THE BLOG

Why Does It Matter If Muhammad Is the Most Popular Name in the UK?

03/12/2014 09:42 GMT | Updated 01/02/2015 10:59 GMT

Google the name 'Muhammad' and you will find articles from The Guardian, The Mirror, RT, Buzzfeed and Metro - to name a few - about whether Muhammad is the most popular baby's name in the UK for 2014. Social media feeds are saturated with articles that argue the contrary, especially by anti-racist activists calling articles that claim that it is the most popular name 'right-wing scaremongering stories'. Elsewhere I imagine there are racists celebrating with statuses along the lines of 'Yay those barbaric Muslims aren't taking over. Woohoo, Muhammad isn't #1!'

Both stances are problematic, with the latter obviously more concerning. The popular defence presented by anti-racists - that it is essentially untrue - fails to address the issues at hand. The discussion as a whole is inherently Islamophobic, and instead of this being the principle focus, supposed allies are actively reinforcing racist ideas that suggest if more people were called Muhammad, there would be reason to worry.

Ultimately I don't care whether or not Muhammad* tops the list of baby names. Instead I find myself questioning the relevance of such a trivial topic and the intentions behind this discourse. Why are we not discussing significantly more important issues such as the privatisation of prisons, the destruction of the welfare system, the demolition of the NHS, the housing crisis, the marketisation of higher education, growing economic inequality, the rising levels of poverty, the increasing levels of homelessness and the growing reliance on food banks? Why are we not writing or prioritising articles about police brutality, the racist 'immigration debate', the targeting of faith schools, state-sponsored surveillance of Muslims, the demonisation of minority groups and the fact that right wing politics are becoming dangerously mainstream?

Would we accept any mainstream newspaper publishing an article entitled 'Noah ISN'T the most popular name in the UK' - or a name from any another faith group? So why are Muslims constantly lambasted in the press? Why do people suddenly become interested in advocating women's rights when Muslims are involved? Why do people discover their passion for animal rights when it comes to halal meat? Why is the faith of a criminal focused on if they self-define as Muslim whereas news stories about non-Muslims committing a crime fail to mention their religious affiliation? Why do people care about the most popular baby's name when it happens to be a Muslim name?

*Cue the 'Oh my god, here goes another Muslim throwing the Islamophobia Card to shut down debate' comments from the usual suspects*

The fact of the matter is that we are currently living in a toxic political climate that sets a microscopic lens on Muslims, their faith groups, their practices and their attire. Anti-Muslim hate crimes are on the rise with Metropolitan Police figures showing a 65% increase in reported attacks over the last 12 months. Anti-Muslim bigotry is socially acceptable hence it came as no surprise to me when earlier this week I read that Muslims are the most discriminated minority group in terms of employment prospects.

Is it too much to ask that we stop singling out Muslims, feeding into racist narratives and instead start to focus and invest our energy into more important issues?

*and its spelling variations