Australian Muslims share 'terrifying' stories of Islamophobia

Muslim women and girls are the most common targets of Islamophobic incidents in Australia, according to a new report.

Gemma Khodr's faith has made her a target of abuse day in, day out. 

Asked by SBS News if one episode of Islamophobia stands out, the Australian Muslim said, "there have been so many over the years".

"But there was one that was really awful ... It was terrifying," she said.

Gemma Khodr said religiously-charged harassment 'happens all the time'.
Source: Supplied

Ms Khodr was living in Cairns at the time. She was at a local supermarket with one daughter and heavily pregnant with another.

"All of a sudden I started to hear the words 'Muslim!' and 'terrorist!' and 'f*** this!' Even thinking about it now, my heart starts racing."

Thinking about it now, my heart starts racing

Gemma Khodr

Ms Khodr recounted how a man began yelling Islamophobic remarks at her, before banging on her car.

"It was scary seeing that animosity, that hatred he had. But you get that, being Muslim and wearing a headscarf."

Gemma Khodr talks to SBS News.
Source: SBS News

She immediately drove to a nearby police station only to be followed by the man.

"He was saying 'I didn't know she was pregnant', like if I wasn't pregnant it was OK to do that.

"This was not a one-off, it happens all the time in the Muslim community."

Ramia Abdo Sultan, a Muslim solicitor in western Sydney, agreed.

"Comments like 'go back to where you came from', 'you f**ing terrorist'. These things do happen and they happen quite frequently," she told SBS News.

Ramia Abdo Sultan has been the target of abuse.
Source: SBS News

Ms Sultan also said Australians now seem more comfortable making these comments in public spaces.

"The public element and the public visibility is no longer a deterrent," she said.

And the numbers back this up.

A new analysis of hate crimes showed Muslim women and girls were the most common targets of the nearly 350 Islamophobic incidents reported over a two-year period, with abuse starting from as early as preschool.

The 2019 Islamophobia in Australia report found 60 per cent of attacks occurred in public in 2016 and 2017, double the proportion of recorded incidents in the previous 15 months.

Excluding online abuse, in at least half of the 202 remaining cases, victims noted that people who were passing by did not offer to help.

The report, produced by Charles Sturt University's Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation, found more than 70 per cent of the victims were Muslim women and girls.

They were subjected to verbal abuse, profanities, physical intimidation and death threats in public places, most often while shopping.

Anglo-Celtic males were the perpetrators in three-quarters of cases.

Many of the insults focused on Muslims' appearance and religion, with 96 per cent of women respondents wearing a hijab at the time.

Lead author Dr Derya Iner told SBS News Islamophobia in Australia is closely linked with sexist language.

"What we found in the previous report and this report is how it operates in Australia," she said.

"And I think this is applicable to other contexts and countries as well - [there's] heavily sexist language."

Ibrahim Dadoun from United Muslims of Australia said many people in the Muslim community were unaware they could report instances of Islamophobia, so the number of incidents may be far higher.

"Unfortunately, within our community, we don't actually report these things, which is a bit of an issue.

"Partly because the community might be afraid to report these things, or they may be unaware that when they report them it may help them in any way, shape or form - so I think community awareness is something we need to get into."

Published 19 November 2019 at 7:05am
By Helen Isbister, Nick Baker