On the top deck of the Number 32 bus, a group of Muslim teenagers took the seats in front of me. There were six of them, all in black hijabs, and very rowdy. They were simultaneously trying to balance their school bags and books in one hand, while holding onto mobile phones in the other; texting or surfing the web, giggling and getting worked up, all at the same time.
‘Look at this,’ one of them exclaimed, pointing to her phone. Other girls immediately tried to peer inside an impossibly small screen. ‘She looks like a hijra [transsexual], innit?’ They laughed. Another girl pointed to a picture from her mobile. ‘It’s me dad’s new car; it’s blue,’ she said. ‘But if someone says it’s blue he gets upset.’ She pulled at her hijab, and, pretending to sound like her father, said in mock-accented English, ‘Why are you insulting my second wife? It’s turquoise.’ They all laughed again.
‘Me mum wants me to marry this American geezer,’ another of the girls said. The others all tried to snatch the phone from her hand. ‘American Muslims are like Tablighis. They go around converting people,’ one of them declared to the entire bus. ‘Is he a man or an elf?’, another asked. ‘Dream on elf,’ shouted another. ‘Look at his beard! It goes all the way to his knees.’ Everyone looked. ‘He can say his namaz [prayer] starkers!’ Then came a question that wouldn’t be out of place in a philosophy seminar: ‘God, He has a beard, innit?’