I can't remember who brought the subject up, or even how we got talking about it. He leant back in his swivel chair, ran his fingers through his moustache and said:
"Well if you look at history, at one point Black people were being persecuted in America, and there was the KKK and the civil war. Then a while afterwards, there was the holocaust in Germany as the Jews were being discriminated against. And now, as awful as it is, there's Islamophobia. It's unfortunate because it makes life much more difficult for you, as a Muslim. But maybe it's just your turn."
I sat back in my chair as I took in his words. They sounded very intelligent, very logical and thought through. But was it true? Is this just our "turn"?
I nodded and said: "For what it's worth, I hope you're right. I hope it is just our turn and it passes soon."
I was on work experience at the time, at a local hospital, when I was pursuing Medicine as a possible career. He, Dr Clark, was a cardiologist.
His words came back to me recently, as I remembered this incident. I mainly remember them at the gym, because I get all sorts of looks (mainly from men), being the only hijabi, fully covered girl in the gym. Most of the time I try to ignore it, but sometimes it can get annoying. This week, I went into the changing rooms in the gym and saw a girl with her straighteners plugged in, doing her hair. I laughed in my head and though "gosh, I've never seen that before!" I just found it really amusing. Then it occurred to me that people probably thought the same thing when they see me in the gym. And I was guilty of the same behaviour imposed upon me. The irony was quite baffling.
I was recently listening to a Radio 4 Programme about Islamophobia (which is still available and is a recommended listen- only 30 mins). It highlighted many issues facing Muslims today, especially our portrayal within the media. There are always negative, over-exaggerated stories. Even to the extent that the words Islam or Terrorist are buzzwords used to sell commercial newspapers. But does any of this help with community cohesion and integration?
Also, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi (Conservatives) made a recent comment that prejudice against Muslims is seen as "normal" and socially acceptable. Watch the video/read article here. She makes the point that people label all Muslims as extremists due to the actions of a minority.
Personally, I believe the Islamophobia all began post 9/11. Before then, when my Mum was growing up in Britian, there was a great amount of racism- against Pakistani's. But it was not an attack on religion. I'm always thankful that I live in the UK and not the US, I imagine it must have been harder for American Muslims post 9-11. At the time, I went to an all-girls Islamic School. Nothing major happened, but we used to get called "taliban" etc, and it was pretty difficult because prejudice was so rife. Just when we thought things had calmed down, 7/7 hapened, and we were back to square one. Now, at university, things are fine. I wouldn't say I experience any kind of "Islamophobia" now, other than in the gym, but I think that's more of a stereotype thing- because they're just not used to seeing a hijabi there.
I often do wish people would stop judging me because of a piece of cloth on my head. That's the only thing that physically identifies me as a Muslim. But it's all about educating. I've learnt that non-Muslims are much more tolerant when they are explained the truth behind the headlines. They are at the end of the day human, like us, and are actually very inquisitive. They ask about halal meat (mainly), why I wear the headscarf, why I don't date etc. At the end of the day, all they want are simple answers. And it's up to us to educate ourselves and prepare answers so that we're ready to educate them.
What do you think, is it just our "turn"?