Islamophobia makes British Muslims feel increasingly 'isolated' in their own country

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The Independent Online

Muslims in Britain are suffering soaring levels of Islamophobia and discrimination based on their faith, rather than the colour of their skin, a report published today says.

Muslims in Britain are suffering soaring levels of Islamophobia and discrimination based on their faith, rather than the colour of their skin, a report published today says.

Experts warned that significant numbers of British Muslims, particularly young men, are being marginalised by the inequalities they suffer compared with white and other ethnic groups. Of British Muslims, 80 per cent said they had suffered Islamophobia.

The study, published to launch Islam Awareness Week, calls on the Government to do more to tackle discrimination and engage the Muslim community in society.

Sher Khan, a spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, said: "There is a real potential for Muslim people to become increasingly isolated within Britain, which goes completely against the idea of trying to create a more cohesive society. It is not going to be possible to achieve integration unless the concerns of British Muslims are addressed by the Government."

But he added: "It has to be a two-way process. British Muslims have got to build bridges and be proactive in terms of integrating with the rest of society."

The report, by the Open Society Institute, found that since the 11 September attacks 80 per cent of Muslims said they had been subjected to some form of Islamophobia.

Two thirds of British Muslims felt they were perceived and treated differently from other groups, and 32 per cent said they had been discriminated against at British airports because of their religion.

Between 2001 and 2003, the number of Asian people stopped and searched under the Terrorism Act rose by 302 per cent, compared with 230 per cent for black people and 118 per cent for whites. The report warned: "The high number of stop-and-searches, and the gap between the number of searches and actual arrests, charges and convictions, is leading to a perception among British Muslims of being unfairly policed, and is fuelling a strong disaffection and sense of being under siege."

One in three Muslims felt that the Government was doing too little to protect the rights of different faith groups in the UK.

The report also found that as well as suffering overt verbal and physical attacks, British Muslims are among the most economically and socially disadvantaged groups in the country. They have the lowest employment rate of any faith group, at 38 per cent.

The unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds runs at 17.5 per cent for Muslims, compared with 7.9 per cent for Christians and 7.4 per cent for Hindus.

One in three Muslims of working age has no qualification, the highest of any faith group. Four out of 10 Muslim children live in overcrowded accommodation, compared with 12 per cent of the population as a whole.

Two-thirds of the Muslim population live in the 88 most deprived districts of England, and as a faith group, they have the highest rates of illness.

There are 1.6 million Muslims in the UK, 3 per cent of the population. The Muslim community is also one of the youngest; one-third of those who follow the religion are under the age of 16, compared with one-fifth of the population as a whole. The average age of Muslims is 28, 13 years younger than the national average.

Years of social and economic disadvantage, coupled with the suspicion they have come under after the terror attacks in the US, has led to the increasing demonisation and isolation of young men, researchers say. The report concludes: "While policy is moving in the right direction, progress is still not enough to enable some of the real and rapid changes now required.

"Muslim young men have emerged as the new 'folk devils' of popular and media imagination, being represented as the embodiment of fundamentalism.

"To be a British Muslim is defined solely in terms of negativity, deprivation, disadvantage and alienation."

It calls for better representation of Muslims in public life, such as the education and criminal justice systems, and more targeted policies aimed at narrowing the inequality gap between the Islamic community and other ethnic groups.

The report also suggests offering Arabic as a modern language option in schools, and including Muslim civilisation in history lessons.

For the majority of Muslims, the issue of their faith is more important than their ethnicity, the report says.

The high commissioner of Pakistan urged British Muslims to do more to fit into society. Dr Maleeha Lodhi said better integration would help to "beat the extremists" - in terms of both racism towards Muslims and Islamic fundamentalism. "You can integrate without assimilating, so you are part of British society," she said.

'They were glaring at me and then picked up some stones'

By Maxine Frith

Dr Sara Saigol, a hospital doctor, lives in Manchester with her husband, Khalid Anis, a dentist, and their three children.

She was born in Britain and had never experienced Islamophobia until one terrifying afternoon last summer. As she walked along a main road in Manchester with her children, three men on a building site began shouting "Paki" at her.

"They were glaring at me, and then started picking up stones and looking as if they were about to throw them at me," she said. "I had a double buggy and my daughter skipping behind me, so I couldn't go very fast.I was very intimidated and completely shocked.

"The majority of British society is nothing like that but I couldn't believe that these men were doing this on a main road, and in a multicultural place like Manchester."

She went on: "It is difficult to know ... whether it is racism based on the colour of my skin, or Islamophobia based on the fact I was wearing a hijab, but I think it was based on the way I was dressed. There has been a change in the way Muslims are perceived since 11 September 2001, and the way we are portrayed."

Her husband agrees: "Our local mosque was vandalised recently and people I know have been abused in the street.

"The discrimination can be very subtle. If there is a bomb attack, it is always described as Islamic terrorism, but when Amir Khan was boxing for Britain in the Olympics, he was described as being a Bolton lad; nothing was mentioned about him being a Muslim.

"People ask me if it is possible to be British and a Muslim. Of course it is. I find the question ludicrous."