• Associate Editor Aseel Saif

Aseel Saif Speaks | I'm famous for all the wrong reasons!

Life has a funny way of testing you and pushing you to your limits. But one thing I have found the most testing and confusing is coming to grips with my identity as a British Muslim Woman. I say this because being British, Muslim and a Woman is probably the most contentious and relevant topic to date.

All you have to do is turn on your television and you will see we are famous for all the wrong reasons. Every day I find myself having an internal argument and really struggling to understand how to express who I am to people, without putting myself in danger. I find that as Muslims we are constantly pressurised to apologise for something that is in no way our fault. Whereas others who may have in the past or continue to do cause pain and anguish to others are not held accountable. Where is the justice in all this? I in no way advocate tit for tat methods but if you encourage justice and fairness, things you apply on us you should apply on all.

I have found that the media and journalism has lost its essence and credibility. Airtime is given to specific stories and events are sensationalised to stir up hate and anger between people. In a country, as diverse and multicultural as Britain, one would wonder why such disgusting tactics are being utilised by the very broadcasting institutes we pay and support through our tax money. Britain is, ‘great’ if you would like to say, because it was made on the backbone of its colonies.

These beautifully mixed cultures have influenced British cultural practises, foods and dress, for the better. The diversification of a country is an inevitable consequence of colonisation. Therefore, for those sending out hateful messages for Muslims or remotely different looking people to go back to their countries, your words only represent how ignorant society has so sorely become. If history was taught to a satisfactory level in schools, generations will understand that ‘going back home’ means going back to good ol’ Brick lane or other corners of the United Kingdom. Newer generations, may have not even been ‘back home’ ever in their lives, they don’t know what it means.

By no fault or choice of our own did we come to this country. The society we live in now is a product of years of colonisation and if we think about it, this has brought tolerance and understanding. Something we should celebrate, rather than hate.

But it saddens me that the media begs to differ. However long I will live here and see myself as being one of the community, I never will be. I am told that my religion oppresses me but here I am an educated Muslim woman with dreams to fulfil and yet people do not see beyond my head scarf. There is nothing oppressed about my situation except for the laws that are forced upon me. By banning the hijab they are pushing me back into the home and oppressing me. They stop me from integrating and reaching my full potential that will eventually help enhance our society. They tell me to have British Values, but what does that even mean? Does eating curry, a quintessentially Asian dish brought in by the British from India… Or for you vegan lovers, eating a clearly Middle-Eastern falafel make me any more British than I am now. I do not think half the population know what it means to be British.

Raising the flag and chanting racists songs is not and should not something associated to any nation, nor should it be something to be proud of. Regardless of all this, I still associate myself as a British Muslim. I entered the system from day one. I learnt in the hands of British teachers who understood me and instilled tolerance in my life. I had parents that taught me values that meant I respect everyone regardless of their religion, colour or background. I had friends, who were not Muslims for the most important years of my life, who supported me in my religion. They helped me through the first couple of years of embracing the hijab and I am forever grateful to them. Without their support and understanding, practising my religion would have been very difficult. This is the Britain that I have grown to love and be part of. But, in recent years the status quo has changed drastically and publicly identifying yourself, as a British Muslim has become more and more difficult. The sad thing is that I am not alone, as Muslims, born and bred here, we start to question where we fit in. With no links to ‘back home’, they constantly reminds us about, where do you want us to belong?

What is most unfortunate is that, within our own communities we have internalised this sense of inferiority and idea of colonised and coloniser and Us vs Them.

I do not talk metaphorically, but from experience. It worth noting that I have lived in Britain my whole life but nevertheless I recently was told, by someone of a similar background, 'well let’s give the work to a native speaker'....and at that moment I knew that I will always be judged on the cloth on my head. People will always assume I am not a native speaker, I am less educated and not from 'here'. Even my 'own' people.

So here’s a little message from me and from every hijabi, to the world. Assumptions based on what I choose to believe and wear on my head oppresses me, not my religion.

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