With rising anti-Muslim prejudice, British Muslim communities want to make sure that politicians take their concerns seriously.
With the UK general election just weeks away, British Muslims and other minority groups are mobilising to ensure their communities cast their ballots.
While far from a monolithic voter block, Britain’s Muslim population of more than 2.6 million people is a considerable electoral force.
Once concentrated in urban working-class areas, where the Labour party was the dominant force, improving economic prospects mean Muslims are increasingly visible in more affluent areas and are distributed more evenly across the country.
Many in the community hope that with the mere act of taking part in the election, irrespective of who they vote for, they will force politicians to take their concerns seriously.
Shamiul Joarder, who is the head of public affairs at rights group Friends of Al Aqsa, is helping to mobilise the British Muslim vote on issues, such as how politicians aim to tackle problems like anti-Muslim hatred and other forms of racism, as well as their stance on issues affecting Muslims internationally.
According to Joarder it is crucial that British Muslims and other minorities vote for those who have their interests at heart.
“We have been reminding people they will need to vote for a person who will represent their views on important issues that will impact on themselves as well as their friends and family,” he told TRT World.
“Issues like healthcare, challenging Islamophobia and racism, education fees, accountable policing and a just foreign policy on Palestine, Kashmir, the Uyghurs and Rohingya will all be influenced by their participation,” Joarder added.
Rising anti-Muslim sentiment
The upcoming election comes amid widespread distrust among Muslims both within government and the public.
A February 2019 survey found that one in three Britons saw Islam as a threat to British values and those sentiments come coupled with a large rise in anti-Muslim violence. After the Christchurch terror attack, for example, there was a 600 percent rise in violent attacks against Muslims.
Media coverage of Islam is also overwhelmingly negative according to studies, and leading politicians have in the past made comments targeting Muslims.
You can see the exact point that Stormzy asked people to register to vote and vote Labour on the government voter registration site pic.twitter.com/gTpxvK440i— Bloonface says vote Labour 🌹 (@bloonface) November 25, 2019
In 2018, now-Prime Minister Boris Johnson caused a media storm when he compared Muslim women wearing the face veil to postal boxes.
Joarder said that despite the difficulties they face in day to day life, minority groups such as Muslims, were not fully exercising their electoral potential.
“Over one million potential voters from the BAME (Black, Asian, Minority, Ethnic) community did not vote in the last general election,” he said.
“Current data suggests only 66 percent of 18 and 19-year-olds are registered to vote compared to over 94 percent of over 65s and only one in four Asian and black people are registered to vote.”
Activists are trying to ensure that changes by taking matters into their own hands. Using the slogan “#TakeThePower” Joarder and his team have been present outside mosques and in town centres with iPads in hand to get people to register to vote.
Their impact could be massive as Muslims communities make up a significant proportion of the population in 40 out of 50 closely contested constituencies.
On November 22 or ‘National Voter Registration Day’, Joarder’s activists along with others like them across the country ensured more than 300,000 people registered to vote.
Singers and celebrities have also been crucial in ensuring younger voters take to the polls.
After the rapper Stormzy endorsed the Labour party and called on young people to register to vote, more than 350,000 people did so.
Young people, like student Yasmine, told TRT World that many are coming to the conclusion that by not voting, they are passing on the responsibility for the decisions that affect their lives to those who may not have their best interests at heart.
“For my generation, it is the decisions that are made today that will affect the rest of our lives, and so it falls on us to engage and make sure our politicians hear our views and voice our concerns,” she said.
“Our individual votes do make a difference and my aim was to make sure we all know the importance of taking part in this general election.
“This will be the most important general election in decades and we need to ensure everyone is ready to cast their vote.”