This time last year I wrote a summary post titled, ‘An A-Z on being Muslim in Britain in 2015’. Looking back, as 2016 ends, I have no idea how. No idea how I could list it like that; explain it like that.
Since then it feels like everything has changed and nothing has. Brexit happened, Trump is happening, refugees are innumerable, existence is criminalised, but I still get up in the morning and make my porridge. I still live in my privileged bubble of kind and gentle friends, academic study and a big city.
There was a programme on BBC Two a few weeks ago called ‘Muslims Like Us’. I wondered if I was ‘Muslims’ or if I was ‘Us’, and why I couldn’t be both. I wondered why Muslims could only be like Us, Us could never be Muslims.
I stood outside Downing Street in an emergency demonstration for Aleppo. I looked around me and it was the first time I really felt part of a transnational community; part of an ummah. Part of a sadness bigger than me, distant from me but that I was at once complicit in causing and condemned to feeling.
I watched a video of a woman wearing a hijab get kicked down some stairs. Sometimes when I cycle around London I worry that a driver might not like me and might not want to drive past carefully.
I attended a talk about the Prevent Duty. It was put on by the Islamic Society at University. Half way through the Q&A it hit me that we weren’t asking how to stop this profiling and persecution, we were asking what to do when it happened. How best to protect ourselves.
There have been countless nights this year where, from the safety of my room, I’ve scrolled through stories of Muslims kicked off planes for speaking Arabic; women taking off their hijabs for personal safety; refugees and civilians remaining unmourned because they are not ‘Us’, they are ‘Muslim’.
I worry about people. People I know and people I have known. The brown boys from high school who might have adult beards now. The women who migrated here to give their children better opportunities. The folks whose English is not the right accent, and the ones who are told not to be angry.
My worry tries to encompass those I do not know too. Those further from home whom I cannot imagine outside of pictures of rubble and blood. I tune in and out of their never-ending grief because that’s my privilege.
Bombs and explosions happen routinely. To Muslims in ‘Muslim’ places, and more loudly, to ‘Us’. Berlin, Paris, Istanbul, Baghdad. Cafes, markets, nightclubs, schools. I am silenced out of a reaction with every new story. I fall between a gap where I am neither ‘Muslims’ nor ‘Us’. If I was caught in a bomb I wonder whether I would be ‘Us’ yet.
I am one of the lucky ones. I put my forehead to my prayer mat and pray for Muslims, and for the Us that are not Muslim. I’m at the demonstration outside Downing Street and a Syrian woman is talking about her husband being tortured. I read about informants and entrapment. I joke about my friends being surveillance officers. I make different jokes around different friends.
We laud Nadia because she won bake off, and we love Mo because he won gold. Somehow they make it into ‘Us’, but their cousins and siblings probably don’t.
I take selfies. I tweet prolifically. I get caught in traffic too.
At Friday prayers this week I wondered at the responsibility of the Imam to give us hope whilst also trying to voice grief. People had petitioned that extra prayers be made. We were clamouring to God. On the way home me and my mum laughed heartily about a story of some people who strung bacon to a mosque door.
There is no A-Z. There is no ‘Us’ or ‘Them’. There are only the contradictions and the ironies. The privilege and the persecution; the complicity and the pain; the fear and the being feared. But there is also laughter, and solidarity, and love.
‘Do not be a victim’, I tell myself, looking in the mirror at someone who is both Muslim and Us and everything and nothing else at once. Not yet. Not today.
2017 dawns and people act like that means something. I keep praying.