Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | ‘British Muslims are a diverse people of many cultures’

‘British Muslims are a diverse people of many cultures’

Faiza Shaikh, 34, postgraduate law student from Bradford

Tuesday November 30, 2004

I think there is a such a thing as a Muslim community, but it is much more complex than the one-dimensional image the media present. All Muslims are portrayed as male, Asian and about 35. We need to be portrayed for what we really are, a diverse people of many cultures, and of personal cultures within that. If the media stick to their limited depiction, then most people will cling to the narrow view they currently have.

For instance, someone told me recently [that] Muslim women are not exposed to business. I’ve also been told that infidelity is acceptable to Muslim women. These were both statements, not questions. What presumptions are they working on? More importantly where are they getting their information?

The government must also stop being so deliberately provocative. On the one hand, they say they understand the problems British Muslims face, but on the other, they’ve held people without charge at Belmarsh prison. Stop-and-search incidents have risen and wearing a beard is an invitation to be harassed at airports. The entire community has been demonised, and the government’s actions have increased the sense of vulnerability among many Muslims. They have also opened the floodgates for people to say the most outrageous and racist things without fear of being challenged.

There are certain organisations that portray themselves as speaking on behalf of all British Muslims. They are entitled to their views, but I wonder how representative they are. Who are they? And where do they come from? The round table needs to be larger.

For instance, when the subject of wearing the hijab in French schools was debated earlier this year, I saw a nice young man talking on behalf of Muslim women. Not once did I see a woman talking about it. And there are a lot of good women who could be more pre-eminent and bring a different perspective, for instance Baroness Uddin, Khalida Khan, the director of the women’s group An-Nisa, Shaheen Ali, the human rights lawyer, or Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel peace prize winner, to name a few.

People often talk about the Muslim woman, but I wonder who they are referring to. If we carry on talking about Muslim women as one monolithic group, we will only have one-dimensional answers and you end up marginalising a section of the population.

Interview by Gwladys Fouch�