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Islamophobia - other ethnic groups

Mistaken for Being Muslim

Published on: 2 March 2017

Islamophobia is a serious problem for Muslims – and new research highlights it is also an issue for people of other ethnicities and religions.

Better education

Newcastle University experts are calling for better education and information in schools, colleges, universities and government departments to increase understanding of ethnic, religious and cultural differences.

The researchers spoke to 382 young people aged between 12 and 25-years-old from ethnic and religious minorities living in Scotland. Sikhs, South Asians, Eastern Europeans and black young people said they had been abused or victimised for ‘being Muslim’. In some instances, even their teachers got it wrong.

Nearly all the young Sikhs questioned had been mistaken for Muslim. One young man described barely socialising in his first year of university as he was afraid his turban and beard would mark him out. Sikh school children remembered their teachers saying “Aw, you’re all Muslims”, while another Sikh man was asked if he had a bomb in his bag. An Indian student told researchers she was called a derogatory term for a Pakistani at an airport.


Peter Hopkins, Professor of Social Geography at Newcastle University, who led the research, said: “The fact other groups are experiencing some kind of Islamophobia does not take away from what the Muslim population experiences. What it does do is show the breadth of the problem and just how scapegoated Muslims have become in our society.

“Some of these incidences we heard about may not sound very bad in isolation. In fact, a lot of the young people we spoke to played down what they had experienced and would deflect the situation with humour and try and explain why it happened, for example, they’d say it was because of 9/11 or the 7/7 bombings. But, there’s no getting away from the fact that they were experiencing racism. What we need is better education so people know and understand the difference between different religious and ethnic groups.”

Identity and self-worth

Misrecognition tended to happen in four main locations:

  • at school 
  • in taxis 
  • at the airport 
  • in other public places

The young people tended to have four kinds of response to it. They would:

  • use humour
  • clarify their religious affiliation
  • ignore the situation
  • withdraw socially

Professor Hopkins added: “The issue of recognition is important as it gives people a sense of identity and self worth; it makes them feel like they matter and have a sense of purpose. Being misrecognised has the opposite effect and so can be very damaging for people’s sense of community and everyday personal security.”

The paper Encountering Misrecognition: Being Mistaken for Being Muslim by Peter Hopkins, Katherine Botterill, Gurchathen Sanghera and Rowena Arshad, is published in the February/March edition of Annals of the American Association of Geographers.


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