Promoting an end to prejudice across the city

Madihah Ansari teaches New to Islam classes
Madihah Ansari: The Glasgow students has launched new classes on the southside to help teach city about her religion.Aisha Ansari

The Western world’s perception of Islam is often warped by out-dated, false stereotypes and a lack of religious understanding.

Burka banning in France, the perpetual global threat from extremists and little attention paid in R.E perhaps all play their part in generating misconceptions about the Muslim faith.

In the wake of a controversial film made by Christian extremists which denigrated Islam, Glasgow City Council has discussed plans to support Glasgow's 30,000-strong Muslim community and protect faith groups from similar behaviour.

The Lord Provost Sadie Docherty now chairs the Forum of Faiths - a Council-led group bringing together people from faith backgrounds to feed in to the policy and practice of the Council.

Councillors recently celebrated inter-faith to promote racial and religious equality in Glasgow, hoping to foster better relations between religious groups and promote equality.

Now Madihah Ansari, a student at Glasgow Caledonian University, is doing her own bit to promote religious understanding in Pollokshields.

Running ‘New to Islam’ classes for the city’s recent Muslim converts, Madihah is taking the chance to share the message of her religion with those who have only a basic understanding of Islam.

“I decided to start up the New to Islam classes because there are lots of new Muslims that convert every year, however there aren’t many facilities for them,” said Madihah.

“There are lots of Islamic classes, however they are located further out or are for more in-depth knowledge about Islam which can be intimidating for new Muslims.

“Anyone is free to attend our classes and we don’t take any money for our services. You don’t have to be Muslim if you would just like to learn more about Islam you are free to come along.”

Held at Madrasa Taleemul Islam on Nithsdale Road, the weekly classes give all attendees an insight into the world's fastest-growing religion.

The classes are run by Madihah and fellow members of the Southside’s non-profit Muslim organisation Believing Women, who have been given a permanent slot on Friday evenings to deliver basic Islamic teachings and challenge misconceptions of their faith.

“We are all Islamically qualified young women from Glasgow who would like to give something back to our area and community,” said Madihah.

“We are young Muslim women, some married with children, some single like me, that want to change the perception of Islam so that’s why we set up these classes.

“I feel it’s important that non-Muslims learn about Islam because sadly Muslims aren’t portrayed very well in the media, however most of what is portrayed goes against the teachings of Islam.

“There are several misconceptions about Islam, for example we allow and mediate violence, we oppress women, we hate all other religions or we want Shariah law in the UK.

“By attending classes and learning more about Islam and speaking to strong, confident Muslim women we hope to break down some of these stereotypes."

Although Madihah thinks that these misconceptions are damaging the image of Islam and its followers at all levels of society, she believes that Glasgow on the whole is a very tolerant and accepting city, where xenophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment are rare.

Madihah's mother has lived elsewhere in the UK, and tells her daughter that Glasgow is one of the most open, friendly cities in which to practice the faith.

“Most people are genuinely curious and just want to ask you questions and get to know why you do certain things,” said Madihah.

“However you do come across the odd racial or xenophobic comment, but I just tend to ignore it. It isn’t worth dignifying narrow-minded people with a response.

“Once a man shouted ‘Go back to where you came from’ and I replied ‘Aye pal, that’s why I’m going to Govanhill.’ Take it with a pinch of salt.”

Labour Councillor Fariha Thomas knows all too well the challenges faced by Muslims in British society. As a practicing Muslim, Fariha has been discriminated against in her own city due to people's misconceptions of Islam.

She believes that this tension and misunderstanding between faiths is exacerbated by negative stereotypes in the media, but that Glasgow can do a great deal to break these misconceptions.

"As a visibly Muslim woman living in Glasgow I have of course been subjected to Islamophobic harassment, particularly after the atrocities of 9/11, 7/7 and around the lead up to the Iraq war," said Fariha.

"There are also many misunderstandings about Islam, much of which stems from stereotyped media reporting. It is not surprising that many people who have little contact with Muslims are suspicious, or believe that all Muslim women are oppressed, because that is what they often hear and read – and Muslim voices and good news stories are often not reported.

"However generally people in Glasgow are very welcoming – we are famous for that. I feel that my role as a councillor who is a Muslim woman will help overcome some of the stereotypes and hopefully contribute to greater understanding between communities."

Through religious education in schools, campuses combining schools of different faiths and efforts to combat sectarianism and hate crime, Glasgow City Council is moving towards a future in which Islamophobia and other religious hate crime can be eradicated completely.

"Broadly I can say that Glasgow City Council is committed to ensuring Glasgow continues to flourish as a multicultural and multifaith city," said Fariha.

"It welcomes the positive contributions that all communities make, and have made throughout Glasgow’s history, to the rich tapestry of our society."

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