By Arianna Khan
It’s a strange position to hold, claiming both atheism and Islam in one breath. Atheist due to my lack of belief in a deity, Muslim due to my upbringing, my education and my home life. I still read the Qur’an and make every endeavour to learn more about the religion I’ve given up on – I even still fast when Ramadan comes around and greet other Muslims with my salams.
Perhaps it is these dichotomies and tensions that shouldn’t be able to be reconciled that have resolved in me and created the person writing this now.
And yet it is this strange position that I’m in that caused such a furious anger within me not long ago. I was sat in a lecture hall at university, awaiting a talk about Sharia law and human rights, with an audience made up of other Muslims and non-Muslims alike. A Muslim man walked in, camera phone held up high, videoing all those present and went on to threaten the lives of everyone present if there were any words spoken against the prophet Mohammad (pbuh).
I sat in stunned silence, at first not taking in the full effect of his words, not taking him seriously. Purely because the way I was brought up, my Islam, taught by my family and by myself, told me that such actions are not only an infringement of human rights but completely un-Islamic. It was an Islam I did not recognise.
Once the words settled in, the police called by the organisers and the talk subsequently cancelled, the anger settled in – and then the nausea of fear and fury. Many in the society made their way to the local pub, I joined them, but I was still reeling from what had happened, trying to process the anger this young man had demonstrated towards his fellow Muslims, his fellow human beings. My own thoughts went back to all the times I had been treated with fear and prejudice because of my own background and lost religion that I freely expressed to those who asked. A horrific realisation struck me: all those words, punches and glances of fear were due to people like the one who threatened us. It almost felt that he was trying to justify the generalisation that was put against us. He is the embodiment of why we, as Muslims, even ex-Muslims, or as simply being from the subcontinent, can be victim of abuse from those who generalise us in this way.
But it wasn’t only fear and anger I walked away with that night – hope pursued soon afterwards. I overheard the many of those there from the Islamic society of the university apologising repeatedly for the interruption, voicing concerns similar to my own, of how this wasn’t representative of Islam, and that person wasn’t the voice of the society. The man who had threatened us was one of the few, not the voice of the many.
One of the group of Muslims there spoke up saying that perhaps we could hold our own debate, peacefully and simply talk amongst ourselves, civil, opposing perhaps, but respectful. And waiting outside to leave for a much-needed drink, I spoke to another Muslim, president of his Islamic society, a sect separate to that of the larger Islamic Society, who seemed to understand my strange position and appeared to be just as distraught by the situation as the rest of us.
Perhaps the night ended with death threats, with fear and anger, with a questioning of what makes community and society. It was still this ending that reminded me of something bigger than that one event. No matter how angry that one small group of people, that one tiny part of British muslims today may be, they can never stop that feeling of solidarity between us as humans regardless of religious beliefs or lack there of.
They can never hide the brighter light of those who support the freedom of expression and recognise something deeper than simply the beliefs that someone holds and sees in them a fellow person – a respected and loved human being.
Arianna Khan was born in Australia, bred a Pakistani and is a Londoner at heart. She’s an English literature and film student with an love for travel, books and a good argument
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