In recent weeks, two Muslim women were left ‘traumatised’ after an eight and fourteen year old hurled racist abuse at them and pulled their hijabs off in Edinburgh. As if this was not horrific enough of an incident, last month, a man in Bristol ordered a Muslim woman to take off her hijab, putting a knife to her throat. Such incidents against Muslim women are in no way infrequent. Verbal abuse, hijabs pulled off happen up and down the country. Interfaith Organisation ‘Faith Matters’ project ‘Tell Mama’ reported earlier this year that in one year it recorded 632 incidents of anti-Muslim hate incidents, most targeted against Muslim women. Muslim women across the UK as they hear about such incidents, live in fear of what may face them in public. Whether they are born and brought up in the UK or not, white or black, speak the same language as the rest of the population or not, the fact that they outwardly show signs of adhering to Islam with the hijab, means that they are commonly despised, attacked, and viewed as the enemy within across the streets of the UK.
What leads to such a negative view of Islam and Muslims?
The question must be asked as to why such hatred exists towards Muslim women such that even children as young as 8 feel the need to attack them? To understand this first needs us to look at the way Muslims are viewed across society. The 2012 report Race and Reform: Islam and Muslims in the British Media submitted to the Leveson Inquiry described the portrayal of Muslims in the media as “overwhelmingly negative, stereotypical, inaccurate - and racist”. Even a superficial look at the stories about Islam and Muslims which dominate the mainstream media, reveals the fact that Muslims and Islam are consistently portrayed as being violent, oppressive to women and non-Muslims, and a threat to British and Western society. Sensationalist headlines such as, “Boston attacks reignite debate on Islam and terror” (BBC, April 2013), or “University campuses are ‘hotbeds of Islamic extremism’” (Telegraph, April 2011); or programmes such as Dispatches which in 2011 accused certain Muslim institutions as being full of hate for wider society; or even recent coverage of the Oxford grooming ring case by some sectors of the media that tried to imply that an inherent problem exists within the Muslim community and their culture which played a part in this crime - all portray a specific image of Muslims across the board. These negative images, stories, programmes, and headlines are accompanied by frequent statements by Western politicians attacking Islam, the Shariah laws, or even the Muslim community which further scaremonger, fuel hatred, and increase the atmosphere of intimidation of Muslims. In 2009, Jim Fitzpatrick, UK Farming Minister at the time attacked the concept of segregation of men and women in Islamic weddings, linking the practice to ‘extremism’. In 2011, Jack Straw attacked men from the Pakistani community for having a ‘specific problem’ in the way they viewed white girls, suggesting that this was the cause for the sexual abuse of teenage girls by a grooming ring in Derby. This narrative was replicated by Sayeeda Warsi, former Tory party co-chairman who in response to the Rochdale grooming ring case claimed that some Pakistani men see white girls as ‘fair game’. It is only inevitable then that such a stereotype of Muslims shapes the view that the wider society holds about them; leading people including even children to see them as enemies in their society.
This is alongside the labelling of those Muslims fighting against Western and foreign occupation or colonialism in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kashmir, Pakistan, Mali, Somalia and Palestine as terrorists, as well as the consistent demonization of those struggling for Islamic rule under the Khilafah state as we see in Syria and other countries as extremist and linking them to violence and terrorism and hence a threat to the UK. UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said recently “There is enough uncontested space in Syria for some violent Islamist groups to provide extensive training. This is particularly concerning as we assess some of the individuals being trained will seek to carry out attacks against Western interests in the region or in Western states, now or in the future.”
All this has generated a climate of hysteria and fear towards Muslims and Islam in the UK. Muslim women are the frontline targets of the racist and Islamophobic attacks that result from this highly charged environment of suspicion and hatred because their hijab, jilbab, or niqab directly identify them as Muslim.
Western Foreign Policy is Fuelling Islamophobia
Ultimately such demonization of Islam and Muslims by the British political establishment has one main purpose for the UK and other Western Governments and that is to justify their foreign policy of interference or wars in the Muslim world as in Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali or Somalia which is aimed at securing their economic interests and to prevent the establishment of Islamic rule in the region in the form of the Khilafah state. This state, based on the Laws of Allah (swt) alone would not be subservient to any foreign power and would bring an end to the regimes and systems in the Muslim world that serve the interests of Western states, establishing in their place a leadership that sincerely serves the people. The Khilafah would also end Western hegemony and control over the oil, gas and other resources of our Muslim lands and ensure that these are utilized instead for the benefit of the citizens of the state. The establishment of the Khilafah would therefore threaten the UK government’s financial, political, and strategic interests in the region. Hence the demonization of Islam and Muslims is used by Western governments to legitimize to their people the presence of their troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and hence ensure continued public support for their destructive meddling, occupation and wars in the Muslim world, aimed in large part to ensure that the Khilafah does not materialize.
How Should We Respond to this Growing Islamophobia?
Within this climate where Islamophobic attitudes constantly bombard the British public from the UK mainstream media and politicians alike, it is therefore hardly surprising that according to the Race and Reform report above, 75 per cent of non-Muslims believe Islam is negative for Britain, and 63 per cent don’t disagree that “Muslims are terrorists.” In light of these shocking statistics, how should we as Muslim women in Britain respond to this growing Islamophobic climate and racially motivated attacks?
(1) As Muslim women, to even walk down our local high street can become a frightening affair due to the abuse we may face but this fear should never cause us to compromise our Deen. Rather we must continue to hold on to our Islamic beliefs and abide by our Islamic obligations, including adhering to our hijab just as the Prophet(saw), his companions, and the early believers in Makkah held onto their Deen despite facing severe persecution at the hands of the Quraysh. We should remind ourselves of the actions of the first martyr of Islam Sumayyah (ra), who endured unbearable torture for being a Muslim but never once renounced her Islam, preferring death rather than compromising her Islamic belief. Thus we must be courageous in this difficult climate.
(2) Allah (swt) says,
(إنما ذلكمُ الشيطانُ يخّوفُ أولياءَهُ فلا تخافوهم وخافونِ إن كنتم مؤمنين.” (آل عمران: 175’‘
“It is only Shaytan that suggests to you the fear of his Auliya’ (supporters and friends (disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah and His Messenger, Muhammad(saw))) so fear them not, but fear Me, if you are (true) believers.” [TMQ Al-Imran: 175]
(3) We must defend Islam and speak out when Islam and Muslims are attacked and not allow the media or politicians to insult or spread lies about our Deen without responding. We should also expose the real intentions behind the negative media propaganda and statements of politicians against Islam and show that it is Western foreign policy through its economically-driven wars, support of dictatorships, and robbing of the resources of the Muslim world that has caused instability and insecurity in the region and beyond.
(4) We must carry the Islamic dawah to our non-Muslim colleagues and contacts, to explain the truth of Islam, its sublime values and laws, and the great qualities of our beloved Prophet (saw). In addition, we need to counter the lies and misconceptions about our Deen including on issues such as the Shariah laws, the position and role of women in Islam, the Islamic dress code, and the system of Allah - the Khilafah, and highlight Islam as an alternative way of life that has solutions for problems faced even in the West.
Indeed, holding onto Islam, defending it when it is attacked, and carrying the Islamic dawah to those around us may seem like a very difficult task within this environment that we live that is hostile towards Islam but we should remember the words of our beloved Prophet(saw) who said,:
(يأتي على الناس زمان القابض على دينه كالقابض على الجمر.” (الترمذي’‘
“There will come a time when holding onto your Iman will be like holding onto hot coal” (Tirmidhi). In addition, we should remind ourselves of the great rewards in Jannah that await those believers who keep steadfast in their Deen, no matter the hardships they face. Allah (swt) says,
((إنّ الذين قالوا ربُّنا الله ثم استقاموا فلا خوفٌ عليهم ولا هم يحزنون. أولئك أصحاب الجنّةِ خالدينَ فيها جزاءً بما كانوا يعملون))
“Verily, those who say, ‘Our Rabb (Lord) is (only) Allah and thereafter stand firm and straight (on the Islamic belief) on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve. Such shall be the dwellers of Jannah (paradise), abiding therein (forever), a reward for what they used to do.” [TMQ Al-Ahqaf: 13-14]