If religion is a key part of an individual’s identity, it matters. Muhammad Ali was a proud black Muslim American. Every single one of these words matter in describing him because every single one of them were factors that shaped him into who he was. And while using all these words is important when describing The Champ, it is also important when considering his legacy: after Muhammad Ali’s death, Mehdi Hassan so poignantly reminded us that ‘Muhammad Ali made millions of us feel proud of our identity, our ethnicity, our political views, our religious beliefs(…)’ He particularly empowered the black community, the black American community, the Muslim community, the black Muslim community and the black Muslim American community, and his story and legacy will continue to do so.
To suggest that a key part of an individual’s identity is irrelevant in celebrating them and their success, and in being inspired by them and their success, is simply abhorrent.
So when a friend’s status regarding Moeen Ali’s performance in an England test match last month, describing Ali as ‘an inspiring role model for Muslims everywhere!’, was met with the following comment ‘fail to see why his religion is relevant? A great innings indeed, but I don’t see why the fact he is Muslim has to be emphasised.’ I was taken aback – this individual completely missed the point. Ali as a successful Muslim is a role model to other Muslims – specifically now, when we are surrounded by bad press. Ali as a well-known [Muslim] cricketer is a role model to other Muslims aspiring to be great sportspeople. Ali’s religion is relevant to my friend because he is also Muslim; identity allows us, particularly marginalised communities, to identify with successful individuals and to be inspired and motivated by them.
Amongst all the other labels that matter, religion also matters. Because with the same logic that the religion of violent individuals ‘is relevant because their attack was motivated by religion’, the religion of successful individuals is relevant because they too are motivated (to do good, to be humble, to be good role models etc) by religion – and the other labels they use to describe their identity. Identity matters because it is what shapes us, teaches us and motivates us. It is what we, (again) particularly marginalised or disadvantaged groups and communities, use to identify with others in order to find our voices, to be listened to and to find a safe space – in order to be accepted.
To end how I began, what inclusivity really means is acceptance – not ignorance. The beauty of RTP is not just that it is inclusive, the beauty of RTP is that it is accepting of every individual who attends the Open Iftar.
Atika, a current volunteer at Ramadan Tent Project, is a second year SOAS undergrad where she has begun her journey into writing through the student newspaper covering various topics: from quasi-structured political rants and interviews to book reviews and author profiles. A multilingual lover of languages, writing – reading that of others and writing herself – and mangoes. And tea. And puns. And crunchy peanut butter. Also a budding journalist, though this is potentially subject to change as she is the token indecisive young person.