"I just wanted to be clear that there aren't any religious connotations in the songs that they'll be singing" I was told on the phone after requesting to withdraw my daughter from the school's Christmas concert.
But there was.
It speaks to a major level of faith illiteracy when a school in a location that is around 25% Muslim, and 54% non-Christian, isn't aware that it is extremely inappropriate for Muslim children to be singing about "Lord Jesus". As Muslims, we believe in the oneness of Allah, and we believe that Jesus, peace be upon him, was a Prophet. Joining partners with God, as Christians do when they express that Jesus is Lord, astagfirullah, isn't allowed in Islam. In fact, believing in the oneness of God is a necessary part of being Muslim.
The UK is a Christian country. While its laws do not make it compulsory to be Christian and there is varying legislation around a parents' right to withdraw their children from things like worship and religious education, there is a need for more transparency about what is happening in the classroom in order for parents to make informed decisions. Counter-terrorism initiatives like Prevent, prevents parents from inquiring about such things in fear that they will be penalised. Recent reports about Prevent showed that it unquestionably targets Muslims, and with no real justification for the majority of referrals since 95% do not access Channel support.
On the surface, messages around inclusivity and equality are perpetuated, but there is a lingering underlining atmosphere that says "we'll embrace your diversity, only if you're enough like us". This agenda for assimilation does not demonstrate respect- a responsibility that seems to fall only on the marginalised when we're expected to align with societies' definition of appropriate behaviour, whether that be participating in Christmas celebrations that involve worship or attending a work do at a pub.
Only around only 60% of the UK population is Christian. Muslim's have been present in England since at least the 1500's, as diplomats, translators, merchants and other roles. They were described as "Moors", "Indians", "Negroes", and "Turks". The first functioning Mosque was established in the late 1880's by British convert to Islam, Abdullah Quilliam. This is to say, Muslims have been established and accepted in the UK for some time.
Is the condition of Muslim's in the UK getting better or worse? There is increases in Islamophobic legislation through systems like Prevent which claims becoming more practising in faith (not all faiths- only Islam) is an indicator for dangerous extremism. Anti-Muslim hate crime increased 26% between 2016 and 2017. There is undeniable over-saturation of anti-Muslim narratives in Film, news and other media. All this is compounded by the normalisation of anti-foreign rhetoric by politicians and right wing extremists, so the thought that things are getting better for Muslims in the UK would be a hard argument to make.
If things aren't getting better, they're getting worse. This is where we live our lives as Muslims. This is where our children live. What are we going to do about it?