A charity is bringing together famous faces, politicians, civic leaders and faith leaders at a London event next month to call on the government to enshrine the United Nations International Day to Combat Islamophobia into UK law.
The Aziz Foundation, which helps Muslims in the UK enter higher education and find better job opportunities, launched a campaign earlier this month to further tackle anti-Muslim sentiment.
Up to 300 guests are expected to attend the event, including MPs, civil leaders, influencers, youth leaders, councillors, religious leaders and journalists. An exhibition will be set up celebrating the contributions of British Muslims to society and highlighting Islamophobia.
Last year, the UN declared March 15 the International Day To Combat Islamophobia. First introduced by Pakistan, it is now observed in 140 countries across the world.
The date was selected due to the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings, in which 51 people were killed and 40 others injured in an Islamophobic attack.
The charity’s founder Asif Aziz told The Standard that the campaign is urging the government to “commit itself to recognising the day so that it is officially part of UK law”, so that resources in religious education lessons at schools can be made accessible, “particularly from a young age”.
Mr Aziz added that the day will celebrate the “rich contributions British Muslims have made to the country” while rallying support from allies and friends, “in an effort to engage and educate with members of all faiths and none.
“Calling for equality is not exclusive to Muslims and we want equality for all. A big part of what makes Britain so unique and accommodating is the diversity we possess in faiths and cultures. We want to make this campaign as wide-ranging and inclusive as possible to reach a wide audience.”
Between March 2021 and March 2022, religious hate crimes in the UK increased by 37 per cent, reaching 8,730 offences. 3,459 of these were targeted against Muslims, making up 42 per cent of all religious hate crimes.
In November, the government dropped plans to come up with an official definition for the term Islamophobia, after communities secretary Michael Gove claimed doing so would pose “dangers”.
Mr Aziz said the focus of the campaign was on “drawing attention to the different levels of Islamophobia which emanate from a lack of education”.
He added: “There are layers of misunderstanding and mistrust when it comes to Islamophobia which need to be peeled back. Our aim with this campaign is not to get drawn into the discourse around exactly how Islamophobia is defined – Liberal Democrats, Labour and Scottish Conservatives already agree on the definition.
“Islamophobia is racism. Although there is existing legislation such as the Equality Act that makes it illegal to discriminate against people of different faiths, we are seeing Islamophobia run free in many areas of the UK. We think this is mainly though a lack of understanding what Islam is and what our rich input has been to our shared home in the UK.
“Enshrining the day will encourage the government to allocate more funds and resources for educating young people about Islamophobia.”
He said it was through the campaign that “we can peel back those layers and create a generational shift from one of misunderstanding to acceptance.”
Earlier this month, Labour MP Naz Shah came out in support of the campaign.