"I now have my own experiences of going to charity dinners and sisters’ circles chills, the eco-mosque on Mill Road"Fatima Baig

Content Note: This article contains mention of abortion

When I was fourteen, I was sat in a religious studies lesson that was centred around the Abrahamic religions and their views on abortion. We’d gone through Christianity and Judaism fairly smoothly and with little student contribution – there was an exam the next week and despite it being a thought-provoking topic, there was no real discussion happening.

But when the slide moved onto Islam, the teacher called my name and asked: “Inaya, can you tell us more about the conditions under which an abortion is permissible in Islam?” Everyone turned to look, and all of a sudden, next week’s quiz had come early for me. I didn’t know the answer. I was fourteen and I’d never read up on the topic before. But even so, as the only Muslim in my class of thirty girls, I was expected to know.

“Being the only Muslim that a lot of my friends knew weighed heavily on my shoulders”

To an extent, I understand why she asked me. When there was confusion over the true meaning of the often-ill-defined word jihad, I answered my peers’ questions as best as I could. When a Muslim trainee teacher came in and used the words inshallah (God willing) and alhamdulillah (praise be to God) throughout the day, I gladly explained what they meant to my bemused classmates. I was the only Muslim in my class, and so to a degree I was best placed to answer their questions on some topics that came up. But no one asked Phoebe, who attended Mass every Sunday, the Christian view on abortion, and no one expected Clarissa, whose baptism was the week before, to be the spokesperson for all Catholics everywhere. I wasn’t the teacher and I didn’t know everything. When I reflect on the ‘representative’ role I was made to take on, I feel a little frustration. Just like everyone else, I was still learning too.

Outside of the classroom, being the only Muslim that a lot of my friends knew weighed heavily on my shoulders. I knew that in a town as white as the one I was from, once we’d left school the chances of my friends having another practicing Muslim friend again was slim – something that’s been proven true as they’ve left for university. I’d convinced myself that I was fighting this unspoken battle with the media, and their horribly twisted representation of Islam, to see which one of us left the most lasting impression of what Islam was. I was trying to push the true narrative of peace, love, and respect, against the media’s narrative of hate and intolerance.

“In the run-up to results day, I wasn’t just praying for the grades I needed, but also for me to find the Muslim community I needed”

I’d message my white friends ‘Eid Mubarak’ because I wanted them to have some level of awareness over why I wasn’t at school that day and wanted them to be curious about the celebration. I did my GCSE art project on stereotypes because I wanted there to be a piece of work displayed somewhere in a small corner of my school showing a smiling Muslim woman in a bright coloured hijab, her wrist filled with bangles and her hands covered in henna to counter the media’s depiction of oppression and obedience that filled our TV screens and newspapers. When a girl in my year said in her politics class that mosques should be turned into churches or hospitals, I took myself to the head of sixth form asking about the disciplinary policy because I wanted her to be told, from someone that she would listen to, that this kind of ignorance was damaging.

When my eldest sister left for university in London, she’d come back each holiday with new stories about her Islamic Society: charity dinners, ‘Explore Islam’ weeks, and sisters’ circles. In many ways, she made me want to work harder. The way she made university life in London sound – diverse, with a vibrant Muslim community – impelled me to think about the efforts I needed to be making to get there. Asides from Cambridge, the other four universities I applied to were in London, with this community I wanted to be part of firmly in my mind.


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In the run-up to results day, I wasn’t just praying for the grades I needed, but also for me to find the Muslim community I needed. I had to find people who would understand me, but also wouldn’t judge me, who recognised that I might not be as far along as they were on their religious journey and accepted me just the same.

A year later, I’ve found the community that I’d been craving. I now have my own experiences of going to charity dinners and sisters’ circles chills, not to mention the opening of the eco-mosque on Mill Road. I never imagined myself having friends I’d go to jummah (Friday prayers) with. I never thought that I’d be on a rota with five of my friends to organise an iftaar, nor did I anticipate friends who would pray for me whenever I was going through personal difficulties or worries.

Sabr means patience. My dad always says I need to have more of it. He would always say: “Allah is with the patient.” I won’t say that it didn’t take long, because it did, and I definitely can’t say that I was patient throughout, because I wasn’t. But when I needed them, Allah gave me the Muslim friends that I’d been praying for.

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