In recent weeks, there have been a spate of attacks targeting Muslim women both in the UK and abroad. Last week, a man was arrested for kicking a pregnant Muslim woman who it was reported on Tuesday lost her baby as a result. In the US, a Scottish Muslim woman visiting New York had her blouse set alight as she waited near a store. Attacks on Muslims have sadly become the norm. Everyday hate crime and discrimination seem to inform the daily lives of British Muslims but this doesn’t make the above any less shocking. In the US, Islamophobic rhetoric being spewed by Republican presidential frontrunner Trump is fanning the flames of Islamophobia whilst in the UK, hate crime has risen rapidly since Brexit. As Linda Sarsour, executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York, wrote in an opinion piece for the Guardian last week, ‘not only is wearing my religious headscarf in public an act of faith, but it has also become an act of courage.’
These attacks against Muslim women, particularly those who are visibly Muslim, highlight the link between misogyny and Islamophobia, the fixation on the veil and the role of women in Islam. Muslim women are not only suffering online hate but offline hate as well in the form of physical and verbal attacks. A report published by Tell MAMA, an organisation that reports, records and analyses hate against Muslims, in June 2016, found that women are more likely to be attacked than men. 61% of cases reported were incidents involving women. A recent example of the targeting of Muslim women by the state was in France when the Mayors of 30 French coastal resorts decided to impose a ban on the burkini (a type of swimming costume worn by some Muslim women that covers their arms, legs and hair). In Europe, hate crimes against Muslim women have increased by over 300% with 46% of all hate crimes being experienced by visibly Muslim women.
Hate crimes against Muslims must be taken seriously. At the same time, we must ask ourselves what can Muslim women do individually and at community level. A research project carried out by the University of Cambridge last year revealed the coping strategies employed by British Muslims when dealing with Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate. These included the role of religion in responding to Islamophobia and hate crime for example, forgiveness of perpetrators based on religious practice, pre-emptive courtesy, and a reliance on strong community networks. Some involved in the research project expressed resilience in stronger terms for example, speaking back to those who spout verbal abuse or preparing themselves in the event of a physical attack.
JAN Trust aims to raise awareness of hate crime through its Say No To Hate Crime campaign. On our website we provide a range of information on hate crime for both victims of hate crimes and those working to tackle hate crime. Hate crime is an issue which is discussed in our centre and in the training and services we deliver where we receive anecdotal evidence from Muslim women about the anti-Muslim hate they and their families have experienced. We educate Muslim women about their rights and how to stand up for these rights. We inform the ladies we support about the mechanisms available for them to use to report anti-Muslim hate but also how to be assertive in responding to Islamophobia be it challenging it online by reporting it, in the media by submitting a complaint or standing up for oneself on the street.