By Christine Rayner
Ignorance and outright racism are blamed for a huge increase in Islamophobic incidents in the UK since the attack on Israel by Hamas on 7 October.
Iman Abou Atta, director of Tell MAMA UK, which monitors and tackles anti-Muslim hatred, said Islamophobic attacks in the UK from 7 October to 7 November, had gone up from 100 in 2022 to 701 in 2023 in the same period.
Cases were mostly verbal, some physical and some involving vandalism. Ms Atta said abusers accused Muslims of being Hamas sympathisers, as well as butchers, rapists and murderers. The attacks took place in public places and even private homes. The commonest form of abuse was to link Muslims to terrorism.
She added: “We continue to see how racist, dehumanising and threatening behaviours target Arab, Palestinian and Muslim communities offline and online”.
Some non-Muslims originating from south Asian countries had been attacked for their appearance, when they were of other faiths, including Hinduism.
Ms Atta explained: “Alarmingly, we’ve had further cases of death threats made, including towards visible Muslim women and staff at a Palestinian restaurant. Tell MAMA is in contact with the owner and will continue to provide them with assistance. We will also be liaising further with the Metropolitan Police.”
Tell MAMA reports 291 anti-Muslim incidents in London alone, a twofold increase on previous years. Personal attacks across the UK include 15 in Greater Manchester, six in West Yorkshire and seven in West Midlands. In one incident, a man persistently shouted “Hamas terrorist” at a Muslim woman as she walked down the street.
A total of 159 online incidents were reported to Tell MAMA, mostly involving the use of anti-Muslim language, linking Islamic communities with terrorism and violence. Twitter/X removed a post from a woman in Staffordshire who called for Muslims to be bombed.
Schools, colleges and universities across the UK have reported issues of anti-Muslim, as well as anti-Israeli feeling. Tell MAMA was approached for help by an Islamic teacher who wears a headscarf, after she was insulted by a group of students.
Ms Atta said her organisation was issuing safety advice to Muslims in both English and Arabic and urging community leaders to ensure people were vigilant out on the streets.
Qari Muhammad Asim, who chairs the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, said he had heard of Muslims across the country choosing to stay in mosques during the first days after the Hamas invasion, rather than risk being attacked in the community. He said women felt particularly vulnerable, but his message was for everyone to remain vigilant.
Mr Asim said the Leeds Makkah Mosque invited a senior politician and author of an important work on antisemitism to a meeting. He had talked to Muslim women about how vulnerable they felt.
Mr Asim, a lawyer, said Muslims in Leeds had suffered racist graffiti on their homes and mosques and some members of his congregation had been shouted at for being Hamas terrorists as they walked around the community.
He said he was working with mosque security to organise Islamophobia awareness training and to help people remain vigilant.
Shabna Begum of the Runnymede Trust, an independent think tank that analyses claims of racial injustice, pointed out that November was Islamophobia Awareness Month. She outlined some of the statistics relating to Muslims, who make up 6.5 per cent of the UK population and come from a range of multi-ethnic backgrounds.
Referring to the clashes between Israel and Gaza since 7 October, Ms Begum said: “The huge loss of life will leave unspeakable scars, not only in the Middle East, but also in the hearts and minds of all of those here in the UK who want the violence to end.
“Demonising Muslims, trading in cultural-deficit models that transfer blame to them rather than the structures of discrimination, and framing legitimate political grievances Muslim communities may have and that are expressed peacefully as ‘hateful’ should be highlighted as a deeply politicised process that creates the conditions in which hate crime flourish.”