Challenging gendered Islamophobia on campus

By Maha Gadir, Queen Mary’s Student Stand Up to Racism

It is clear that for women who do not conform to society’s standard of what a British woman, walks, talks and looks like has its share of consequences. The need to address the physical danger Muslim women in our communities face, particularly in East London, for practising their faith could not be more urgent. When hate crimes against Muslims in the UK increase by 70% in one year with 490 attacks on Muslim women by fellow citizens; the concerned tone for Muslim women and the oppression projected on them, becomes very hollow. The call for unity and resistance is what Queen Mary’s Stand Up to Racism and Ahlul Bayt societies delivered last week.

On Wednesday night, Queen Mary University had the unique opportunity to host the a campus talk on Islamophobia and Women. The panel included Zahra Al Alawi, an assistant editor and presenter of Ahlul Bayt TV and regular public speaker on issues affecting Muslim women, today. Yasmin Khatun, a Queen Mary politics student, openly expressed her constant battle in challenging the stereotype of being a young Muslim woman looking to kick start her career in politics and finally Naima Omar, a familiar face of Stand Up to Racism activism,  who discussed the need for Islamophobia to exist to divide communities and ensure public support in the midst of austerity and foreign policies. She expressed that, as well as being part of her religious identity  she,  “wore the hijab as a form of resistance” against the Islamophobic movement to remove the image of the everyday Muslim woman from society.

Zahra’s experiences shed a much needed light on the behind the scenes tactics media outlets use to showcase Muslims who can fit the criteria of extremists. She detailed her experience of being sought after for an interview by a leading media tycoon, to discuss Sharia Law and the Hijab, but when she expressed her Islamic belief that the hijab was an individual’s decision in accordance with their faith and her love for hometown London was why she chose to raise her children here, the story was dropped.

The panelists highlighted the root of Islamophobic attacks and the genuine worries Muslims and non-Muslims shared for younger generations. The relationship racism towards Muslims plays in the marginalisation of young, vulnerable minds is incredibly damaging. This anti- Muslim rhetoric was seen the very morning of the meeting by the POTUS, who irresponsibly re-tweeted to his 43.8 million followers a post by the publicly denounced Britain First. The anti-Muslim videos are the very thing terrorist organisations feed off and use to prove to young Muslims they don’t belong here.

The night and it’s lead up was not without it’s share of controversy or struggles, but  the strong efforts and resilience of the societies team members proved that united, important discussions can be had and mass movements can begin on campuses to stop Islamophobia.