UK’s first-ever survey details attacks on mosques, Islamic bodies

About 42 percent of surveyed mosques or Islamic bodies in the UK have come under attack in the last three years, a new report says.

Regents Park Mosque in London
A man was stabbed at the London Central Mosque near Regent's Park in 2020 [File: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP]

London, the United Kingdom – About 42 percent of mosques or Islamic institutions in a  newly released UK report have experienced religiously motivated attacks in the last three years.

The survey, the first of its kind, was jointly carried out by two British Muslim organisations – Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) and Muslim Census.

It said that the most common form of attack experienced by mosques and other Islamic institutions was vandalism, followed by burglary or theft (34 percent), with 83 percent being attacked at least once a year.

It also suggested that nearly 17 percent of mosques have faced physical abuse directed at staff or worshippers, with one mosque reporting that a religious cleric was stabbed outside the front entrance.

Mosques officials described receiving threats of physical violence on popular social media platforms and general abuse. In the report, they have expressed their frustrations and how increased Islamophobia hate crimes are taking toll on their wellbeing.

“We have witnessed individuals breaking windows, vandalising worshipers’ vehicles, and spraying racist graffiti on the mosque building,” an unidentified mosque official was quoted by the report as saying.

Nearly two-thirds of the 113 mosques who participated in the survey reported that the attacks harmed the wider community, with 9 percent reporting that their mosques or Islamic institutions were targeted frequently, at least every three months.

Muslim men are social distanced as they gather to pray at Minhaj-ul-Quran Mosque, at the start of Eid al-Adha, in London
Muslim men are socially distanced as they gather to pray at Minhaj-ul-Quran Mosque in London [File: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP]

The report indicated that 15 percent of mosques saw an increase in attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Toufik Kacimi, the imam of Sainsbury Park mosque in north London, told Al Jazeera that religiously motivated attacks have increased over the years, with the latest incident happening weeks ago when a member of the public hurled dog faeces into the mosque.

“Just last Ramadan, one man punctured six cars belonging to worshipers; we also received threats phone calls and hatred letters,” he said.

Kacimi also said that some of the attackers pretend to be Muslim to gain access to the mosque and steal money and mobile phones from the donation box and people’s jackets.

“We can say that hate crimes against Muslims have sharply increased in the last three years, and it’s costing us more money; we have hired four security guards and deployed more CCTV cameras in the mosque premise and it’s a huge financial burden to us,” he said.

Police response

The survey also investigated the UK police response to such attacks. It said 85 percent of the mosques that have been attacked or threatened reported these incidents to the police.

About 55 percent of the mosques were satisfied with the police response, while 38 percent said that no police action was taken when they reported the incident, according to the report.

In addition, 28 percent of the respondents said that the police provided extra surveillance to the mosques due to their reports; however, 15 percent of those deemed it unnecessary to contact the police and report the attack, supposing the police would not take any action.

However, the UK national police chiefs’ council lead for hate crime, Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, refuted the allegations, saying that they take all hate crime reports seriously since they have a devastating impact on individual victims and the communities involved.

“We work hard to build confidence by engaging with affected communities at a local and national level. We are in regular contact with our partners at the charity who support Muslim communities, and I would encourage anyone who suffers hate crime to report it to the police,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Everyone has a right to live their lives and practice their religion, without the fear of targeted abuse for who they are, either physically or verbally; and we will always seek to protect that right.”

Recommendations to the police

Azhar Qayum, the director of MEND told Al Jazeera that though they have documented their concerns, they have also made recommendations to the police to address Islamophobic hate crimes in the UK.

“We haven’t had a response from the government yet; but we have made some recommendations, including the police to improve links with their local Muslim community and mosques and implement swift action when such attacks occur, and a full explanation when no action is taken and we will monitor to see if they have been implemented,” he said.

Some mosques mentioned in the report also stated that they kept quiet about these attacks for a variety of reasons.

About 64 percent of mosques reported that they feared these attacks would have a negative impact on Muslim communities, with responses ranging from worshippers being discouraged from attending mosques, to causing rifts in the community to Muslims losing faith in the police.

The UK Home Office statistics record 6,377 religious hate crimes between March 2020 and 2121 with almost half of them aimed at the Muslim community in Britain, which is estimated to be about 2.8 million or 4.4 percent of the British population.

Source: Al Jazeera