Yet again another series of violent events in Europe supposedly organised in the name of Islam, has led to greater fear and vigilance of increases in Islamophobic incidents.
Muslim communities in Britain are once again being forced to “explain” themselves, as well as deal with potential physical abuse on public transport, places of worship being attacked and other hate crimes.
However it’s easy for Muslims to get sucked into a fear or ‘victim’ mentality – exactly what the provocateurs want – and forget the countless examples of how most people in British society are very tolerant of differences.
In the interest of sharing good examples, here are three personal incidents that have happened to me recently:
Example 1: Conference
I recently attended an annual NHS networking event for the second consecutive year. Upon registering, the lady at the welcome desk recognised my face from last year, and remembered that last year I had requested directions to a meeting room where I could pray during the lunch break.
So this time she proactively asked me: “Will you need a place to place to pray later today? If so you can use the room over there during lunch, I’ll make sure it’s free for you and I’ll put a Do Not Disturb sign on the door so nobody disturbs you.” It was far more than I expected and I was just surprised that she actually remembered me!
Friendly helping hand 1 vs Religion Intolerance 0
Example 2: Client offices
At work I am required to visit a client site for one day a week, to attend meetings and work from a hot desk. On my first visit I asked for directions to a meeting room to pray, and was kindly shown to an empty meeting room nearby by the team assistant.
On my second visit, the team assistant approached me and said, “After last week, I asked and it turns out that our office has a small Multi-Faith prayer room upstairs. Would you like me to show you where it is?” I kindly accepted, she showed me the space and I thanked the team assistant for her efforts.
Friendly helping hand 2 vs Religion Intolerance 0
Example 3: Friend’s house
Shortly after starting a new job along with three other graduates, I was invited by one of the graduates for dinner and drinks at his house. I explained that as a Muslim, I do not drink alcohol and am uncomfortable in an environment where alcohol is being drunk, so therefore I would politely decline.
Not wanting to leave me feeling left out, my friend offered to a host a ‘dry’ dinner with no alcohol at the table and the wine only being cracked open later after the meal, before which I could leave. My friend respected my preferences and went out of his way to adjust his plans to make me feel welcome, and this was far beyond what I had ever expected.
Friendly helping hand 3 vs Religion Intolerance 0
How would I respond if the situation was reversed? I would certainly hope that I would be equally accommodating and respectful to the preferences and beliefs of my fellow human beings. In other words, to display in my behaviour the universal ethic of reciprocity – wish for your brother what you wish for yourself – an ethic which every organised world religion seems to have in one form or another.
Media outlets like to focus on ‘extreme’ and ‘shocking’ events which will naturally sell more newspapers or gain more TV, radio or online viewers.
But it’s important to remember that we are in control of our own thoughts – so let’s not get stuck living in a climate of fear or negativity, as this is exactly what the agents of hate want for us.