Like many people in the UK, I was brought up in the traditional Christian way. I was baptised, made my first Holy Communion in what felt like a wedding dress and celebrated Christian holidays which included being confused as to what the correlation was between Jesus dying on the cross and me eating egg-shaped chocolate. However, I personally no longer believe in Christianity. I am confused as to what I believe but appreciate different aspects of different religions (especially Buddhism) and am a firm believer that what you put into the universe, you get back. I see myself as more of a humanist than anything else and don’t follow a religion but more so spirituality, my own story being created rather than rules I must obey, and that there is no certain higher power, but there definitely is a power. Nevertheless, I still have a lot of respect for other religions and enjoy the idea that we live in a multi-faith society where people have different ideas and experiences when it comes to religion.
 The vast majority of what I know about religion has been due to what I have discovered myself, however when all I learnt in RE that wasn’t to do with Christianity was that Muslims don’t drink, and when the only time you see a headline to do with Islam it’s about ISIS, it creates a lot of misconceptions about the religion. Hate groups like ‘EDL’ and ‘Britain First’ have dominated and manipulated too many young minds on social media and has led to the ignorant view that Muslims are all extremists when in fact less than 0.001% of the 1.57 billion Muslims in the world are actually part of extremists groups, and even then some would argue these extremists are not true Muslims.
 For this post, I have decided to interview a Muslim girl in my sixth form named Noor Seyid to give you readers a better understanding of what this religion entails.
 What does it mean to be a Muslim in modern society?
As a proud Muslim, I believe that being a Muslim in this modern society, the world that we live in now means that I have to be brave. Brave to show the world that I would not change my priorities and beliefs for anyone and I am willing to show physically, by wearing a hijab that I am a Muslim. The reason I say brave is that of the way Islam is portrayed in the media. The media does nothing put spread insignificant false news and so-called ‘facts’ about Islam when in reality they know nothing at all. Unfortunately, the majority of the public actually believe the stories they see on the news, when in fact it is all for publicity. Me being a Muslim is to show that I live in accordance with the will and pleasure of Allah. Being a Muslim woman in this society seems to be exceedingly hard, this is due to constantly facing challenges, first of knowing what Allah wills or desires not only for humanity in general but also for oneself in particular. I find it crazy the fact that the society that we live in, is so broad, especially with the development of technology and how diverse it is becoming each year, yet humanity has disappeared like as if it was never there beforehand.
 What are some of your beliefs and views? For example, what holidays do you celebrate?
In Islam, there are 5 pillars, in which one of them is to fast in the month of Ramadan. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Every day during this month, Muslims around the world fast from sunrise until sunset for 30 days. This is where Muslims abstain from food, drink and any other physical needs during the daylight hours.
Ramadan is the perfect time to purify the soul, refocus attention on God, and practice self-sacrifice, Ramadan is much more than just not eating and drinking. During this blessed month, Muslims are called upon to use this month to re-evaluate their lives. Me alongside other Muslims are to make peace with others who have wronged us, forgive everyone for whatever they may have done to us, and strengthen ties with family and friends and to keep away from bad deeds.
When non-Muslims ask me ‘How can you cope with not eating all day?’ I always respond with it is as though you’re putting yourself in shoes of those who are not as fortunate as you. Our whole body is to be restrained from any evil. We must all restrain our eyes from looking at unlawful things, our tongue from backbiting and gossip, our hands must not take anything that does not belong to us, our ears must refrain from listening to idle talk, our feet must restrain from going to sinful places. In a way, our whole body observes the fast. Fasting is not just physical, but also our total commitment to our body and soul to the spirit of the fast. I do not find this difficult because I know the benefits of fasting is astounding.
Ramadan is beautiful as it allows me to purify myself, both physically and emotionally, ask for forgiveness for myself as well as others. We fast to help us remember how grateful we should be and how privileged we actually are, this is what has helped me to stay grounded and humble.
After Ramadan, we celebrate Eid. In which everyone wakes up early, wear their new clothes and go to the Mosque to pray the Eid prayer. After that, we go home to the big feast that is prepared for the whole family. After this, the family either goes out to visit other family members or they stay if they know they are expecting guests.
 How does your religion benefit you or what does it teach you?
Islam benefits me in every way possible. Islam means peace. Islam teaches me to love others and to respect everyone no matter their culture, race, beliefs or backgrounds.
People may think that I have always been religious and righteous, but no, when I was 14 years old I started researching and finding out more information about my religion, that I knew nothing about. I became attached to it very quickly. I genuinely believe that if I did not have this amount of trust in God, I would not be the person I am today. Islam has taught me to be patient at all times, whether that be an illness within the family or failing in an exam. Islam has taught me to forgive others, no matter what that person has done. If God is willing to forgive everyone then I can forgive them too.
Islam has taught me to be good to others, to care for others, to help those in need, to give to charity, to respect everyone’s religion and beliefs and to love my parents. I could sit here for days and I still would not be finished with the things that Islam has taught me as it is endless just like our endless blessings that we have been blessed with. I live to please the Creator, not his creation.
Some people associate the hijab with oppression, however, I believe telling someone what they can and cannot wear is the real oppression. What does the hijab mean to you? Why do you choose to, or not to wear it?
September last year I decided I wanted to wear a hijab. One of the best decisions I have ever made. It was the first day of sixth form and my parents did not know I wore a scarf that day until I got home, I don’t understand how people can possibly say that I am oppressed. I have never since that day wished that I didn’t wear a hijab. One of the main reasons why I chose to wear a hijab is because no one knew that I was Muslim and when I told them that I am they would get shocked. I wanted people to know that Islam is my religion without me telling them. No one in my family, including my parents, has ever told me to wear a hijab, I have never been forced to do anything, and this is because nothing is forced upon you in Islam, it is forbidden. I believe it is up to the person themselves whether they feel oppressed or not, and if they do it is their own choice to do something about it. If a Muslim girl is forced to wear a hijab, it has nothing to do with the religion, it is to do with the culture. Wearing a hijab is one of the best decisions that I have ever made. Hijab is important to me because every day it reminds me to be kind to those around me and if anyone insulted me, to not hold grudges against them as I am not the one in wrong. It helps me to be an open-minded person and keeps me close to God.
How do you feel Muslims are presented in the media?
This is a daily discussion for me and my friends. Every day we hear news about a so-called ‘Muslim terrorist’ and how bad they are and what they are doing to incident people. Firstly, let me just state that in the Quran it says that ‘those who kill do not belong to any religion’. I find that Muslims are always labelled as terrorists, people need to understand that anyone can be a terrorist. A terrorist is someone that goes to another country and kills innocent people. In places like Palestine, Syria and Yemen, most of them are Muslims and when they get invaded by soldiers from other countries they are obviously going to protect their land and people, yet they published on the news that they are the bad guys.
 In another verse it is stated ‘if you save a man, it is as though you have saved the whole of mankind, if you kill a man, it is as though you have killed the whole of mankind’. I don’t feel like that quote needs to be explained as it is very clearly the message that it is saying. No one deserves to be killed, no matter what they have done.
I do not like how media portrays Muslims because it is completely wrong. I think it is pathetic how a person can be so close-minded and ignorant to label a whole community as a terrorist just because what one person has done. The media never tells the truth, I say this to everyone, if you want to know the truth, read books and do your research accurately. Muslims are always portrayed as being bad, the bad people. Yes, there are some Muslims that are bad, there are many Muslims whom no absolutely nothing about Islam, they do not pray, they do not fast, they do not read the Quran and they do not follow any of its teachings. Those are the bad Muslims. What people need to realise is that there are good and bad people everywhere in the world, no matter what their religion, beliefs, culture, race, ethnicity or backgrounds are. We are all human, I make mistakes and others do too, however just because something that I have done wrong is worse than what someone else has done, does not mean I am the only one who sins, no one is perfect.
I would love to educate people about Islam because I know the truth about it and how pure and easy it is. That is why whenever someone asks me something regarding Islam or they want to know if something is true or not, I always answer their questions. I love when people ask me questions regarding my beliefs and my background, it shows how open-minded they are to know other things.
Could you discuss any discrimination or prejudice you have faced? Or any stereotypical views people have against Muslims?
When I first came to the UK in 2008, there was no much discrimination that I had faced and I think this is mostly due to the fact that I never used to wear a hijab and not many people knew that I was Muslim. However, a few times I was stereotyped as a ‘Paki’. I am not from Pakistan, nor do I speak Urdu, even if I was from Pakistan I would be proud. I don’t understand how people can call me such names as though I will be affected by them. When something like this occurs, I feel ashamed and embarrassed, not for myself, but for the people that are so oblivious to the truth, the ones who have been brain-washed by the news.
Since becoming a hijabi, I have definitely noticed more discrimination and racism against me and my friends. I have been discriminated against both verbally and non-verbally.
It was just a normal day, everything was as usual, until when I got on the bus to go home with two other friends. The bus was full but I still managed to get a seat. After a short while, me and my friend noticed some older women get on, so we stood up and offered them our places. My friend got off at the next stop and two men too, I made room for them to go past me, when one of the men elbowed me, hitting my back. I was in shock. I told my other friend if she saw what he did, she said no but she noticed him staring with a grin on his face when he got off the bus. I told her what he done and she said why didn’t you hit him back or at least said something to him. I said if I hit him back, then I would be no different to him.
A week after this occurred, there was a young boy in my school, since me and my friends came to this school for sixth form, this boy has always made racist comments towards us. We never said anything up until recently. We told the teachers what had happened and everything that he said. The teachers were in shock as they did not know that racism and discrimination were occurring in their school. They caught him on CCTV, and they said he will be excluded from school. We did not want him to get excluded as it would very badly affect his education and future career, so we informed the teachers that we simply want to talk to him, to get an idea of why he was telling us to ‘flee back to Syria’ or ‘You don’t belong here’, we ended up talking, discussing and explaining to him for almost 2 hours and it was one of the best decisions and experience of my life, because the outcome was so amazing. The reason as to why we wanted to speak to him is to inform him about the true purpose of Islam, how anyone in the world can be a Muslim, not just those in the Middle-East. Now that I know he has nothing against us and it was all due to the environment that he grew up in and the people around me, the typical stories he would hear about Muslims, it was all a big misunderstanding, and we don’t blame him because he is just a kid. Now when I see him around the school, instead of him giving me a dirty look, he smiles. This is better than anything I could ask for from him. Peace.
If there is one thing you could say to someone who doesn’t know much about Muslims, what would you say?
There is, of course, many things that I would tell a Non-Muslim, but one thing would be to not get culture and religion mixed up because they are two completely different topics. Often I would get asked questions from those that are curious to know if my marriage is fixed. I find this very humorous as there are young 14-16-year-old girls in the UK and around the world getting pregnant, but this seems to be the norm and something casual, however, when a person thinks of a Muslim women having to be forced to get married, they think it is the end of the world and how their lives are ruined, when in fact what they say is nowhere near the truth. If someone is forced to get married, it is to do with the culture that they are in, because in the Quran it is stated that it is forbidden to marry someone you do not love.
After asking Noor to be a part of this blog, I was delighted to discover that she was so excited to do it. I was worried about doing this blog post as I thought it could be a sensitive issue but I am so glad I decided to as it has opened my eyes to another world and way of life that people in my own school community follow. With education and asking questions like this, I can’t see how a multi-faith and multi-cultural society can go wrong; after all, conflict only arises from lack of understanding. Hearing Noor’s views and information about her religion has been a pleasure and even inspirational as to how we should live our lives as peaceful individuals. I don’t know much about the Muslim community but I’m glad that it’s made up of people like Noor and her friends, and not what the mainstream media presents as a Muslim.

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