When I was a kid, my mother would teach me Arabic prayers in the car as she drove us to the supermarket. I’d repeat her words line by line until we reached the carpark, then we’d buy our groceries and practice again on the way back, me eating a bag of Wotsits in the back seat and her driving over
rather than around the mini-roundabouts on the return journey.
I found myself doing the same thing with my four-year-old daughter recently (reciting prayers, that is, not driving erratically.) I wanted to re-create that memory of being in the car with my mother, to experience that sepia-tinted moment from the other side of the table.
When we were next at the mosque, I watched my daughter smile when she recognised, and could repeat by heart, the prayer that the imam was relaying over the speaker. But then, a few days later, she returned from pre-school and sheepishly told me that she’d spoken to her friends about what I’d taught her and none of them knew Arabic.
I told her not to worry and explained that it’s okay for her to do her own thing as best as I could before I pressed play on Frozen
again. While we watched Elsa serenade us once more with details of whatever the hell it is that she needs to let go of, I remembered being at my daughter’s pre-school committee meeting a few weeks earlier where her teachers mentioned in passing that they had to follow a government policy designed to protect children from the risk of radicalisation by picking up on cues that might signal the embryonic stages of extremist behaviour. I got the impression that they thought it was a bit ridiculous but I still thought to myself: my kid is walking around her nursery bellowing the Islamic equivalent of Hallelujah to a bunch of tots in dress up corner and Ofsted are hunting for child terrorists... what have I done?
I joke now but I did feel uneasy about it at the time. It made me consider how the Muslim habits that I find to be harmless could be perceived by others as alarming; the innocuous misconstrued as noxious. After all, it was only a few months ago that a nursery reportedly
threatened to place a four-year-old boy on a de-radicalisation programme after his teachers’ thought he’d drawn a picture of a cooker bomb instead of, what was in actual fact, a cucumber.
Today Muslim people are thrown off planes for looking a bit sweaty and saying the word “Allah”
, primary school children are identified as “future extremists
”, women who want to dress modestly could be potentially criminalised
for choosing to wearing burkas and burkinis, immigrants are vilified and dehumanised in racist propaganda
and Islamophobia has become a hulking beast which feasts on a daily news agenda ripe with anti-Muslim rhetoric
. All of this makes me want to keep my child at home and never let her out of the door.