Islamophobia in Europe is at ‘tipping point’: Muslims in Europe speak out
Islamophobia in Europe is a report created by Professors Enes Bayrakli and Farid Hafez who did a study into Islamophobia across Europe and found that since 2020 and over the last two years, hate crimes against Muslims in the continent have "worsened, if not reached a tipping point”.
It also sheds light on online abuse faced by visible Muslims and how narratives in European media have spurred Islamophobia.
“We do not feel that we can practice our faith freely and what’s worse is we get targeted if we do"
Aysha *named changed for confidentiality, 40, lives in Berlin, Germany with her husband and two children. She is a devout Muslim who used to wear the niqab but has recently removed it after being physically assaulted whilst out with her kids.
“Before I started wearing hijab I used to teach primary school children and loved my job, but as I became more closer to my faith and started observing hijab and then decided to wear the niqab, but our parliament (German) decided to ban any teachers from wearing it whilst teaching,” she explains.
In May 2021 the upper house of the German parliament voted through legislation that banned all public sector workers from wearing religious symbols, including the hijab and niqab. This was then promulgated as a law in July of last year, a move Aysha says was the "tip of the iceberg."
“We do not feel that we can practice our faith freely and what’s worse is we get targeted if we do."
On a winter’s evening a few years ago, Aysha was out with her two sons walking towards Berlin Central Station. It was then she said a man pulled off her hijab and started swearing at her and using derogatory language about her niqab.
“I was so frightened because I felt vulnerable as my sons were with me at the time. I quickly put back my hijab and covered my face but all I wanted to do was break down and cry. The worst thing was that so many people passed me by and saw what happened but they stayed silent.”
“If the German parliament supported us to wear our hijab and face veil we would not be suffering as much as we are now but they refuse to let us do this"
Aysha says that day was the "worst day in her life" and she felt "traumatised" by the aggressiveness and hate she received just for practising her faith. She believes the hate she received was partly due to the decisions that were made in parliament over the wearing of religious symbols such as the hijab.
“If the German parliament supported us to wear our hijab and face veil we would not be suffering as much as we are now but they refuse to let us do this. I think things are only getting worse and more and more Muslims in Germany are concerned that not enough is being done about the anti-Muslim hate we face.”
Across the border in France, Aysha’s sentiments of a rise in anti-Muslim hate are echoed by 35- year-old charity worker Nada Osman.
“Hate against Muslims is at an all-time high here in France they make us feel like we are outsiders even if we are born and bred in the country or have children who are French nationals.”
Nada says she struggled for years to be accepted for her Muslim identity and had received discriminatory comments from fellow parents at her children’s school.
“One mother in my daughter’s school asked me why I want to be different from everyone else and cover my hair. They made me feel isolated and their prejudice leaked out into the playground where my kids would also be the victim of bullying.”
It’s not only in school settings in France that Muslims get targeted but also when trying to get employment.
“It’s so hard for visible Muslims to get jobs even with Muslim name we know that we will be treated differently and I cannot see any improvements being made to ensure we have our human rights to be treated equally.”
In July 2021 the EU court of justice said that EU companies can, under certain conditions, ban employees from wearing a hijab. While French President Emmanuel Macron’s government insists the new law isn’t aimed at any particular religion, many Muslims like Nada fear that it is exactly that.
Hiba Latreche serves on the Executive Committee of Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations and is a 23-year-old law student from France.
“At FEMYSO, we consult our large network of member organisations across 20 European countries and hear from hundreds of young European Muslims. Islamophobia unfortunately is a recurring shared experience. It comes in different shapes, from Eastern to Western Europe, but beyond acknowledging these challenges, the youth comes together to work and build a more just, cohesive and vibrant society,” Hiba told The New Arab.
“There are parts of the UK that have worse anti-Muslim hate than others. I personally have had youth spit at me while I’m out in the niqab, I’ve had my hijab tugged at and I’ve been trolled online”
Hiba has suffered from her own personal experience of Islamophobia in Europe. “I have unfortunately experienced Islamophobia in France, from individual verbal attacks and abuse to the consequences of the normalisation of institutional Islamophobia: difficulty in finding employment, internship. Throughout my education, I have also been restricted from sports facilities, and been asked to take off my hijab in settings that do not require it by law.”
Here in the UK, the hijab and face veil may not be banned but it is felt by many Muslims like Fozia Khan, 36, from Scotland, that Islamophobia is a problem that has been "swept under the carpet for far too long."
“When we have a Prime Minister that calls niqab-wearing women as ‘letter boxes’ what more can we expect? They (Tory government) haven’t even done an enquiry into Islamophobia yet there have been countless anti-Muslim attacks here in the UK."
While there have been calls for Islamophobia to be defined and have a legal definition of it drawn up to tackle hate crimes against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslims, the UK has been slow in making progress.
“There are parts of the UK that have worse anti-Muslim hate than others. I personally have had youth spit at me while I’m out in the niqab, I’ve had my hijab tugged at and I’ve been trolled online.”
As the report suggests, Muslims in Europe that The New Arab have spoken to share the sentiment that Islamophobia is still rife and has worsened due to not enough being done about it by those in power.
Muslims in Europe want to see changes made to offer equal rights and the ability to adhere to their religion freely without being subjected to restrictions in practising their faith and observing religious attire.
Tasnim Nazeer is an award-winning journalist, author, and Universal Peace Federation Ambassador. She has written for Al Jazeera, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Middle East Eye, CNN, BBC, and others. She was awarded the FIPP the global network of media Rising Stars in Media Award 2018.
Follow her on Twitter: @tasnimnazeer1