Yes, I am Uncle Tom, subservient to the demands of the oppressor. This is the charge for all who do not embrace the narrative of the spokesmen of community, who define for us good Muslims and bad. Break with these modern dogmas and prepare to be cast out, castigated for holding opinions of your own.
But Uncle Tom or Uncle Tim, I do not care. While leaving the mosque after Maghrib last night, a man stopped me to ask my name.
“Tim,” I replied.
“Do you not have an Islamic name?” he asked me.
“Tim is an Islamic name,” I told him, “it is short for Timothy, which means, ‘To Honour God’.”
When I said this, he apologised, saying he did not know, and went on to tell me his own name. I didn’t think his name taken from a Persian province was particularly Islamic either, but I didn’t say anything. “Pleased to meet you,” I said instead, although we have encountered one another for years but exchanged nothing other than salams.
I have been thinking a lot about my place on the extreme periphery of this community lately. Were it not for my irregular journeys across the county in pursuit of something resembling knowledge and companionship, I would have no connection with this community of the faithful at all. I have spurned the representatives of orthodoxy that teem online, and they have spurned me. The local mosque is an old boys club for people from a particular village, somewhere four thousand miles away. There is nothing for me there, except dressing up and make-believe.
Converts are a strange breed anyway. Some make a name for themselves by throwing themselves headfirst into activism, to be lauded by some and resented by others. But the rest of us are just weirdos, moving amongst people who mostly do not like us, as they wink at one another and call us names, muttering salams grudgingly if at all. There is no nourishment for the soul in this thing we call community: only conspiracies, political machinations, selective solidarity and groupthink.
To embrace Islam in modern Britain means to become what you are not. To mould your identity in conformity with the dominant Muslim cultures in your locality, and become subservient to the demands of that community: to think as they do, or else be ostracised. Were it not for faith in God, many of us would surely walk away, tired of the demands of a these perpetual histrionics, performing to the crowd.
Perhaps this weariness is why the derogatory epithet given to us non-conformists no longer cuts us, forcing us back into our box. On this extreme periphery, we eccentrics who chose to embrace the faith have nothing to offer to the believing masses, whose faith is nothing like our own. We were looking for a pathway back to God; our companions seek a rebel religion which grants them pride in the face of discrimination and dispossession, or a counter-narrative which instills belonging and self-worth.
So to my brothers, I am Uncle Tom, unable to see the world as they do. And they are probably right. I do not face discrimination as they do, or live a life tried with fear, constrained by poverty and oppression. I am merely a stranger in their midst, tied to them only by a proclamation of faith and nothing more. That explains why my thoughts are no longer welcome, or of any interest, always to be ignored. I am Uncle Tom, whose dissenting introspection is pure treachery. Perhaps I should put down my pen.