The video message of Prime Minister David Cameron, and the tweet from President Obama, wishing the Muslims well, as they begin observing the month of fasting in Ramadan is really a nice gesture; it makes as small contribution to neutralise the acidic clash of civilisation, which is manifested in the various conflicts around the world. Many of us, Muslims and non-Muslims are still bitter about the illegal Iraq war and Western leaders continue to turn a blind eye to the Israeli python strangling and suffocating the Palestinians – but we also need to acknowledge the just intervention in Libya that helped to prevent a bloody massacre by the Libyan dictator, and the masses in the West are now more sympathetic towards the Palestinians. Many of us also wanted to see Western troops, preferably helped by Turkey and other Muslim nations to remove the murderous Syrian regime.
It is not just the Muslims who are reluctant to acknowledge the positive gestures emanating from Western leaders; the British comedian, Frankie Boyle, replied to President Obama’s tweet “I wish Muslims of America & around the world a month blessed with the joys of family, peace and understanding” with the following “the ones you force-feeding in Guantanamo or the ones you bombing” and it went viral. Indeed, had Obama closed down the camp as he promised, his tweet would have been amplified in the Islamic world.
These messages from the leaders also says something about the domestic situation, it reflects their acknowledgement of a growing Muslim population in the West; in the future they will have an input in electing the leaders. There are numerous documentaries on Ramadan being shown on TV. The Adhan (the Muslim call to prayer) broadcasted by Channel 4, along with various shows depicting the month of Ramadan in the community, helps towards community cohesion, especially post Woolwich incident; what surprised me was the broadcast and the outstanding quality of the Adhan produced by Channel 4, the voice was mesmerising, and combined with the background scenes from my city was the icing on the cake.
However, wittingly or unwittingly, Muslims are still seen as something foreign, the society has yet to acknowledge growing numbers of Muslims from within the indigenous population; and with the growing indigenous Muslims combined with the third generation of Muslims born and raised in the UK, I see the emergence of a British Islam before my eyes.
This is natural and the signs are visible at every level, from our language, clothes, education, to the food we consume, Shepherd’s Pies are just as popular as Biriyani and curry, fruit chat is matched with fruit salad, fried samosas are accompanied by fried chicken wings and chips. We all want to see an end to forced marriages, which is an oxymoron, as marriage in Islam is a contract – the two parties must enter willingly and not coerced. Thus, young Muslim girls in the UK do not want to be shipped home and married off to some distant cousin for family convenience; equally boys are now marrying within the UK as opposed to the situation in the 80s. The British identity is helping to overcome traditional racial barriers, as it has less relevance here; these are all endorsed by Islam.
A month of fasting is accompanied by spiritual reward that is higher than other months of the year. Hence, the Muslim organisations go frenzy, as huge amounts of money are collected for charitable purposes; most are sent abroad, where it’s needed most, but what about the rights of the local population, and the rights of our neighbours. There is very little thought given to this as we still operate with the mindset that we do not belong here, and more importantly, we live in a wealthy society with lots of social safety nets, as people can claim various benefits. I am not a jurist, and will not debate the exact level of merit of the various actions; however, for sure the local population have considerable rights over us. Therefore, it is about time, some levels of resources are allocated for the poor and needy around us. Why not start this Ramadan, invite the homeless on the street to the Mosques for Iftar (food consumed when the fast ends after sunset) or bring food to them? An active role at a local level will go a long way to combating racist Islamophobia.
Yamin Zakaria (firstname.lastname@example.org)