Up until the age of maybe 18 I’d kind of hide my faith, because yes I’m Muslim and I’ve always been a Muslim, but I didn’t want that pressure because of everyone looking at you like you’re the representative of Islam, you’ve got your flaws, I’m doing things that I shouldn’t be doing as a Muslim, I didn’t want people to think that’s the religion so that’s why I used to hide my faith. But especially after 9/11 and 7/7 a lot of people were asking questions about my religion, they wanted to know, so that’s when I thought “ok, you know what, it’s my responsibility, as much as I’m not going to be the perfect Muslim and I’m not going to pretend to be the perfect Muslim, whether I like it or not, to some people I’m a representative of Islam”. So I have to speak and defend my religion.
I was fortunate enough to study a little bit about Islam so I put some of the knowledge I know out there in the form of books. If people have got questions they can ask me, but not look at just me as a representative of Islam, because obviously there are so many Muslims, we’re not a monolithic group. This idea of someone that’s religious, even within the Muslim community, is someone that’s quite stern, strict, doesn’t laugh, is not sociable, and even for me as a Muslim I find that problematic. Even for a lot of Muslims we don’t like to be considered ‘religious’ because our perception of someone that’s a religious Muslim is someone that you can’t really have a joke with, so even that perception I wanted to try and change. Like yes, I am a Muslim, but yes, I still do enjoy a number of things that a non-Muslim does enjoy, I’m still like a regular person, that’s the thing.
I think it’s important that even as Muslims, one thing that I do try to stress when I speak to different people is, it’s not about shoving our religion down people’s throats or even telling people about our religion, it’s about being a productive member of society. If you’re a productive member of society and people see benefits and you’re contributing positively towards society, people will respect you irrespective of your religion, and even if you’ve got issues, they’ll defend you. I always give examples of people like Muhammad Ali who is generally respected across the world by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and that’s because not only did he stand up for what he believed in, but he contributed positively towards society, that’s why people respected him. And as Muslims if we adopt that same kind of attitude and approach, then a lot of non-Muslims, even if they’re not of an Abrahamic faith, will speak up for us when we’re facing some difficulties. But, if we’re just complaining or talking about Muslim issues then I can understand why non-Muslims might feel like “why should I engage or try and support Muslims because they’re only looking out for themselves”, that’s why now my attitude is more of, yes I’ve got my religious beliefs, my Islamic beliefs, which again not everyone might agree with, but I’m just trying to be a productive member of society, and I think if people see that, not only that I’m a productive Muslim, but that I’m a productive member of society and is contributing positively, then people will hopefully see the good in that and they’ll realise that when they see some things in the media or whatever saying “Muslims are like this”, they will know that’s not the case because I know X is such and such, and not all Muslims are like that. So that’s why I think it’s important that we Muslims engage with the wider British community.