Integration Vs Isolation

Yesterday, my four-year old nephew, along with his dad, spent the day giving out food and Ramadan Mubarak cards to friends and neighbours to teach them about Ramadan and why we, as Muslims, fast.For me, this is pivotal, to not antagonise and isolate yourself and your religion from your community, but to integrate and offer knowledge and insight.

As a Muslim, I do not celebrate Christmas, rather it becomes a stress-free, debt-free, well needed break come the end of the year. However, my nephew often talks about Christmas and relays stories shared by his friends. It’s hard to ignore his sense of isolation. As a child my parents always assured me of our traditions. So, we took it upon ourselves to do the same with my nephew, allowing him to celebrate our traditions, with his friends, just as they do with him, and he couldn’t have been happier. Here we had a four-year old child, unfamiliar with prejudice and judgement, speaking of ‘his Christmas’ — Eid — with so much enthusiasm to tiny untarnished humans alike, and my god it is a beautiful thing to witness. Simple understanding and acceptance, it almost seems alien.

Far too often I see people, whether Christians, Muslim or Jewish, distancing themselves from their peers because of the fear of being misunderstood or shunned, instead turning to their ‘own’ for comfort and solace. It’s something I completely disagree with. We are so afraid to be different we cling on for dear life to what is familiar. I think its vital to integrate yourself and share your experiences, not because theres a need to ‘fit in’ or defend yourself, but because it is a part of us. Religion doesn’t belittle a person, nor does it single you out. Yes, there is a good proportion of society that unwittingly judges a certain religion based on the actions of a disillusioned minority. Why? Misconception. And this misconception, more often than not, is created from poor communication.

It’s human nature to distance oneself from the unknown, we all do it. But the moment you think yourself to be ‘different’ or ‘misunderstood’ is the moment you become the unknown. Offer insight, offer explanation for what may seem alien to some. My boss once asked, “Does Islam hinder your career and work life?”, a common misconception with women and Islam. I kindly explained that it in fact encourages the seeking of knowledge and the want of a career. Her reaction was one of bemusement, obviously expecting a different answer. Maybe a “Oh, my Muslim family are different, we’re more open, we’re not your baby popping, oppressive, don’t-show-your-ankles kinda Muslims.” I’m not a ‘modern’ Muslim, I am a Muslim and I get freedom and empowerment from my religion, despite what the Daily Mail and other shameless hacks regurgitate.

Similarly, a friend from university once innocently stated, “You’re not like the Muslims that were in my school, they never talked to anyone else.” Something I’ve heard more often than I felt comfortable. I have always made my friends, who are predominantly Atheist and Christian, aware of my religion and my beliefs. Their response is more than I ever expected. They refrain from eating in front of me when I am fasting. They refrain from consuming alcohol around me. More than anything, they respect my beliefs and encourage me to do well by my religion. And the beauty of it all? I never asked for such a response. They did it out of respect. It is as simple as that.

We undermine humanity and basic compassion. We undermine the power of knowledge. There’s no guarantee of acceptance or tolerance, but there’s no harm in trying. We’re all human, don’t underestimate such a simple fact.

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