Prejudice and discrimination are injustices that distress the victims, but also the economy, profit and peace suffer. Today in Britain many Muslim workers feel they can’t bring their whole selves to work. The recent revelation by a Muslim minister that she was sacked because of her ‘Muslimness’ made the fellow members feel uncomfortable, and the serious allegations of Islamophobia by Azeem Rafiq against the Yorkshire cricket board show that even the great and the good are not safe. So, we must take it seriously. Here we invite you to do your part for a better Britain.
I grew up in Halifax (West Yorkshire) in the ’60s where racism was accepted as an undesirable, but a given feature of British society. Teachers could get away with saying ‘Paki’ or ‘you stink of curry’ to their pupils. Remember Enoch Powell’s speech of ‘rivers of blood’ in 1968? That’s despite having the race relations bill (1965). It wasn’t working until it was amended in 1976, now it was unlawful to discriminate on grounds of race, colour and ethnic origin. The Act covered employment, education, training, housing and the provision of goods, facilities, and services. Unfortunately, racism has been systemic in society and state institutions. Only recently the police, NHS and the armed forces have started taking it seriously. The educational institutions, nurseries, schools through to university are still struggling with racism. I know this from my own experience of working in the sector for three decades.
Runnymede Trust in 1997 used the term ‘Islamophobia’. They defined it as “anti-Muslim racism; any distinction, exclusion, or restriction towards, or preference against, Muslims that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.” The widespread adoption of this definition was helpful in acting against growing anti-Muslim prejudice. The All-party parliamentary group APPG in 2020 redefined Islamophobia and gave a truncated definition to the annoyance of many “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”
Whatever the definition, Islamophobia is a serious violation of a citizens’ human rights, it denies people dignity, deprives them of rights and liberties. In the job market, it leads to discriminating against Muslims, in politics, it prevents them from serving their country and fulfilling their potential. The statistics reveal worrying attitudes in a large number of Brits. Islamophobia overshadows many areas of British life, particularly in terms of employment:
- 32% believe there are “no-go areas in Britain where Sharia law dominates, and non-Muslims cannot enter”
- 31% of young children believe that Muslims are taking over England
- 22% had negative feelings towards Muslims
- 22% concerned if a Muslim family moved next door
- 30% would object to their child visiting a mosque
- A job seeker with an English-sounding name was offered three times the number of interviews than an applicant with a Muslim name.
- Applicants from minority ethnic backgrounds had to send 80% more applications to get a positive response from an employer than a white person of British origin.
A survey in July 2021 ‘The Dinner Table Prejudice: Islamophobia in Contemporary Britain‘, led by Dr Stephen Jones of Birmingham university interviewed a sample of 1667 people. The reading is pretty grim:
- 25.9% of the British public feel negative towards Muslims (with 9.9% feeling ‘very negative’). This compares with 8.5% for Jewish people.
- More than one in four people, and nearly half of Conservative and Leave voters, hold conspiratorial views about Sharia ‘no-go areas’.
- The British public is almost three times more likely to hold prejudiced views of Islam than they are of other religions, compared with 7.5% for Judaism.
- British people are more confident in making judgements about Islam than other non-Christian religions but are much more likely to make incorrect assumptions about it.
Dr Jones says: “Prejudice towards Islam and Muslims stands out in the UK, not only because it is much more widespread than most forms of racism, but also because prejudice towards Islam is more common among those who are wealthier and well-educated.”
How to tackle Islamophobia
The authors made specific recommendations to scale back the rise of Islamophobia including:
- Government and other public figures should publicly criticise Islamophobic discourses.
- Civil society organisations and equality bodies concerned with prejudice and discrimination should acknowledge that systemic miseducation about Islam is common in British society.
- The BBC and other broadcasters should maintain their commitments to religion programming, but with renewed emphasis on combatting intolerance.
What should Muslims do?
Muslim organisations should play a prominent role in interfaith and community cohesion programmes. Thereby improving people’s understanding of Muslims and doing active myth-busting. Also winning friends.
This campaign requires leadership that we seldom see in Muslim organisations. The role of the leader is to look for ways to shape the future, three decades ahead not merely react to the present crisis. All of us must take part as collective leadership, we need the wisdom of school teachers, the experience of the businessmen and women, the determination of doctors and patience of the Imams. Let’s foster a can-do attitude to share our religion and culture with our fellow Brits and a must-do sense of responsibility. I believe we can change our society, Insha-Allah (God-willing).
Karimia Institute is holding an online conference on Saturday 5th February at 8 pm, please click HERE to register and listen to our guest speakers expound wisdom of understanding and dealing with Islamophobia.