With recent rise in anti-Islamic rhetoric in France and violence against Muslims in China – awareness of Islamophobia and solutions for a more inclusive society become even more critical.
Islamophobia is the prejudice, aversion, hostility, or hatred towards Muslims through discrimination, exclusion, or restriction. Not only does Islamophobia encompass hate speech, but also barriers faced by Muslims in all areas of public life, such as discrimination at work, inability to access political positions of power, demonisation of Muslims or negative stereotypes or “othering,” as described by Orientalism scholar, Edward Said. Most often, Muslims bear the brunt of long-held myths, misconceptions, and stereotypes that are reinforced by public discourse and media narratives, especially increasing since 9/11 in the US.
To battle this hate crime, MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development) co-founded Islamophobia Awareness Month with other British organisations in 2012. Every November, the campaign aims to work with powerful institutions as well as local communities to raise awareness of the threat of Islamophobia.
Over the past decade, Islamophobia has increased in the UK and in several countries around the world.
Since 2018, millions of Muslims in Uighur, China, have been undergoing religious persecution in “internment” or “concentration” camps, with intense surveillance, biometric testing, and forced education of Mandarin Chinese. Moreover, these Muslims routinely face torture, rape, and are forced to criticize or renounce their faith and swear loyalty to the President. Even after evidence in the form of drone footage and denouncement from the UN and several nations, the Chinese government denies these allegations. With lack of attention and media coverage, this mass-violence and torture has been ignored globally.
In France, the recent republishing of Charlie Hebdo caricatures of Prophet Muhammad have received mass condemnation from the Muslim world, with thousands of Muslims denouncing the use of French products. In 2006, Charlie Hebdo published Danish caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, a revered figure and role model for Muslims, whose visual depiction is forbidden in Islam. The caricatures linked Islam with terrorism and were considered highly offensive and Islamophobic in nature. In 2011, gunmen linked with ISIS attacked the Charlie Hebdo office and killed nine journalists, a maintenance worker, and two police officers. I
In September 2020, Charlie Hebdo republished said cartoons to mark the beginning of the trial of the alleged perpetrators. While this received mass anger from Muslims worldwide, French President Emmanuel Macron made statements in support of the Islamophobic cartoons in the name of “freedom of the press,” saying Islam was “in crisis” globally. French authorities also closed a Paris mosque in a clampdown on “radical Islam” after a schoolteacher was beheaded by an 18-year-old man of Chechen origin because he showed the cartoons in one of his civics lessons.
These acts of mass violence and discrimination against Muslims, using the justification of “radical Islam” or “Islamic terrorism” is common for Muslims globally. However, associating the acts of criminals with the religion of Islam, one that promotes peace and unity, is incredibly problematic and strips Muslims of their human rights. In an attempt to better understand the religion, the practices of followers of Islam, and become allies in our support, these are some things you can do:
- Educate yourself. Learn about the religion of Islam through books, films, and documentaries that are produced by Muslim content creators to identify anti-Muslim bigotry and scapegoating. Follow Muslim role models who challenge these narratives by engaging in conversations and discussions on social media in order to truly learn and understand the nuances of their struggles and celebrate their achievements.
- Talk to us. I’ve heard more than enough times from my non-Muslim friends how drastically their perceptions of Islam have changed in just a few conversations with me. Ask questions about our religion and our practices, and our thoughts and beliefs. You’ll learn that we’re really not that different from you and be able to build a social circle that’s more inclusive and non-judgmental.
- Know your privilege. Understand that you may not have to undergo stop and search procedures in airports or be rejected from a job opportunity because of a Muslim-sounding name, so support your Muslim friends or people in your community who may not have access to the same resources as you do and call out organizations, institutions, or systems that discriminate against Muslims.
- Stand up to bigotry and bullying. Often, Muslims are targets to online harassment and bullying, just as they are offline. Start off with standing up to trolls and bullies online and call out the dangerous discourse they propagate. Share various stories of religious persecution on your social media accounts to educate others, particularly in stories that aren’t receiving mainstream coverage, like Muslims in China. When you see someone harassed or harmed in public because of their religion, report the perpetrators to authorities and stand in support of Muslims.
Ifath Arwah is an MA Media in Development student at SOAS, with a background in journalism and research. Her interests revolve around gender, migration, and development.