By Amira Abozeid
As a British-Born, Egyptian-raised young female, I have always been interested in knowing more and more about the UK. I was looking forward to living in the UK one day and engaging with British society to enrich my cultural knowledge and socialise with people from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities.
But when I came to Britain a couple of years ago, many changes occurred to the image I had in my mind. I was shocked from the media’s run-of-the-mill stories about Muslims being violent, extremist, and backward and of Muslim women being oppressed, subjugated and helpless. I was disappointed to find that the negative stereotypes propagated by hard-liners had somehow succeeded in shaping the public opinion of some of the British people against Muslims.
Being overwhelmed by these feelings, I stayed passive for some time believing that the image of Muslims will never change and any efforts that I make would be worthless and unwelcomed.
After a while, however, an inner voice taunted me saying “If you want to be a good Muslim, you shouldn’t just get annoyed from everything and be a nitpicker, you have to be a positive person and stand up for yourself and what you believe in. This is the only way for you to show people around you the good side of a true Muslim.”
To cut a long story short, my attitude changed dramatically over a very short period of time and I became eager to do my best to take even a minimal part in improving the image of Muslims; to be a more active participant within my community. I felt that we, as Muslims, have to start working on ourselves first in order to reach the ultimate goal.
I do believe that everyone has a circle of influence; friends, neighbours, relatives, colleagues, or an even wider influence than these. Whether you have limited access to people or not, you can have a massive influence on those around you by doing very simple but good and commendable efforts.
As for me, I started with the first most accessible circle to me which was my non-Muslim neighbours and acquaintances. I began having friendly get-to-know-you chats with them, giving them presents on many occasions, welcoming them after they return from holidays with a big smile and a home-made cake. Though these things may look trivial, no one can imagine how huge their impact is. Once you build good relationships with non-Muslim British people, they owe you much respect and appreciation and most of all, they judge you based on who you are and how you behave; always keeping in mind that you are a ‘Muslim’.
The next step for me was to engage in a wider community so I volunteered at a British charitable organisation that promotes diversity, inclusion and equality for all children. I translate children’s books into the Arabic language to help Arab children who have just moved to the UK to not feel isolated in nurseries and at school if they don’t understand English well. They can have both English and Arabic versions of the stories to gain a better understanding and more interaction with their colleagues and teachers.
In addition to this, every now and then, I like to initiate some online threads and write articles to communicate with non-Muslim British people and try to refute the negative arguments that target ‘all ’ Muslims using friendly discussions that are not based on a complicated or theological basis.
Well, to put it in a nutshell, I strongly believe that each single Muslim has to take part in changing the views against Islam by whatever means relevant to him/her. As an ordinary busy newcomer mum, I always doubted I could be able to do anything in this respect. However, I tried and will keep trying. There are many Muslims in the UK who have far much bigger circles of influence than mine and have the potential to be very effective. We don’t want the abhorrent views of extremist Muslims to take the platforms and drown the moderate views of the vast majority of Muslims.
In the coming years, the key elements for achieving this should be “communication” and “integration”. Isolating ourselves and refusing to mingle with non-Muslims does nothing but intensify the problem. What we have to aim for is to prove that moderate and productive Muslims exist and that they are active participants in social and civic life.
If this is accomplished, all Muslims will definitely not be tarred with the same brush. They will be judged by the content of their character and behaviour – not by the label of religion.
Amira Abozeid is a freelance editor and translator. She graduated from Cairo University attaining a degree in Political Science and, following this, an MBA Degree in Marketing. She worked as a news producer, editor and Business Studies instructor in Egypt and is currently based in the UK.
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