different layers of discrimination here in Spain, you have to pick out the different markers of identity and socio-cultural-economic “classification”.

Here’s my experiences of being an immigrant in Spain, of what I’ve lived, learnt, heard and witnessed (of course I can’t speak for everyone or overgeneralise):

  1. As a non-national or “non-native”, the factors which distinguish you and lead to the most discrimination are: colour, economic status, religion and nationality (which incorporates culture).
  2. Racism/discrimination can be multi-faceted and you may sit between communities. I found myself affected by what I believe to be mild Islamophobia yet almost no racism based on my culture or nationality. I tried to compare experiences, histories and stereotypes; trying to judge and understand my situation in relation to Moroccans as North-African and Muslim and with non-Muslim “Western European” migrants here in Spain.
  3. A lot of people really don’t know the difference between an economic/social migrant and a refugee or asylum seeker – this is a political tool and drives racism and stereotypes.
  4. Integration is a TWO WAY process – you have to put in to get out. Locals, in the name of humanity and collectivity; welcome others! Build bonds and collective identities – crush stereotypes and misconceptions. Likewise for non-locals, if you don’t want to put in – why are you there? If you’ve got no choice – remember this: it’s a duty/blessing to give something back. In doing so you may counteract unfair, unjust racial, religious and cultural discrimination and stereotypes and open up opportunities, relations and change mentalities.

europeans-only-1508839 (5)

Unfortunately, there’s negativity here: Muslim women being physically and verbally abused (“Moor”, “terrorist”), poverty, destitution… I see destitute migrants, drinking away their sorrows, sleeping on mattresses. Yes, this also happens with locals  but with immigrants is unfortunately common. I’ve also experienced for myself being asked in interviews for English teaching positions on a few occasions about my headscarf, knowing that I’m a native English speaker (not just “British”) – which adheres to their “standard” or “ideal English teacher” persona. Some interviewers added that it wasn’t an issue. Some I know were genuinely curious or unperturbed but one lady added: “What’s your religion?” and no, this wasn’t in a post-interview chat. Although I can’t prove anything, it’s not a good feeling. Some employers simply tell other Muslims that they’d have to take their scarves off. On top of this, I’ve also seen a jobless, homeless Moroccan woman (both a mother and wife) asking for help, running from domestic violence and neglect, pregnant with young children and each with full legal residency, being told there’s “nothing they can do”, being sent one from office to the next, till her and her children end up on a boat home. Yet, despite all of this I have also witnessed the kindness of Spanish police in such situations and of Spanish neighbours, colleagues, parents, students and general members of the public. Each country has its own inner issues – here there are economic struggles – but there is a wider socio-cultural issue that is void of economic reasoning: socio-cultural exclusion.

Multiculturalism appears to be non-existent here. There’s no real sense of “collective identity” – not if you’re Muslim or Arab at least from what I can see. Neither does there appear to be a great appreciation of other cultures – besides tucking in to a plate of couscous or other “world-cuisine” and despite all the Arab-Moor history in Spain in what was once known as Al-Andalus. I’ve heard otherwise but it seems rare, even despite the positive safety and peace of many migrants living here to counteract it (I can’t speak for refugees/asylum seekers unfortunately). What I stand by is that you have to put in to get out – especially when living in such societies. Yes, without a doubt, migrants should be welcomed but on the other hand, when you see the mosque closed during Ramadan – that’s a missed opportunity right there. That’s your chance to reach out to impoverished or curious people here. Budgets are stretched at both ends but that shouldn’t hold back local and migrant communities in reaching out to each other. In terms of Spaniards, apart from Latin Americans and “typical Westerners/Europeans” and the odd exception, I’ve so far only really seen locals “socialising” with alcoholic destitute migrants (one being Kenyan) who must be in similar situations to themselves. On the other side of the fence, I’ve seen those which appear to have turned their back on their own cultural norms or have come across as so assimilated they were unrecognisable as North African or Muslim. You don’t have to drop your own cultural values. Regarding religious values, you’d be a hypocrite in doing so. A Muslim doesn’t need to sell alcohol or ham to be accepted. I stand by my words: Spain – like many European countries but unlike the UK in terms of majority in my opinion – has a reputation of being Islamophobic and racist. Indeed, there are issues regarding colour, nationality/”race”/culture and Islam but not as much as I’d envisaged. There is hope but things do need to change.

Helping hand shakes another in an agreement

It’s through witnessing, feeling and living all these moments that you see and feel what others go through. I’ve always said to my husband: “Racists should go abroad and see it’s not easy”, “You can’t hate people you’ve met and really know – people need to travel”. Indeed, some of the friendliest Spanish folk I’ve met here are elderly Spaniards who used to live in Morocco. They knew it on a personal level – they’d grown up there, they’d made Moroccan friends. So, if you’re up for an adventure, go abroad and see what life is like for others. Go “native” – don’t go “expat” or “tourist” in your bubble of sun soaked fellow countrymen or tourists. Put yourself out there. If you’re staying put, reach out to the migrant and refugee community. It’s not easy for them. Build bridges. We’re all human. A smile can and does go a long way. If you’re living abroad, reach out to the local community!

Salam!

Image credits:

Images are re-published under a Creative Commons licence