Opinion: Racism at my workplace and the power of Islamic teachings

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Last Updated on 24th July 2021

Subur Tahir, Wolverhampton, UK 

A year ago, following the killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by a white male police officer in America – which sparked protests across the world about police brutality and racism – a similar protest was held in London. 

Protesters clashed with a far-right organisation and the police were forced to intervene. It was all over the news and on social media.

Being a black man, I was disturbed by the incidents in America and the UK.

On 5 June 2020, a Friday, I went to work and found a printed photo on the cabinet door of a black man pinned to the wall by three white police officers from the protest that took place in London the previous day. I then realised my name was on the photo with the caption: “Subur Tahir wanted. Reward for capture”.

At this point I felt numb and my brain froze as I could not come to terms with what I had just read on this photo. After a minute or two of staring at the photo and the caption, I asked one of my colleagues whose idea it was, to which he said it was our manager who did it. I was deeply disgusted, upset, angry and annoyed. I have faced racism before at university, but to have it at my workplace and from my manager, was deeply disturbing. 

At this point, my colleague read my body language and sensed that I was not happy at all. I waited for my manager to come back from her cigarette break. 

When she returned, I asked her whose idea it was and she admitted it was hers and that it was just for “jokes” and “banter”. I made it clear to her that this was blatant discrimination and racial abuse at the workplace and she could lose her job if I reported it to HR. 

She pleaded and said, “I didn’t really mean to upset you; it was only a joke because he looks like you. I don’t have a racist bone in me and you know that. I don’t see colour.” I told her that this was probably how she had seen me for all those years I worked there.

I stormed out of the office and went and sat in my car thinking what to do; to report her to HR or not. I rang my dad, an Ahmadi missionary of the Darul Barkat Mosque, Birmingham, and told him what had happened and sought his advice on how to deal with the situation. 

My dad asked me to calm down and not to let anger take over me. He said this was an opportunity for me to demonstrate the true teachings of Islam to her by forgiving her and asking her to write a letter of apology to bring the case to a close. He gave the example of Hazrat Bilalra – a black companion of the Holy Prophetsa and the first muazzin – who forgave his torturers because of the beautiful teachings of Islam. My dad advised me not to report her as she would lose her job – her means of living – and I wouldn’t get any joy or satisfaction out of it. My dad asked if I was okay and said to continue with my work. I responded positively to this advice and thanked him. 

I went back into the office and approached my manager. I informed her I wouldn’t be taking it further as I had spoken to my dad who advised me to forgive and to ask you to write a letter of apology addressed to me and then the case would be closed. I then told her that Islam taught forgiveness and that even though I was deeply hurt by her actions, I must forgive her, in accordance with my beliefs and faith. 

She was astonished by my answer and could not stop crying and thanking me and apologising.

I was fortunate enough to show her the true teachings of Islam in this way and ever since she has been very polite and respectful towards me. 

I thank my family for their support and guidance through this ordeal and encourage all to fight bigotry and racism with the tools Islam has provided us with. 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. MashaAllah, it takes great strength to be able act the way you did let alone forgiving her and making your faith take president ,and also thinking about how it may affect her livelihood, that’s rare.

    Inshallah such things will stop happening and we learn to love and respect one another,regardless of what our differences may be .

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