Britain: Where Muslim women are spat on, punched and covered in faeces
Muslim hate crime has soared by 70 per cent in London and majority of victims are female. Radhika Sanghani hears horrific stories of Islamophobia from British women and asks why they're being targeted
By Radhika Sanghani
7/9/2015- I’ve been spat on in the street when I’ve worn my headscarf,” Sara Khan tells me. “I’ve been called ‘Osama Bin Laden’s wife’. I’ve had people come right up to my face effing and blinding – even when I was pushing my six-month-old daughter in her pram". Khan, who heads up anti-extremist organisation Inspire, is a female victim of Islamophobia in Britain. “It’s shocking. You’re just minding your own business. It’s completely unprovoked," she adds. "It tends to happen after a terrorist incident, and you think, 'what have I done?' You feel angry you’re being associated with terrorists and extremists, but you also feel sad. It’s very dehumanising.” Khan also tells me about one friend who had dog faeces put on her head, and another who was waiting at a bus stop, listening to her iPod and wearing a headscarf, when a man suddenly punched her. She was left with a black eye.
These are not isolated incidents. The Metropolitan Police has just released new statistics showing anti-Muslim hate crimes in Britain have risen by 70 per cent in the past year. Tell Mama, an organisation that monitors Islamophobic attacks, says 60 % are directed at women, and happen on the street - as opposed to online. Founder Fiyaz Mughal explains: “It’s because the more physical, abusive ones [attacks] are directed at visibility - which means the hijab (headscarf) and the niqab (full-face veil).” It means that women become obvious targets for racists – something Malaika Kayani knows well. She converted to Islam around eight years ago, and tells me she’s regularly experienced Islamophobia where she lives in Nottingham. “I’ve been on the bus and had people refuse to sit next to me when I’ve had my scarf on. I was walking with a friend once, when a man on a bike slammed his brakes and tried to ram it into us," she tells me.
"I’ve had people swearing at me and insulting me. You don’t need to always hear what they say because they look at you like you’re pure filth.” The abuse became so bad it’s partly why she no longer wears a headscarf. Mussurut Zia, of the Muslim Women’s Network, explains: “Modesty in Islam isn’t just about the clothes you wear – it’s your behaviour and what you say as well. [If a Muslim woman was attacked] she wouldn’t raise her voice. “She wouldn’t scream. She wouldn’t yell, she wouldn’t swear. They’re all the things you’d expect someone to do if they were in danger. But a Muslim woman wouldn’t because it’s not part of her faith.” But scarves and veils aren’t the only reasons Muslim women are targeted more than men – another big factor is attitude.
As a convert this is something Kayani has had to learn. She once swore back at a racist who insulted her, but immediately regretted her actions. Now she tries to react calmly whenever she’s a victim of hate crime, just like most of the Muslim women in her community. “We know being seen as a Muslim in public will have its challenges,” she says. “So there is a little anger [about Islamophobia] but for the most part there’s an acceptance. Some women see it as a test of their faith. “We Muslim women try to be modest and demure – not just in dress but behaviour. We’re less likely to respond. "It’s about not shaming yourself in public.” Mughal says that perpetrators know Muslim women won't react, especially if they’re fully covered up: “They believe there’s a sense of passivity around a woman wearing a niqab – that she won’t do anything or respond. But some women also say it’s a misogynistic targeting that comes from men.”
This is something Khan strongly believes – to the point where she thinks that authorities should classify Islamophobia against women as a form of violence against women: "I've always felt there’s an overlap between Muslim hate crime and violence against women," she explains. "There’s definitely a gender element to it, with racists thinking, ‘It’s OK because she’s a woman and won’t say anything or do anything’. “Women fear it. Whenever there’s a terrorist attack, you think, 'will I be attacked too?'” This is the reality for thousands of Muslim women living in Britain. They are targets for racism purely because of their clothing, their demeanour and their gender. All they can do is report any incidents that happen to them – and many don’t.
Mughal urges Muslim women to speak to the police if they are attacked: “Something can potentially be done, but there’s also a sense of unburdening yourself of that incident.” But Zia thinks the only real way to tackle Islamophobia is by changing British perceptions towards Muslims. “People think that women in full-face veils can’t speak English, but that’s simply not true. They think that women who wear the full-face veil are subservient. That they’re a danger; that they won’t interact with society. “We all need to have some responsibility in dispelling these myths and stereotypes. We need to get rid of the fear before we can live in far more tolerant society.”
© The Telegraph