Be Human, Be You!

The lives of each individual are filled with colourful events, some as electrifying as neon lights and others as grey as a rainy day in London.

I think generally when we are young we are told, be it through school or our families or by society, that in order to be happy or ‘make it’ we have to be a certain way or look a particular way. This also gets reinforced also through social media mediums where everybody and their mother is posting pictures and short clips about the highlights of their fabulous life…or so it seems.
If we end up following this, we don’t tap into and explore our full potential to become the best of who we are. I’ve started to realise and try to live this as best I can. I too was always beating myself up with self-doubt and second guessing, I will expand on this at a later point.

You are who you always needed, embrace it! Your DNA is so profoundly unique that it’ll never be repeated again in history….so why are you spending your time trying to be like somebody else? You can make mistakes, you can be quirky, loud, quiet, colourful, you are only human – and that’s the most anybody can ask you to be.

Owning our humanness is integral to our wellbeing, life and survival, because if we do not embrace ourselves for our imperfections, individuality and uniqueness, we end up in this corrosive cycle of constant comparisons.

Be Human. Be you!

What British Muslims Really Think: My Analysis

Firstly, I thank all those who have (and continue) to send me messages of support, following my appearance on Channel 4’s documentary “What British Muslims Really Think”. I appreciate this very much.

 A two hour interview reduced to a few seconds

In my opinion, my views on the topics raised in the documentary that I spoke on (polygamy and gender relations) were represented to a good extent, however it could have been extended further for this was only a snapshot of what was actually said by myself and my co-panellists (namely Hamza Andreas Tzortis, Amra Bone and Atif Nawaz).

The snapshot was part of a two-hour panel discussion on the issues raised in the documentary, which were discussed at a much greater length also including other topics which was not aired. One of those issues raised was gender separation. In this discussion, Trevor Phillips brought up the incident that happened at University College London, regarding the seating arrangements at a gender segregated event in 2013.

I mentioned that gender separation is something that indeed does have a basis in Islam, and how the understanding of gender segregation in the mind of Mr. Phillips and liberal society differs greatly to that of the Islam. The differences I highlighted were the fact that separate does not mean unequal, and that even within the wider society this separation occurs in various aspects of social life.

It is unfortunate that my points made and based upon orthodox Islamic teachings, were drowned out by the reformist voices complaining about being a “dying breed”, as if the breed were some WWF panda at risk of extinction.

 

 Muscular Integration and Liberal Inconsistencies

 “In my view, we have to adopt a far more muscular approach to integration than ever, replacing the failed policy of Multiculturalism.” – Trevor Phillips

Essentially, what Trevor means is that forced assimilation of the Muslim community is needed, which entails imbibing secular liberal values in place of Islamic values. In order to try and achieve this, it involves shaming the Muslim community into recanting their views and/or shaping these views to be in consensus with the opinions of secular liberal society. Of course one ought to raise an eyebrow at this suggestion for a myriad of reasons:

Firstly, considering that our society is a supposedly a liberal society, one of the tenets of liberalism is pluralism. Under pluralism this means you would have to tolerate people’s conceptions of a good life, and even allow these conceptions to flourish! Even if they are contrary to the prevailing norms of what society characterises as a good life, or in this case Trevor’s. Unification does not mean uniformity, and the key to achieving that unity amongst people is by accepting their differences. What Trevor has done is exposed the inconsistencies in liberal thought, liberal intolerance, and by default himself.

 

Second, the use of reformist voices from within the Muslim community is used to employ a divide and conquer strategy of Muslims.

Mr Phillips’ argument pretty much emphasised the fact that Muslims are different from the wider society, because Muslims hold more socially conservative views on issues that many in our society would hold with general liberality.

As Mr. Phillips prides himself on being a staunch liberal, this social conservatism of Muslim is heresy in a secular liberal society – therefore making Muslims “some distance away from the centre of gravity of everybody else’s”.  I find this problematic as the findings do not ONLY make Muslims “out of step” with the rest of Britain as Trevor may want people to believe. He could have equally conducted a similar survey on sections of religious communities such as: Roman Catholics, Mormons, Evangelical Christians, Orthodox Jews, or any other religious minority. It is likely that outcomes of such surveys would produce similar results.

But of course Channel 4 would unlikely commission such a documentary to feature this as it wouldn’t be as newsworthy. Even if it did, it would be balanced with the spiritual benefits that religion brings to the individual.

In Mr. Phillips attempt to bridge the gap and close the ‘chasm’ between Muslims and the wider society, he’s failed abysmally instead alienating them and reinforcing a clash of civilisations narrative.

 

Final thoughts

The findings of the documentary served to only castigate Muslim for their views, and thereby place Muslims at a variance with British culture. Correspondingly, this can foster a climate of hate and fear to flourish and further the neo-conservative agenda intent on trying to reform Islam.

In order for Muslims to successfully counter these narratives, calls for reformation, and media scrutiny of our teachings and principles, this requires us to be unified and staunch in our faith and be unapologetically Muslim and practice our faith according to its teachings. This also includes each and every one of us, whether collectively or individually, making a voice for ourselves. One should never allow another to tell their story, because if they do, it is highly likely that it could be construed to your detriment.

 

Lastly, in engaging in discourse on Islam, Muslims and community cohesion this must come from a positive place not from the beginning point of Muslims being ‘the other’. Similarly it should not be born out of a preconceived notion (based on colonial undertones), that Muslims must conform to liberal thinking, and therefore need ‘civilising’.

Analysing World Hijab Day: Is it a form of Cultural and Religious Appropriation?

The 1st of February 2015 marked the world’s first “World Hijab Day”, with the aims to foster tolerance, interfaith dialogue and understanding to engage the wider society as to the daily trials and tribulations of Muslim women who experience Islamophobia due to observing the Islamic prescribed requirement of hijab. The idea for this day came from an American Muslim woman called Nazma Khan, in which she explained the reason as to why there was a need to create this day and campaign. It is common knowledge that for women who wear hijab, they are amongst the most vulnerable and are more likely to be victims of Islamophobic abuse in comparison to their male counterparts.

In the midst of the social media support that many have given for World Hijab Day, as exemplified in the numerous Facebook posts and hashtag Tweets trending the topic, it can make both the non-Muslim observer and fellow Muslims wonder as whether such day holds tenability in truly creating an understanding as to hardships endured by Muslim women. As much as one can sympathise and support the aims behind World Hijab Day, there are legitimate grounds for one to think that are elements of appropriation. Furthermore, this is an opinion shared by many, but voiced by few. In analysing World Hijab Day, it is in no way undermining the achievements of the campaign, neither is it a form of criticism. It is just simply exploring the other side of the coin: the alternative viewpoint others may have.

The first ground in which it could be argued that World Hijab Day does entail elements of appropriation would be the unrealistic results it may yield. Participating in such an event or practice in itself does not give you an authentic first-hand experience of the daily trials and tribulations that a veiled Muslim woman, (irrespective of race, ethnicity, age or socio-economic status) experiences just for wearing a hijab. Neither does it negate the fact that Islamophobic abuse, especially towards Muslim women, is a disconcerting and growing problem. Rather what would be more constructive would be to talk to a veiled Muslim woman (colloquially referred to a as a “hijabi”) and genuinely listen to her concerns, this would give a more valuable insight and understanding as to the realities of being a Muslim woman living in the West.

Additionally, for those who have been unfortunate in being a victim of Islamophobic abuse with all its emotional and psychological effects, why would such a person invite another to experience what this is like?                                                          In the instance that a non-Muslim participant in World Hijab Day incurs any Islamophobic abuse she could easily advance the excuse that she is just engaging in a social experiment, with the perpetrator backing off and perhaps apologising for ‘catching the wrong one’. Furthermore, the participant may equally appreciate the relief of not really being a Muslim woman and having to endure more abuse. Conversely, while the participant may have experienced what Islamophobia may entail, a Muslim woman may not be able to enjoy the same level of relief as she cannot deny being a Muslim but also because in the more than likely event the perpetrator of the attack would not stop their attack.

The effect that World Hijab Day may have upon the wider society, particularly in those living in Muslim minority countries, is that it diminishes the notion of hijab and the act of wearing it, to being something that can be casually worn by anybody any time they felt like doing so. It strips away the religious reverence it has and the reason as to why it is worn – because it is an act of worship (ibadah). By doing this, it may contribute to the ignorance that some members of society, and within the Muslim community, have about the hijab as a garment – further obscuring the lines of fact and fiction, culture and Islam. Although there is a margin of appreciation exercised for non-Muslim women and those Muslim women who do not wear hijab (and are considering wearing it on a permanent basis), the best way to find out first-hand what it is like is to not confine it just World Hijab day, but any other of the 364 days available in the year. If the intent is sincere and the consideration is one you have made for the sake of your Creator, surely you would not wait for one specific day to do this.

World Hijab Day arguably plays into the hands of Islamophobes and the never-ending media sensationalism of the hijab with its negative connotation to oppression. Have you not noticed how other faiths do not have an “[insert whatever faith related topic/issue or garment] World Day”?  Anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic hate crime is also another issue faced by members of the Jewish community (especially Orthodox Jews), yes, even in the 21st century Britain we reside in. But you do not see the men of the wider society dressing up in the Jewish tallit (shawl) or kippah (headcap) or the women in a tischel (headscarf) to gain an experience of those Jews who are recipients of anti-Semitism. The issue with this is that it breeds a culture of seeking validation in order for veiled women to be also seen as “normal” and therefore accepted by Western society. This exemplifies the idea of Muslims as being the “other” category – different by default.  The fact of the matter is that a veiled woman are just like any other woman; the difference is that she does not look to society to validate her choices of clothing; rather she seeks it from a higher power – despite being socially ostracised and receiving abuse for it.

The bottom line is that in order to gain an insight into the experiences of Muslim women, society is going to have to do more than have a World Hijab Day to understand the hardships and struggles endured. It is through active engagement and giving these women a platform to speak, as opposed to the media and other non-Muslim members of society telling them about the issues that affect them, that the problem really be tackled head on.

Piers Morgan & The “N” Word: Who can speak on the issue of race?

As I sit here pondering my life, my contempt for the recent decision in the Ferguson case, and whether I should have an extra slice of carrot cake before bed– I couldn’t help by contemplate the issue of race in America and the UK.  Recently the British journalist and television host Piers Morgan, made some contentious comments regarding the use of the “N” word being commonly used both on social media, entertainment and within society – especially amongst African-Americans. Before some people question as to whether I have standing in this issue, or whether I am “qualified” to give my two cents (or dirhams, pennies…whatever) on this topic, I’d like to state that indeed I am a black female and also Muslim. I guess I’m what my mother would call me “double jeopardy” (largely in her opinion regarding the stigma I’m likely to incur due to my race and religious identification/manifestation).

The “N” word is a word that bares so many connotations to me depending largely on context, both in the historical and contemporary sense. It is a word I know for certain my grandparents generation certainly wouldn’t have used, they didn’t know what rap music was and if they heard it they found it a nuisance.  The most plausible explanation is that people in Oman or Uganda don’t usually label people according to their race as they lived in a society that was not as multi-cultural like the Western Europe or the USA (people in those places identify by order of tribe. I have a tribe, but in the interest of not wanting to encourage nationalism or sectarianism I will not state this. Regrettably, it is a word that first I came to know by way of rap music and film during my early years prior to developing my knowledge of self and socially cognizant outlook on life – which I very actively promote.

In the light of Piers’ comments and the fierce criticism it has attracted, this has made me think of several issues within this storm along with questions, that Piers and many other people may not have asked or pondered. Of course these questions and the analysis that come packaged are subject to scrutiny and may spark debate – I’m ready for that:

Can you actually kill a word though?

Perhaps the amusing aspect to Piers Morgan’s suggestion is the notion that a word can be banned, eradicated or killed. One could easily beg to differ.

While I have a small margin of appreciation for the fact that some people (or even a majority of people in society) may find certain phrases and term socially undesirable, the “N” word, like any other racial, ethnic or sexually derogatory words is not one that can just be “killed” or phased out as and when Piers or any public figure pleases. Words are not like garbage that can easily be disposed of whenever one feels like it. I mean I couldn’t wake up one day and decide that a slang term or meaningless word should suddenly be banned irrespective of how compelling the reason is (well, perhaps in my own house or bedroom).

Words just like the views held by members of society are not something that can be changed overnight nor magically like the swish of a wand in Harry Potter; rather they have to go through socio-cultural evolution. This is where many people or the particular group acknowledge the history of the term, actualise the fact of and how it is degrading or offensive to the a specific person/group of people, and find measures to raise awareness and discourage its usage from the public domain – which may filter down to its non-usage in private settings. Such a process takes time to eventually discourage the usage, the example of the Afrikaans “K” word that was widely used by many white South Africans to disparage Black South Africans during the apartheid era, is an apt example of a word being gradually phased out using the above process – but even so, this has taken over two decades to be phased out. From this one can make the deduction that it is easier to change the institutions, labels and books but indeed it’s a battle to change the hearts and minds of a people.

Looking at the bigger picture: The role of the Corporations

The role of media and entertainment corporations is something that Piers Morgan (understandably) and some members of the public subconsciously (or out of financial expedience) ignore is the role that media and entertainment corporations play in the widespread usage of the “N” word. Again, by placing the burden of “killing” off the “N” word on black people, whilst dismissing the corporations’ role is looking at the situation very myopically.

Within the record company structures, the image often presented to the consumer is that the artists have full creative control over their content and have some level of influence under the label there are signed to. After all, it’s their music and artistry that generates money for the record label right? While this may have some elements of truth, nevertheless there has been some frugality on the part of the label. In the world where supply meets demand and business interests meet (and are subject to collision with morality and ethics), it is more lucrative and financially expedient to encourage an artist to write/produce music that glorifies violence, degradation of women, promotion secular liberal values and the manifestation of individual liberty etc.

Of course this is juxtaposed with the production of socially conscious music that encourages people to have self-knowledge and enjoin in the good, as exemplified in the disparity in media promotion given to contemporary stars such as Nicki Minaj and French Montana as opposed to the socially conscious artists such as Public Enemy, LowKey or M.I.A.

This is exacerbated by the fact that even in the acting industry; the portrayals of black people are usually ones that perpetuate stereotypes endorsed by largely white-owned media executives and directors along with actors, that give more weight to the size of their pay check than to the ramifications their depictions have upon members of the black community or the wider societal perception of blacks. Basically Piers, if you want the “N” to be banned from usage in the public domain, also make an appeal to the media companies and artists who give a platform such words to become common.

Does being white preclude a person(s) from participating in racially contentious discussions?

Being white should not be treated as an automatic ban or preclusion from engaging in discussions pertaining to race/ethnicity. I very much dislike the view (often held by some black supremacists and separatists) that white people should be barred from engaging with blacks on in issues affecting them. Such a mind-set does little to encourage cohesion and further widens the gap of understanding.

If anything, it is usually very helpful to engage with white people (who in many western countries are the ethnic majority) in gaining insight into how best to ameliorate the problem of racism, and foster a climate of peaceful coexistence in a racially and ethnically heterogeneous society. However with that being said, the comments made by Piers Morgan (albeit with the best of intentions) seems to only exemplify his lack of touch with everyday members of the African-American community – a demographic he fervently tries to “advise”. How? In explaining how Piers Morgan demonstrates the above, two points that are interlinked will have to be made here: white privilege and the attempt to absolve responsibility.

In addressing the issue of white privilege both in a general sense and specific to the proposal made by Piers Morgan, it is common knowledge (especially for people of colour) that whites incur many privileges upon the basis of their skin colour alone. This is seen in various aspects of life including education, employment, the criminal and civil justice system, media and travel – all of which filter and affect our perceptions and course of dealings with one another in both private and public settings, across various cultural contexts.

Homing in and relating this back to the topic at hand, due to Piers Morgan being a white, middle-class, middle-aged male, he incurs the benefits of not having to bear the brunt of racial superiority being exerted onto him nor the experience of being discriminated against due to his skin tone (whether systematically through oppressive government policies such as South Africa’s former apartheid system, Pre-Civil Rights America…or even colonialism!). Oh, and let’s not forget having to deal with the constant negative media portrayal of his race, culturally biased exams and school curriculum, stop and search/stop and frisk policies, living in low income neighbourhoods where crime rates, drug use and unemployment rates may be high – the list goes on.

Unfortunately, for many African-Americans living in the U.S. what I have just cited is a reality that many, especially those indoctrinated with the provincial view of American society espoused by Fox News, choose to ignore – because it serves as an opiate to placate the sensitivities of those who are not victims of such circumstances.

Furthermore, in Piers suggesting that “If black Americans want the N-word to die, they will have to kill it themselves” this only serves to alienate and irritate many members of this demographic – in turn, earning more criticism. Predictably albeit unintentionally, the likes of Bill Maher, Elizabeth Hasselbeck and Bill O’Reilly et al. will likely twerk to this tune as this suggestion is a poor and unviable attempt evade the guilt and accountability from the those that invented and used the “N” word as means of asserting racial superiority and dehumanising an entire race, and place the burden of policing the “N” word on Blacks who try reclaim the word from its oppressively negative connotation to one of empowerment. In other words Piers is absurdly attempting to place the onus on African-Americans (and the Black global community as a whole) to police a word that we didn’t want ourselves, rather foisted upon us by an inherent and systematically racist society.

For Piers Morgan, a white male who has never had to bear the brunt of such a term being used to denigrate his self-worth, nor the brunt of racism or the negative experiences that faces many African-Americans, to advise that black people should be responsible for “killing off” the N word reeks of hypocrisy and white-saviour-complex under the façade of “advice”. That’s like me advising members of the Indo-Pakistani community in the UK on the issue of the “P” word! That’s absurd!

The question as to if any success has been achieved in making the “N” word one of empowerment, endearment or in any way less threatening is not the issue here, and if this discussion is to take place, it is preferable that it is done in a way that is balanced and fair instead of being one-sided attributing the burden of responsibility to a particular group of people.

Can I touch it? Erm… : The Hair Conversations and the Politicisation of Black Hair

“Can I touch it?”, “Oh my God, your hair is so nappy!!”, “Wow *awkwardly smiles/fascinated stare* your hair is so different – I want an afro!”…or “Does the drapes….”  (There are other questions one can be asked, but due to Islamic etiquette I refuse to divulge the entirety of those questions).

These are among the many questions received by many black women and girls (including myself) at some point in their lives by a non-black peer, colleague or person generally interested in “the unknown”. Such individuals manifest an often genuine degree of fascination and feelings of shock and awe when analysing afro-textured hair. Of course in some instances, some people (normally those who exhibit a lack of home training in having regard for one’s personal space) may demonstrate the type of courage (rather ignorance/stupidity) you can’t get from a bottle of Jack Daniels and actually go there i.e. proceeding to touch, feel and quite frankly molest the hair of the afro-textured haired person in question. In some cases, albeit not all, this can occur with or without the permission of the recipient. Although, it is understandable that Caucasian and other non-black people of colour may have a well-meaning sense of curiosity with a hair type that is radically different to their own. These instances, in addition to the unintentional/intention comments made are forms of micro-aggressions, which can serve to alienate such groups from black people. As a result, hindering the efforts made to foster understanding and cohesion.

While the latter experience of touching a person’s hair without permission may not be particularly common in the UK, nevertheless it is an issue that is part of a wider conversation pertaining to the Eurocentric notions of beauty, race and the challenges they present to minority groups.

The politics and never-ending phenomena of Black hair (and at large the image of black women) is something that is contentious and often arouses feelings ranging from anger and frustration to joy and confusion – and all shades in between. The topic has been discussed by many cultural critics, black feminists and image activists including Michaela Angela Davis (not to be confused with the Black Panther member Angela Davis) and Professor Melissa Harris-Perry. The topic was even the subject of the 2009 documentary by comedian Chris Rock entitled “Good Hair”. Furthermore, black hair has gained mainstream international media attention when in 2013 South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma urged African women to embrace natural hairstyles, and back in 2009 when  US President Obama’s 11-year-old daughter, Malia Obama, incurred negative reactions because she wore her hair in natural African twists while accompanying her family on a visit to Italy.

In order to understand how and why this is an issue to be explored and discussed, one cannot talk about the politics of black hair without putting the conceptions and notions of beauty under the microscope.

Why y’all so touchy?

Caucasian and non-black people of colour often wonder as to why hair is such a contentious issue in the black community. It is fathomable when assessing the situation on a superficial level, the subject of hair is something that is ordinarily considered quite trivial in comparison to bigger problems plaguing society as a whole and their respective communities. However, in deciphering the issue, it may be sensible to start with a quote to put things into context:

 “It’s amazing that it’s considered revolutionary to wear my hair the way it grows out of my head!” Tracie Thoms (actress).

Historically speaking, black people and their hair has long been an issue dating back as far as the days of slavery in which a slave who had physical features that resembled that of their Caucasian master was in some cases favoured in terms of receiving an education and spared from doing backbreaking menial work under the sun, compared to the slave that most resembled black African ancestry. Since then, the phrase “good hair” which has its roots in being used as a survival term, is commonly used today to denote the preference, along with the constantly promulgated notion of long, straight, silky hair being made a socially acceptable norm (at the expense of kinky, afro-textured hair being socially rejected). In turn, many black women and girls opt for the use of a relaxer made of chemicals that straighten the hair to fulfil the ideal of having “good hair” with children as young as six being subjected to regular treatments. For those that choose to wear their natural hair in styles such as an afro, twists or dreadlocks, they may have to endure negative stereotypes attributed to such styles, e.g. the notion of those who wear dreadlocks being synonymous with recreational marijuana usage or the afro being tantamount to “setting off the revolution” – with reference to the civil rights activists such as Angela Davis from the Black Panthers.

Of course these stereotypes are wrong and correspondingly, this has a profoundly negative effect upon black women and young girls growing up in a Western, Eurocentric society in which tells them, whether overtly or covertly, that their form of beauty is not highly valued. This culminates in many having an inferiority complex as to their race, heritage and place in the world. Many Children’s books, television shows and toys such as Barbie perpetuate the narrative of Eurocentric superiority in beauty, and even when Barbie did have a black doll called Christie – she had long straight jet black hair that resembled that of an Oriental or Indo-Pakistani woman as opposed to a sub-Saharan African girl! Where was her afro? Or twists or locks?! At least give a variation.

To add insult to injury, when I recall my days as a child I also struggled to find a doll that resembled myself – the fact that I was (and still am) overweight and black made the search all the more difficult in my quest to find that elusive “fat black doll”. However, in the end I did find my doll and to this day I still keep it as a reminder of the various types of beauty that exist – but also the refusal for the society I live in to accept natural African hairstyles and fuller figured women as also encompassing the many notions of beauty.

It is easy to look at the issue simplistically and point fingers at certain people, corporations and/or society as whole etc., but doing so would just be that: simple. The problem is much deeper, and by pointing fingers and not postulating ideas to solve the problem, one just engrossed in this sad and confidence-waning cycle.

My black is beautiful, so when did I cease to become black?

Questions relating to black hair are not helped when dividing opinions permeate within the black community, namely between two groups: those who are “pro natural” (those that advocate and opt to wear their hair in its natural state, also known as the “natural hair movement”) and those who choose not to wear their hair in the natural state (i.e. the way in which their hair grows out of their hair, for example weaves, wigs, chemically straightening). It is argued by some in the former category (and by some conservative non-black social commentators) that wearing hair in its natural state shows pride and acceptance in one’s racial and ethnic identity, with claims also asserted by some who are pro-natural that the altering of hair from its natural state may constitute the denial of one’s racial or ethnic identity. Such arguments presented can often be regarded as reductive as there are a range of reasons why an individual opts to present themselves in the way that they do, and in turn should not feel obliged to justify this to the rest of society.

The issue is not how one chooses to wear their hair (or whether one’s hair is store bought or naturally grown) but rather the idea that black racial and ethnic identities are only limited to one type of way or look. This is completely wrong as black hair is not one monolithic type; rather it represents a range of fashion styles, lengths, levels of versatility and textures – and yes, this includes extensions. One doesn’t stop being black because they have a weave or lace-front wig nor does one become “more black” because you wear sport an Afro or dreadlocks with a dashiki shirt, rather this contributes to disunity within the black community at large and does help in the quest for unity.

Where beauty and blackness are concerned, black women constantly find themselves in a position where they have to fight and defend to the rest of society why their features should be legitimised and accepted. For me as a black woman, I find it disconcerting that something as trivial as the way my hair grows out of my head is considered defiant or “revolutionary”. What makes this situation more disheartening is that anti-blackness, shadeism, colourism, sectarianism and nationalism are all forms of mental colonialism that continue to permeate within the Muslim Community.

It is until Black women and other non-black women of colour emancipate themselves from the shackles of mental colonialism by starting to accept, embrace and promote their natural beauty by abstaining from using terms that normalise inferiority and self-hatred emanating from their past, that the struggle for promotion and acknowledgement within Western society will get easier.

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For those who are unfamiliar with the terms used in this piece. Here’s a brief glossary:

Good hair = A popular term in the black community (most especially African-American community), used to describe an black person’s hair that closely resembles the hair of a typical white person (i.e. soft, manageable, long, as opposed to “nappy” or “bad” hair). The closer your hair is to a white person’s, the “better” your hair is.

Nappy = tightly coiled / curled unaltered hair. Coiled hair in its natural state

Non-black people of Colour (NBoPoC) = people who belong to racial/ethnic groups that are neither Black nor Caucasian i.e. people who are Latino, Middle Eastern/Arab, Indo-Pakistani Asian, Oriental Asian, mixed race (be this mixed black and white or otherwise) or any group in the “other” category.

People of colour (PoC) = normally and mainly used to mean black people (African or Afro-Carribean), although one could count non-black and non-Caucasian racial/ethnic groups as being also people of colour.

Relaxer/Perm = a creamy substance made from hydrochloric acid and other alkhalis. For the most part it is applied mainly on Afro-textured hair in order to chemically straighten the hair. Another name for the relaxer is called a perm. Thus permed or relaxed hair is hair that is chemically straightened.

Making a Case for The “Ramadan Muslim” : Ramadan Spiritual Reflections

I have been blessed to enjoy spending parts of my Ramadan in different countries other than the one I reside in; I have spent parts of my Ramadan in places such as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates thus witnessing how different people in different cultural contexts observe Ramadan. This has been indicative of how the significance of Ramadan can be interpreted and experienced in a multitude of ways. Perhaps another thing I forgot to mention is that I am an interfaith adult and convert to Islam, having been brought up in a home where one of my parents is Muslim and having chosen to convert to Islam at a young age through reason and rational investigation, Ramadan for the past ten years has been a spiritual learning curve.

For me, Ramadan signifies an opportunity to renew and further enhance my covenant with my Creator. As the time for suhoor (pre-dawn meal) approaches, while most of my neighbours may be asleep, I take this time to draw closer to Allah through the recitation of Qur’an when praying with members of my family for Fajr (the early morning prayer). The words of God as seen in the Qur’an resonate within my soul with the hope and determination that they will be implemented in my actions, as there is no certainty that I’ll get to enjoy another of life’s moments. In the midst of strengthening my relationship with God, Ramadan also serves as personal reminder of my mortality. Will I ever get to experience such a spiritually nourishing time period again? Will these lessons and spiritual boost that I’ve acquired bare any longevity or was this just the typical “Ramadan phase” that so many Muslims become ritualistically accustomed to only to be forgotten once Eid-ul Fitr comes around. These are among the plethora of questions that are pondered by many (including myself), but intensely self-scrutinised by few.

Regardless of whether one deems themselves the “worst individual in the world” due to not practicing their faith, the reflective advice I give is to never give up in building that spiritual connection with God. One of the many observations I made upon my conversion to Islam, was that the term “Ramadan Muslim” is sometimes used pejoratively to castigate those who are known for not being as observant of their faith outside the parameters of Ramadan.

Essentially there are two ways one could analyse this term. This term could be interpreted to mean exactly as I described, i.e. those who only decide to confine their practice and manifestation of their Islamic beliefs to only during Ramadan. With regard to the former interpretation, it’s quite interesting that those who apply such a term often fall victim to spiritual pride: a trait that is antithetical to the Islamic principles of humility and piety. In one’s bid to develop a profound spiritual attachment to Islam and, correspondingly a more strengthened relationship with their Creator, denigrating others or asserting a superiority complex over your fellow sibling in faith does little in earn the pleasure of God. By doing so the recipient of this harsh treatment isn’t harmed, rather the one who continues to demonstrate such feelings bears the harm of not seeing their how detrimental their character deficiencies are to their spirituality.
Alternatively, the term “Ramadan Muslim” could be used as example of the sweetness felt by Muslims (especially those experiencing weaknesses in faith) during a time where collectively and individually, people make improvements to strive in pleasing God and bettering themselves. It could be through Ramadan that such individuals use it as a reference point to continue in fortifying their faith – it could be that Ramadan that may change their lives. It is this latter interpretation that I hope has a more profound effect.

The month of Ramadan also serves to enhance the ability of an individual to have self-control and restraint, such a quality is revered bearing in mind the society in which I reside in promotes the notions of hedonism and immediate gratification. It is oh so easy for one to be a slave to their lower self and desires, and significantly harder to abstain from peer-pressure and the temptations of pleasure-seeking. During the hours of dawn, whilst the majority of the residents on my street lay tucked in bed reluctant to hear the sound of their alarm, I couldn’t help but observe and admire the discipline that dog owners have. The ability to consistently get up during the early hours of the morning and walk your dog, come rain or shine, is remarkable. I compared it to the diligence required when performing my prayers at the prescribed times. This made me think about the structure and importance of discipline and self-control not only pertaining to my observance of Islam but also the impact it has upon my everyday life. Perhaps the lessons derived from abstinence and self-control could be beneficial to those who are engulfed in the consumerist, hedonistic and fast paced lifestyle.

Perhaps another feature of Ramadan is that in spite of being entrenched in the everyday routines of work and school, Ramadan serves a purpose of reconnecting family members and the wider community at large. While it is not religiously obligated of me to go the mosque for congregational Friday prayers (although I used to try and make sure I went any Friday I could, maybe I liked the company also), I couldn’t help but notice that during times outside Ramadan the mosque seemed less filled. Community cohesion in religious institutions such as the mosque are one of the hallmarks of the Islam, the care and regard for the wellbeing of your fellow sister or brother in faith and the effort exerted into study sessions and meal preparation for breaking the fast fill me with excitement.

During Ramadan, I relay and reflect upon the stories of the Prophets and lessons to be learned – many of which are beneficial and would ameliorate the many problems and ailments permeating in society.
A time reflecting on relationships with members of my family, my friends and the wider community during Ramadan should provide an impetus for which one should always maintain the bond of kinship no matter how hectic life can be. Perhaps seeing the community cohesion in the mosque serves as a reminder of what society used to be like before the iPhone/Android smartphones, the iPads and the Twitter/Facebook accounts: when we all just used to actually TALK to each other.

As the days leading up to Eid-ul-Fitr go by I feel a sense of loss as with each day passing, the serenity that comes with Ramadan slips away. I just hope that I get to experience another month where the sweetness of faith never felt so good. But most importantly, will the lessons and experiences I’ve acquired be enduring and impacting upon my life permanently? I pray and hope that many sections of society, irrespective of one’s religious affiliation (or the lack of) have the opportunity to experience the spiritual nourishment Ramadan offers.

Godwilling.

Making a case for the Interfaith child: Debunking myths, stereotypes and rhetoric

Perhaps one of the topics that are not as often discussed is that of interfaith children and their experiences, especially those relating to Muslim/Christian marriages as opposed to Jewish/Christian marriages. Interfaith children are those who are growing up (or interfaith adult for those who have grown up) where either parents are of different faiths – or one parent has no religious affiliation. Within the British Muslim community, there are many children, young people and adults who are growing up or have grown up in a household where their father is a Muslim and their mother is of another faith which is usually (although not exclusively) Christian or Jewish. Interfaith children arouse wonderment and awe often being subjected to a lot of questions about how they “survived” growing up, what made them chose their faith (or the lack of) and if they “feel” more of one faith than the other.

While it appreciated that interfaith children may have certain life experiences that perhaps somebody that has grown up in a single faith family may not have encountered, some interfaith children have had negative experiences within the British Muslim community. Some interfaith children and adults may recall instances where some members of the Muslim community did not make them feel welcome, or did not consider them “really Muslim”. While it is accepted that professing to be Muslim cannot be Christian simultaneously, the fact that a child or adult comes from an interfaith background is something that should not be turned into an issue of contention.

Aren’t you confused?

One of the many (patronising) questions that people who have grown up in interfaith environments and households get asked concerning their upbringing is whether they are “confused” or how they “survived”. Conversely, some are inundated with questions as to whether they have an affinity towards one faith as opposed to another – this can often play into the boundaries of emotional tennis. Growing up with an interfaith background does not always necessarily lead to confusion, rather the experiences and advantages of growing up interfaith children have is that of literacy in both religions – a dual faith education.

This is especially helpful in demystifying misconceptions and media driven rhetoric pertaining to Islam, and engaging the wider society in understanding. As a second generation interfaith child and convert to Islam, I have benefited immensely from a dual faith education. It has been especially helpful to me in actively defending and making a case for Islam and using my Catholic education for dialogue and comparative religion, along with breaking down stereotypes of Muslim women in everything I do.

Does it create disunity?

Growing up in an interfaith setting promotes a sense of transparency concerning the different faiths, especially when a child or young person reaches the age of reasoning and is capable of acknowledging the differences between the two faiths in deciding which faith to follow. Due to be raised in an interfaith family, children being raised as Muslim or have decided to convert to Islam, can serve to educate their non-muslim relatives and friends about the religion. This does not always mean that one has to be overly proselytising, but in a climate where there are a lot of negative opinions against Muslims, something as simple as your good actions and approach may alter the opinions that some hold.

As to the misconception that being raised as an interfaith child may create disunity, in a lot of cases it is often the contrary. This is because when two parents are of different faiths, the need to maintain harmony and cohesion especially where children are present fosters a climate for understanding to ensue, as a child’s early experiences of difference and diversity will start in their home environment. Having said this, it should not be disregarded that there are some instances where disharmony in an interfaith marriage do occur and while this is the case, how it is tackled it more character defining than the problem itself. Dialogue, patience and understanding are vital in ameliorating situations that may give rise to the possibilities of conflict, thus maintaining tolerance and peaceful co-existence.

You have a “watered down” understanding and implementation of Islam

Some interfaith children and adults can be subjected to pre-judgements and assumptions that their understanding and implementation of Islam is not as “pure” in comparison to those who have grown up in household where both parents are Muslim. In making these presuppositions this does not define them, rather this is character defining for the person who held such an idea. God knows best as to the internal state and religious observance of an individual, we do not have jurisdiction to adjudicate on such a matter. In many experiences of interfaith children, especially my own, being raised in an interfaith environment could mean that the non-Muslim mother can be supportive in aiding the child to become a diligent and practicing Muslim. How many instances and images have you seen of the non-Muslim mother taking her children to the Madrasa to enhance the Islamic education of her children? How many times do you find it the case that a non-Muslim mother is more encouraging towards her children becoming upright and practicing Muslims than some Muslim mothers who discourage such practices and are not practicing themselves?

Unfortunately, these attitudes are hindering many Muslim children with interfaith backgrounds from becoming integrated and accepted into their religious community. Religious observance is not solely down to the parents one has, but rather it is the commitment, love and conviction (along with piety) that one has toward the religion of Islam that is the true defining factor in your relationship and standing with God.

In debunking the misconceptions regarding Muslim children who have grown up in interfaith environments, more should be done to make them feel more welcome and included in the British Muslim community. They represent a rising trend that may lead to the gap understanding and tolerance being bridged, the potential for children and adults with such backgrounds make then not only outstanding exemplars of tolerance in Islam, but tomorrows leading orators and defenders of Islamic monotheism.

 

Our Future of Today, We Must Think Anew! : An Open Letter to the Youth, Teachers & the Wider Society

Dear Tomorrow,

I am writing to you because I value you, believe in you and have faith that with persistent efforts you can have the capacity to overwrite the wrongs of our forefathers – but most importantly overwrite the personal pasts that may continue to affect your present state. Within each and every one of you there lies a potential, a seed waiting to be watered, a key waiting to unlock a door or a chain waiting to be broken.  Among life’s biggest failures are not those did not have dreams, but rather those that had them but did not have the courage and determination to pursue them – indeed that is a great loss. Having said this, I come from a generation where although dreams may be evident, they are yet to be actualised. Why? Because we have been indoctrinated to believe that the main (and perhaps only) way to be successful is through the conveyor belt of going to university and getting a degree in order to be guaranteed “a really good job”. One of the modes of thinking we need to change is our notion of success, of which is often (although not exclusively) attributed to tangible gains such as wealth and fame. It is a shame that there are many in this generation that look up to the celebrities on the cover of magazines and the ones engaging in acts of debauchery, all in the name of reality television in the hope of making a name for themselves. Success does not and should not only be epitomised by these individuals, but rather I encourage you to widen your thinking and to reflect upon how you define your idea of success as opposed to what is socially constructed.

Education occurs in various forms, and so school is only one way of attaining it – if anything school is a very institutionalised, entrenched and rigid way of doing so. But what many people seem to disregard is the deficiencies of the school system.  During my time in school, I realised that school was a place that committed one of the biggest acts of genocide: the genocide of innovation, creativity and alternative/autonomous thinking. If you think it is a generalised blanket statement or a diatribe against the education system, let me proceed to explain and analyse – perhaps this will provoke you to reflect.

When I was in school I observed the failure of many teachers to truly realise the individual worth of each student, in the midst of being engrossed in target setting (exceeding expectations not always corresponding in reality) and extra assignments in order to maintain high ranking positions in the league tables, they failed to acknowledge other alternatives and possibilities beyond a marking criteria. They did not see that my innovative answers, ideas and concepts extended beyond that, instead confining my work to a set marking criteria and ignoring the effort exerted. It was only a few years ago that I was in your place, I was told that I was wayward, had special needs and that I should “be realistic with my options”. Really what they meant is that I should aim for something mediocre and stick at it as they did not believe I could actually exceed their expectations. If I had listened to the teacher that did not see my worth, I would not have proceeded with the process of becoming what I am today.

 

Conversely, that is not to say that there were not any encouraging and inspiring teachers present, I did have teachers that encouraged me to explore and foster a climate for free and alternative thinking to flourish. I thank the few teachers I had such as my English teachers throughout years seven to thirteen, making me realise my love for language, originality and conceptual analysis. Likewise I express my gratitude to my History teachers for awakening my political awareness and reasoning capabilities that question the narratives told from a certain perspective. Similarly, they made me reflect on how despite many life lessons we as a people rarely seem to learn from our pasts.

The sociology teacher, who embraced me for my quirky and eccentric nature, will never be forgotten. She was an important reminder of the diverse and dynamic nature of society, encouraging me to ponder as to who or what constructs society’s “norms”. Perhaps I continue to break many of the conventions. Last, but no least, the religious teachers I encountered especially in the realms of philosophy and ethics. Their teaching of various beliefs and arguments for and against the existence of God, not only reaffirmed my belief in a Creator, but further propelled me to actively propagate and defend Islamic Monotheism.

However when your worth is measured according to a single letter, which may result in you being limited to certain positions in life, this does not do anything to ignite your passion for learning – rather it can foster a climate of hopelessness and desolation. So because your classmate in an exam was able to remember an equation or fact minutes or seconds earlier, which may result in them being offered that ever coveted university place or job, it makes them a more eligible candidate than you? How many times have you tried to memorise an equation, facts about Henry the VIII or master literary techniques for an English Language exam only to never use these again in your life?

Unfortunately, it has become a normalised practice and a part of educational culture to memorise things, not always for the genuine love of learning, but rather to attain a certain grade only for it to be later discarded after the invigilator screeches “PENS DOWN!”. Marking schemes and template answers have created a climate where conformity and obedience result in many people not being able to critically think about the world around them. Turning a blind eye in the name of ignorance to the oppressive and hypocritical practices that are operative in the society we live in. It keeps us in this mind set where we limit our thinking and ideas to those endorsed by our teachers and society. This is further exacerbated while in the pursuit of higher education; debt becomes an inevitable consequence further enslaving many young people who, become so absorbed in finding ways to repay their debt, they have the disciplinarian culture firmly embedded making them unlikely to consider how to change society.

In these economic times, one of the most important aspects that should be more emphasised is the need to be innovative and entrepreneurial as opposed to being the perpetual employee. It is often said that if you do not build your own dreams somebody will hire you to be build theirs, instead of being a follower I endorse leadership, determination, creativity and innovation. Brand yourself, stand out and break the mould!

My sincere advice is that you should never let a grade define who you are, your worth and destiny is determined by much more than a transcript. Do not limit yourself to the expectations of others nor let their expectations become a reflection of your self-worth. Rather I implore you to never give up on the goals and dreams you have, always bear in mind that there is no set route to success rather there are many avenues and roads to be travelled and explored in order to get there (road trip anybody?). The words “You can’t!” should always be rebutted by the response “Says who?”, bearing in mind nobody else has the power to limit your progress; as the only limits imposed upon are those you put on yourself. If I had known back then what I know now things would have been different, I would not have let fear and the negative opinions of others hinder me from going for the gold.

 

Remember this is your life, broaden your horizons and explore the vast plains – THINK ANEW!

 

Yours Sincerely,

Sister Nusrat.

Should Nationalism and Anti-Black racism be an issue to be concerned about in the British Muslim community?

Racism and nationalism is one of the many callous and challenging aspects of human behaviour that can affect people individually, and whole communities and nations collectively. Particularly for those living in societies that are racially and ethnically heterogeneous, many people living in countries that are more racially homogenous may assume two things: firstly, that living in a country that is more racially diverse means racism is not likely to be a problem thus fostering a climate for peaceful co-existence to occur. On the other, there are some that assume that living in a racially plural society may make the propensity for racism and discrimination to permeate.

The root of racism is built upon the foundations of having a superiority complex over another due to one’s ethnicity or race, and therefore assuming that this makes one better than another.

Perhaps the earliest demonstration of such mentality can be found in the story of Prophet Adam (peace and blessings be upon him) when Satan refused to prostrate, because he believed that due to being made of fire – something aluminous – made him more worthy than Adam who was crafted from clay. Racism is an age old issue that even in today’s so called modern world affects various nations and peoples, which manifests in various forms irrespective of socio-economic background or gender. While history shows the problems incurred in trying the ameliorate the issue of racism and nationalism, the teachings of Islam derived from the Sunnah (ways) of the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) and Quranic text has addressed such problems early on. This is exemplified in various aspects of the Qur’an and famously in the Prophet’s last sermon.

Centuries have passed since the last sermon, but it seems the issue is something that continues to resonate within the British Muslim community. While many agree that discussing racial prejudice and nationalism is somewhat a subject that can cause awkwardness and discomfort, by refusing to acknowledge this issue exacerbates the situation resulting in the problem still not being solved.

 

Confronting the Issue

On Wednesday 12th February 2014, there was a Twitter discussion (which was also featured on al-Jazeera’s “The Stream” segment) initiated by the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative in the USA under the hashtag #BeingBlackAndMuslim. The discussion was on the issues and problems experienced by Black American Muslims in the American Muslim community, with contributions to the discussion made by many people all over the world including the UK, Middle East, Asia and mainland Europe. Perhaps the reason as to why this discussion was spearheaded by the American Muslim community is because it is a challenging issue that American Muslims face and demonstrate more of a willingness to talk about.

The discussion was vital in highlighting the issue as many recounted experiences of racism being displayed in many ways. For example, Black American Muslim male contributors’ related experiencing racism through stereotyping and name calling (terms such as “abeed[1]” were commonly cited). This was more pronounced amongst those males who were converts to Islam, and were assumed to have converted to Islam in prison or through the Nation of Islam (NOI). This was also experienced when making enquiries for marriage, in which many were turned down by virtue of their race. This sort of stereotyping within the American Muslim community normalises the notion that Islam is only sought by black men in times of adversity and identity crisis, as opposed to seeking clarity and spirituality. Likewise it reinforced the long-held stereotype of black men as being synonymous with criminality and incarceration.

Black female Muslims related experiences of racism particularly when it came to marriage. Some stated instances of not receiving as many marriage proposals as their white and Hispanic counterparts as well as feeling marginalised by the American Muslim community. Again, this was largely attributed to stereotypes of black women (especially those who appear assertive) as being ‘loud’ or the ‘angry black woman’.  Human Rights advocate and political blogger Dawud Walid joined the discussion tweeting: The most marginalized person in the American Muslim community is the Black female Muslim.”

 

Should this concern the British Muslim community?

The issue of inter-Muslim racism and nationalism is something that should concern the British Muslim community as this problem affects many of its members, but what are even more disconcerting are the responses of justification that are used to provide an alibi for such un-Islamic behaviour. While there is no such basis for racial superiority in Islam, to some extent these practices have been normalised within certain cultures of the Muslim community such as the caste system based on skin colour hierarchy and using this as a benchmark to decide how others should be treated. This is further exacerbated with the promotion of fair skin and Caucasian features as being the epitome of beauty, and the products marketed (both legitimately and illegitimately) in order to achieve this. If anybody within the Muslim community should be judged it should not be upon the colour of their skin but rather their level of taqwa (God-consciousness).

Also the fact that some religious institutions such as mosques are informally referred to as being for a certain ethnicity or race is quite sad as it fosters a climate for nationalism to become more apparent, often at the expense of alienating some members of the Muslim community.

 

Responses to Anti-Black Racism and Nationalism

The responses to the issue are quite mixed of which may differ between persons; therefore it would not be fitting to conclude that there is one general response. However, among the various responses to the issue of nationalism and racism is the common one of denial. This is usually demonstrated through the use of various pieces of Islamic text, Prophet’s last sermon and of course not forgetting the all-time favourite of citing Bilal (RA) as the exemplar for racial plurality. Although discrimination is something contrary to the teachings of Islam, this does not seem to correspond with the actions of some Muslims. Using the examples mentioned to deny the fact that racism is an issue dividing the British Muslim community is turning a blind eye to the oppression faced by fellow brothers and sisters in the deen in favour of appeasing the sensitivities of those who are guilty of such behaviour.

These sorts of responses are not helpful in tackling the problem rather they serve to hinder dialogue in trying to ameliorate the situation, therefore allowing the problem to continue. Perhaps the most constructive approach to the problem is not to deny its existence, but to adopt a sense of unity in tackling it. The foundations for this lie in building awareness and placing an emphasis on how Islam is universal and not allowing one’s personal or cultural sensitivities to take precedence. In addition, some focus should be made in religious sermons, schools and by community figures to discuss this issue further and educate the rest of the community on the contributions made by historical figures in Islam who were of various racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Considering all the issues that Muslims, not just within Britain, but on a worldwide scale have to endure such as the media vilification of Islam and the systematic oppression of fellow Muslims in the Muslim world you would assume that unity should be more widespread. And rightly it should, as exemplified in Allah’s statement in the Qur’an:

“The believers are nothing else than brothers (in Islamic religion). So make reconciliation between your brothers, and fear Allah, that you may receive mercy.” – Surah Al-Ĥujurāt, verse 10.

Unless we act upon the above verse, the problem will be yet another centrifugal force which serves to create more disunity in the Muslim community – with cycle and the chains of ignorance unbroken.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Abeed is an Arabic term in Arabic meaning “slave”. This is usually used in an insulting context people of African origin to attribute stereotypes. The term can also be used to describe black people in general.

Benefit Street: A normalised practice of vilifying the economically vulnerable

It seems like Benefit Street is the new show on everybody’s lips, I mean everybody from your nan to work colleagues to even teens in the playground – it’s all everybody’s been talking about …and not always for the right reasons. The show which features the residents of the now infamous James Turner Street in Birmingham and how they survive in their day to day life on welfare. Many critics from both the Left and the Right have had mixed opinions upon the show, with the critics from the Right often claiming that the snapshot into the lives of the residents is a representation of how many are cheating the system, displaying a lack of motivation to better themselves and contribute to society “living in an age of entitlement”. Whereas members of the Left offering a more sympathetic side, citing  the notion that the show does nothing more than act as a distraction and opiate to the real issues of government incompetence – in turn pitting communities against each other.

It seems that Benefit Street (arguable extending to Channel 4 executives), is following a pattern of rhetoric that seems to not only grab wide viewership through sensationalism but rather seems to fit well considering the current economic climate and the dissatisfaction held among many….ah what better way to vent out your frustration than upon the underclass? This isn’t just subjected to the Channel 4 bosses either as other media outlets such as the BBC and Channel 5, who’ve produced programmes such as “People Like Us” (targeting a community living on an estate in Harpurhey, Manchester), “Benefits and Proud” respectively have followed this same correlation in order to gain viewership by image distortion. Some of the characters on Benefit Street may be reminiscent of personalities and people that we may know of, of course I won’t pretend like these types of people don’t exist, but to tar a segment of society with the same brush presenting a biased and vilified image is anything but fair – and speaking from the experience of being a Muslim it’s something I know only too well.

While the programme has attracted widespread criticism, I do say, there have been some moments where the programme has illuminated certain social issues that permeate within our society, for example the ongoing demonization and exploitation of migrant workers and immigration (particularly of those from Eastern Europe). It’s ever so easy to sit there in your recliner chair drinking your evening mug of tea complaining about the hardships you’ve endured especially with regard to employment and housing availabilities, and attribute these difficulties to immigration. The second episode of the show highlighted how many migrant workers demonstrated a willingness to work and in some cases entrepreneurial zeal in order to alleviate themselves from their financially dire situations. For example, the overcrowding house of 14 Romanians who collected cans from scrap and even creating a business in order to survive only to receive abuse by some of the residents, who ironically weren’t making any efforts of their own to find employment. Furthermore these men were enticed and brought over with the prospect of working for £40 per day, only to be conned and exploited by their employer and paid £10.

Another heart-breaking scene, involving a small boy belonging to another Romanian family who was the only English-speaking member negotiate restoring his electricity with a slum landlord after it had been cut off.

The fact of the matter is unfortunately it’s become a normalised practice to mercilessly victimise and vilify society’s most vulnerable members. Some of the residents of James Turner Street have even received death threats and other forms of verbal intimidation, and subjected to online abuse by users of social media outlets such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. My theory is that this is deliberately done to act as a distraction and opiate from the hypocritical practices that go on within the economic and political system, it’s much easier to blame your woes on those less fortunate. These types of programmes divert us from the many practices committed by some of the wealthy, such as tax evasion and the financial blunders of those in the banking sector…but yet ordinary citizens have to pay for their mistakes while they continue to prosper?

What’s more, the show had left many members of the public wrongly informed about the harsh realities of living on welfare. Statistics from the 2013 Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion indicate that in the financial year 2013/14, an estimated 2.6 million families (8% of families in the UK) saw their benefit entitlement cut as a result of three welfare reforms, losing an average of £16.60. The benefit cut which had the most resonating impact was the change to Council Tax support in April 2013, in which those affected were already living in poverty. Of the 660,000 families hit by the so-called “bedroom tax” two thirds also had their Council Tax support cut.

As disconcerting as these statistics may be, the diatribes upon the underclass must be come to an end as we illuminate our mind to investigate not only the reality of poverty but we must get to the root of the cause. We may not be able to prevent it from happening but as a community at large we can aim to help those affected and collectively hold those in power accountable.