By Dr Qari Asim
Imam – Makkah Mosque, Leeds
Islamophobia awareness occurs throughout the month of November. Muslim Engagement & Development (MEND) is leading the campaign in this regard.
ImamsOnline urges Imams throughout the UK to dedicate their Friday khutbah on 21st November to the issue of Islamophobia and raise awareness about this very pertinent issue that affects our society. We all have a responsibility to challenge the attitudes and behaviours that foster hatred because early intervention and education can help ensure communities remain and feel safe.
ANTI-MUSLIM HATE CRIME
In order to show their prejudice, bigots have always targeted a community. Decades ago, the targeted African Caribbean communities and Ugandan Asian communities and so the list goes on. Today, that bigotry is levied against Islam and Muslims. The concept of “Islamophobia” was first introduced by the UK’s Runnymede Trust in 1997, referring to ‘unfair discrimination against Muslim individuals and communities, and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream political and social affairs’. A follow-up report in 2004 ‘concluded that Islamophobia was a pervasive feature of British society and characterized media reporting on Muslims and Islam as biased and unfair.’
There has been a considerable increase in Islamophobia, anti-Muslim sentiments in the last 15 years. In 2011, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi famously said that prejudice towards Muslims had “passed the dinner table test” and become socially acceptable to express bigotry against Muslims.
Anti-Muslim ideologues, on-line bigots, far right extremists use every opportunity to smear, intimidate, show their hatred and even incite hatred against Muslims. The motives behind such behaviour can be manifold including that Muslims are shown as ‘aliens’ and to ensure that ‘no sympathy’ builds up for victims of anti-Muslim hatred.
There has been 65% increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes recorded by the Metropolitan Police in London in the past year. The Metropolitan Police Service disclosed that it recorded 500 Islamophobic crimes in London alone; however, available figures on anti-Muslim hate crime nationally could be significantly higher given the vast under-reporting of hate crime.
Local, national as well international events seem to result in anti-Muslim hatred and crime. Rise of ISIS and their un-Islamic murderous actions, national scandals, like the grooming of young girls by groups of Pakistani men, the alleged “Trojan horse” plot by hardline Muslims in Birmingham to “take over” some of the city’s state schools, and sale of ‘Halal’ food by some fast food chains in some of their stores – all seems to fuel prejudice and bigotry towards Muslims. It was the horrific murder of soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich on 22 May 2013 that increased, online and offline, anti-Muslim prejudice and hate crime in the UK.
ATTACKS ON MUSLIMS
An over-whelming majority of anti-Muslim abuse takes place on-line but national or international events involving terrorists result in increase in real-life attacks. For instance, in the five weeks immediately following the Woolwich attack, the monitoring organisation TellMama recorded 250 anti-Muslim incidents against individuals.
The majority of attacks on the street are levelled at women who are wearing headscarves, a visual sign of their religious identity. The “niqab” (face veil) is also used to express anti-Muslim sentiments. Some Muslim women have experienced more than just a ‘low-level’ of bigotry. It has resulted in threatening behaviour, intimidation or violence. Being called a “terrorist”, “Mrs Usama bin Laden”, “Muslim monkey”, “ninja” or being spat at bus stops or a scarf being snatched in the streets is enough to make anyone feel scared and vulnerable in their own homes let alone the common street. It is enough to feel threatened and fearful of constant attacks on themselves, their children and their families.
Anti-Muslim hatred has already taken a life. Last year, a white supremacist terrorist, Pavlo Lapshyn, was convicted of stabbing Grandfather Mohammed Saleem as he returned home from evening prayers in Small Heath, Birmingham.
ATTACKS ON MOSQUES
Since the horrific murder of soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich on 22 May, the number of Islamophobic instances has risen considerably. Mosques are symbols of British Muslims’ presence in Britain. We have seen many mosques under attack in 2013 and 2014. The incidents have escalated from graffiti or flour being thrown at a mosque to arson and terrorist attacks. Mosques are symbols of British Muslims’ presence in Britain.
Within 2 weeks of the Woolwich attack, 2 mosques in our city, Leeds, were attacked, including graffiti being sprayed on them. What happened in Leeds was by no means unique. On 5 June, a mosque and Somali community centre in Muswell Hill, north London, was burnt to the ground by arsonists. On 18 June, the Masjid-e-Noor in Gloucester was set alight. On Sunday 25 August, three young men went to Harlow Islamic Centre, Essex, in the middle of the night, prised opened the shuttered doors and windows to spray insulation foam underneath, and set it alight. A mosque in Tipton, West Midlands, was attacked at the time of Friday prayer. The devastation and potential loss of life that may have been suffered was avoided when the bomb placed in the mosque did not explode.
Much of the negative image of Muslims is being perpetuated by certain sections of the media. Lord Justice Leveson’s report, published in November 2012, event revealed journalists were encouraged to make up stories about Muslims. It concluded that the unbalanced reporting of ethnic minorities was endemic.
Overly sensationalised news stories in the British tabloid press about Muslims seem to have become the ‘norm’. For instance, April 2014 saw a wave of ‘Halal’ hysteria that took the nation by surprise. Headlines and stories, such as how fast food chain Subway had ‘banned’ pork products in some of its stores in response to ‘strong demand’ from Muslims (Daily Mail) were, once again, showing anti-Muslim prejudice. This news story failed to demonstrate to its readers that this was a commercial decision on the part of Subway, which was not making profit selling pork products in heavily populated Muslim areas. It was nothing to do about Muslims demanding or forcing the Subway to sell certain products.
The Sun newspaper‘s headline shouted “Halal Secret of Pizza Express”. Failing to acknowledge that Pizza Express had been publicising this for almost two years and had tweeted about it too.
Islam and Muslims are interrogated and harassed on a daily basis over media and social media. From terrorism to grooming, rather than focusing on people’s criminality, it is the faith of the perpetrators that is dragged into such stories. There continues to be reporting about “Muslim grooming gangs” but not “Christian paedophile Jimmy Savile”- both descriptions are unhelpful as it cannot be claimed that perpetrators of such heinous actions are motivated by their faith – This is a prime example of misrepresentative portrayals of Muslims in the media.
SHOULD WE BE CONCERNED?
It must be emphasised that majority of British people do not have anti-Muslim prejudices and will stand up against anti-Muslim hatred. However, any kind of bigotry against a particular community must not be tolerated in Britain. Anti-Muslim prejudice is a matter for everyone who cares about Britain being a fair society that we send out a strong message that anti-Muslim hatred is a form of prejudice. There should be no place in Britain for this or any kind of, prejudice.
Anti-Muslim sentiments are experienced by some Muslims daily, whether it is online, in the form of mosques coming under attack or a head-scarf being snatched. In modern day multi-faith, multi-cultural Britain, people must not feel intimidated or threatened because of their faith or lifestyle.
Needless to say, presenting Islam and Muslims as a threat to the Western World will instigate negative effects in the intercultural relations between the groups concerned. Such narrative about Muslims is dangerous and counter-productive because it will increase alienation. The rise in anti-Muslim attacks and the severity of the nature of such incidents indicates that extreme groups in the UK want to send a strong message of hatred to British Muslims. We cannot be complacent. We need to remind ourselves of the potential consequences of demonisation, hostility and division.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- Educate yourself -whether Muslims or not- on hate crime in particular Islamophobia and encourage people to report every crime.
- Initiate public awareness campaign to help people understand the impact of anti-Muslim prejudice and hate crime on Muslim communities and our society as a whole.
- Write to media outlets whenever you see over-sensationalised, unfair, demonising negative reporting about Islam and Muslims.
- Campaign for major police forces around the country, to set up a religious hatred flag with Islam and other faith subset, to record anti-Muslim hate crime.
WHAT CAN FAITH LEADERS DO?
In such troubling times when places of worship are being attacked and individuals are insulted, abused, subjected to violence or even killed because of their faith, the role of faith leaders becomes ever more important to work hard to bring communities together.
In terms of Muslims, the reaction can vary. On the one hand, attacks on people affect the community’s confidence. Anxiety is increased and people feel un-welcome in their own city. On the other hand, young people feel that Muslims need to ‘man up’, to learn self-defence and protect themselves.
Despite rise in anti-Muslim hate intimidation and crime, Muslims need to stay calm, vigilant, and watchful. Not to overreact, point the finger towards any faith or community as a whole; instead, we all need to display a dynamic spirit of open mindedness, co-operation and tolerance. We all must work towards educating ourselves and eliminating prejudice, bigotry and intolerance from our society.