Report of the inquiry into Islamophobia in Scotland by the Cross-Party Group on Tackling Islamophobia

Scotland’s Islamophobia

Professor Peter Hopkins

The Cross-Party Group (CPG) on Tackling Islamophobia organised an inquiry into the issue of Islamophobia in Scotland. This included an online survey and invited submissions of written evidence. The terms of reference for the inquiry asked individuals and organisations about the nature and extent of Islamophobia in Scotland, the role of the media, the impact on children, young people and families and what steps could be taken to challenge and overcome Islamophobia.

The inquiry recognises Islamophobia as a form of anti-Muslim racism that targets Muslims and those who are misrecognised as Muslim. The Muslim population in Scotland increased from 42,557 in 2001 to 76,737 in 2011, representing an 80% increase over 10 years, and 75% reside in the three Scottish parliamentary regions of Glasgow (43.6%), Lothians (19%) and North East Scotland (11.8%). Of all Muslims in Scotland, 71% consider their only national identity to be Scottish or British (or any combination of UK identities). The Muslim population in Scotland is youthful, compared to the overall population (Elshayyal, 2016; Hopkins, 2017). Scottish Muslims are an ethnically diverse population – and increasingly so. While the majority of Scottish Muslims are of South Asian ethnic heritage (65%), the proportion is decreasing over time as more are identifying as Black African. Muslims constitute nearly 40% of the Scottish Asian population, 15% of the ‘Black’ category and over 80% of the Arab population. Muslims constitute 33.5% of the black and minority ethnic (BME) population (total 211,000); around 92% of Scottish Muslims are classified as BME (Elshayyal, 2016; Hopkins, 2017).

Among others, ethnic minority groups are underrepresented in all areas of public life in Scotland, including in the Scottish Parliament (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2018). As found in recent research (e.g. Finlay et al., 2017), some participants identify Islamophobia as the reason why they do not engage with politics or could not access politics specifically stating a fear of entering politics and of the media particularly.

With respect to political and civic participation, research found that Islamophobia is affecting young Muslims in Scotland in contradictory ways, with some being motivated to become more politically active while others feel pushed away from participating in public life. Researchers have observed how the stereotyping of Muslims in the press leads some Muslim women to engage in informal politics through community organisations, charity work or volunteering (Ali & Hopkins, 2012), pointing to the ways in which Islamophobia can limit their participation in formal politics. For young Muslim women, the reinforcement of gendered stereotypes, alongside experiences of Islamophobia, presents challenges to their engagement in formal politics (Finlay & Hopkins, 2019).

The report makes recommendations on various aspects of islamophobia and how it should be tackled. Three of the recommendations are highlighted below which directly address access to politics and public life more broadly:

  • The Scottish Government should promote the positive contributions of Muslim politicians and leaders so that these role models are made visible to current and future generations.
  • All political parties in Scotland, at all levels, should proactively adopt a ‘no tolerance’ approach to Islamophobia.
  • The Scottish Government should fund and support organisations and initiatives that promote social cohesion and integration, particularly for Muslim women.