Integration, Integration, Inte-freaking-gration

// December 16th, 2006 // Blog

Everyone's talking about it, but what does it really mean, that's what i wanna know?!

Perhaps someone out there may remember that my original Blogger profile included a brief personal description, where-in i mentioned that i was a “second-generation Indian” living in London. Not so long ago i decided to remove that line, the rest of the paragraph and then my location because i realised that this part of my identity wasn't so relevant to what i had to say here. I also wanted to avoid giving the impression that i somehow thought of myself as “Indian”, “British” or that i had any racial/ nationalistic pride. I don't, but neither am i ashamed of my background.

Perhaps it is a somewhat interesting fact that my parents were born in India (in fact the story is not so straight forward but i'll spare you the yawns) and of course this had a significant impact on how i was raised and the kind of person i am today – but i am not “Indian”, and i don't claim to be.

And perhaps it is a somewhat interesting fact that i was raised in England, in a predominantly English community (in fact the story is not so straight forward but i'll spare you the yawns) and of course this had a significant impact on how i was raised and the kind of person i am today – but i am not “English”, and i don't claim to be.

So what the hell am I?

This was a question that dogged me for most of my life. At some points i almost felt schizophrenic because i would be leading a very “English” existence during the day with my school/university friends, and then experiencing a very “Indian” culture at home. Because i spent most of my waking hours with my friends, it was inevitable that I would end up “westernised” and now i find i have very little in common with my similarly-aged relatives who grew up in various segregated Gujarati areas found within Leicester, Lancashire and London.

For example:

They can still speak their “mother tongue” – i haven't been able to do that since i was ten years old, and understanding alone only takes you so far.

They refer to India as “home” – I wonder what the hell they're on about, as they only visit once every five years!

They know all about the [pointless] rituals involved in the typical Gujarati family wedding – i'm usually clueless, bored and am wearing a silwar kameez that is way out of fashion. [But now i observe hijab, no-one cares – THANK YOU LORD].

They watch Bollywood flicks, know all the songs, and keep in line with the latest trends to hit Green Street – and well, i don't.

To be honest, i'm not so bothered about that last one. I have better things to do with my time and hard-earned money like, er… yes, anyway, moving swiftly on.

On top of this, the fact that i am an only-child which is a minority family set-up amongst my clan, and that i don't seem to tire of education (though sometimes even I think i took it too far with the PhD), makes me somewhat of a freakazoid. Family gatherings can be awkward if there are no English-as-a-language-at-all speakers in the room, and although i do wish to get more involved, the language barrier and my natural shyness in front of elders makes me look somewhat of a prudish toff.

I think i am guilty of that sometimes as there are some aspects of my culture that i find superficial, backward and even dangerous. However there are other aspects which i deeply admire. I especially love that Asians still care about family values. Living with your in-laws isn't a girl's idea of heaven, but it can be really nice to have many generations living under one roof. It is a great atmosphere for children to grow up in and there's always someone around to baby-sit! I missed out on that because the only grandparent that was alive at the time of my birth lived with my uncle's family in London, while i was over 100 miles away in Leicester till only a few years ago. She passed away earlier this year [inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un]. The effect her death had on my first cousins was tangible, even though one of them had been living away from the house for the past eight years: she felt she had lost her second mum. I felt sad of course, but not gutted like they were. To be honest i was somewhat relieved for daadi because she was very old, somewhere in her 90s (no-one knows her exact birth-date), and had been in and out of hospital for months. She was the most frequently visited patient on the geriatrics ward and died with her family gathered around her bed-side. The other old ladies on the ward, most of them white, rarely had visitors, and you could almost visualise their brains necrotizing in their skulls with nothing to do and no-one to talk to. I think many even lived alone in their own homes. I felt so sad for them – my daadi was truly blessed in comparison. Every time i walked past their beds i would pray to God: please don't let me die like this, please save me from the weaknesses of old age.

On the other hand there are many things I really like about the English culture. I like the “stiff-upper-lip” – Asians have a penchant for melodrama which is perfectly illustrated by their taste in cinema. I like that people don't tend to stick their noses into other's affairs, that you have some room to breathe. Don't get me wrong, 99.9% of women gossip no matter what part of the planet they're from. I just get a sense of personal space in the company of English people. Perhaps that's because i'm not really “one of them” and they may not want to put their foot in it with some potentially offensive, culturally-insensitive remark – but i like that they care enough to think about such things! However i do think the English need a lesson in how to treat their guests. My friends would almost be scared off by the efforts of my parents to shove food down their throats the moment they stepped through our door-way. It became a running joke after a while, and of course i do see the funny side of “aggressive” hospitality, but i did feel somewhat offended at times by their remarks. My parents, and most typical Asian hosts, go to a great deal of effort to make their guests comfortable. That usually involves providing enough food to feed an army as well as fine tuning the home environment with frequent adjustments to room temperature and cushion number. In contrast, visits to my friends' houses would be very pleasant, but the lack of fussing made me feel a little – i don't know – i just wasn't at home in their home.

Of course, my observations are general and there are plenty of exceptions to be found on both sides. The point is i can't pay allegiance to either culture because i belong to neither in entirety. So i have “integration” issues not on one, but TWO fronts!

And then there's the third front: Islam.

Islam has room for culture but only in certain areas which i think are mainly cuisine, dress, the arts and language. Ideally whichever part of the world you visit, Muslims should be worshipping God in a very similar way [Note: i did say “ideally”]. The culture of each country provides a unique flavour to their Islam. When the influence of culture is restricted to the previously described areas, the flavour is sweet, satisfying and is what makes multiculturalism exciting and fun. I love meeting sisters from different countries and am so grateful to be blessed with friends from every continent (especially when said sisters invite me to their houses for dinner). I also love that no matter who i am talking to, the language barrier can be immediately shattered with a simple “Assalamu alaykum“. Our hearts are immediately bound together with these words, even though our tongues are tied in our heads. However when the influence of culture extends beyond these boundaries, when people start letting their culture dictate what is right and what is wrong, then the flavour of their Islam becomes very bitter indeed. Tribalism, racism, caste prejudice, forced marriages, women being denied basic education, genital mutilation, and even grave worship are only some of the ills that have resulted from Muslims taking culture as their religion rather than Islam. It's like people want to live life the hard way! May Allāh open our eyes and purify our practise.

In the end, my first and perhaps only real allegiance goes to the flag of la illaha illallah – There is no-one worthy of worship, except Allāh.

Ever since i started to give more than just lip-service to that testimony, my age-old burden of defining what it is exactly to be a second-generation Indian living in England has been somewhat alleviated. I see the benefits of both cultures but thankfully i also see the many pitfalls of nationalistic pride. Why should it matter where you were born? Every nation has its own achievements and dark history. You didn't choose your mother country, nor did you build it, nor do you own it, so what is there to be proud of exactly?

As long as you practise internationally-recognized aspects of common decency, know how to cook decent chicken curry/ chips/ biryani/ shepherds' pie/ rasmalai/ mashed potato/ paneer/ sticky toffee pudding/ and various other Anglo-Indian culinary delights, and you don't think your race is God's gift to creation, then you're alright in my book!

Now please someone tell me what is meant by “integration” and how i'm supposedly failing at it?

12 Responses to “Integration, Integration, Inte-freaking-gration”

  1. Lucyp says:

    I always think of ‘Integration’ meaning that you have to adopt our culture and our ways in order to be accepted into our way of life. Total bull.
    I prefer Multiculturism which, to my mind, is that you keep your own cultures and beliefs and we assimilate them each others culture and beliefs.
    Integration just seems so damn arrogant of us. Seems we are saying
    we know better than you and are better than you in everyway so be like us or else.

  2. Faraz says:

    Assalamu’alaykum,

    The concerns you’ve expressed are largely similar to ones that I and many of my friends have discussed at length, that we don’t really fit in anywhere. I was born in Canada, but my parents also came from India. I speak little Urdu, while I’m fluent in English and French, and I’m as big a hockey fan as any Canadian. At the same time, I don’t exactly “fit in” with my colleagues, who are predominantly Christians or Atheists. So where exactly do I fit in? I don’t know.

    I think different countries define integration differently. Alhamdolillah, Canada is actually very good in this sense; I’ve never felt like I’ve had to compromise my Islamic values for Canadian ones. The general populace is very accommodating, in that I can always find a place to pray, no one questions the length of my beard, and non-Muslims are sincerely curious and understanding during Ramadhan. I think this is a good model – Muslims are generally good citizens, and others treat them accordingly. We’re not very many in Canada, but I feel like I can be a better Muslim here than in many other countries, including Muslim ones.

    I’ve been to England, including Leicester, and find that integration means something else there. It often means compromising on your own values, from what I’ve seen. So you have one crowd that drops all their Islamic values and becomes no different than the average Brit, and then another crowd that is so resistant to British values that they refuse to contribute to British society in any way. I think this is dangerous, as it leads to segregation, and ultimately, to discontent.

    Sorry for the long comment, but you’ve written about something that I’m probably eventually going to write about myself … I don’t think I expressed myself very well above, but someday I’ll probably write my own answer to your question around integration.

    .. oh, and feel free to link to me; I’d be honoured!

  3. Daniel says:

    Z…your interesting story makes the case for everyone simply being a world citizen like me.

    We, all of us, are firstly and foremostly people. Without our clothes we all look much the same save for skin colour, small ugly appendages, etc. If we all thought of ourselves as members of the human race first and dropped all the affections derived from race and class the world would be a better place for everyone!

    P.S. Lucy, only in the case of the cricket do I lean towards tribalism. Cheers!

  4. Lucyp says:

    I agree 100% with everything you said about us being humans first and foremost Daniel.
    Shall we not mention the cricket!!!

  5. iMuslim says:

    Lucy & Daniel: Cricket is not my scene though my father, being a typical Indian, has it running in the background 24/7 these days! I think England fans have it rough, which is where dual nationality has its advantages. When it’s England vs India/Pakistan, i side with whichever side looks like they’re winning. haha

    Faraz: Wa alaykum salam brother. Thanks for popping by. Your comment was very interesting. I completely agree with your perception of the Leicester problem. I feel there is less of this extremism in London because there are so many other nationalities here, all trying to get along, mashallah. However in Leicester it has been the case of the Asian vs Indigenous White community for a long time which has put greater pressure on the second-generation youth to follow one culture or the other, as striding the gap can be difficult.
    Alhamdulillah after coming to London i’ve learnt to love and loathe both cultures and can pick and choose what i wish to follow without much problem. However i think i receive more acceptance and tolerance from the non-Asians than i do my own family.
    For example, one neighbour of mine who also happens to be related to me in some strange way (we’re all related it seems – i may even be related to you! What part of India are you from?) cannot speak very much English even though she has been living in the UK for many, many years. Yet she has the audacity to chide me about not being able to speak Gujarati every time she sees me! I just grit my teeth and give a fake smile – but, like HELLO?! If i was living in India and i couldn’t speak the language then i would have a serious problem and would expect such a telling off… but i don’t! I live in E-n-g-l-a-n-d, where we speak E-n-g-l-i-s-h, so please lay off me aunty and while you’re at it, enroll yourself at the local community college.
    I wish i knew how to say all that in Gujarati! I’d get a verbal clobbering from my mum, but it would so be worth it. hehe
    The excuse everone makes for their reprimands is “What will you do when you get married and your mother-in-law can’t speak English?”. They have a point, unfortunately. I do want to learn and i am half-way there already as i can understand both Gujarati and Urdu/Hindi quite well. I think i am so much of a perfectionist, my brain refuses my requests to formulate sentences in order to prevent me from making a complete fool of myself! It’s quite sad. haha. Inshallah i’ll sort myself out one day.

  6. Faraz says:

    I didn’t spend much time in London so I don’t quite remember how things were there, but I imagine the whole 7/7 thing shook things up considerably for Muslims. I pray that they’re still understanding and tolerant. I also read a comment somewhere else on your blog celebrating those actions, which is a sign of despair and ignorance amongst Muslims. I pray this sort of attitude isn’t common among the Muslim population in London.

    I’m probably not related to you; we’re from Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh), not Gujarat, though there is a large Gujarati population in Canada, primarily in Toronto. I’m somewhat fortunate that my parents don’t stress language so much, though I wish I could speak Urdu more fluently, in particular because Lucknow is known to be home to the best Urdu, and I feel like I’m somehow insulting my ancestors by having lost the language after only one generation outside of India. It also doesn’t help that all my brothers and even my little nephews (3-6 years old) speak good Urdu, making my poor language skills even more apparent.

    But I agree with you, if people are living in England, they should learn how to speak English. In Quebec (the French part of Canada where I grew up), they are so proud of their French heritage that the government actually pays immigrants to enroll themselves in adult French courses. Some people consider this to be a bad policy, as it hurts multiculturalism (people think that the policy is meant to assimilate immigrants rather than integrate them), but I actually think it’s a good idea. If we’re living in the West, we should be able to contribute meaningfully, and that means we need to speak the languages.

  7. iMuslim says:

    The after-math of 7/7 has been strange. In some ways, nothing has changed and in other ways, everything has. On the street, i don’t feel any hostility from the people, and being a hijabi, women are usually the first ones to feel the pressure as we’re easy targets. However in the political arena things are changing all the time, and there’s not a week goes by that you don’t find Muslim-related issues in the papers.

    Those who glorify 7/7 are delusional, and as i said in my comment, it’s just empty rage which is harmful and pointless. To be honest, i cannot gauge the Muslim community that well, as although i attend events, i only hang around with the sisters. Sisters seem to be more understanding. I think it’s the young brothers who haven’t fully matured yet into their deen and who are consumed by testosterone-fuelled machismo that present the greatest danger to themselves and others. They need greater leadership but they find the scholars to be hypocritical. They only preach about the nobility of true jihad, yet fail to engage in it themselves. The only people who seem to be doing anything to combat the evil that they witness daily on their TV screens are those who don’t care for what Allah has made halal or haram, and thus they become their role models.

    It truly is a sad state of affairs. And yet Allah will not help us until we help ourselves. It took thirteen or more years for the ummah to be fully prepared for the challenges of jihad under the leadership of Muhammad (peace be upon him) – how long will it take for an Ummah who doesn’t wish to follow his Sunnah?

  8. dining_philosopher says:

    Confused. Thats what you are. Ofcourse, everyone is confused. But your confusion is of a different kind.

    When it’s England vs India/Pakistan, i side with whichever side looks like they’re winning. haha

    You are born in England. You should be supporting England which is your country.

    You are from an Indian family you should be supporting Indians.

    Now, how the fu** did Pakistan come into picture? You support Pakistan because they are a Muslim country? What the f***?

    I dont even want to know whom your family supports when India is playing Pakistan.

  9. iMuslim says:

    DP, dahlink, it’s called a joke.

    I DON’T EVEN WATCH CRICKET.

    Like most sports, i enjoy playing them more than watching. I’d rather watch paint dry then a live cricket match…

    Now tennis, that is an exception. That can be quite a good sport to watch. But even then i don’t make any effort to follow it.

  10. iMuslim says:

    P.S., i don’t see the harm in supporting Pakistan. Just as i don’t see the harm in random folk from around the world supporting Manchester United or Arsenal.

    As they say over here: IT’S ONLY A GAME.

  11. […] rant (which seemed to echo my own thoughts!) on Integration, Integration, Inte-freaking-gration […]

  12. […] subjects (which range from homosexuality and integration – or in iMuslim’s famous words, INTE-FREAKING-GRATION! ;) – to Middle-East/ Muslim-world-related politics), and are sometimes looked askance at by other […]

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