Diaspora to the west is nothing new for the global Muslim community. Many of us who are second generation immigrants have been brought up in a dual culture and have had to try and create a balancing act between our “native” culture and the culture of where we were brought up. I, myself would identify as a British Pakistani. Most of my life I have lived in a multicultural city which I loved, but recently I moved to a place that is scarce of Muslims and also of ethnic minorities.
To put it frankly, I had quite a negative view of moving to a) a place where ethnic diversity seemingly didn’t exist and b) there was no mosque, which signified no Muslims. I love diverse places where I can learn about different cultures and meet people from different backgrounds so this was out of my comfort zone. The fact that that the first person we met was a cranky and very unsympathetic old man simply added to my unease. I didn’t know anyone in this new city and I was anxious about having to start over.
One of the most difficult things was that I could see my mother feeling isolated too. She missed the security of her friends, as did I. She missed “apne log” (our people) and her small teaching job at the mosque. Most of all, she was worried about my brother getting in with the wrong crowd. Moving to a new place is extra stressful when you don’t know anyone there. It was times like these that I was thanked God for the internet – at least we could hold onto our old life and our friends through electronic means.
The situation got worse when I found out that my brother was getting bullied at school. A gang of boys had started spewing Islamophobic and racist insults at him whenever they got the chance. The strain this caused was showing and affecting all of us – we were homesick for our old lives. The worst thing was that it felt like we were back to square one with regards to battling Islamophobia. In general the people here were more ignorant about Islam as they had not had any interactions with Muslims before.
My bitterness grew. I would notice how people would stare at my mother and me if we were out in town. I’d notice how the cashiers didn’t smile at us, and I’d notice that there were no ethnic minorities to be seen, let alone Muslims. When the horrific Woolwich murder took place, I was scared that people might see us and harass us the same way other Muslims had been attacked over the country.
However, with my hypersensitivity towards the negative I had failed to notice all the good that was around me. Firstly, how kind and welcoming our next door neighbours were. When the Woolwich incident took place our neighbours came over to make sure that we were okay and hadn’t been getting any abuse. (Alhamdulillah we were fine). Secondly, the bullying had stopped and my siblings were enjoying school. Thirdly, this was an opportunity to educate people about the beauty of our religion through our actions as most of them had not met a Muslim before. We had the chance to reduce the level of ignorance about Islam. First though, I had to stop feeling sorry for myself.
I’m grateful to Allah (SWT) for allowing me to see all that He has given to us, so that I could stop acting like a sulky teenager and try to positively contribute to society. We have a long way to go but this quote definitely comes to mind: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”. Insha’Allah we will make a difference.