Yesterday a Muslim YouTuber who goes by the Scottish Revert Teacher published a video saying that Muslims really were not really doing enough to improve the image of Islam in terms of the way they behave when going about their business and that if we were all our own best character witnesses, if we were helping our neighbours, smiling to people when we meet them, bringing them soup when they were sick and if our mosque leaders were taking the initiative in engaging with non-Muslims in their local community, the far-right’s message would be irrelevant. I think this is the wrong message, because it ignores the history both of Islam and of racism in this country. Prejudice exists independently of the character of the people who are the focus of it.
If we look at the Sira or the biography of the Prophet, sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, we see that he was known as al-Amin or the most trustworthy by his community in Mecca and was looked to to settle disputes between people. He was involved in the Hilf al-Fudool which was an agreement to secure justice for those with no powerful tribal friends, a number of whose members never became Muslim. Some of the same Meccan tribesmen said that they never accused him of being a liar and that they called him al-Amin, but they simply did not believe in this message he was spreading. Yet they still violently abused him, his family and those of his followers who did not have powerful friends while they were still living in Mecca until they were forced to emigrate, and after they did, they attempted to undermine the new community first by appealing to their Ethiopian hosts, then by using military force. Allah tells us in the Qur’an that these are people who are blind and deaf to truth, and the same is true of those who hate us in this day and age.
She also misunderstands racism by imagining that if we were just a bit more friendly towards others on a daily basis, those others would not recognise the things the Far Right say about us. The truth is that racism occurs for all manner of reasons unrelated to people’s manners or character. Many people will have friends of another race or religion but still believe that there are lots of Muslims they do not know who are not like those they do know. Some people will even campaign to stop their neighbours being deported when they are claiming asylum, but then vote for a party which boasts of taking a tough line on immigration and passes laws which split families up for that reason. If you live in a diverse neighbourhood then your neighbours are already less likely to be prejudiced against you because they already know that you are the same as them, that you go about your business, take your children to school, go to your job and so on; the people most likely to be prejudiced are those who live in separate neighbourhoods in divided towns or who live in a mostly white provincial town and rarely meet a Muslim, or indeed any member of any minority. They are more likely to believe what a right-wing tabloid or a far-right agitator like Stephen Yaxley-Lennon say, because all they know is what they have heard, not what they have seen. In addition, there have been many occasions in history where people turned against their neighbours when the forces of hate gained the upper hand: many of those murdered or raped in Bosnia and Rwanda were attacked by people they had thought were their friends.
Of course, it’s true that many people have been attracted to Islam by the characters of its most righteous people — Khwaja Moinuddeen Chishti, the anniversary of whose death is today, is a good example as his influence led to many conversions in India and is still felt to this day. It’s true that we do not have such luminaries as that in our community nowadays. But let us not fool ourselves; it is not the fault of a Muslim who does not smile or is rude to someone on the bus that there are far-right hoodlums threatening Muslims and tabloids spewing hate on a regular basis. There are some people who simply hate religion altogether and some who want theirs to be dominant; some people want Britain to be “white again”. There are some who see profit in spreading falsehood and some who make a career out of exploiting it. We also have Muslims who make their living airing the community’s dirty linen, and some of them add extra dirt before they put it on the line.
I am not saying you cannot make a difference to others’ perceptions of us by being friendly with others you meet on a daily basis. But your impact is going to be limited because there are a lot more ignorant people out there and some well-placed people who do not want to see Muslims get on in this country, at least not on anyone’s terms but theirs (i.e. without giving up our religion in all but name). Muslims are not to blame for the hatred the far right stokes; they themselves are.
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