Muslim hate crime phone line aims to help victims

By Rahila Bano
BBC Asian Network

image captionFaith crime victims Sabana Amod and her husband Salim kept a scrapbook recording their experiences

A first UK helpline for victims of Islamophobia is being set up amid concerns that incidents are not being reported or properly categorised.

Last year 2,000 hate crimes were recorded against different faiths in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Police say it is unclear how many were against Muslims as separate figures were not recorded.

Faith Matters, a non-profit group, hopes to show the scale of the problem and provide support for victims.

"Many people think that Islamophobic crime does not exist. They say: 'Where is the data?'" said the director of Faith Matters, Fiyaz Mughal.

He is setting up the project Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks (MAMA) with the help of government funding.

"This is a chance for the Muslim community to say: 'Let us present the case, in terms of the facts, let somebody collate it and present it to the authorities.'

"If someone has suffered abuse, been attacked or received a leaflet with inflammatory comments about Muslims in it, I want to hear about it."

Brick through window

The Amod family were forced to move house from a traditionally white area of Leicester, Saffron Lane, to the more multicultural area of Highfields after two years of constant abuse and vandalism.

"At first my husband did not want us to report it, but it got so bad that in the end I had to," said Sabana Amod.

"Our car was vandalised, someone tried to set their dog on me, and snowballs with stones in them were thrown at my young children.

"On the day we were moving house, a brick was thrown through the window, narrowly missing my son's head but the glass shattered and cut his hand. He still has nightmares about it.

image captionFaith Matters say the helpline will help measure the extent of Islamophobia faced by British Muslims

"It was because we are Muslim. I wear a jilbab (full length gown) and hijab (head covering) and youths in the street used to ask me if I was a Muslim before abusing me."

Three people were later convicted of racial offences. A 21-year-old man was ordered to carry out 120 hours of community service and pay £100 compensation. A 54-year-old woman was fined £167 with £25 compensation, and a 16-year-old was referred to a youth offending panel for nine weeks, and ordered to pay his victim £100 in compensation.

Hate crime

The police are required by the Home Office to record all hate crime - this includes crime on the basis of race, sexual orientation, gender, disability and faith.

Anti-Islamic crime is currently grouped together with faith hate crimes against Christians, Hindus and Sikhs.

Anti-Semitic incidents are recorded separately and Faith Matters wants Islamophobic incidents to also be in their own category. According to their research, only 14 police forces out of 44 collate information about Islamophobic crime.

Anti-Semitic hate crimes have been recorded separately since 2006 in response to a request from the government following an inquiry into anti-Semitism, said a spokesperson for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo.)

"A significant challenge in identifying other hate crimes for other religious groups is that many victims consider the crimes to be racist. Given that Muslims originate from all ethnicities it would not be possible to identify such victims from within racist crime data.

"While we do not publish national data on anti-Muslim hate crimes, it is important to stress that all police forces maintain their local hate crime data."

Fear of Islam and Muslims is on the increase, according to Dr Leon Moosavi, an academic based at Lancaster University who has studied Islamophobia. "It is a widespread problem in the UK," he said. "More education is needed in schools, and Muslims need to also educate people about their faith."

Media reports of anti-Muslim incidents are monitored by Islamophobia Watch, Engage and the Islamic Human Rights Commission, but none are able to offer a personal service to victims.

Panic attacks

"I started wearing the hijab at university in 2006 but last summer I decided to take it off because I didn't feel safe after someone tried to pull it off my head, said Alisha, a student from Middlesbrough.

She and her husband were targeted because they were Muslim, she believes.

"I started to get panic attacks. I never thought I'd feel like this, but everyone is so afraid."

Her husband was also attacked on his way to work.

"He was verbally abused, called a 'Paki', 'terrorist', and he was spat on. When he confronted the men, security guards tried to arrest him until an old man pointed out who the attackers were," she said.

Another victim, Usman Choudhry, an IT manager in Salford, said he has suffered at least one incident of abuse per week over the last five to six years. "I haven't reported it to the police," he said, "because I am not sure they could have caught the offenders."

The new phone line will also welcome calls from non-Muslims, such as Sikhs and Hindus, who feel that they have been mistaken for Muslims and suffered verbal or physical abuse as a result.

Faith Matters will monitor incidents for an initial 12 months and report its findings.

You can hear more on this story on Asian Network Reports on the BBC Asian Network.

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