More Londoners practise Islam than any other faith after Christianity. But many Muslims are discriminated against, and Islamophobia can be seen in many different forms across our society. In this article Faiza Mukith, CEO of the Islamophobia Response Unit, writes about why we need to tackle Islamophobia head on, rather than denying its existence, and about its prevalence in London.
November marks Islamophobia Awareness Month (IAM), a campaign founded in 2012 by a group of Muslim organisations that aims to raise awareness of Islamophobia in the UK and showcase the positive contributions of Muslims to society.
This year's theme is Tackling Denial of Islamophobia, which manifests itself in various forms and may be found in diverse settings throughout society. By denying the existence of Islamophobia, we disregard many people's lived experiences and the potential to address societal inequalities.
What is Islamophobia?
Islamophobia manifests itself in various ways. Many believe it is limited to overt hate crimes such as verbal or physical assaults or property destruction. However, Islamophobia's functioning extends beyond this to more covert structural forms. Stereotyping, marginalisation, discrimination, and exclusion manifest in ways you may not even be aware of.
For example, people can suffer from Islamophobia in the workplace, where they are three times less likely to be called for an interview because they have a Muslim-sounding name.
Islamophobia continues to be a problem in the UK. In the year ending March 2022, where the perceived religion of the victim was recorded, two in five (42%) of religious hate crime offences were targeted against Muslims (3,459 offences out of 8307 cases providing information on targeted religion hate crime).
This means nearly half of all religious hate crime is directed at Muslims, and are more likely to be the victim of religious hate crime than any other religious group. This demonstrates how Islamophobia remains a significant problem in society.
Why is a definition important?
It is vital that a definition of Islamophobia is widely used and recognised so that we can see Islamophobia dealt with in the same manner that other types of racism are.
We have two definitions:
“An exaggerated, irrational fear, hatred and hostility towards Islam and Muslims perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination of Muslims from civic, social and political life.” - Fear Inc. Fear Inc 2.0 Center for American Progress
“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.” - Islamophobia Defined, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims.
The APPG definition from Westminster, which has been accepted by various councils and local governments around the UK, is the most often used and discussed in the UK. We anticipate that many more will follow suit in the coming months.
The APPG definition emphasises the fact that Islamophobia manifests similarly to racism. It emphasises that it is not only Muslims who suffer, but all those who are perceived to be Muslims. As a result, ethnic minorities are frequently targeted, such as the misconception that all Asians are Muslims. Despite the fact that we have a definition, there is still a lot of denial regarding Islamophobia.
The Islamophobia Response Unit
The Islamophobia Response Unit (IRU) is a charity dedicated to supporting victims of Islamophobia. It was founded in response to rising anti-Muslim attacks across the United Kingdom and the growing tide of anti-Muslim sentiment.
IRU is one of its kind, providing practical support to victims of Islamophobia across England and Wales. As the main area of our work lies in seeking redress for victims, much of our efforts are directed at facilitating legal guidance – enabling victims to achieve their desired outcomes and helping victims to recover from the effects of Islamophobia.
We help victims cope with the emotional effects of Islamophobia. This can include fear, anxiety and stress. In some cases, the impact of Islamophobia is so severe that it can cause victims to change how they live their lives, often resulting in extreme fear of leaving their homes. For those subjected to more violent attacks, the impact can be life-changing injury or bereavement. We are trained to listen and discuss options available to our clients, their friends and family members, giving them the chance to let go of difficult experiences and helping them to regain their confidence. By providing a safe space for victims to voice their fears and concerns, we have assisted numerous victims in coping with and moving forward after an Islamophobic incident.
We are independent of the government, the police, local authorities, and the criminal justice system. This enables us to represent the interests of our clients, access the services they need, and champion their rights for the benefit of everyone affected by Islamophobia, both now and in the future.
Since 2017, the IRU has received over 1000 reports.
This year alone, we have received over 50 reports of Islamophobia within London.
The majority of reports include claims of discrimination and differential treatment. In some cases, our clients have been wrongfully dismissed for practising their religion at work. In others, clients were prohibited from praying or fasting at school. The hate crime reports we receive involve victims who have been physically assaulted and verbally abused.
We have supported clients who have needed emergency medical attention due to sustained injuries and therapy to help them cope with trauma following the attack. For example, we are currently assisting a client who was walking towards a mosque in London; when a white male outside a pub approached the client, unprovoked and began violently assaulting our client, causing a fractured nose and other injuries. The white male shouted, "you f****** terrorist, what are you doing in the country."
Our work is possible because of the support we receive from over 60 volunteers providing legal assistance to clients. We are working with over 30 organisations, including law firms, universities, and other legal advice clinics to help our clients receive the right support. We also conduct data collection monitoring, which allows us to map instances of Islamophobia. For example, by recording the location of attacks and the profiles of typical victims and perpetrators, we can understand the national picture of Islamophobia. Using this data, we publish articles to help raise awareness of Islamophobia and begin to help produce informed policies to tackle Islamophobia.
Find out more about Islamophobia Awareness Month.
If you would like to learn more about the Islamophobia Response Unit or wish to get involved as a volunteer, please see www.theiru.org.uk.
 Home Office, ‘Hate Crime, England and Wales, 2021 to 2022’, https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/hate-crime-england-and-wales-2021-to-2022/hate-crime-england-and-wales-2021-to-2022