Islamophobia: What It’s Like To Live As A Muslim Woman In United Kingdom
Aysha Yaqub, 27 years old, a Muslim woman in the UK, has been living with verbal abuse and death threats due to her religious preference. “It’s one of the worst identities you could be,” says Yaqub. According to statistics done by the Home Office, 2,703 religious hate crimes were targeted towards Muslims in the year 2021. And 45% of those were only recorded.
A charity in the UK that seeks to tackle Islamophobia called MEND says that the hate crime towards Muslims is deeply rooted in something greater than face value.
Shocket Patel, a MEND board member, shares that she would be doing it all day if she wants to report all the comments she receives because of wearing a niqab.
Conversely, MEND has marked the month of November as Islamophobia Awareness Month (IAM). This is geared to put in more light the discrimination Muslim people face every day. With that, various groups have been asking the government to adopt an official term and definition for Islamophobia This has been proposed by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims (APPG). “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness and perceives Muslimness,” the APPG wrote in a report in the year 2018.
The definition has been recognized by the Liberal Democrats, London’s Mayor office, and the Labour Party. However, a spokesperson from the government said it needed “careful consideration” in 2019. Today, there is still no definition.
There are no statistics that point out which demographic is most affected by Islamophobia. Consequently, MEND has emphasized that people who appear visibly Muslim, especially women who wear the niqab or hijab, are most likely the vulnerable targets. In a recent parliamentary debate, Afzal Khan, a Labour politician, says that defining Islamophobia is the first step to rooting it all out. From there, a mechanism for accountability will be set in stone.
MEND has shown support to this sentiment and shared that Islamophobia will permeate all sectors of society without any definition. Patel exclaims that plenty of Muslim women are afraid of going out because of their headscarf, and those who wear a niqab find it more challenging because they are sure to be verbally abused.
Hamida Agarwal shares that she has never been criticized or experienced any form of racism even after converting to Islam 15 years ago. “I conformed, and I fitted in. I drank alcohol; I dressed the way everyone else dressed. But as soon as I put the hijab on, everything changed. The way people looked at me, the comments that were made, I just couldn’t believe it. It was really difficult to now live this life where everywhere you go, you’re now on the defensive and feel like you have to break a stereotype,” Agarwal said.
One preconceived notion made by society when seeing Agarwal’s headscarf is that she does not know how to communicate in English. “I would be in the supermarket, and the cashier would talk to my husband instead of me, thinking that I couldn’t respond to them.” Many Muslim women face this issue, and it has already been part of their daily lives.
Based on the latest findings by the Office for National Statistics, approximately 3.4 million Muslims, which make up 5% of the total population in the United Kingdom. According to a report by Ipsos MORI in 2018, 57% of the UK population acknowledge that they do not have a good grasp of Islam. This number has then increased to 72% because they do not personally know someone who is Muslim. This lack of understanding, according to researchers, provides more misconceptions as 62% believe that Islam negatively affects the quality of life of Muslims.