There is no doubt that we need a clear definition of anti-Muslim hatred. Having set up Tell MAMA – an organisation monitoring attacks on Muslims – in 2011, I have seen anti-Muslim hate jump in the years since.
Fear within Muslim communities has risen as mosques, people and Islamic institutions have been targeted. Together with a corresponding rise in far-right extremist groups, a series of Islamist extremist attacks and the wild west of social media, it can be a difficult time to be a Muslim in Britain.
This is why I welcome the government’s call for a working definition of Islamophobia that can find a middle ground between anti-Muslim bigotry, legitimate criticism of religions (such as Islam) and the right to dissent from believing in any element of faith.
I dislike the word Islamophobia as it gives an impression to people that Islam needs some form of special defence. It doesn’t. I don’t care whether people like or dislike Islam. But I do care whether Muslims are discriminated against – or attacked – for being Muslim, whether on our streets or online.
The current APPG on British Muslims definition was recently highlighted in an article for The Spectator by Hardeep Singh. He rightly points out that a hate crime is one in which the victim has been targeted because of their identity.
So why has intra-Muslim hatred – which is still anti-Muslim hatred, after all – been left out of this definition? Who exactly defines who is a Muslim and who is not a Muslim? Who decided that anti-Muslim hatred is based on hatred by non-Muslims against Muslims, as if intra-Muslim hatred does not take place and has to be consigned to the ‘other’ label of ‘sectarianism’?
The British Muslim Ahmadi community makes up some 40,000 people in a total Muslim population in the UK of over three million. This is a proud and patriotic community who work tirelessly for charity and to help others. Yet, in Britain, they are maligned, ostracised and discriminated against by their fellow Muslims, some of whom deem them not ‘Muslim enough’. In one case, an individual was openly denied employment because he was an Ahmadi.
This fragmentation of Muslim communities into ‘Sunni’, ‘Shia’ or ‘Ahmadi’ is increasingly a problem in Britain. Growing up in Uganda and Kenya, this was scarcely an issue for me. Muslims there were not seen by other Muslims through the lens of such fragmented terms. When we arrived in Britain, these fault lines were glaringly exposed. Some Muslims in Britain are convinced they are better because they are Sunni or Shia. In this supposed pecking order, the Ahmadis – kind, gracious and caring Muslims – are at the bottom of the heap.
Such navel gazing, as to who is the ‘right type of Muslim’, does Islam no good. It is having the effect of creating a wider group of ex-Muslims who become disillusioned with their fellow followers of Islam.
But there is a chance to crack down on this Muslim-on-Muslim hatred. In the definition of this abuse, it is vital not to have people making decisions as to who is a Muslim and who is not.
Instead we must go back to the core foundation of the Macpherson report into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence. This means that if someone believes they are targeted for hate because they are Muslim, then that is how it should be recorded, whether or not that abuse comes from another Muslim.
So the next time a fellow Muslim harasses an Ahmadi Muslim, let’s be clear: that person is being targeted because of their faith. Who are we to deny them the right to have a definition which includes their voice and their right to justice? After all, Islam is clear: we must stand up for the oppressed and for those who suffer injustice.
Fiyaz Mughal is founder and director of Faith Matters