Islamophobia raises and Squeezes Muslim societies

This year, the observance of Islamophobia Awareness Month coincides with a challenging period for Muslim communities in the UK.


The aftermath of the distressing Israel-Gaza conflict has unfortunately sparked an unacceptable surge in both Antisemitism and Islamophobia within our nation.


The crisis has triggered impassioned reactions globally, with demonstrations in numerous major cities and intense debates regarding the distinctions between antisemitism, Islamophobia, and legitimate forms of protest.


Even within the field of social work, there exists susceptibility to the pervasive issue of Islamophobia that plagues our society at large.


A practitioner who has encountered this form of racism within the workplace emphasises the urgent need to prioritise addressing it. This urgency may result in the implementation of tolerance workshops for Islamophobia.


The appalling consequences of Hamas’s operation against Israel on October 7 and the escalation in the conflict that ensued in Gaza are, of course, being felt directly in both places.

But in a world of social media polarisation and real-time disinformation, with close connections between Israeli and Palestinian diasporas with their relatives and friends in the Middle East, the conflict is also affecting the lives of Jews and Muslims around the world.

What is Islamophobia?

Islamophobia is the unwarranted hostility directed at Islam, often resulting in unjust discrimination against Muslims and their exclusion from societal and political involvement. However, the term itself has faced criticism.

Some argue that it caters to political correctness, inhibiting legitimate critiques of Islam, and unfairly demonises those who seek to voice such criticisms.

Figures of Attacks against Mosques

42% of Mosques or Islamic institutions experienced religiously motivated attacks in the previous three years. 17% of mosques experiencing an attack in the last three years had also encountered instances of physical assault.

35% of mosques experience a religiously motivated attack at least once a year. 15% of mosques saw an increase in attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of the institutions that participated or were threatened with an attack, 85% reported these to the police. Only 55% of these institutions were satisfied with the police response.

The data in 2022/23 shows that 44% of religious hate crimes recorded by the police were against Muslims. 19% were anti-Jewish in nature, 8% were antiChristian, with 19% of offences being recorded as “unknown”.

Here in the UK, incidents of Islamophobia and antisemitism have spiked in the aftermath of the Hamas operation

London police said they had recorded a 1,353% increase in antisemitic offences this month compared to the same period last year, while Islamophobic violations were up 140% in the wake of the attack by Hamas on Israel.

The protests against the bombardment of Gaza have attracted tens of thousands of people to London for the third weekend. Of course, people have a democratic right to peacefully protest against Israel’s response to the terror attacks on its soil; there are many British Jews who themselves have been highly critical of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

In the British Government’s latest demonstration of flagrant anti-Palestinian racism, former Home Secretary Suella Braverman has set out a list of stringent criteria applying only to pro-Palestine protests.

This not only risks making a mockery of democracy and undermining freedom of speech, but it could also lead to the criminalisation of ordinary people like the young girl I saw, who dare to express solidarity with Palestinians living under a brutal occupation and apartheid.

Rishi Sunak urged to clamp down

Rishi Sunak has been urged to clamp down on Islamophobia after a seven-fold increase in anti-Muslim incidents was reported since the outbreak of hostilities in Gaza and Israel.

Speaking on October 23 2023, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the Government has “zero tolerance for antisemitism or indeed anti-Muslim hatred in any form. We will seek to stamp it out wherever we see it.”

There are three various ways that legislation deals with hate crimes motivated on the grounds of race or religion:

  • Offences of stirring up hatred
  • Aggravated forms of certain “basic” illegal violations
  • Improved sentencing for offences motivated by hate

There is no specific law prohibiting Islamophobia. However, anti-Islam activity might be covered by more general legislation on hate crime, online abuse, and equality.

The crisis raises complex issues for UK businesses.

While numerous businesses showed robust support for Ukraine during the Russian invasion last year, the corporate response to events in the Middle East has generally been more restrained.

This subdued reaction might stem from concerns about potentially alienating staff or customers and the challenges of articulating complexity within concise statements.

Recent polling highlighted that over two-thirds of employed Muslims in the UK had encountered Islamophobia in their workplaces.

Additionally, Muslims in the UK experienced the highest levels of religious hate crimes in the past year, accounting for 42% of reported cases. Within a short period in October, there were 515 reported cases, starkly contrasting the 73 cases reported during the same period in 2022.

Responding to this alarming trend, the newly established Anti-Islamophobia Working Group (AIWG), comprising anti-racist organisations and supported by the US State Department, has urged Mr Sunak to take decisive action against anti-Muslim prejudice.

Consideration of tolerance workshops for Islamophobia emerges as a potentially viable solution in this context.

Laws prohibit Islamophobia 

Part III of the Public Order Act 1986 criminalises certain acts that are intended to stir up racial hatred.

Part II of the 1986 Act makes similar provisions for specific actions that stir religious hatred.

Lord Avebury’s Religious Offences Bill 2002 Incitement of Religious Hatred—to act in such way or to use or publicise insulting or offensive words with the intent to stir up religious hate or, in the cases, religious hatred is likely to be stirred up as a result of the activity.

The protection will spread to the adherents of all “religious groups”. “Religious group” may be left to the Courts to determine if such a definition appears to be needed.

The Anti-Terrorism Crime & Security Act of 2001 addresses offences that are religiously aggravated, encompassing acts of harassment, violence, or criminal damage to property incited by religious hatred or any discernible evidence of religious hostility in connection with the offence.

This protection extends to individuals belonging to any “religious group.” Notably, the Act does not explicitly define the term “religious group,” leaving its interpretation to the Courts should a situation require such clarification.

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