Thought for the Day - Professor Mona Siddiqui

Yesterday on this programme, the former Chelsea player Paul Elliot spoke passionately about facing the challenges of racism in football. He said that in the 70s and 80s racist abuse in football was vitriolic `mirroring the ugliness in society’ but that since the 90s the football world has taken measurable and collaborative steps to address racism. Elliot added today there are new challenges such as homophobia in the world of sport.

Whether we define it as institutional or individual racism makes us feel uncomfortable because somehow it sounds like a dated prejudice. We should all have moved on by now. The only problem is that racism is only one form of prejudice and that prejudice in all its guises lives within us all, whatever our background or the colour of our skin. Growing up in this country I felt hurt by the odd incident of playground racism but I humoured the lingering prejudices which my own parents and their friends had brought over to the UK from the subcontinent. They would sometimes make jokey remarks about other ethnic groups from India or Pakistan, their language or mannerisms; this kind of intracultural humour while never malicious could easily verge on mild condescension. Maybe because we were all coming largely from the same ethnic background it didn’t seem like prejudice but it was and it stayed with me for a long time.

There is a kind of tribalism in us all which makes us feel uncomfortable, even threatened at times by difference. But our prejudices often tell us more about ourselves than we would like to admit. When the Qur’an says `we have made you into nations and tribes so you may get to know one another,’ the verse reads like a divine blessing in our lives but getting to know one another demands hard work, patience and most of all a generous heart.

A sense of confidence and conviction in who you are is a good thing but we must always remain open to the elements of surprise and shock in our lives, those events which jolt us out of our complacency and encourage us to rethink the faith, the identities and values we thought defined us. I was recently speaking to a German theologian who told me that his daughter a church going protestant was marrying a hindu and that although he had found the concept of a mixed faith marriage difficult at the beginning he had accepted it for his daughter’s happiness. I found his honesty moving but also slightly troubling. I thought if faced with a similar situation as a Muslim, how I would react. Perhaps not as generously as him and right now in my life I am wondering why not?

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