Tuesday 2 September 2008

What Did Our Parents Ever Do?

I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s at the tail end when the British National Party were at their jack-booted peak. We used to watch them having punch-ups with the Anti-Nazi League on the evening news and cheer when they got a good smack.

I was so proud of the Anti-Nazi League: a mixture of people of all ages and races determined to put an end to the BNP’s bullying. Watching all of this I was proud that people of that generation were dealing with all of the hate that ethnic minorities had had to put up with for many years. I did used to think though that my parents and their generation had just put up with the way they were treated without answering back and left us to deal with the ensuing mess. Why didn’t they speak up? Why didn’t they answer back?

How wrong I was. I look now at my community, its diversity, its vibrancy and at the way we have retained our faith alhamdulillah and I see that they fought back in a way that we never had to.

Imagine people speaking to you as if you are an imbecile, imagine your language being ridiculed, your clothes being laughed at and your food being branded smelly. Many people would eventually abandon these reminders of their culture and try to assimilate into their new environment. Many did: forgetting their faith, failing to teach their children their mother-tongue, wearing only English clothes and not eating their food outside of the house. But many, like my parents withstood the ridicule and the societal pressure and remained true to who they were. Not only that, they passed on their beliefs and values to their children too.

My dad used to work in the enormous Dagenham Ford factory and used to pray covertly near the toilets. When I asked him if he minded, he said things were different then, it didn’t feel it was their place to fight for these things. Today we have hundreds of mosques in the UK and a place to pray in many workplaces. We have Islamic schools for our children and islamic stores for all of the things we need.

We don’t have to be embarrassed by our language, food and clothing anymore. Every council has translators, curry is the most popular take-out food in the UK and ethnic clothing and jewellery is big business. My generation is bilingual (barring one cousin who lost the ability to speak Urdu suddenly as a teenager) and often confident about having a place in two cultures: ethnic and English (civil servants in hijab? masala chips?)

That’s not to say our parents have not changed. My dad drinks English tea (blasphemy) and loves football and my mum is mad on this strange English fad called gardening and never misses Eastenders. But they have taught me that sometimes the real fight is not about throwing punches (although that too can be satisfying) but about holding your ground in the face of adversity. So what did our parents ever do? A heck of a lot.


  1. masha'allah such a nice post to read sis :) I suppose I grew up oblivious to all this in the 80s and 90s from being white :P Allahu alim :D thanks for the insight though sis... puts things into perspective

  2. Ramadan Mubarak dear. First time hre. I like that hand made jewllery mashaallah very pretty.

  3. As-Salaamu 'alaikum,

    In my memory, the BNP in the 1990s were much weaker than they are even now - they managed to get one councillor elected in London, in 1993 or thereabouts, and it was a huge scandal. In fact, it was probably their weakest time, before Nick Griffin came along to reshape them as a "modern" far-right party. There was no "respectable" element to them then; they were a bunch of old racists and young thugs.

  4. Assalam-alaikam Sister Ammena,
    it's probably nothing to do with being white, maybe you never used to watch the news that much when you were a kid?(we were only subjected to it, because our parents wouldn't let us change the channel).

    Assalam-alaikam Sister,
    Thank you, you're very welcome.

    Assalam-alaikam Brother Yusuf,
    As I say, that was the tail-end of their nonsense (in the 80's) before it started up again much more recently. I recall them marching up Green Street with their skinheads and in their DM's when I was a little girl.