Should Islam be ‘more British’?

A short while ago, I happened to catch a TV debate on the programme Sunday Morning Live (SML) entitled: “Should Islam be more British?”

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Initially, I was curious to see what was said and continued to watch. By the end of the show, I found myself feeling insanely frustrated, but at first, I couldn’t figure out why.

Then, it dawned on me, there was nothing authentic or accurate about any part of the debate. My main gripe was in the title itself.

The tone of the debate suggested that Muslims have suddenly appeared pretty recently and they are isolated and clearly distinguishable from the main population- enforcing an ‘us’ vs ‘them’ mentality. Should THEY integrate and become more British? I was under the impression that this myth would be debunked throughout the debate; I was wrong.

Some guests argued that Muslims should become more British. How? By looking ‘less Muslim.’ It’s almost as if showing any signs of religion makes people uncomfortable, so it should be hidden to make others feel better.

This is absurd as Muslims have been here for generations and we have already ‘integrated’! Not all people who are Muslim look or act the same. Not all Muslims wear the stereotypical headscarves and prayer caps or grow beards. There are probably many people you know that you may not think of as ‘Muslim’ because your idea of Islam and Muslims comes from negative media coverage.

Integration has already occurred. My mother is a devout Muslim liberalist; her best friend is an Indian Hindu Nationalist. They have constant debates ranging from the referendum to the concept of the welfare state and always disagree and have a laugh about it. When it’s one of the kids’ birthdays or someone gets a promotion, we’ll go out to eat together. The meat is halal, my mother’s friend doesn’t eat meat although her kids do, so sometimes we just keep it veggie.

Both of my neighbours are Jewish and when they visit Israel in the holidays, they leave their keys with us in case the alarm goes off, they direct their deliveries to our door and they ask us to babysit when they want some time out from their kids. Yes, we support the movement to Boycott Israel and Free Palestine, but politics and the Middle East do not really come up in our conversations and we get on just fine.

The lady who lives opposite us was a meal time supervisor when my siblings and I were at primary school. When her grandchildren have gone back to their parents’ home, she gives us all the sweets left in her cupboard. My mum makes scones and marble cake for her sometimes. She voted for the BNP and she’s concerned about the Chinese after reading the Daily Mail.

On TV, people who don’t agree, don’t hang out. But in real life we do. The people on TV seem to be so far out from the reality which surrounds us. The truth is that we’ve already integrated as you have to in order to get along in the community. Many of our colleagues, friends and even our family are non-Muslims and we get along just fine. Anyone who thinks differently, should actually meet some people who are Muslim and find out for themselves.

So often I see things on TV and I know they don’t represent Islam. However, it’s particularly frustrating when the chance for authentic debate arises- such as in the case of this episode of SML- and real discussion about the tone of the question is completely avoided. Even those who were supposed to be arguing that Islam doesn’t need to be more British seemed to be walking on eggshells. Rather than de-bunking the question, their contribution was simply along the lines of “some Muslims are good?”

I guess I just wish that someone on the Sunday Morning Live TV debate could have said that we have been here all along and integrated just as all the other minorities have, so we could have been provided with a dose of reality and realise how stupid the whole thing is.

Yes, there are problems within Muslim communities as there are in all communities, but being British isn’t one of them.