Amidst the recent xenophobic atmosphere following the EU referendum, I thought it would be appropriate to make my first article about my experience living in England as a British Asian, coming from a Pakistani Muslim family. Though this piece will not specifically be about the unfortunate repercussions of the referendum, it is safe to say that it has been a struggle for people not considered ‘British’ for a long time coming now, to feel fully welcomed in a place that is just as much theirs as any other citizens. Racist attacks following the recent referendum against Eastern Europeans and ‘non-white’ people have increased. Therefore I felt it fitting to discuss my personal struggle between having to constantly defend my culture and religion against those who consider themselves ‘pure’ Brits, whilst simultaneously considering myself to be British and this country to be my home.
I am extremely grateful to be able to say that I have never personally been the victim of racial hatred or abuse. Perhaps a comment here or there but nothing that has deeply affected me emotionally or harmed me physically. It really is a sad state of affairs when I can count myself lucky that that is all I have received. Living in London, one of – if not the most – multicultural city in the world, is a big contributor to that fact. I was lucky enough to attend multi-cultural schools where racial discrimination did not really occur and grow up within a friendship group of people of mixed backgrounds. I would like to think that these were only a few out of many factors that made me an open-minded, tolerant person.
However, in recent years I have found myself having to defend my background. This constitutes not only the religion that I have closely identified with for majority of my life so far, but my culture and my patriotism (or lack of) towards England and Britain. Where for my life thus far I had lived comfortably as British and a Muslim, I found and am still finding myself having to justify why people can be both. Accusations of them being contradictory notions have been thrown at me, questions about why Muslims are terrorists are asked of me and doubts over how British I am because I do not advocate patriotism have been cast over me by others. And now, the message of getting ‘our country’ back has unfortunately been the poster message for the Leave campaign of the EU referendum, justifying the ‘us and them’ attitude. I have been personally told that it makes people uncomfortable to walk into a waiting room at a GP and not see any white faces. Or for ‘English’ children to attend schools that are racially and religiously mixed.
“Where for my life thus far I had lived comfortably as a British and a Muslim, I found and am still finding myself having to justify why people can be both.”
Firstly, let us get one thing straight. I am English. I was born in England, I have lived in England my whole life – it is my home. Yes, my parents were born in Pakistan. I do not speak the language. I do not visit Pakistan. In all honesty I wish I was more in touch with Pakistani culture than I am. But on the whole, I identify as English.
If anything, I associate myself more with Islam than I do with Pakistan. I was raised in a Muslim household and though I am still on the path of figuring out what exactly it is I believe, I am extremely grateful for this fact. Growing up Muslim gave me the morals I still hold today and hope to forever hold. It taught me discipline, kindness and tolerance towards others. It made me the person that I am today and I would not choose to change my upbringing in any way. My parents being Pakistani is another fact I am grateful for. Though I have admitted to my lack of cultural practice, having parents from abroad has made me so much more aware of the difficulties faced by those who immigrated to this country and who are still doing so. My father left behind a country which he dearly loves in order to provide a better life for his family, and I will always be grateful to him for that sacrifice.
Bearing all of this in mind, I have recently found myself answering questions that I should not have to. Questions of why Muslims despise the British way of life so much or why ‘they’ come into ‘our’ country just to isolate themselves. So let us humour these inquiries. Why do Muslims hate the British way of life? Why do we just isolate ourselves and not embrace ‘British’ culture? Why are Muslims terrorists?
It is highly amusing that people that despise the British way of life so much have come over to this country and got jobs that contribute to society. In fact, a third of doctors are from ethnic minorities, many being Muslim. Strange that they raise their children here and encourage them to gain a British education. Really is a sign of hatred towards the British way of life.
It is also odd that the vast majority of Muslims have integrated fully into society, have friends that are of all races and nationalities, live in mixed areas not ghettos and speak fluent English as well as that of the country they came from…more impressive than odd actually, given that Brits have a bad reputation of not even bothering to learn the language of places they frequently holiday at. Did you know that we actually have one of the worst reputations as tourists? The drinking, the crude behaviour, the lack of respect towards other countries’ culture and language? And that’s just for a holiday, god forbid we actually lived there. OH wait, millions do…well that’s awkward.
As for Islam and terrorism, I could write a whole article about the ludicrous and dangerous exaggeration of this link, but instead I will leave you with the fact that less than 2% of terror attacks in the European Union are religiously motivated. This means that the majority of terrorists in the European Union are non-Muslims. So the real question really should be, why are all non-Muslims terrorists? (I am joking, but I do have to clarify, because the claim that Islam is the cause of terrorism is just as absurd and yet is taken very seriously).
“…I believe British values to be exactly what they are supposed to be teaching in schools. I believe them to be ones of tolerance and respect.”
What they are supposedly teaching in schools currently is that British values consist of the rule of law, individual liberty, and respect and tolerance for all faiths and for those without a faith. I do not blindly support all that England does just because I am English. My loyalties do not lie with a specific country but rather with whom I think is right. I do not support our foreign policy and I have not done so for some time now. I disagree strongly with a lot of it actually (but let us leave that for another article). Does that make me less British? Does that mean that I belong here less than someone who hangs an England flag outside their house and who supports our intervention in other countries? Because I believe British values to be exactly what they are supposed to be teaching in schools. I believe them to be ones of tolerance and respect. Britain, especially London, is built on multi-culturalism. The reason that I consider this country to be my home is because I have always felt welcome here. I have never been made to feel that I do not belong here or that I am any less English than a white person. I have experienced tolerance and inclusion. I never felt any shame in being labelled as a Muslim, never felt any hesitancy in talking about my faith proudly or practicing my religion publicly. When I would fast during Ramadan in school, my peers would ask me questions and some would even try fasting with me (though they didn’t last very long, I appreciated the sentiment). I would talk freely about Islam, explain to people our customs and traditions, repeat the stories my father would tell me about our prophets. And I would feel proud in doing so.
Today is a very different society. Today is one where you have to be careful of talking about your faith if you are a Muslim. You have to be careful when practicing this faith in case it is deemed as a sign of you being a potential terrorist. If you are a woman wearing a headscarf you have to be wary of being shouted abuse at. If you do not like the way the West conducts its foreign affairs you should get out of the country. Muslims are labelled as radicals, Muslim perpetrators of crimes labelled as terrorists. Whereas Christians are just religiously zealous and when a white ‘English’ person commits a crime it is because they are mentally disturbed.
“Being British and being Muslim are not mutually exclusive.”
I am not a very religious person. I am not a very cultural person. I am also lucky enough to be surrounded by a majority of open-minded, educated human beings. Because of these factors, fortunately my personal life should not be affected that much by the shift towards intolerance that is slowly creeping up on our society. Except that it is. Because when I see people being mistreated, when I hear people insulting the faith of my family and the faith of millions of people around the world, it makes me angry. I see people that have to come to England and to Britain because they have heard that this is a place where they can feel safe, where they can freely practice their religion and culture without fear of persecution. I then see these same people being persecuted by ignorant members of the public and the press in the name of British values. The tragic irony of this does affect me and it should affect you too.
Being British and being Muslim are not mutually exclusive. Britain is the home of over 3 million Muslims and it will be the home of many more. This country does not belong to those of a specific race or religion. It belongs to those that choose to make it their home. Today’s society is not a society of mutual respect and tolerance. It is one where I feel the need every day to defend Islam and where I come from and the people whom I identify with. To defend my Britishness and to defend theirs. But by my definition, we are a whole lot more British than those who claim that we are not.
Image: Modified, Flickr, AwayWeGo210