Close your eyes. Imagine a Muslim woman. What image comes to mind? Likely, she’s wearing a veil of some sort.
Over time, the veil has come to symbolize the identity of Muslim women, despite the fact that not all Muslim women choose to wear it. In American and European societies, where Muslims represent a small fraction of the overall population, veiled Muslim women tend to stand out. Their faith is easily identified based on the thin layer of fabric covering their heads.
In the United Kingdom, that’s had serious consequences. Over half of Islamophobic attacks in Britain are committed against Muslim women.
The University of Teeside verified data collected by Tell MAMA, an initiative of the British government that records and measures anti-Muslim incidents, showing 584 Islamophobic attacks between April 1, 2012 and April 30, 2013. One quarter of the attacks took place in public, and nearly 60 percent of them targeted Muslim women, of whom 80 percent were visibly identifiable as a Muslim — wearing a veil.
Chris Allen, a professor of sociology at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Applied Social Studies (IASS), studied the impacts of these attacks on Muslim women. He published the findings in an article that recently appeared in in the Journal of Muslims in Europe: “Exploring the Impact of Islamophobia on Visible Muslim Women Victims: A Case Study.”
Over the course of three months in 2013, Allen conducted in-depth interviews with 20 British Muslim women between the ages of 16 and 52, and from Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Arab, Somali, British backgrounds. Most of the women interviewed experienced “low-level” harassment, most often in the form of verbal abuse. Women reported being taunted with comparisons to terrorists, and reported that it was their veil that seemed to spark the ire of their aggressors who shouted things like “take that fucking thing off” and “yuck.” One woman was called “Mrs. Osama Bin Laden” and told to “go back to Afghanistan.”
Importantly, Allen shows that simple verbal abuse was often followed by “more high-level” harassment. Several of the women interviewed reported that they were persistently chased or followed by aggressors who, in addition to commenting on their veil, violently attacked the women. While the perpetrators were arrested, they returned to the scene upon posting bail and intimidated the women by loitering near their homes.
Nearly all of the women in Allen’s study expressed feelings of humiliation, anger, sadness, isolation, and disgust. Significantly, these feelings were debilitating, in some cases completely altering the women’s way of life: some were afraid to leave their homes or go shopping, others reported feeling forced to go out in “secret,” while several indicated that they no longer felt their children could play with the neighbors.
Half of the women said that the attacks made them question their British identity. None, however, indicated that they pondered the possibility of changing their religious identities as a result of the prejudice they faced.
Read the full article here.