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“Raghead”

By Lamees Hafeez, UK.

I am a proud Muslim Woman, not a “raghead”- though appearances may be deceiving considering I have just cycled the past 4 miles in a very rainy Manchester, on a not so flat road, with the wind in my face. But then, the lad who I passed just a block from my home who shouted this obscenity (yes, that is what it is) at me as I cycled past minding my own business engrossed in my ipod, was not alluding to my dishevelled appearance now was he?

I decided to write this little excerpt because this is the second time someone has so abused me in the past week and guess what? Despite what you may think, it hurts. It hurts deeply.
It is not as though I have not been a victim of racist “cat-calls” of this nature in the past. In fact it has happened to me many times and, as some of you may know, I have even physically had my scarf removed on one occasion, but as I get older it actually seems to hurt more. And surely, twice in one week is quite ridiculous, no?

Maybe, it’s because up to this point I had only ever taken public transport (the regular student bus routes up and down Oxford or Wilmslow Road which are always packed to the rafters) or been sheltered in my car, and public crowds do tend to make people a little ashamed of acting in certain ways (generally). But now, there I am, alone, on my bike, an easy target. Am I reading too much into this?
I’ll tell you one thing, it has to be the most cowardly act there is. I’m a single girl and there he is, a large lad surrounded a group of his friends- coward. I cannot even call him up on it, for fear of the reaction it will spawn.
This is what always annoys me the most, that I cannot or will not say anything back. When I get home, I usually think of a million things to say to the person that will make me feel better and also superior but the truth is, I will probably never say any of those and that’s because (alhumdulillah) I am trying to follow in the footsteps of the Prophet (PBUH) and am constantly reminded that he has set us an example, of dignity and humility and that he was the best of examples. There were many times when he was abused by people, had rubbish thrown at him, had rocks hurled at him, and yet he maintained his good character and did not stoop to their level and this is what we should aspire to emulate.

So, instead (although I am no saint), I often go about making excuses for these guys: the social circumstances, the lack of education, the lack of exposure, the lack of opportunities to expand their minds, the lack of any opportunities etc etc. What I find sad is that yesterday as I approached that group, my instinct was to steer away from them, but I realised that I was judging them on the way they looked and on pre-formed ideas influenced by media and experiences and that as individuals I shouldn’t judge, so (as I have done before) I tried to shed these and continue, only to have them reinforced.
I have worked with many young people who dress and talk in a similar way and would so often have been stereotyped as a certain kind of person, and so have tried to shed these judgements because they have all been lovely people. But then these guys come along and just perpetuate the idea of “the cult of hoodies”. Sad.

In my opinion, it comes down to a lack of respect. This is not a multi-culturist problem as many of our politicians like to put it down to. Extremism, anti-social behaviour, isolated communities, rise of EDL types, these have more to do with social and economic problems, inner-city deprivation, more than anything else but that’s another article I have already written.
The prejudice and anti-Muslim behaviour I have encountered, yes, has a little to do with communities not mixing and therefore not getting to know each other but it has A LOT to do with a lack of respect and a dehumanisation of the “other” and here the “other” happens to be Muslims. This is through a variety of things, the media, politics, social groups and in some cases the Law itself.
Some will not like the comparison but I know many others will agree that in essence it is the same as was the case of the Jews for much of history. It is about the dehumanisation of one part of society, whom we then do not empathise with as fellow humans or see as individuals.
It always reminds me of the line from the Merchant of Venice when Shylock asks, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?” The speech always brings tears to my eyes. Is it not true of Muslims too? Are we not all humans together, as equally prone to hurt and joy?

The truth is we need change. We need to open people’s eyes and so I have a suggestion. I wish to show people that Muslims are like anyone else, we hold a variety of jobs, roles, likes and dislikes: music, films, hobbies, and politics- A visual campaign showing Muslims in their considerable variety. This is an idea I wish to work on further and I hope that I can share it with you in the future.
So, I guess, in a way that lad did me a favour. In a way, he inspired me. There is a hidden blessing in everything.

Lamees is currently studying a for a Masters in Humanitarianism and Conflict Response and wishes to pursue a career in International Development and community relations. She has far too many interests than are good for her but they include religion, politics and movies!

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