“When I was very young around the about 11, I remember going to secondary school. I was born in Britain, I considered myself British, I was very much brought up in an Indian and Muslim household – nearly all my interactions were with this community. There was a tension between my life at home and what I experienced at school, because there were a lot of kids who were English and I really envied their relative freedom compared to what I had . . . And I remember thinking at that age I really hated being a ‘Paki’, I really hated going to the mosque, I really hated the culture of the mosque compared to the school which was beautiful . . . I felt like an outsider and I hated who I was and I really hated my religion and really hated my upbringing . . .
A few years went by, and just unconsciously I began asking myself, who I was? I think it was a common experience for my generation: Am I British? Am I Indian? Am I Muslim? What am I? It was not until I got to university that I went to the library I picked up this book by Karen Armstrong called Muhammad. Why did I pick it up? I don’t know? I think it was an interesting cover, gold and blue, yellow and blue or something. I thought it’s written by not a Muslim author but by an ex-Christian nun, well let’s read it, well I read the first page and I was astounded because even though I had been told the Prophet Muhammad was a good man, was wonderful and perfect . . . it was all dogmatic and you are told to take it in faith. What she wrote was a historical account of the man in the context of where he grew up, and what he did, and what he achieved, and who he was. For me it was mind blowing, I was so taken aback and thought this is just wonderful, not just a history book, it was a very interesting and fascinating book that brought me back to my religion.”
Bilal, British – of Indian heritage, male, 49, b.UK