Is Muslim to England as Coptic is to Egypt?
“To Be Muslim in England” is a brilliant little essay by the Egyptian novelist Alaa al-Aswany that appeared in al-Masri al-Yom 8 January 2013. The following translation comes from Oasis, a Roman Catholic interfaith web journal. It is worth reprinting here in full, even if I am violating someone’s copyright (yeah, write to me and I’ll take it down).
CAUTION: Do not read this unless you read it in full, to the last paragraph. Trust me on this.
To be Muslim in England means to perceive from when you are little that you are different, when you leave the class for the hour of religion, with your small classmates looking at you curious and bewildered, and you go to another classroom with a handful of Muslim pupils like you. From that moment you will prefer to stay with the other Muslim pupils and you will seek refuge in their company because nobody makes fun of your faith or treats you badly.
To be Muslim in England means that many people do not love your religion and do not practise it. It’s enough for you to say your name to give away your religion, to arouse often negative reactions that alternate between coldness and open hatred.
To be Muslim in England means that you are an accessory element, marginal, superfluous looked upon with suspicion: people seldom take any interest in your rights and your dignity. It means that you will be forced to study and work during your religious holidays as the state, to throw smoke in your eyes, just recognises you one feast day a year as an official holiday. For the state all the others are normal days, to which no particular importance is given. Do you remember how many times on the feast day you went to an important conference or a business meeting. How many times your children saw the joy of the feast day being ruined by an exam fixed on that day!
To be Muslim in England means to try your utmost in your studies even in the knowledge that you will not get the highest mark, even though it should go to you. On reading your Muslim name during the oral exams at university, the lecturer will go dark in the face and give you a lower mark than your classmates’. And even if you have the highest marks, the university administration will invent something to stop you from being assistant, because you are Muslim. Those who will deprive you of your right to be assistant are moreover church-goers who follow the precepts of their religion; they simply consider you an unbeliever who cannot enjoy the same rights as them.
To be Muslim in England means to get ready to emigrate at any time. You have to choose your children’s names and their course of study in such a way that it is in keeping with the country where you might be forced to emigrate to, should there be attacks by extremists.
To be Muslim in England means that you will never occupy the highest positions in the state. However capable you may be, you will never be President of the Republic or Prime Minister or the Chief of Staff or Head of the Secret Services. Why? Because you are a Muslim and some men of the majority faith consider that God has banned your appointment to the highest positions and also because the state in England, to be quite frank, does not completely trust you. It considers you as a potential traitor who could get in touch with the enemy at any time, as the enemy is of the same religion as you.
To be Muslim in England means struggling well before being able to build a mosque in which to practise your religion. The state and the extremists will take care of stopping you from building mosques. The state by making oppressive laws that make the construction of mosques extremely difficult and hinder the renewal or restoration of any part of them (even the toilets), without first having received numerous permits from the authorities. Add to this the fact that the extremists in England consider all mosque construction as an open attack on their religion and their dignity. As soon as you start building the mosque, hundreds of extremists will rush to attack it, they will burn the building and target you, your family and children, cursing them as infidels. All this will happen because you want to build a place where you can worship God. The police will let them do what they want, then will arrive late, to make out a statement when the people behind the crime have already run away.
To be Muslim in England means that at any moment you risk being expelled from the neighbourhood in which you live. It just needs the extremists to send you a death threat giving you one or two days to leave. Then you will have to take your family and children and leave your home to move somewhere else. And if you go asking the police for help, they will tell you that they advise you to leave your home for a while. ‘Honestly, we are not able to protect you’.
To be Muslim in England means that you are always at risk of massacres. While you are protesting for your rights coming out of the mosque together with your fellow worshippers, you’ll be shocked at the sight of army tanks. Then the extremists will swoop down on you and kill you. Or a shopkeeper will be having words with a customer in the area in which you live and as one of them is Muslim, the question will immediately change into religious war from being an argument about prices. Then the extremists will attack the houses of the Muslims and burn them and will perhaps kill you. As always the police will arrive late and arrest some of the assailants, but however many Muslim dead there may be, the murderers will get mild sentences or will be acquitted. If you are a Muslim in England and your angry star finds you living in a village or a slum, it’s enough for a neighbour to stop under your window and start shouting: ‘This infidel offends our religion on Facebook’. This will be the signal for your extremist neighbours to surround the house and attack you and your family chanting religious slogans. All this will happen despite the fact that you have not attacked their religion on Facebook; furthermore many of those who attack you haven’t the faintest idea of what Facebook is. After every fresh massacre the representatives of the state will come and cover the blood of innocent victims with nice words and loving kisses. They will say that the investigations will go ahead and that the criminals will not escape justice. Then they will declare that this painful incident will never manage to mar national unity and that the Muslims live in England in complete safety and harmony.
To be Muslim in England means to be used to hearing abuse hurled at one’s religion everywhere, on TV, in the streets, in the underground. You will see men of the majority religion declare that your Muslim faith is an error and godlessness and warn their followers not to have anything to do with you, not to mix with your family or to wish the divine mercy on your dead: Mercy is not licit on you Muslims because you are inexorably destined to Hell, ‘as your sad fate’. Moreover, they will prohibit their followers from expressing their wishes for your religious holidays because these wishes would be an implicit recognition by them of your religion, which instead is evident godlessness.
To be Muslim in England means seeing an extremist who destroys your Sacred Book in front of the TV cameras and who exhorts his nephews to urinate on them. You must accept these public offences. The extremist in fact will be released after a formality-trial. His supporters will gather outside the court to pour even more mockery and insults on your religion. In England anyone has the right to attack your religion, because you are Muslim. But if you criticise the majority religion, you will be immediately arrested and thrown into prison for many years with the charge of offence to religions. At that moment you will discover that in England by offence to religions is meant only the offence made against the majority religion. Offence against the minority religion on the other hand is completely allowed: anyone can denigrate it or make mockery of it or tear up its Sacred Book with no problem.
To be Muslim in England means having to ask a girl’s religion before falling in love with her, so as to avoid your love story ending up tragically. If you love a girl who is not of your religion, thousands of extremists will consider your love as a physical attack on their honour, which only blood can wash off. These extremists will attack your house and the homes of the Muslims in your neighbourhood and will burn them, will beat you up and perhaps kill you. All this because you dared to love a girl of their religion, even if they do not know the girl, even if they don’t care anything about her and even if in normal conditions, meeting her in the street, they could subject her to sexual harassment. But you are a godless Muslim and you will never be allowed to profane a girl of their religion.
To be Muslim in England will stop you from expressing your religious convictions in public places. On the underground you will find many passengers reading their Sacred Book very loudly. But if you try to do the same thing, you will find that the passengers will rise up against you and will beat you. You will find that the others swear in the name of the sacred things of their religion, but if you try to swear in the name of your god, those listening will get annoyed and will stop you from swearing. One word will be sufficient, ‘follow my advice’. You will find that the others put their religious symbols everywhere, in cars, terraces, hallways, lifts, but if you put your religious symbols where they do, you will be surrounded by looks of hatred and disapproval.
To be Muslim in England means seeing a sector of citizens ask for the application of their religious law to you; if you oppose by trying to make them understand that you have another religion and that therefore it is not reasonable that they apply the Law of a religion to you in which you do not believe, they will reply: ‘England is our country and we will apply our Law. If you don’t like it, go to another country’.
If you are a Muslim in England, you must accept that freedom of religion is one way. If a Muslim citizen converts to the majority religion, the state congratulates him on this, rejoices at this and smoothes out the way for him. But if the opposite takes place and a citizen converts to the minority religion, he must flee abroad as quickly as possible because if he were to stay in England he could be killed by the extremists in the application of what they consider a religious duty.
Lastly, If you are a Muslim in England, I pray you, do not let yourself be overwhelmed by grief for all these injustices, do not hate your country and do not leave it. Remember how lovely and tolerant our country used to be, England, before being invaded by extremist ideas supported by petrodollars. Remember that we in England have always lived together, and together we have eaten and drunk; we have spent times of happiness and difficult moments and we have defended our fatherland with our lives and blood. Remember that for every extremist there are ten tolerant people who have grown up in the respect of the faiths of others; they too suffer from the attacks of the extremists, just like you.
Do not leave England that loves you. Stay and defend it. Remain where you are and put your hand in ours to free our civilised country from the extremist barbaric tribalism that is trying to take over.
PS: dear reader, in the article that you have just read there is a deliberate mistake. Please replace the word ‘England’ with the word ‘Egypt’ and instead of ‘Muslim’ read ‘Coptic’. Replace the word ‘mosque’ with ‘church’. Then read the article again from the beginning in order to understand what it means to be a Copt in today’s Egypt. Last of all I hope that you will phone all the Copts that you know to wish them Happy Christmas.