What Happens When a Muslim Man Asks ‘What Do You Think of Us?’
An uptick in the percentage of Muslim students being bullied, violent attacks on mosques, the suggestion that Muslims be banned from entering the United States—those are just a few of the ways Islamophobia manifests nowadays. But 24-year-old London resident Nubaid Haroon still has faith that the majority of people in the British capital don’t have hatred for Muslims in their hearts.
That’s why in late September Haroon spent several hours standing on the south bank of the Thames, just east of Westminster Bridge, holding a sign that read “I am a Muslim. What do you think of us?”
“I felt like having that on the poster reached out to people in a personal way,” Haroon wrote in an email to TakePart. “With everything going on and the amount of fear people have of someone from an opposite background as frightening, I wanted to prove that love conquers hate, every time.”
As seen in the video above, Haroon recorded the reactions of passersby as they wrote responses on his white poster. The comments he got were overwhelmingly positive, such as “friendly,” “special,” and “respectful.”
Such warm responses aren’t what the majority of Muslims in the U.K. are experiencing. A report released last November by the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission found that about 80 percent of Muslims in the U.K. reported seeing or hearing Islamophobia in 2015, up from 50 percent in 2010. Haroon wrote that since the Brexit vote, he’s seen a “huge increase across social media” in anti-Muslim sentiment.
On this side of the pond, a study released in December by the Public Religion Research Institute found that nearly two-thirds of Americans said they have seldom or never had a conversation with a Muslim. Most Americans also said “they know a little (57 percent) or nothing at all (26 percent)” about the beliefs and practices of Muslims. Data compiled by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism indicates that anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States increased nearly 70 percent in 2015.
This isn’t the first time that Haroon has recorded his efforts to challenge misconceptions about Muslims. After the terrorist attacks in Paris in November, he filmed what happened when he went out on the streets of London with a sign that read “I am Muslim. I Want to Spread Love + Peace. Hug me?” To show that Muslims have respect for the traditions of other faiths, last December he gave Christmas presents to homeless people in the British capital.
Although he admitted that peer pressure or the location might have made some folks respond positively, Haroon thinks that the overall reaction to him would have been the same if he’d been in a less touristy part of the city. “If people had anti-Muslim opinions, they would approach me anywhere because Brexit and things in the news has made people more fearless to speak their mind,” Haroon wrote.
Haroon hopes this latest video will encourage people around the world to reflect on their attitudes toward Muslims and understand that not all Londoners are Islamophobic. He chose the location, with Big Ben in the background, intentionally. “A person who sees this from a different country doesn’t need me to say this is at the heart of London, they know it and having seen this video I hope they see how equal Londoners treat each other,” he wrote.