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We are living in a global pandemic – no, I’m not talking about COVID-19. I’m talking about Islamophobia. It’s clear to me that racism and prejudice against Muslims is rampant in the media, and spreads like a disease. One of the most pressing issues faced by the Muslim community in the UK is the rise of Islamophobia. Islamophobia Awareness Month takes place every November and aims to deconstruct and challenge stereotypes about Islam and Muslims. Islamophobia is a term that appears again and again in the media but what actually is it?

Islamophobia or anti-Muslim racism is the prejudice, hatred, or bigotry directed against Islam or Muslims. Islamophobia is when someone is targeted (including Islamic institutes and organisations), discriminated against or excluded in any way, due to their actual or perceived Muslim identity. It also includes prejudice that promotes fear against Muslims and Islam which further perpetuates an unsavoury climate of hatred. - Ruqayyah

Media representation

It’s been widely covered that Islamophobia is very much engrained and institutionalised. For example, the UK’s own Prime Minister Boris Johnson compared Muslim women who wear the full veil to ‘letter boxes’ and ‘bank robbers’ in an article for The Daily Telegraph in 2018. More recently, we have seen a disproportionate number of images showcasing Muslims next to COVID-19 headlines which imply, by juxtaposition, that the community is responsible for the continued spread of the virus despite criticism of the government’s management of the pandemic by leading experts.

Perhaps the most obvious example of Islamophobia we see in the media is the persistent portrayal that Islam is a violent religion responsible for all acts of terrorism, despite the community’s efforts to denounce acts of terror committed by fundamentalists – and despite the fact that non-Muslims also commit acts of terror. A study conducted in the United States showed that terrorist attacks committed by Muslims received 357% more US press coverage than those committed by non-Muslims. On average “non-Muslims extremists” who committed terror attacks were the subject of 15 headlines while “Muslim extremists” who committed acts of terror were the subject of 105 headlines. Moreover, Muslim perpetrators are labelled “terrorists” and White perpetrators are labelled “mentally ill”.

University focus

Universities are not immune to Islamophobia either, as there has been a rise of religious-motivated incidences of hate crime on campuses. I would be amiss if I did not acknowledge the intersectionality between race and Islamophobia. In response to the problems Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff and students face in Higher Education, my University worked toward achieving the Race Equality Charter Mark (REC) in order to improve the experience of those affected by racism and Islamophobia. The REC self-assessment team ran focus groups with Muslim staff and students of colour who reported varying degrees of religious microaggressions and issues affecting their sense of belonging. Namely, Muslim staff and students reported that there was a lack of overt halal catering and that the University does not provide on campus Jummah (Friday) prayers, which made members of the community feel excluded, overlooked, and undervalued. Subsequently in September 2019, the University identified an Imam to lead prayers and partnered with ‘Bombay Streat’ to provide halal catering. Also, male and female Muslim pastoral advisors for staff and students were established. Whilst I am proud of the work my institution has carried out, we still have a long way to go!

Open up the conversation

As I’ve said, Islamophobia has led the media to portray Muslims negatively. This negative representation also works to silence conversation about the good that Muslims do throughout the UK. British Muslims have been ranked the top charity-givers in Britain and it is estimated that Muslims give £100 million to charities during Ramadan each year – £38 per second! This figure is likely an underestimate as it does not include charity given to mosques and non-Muslim charities. And yet, Muslims face more poverty than other religious groups in the UK, which makes the charity Muslims give even more generous.  

The best among you are those who bring greatest benefits to many others”. - Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)

Leeds Trinity University’s Islamic Society participated in Charity Week 2020 with Islamic Relief UK to make a difference to the lives of orphans and children in need. We raised over £1,000 towards:

  • Heart surgery for refugee children in Syria and Lebanon
  • Providing medical services for children in Palestine
  • Education for street children and orphans in the Philippines, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Iraq
  • Emergency and development projects in Somalia, Yemen, Sri Lanka, and Bosnia

As Malcom X said, “If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” We’ve got to open up the dialogue and change it for the better.

 

Shames Maskeen is a Graduate Teaching Assistant, PhD student and the Operational Lead for the Race Equality Charter at Leeds Trinity University. 

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