The amalgamation of a British Muslim’s identity is something of a word play opportunity: Is one a Muslim Brit, Brit-slim or perhaps a Mus-tish?
Most come to their own conclusion and I’m no different; I feel my British passport will hopefully get me access to most of the world’s countries and my Muslim passport will hopefully get me into the better half of the afterlife.
I’ve never really struggled with my religion and citizenship in my personality since the only difference between them in the hum-drum of my day-to-day life is that if a typical British person gives me directions somewhere, they normally offer a few pubs as markers along the way, whereas if a Muslim were to outline the same route, they would use takeaways instead.
I’m sure that being of Egyptian heritage and bearded, I’d look more Muslim, and in London at least, I feel I have a clear idea of myself and how other people will see / stereotype me.
Imagine my shock when, after moving to Australia, all this was suddenly being thrown out of the window, like a rather lame henchman in a rather lame kung-fu movie. Speaking to Melbourne’s lovely locals, they seem to have no idea of who I think I am.
In Australian cafes and restaurants a foreign tongue (I choose to speak to my one year old daughter in Arabic since I’m keen for her to learn it) is sometimes met with glazy stares and a little caution; I presume there is a little stereotyping going on, and whole sale. Yet when I speak English, suddenly, to my audience I’m British through and through and am still pleasantly surprised when they quickly smile and open conversation with me, and in such chats I’ve been ‘insulted’ with: ‘your lot can’t even play cricket!’. ‘You don’t want to be another whiny pom’ as in ‘don’t be a moaning Englishman’.
I could add many similar ones where it seems my colour and beard are completely washed away by accent. I dress no differently, act no differently (please don’t think I wore a ‘soldier of Allah’ t-shirt back home and exchanged it for Union Jack Bermuda shorts when I got here) but am completely regarded as British for all intents and purposes.
I’m far too new to understand why this is. Could it be the Australians have a natural preference for labelling the ‘other’ ,‘British’ as it’s the most popular immigrant group to these shores? Is it that anti-Muslim hysteria in the media isn’t played and re-run enough to make tanned, beardy people scary? Could it be that since beards seem quite prevalent among the Aussies, another one in their midst isn’t that big a deal, or is it that my accent is so regal and defined, my Englishness and aristocratic links are at once fully recognizable and respected?
The answer of course is possibly all and none of the above, but such a radical change in one’s understanding of how others see you is a shock to the system.
Speaking as a Muslim, I feel there will always be an imbalance between the person we should be according to the Prophet’s (pbuh) guidance and what we are in reality. But what we are and how we’re portrayed to the world has an even greater disparity. Yet here, in one of the furthest places you could get from Britain, the imbalance and disparity quickly disappeared and I felt I had a chance to make an impression on a stranger, away from any common Muslim stereotypes. I rarely if ever felt that in London – stereotypes there may be too strong, too overplayed or too discarded by those who know Muslims for any quick reappraisal to kick in.
For now though, while here, I seem to be re-cast, or should that be re-typecast and the weight of responsibility to be an example of my religion bubbles within me. My own ideas of identity slowly fade as I think of all the steps taken by Muslims to let ‘Britishness’ spring from their Islam and also wondering how I’ll get my Islam to spring from the ‘Britishness’ people here see in me. In essence: how will I get them to see me as another ‘other’ from the one I’m used to? For some reason, it feels like the best opportunity in ages and reminds me of the verse:
“The angels ask those they take while they are wronging themselves, ‘What were your circumstances?’ They reply, ‘We were oppressed on earth.’ They say, ‘Was Allah’s earth not wide enough for you to have made hijra (emigration) elsewhere in it?'” (Qur’an 4:97)
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