Post-Paris attacks, I feared for the equally irrational and vile reactions to occur to both Muslims and refugees. I read with a heavy heart the unjust statements many politicians and laypersons made, and the fear many sisters have of stepping out with their hijabs. I remember being in Manchester during the aftermath of the Woolwich terror attacks, and being bombarded with emails and texts by well-meaning people who tell me to stay home, to go out only in groups, and to stay away from the public eye for my own safety. But I refused to hide – I still walked to the mosque 10 minutes away from my dorm for prayers, I still went to Curry Mile for briyani, and I still wore my hijab proudly to classes. I did all these because I knew that this was time to let love and light shine through, to let others know that these attacks do not define my faith, and to assure them that there is nothing about me to fear.
During my travels, I have met people who say to my face to take off my hijab. Once, an elderly man accosted me in a park, but all I could do in shock was to smile and walk away. I had to keep telling myself to send love his way. Because despite all the hate, I have met so many beautiful souls who’d seen beyond the hijab and embraced my presence. Who saw my thoughts and feelings as equal, and who saw that Islam is not to be feared. Who walked and explored places with me, and learnt from each other. I have seen people who choose love.
Just like Ashley Powys, who defended a Muslim sister while on a tube ride in London, and then wrote a beautiful reflection about it. Taken ad verbatim:
Something just happened on my tube journey home that I have to share. I got on the train as normal and sat opposite a young girl wearing a hijab. She smiled at me as I sat down, and nothing else was said. Just behind me, another guy got on the train and stood at the connecting door of the tube and began to stare at this girl. After she looked at him and looked away, he went nearer to her and said, “F**king p*ki”, quite loudly.
Obviously, that immediately got my attention.
He then got closer to her, and was reeling off abuse calling her things like “rag-head”, “terrorist”, “scum”, and saying that “her people” murdered the victims of the Paris attacks this weekend.
Without thinking, I automatically stood up and had to physically push him away from her, as he was aggressively close and was clearly terrifying her. He then luckily turned his attention onto me, calling me a “terrorist sympathiser”, among other things.
I sat down next to this girl, who at this point had tears in her eyes, and I asked her what her name was. She told me it was Yara. The man continued to shout abuse at her while I distracted her asking about her day, and other smalltalk topics, all the while making sure I was a barrier between her and this guy, so he didn’t have direct access to harm her
We got to my stop and I asked her if she’d like me to stay on until her stop. When I asked, tears started running down her face because of what she called “my tremendous kindness and bravery”. I don’t think that’s true. I just saw someone in need, and it was my human nature to do what I could.
At her stop, I escorted her off the train and up the escalator to where her friends were meeting her. I asked her if she receives that sort of abuse often, and to my shock she said she does. I gave her a hug goodbye, and told her in confidence that there are many more people like me, and she should never have to feel afraid in her own country. And this *is* her country, and her city.
What happened in Paris this weekend was an atrocity. What happens every day in the Middle East is an atrocity. And the only way to move forward and to recover is in solidarity as one people who won’t be terrorised.
And that’s what shocked me most about my journey. Is that not one other person on that crowded train stood up for Yara. They sat in silence and allowed that abuse to happen. That’s the problem with our society. Silence is our biggest weakness. We need to start speaking up and defending each other.
The terrorists in Paris attacked bars, restaurants, a stadium, and a concert hall. Places that by nature bring us closer together and unite us by our common connections. And that’s what these cowards don’t want. They want us to fight amongst ourselves. If we fight each other, we do half the job for them.
I love living in London because of the diversity of character and culture. Every day in my job I learn something new about people. But when we twist that diversity as a “threat” or an “invasion” we’re embarrassing ourselves and diminishing and insulting the cultures of others.
People like Yara don’t deserve abuse for the clothes they wear, the colour of their skin, or the faith they follow. Personally, in the stage of history we’re living in, I think it’s incredible for people like her to showcase their beliefs, despite the onslaught. Yara is much braver that I am. And she, and people like her, inspire me to stand up for what *I* believe in. And that’s an equal, kind, and understanding society despite religious and cultural differences.
After all, we’re strongest when we’re united.
I want us to send a message to Islamic State, and any other group who inspire fear and hatred. I want us to send the message that what they destroy, we’ll rebuild together. What lives they take, we’ll remember together. And what people they target, we’ll protect together.
Our best resource is each other. And we should be able to rely on that.
Please take care of each other. Both friends and strangers. You never know when you might need someone to do the same in return.
In a world filled with terror, we must be brave in shining light.
Today, more than ever, I am convinced that we have power to do what is right, to stand up for the weak, and to always be a blessing to others. Today, I start my day in faith. ❤
To Ashley and everyone like him, thank you.