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Saturday 25th March 2017
Encounter

Saturday, October 24th, 2015

Just shortly after the horrific attack on holidaying Britons in Tunisia, I was queuing in my local bank and found myself listening to a couple of chaps behind me in the queue discussing the attacks. I caught fragments of the conversation and one of the men was clearly frustrated with Muslims. “It’s always Muslims … it’s what they believe … they don’t condemn … why don’t they speak out … we need to do something …” you can fill in the blanks. To his credit, his colleague interspersed his comments with “you can’t generalise like that … I have Muslim friends… they are not all like that …”

I was caught in two minds as to what I should do. My mind was racing. Do I challenge him? What if he becomes really angry and becomes abusive and violent. He could be an EDL sympathiser and they are not known for their willingness to engage in reasoned debate. Should I just let this go and think nothing of it? I decided that, with all the negative media output about and against Muslims, I should at least clear up some of the things he was raising. So, as I was walking out of the bank I stopped by the two chaps and said to them “I overheard what you were discussing and if you don’t mind, I’d like ten minutes of your time to address some of your concerns about Muslims”. Both chaps were clearly stunned but acceded to my request.

I waited nervously outside. I really didn’t know how this would pan out and whether it would descend into a shouting match. By nature I don’t like conflict and confrontation, but I do have a sense of justice if I see or hear something that I feel is not right or fair. The two gentlemen approached me and we had a reasoned discussion about Muslims and Islam and how the vast majority of the victims of terrorism are Muslim and that we are all targets for them. I spoke about how ISIS and their ilk have no religious authority and Muslims in general do not support them and never could support them, and those that do we shun and give no credence to. I must admit, I did use some colourful and “robust” language in making my point about what I thought of terrorism and its sympathisers. In my defence, I spoke to my interlocutors in familiar parlance to set them at ease. I made the point about taking the example of a tiny minority of “bad people” (substituted for my Anglo-Saxon term) and using that to malign or demean the majority of good people going about their daily business, making a positive contribution to society and told him not to take everything at face value from the media. He mentioned to me that he was from a Romani background, and I stressed the point that someone like him above others should know how the media and people unfairly malign minority communities. This he agreed with.

All in all, I am glad that I intervened, as we parted with handshakes I said “no hard feelings, I totally understand why you have these concerns”, he said “thanks, you are alright, and have given me a few things to think about…”

We should not underestimate the genuine concerns people have over what is going on in the world. Simple human interaction goes a long way in allaying these fears. A lot of people have little or no contact with Muslims and they take their impression of Muslims from the media and from the internet. Both sources are awash with misinformation, the only way this can be undone is through personal interaction. This doesn’t mean preaching or sermonising or trying to explain to them the fineries of theology, but genuine and sincere human interaction.

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4 Comments

  • Dr S M IMTIAZ says:

    Impressed by your encounter.

  • Dr S M IMTIAZ says:

    You have discussed the matter patiently and politely this is the greatness.

  • Umm Muhammad says:

    Wow that was brave but surely effective.

  • Fuad says:

    Today I listened to a French philosopher being interviewed on Radio 4 following the terrible attacks in Paris. He said that Muslim communities should make a point of saying ‘not in my name’. Given that people do tend to generalise (that’s also a generalisation!) and Muslims are viewed with suspicion I think it would be good if the Paris attacks were condemned on this website.

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