Scottish Parliament CPG Report: Scotland needs urgent education reforms to combat scourge of Islamophobia
Scotland needs to urgently introduce education reforms to combat the “scourge of Islamophobia” in society, a new report has recommended.
This includes integrating an understanding of Islamophobia into the curriculum and all teacher training, requiring all educational institutions to create safe spaces for discussion, prayer and reflection, and adopting dress-code policies in schools that are sensitive to the needs of Muslims.
Two years on from the country’s first public inquiry into Islamophobia, the recommendations are included in an update on progress produced for the new Scottish Parliament Cross-Party Group (CPG) on Challenging Racial and Religious Prejudice.
With initial research finding that 75% of Muslims said Islamophobia was a regular or everyday issue in Scottish society, the new report has highlighted areas which need immediate reform.
With Muslim women in Scotland more likely to encounter Islamophobia than men, according to the findings, the report calls on the Scottish Government to fund and support organisations and initiatives that promote social cohesion and integration, particularly for Muslim women. There are also several recommendations for the Scottish media, including encouraging editors to consult regularly with the Muslim community to promote understanding and prevent misrepresentation.
Zara Mohammed, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “The report of the inquiry into Islamophobia in Scotland remains a landmark intervention; it provides a clear and detailed exposition of the meaning and nature of Islamophobia and the different ways in which it can manifest, be it within education or the media.
“It also puts forth pragmatic recommendations, that if acted upon by the Scottish Government, would prove effective in tackling the scourge of Islamophobia across sectors of society and make Scotland a model of cohesion and equality. Islamophobia has become increasingly pervasive, and its impact on the lived experience of everyday Scottish Muslims is profound. The time to act is now.”
In June 2021, the public inquiry found that 78% of Muslim respondents believed Islamophobia in Scotland was getting worse.Described as a “landmark” study, it tackled the idea of Scottish exceptionalism – highlighting how prevalent and deep-rooted Islamophobia is here. The inquiry was launched by Anas Sarwar MSP, who convened the CPG on Tackling Islamophobia in the last parliamentary term.
The new CPG on Challenging Racial and Religious Prejudice is convened by Scottish Labour MSP Foysol Choudhury, with deputy conveners Kaukab Stewart and Fulton MacGregor from the SNP and Pam Gosal from the Scottish Conservatives. Other members include Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton and dozens of charities and organisations, including the Muslim Council of Britain.
Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour leader and MSP for Glasgow, who launched the initial inquiry into Islamophobia, said: “Many of our fellow Scottish citizens face racism and intolerance on a daily basis and are scared to leave their homes. And right now, with the tragic escalation of violence in the Middle East, families in Scotland are living in fear of rising Antisemitism and Islamophobia.
“We must stand with Jewish, Muslim and all communities against hate, and as politicians we have a duty to come together on a cross-party basis to address the recommendations in this report and seek to make Scotland a more tolerant nation. As with so many changes in society, that work starts in our classrooms.”
The update for the CPG is authored by Professor Peter Hopkins of Newcastle University, who has been researching issues of racism and Islamophobia in Scotland for more than two decades. The research was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council.
Teaching union NASUWT has said it will continue to work with the CPG “to increase awareness and visibility of the Islamophobia public inquiry recommendations and to maintain pressure on government to translate the recommendations into action”.
Urgent recommendations in the new report include:
- Integrate an understanding of Islamophobia into compulsory components of the Scottish education curricula and all teacher training education.
- Provide all teachers and lecturers in Scotland regularly with compulsory training to counter Islamophobia.
- Require all educational institutions to create safe spaces for discussion, prayer and reflection.
- Require schools to establish dress-code policies that are sensitive to the needs of Muslims.
- Encourage colleges and universities to establish links with employers with a good and/or leading record for diversity and championing ethnic diversity and anti-racist initiatives/policies.
- Require all journalists in Scotland to participate in regular and compulsory training on the role that the media play in fostering Islamophobia.
- Require all editors to consult regularly with the Muslim community in order to promote understanding and prevent misrepresentation.
- Actively promote careers in journalism to graduates within Scotland’s diverse communities.
- All initiatives about Islamophobia in Scotland must pay specific attention to its gendered nature.
- The Scottish Government should fund and support organisations and initiatives that promote social cohesion and integration, particularly for Muslim women.
Omar Afzal from the Scottish Association of Mosques, added: “The report was a landmark moment for Muslim communities as it smashed the illusion of Scottish exceptionalism – the idea that Islamophobia exists but it’s not as pervasive here. It also highlighted how prevalent and deep-rooted Islamophobia is; its systemic nature, and how it manifests itself and impacts life choices, particularly for young Muslims and Muslim women.
“We are now more than two years on from the publication of the report and this year, the publication of a new hate crime strategy too. Our focus must go back to actioning the report recommendations, particularly those which can make an immediate impact. Only then can we truly begin to tackle Islamophobia head on.”
Kaukab Stewart, SNP MSP for Glasgow Kelvin, said: “I welcome the work of the CPG in gathering evidence and producing this report. Many of the recommendations simply call for good practice in inclusion and diversity in settings such as schools and in the media industry.
“Focusing specifically on gendered islamophobia is important as discrimination against Muslim women takes a specific form and is a specific problem. I hope the report will contribute to serious conversations about how government organisations and civic society can better tackle islamophobia and promote diversity in all our communities.”
Pam Gosal, Scottish Conservative MSP for West Scotland, said: “The inquiry into Scotland’s Islamophobia was a much needed piece of research which shines a light on how much work there is still to do to tackle this issue, and I’m proud to be a member of the CPG which set this inquiry up in the previous parliament.
“The inquiry’s report made several recommendations to tackle islamophobia in schools in order to stamp out this issue at an early stage. But crucially, it also highlighted the disparity across between how men and women experience islamophobia. Going forward, I hope that these recommendations will be carefully considered across different levels of government, and will help to lead to a fairer environment for Muslims across Scotland.”
Alex Cole-Hamilton, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and MSP for Edinburgh Western, said: “In these recommendations we see the measure of the challenge before our generation when it comes to the insidious reality of islamophobia in our country.”