Living in a multicultural society, I see the desire for harmony being threatened by ignorance and apprehension, which steer people along divergent paths. With my parents’ country politically torn, and my religion a centre of misunderstanding and conflict, I feel further embroiled in issues of my community. My interest has been intensified by my studies of civilisations and their conflicts, followed by my first-hand experience of being in the midst of the Arab Uprising, which is proving to be a trigger of historic movements and international change. Being born and raised in Tower Hamlets, in government statistics, can be seen as a plight or a burden on national services. Mentioning those two words springs lame jokes by peers of Bangladeshis and fish, or the obsession of headscarves from Whitechapel Market by respected genders. However, there is a consensus across the board from all social classes for the fondness of the unlimited supply of curry houses that the borough has to offer.
It is without a doubt that there are many learning curves that Tower Hamlets has faced and is facing. A population of slightly wealthy landowners descended onto this piece of land, and entered the paradox of a ‘British identity.’ Eventually, it formed into what I believe, a falsely described ‘war between secularists and the religious.’ Growing up, I saw the evolution even amongst family members of ridding of what was understood to be cultural practices that did not align as Islamic yet preserving ethnic and traditional observances with vigour. Touching of the feet to give ‘salaam’ to the elders was swiftly abolished, yet the English language was outlawed at home in order to preserve the Bengali language. Traditional chairs, known as a ‘mura’, were decoratively dotted around the various rooms of the house to add a touch of the ‘homeland.’ I believe the lengths that my family went through to educate every one of us to a very high standard, from the careful selection of schools to sitting with us late into the night to assist with learning, eventually achieved the equilibrium of a religious yet what I believe to be a progressive rather than secular upbringing. It is worthy to note that the word secularist has caused much grievances in Bangladesh from its birth to date, with the lack of a clear definition, thus, allowing ‘religious individuals’ to use it as a weapon when attacking what they believe to be morally wrong, both at ‘home’ and abroad.
The welfare of my community is a priority for me. Being a native speaker of Bengali, fluent in Arabic and having memorised the entire Qur’an when I was eleven, gave me the privilege of schooling children in both the Arabic language and the Qur’an, thus opening my mind to beliefs and questions asked by young people and taking responsibility at a young age. The glint of desire in the students’ eyes as they question concepts and say with honesty what they hope to achieve through this education is, for me, the reward for teaching on a voluntary basis. Their innocent belief in religion’s power to end world conflicts may bring a smile to the teacher’s face, but it is this honesty that inspires us to strive.
Working regularly with a youth group, where I was given the chance to share my experiences and aspiring endeavours enabled me to empathise with youths facing issues such as peer pressure, bullying, and drugs. They realised they had someone with whom they could share their feelings about growing up in a minority society, and from whom they could gain the hope that there is a better stretch of land out there for them. My goal is not to be a saviour, but rather a hand stretched out offering help.
Cable Street, Clement Attlee, William Booth, Keir Hardie are all names vividly alive in my locality and prominent in my mind. Shahid Minar in Aldgate brings a flurry of emotions every time I walk past; sadness, longing for community cohesion, and desires of social uplifting. Together, they symbolise liberty in political principles and religious conviction, and independence of thought. I should like to play a similar role in what I know is a complex minefield of ideals in conflict with the demands of reality.
Tower Hamlets in my metaphorical eyes is a paranoid teenager. It needs to learn to trust, but trust has not been afforded to it as yet. For it to blossom into a mature adult with learning’s of life and its responsibilities, it needs to not be seen as a hostile hormonal teenager, rather a small, loving, and beautiful being with many issues that have not been resolved as it has always been left abandoned after being used as a guinea pig by anyone wishing to trial their many experiments upon it. For an honest answer of what it is to be a child of Tower Hamlets, an outsider must learn to embrace it of its goodness and its shortcomings, before being given a warm hug of embrace by its souls.