One would not be spilling any beans if one were to say that all through the western world, Muslims are not even nearly the flavour of the month. The election of Donald Trump in the US and the anti-Muslim policies that his coming into power threatens, highlights this as nothing else does, for if he starts to take steps like introducing a visa policy that excludes nationals of countries deemed to be vulnerable from the terrorist viewpoint – a very long drawn out way of saying Muslim countries – and things like Muslim registers, other western countries would be very likely to follow suit. Of course, the terrorist incidents in Europe have not helped and the recent incident in Berlin, alleged to have been perpetrated by a Tunisian Muslim, comes as very bad news. In a sea of anti-Muslim prejudice, Germany is one of the very few countries that has tried, at the governmental level, to see the north African refugee problem as a human, and not a Muslim problem. That this sort of thing could happen in Germany tends to show that a country’s attitude towards Muslims has little to do with its vulnerability towards terrorism for in the western world today, it would be difficult to find a country with a more sympathetic attitude than that of the German government.
One of most striking indicators of the way in which Muslims are viewed in many western countries is the estimation of the numbers of Muslims residing in these countries in the minds of the local people and how far that estimation is from the truth. The average French estimate, for example, was that 31 per cent of the population was Muslim while according to Pew Research, the actual figure is 7.5 per cent, a difference of more than four times. The French fear that by 2020, the Muslim population would have risen to 40 per cent whereas the actual projection stands at 8.3 per cent. Nor is France the only country to have such misconceptions. Italians, Belgians and even Germans hold vastly exaggerated estimations of the Muslim population in their respective countries, the exaggeration ranging from between three to six times the actual figure.
Here in Britain, respondents to the research put the figure of Muslims at 15 per cent of the population while the actual figure is around five per cent; and while popular estimate has it that by 2020 the Muslim population in Britain will be 22 per cent, the actual projection is just six per cent. In the US, the average estimate was that Muslims accounted for one in six people, whereas Pew put the actual figure at one in a hundred. And Australian respondents’ average estimate was that 12.5 per cent of the country was Muslim, where the true figure is 2.4 per cent. Their future projection of 21 per cent was far off the actual projection of three per cent. These figures are an indication of the fear and apprehension with which westerners now view Muslims living in their midst and every incident like the one in Berlin, only increases this apprehension.
In such an atmosphere, positive Muslim stories are as valuable as gold dust, and one of them is the news, prominently carried by the British press, that the Muslim charity Muslim Aid, along with the East London mosque in the Whitechapel district of East London, had collected 10 tonnes of food to be distributed among the poor and homeless this Christmas. The food would be given to the needy irrespective of religious affiliation. Homelessness in the UK is a problem sharply on the increase as the number of hostel places and council houses are being drastically reduced due to financial cuts. Between 2015 and 2016, the number of people living on the streets in England grew by around 30 per cent and the fact that while this has happened under a Tory government, the Tories continue to be the most popular party in England is a measure of English society in 2016. Now, with temperatures plummeting close to freezing and lower, on any given night, some 3,500 people are sleeping rough on the streets – in the fifth largest economy in the world!
But perhaps the most heart-warming story is that of a Muslim owned restaurant in Sidcup in south-east London, which is offering a free three course meal to the elderly, the lonely and the homeless on Christmas day – again irrespective of their religion.
The story goes that a few days before Christmas, an elderly white lady who lives a short distance away from this restaurant, walked into the restaurant and asked the manager whether he would be so kind as to allow one of his waiters to go to her home and shut a window for her. The window had got jammed and freezing air was coming through making her flat feel like an ice box while she just did not have the strength to shut the window. There was no one to help her, which is a familiar plight experienced by tens of thousands of old people.
The manager was touched by her predicament and immediately deputed one of his waiters to go to her flat to help her shut the window. The next day the old lady came to the restaurant and ate a meal there as a way of saying thank you. While at the restaurant she mentioned that she was entirely alone since the death of her husband and that it mattered little to her whether she lived or died, and that she would be spending Christmas as she had been spending every Christmas since her husband had passed away – all alone, by herself in her cold flat.
Touched by her story, the manager decided that all elderly, lonely and homeless people could enjoy a free meal at his restaurant on Christmas Day. As important as the meal, they could enjoy each other’s company while they were there. The story has been given fairly wide coverage by the print media, though regrettably not so by the electronic media. It is the sort of exposure that Muslims in the West cannot get enough of in the current climate. •