An assault on a Muslim Scottish trans woman, in broad day light with the public passively looking, highlights the need for support to LGBTI Muslims in Scotland, argues Tehmina Kazi.
“Why are you taking my picture? “Why are you taking my picture?” A Scottish male with a khaki baseball cap and black jacket hisses at the camera, swinging a kick at the woman behind it. The scene is a bus stop in broad daylight, with signs to Meadowhall. The camera view, shaky as it is, happens to be peppered with people. Yet not one of them steps in to help the woman filming on her phone.
She is a transgender Muslim convert who wears the niqab (face-veil), and has been in regular contact with the Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks Project (Tell MAMA), who are pushing for a prosecution on her behalf. After surviving homelessness, she has had to endure the indignity of regular threats and abuse, out in the open. The hatred has taken a significant toll on her health, both physical and mental. These incidents are mainly perpetrated by non-Muslim males between the ages of 16 and 40, and only serve to highlight Met Police statistics that anti-Muslim hate crimes in Britain have risen by 70% in the past year. Further, Tell MAMA states that 60% of these are directed at women, and involve street level attacks, as opposed to online hatred.
There is a strong overlap between anti-Muslim hate crime and violence against women (whether the women in question are cisgendered or transgendered). Sara Khan, Director of the Muslim women’s organisation Inspire, thinks that authorities should classify anti-Muslim attacks on women as a specific form of violence against women. In an interview with The Telegraph, she said, “There’s definitely a gender element to it, with racists thinking, ‘It’s OK because she’s a woman and won’t say anything or do anything.”
Further, there are many stereotypes about women who wear full face-veils. Among others, people assume that they will hold hyper-conservative views on a number of social issues. They are certainly not expected to be members of LGBTI communities. Spaces for trans individuals are limited in wider society at the best of times, but these are ameliorated by the effects of equality law.
The trickle-down effects will take longer to filter down to minority religious communities, as trans woman Layla Vallender discovered. A former Territorial Army soldier, she converted to Islam in September 2012, and started attending the Broad Street Mosque in Swindon. She alleged that mosque elders refused to let her pray in the women’s section, forcing her to pray with the men. Vallender’s case is a prime example of the discrimination that trans individuals face from within faith communities, as well as outside them.
What is the solution? Muslim organisations like LGBTI advocacy – IMAAN and the Inclusive Mosque Initiative are doing their best to create spaces for LGBTI Muslims to pray, discuss contentious issues, and socialise. However, there is no similar organisation to support LGBTI Muslims across Scotland; only a website and community forum called Al-Jannah, which doesn’t appear to be overly active. Until spaces for “minorities within minorities” expand, we can expect to see more unchallenged bigotry and hatred directed at individuals like the unnamed Scottish trans woman.