Young people have been exemplary in breaking down barriers over the Olympic period to help the wider British public understand Islam
A colleague of mine retold a recent story where she had suffered some quite extreme verbal abuse in response to her Islamic dress. While it is not surprising to find the odd individual who overtly harbours this ‘Islamaphobic’ prejudice, the most striking thing is that a tube full of city professionals, families and students right in the heart of London did not speak up and condemn this behaviour, save an elderly woman who offered a few words of consolation. It raises the question as to where Britain is in the fight against Islamaphobia. Are the British public intolerant of the Muslim community and perhaps prefer to just stay silent on this matter because it is less socially acceptable to vocalise it than it was in late 2007? As the whole country turned its eye on to London for the Olympics – particularly the heart of East London, home to large Muslim community – it is interesting to see how the Muslim community have responded.
While the mainstream media coverage may be restricted, many of us have been made aware of the growing political unrest in many Arab countries. Namely, the countless atrocities and war crimes being committed against civilians in Syria at the hands of tyrannous rulers like Bashar al Assad. Even more recently the plight of the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar, Burma, has come to light, where they have been denied citizenship for many years by a majority Buddhist government and are now suffering a form of ethnic cleansing. In addition, the Olympics have also coincided with the holy month of Ramadan in which Muslims are prescribed to fast from sunrise to sunset for the length of the month except for those who have a valid excuse (for example, due to sickness, travelling and if you are elderly). The thousands of Muslim athletes competing in the Olympics have responded differently to this and to some it has raised the question as to how faith-friendly the Olympics are.
As is evident, to a population that is obliged by their faith to take action together on a global scale, tensions are running high for the Muslim community worldwide. But how have they responded? The most cynical of Islamaphobe may be thinking, ‘They’re hungry, we’ve annoyed them and the whole world is watching; this is their chance!’ However, it is refreshing to see that the British Muslim community is determined to disprove these stereotypes and have taken to the streets of London to engage the public in the peaceful protest of dawah. Dawah literally means to ‘invite’ or ‘call’ people to Islam and in some ways is very different to ordinary missionary work. Muslims believe that God is the only one who can turn somebody’s heart towards Islam; however, it is still the obligation of every Muslim to go out and present Islam to wider society and to break down barriers – not just to inform others but to be living, breathing examples of its message.
International organisations such as iERA, the Islamic Education and Research Academy, have spent months preparing materials and promoting their new campaign, ‘Is life just a game?’, in an attempt to educate the millions of new visitors to London about the true nature of Islam. Dawah is not a new phenomenon but over the Olympic period it has increased. The Olympic village has been buzzing with Muslims as young as 15 warmly inviting people to Islam through conversation and kindness, an ethos that is arguably not usually associated with Islam.
On Saturday 4 August over 500 volunteers attended areas all over London, kitted out in their brightly coloured campaign t-shirts, stretching from Piccadilly Circus to Stratford. Even the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has been pictured intently reading some of their material. There has also been a great effort in the wider Muslim community to invite non-Muslims to join in breaking their fasts. Various exhibitions are also being held. For example, ‘Exhibition Islam’ is being held throughout the Olympic period at East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre, one of London’s largest Mosques. One of the conditions of dawah set out in the Qur’an is that Muslims must “invite to the path of your Lord with wisdom and kind enlightenment and debate with them in the best possible manner” (16:125) and this mobilisation of the Muslim community has truly embodied that.
Meanwhile Mohammad Farah, a young Muslim athlete, managed to clinch two gold medals for team GB. Although he was not fasting, after winning he prostrated to his Lord in front of a global audience of millions as a sign of gratefulness and humility.
Whether you were inside or outside the Olympic stadium that day, it is evident the British Muslim community are stepping up and approaching the forefront of Britain; even if the mainstream media fail to address this. While some may expect Muslims to react to this by giving in to the typical ‘extremist’ stereotype, dawah is just one of the ways in which the Muslim community is speaking out against this notion. The community in London in particular have come out and showed their strength and unity. Despite what cross section of society we belong to, this is something we should take note of.
Image from: http://madmantnt.deviantart.
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