London may be one of the world's most multicultural cities, but that reputation isn't helping many of the Islamic women who live there. Two new studies illustrate the extent to which women in Great Britain are bullied because of their religion and clothing. A new study from Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks), a hotline for Muslims in the UK to report Islamophobic attacks, found that between April 2012 and 2013, 58 percent of all Islamophobic attacks reported in the UK were directed at women. Eighty percent of those attacks happened to women who were wearing clothing traditionally associated with the religion.
The report, titled "Maybe We Are Hated," is the first study to go beyond the statistics of Islamophobic attacks and to look specifically at the extent to which Islamic women experience them. Although similar projects have been conducted for traditionally Islamic countries, this marks the first time such a study has been conducted in the UK, where Islamophobic incidents have increased dramatically in the wake of the 7/7 tube bombings and the murder of a British soldier this past May.
"This is the first time Muslim women's voices have been given life in terms of anti-Muslim prejudice,” said Faith Matters Director Fiyaz Mughal, whose organization collaborated with "Maybe We Are Hated." "We keep hearing people saying: 'What are the numbers?' We can understand that, but it's important to recognize the actual impact on people."
Allen made the study small-scale and personal, choosing to let the women speak for themselves about their experiences. He found the faces behind the numbers, interviewing 20 Islamic women between the ages of 15 and 52.
The research was deliberately small-scale and low-level ... It set out to give voice to those women whose experiences and stories were all too routinely being overlooked or dismissed not least because they just weren't being heard. By doing so, we hoped that the findings might prompt a different debate about Muslim women, one that spoke to and was inclusive of them rather than merely spoke about or even worse, just for them.
And some of the women's testimony was pretty horrendous: Most of the attacks were low-level and verbal, but that doesn't make being called terrorists, "Muslim monkeys," or "Mrs. Osama bin Laden" any better. Women said they have been told to "go back to Afghanistan," followed, threatened, and spat on. But rather than become hostile in response, the women in the report appeared to keep a clear head.
Shareefa, 33, told how she was repeatedly abused by a group of young people calling her names such as “ninja” and had fireworks posted through the letterbox of her home.
“I was scared to go out on the street or into the area on my own,” she told Allen. “It made me think continuously that I needed some sort of self-defence class so I know now to defend myself and protect my children.
“You start linking everything as being anti-Muslim and that may well not be the case. For example, some people give you a look which may be nothing.”
Muslim women who are victims of the attacks are also often forced to justify their identities as British citizens — much like Muslim Americans did after the mushrooming prejudice against the country's Islamic population after 9/11. To date, Muslim Brits make up 2.7 million of the UK's 63.23 million citizens.
Of course, resentment goes two ways. When Muslims are bullied by those in adopted homelands, it only gives fire to the radical factions within the religion, which ultimately winds up fueling violence. "It feeds into the rhetoric of the Islamists saying: 'No matter how hard you try, you will never belong here, they hate you,'" Allen said.
The findings were presented at the House of Commons in London Tuesday, in an effort to 'introduce' politicians to what it's like to live life as a Muslim woman in the UK. But in the end, that's a hard one to sum up.
"I don't think [people] understand just how it all feels," said one of the women in the study. "They've got no idea."