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My Story of Loving Muslims

I decided to write this because I hear so much bad being said about Muslims and I wanted to show that what I know and experience is very different.

I have led a few topic groups at workshops and struggled to know what to call them. I have used the word “Islamophobia” but really struggle with it. I have all these questions: Why are we being encouraged to hate Muslims? What is Muslim oppression? What does it mean to be an ally? How can we learn about Muslims and Islam? What is Islamophobia? Who are Muslims anyway?

Alima Adams, a middle-class English Co-Counsellor with African Muslim roots, encouraged me to continue with this exploration, and it is my connection with her that has helped me to think bigger.

I recently attended a wide-world-change workshop led by Julian Weisglass1 and concluded that human closeness is the most important “weapon” against oppression and war. In my life I have had the most human closeness from Muslims. Here is my story:

The day I moved into my neighbourhood, I was greeted on my doorstep by Z—, age twelve, carrying a plate of somosa (pastry triangles filled with spicy vegetables). I was so hungry after physical work, I cried. It was one of the perfect moments of my life.

I had loads of physical things to do each day after work, but it didn’t take long for Z— and her cousins to come ’round2 with offers of practical help. Aged twelve, ten, and nine, they were willing and strong and capable. They knew how to paint better than I did and turned up 3 every night for weeks until the whole house was painted.

They had witnessed many times in their Pakistani-Kashmiri families that whenever anyone is in trouble or needs help, people gather ’round in numbers. They couldn’t let me—all alone, away from my family in the north and isolated due to the demands of work—do it alone. What’s more, they seemed to enjoy themselves.

I got to know their families and was told by Granddad that every day around six there would be food to share and that I should consider myself one of the family. That was hard to accept, but it has been a wonderful thread of stability in my life ever since.

I got to know all the family and have had some of my most close and relaxing times in their homes. The children wanted me to sleep with them, and to lay and roll on the floor with them, which I wasn’t used to but was good preparation for family work!4

They have big gatherings after babies are born. This has been a mighty contradiction for me.5 (Born into a poor, working-class family that was anxious about being able to afford me, I bore the brunt of their survival fears and violent, abusive frustrations.) Everyone wants to hold the baby. He or she gets passed around to all the generations of relatives visiting from far and wide. Weddings, funerals, memorials always involve lots of people gathering, too.

When my Kurdish-Muslim partner’s mum died, we had visitors every day for several weeks. They brought pans of food and bought extra glasses and everything else we needed to make it possible to feed large numbers of people. I don’t know who paid for it; they take that burden away from the grieving family.

It would take a book to tell you about all the times I have shared with this family over the past twenty-four years. They have been so open and generous to me. They have always “lent” me their children and told me that I am one of the family. I have taken them out for treats and holidays, for cultural exchanges, and to share the beauty of the British countryside. I have been to their village in Pakistan, which is equally green and beautiful. I remember walking with them on the coast path in Wales and coming to a big, open green space and their saying, “This looks like our village in Pakistan!” I was shocked at my ignorance; I had thought that Pakistan was all sandy and desert-like.

Likewise, Kurdistan is very green in springtime, and full of wild flowers and waterfalls. This is northern Iraq I’m talking about, and what do we see portrayed on our television screens about that part of the world? My partner went to university in Baghdad (Iraq) and reminisces about it being a paradise of nightlife along the river Tigris.

ANTI-MUSLIM OPPRESSION

Anti-Muslim oppression is all around us. It’s so blatant and obvious. We are fed image after image of Muslim terrorists or Muslims who are allegedly promoting terrorism. Anyone who is Muslim or perceived to be Muslim is treated with suspicion.

We are not told about how Muslims are acting with courage, kindness, generosity, and integrity in their communities in the face of war and austerity. We are not encouraged to share the grief of the many Muslims who have lost relatives and homes due to war and invasion.

I am a member of a women’s group in my community called Women Heroes. It includes a number of Muslim women from Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan—places disrupted by war. I have encouraged listening rounds. What the women have been through is heart rending—so much loss and separation. We often cry.

I teach classes on prejudice and racism to working-class women as part of their work training, and I always do an exercise on images in the media. I recently decided to include images of Muslims, and it was difficult to find any positive images at all. One young woman said that she was “fed up6 with Muslims,” that she had given up on them after a bad experience in a relationship with a Muslim man. I told her about my “family” and about my partner who is Muslim and a great supporter of women’s power. She was shocked. It made me think that I need to tell my story. I am frightened that people are “giving up on Muslims,” or giving up on anybody!

We need to counter the impact on both Muslims and non-Muslims of all the negative media attention. I encourage us all to have a session on what comes up when we hear or say “Muslim” or “Islam.”

I work in a community with a majority of Somali Muslim families. When I first came, it was run down with drugs and crime. Now it is peaceful, clean, and more vibrant. People walk more safely. There is a lower consumption of alcohol too (in Islam alcohol is forbidden). But there has been little recognition of the Somali families’ contribution to raising the standards in the area.

I am learning more about Muslims. They are in many nations across the world—in Europe from west to east, all over Asia, and in North America, Africa, and South America. The largest population is in Indonesia. I have learned that the Muslim faith came from a cry of the oppressed for equality and that it advocates the sharing of wealth. I have noticed that my Muslim friends are not afraid of money; when someone needs some, they quickly pull out cash to give.

LISTENING TO MUSLIMS

The following are some things Muslims have told me in answer to, “What do you like about being a Muslim?”

  • Peace—how we live our lives accepting everybody. We are not allowed to backbite.7 We are not allowed to hurt people’s feelings.
  • It’s good to be modest as a woman; you don’t need to show off all your body. Also, we fast and grow to understand those who have less than we do.
  • I see Islam as about being good, praying five times a day from your heart. Other people say you should wear a scarf. I don’t, because it doesn’t come from my heart. My dad was a good Muslim and he always said, “Follow your heart.”
  • It’s good Muslims don’t drink; we are more in control of driving and what we are talking about. We don’t get judged in the same way about our clothing; we have our own fashion.
  • We believe that if people are in trouble, we need to help them. When there are appeals from homeless people in Syria, or people needing help anywhere in the world, it is our duty to give.
  • I used to be a businesswoman travelling all over India. I met an Englishman without shoes and bought him some; it was an honour. Now I have come to England and feel I have to take, but it is difficult for me.
  • We didn’t come here to take; we came because we were in trouble. I lost a beautiful home with a swimming pool. I used to have parties every week and invite all my friends and neighbours to eat. Now you accuse me of taking jobs and housing, but all I want to do is give!

I also want to ask Muslims what is hard, but I know I will have to be prepared to listen long and hard and get support for myself.

What will it take for us non-Muslims to be able to listen to Muslims—to be able to notice and acknowledge their suffering, their greatness, and their needs? What in our early lives was similar or different? Are all oppressed groups similar in how they’ve been blamed in order to distract us from economic oppression and exploitation? What is our past relationship to blame?

I would love you to join me in uncovering parts of our minds that we have feared to go to. I also want to keep sharing positive news about Muslims. How can we do this? Please join me!

Belinda French

Bristol, England


1 Julian Weissglass is the International Commonality Reference Person for Wide World Change
2 'Round means around,
3 "Turned up" means appeared.
4 RC family work is the application of Re-evaluation Counseling to the particular situations of young people, and families with young children. It entails young people and adults (both parents and allies) interacting in ways that allow the young people to show and be themselves and not be dominated by the adults.
5 Contradiction to distress
6 "Fed up" means disgusted.
7 "Backbite" means say bad things about someone when she or he is not present.


Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00