Written by our Head of Member Development @Ranya

Islamophobia is a prevalent issue, and many Muslims live with fear as a result of such hate. There are an estimated 7,000 anti-Muslim hate crimes a year, and the workplace is not safe from discrimination and negativity for Muslim staff.

Islamophobia affects us all. A workplace that is not inclusive and has a negative culture around equality, will inevitably lead to poor wellbeing for colleagues – and poor wellbeing can have a detrimental impact on productivity. By tacking issues like Islamophobia, we all benefit on an individual and an organisational level.

Islamophobia Awareness Month (IAM) aims to unite communities to tackle Islamophobia, and I am writing for the NHS Muslim Network on this issue that Muslims face.

Examples of Islamophobia

There are many examples of discrimination Muslim staff have faced by virtue of their faith. These may be overt or subtle forms of islamophobia; these subtle displays may be known as micro-aggressions. These are the daily verbal, behavioural or environmental challenges a minority group may face due to their specific characteristics and identity.

Some examples of religious microaggressions [1]:

  • Endorsing religious stereotypes
  • Exoticisation
  • Pathology of different religious groups
  • Assumption of one’s own religious identity as the norm
  • Assumption of religious homogeneity
  • Denial of religious prejudice

These may be conscious or unconscious, however they have a negative and weathering effect[2] on the individual and groups exposed to these aggressions. When we spoke to our members, we asked them about some instances of Islamophobia they had experienced. These included:

  • Pressure to go to social events which included alcohol, despite telling colleagues that for religious reasons they could not attend
  • Clinical staff being talked about inappropriately when they took a few minutes to pray
  • Discussions in the office about political events that affect Muslims in a nonchalant/insensitive manner

Call to action

So, what can we do to address islamophobia in the workplace? This can be simple as:

  • Opening doors for communication between colleagues of different backgrounds and faiths
  • Being inclusive and accepting of different opinions and thoughts – not just engaging with diversity in appearances but incorporating diverse perspectives into all aspects of work
  • Taking time to have training and development to build awareness of Islamophobia as well as wider hate crime
  • Reflecting on, assessing and addressing your own biases.
  • Asking colleagues of faith how they can be supported in the workplace (e.g. prayer room, halal food options etc.) so that they can be their whole selves at work
  • Facilitating opportunities for colleagues to raise instances of Islamophobia without being victimised
  • Zero tolerance to insulting or mocking religious attire and beliefs, this can include calling out inappropriate behaviour or comments when they happen or soon after
  • Ensuring that discussions are conducted with sensitivity        

One of the priorities of our NHS Muslim Network is to help tackle Islamophobia within the NHS. Everyone should be allowed to work together in a harmonious workplace where we are free to share who we truly are, bring our whole selves to work and serve our communities in the best way we can.

Our network is open to all allies, if you are looking to learn more and take part in inclusive discussions, please join us at england.muslim1@nhs.net .

[1] Nadal, K. L., Issa, M., Griffin, K. E., Hamit, S., & Lyons, O. B. (2010). Religious microaggressions in the United States: Mental health implications for religious minority groups. In D. W. Sue (Ed.), Microaggressions and marginality: Manifestation, dynamics, and impact (pp. 287-310). New York: Wiley & Sons.

[2] Geronimus A. T. (1992). The weathering hypothesis and the health of African-American women and infants: evidence and speculations. Ethnicity & disease, 2(3), 207–221.