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Let’s talk about Islamophobia

CW: Islamophobia

{…and when the ignorant people speak to them, they reply peacefully} The Holy Quran (25:63).
When a Muslim woman is confronted with arguments that her hijab is unsuitable for this ‘day and age’, or a Muslim man is lectured on how his beard is a bit ‘too much’ for others to feel safe around him, this verse comes to mind for many. Ignorance is a trigger for anger: when you are accused of being something you are not, when people are too caught up in their own world to learn about yours, the fire that builds in the pit of your stomach is sometimes very hard to extinguish.

However, sometimes we find ourselves holding back for just a moment. Perhaps in disbelief of how ignorant some people have become, or perhaps something within us senses an opportunity to change. And I believe this article is the consequence of that exact thought.

In writing this, I fear I may be unintentionally rationalising the blatant ignorance that exists within our societies. This could not be further from my intention. We live in an age where extensive knowledge about the basics of everything and anything is greatly accessible, leaving very little excuse for those who brand themselves as simply ‘unaware’.

For me, communication and cohabitation seem like the most pragmatic way to deal with the disease of Islamophobia. I say disease here because its spread is often quick and deadly. Islam is everywhere: in media, pop culture, education, and of course on the street. Most of which are sources that many are willing to take on board without applying any type of filtering process.

Hence, what I call for is dialogue. Real conversations with real Muslims. You won’t need to look too far to find a Muslim that speaks your language, eats your food, takes your course, or shares your love for last-minute essay hand-ins (you two should probably work on that one together).

I understand it can be daunting when asking someone about their way of life. You don’t want to say the wrong thing, embarrass yourself, or risk sounding- dare I say it- ignorant. But trust me when I say, Muslims love it when you ask! When someone looks beyond media portrayals and is willing to get to know us as fellow university students, with merely faith differentiating us, it truly warms the heart. Without realising it, you’re giving us a voice. A voice that has been taken away by those who choose ignorance over peace.

Let’s also talk about cohabitation. What we learn in conversation is important to apply in our interactions. As with any religious group, Muslims sometimes find it difficult to interact and engage with certain aspects of society, due to certain preexisting prejudices. Islamophobia here stems from the exclusive definition of ‘modernity’, which encompasses Western ideals, and ultimately leaves Muslims feeling isolated. Positive coexistence can be achieved when you consider your Muslim friends -which I hope you’ve all made by now- beliefs and customs when going out for lunch, visiting each other’s homes, or just sitting down for a chat. Again, I cannot express how much this means to a Muslim like myself who constantly has to deny dinner invites or work parties because of the compromising nature that certain environments create towards my religion.

So, let’s not allow ignorance to drive us apart. Leaving it in our hearts to bubble away only allows for an irrational hatred to grow towards a group you may know little about. We talk about expanding our horizons when it comes to food and films, but is there anything more important than understanding the people we share this planet with? (bit cheesy, let’s wrap this up). So, let me end this in the same way I started, with a greeting of peace.

Asalaamu Alaykum, Peace be upon you. Let’s talk!

Illustration via University of Edinburgh Islamic Society