Monday, July 30, 2007
An American Muslim in the UK
As I finished packing for my trip to England, I was resigned to the idea that the airport would most likely not be a pleasant place to begin my journey - I knew there would be the requisite suspicious looks, "random checks" and blatant fear and/or hostility on some of the fellow passengers' faces. It was a pessimistic perspective to take when beginning my vacation, I knew, but as someone that travels every year, I was used to the atmosphere.
When we stopped over in Seattle for a few hours, it was a surprise - a happy one - to see the many Muslims working at the airport. Their friendly, cheerful faces made the stop-over pass quickly, as I felt a sense of ease amongst people who understood what flying while Muslim felt like.
Arriving in Manchester was like stepping into another world, however. Muslims everywhere. Not only were hijabs common, but I saw people walking around in thobes, jilbabs and niqaabs - at the airport! And once you stepped outside...
It was a whole new experience. You truly don't realize the tension of living as a visible Muslim in America until you come to a country where you blend in. You're just one of the crowd - normal. When you go to the grocery store, the cashier does not look at you with curiosity or forced joviality - oftentimes the cashier is Muslim! As you walk along the street, you do not have people look at you strangely or worry about how you act because you'll be seen as a representative of Islam.
Rather, there is this sense of pure freedom in being boringly average. It's lovely, because you don't have to put on a public facade. There are no worries about people reacting to you negatively, just because of the way you dress - what you represent.
You are able to be yourself.
It's a heady feeling.