The Challenges of Being British and Muslim
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This is a difficult time to be a Muslim. Whether in majority Muslim countries or as minorities Muslims are living under enormous and perhaps unprecedented strain. In Myanmar, for example, we have recently witnessed a genocide of Rohingya Muslims; In China Muslims are being rounded up in large numbers and humiliated in ‘re-education’ camps. In India Muslims face near daily persecution and even in supposedly ‘placid’ countries like Denmark there has been officially sanctioned discrimination against Muslims. But what about Britain? What is the ‘lot’ of Muslims in this country?
Whilst there is some degree of complexity and nuance in the predicament of British Muslims there is also sadly much reason for dismay. As Nazir Afzal, OBE (Former Chief Prosecutor for North West England) writing for MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development) puts it;
“Not a day goes by without some overt show of anti-Muslim hatred in parts of our society. Whether it’s the conflating of the actions of one or more people who happen to be Muslims into a statement about all Muslims or somewhat sinister interpretations of Islamic culture and theology to generate fear or mistrust. Most often it’s in the day to day experience of Muslims and people who “look” like Muslims – which can be violence, abuse or discrimination.”
There are some obvious issues that British Muslims face. British Muslims clearly (and in many cases intentionally) get a ‘bad press’. Whether in the mainstream media (MSM) or on social media Muslims are often portrayed as a monolithic group who are seeking to ‘take over’, as violent, thuggish, ‘rapists’, ‘child abusers’ and ‘terrorists’.
All of this combines to create a truly negative perception of Muslims in the public imagination; which for many individual Muslims translates into discrimination, abuse and ridicule; with many having to spend an enormous amount of energy and time seeking to counter these stereotypes on a near daily basis.
In fact, the demonization of and proverbial ‘Muslim bashing’ has become an Industry: the ‘Islamophobia industry’. The vilification of Muslims helps sell newspapers, populate newsreel and has made small fortunes for some of its more consistent exponents such as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon aka; Tommy Robinson, Katie Hopkins and Lauren Southern.
The likes of Robinson, however, represent only the ‘face’ of a more complex transnational network of think tanks, politicians, writers, far-right activists and Zionist elements who support and sustain the Islamophobia Industry.
As MEND points out on page 52 of their report titled; More Than Words – Approaching a Definition of Islamophobia;
“The Islamophobia Industry is sustained by an intricate network of alliances and patronages worth over $57 million in the United States alone.“
In 2018 the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims (APPG) recommended that Islamophobia be defined as ‘rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.’
MEND define Islamophobia as;
“a prejudice, aversion, hostility, or hatred towards Muslims and encompasses any distinction, exclusion, restriction, discrimination, 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.”
How Islamophobia Impacts the Lives of British Muslims
Whilst Islamophobia has been around for a long time there is significant evidence to suggest that it has increased in recent years in the UK.
The Anti-Muslim hate crime group Tell MAMA, for instance, recorded a rise in attacks on Muslims in its annual report of 2017; the attacks were mainly against Muslim women and the perpetrators were typically young white men.
TellMAMA’s annual report for 2017 recorded a 26% rise in Islamophobic attacks since 2016 and the highest number since it began recording. The surge was explained by the growth of the far right as well as ‘trigger’ incidents such as terrorist attacks in London and Manchester.
Home Office data on hate crime shows a 34-45% increase every year for the last five years for religiously aggravated hate crime with many incidents going unreported. The Home Office notes that around 52% of these religiously aggravated hate crimes are against Muslims. Islamophobic hate crime, therefore, is more prevalent in Britain than all other forms of religious hate crime combined.
It goes without saying that Islamophobia therefore impacts every area of a Muslim’s existence in Britain.
While data suggests that a greater percentage of Muslims are going into higher education than other demographic groups, this doesn’t necessarily translate into success in the Labour market.
Only 6% of Muslims in the workplace were in higher managerial, administrative and professional occupations, compared to 10% of the overall population. Further, there is much evidence to suggest that Muslims have been disproportionately confined to unskilled work; with limited opportunities for progress.
Moreover, while only 4% of the adult population had never worked, this figure was five times higher for Muslims with 21.3% of Muslim adults found to be in the same position. Average wages also tend to be lower for Muslims compared to their non-Muslim counterparts.
In other spheres, similar patterns are to be found. Over the past decade, the number of Muslims in prison increased by nearly 50%, from 8,900 to 13,200. Muslims make up 15% of the total prison population, while only amounting to less than 5% of the general population (and this doesn’t pertain to terrorism offences).
Some of the poorest people in Britain are Muslim. The Race Disparity Audit showed that 31% of British Pakistani’s and 28% of the British Bangladeshi population live in 10% of the most deprived neighbourhoods in England. Data also suggests that young Muslims are more likely to face bullying in the education system.
CJ Werleman-who writes extensively on issues affecting Muslims told Black Isle Journalism;
“Islamophobia is a form of racism that either restricts of denies Muslims, or anyone perceived to be Muslim, access to employment, education, socio-economic mobility, freedom of movement, and free speech, while at the same time subjecting them to counter-terrorism laws and strategies that unfairly discriminate against Muslims based on their appearance or identity.”
Despite these barriers and discrimination Muslims continue to contribute in every area of British society. For example, there are over 13,000 Muslim businesses in London alone creating 70,000 jobs.
British Muslims donate more to charity than any other demographic group with donations increasing significantly during Ramadan. British Muslims contribute £31 billion to the UK economy with the halal food industry alone accounting for £1 billion. 26% of all doctors in Britain identify as Asian or Asian British and there are even 650 British Muslim soldiers.
Moreover, most Muslims in this country identify as British. Muslims such as Paul Pogba, Amir Khan, Mohammed Salah and Mo Farah have become global superstars. The likes of Sadiq Khan, Nazir Afzal, Sajid Javid, Sayeeda Warsi, Nadia Begum, Riz Ahmed and a plethora of others have excelled in their respective fields.
As this short survey demonstrates British Muslims face discrimination, barriers and challenges in virtually every area of British society. This can impact every aspect of the lives of British Muslims; determining where they live (often confined to the cities), where they study, where they work and their freedom of movement with a consequent impact on the mental health, emotional well-being and quality of life of many Muslims in this country.
Therefore, the life of a British Muslim can feel more restricted than that of the average ‘Brit’. However, despite all this, it is important for Muslims not to overlook the progress that they have made in Britain, the achievements (often against the odds) of their religious counterparts, and not to develop a sense of self-loathing or a ‘victim complex’ as this will add an additional psychological barrier to the real barriers that already exist.