November marks Islamophobia Awareness Month, but why do we need it?
Islamophobia Awareness Month (IAM) was co-founded by MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development) with other organisations in 2012 to deconstruct and challenge stereotypes about Islam and Muslims across Britain.
The campaign is held every November and aims to work with the police, crime commissioners, local councils, mosques, schools, universities, and community organisations and others to raise awareness of the threat of Islamophobia and encourage better reporting to the police.
The month is aptly timed following Azeem Rafiq’s complaint against Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC) for institutional racism. With Asma Iqbal, a lawyer from Bradford with a practice in Leeds leading his case, Mr Rafiq won his employment tribunal, and change in top management has been made with Lord Kamlesh Patel brought on board as chair of the club.
On Tuesday, Mr Rafiq gave harrowing verbal evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) select committee in Parliament about his experience at the club. In tears, Mr Rafiq talked about racist slurs and anti-Muslim abuse that he faced. One incident occurred when he was only 15 when his teammates forcibly poured wine down his throat knowing that it goes against his beliefs.
Imran Hussain, MP for Bradford East who recently opened the first annual West Yorkshire Islamophobia Conference says, “Islamophobia Awareness Month is an important date in all our calendars for highlighting the threat of Islamophobic hate crimes”.
He added: “As a British Muslim, I’m disgusted that in the 21st century we not only still need to open people’s eyes and make them aware of Islamophobia in our society, but that it is on the rise across the country.
“Indeed, Muslim men, women and even children from all walks of life still face Islamophobic attacks and persecution because of their religion. The charity, Tell MAMA, found that that last year, there was a 700% increase in Islamophobic incidents, whilst the police recorded that almost half of religiously motivated hate crimes were Islamophobic in nature,
“However, when we see the normalisation and casualisation of Islamophobia encouraged by those in public life, including by the media and even by the Prime Minister who engages in both casual and blatant Islamophobia with his comments comparing Muslim women to letterboxes and bank robbers, as well as the dismissal of abuse towards Azeem Rafiq, it’s not hard to see why Islamophobia is on the rise.
“That is, as I set out in Parliament last month and in opening the first annual West Yorkshire Islamophobia Conference, why we all need to challenge the normalisation of Islamophobia, and why we need to push the Government to create a specific offence for Islamophobic hate crimes that acknowledges the damage and hurt that it causes rather than including it amongst all hate crimes.”
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) also supports Islamophobia Awareness Month. In a statement, Secretary-General of MCB, Zara Mohammed, said: “50% of British Muslims are under the age of 25. How we respond to Islamophobia now will determine the safety of, and opportunities available to, younger generations of British Muslims.
“To build thriving communities, we must take firm action against this pervasive form of bigotry. This requires political will, and leadership at the top, alongside robust partnerships at a grassroots level.
“The MCB reiterates its call for the Government to adopt the APPG on British Muslim’s definition of Islamophobia and to implement the recommendations made by the Singh investigation. Islamophobia is not only a Muslim problem – it is a societal one. We must all come together to tackle it.”
Bradford Hate Crime Alliance (BHCA) condemns Islamophobia and encourages people to come forward and report their experiences. A representative at BHCA said: “The alliance is clear in its condemnation of all hate crime and promotes the challenging of attitudes that drive hate crimes throughout our communities.
“We encourage anyone who has experienced hate crime to come forward and report their experiences.”
What is Islamophobia?
In 2018, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims proposed the following definition: ‘Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.’
This means any behaviour that causes, calling for, aiding, or justifying acts of aggression against Muslims, as well as dehumanising, demonising, or making stereotypical allegations about Muslims and prescribing to and propagating conspiracy theories about Muslims.
How pervasive is Islamophobia?
As we can see from the news unfolding with YCCC, racism and Islamophobia is rampant across all sections of society. Academics from Birmingham City University and Nottingham Trent University found that local football authorities have been accused by Muslim grassroots football players of failing to take Islamophobia seriously despite placing a focus on the broader issue of racism in the game.
This is alongside research published by Nujam Sports earlier that found out of approximately 4000 professional footballers in English football, there are only 250 Muslim players. The number of South Asian players are even less, with around a handful of men playing on the pitch.
It is not just in sport, though, The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found that 70% of Muslim people living in Britain have experienced religious-based prejudice within the last 12 months.
According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) between March 2020 and March 2021, 45% of all recorded religious hate crimes offences in England and Wales were targeted against Muslims.
In West Yorkshire, 62.8% of hate crimes recorded between 1 January 2020 and 1 August, were racial or faith-based attacks.
A report published in Belgium in 2018 found that Muslim women are disproportionately affected by race or religious hate crimes. A campaigner from Manchester, Sylvie Pope, has previously said that women from Black, Asian, and other ethnic minority women face “intersectional” and “overlapping forms of hatred.” This means that women from ethnic minorities are discriminated against because of their gender as well as their religion or the colour of their skin.
Research from MEND in 2017 found that 50% of women who wear the hijab feel that they have missed out on progression opportunities because of religious discrimination and that the wearing of the hijab had been a factor.
In education, Muslim students often face discrimination through a lack of adequate provisions made by the intuition. A report published in January 2021 by London Metropolitan University found that almost 50% of students were forced to decide between attending lectures or attending religious events or prayers. One student described having no choice but to attend lectures due to the class attendance requirements associated with their student visa.
Additionally, the weaponisation and politicisation of religious garments such as the niqab or hijab have entered students’ university spaces. Over 25% of students report having had to defend the wearing of religious garments whilst on campus, describing this as having impacted their sense of safety on campus.
Where can you report a hate crime?
If you’ve experienced, or know someone who has experienced, a hate incident or hate crime you can report it to the police.
You can contact the police directly, or you can use an online reporting facility such as True Vision.
You can also report a hate crime to Bradford Hate Crime Alliance.
You can contact Tell MAMA, a public service that measures and monitors anti-Muslim hate crime as well as provides support for victims.
What can be done to tackle anti-Muslim hate crime?
One solution, backed by MCB, is for the government to accept the APPG’s 2018 definition of Islamophobia.
Another is the Islamophobia Response Unit (IRU) project under MEND that has been working to solve the problem with a longer-term approach. The unit focuses on year-round free legal and emotional support to victims, data collection on hate crime statistics and signposting to partner organisations.
Researchers from Poland recommend that governments need to monitor and measure levels of intolerance against Muslims which can provide an effective foundation to develop structures to challenge hatred, bigotry, and prejudice.
Appropriate funding for a national monitoring system that supports victims of intolerance against Muslims is, also an essential part of a strategy to support victims, measure hate crimes and reduce hate crimes over time. Without centralized support, effective victim support and monitoring system cannot be sustained.