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‘Britain is Bismillah’: New Muslim Poem Sparks Mixed Reactions

A new spoken word poem, performed at an event hosted by Runnymede Trust and the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London, in the UK has gone viral as its Muslim poet Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan received a bunch of mixed reactions, Metro reported.

“I decided to perform the poem after I was asked to speak on the whitewashed history curricula in schools and universities in Britain,” informed the Muslim writer, spoken word poet, speaker, and educator, known online as ‘The Brown Hijabi’.

Entitled British Values, the poem ‘Britain is Bismillah’ has  ruffled a few feathers and racist comments since it was released, but also won wide praise among British Muslims and beyond for the scathing but accurate look at Britain’s history.

The female Muslim poet explained that: she “was partly inspired by headlines I saw, partly by my own feelings of Britishness as a grassroots identity of multifaceted meaning as opposed to an unchanging, static culture.”

A Cambridge University graduate from Bradford, Manzoor-Khan explores the complex and intricate relationship of being a British Muslim woman. In it, she questions Britain’s failures like Grenfell, Windrush and current-day Islamophobia.

She juxtaposes it with the brilliance of Britain’s current day diversity, saying ‘Britain is Bismillah, basmati and bilingual, box braids and black barber shops, Bollywood, and bhangra’.

Poem of Pride?

A part of the poem says: “Britain is body-popping outside of the tube, Brick Lane before it was cool, Britain is the burqa, Britain is praying in the changing rooms, Britain has its feet in your sink, Britain is barbaric, Britain has blood on its hands, Britain is blindly patriotic, Britain is built on false narratives.”

Manzoor-Khan believes “This narrative from the top down doesn’t really resonate with anyone I know. The idea came to me after my postgraduate research and took some time for me to write.”

The young poet has performed the poem in several places in Britain and internationally. Though it provokes some people, she says she wasn’t nervous about performing it.

“This is one of my favorite poems to perform as people generally get very into the references that I make and I think it resonates with anyone born in this country who has had to grow up dealing with its contradictory narratives about itself,” she said.

“The reception has been fascinating. I didn’t expect it to be shared at the rate it has been – I’ve had some people I really admire share and respond to it. But I’ve also had a few people really disingenuously ignore the message of the poem and personally attack me on grounds that I should not critique an arbitrary structure like a nation-state,” she added.

The girl continued that she never understands “how the same people who tell me I should be grateful for the free speech Britain gives me, try to silence my speech.”

According to 2009 estimates, there is about 2.4 million Muslims over all the UK.

Yet, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life put the number of Muslims in Britain at around 3 million.


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