Reflection by Afrah Muflihi
When news broke of the atrocities in the Israel/ Gaza conflict I was propelled back to emotions I last experienced 22 years ago following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centers.
All those years back, I could not put a name to my experience, but I remember being expected to have answers to the reasons why 9/11happened to either apologise for their actions or defend my Muslim faith they claimed to act on behalf. I distinctly remember driving to work feeling a knot in the pit of my stomach, bracing myself for how I would react to the next onslaught resulting in me having panic attacks in the car park. At the time I did not have a name for what I was experiencing but what I felt was unsafe and, being the primary reason for my departure from Midwifery for the next 10 years.
Today I now understand those experiences as having a name – Islamophobia. Indeed, Sayyid and Vakil in their forward to the Muslim Council of Britain’s report titled Defining Islamophobia: a contemporary understanding of how expression of Muslimness are targeted, aptly described Islamophobia as historically unnamed but experienced (Bhatti 2021).
What is Islamophobia?
Now the broadly agreed definition of Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness (APPG on British Muslims 2018). Therefore, understanding Islamophobia as a type of racism helps to place the term within an accepted literacy of harm supporting the victim alongside using already established processes to deal with complaints and concerns raised as a result.
However, Islamophobia is a type of racism specifically targeting individuals expressing their Muslim identity through such examples as dress, food, rituals etc. or one who is perceived to be a Muslim. Sadly, fueled by media reporting there has been a 140% surge in Islamophobic hate crime during the current Israel / Gaza war. As a woman wearing the hijab, therefore, easily identifiable as a Muslim, I have a heightened awareness of the possible risks to Islamophobic incidents.
Such examples during my line of work have included being asked by a patient’s family member if I “supported ISIS” and once when looking for a building during a patient visit a male shouting out of a moving vehicle “are you going to bomb it.” Though it does not make the experienced trauma any easier, being able to identify my experiences as Islamophobic supports framing these incidents as racists and where it is safe, I now challenge but more importantly I no longer entertain the subtle Islamophobic expectation to justify, apologies for or provide explanations for incidents perpetrated by other ‘Muslims’.
Defining islamophobia: a contemporary understanding of how expressions of muslimness are targeted. (n.d.). Available at: https://mcb.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/FULL-SPREAD-IslamophobiaReport_020321_compressed.pdf.
Islamophobia Defined: report on the inquiry into a working definition of Islamophobia, APPG on British Muslims, November 2018, pg.11