Do young Muslims today like to mix and integrate with non-Muslims at college/uni, work and especially in their everyday life? Do young Muslims actually have close friends who are non-Muslims? Or do they prefer segregation? Do Muslims believe that non-Muslims don’t want to mix with them? Or do they have the view that most non-Muslims are racist/Islamophobic?
The Revival spoke to young Muslims across the UK to hear their views:
Mohib Ali, 25, High Wycombe
Do Muslims integrate with non-Muslims? Probably not as much as they should- apart from the ones who like to go for a good drink once in a while and can't really do that with Muslims!
In my personal experience, I feel the reason for this not happening as much as it should is a combination of the "Us vs Them" mentality that is drummed into the majority of us from an early stage and the lack of it happening among the elders who we look to as role models.
It's good to mix right? We have so much to teach and learn from one another as was evident from that Make Bradford British documentary. So if it's good and we need to and we want to - why don't we do it as much as we should?
Again from my personal experience, I feel we have a serious lack of strength in our faith. We are not strong enough. We feel that we will be influenced more, and be able to influence less. We take the easier option and refrain from mixing for fear of being led off a path that we’re not really on anyway.
I mean, it's our job to "spread the word" right? How can we, if we only stay amongst people who already know "the word"?
SEGREGATION is a lot easier. All they ever want to do at work social events is drink, drink and drink more until they're totally rat arsed and can't remember anything. So despite all I've said above, I don't really want to be at such events. Although I'm glad I did go to the Xmas do 2010. Some of the conversations that followed in the office the following week were really interesting. Like when Mike was disgusted that Louise (a married 31 year old) was letting Muzzy (who is also a married man. FYI - NOT MARRIED TO LOUISE) touch her all over and her defence was that she was totally "out of it" and can't really remember it happening. It made me think, "hold on a minute, Mike is 'one of THEM' but feels the same way I do". I recall seeing that happening on the dance floor too and thinking and feeling the same way Mike did. Are we really that different? Mike, who's not a big drinker, thinks like me. Is it because of his age? Maybe not, cos Steve, who's a lot older than all of us, was defending Louise saying "it's Christmas, and it's not like Louise’s husband would find out anyway".
So that's the kind of thing we face when we go out there to "integrate”. Are we not better off keeping our distance so that we don't get influenced?
Sawsan Therese, 18, East London
There aren’t a lot of non-Muslims in my college but I do get along with the few, we're on smiling and saying hello terms. My close friends are all Muslims. I find it much easier to have Muslim friends because there's more understanding and we're there for each other when tackling issues that face Muslims today.
It's not that I prefer segregation, there just aren’t enough non-Muslims to be friends with and that's a problem in itself. We’ve getto-fied ourselves - all the Muslims live there, all the non-Muslims live here. It's hard to mix when it’s like that. But even if we didn’t live like that, I think it would be really difficult to be close friends with non-Muslims. We just have a totally different lifestyles and ways of thinking. The Islamic lifestyle and the "western" lifestyle clash because in a lot of aspects they're actually polar opposite - party/ no party, dating/no dating, drink/drugs vs not allowed - even the way we dress is different! But that's not too bad, there's plenty of room to meet halfway and plus it’s just clothes so it shouldn’t really matter.
When I see non-Muslims I don’t think straight away "oh racist/islamophobic”! They'll have to do something for me to think that way, for example be rude or blank me or something. I’m ready to become friends with anyone and I really hope I'M not racist.
I'm pretty sure Muslims and non-Muslims can be friends. We've got lots in common, interests/hobbies/studies/living here. We could even become close friends if we're willing to explain, understand and keep an open mind.
Amir Farooq, 28, Birmingham
Integration between youngsters is very common these days. 10+ years ago it was less so. A lot of Muslims are friends with non-Muslims and vice versa whereas before there was hardly any integration and most ethnicities stuck with each other.
It is difficult for young Muslims to fully integrate due to their culture, beliefs and depending on the outlook their parents/family might have.
I think most British born young Muslims do try and integrate and do believe in integration but most will only go up to a certain level of integration and then will fall back to similarities and familiarities of their own ethnicity.
It also depends on the social situation. If a young Muslim attends a college which is mainly filled with Muslims then there is no need for that person to try and integrate; whereas if that young Muslim attends a college in which he/she is within the minority then, out of necessity he/she would have to try and integrate to have a normal academic life instead of being a "loner”.
Aminah Begum, 19, Bradford
I think Muslims don't have a problem mixing and integrating with non-Muslims, because at the end of the day we’re living in Britain. Personally, I don't mind being in the company of non-Muslims and I actually find it easier to interact with them more. But I wouldn't be too keen on having a really close mate who is a non-Muslim because I could easily get influenced by what I see and by their way of life.
Obviously, there's always a minority of non-Muslims who do not want to mix and who are racist/Islamophobic, because of prejudice views and what they hear on the media Staying segregated is not the solution either! So by mixing, you're more or less getting along and realising that everyone's just the same.
I suppose I've never thought of it this way. Being with non-Muslims is just normal to me. It doesn't mean I don't interact with Muslims too, but depending on where you are and what you do, there isn’t a problem in mixing and integrating (because you will have to at some point in your life) and it actually has more benefits to it too.
Mohsin Akhbar, 25, Oldham
Myself, growing up in a segregated society, as is the norm in Britain today, found it hard earlier on to relate to my non-Muslim, non-Asian co-workers and colleagues. It was something I had to proactively teach myself. My fate, as with many young Muslims like me in Britain, was to be raised in a cultural surrounding, rather than one dictated by religion. My culture is generally not very understanding or open to new experiences. My friends throughout high-school and college not only followed the same religion as me, but were from the same or a very similar culture. It wasn’t until I reached university that I figured out I may well be a little racist. So, through much self-analysis, and many an evening spent in deep contemplation, I decided it was time to work through this barrier that my Asian culture had ‘gifted’ me.
I found it easier to relate to and befriend Muslims from different cultures; be they African or Arab etc., than I did befriending people of different religions. It wasn’t until I started to study my religion much deeper that I realised Islam encouraged integrating, and becoming a benefit to society. It wasn’t until I became intrigued with the cultures and religions of other people that I started to actively make an effort to integrate, and make friends with people of various races and religions.
Through my personal experience and journey of self-realisation, which is not complete by any means, I have come to realise that young Muslims find it extremely hard to mix and integrate, and it may not be due to lack of trying. Some may well even feel that they need to do the same activities as their non-Muslim friends, to be able to fit in.
I think the problem lies in peoples understanding of the word ‘integration’, which may sometimes be confused with ‘assimilation’. When you integrate, you come together on a common ground, whilst keeping your own beliefs and values intact. Assimilation on the other hand is when you leave behind your own beliefs and values, and take up beliefs and values of another culture or people.
Young Muslims may feel that to be accepted they must assimilate with non-Muslims, or the peer pressure may well make them assimilate. The reason for this is Muslims lack in knowledge of their religion and the confidence required to express and explain it. Many times when I have spoken to a non-Muslim for the first time, the conversation has always gone to beliefs and values, either they have opened up the issue, or I deliberately have steered it that way.
For what reason you may ask, and it’s simple, non-Muslims are curious of what they see as a restrictive religion, and want to ask questions. Some may not have the confidence, so I always open the door for them. The barrage of questions will always include, are you allowed to go clubbing? Can you drink alcohol? Can you have a boy/girlfriend? And then comes the hard question, why? I can always confidently answer most questions non-Muslims will have about Islam, and during this conversation we will often find a common interest, which may well form the basis for us to forge a friendship.
I feel the reason most Muslims don’t have non-Muslim friends is for the same reasons as myself in my younger days; lack of understanding, lack of motivation and simply not being bothered, or even being slightly racist. And if someone doesn’t bother to come out of their comfort zone, they are part of the reason for the segregation we see in our societies today.
Raihaan Khan, 15, Leicester
I'm still at school, in my last year and the students in my school are mainly non-Muslim; they are either mostly Christians or atheists. There are a number of Muslims in my year so it’s not like I'm the only one.
My closest friends are non-Muslims. I've got friends that are Muslim but my closest friends; the people I share things with and go watch films with etc. are all non-Muslim. Some say that it's so hard to have close non-Muslim friends because of the barriers. I've found that there doesn't need to be any barriers. Barriers only exist if you put them up and block yourselves out.
Mashallah, my friends are great and very understanding but only because I took the time to explain things to them. So now when they organise parties where there is alcohol I don't go and they respect that and think nothing of it. Or they don't get out the drink until I leave. Most are in relationships and as much as I don't agree with dating/drinking etc. I try not to pass judgement and in return I have no peer pressure to join in.
I think that it's really important that people stop thinking about non-Muslims like they can never be friends because of culture differences. By doing that you are isolating/segregating yourselves and there isn’t a need for it. I found my Asian Muslim friends to be quite judgemental in comparison and by that I mean they always seem to be in competition with me and each other about grades and achievements and stuff like that.
Last summer I was lucky enough to gain a place on Salter's Chemistry Camp (I know super geeky) and it was a 3 day two night chemistry course at University of Sussex. It was excellent! I made many friends and met many people that I knew I would not have made friends with normally. The reason for telling you this is that it was during the middle of Ramadan and I am very proud to say that I was a) the only Muslim and b) I kept my fasts throughout those three days. There was a Turkish guy there who said he would catch them up at the end of the month but that felt like cheating so I took some of my own food and used the Uni kitchen to make myself food for the dawn meal.
So it shows that you can have close non-Muslim friends and not give up your beliefs or compromise on your religion. We need to stop making excuses and try and explain our beliefs and our customs to people, so that ignorance can be abolished, and we don’t have idiots being racist.
The only way we are going to be integrated is by understanding each other - instead of saying 'Oh, I don’t have non-Muslims friends as they don't understand me'. Make them understand you by explaining things to them- you'll be surprised how uneducated people are and how much they actually want to learn.
Muneeb Ayub, 28, Manchester
I think it depends on where you go and how practicing some people are. My area is pretty multi-cultural and does allow mixing. I think if we try to be warm and friendly to everyone then we can break down that barrier. Maybe we could do that by "making the first move" and if someone is seemingly blanking us, we could make a joke to show that we have a sense of humour. After all, being Muslim is just part of our identity; showing that we do other things is a step in the right direction.
I think the partying and drinking v no partying and drinking is a barrier, but it can also be used to show our mellowness and show that we're down to earth. I always say to people that I'd rather get to know them over a cup of coffee or tea rather than get drunk with them in a club and forget whatever they tell me.
I feel that our differences could also be a way to talk and do some (good) da’wah, and let others know that there is an alternative to clubbing. I've also tried to use the way that we're positively different (as Muslims) to become better friends. For example we have to be anti-exploitation, pro-manners, pro-social justice and as selfless as possible, which is something that some non-Muslims will have, and most won't object to that.
I feel the problem/solution partly lies with us Muslims, for not working hard enough to break the stereotypes and while we should bear in mind the fact that we could be negatively influenced, we should realise that there will be other (Muslim) friends who will point this out to us and help us if that happens.