Each year thousands of British people convert to Islam in the UK, a figure which reached a total of 100,000 in 2010, and among whom women represent the larger percentage. However, attacks against this community are increasing. What is the problem?
Virginia Moreno Molina
Culture and religion are two concepts which overlap so much that they can become confused and create a stigmatization and repression which takes control of public attitudes towards a community.
In the past it was coloured people, the Jews… and in recent years the Muslims.
“I have noticed that people smile less and are not so friendly towards me, there is a general change in the atmosphere”, explains Ameena Blake.
All this leads to people thinking that when a Muslim is attacked, it is an attack on Islam, and subconsciously they accept that”, Blake remarks emphatically, who is British by birth and converted to Islam 25 years ago. But her case is not an isolated one. In fact, according to the report “A minority within a minority: a report on converts to Islam in the United Kingdom”, produced by the University of Swansea, on behalf of the organization Faith Matters, in 2010 there were more than 100,000 British people who had converted to Islam, of whom 62% were women.
As an example of this situation in the UK, Ameena Blake spoke to The Prisma about the violence suffered by Muslims, especially women, and the positioning of women in British society and in religion.
As a Muslim woman who wears hijab, how do you feel when you go out in the streets?
Five years ago, I would quite happily walk around central London, going in the underground and doing my business as normal.
But last time, I took my kids for a trip to London, and I felt, for the first time, very uncomfortable knowing about these attacks that have been so random, mostly against woman wearing hijab. I was looking at other people around me, wondering if they would do or say something. It is not a nice or healthy place to be for anybody.
There has been a rise in attacks against Muslims, especially women. Why do they appear as the “weak” figure?
There has been a big increase over the last few years in Muslim women being used as scapegoats to be a negative representation of Islam. With the niqab, people are asking what they are hiding under there and if they’ve got bombs. If you wear a hijab or niqab, you must be an extremist.
But another reason is because bullies will always target the people that seems to be weak, like old or young people and women. There is no way these guys will go against a bearded big Muslim man.
Sometimes, during these attacks, people doesn’t stand up against the aggressor…
We can look at the reasons behind this. Before 9/11 happened, there was racism, I used to get ridiculous comments, but my religion was never an issue.
But after 9/11, the rhetoric in the media, this so-called “war on terror”, started. And then, it wasn´t foreign people who were under the spotlight, it was Islam and Muslims that were under it. And there has been a slow but very marked change in the development of rhetoric with negative and almost dehumanizing statements about Muslims.
Across the world, Muslims who don´t agree with the ISIS way, are repressed and murdered by them.
But you’ve got magazines and newspapers articles, which are dehumanizing, through the use of language about a certain group of people. So now, when people see a Muslim being attacked, they don´t see the person, they see Islam being attacked. And to them, subconsciously, it is acceptable. Because we have been almost conditioned to feel that it is an acceptable thing nowadays.
There have been acid attacks in the last months. How is possible that this kind of harassment is frequent?
Acid is a quick and easy way to ruin someone’s life. But again, it is the dehumanizing thing that is almost giving a license to do what they want to do in the first place.
Let´s take a look at the different ways that the media has approached things. At the time of the London Bridge and terror attacks, there was 24/7 coverage on all the TV stations, and it was called “Islamic terrorism”.
But then, when the attacks happened on the Muslim Welfare House in Finsbury Park, the media barely touched it. And when they did refer to it, there was no mention, especially at first, that it was a terrorist attack, no mention of Islamophobia. That was only said when a big fuss was created by the community.
So, does that mean then, that one attack was less horrific than the other? Because in the eyes of the media that seems to be the case. Are Muslims lives cheaper than non-Muslim lives? That´s the message we are getting.
You are not placing the same importance on something that was equally an act of terrorism to one community than to another. Therefore, this is where the dehumanizing thing comes in. The media is still guilty now.
It is complete double standards. It is never going to get better until the media starts to change their rhetoric and take Islamophobia as seriously as they take homophobia, sexism, etc.
Do women have enough support from Government?
To be fair on her, Theresa May is very new to the position. She has been, in some of her rhetoric, quite supportive of women being allowed to wear what they want.
Time will tell, if she adjusts the prevent strategy or creates proper legislation to protect people regardless of what their faith is. But, at this moment, it all seems to be very concerning, and it is feeding the right-wing rhetoric, which wants to get rid of everybody who is not English, white and right-wing.
Do Muslim women have the same opportunities at work as other women?
No. There are opportunities for Muslim women, mostly in low skill or un-skilled low pay jobs. But when you get to the business world, they are very limited. You don´t see a lot of Muslim women, unless they start their own business.
To be fair, there is a glass ceiling for women in general. But to be a Muslim woman or a woman of color, make things much harder. One of the big barriers is that as soon as they (companies) see a name that looks remotely Muslim, they don´t even give an interview.
How is it possible to break with the stereotype of the Muslim woman as submissive?
There is a massive difference between culture and Islam that a lot of people don´t realize. In some cultures, , if you look at the past generations of women, regardless what background they came from, they were expected to be subservient to their husband.
And it is only with arrival of the age of feminism that this is now reversing. That is also starting to reverse in the Muslim community. Because Muslim women are learning more about Islam and their faith rather than just learning about the culture. This is empowering them to have that independence.
It is changing as people start putting culture on one side. But changes are always slow and quite painful sometimes for everybody involved, letting go of a culture that has been prominent for generations regardless of the background.
The idea that women are converting to Islam because of their husbands: is it a myth or a reality?
It is 70% myth and 30% reality. There are some women that fall in love with a Muslim guy and they become Muslim in order to be able to get married, even when in Islam you don´t need to become Muslim to marry someone.
But for the majority of women, they may have a Muslim partner and that leads them to look into Islam as a faith and an alternative lifestyle. 62% of converts are women, do we really think that intelligent and educated free western women would choose to be repressed? That´s a ridiculous concept.
What is the best way to combat Islamist ideology?
Go to a mosque and get to know your Muslim neighbours. Don´t listen to what the media are spouting day after day. Pick up the Coran and read it, go and research. If we are unintelligent enough to constantly believe what the media are saying without looking into it, we should put a question mark over ourselves.
(Translated and revised by Graham Douglas) – Photos: Max Pixel & Pixabay