November was the month chosen to mark Islamophobia Awareness Month (IAM) back in 2012 by MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development) and several other organisations. Since then, it has grown and is recognised throughout the UK, and now finally by EUSA too, the first students’ association in the UK to do so.
I was elected President of the Islamic Society in May 2020 – a tough year would follow, with many (so many) online events held. My committee and I knew that MEND would be holding IAM events in November, and so we decided to hold a few events ourselves to mark the occasion- nothing too ambitious. I remembered that past committees had done similar things, and so we weren’t initially planning anything revolutionary. However, as we chatted with MEND’s representative in Edinburgh, we decided that it might be possible to pass a motion at EUSA’s student council – which would enshrine IAM into policy for the foreseeable future.
We began planning, researching, and gathering signatures for this. With the help of many, we managed to pass our motion in the November Student Council (Alhamdulilah!). The timing was great too, passing it during IAM 2020 felt fitting. Our motion had two main aims: to adopt the APPG definition of Islamophobia, and for EUSA to officially mark IAM beginning in 2021.
The APPG working definition of Islamophobia is as follows: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.” Short and sweet, it is accepted by many in the Muslim community, and is the most effective at combating those who would do us harm. However, it has not been accepted by the UK government, nor have they accepted any definition of Islamophobia at all. Hardly surprising coming from the government headed by Boris Johnson, whose own Islamophobic attitudes are fairly well known (comparing Muslim women to letterboxes!). What this means in practice of course, is that it is incredibly hard for Muslims to find justice for anti-Muslim hate-speech. When Islamophobia is not seen as a “real thing” by so many, it seems an impossible task to bring bigots to justice.
This is why we cannot celebrate British Muslim history, or “Muslim culture” in November – we are currently still battling for the goalposts: Islamophobia does exist, and is a real issue. While some deny its very existence, others relegate it to a purely English problem, claiming that we Scots are much more accepting, and much “better” than those south of the border. Yet a public inquiry headed by the Scottish Government themselves show that this is simply not true- Muslims in Scotland are just as persecuted as those in England. Published in June 2021, it reports that 75% of Scottish Muslims experienced Islamophobia daily, and nearly 80% felt that Islamophobia was getting worse. We are in a crisis, and yet the disdain for that crisis is everywhere.
Islamophobia is not unknown to our own campus either. Just this summer a PhD student went on a racist and Islamophobic tirade against a woman wanting to buy something on Facebook. In my own presidency, there were numerous Muslim students who were verbally abused for wearing a hijab- they felt they had nowhere to turn for help. There is an apathy on campus when it comes to Islamophobia, and this is what IAM aims to change. This is why we need to completely shift our attitude when it comes to these issues.
November 2021 marks the first time that EUSA will be recognising Islamophobia Awareness Month, and it is clearly needed. The Islamic Society, which represents all Muslims on campus, is holding a number of amazing events aimed at both Muslims and non-Muslims. Especially non-Muslims. Those of us who are Muslim are obviously in the minority at Edinburgh University, and that is why it is so important that those who are not Muslim involve themselves this month. If you are one such person, listen to Muslim experiences and join the conversation. It is only with you holding people to account, being an active bystander, and supporting your Muslim friends and colleagues that real change can actually happen.
At the end of the day, marking this one month will not change anything, at least not by itself. Until new policy is made by government, Islamophobia will continue to rise. Despite this, we can do small things to help those in our own communities. These small things, such as changes in attitude, education, and a sense of responsibility can genuinely help, and can genuinely make a difference.
Image courtesy of The University of Edinburgh Islamic Society