SHAFAQNA- Muslim Council of Britain says workplaces should be aware of cultural differences around handshakes, direct eye contact and social activities Employers and workers should be aware that handshakes, direct eye contact and socialising in the pub may be awkward for Muslim colleagues, says a report on Islamophobia produced by the Muslim Council of Britain.
The organisation, an umbrella group representing more than 500 Muslim bodies in the UK, recommends that workplaces wanting to foster an inclusive environment should consider cultural differences. Its report, Defining Islamophobia, published on Tuesday, suggests companies offer a range of social and team-building activities so Muslim employees can take part and the chances of building rapport among workers from different backgrounds increase.
Employers and staff should “be aware of cultural differences around handshaking and direct eye contact – placing of a hand on heart (instead of a handshake between genders) in greeting is practised in many Muslim communities and seen as a highly respectful act, as is Muslim men lowering their gaze when interacting with women, another marker of utmost respect and means of maintaining a modest disposition”.
The report urges employers to consider how dress codes and uniforms can incorporate headscarves, and whether flexitime can allow Muslim workers to take part in Friday prayers. It suggests companies look into whether halal food and vegetarian dishes are offered in canteens, and how to accommodate requests for leave for the Eid festivals and pilgrimages. Simple adaptations to the working day, such as changing meeting times or working through breaks, could help Muslim workers during Ramadan, the holy month of fasting.
Among other recommendations in the 150-page report are dedicated lessons in schools on Islamophobia and the recruitment of teachers from minority groups, including Muslims. Citing polling from 2015 which shows that 31% of young people agreed to some extent with the statement “Muslims are taking over England”, it says: “Islamophobic discourse has seemingly become normalised within the hearts and minds of young, school-going children.”
Universities are urged to encourage applications from Muslims and foster a culture of inclusivity by, for example, providing prayer rooms. Muslim workers should be encouraged to join trade unions and report instances of Islamophobia.
A spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain said: “The recommendations in our report should be used as guiding principles by those who want to take practical and meaningful steps to tackle Islamophobia and to make society comfortable for those of all faiths and none. Rather than rules to be followed dogmatically, our suggestions encourage constructive reflection on the diversity of Muslim experiences.”
The report endorses the definition of Islamophobia drawn up by the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims in 2018, saying it has the broad support within Muslim communities and has been adopted by most major political parties, with the exception of the Conservative party.
This definition says: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.” The report includes a section on what does not constitute Islamophobia, which includes criticism of Islam unless the language of racism or Islamophobia is used, critiquing specific practices such as dress or religious slaughter of animals, and calling out criminality involving Muslims without impugning all Muslims.
Tensions between the MCB and the government are evident in the report’s conclusions which say: “Given the approach taken on racism by the current government … we are unlikely to see much action taken to tackle Islamophobia … without popular pressure.” The MCB reported the Conservative party to the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2019, and a year later submitted a further dossier of instances of Islamophobia within the party.