The British Board of Scholars & Imams

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Open call to end Islamophobia faced by Muslim staff and students in Higher Education Institutions

Open call to end Islamophobia faced by Muslim staff and students in Higher Education Institutions

The recently published EHRC report (November 2020) has shown evidence of institutional and structural racism experienced by ethnic minority academics. Empirical research focusing on Muslims provides evidence of widespread experiences of Islamophobia (anti-Muslim discrimination) (Allen, 2014; Awan and Zempi, 2019).  Islamophobia has been reported in Higher Education (Scott-Bauman, 2019; Stevenson, 2018); NHS (Malik et al, 2019); and when seeking employment (Wykes, 2018).

In Higher Education, research confirms that Muslim staff and students, as well as those perceived to be Muslim, experience varying forms of Islamophobia which go beyond social exclusion (Hopkins, 2011; NUS, 2012). These include microaggression, increased surveillance and anti-Muslim prejudice. Muslims continue to report discriminatory incidences which are defined as Islamophobic (Saeed, 2018; Thomas, 2016). Since the ‘war on terror’, increased securitization relating to legislation and policies together with religious profiling of staff and students have become acceptable and regular at UK universities. Islamophobia is tolerated in HE, with increased incidences and non-existent institutional response procedures (Tyrer and Ahmad, 2006; Ullah, 2016).

Ramadan (2017) shows Muslim academics are casually associated with the discourse of terrorism by others on their campuses. Respondents recount being questioned by colleagues on local and global events which are framed in the public domain through the lens of ‘Muslim extremism’. Furthermore, Islamophobia is gendered, and visibly Muslim women academics experience a range of Islamophobic microaggressions in their interactions with staff and students (Ramadan, 2017; 2020).

A common finding across these studies is that Islamophobic incidences on campus continue to go largely unreported, unacknowledged and unchallenged. Thus, universities have become places of hostility for many staff and students who are Muslim or perceived to be Muslim.

The anti-Islamophobia BBSI working group urges the Higher Education sector to urgently tackle Islamophobia on campus by:

  • Redressing the lack of recognition that Islamophobia is distinct from other forms of racism and needs to be challenged at all levels of the university.
  • Providing a consultation with Muslim students and staff to raise their concerns and involving them in framing campus-based policies and strategies.
  • When signing the ‘Race Equality Charter’ (REC) institutions should incorporate detailed assessment of what constitutes Islamophobia and anti-Muslim prejudice.
  • Implementing REC assessment which investigates and addresses the impact of Islamophobia on academic appointments and promotions procedures.
  • Setting up robust reporting, complaints, grievance, and wider reporting procedures which specifically include recognition of Islamophobic behaviour, its consequences, and appropriate institutional responses.
  • Including well-developed anti-Islamophobia training for EDI postholders across all HE institutions.

Notes to Editors

  1. The BBSI is an apolitical national assembly of imams, traditional scholars and Islamically literate Muslim academics.
  2. The BBSI supports Muslim academic staff and students and supports #IAM2020 Islamophobia Awareness Month 
  3. For further information, please contact info@bbsi.org.uk

 

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    The cup is always half full… 

    The cup is always half full… 

    It was Sunday 12th of January 2020, as I recall sitting in my mother’s living room enjoying my weekly chats with her. The weather was mild and unusually for Bolton, dry too. Our conversation was pertaining to our annual Umrah trip at Easter time. During the conversation, I checked online and booked our tickets to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in the Easter Holidays. This was incidentally around the time, when news of a virus spreading in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province was breaking out on news channels around the world. Who would have thought then, that this virus, known globally as Coronavirus or COVID 19, will not only overtake all other news on news channels, but also impact lives of nearly every individual of the global population. My flights have been cancelled by the airlines, Saudi Arabia has stopped all entry in to the country and major airports around the world have become deserted.

    As I write this article (27/03/2020 at 9.05am), the current global figures of people contracting Coronavirus stands at 537,331 with 24,136 deaths. There are 11,658 people who have been diagnosed with this virus in the United Kingdom alone with 578 deaths (www.worldmeters.info). No doubt, whilst you’re reading this article, many more will have lost their lives.

    As panic was beginning to set in, we witnessed people hoarding food and essentials from supermarkets from the beginning of March, till supermarkets introduced a modicum of control to this madness. Shelves were emptying at an alarming rate; people were panicking as never witnessed before and uncertainty from all directions gripped humanity.

    Against economic prudence and frugality, global governments were being compelled to present aid packages for industries and employees. Rishi Sunak, the United Kingdom Chancellor to the Exchequer, has already pledged £330 billion of government-backed loans and guarantees owing to this now a global pandemic (http://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/17/uk-announces-massive-aid-package-for-coronavirus-hit-industries.html).

    Job losses are and will be inevitable as our government, along with most other countries ordain a closure to industry, schools and all unnecessary human interaction. As the masses feel the impact caused by this virus, both physically and economically, it is inevitably going to breed anxiety, apprehension and mental distress amongst them. This is unavoidable. However, as believers, such life experiences should present moments of spiritual reflections and opportunities of turning towards our Lord too. The Prophet of Islam (peace and salutations upon him) himself endured unparalleled hardships and difficulties during his lifetime.

    Saad Ibn Abi Waqqas (May the Lord be pleased with him) once asked the Prophet (peace and salutations upon him), “who is the most severely tested?”  The Prophet (peace and salutations upon him) answered, “The Prophets (salutations upon all of them), then those (in devotion to the Lord) most resembling the Prophets then those most resembling them. A man is tested according to (the strength and weakness of) his faith. If he is firm in his faith, his trial is intensified accordingly. If he is weak in his faith, his trial is lessened accordingly. These trials will remain consistent with a servant (of the Lord) till he becomes without sin.” (Tirmizi)

    The current situation is dire. There is no denying this. The mortality rate, as estimated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) will be 3.4% from among all those affected by this virus. This is most certainly a cause for concern for mankind, but on the flip side to this, more than 96% of those infected with the Coronavirus will survive too.

    We firmly believe, this is a temporal world; we have a prescribed time of life here. Sooner or later, according to the will of the Lord, we will transfer from this world to our eternal abode in the Hereafter. We have no choice in how long we remain in this world. There is a predetermined time for every nation. When their predetermined time comes, they will then not be able to move a moment back nor forward (Quran: 10:49). 

    An Urdu poet, succinctly and eloquently describes our state of being in this world, he states,

    Divine Decree ordained we leave the world, so let’s leave. We did not come into the world by our desire neither will we leave by our choice. If we were to be given the life span of khidr (a long life) be aware, death is still inevitable. No matter how long we remain her, it will always seem as we have just come and left straightaway.

    Our only goal in life is to do the best we can and be the best we can be. …The One who created death and life so that He may test you; which one of you is best of deed (Quran: 67:2). Come what may the situation be, we must remain focused on how we conduct ourselves. We must place our trust in Him. Say, ‘Allah is sufficient for me. There is no deity except Him. I place my trust in Him, and He is the Lord of the Supreme Throne.’ (Quran: 10:129). 

    Undoubtedly, there are a lot of pressures due to this unprecedented global situation. People are confronting all kinds of life pressures as I write. Mentalheath.org has provided some good tips on their website for looking after our mental health:

    • Avoid speculations and look up reputable sources of information
    • Follow the Public Health advice of washing hands often and more rigorously
    • Try to stay connected with family and friends by telephone, email or social media
    • Spend quality time with your children
    • These are trying times and it is okay to feel vulnerable and overwhelmed 
    • Plan your day
    • Be as active as possible
    • Find time to relax
    • Improve your sleep

    www.mentalhealth.org

    In addition to the aforementioned tips, Muslims firmly believe, whatever is decreed by the Lord will occur. No one can defer or deter the will of the Lord. No calamity reaches the earth nor upon yourself except it is in the book, before We bring it in to existence (Quran: 57:22). However, what defines us as servants of the Lord in its truest form, is how we conduct ourselves in differing scenarios and experiences of life. Abu Yahya, Suhaib Ibn Sinan narrates from the Prophet of Islam (peace and salutations upon him), in a hadith referenced by Imam Muslim, the Prophet (peace and salutations upon him) said, “(I am) amazed by the state of a believer; there is certainly a reward for him in all his circumstances (of life), and this is exclusive for a believer. If prosperity reaches him, he (then) shows gratitude (to the Lord), this will then be good for him. (And remember when your Lord announced, “If you are surely grateful, I will most certainly increase for you… (Quran: 14:7). If he is afflicted with a calamity, he (then) bears it with patience, this will then be good for him. (Only those who are patient will be fully given their reward without reckoning (Quran: 39:10).    

    As for our current plight with this virus and how we can spiritually benefit, Abdul Aziz Abdus Salaam Sulami, an Egyptian scholar from the thirteenth century A.D, has compiled some benefits that can be acquired by the believers when they are in the midst of afflictions, tribulations and trials:

    1. Acquisition of profound consciousness of Divine Power and Divine ForceYour Lord’s seizing is most certainly severe. He is certainly the One who originates and will bring back. And He is Most Relenting, the Most Loving; The Possessor of the Throne, the Glorious; Forever doing what He intends (Quran: 85:12, 13, 14, 15, 16)
    2. Acquisition of deep realisation of absolute servitude to the LordThose who say when a calamity reaches them, ‘We certainly belong to Allah and we will return to Him (Quran: 2:156).
    3. Faithfulness to the Lord. There is no place of return in averting calamities except to Him. There is no reliance in removing harm except upon HimAnd if Allah afflicts you with any harm, then there is no remover of it except Him (Quran: 6:17).
    4. Opportunity to turn towards the LordAnd when any harm afflicts the human, he calls his Lord, turning towards Him (Quran: 39:8)
    5. Opportunity to supplicate to HimWhen the human is afflicted by harm, he then calls Us… (Quran: 39:49).
    6. Opportunity to be forbearingIbrahim (peace and salutations upon him) was most certainly frequently sighing, forbearing (Quran: 9:114).
    7. Opportunity to pardon others…and those pardoning mankind, and Allah loves the ones who do good (Quran: 3:134).
    8. Opportunity to bear with patience…And Allah loves the ones who are patient (Quran: 3:136)
    9. Opportunity to be contentThe Prophet (peace and salutations upon him) said, “No hardship, illness, anxiety, sadness, pain or grief afflicts a believer, even if it is a thorn which pricks him, except Allah will wipe away his sins by it.” (Bukhari).
    10. Opportunity to be grateful for the benefits and rewards attached to enduring hardships in comparison to the immediate pain we may experience.
    11. Opportunity to show mercy to those afflicted and to help such people
    12. Opportunity to realise the value of good health
    13. Opportunity to trust the Lord in what He has decreed for you – …and it is possible that you dislike something whilst it is good for you, and it is possible that you like something whilst it is bad for you. And Allah knows whilst you do not know (Quran: 2:216).
    14. Calamities enables the human to abstain from being arrogant – …Allah certainly dislikes every arrogant, boastful one (Quran: 31:18)

    (The 14 points have been translated from الفتن والبلايا والمحن والرزايا and additions have been made to the translation in places.)

    May the Almighty keep us safe, enable us to be steadfast in our devotion to Him and wipe away this global pandemic sooner rather than later. Ameen.

    Sh Yunus Mohamed, Imam, member of The British Board of Scholars & Imam (BBSI), and award winning Counsellor – The Imam Ghazzali Award for outstanding contribution to teaching in mental health – BIPCA, The National Muslim Mental Health Awards 2019.