A narrative on growing up Muslim in Britain
I was 8 years old when I was first called a terrorist. This shocks people, but that was the world in which I and many other Muslims grew up, and continue to live. I have watched the world become more and more fearful and hateful towards Muslims. Now we see refugees being turned away because ‘they might be terrorists’, people being banned from countries because they are from predominately Muslim countries, and Muslims being gunned down in their place of worship.
I was five years old when 9/11 happened, and I don’t remember much before then. One of my first memories of learning about Islam was reading a book my dad bought me. On the first page, it said in bold words ‘Islam means peace’. I grew up believing that. I loved wearing hijabs and going to the mosque. I thought Arabic was a beautiful language and wanted to learn it. I loved celebrating Eid and always brought in a box of chocolates for my friends and teachers. I was proud to be Muslim. But after a while, the attitudes of people around me changed. The world was becoming wary of Muslims and that was reflected in the behaviour of the kids around me. They had heard what was being said on the news and by their parents.
It got to a point where I was scared to call myself a Muslim. The abuse that I received – whether it was someone throwing bits of paper at me while I was wearing a hijab, or someone saying that they were going to kill me because I am a disease on the earth – meant that I hid who I was from others. I am not the only one who has these experiences, there are countless Muslims across the world that have been subjected to worse.
It breaks my heart to see my brothers and sisters being treated like criminals and monsters. It hurts that we live in a world where people judge others by their race and their religion. When I see my young cousins running around carefree, I feel sad because I fear they will grow up in the same world that I did, or even one that is worse. I don’t know if they’ll be worried for the safety of family worldwide every day. If they’ll stop going to the mosque because they do not want people to see them wearing a hijab. If they’ll experience the kind of islamophobic abuse that I received growing up. Or if they will even understand where all this hate comes from. I certainly didn’t, and still don’t.
There are bad Muslims, we cannot deny that. There are bad Christians, bad Hindus and bad Atheists. There are bad Muslims in the same way that there are bad people. Muslim is not synonymous with evil. I think back to 8-year-old me, being called a terrorist and having to consider whether I actually was a bad person. In my life, I have been called things that have made me question who I am – evil, a murderer, even a suicide bomber. I have had to honestly consider whether I am a waste of life, a disgrace to humanity for being Muslim, whether I should apologise for simply being alive.
No one should have to think that. No child should ever have to think that.
When you tell children that who they are is wrong, they will grow up thinking that. They may be the kindest, most generous person in the world, but if they grow up being told they are nothing, they will start to believe it. That is what things like Trump’s Muslim Ban are doing. It is not protecting people, it is stating that people from countries like Iran and Iraq (i.e. Muslims) are inferior to others. That is not true. We may look different on the outside, speak different languages, and hold different beliefs, but we are human beings.
But what can you do about it? We are lucky enough to live in a democracy, meaning that we all have the opportunity to voice our opinions. We should use that voice. I went to a protest against Trump’s Muslim Ban and it was heart-warming to see people going out of their way to make sure that they were standing against what has happened. They were all using their voices to stand up to injustice and show their outrage.
Being Muslim is not something I am ashamed of anymore, and it’s not something I hide from people. I am proud to be Muslim, because it is one of the things that make me who I am. No one should feel ashamed or embarrassed about a fundamental part of themselves. I hope that one day I will live in a world where that is the reality.