Image: Unsplash/ Ali Arif Soydas

Hate, fear, and faith

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An attack carried out in Finsbury Park that killed one and injured 10 marked the fourth successive act of terror in the UK this year, and the first Islamophobic one of this scale. As the West faces a steep increase in the number of attacks carried out by groups claiming to be acting in the name of ‘Islam’, it has become apparent that the word ‘terrorist’ now comes with its own racial profile. Today, covering yourself with a hijab will grant you a glare from a passing stranger, choosing to grow out your beard will gain you a second glance from an officer.

Data collected by the Metropolitan police shows that Islamophobic hate crimes increased fivefold immediately after the terror attack on Saturday 3 June, and an article by The Independent revealed that the number of police officers surrounding Mosques across the UK has been upped. As angered individuals blame recent horrors on the Islamic faith and the Muslim community as a whole, all Muslims become potential victims of violent acts of retaliation.

While fear is natural, racism is not; and while everyone has the right to security, no justification excuses the use of violence to achieve this.

When acts of extremism are repeatedly thrown into the same category, and labelled ‘Islamic’ by nature, one can see how a generalisation might be made. However, while fear is is natural, racism is not; and while everyone has the right to security, no justification excuses the use of violence to achieve this.

A study by Gallop on What a Billion Muslims Really Think confirmed that 93% of Muslims around the world hold peaceful, mainstream views. Of the 7% that Gallup termed as “radicalised”, only a small minority have succumbed to violence, and what distinguished this group from the majority was their politics, not their piety.

While it is true that terror groups exploit Islamic scripture to justify their acts of violence, one must not forget that this is a perversion, a manipulation of the values of a religious group whose majority shows no semblance of extremism. Nonetheless, the biggest backlash against this distortion of faith is still directed at moderate Muslims. An NHS surgeon who had spent the last 48 hours working to save the lives of those caught up in the Manchester bombing attack was told to go back to his own country. A pregnant woman became the victim of a violent physical attack, causing her to lose her unborn twins. These individuals were victimised for no other reason that their faith, the mere fact that they were Muslim.

Encouraged to never feel bad about speaking up for my religion, I am motivated to do just that.

I, too, am Muslim; and while I thankfully haven’t experienced any personal abuse, I can sense the hate around me. I can see it when I pass the street and notice graffiti ridiculing my faith. I hear it when I am told that 15-year-old I know posted over 70 snaps denouncing my religion. The irony of it is that so far it has only made me prouder of being a Muslim, and inspired me to start practicing my faith more. The actions of that 15-year-old led me to post my first Facebook status in years, and the magnitude of positivity in the response left me overwhelmed. Encouraged never to feel bad about speaking up for my religion, I am motivated to do just that.

The main problem seems to be ignorance, not just from the racists who categorise every Muslim to be a terrorist, but also from those who cannot make the differentiation between the religion and an appropriation of its beliefs. I urge those in doubt to do their research, and when doing so, to realise the context of the teachings and remember the bigger picture.

Better education to de-villainise the Islamic faith is needed to bring about positive change.

As we witness the backlash of recent horrors, fear remains instilled among the Muslim community here in the UK. The rise of Islamophobia has had an increasingly detrimental impact on the confidence of young Muslims. While engineering student Aamir Tufail states that it doesn’t bother him, he admits that he has experienced “weird looks” when commuting on the Underground in London, and that his beard “can make others uncomfortable”. Similarly, psychology student Anisah Rahman says that seeing people increasingly express negative views towards Islam makes her feel “scared to tell people about [her] Muslim upbringing”. Having grown up understanding the “core Islamic values of peace, love, and common good will at the heart of the religion”, she believes that “better education… to de-villainise” the Islamic faith is needed to bring about positive change.

However, not all responses have been fuelled by hate and fear, and in the face of anger others have responded with peace and unity. Yasmin Din, a second year student who has recently began engaging with her faith again, commented that her “rediscovery of faith and ability to defend a religion that has been misrepresented came not only from within, but also from the acceptance and support of those around me. Simple things like friends asking how Ramadan is going, as well as larger-scale events such as marches against Trump’s Muslim ban, make defending and recuperating my faith far easier”.

For me, Islam means the opposite of terror. It encourages me to be kind.

As certain media outlets and politicians endeavour to blur the boundaries between Islam and terrorism, we must ourselves remember to keep that division in place. For me, Islam means the opposite of terror. It encourages me to be kind. It motivates me to stay humble, and to treat others with respect, regardless of background. More than anything it gives me hope. It makes me believe that there is something more, and that everything happening today is part of a bigger picture. I used to be embarrassed to be a Muslim; being a minority made me feel like an outsider. But it is this very difference which fuels me now, driving my desire to overcome both my own personal fears, and the collective fear that is sadly currently gripping the world.

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