Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

When All You Can Do Is Pray for a Job

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

When All You Can Do Is Pray for a Job

Article excerpt


Since the 11 September atrocities at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Muslims in the UK say they have encountered increasing discrimination in the office and in the search for work. Gaby Huddart reports

FORTY-YEAR-OLD Moussa Wabdesselam is currently retraining for a career in IT. In order to progress his studies he needs some work experience in the computer department of a medium-sized to large company. But, despite sending out numerous application letters in recent weeks, so far his requests have come to nothing.

"Maybe it's just bad luck," he says, "but I've been surprised at the lack of replies since I'm offering my services free. I must admit, it has crossed my mind that, although I have been living in the UK for far more than a decade, in the light of the 11 September terrorist attacks in America, my Algerian and very obviously Muslim name, could be putting some people off."

Deputy general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), Mahmud Al-Rashid, says he is certain Wabdesselam's suspicions are justified. While the vast majority of Muslims in the UK are appalled by the activities of the al Qaeda terrorist network ("killing has no place in our religion"), he argues that ignorance and misunderstanding of them is rife and leading to discrimination in the workplace.

"We're already hearing cases of blatant discrimination," he says. "For instance, I know of one Muslim woman who was sacked because of her religion after the events of 11 September, and another man whose colleague of 15 years has refused to talk to him or have anything to do with him ever since. It's ridiculous and irrational. We're not all mad mullahs, we're just the same as everyone else."

Al-Rashid adds that even before 11 September he believes there was great prejudice against Muslims, particularly those of Middle Eastern origin.

"Hollywood has tended to churn out films showing Arabs as terrorists: images that have helped create ignorance and suspicion," he says.

Inayat Bunglawala, a fellow member of the MCB, endorses Al-Rashid's comments. He has heard numerous anecdotes of fellow Muslims experiencing discrimination at work. He had a taste of it himself in the 1990s: "I graduated from Queen Mary's College in 1991 in the aftermath of the Gulf War, when there was similarly lots of suspicion about Muslims and the Middle East.

While I was at university I had grown a beard, so I suppose I looked very obviously Muslim. I found that I got absolutely nowhere with any interviews or job applications.

"I decided to shave off the beard when I went for the civil service selection process and immediately had no problems. While I can't prove that my Muslim appearance led to people not hiring me, I'm convinced of it. And I think the current situation is making attitudes to Muslims even worse. …

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