Muslims across the European continent are being prevented from engaging in public life due to Islamophobic prejudices. The EU’s fundamental rights agency carried out a survey in late 2015 and early 2016 which involved 10 500 Muslims in 15 countries, including France, Germany, and the UK.
40% of respondents had faced unfair treatment when job or house hunting, or when accessing public services such as education and healthcare. Nearly 30% had been insulted or called names, while 2% had been physically assaulted in the previous 12 months. Of these respondents, 17% felt they had been discriminated against directly because of their religious belief. This is a worrying seven-point increase on the previous survey, in 2008.
The gendered aspects of Islamophobia were also made apparent in the survey. Almost 40% of women who wore a headscarf or niqab felt that was why they had been discriminated against when applying for a job. Over 30% of visibly Muslim women said they had been harassed, usually through offensive gestures or comments.
Only 12% of respondents who had experienced discrimination had reported it – a common trend across minority groups generally.
Turning to the UK to offer a snapshot of the situation in individual countries, the scene is just as bleak. A study commissioned by the UK’s Social Mobility Commission found that less than 20% of Muslims of working age were in full-time employment, compared with 34.9% of the overall population in England and Wales. It also found that only 6% of Muslims are breaking through into professional jobs, compared with 10% of the overall population. This is in spite of the fact that the Commission has also found a strong work ethic and high resilience within Muslim communities, which results in impressive results in education. This is not reflected in the workplace and a number of reasons why have been identified. These begin in school, with students facing stereotyping and low expectations from teachers along with a lack of Muslim role models at school.
In the workforce, minority ethnic-sounding names have been shown to reduce the likelihood of people being offered a job interview. Young Muslims routinely fear being targets of harassment and feel they have to work much harder than their white counterparts to be recognized for their work. As is the case in the rest of Europe, visibly Muslim women face particular discrimination once entering the workplace.
Professor Jacqueline Stevenson, of Sheffield Hallam University, said: “Muslims are being excluded, discriminated against or failed at all stages of their transition from education to employment. Taken together, these contributory factors have profound implications for social mobility.”
This is clearly apparent in the case of Fatou, a childminder who came to the UK from Guinea when she was 16. She qualified as a teacher but found it difficult to get work straight away. “Everyone in the class managed to get a job,” she said. “But it was too hard for me. I was constantly shortlisted but once I got to the interview, I never got it.” She is convinced that her troubles stem from Islamophobic discrimination. For example, despite speaking clear and fluent English, one worker on a placement told her: “I don’t see how you can succeed”. She cited Fatou’s voice and argued that “children need to hear a British accent.” Being tenacious, Fatou persisted. But the negative comments got her down. “When I spoke to people on the phone they wouldn’t say anything but once they saw me their face would drop and I thought “‘I’m not going to get it.'”
According to Fatou, others of her Muslim friends had faced similar experiences: “People say ‘why bother with university? – I told you at the beginning that you wouldn’t succeed.’ And I think they are right. I wasted all my time doing that and I have the certificates in a cupboard. I feel angry and disappointed but now I have accepted it.”
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