This month is Islamophobia Awareness Month. This is an issue close to my heart as a British Muslim Woman, and especially as the city councillor responsible for Inclusive Communities.
For many people, the first question will be ‘what is Islamophobia?’ Here’s a simple definition that comes from the UK parliament: Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.
Oxford City Council adopted this definition of Islamophobia in 2020. Despite Islamophobic hate crime increasing nationally over recent years, there are still plenty of people who deny that anti-Muslim racism is real. These people frequently say Muslims are not a race and that Muslims call any criticism of their beliefs Islamophobic.
It is a known fact that Muslims are and have been treated as one, different, less worthy group for hundreds of years and still often are. That’s why anti-Muslim discrimination is racism. That doesn’t mean people can’t respectfully disagree with our beliefs and lifestyles, but discrimination and abuse should never be allowed.
We’ve heard recently about the ways that former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq experienced this kind of racism– being forced to drink alcohol, enduring racist ‘nick-names’ and so called ‘banter’ when his teammates used racial slurs against him to make others laugh, being made to sit with other Muslims in the worst part of the changing rooms by the toilets.
We’ve heard how people at his club were so used to this type of racist harassment and bullying that they didn’t see it as racism, instead they claim this is just as the way things are done.
Islamophobia Awareness Month aims to shine a light on all kinds of anti-Muslim hate and discrimination Muslims endure, whether it’s dealing with physical and verbal racism and abuse, institutional or structural racism in our places of work or learning, or assumptions that all Muslims sympathise with extreme and extremists interpretations of our faith or that as individuals and communities it is assumed we share ideologies with terrorists and extremists, based on nothing other than that we are Muslim.
British Muslims are a diverse group of people with different heritages and races, we don’t share one lived experience, whether we’re from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Somalia, Sudan, Nigeria, Bosnia, Malaysia, Syria or anywhere else.
We don’t fit into a single box or label called ‘Muslim’ but we do all feel hurt, dehumanised, devalued and less welcome by anti-Muslim slurs, bigotry, words and actions.
Here in Oxford we’re one of the most diverse cities in the country and this is something I feel proud of as an Oxonian. I believe our shared community and city wide values of respect and fairness are an essential part of what makes Oxford such a dynamic city.
I also believe that it’s through putting these values in action that we as a city can start the difficult and uncomfortable work of tackling Islamophobia and all forms of racism so Oxford become a truly anti-racist city.
When I talk to non-Muslims about my experience, and many of our city's Muslim community's lived experience of Islamophobia and racism, friends will often say ‘I’d never knew that’ or ‘I wish I’d said something at the time’ I know they are listening and they are willing to think about what they can and must do to make change and tackle Islamophobia.
Individuals need to take action, and so do organisations. Last year the City Council launched Oxford’s Anti-Racism Charter with our community partners. We’re working on our people strategy to make sure we are providing opportunities for people from across all our communities, and to make sure the council’s staff reflect the diversity of the whole city. It’s on every organisation in the city to tackle racism and Islamophobia, to recognise they may be getting it wrong, and be willing to make changes to get it right. This council recognised Islamophobia is a form of racism, and it’s up to all of us to tackle all forms of racism so that everyone in our city can thrive and reach their potential.