• 14 Apr - 20 Apr, 2018
  • Shahed Sadullah
  • London Eye

The week I am writing about has been a mixed one in every sense of the term.
It started off by being more than just a little worrisome when Muslims and Muslim organisations up and down the country, including some Muslim MPs, received letters threatening that April 3 would be observed as ‘Punish A Muslim Day’. The letters were anonymous but Muslims in east London, the Midlands around the city of Birmingham and Yorkshire were among those who received it. The Day was supposed to award those who did something against Muslims on a point-based system depending on the action. Recommended actions included, pulling of a Muslim woman’s headscarf, to throwing acid on Muslims or even giving them a severe beating. Police were on alert on that day, especially in the areas where most of the letters had been received, and although the day passed without serious incident, it achieved its purpose of creating fright. There are many stories of Muslim women, particularly those who wear hijab, preferring to stay indoors on the said day and some even took the day off work.

Mosques were an area of special concern. Once again, it was people who were readily identifiable as Muslims, like women wearing hijab or burqa, or men in prayer caps near mosques, who were deemed particularly vulnerable. Hijab wearing mothers felt uneasy going to school to drop or bring back their children, especially following the case of a Muslim mother who was run over by a 21-year-old man in September last year after leaving her children at school. The lady in question was thrown up in the air with the impact and her assailant then turned his car around and ran over her again. She suffered severe fractures to her pelvis and spine and a broken leg. She was in hospital for three months and is still confined to her bed. Her assailant has been convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to a minimum of 20 years in prison.

But the fact that the ‘Punish A Muslim Day’ passed off without major incident was largely due to a counter offensive which was planned for the same day, April 3, by the name ‘Love A Muslim Day’ which encouraged acts like giving a Muslim a smile or inviting a Muslim to one’s home. The latter, in the UK, is supposed to be an act of great intimacy for homes here are not designed to take anyone in, even for a short period of time, as almost all socialising is done at the pub, which few Muslims frequent as the basis of socialising is over alcoholic drinks. The organiser of the event, Farouk Azam, who had arranged the day in Nottingham, said the event is an “opportunity for good people in Nottingham to stand together in solidarity, to show we can live side by side in a city we love”. Similar events were held in other parts of the UK including Bradford, Wakefield, Sheffield, Leeds and Edinburgh.

All this comes in the wake of a survey conducted by the National Union of Students (NUS) which found that a third of Muslim students in higher education institutions had experienced abuse or crime at their place of study, with most victims believing it was motivated by Islamophobia.

One in three respondents experienced some type of abuse or crime at their place of study, with 79 per cent of those believing it was motivated by prejudice relating to their Muslim identity. A third of the respondents said they were “fairly or very worried” about experiencing verbal abuse, physical attacks, vandalism, property damage or theft at their place of study, the main reason for this being their Islamic identity. As always, women who were visibly Muslim felt particularly at risk.

Death anniversaries of Martin Luther King and Z.A.Bhutto

While the ‘Punish A Muslim Day’ and its counter ‘Love A Muslim Day’ were going on April 3, April 4 came with the media focussed on the 50th death anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King, the American civil rights activist who was shot on this day while addressing people on a balcony of a motel in Memphis. The exact moment of his shooting, 6:01pm, was covered live on television as were many other events associated with the day. On the other hand, April 4 was also the death anniversary of Pakistan’s most charismatic Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, under whose premiership Pakistan got the constitution which still guides its political life and arrangements. That Mr Bhutto played a central role in shaping the Pakistan of the 21st century can hardly be denied, and yet, there was not so much as a word on any section of the British media to mark the day. A 50th anniversary is a special occasion and that may have been the reason why so much prominence was given to Dr King’s anniversary; but the fact of the matter is that with British involvement in Afghanistan having come to an end, British interest in Pakistan seems to have evaporated except for the occasional coverage of some human interest story from Pakistan, usually portraying the country in a negative way, or when Pakistan is playing England on the cricket field. The latter gives Pakistan its only chance of some positive coverage and fans are looking forward eagerly to the visit of the Pakistan team later this summer. It needs to be clarified here, though, that should that last phrase suggest that summer is already here, this perception needs to be dismissed immediately for nothing could be farther from the truth. •