In a speech to the UK’s House of Commons in March 2017, actor and rapper Riz Ahmed, a Muslim, delivered a message about the importance of diversity and representation in the media:
What people are looking for is a message that they belong. Every time you see yourself it’s a message that you matter, that you’re part of the national story.
But when it comes to the “national story”, the one about Muslims is pretty grim. The pressing issue of Islamophobia is both fuelled and defined by the misrepresentation and stereotyping of Muslims in the media. Instead of challenging the images of the “oppressed” Muslim woman, or the violent Middle Eastern man that propagate our media, mainstream films often reinforce them. But films are also platforms with the potential to create change through alternative narratives. Our visual culture can play a crucial role in the way we understand the world. So the question is, what do our visual platforms tell us about our cultural perceptions of Muslims? In other words, how are Muslims represented in our stories?
With backgrounds in education research and tech respectively, Sadia Habib and Shaf Choudry have kickstarted a project that not only asks this question, but also strives to offer evidence-based answers. In an attempt to quantify the representation of Muslims, the duo has coined what they call the Riz Test. Inspired by the Bechdel test, (which challenges viewers to consider the way women are represented in whatever they happen to be watching) and Riz Ahmed’s speech, Habib and Choudry use five points to measure the depiction of Muslims in films and TV shows.
In their own words, the Riz Test: “is a project to measure the portrayal of Muslims in film and TV. What’s new is that we’re creating a data set that measures how poorly Muslims are represented.”
When Muslims make headlines, it’s invariably for the wrong reasons. The fuss over Boris Johnson’s burka joke is a case in point: he was making an argument in defence of Muslims, but was instead condemned for attacking us. Why the confusion? Because of how little our faith is understood.
Let’s start with the burka. Islam makes various demands of its followers, but — despite what you might think from the headlines — covering our faces isn’t one of them. Based on the media’s fascination with these strange and oppressive garments, you might wonder why any modern woman would ever choose Islam. So here’s my answer.
I’m a London-born doctor, raised in a Muslim family and now working in America. While Islam always played a role in my youth, it was never something which defined me: rather a list of ‘dos’, ‘don’ts’ and cultural traditions which governed various aspects of home life. It was during an assignment in Riyadh — where I was working as a doctor — that everything changed.
Of course when you’re living in Saudi Arabia, Islam is never far away — but at first its omnipresence only served to remind me of my failings as a Muslim. To the Saudis, I knew so little about my religion I was assumed to be a convert. Thanks to Saudi law (which mandates covering of the hair — something my parents never enforced), I might have looked more Muslim — but I certainly didn’t feel it. Take the Hajj, for example — the holy pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are expected to undertake once in their lifetime, if their health and their means allow. Although many of my colleagues had jumped at the opportunity to do it, it wasn’t something I had considered.
Despite its size and location, the Isle of Lewis off the northwest coast of Scotland occasionally makes national news in the United Kingdom because of its conservative religious practices—including the strict observance of the Sabbath by many on the island.
Lewis was the site of the UK’s last great revival—beginning in 1949 and carrying on for three years—and remains one of the most devout parts of the country.
Over the years, there have been controversies relating to the operation of ferries to the mainland on Sundays. More recently, a movie theater has opened seven days a week, while a leisure center maintains its Sunday closure. All have drawn media coverage with quotes from Christian spokespeople reported as being “outraged” by the proposals.
The latest twist in religious affairs has occurred in Stornoway, with 8,000 people the largest town in the group of islands. However, it doesn’t involve Christians outraged about Sunday openings, but that a Free Church of Scotland minister was not outraged by plans to build the first mosque on the largely evangelical churchgoing island.
I am your Muslim neighbour in London. As there are almost a million of us here (almost one in eight people), I would not think my presence here is strange at all. But it can be alienating to be a Muslim in London these days. While Muslims are a familiar sight, there are still some deep rifts between us and other Londoners. After the terrorist attack of 7/7 (nearly fifteen years ago!) and the recent spate of terrorist attacks, the deep suspicions towards us has increased tremendously. Added to that is the racist Tommy Robinson whose puerile approach to Islamic texts attracts the most intellectually bereft, the situation has actually become dangerous for us.
This is why I write this piece – as your Muslim neighbour. I would like you to know that we are human, just like you, with human failings. Of course, that is an obvious fact, biologically speaking, but I am speaking ideologically and from the angles of culture and civilisation. And being human means we do not express our identities in the exact same way either. There are a myriad of factors which influence our expression and you should know about this.
I will be completely honest with you – most of us know almost nothing about our faith. The reason for this is simple – we don’t have to know much about it. The Islamic priesthood – and make no mistake, that’s what they are: priests – scares with the idea that unless we are guided by a ‘qualified scholar’, we will be guided by the devil himself. This suits the ordinary Muslim just fine. He is content to remain focused on the performance of rituals. Let the ‘qualified scholars’ deal with the deep study.
International event aims to encourage mutual understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims.
An international event aiming to break fears and prejudices against Muslims and promote empathy has been launched in King’s Cross station in central London, the capital of Britain.
The event this week will see young Muslims promoting mutual understanding in public places in various countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, France and Austria.
‘Hello, I am a Muslim’
The Islamic Community Milli Gorus (ICMG) group said in a statement on Thursday that thousands of young Muslims living in Europe, Australia and Canada will take to the streets to deliver “their ‘Hello, I am a Muslim’ message to introduce themselves”.
“Contacting people individually is the most natural and the best way of promoting understanding and empathy,” the ICMG said.
“We have prepared the ‘Hello, I am a Muslim’ events to encourage mutual communication and cooperation between Muslims and non-Muslims,” said Kemal Ergun, the group’s president.
More than 500 mosques across Europe will also take part in the initiative, according to the ICMG statement.
The letters arrived in March. Sent anonymously to multiple communities, the letters with words in bold at the top declared that Tuesday, April 3, would become “Punish a Muslim day” in Britain.
Sent to homes, lawmakers and at least one business, the documents detailed a disturbing point-based system that would award attackers for acts of hatred and violence: 10 points for verbally abusing a Muslim; 500 points for “butchering a Muslim using a gun, knife, vehicle or otherwise.”
Police launched an investigation, urging communities to stand together.
A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police service told London’s Evening Standard that there is “no credible information” that any hate crimes would happen on Tuesday. By Tuesday evening, there were no news reports of hate crime incidents relating to the “Punish a Muslim day.”
At a time when hate crimes are on the rise and British Muslims are repeatedly feeling the sting of the xenophobia that surfaced during and after the 2016 Brexit vote, the letters caused distress, not just to those receiving them, but also in the broader Muslim community.
THE new Commission for Countering Extremism has been set up to fight opposition to fundamental British values including respect and tolerance for those with different beliefs.
As the founder of a charity that works to build a more peaceful and cohesive society, I have been bringing people together across religious divides since 1990. So why am I concerned about the creation of an organisation that is intended to play a key role in tackling those whose views threaten to tear society apart?
My parents taught me that Islam is a simple religion. It means ‘submission to God’ (‘Allah’ in Arabic), and those who accept this way of life wholeheartedly are called Muslims. We believe our religion is not a new one – it started with Adam, who was the first man. He was followed by 120,000 more prophets, including Moses, Jesus and finally Muhammad. All of them preached the same thing: submission to the will of Allah.
We believe in five things: that there is only one God and that Muhammad was the last prophet; praying five times a day; fasting for one month of the year; giving part of our wealth to the needy; and, if financially and physically able, going on pilgrimage once in a lifetime.
In addition, and this is critical, my parents taught me that I needed other essential qualities in order to be a Muslim – not necessarily a good one but simply qualifying for the name! These are trustworthiness, truthfulness, standing up for justice and equality between men and women, complying with the law of the land, respecting other people’s beliefs, loving children, honouring and looking after elderly parents and neighbours, and being loyal to any country you call home. These principles are central to the way of life of any true Muslim.