Sadiq Khan elected Mayor of London – are Muslims finally ‘British’ enough?
It is important to recognize that integration is not strictly limited to cultural integration but perhaps more importantly to economic integration.
Muslims make up 4.8 percent of the British population, yet a survey in 2013 showed that 62 percent of the British population agrees that the country will lose its identity if more Muslims live in Britain. Public attitude toward Muslims in Britain are sometimes troubling. It seems that no matter how hard Muslims try at integrating and however successful they become on cultural, social, and economic levels, the level of public discourse remain the same.
Last night, Sadiq Khan, the son of an immigrant bus driver became the first Muslim Mayor of London. This follows a series of significant developments over the past two weeks, including a Muslim woman becoming the first black, Arab Muslim to become President of the National Union of Students (NUS) in the UK.
In the same week, Nadiya Hussain, a headscarf-wearing Muslim woman, baked the Queen’s 90th birthday cake. Despite being positive role models to young people of any minority, and despite shedding a progressive light on what it means to be Muslim in Britain, public sentiment continues to be worryingly negative.
Muslims in Britain are continuously accused of not trying hard enough to integrate. Sadiq Khan, Nadiya Hussain and Malia Bouattia are examples of Muslims integrating into economic, cultural, and political spectrum of Britain. The fact also remains that people cannot integrate if they are not being accepted.
Malala garnered support, what about Malia?
What makes it so difficult for Muslims to integrate is not the lack of will but the difficulties on the way. Additionally, Muslims don’t receive sufficient help in the process of integration. The Western world is quick to jump on the bandwagon and support Muslim woman if they have been oppressed. Such was the case of Malala Yousafzai, who was attacked by the Taliban on her way to school.
It is important to recognize that integration is not strictly limited to cultural integration but perhaps more importantly to economic integration.Yara al-Wazir
Yet if a Muslim woman paves her own path and makes her own way, just as Malia Bouattia did, she is faced with scrutiny and is attacked on her personal beliefs.
The media described her as an ISIS sympathizer because she stood against vilification of all Muslims. It seems that a Muslim woman is worthy of support if she needs to be saved, but not if she is strong enough to save herself.
The vilification that Muslim women often face means that for every two steps they take, the media and society set them one step back. Clearly, when Muslims make headlines, it is either swept under the rug or is made to backfire, as it did in Malia’s case. Therefore it is important to recognize that integration is not strictly limited to cultural integration but perhaps more importantly to economic integration.
Muslim-fueled economic integration
According to a report by the Muslim Council of Britain, Muslims are trailing in socio-economic indicators, except when it comes to being students. A total of 21 percent of Muslims in Britain have never worked, compared to the UK average of 4.3 percent. As a statistic, this may seem shocking. Yet numbers indicate that change is indeed coming and 18.2 percent of the Muslim population in Britain is in full-time education, compared to the UK average of 8.2 percent.
Contextually, if these students are to be offered equal opportunities in employment once they graduate, then they can improve the statistics behind the economic participation of Muslims in Britain. Muslims have been living in places such as London for decades. They employ 70,000 people and own 33.6 percent of small-to-medium enterprises in the city.
Perhaps the biggest struggle for Malia Bouattia, Nadiya Hussain and Sadiq Khan wasn’t that they are Muslims but that they are Muslims in Britain. Nevertheless, Muslims will and should continue to try hard regardless of the challenges on the way.
Now that London, arguably one of the world’s strongest capital cities, has a Mayor who happens to be Muslim, perhaps their struggle to integrate in Britain will be acknowledged better.
Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir