By Julian Bond
A few years ago, I didn’t think of myself as a “Muslim ally”, nor did I call myself one. After leaving the Christian Muslim Forum, I added “Muslim-friendly” to my Twitter bio. I later changed this to “Muslim ally”, to annoy the haters and so that there could be no doubt at all about what I stood for and with whom!
Standing side by side with Muslims
In my journey side by side with British Muslims over the last 17 years (only nine of which were at the Christian Muslim Forum), I have encountered a lot of Islamophobia and have been highlighting and challenging it for all of that time. I spent a number of years actually working directly full time on this issue but what really drove my efforts was identifying with Islam.
From the beginning I resolved to know and to experience as much of Islam as I could (and I continue to do so to this day). It seemed sufficiently unknown, unfamiliar and unpopular that someone ought to make the effort. It was in fact after as little as a year working on the Archbishop’s Christian-Muslim Initiative (the precursor of the Forum) that I began to no longer see Islam and Muslims as “other”. However, at the same time, have been wary about seeming too much like a Muslim, especially when I was officially the Christian Director of the Forum. Again though, it was not long before colleagues began calling me an “honorary Muslim” – which I definitely took as a compliment!
I’ve really been an ally from the beginning along the particular and maybe peculiar Christian-Muslim path that I have taken. I have been fortunate to be granted privileged access to Muslim communities and their spaces (apart from more culturally-related gender issues) – although anyone could too as Muslims are extremely welcoming.
At present, I am currently the only official ambassador for a Muslim publisher of children’s books Chickpea Press and am also organising, for about the seventh year running, an annual Christian-Muslim dialogue event. Part of the legacy of the Christian Muslim Forum lives on in my voluntary inter faith work. Apart from a few events each year my work is mainly online and I regularly receive appreciation from Muslim friends for what I am doing, often when I meet them in person after online social media interactions.
Ongoing Islamophobia: Marching ahead
Despite all the positivity this work has brought though, I still feel that Islamophobia is a huge challenge – although there is some encouragement along the way. Those of us working in this area need to do even more, yet it is hard to know what else to do.
I see my work as a Muslim ally at its strongest when I’m working in collaboration with Muslims and other like-minded individuals – although collaboration seems to be low down on many agendas, whether individual or organisational. Fortunately, I am quite stubborn and rather than be put off by lack of collaboration my commitment to it increases, even though it comes with a tendency to gravitate towards the unofficial and the progressive!
As a good ally, if I could get everyone together and address each and every one of them, I would make a call for us all to work together. Working together is crucial – especially in a climate of growing Islamophobia and antisemitism. This is why I’m proud to be a Muslim ally and think we should all be too! So, reach out to your neighbours, break down those barriers and stand up against hate – for everyone’s sake…