Dr Fariha Khan, London
David Cameron saying that “Muslim women must learn English” makes a catchy headline. Something that made everyone stop in their tracks and listen to what he had to say, no matter what side of the argument you are on. But when you go into the depths of what he said, it appears nothing but a headline grabbing tactic.
I am an Ahmadi Muslim, a GP, a wife and a mother. I also happen to be an immigrant to this country but one who considers herself to be British. I came to this country as an adult on a spousal visa. I love this country to bits. This is my home. And this is what my religion Islam has taught me to do, love of my country is part of my faith. And this is the pledge I have made as an Ahmadi Muslim that I will do everything for the betterment of my country and society. And of course you can’t call a place your home unless you can understand what is said around you and you yourself are understood.
Living in a country and learning its language is so important. How else will you communicate? So up to that point I was happy with what Mr Cameron said, but hold on, why has he singled out Muslim women? That is so, so unfair.
Working as a GP I have come across the language barrier perhaps more than any other profession. Out of 15 of my surgery list on average at least 5 do not speak any English, sometimes even more. But the ethnicity, gender and religion of these patients are far more varied than just Muslim women! I do not want to quote examples of the ethnic backgrounds or religions out of respect and I do not trifle with freedom of choice to hurt people’s feelings. This is again something my Holy Prophet Mohammad, peace and blessings be on him, has taught me; to always be positive about others.
Yes, governments should invest in immigrants learning English and it’s a welcoming sign that they are interested in this, but singling out one group of immigrants only causes division among society. It feeds hate filled Islamophobic sentiments. And I ask, if a woman who is here on spousal visa fails to pass her English language test, will she be deported and be separated from her children and family? How will that fit in with upholding Human Rights?
By making such remarks Mr Cameron is suggesting that perhaps there is a relationship between inability to speak English and radicalisation or extremism. Well the evidence speaks for itself, most of the people involved in these shocking activities are second generation or sometimes third generation immigrants. They speak fluent English!
As an Ahmadi Muslim woman I cover myself. I wear a hijab and a coat. I feel very privileged to live in Britain as I feel I can practice my religion freely, all aspects of my religion. This country and its laws allow me to do so. And while following my religion I am fully integrated in the society as well. I have been working in NHS for 13 years wearing my hijab and coat and never once I faced any difficulty discharging my duties as a doctor nor once did I face any hostility from my patients. I have to say I have always had the respect of my patients. I have friends from various backgrounds, of many races, colour and religions. I do not just have Muslim friends. I am involved in my children’s school, and as a class rep I am part of the parents association. I am friends with my neighbours. The so called “gender-segregation ” that Mr Cameron thinks I practice does not stop me for doing any of these things.
Members of my Ahmadiyya Muslim Community do far more to integrate in society. Our ladies raise funds for charity, for food banks. They regularly visit local hospitals and nursing homes taking gifts for patients and residents. We have open door policy in our mosques and we visit other places of worship for better religious integration. Only this coming weekend my daughters are going to visit a local church with some other local Ahmadi Muslim girls aged 7-15 as a group. We hold many events throughout the year holding interfaith dialogue as well as the issues affecting world peace. We as a community are guided by our spiritual leader Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad who keeps reminding us of the true teachings of Islam which have no place for violence and extremism. We as Ahmadi Muslim women teach our children from a very young age the compassion for humanity regardless of race and religion and to work together to help the society and your country. To use love and dialogue as a tool not hostility and aggression.
Yes while doing all these things, we do like to have some of our gatherings separate from men, so do many other institutes like WI. I love that freedom that we enjoy in our own separate ladies events or separate seating arrangement in our events. By passing any such law that bans segregation of this kind any government who does so will take away my right, my choice and my freedom.
I understand governments need to tackle radicalisation and extremism. I understand that they have a difficult task on their hands. But please try and find real reasons behind these acts instead of making a scapegoat out of an immigrant Muslim woman like me.