What is Islamophobia?

Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.

This definition of Islamophobia was developed by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, and is widely endorsed across Muslim communities, political parties and civil society.


The usage of the term Islamophobia is well-established and its usage spans across the globe beyond academics and researchers, to mainstream communities, police and media, including our own Prime Minister, all of whom understand what the term means. Islamophobia is not a perfect term, but neither are other similar terms such as anti-Semitism – nor do they necessarily need to be. Different wording makes little impact to the average bigot. Consider the term “anti- Semitism”, for example. Literally, it would refer to bigotry against Semites (defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as the Arabs and Jews of the Middle East). However, its meaning is defined and well understood to be bigotry against Jews in particular. Furthermore, the definition goes beyond simple hate and includes anti-Semitic tropes still commonplace in many sections of our society. If someone were to try to claim that an Arab could not be anti-Semitic because an Arab is a Semite, they would roundly and rightly be condemned as playing semantic games.

Islamophobia Awareness Month 2020

November is Islamophobia Awareness Month and the MCB is busy bringing you a range of events, with contributions from a wide variety of experts. Join us as we look at exploring what Islamophobia is, how it manifests, how we can work together to effectively tackle it as a society and what is currently being done by the MCB to address this form of pervasive racism. Events include:

5th November: Tackling Islamophobia in the Media
10th November: COVID-19 Report Launch
18th November: Islamophobia Report Launch
24th November: Meet Muslim Media Professionals

Islamophobic Views in Society

Conspiracy theories about Muslims are well-established within a section of British society. These often play into Islamophobic tropes, and are seen to be propagated by the far-right.

Polling on the opinion of Britons on Muslims and Islam has found:

  • 18% believe “Muslim immigration to this country is part of a bigger plan to make Muslims a majority of this country’s population”
  • 32% believe there are “no-go areas in Britain where Sharia law dominates and non- Muslims cannot enter”
  • 31% of young children believe that Muslims are taking over England
  • The average Briton believes 15% of the population are Muslim (actually it is 0.5%), and
  • that Muslims will make up 22% of the population by 2020 (forecast at 0.6%)

There are a series of worrying social attitudes about Muslims:

  • 22% had negative feelings towards Muslims
  • 33% believe that equal opportunities have gone too far when it comes to Muslims
  • 43% concerned if mosque built near them
  • 22% concerned if Muslim family moved next door
  • 30% would object to their child visiting a mosque
  • 58% blame the media for the rampant Islamophobia in UK
  • 47% would not be willing to accept Muslims as members of their family (the worst figure in Western Europe after Italy (57%)

Whilst the prevalence of just views in society is problematic, it becomes dangerous when it leads to discriminatory and prejudiced behaviour towards Muslims.

For more data, read the MCB’s submission to the Home Affairs Committee on Islamophobia here.

Islamophobic Hate Crime

Conspiracy theories about Muslims are well established within a section of British society that is unfortunately not insignificant:

  • 18% believe “Muslim immigration to this country is part of a bigger plan to make Muslims a majority of this country’s population”
  • 32% believe there are “no-go areas in Britain where Sharia law dominates and non- Muslims cannot enter”
  • 31% of young children believe that Muslims are taking over England
  • The average Briton believes 15% of the population are Muslim (actually it is 0.5%), and
  • that Muslims will make up 22% of the population by 2020 (forecast at 0.6%)

To read our full Islamophobia Enquiry: The MCB’s Submission to the Home Affairs Committee, click here.

Islamophobia in the Media

University of Cambridge/ ESRC Roundtable research has concluded that mainstream media reporting about Muslim communities is contributing to an atmosphere of rising hostility towards Muslims in Britain. Since 2006, academics have observed how media coverage on a global level has represented Muslims as underdeveloped, illiterate, homeless and orchestrators of failed states.

The Centre for Media Monitoring (CfMM), a project of the MCB, has been set up to improve the quality of reporting of Islam and Muslims in the media through constructive engagement.

Analysis conducted by the CfMM between October and December 2018 found 59% of all articles analysed associated Muslims with negative behaviours, over one-third of all articles misrepresented or generalised about Muslims, and 43% of all broadcast clips associated Muslims with negative behaviour. Terrorism was the most recurring theme in reports relating to Muslims and Islam. The way the media reports on Muslims and Islam affects many Muslims in their day to day lives.

By building an evidence base, CfMM is able to share areas of concern with the media, regulators, policy makers and politicians, as well as suggest ways forward.

CfMM Special Report: How the British Media Reports Terrorism

Islamophobia in Political Parties

Islamophobia – and indeed all forms of racism and hate – have no place in politics and political life. Regrettably, Islamophobia is found in all political parties, though it is undoubtedly more prevalent in some more than others.

All political parties must not tolerate any form of hate, and must employ robust internal mechanisms to investigate incidents of racism and suitably reprimand offenders. More examples of Islamophobia in political parties can be found in Section 4 of this report.

Islamophobia is more prevalent in the Conservative Party than any other political party in Britain. It is a widespread, institutional problem, and it infects the party at every single level. The MCB has found Islamophobic incidents among Cabinet members, MPs, advisers, councillors and members.

In May 2019, the MCB called on the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to investigate the Conservative Party over allegations of Islamophobia, submitting evidence against over 100 members. The MCB renewed its call to the EHRC in March 2020 with an updated dossier of incidents involving over 300 individuals in the Conservative Party. Examples of Islamophobia include:

  • Dominic Cummings, Chief Adviser to the Prime Minister, had overall responsibility for The Spectator website when a controversial cartoon of Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban was posted, with a caption feeding into the false, far-right, Islamophobic trope about a Muslim ‘takeover’.
  • Andrew Sabisky, former Adviser to the Prime Minister, questioned in a book review whether a growing Muslim population could be countered with violent resistance, using a discredited statistic.
  • Andrew James Tagg, former Calderdale Councillor, called for “unconditional surrender” by Muslims, labelling Muslims as “brutes who beat kill and main young women”.
  • Thor Halland, Chairman of Leyton and Wanstead Conservative Association, called for Muslims to be banned.
  • Sandy Lancaster, a party member, called for Muslims to be thrown from bridges.
  • Lisa Gilfillan Johnston, also a party member, called for Muslims to be forcibly sterilised.

Islamophobia in the Workplace

The Social Mobility Commission found in 2017 that Muslim men and women are being held back in the workplace by widespread Islamophobia.

Despite finding a strong work ethic and high resilience among Muslims that resulted in impressive results in education, the Commission found this did not translate into the workplace, with only 6% of Muslims breaking through into professional jobs, compared with 10% of the overall population in England and Wales.

Unfortunately, Islamophobia overshadows many areas of British life, particularly in terms of employment:

  • A job seeker with an English-sounding name was offered three times the number of interviews than an applicant with a Muslim name.
  • One in five Muslim adults in full-time work, compared with 35% of the overall population, with Muslim men and women being held back in the workplace by widespread Islamophobia, racism and discrimination.
  • Applicants from minority ethnic backgrounds had to send 80% more applications to get a positive response from an employer than a white person of British origin. The researchers said the high levels of discrimination from countries with a sizeable Muslim population echoed “strong anti-Muslim attitudes recorded in recent surveys”.
  • Muslim men were up to 76% less likely to have a job of any kind compared to white, male British Christians of the same age and with the same qualifications; Muslim women were up to 65% less likely to be employed than their White Christian counterparts.

Read more about the way in which Islamophobia impacts Muslims in the workplace.

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