What does it mean to be British?

It’s a tough question, and one that’s been on the news agenda for a while now. Before the attacks that took place on 7/7, I had never thought about this question. Recently though, with a stream of programs designed to challenge the idea of ‘Britishness’, the question is in the public arena.

I’ve always referred to myself as a British Muslim, there’s nothing else I can be. I was born in England, my country defines me just the way my faith does. My ethnicity is Pakistani, so of course this influences a lot of the more trivial things, like types of clothes, cooking, music etc.
The way I think, the way I speak is all because I’ve been brought up in this country but within the framework of Islam. My faith has grounded me with a strong moral compass and what I’ve realised is in the last few years is that being British is very close to Islam. When Damon said this in ‘Make Bradford British’ last night on channel 4, it was even more apparent. Being British is not about getting drunk and going out on the pull on a Friday night. Being British to me means family, community, charity, etiquettes and manners. Damon, who is your typical English lad from Bradford, said Islam is very similar to the British values his grandparents used to tell him about. Like in every society there are negatives, and unfortunately the fact that the culture of binge drinking and promiscuity is normal shouldn’t cast a shadow on all the good things in British society.

When I first met my husband I thought he was a ‘coconut’. This is a word used by Asians to describe people who aren’t in touch with their Asian roots-brown on the outside, white on the inside. As I got to know him I realised that he may not be very ‘Pakistani’ but he has all the traits that a good Muslim should have, and these are also very English traits. Being generous, charitable, honest and compassionate are more important in Islam than having a beard or the length of your trousers or how many times you go to the mosque. Something that a lot of Muslims seem to forget, sadly.

A lot of Muslims have felt distant and segregated from the rest of society, since the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The concept of brotherhood and unity is a strong one in Islam. Every Muslim is your brother and sister, regardless of their nationality or ethnicity. When my country Britain invades Muslim countries on a false premise, it hurts. When civilians die, it really hurts, regardless of them being Muslim or not. Nick Clegg said this week, being in Afghanistan is safer for us and is safer for the Afghans. But not for those six soldiers who were killed. We still don’t know what they died for, what any of the thousands of Afghans and Iraqis have died for. Wasn’t the war initially to find Osama? It then turned into a mission to liberate the Afghan people. The same happened in Iraq, went in for one reason, and then the agenda changed to suit political needs. All this makes a lot of people angry, not just Muslims. But it’s things like this that have created barriers between Muslims and non-Muslims. I’m not saying that barriers didn’t exist before but I feel it more now, and that’s a sad thing.
A Muslim criticising foreign policy does not make them any less British than anyone else who disagrees with it. I love Islam and I love Britain, and it’s completely possible to do this, as they ARE both fully compatible.