How do people cope with this kind of discrimination?

Hyokki: During my research I noticed that many of my interviewees were very resilient. I started off with the idea that Islamophobia has a hugely negative impact on convertsʹ lives and that they were suffering. But some like to regard it as a test by God – a lesson in patience. They would ask: what ways are there of dealing with discriminatory behaviour other than aggression? Can I beat people with arguments? Instead of buying into the passive victim role, I have found that Muslims in Finland are ready to speak up about the injustices they face.

How do you regard the discussions on headscarves and veiling that are now so prevalent in many European countries?

Hyokki: Iʹll fight for the right of anybody to wear what they want. For me, the whole debate smacks of double standards: on the one hand, individualism is always propagated as the cultural norm: "Be yourself!" On the other hand, society seems unable to cope with a handful of veiled women. During the last century it was the punks.

At the end of the day, all we are talking about is how people dress. Associate it with religion and it suddenly becomes a problem. Take another example: the right to polygamy in Islam is regarded as highly controversial. But talk about the modern lifestyle concept of "polyamory" and people seem more inclined to accept it. The moment you do something for religious reasons it becomes a problem. Europe has a problem with religion.

Critics of Islam often argue that Muslims reject any kind of critique of Islam as Islamophobia. What do you say to that?

Hyokki: There is a fine line here. When you criticise something, you need to be in a dialogue. You are in a discussion where you respect the other. But when you use defamatory language or you dehumanise the other, that is not criticism anymore. Everyone is welcome to criticise and question something. But criticism should also come with an openness to receive answers or explanations from the other side, while possibly accepting the other side, or even revising your opinion in the end.

What are some ways of countering Islamophobia?

Hyokki: Countering Islamophobia is a two-way street. Muslim communities can do something about it, but non-Muslim communities have to do something. There is a difference here. As a Muslim I donʹt need to go to the street and ask people “Would you like to hear about Islam?” Sure, anyone who is curious can come up and ask me. But the truth is that there will always be some people who are not interested and donʹt want to learn. They will always say that we as Muslims are not doing enough.

In terms of education in schools, Islamophobia needs to be taken seriously as a form of racism and needs to be integrated into the syllabus. We need to teach students that there is a link between Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination such as anti-Semitism, Eurocentrism and racism. At a legal level many European states have not yet recognised Islamophobia as something against which legal action needs to be taken. Official recognition would make it easier for police to handle cases of hate crimes, for instance.

How do you think your research can contribute to combatting Islamophobia?

Hyokki: I see my role as an academic in disturbing the common narrative. I try to combine my academic endeavours with social activism. I try to give back to the Muslim community and see myself as  a critical researcher. I am accountable to the people I conduct research on. I want to present the nuances that exist. Although I currently live in Turkey, I am in touch with the Muslim Student Network in Finland. I try to speak up wherever possible, at conferences, discussions and podia. My dream is for my country to be an inclusive place for everyone. Citizenship and belonging should not be determined by your religion, ethnicity or gender.

Interview conducted by Marian Brehmer

© Qantara.de 2018

Linda Hyokki is a research associate at the Centre for Islam and Global Affairs and a PhD candidate at the Alliance of Civilisations Institute.

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