When Samena Dean’s daughter came home from school one afternoon last year, the 45-year-old mother of three knew there was something very wrong. Eventually, Samena prised the truth out of her visibly distressed nine-year-old – she had been a victim of religious bullying at the hands of her classmates.
On finding out that her daughter and many of her friends had been quietly dealing with rampant Islamophobia for years, Samena took it upon herself to investigate the issue.
She said: “As a mum you send your children to school to be safe and you don’t expect bullying or hate crimes to be happening. I wanted to know how widespread this was. If my daughter was experiencing it, how many other children are facing it?”
She carried out an in-depth study of Islamic children across the Capital to try and better understand what her children and others like them were facing. She created a seven-question survey and polled 100 Muslim children from P5 to S6 who she was put in contact with through Islamic youth groups.
From the high school age pupils polled, 55 per cent had encountered verbal abuse in connection with their religious beliefs and practices, while 50 per cent had suffered physical abuse. Of the primary-aged children, 53 per cent had experienced verbal bullying and 26 per cent had been physically bullied. Samena discovered that the children didn’t want to speak to their teachers because experience had already taught them that little would be done.
“I was very shocked”, she said. “Islamophobia affects the Muslim community around the world. I grew up in the 70s in Edinburgh and experienced racism, but it’s on a different level these days.”
Now Samena is presenting her findings at a convention on April 22 that aims to promote Muslim women and their achievements. The Inspired Conference run by charity Vision Islam has invited Muslim men and women to discuss issues faced by the community, and in particular those affecting women who are often more visible due to their dress.
Another speaker is advocate Safeena Rashid, 34, who hopes to inspire young girls and women to understand that being a Muslim and a woman are not barriers to success.
As a lawyer, Safeena has overcome lots of hurdles, and she knows she’ll face many more before she reaches the summit of her ambition. But it’s exactly these challenges that fire her up.
She said: “I want to tell Muslim women just to keep going with the right attitude. The more educated you become, you realise that Islam does empower women.
“It’s difficult to say if I’ve faced prejudice in the workplace because of my religion.”
Vision Islam project manager Akeel Umar is keen to end the stigma attached to gender inequalities in Islam: “All women face inequality, but Muslim women wearing a scarf and sometimes with a language issues can face more barriers.”
The conference has been organised to show that the true teachings of the Koran don’t discriminate against women.
“We want to show that women can reach their goals in life”, he said. “It will be a general education for the wider public who think Islam oppresses women.”
To register for the free event, go to www.visionislam.co.uk/inspired