These days living in a western country isn’t easy if you’re Muslim and even more so if you’re a Muslim woman.  Add an ethnic background, a darker shade of skin colour and you just about tick every box for reasons to be discriminated against.  Even going for a swim in your Burkini can make headlines.

It’s takes a strong kind of woman to wear a hijab in the western world.  It’s not for the faint-hearted nor the quick-to-temper, because there’ll be plenty of opportunities to misjudge you.  They’ll call you oppressed, unintelligent, try to dictate how you dress and blame you for the atrocities in the world. They may verbally abuse you, change the law to control you, and try desperately to make you take that thing off your head.  The less you wear the less of a threat you are.  Most insulting of all is that they will believe wearing a hijab could only be forced upon a woman by a man and that you’re incapable, as a person, to make this decision as an act of worship to your Creator.

The reality is, and most Muslim husbands will agree, Muslim women are far from oppressed.  They’re confident, outspoken, intelligent flag bearers of their faith.  They’re easily identifiable, proud and resolute in their belief and their purpose.  They are not terrorists.  They don’t represent nor support ISIS. Vilifying them publicly is just another smear campaign to entice greater racial tension in our communities which serve a political agenda that’s toxic and divisive.

Banning the Burkah, the Burkini, or Halal labelling don’t fight terrorism.  Banning the Burkini is actually oppressing a woman’s right to dress how they want.  Banning halal labelling limits business opportunities for domestic sales and reduces export revenue.  The intention isn’t to fight terrorism but to cause fear and division amongst communities.

If we want to fight terrorism we need to start by eliminating the fear people have around Islam and Muslims.  ISIS are attacking everyone without any discrimination to race or religion, including Muslims!  They recruit often mentally unsound people, from the same soil they carry out the attacks in.  Home-grown-terrorists mean neighbours are cautious with neighbours and colleagues ponder if that hijabi girl will one day ‘snap’ at the office and shoot people. It’s a terrifying situation to be in, Muslim or not.

We need to start by building stronger relationships amongst community groups of all cultural and religious backgrounds through dialogue platforms so we may better understand each other.  This forms the basis to inclusive, sustainable, cohesive, peaceful and compassionate communities without fear or prejudice.  We present Islam in all its transparency, the way millions of peaceful Muslims around the world have embraced as their way of life.  This is how to combat the evil which claims to represent me, my religion, my God.

Next is to address the ISIS recruitment process.  This isn’t a faraway problem in a faraway place anymore.  The latest series of terrorist attacks were carried out by people who’ve been groomed into ISIS following a major personal crisis.  Jake Bilardi’s mother had recently died from cancer. This void was filled by ISIS recruiters and Bilardi was radicalised within months.  I’ll never forget the confusion in his father’s eyes.  In times of personal crisis an ISIS vulture is the last thing we want preying on our youth, in their most fragile state.  Bouhlel was in the midst of a divorce and had three children.  He had history of mental health problems.  No one in their right mind is joining ISIS. In fact the whole process is opportunistic and reeks of narcissism.

We need to disable this recruitment process at grassroots level.  There are many credible established Muslim organisations that strive for the betterment of their communities everyday.  These organisations need to be proactively supported by peak Government bodies and used as resources for anyone looking to learn about Islam. They need to be promoted as resources available to all public schools, universities, clinics, grief councillors and youth groups.  This allows people to find out about Islam from credible resources, from safe, honest, God-fearing people.

What difference is it going to make to anyone if the lady at the beach wears a Burkini or not?  We need to start having real discussions that generate real solutions.  It’s our duty as people, as parents, as citizens of the world to make a conscious decision to lay the foundations of a more inclusive world without fear or prejudice.