Beliefs Culture Opinion

In Britain, between a rock and a hard place

A British flag that was washed away by heavy rains lies on the street in London on June 24, 2016, after Britain voted to leave the European Union in the Brexit referendum. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Reinhard Krause

(RNS) My country doesn’t know what to do. Its citizens are confused on who they are and what they stand for. It is a fractured nation, unsure about its place in the world today and its standing in the eyes of others.

I am talking about Britain, of course, but you could be forgiven for thinking that I was talking about Pakistan, my country of heritage. In a way, I’m talking about both.

The United Kingdom recently held a referendum in which its future in Europe has been voted on by around 70 percent of its population. Not a bad turnout. Fifty-two percent voted to leave the European Union, with immigration to Britain from the EU being cited as the most common reason for doing so.

Britain stands now on the brink, with many in the country embarrassed at its isolationism, realizing slowly that departure from the EU may be the end of the United Kingdom as we know it, with Scotland seeking a second referendum and some in Northern Ireland seeking a referendum to join the Republic of Ireland.

For many younger voters, there is a deep sense of violation. We feel as if our identity has been shaped by views that we do not share by a generation so far removed from us. Many of us embrace immigration, with our British identity inexorably tied to our European one, having only ever lived in a British European nation. This is especially the case since around 75 percent of those 24 or younger voted to remain in the EU.

This sense of violation is evidently new to many of my generation, but the feeling is not new to me.

As an Ahmadi Muslim of Pakistani heritage, I know full well about having your identity forcibly taken and shaped by others. In Pakistan, Ahmadiyya Islam is banned. Any Ahmadi expressing an Islamic identity can be imprisoned for three years and subject to a fine. If one’s expression is deemed blasphemous, one can be put to death under the blasphemy laws.

The reality, however, is that before the law can even get hold of such dastardly criminals, vigilante groups execute them in the cold light of day. In the last two months, three prominent of members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community of Karachi, Pakistan, were gunned down. Most surprisingly, however, is that such behavior is no longer confined to Pakistan, but has been exported to my own country – the United Kingdom.

Members of Tehreek-e-Khatme Nabuwwat, a radical Islamist group, shout slogans as they demand to declare the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community non-Muslims in front of the national mosque in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Jan. 3, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj

Members of Tehreek-e-Khatme Nabuwwat, a radical Islamist group, shout slogans as they demand to declare the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community non-Muslims in front of the national mosque in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Jan. 3, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj


In March 2016 a Glaswegian shopkeeper, known for his friendliness and kindness in the local neighborhood, was stabbed to death in the early hours of the morning while opening his shop. At first, the killing was thought to be Islamophobic in nature but it was quickly realized that his killer was also a Muslim. The attacker’s reason was simple: Asad Shah had “disrespected” the Prophet of Islam by virtue of being an Ahmadi Muslim. It soon emerged that leaflets calling for the death of Ahmadi Muslims had been distributed in British mosques as well as at London universities.

In the recent referendum, fears of immigration from Eastern Europe and from Muslim refugees coming freely to the U.K. were exploited by the likes of Nigel Farage. This has resulted in hate incidents such as the distribution of cards in Cambridgeshire stating “No more Polish vermin” and the graffiti of a Polish center in London with the words “Go home.”

After Shah’s killing, Ahmadi Muslims too are in a precarious position. To the indigenous British community, we are visibly and noticeably Muslim. To many other Muslims, however, we are not Muslims but Ahmadis posing as Muslims. A heretical sect in a pure religion. We are, in many ways, between a rock and a hard place.

I do not live in fear since Shah’s killing. I know, however, the road that Britain is going down and I know where it leads. I have seen it in Pakistan, where fear of Ahmadis has turned into hatred. I know that because my faith is vilified in their legislation, I would never fit into Pakistan, despite my ethnicity.

Similarly, Britain’s recent referendum result, driven principally to Brexit out of fear of other people, has made me feel that I no longer fit in today’s British society. I am a British European Ahmadi Muslim of Pakistani heritage. If home is where the heart is, then I belong everywhere and nowhere.

(Tahir Nasser is a 27-year-old physician and a regular contributor and commentator in British media. Find him on Twitter: @TahirNasser)

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