Unspoken Thoughts

Sarah came with trepidation to my local mosque open day. As I was a Muslim volunteering for the event, I welcomed her warmly. She was a lady in her fifties, who didn’t express any particular belief. She soon felt sufficiently comfortable to tell me what was on her mind.

January 18, 2024

“I sometimes see in the news that individual Muslims in the UK have done terrible things. How can you justify that?” I responded: “Well, I can’t justify negative actions by those who call themselves Muslim. I’m responsible for myself - and only myself - presumably just like you.”

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She elaborated: “The difference is you’re from a minority community. So you have a responsibility to do more.”

I briefly considered if I did. Then I remembered my experience of living in South Africa, where I learnt about the apartheid era of legal segregation. I shared with Sarah what I had learnt : individuals from the white minority community  hadn’t felt responsible then for negative actions by other individuals in their community.  No-one expected them to -   One difference was they held the power.

So, I wondered aloud, maybe the key to the feeling of who should have collective responsibility for the actions of others in their community or group was not about who is a minority. It was more about power.  With higher expectations put upon those with the least power.

Sarah looked a bit surprised, then excused herself so she could enjoy some tea.

In the book Muslims turn to for guidance, the Qur’an, there is a verse in which God says: “Let not the hatred of a people swerve you away from justice.  Be just, for this is closest to righteousness…” (Quran 5:8). Moses challenged Pharoah to let his people be free to worship God.  Jesus confronted the Pharisees about not caring for their people. Muslims believe Prophets - May peace be upon them all- advocated for justice.

Sarah had expressed an outlook typically not articulated: that we are not all considered equal; that there are expectations which are different - higher – put upon some kinds of people compared to others.  The more people like Sarah speak the unspoken thoughts, the more it helps me to understand them. Only then can I truly reflect on quite how just they are.   And, maybe, Sarah can too.