Thought for the Day - 30/06/2014 - Professor Mona Siddiqui

Recent finding have shown that there has been an increase in hate crimes against Muslims in the UK especially Muslim women many of whom can be easily distinguished by their clothes. This rise includes harassment in the online world as well as outright intimidation or violence on our streets. It’s been labelled as a rise in Islamophobia a word which now has a relatively long history but which always makes me uncomfortable. It is tragic that there is a rise in anti-Muslim feeling in some quarters fuelled as much by Muslim jihadist rhetoric in the west as the conflicts in the Middle East and the rise in global terrorism. However, words which try to encapsulate fear of a whole people, religion or ideology do little to further any real debate; if anything they shut down debates.

Today, suspicion and fear of all things Islamic is real for many people and there is no point in dismissing this as irrational or blatant prejudice. We should all condemn violence against others and we can of course call for better community understanding, dialogue and more nuanced approach to the best of a living faith as well as its worst excesses. But we can't change people minds by simply telling them they're wrong. Nor is there anything to be gained from angry retorts such as `look at your own religion, history or culture.' Pulling apart arguments in this simplistic way is similar to pulling apart whole communities. There are no winners and losers in any discussion when the end results in more conflict and more distrust.

This weekend marked the beginning of Ramadhan, the month of fasting. The long summer days of July will make fasting exceptionally difficult this year but many will have the courage to observe the ritual as a fundamental pillar of Islam. It is a time when the concept of community becomes magnified. People bound together in a common purpose, eating together at the end of a day and feeling closer to those with whom they share this ritual. But community is a problematic concept because while it sounds loving and inclusive, it also tends to homogenize people and strip them of their individualism and their identities. The phrase Muslim community adds little to the reality that being Muslim can mean a hundred different things and a hundred different ways of living.

We have come some way in the UK in our struggle against bigotry, whether it be religious, racial or sexual. All of us should have pride in being individuals who contribute to the peaceful well-being of our society rather than being defined as communities of black and white, Muslim and non Muslim. This isn't about ignoring difficult personal and social realities but about reminding ourselves that it’s always easier to hate and destroy. What holds societies together is not the rhetoric of distrust, of victim and aggressor but the more difficult yet rewarding narrative of human empathy and obligation to one another.

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