How British Organizations Are Tackling Islamophobia

In a chintzy banqueting hall in Wembley, London, soft boos punctuate the loud chatter. A 300-person strong crowd, ranging from an Anglican vicar to former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg, have gathered for the third iteration of the satirical Islamophobia Awards. The crowd’s tepid response to the announcement that British Prime Minister David Cameron has won the U.K. category for Islamophobe of the year is explained partly by the distraction of dinner at the event organizers like to call ‘the racism awards.’

Saturday’s event, held by the U.K.-based Islamic Human Rights Council (IHRC), is one of the many initiatives aimed at spreading awareness of Islamophobia, which is on the rise in the U.K.. London’s police saw a 60% rise in Islamophobic offences in 2015, from 667 offences recorded in 2014. Tell MAMA, an organisation that monitors Islamophobia, counted around 2,500 incidents for the whole of the U.K., but believes the number may be in the tens of thousands as studies have shown that the majority of hate crimes go unreported.

Fiyaz Mughal, who heads Tell MAMA, believes that the Islamophobia Awards, “trivializes” what should be a serious matter. “Some people may not like what the Prime Minister does but this is not the way to deal with it. These are senior political members of our country and our job is to lobby them, our job is to speak to them and give them the facts and hopefully build better, cohesive societies” he says. “Our job is not to mock them and by doing so create a ‘them and us.’” His organization has been working with police forces around the country to help collate data that will, hopefully, inform future policy on Islamophobia.

The police have taken steps to bring awareness to the issue: in 2015, David Cameron announced that anti-Muslim hate crimes, which had previously not been distinguished from wider hate crimes, would be recorded in their own separate category. Chief Superintendent Dave Stringer of London’s Metropolitan Police says they are working on raising awareness around Islamophobia with young Muslims, who tend to shy from reporting anything to the police. “We have a large number of schools officers and their role is to engage with young people” he says. “I would argue it has resulted in an increase in hate crime reports.”

According to Miqdaad Versi, spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), Islamophobic attacks can range from “verbal assaults and attacks on social media on the lower end… to a more violent situations and attacks on mosques.” In February, the MCB, one of the country’s biggest umbrella groups for Muslim organisations, organised ‘Visit my Mosque Day,’ which saw thousands of people visit some 80 mosques across the country. The day was organized with the aim to allow Muslims “explain their faith and community beyond the hostile headlines.” Positive and high-profile campaigns like that is what works says Miqdaad, by demystifying the other side and nurturing social acceptance among communities.

Versi believes that strong leadership from public personalities is also needed to publicize the issues of Islamophobia. He describes the controversy surrounding the contentious headline published by the Times of London on Feb. 20, which read: ‘Imam beaten to death in sex grooming town.’ More than 400 complaints were made over what was seen as the paper conflating the faith of the now deceased Jalal Uddin with the town’s past child abuse scandals, reports the Guardian. In response, Manchester’s police Force, Ian Hopkins, wrote a public letter to the Times demanding an immediate apology for offending “the thousands of peaceful, law-abiding Muslims and non-Muslims living in Rochdale.”

Islamic group urges sobriety – and invests in bar chain

An Islamic organisation that has argued sobriety is an “obligation on Muslims” and a “revolutionary duty” has invested in a bar chain offering £1 “shooters’” and £3 cocktails.

 

Accounts filed by the Islamic Human Rights Commission’s charitable trust in 2009 listed as an investment the Baa Bar Group, a Liverpool-based company with eight locations across the North of England, worth £38,250. Accounts for the year ending 30 June 2012 showed continued investment in the chain, which on its website encourages customers to “follow their own deepest of animal instincts”. The message couldn’t be more different from the IHRC’s own publications. Among these is Quest For Unity by Imam Achmad Cassiem. The report says: “The greatest underminer and saboteur of discipline and confidence is alcohol and so-called social drinking.” It goes on to claim that the “oppressor” is “making enormous profits from liquor” and urges Muslims to refrain from producing, distributing and consuming alcohol.

 

The IHRC did not respond to invitations for a response and The Baa Bar Group declined to comment. However Jacob Campbell, research director for Stand for Peace, an interfaith organisation that campaigns against extremism, is quoted as saying: “Although bizarre on the face of it, it actually isn’t all that surprising. Islamist groups tend to take the view that the ends invariably justify the means… Better by far to become morally bankrupt than financially so.”.

Muslim NGO scores a major victory against “strip search” body scanners

4 February 2013

 

UK based Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) finally succeeded in its campaign against “strip search” body scanners that are expected to be introduced in the UK airports. It was a government measure to prevent a terrorist strike similar to 9/11; the scanner was thought to be more efficient in detecting explosive material.

 

However, a number of faith and civil liberties groups, especially Muslims, globally objected the scanners on several grounds. These included the breach of civil liberties, health issues, the explicit nature of the body scanners and storage of images taken by the scanner. In addition it has been argued that the scanners could not detect plastics and liquids which had been given as a reason for their introduction.

 

IHRC has been a leading campaigner against the scanner and it supported the legal action by a former a IHRC employee against the government’s policy on scanners. The legal action had been given the right to proceed to a full judicial review.

 

Upon the decision of the court the UK government announced the cancellation of the plan to install the scanners.

 

The Chair of IHRC, Massoud Shadjareh considered the decision as “a massive victory for the Muslim community:

“IHRC has campaigned and lobbied against airport scanners, which cost £100,000 each, since their introduction and contributed to government consultation on the issue as early as 2010.  With continued campaigning and action by IHRC, this decision by the British government is a massive victory for the Muslim community and all who believe in civil liberties.”

Edmonton imam thanks supporters after being released from Saudi jail

News Agencies – November 1, 2011

A Canadian imam who was arrested by religious police while on a pilgrimage to the Saudi Arabian city of Medina thanked the Islamic Human Rights Commission, the Canadian media and his supporters across the country for their efforts in ensuring his release. Edmonton-based imam Usama Al-Atar said he felt “deeply relieved” and “very grateful” to be reunited with his friends after spending 36 hours in a Medina city jail, according to a statement he issued on behalf of the IHRC, a U.K.-based organization that spearheaded an urgent appeal effort that brought international attention to his case.

He said the detainment facility he stayed in was “horrid” but didn’t elaborate on the specific conditions. He said that because he was staying in Saudi Arabia for two more weeks to complete his pilgrimage, it would not be “sensible nor wise” of him to speak to the media about his experience with Saudi authorities.

Al-Atar, a prominent Islamic scholar and post-doctoral fellow at the University of Alberta chemistry department, was leading 10 pilgrims in prayer at a religious burial site in Medina when a group of Saudi religious police began to harass the group, according to witnesses, including Hayward. The religious police first asked Al-Atar to lower his voice and then asked the group to leave the cemetery, witnesses said. The police then accused Al-Atar of being a thief before restraining him, Hayward said Sunday. Eventually one of the religious police officers pushed Al-Atar into a small kiosk area where he reportedly struggled to breathe.