Amplifying Muslim Stories: Intersectionality and Allyship Against Islamophobia

The recent surge in Islamophobic attacks against the backdrop of the conflict in the Middle East only further serves to underscore the importance of awareness of and engagement with Islamophobic Awareness Month, as part of our wider efforts to promote tolerance and mutual understanding and to challenge all forms of racism and prejudice.

Islamophobia is defined by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia as “rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”. Every year there is a different theme and this year’s theme is “Muslim Stories”. 

I vividly recall the incident when a patient refused to allow me to assess him because “Your religion is about killing people and my religion is about saving people”. The distress of this Islamophobic attack by a patient was only compounded by the various responses of my colleagues who either remained silent, questioned if the patient “really meant that” or attempted to justify what the patient had said.  

The reality for many Muslim colleagues working in the NHS is that Islamophobia occurs not just from patients but also from colleagues who are not allies for their colleagues from marginalised identities.

The pervasive and difficult experiences faced by Muslim clinicians are reflected in data which shows Muslims are more likely to fail speciality exams and most likely to receive an unsatisfactory outcome at ARCP, although we recognise the work the RCGP is doing  to eliminate unconscious or conscious bias within the MRCGP. Horrifying examples of Islamophobia are detailed in the BMAs Racism in Medicine report. The acts of Islamophobic discrimination are often amplified when the person is from an intersectional identity.

Intersectionality

Intersectionality is defined by viewing people as being shaped by the interaction of various social identities, such as race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexuality, geography, age, disability/ability, migration status, and religion. These interactions take place within the context of interconnected power systems and structures, such as laws, policies, state governments, religious institutions, and the media. Intersectionality is concerned with the ways in which multiple social identities intersect with one another.

At its core, intersectionality is concerned with identifying and addressing all potential barriers to an individual's or group's well-being. It is critical, however, to recognise that it is not as simple as adding up the oppressions and addressing each one separately. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, classism, and ableism are all 'isms' in their own right. However, those 'isms' compound, transform, and amplify the oppressive experience of society's underprivileged and powerless members who often belong to marginalised communities and identities.

Hijab-wearing, Muslim women are often the most affected by Islamophobic attacks due to their overt affiliation with Islam, being female and often from an ethnic minority background.

Allyship

Identifying Islamophobia is the first step in dismantling it. From overt acts of discrimination to subtle microaggressions, Islamophobia manifests in various forms. Recognising these signs requires education and awareness. It is only by familiarising ourselves with the nuances of Islamophobia that we can equip ourselves to challenge biased narratives and work towards a society that values diversity and religious freedom by being an ally. Allyship is defined as being active and consistent in supporting and advocating for those who are marginalised or powerless members of society.

Allyship is a continuum, but in order to be an ally, we need to consider that it requires continuous self-reflection, active listening, and a willingness to educate oneself on the experiences of others. It involves not only standing against discrimination but also proactively advocating for inclusive spaces, amplifying marginalised voices, and being open to learning from diverse perspectives.

The reality is that many Muslim colleagues face Islamophobia and these experiences underscore the urgency for systemic change. To dismantle such pervasive discrimination, allyship emerges as a crucial tool. Only through concerted efforts to challenge biased narratives and promote inclusivity can we collectively strive for a society that values diversity and religious freedom, ensuring a future where such incidents are met with understanding, compassion, solidarity, and systemic change.

Join the webinar

To learn more, British Islamic Medical Association is hosting a webinar:
From Witness to Advocate: Active Bystander and Allyship Training for Islamophobia
on 28th November 2023 from 7pm to 8pm.

About the writers

GP Principal 
Equality Diversity and Inclusion Director, The Hub Plus.
Co-editor “ABC of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Healthcare”.