Muslim women are disproportionately targeted by Islamophobic sentiment and hate. We must dismantle the false stereotypes of the female Muslim identity in order to tackle this gendered crisis.
Muslim women face discrimination and prejudice at the intersection of gender, race, ethnicity, and religion. Islamophobia is experienced and targeted at both men and women, however, it should be highlighted as a particularly gendered crisis. Muslim women are disproportionately targeted by Islamophobic sentiment and hate, while the majority of perpetrators of these online and offline incidents are men. Discrimination and harassment are further intensified for the Muslim women who wear the hijab, niqab, or burka in accordance with their religion. Due to these visual identifiers of Islam, some Muslim women become visual targets for Islamophobia.
Given the surge in online hate and anti-Muslim rhetoric during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has principally manifested online in the form of online conspiracy theories linking Muslims to the spread of the virus, it is feared that present hostility towards Muslims will heighten. This fear has serious wider implications for Muslim communities around the UK, who fear that they too could be targeted, while Muslim women who wear the hijab, burka, or niqab already feel incredibly uncomfortable in public. However, this hate crisis in the UK is not recent; Muslim communities have long been targeted, mocked, and abused. Notably, anti-Muslim rhetoric has manifested in the aftermath of Brexit, ‘trigger incidents’ such as terrorist attacks in London and Manchester, as well as the growth of the far right. The indiscriminate statements made by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, where he compared Muslim women who wear the niqab to “bank robbers” and “letterboxes”, have ultimately legitimised this Islamophobic and anti-Muslim hatred. Muslims around the UK have experienced the adverse implications and reality of this hate. In JAN Trust’s Web Guardians™ programme, most of the women who spoke out about their experience of harassment did not report it to the police. This cannot and will not be normalised in society.
The identities and lived experiences of Muslim women have often been perceived externally as homogenous, however this stereotype fails to depict the reality that Muslim women come from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and hold diverse political views, perspectives and cultures. As highlighted by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her TED Talk, The Danger of a Single Story: “the single story creates stereotypes, the problem with the stereotypes is not that they are untrue but they make one story become the only story.” A common deception of Islam is that women are forced to wear the hijab, niqab, or burka, therefore promoting an anti-Muslim ideology in the name of women’s rights. However, as highlighted by an article from The Independent, Islam is not holding women back; it is the pervasive prejudice and discrimination in all facets of our lives. To a Muslim woman, the religious garment she wears is not simply just an item of clothing to cover her face, but a symbol of empowerment. Women wear this to hide and preserve their beauty, where some see it as a part of their own identity. It is important to dismantle the false stereotypes of the female Muslim identity.
An article by The Independent draws an interesting parallel between Muslim women choosing to wear a face covering out of religious importance, who are ultimately scrutinised and targeted for this, and face coverings becoming mandatory in public spaces in the UK. The difference in narrative exposes the level of prejudice and injustice that see’s Muslim women being targeted for wearing the niqab. It is hoped that the hostility experienced, as a result of wearing religious face coverings, will diminish now that face coverings have been normalised in the UK, and will ultimately lead to increased empathy and understanding.
JAN Trust supports the rights of Muslim women and their decision to wear the niqab and burqa. If they have the free will to do so, they should have the right to exercise it and express their religion in the way they choose. Muslim women should not have to endure any form of anti-Muslim hate, and nothing justifies this discrimination or bigotry. To find out more about our work empowering women, please see our website.