By Areeb Siddiqui
03 April 2017
From the actions of a madman on the streets of London last week to the 200 civilians killed in airstrikes targeting IS in Mosul, we live in a time where it’s considered a slow news day if Islam doesn’t make the headlines in some form. More often than not, this is unfortunately for all the wrong reasons.
On a macro scale, this negative attention has helped fuel the anti-immigrant ‘Islamophobic’ rhetoric that has dominated nationalist campaigns ranging from Europe all the way to the seat of the White House itself. However, an often-overlooked casualty of this fear mongering is the roughly 47 million Muslims living and working peacefully in Western countries. Many Muslims feel increasingly pressured to differentiate themselves from those individuals seen committing the atrocities we’ve sadly become accustomed to, even going so far as to hide the extent to which they practice Islam, or the fact that they’re Muslim at all from their co-workers.
This trend was made obvious to me a couple of years ago, when a former colleague of mine at Deloitte was genuinely shocked to find out that I prayed five times a day. After ruling out that this wasn’t some kind of special day in the Islamic calendar, and that I did in fact (like many other Muslims) perform obligatory prayers, eat halal, fast in Ramadan, they stated “well as long as your imam doesn’t have a hook for a hand I won’t get worried!”
The reference to the infamous Finsbury Park Imam and fundamentalist preacher was obviously a joke and I didn’t take it in any other way. However, it struck me as odd that someone who worked for a company that boasts London’s largest and most active Muslim network was so painfully unaware of common place practices of so many of their colleagues (Deloitte even has an amazing multi-faith room on campus that can be used at all hours).
After asking around, I found that many of my Muslim co-workers felt embarrassed drawing attention to this side of their lives, even if it meant missing a prayer rather than excusing themselves for 5-10 minutes, or becoming perpetual vegetarians rather than asking for a halal option (not that there’s anything wrong with vegetarianism; it’s just a life style choice I’d rather not be forced into).
The danger here is that by covering up aspects of our lives that hold huge importance to us, we risk making the divide between ‘us and them’ seem larger than it really is. Attempts to normalise ourselves to seemingly fit in with society, could mean that we end up relegating some of the most basic tenets of our faith to being viewed as ‘too extreme’, whether it’s attending the mosque on a Friday or wearing a headscarf in public.
I am truly proud to have lived and worked in a city as diverse and culturally rich as London. Deloitte provided me with the freedom to practice my religion openly, and with my recent move to a much smaller firm where I was the only Muslim requiring a prayer room, I felt completely at ease to ask if a prayer space could be made available ( a request they didn’t hesitate to accommodate). Unfortunately, I’m not sure I could say the same if I lived and worked in some of our neighbouring European countries.
The European Court of Justice’s recent decision to allow firms to ban all ‘visible religious symbols’, a ruling spurred by the dismissal of two women by their employers for refusing to remove their headscarves, is thankfully an unimaginable and highly disturbing scenario here in the UK–despite those who would undoubtedly welcome it.
We cannot let the actions of a few be representative of the 22% of the human race that identify as Muslim, and neither can we let them dictate the way in which we live our lives. By hiding the aspects of our faith that we hold most dear, we miss the opportunity to show those of other faiths and cultures the other side of the coin through our daily interactions with people at work and at school.
I for one will not be hiding.
Areeb is a Management Consultant specialising in the asset management industry, living and working in London. Topics and interests range from matters of faith, finance, science and wildlife.