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In the shade or in the sun

In the shade or in the sun

Issue 3 Jan / Feb 2004

I was addressing a Quaker meeting recently. As we talked over a range of current affairs we came to the banning of the hijab in France. “I can’t understand why a girl would want to wear it at school” said one lady. “Why wear something that will make you stand out? When I was at school I just wanted to blend into the background”

Blend into the background. Keep your head down. Don’t rock the boat. All fall into the same category. It’s not a category I am particularly familiar with as I have never been a wallflower, but it got me thinking. Is that what we want to do? Should we blend into obscurity?

Sometimes you wish for a little shadow of obscurity. Like when a drunk on the last train from Birmingham decided to begin a tirade which began with “Hey Paki!” continued with “Bush was right” and ended with “all these ****ing Muslims are terrorists”. I was returning in an upbeat mood from an emel presentation to two and a half thousand people where we had sold emel like hot samosas at iftar. It had been a great evening where nasheed bands had praised God and the Prophet with beautiful songs, and yet here was this man entering my space with his ugliness. Had I “blended in the background” I would not have been subjected to his verbal assault, but if I were such a person I would not be the editor of this magazine, would not have enjoyed such blessings that evening, and he would have won. Anyway living in the shadows is cold.

2003 has been a difficult year for Muslims in many ways: the Iraq war, the continuing war on terror, the mass detention of innocent people, and whilst France is making a very public fuss that Muslims should blend into its Gaullist background, Britain has had its moments too. Citizenship tests, identity discourse Messrs Blunkett and MacShane have all perversely focused on Muslim loyalty and our place in Britain. Politicians and media pundits abound who desire Muslims to fit into the British way as if the British way was a monolithic identity entertaining no diversity. Yet to its credit Britain has managed to tolerate a wide variety of expressions of identity throughout its history, and freedom of religious identity can still be exercised here. I am convinced that this openness is what held back Fascism from theses shores and it is no coincidence that it is a mainland Europe where the hijab has been banned, for that is where Fascism flourished in the 1930s and 40s.

What does this all say for the future? What should Muslims be doing in 2004 and beyond? Blending into the background seems a very comfortable option, but the countries with the greatest assimilation have often been the scenes of greatest violence and strife. Germany and Bosnia both spring to mind.
France is setting problems for itself. Forcing people into a box, making them chose one thing or another does not allow for the slow and confident emergence of a synthesised identity – an identity true to religious faith, cultural norms and post industrialised society.


I am convinced that people who have the strongest and most confident identity are those most capable of contributing to society. Which is why it is important that Muslims in Britain use the excellent foundation of historical tolerance to show that the creation of a Western Muslim identity is possible and desirable. We must become stakeholders in the future of Britain, Europe and the World. Now is most definitely not the time to batten down the hatches, blend into the background or keep our heads down. Now is the time for action and a positive contribution based upon our Islamic values and heritage. Mr ‘drunk on the train’ might have temporarily made me wish for some shadow but little grows in the shades – to make real contributions we must seek to bloom in the sunshine.

Sarah Joseph (Editor)

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