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

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

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Vehicle Sales Executive

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Working with a set process to achieve profitab...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a number ...

Recruitment Genius: Facilities Coordinator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Facilities Coordinator is required to join a...

Recruitment Genius: Project Manager - Software House - PRINCE2, PMP

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A dynamic, customer oriented Pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A ballot box is emptied by a voting official at the closing of polling stations in Athens, Greece July 5, 2015. Greece voted on Sunday on whether to accept more austerity in exchange for international aid, in a high-stakes referendum likely to determine whether it leaves the euro-currency area after seven years of economic pain.  

Greece debt crisis: Too many Greeks decided the referendum question was 'Do you want to pay more humiliating and unfair taxes?'

Nick Sarris
Supporters of the No vote react after the first results of the referendum at Syntagma square in Athens  

It’s not whether we’re rich or poor, but what we expect that really counts

Ben Chu
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate