An Article inspired by my father.
Parung, 26 June 2017
It is necessary to refer back to my background before reading this article. I was born in a village in West Java, Indonesia. I completed my education in Indonesia. I went to Islamic boarding school for six years and finished a bachelor degree in a technology university in Bandung. In September 2016, I went to London to pursue a master degree. This two-years course is the longest period as well as the furthest place I’ve ever been away from home. I will share a glimpse of life as a Muslim in places I visited, especially in London, based on my experience. Some subjectivity might occur, however, I tried to be as objective as I could.
Migrants in London
London has the biggest number of migrants all over The UK. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is the first Mayor Muslim in Europe. He is a British Pakistani born in Tooting, South London. London is always flooded with migrants, way back before the New London Bridge has built. It is also a popular tourist destination among Asians despite the complex visa requirements to visit this country–Please note that the permission to enter The UK is excluded from Schengen permit ‘package’. The attraction of metropolitan city which offered the classic ‘better future’ promises.
The Migrant Observatory of Oxford University noted that the population of migrants in London is always growing over years. Most of them are Polish followed by the Indians in the second place. There are also people from Indonesia and other Southeast Asia countries who are staying in The UK. They came for work or study. Those who came for work are usually experts in their fields. I know some engineers, researchers, scientists. They all have a good life and decided not to go back to Indonesia because of various reasons. Some of them are still the citizen of Indonesia. In addition, there are also housemaids. Mbak Wati was once a loyal house assistant of an American. She came with her employer 15 years ago to London and decided to stay in London. She said that about 10 years ago, once a person stayed or more than 2 years, the government will automatically offer British Citizenship. Today, She opened her own restaurant in South London. Had been working from one employer to another for years, her cooking skill is undoubted. Talking with her is always an excitement. She told me about the high rate wage of housemaids in London and how easy the life of housemaids here. The employers respect their working hours, no work every weekend, bonus for extra-hours as well as going for a vacation. Their average wage is three times more than student’s living cost… No wonder if they can afford Louise Vuitton bags by only saving some money for 2 weeks. Among Indonesian students, UK is one of the favorite places, especially after the rise of governmental scholarship in the early 2010s. I met a woman who has been lived for 45years in The UK. She came from the Philippines and work here as a nurse. She told me a story about migrants in The UK and how it changed over time. She said that there were not so many migrants from Europe a long time ago before The EU founded. Right after the European Union founded, a lot of white people from European countries came to London for a better life. She also told me that illegal migrants from all over the world imported as workforce and that’s how she ended up being here. She mentioned that Chinese people came with their valuable goods, they came to The UK as a trader. Illegal migrants come from China along with the goods. Some of them hid inside the lorries, behind the goods, or beneath it. They thrived for months all the way from China by road. Not surprisingly, it took many lives.
Just like other metropolitan cities, London has always been a big magnet for people from The UK, mainland Europe, and the world. London feels less British than Scotland or other parts of The UK. You will meet white people but most of them speak English with Spanish/Polish accent, while people in color speaks thick British English. Hearing people speak weird languages you’ve never heard is also common. No one will stare at you unless you speak like you’re in a desert……
Muslim in London
Generally speaking, Muslim in London is a common Islam Community I use to know. They pray in the mosque, fast during the Ramadhan, go for halaqah, pay zakat, learn Quran. Some of the women cover their hair, the others are not. They also have weekend or evening school of Quran where the children learn everything about Islam. The sight of Moms sending off and picking up their children in religious attire is common in some parts of London. The children usually use a sling bag with school identity printed on it. We call is Taman Pendidikan Al Quran (Evening Quran Education) in Indonesia.
Today, many of Muslims in Britain were born British and settled in. A long time ago, many of their ancestors came for a better-paid job. If we trace back to the history, most of them were imported as workforces and decided to stay in The UK. Muslim migrants in London is dominated by Pakistani and Bangladeshi people. Without any intention to be racist, I know only a few of Muslim came from the white background. They do exist but not as much as I expected from the media—at least, that is what I know. I also met a number of Muslims from other parts of the Middle East such as Turki, Palestine, Iran, Iraq, Egypt. Perhaps the Muslims currently lives in London is the 3rd or 4th generation in the family. They built mosques, Islamic Centre, private Islamic schools, restaurants, halal butcher, convenient stores, zakat body, charity institutions, and other institutions that support daily life. Most convenient stores and kebab stores held by Turkish people. One of my lectures is an Iranian. Some of my friends in the university came from Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco. Many of Indonesians living in The UK are also Muslims.
Muslims in London came from all over the world. They came from different countries, ethnicities, and have a diverse understanding of Islam itself. It all depends on what Mazhab they hold, which Imam they follow, and whether they chose to apply their religious practice in their daily life or not. One of my Muslim friends is from the northern part of The UK, her ancestors were from Pakistan, however, she was born British Pakistani. She is a Muslim, she knows how to pray, she goes to college and has a thick British accent. She lives as a normal kid of British Pakistanis. The interesting thing about her is that her family is still a conservative Pakistani, they hold traditional values of Pakistani while her life, I can say, is more about to live as a British teenager who likes to listen to Ariana Grande, go to Selfridges to buy some fancy bronzers, put on bright make up, curl or straighten her hair, go to City of London for vacation. Her parents consider her as their most precious jewel as most middle-eastern people do which is not always a bad thing but definitely different from British people who tend to allow their children to live independently after going to college. This project by Mahtab Hussein depicts the life of young Muslims migrants in Britain. These pictures show how they live as migrants, the environment they are living in and how it affects their identity. They are struggling to survive in a new community.
Religious Practices in London: Prayer
It is my first time living in a country as a minority. I’ve been living in Indonesia. It has the biggest Muslim population in the world, about 203 million. It covers abut 80% of all Muslims in Southeast Asia or 13% of all Muslim population in the world (Check out Miller’s report in reference list). The most contrast thing that I realize in the first place is adzan as a reminder of prayer times. I usually hear adzan five times a day, echoed from some nearest mosques or musholla (a smaller room/house for pray) around me. Thus you can find a prayer house almost every 5minutes walk. Such thing you would not experience in London. The only adzan I’ve heard is a subtle one, once, while I was in my room, at the end of Ramadhan this year. Luckily, we have prayer times reminder, the application that enables Muslims to know when the prayer time comes.
It is also my first time to live in a four-season country. It was autumn when I arrived here. The sunset is quite soon and sunrise is quite late. However, during the winter, it is quite extreme. I find it hard to pray 5 times a day while conducting usual activities because the time between dhuhr—ashr—maghrib—Isya is very close. the gap between one prayer time to another is no more than 2 hours. It is a challenge because I usually have a class that lasts for about 3hours so I need to plan prayer ahead in the beginning of the day. Summer time is another challenge for us. The longest days in a year are the time for fasting. The day lasts for more than 18hours, leaving us only 4hours in a day to break the fast, tarawih, qiyamullail, sahoor, and pray shubh. We break the fast at around 9.30pm, pray Isha and tarawih at 11-ish, go home after tarawih at 12-ish, and start to eat sahoor at 2 am. It makes us change our habit, we sleep after shubh or before maghrib in exchange to our sleepless nights. It is a challenge to keep on track with our schedule during Ramadhan as well as a mercy that we can wake all nights and make lots and lots of prayers during Ramadhan nights almost effortlessly.
A photo project by Sanah Ullah exposed where Muslims pray in the world. In factory, in a basketball field, in any places possible. In London, they do have more mosques than other European countries in London, but still it is not that reachable for some reasons; especially when winter comes when prayer times become very tight one to another. When looking for the nearest mosque is not possible, I do pray in library, tube, fitting room, or any available chair.
As a Muslim, we require halal food. Back in my country, where Muslims are a majority, we assume that everything served is halal. We usually trust every restaurant without ever asking for any evidence. Most of our packaged food also labeled halal. Non-halal foods only sold in particular shops in particular area of the city, usually in Chinatown. This situation is an ease but sometimes become a trap for us. We do not use to double-check or ask for any evidence that our food is halalan thoyyiban.
Islamic practices in Indonesia are common and absorbed as a culture. For example, alhamdulillah is an expression of gratitude from the Arabic Language, usually said as a gratitude for Muslims. However, it has become a common expression in Indonesia, no matter what religion they hold, whether they believe in God or not. Going back to our hometown during Ied Al-Fitr is a tradition for all Indonesians despite their belief or whether they celebrate Ied or not, for a reason that everyone has a long break at that time. Ramadhan is the time when restaurants in Indonesia shade their windows to respect Muslims while in London, we asked whether we can sip some water because our friends worry that we will be dehydrated. These situations are significantly different when we live as a minority in a country.
In London, most of the time, we look for vegetarian food with no alcohol in it. While buying foods, we should always select our food properly and be very careful about unclear ingredients. However, halal foods and places in London is considered easy to find. You can easily find it everywhere in the city. From 24-hours Kebab store that serves falafel, burger, doner, and fries to fancy restaurants that serves proper meals. Google or Muslim apps will tell you where to find it. Without any intention to promote an app, I usually rely on Muslim Pro for prayer times reminder, Ramadhan schedule, du’a requests from Muslims all over the world, daily verses, even send cards for Ied celebration. The reason why I trust on Muslim apps in finding halal places more than Google is that the search result from Google sometimes—or in my experience, most of the time—is deceiving. For instance, if I Google “best halal ramen” Google might eliminate the word “halal” in a searching process without giving any information in the result. Thus the result is ambiguous and requires more time and effort to choose a place to eat. The Muslim apps are more reliable for they have a list of checked halal places around the town. Blogs and youtube channels about halal places in London is also one of the reliable references. However, in looking at those references, we need to always keep in mind that the definition of “halal” is not always the same from one Muslim to another. For example, our sister might easily eat any chicken or beef served in “ahlul kitab-country” while another sister might look for a “halal-chicken” even though she lives in an ahlul kitab-country. Both of them are true because both are written in The Quran. It depends on how we define “ahlul kitab” and which Imam we follow. Different practices also happen in other religious practices, such as prayers. In mosques where I pray, some sisters who hold Mazhab Hanafi do not cover their feet, while I need to cover my feet because I hold Mazhab Syafi’i which obligated us to cover our feet while praying. We do not usually see it in Indonesia because most Muslims follows Imam Syafi’i. However, in a place where Muslims from all over the world gather in a place, it can be easily seen.
London is Open
Yes, London is open. Long, long before Sadiq Khan claimed it as his tagline campaign. The openness of London related to its liberalism. People of London respect other people and let them live their personal life as their whole authority. Riza, a friend of mine from Indonesia highlighted that there is no “religion” column in any of the forms that we filled as we proceed to study in The UK. The only form asked us about our religion is the arrival report form from Indonesian embassy in London.
We are all aware that western countries are free and uphold the human right to live, to speak, to act, known as human right. The implementation of this system reflected in almost every aspect of their life. On Sundays, you can find “Speaker’s Corner” in Hyde Park where people from any religion, race, speak about anything. There are people who speak about religion, human rights, equality. You might also find feminists, scientists, activists talk about their idealism and try to persuade people to follow them. You may even find a woman who tries to inspire people to change cheesecakes to chickpeas as a snack.
On the one hand, this “system” is good for self-development, encourages people to invent their wildest imagination without any worries of being accused. On the other hand, this situation allows other groups to grow, such as extremism or radicalism. Wina is our mate who found this video about Unicorn, founded by Shaft Uddin, an Indian man who at the first time, gathered young people who love to party hard and enjoy the cult of hedonism. He shares a flat in Camden with his “followers”. It became a kind of religion that they hold, with Shaft Uddin as their “God”. In the recent update, he is now a “Sacred Sexual Awakener, Professional Unicorn, and Professional Show Off”–just like what he wrote in his bio. He does his practice in his flat and still, the target is the youth. I have not read any proof of his practice nor see the logical thinking of his practice. In my opinion, it has no difference with the nasty shamans in Indonesia. Well, the last statement is subjective but I won’t erase it.
This openness also applied to some sects in Islam which I’ve never seen before. Shia is a sect of Islam that is banned in Indonesia. Its existence is not legal because of its theory contradicts with the very meaning of Islam which we believe and hold. The understanding of how we interpret Quran is totally different and because Quran is our guidance, it affects their whole life. It is a violation to implement this sect in Indonesia. In contrast, this group develops freely in London. I was visiting a location for my project when I found this mosque with Shia flag wavering in the highest roof of this building. I didn’t realize it until I pray inside it and saw a lot of Shia attributes, books, and posters, including the leader’s photos inside the prayer hall.
In Denmark, Maria Mosque founded by a Syrian woman who wants to create an alternative to challenge the structure of men domination in Islamic practices as well as Islamophobia. Located next to The Faculty of Theology, University of Copenhagen, it meant to be the very meaning of modern Islam, a Danish Islam. In this mosque, all jobs were done by women such as Imam for the five prayers every day, Imam for Friday Prayer, including the Khutbah. They called their community as the progressive Islamists. They believe that Islam needs a revolution and claim that they are the first movement of their kind in Scandinavian Countries. To become an oasis for feminists. (BBC)
In Toronto, “a queer-inclusive mosque” founded by a gay Imam. This mosque is open for LGBTQ and has become controversial because it is not Islam. This kind of mosque has been flourished in some part of world such as Paris, Africa, Oslo, Norwegia. (from various sources). I can say that it is possible to meet extremists from any group of religion, sect, or belief in London. Theresa May’s comment about some incidents last spring in London is a proof that the pluralistic of Britain might be too tolerant towards some extremism. (The Independent) This article pointing out extremism in Islam only, but I think this problem applies to every idealism.
State schools in The UK are free for children between the age of 5 to 16, normally from kindergarten to high school. In the state schools, they follow the national curriculum. Religious content depends on the school, some of them give chaplaincy influenced by business or religious groups. I’ve also mentioned evening/weekend school as an additional religious education for Muslims. They offer tahfidz program, Arabic language classes, and other religious practices. State-funded and private religious schools or faith schools also available in The UK. Private type of school available in several locations only and parent pays a high amount of money in this school. Nonetheless, every parent wants the best education for their children. As far as I know, people in The UK will not have a baby until they have “enough” money because the cost of childcare is very, very high. Thus they have no problem to get their child into private school.
Religious content is also a problem in The UK. There has been a debate whether the UK has to stop acting as a Christian Country and how it implemented in the schools. A spokesman for the British Humanist Association said that it is necessary to discuss new curricula in order to introduce children about religious and non-religious views. (Telegraph) During my stay in London, I have met several people asked me about Islam and religious belief in general. They ask me about terrorism and extremism in Islam. I always try to be open and answer everything as far as I know. People have a strong argument of why they do or do not believe in God. It is one different situation compared to Indonesia. Most of the people treat religion as something inherited from their ancestors, like a tradition. People who embrace different religions in a family exists but not so common. People still look at it as something unusual. Here, to believe in God is a choice of every person. To seek the meaning of inner peace is one of the basic questions of life. Discussion about religion and belief is not taboo, moreover, encouraged in debates, etc.
Other religious practices
I have no broad background of how marriage, trades, or how detailed-Sharia law applied in Muslims’ daily life in The UK. As far as I know, everyone in London has their full right to conduct their belief, no matter what their background is.
Living as a Muslim in European Country
One never says that it is easy to live in a new place, meet strangers, eat weird or tasteless food, face extreme weather and time change. Being used to be a majority and suddenly being a minority is also one thing that you could not really anticipate no matter how many articles you read to gain as many as information you need so you can imagine how’s life in your country of destination is. I’m not saying that everything I experience is different from what I’ve read and heard before I arrived in London but there’s always remarkable things that are not being mentioned in those articles. I already knew that I will need to be more careful about prayer times but no one told me that prayer times can be extremely different in summer and winter. It is a problem for me who usually plan ahead my daily schedule based on consistent prayer times in Indonesia. I also prepared of being stared by people for my veil—according to people who live in Europe—but London is very welcome to new people, no matter what their background is. I never expected to be helped by people to bring my luggage on my first day moving to London because I always see how people are busy with their own life in London.
During my study time in London, there were several attack by terrorist who claimed their attack on behalf of Islam. It is not my place to explain my viewpoint about this situation in this text but after these incidents, I received no humiliation at all even though I heard a veil of a muslimah pulled in the street by random person.
The rise of migrants coming to Europe is the reality we are facing today. They are not only come from Middle Eastern countries. You need to know that refugees are from all over the world, including from European country itself. They also come from other parts of the world such as Ukraine or African Countries where conflicts arise or being departed under a recommendation of their government because of some circumstances such as inadequate health care. Some of them ran from their home in Africa because they can’t conduct their religious practices. Once caught, they will be killed. This is a reality that we need to know. Seeking for asylum, escaping from their home countries has never been easy. They have no choice and forced to look for a safe place only to stay alive. No one will happily leave their destroyed home to a foreign place. Imagine how hard it is for them to reach another country only to find themselves being rejected, mocked, harassed.
Some European people being disturbed by an overwhelming volume of migrants from all over the world while the others are welcoming them as a family. This situation is an evidence of how people always become the victim of politicians and the interests of the authorities. Everyone knows what happened in Middle East, Africa, and other parts of the world are the result of foreign interference. To take care of these people is the responsibility of all human beings.
We all see that this situation has a bad implication for Muslims, especially who live in some countries which are being sentimental of this situation. I visited East Germany and talk to a friend who is a local there. Every week there is a demonstration in the city center as their expression of rejection of Muslims. They highlighted the high volume of Muslims refugee in Germany. Legal refugees from all over the world who came to Germany being granted more than the average grant for unemployed locals. My friend who wears hijab told me once that she was shouted by an old man in a supermarket without any reason. I was surprised but not really think about it. A month later, I went to Switzerland and met a random old man in the street who angrily shouted at me in French, twice. He deliberately made a way back to the stairs to shout for the second time. Luckily, I don’t speak French. One thing I realized is that Islamophobia is real. Prejudice towards Muslims in some countries are terrible, however, kind people exist. Well, there is always a bright side.
I was in Birmingham when I met a girl with hijab who was asked for some food. I was attracted to her because she was asking for food, not money. I was so surprised for her edacity in eating what I gave and felt so sorry for her. I’ve seen a lot of homeless in London. Most of them will be angry if I gave them food, except the one with his dog in the Old Street Station and the one in front of Tesco near my house. Another beggar whom I met in front of Kings Cross Station even shouted at me because I offered him food. Well, I’m sorry to have no cash! But thanks for him, I never give any money to any beggars after that incident, I only give them food. If they do need money to survive, they will eat the food that I gave.
Most of the articles that I read in online media usually talks about one perspective only. Whether live in Europe is absolutely safe or miserable. In my opinion, both are true. There is always simplification in writing, no matter how detailed it is. I admit that reading articles about how life in a foreign country is fruitful but only you will find the very experience of living abroad.
I write this article with no offense to anyone nor any particular group of people. I hope this article adds a little bit of knowledge for people who need it.
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