Late last year, just a month after our move from Eindhoven in the Netherlands to London, the city of Paris was shaken by a number of explosions that claimed hundreds of lives.
What we saw on the news then just numbed us.
My family and I just sat down for a moment and watched the television without uttering a word.
We were shocked by what was shown on the news and immediately felt scared.
You see, Paris was only three and a half hours from our previous residence in Eindhoven and we had, on a number of occasions, taken road trips over the weekend to enjoy Paris’ beauty and serenity.
The places where the attacks took place somehow struck a chord of familiarity.
Just four months later, the city of Brussels became the latest target of violence in Europe.
Once again, we sat in front of the telly and went silent.
If Paris was a three-and-a-half-hour drive from our previous residence, Brussels was only an hour and fifteen minutes away.
Worse still, Brussels and Antwerp were the two cities that we visited on most weekends not only because of their close proximity to us then, but also because of the large number of Muslims in these cities that gave us the opportunity to explore the many halal restaurants and shops that catered to our needs.
When these tragedies, so close to where we have been, happened, I always ask myself if I or we can live safely here.
Every day when my husband goes to work and the children are at school, I’m afraid to go anywhere and will stay indoors.
Perhaps this is just me and my mind playing the scary ‘what ifs’ scenarios, but I am a Muslim woman and I don the hijab.
Also, we now live in an area where there are hardly any Muslims and I know each time something big like the bombings happen somewhere, people will start to look at me in a funny way.
Although not much has been reported, when incidents of violence such as the Belgium bombings happen, hate crime or hate against Muslims will also be on the rise.
Since the Paris attack, a number of incidents have been reported in London where Muslim women wearing the hijab had been targets of racial abusers.
TALKING ABOUT HATE
My children have also told me that in school, their teachers held special talks about what happened and also about hate crime.
The head teacher also informed the students that terrorism and violence will not be tolerated and that it is not their Muslim friends or neighbours who commit these devious crimes, but the so-called extremist Muslims who do not follow the teachings of Islam properly.
But I can’t help thinking that among these students there still might be some who think that all Muslims are the same, that we know about the terrorists among us even when truthfully we don’t and that we hate violence of any kind.
What truly riles me are these so-called Muslim extremists who claimed the right to live in these European cities, often benefitting from financial, health and housing help from the government and even their livelihood from their adopted countries, and yet committing violence without batting an eyelid.
Which part of this is the teaching of Islam I wonder.
Is this what Islam is all about?
Islam is a religion of peace and calmness and teaches, like all other religions, to love and respect one another.
For example, in the Quran, we are reminded as many as 90 times to be patient. This shows how Islam is.
We do not inflict violence on anyone even with our tongues, never mind weapons.
These extremists have deliberately tarnished the image of Islam that we normal abiding Muslims love.
The fear these attacks have inflicted on those of us who live near where they happened has also not yet faded. I do realise that we have to choose not to think about it and just carry on living.
We have to appreciate what we have and must not succumb to just looking behind our backs each time we go out or stay indoors and avoid life altogether.
But it is so very hard to do.
So, in times like this, I cannot help but ask my husband: “Will you get a Singapore posting any time soon?”
- Ida Suandi- Al Shara is a Singaporean living in London. She is a part time post-doctoral researcher at Goldsmiths, University of London and is also a housewife. She is on sabbatical from her teaching position in Singapore