“I’ve been spat on in the street when I’ve worn my headscarf,” Sara Khan tells me. “I’ve been called ‘Osama Bin Laden’s wife’. I’ve had people come right up to my face effing and blinding – even when I was pushing my six-month-old daughter in her pram”.
Khan, who heads up anti-extremist organisation Inspire, is a female victim of Islamophobia in Britain. “It’s shocking. You’re just minding your own business. It’s completely unprovoked,” she adds. “It tends to happen after a terrorist incident, and you think, ‘what have I done?’ You feel angry you’re being associated with terrorists and extremists, but you also feel sad. It’s very dehumanising.”
Khan also tells me about one friend who had dog faeces put on her head, and another who was waiting at a bus stop, listening to her iPod and wearing a headscarf, when a man suddenly punched her. She was left with a black eye.
These are not isolated incidents. The Metropolitan Police has just released new statistics showing anti-Muslim hate crimes in Britain have risen by 70 per cent in the past year.
Tell Mama, an organisation that monitors Islamophobic attacks, says 60 per cent are directed at women, and happen on the street – as opposed to online.
Founder Fiyaz Mughal explains: “It’s because the more physical, abusive ones [attacks] are directed at visibility – which means the hijab (headscarf) and the niqab (full-face veil).
But Zia thinks the only real way to tackle Islamophobia is by changing British perceptions towards Muslims. “People think that women in full-face veils can’t speak English, but that’s simply not true. They think that women who wear the full-face veil are subservient. That they’re a danger; that they won’t interact with society. “We all need to have some responsibility in dispelling these myths and stereotypes. We need to get rid of the fear before we can live in far more tolerant society.”