Friday 02-11-2018 - 00:00
Ilyas Nagdee, Zamzam Ibrahim and Ali Milani share five ways that Islamophobia manifests on campus and how you can tackle it.
The three of us have been in many different roles in our time, whether as student activists, sabbatical officers or NUS Officers. We’ve had to face abuse from every angle possible – questioned on everything from our views to our ability to represent students, had horrific comments directed to us in person and online, our faces imposed on planes hitting the twin towers, our photos shared by fascist paramilitaries and had people tell us how much better the world would be without us in it.
We have seen this horrific abuse mixed in with conspiracies about a “takeover” by Muslim officers and activists across the country for merely engaging with their students’ union. Muslim students have been forced out of student campaigns, their own unions and even our National Union of Students. It’s gone on too long, and it cannot continue.
This Islamophobia Awareness Month we are giving you five ways that Muslim students are impacted by Islamophobia and what you can do about it.
Get serious about Islamophobic abuse
A third of Muslim students from our research had experienced abuse or crime on campus and for the vast majority these incidents made explicit reference to their Muslim identities, such as through Islamophobic statements, symbols and being linked to recent terrorist events. Online over half of respondents had been subject to Islamophobic abuse. While one in three Muslims were worried about being attacked on campus this was significantly higher for Muslim women wearing religious coverings such as the hijab, jilbab or niqab. Their fears are not unfounded; zooming out to the national picture Islamophobic hate crime is the most common form of religiously motivated hate crime and overall Muslim adults are more likely to be targeted by racially motivated hate crime than adults of any other faith.
It is important that support is offered to victims of hate incidents but it is crucial that these are made both accessible and welcoming to vulnerable groups facing specific barriers. With our research telling us Muslim students are most likely to report incidents to academic staff and their ISocs, we need to involve these groups in our response by resourcing and training them up to receive disclosures and signpost to additional sources of support. We should also ensure that the data collected through reporting is not linked in any way to Prevent and communicate that clearly to Muslim students to alleviate any concerns.
Oppose the Prevent duty
The chill factor caused by Prevent severely limits Muslim engagement in student life meaning that their time in education won’t be as enriching an experience as other students can enjoy. Our research found that students affected by Prevent - whether that means having restrictions placed on events they are organising, policing their own contributions to discussions, or even being reported under the duty - conveyed a significantly different experience to other Muslim students in a variety of areas. This ranged from being less involved in student democracy to more likely to feel there is no safe space for them to discuss issues affecting them, and being less comfortable engaging in political debate or running for voluntary and sabbatical roles in their students’ union.
Your students’ union can join us in the fight against Prevent through passing policy to boycott it or working with academic staff to lobby your institution to do the bare minimum in its obligations under the duty. For a comprehensive guide to campaigning against Prevent check out the Black Students’ Campaign’s Preventing Prevent handbook. If you are relatively new to the topic however, keep an eye out for new resources we will be launching over Islamophobia Awareness Month to get you up to speed on why if you are serious about fighting Islamophobia opposing Prevent needs to be a priority on your campus.
Make elections more welcoming for Muslim candidates
In our 2018 elections report, 66% of complaints were around candidate behaviour / conduct and through our ongoing Elections Commission we have identified a growing trend of Muslim Students facing disproportionate scrutiny and abuse when standing in elections. Being more likely to be targeted for complaints leads many to disengage.
Even after being elected we have seen Muslim sabbatical officers facing so much abuse and obstacles that it takes a whole cycle of students to leave before another Muslim stands for election. Our report showed media representation and harmful rhetoric made Muslim students believe they could not represent students on campus.
It is important that Muslim students feel encouraged to stand and participate in student elections. Review the guidance provided to candidates and campaigners during elections to ensure Islamophobic and racist harassment is not tolerated. Work with staff to ensure that your Deputy Returning Officer is equipped to identify codified, racialised language and apply consistency to handling complaints to minimise the risk of unconscious bias creeping in. Look out for more detailed information soon around the findings of the NUS Elections Commission.
Highlight gendered Islamophobia
NUS Women’s Campaign brought to light grave concerns with Muslim women’s abilities to fully participate in numerous aspects of student life, from sport through to politics and democracy and that this is most keenly felt by visibly Muslim women (those wearing a religious covering). With this group of women being more at risk of self-censorship and disengagement draw attention to gendered Islamophobia on your campus through panel events and activities that encourage your student community to critique how its prejudice, behaviours and reactions to politically engaged Muslim women may serve to inhibit and dissuade them from taking up positions of leadership.
The potential of sports, clubs and societies as a driver for inclusion and belonging is huge, help them to organise women only sports activities and social activities that do not centre alcohol to make them accessible for Muslim women and students.
Support your ISoc
For many Muslim students Isocs play a unique role in their academic and pastoral lives; over half of our respondents would go to their ISoc to discuss issues affecting them which makes it their single most trusted forum. In recent years however some have seen a decline in membership and activity due to fears of surveillance; the vast majority of ISoc Presidents we surveyed believed that Prevent has had a negative impact on their ISoc and told us it is no longer considered the safe space it used to be.
There is enormous potential in partnering with your ISoc to support Muslim students, whether encouraging candidates to stand in elections, improving prayer facilities or co-hosting activities that facilitate Muslims’ engagement in other student activities. While ISocs in the large feel they have a positive relationship with their students’ union this is less so the case with their institutions so think of ways you can broker that relationship and give them access to spaces where they can effectively advocate for Muslim students. The Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) is also an invaluable source of support for ISocs, keep an eye out for their IAM resources and advice that we will be promoting over the coming days.
Whether by engaging people in the key issues affecting Muslim students, holding a mirror to your inclusive practices and policies or simply celebrating Muslim leaders who are actively shaping our unions and our movement there is so much you can do to tackle Islamophobia this November. We look forward to marking IAM with you.
Be persistently standing firm in justice
Ilyas Nagdee, NUS Black Students Officer
Zamzam Ibrahim, NUS Vice President Society & Citizenship
Ali Milani, NUS Vice President Union Development