This week Tesco released it Christmas advert for 2017, featuring snapshots of British families preparing, eating and squabbling over the Christmas turkey. It portrayed families with different races, classes, ages and sexual orientations, but one element that – predictably – brought out the PC police – hijabis.
One scene in the advert depicts Muslim women greeting each other at the door, with tinsel-adorned walls. The response has been overwhelmingly negative, with critics lamenting the lack of overt Christian symbols in the advert. Right, because who can forget the celebrated Christian symbolism of adverts past, Buster the bouncing boxer dog, the man on the moon and that bastion of religion, Monty the penguin?
Christian symbolism is always absent or, at best, an undercurrent in Christmas supermarket adverts, whose modus operandi is to evoke nostalgia in order to sell products, not to promote Christianity. The only reason critics are offended by this advert, is because they dared to acknowledge that Muslims exist.
As British Muslims, we spend our whole lives being told to integrate, to be part of British culture, to embrace British traditions. So we win medals at sports days, we bake in county shows, we cure your colds and complain about the rain. We have roast dinners and shepherd’s pies, we vote for our councillors and we petition to have that terrible road fixed.
But God forbid we exist during Christmas. Because, yes, critics of this advert expect us to integrate, but not too much. Not so much that we have good jobs, that we celebrate British holidays, that they have to see our integration, not so much that we break the stereotype that they’ve thrust upon us.
It’s a predicable cycle. A television channel, or newspaper article, or advert features a Muslim in hijab, and it is perceived as an incitement, of giving Muslims special treatment. Our mere existence is a political statement, and an explicit example of our integration is – as this advertisment has been called time and again – “offensive”.
The fear that Christmas is being Islamicised is unfounded. The Tesco advert didn’t imply that Muslims are filling up the churches on Christmas morning – it didn’t even suggest we are all guzzling turkey come the 25th, since Tesco doesn’t actually produce any halal turkey – all it did was demonstrate that Muslims, like any other Brits, get together during holiday seasons. We throw a bit of tinsel up, have dinner at friends’ houses. And if you find that offensive, then the Grinch of the year is you.
Opponents of the advert were quick to point out that Christians – or normal Brits – don’t celebrate Muslim holidays. That is not entirely true, the difference is that British Muslims welcome solidarity fasts in Ramadan, and plenty of us celebrate Eid with non-Muslim friends. Integration is a loaded word, and its meaning is a lot more nuanced than its general usage; there are those who argue that the word should be cast aside for another that doesn’t imply assimilation. But for those Muslims who attempt to integrate, whether they ought to or not – there is always the inescapable obstacle that we see with this advert; integration is a two-way street.
No matter how many Olympic medals we win or how many music records we sell, even if we bake a birthday cake for the Queen, the idea of a seeing a British Muslim on your telly is still more outlandish than an Antarctic penguin, magical creatures under your bed and an elderly man living in a shack on the moon.
To all those people who tell us that their problem with Muslims is that we don’t want to integrate, this is your moment. Either you accept our integration, and rejoice in the Muslim celebration of the holiday season, or admit that the sight of a brown woman in hijab showing festive cheer offends you. It would just bigot if you could admit it.