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The situation regarding Islamophobia following the global lockdown

This month is Islamophobia Awareness Month. It is a significantly important month, in which we can further highlight the dangers of Islamophobia, and promote good responses to it. It is very important because Islamophobia is real and it affects lives, on a daily basis. 

We consider Islamophobia a growing disease; because like any disease, if left untreated, it can further spread and cause irreversible damage. 

What is Islamophobia? 

Islamophobia is a manifestation of racism and prejudice. It falls in the same category as ALL types of discrimination against people who are different. It comes from the same source. It starts out as fear. Fear leads to hatred. Hatred manifests as abuse, which includes violence. 

Islamophobia is when Muslims are given a hard time, because they are Muslim. Whether this is done by ridiculing them, inciting people against them, bullying them, or even attacking them, just because that person identifies herself/himself as a Muslim – and it is on the rise. And it’s getting worse. I say “herself” before “himself”, because Muslim women are targeted more, especially because of their clothing which makes them more identifiable as Muslims.

Islamophobia manifests itself in many different ways, whether it is ridiculing our religion, inciting hatred towards Islam and Muslims or in the worst cases, physical attacks on Muslims. But the most worrying thing for us must be that these attacks seem to be on the rise and are becoming more common.

Just last month, the Home Office released its hate crime data for England and Wales for 2020-2021, and sadly, it showed hate crime in general is rising, with 124,091 reports in 2020-2021, amounting to a 9% increase compared to 2019-2020. Amongst all forms of hate crime, racially motivated hate crime saw the most dramatic increase, with a 12% rise since the year before.

And online, it has worsened further, with Islamophobes like Katie Hokins inferring that the UK police should follow the example of India in deploying violence against Muslims during lockdown. During the height of the pandemic, the far-right spread fake videos with the narrative that Muslims were praying in secret at mosques fuelling complaints by members of the public, with some posting messages online calling for the demolition of all mosques to “cure” COVID-19.

Islamophobia has existed throughout time 

In Surah Ghafir, Allah(SWT) recounts a time when a believing man from Pharaoh’s people, who was hiding his faith, argued, “Will you kill a man ˹only˺ for saying: ‘My Lord is Allah,’ while he has in fact come to you with clear proofs from your Lord? [40:28]

It is explained that a member of Pharoah’s own family, some say a paternal relative, advocated for Musa(AS) so that they would not kill him. It’s important to note that this believer had not openly disclosed in the beginning that he had affirmed faith in the Prophet Moses, but he spoke as if he also belonged to Pharaoh’s side, and was only wishing his people well. But when Pharaoh and his courtiers did not seem to see reason and continued to behave stubbornly, he at last disclosed the secret of his faith.

On many occasions, the Prophet (SAW) would be doing tawaf around the Ka’aba and the Quraysh assembled there used foul language against him.

And on an occasion, the Quraysh surrounded him and said, “Are you the one who has challenged our gods?” The Holy Prophet said that it was so. Thereupon the Quraish fell upon the Holy Prophet, and gave him a severe beating. When Abu Bakr came to know of this he rushed to the spot. He interposed himself between the Holy Prophet and the Quraish weeping and saying, “Would you kill a man for saying that Allah is his Lord.” Thereupon the Quraish fell on Abu Bakr, and beat him. The beating was so severe that blood flowed from the head of Abu Bakr and clotted his hair. Utbah ibn Rab`iah, even started to kick Abu Bakr in the face with his shoes made of hard leather., such that his face could not even be recognized anymore. Then the tribe of Banu Taym who were the relatives of Abu Bakr came dragging him out of the Masjidul Haram swearing vengeance if he were to die.

Abu Bakr’s father, Abu Quhafah and people from his tribe started to speak to him to bring him back to his senses. He finally spoke and said, “Tell me, how is Rasulullah? Is he safe?” They all blamed and reprimanded him saying, “Because of him you are in this pitiful situation!” Then they called his mother Ummul Khayr to try and make him eat or drink something. When she came to him, he refused to eat, and asked the same thing: “Tell me, how is Rasulullah?” She said, “I have no news of your friend.”  

Then Abu Bakr told her, “Go to Umm Jameel, the daughter of alKhattab, she will know.” So Abu Bakr’s mother went to Umm Jameel to ask about Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam). When Abu Bakr’s mother came to Umm Jameel and asked her about Rasulullah she replied, “I don’t know these people you are talking about, but if you like, we can go together to visit your son, perhaps he might feel better.” So when they came to visit Abu Bakr, Umm Jameel became very sad when she saw him so severely beaten and said, “How bad are those people who did this to you!” Abu Bakr had nothing else to say to her except, “…how is Rasulullah?” So Umm Jameel answered, “Your mother is here and she’s listening.” 

Abu Bakr said, “Let her listen, just tell me how is Rasulullah!” So she said, “He is doing well and he is safe. He is in the house of Arqam” He replied, “By Allah, I will not eat or drink anything until I see Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi was sallam).” So at nightfall, when all the people went to their homes, two people carried Abu Bakr to the house of Arqam. When the door opened and Rasulullah (salallahu alaihi wa sallam) saw Abu Bakr being carried by two people, he rushed to him crying and embraced him. Seeing this emotional state of affairs, all the Muslims started to cry. Abu Bakr then said, “By Allah, O Prophet of Allah, I am alright except for the fact that my face has been severely injured. My main concern is my mother…Please make du`a for my mother that she accept Islam.” So Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) made du`a for Abu Bakr’s mother and she also accepted Islam by the will of Allah.

In a report narrated by Imam al-Bukhaari (3678), it says that ‘Urwah ibn az-Zubayr (may Allah have mercy on him) said: I asked ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr about the worst incident of aggression and hostility that he saw on the part of Quraysh towards the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him). He said: I saw ‘Uqbah ibn Abi Mu‘ayt come to the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) when he was praying and put his sheet around his neck and throttle him severely. Then Abu Bakr came and pushed him away and said: “Would you kill a man because he says: My Lord is Allah, and he has come to you with clear signs (proofs) from your Lord?” [Ghaafir 40:28].

‘Amr ibn ‘Awf reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Verily, the religion began as something strange and it will return to being strange, so blessed are the strangers who restore my Sunnah that people have corrupted after me.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhī 2630]

What can we do about it? 

1) Educate yourself and other Muslims about the reality of hate crime in general, and about Islamophobia, in particular. It is important to realise that a problem exists and to understand more about what is happening and how frequent it is going on. 

2) Encourage people to report every crime to the Police. Islamophobic incidents must be reported to the police. The Police have recognised this category of hate crime, and have a duty to report it as such. Why is that important? Because, there are still people who still try to deny such a disease exists. By recording the incidents, we can have the facts as quantifiable statistics; which can be traced back to certain events, political statements, policy decisions, and other factors. This will allow different institutions and organisations to better address the problem. 

The significant level of underreporting results in an incomplete and inaccurate picture of the rate of hate crime targeting Muslim communities. As with all types of hate crime and other forms of violent crime, victims dont report for fear of intimidation, anxiety from the incident, lack of confidence in the police and also a lack of knowledge regarding how to report an incident. As such, the Home Office estimates that there were around 39,000 religiously aggravated hate crimes during 2018/19, nearly five times the recorded offences.

Luton Council of Mosques have worked with Bedfordshire Police to ensure there is specific categorisation and reporting on Islamophobia and we have conducted joint events during Islamophobia Month in venues like Luton Town football club to raise awareness.

The not-for-profit organisation, MEND, also operates an Islamophobia response unit which can provide help to victims achieve a satisfactory resolution to their problem, advise on legal recourse, and publicise cases in mainstream media if required. They can be contacted at iru@mend.org.uk or on 0203 9046555.

3) Initiate Public Awareness to help non-Muslims understand the impact of Islamophobia and hate crime on individuals and on communities. It is important to allow others to understand that Islamophobia is a problem for EVERY society, not just Muslims. Racism which exists in any society is a smear on that society, especially when nothing is done about it. Everyone needs to understand the importance of having a cohesive society. This can’t happen when discrimination is rife. 

This means we must, as Muslims, not only portray our deen correctly and positively, but reach out to non-Muslims by organising informal meetings with friends and family, and then more formal open days and events, and you need to speak, engage etc. 

4) Challenge hate speech and rhetoric when you notice it.

On the other side, we must also thank and show gratitude to good practice within the media, as appropriate. This will be important in encouraging responsible reporting and journalism. 

Our faith requires that we are fair, not just in seeking our own rights, but protecting the rights of others. Ask yourself whether we have phobias or bias against others and seek to remove those. We can’t stand against injustice if we ourselves show the same characteristics. We must all play our part by living as Muslims as with each interaction with non Muslims we either add to islamophobia or reduce it.

5) Participate in society – The attitude of belonging needs to be nurtured into our young and upcoming generations. There needs to be a sense of caring and sharing. Its not right that we only get involved when we can be bothered. This week I was speaking to a friend about becoming a governor, not so that he could lobby on issues of importance to him and his children, but because we are all stewards and responsible for those around us. Take care of every child – thats your responsibility.

Abdullah ibn Umar reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The leader of people is a guardian and is responsible for his subjects. A man is the guardian of his family and he is responsible for them. A woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and his children and she is responsible for them. The servant of a man is a guardian of the property of his master and he is responsible for it. No doubt, every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock.” [Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 7138, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 1829]

6) Be Strong – Do not be afraid of practising and displaying your religion. Do not be afraid of wearing the hijab or growing your beard. Our religion was sent as a mercy to mankind. We should not be afraid of practicing Islam, even when we have become victims of an increasing hatred. 

I recently began a new job and attended a main office after 2 years of precautionary home working as a result of the pandemic. During the lunch break, I did wudu and then entered a room which looked vacant to pray, locking the door behind me. On completing salaah, I noticed that this was an office for someone as it had a personal setup on the desk. So before asr, I asked one of the staff outside the office for a place to pray and she said I could use the same office. A week later I attended the companies Equity forum and was pleased to see an item on the agenda labelled Prayer spaces, as it meant someone else in the organisation was talking about it. When we came to that agenda item, I shared how I had had a very positive experience searching for a prayer room at the office although I still didnt know whose room I had used. One of my colleagues spoke up and said it was the Chief Technology Officers office. Later it emerged that the person I had asked for a room had proactively put this on the agenda following my request. The point is that we shouldn’t be afraid to say we are Muslim – it will have positive ripple effects on those around us. And when we do, others will take confidence in exhibiting their faith practise and support. A week later I was joined by another Muslim for salaah in a different site where they facilitated a room for us too.

7) Share your thoughts about this topic on social media, in conversations and wherever you can, responsibly. 

Islamophobia Awareness Month should not be side-lined as ‘just another month’. Just like Black History Month its a time for us to have conversations with our leaders, colleagues, students, friends and family so that they help to eradicate this form of discrimination and establish a fair society.

Too often we complain about the negative media portrayal; and it’s our right to complain. However, to avoid becoming someone who just moans about everything, you must couple your complaints with action. 

8) And, of course, remain vigilant and learn to defend ourselves and our families within the bounds of the law.

May Allah(SWT) protect all from harm and give us the ability to establish a fair and just society filled with understanding and respect.

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