Muslims' views of a world in turmoil

PUBLISHED: 14:45 26 October 2001 | UPDATED: 10:45 03 March 2010

TOMORROW Ipswich library will host a timely discussion about the Muslim perspective on Western life, and on the world events since September 11th.

Here, DEBBIE WATSON talks to one of the event's key speakers, and reports on society's vast cultural and religious divide.

TOMORROW Ipswich library will host a timely discussion about the Muslim perspective on Western life, and on the world events since September 11th.

Here, DEBBIE WATSON talks to one of the event's key speakers, and reports on society's vast cultural and religious divide.

WHEN the catwalk came alive for London's Fashion Week this year, it was just six short days since the nation had witnessed the horrific collapse of the World Trade Centre.

Baring their flesh and parading the very latest in designer chic, dozens of models were seen at their best – bringing a notable glimpse of life in our modern western world.

Theirs was a symbolic appearance which captured the very essence of today's Britain, today's Europe, today's developed world.

And yet, in that very same world, just days later as the New York debris continued to be moved, the eyes of the nation would fall upon the customary dress of an entirely different civilisation altogether.

Separated by distance but precious little else, the people of Afghanistan could be seen embracing a life so vastly dissimilar to that which honoured the scantily-clad models of London Fashion Week.

In lifestyle, in religion, and in dress, their existence could not have been in greater opposition to the events on England's catwalk.

It could not have been a more timely reminder of the blatant contrasts within our one world.

Most likely, it is those great cultural divisions, and the inherent lack of understanding, which have brought suffering and intolerance on the ethnic minority communities of Ipswich in recent weeks.

In the aftermath of America's tragedy, they have seen themselves victimised and abused because of how they look, what they wear – and the religions to which they are perceived to belong.

This, according to Muslim people, is a frightening and cruel reflection of how little we understand and empathise with each other's traditions.

"Unfortunately, the events in America have had quite a big impact on us here in Suffolk," said Mojlum Khan.

"I have been living in this county for twelve years, and I can honestly say, with my hand on my heart, that of all the places I have lived in throughout this country, Suffolk has been the place to be.

"I never experienced racism and I felt that this was a very tolerant part of the country – but that changed on September 11th."

Mojlum, who is a part-time research student, talks with disappointment about how an Ipswich mosque has been the subject of aggressive and hateful phone calls, and how members of his community have been victimised in the light of New York's ordeal last month.

He highlights the contrast in Western dress and says that that, along with the colouring of Asian skin, has been enough to incite great anger.

"It has been particularly difficult for practising Muslim women in the last few weeks," Mojlum commented. "While men don't always seem to stand out a great deal in western communities, there are very evident differences in how a Muslim woman dresses.

"They are very modest in the way they wear their clothes, and that does stand out against the western way."

He said: "Because the women are so visible, there have been a lot of cases of people making assumptions about their beliefs.

"I know that some of these females are feeling too concerned to go out now, and that is very unfair."

Throughout the western world, there has been a huge increase in cases of racism against Muslims, and against Seikhs, ever since September 11.

Traditional dress has made some communities a target, and has led to sweeping assumptions that those whose religion is Islam, must surely follow the ways and beliefs of terrorists.

Sadly, that disastrous assumption is very difficult for Ipswich's Muslim community to conquer.

"There needs to be far more education to help people understand what other religions believe, and to make people appreciate and respect the way people choose to live and dress," added Mojlum.

"I think, in some cases, there will have been Muslim women in Suffolk who decided to change their way of dress in recent weeks, just to prevent the feeling of being so vulnerable to criticism.

"But," he added, "That isn't the way it should have to be, and I'm sure there will also be a lot of women who refuse to change the traditions of their faith just because of the ignorance of others."

Like so many members of the Muslim community in Suffolk, Mojlum finds himself frustrated about such ignorance. That is why he has been so keen to speak in the 'Heart of Islam' talk tomorrow.

He wants to stress the fact that people should be able to live alongside each other, regardless of their beliefs and customs.

He said: "We are living in a global village, we can speak to each other on the other side of the globe, we can communicate whenever we want to, and yet we are divided by culture and religion.

"That is so wrong. It is so unnecessary and it is coming about because a few people are 'using' religion in an attempt to justify their actions."

"People like me are British citizens, but we have Bangladeshi roots," added Mojlum. "We are Muslim by faith but we are still very much British – we don't deserve to be told to 'go back where you come from', because this is where we come from."

Mojlum is understandably angered by such accusations and attacks – and he says that in his eyes Osama bin Laden is 'nothing but a terrorist' and that he is 'regarded as a pariah by the Muslim community'.

His only wish is that more people were able to fully appreciate the differences between cultures, rather than attacking that which they cannot understand.

"I find myself in a unique position of being able to traverse two words. I can empathise with those suffering in the Middle East, and I can understand the views of the Western world," Mojlum said.

"Unfortunately most people don't have the ability to understand the two perspectives, and I just hope that the new generation of British Muslims will help us toward bridging those worlds.

"I am an optimist and I believe that things can and will get better."


For information about the Ipswich and Suffolk Commission for Racial Equality.

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