Hey! I am a 20 year old, Leicester born and bred, Ismaili Muslim. I'm also a member of a group of young people who spread understanding and tolerance amongst the various beautiful faiths around the world.
Picture the scene. Its 4am, it's a rock and roll party, free room, free food, free drink. Everyone seems to be drunk, except of course yours truly, and everyone is having a merry time. I get up to go to the bathroom and just like that everything changes.
From across the room some one calls out, "Hey, didn't I see you on that subway train the other day on the news?"
Suddenly, it's like that moment at the party where the record player screeches to a stop and I feel as if a camera zooms in on my face.
|Do YOU stereotype?|
Un-amused, I look at this unprovoked verbal attacker and ask: "What do you mean by that?"
"You heard," and then the interrogation began, with all eyes on us as if it were the age old cliché of a tennis match, back and forth it went, "Are you British or Muslim first?"
I feel as if I have to step up to the plate and slug this pitch else I would be a coward of some sort, a dodger of questions, "I'm both. I am British first of course, this is my language, these are my clothes, it is part of who I am."
"Right, well then, what about all those Muslims who are blowing up British people? The terrorists?"
I suddenly realise everything has changed. There was a hint of fear, a hint of vengeance and a peppering of violence in his voice, and all those general feelings of mistrust and confusion had centred on me.
|"I am fascinated by the diversity of cultures and a great believer that pluralism is one of the Leicester's biggest strengths."|
That awful rumour about Islamophobia had come to haunt me and I realised the next words out of my mouth would affect the opinion of the 15 people surrounding me. It was no secret I was on my own.
"The people who did that I condemn," the first thing out my mouth sounded like a diplomatic civility and it wasn't good enough.
"They aren't properly practicing Islam… It’s like going up to the Ku Klux Klan and saying hey, what does Christianity say about black people? It the same thing when the media interviews these people with a cloak of Islam over themselves; using it as an excuse for inexcusable acts."
Everyone in the room had their eyes glued to me and were nodding, telling me they understood my plight, so I felt it right to continue.
"Young Muslims are taken in and brainwashed. They obviously think they are doing something good but they aren't. The problem is people are letting other people do their thinking for them!"
|Is Leicester a place of tolerance?|
"Look, it isn't about Islam. It is about people wanting power over other people. In every belief system there are these people on the extreme trying to bend and twist whatever they get their hands on for their own means.!
I looked at my friend who was beside me, he gave me a little impressed wink, and I went for the home run.
"You need to be less judgmental, you need to go out in the real world and see the millions of Muslims who want nothing more than for this world to be drenched in peace and Gods grace. I pray that one day someone will open your eyes and help you see this is a world we all have to share, we need less aggression, more acceptance."
And with that, I moved from the stunned silence towards the bathroom. As I did, he stood and went for the front door. I called out to him as the door closed behind him, "Peace and love,"
He hesitated, then nudged the door open for a brief moment, adding "and war."
"That’s sad," I thought.
The other day, my friend who had been with me that night, told me not to worry about 'that guy', because everyone in the room had talked about it after I had gone, and had said that he was a mess.
To be honest, I wasn't really worried about him, though I was deeply disturbed by what he represented, a new society soaked in suspicion and fear.
I didn't even think he was 'a mess', maybe drunk, but mainly just very uninformed and ironically not doing the thinking for himself.
We are all guilty of "judgment by media" but maybe it is time we take our own minds into our own hands and then do our own thinking. It means less extremism, less aggression, more understanding.
Azam is one of a number of young people from Leicester who will be taking part in the 'Living in a multi-faith London' event at the British Museum on 2 October 2005.