Trip to UK part IAssalam-o-Alaikum:
Recently, I had my first opportunity to visit the UK. The major part of my stay was in London, and most of my interaction was with Muslims. Since I've lived in the U.S. for most of my life, I was able to make some rudimentary observations and comparisons. Two aspects of my visit really struck me, one of which I'll address here and the other one I'll address later.
Muslims in the UK seemed much more open and confident about their Islamic identity than Muslims in the U.S. Perhaps more than that, Muslims, along with others, seemed to take pride in their "non-gora" status ("gora" is a South Asian term describing the "white man"; it can be used condescendingly, but need not be). Riding on the tube in London, seeing the "subjects" of all nationalities of the old British Empire all gathered in London, and realizing that they were re-claiming their space as equals, was a beautiful experience.
Of course, the point is not to present the UK is the modern paragon of racial equality. What seemed more important to me was the facility with which Muslims have entered all areas of social life, but have at the same time maintained a very strong Islamic identity, a lasting affinity with the culture and language of their parents or grandparents, and a commitment to never let off the hook any abuses or discrimination they suffer due to the system. Of these qualities, the language element was most surprising, although I'd heard anecdotal stories about it from other family members earlier in my life. Second and third generation South Asian Muslims were speaking fluent Urdu, or Punjabi or even dialects of Punjabi! It was a contrast with my experience in the U.S., where it's neither encouraged nor is it too fashionable to be too fluent in these languages of the Orient. In addition, the dividing line that separates American-born desis (a term for South Asians) from desis who come from Pakistan or India as students or workers in the US (who are condescendingly characterized as "FOB"-fresh off the boat) is to a great extent blurred in the UK.
My cousin Saleem and I chatted about this in London. He said something which seemed quite profound. He said, "In the UK, Muslims don't take crap from either their parents OR from the system (or from the "gora"). In the US, it seems like Muslims only do the former." We had also come to realize how much class background played a role in this. A majority of the South Asian Muslims who migrated to the UK peformed working class jobs. This is in contrast to a majority of South Asian Muslims who came to the US in the 1960s and 1970s as middle class professionals. Many of the South Asian migrants in the UK experienced racist and class oppression, and organized and fought back. Their children organized and fought back even harder, to the level where Saleem's point comes home ("they will not take crap from the system now"). The middle class hang-ups of many Muslim families in the U.S., associated with how we can present ourselves as "one of them" (them being White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Americans), never afflicted UK Muslims, thankfully.
I was told to be very careful at the airport in London because I fit the "profile." So it was a relief that BOTH at immigration as well as at customs, I was being profiled by two young women in hijab, respectively! Many Muslims in the U.S. like to talk about where else do Muslims have as much freedom as they do in the U.S. This claim was held well before 9/11. After 9/11 and the curtailment of civil liberties, one would think only the most foolish would persist with this line of argument. But judging from how much one STILL hears this mantra from American Muslim "intellectuals" . . . well, I'll let you be the judge! I think Muslim professionals in the US accumulating mucho dinero all their lives need to take a trip away from the "homeland" before they make such presumptuous remarks. The UK and South Africa would be good destinations for starters.