As part of Islamophobia Awareness Month #IAM2016 , an audience gathered at Leeds Grand Mosque on Sunday 27th November for an afternoon of solidarity, inspiration and a commitment to tackling Islamophobia.
Speaking on the panel was Assistant Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, Angela Williams; member of the Youth Parliament in Leeds (YMP), Muzdalfa Ahmed; and Labour MP for Leeds East, Richard Burgon.
Members of the audience and other speakers gave examples of Islamophobic abuse or attacks that they had suffered.
Mr Burgon told the Asian Express: “I’ve done a lot of work in the past with Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) and it was an event they had organised to raise awareness of Islamophobia.
“I was approached to be a guest speaker at the event and I’m always happy to support any initiative that is combating racism and discrimination.”
He said it was a ‘good opportunity for people to get together’ and share their experiences.
“We need to recognise there’s a problem with Islamophobia if we’re to tackle and defeat that problem,” he added.
“My message was that Islamophobia, racism and anti-Semitism is completely unacceptable and we need to understand the roots of these things.
“When people are going through great economic insecurity and great economic uncertainty; when they’re wondering about opportunities for their children and the lack of housing and lack of jobs, and public services are struggling due to underfunding; often right-wing newspapers can persuade them the reasons for this aren’t down to the decisions from the government but can be blamed on people of a different religion or faith.
“We have to explain that this is simply not the case. I also believe that Islamophobia is peddled in order to justify or gain support for international policies that aren’t helping people around the world or here in this country either.”
Richard added that he was ‘very impressed’ with one of his fellow panellists -a sixth form student called Muzdelfa Ahmed from Roundhay School.
“She spoke inspirationally,” Mr Burgon added. “She said people shouldn’t be dismissed and dismiss or generalise people who voted to leave the EU or who voted for Donald Trump.
“She said you have to understand the economic insecurity people are feeling and I thought it was very impressive that such a young person had the courage and insight to say that.”
Muzdalfa spoke to a hushed audience and said: “To tackle Islamophobia, we need to continue to foster the idea of inclusiveness.
“And it begins with education and understanding to not fear differences but to embrace them; to celebrate diversity instead of ignoring it. This will only come when [we] engage people on a social and community level. It is time to take that ladder and turn it into a bridge.”