As the fallout from President Trump’s “Muslim ban” spreads this week, a 33-year-old Muslim woman from Manchester explains how it makes her feel to live in a world where anti-Islamic sentiment is gaining political currency – in the US, in Europe, and right here in the UK
“I’m writing this anonymously because it’s reached the point where I’m actually scared of the repercussions if I say openly how I feel about being a Muslim woman right now. You may think I’m paranoid but if a white female MP who campaigned tirelessly for refugees can be killed in a politically motivated murder then who knows what could happen next.
Do you remember where you were when they announced that Donald Trump had won the US election? It’s one of those questions like ‘Where were you when 9/11 happened’ that everyone has an answer to.
I remember where I was; still in bed, when my husband woke me up to tell me to come and watch the news. I felt sick when they announced that Hillary Clinton had admitted defeat and I looked on in shock as the Trumps made their way on-stage.
You see, what this marks for me, a British Muslim, is the start of the most unstable period for those practising Islam that I have known in my lifetime.
The reality is that things have been getting progressively worse since 9/11. I’m not denying that the men who flew that plane were Muslims (although many Muslims would argue you couldn’t call yourself a Muslim and do something like that), what I didn’t expect was that the all Muslims would be tarnished with the same brush, evident through the increase in Islamaphobic attacks worldwide ever since.
Organisations like Tell MAMA have been set up to record the number of hate crimes towards Muslims and have reported a year on year increase since their inception. There was a significant spike of attacks after Brexit. Friends who wear the hijab suddenly had anecdotes of verbal abuse in the street. These weren’t taking place in small towns with no ethnic residents, but right here in London. Videos of physical abuse against Muslims littered the internet.
When Trump was inaugurated and a known racist and bigot was appointed the most powerful man in the world, we all feared the worst.
But nothing could have prepared me, or the other 1.7 billion Muslims worldwide for Saturday’s news of the “Muslim ban”.
The executive order, which stops nationals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen (all Muslim-majority countries) entering the US, hasn’t been acknowledged as a religious or culturally-based bias by the Trump administration and there are many Muslim countries that aren’t included in it.
However, the coincidence seems too big to dismiss and in reality, it has left Muslims around the world feeling upset, unwelcome and unwanted.
There are many things to worry about here, but three things keep me awake at night.
Firstly, I don’t understand how something so blatantly prejudiced was allowed to happen. Where are the checks and balances? My hope floundered with the news this week that the attorney general was sacked for questioning the legality of Trump’s immigration ban. If there is no stopping this administration, what’s next?
Second, normalisation. The fact that the phrase “Muslim ban” exists means that it has now become part of our language - it won’t be as shocking the second time round.
Thirdly - is this the sentiment in the UK too? I remember looking suspiciously at my fellow commuters post-Brexit - who voted Leave? Who has swallowed Nigel Farage’s lies about refugees draining our resources and taking our jobs?
I know first-hand from friends who are teachers that they are asked to keep a special eye on Muslim children. How is that not the start of widespread prejudice in the UK?
I have known nothing other than the UK as my home and have always been proud to call myself a British Muslim - note the British comes first. My favourite meal is Shepherd’s Pie, I love chips with gravy and I’m a staunch Manchester United fan. As an adult I have contributed to the system; I pay my taxes, give to local charities and integrate.
Why then does the thought of having children here scare me? It’s my home country. My cousin told me the other week that his son had come home with a school report and his teacher had written, ‘Ali is very proud of his religion.’ That didn’t make his father proud, it terrified him. And it’s not just Muslims being targeted, it’s anyone happy to help them.
I write this article having watched Labour’s Jo Cox murdered after openly supporting refugees and as I write, I am watching scenes from the mosque shooting in Quebec where just days after the ban, six people were killed.
And that’s exactly what Trump wants. Wide scale fear and hate mongering. Disruption to society, breakdown of communities - divide and conquer. He wants people to ‘Go back home.’
But I’m not going anywhere, because I am home. For now, the scenes I witnessed on the news where 35 cities across the UK held marches in protest, holding signs which say ‘No Bans, No Borders’ to ‘refugees welcome here’ made me weep in relief.
The message is loud and clear ‘stay here, you are free to practice, we support you.’
There can be no more powerful message. Even though the situation still makes me scared and I have fears for the future, the backlash against Trump has given me heart. More than anything I feel proud, honoured and accepted to belong to a country that allows and supports my right to practice my religion.”
Photos: Rex Features and iStock