Members of the British Muslim community have warned that the murder of a Saudi student in Britain has sparked fears that hate crime is on the rise amid ‘widespread’ Islamophobia in the UK.
“In recent months and weeks, an increasing number of Muslim women have been targeted in hate crimes,” Talha Ahmad, chair of the membership committee at the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), told Al Arabiya News.
“People are understandably very nervous and anxious… It has caused major concern.”
Nahid al-Manea, who was 31 years old and studying at the University of Essex, died after being stabbed 16 times in Colchester, Essex.
Al-Manea was wearing a hijab and a full-length navy blue robe, called an abaya, when she was knifed to death on a footpath in Colchester on Tuesday morning.
She suffered severe facial injuries and stab wounds to her body and died at the scene from injuries to her head and body, said police.
The victim, who was on her way to university, arrived in Britain several months ago with her younger brother to study at Essex University, according to a fellow student.
The murder of al-Manea, a terrible crime, was not the only indication of a rise of anti-Muslim sentiments in the UK.
According to the MCB’s official, he has received reports of Muslim men and women being attacked, their houses being vandalized, and even of pigs’ heads being left outside front doors.
These attacks were seen as a direct result of the rise of anti-Muslim dialogue by far-right extremist group Britain First, which has reportedly staged a series of mosque invasions in the UK, and right-wing, anti-immigration UK Independence Party (UKIP) which has also gained support among British voters.
“Violence towards Muslims has been quite common over recent months,” Ahmad said.
“If you live in Britain these days, you can’t escape the reality that Islamophobia is quite rife.”
A similar opinion was shared by Dr. Sheikh Ramzy, director of the Oxford Islamic Information Centre.
“In general, there is a rise in Islamophobia… They call you names, they say ‘go back to your countries’,” he said.
“Hate crimes are on the rise as well.”
Citing flaring anti-Muslim sentiments, Muslim leaders have noted that the murder was apparently motivated by the Islamic attire the victim donned.
The Muslim Council of Britain’s Talha Ahmad said the murder “has all the hallmarks” of a hate crime.
“All the media reports so far suggest she was targeted for her Islamic dress,” he said.
“She appears to be the first casualty of the latest round of demonization of Muslims and Islam.”
Dr. Shuja Shafi, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain said in a statement that the murder was “absolutely shocking”.
“With the current hostile atmosphere against Muslims in certain parts of our national conversation, there is a heightened fear that this murder may have been motivated by anti-Muslim hatred,” he said.
“This was underscored by a recent report which suggested that Muslim women are repeated victims of anti-Muslim hate. While this fear is understandable, we must allow the police investigation to run its course.”
On social media, reactions to the murder have blasted far-right groups in the UK.
“#BritainFirst are another group that contribute towards the rampant Islamophobia that is literally killing people,” wrote UK-based Twitter user @UncolonisedMind.
“Muslims are blamed for the ‘radicalising’ of Lee Rigby's killers so Golding of @BritainFirst should be held responsible for Nahid's death,” wrote another user, referring respectively to the slaying of British solider Lee Rigby by Islamist extremists in 2013, and Paul Golding, chairman of Britain First.
“Muslim Student Murdered In Essex Came To Britain To Learn English… can we NOW talk about risks of normalising racism?,” wrote @sunnysingh_nw3
Muslim political commentator Ed Husain, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), caused a row on Twitter for suggesting people should “rethink” wearing the hijab because of such attacks.
He later deleted the tweet, but campaigners said his remarks amounted to “victim blaming”, the Huffington Post reported.
Britain is home to a Muslim community of nearly 2.7 million.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
Police data shows that 1,200 anti-Muslim attacks were reported in Britain in 2010.
A Financial Times opinion poll showed that Britain is the most suspicious nation about Muslims.
A poll of the Evening Standard found that a sizable section of London residents harbor negative opinions about Muslims.