Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Why should Muslims put up with being stereotyped?

Like everyone, we are creatures of many parts. But we are not allowed such complexities

Share
Related Topics

Looking back at what I did this week, a parade of identities walks past, each one a part of the whole, none the whole of me. A passionate Londoner, I declared against Boris Johnson. With Billy Bragg at the Barbican on St George's Day, I was graciously invited by him to feel part of "progressive" Englishness and, funnily, in that hall, I did.

On to the launch of Quilliam, a think tank set up by reformed radical Ed Hussain, and felt part of a new worldwide ummah of open-minded Muslims. At The School of Oriental and African Studies, I joined a panel and an engaged audience to discuss racism. From deep within stirred the old, anti-racist activist. I read words by James Baldwin at a moving gathering organised by the Stop the War Coalition, and united with other kindred spirits who still fight for Iraq.

Performing my show at the Oxford Playhouse, I returned to my Afro-Asian roots. Attended a concert of classical European music in a church hall, being just myself I guess. Was also a mum, wife, friend and neighbour.

Like all other humans, I am a creature of multiple and changeable parts. However, British Muslims are not permitted such complexities. We must be only Muslim (definition highly specified), walking rule books in uniform, freakishly religious, and preferably demanding and noisy.

Authoritarian Muslim "leaders" impose these orders. But so too do many of the influential and powerful for whom there is no such thing as a complicated or comfortable Muslim who skilfully negotiates various allegiances. Institutional gatekeepers trade in archetypes: those who vociferously refuse accommodation and defiant apostates are easy. Ardent opponents of all things western are sought-after enemies; facile supporters of western duplicities are best friends.

Not welcome are Muslims who defy the classification system – too much toil and trouble when everyone wants simple clarity. Are you with us or against us? Do you have faith or are you a democrat? Do you think Salman Rushdie was right in his Satanic Verses or do you want him dead? Do you support an Islamic state in the west or do you want the west to allow you an Islamic state within? TV is the worst culprit, but quangos and think tanks are not far behind.

They know best what makes a real Muslim. Huma Qureshi, who has great hair and style, says she was auditioned for a BBC series on Muslim women and rejected because "they wanted a really authentic, well-covered one". In her memoir, TV journalist Yasmin Hai writes of her irritation with executives who always want on screen "some mad Mullah types".

At a major arts conference, organisers refused to invite a devout Muslim artist because she paints faces and to them was a heretic. Millions of Muslims are expected to pick a single identity and plump it up with artificial injections of absolute loyalty, causing a distortion both grotesque and unpalatable. Muslims who are content in their faith and are of this land and its history belong but are told they cannot make such claims. They have lived in a democracy, imbibed its principles but have been refused full membership. This Thursday, the day of the local elections, some of us are launching a new organisation to help turn around the invented, destructive and man-made divide splitting Muslims and their state.

British Muslims for Secular Democracy (BMSD) believes the separation of state and faith gives us all a safe and mutual space. Most members are not atheists. We can see clearly how religion is poisoning political governance and that politics contaminates religion. Muslims must be free to choose how they practise their religion or even just to be "cultural" Muslims. Diversity has been the constant companion to our faith since its inception. Most important of all, we hope to speak to young British Muslims who have lost trust and their bearings. Obvious and subtle anti-Muslim racism and the failures of their own communities have alienated too many. Self-exclusion and exclusion are blades of the same scissors.

Denied democratic entitlements, stereotyped and used, they feel an anger that is ripe for exploitation. I know this question is not allowed (much is not allowed) but what made Mohammad Sadiq Khan, educated and a loving father, into a bomber? Sorry, it wasn't simply some wicked Mullah. Something far more unsettling is going on. As Zulf, BMSD supporter and medical student, put it: "Nobody understands. We are not stupid, just so disappointed all the time, never allowed to be ourselves, told do this, do that, never free. When will our rights be respected by the community and country?" When indeed?

y.alibhaibrown@independent.co.uk

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
John Rentoul met Ed Miliband aged 23, remarking he was “bright, and put up a good fight for the utilities tax, but I was unconvinced.”  

General Election 2015: Win or lose, Ed Miliband is not ready to govern

John Rentoul
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk