British and Muslim: Insights from an Impossibly Hip British Muslim Woman.

Tabetha Bhatti

The following pertains to the personal experience of an impossibly hip, twenty something, British Muslim woman of Pakistani descent (me).

I’ve never struggled in social situations. A quintessentially extrovert personality – some friends would say ‘intermittently obnoxious, somewhat brash Londoner’, but what do they know (?)- I’ve never shied away from human interaction or socialising in general. Sharing a hearty laugh and exchanging sincere smiles in the company of friends, acquaintances and colleagues never fail to brighten up one’s day, of this, I’m sure. Such a gregarious disposition also means that I’m highly unlikely to back down in the event of, or shy away from, confrontation. I will never initiate a heated exchange. I will, however, respond if you do. I do not take kindly to being insulted. This has perhaps proven to be both a blessing and a curse over the past six years, in particular.

I refer to the previous six years because it is within this time frame that I’ve been confronted with the increasingly uncomfortable realities of being a British Muslim, or Muslim in Britain – as though the two facets of my identity are now mutually exclusive. My grandfather emigrated here from Pakistan in the mid-50s – a lawyer by trade, he started off working menial jobs to put food on the table; my father was that ‘Paki’/‘not quite white’ looking boy in class during the 60’s. Being ‘othered’, treated as a sub-human entity on the basis of their race is something both my grandfather and father have known.

Today, the faith I practice has become a means through which so many like me are actively ‘othered’. I’ve had to bear witness to the Prime Minister calling upon British Muslims to not “quietly condone terrorism” (*facepalms self aggressively and repeatedly in despair*), for example, or be confronted with the fact that a YouGov poll revealed ‘56% of those (fellow Britons) asked believe that Islam is a “major” or “some” threat to Western democracy”. When polled the day after the 7/7 atrocity, 46% believed the same. That’s a 10% rise in negative views of Islam over the past 10 years, which, in turn, translates to the negative perception of Muslims themselves, often resulting in increasingly hostile attitudes towards, and subsequent targeting of, individuals of the Islamic faith. Spare me the wholly reductive ‘Islam not Muslims’ spiel. Those that are vocally and actively bigoted, in particular, tend not to make this distinction.

The following is a rather personal experience of said hostility manifesting itself…

It was during the holy month of Ramadan, summer of 2015, I was in a state of fast and on my way to the Ramadan Tent Project for a spot of volunteering, and thus, in a generally great mood. It was raining and I’d forgotten my umbrella. I do not wear hijab (the head-scarf), so I wrapped a scarf over my head so as to prevent my (rather exquisitely) curled hair from frizzing.

Me: *strutting purposefully towards Malet St. Gardens*

Stranger: *walks past me nonchalantly* “These Muslim b******.”

Me: *stop dead in my tracks, whip around* “EXCUSE. ME. WHAT. COME. AGAIN?” *let it go, Tabetha. Let it go, Tabetha. Let. It. Go.*

Stranger: *chortles, walks on*

I’ll leave the exploration of the glaring intersection between sexism, misogyny and Islamophobia as it pertains to a British Muslim woman’s lived experience for next week; indeed, ‘60% of Islamophobic attacks documented in London were against women in the year 2014-15’. Interesting, eh? Google it.

I felt a profound mix of emotions rise in my chest; an anger so profound that it nearly brought a tear to my eye, the sheer ignorance of this man was infuriating, a hurt tainted with lashings of bitterness and a disappointment with self for having allowed this imbecile’s words to compromise my fast induced serenity – I should have turned the other cheek entirely, as per Sunnah (teachings, deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, Peace be upon him). All this, however, was underpinned by the intense solidarity I felt for my Muslim sisters who wear hijab and/or niqab (the face veil). I fastened that scarf tighter around my head and neck and carried on with the rest of my day, more so as an act of defiance – a political statement – than in an effort to achieve increased spirituality. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have done so – reduced the wearing of the hijab to a political statement. It’s so much more.

I cannot speak for, and am not a recognised/accepted representative of, the British Muslim community; therefore, I speak on behalf of myself when I say that I need you to understand that my faith is intrinsic to who I am as a person. Laying my head down in prayer five times a day, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and recitation of the Quran, for example, soothe me; force me to be a better version of me. This just so happens to be absolutely true of every single British Muslim I’ve ever encountered. Recognise and respect my humanity. Do not be brow-beaten into fearing me, my personhood. Don’t.

I am a practising Muslim. I am British. This country is my home, and it will remain as such. I’d greatly appreciate it if those finding it somewhat hard to reconcile themselves with this statement of my truth were to attempt to address their reservations. Deal with it, essentially. For those of you that have no such reservations, we should totally catch-up over some tea, perhaps even a spot of iftar (breaking of the fast) at Ramadan Tent (subtle hint intended), share a hearty laugh and admire my perfectly curled hair.

Peace.

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