Islamophobia in UK schools

By Dr Sania Shakoor, Lecturer in Mental Health, Centre for Psychiatry at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine and Kidscape Trustee

Thousands of young Muslims in the UK are currently observing the month of Ramadhan.

During Ramadhan, Muslims will fast and not eat or drink from dawn until dusk. This is a month of reflection and prayer, which can be challenging for many both physically and spiritually. For some however, this is exacerbated by the addition of being victimised and isolated by their peers because of their faith and beliefs.

Changes in the political environment over the past two decades, with terrorist acts such as the London Bridge attacks, have seen a rise in the discrimination and victimisation of Muslims living in the UK (Islamophobia). Victims of Islamophobia increasingly report multiple and repeated acts of cyber and ‘real world’ victimisation, which include verbal and physical attacks.1 With an estimate of approximately 300,000 Muslim teenagers living in the UK by 2021,2 Muslim youths are vulnerable to being recipients of this form abuse in their social environments (i.e. schools, youth clubs, etc).

Evidence from the third party reporting organisation Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) has found that following trigger events such as the Manchester arena bombing, there has been an increase in reported anti-Muslim hostility within schools in England and Wales. Parents are reporting that their children are being exposed to retaliatory anti-Muslim hostility and bullying where they are being called a “terrorist” and told to “go blow up another town” by their peers in the school playgrounds. In 2017 alone, 839 incidents of Islamophobia were reported, amongst which 6% (53 accounts) occurred in educational institutions.3,4 These occurrences of Islamophobia related victimisation in schools have highlighted that Muslim youth are vulnerable to abuse and that Islamophobia based bullying is becoming a problem, which in turn increases their risk of experiencing difficulties in life and developing mental health problems associated with bullying, such as depression, substance use5 and paranoia.6

Verbal taunts such as ‘terrorist’ and exclusion due to religious attire (e.g. wearing a headscarf) are all forms of Islamophobia based bullying that should not be ignored.

No child or young person should be treated differently because of what they believe, the language they speak or where they live. It is important for young people, parents and educators to recognise these behaviours as a form of bullying and not dismiss them as isolated incidences. Recent recommendation by the government’s green paper on ‘transforming children and young people’s mental health provisions’,7 has recognised bullying as an adversity and further emphasised the need for supporting children and young people. Its proposal to have a senior member of staff to lead mental health work in schools, and mental health support teams to provide Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), highlights the need for educators, families and practitioners to have an understanding of bullying and its impact on mental health in all its forms.8

Recognising Islamophobia based bullying is thus an important addition for anti-bullying based policies.

References

  1. Awan, I. and Zempi, I. (2015), ‘We Fear for our Lives: Offline and Online Experiences of Anti-Muslim Hostility’. Birmingham City University, Nottingham Trent University, Tell MAMA.
  2. Office for National Statistics ; National Records of Scotland ; Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (2016): 2011 Census aggregate data. UK Data Service (Edition: June 2016)
  3. Tell MAMA. Tell MAMA Annual Report 2016 (2017). Available at https://tellmamauk.org/resources/
  4. Tell MAMA. Tell MAMA Annual Report 2017 (2018). Available at https://tellmamauk.org/resources/
  5. Arseneault, L., Bowes, L., & Shakoor, S. (2010). Bullying victimization in youths and mental health problems: 'Much ado about nothing'? Psychological Medicine, 40(5), 717-729.
  6. Shakoor, S., McGuire, P., Cardno, A. G., Freeman, D., Plomin, R., & Ronald, A. (2015). A Shared Genetic Propensity Underlies Experiences of Bullying Victimization in Late Childhood and Self-Rated Paranoid Thinking in Adolescence. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 41(3), 754-763.
  7. Department of Health and Social Care and Department for Education (2017) Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision: a green paper. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/transforming-children-and-young-peoples-mental-health-provision-a-green-paper
  8. Samara, M., Burbidge, V., El Asam, A., Foody, M., Smith, P.K., & Morsi, H. (2017). Bullying and Cyberbullying: Their Legal Status and Use in Psychological Assessment. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(12), 1449

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