Have you ever witnessed or experienced Islamophobia against you or a colleague within your workplace?
- Never (39%, 49 Votes)
- Yes, I have experienced Islamophobia (26%, 32 Votes)
- I have heard of it happening (23%, 29 Votes)
- Yes, I have witnessed Islamophobia (12%, 15 Votes)
Total Voters: 125
As a practising Muslim, I’ve faced Islamophobic abuse on many occasions, including during my social work career.
For instance, I was allocated a case that had been removed from another social worker after they received sexist and racist comments.
Except, when the person needing support emailed calling me a “Bin Laden social worker” and sent me death threats, my pleas to stop working with him for my safety were ignored by social work managers for more than two months. Why the stark contrast in reaction?
I was called ‘Mr Taliban’ by a colleague, asked by a social worker on MS Teams to switch my camera on because, ‘We already know you look like a terrorist’, and mocked about having an ‘imaginary friend’ by a manager whilst I was going to the mosque.”
After more than 10 years in the profession, I realise my experiences are not isolated but a reflection of deeply rooted Islamophobia in Britain, including in social work.
In a report in 2018, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims defined Islamophobia as “a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”. These include names, skin colour, a beard or hijab as well as solidarity with the Palestinians.
A poll last year revealed that more than two-thirds of working UK Muslims had experienced Islamophobia in the workplace. Muslims in the UK also faced the highest levels of religious hate crime in 2021-22, accounting for 42% of cases.
Stifled career progression
Alongside my experiences of Islamophobia, I’ve also faced barriers to progressing my career.
By the time I left my last council, after a decade’s service, I was the longest serving full-time social worker in the team without progression.
This was despite having a successful record of taking on the most complex cases and having co-led a project to design a new assessment model in adults’ services, for which the team had been shortlisted for an award.
On numerous occasions my career progression was stifled by the council using agency workers to fill vacancies, instead of advertising the post so internal candidates – myself included – could apply too.
Inequalities faced by British Muslims
This also seems reflective of wider trends.
Moreover, 40% of the Muslim population of Britain were living in the poorest fifth of areas, as of 2021, found a Muslim Council of Britain analysis of census data.
I joined the social work profession to tackle injustices such as this.
Lack of representation in social work
However, not only have I experienced these inequalities within the profession but social work’s ability to tackle them is blunted by the under-representation of Muslims within it.
Only 3.6% of social workers in England identify as Muslim, compared to 6.5% of the population of England and Wales.
It’s time for social work to prioritise tackling Islamophobia, within the profession and how it relates to Muslim communities.”
This should start with the regulator, Social Work England, supporting the APPG definition of Islamophobia and marking a date regularly to raise awareness.
In light of a social worker’s statutory role in identifying signs of radicalisation, Social Work England has a responsibility to educate its workforce about the distinction between normative Muslim beliefs/practices and extremism.
Support and solutions in tackling Islamophobia
Since its launch in 2012, the annual Islamophobia Awareness Month (#IAM) has gained momentum, offering valuable resources that showcase the positive contributions made by Muslims in Britain. The #IAM theme for November 2023 is #MuslimStories.
My own experiences have given me better insight into the impact of recruitment practices, like the preference of agency managers, which is why storytelling is so powerful.
The Islamophobia Response Unit, whom I’ve personally received help from, provide a platform to confidentially report Islamophobic hate crime and discrimination at work, and offer free legal support.
From my own experience at my current council, I can also only emphasise the importance of a faith network, which brings employees together to celebrate their faiths and be a collective voice.
Calls for faith-based inclusivity in organisations must also be matched with accountability, but religion still largely appears a novelty in equality reports.
I would also stress the importance of leaving a toxic workplace sooner rather than later.
Through appropriate representation, at all levels, I hope social work will finally play an active role in responding to the overwhelming evidence demanding better outcomes for Muslims in Britain.