How It Feels: Being a Muslim mother in Britain today

A post popped up towards the end of last week in an Attachment Parenting group that we belong to on Facebook. Reading it was heartbreaking. Here was a woman, a mother, not dissimilar to us, feeling frightened about leaving the house. The comments that followed were unswervingly supportive, of course, from like-minded, rational folk who haven’t been swayed by the bigotry and hatred spewed out daily by our media and online. But, elsewhere online (and in the ‘real’ world) instances of racial hatred are cropping up every second; it’s frightening to think that our children are growing up in a society where intolerance is so rife.

We contacted Safura and asked her initially if we could share her post – we had been attempting to put into words our own frustration and anger regarding current culture of Islamophobia that has spread insidiously through our society, filtering down into the young minds of many children, exposed to racist comments from those around them. Organically, the idea grew and Safura kindly agreed to write a guest post for us, to help our followers understand what life as a Muslim in Britain is like at the moment.

Over to Safura…

I was born to Indian parents in North London, where I lived for most of my life. I now live in South London with my English husband and our four daughters, aged between 2 and 13 years. Whilst I’m sure this all sounds fairly ‘normal’, to be completely honest, at the moment I am anxious, tense and on edge every time I leave the house. Why? In the last few weeks alone, ten Muslims were mowed down by a white van outside Finsbury Park mosque in a terror attack – they were leaving after prayers during Ramadan and some were helping an elderly man who had fallen down; a bag of vomit was thrown at a car being driven by a Muslim woman in Blackburn; a threatening, hate-filled letter was anonymously posted through the letterbox of a Muslim family home in South London. I am fed up of all the recent media headlines and how my religion keeps getting dragged through the mud by the likes of The Daily Mail and The Sun. I’m worried about the nervous looks people throw my way sometimes when I’m out and about. I’m not a criminal. I’m not a terrorist, I promise. My religion abhors violence of any kind.

Terrorism has no place in Islam. Just to prove it, here are some relevant verses from the Quran:

‘Whoever kills a soul, it is as if he has slain all humanity’ (5:32)

‘Not equal are the good deed and the bad deed. Repel evil by that which is better, and then the one who is hostile to you will become as a devoted friend.’ (41:34)

‘Real believers are those who walk (upon the earth) with modesty; And when the foolish ones address them with harsh words, they reply: Peace!’ (25:63)

‘…let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety.’ (5:8)

It saddens me that a group of violent people are taking verses out of context and abusing the name of Islam for their own political gain. If people would just stop and think…Islam has been around for over 1400 years, and this modern wave of ‘Islamist terrorism’ has only been around for approximately 20 years…what does that tell us? Terrorism is not from Islam. ISIS are not Islamic; they’re a dangerous and violent political group and I don’t know a single Muslim who will not condemn their actions. Yet we are made to feel like we have to apologise for their abhorrent actions. Every. Single. Day. It’s become so exhausting that, sometimes, it’s easier not to leave the house at all.

I’m trying to overcompensate by holding doors open more often for people, smiling more at those around us, trying to strike up friendly conversations with whoever is next to me in a queue…but it’s not allaying my anxieties. I keep finding myself speaking to my children in English in a really loud voice in public just to show that I’m British and I belong here too…daft, right?

Why does it feel like others don’t accept me as British? That I don’t belong here? Why do I feel I need to prove my worth all the time? Or feel the need to let it be heard by all those within earshot that we speak fluent English?

We are experiencing a whole new wave of racism, bigotry, Islamophobia and xenophobia in Britain since the Brexit vote. There has been a clear spike in the number of religious and racial hate crimes in the year since the referendum and I feel the fierce need to protect my children from this ugliness that has come about as a result of it.

I fear that I might be putting my children in danger if I go into certain areas or past a pub when it’s full with customers sitting outside… I worry about nasty comments that might be thrown our way. I read about attacks on Muslim women and female teens and that scares me… I can’t enjoy time with my children when we go out anymore because I’m constantly on guard. I have to remember where I’ve put my keys in case someone physically attacks us and I need something to defend myself with. It’s not fair. I have really lovely non-Muslim friends too and I know that most people out there aren’t setting out to attack us – but the current climate has created that fear in me nonetheless.

Reading about horrible EDL demonstrations, quotes from Tommy Robinson and tweets from the likes of Katie Hopkins really hasn’t helped the situation.

But I know I can’t put my children in a bubble and try to protect them from everything. I’ve had to think long and hard about the impact this could all have on them. How much do I try to ‘protect’ them from all this? I’ve come up with a balanced solution of keeping the older ones informed with facts and not exposing them to the media’s fear-mongering and hate rhetoric. At the same time I don’t want my own fears to influence them in their decisions and everyday actions so I have to try to be strong around them. I hope they don’t see me tense up sometimes on public transport, or wonder why I’m practically shouting at them in English when I ask if they would like some ice cream at the park… I don’t want them to become anxious or start reading too much into the behaviour of others around them. I don’t want them to become paranoid or afraid. So I have to pretend everything is ok. I have to put on a brave face even though I don’t feel like leaving the house some days.

Over the past two days, Muslims have been celebrating Eid al-Fitr, which began on Sunday night and ended last night. As the most important festival in the Islamic calendar, this should be a time for Muslims to celebrate, to show gratitude to God/Allah, to mark the end of Ramadan and to use it as an opportunity for spiritual ‘stock-taking’. It’s generally celebrated with lots of food and gifts: houses will be decorated, henna will be applied to hands… However, I worry that this Eid will be blighted by the current sad state of affairs. That many Muslims won’t feel safe venturing out for their Eid prayer at the mosque. That they won’t celebrate Eid with their families with the same joy and festivity they normally would have. That makes me feel sad. At the time of writing this, I don’t know what Eid will be like for me this year but I intend to stop looking over my shoulder, and to enjoy spending time with my loved ones, and to reflect and ponder upon the beautiful meaning of life. This might all turn out to be much harder in practise.

I am hoping and praying that things will get better; that our children will be the catalyst for positive change in this mad world.

I’ve put together some tips on how we can all help alleviate these fears in people and help foster a community spirit:

1. If you see a Muslim woman anywhere who looks like she might be struggling or anxious please send a smile her way and maybe say hello to make her feel like she belongs.

2. If you witness anyone suffering Islamophobic abuse (or racist/xenophobic abuse generally), engage with the victim and strike up a conversation with them to deflect from the negative experience. Don’t let them feel like they are alone in the situation. Move to sit or stand next to them and make eye contact. Ask if they are OK and if they want to move away from the perpetrator together. Engaging with the perpetrator may not always be safe and could escalate the situation.

3. If you don’t already, strike up a conversation with someone from a different background. Maybe there’s a Mum you see at a playgroup or at the school gates? Meet up for a coffee. Go to a mosque open day. Join Muslims for an Eid meal. Feel free to openly ask questions instead of using Google (the Internet is full of fake websites). This will open up dialogue and encourage community cohesion – furthermore, it helps establish facts and dispel myths. I promise most Muslims would love a natter and a coffee, and will be more than open to answering your questions! Some will probably be relieved that you’ve approached them/helped break the tension.

Safura, writing for The Mother Side xx

You can follow us on Facebook at Tales from the Mother Side.

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