Exploring Being Muslim in Herefordshire
InSITE reporter Paul Rogers talks to Muslim Zack Pandor about his experiences and Herefordshire’s Race Relations Officer for his views.
A recent census report showed that 250 Muslim people live in Herefordshire. There are no Mosques or specialist Muslim community centres in the county and the nearest place to get Halal meat is Worcester or Gloucester. Does this make it hard for Muslim’s to live in the county? I spoke to Zack Pandor, a Muslim who works for the Primary Care Trust at Herefordshire County Hospital to find out.
“I have experienced no problems at work and am treated with the same respect as other employees. I have experienced occasional verbal abuse in the street, but that can happen anyway so I wouldn’t say that Herefordshire has a problem in accepting Muslim’s or is in any way racist. However, I do believe that there is a lack of knowledge about Islam in the county”, said Zack.
Zack has worked in Hereford for the past seven years but commutes from Gloucester because of the lack of facilities on offer for Muslim’s. He is able to attend Herefordshire County Hospital on Friday’s for prayers, which is convenient for him and fellow doctors as the hospital has a small prayer room.
Zack also works closely with teachers in the county to raise awareness and give information about Islam to schoolchildren. He says the first question he always asks people is “have you ever met a Muslim?” because the majority of people in Herefordshire have never actually spoken to a Muslim person before. This is completely different to more multicultural cites like London or Birmingham where there are much more diverse communities.
With the lack of facilities in Herefordshire for Muslim people are there any plans to introduce halal meat into shops or to build a Mosque? Neville Meredith, Racial Equalities Officer for Herefordshire Council, believes that the drive for developments like this need to come from within the Muslim community. They have to show Councillors that these developments would be beneficial to the county. However Zack thinks that it is unlikely that a Mosque will ever be built in Herefordshire as he feels that a large section of the community would be against the plans and that there is not enough demand for shops to start stocking Halal meat.
We live in a multicultural society but in light of the uproar caused by behaviour in the Celebrity Big Brother house and the controversy surrounding the wearing of veils in schools we are not as tolerant as we may like to think. Neville’s own views are that he would not be comfortable if his wife or daughter wore a veil as they would stand out and could be open to abuse. “I used to live in Swindon, which is very multicultural with a big Sikh population, so when I first came to Hereford I saw a big difference. If a black or Asian person walked the streets of Hereford, they would be more noticeable than if they were walking the streets of London, particularly if it was a Muslim woman wearing a Hijab,” added Neville.
Both Neville and Zack feel that communication is the key to breaking down barriers between different cultural groups in Herefordshire and both agree that the media also has an important part to play in shaping people’s stereotypes of people from different cultures. Both Neville and Zack have strong links in the Muslim community and think that changes are occurring for the better.
Neville believes that “we as a society should have more confidence and celebrate our own traditions. If everyone can do that then may be the world would be a more peaceful place to live,” he said.