SHAFAQNA – Young Muslims are scared to speak out about politics or foreign policy because they fear being branded as potential terrorists.
AMINA, the Muslim Women’s Resource Centre, claims that young people are feeling the brunt of Islamophobia and are ‘self-censoring’ in public spaces including school on issues such as the war in Syria, or the UK’s foreign policy. Amina runs workshops to educate young Muslims against extremism.
Safa Yousaf, Amina’s schools development officer, who is co-ordinating the “education against extremism” workshops for young Muslims in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Aberdeen and Dundee, said it was important that young people understood extremism as a multi-faith issue, not just a Muslim one, and were able to express strong opinions in a democratic way.
“I’ve had parents asking me about what their children can and can’t say in school without getting into trouble,” she added. “Young Muslims feel that if they speak out about what they believe they might be accused of something. There is the fear of constantly having to justify yourself so they are not able to speak freely in classes because they might be labelled. Teachers are telling me that they can tell the kids are being more restricted.”
In response, as well as helping young people identify extremist views, respond appropriately online and find reputable news sources, Amina is also running workshops which will help young people feel confident about what extremist is not and help them explore their identity as Scottish Muslims.
The final section of the workshops, also open to parents, deals with the issue of Islamophobia, with police attending to help explain how abuse can be reported.
Aleena Rafi, 18 from Glasgow – one of 60 young Muslims who attended the first workshop last week – said that they helped her feel more confident about speaking out.
Though Rafi, who is now studying biomedical science at university has not experienced much Islamophobia directly, she claimed her sisters, one of whom is just nine, had been made to feel uncomfortable by comments from fellow pupils about Islamic State and Muslims.
“I think since the Paris attacks as a community we don’t feel open to express ourselves if we have an opinion about what we see on the news or what is going on in Syria,” she said. “We feel we have to watch what we say.
“I think that’s wrong because these are humanitarian issues, rather than ones about Islam.
“When I heard my sisters had had comments, it really got to me. These are comments being made by other kids – it’s not their fault – the values they are taught at home are going to stick. But this is really becoming an issue.
“It does make us feel uncomfortable in our daily activities sometimes. When we were out in town my little sister asked if everyone was staring at us. I have been born and brought up here and suddenly I’m made to feel by some that I don’t belong here. I think that’s what hurts most.”
Rafi said the workshop, in which young Muslims were helped to understand the recent history of extremism including groups such as the KKK, European fascism and the IRA, and explored the “deception” of ISIS propaganda as well as looking at both the similarities between Islamic and Scottish culture, and the positive contribution of Muslims, made her feel empowered.
“Instead of looking at divisions, we all need to look for unity,” she said. “It’s made me feel proud of my Islamic and Scottish identities and how they go hand-in-hand together. I’ve always believed that love is more powerful than hate and I’ve had so much positive support from friends and colleagues that it drives away the negativity.”
Larry Flanagan, EIS general secretary, claimed schools needed to be sensitive to the growth of Islamophobia and ensure they had a robust response.
“The EIS has reminded our reps that it is important to have procedures in place to deal with incidents of intolerance based on religious belief,” he said. “Any abuse of young people in a school setting is unacceptable and incidents based on religious prejudice must always be treated extremely seriously, whenever and wherever they occur.”