Though I do not dispute that some Muslims face discrimination, that Islam is derided (as Christianity is) and damned, that some Muslims are attacked for their beliefs, I have never liked the term “Islamophobia” for it is being used in Britain today as a mechanism of denial, a means of avoiding taking ourselves to account.
Were we like the best of people, I might not object to its use so much—in that case we really could decry irrational fear and prejudice—but we’re not. We’ve become a self-pitying nation, sobbing about victimisation, wallowing in denial about the diseases overwhelming us. To lament forced marriage and domestic violence* in the Muslim community is not “Islamophobia” (though it could be characterised thus if the focus was exclusively on Muslims, which it is not): it is an acknowledgment of reality. When I sat on the management committee of a charity that aimed to aid Muslim women in crisis for five years, the statistics about abuse were not made up, the imaginings of racists and politicians with foreign policy objectives. While this focus on PR remains, displacing pastoral care, thousands of real people must live with the consequences, their plight ignored. We are not in the world of hypotheticals, of disappointing words: this is the world of real lives, of the wellbeing of your sister, the happiness of your brother.
Imagine if you will a promising young student. Half way though the first year of her complex degree she comes to believe in Islam. She believes that none has the right to be worshipped except God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God, so she decides to walk upon this path. She discusses it with her mother, who tells her that if she dares become a Muslim she will throw her out of the house. But she already believes—it’s in her heart—she’s sincere and strong in faith, and so her mother throws her out of the house. But she’s not turning back because her belief’s sincere and her faith is firm and strong. Her friends at university notice the changes—she’s wearing a jilbab now and she’s covering her hair because she believes it’s part of what being a Muslim’s about, she doesn’t hang about with boys anymore and now she’s fully focussed on her studies. She’s lost some of those friends along the way—those who think she’s lost her mind—but she remains steadfast. Within months she’s been advised that she ought to get married, because this is the second piece of advice it seems every new female Muslim must hear, so she’s looking for a good Muslim man. A few weeks later she invites her friends to her marriage to a man who has told her he’s a good and pious believer. The wedding is rather brief and she wonders why she went to all the trouble to have a beautiful but still modest dress made for the occasion, but she leaves for her husband’s home filled with great excitement and joy all the same, looking forward to years of marriage in which their love and compassion grows between them, carrying them hand-in-hand to Paradise. Instead her husband beats her up, yells abuse at her, calls her the N-word, flings her across the room and terrorises her.
Imagine if you will receiving an email one day in which the sender asks if you have heard from his wife and when you press him on it, he tells you that they are now divorced. Why, you ask, for it has only been a month or two? Imagine that he tells you that she complained that he was beating her. You press him on this as well: well is it true? Yes, he replies reluctantly, acknowledging his mistakes. You tell him that our blessed Prophet said only the worst of us would beat their wives, appealing to this pious man’s better nature, but he only responds with ferocious words: ‘I’m not the Prophet, am I?’ It is an addiction for him and he doesn’t know how to treat it. Still, his divorcee is undeterred. She believes in God and His Messenger. Her faith is strong and her heart is firm, and she will continue to tread this path whatever the test before her. Imagine if you will that a year or so after returning to her studies, the young student decides to marry again. She is not going to be deterred by one bad experience. So she weds a kind young man and together they have their first child; but before the baby has had the chance to get to know his daddy, daddy divorces mummy. Shirking on his responsibility (just think that “shirking” exists in the English language), he leaves his wife homeless to bring up their child as a single mother failing to provide child maintenance. Life is hard for that promising young student now: she has given up her studies and her dreams and now lives in poverty with no proper income, caring for a mischievous toddler who drains her energy away. But she’s not turning back because her belief in God is sincere and her faith is firm and strong.
Now imagine if you will that a year or so later she realises that the only way she is going to survive is with the support of a husband, so once more she seeks a good man, taking the most cautious steps this time. She meets his family, and she finds them kind and respectful. She doesn’t rush in, she gives it all the thought in the world, but eventually she decides to marry this man. She is a single mother—she never thought she’d be a single mother—and she can barely survive this way. It is the only way forward, she tells herself, so she marries this good man. But this good man does not know his responsibilities under the law of this deen, for shortly after their marriage when his new wife has just become pregnant he tells her that he can no longer afford to maintain her and a baby—as if he couldn’t have known that before—and promptly he divorces her before their child is born. Imagine if you will a young mother bringing up a toddler alone, nursing her pregnancy alone, a single mother living in poverty, with no child maintenance from two fathers.
Imagine if you will, a young single mother who quite understandably now hates all men, but Muslim men in particular, who finds her life a great burden. Imagine if you will, a once promising young student who finds herself seriously contemplating leaving her religion, although she won’t because she believes in it with certainty—it’s in her heart—for she’s strong in faith. She’s not turning back because her belief’s sincere and her faith is firm and strong. She’s not going to be driven out of the deen because she believes in the Day of Judgement and in Paradise and Hell. Imagine.
I wish I could tell you now that I made this story up, that it was from my imagination like in the books I write, but I can’t. I wish I could say I decided to write a short story based upon extremes. I wish I could say that this didn’t happen to a real person, that it was a metaphor or a fable. I wish I could, but I can’t for this happened to somebody my wife knows for whom I have immense respect because the strength of her faith provides massive inspiration to me. I wish too that this was the only story I could tell, but alas it is not. I wouldn’t say I know many cases—fortunately most people we know are happily married—but those cases that exist are quite enough to make us take note. There is the mother who brings up two severely disabled children all alone, left to cope when her husband walked out because he could not. There is the man living a solitary existence in the loveless marriage that will exist as long as it takes for his wife to get her whole family leave-to-remain. There are alas a multitude of stories I could tell of men and women living in crisis in the Muslim community in Britain.
When somebody highlights stories like these and you dismiss it as “Islamophobia” you are hurting every person affected by them and you are hurting this deen, because it means that the problems persist untackled. The charity I worked with that aimed to help Muslims in crisis had to close this year after almost twenty years serving the community, not because the problems have gone away—if anything they have increased in number—but because our community did not think it important to fund such an organisation. We have become a community which believes it has no problems and that every accusation of an issue is merely a manifestation of “Islamophobia.” Unpalatable certainly, but I raise it here because it matters. In this context the accusation of “Islamophobia” is not the saviour of this community, but its curse.
Those who rejoice in the problems in the Muslim community should note that it is estimated that a total of 18,569 women and 23,084 children were accommodated and supported by refuges during the year 2003/04, reflecting a deeper problem in wider society. It is said that 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence in their lifetime and between 1 in 8 to 1 in 10 women experience it annually. Source: http://www.womensaid.org.uk
“Domestic violence occurs across society regardless of age, gender, race, sexuality, wealth and geography.” Source: http://www.crimereduction.gov.uk/dv/dv03a.htm