An A-Z on being Muslim in Britain in 2015

I’ve noticed that Islam and my identity as a Muslim are the things I mention least on this blog. If I’m honest I have deliberately avoided talking about Islam at times this year. My silence has felt heavy, but the truth is that it’s been difficult to talk about. Difficult as an individual, difficult as a Muslim and difficult as someone who visibly identifies with Islam. It feels like I’ll never say enough and that what I do say will be misheard. But to make up for my silence, the following is a summary, an alphabetical taste, of what it has meant for me – one relatively privileged brown Muslim woman in Britain –  to be Muslim in 2015.

A – angering: I’ve been angry with nearly everyone. Angry at murderers who purport religious fervor to secure their political objectives. Angry at those who have used such murders to turn against Muslim individuals. Angry that Islamaphobia is now a state-sanctioned ideology. Angry at the media and at foreign policy. Angry that Muslims are suffering disproportionately. Angry that I’m not allowed to be angry.

B – burdensome: Being the only example people see of a Muslim shouldn’t mean anything, but it often makes me feel that my actions and words will be taken as representative of millions of people who also call themselves ‘Muslim’. It makes me wary. Yet it always seems that the decision over whether what I do will be taken as representative of others, or as me being the exception, is out of my hands – both interpretations pain me.

/beautiful: never before have I had so many conversations about Islam, so many chances to talk about something so integral to my life.

C – caution: Never before have I felt such reluctance to post my opinions on topics associated to Islam. Will my opinion be wanted? Will it be heard right? What could my non-conforming look like? Which issues should I choose to have ‘radical’ views on and which should I stay silent on?

D – dangerous: As in, genuinely. Schools and Universities have been told to look out for the ‘radicalisation’ of Muslim students. Muslim people – in fact, Muslim children – are being monitored and criminalised. Sometimes it’s easier to joke about than consider the implications.

E – emotional.

F- faith: I don’t talk about faith a lot. Faith isn’t cool, it’s not very trendy; but my faith is central to who I am. To my views on justice, equality, love, compassion. Having faith, especially this year, has kept me hopeful.

G – grief: There have been too many to grieve for and there has been too much injustice within that grief.

H – humbling: Seeing the perseverance of people – Muslim and non-Muslim – who are much more directly, every day, experiencing violence, fear and persecution; who have lost their homes, their families and their lives, puts things into perspective.

I – isolating: When you’re scared on a day that everybody else is scared of people who purport to be like you, you can’t voice that fear; you can’t make it about you… it’s not about you. But it’s still real fear.

J -jarring.

K – kafkaesque: It seems absurd and nightmarish that my personal beliefs about the world and my life and place in it, now have political implications. The fact of my religion means I can be stopped because I scare people; means I can be watched because I scare people; means I am held up to different standards of accountability; have to worry more about what I tweet about; have to worry more about how I could be misconstrued. It’s surreal.

L – lonely:  Sometimes feeling that it is too risky to voice a genuine criticism – say, of a media narrative – makes you feel very alone and locked inside your head.

M – memorable: For all the wrong reasons.

N – ‘newsworthy’: I don’t know where to get my ‘news’ from anymore. I’m sick of media narratives, hysteria, one-sided stories, prejudice, demonisation, fear-mongering and war. I’m sick of the fact ‘terror’ is synonymous with ‘Islam’, and ‘freedom’ with ‘The West’.

O – offense: It seems not all of us are allowed to take equal offense.

P – policed. 

Q – questionable: I have a lot of questions. About why some lives are easier to grieve than others. Why we ignore histories and centuries of oppression and violence and instead posit simple dichotomies of ‘free’ and ‘unfree’. I want to know how we’ve been manipulated into believing straightforward narratives. I want to know why we’re so eager to hate. Why I worry about the fact my brother will soon be classed as a ‘Muslim man’. Why I always laugh off the stop-searches that happen everytime I’m at the airport. Why it feels so helpless. Why we’re bombing. Why we’re killing. Why I have become numb to death counts.

R – [radical]: I’ve thought a lot about this word. What is radical? Who measures it? Radical in comparison to what? Radical about what? Am I radical? Which of my opinions are radical? At what stage does my praying five times a day become radical? At what moment does my headscarf signify radicalisation? On what day will my anger, or my silence, be deemed too much?

S – silenced.

T – tolerance: Toleration of people is not the same as acceptance. Feeling tolerated by the country you live in; feeling tolerated by its institutions; being told to be thankful for the toleration of other civilians – none of that is the same as being accepted. Toleration implies a power dynamic. It implies that the choice to retract that toleration at any time is possible.

U – unjust: I have struggled many times this year to talk about the deaths of innocent people. I have wondered at the injustice of murder, but I have also wondered at the injustice of having to make a condemnation into an apology and the injustice in having to be so sorrowful that we are not allowed to be critical.

V – vulnerable/visible: Especially in regards to wearing a hijab and being obviously Muslim. Especially in regards to being a Muslim woman. Especially on bad days. Especially in busy places. Especially when I’m on my own.

W – wrySometimes you have to laugh so you don’t cry.

X – xenophobia: Islamaphobia has enmeshed and intertwined itself with xenophobia and racism more than ever this year. Discrimination of Muslims has been used to ignore and lock out human beings from other places, human beings whose bodies are not white. We’ve imagined borders and fenced out those not born inside them.

Y – yearning: For a time I can’t remember, when being Muslim was sort of irrelevant to anything else. To feel less conscious of my physicality in crowded spaces. To be less worried, less policed and less afraid.

Z – zero-energy: I would like to say let’s leave these things behind in 2015. I would like to say here’s to a better 2016. But I’m not optimistic. I’m tired. Tired of feeling visible and simultaneously invisible; tired of feeling somehow wrought up in a conversation I never entered; tired of explaining myself; tired of defending others; tired of second-guessing how my actions could be perceived. May God give us all the strength and patience to persevere.

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