Examining attitudes towards Muslim women

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On the streets of Glasgow
On the streets of Glasgow

This summer, I did a research internship at Amina, the Muslim Women’s Resource Centre in Glasgow (MWRC).

Defining Muslim Women, as my research project was called, aimed to gather views from Scottish non- Muslim youth on Muslim women. These views were then contrasted with how Muslim women in Scotland defined themselves.

My main task was to compose two sets of surveys – one aimed at the Scottish non-Muslim youth (ages 11- 24), and the other aimed at Muslim women in Scotland – and then to write a report analysing and evaluating the results from both sectors. Questions ranged from both the easier, more ‘tickable’ answers, to others that required more protracted responses.

I was also in charge of distributing the surveys (with some help, of course), whether on the streets (Haribo usually convinced kids to participate) or online, where we exploited the links the MWRC had with secondary schools and Muslim women’s networks.

We collected 236 surveys from the Scottish youth and 88 from Muslim women. All in all, I explored three main stereotypes in Scottish youth’s views of Muslim women:

1. Muslim women as necessarily foreign.

For instance, the Scots used words like ‘accent’, ‘India’, ‘Pakistan’, ‘Afghanistan’, ‘Asian’, and ‘dark skin’, as well as the more misguided ‘sari’, ‘bindi’, and ‘pygmy’, to describe Muslim women.

On the other hand, 61 per cent of the Muslim women who were surveyed answered that they were not likely to be foreigners. Some of them also explicitly defined themselves as ‘British’ or ‘Scottish’.

2. Muslim women as necessarily oppressed.

Staggeringly, about every tenth word the Scottish youth associated with Muslim women denoted oppression. Words like ‘bullied, ‘abused’, ‘depressed’, ‘scared’, ‘second to husband’, and ‘slave’ were only a few of these.

Some also saw the hijab as a sign of oppression, which the Muslim women themselves, in contrast, associated with words like ‘dignity’, ‘empowerment’, ‘liberation’, ‘strength’, and ‘pride’.

3. Muslim women as a potential threat.

When the Scottish youth were asked whether they believed Muslim women to be terrorists or extremists, over 16.5 per cent of them answered affirmatively.

Many young people associated the face veil with a sense of danger as well, while most of the Muslim women respondents did not even wear the face veil (only one of the 88 admitted to doing so), and others had very mixed opinions about it in general.

The whole research was an enlightening experience, showing just how far Islamophobic misperceptions have seeped their way into young people’s minds.

It was also a great experience, as it helped me take my head out the books, step out of the library, and do a kind of research I’ve never had a chance to do before as a university student.

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