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Of Course British Muslims Are Being Held Back - This Is An Islamophobic Country
 
 
Islamophobic British Islamophobic Crimes
Of Course British Muslims Are Being Held Back - This Is An Islamophobic Country

Shaista Aziz

The government's study into the social mobility challenges faced by young British Muslims once again shines a troubling spotlight on how race, class, Islamophobia and patriarchy within Muslim communities – and wider British society – is impacting the life chances and quality of life for a significant section of the British population.

It also further highlights the deepening fractures in our society. It is not inconsequential that the report from the government's social mobility commission has been published days before the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and the subsequent normalisation of anti-Muslim rhetoric in so much of our political, social and media discourse.

It is important for this connection to be made if we want to understand the wider context behind why British Muslims are lagging so behind with social mobility. The impact of 9/11 and the so-called "war on terror" on the lives of young British Muslims cannot be separated from the avalanche of racism and Islamophobia, micro-aggressions and hate crimes many young people face and the impact this is having on all aspects of their lives, from mental and physical wellbeing to career prospects.

For millennial Muslims, often the only references they have to their Muslim identity – and to wider society's understanding of it – is terrorism, continuous war in Muslim countries, the savagery of the Taliban, al-Qaida and Isis, "home-grown" jihadists, desperate refugees fleeing, images of sex grooming gangs, and oppressed and victimised women splashed across the newspapers and internet. When this is the only dominant image you see of yourself, there is a problem. When you as a young person are being told over and over that this is your identity unless you prove otherwise, this does not bode well for you as an individual or a constructive member of society.

An 18-year-old man from Burnley explained to me the impact of all of this on his identity: "It makes me feel uncomfortable because they [the public] don't know me as a person, but they judge me based on the media coverage and what they see on the TV. And then, yeah, of course, it makes it much harder for me to be British, doesn't it? Because even though I am British and I feel British, I'm not allowed to be British. I'm only allowed to feel like I'm nothing, like a criminal. I'm only allowed to feel like I don't belong and I will never belong."

According to the report, British Muslims are now more highly educated than at any other time, yet this is still not translating into jobs. British Muslims are missing in action from the job market. The study found that 20% of Muslims aged 16 to 74 were in full-time employment, compared with 35% of the overall population. When they are in work, just 6% of Muslims hold down professional jobs, compared with 10% of the overall population in England and Wales. And when it comes to Muslim women, these figures make for even more grim reading. British Muslim women are the least economically active group of women in the UK. Overall, 18% of Muslim women aged 16 to 74 were recorded as "looking after home and family", compared with 6% of the overall female population.

Without doubt, patriarchy and cultural practices inside their homes and communities are holding back many Muslim women. Families and communities often encourage young women to prioritise marriage and motherhood over developing their careers – but this does not explain the full picture. Society's expectations of Muslim women continue to be low.

When I was 16 and at school in Oxford, a teacher who had never once taught me decided he already knew what my life plans were. He told me there was no point in me thinking about going on to study for my A-levels "because you are no doubt going to Pakistan in the summer to have an arranged marriage". I remember feeling baffled that he could say this to me, given he had never spoken to me during all the time I was in the school.

rom my conversations with young people, these assumptions and stereotypes are still prevalent, especially of Muslim women who are assumed to be subservient and lacking agency.

Sobia Afridi is a manager at Oxford Brookes University who works in the same department as Farhana Ghaffar, one of the authors of the social mobility report. Afridi manages a mentoring project run by the university and Oxford Central Mosque to improve the social mobility of young Muslims in the city. The project has been running since 2010 and connects students from the city's two universities to working-class youngsters who they tutor in English and maths, boosting the students' confidence, and helping to lift their academic aspirations.

It is in schemes such as this that we can find the solution to this problem. As Afridi says: "It is through a community-based approach that we can really make a difference to social mobility and raise the aspirations of Muslim youngsters." If only more British Muslims were given such a chance to be accepted and build a life.

• Shaista Aziz is a freelance journalist 
 
 
 Posted By Posted On Wednesday, September 04 @ 06:06:57 PDT By MediaEnglishTeam
 
 
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