It is often after a terrorist attack – such as the Finsbury Park attack in 2017 or the devastating Christchurch mass shooting in 2019 – that we start talking about Islamophobic hate crimes.
But this insidious form of hatred of Muslims is pervasive in the lives of British Muslims and abroad. And unfortunately it’s on the rise again.
More than a third (35%) said they have experienced attacks in the past three years, with theft and vandalism being the most common crimes, according to a new study of 100 UK mosques.
The research, conducted by the Muslim Engagement and Development group (MEND), shows that mosques always expect an attack ‘at any time’.
But despite the high numbers, mosques and Islamic faith leaders say they have been abandoned, without sufficient support to prevent and address this targeting.
“An attack on a mosque affects the entire local Muslim community,” said Dr. Shazad Amin, Vice-Chairman at MEND, to HuffPost UK.
“People may be afraid not only to go to the mosque themselves, but also to go into the community in general, especially Muslim women who wear the hijab and are visibly Muslim.
“This fear also affects their children, who may worry about walking to school and impacting the social lives of wider family and friends. So an attack on a mosque has far-reaching psychological consequences for the entire community.”
The MEND and Muslim Census survey found that nearly one in five mosques has suffered a physical attack, including stabbing an imam in one case.
Muslims in particular are being banned, and research from 2021 shows that almost half of all hate crimes in England and Wales were directed against this group.
Total hate crimes rose 9% as police recorded 124,091 incidents between March 2020 and March 2021, Interior Ministry data shows. Racially motivated hate crimes made up the majority of the total figures, rising 12% to 85,668 crimes.
Five years ago, Finsbury Park Mosque was attacked during Ramadan by terrorist Darren Osborne, who killed 51-year-old Marak Ali when he drove a van into worshipers. Since then, the hatred of the mosque has not disappeared.
“The attack was five years ago – and what has changed?” asks Mohammed Kozbar, a trustee and general secretary of the Finsbury Park Mosque.
“We are still scared and unprotected. A few weeks ago we had someone leave a pig’s head at our entrance. We also let people pee in front of the door.
“The situation feels much worse, to be honest. And this report proves that, sadly, this kind of Islamophobia is still alive, whether it’s mainly in Muslim institutions or on individuals, especially women, who are more vulnerable than others because of their hijab. So it’s a difficult situation at the moment and unfortunately nothing has been done about it.”
In 2016, the government launched a funding plan for places of worship and in May the Home Office said mosques and Muslim schools had been given access to £24.5 million for security measures.
The government told religious leaders they could bid for funding to address any threats. This may include the installation of CCTV cameras and fencing to ensure that adequate measures are taken to protect believers.
But the MEND survey found that only a third of mosques that applied for funding actually received it.
Kozbar says there are other restrictions to the scheme, as it only covers the cost of equipment and installation of all security measures. “We need good financing so that we can hire staff to look after our property. We already have cameras, we don’t need any more,” he says.
“We have to hire people. We also need the government to establish a proper definition of Islamophobia because people don’t really understand it.
“I feel really sad to see such attacks in London in the 21st century. We are British Muslims and we deserve to be safe and protected in our country.”
The Home Office claims it has awarded grants to 108 mosques in the UK, but MEND questions the figure, saying it isn’t enough.
“We are concerned that while the headline figure is impressive, few mosques will receive the funding,” said Dr Amin.
The Places of Worship program is open to all religions except the Jewish community. This is because a separate financing arrangement is available to provide security measures at certain Jewish faith institutions.
HuffPost UK has contacted the Home Office regarding the results of the MEND survey. We asked for a statement specifically addressing the claim that only a third of the mosques applying for funding received it. The Interior Ministry declined to comment and instead pointed us to a press release about the scheme. The Interior Ministry insists it has increased funding and is encouraging any place of worship to apply.
Feeling proactively supported is vital for Muslim communities that have already suffered the trauma of an attack, such as the one in Finsbury Park. But as Dr. Amin points out, it wouldn’t take tragedy for that to happen.
He says that in order to receive protective equipment, mosques must demonstrate that they have been the victim of a hate crime before a request is considered ‘favourable’.
“Why should a mosque wait to be attacked before it is considered worth the money?” asks Doctor Amin. “The analogy here is that a municipality will only finance a lollipop lady after a child is injured crossing the road. We say prevention is better than cure and government funding should recognize that.”