By Abbie Dodson
Islamophobia has been defined as “dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force” by the Oxford dictionary. Whilst anti-Islam prejudice was formally acknowledged almost a century ago, it is still a prominent social issue, with many reports suggesting it's on the increase.
The Casey Review was carried out December 2016, and found that over 55% of the general British public surveyed agreed that there was a “clash” between Islam and the values of British society. In this research, 46% of British Muslims felt that being a Muslim in Britain was difficult due to prejudice against Islam. This research was compiled before the panic caused by the London Bridge attack and the Manchester Arena bombing of 2017. After the Manchester bombing, Greater Manchester Police said that they saw a 505% increase in Islamophobic incidents.
Statistics released by Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, reflect Tell Mama’s conclusion, showing that Islamophobic attacks have increased fivefold since the London Bridge attack. The figures show a 40% increase in racist incidents compared to last year’s daily average.
With Islamophobia increasing across the UK, there have also been incidents recorded within some universities across the country, despite the progressive ideology of the institutions. Islamophobic graffiti has been found on the campuses of several universities, including the University of Birmingham, where “Kill Islam before it kills you”, and “Islam must die” was spray painted on site. 22-year-old Fatima studies History at the SOAS University of London, and claims that after last year’s terrorist attacks, she feels the need to be ‘friendlier’ when on campus to make sure that everybody around her feels safe. Fatima also expresses her concern surrounding peoples’ reactions to her during the commute to university.
In 2016, the British Public voted to leave the European Union in a political referendum which lead to Brexit. Police figures obtained through Freedom of Information have shown that 11 months after the referendum, religious and racially motivated hate crimes have increased by 23%. The rising amount of discrimination makes minority groups feel “more vulnerable than ever”, according to Sufyan Ismail, founder of Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND). Ismail urges the government to “[...] urgently review incitement to religious hatred legislation.” Ismail states that “[...] the far-right and elements of right-wing press continually demonise Muslims and stir up intense hatred against them.”
In July this year, Police Watchdog warned that Brexit would increase the amount of Islamophobia and hate crimes. A report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services concluded that there were significant failings in the way these racially motivated hate crimes were dealt with, and concluded that hate crimes were becoming much more frequent.
Equalities campaigner, Akeela Ahmed states that “[…] these findings reflect the fact that since 2016, a growing minority of people with far-right sympathies have felt emboldened by Brexit and the 2016 US elections.” A study conducted by the NUS found that Islamophobia is a prominent issue in some universities, with 79% of Muslim students surveyed believing that they have been treated differently because of their religion.
The NUS report also concluded that Muslim women were more likely to be victims of these racial attacks due to wearing items of religious garment, such as a hijab, niqab or jilbab. One female student claimed that she was made to feel very uncomfortable after two students drew a sexualised image of her wearing her religious garment. The Muslim Students Survey interviewed 578 Muslim students in higher or further education in 2017. The research revealed that women who wear Islamic religious garments were concerned about being victims of Islamophobia.
According to a different survey conducted by NUS, over 1/3 of British Muslims have experienced abuse or crime during their studies. Most victims believe that the attacks were motivated by Islamophobia, with a third of the respondents claiming to be ‘fairly or very worried’ about experiencing verbal and physical abuse alongside vandalism and theft at their accommodation due to their religion.
Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, told The Independent that “[…] universities are failing miserably in their ability to communicate to students effectively on these issues. Universities have a lot more to do.” (*E) Mr Mughal also said that Muslim students feel the need to isolate themselves due to Prevent, feeling as though the campaign clamps down on all free speech.
The government made counter terrorism campaign, Prevent, a legal duty for universities in July 2015 . Prevent was created to prevent violent extremism through the four strands; Prevent, Pursue, Protect and Prepare, and was widely discredited and accused of perpetuating Islamophobia.
A survey surrounding Prevent revealed that 1/3 of respondents felt negatively affected by the campaign, with some students even being referred to the authorities due to the campaign. 43% of those reported to have been negatively affected by Prevent say they felt unable to express their views and be themselves, as Muslim students were constantly reported for being vulnerable to radicalisation.
Jacqueline Stevenson, Head of Research Sheffield Institute of Education, and Professor at Sheffield Hallam University, advises that “engaging with discussions around religion is a key step to achieving greater equality in the UK.”
Whilst Sheffield Hallam Students’ Union acknowledges issues with the Prevent campaign, there are many places that any students experiencing Islamophobia can turn to. The advice centre is a confidential place to seek help and advice, and the Student Unions’ Welfare Officer, Nabeela Mowlana, can be contacted by anyone in need of support. Nabeela recommends the charity, MEND, for those who have experienced Islamophobia, and also urges victims or witnesses to go directly to the police with their cases.
Abdullah Okud is the President at Sheffield Hallam Students’ Union, and has advised that even though Islamophobia is not explicitly obvious, it does still happen. Abdullah pledges to tackle any racism within Sheffield Hallam University, and expresses the importance of an upcoming campaign, which aims “[…] to highlight racist incidents and tackle racism as a Students' Union, and to do so independently for students.”
The Students' Union is currently running an Islamophobia Awareness Campaign, with events to highlight gendered Islamophobia and an exhibition of Muslim contribution to Britain, and aims to start discussions on Islamophobia prevention as a Students’ Union.
There have been multiple events throughout the month for this and to conclude it, there is a screening of Four Lions at The Stage in the HUBS on 29th November from 5pm including an introduction from the CEO of Warp Films, Mark Herbert. The screening will take place on Thursday the 29th of November, follow this link to secure a ticket.