Dear Katie Hopkins

Dear Katie

I woke up this morning feeling quite chirpy and happy, considering I’d only had 7 hours sleep in total, had been up at 2.30am making breakfast for the family and knowing my next meal wouldn’t be until 9.30pm tonight.

Then someone sent me your article from the Mail. And quite frankly I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I’m not sure who does your research for you before you write / speak about things you clearly know very little (if anything) about. Whoever they are, I would sack them.

So where do I start? As the much loved Julie Andrews once sang, ‘Lets start at the very beginning, a very good place to start’.

Thirty days of not eating or drink or having sex? Say what? You may like to be made aware that if you gave up eating and drinking for 30 days you wouldn’t actually last 30 days. Most human beings in the wealthy parts of the world tend to have three meals a day, numerous lattes, ice creams and snack and various intervals. We eat and drink simply because we can. During Ramadan this is reduced to just 2 meals a day, breakfast (suhoor) and iftar (the evening meal). We do eat and we do drink. It’s just that there is a considerable length of time in between meals. It’s doable, and as you rightly point out (surprisingly), those who can’t for a variety of reasons such as ill health, old age or pregnancy, don’t. And no sex for 30 days? Where did you get that one from? OK yes it does mean that there is no sex during daylight hours, but hey, there is still a good window of 6 hours for a bit of action if that’s really what you want!

Now let’s talk personal safety. Absolutely agree with you on that one. If you feel that you are going to put someone else’s life at risk should you be fasting? I know many dentists, firemen and doctors for example who feel that they can’t fast because they don’t want to risk putting someone in danger. And they can make that personal choice and many people do. I’ve driven when I’m fasting and actually my senses are more alert at times and at others I will opt not to drive because I’m feeling drousy. If a Muslim taxi driver is working it’s because he feels he is able to. You have the choice of getting into the cab with him or not. He wouldn’t be working if he didn’t think he was up to it. Let’s not forget that most adult Muslims will have been fasting since they were children. The body is an incredible machine and over many years learns hope to cope with all sorts of hardship. Much like a body builder who over many years trains to lift heavier and heavier weights by increasing the load slowly. I can remember fasting in these long summer months when I was 15. Boy they were hard! This time round, it’s not too bad as over the last 33 years I’ve trained my body and built up to the long fasting days again.

There is a lot of nonsense in the media about employers having to make special arrangements for Muslim staff who are fasting. This is what you’ve alluded to in referring to rearranging breaks, changing exam timetables, giving people ‘special treatment’. But actually that goes against the very grain of the religion. The idea is not to rearrange one’s lifestyle around the religion. The religion is a way of life and we shouldn’t be changing our normal patterns to accommodate it. The vast majority of Muslims will continue their normal routines, still getting to the office for 9 and leaving at 5 (but not having smoking breaks or a lunch break so actually they would be entitled to leave a bit earlier anyway).

Katie how many Muslims have you been around who have become ‘weak and dizzy’ from lack of a cheese sandwich? I have worked since I was 20 (over 30 years). I’ve had three children, worked with many different people and I can say with hand on heart not a single one of my work colleagues will ever describe me as has having become ‘weak and dizzy’ from hunger or thirst. Where young people and exams are concerned, my daughter is currently taking her A levels and over the next few weeks I will not allow her to fast until her exams are over. I’m certain this will be the same for many other young people. It’s about choice and how you feel you can cope. Why does it become ‘madness’ just because you can’t understand it?  Have you ever tried fasting?  I’s a great way to detox, think about those less fortunate than yourself, develop some self-control. Try it – it might do you good!

‘Ramadan typically coincides with a spike in terror violence”. Seriously Katie where do you get this from? Yes I know there has been a bomb attack in Istanbul today and our hearts go out to all those innocent victims killed or injured today. But this attack has not been carried out by your ordinary mainstream Muslim.  This is why it becomes really important that you don’t misrepresent what Aaqil Ahmed Head of Religion at the BBC said;

“I hear so many people say ISIS has nothing to do with Islam – of course it has. They are not preaching Judaism. It might be wrong, but what they are saying is an ideology based on some form of Islamic doctrine. They are Muslims. That is a fact and we have to get our heads around some very uncomfortable things’

ISIS / Da’esh might be Muslim but all Muslims are not ISIS /  Da’esh, nor do we support ISIS  / Da’esh and have absolutely no affiliation to this terrorist organisation. The vast majority of the 1.8 billion adherents of the Islamic state world-wide are peaceful law abiding citizens. Islam is to ISIS /Da’esh what Christianity is to the KKK. But you already know that don’t you.

There is absolutely no tension let alone a ‘strange’ tension in what Ramadan means to the Muslim population in the UK.  For British Muslims as well as those across the globe, Ramadan is a period of self reflection, prayer, supplication and self-control. It is a period of time when we make a conscious effort to think of those less fortunate than ourselves, to give more in charity and to feed the hungry. Up and down the country people will be organising evening meals in their homes, community centres, churches, mosques and synagogues. Personally, I have organised an Iftar in my home for a group of non-Muslims who have probably never had a meal with Muslims in their home before. I’ve also organised an evening meal at the homeless shelter local to where I live. Four Muslim women, cooking a meal for however many non-Muslims during Ramadan and we will be feeding them at 6.30pm, whilst we are still fasting. Britain and Europe are not ‘hosts’, it is  home to Muslims who play a full and active role in the political, social, economic and civil society they live in. ‘We’ are indeed tolerant. ‘We’ are the most tolerant society in the world, where anyone can say and do more or less what they like so long as they’re not breaking the law. And that includes nasty, bigoted individuals vocalising their hateful views and opinions in print and over the airwaves, designed specifically to cause division, hatred and further their own media image. And just for the record. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Head of the Church of England, who I have had the pleasure of meeting on more than one occasion, might disagree with you about this being a ‘truly secular society’. Britain is and always will be a Christian country. Get over it.

It’s such a shame that your comments have caused so much upset to people. Only you could have turned what is for Muslims ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ into something to be feared and  despised. You have had something to say about anything and everyone; ginger babies, drug addicts, the overweight, prisoners, stay at home mums, breast feeding mums, working women, feminism, tattoos, children named after places (your daughters called India right?), ebola, grooming gangs, refugees, Muslims and now specifically Ramadan. Nick Hewer said that you had created a new brand , The Katie Hopkins – “Katie Hopkins in a white suit, Pollyanna hair, red lips shaped for sin and so much vitriol and I don’t understand where its taken you, its made you famous but its made you loathed”.

(P.s. I don’t like to finish on a nasty note especially as during Ramadan I try to be nicer than normal. So with that in mind, let me invite you to come and dine at mine one evening during Ramadan and see for yourself what it’s really all about! And if you don’t want halal we’ll go veggie for you (but you’ll miss out on a couple of mean lamb dishes!)


What One British Muslim Woman Really Thinks

(First published in 2016)

“I think there are two ways in which people are controlled. First of all frighten people and secondly, demonise them”. (Tony Benn)

In a different life I used to be a researcher and know how easy it is to manipulate your study to say exactly what you ultimately want it to say. The ICM poll looking at the views and opinions of British Muslims from the onset set out to prove Muslims are a ‘nation within a nation’. And that is exactly what it did. Shame on you Channel 4.

The ICM poll clearly had three things in mind; to stir up racial and religion tensions, damage community cohesion and further isolate and stigmatise Muslims. It was designed to prove ‘they’ (Muslims like me) aren’t like ‘us’ (everyone who isn’t a Muslims) and ‘we’ needed to be suspicious of ‘them’. The ‘us and them’ narrative came from Trevor Phillips, a 62-year-old black man whose family are originally from Guyana and who held the role of Chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (that he admits he took on purely so he could shut it down). The poll seems to have been constructed to provide oxygen to the likes of Katie Hopkins and our newspapers who the next day came out with the sensationalist headlines ‘what do British Muslims really think? Now we know and its terrifying’; ‘we’re all going to hell in a hijab’; ‘Muslim views have a different ‘centre of gravity’ and ‘UK Muslim ghetto warning’. Not to mention the fodder that has been provided to fuel the thousands of vile comments on social media describing Muslims as ‘the enemy hiding in plain sight’ who need to ‘adapt to our culture or do 1’. There has, admittedly, also been a very humorous side to the whole affair with some very funny comments being made using the hashtag ‘what British Muslims really think’.

Funnily enough it reminded me of the Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt film ‘What Women Want’. If you haven’t seen it, it is worth watching. It tells the story of a male chauvinist whose world of advertising is being taken over by women. When a freak accident renders him able to ‘hear’ the thoughts of women around him, he decides to use the ‘gift’ for his own benefit. I am going to save you the trouble of having to encounter an unfortunate electrocution before you can hear the innermost thoughts of a woman, so I’m going to share with you what this one British Muslim woman thought during and after wasting 60 minutes of my life.

I could have predicted exactly what was going to be ‘revealed’ and it was really not worth staying up for.

Let’s look at some of the headline grabbers, but be warned. This is not any sort of scientific analysis of the research findings, just #WhatOneBritishMuslimWomanReallyThinks.

According to the ICM poll, one in three believe men should be able to take more than one wife. Okay – but don’t you think it’s fascinating that 2/3rds of those surveyed believe one is more than enough for anyone? It was unfortunate that some sensible Muslim women had been duped into appearing on this programme in the first place. I was more disturbed by the comment made by one of them who stated that {marriage} ‘for a man is a huge responsibility. For a woman it’s a privilege’. I had to rewind that bit three times because I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. What an insult to women and a disgraceful comment to make. What does she think married women should be doing, thanking their men for marrying them? And what of those who are single or divorced? Are they not ‘good’ enough for any man, that they should be elevated to the status of being someone’s wife? Marriage should be seen as a bond between equals. If it isn’t, you fall down at the first hurdle. Our Beloved Prophet Muhammad (Upon Him be Peace) married a wealthy, strong, rich businesswoman. She was incredibly lucky to have Him for a husband. He was just as privileged to have had her for a wife. A wife who believed in him, supported him, financially and emotionally, cared for his children and his community and worked hard all her life. Her role and the role of all women should never be down played in this way. Least of all by Muslim women themselves.

Just over half of Muslims surveyed thought homosexuality should be illegal. Actually, that means that just under half of those surveyed don’t believe that. That’s pretty reassuring to me and indicates that views and opinions have come a long way and are changing. Muslims are becoming more tolerant, understanding and accepting that everyone, whatever their sexuality, has the right to choose how they live their life. Isn’t that the conclusion that should have come out of this part of the survey, instead of yet again looking at the negative?

Apparently almost a quarter want the introduction of Sharia law in this country. That still means 75% of those surveyed really do not want Sharia in Britain. And perhaps if the poll had gone further and asked what those who wish to live under Sharia should do, the response would probably have been to offer them a one-way flight to the nearest Muslim country (and I use the term Muslim country loosely and definitely not to mean a region currently inhabited by a group of murderers claiming to be a state).

It appears that a ‘frightening’ 4% of those polled support violence, including suicide bombings, to ‘defend’ Islam with only one in three saying they would report a suspected terrorist to the police. So let’s get this right, because 43 out of 1081 people surveyed allegedly support violence and suicide bombings, we can conclude that 4% of the 2.7 million British Muslims (that’s 108,000 people) support violence and suicide bombings? This is when I want to say WTF but won’t, because Muslim women don’t swear do we? However, what I will say is this has to be the biggest pile of horse **** this survey came out with. To come to this conclusion is not only flawed but indicates the deeply sinister motives of the question; to create fear, division and alarm amongst society and further turn people against each other. Well done Trevor! The man who coined the phrase Islamophobia is working hard to ensure it not only survives but thrives.

I would have preferred the makers of this programme and subsequently our media to make more of the fact that the survey found that 83% of Muslims are proud to be British, that 77% identify strongly with Britain, over 86% have a strong sense of belonging and 82% want to live in diverse communities, 94% felt they could practice their religion freely and 77% felt British society treated women with respect. But that doesn’t quite fit into the image we’re trying to create about Muslims in our midst, does it.

And seriously, what’s with all the questions relating to how Muslims ‘feel’ about people of other groups, when really all the survey wanted to ask about was how Muslims felt about Jews and Israel? Talk about leading questions! ‘Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country’ and ‘Jews have too much power in the business world’ are just 2 examples of how these questions were worded and clearly suggests the answer the survey wanted to get from people. And the respondents sadly obliged.

What worried me most was the fact that the poll selected those individuals who were living in areas of 20% or more Muslim populations.  Whilst there may not be data available to suggest that those who live in areas with fewer Muslims are more liberal in their views, I do know (from very personal experiences) that when you live in close proximity to a community you identify with (whether that’s based on race, religion, politics, social standing or professionally), you do become part of that group. You will share commonalities, opinions and discuss issues of mutual interest. You will become part of a group who may start to hold similar views because those are the views you will hear more regularly. You will, albeit inadvertently, become locked inside an echo chamber where certain views and opinions become voiced again and again, they become the norm, constantly reinforced and ultimately accepted by everyone. That is how most societies work. And that is what I see when I look at the responses to many of the questions in the survey. People responding to a survey in a way that they feel is expected of them, not necessarily what they really think. People answering a question with a response they do not necessarily agree with themselves, but believe that as a Muslim that is what they should be thinking, because they have been told it often enough by someone else. The survey results do not necessarily reflect what Muslims in Britain really think, but what they believe society expects them to think.

Not long ago, I was challenged by a 16-year-old boy in college. He wanted to know why I and another Muslim female colleague, were doing the job we were doing and not a ‘White British person’. So I asked him what made him think I / we were any less British just because we weren’t white? I explained (as politely as I possible could), that I had lived in Britain for over 50 years, longer than he’d been alive. I explained that my family were working in the fields of medicine, law, engineering, technology, teaching and government. Between us we had most probably paid millions in taxes – taxes that were being used to pay for his education and his health care. I had voted in every single election since I turned 18. I supported a number of UK charities. I had friends who were Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhists, Spiritualists and friends who had no faith. (And by the way I see these friends outside of just work and shopping and definitely more than once a year!) I went to churches and synagogues because in no way did this compromise my own faith and belief but strengthened my friendships and our mutual understanding and respect for each other. And these same friends would attend Eid and Ramadan events to support me. Democracy; the rule of law; individual liberty; mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith. These are not just British values to me, demonstrated by posters and words. These are Islamic values I have lived with all my life. And this child had the audacity to try and tell me I was not British because of my skin colour and my religion.

One of the things that used to make my late father very angry was if anyone ever said they could not be ‘bothered’ to vote. I remember my brothers saying that to him just to wind him up – never a good idea! His response was always the same. If you can not be bothered to vote, do not bother complaining when you get the government you do not want. Do not be surprised when society cannot be bothered with you, because you do not want a stake in your society. Do not complain about anything; schools, university places, taxes, state of the roads or your bin collection. Because by not voting, you are opting out of the system. A system that is in effect giving you the opportunity to have your say and make a difference. He was always a believer that it is best to be part of a system and change it from within rather than criticise it from the periphery.

My father would often remind us of how fortunate we were to live in a country where we had the power to to put people into power (and remove them as well). A power not afforded to many people in other parts of the world. I was reminded of what my father used to say in January 2005, when the first free elections were held in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussain. A good friend of mine, an Iraqi, came to drop off her daughter at a Muslim Youth group I was running. She was walking towards me, shaking her finger at me, which I found rather bizarre. Her finger was purple, she had tears in her eyes, but her face was a beaming smile.  She explained that for the first time in her life she had been given the chance to have a say in who she wanted to see govern Iraq. If only people in this country could, like my friend, understand the importance of having a say in the democratic processes. Saying our Politicians are all the same, nothing ever changes, what’s the point, they all lie, is a poor excuse for not taking part in the democratic processes that give us the power to decide who will govern us and how. One vote really does matter.

So there are two things that I want to see.

I want the British media to give ‘us’ a break. How about you stop the ‘us and them’ rhetoric. We are all part of this one tiny island trying to do what we can to make a good life for ourselves and our families. Stop associating religion with perpetrators of criminal acts, you are only legitimising their heinous and barbaric actions and effectively criminalising 2 billion others worldwide. Call them what they are; murderers, butchers, terrorists, groomers, rapists. Just please, do not call them Muslims. And how about occasionally having something positive to say about British Muslims, there is lots out there for you to use. You wouldn’t have to look too far and it might actually build some bridges as well as confidence amongst Muslims that the media is able to be ‘balanced’.

However as Muslims we also need to accept that we have a problem. We have a problem within our communities, we have a problem in the way we have allowed our faith to be misinterpreted and hijacked by a tiny vocal majority. We have not been outspoken enough against those Muslims seeking to put a wedge between us and the rest of society. We have to speak up and we have to speak out. We have to stop being critical of Muslims who are prepared to put their heads above the parapet and do something about the growing problems within our own communities. We have to stop hurling abuses and recognise that we are doing this for the good of society. We must never defend the indefensible. We need to ensure the security and safety of this and all future generations of British Muslims. I do not want my grandchildren growing up in a Britain where they are feared or where I fear for their safety.  My grandchildren will be the next generation of British Muslims and I want them to play a full and active part in the society that is their home, I want them to be respected but I expect them to afford the same dignity and respect to the whole of society, regardless of race, religion, colour or creed, gender, disability or sexual orientation. Always.

Peace – Counting Our Blessings – including Liberty Equality and Fraternity!

2:15am Monday 16th November 2015

“When you’re worried and you can’t sleep

Count your blessings instead of sheep

And you’ll fall asleep 

Counting your blessings”

So go the words of a Bing Crosby song, from White Christmas I think.

The song’s been going around in my head for the last few days – listening to the details about the devastating events that have taken place across Lebanon, Beirut, and then Paris have made sleep really difficult. I’ve tried counting sheep and blessings for the last three nights. It doesn’t work. Despite the abundance of blessings I have had bestowed upon me by my Lord, my Creator, the Most Merciful, the Most Beneficent, the greatest blessing of all, a good nights sleep, is currently being denied. To me and to many across the world. And I surely do not need to explain why. The atrocities committed in Paris on Friday 13th November once again threw France and the rest of Europe into a strange universe none of us wants to inhabit. The cold blooded murder of over 120 innocent people (a figure set to rise in the coming days) and maiming and injuring of over 300 others, has thrust  nearly 2 billion people, myself included, back onto the front pages of every single news publication world wide. Every single news channel, radio channel, social media site leads with the same headlines. The words “Muslim”  “Islam” and “Islamic” have once again become synonymous with the words “terrorism” and “terrorists”. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The “social commentators” have their fingers poised ready to type out yet more long articles explaining the cause and effect of the latest atrocity. The “historians” pontificate on how the problem can not be resolved until the west accepts its part in creating the latest Frankenstein monster, through its foreign policies of “interfering” in affairs of other nations. And the fascists and bigots amongst us have a field day blaming the religion, anyone with a brown skin, refugees, “people who look like you miss”, “them women that wear all black” and in their attempt to try and remain polite “them blokes that wear a rag on their head”. These are in quotation marks for a reason. Solutions range from the United Nations bombing these evil people back into the dark ages (but isn’t that where they want to be anyway?), to closing all borders and refusing entry to anyone who isn’t …erm…..white?

And then of course we also have the journalists, the politicians and the bloggers. Some reinforcing these negative stereotypes , that the west only cares about those with snow-white skin. Why have we not had a public outcry in the west over the killing of 43 and injuring of over 200 Shias in Beirut? Or the bombing at a funeral in Baghdad that killed 17 and injured 33. Or the regular bombardment by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Or the Taliban attacks in Pakistan. Is it really down to simple racism and our contempt for those with a different skin colour? 

I believe not.

I believe it has more to do with our own personal identity.  Nigeria, Pakistan, Lebanon, Baghdad, Yemen, can the average Brit even pinpoint these places on a map? Probably not. France on the other hand is on our door step. Every single person in the uk who has gone through the schooling system with know where France is and will most probably be able to point it out to you on a map. They’ll know the croissant and baguette are quintessentially French. And everyone can say “bonjour” “comment sa va?” “Je m’appelle Janet” right? Some of us spent every summer holiday for 6 years going to France when our children were little. It’s my back garden and holds very many happy memories for me from the early years of my young family.

We cry when we hear about the death of our friends relative. But the grief felt when it is your own flesh and blood  will overwhelmingly exceed that of anyone else’s. We can and do care about things happening everywhere, to all humans, but when the flood waters look like they are going to flood our house, we immediately start piling on the sandbags. We don’t run into the village and check out which pipes are causing the problem. Nor do we let the flood continue while we contact the council to come and do something about it. We react in the only way we can in the face of immediate disaster. 

Whilst we must and do show compassion, empathy, solidarity and unification against all terrorist atrocities, it should not be necessary to ask the question “why this overwhelming outpouring of grief for the French and not anyone else”? They are our neighbours. Our closest borders are less than 21 miles apart (it’s quicker for me to get from Dover to Calais than it is to get from Stafford to Birmingham!). We are scared. This attack is too close to home. Too close for comfort. It is fear and the desire for self preservation that makes us worry more about what happened in France happening here: in London, Leeds, Leicester or Liverpool, than what’s happening in regions and countries much further way, harder to reach and ones we have very little in common with (unless of course its our country of origin).  

“O Messenger of Allah (PBUH), I have two neighbours, to which of them should I send a present?” He (PBUH) replied, “To the one whose door is nearer to you”. [Al-Bukhari]

Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, “The best of companions with Allah is the one who is best to his companions, and the best of neighbours to Allah is the one who is the best of them to his neighbour”.

The Prophet (PBUH) said, “By Allah, he is not a believer! By Allah, he is not a believer! By Allah, he is not a believer.” It was asked, “Who is that, O Messenger of Allah?” He said, “One whose neighbour does not feel safe from his evil”.
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim]

Living in a Minority Religion in the 21st Century


Being a faith minority in some parts of the world can literally be the cause of your death. We have all heard of far too many examples, particularly in recent months: the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar Burma and the fate of the Christian Yazidis in Syria are just two examples of the evil inflicted on the followers of one faith, by the followers (or more accurately the misguided followers) of another.

As people of faith, we believe that there are fundamental laws that govern our daily lives. Laws that we believe are essential prerequisites for a good, caring society. But where do these laws come from? Some of them may be politically enforced edicts, human rights regulations, what we might choose to call our British values, or perhaps they are, what we like to believe, ‘God sent’ or religious commandments.

Now certainly those of us who are adherents of the Abrahamic faith on hearing the word ‘commandments’ will instinctively have thought 10 Commandments. It’s a bit like that word association game we played as children, where someone says a word and you say the first thing that comes into your head.  Some of you may be thinking, well actually the laws given to Prophet Moses do and should present us with a cohesive approach that determines how we live our lives, whether that be in the 20th, 21st or 31st century.

But how many of us actually know what the 10 Commandments are?

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There have been many interpretations of the meaning behind the ten commandments. When I mentioned them to my daughter she went into great detail about the misogynist interpretations of the commandments. However in its most simplistic form, these laws tell us how to live a good life, a life that considers others, a life that puts God above all else. Laws that show that those key attributes of our Creator are very much about love, compassion and courtesy for others. But is this how the majority of people view religion or certainly followers of a particular religion – my religion?

I was asked to come and speak to you about what it is like (or what it has been like) living in Britain as a member of a minority religious group. But who else is a religious minority in Britain today?

If you look at the information from the 2011 census we see that 3.2 million people (59.3 per cent of the population) said they were Christian. Compare this to the 2001 census we see this went down from over 70%. The second largest minority religious group were Muslims with 2.7 million people (4.8 per cent of the population), up from 3% from 2001.

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However, a staggering 14.1 million people, around 25% of the total population in England and Wales, reported having no religion in 2011. Whilst it might appear that the people of England and Wales are turning their backs on religion in their droves, the remaining ‘believers’ appear to be showing greater diversity of belief than ever before. These are just some of the categories that came up in response to the religion question in the 2011 census. Interestingly 6,242 said that they were Heavy Metal (should that be metalists?), 1,893 said they were Satanists and 650 said they were New Age.

Some of you may also recall that when the religion question  was first asked in the 2001 census, a national campaign was run that encouraged people to answer the religion question with ‘Jedi Knights’. So from the 2001 census we see that in England and Wales there were over 330,000 Jedi Knights. However the force began to wane when in the 2011 census this figure was reduced by almost half with only 176,632 Jedi Knights. I have been reliably informed that this was a result of their progression from Jedi to Sith. I have also been reliably informed that this will mean something to the Star Wars fans amongst us!

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I am of the opinion that all faiths and beliefs have as their basis in love of all creation. Jains for example, believe in non-violence and equality of all living things. Buddhists belief that meditation and good living can break the cycle of reincarnation and result in enlightenment. Taoism is a relaxed and peaceful religion that is based on following and accepting the flow of life.So why does it appear that as people of faith we quite simply hate each other, are on a mission to destroy ‘the other’ and destroy any chance of living in a pluralistic society, where the most rudimentary qualities of diversity, tolerance, commitment and communication are not respected?

Conflicts between faiths have always existed. This discourse exists not just between different faiths, but also between or amongst different sects, denominations or traditions within a single religion. Many of these arise as a result of the conflict between the more conservative and progressive factions within a religion. In Britain in truth, thanks to the amazing work that takes place around building bridges and community relations, relatively few conflicts have occurred between different faith groups. Some of these organisations are listed below.

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However, we cannot ignore the facts, as we see them far too clearly reported through various mechanisms such as the Community Security Trust and Tell Mama. Anti-Semitism continues to be a threat and Islamaphobic attacks are on the increase.  And then of course there is the growing conflict between those of faith and those of no faith, particularly those who call themselves ‘scientists’ but I’m not going to go into that mine field nor mention any names!

But for all the studies that have been done, the academic papers that have been written, the books that have been published and the column inches dedicated to analysing this issue, what in reality is it like being of a minority faith in 21st Century Britain? Do I as a Muslim, feel hated? Do I feel scared? Do I as a 50+ year old British Muslim woman feel that I belong?

I grew up in inner Leeds in the seventies. I went to a local comprehensive which could not have been more racially mixed if it had been done deliberately . The school had a three way split between White, Asian and Black pupils. Racial conflicts were par for the course. I remember the race riots in Chapeltown in 1981 and remember listening to the sounds of glass breaking, petrol bombs and screaming crowds from my bedroom window.

Religious conflict however never entered the equation. Whilst I was used to being called a Paki, my religion was never an issue. When human faeces were dumped in our front yard, it was not because we were Muslims, it was because we were ‘Pakis’. When someone tried to set light to my hair on the bus, it was not because I was a Muslim, it was because I was a Paki. I was still one of the lucky ones. Growing up in a racially mixed area like Chapeltown meant those who were ‘different’ were not actually in the minority – we were the majority. That in itself protected me from what could have been much greater levels of verbal and physical racial assaults. But being a Muslim was never an issue. I remember a girl at school saying to me ‘I hate Pakis Hifsa but you’re ok’. My religion was not a major factor for anything or anyone.

So what happened to put Islam, Muslims and ordinary people like me on the front page?

A number of events nationally and internationally transpired that for me were key to the way in which I was going to be perceived by others around me. People who had never known previously I was a Muslim and certainly had never felt it was an issue.

Before I talk about these wider events, I was reminded of one personal incident when I was in Leeds earlier this week. It was 1988 and I had been invited to an interview for a job at a local Catholic school. I arrived for the interview to be met by 4 men, all white, in suits, sitting in a semi circle. They were introduced to me as the Headteacher, Head of Science (the job was in the labs), school Bursar and Head of the RE department. The interview went as most interviews do, being asked a lot of mundane questions about why I wanted the job, my hobbies, etc. It was not until the end of the interview that the real questions started. The headmaster pointed out that as a Catholic schools the ethos of the school was very distinct and would I mind the Head of the RE department asking a few additional questions as they had become aware that I was a Muslim. My response I recall was ‘go for it!’.

After a few questions which seemed unnecessary, the real question was asked.

‘As a Muslim we are aware that you are expected to pray 5 times a day. If we offer you the job, are you at any point going to request time out during the working day to perform your religious obligation’?

After a suitable silence and biting my tongue (my initial response would not have been very polite) I replied, that at that current point in my life I did not pray 5 times a day. But I was aware that I should be doing. Perhaps in a day or a week or a month or three months I may decide that I wanted to be more observant and as such wanted to pray more regularly. Even then there were plenty of opportunity to pray within the given time scales before and after work. It would really only be in the winter months when it might become an issue, but even then I suspected smokers would take a longer break for a cigarette (which was very much the norm in those days) then I would require to say my prayers. If they wanted me to give them a reassurance that I would not at some point ask for 5 minutes during my lunch break or during the late afternoon, to say my prayers, then I was sorry, I could not give them that promise.

They offered me the job. I turned it down. This was my first experience at the age of 20 years old, of having to explain, or more accurately defend, my religion and my practices.

But what were those other significant events that had an impact on me and the wider British Muslim communities? This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination, but they are just some of those principal episodes I remember vividly.

26 September 1988 happened. This was the day that Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses were published. The novel became instantly controversial as a result of its blasphemous references. Rushdie was accused of misusing freedom of speech and two months later 7,000 Muslims staged the first ever march, demonstration and book burning ceremony on the streets of Bolton.  The demonstrators claimed that they “burned the book to try and attract public attention” and a similar event early in the new year prompted the journalist Robert Winder referring to  “images of medieval (not to mention Nazi) intolerance”.  I recall seeing images of angry Muslim men crowding round a fire, shouting hate filled slogans and shaking their fists and all I could think was, what do they have in common with me?  Their actions not only painted me out to be part of a lunatic fringe but also provided free marketing to Rushdie’s book. Sales of the book actually soared as a result of all the attention. As the saying goes, there is no such thing as bad publicity!

11th July 1995 in Bosnia  happened.  8372 Muslim men and boys were systematically killed in the worst genocide to affect mainland Europe since World War 2. A country less than 4 hours’ flight from London. The images and news coming out of Bosnia were heartbreaking. Husbands, fathers and sons ripped away from their family. Women and girls systematically raped in an attempt to ethnically cleanse the region of Muslims. (See my blog on my visit to Srebrenica with the Remembering Srebrenica charity last year).

11th September 2001 happened. When 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airliners and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Two of the planes were flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C. with the fourth plane crashing in a field in Pennsylvania. Over 3,000 people were killed during the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. including more than 400 police officers and firefighters.

7th October 2001 happened. This saw the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom when the United States invaded Afghanistan with the United Kingdom in response to 9/11 and demands by the USA to Afghanistan to hand over Osama bin Laden and expel al-Qaeda. Supported initially by close allies, they were later joined by NATO beginning in 2003. Its public aims were to dismantle al-Qaeda and to deny it a safe base of operations in Afghanistan by removing the Taliban from power. Bin Laden had been wanted by the United Nations since 1999 and In 2001, U.S. President Bush demanded that the Taliban hand him over, a demand they declined unless they could be provided with what they deemed convincing evidence of his involvement in the 9/11 attacks. [Dismissed by the U.S. as a delaying tactic, on 7 October 2001 Operation Enduring Freedom was launched.

20 March 2003 happened. The Iraq War was a protracted armed conflict beginning with the 2003 invasion of Iraq led by the United States. The invasion regime toppled the government of Saddam Hussein. However, the conflict continued for much of the next decade as an insurgency emerged to oppose the occupying forces and the post-invasion Iraqi government. An estimated 151,000 to 600,000 or more Iraqis were killed within the first 3–4 years of conflict. The United States officially withdrew from the country in 2011 but became re-involved in 2014 at the head of a new coalition; the insurgency and many dimensions of the civil armed conflict continue.

January 2004 Robert Kilroy Silk happened Kilroy Silk was an absolute disgrace. When he wrote a newspaper piece entitled “We Owe the Arabs Nothing” in which he spoke of Arabs being “suicide bombers, limb-amputates and women repressors” he failed to distinguish between those who had perpetrated the 9/11 attacks 200 million ordinary Arabs who were both Muslims and Christians. He further associated 2 billion peaceful adherents of the Islamic faith with the 9/11 terrorists. The dangerous and vehement terms in which he spoke about Muslims made observers anxious that there was a genuine threat that this could motivate some to attack those who appeared to be an Arab.

7th July 2005 happened, 22nd May 2013 happened and sadly there have been many ‘happenings’ since then. Including the sad murder of Muhammad Saleem and the attempted bombing of three mosques in the West Midlands by Pavlov Lapshyn and the very recent attack on Dr Sarandev Singh Bhambra, a Sikh dentist mistaken for a Muslim at a supermarket in Mold by a man brandishing a machete who attacked him in revenge for Lee Rigby

And suddenly Britain was the less secure, less tranquil, less accepting place to be for me. A country that can only be described as being the most tolerant in Europe, was developing a new identity. One that singled me out because I was now being identified as belonging to a group that should be feared. We were hostile and aggressive. We were the enemy who had been hiding within the host community ready to pounce for ever 50 years. People were now beginning to look at me with suspicion and contempt. A friend was asked if she carried a bomb in her handbag, by a ten-year-old. Another friend was told ‘my dad says you lot should all be rounded up and shot’. Another friend was asked if there was a bomb under her head scarf. You will no doubt be aware of the many disgraceful, worst cases that have been reported to Tell Mama including both physical and verbal assaults. And the saddest things I heard recently were from a bunch of young Muslim girls who said to me  “you know we get it both barrels. We get abused by the likes of the EDL and get called terrorists and letter boxes on a regular basis. But when we refuse to take leaflets from the likes of Al Muhaajirun and Hizbit Tahir on street corners we get called kafir and worse’. Others said ‘it’s not much fun being a young Muslim woman in some parts of the country any more’.

Yet despite all this, I profess that I am still one of the lucky ones. When I see and hear what is inflicted on Muslims old and young, male and female (though over-whelmingly female) in this country and minority faiths in other parts of the country and across the globe in fact,  it does make me question our ability as human beings to show any empathy to those who are simply different. I am often reminded of the pyramid of hate (below), that depicts the form discrimination and prejudice can take and how quickly things can escalate from being light banter, just a bit of fun and having a laugh, into something more sinister. I wonder where British society is right now on the scale? I wonder how long it took Bosnia, Rwanda, Nazi Germany to make its way to the top?

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The images below are from the world wide web. They are amongst the first to appear when you google ‘images of Muslims’. and depict Muslims overwhelmingly as angry, violent, bearded men shaking their fists  or pointing at you in a threatening manner.

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But as a 21st Century British Muslim minority I would much rather prefer to be associated with the British Muslims depicted below. Individuals who are part of British society, in politics, sports, media, music, law and community activism. Who wouldn’t! 

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“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
― Mark Twain

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