“I can only hope and pray that as I come through the airport I will find my home waiting for me…”- Experiences of American convert to Islam Ashley Bounoura

In light of Trump’s new “career change” and the rise in Islamophobic hate crime both here in the UK and USA, Muslims here in the UK, across Europe and in the US in particular, face being potentially verbally and physically abused whilst going about their daily lives. Discourse around values, identity and belonging feed Islamophobic rhetoric. As a Muslim convert living in the UK, I’ve had no real trouble so far. I feel happy, safe and wanted here in the UK. But what about in the US?

Having met the lovely Ashley – a young American convert to Islam currently living in Algeria with her husband and founder of the blog Muslimah According to Me – I wanted to get an insight into her experiences as a convert: how did her friends and family react to her decision to become a Muslim? Was she welcomed within and outside the Muslim community? What is life like in the US for a Muslim convert? Well, here’s Ashley’s guest post talking about her experiences in both the US and UK. Enjoy!

……………

15181533_10211268880938203_2784240802646481146_n.jpgAs I began to seriously think about reverting to Islam, I had no idea what to expect. I knew I was scared of the reactions of my friends and family, and I knew to expect some backlash in general from the public as I went out for the first couple of times in my hijab, but I didn’t know what form any of that might take.

Looking back, in the few months after I first reverted, the reaction was far kinder than anything I had come to expect. Especially within my family, the people who are most important to me were the most supportive. My mother, sister, and grandfather all felt some apprehension at first, but as they began to see that I was the same person, and even becoming a better person because of this faith, they were quick to let me know that they supported anything that made me happy.

Within my friendship group there was a slightly more mixed reaction; I had a couple of friends from Los Angeles area that had a little bit of a difficult time stepping out of their affluent republican mindset, and unfortunately my decision to wear the hijab officiated the end of some friendships. My best friend, however, was completely supportive of me, and now even participates in World Hijab Day every year to spread awareness. Of course, I also made a couple of new friends along the way, both born Muslims and reverts [Muslim converts].

Integration into the Muslim community itself – another problem many reverts face – was easy and painless for me, in the beginning at least. I had one very good friend, who acted as a sort of all-in-one mentor, shoulder to lean on, and resource library. She always took me along to classes and lectures with her, and her friends all accepted me as I was. I joined the Muslim Students Association at my university, and the sisters there were all also very welcoming and ready to share in my journey.

However, upon moving to London (United Kingdom), I found that such accepting communities are actually quite rare to find. I had in fact been spiritually “growing up” in a metaphorical bubble. I had been excited to move out of my tiny community into something bigger, and I thought London would be a great opportunity for me to make tons of new friends. I instead found the community there to be far less open, and deeply separated into cultural cliques that had no place for a native-English speaking American university student. Because of this, I ended up being very isolated for the year I was studying there. The one good thing about moving to the diverse city of London however was the fact that the people on the street hardly gave me a second look.

Back in my university town in California, I had found myself in an odd place between the two communities. I found myself experiencing my majority cultural community in a much different way than I ever had before. Though I am always, to some degree, a novelty within the Muslim community, within the wider community, I experienced everything from micro-aggressions and confused stares, to actual violent threats (though this was by far the exception to the rule). For the most part, I got an odd look or two walking down the street, but I made it my policy to just look back and smile, and this tended to put people at ease. The broad majority of interactions I had in my university course, with my colleagues at work, and in my extra-curricular activities were positive. People were curious but kind, sceptical but supportive, and sometimes they just ignored the change completely.

The negative things I did experience mainly consisted of mildly irritating micro-aggression, usually in the form of slightly ridiculous questions. One thing I got asked a lot by random strangers was: “Where are you from?” Of course I would answer with: “California,” but they would almost always follow up with “yeah, but where are you from?” Sometimes I would just be given two choices: “Are you from Iran or Iraq?”, “Lebanon or Syria?”, “Albania or Turkey?” People seemed to have a very difficult time believing that I actually am just from California, and so are my parents, and my grandparents, and my great-grandparents (with the exception of my maternal grandfather’s parents, who are from Italy). Other times I have been asked very strange questions, but as long as there is space for a conversation I am always OK with giving an answer. Beyond the small things though, the biggest problem that I find that people had with me is not the fact that I am a Muslim, or that I “resemble the enemy,” but the fact that I am white and I choose to dress and believe as I do. Many of my most violent and aggressive encounters have stemmed from this type of animosity and the fact that, according to them, my lifestyle choices are not valid.

So, as I am preparing myself here in Algeria to begin the move back to the United States with my husband, I sometimes worry about the situation I will be returning to. I hear stories daily from my Muslim friends of attacks, mosques burning, being sworn at an intimidated in the street. I have been the recipient of not-so-cordial comments on my own blog and social media, and I can only hope and pray that as I come through the airport I will find my home waiting for me, instead of being made to know that I am officially no longer welcome here, in the country where I spent the first 21 years of my life, because I choose to look and believe differently than those who hold the power.

……………

Credits and acknowledgements:

I’d like to thank Ashley for her time and efforts in writing this guest piece. I’d also like to wish her and her family all the very best for the future and their move back to the US.

If you’d like to find out more about Ashley and her experiences, please do visit her blog and Muslimah According to Me Facebook page. The blog is well worth a visit!

Images:

Greater than Fear (Shepard Fairey, Ridwan Adhami) (feature image) (CC), Ashley Bounoura (c)

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Gender, colour, faith: Tell Mama reveals the shocking truth about hate crime in the UK

I recently met with Fiyaz Mughal (OBE)– Founder and Director of the UK hate crime organisation Tell Mama. As the leading body in reporting Islamophobic and racial hate crime, I wanted to find out in light of Brexit, the rise to power of Trump, ISIS’ ongoing tirade of extremism and the spate of recent European terrorist attacks, how the nature of hate crime has changed in the UK and who is most affected. Here’s what I found out…

[…]

VoS: For Muslims and non-Muslims out there, can you tell us a little about the work that you do?

TM: So, the work of Tell Mama involves many different prongs; the first being direct support to victims who have suffered anti-Muslim hatred who make contact with us through a variety of means (WhatsApp, email etc.). We provide detailed case work support; writing to agencies if need be,  collecting evidence, talking to police forces, trying to get prosecutions with the police in relation to anti-Muslim hatred. Then there’s the other flip side, which is really about advocacy and emotional support. Many, many, many victims are Muslim women and certainly the targeting of Muslim women involves not just Islamophobia and anti-Muslim material but also a lot of misogynistic material – a lot of gender hate material that’s mixed in, as well as racialised language so it’s really unpacking that and giving them that kind of emotional support – so multiple services. […] The two other prongs; creating and sustaining good educational material that’s out there for not just schools but for use in the public domain through social media as well as some small courses for schools that we produce educational material for. Last but not least, we are really heavy on trying to influence policy change – not just with social media companies but with government and police forces around understanding anti-Muslim hatred.

VoS: So you said you deal with a lot of hate crime which affects Muslim women in particular. Especially since Brexit and the rise of ISIS over in The Middle East, there’s been a sharp rise in racist and Islamophobia attacks in the UK and Europe and North America. One shocking case for example was of a Muslim lady who was attacked in London, causing her to later miscarry her twins. I’m presuming this didn’t come as a surprise to you? Were you expecting a sharp increase in the rise of hate crime since Brexit and in the current political situation?

TM: When we started the project with Tell Mama in 2011, we came across an online world which was absolutely full of anti-Muslim bigotry and hatred. There was no checking. There was no counter-speech. There were enormous amounts of accounts that were promoting anti-Muslim bigotry. We knew that that would have a real world impact from the virtual to the real. We could see that. So in 2011, we realised early on that actually there was a wind – a nasty wind – that was coming across the horizon and was going to affect Muslim communities. So, did we expect this? Well, yes. Did the statistics start to pan that out? Yes. And that was also corroborated by police forces. Did we expect more aggressive stance towards Muslims at a street level? Yes. And so this case does not come out of the blue. Sadly, we expect that actually there will be more incidences of assaults and we’ve seen a change at a street level from predominantly verbal abuse before to now over the last few years a much aggressive level of physical incidences taking place – again predominantly at visible Muslim women. So it’s moved from the virtual about what people were thinking into the practical in people wanting to do things and that’s a bad place. This is not going from people thinking about it. They’re actually thinking and doing it now.

VoS: So do you think that it’s simply -as some people have said – that the political and social situation has evolved in such a way that it’s almost been normalised to behave in such way and so people are just expressing opinions and hate they had before or that people’s opinions have actually become more extreme since the recent political crisis?

TM: We also know that international and national incidences create large spikes of anti-Muslim hatred – Paris, Charlie Hebdo, all of them… We’ve got evidence of the numbers of cases coming in. Did we expect Brexit to cause such a large rise? Actually we didn’t but what Brexit did do was clearly bring out the views that people had. These things don’t just fester overnight. They’re there. So Brexit was an amplifying point for them and so to your question: it’s a combination. Today what we’re seeing is a combination of people who are emboldened to think that they what they believe which may be prejudicial bigoted and racist is actually okay to say – that’s the first thing. The second thing you asked is if are there more people who are becoming anti Muslim. The answer is that there is actually an influence of what I would clearly class as extremist material which is anti Muslim in nature and percolating into the minds of younger men in our society who are then targeting Muslims and Muslim women in particular. So yes, there are more people consuming accepting and regurgitating extremist anti Muslim material and there are individuals who had these previous thoughts who now think it’s justified and validated that they can say them. It’s a combination of both.

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Photo credit: Chris Page

VoS: That’s very interesting. Why do you think young non-Muslim British males in particular? You said there was a lot of misogyny and sexist crime. Is that particularly to do with the veil or because Muslim women may appear as less likely to be able to defend themselves?

TM: When we’ve spoken to some of the perpetrators there’s been the notion that they’re not going to be threatened by the victim – the victim is not going to stand up physically to them. That’s the first thing. So there is a validity in what you’re saying. The second thing is that the targeting of Muslim women is quite complex. In some of the perpetrators we have discussed this with, the first thing is an extremist anti-Muslim view promoted by not just far right groups but the new alternative right – the Trump brigade, the people who who believe the nonsense that Muslims are here to take over the world… That alternative right kind of narrative has promoted the view that actually Muslims are here to take over the West by outbreeding everyone. This is the nonsense and the toxic extremism that is promoted that feeds the minds of some of these perpetrators in which Muslim women are the carriers of the future generation, as the “prolonger” of Islam, as the gender which will actually keep Islam and Muslims in Europe. That’s why there’s a drive towards Muslim women subconsciously in the minds of some of these people. So it’s physical – they know they’re not going to be attacked but Muslim women have also become not only symbolic of the longevity of Islam but also symbolic of Islam itself. When you get that combination – that’s why they’re being targeted. What’s bizarre and I think I think there’s a very strange link here which is around the procreation again is that the amount of sexual language that is thrown at Muslim women. We have not seen this behaviour before but it is particularly acute online. So what you find is two women talking on Twitter. They just say, you know: “What do you do today?”, “I went to the cinema” etc.  and suddenly a troll will come in and basically say “Oh you look really sexy in your hijab.” And what they’re trying to do: they’re trying to humiliate the woman by targeting her sexuality because she’s religious to you and so in their minds that humiliates her. They’re sexualising them to humiliate them but let me be very clear: those people who are doing that towards Muslim women will in many instances also have  deeply deeply troubling views towards women in general. So there’s a confluence that they they they think really badly of women but as this is a Muslim women they feel more confident to vocalise this. You know they will be thinking about other women but it’s Muslim women that they’ll vocalise it towards. That’s the distinguishing thing right now.

VoS: So how have you dealt with this sharp increase in hate crime in particular, in dealing with the amount of reports and complaints you’ve received? What’s life been like as an organisation since Brexit in terms of case loads and complaints?

TM: So we’ve seen a year on year increase. What we’ve started to pick up now is a combination because possibly more people know about us but the data also clearly shows that when there  is a major incident like a terrorist incident, the spikes are getting higher and higher. Let me give you a really clear example. We had the brutal murder of Lee Rigby and the pictures were pretty brutal on newspapers. They were all over them. That was the first indicator that there was a huge anti Muslim backlash taking place. We  recorded that and we vocalised that in the press. To some degree you can understand that actually there will be a backlash given the pictures and given that it happened in Woolwich, in England, in our streets. But when you have Charlie Hebdo and when you have Paris and particularly Paris which is 400 miles away and the peak is even higher than after the murder of Lee Rigby: that is indicating to you a disturbing trend that something 400 miles away is even higher than the brutal murder of somebody right on our street. That’s disturbing. That’s where this is going. The more Muslim communities are buffeted by international incidences, the more fractures are taking place between communities, the more brittle, the more hardline views are becoming towards Muslims and even those people who may have been receptive and susceptible to engagement with Muslim communities are now starting to think: “Have these these groups got a point about Muslims?” That’s the problem! Views in some areas are regressing not progressing !

VoS: Well it goes beyond social identity debates into a wider debate about Islam looking at Islam as a whole. Obviously, a lot of your work is going to be confidential but what sort of reports and cases have you dealt with which you can share with us on a broad basis?

TM: So the cases will range from general abuse, through to neighbourhood disputes and cases where people have actively tried to run over women in a vehicle, through to bombing campaigns. After the murder of Lee Rigby, what was reported to us from some of the masjids was that there were explosive devices left in some mosques in Walsall, Wolverhampton and Tipton [in the West Midlands]. One of the mosques in fact informed us about the explosive device and they tipped us off. That’s the kind of variety of work we get in. And by the way – the crossover at that point between the explosive devices being left outside mosques was not because was not triggered by the murder of Lee Rigby – it intersected at the same time. It was  done by a neo-Nazi. So there’s a range of work we deal with. We are becoming quite an intelligence hub about what the threats to Muslim communities are today.  

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Photo credit: Tim Green

VoS: In addition to hatred from outside Muslim committees you also focus on what you refer to as intra-Muslim bigotry. Could you explain a little more about this for people that are perhaps confused by this term?

TM: So intra-Muslim bigotry is basically what we call Muslim on Muslim hate incidences. Members of the Shia community will report to us when they’re targeted for being Shia, members of the Ahamdiyyah community will report to us when they’re targeted because they’re Ahmadiyyah… No other Muslim organization tackling Islamophobia does that. Why is the question and the response should be in life that if you are targeted because of an element of your identity that needs to be recorded and support provided to you in relation to that. So doing this work is really important 1. to honour the victim; 2. to provide practical assistance to the victim; 3. not to take any political view of whether people should be washing their dirty laundry in public. This is not about that. This is about human rights. This is about the rights of individuals. The numbers reporting to us is not high  but I can tell you: the bigotry towards Ahmadiyyah communities is quite significant. And actually the spike we saw after the murder of Asad Shah was worrying. So we record and we call it out because it is wrong. I think this issue of intra-Muslim bigotry is something that Muslim committees need to get over and that actually, they need to start vocalising that this kind of internal hatred is not acceptable.

VoS: Being vocal is definitely important. You’ve faced criticism in the past for being what’s been classed as “soft” on Muslim groups which are often deemed heretical by certain people. How have you responded to members of the Muslim community with these views about the importance of overcoming these issues and divisions and addressing hate crime throughout the community?

TM: It’s a really important question you raise. Look this is where I will revert back to our belief as a staff members in Tell Mama – and we’re not all Muslim. Only one third of the team is Muslim. So Muslims are in the minority running Tell Mama let me just say that to people on your blog because it’s really important to realise that this is a movement which is not just about Muslims: it’s about human rights. The second thing I want to say is let me revert back. I’m a Muslim and for me and those Muslims in the team in Tell Mama – the view is pretty clear that in Islam there is no difference in values of the protection of human rights and the protections of individuals. In Islam there is no difference […]. Islam is very clear about that. The history of Islam is is consistent with that. Islam does not say brush things under the carpet. Islam says defend those who may be weak. It doesn’t say so do because they are Muslim. It says defend anyone who is attacked – whether they’re Christian, Jewish, non-believing… Your right to defense by Muslims is sacrosanct. Your right to be defended by Islam is in the Qur’an. It’s in Islamic tradition. So, we make it clear that if you think that just because members of the Ahmadiyyah community are reporting in and that’s bad and let’s not talk about it and they’re not really Muslims…then you were taking away the very core issue of Islamic theology which is to defend the weak and defend the oppressed and defend those who are targeted. It doesn’t matter who or whey’re your from. It doesn’t matter what sexuality or where you come from. Defend your rights is key.

VoS: Prior to the unfortunate murder of Asad Shah in Glasgow, had you received many reports of hate crime between Muslim groups? What’s the difference ? Has there been a change both before and after this event? Was that a huge marker or was that just one unfortunate incident?

TM: Again brilliant question. The answer is no. There were other markers. The first time we came across intra-Muslim bigotry recorded by us and reported to us was during the start of the Syrian civil war. The first indicators we got was when members of the Shia community started reporting to us around 2012/2013. So we did start to see anti Shia bigotry being reported to us and then the Asad Shah murder created a spike of anti-Ahmadiyyah cases coming to us. So there’s been a general rumbling, just a slow burning rumble of intra-Muslim hate cases that we receive but what’s clear again is national/international impacts don’t just affect Muslims, they also affect intra-Muslim bigotry. The Syria crisis created a lot of anti-Shia rhetoric. Asad Shah’s murder happened and then suddenly you see people thought that because he was Ahmadiyyah he deserved it, even though the murder of Asad Shah was not related to him being Ahmadiyyah. The murderer said he killed him because Asad Shah was saying he was a prophet of God – distinctly different. You see the bigotry just seeped in – completely different to facts and that is what we are dealing with. If we’re to tackle these issues we have to be brutally honest and anti-Ahamdiyyah rhetoric is quite accepted in a large section of Muslim communities. It may not be vocalised but there’s a claim of acceptance. I personally think it’s wrong. Do I think that we need to challenge that? Yes. On the issue of what we receive in cases, these individuals deserve and have every right to access the same service as anyone else.

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Photo credit: Descrier

VoS: Have you received a significant number of calls for help from any other particular group and could you tell us a little bit about this?

TM: Firstly, some individuals will report to us thinking that they can trip us up by thinking “they won’t service us. […] Let’s trip up Tell Mama and say ‘I’m Christian. Will you help me?'” Well, you’re not tripping us up because actually if you’re Christian or you’re Jewish and you report to us we will provide you with the same service. Secondly, the first time another group started reporting to us was after Brexit. Two groups reported to us: Eastern European communities and African Caribbean women. Here we go back to the gender issue. Why? From talking to the African Caribbean women, we found that the “N word” came back into the lexicon – old racism. Three African Caribbean women reported to us just a day after Brexit to say that they had been called that racial word that they hadn’t heard in 20 years. But… all of them were women. That is not a large enough figure to make an extrapolation but certainly the fact that they were women tells us about gender and goes back to what I said before. Gender has to be looked at. Eastern European communities also report to us and we had five cases from Polish communities who were targeted as well.

VoS: Yes there was the unfortunate murder of the Polish gentleman. That’s been a big issue. Do you believe the government is doing enough to tackle hate crime and Islamophobia? Islamophobia is now recorded as a separate category of hate crimes so it won’t fall into the bracket of racial crimes etc. beyond that – do you think they’re doing enough?

TM: Yes, but not enough. The government have made huge headway in understanding that anti-Muslim hatred is a real problem that needs to be tackled. When we started our work in Tell Mama the government was in a different place. It was very difficult for them to understand the nature of the problem and the place the government is in today is substantially different in its understanding of anti-Muslim hatred from five years ago. They’re putting money in. They’re putting resources in. Ministers are standing up and are constantly reaffirming the fact that Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred is something they need to tackle as well as other strands. But, they have also done something else. Looking at the Action Against Hate hate Crime action plan for 2016 that the government produced, within the thread of every page they’ve mentioned Islamophobia as a key issue they need to tackle. So there’s a lot more that can be done but let’s commend the government for what they have done. Many people within Muslim communities constantly bash away at government and I’m one of those people who will absolutely hold government to account if I think that they’re fundamentally wrong. I’ve actively challenged the government on issues. So I’m not sitting here as some kind of a puppet for the government. No. They know I actively challenge them but when they’ve done something right, we need to commend them and they’ve done a lot in this area and will continue to do a lot more.

VoS: What are your predictions for the immediate future? What do you believe are the main challenges ahead for both Tell Mama and British society in terms of social harmony and political based issues and in light of this, what are Tell Mama’s goals for the coming future?

TM: The fact is that 2017 will be turbulent with major political shifts and changes on the horizon. After Brexit, we saw spikes in hate crime and far right groups are becoming more organised in Europe. So, there will be more turbulence. Our goals are to ensure that Muslim communities feel confident to be able to report it, campaign and empower themselves to be able to handle and challenge anti-Muslim hatred AND other forms of hatred. Muslims are not an island and hatred affects other communities, though with a significant international focus on Muslims, they need to become self-empowered right now.

VoS: How can local communities and residents from all faiths and none and from different backgrounds come together to help prevent attacks against Muslims – from both within and outside the Muslim community – and as a whole, anyone affected by hate crime?

TM: Simple things can be done through social media activism, ensuring that faith communities and institutions undertake activities together and last but not least: do not fall into the trap of looking like you’re doing a ‘tea, samosas and steel band’ type activities. Whatever is done together should be practical, realistic and impactful – and sometimes challenging.

VoS: Do you have a final message for those who are concerned about the position or place of Muslims in British society or for those attracted to extremist, hateful or far-right rhetoric in any form?

TM: Yes. Muslims are here to stay in Britain and will be here for the next 500 years or more. So, unless we find a way to live together, are we going to hand down a legacy of conflict to our children?

[…]

If you’d like to find out more information, see:

To report an incident of hate crime in the UK:

  • In an emergency, please call 999
  • To report a case to Tell Mama, get in touch via telephone: 0800 456 1226, email: info@tellmama.org, text: 0115 707 0007 or WhatsApp: 07341846086

Acknowledgements and credits:

I’d like to thank Fiyaz for his time and insights and I wish the Tell Mama team all the very best in their work and future endeavours.

Image credits: Steve Snodgrass (feature image)

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The biggest massacre in Europe since WWII – do you know it?

After the tragic events of WWII and the genocide of millions of Jews, Roma gypsies, homosexuals, political opponents, the handicapped and anyone else deemed “unworthy” under Nazi Germany‘s policy of extermination, the World said never again. Yet the sad reality is that the world continues to witness immense violence and the massacre of groups of people due to their political, ethnic, cultural and /or religious beliefs.

The fact is that last week witnessed the 21st anniversary of the massacre of around 8,000 young men and boys. What was the “reason” behind such killing?

They were Muslim

I attended a memorial evening showing the following documentary and was shocked. It retells events of 11th July 1995 – the day in which Bosnian Serbian forces entered the town of Srebrenica and massacred 8,100 Bosnian Muslim men and boys. This is the genocide of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in the 21st century.

This genocide of Bosnian Muslims is the biggest massacre since WWII. The documentary is really is worth a watch to get the facts behind the massacre and show just how it continues to affect families and the area it devastated.

What was left from this massacre – stemming from extreme nationalism and religious hatred – is the unearthed and scattered remains of these victims and heartache of the wives, mothers and sisters left behind. In some cases, generations were wiped out within one single family. Those in power sought “revenge” for the Ottoman domination – as absurd as that sounds. In seeking “revenge” and Serbian domination, they massacred thousands – raping women and killing their male family members.

In order to conceal their crimes, the Serbian forces scattered the remains of the victims across a variety of sites. If not painful enough, many families cannot fully morn the loss of their loved ones as they await for their remains to be found. Other families hold a funeral with what remains of their loved ones are left. Any sense of real closure is near impossible:

I can visit my loved ones. It is much harder for the widows and mothers who still haven’t been able to bury their loved ones.

Fadila Efendic, Srebrenica survivor

DNA sampling continues to be used to trace living relatives to the remains of the massacre. According to Valerie Hopkins of Al Jazeera: “About 1,000 people remain missing from Srebrenica, another 7,000 are unaccounted after the 1992-1995 conflict which claimed a total of 100,000 lives.”

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Remains of the victims are stored until they can be identified / pieced together – Image credit: Hifsa Haroon-Iqbal

Whilst families still struggle to come to terms with their losses, there is another crucial message that comes from such tragedy: whilst we said never again –  it happened. This massacre stemmed from a gradual process of demonisation and discrimination up until the point of genocide.

Dr Gregory Stanton, President of Genocide Watch, formulated the “10 Steps of Genocide” detailing how stereotyping, and minor hate crime can lead up the mass extermination – genocide – of a group of people. These stages go hand in hand with the series of events leading up to the extermination of Jews in Nazi Germany and massacre of Muslims in Bosnia:

  1. Classification: distinguishing “us” and “them”
  2. Symbolization: adding names and symbols for these classifications
  3. Discrimination: oppressing other groups in terms of legal, political rights etc.
  4. Dehumanization: denying the humanity of said group – equating them as “animals”
  5. Organization: arrests, torture, special army training, buying arms
  6. Polarization: driving people apart using propaganda
  7. Preparation: increasing hate propaganda, using euphemisms (e.g. objectives are for “counter terrorism” purposes or as “ethnic cleansing”), building armies/
  8. Persecution: formulation of “death lists”, segregating victims into ghettos, deporting victims to concentration camps, confinement
  9. Extermination: mass killings, rape
  10. Denial: burning of bodies, digging up mass graves, covering up evidence

Further information in how these 10 steps relate to the massacre of Bosnian Muslims, can be found in the NGO Remembering Srebrenica‘s latest publication which can be viewed online here. I really recommend reading this mini-book to get an overview of events past and present and to learn more about the NGO and how you can help. The fact that concentration camps were introduced post-WWII is simply shocking. Testimony of camp survivors is also available online via their website, including that of Subin Musić at Trbopolje Camp, Prijedor):

Men would be shot dead before us, and left to rot for hours. The smell was intoxicating. […] The women were systematically raped at Trnopolje. They were kept in a separate building to the men, but we could hear them.

The fact that such events happened so close to home for many of us and so recently – essentially breaking all “Western” conceptions and stereotypes of human rights and tolerance (akin to Orientialist discourse) – shows us once again that we all belong to one global humanity where hatred is widespread. We are no different from each other: we are capable of doing both good and bad. What this teaches is us is that: intolerance, negative stereotyping, “otherising” and scaremongering are found all over and they have serious consequences. All this can lead to discrimination, persecution and even genocide.

Communities must embrace differences and build a common foundation of tolerance, peace and understanding. If we look at the rise in media scapegoating of refugees and immigrants, the rise in Islamophobia and hate crime steadily over the last few years and in recent weeks since Brexit we must stand united. Remember the lyrics of the famous Groove Armada song:

If everybody looked the same
We’d get tired of looking at each other

Well, it’s true! Variety is the spice of life as they say. We should be proud of who we are but not exclude others. Discovering other cultures and languages and meeting new people is what life is about! Find the common ground and celebrate the differences that make us individual and unique. At the wonderful memorial presentation I attended last week by Hifsa Iqbal, Muslims and non-Muslims were reminded/witness to the following verse:

O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one’s] faith. And whoever does not repent – then it is those who are the wrongdoers.

O you who have believed, avoid much [negative] assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allah ; indeed, Allah is Accepting of repentance and Merciful.

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.

Qur’an (49: 11-13)

We were created differently and should embrace difference and treat each other fairly. Sadly, Srebrenica is not an example of tolerance, community and peace but instead demonising, Islamophobia, nationalism and ultimately death…

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Women left behind to remember the victims – Image credit: Photo RNW.org

Helping, learning and moving forward

So with the sad remnants of Srebrenica and in today’s context of increased levels of hate crime, intolerance and prejudice, what can and should we be doing to both remember the victims of Srebrenica and to ensure that this sad tragedy (like many others) does not repeat in any other form?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Host a memorial event
  • Teach children about the event and the importance of community cohesion
  • Donate to help towards the cause
  • Blog, tweet and raise awareness online
  • Check out the Remembering Srebrenica‘s website for ideas and make a pledge
  • Work towards relations in your community: join/form/become involved with interfaith groups, community centres and intercultural programmes
  • Stand up to racism/intolerance whenever you see it
  • Encourage victims of hate crime to report incidents to the police. Muslims can also contact Tell MAMA and The Islamic Human Rights Commission directly

Remember the past, learn from it and keep the peace!

Salam!

Credits / further information:

Feature image: Stefano Giantin

Hopkins, V. (10/07/2015) ‘Srebrenica: Unearthing loss‘, Al Jazeera

Remembering Srebrenica – further information, witness testimony and extra resources

Stanton, G. (2016) ’10 Stages of Genocide’, Genocide Watch

True Islam – 11 reasons why ISIS does not represent Islam

The other week I found a website called True Islam which teaches about justice, peace and human rights as part of Islamic teaching. I’ve written previous posts about Islamophobia given the current climate of ISIS, Islamic extremism, Islamophobic attacks and media scaremongering but I’d like to share the following information for non-Muslim readers to give more specific insight into how and why ISIS does not represent Islam and how and why true Islam is one of peace and not extremism! Here are the key points.

1. Islam rejects all forms of terrorism

True Islam rejects all acts of terrorism. The Holy Quran forbids Muslims from creating disorder in the world: “Do not go about committing iniquity in the earth and causing disorder” (29:37); “They seek to create disorder, and Allah loves not those who create disorder” (5:65); “Seek not to create disorder in the earth. Verily, God loves not those who seek to create disorder” (28:78).

2. Non-violent jihad is of the self and pen

True Islam recognizes that jihad means to struggle and strive in good works to attain nearness to God. True Islam teaches that violent jihad has no place in today’s world. The Holy Quran declares, “…whosoever killed a person…it shall be as if he had killed all mankind” (5:33). The Holy Quran explicitly places equal value on all human life.

3. Islam believes in the equality, education and empowerment of women

True Islam recognizes the practical equity and spiritual equality of men and women. The Holy Quran declares, “But whoso does good works, whether male or female, and is a believer, such shall enter heaven…” (4:125). According to true Islam, the most important goal and greatest objective of a human being is to attain righteousness and nearness to God—and both men and women have equal capacities in achieving this goal.

4. Islam advocates freedom of religion and speech

True Islam teaches that every human being has the right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion without the threat of coercion or punishment. This understanding stems directly from the Holy Quran, which clearly declares, “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:257).

In response to those who insult or deride Islam, i.e. commit “blasphemy,” true Islam advocates complete restraint, just as the Holy Quran prescribes: “And the servants of the Gracious God are those who walk on the earth in a dignified manner, and when the ignorant address them, they say, ‘Peace!’” (25:64). Moreover, the Holy Quran addresses blasphemy on five separate occasions but never permits any worldly punishment for it. Accordingly, true Islam opposes the current anti-blasphemy laws in Muslim-majority countries.

5. Islam does not impose Islamic law and allows for minority rights

In Arabic, Shariah simply means “a path” and refers to the rules and customs that guide Muslim life in aspects ranging from daily prayers to familial and financial matters. The Holy Prophet Muhammadsa never imposed Islamic Shariah on non-Muslims. On the contrary, as the de facto ruler of Arabia, he settled disputes between Arab citizens according to their individual faiths—offering them a choice between the Jewish law, Islamic Shariah, or secular arbitration. Therefore, Islamic precedent ensures a strict separation of mosque and state, especially with matters pertaining to non-Muslim minorities.

6. Islam teaches loyalty to your country of residence (but not extreme nationalism)

True Islam requires a Muslim’s loyalty and obedience to their respective country of residence and laws. The Holy Quran states, “O ye who believe, obey Allah and obey the Prophet and obey those in authority from among you” (4:60). This verse demonstrates that a Muslim’s obedience and loyalty to the government is required, regardless of the faith of those in power. In this respect, the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa declared, “You should listen to and obey your ruler, even if you [despise him]” (Bukhari). Likewise, the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa instructed that obedience to the government is a religious duty: “Whoso obeys the ruler obeys me, and whoso disobeys the ruler disobeys me” (Muslim).

7. Islam encompasses the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

True Islam values all human life, recognizing universal human rights as a fundamental tenet of Islam. True Islam emphasizes that mankind’s equality derives from man sharing a Single Creator and rejects any notion of racial or ethnic superiority. The Holy Quran states, “O mankind, We have created you from a male and a female; and we have made you tribes and subtribes that you may know one another. Verily the most honorable among you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most righteous among you. Surely Allah is All Knowing, All Aware” (49:14). Therefore, true Islam rejects any concept of inequality in mankind, and instead encompasses the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

8. Quranic verses cannot be used in contradiction to each other and lying is forbidden

Extremists, attempting to exploit Islam, argue that so-called ‘violent’ verses abrogate any Quranic verses advocating peace. For example, they argue that verse 9:5, “And when the forbidden months have passed, kill the idolaters wherever you find them and take them prisoners, and beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush …” abrogates 2:257 “There is no compulsion in religion.” However, 9:5 refers to actions Muslims are permitted to take in self-defense when attacked while 2:257 demonstrates that under no circumstance are Muslims ever allowed to compel their faith on others. No contradiction or abrogation exists.

Extremists—Muslims and non-Muslims alike—also argue that Islam permits treachery (“taqiyya”). But this belief is utterly false. The Holy Quran states, “And confound not truth with falsehood nor hide the truth, knowingly” (2:43), and “Therefore follow not low desires so that you may be able to act equitably. And if you conceal the truth or evade it, then remember that Allah is well aware of what you do” (4:136). The Holy Prophet Muhammadsa also instructed Muslims, “It is obligatory for you to tell the truth” (Muslim). This demonstrates that deception and lying are incompatible with Islam.

9. Islam teaches that believing in and submitting to (the One and Only) God (Allah) and doing good righteous deeds is the key to salvation

True Islam recognizes that the right to decide who goes to heaven and who goes to hell is one that is exclusive to God. Human beings—Muslims or otherwise—cannot make this decision. Likewise, the Holy Quran states, “As to those who believe…verily, Allah will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection. Surely, Allah watches over all things” (22:18).

The Holy Quran is likewise clear that God’s grace and mercy are His most powerful attributes: “God replied, I will inflict My punishment on whom I will; but My mercy encompasses all things” (7:157). Therefore, true Islam recognize that ultimately, God’s mercy will encompass all human beings, regardless of their faith. Indeed, true Islam teaches that if mercy were not one of the attributes of God, no one would be delivered.

10. Islam believes in the need for united Muslim leadership

True Islam believes in unified spiritual leadership to peacefully guide Muslims. This understanding stems directly from the Holy Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad’s example. Indeed, the Holy Qur’an implores Muslims to promote peace by remaining united, “Hold fast, all together, by the rope of Allah and be not divided; and remember the favour of Allah which He bestowed upon you when you were enemies and He united your hearts in love, so that by His grace you became as brothers; and you were on the brink of a pit of fire and He saved you from it.” (3:104)

11. Islam wholly rejects the idea of a violent bloody Messiah

True Islam rejects the concept of a bloody Messiah. The Holy Quran states that any “Messenger is only responsible for the clear conveying of the Message” (29:19). This verse demonstrates that each prophet is sent to simply convey a message and cannot resort to force.

So that was a very brief guide to true Islamic teachings, which as you can see are totally different to what ISIS preaches, follows and teaches. For more information check out the True Islam website.

Salam!

Credits:

Text, video and images: True Islam

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Orientalism is alive and thriving!

When it comes to the “Arab world” many so-called “Western culture” outlets portray a world of contradictions and racist stereotypes. Through TV, film, theatre and literature, we’ve seen the insults, lies and “mystery”. Think of :

  • Aladdin
  • Ali Baba
  • Scheherazade
  • A Hundred and One Nights

These portray the “exotic mysterious East” within Orientalist racist discourse further evoking images of the “backward” “uncivilised” Arab world of lies, thieves and male sexual dominance.

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“Moros” (Moors) – which refers to the Muslim Arab/Amazigh inhabitants of North Africa who invaded Spain and ruled Al-Andalus (Abdalucia) – is nowadays a racist term used to refer to present day (Muslim) Arab/Amazigh migrants/residents from the Maghreb region (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia)

I’ve just come to the UK after living in Andalucia in Southern Spain for quite some time. This region was once Al-Andalus – a region representing the Golden Era of Islam and The Moors (the Amazigh and Arab Muslim leaders of North Africa). It was an area of rich diversity, multiculturalism and an era of mathematical, scientific and artistic discovery which is part of Spain’s history, culture and heritage (whether Spaniards like it or not). I’ve talked in previous posts about Islamophobia and racism towards Arabs/North African/non-Europeans in Spain before (see here and here), but I’ve not mentioned the interest in Moroccan and Arab culture in a strange money making contradiction.

Whilst many Spaniards have no racist affinity whatsoever and love Moroccan decor, food etc., there is an undercurrent of racism and the government is definitely NOT working towards building social cohesion. What they are doing though is cashing in millions of Euros a year. The Al Hambra palace in Granada (just one example) is a UNESCO site and its architecture and gardens lends it to be called a new wonder of the world.

Added to that, there’s also the further hypocritical contradictory double standards which are often present/similar to those portrayed in Western media:

  • Moroccans are sometimes referred to as “Moors” which is a racist practise as it refers back to the Moor invaders from hundreds of years ago – a sore point for certain Spaniards still living in the past (think an “us” vs. “them” mentality).  On the other hand, people express a love for couscous and North African jewellery/symbols (e.g. the hand of Fatima)
  • Likewise, nuns in Spain represent “good, chaste modest Christian women”. Yet veiling in the case of Muslim women is seen as a practice of controlling Muslim women, looked at with shock, suspicion and deemed “unnecessary”. It’s a long running double standard of the modest Christian sister vs. the oppressed Muslim woman shrouded in her veil of Arab patriarchy.

In line with this, there’s the trend for “exotic” “Arab” shops. There’s been a lot of talk about cultural appropriation recently. I (just like many others) like to buy Moroccan pieces of interior: mirrors, pottery etc.. My husband is from the Maghreb, I love Moroccan culture and decor and I most certainly do not aspire to orientalist and racist discourse and behaviour. In Málaga – despite the racism against North Africans (and other ethnicities, cultures etc.) and the reality of Islamophobia and stark lack of multicultural cohesion – Spain still boasts an array of Arab style shops and merchandise in the southern towns frequented by both tourists and non-tourists alike. There’s a raw memory of the Moors (“us” vs. “them” – the word “Moor” is a raw, sore term), yet when it comes to making money, people have a bit of a penchant for “Eastern” cultures.

Take a look at these two shop fronts – one shop is owned and run by Moroccans, the other is a chain run by Spaniardswhich one is which (look carefully!)?

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These two pictures highlight exactly what is wrong with people’s perception of culture and the level of cohesion in Spanish society. It’s Orientalism at its pèak. The first photo is of a shop chain which hosts an odd concoction of Hindu, Indian, Moroccan, Buddhist pieces under the name of “Arabesque” in Arab style Latin letters. I wasn’t aware that Buddha was Arab…? Statues are forbidden in Islam as they are seen as idolatry.

The second photo is of an actual Moroccan run shop with other branches elsewhere outside of Málaga. The shop boasts Moroccan/Arab merchandise and nothing else. With the name “Sherazade” you may think Orientalist but this is an original authentic shop. This is a stark contrast to local shops in which everything “non-Western” has been essentialised, bunged into one category: EASTERN. Never mind the fact that “the East” (if we can even call it that) is an area comprising of various regions, continents, countries, languages, cultures, nationalities, religions and traditions. It’s beyond patronising and quite startling. Yet to make things worse, at the end of my time in Málaga I found a shop which appeared to be run my Moroccans yet boasted a mix of both Moroccan and Indian stock in one large “bazar”. It seems “Easternising” is rather popular and a  big money maker.

The problem is a lack of understanding, respect and social cohesion. Travelling and exposure to other cultures is a great way to develop understanding, break down barriers and build bridges but it must be done in a respectful, sincere way. If you respect Moroccan culture: go ahead and open your own shop. Yet in a society where Moroccans face so many difficulties and so much racism – a society which is far from being multicultural in terms of social cohesion, yet hosts a variety of different nationalities – this all strikes me as wreaking of Orientalism, hypocrisy, double standards and dishonesty.

In a smaller town, when I was browsing a market one day, I asked the seller where the (Moroccan/North African style) bowls were from. He said: “Africa”. Well yes Morocco is in Africa (and Africa is a fantastic place!) but firstly, Africa is a vast continent with a huge variety of different cultures and traditions and secondly – and this is the source of the problem – when he says Africa he means: not Europe, but a far off continent, a place that is far from us, our lifestyle, economy and culture, what we klnow and live: a distant foreign place. It’s Morocco. It’s a (Muslim, Arab/Amazigh) Mediterranean country with which you share hundreds of years of history and heritage – which your country markets to tourists. You share similar art, decor, names and many of your words come from Arabic – you probably share blood! All of these social problems stem from people’s perceptions; the “us” vs. “them” mentality and the way people perceive others. It’s all in the mind!

Build bridges, not walls

Remember and learn from the past – but don’t live in it.

Salam!

Feature image: Media Bistro

Spain: Why is one acceptable and not the other?

Easter week in Malaga (Spain) saw the traditional religious-cultural processions and with that the traditional robes and face veils. Please note: these facial coverings and robes are nothing to do with the KKK.

However, what struck me – living in Spain and seeing the different garments – was this:

Why is this acceptable:

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Elizabeth Arif-Fear (c)

And not this?

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Image credit: Rana Ossama (Flickr), Fixers (Flickr), Lain (Flickr)

Why is this acceptable, when I, like many Muslims in Spain, faced prejudice, intolerance and shock whilst living in Spain?

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Elizabeth Arif-Fear (c)

The answer is that to the State:

Islam is not acceptable 

Nuns covering their heads and bodies shows piety yet Muslim women in similar garments represent oppression

Please let’s squish the misconceptions, ignore the lies and get to the facts.

Veiling is a free practice in Islam (as is belief itself) and anyone who forces others to cover is acting against Islam. Veiling is for religious perseverance and modesty. Freedom of religion is a universal right, and we should all have the right to live in a free, tolerant and accepting society. This works for Christian, secular, Muslim, all current States around the world – even through the reality is shockingly different. In fact, the reality is that Christianity and Islam are actually from the same Abrahamic family.

The battle for freedom of religion, peace, tolerance of others and merging of new intercultural and inter-religious identities is ongoing. Spain: hypocrisy and double standards are not a step forward…

Salam!

 

Image credit/copyright:

Feature image: Elizabeth Arif-Fear, Rana Ossama (Flickr)

 

Trolls, Tweets and Terrorism

lookout-for-trolls-1316342.jpgBefore setting up my social media accounts and blog, I’d heard all about online trolls. Generally the notion is this: don’t feed the trolls. Islamically, it’s best to keep out of stupid debates/arguments and avoid people who are simply out to make fun of and insult you and your beliefs.

Well, it seems that Islam, and whats more a Muslim on social media fighting for good, is a problem for certain people. “We all knew that!” I hear you say. Well, I’d previously experienced it on Facebook (where I generally keep out of things for such reasons) but today I was subject to two rather malicious/ignorant trolling attacks on Twitter – the terms/relation of: terrorists (Al Qaeda etc.), violence, rapists,being sick” with being Muslim all came up… Trolling, online abuse and hate crime is a sad yet real issue. People need to be aware of it and of how they can report it. Let’s have a look at the work of today’s trolls.

Troll  number 1: A Twitter member tweeting about rapists and refugees in Germany (with a clear and un-apologetic anti-Islam agenda)

I have since blocked the person (and have also been blocked myself) so I do not have access to all of the tweets but the worst words were something along these lines:

When the nationalists and Europeans [gather force] get ready to leave the UK…prepare for war […] traitor…

Troll number 2: A journalist with their own website focussing on the rights of disabled people

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The main thing that strikes me is the utter shameful hypocrisy, bad manners and immaturity (not to mention bad spelling!): these trolls themselves are the ones posing as “the good cop” – “fighting for rights of various people” or “fighting against injustice”. But here’s the thing – how can you be “fighting for justice” when you mock, ridicule and insult individuals and their religion? Whats more to that, you specifically go out of your way to target them by tweeting and inboxing them. A little sad me thinks…They attack you for your apparent “ignorance” regarding your own faith, world events/history and apparent “inability to rationalise” by the sounds of it, yet their words, behaviour, mannerisms, demeanor and “knowledge” speak of nothing but ignorance itself. 

Human rights defenders don’t mock, ridicule or insult – they fight for justice. In this case, how can you claim to be fighting for rights for the disabled or speaking out against so-called “rape” attacks by “refugees”? I will not go into that as that is another story. I am not an apologist as was claimed – I am anti-stereotypes and prefer facts and objective reporting especially as there have been proven false claims yet I would condemn any rape attack. So you claim to speak out, yet you mock and insult young women and other Muslims online?  No, you are simply trolls and I urge people to report abuse. Just as one must report suspicious terrorist activity online, one must report trolls. Social media should be a safe online platform for responsible teenagers and adults – not children (literally or figuratively). Where have simple manners gone in today’s world? Grown adults should know better and be setting an example to young people. 

Well the trolls will not win:

  • Report and block abuse on the platform itself e.g. Facebook, Twitter etc.
  • Do not engage in ridiculous debates – their hearts are blind, their ears are deaf, their eyes are wide shut, their minds are closed – they will never understand. Don’t even reply. You may think you can help them or have a rational conversation but you are the one who will end up getting abuse
  • Always remain polite and respectful – don’t let yourself down by stooping to their level
  • Keep safe online regarding your personal information and privacy settings (do not reveal personal information!)
  • If you are young – you MUST talk to your parents to report abuse, bullying and discus internet safety. Ask your college ICT department for tips for online safety and remember – you shouldn’t be using social media if you are underage!
  • Report online abuse/hate crime to relevant networks/organisations and authorities – see the following for more information: Stand Up To Hate Citizens Advice and both True Vision and (specifically for Muslims) the The Islamic Human Rights Commission to send a report online (UK)

Haters gonna hate as they say. Keep on raising your voice for good – keep on tweeting, blogging and posting and say TA TA TO THE TROLLS when they crawl out of their caves to attack!

Salam! 🙂

Image credits:

Cover image: clement127 (Flickr) (CC)

FreeImages.com/Fons Reijsbergen

 

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.

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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

Prophet of Peace – #notoislamophobia

The IRA, the Klu Klux Klan, Zionists, Buddhist extremists…terrorism does not discriminate. Terrorism is not a religion, a culture nor a community… It’s simply a disease – a disease of the heart and mind which latches onto poverty, ignorance, the marginalised, arrogant, naive, extreme, intolerant, vengeful, close minded and hateful.

Islamophobia is on the increase and it’s a sad state of affairs. What’s also a sad state of affairs is ISIS and terrorism – terrorists who claim to speak for Islam. One does not excuse the other. People need to know the truth about Islam and Muslims need to be able to practice their faith in peace.

Increasing Islamophobia

To see the rise in Islamophobic speech and hate crimes we only need to look at the current state of socio-political affairs and keep up with current events to see:

  • Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric
  • Vandalism and pig remains at mosques
  • Muslims being physically and verbally abused in public

There has been a sharp rise in Islamophobia in the USA and Europe since the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the latest shootings in Paris and California. Ibrahim Hooper – spokesman for The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) – recently told Al Jazeera:

“….anti-Muslim bigotry has moved into the mainstream. In previous spikes, like after 9-11, Islamophobia was on the fringes of society.”

In the UK, The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) which is based in London and investigates hate crime, recently launched a new study entitled: “Environment of Hate: The New Normal for Muslims in the UK”. Some of their findings are shocking – you can find out more via their video. Since such unfortunate developments, hate crimes against Muslims in the UK are now being listed within their own category – just like anti-Semitics attacks. This is a  welcome development and will aid monitoring and campaigning.

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ISIS is not Islam

Whilst many people do not equate Islam with terrorism, there is still talk of: “Not all terrorists are Muslim but all terrorists are Muslim”. Many know this is utter rubbish to put it mildly but if the rise in Islamophobic attacks and the US presidential elections are anything to go by – there are still widespread misconceptions.

Islam is about spirituality, worship and good deeds. Islam in Arabic means submission/surrender (to Allah (God)). Contrary to what ISIS advertises – jihad is primarily about a Muslim’s inner spiritual struggle and striving to obey Allah and purify one’s soul: to do good, be honest, hold your tongue and anger, oppress your ego, selfishness and bad thoughts/desires (your nafs). This is jihad al nafs  “the greater jihad”:

“By the soul and (by) Him who made it perfect, and then inspired it to understand what is wrong and what is right for it. Truly is successful the one who purifies (his soul).” (Qur’an, 91: 7-9)

Muslims are taught to respect other humans, to strive for goodness and justice. Peace, hope, mercy, honesty, truthjustice – these are the values of Islam. When facing oppression Muslims are allowed to defend themselves but never more than necessary:

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

“Allah will not be merciful to those who are not merciful to the people.” (Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) – Bukhari 6941, Muslim 2139)

“Verily, Allah is only merciful to His servants who are merciful with others.” (Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) – Bukhari 1224)

Islam does not condone terrorism or the killing of innocent civilians. In fact, there a strict set of rules which Muslims must obey – as the following graphic shows:

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In response to Muslims and Islamophobes regarding the killing of innocent civilians, Talk Islam have produced a wonderful video about the Prophet Muhammed and the teachings of Islam to reiterate these points: “Nothing to do with my Prophet“. It’s really worth a watch.

Solidarity and spreading the peace

Despite the rise in hate crime and Islamophobia, I’m also happy to say that there have been many wonderful gestures of solidarity, including:

  • The Twitter campaign #youaintnomuslimbruv following a stabbing incident in London
  • Michael Moor‘s – “we are all Muslims
  • Non-Muslim women wearing headscarves in support of Muslim hijabi women for World Hijab Day
  • One lady who has  been wearing a headscarf in protest of Donald Trump’s recent comments

So there you have it. It’s not all doom and gloom but it is crucial that things change. Muslims and non-Muslims:

  • Build bridges: talk to people, get involved
  • Educate: correct people’s misconceptions
  • Stand up to Islamophobia and hate crime

Show the Trumps, Daesh members/wannabes of the world and haters what peace and Islam is.

Salam!

For more information see:

The Islamic Human Rights Commission (information and reporting hate crime)

The Qur’an (Arabic with English translation)

The 99 Names of Allah

10 Islamic Rules of War

Trump Supporters – #visitamosque

1914890_652143878515_4679132_nRight-wing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump last month, when asked in an interview, declared he would be in favour of special security measures for Muslims in the US: ID cards and a database in which they’ll be on record…Yellow stars spring to mind…

Hearing this reminded me of the not so distant ideas of Nazi Germany. While in no way whatsoever am I comparing the Jewish Holocaust and the tragedy that the Jewish community suffered to such current events, the situation is this:

Muslims have been identified as “troublemakers”, “a cause for concern” and Trump’s comments are singling out a community en masse.

Trump expressed his concerns for the need for surveillance and security in the fight against terrorism. Visually singling out the Jews by making them wear a yellow star in Nazi Germany wasn’t due to apparent “security concerns” – it was due to a deep seated prejudice and blatant scapegoating of religious-cultural community by a lunatic fascist. Whilst in the US and worldwide, there have been an unfortunate series of terrorist attacks committed through ISIS which all citizens (both Muslim and non-Muslim) need to be protected from, beneath the surface however, this suggestion was not innocent of discrimination and Islamophobia. The idea of Muslim ID or a database still “otherises” an entire community.

In relation to Islam, in an interview with Al Jazeera Trump said:

“We’ve heard it over and over again. The word  Islam means peace. As Muslims we have been commanded to live in peace and respect our neighbours. Islam teaches that the killing of one innocent person is the killing of all mankind.”

Trump claims to recognise the meaning and worth of Islam and how it doesn’t represent terrorism but it doesn’t sound like he’s very convinced to me or even ready to stand with Muslims: “We’ve heard it over and over again” sounds somewhat tiresome, disinterested and disengaged. As a Muslim I’ll repeat – such teachings of peace are true Islam. The facts don’t change and what’s also true is that as a functioning loyal member of European society, I – just like the majority of Muslims – pose no risk to society and the same goes for American Muslims. No community should be posed as a “risk” or “security concern” and singled out just for being who they are. It’s been stated this community’s fundamental beliefs are peace, kindness and respect and to do doubt otherwise is revealing of further ills in society.

Since receiving online criticism via a series of tweets by Muslims in the US, Trump has dropped the idea. Yet, the problem still remains: intolerance and Islamophobia. Just check out these figures on Trump supporters:

-58% of Trump voters think thousands of Arabs in New Jersey celebrated the attacks of 9/11

-53% of Trump supporters are in favor of a national database of Muslims

-49% of Trump supporters want to shut down the mosques in the United States

Trump supporters are apparently uncomfortable with American Muslims and aren’t familiar with the concept of religious freedom. They certainly aren’t well informed or engaged with the Muslim community.

Islamophobia (as well as anti-Jewish sentiment) is  on the rise – including sporadic Islamophobic attacks on members of the public such as women in headscarves as “visible victims” proudly fulfilling their commitment to God and exerting their rights to freedom of religion. Well, I’m proud to be a Muslim and I’m proud to be British. I’m proud of my faith and the freedom it offers me and the US as a democracy should not discriminate through religion. In the current climate, different communities need to work together – not become (further) divided.

So to Trump, I say:

#hijabismyID 

And to Trump supporters, I say:

#visitamosque – go see the peace in action: engage, discuss, talk to Muslims, ask for a guided tour around the mosque. There was an initiative not so long ago in the UK, plus other lovely news stories such as that of a lady at a rally in the US who was met with a hug by a Muslim lady and later visited a local mosque – taking home a copy of the Qur’an in English. Build bridges, not hatred. It’s not fair on Muslims and it’s not going to beat terrorism.

Salam!

*Images from FreeImages.com are re-published under a Creative Commons licence