Written by Umbreen Ali, Writer and Columnist for Asianimage.co.uk
A Muslim revert says the community has a lot to learn about how to treat newcomers to Islam.
Ben Moore, now known as Abu Zayn, converted to Islam seven years ago and has spoken out against racism, accusations of being a spy and becoming an outcast because of people’s cultural norms.
Abu Zayn’s journey towards Islam and subsequent conversion induced an adverse reaction from the onset. “When I converted to Islam I was still living in Dorset. There are almost no Muslims there at all.
“Yet after becoming a Muslim, the local community called me a traitor.
“The EDL took pictures of me on their phone and printed it on leaflets and distributed them in the town centre labelling me a ‘terrorist’ and an ‘extremist’.
Ben, as he was known aged 23, took his shahada in Bournemouth in a Syrian mosque which hosted an ample Arab community.
“They were so accepting and warm and welcoming, the complete opposite to Blackburn.
“The Muslim community in Blackburn have shouted at me and told me I’m a spy.
“If a spy was going to be put in a mosque in Blackburn, no authority would use a white guy with a ginger beard!
“There is a divided community in Blackburn in which there is a lot of cultural mistrust between the community themselves.
“It’s the reverts who inadvertently get caught up in the mistrust.
“There’s a big sectarian divide in Blackburn, between the Deobandi’s and the Brelvi’s.
“The various communities in Blackburn stick to their own mosques. They’re the ones who hold firmly onto racial bias.”
Reverts feel ‘isolated’ and ‘displaced’
He said there were only a handful of reverts in Blackburn, but hostile sentiments from the local mosques had led to him and other reverts feeling ‘displaced’ and ‘isolated’.
“The reverts here are put off going to mosques and would rather pray at home.
A newcomer to Islam speaks out about being white and Muslim
“We’re too white to be Muslims in Blackburn.
“As a revert I am expected to conform to Asian culture.
“A so called ‘mufti’ told me that I am not allowed to take anything from my English culture as it’s not Muslim culture.
“However, according to this man, we are allowed to take anything from the Pakistani culture because it’s a Muslim country.
“Therefore, I am supposed to dress in shawlar kameez and not jeans otherwise I am imitating the kufar.
“Yet the irony is, the men in Blackburn who wear the jubba, the shalwar kameez or the turban are the most arrogant people I have met.”
Abu Zayn said much of the prejudice he had encountered has taken place within local mosques in Blackburn, leading him to question the significance of Asian culture over religious etiquette.
“Before Ramadan, a Hafiz offered to teach me some Quran. I’m passed basic level in reading but he just helped me out with my Tajweed.
“As we sat in the Masjid reciting, the Imam, who can’t speak English, came over and stared at me for about five minutes before talking to the Hafiz in Urdu.
“The Hafiz translated the message and told me that the Imam wanted to inform me that I was being disrespectful to the masjid because I wasn’t wearing a hat.
“I can’t help but think, you have a revert in the masjid who is sat willingly learning the Qur’an and instead of giving me salams and offering me support and asking if I want help like an Imam should, you chose to just pick on me about an item of clothing!
“It’s very petty and pathetic.
“Wearing a hat is not a wajib anyway or a sin if you do not, but of course I could not sit and debate with the Imam.
“On another occasion, an uncle reprimanded me for wearing socks in the mosque. He said that the carpet will start to smell if I wear my socks. Despite the fact that there was no sign saying ‘remove your socks’ and unsurprisingly, everyone else present in the mosque was wearing socks.
“It feels like he targeted me because he thinks I’m dirty.”
Don’t call me a ‘gora’ I don’t like it
He feels that Imams find it difficult to communicate with the younger generation and with reverts.
“I approached an Islamic school where you can do an Alim Course. I was categorically told I was not allowed to study there because I don’t speak Urdu.
“So I asked to take Urdu classes. I was given another lame excuse to prevent me from doing that.
“And I know for a fact that there are Arab students that study there.
“But I wasn’t allowed because I’m white and they equate that with me being a spy.”
“Darussalam is the only mosque in Blackburn that has been accepting.
“Other reverts attend Darussalam too.
“Other mosques in Blackburn don’t have a curriculum for reverts, so there is no access for learning.”
As well as facing discrimination from local mosques, Ben says that the casual racism he has experienced from the Asian youth in Blackburn leaves him feeling disillusioned.
“My Pakistani friends still call me ‘the gora.’
“I find that term so offensive. I ask them how they would feel if I called them ‘paki.’
“They have patent double standards.
“There’s a guy that work in a local takeaway. He has a long beard and wears clothes that people would associate with religious men.
“Yet when I say ‘salam alaikum brother’ he always responds with ‘alrite Dave.’
“He is blatantly taking the p***.”
Muslims are just as racist towards other Muslims
However, it is not just subliminal racism towards him that he found alarming, but also racism between the Asian communities.
“Pakistani’s in Blackburn are more racist towards Indians and vice versa than they are to white people.