Standing Up to Islamophobic Bullying
It’s Anti-Bullying Week in the UK, an event which finds schools, workplaces, and organizations coming together in an effort to stop abusive behavior. This year’s awareness week theme is United Against Bullying, encouraging all to come together in solidarity to put an end to bullies in schools and on the job.
Bullying, which refers to repeated, unwanted aggression from someone with either real or imagined power, can have a profound long-term impact on victims, witnesses, and even bullies themselves. While there’s no singular profile for either bullies or their victims, commonalities like racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, and Islamophobia are often an element when someone is being targeted.
Islamophobia, which refers to a fear or hatred of Muslims, their culture, or their politics, has become a persistent problem in some parts of the world. Many misconceptions exist about what it means to be Muslim. Incidents involving terroristic behavior from Islamic extremists has in some cases created a perception of fear, but these isolated incidents are very rare when one considers that the Muslim faith comprises about a quarter of the world’s religious believers.
Additionally, garments tied to Islam, such as head scarves, are often incorrectly assumed to be an indicator that someone must be Muslim. Likewise, coming from a country where Islam is common, like Pakistan, is not a guarantee that someone practices the religion. There is a great deal of diversity within the Muslim faith, and someone’s lifestyle and beliefs should never be presumed.
Dealing with Islamophobic Bullying
Following serious terror events linked to Islam extremists, including America’s September 11th attacks and 2017’s Manchester bombings, hate crimes targeted toward Muslims spiked significantly. Often, the people perpetrating these crimes view Islam as a threat to their way of life. This is inappropriate and false — it is not at all uncommon for religions to have extremist sects with which most practitioners would not want to be associated, including Christianity.
- A record number of children in the UK were excluded from school for racist bullying in 2018, with cases topping 4,500 
- In both England and Wales, religious hate crimes rose by 40% between 2017 and 2018 
- More than half of the religious hate crimes in the English and Welsh spike were Islamophobic attacks 
In school-aged children, Islamophobic attitudes are often attained through mirroring. They may pick up the beliefs or comments of a trusted peer, and remarks made and attitudes held by parents, teachers, and other adults can influence the way children treat those of different faiths. As adults, acting as positive role models by verbally displaying acceptance of the Muslim faith, taking the time to learn about and celebrate differences in identity, and respectfully educating our youth can help put a stop to unwarranted prejudices.
How to Handle Incidents of Islamophobic Bullying
Though it can be painful and difficult to cope with a bully or aggressor, these tips can help both adults and children to find the best way to handle situations where Islamophobia is a factor. Review them and treat them as a toolkit in hostile social situations.
- If you’re in a low risk situation and feel able to, beginning an open dialogue about the harm of generalization can be educational. Remind others that while most religions have extremist sects, the majority of believers do not engage in that behavior and certainly would not prefer to be associated with it. Just as the Ku Klux Klan has Christian roots, so too do some extremist groups have roots in Islam — these groups neither define nor speak for their faiths.
- If you bear witness to Islamophobic bullying, step in. Offer support, acting as a naysayer to the bully. Let the person being targeted know that you are there to help them and believe that what’s happening is wrong. This helps victims of bullying feel less afraid and shows bullies that their opinions are neither universal nor welcomed.
- Keep in mind that unlike some other acts of bullying, Islamophobia has been a hate crime since the passing of The Equality Act in 2010 — reporting it to the police is always an option.
- Be a source of positivity by putting a stop to Islamophobic language and attitudes in your classroom, home, and workplace. Model a welcoming viewpoint and be open to educating others about common misconceptions regarding Islam. Raising awareness about the Muslim faith through workshops, assemblies, and activities is a great way to get large groups involved in a productive challenging of Islamophobic sentiment.
- Understand that a positive attitude toward other faiths, races, and identities begins when children are young. Bias is hard to unlearn, so it’s key that parents, teachers, and other adults create a culture that’s inclusive and respectful of all people.
If you are the target of Islamophobic bullying, know that what is happening is unacceptable and you deserve justice. Reach out to teachers, parents, supportive peers, and, if necessary, the police for assistance in remaining safe.
If you have been a victim of an anti-Muslim prejudiced incident or hate crime and are still in danger, please call 999. You can also call us to report an incident on 0203 904 6555 or email us at [email protected]
Neve Spicer @ WeTheParents
WeTheParents is an inclusive and judgment-free resource offering empathy and empowerment to mothers and fathers. It seeks simplicity, meaning and humour in parenting. Neve, Chief Editor, previously worked as a primary teacher and mental health worker, she now blogs about mental wellbeing both for children and parents.