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

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Would you fork out to spend time on Sting's Tuscan estate?  

Happy to pay for the privilege of picking olives? Then Sting might have a job for you...

John Walsh
Clockwise from top: Zafran Ramzan, Razwan Razaq (main picture), Adil Hussain, Umar Razaq and Mohsin Khan were sentenced for grooming teenage girls for sex in 2010.  

Nothing can make up for the trauma of Rotherham's abused young girls, but many more heads must roll

Jane Merrick
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?