Written by Ayesha Salejee, Third year for UCL Medicine

This month, November, is Islamophobia Awareness Month – a time to raise awareness of Islamophobic hate crimes and showcase the positive impacts and contributions of British Muslims to our society.

Firstly, I just want to give you a bit of background information. Islamophobia is an exaggerated fear, hatred and hostility towards Islam as a religion and Muslims. There are many negative stereotypes about Muslims that continue to be displayed in our society, which causes bias and discrimination against Muslims - leading to marginalisation of the community from society.

In 2019/20, there were 1115 Islamophobic hate crimes in London alone and 3089 Islamophobic hate crimes recorded in England. Out of the total number of all hate crimes committed against members of all religions, 50% of them were towards Muslims. These are just a few statistics, but there are infinitely more unreported accounts of Islamophobia experienced by the Muslim members of our society in all aspects of life: in the workplace, from the media, from the law, socially and economically. If you want to find out the extent to which the Muslim community is marginalised by society then have a read of the recourses at Islamophobia Awareness.

Hate crimes aren’t just ‘serious’ acts of murder but it can range from verbal abuse, rude glances and feelings of discomfort from being visibly Muslim (e.g. By wearing the headscarf). It can also seem like a distant idea, that these discriminatory crimes are rare and that no one around you would have experienced it, but it is so common! Many Muslims have experienced some form of Islamophobia. Regardless of how rampant Islamophobia is, our experiences are brushed under the carpet by the media, by educational institutions and by society, which can make the Muslim community feel like they are not listened to.

Instead, what we hear a lot more about is the acts of terrorism carried out by so-called ‘Muslims,’ by people who claim they acted on behalf of the religion when in reality most of what these people are doing is considered a grave sin in Islam. This rhetoric gets exaggerated by the media with there now being a very distinct association of terrorism with Islam. Not only are Muslims subject to biased reporting and negative stereotypes but we also have the increased risk of being penalised systematically through PREVENT.

I’m sure a lot of you have heard about PREVENT but for those of you who don’t know, PREVENT is a government strategy aimed at stopping individuals from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism – sounds good, in theory, right? But it’s a directive that’s been used to penalise Muslims with even children being referred to PREVENT for being radicalised.  

A major project conducted in 2020 by SOAS University of London found that PREVENT actually discourages discussions and teaching at university about religion, identity and culture, especially about Islam, in order to avoid becoming the object of suspicion. University should be an open space where students and staff are encouraged to discuss issues and topics that are important to them, not a place where students feel they should have to censor their beliefs out of fear. Discussions of faith and cultures provides an opportunity for individuals to broaden their knowledge and creates an environment in which there is a greater understanding of each other. This is particularly important in Muslim students as the media often portrays Islam as a dangerous and so healthy discussions can help dispel negative stereotypes perpetuated by the media.

Islamophobia is a complex topic that I have briefly touched on here. I hope this article has been informative and that it encourages you all to engage in discussions with your fellow Muslim students to discover more about Islam and dissolve the negative stereotypes that surround Islam. Students are the future so getting educated on this topic will allow you to teach those around you and help to tackle Islamophobia.

If you have experienced any form of Islamophobia, please report it as it gives groundworks for policies. You’ll also be guided to support after reporting so you don’t have to face this alone.