“You don’t belong here,” a man muttered, barely audible whilst looking down. I had not heard him and thought he may have needed help of some sort. I asked him politely to repeat himself.
“I SAID YOU DON’T BELONG HERE” he shouted at my face. I could see that he was flushed red and was clearly drunk.
There I was, a muslim woman in hijab, standing alone in the early hours of the morning faced with someone who had just verbally attacked me. This was the first of multiple incidents I faced in my time as an international student in the UK. Back then, I had read enough news and watched my fair share of videos to know the worst case scenario of what could happen to me. My first instinct was to flee.
I ran back home panting to three concerned looking girls and could not word out what happened. Looking back this was not the worst I had encountered. Another time, I was about to cross a street when a white sedan drove deliberately slowly and had its window rolled down. The man in the driver’s seat showed me his middle finger as he passed me. My friend who was looking down at her phone had thankfully missed it.
This was in the wake of saddening news: the Charlie Hebdo attack, the bombing in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad. My anxiety at the time was a culmination of these news alongside the circulating video of a woman in hijab pushed in front of an underground tube train and the multiple distressing accounts of muslims subjected to violence. I had once confided in an acquaintance and the first reaction I received was to be asked “are you sure it was driven because of hate?”
As I write this, I realise how testing it must be for muslims in the West to face this or at least the possibility of it on an everyday basis. It was daunting to think that some incidents go unreported; it could be especially difficult to discern motives. I was hardly aware of this when I was in my muslim majority home country where Islamophobia was just a word I read in the news, happening some place far away. It was clear to me that there was disconnection- I questioned why this was. Was it the comfort of home that lessened my empathy? Was it the limited exposure to reading materials? Or was it that Islamophobia was not relevant to me? If the latter held any weight I should not be proud of myself.
In his last sermon, the prophet Muhammad SAW emphasized the following: Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.
MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development) is one of the founding members of Islamophobia Awareness Month (IAM). Every November various Muslim and non-Muslim organisations hold events, seminars, discussions and conferences to raise awareness of the rising tide of hate crimes against Muslims.
This year various events including Islamophobia exhibitions and Media and Politics workshops are held throughout London, Midlands, Manchester, Yorkshire and the South region. If you are living in the UK, do have a browse on their website: http://mend.org.uk/iam2016/ and look out for events near you. It is also possible to book a speaker to come and present one of their landmark presentations on Islamophobia or hire an Islamophobia exhibition for public viewing for free.
My first encounter with MEND was when they had presented a talk along with the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) on Islamophobia during my time as a student. I recall it was during September 2015 and had left a lasting impression on the small audience. They had shed light on subjects including media misrepresentations of muslims and the effects of this on the community. I was shown headlines in mainstream newspapers, one that was etched on my mind was “How to spot the jihadi next door” that had helpfully depicted a caricature of a brown man in a thobe and turban. The problem with this is it feeds into fear and normalising suspicions. Men in thobes flocking to mosques are not abnormal. Men in thobes may also be manning the counter of your favourite kebab restaurant. Men in thobes may be some accountant who was going to Jumuah prayer. It creates this unhealthy perception that any muslim could very well be a terrorist. Spoiler alert: not true and a misleading conclusion to say the least.
MEND had presented ways to tackle these issues. One of them would be for the public to write informed and effective complaints when they encounter media misrepresentations or outright Islamophobic rhetorics being propelled.
Find out more about the MEND Community and what you can do to help.
Facebook: MEND – Muslim Engagement and Development
Don’t forget to show your support by hasthtaging #IAM2016 or vamp up your facebook or Twitter profile picture here: http://twibbon.com/support/islamophobia-awareness-month