Standing Up Against Contemporary Islamophobia | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History & Ourselves
Picture of high school students smiling.

Standing Up Against Contemporary Islamophobia

Students reflect on the impact of Islamophobia on Muslims’ sense of belonging, consider what can be done to foster integration, and explore ways in which they and others can challenge Islamophobia.


This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.

At a Glance

lesson copy


English — UK


Two 50-min class periods
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement
  • Culture & Identity
  • Human & Civil Rights
  • Equity & Inclusion
  • Global Migration & Immigration
  • Propaganda
  • Racism
  • Resistance


About This Lesson

This is the fifth and final lesson in a unit designed to help teachers have conversations with their students about contemporary Islamophobia in a safe, sensitive and constructive way. Use these lessons to help your students reflect on Islamophobia – how it manifests in contemporary society and its impact – and consider what needs to be done to challenge it.

This two-part lesson is a means of helping students understand the impact that Islamophobia has on Muslims and on wider society, and of helping them reflect on what they can do to stand up against contemporary Islamophobia. In the first part of the lesson, students reflect on belonging, on how Islamophobia impacts Muslims’ sense of belonging, on approaches to integration and on how to create an inclusive national identity. Then, in the second part of the lesson, students focus on the act of upstanding, looking at specific Islamophobic incidents and considering what could have been done in response to them, as well as what can be done now to prevent future incidents from occurring. 

Reflecting on belonging, and the impact Islamophobia has on Muslims’ sense of belonging, is important: it helps students understand the psychological and emotional toll of Islamophobic acts and how they exclude Muslims. Furthermore, helping students consider approaches to integration and how to create a national community encourages reflection on how to make UK society more inclusive, so that everyone feels a sense of belonging and connection. Finally, highlighting how contemporary Islamophobia manifests in society and sharing examples of upstanding can mean that students are better equipped to know how to challenge it, in all its forms. 

Some of the content in this two-part lesson can be challenging for students. We recommend that you review your classroom contract and that you do preparatory work on discussing Islamophobia and Islamophobic tropes by teaching at least the first two lessons in the unit: Confronting Islamophobia and Exploring Islamophobic Tropes.

  • How is Islamophobia visible in the world today and what are its impacts?
  • How can we create an inclusive society in which everyone has a sense of belonging?
  • How can we stand up against Islamophobia?
  • Students will understand some of the ways in which Islamophobia manifests in society.
  • Students will reflect on how to create an inclusive and integrated society. 
  • Students will consider how to stand up against contemporary Islamophobia.

This lesson is designed to fit into two 50-min class periods and includes the following student materials:

  • 1 video
  • 2 handouts

As noted previously in this unit, the number of Islamophobic incidents recorded in the UK in recent years has been historically high. These incidents have taken the form of verbal and physical attacks, vandalism of property, abusive messages on social media platforms, and Islamophobic content in the mainstream media, in both news media and the entertainment industry. This prevalence of Islamophobia should be of concern to us all. 

Firstly, it has an enormous psychological and emotional toll on Muslims, making them feel less safe, impacting their sense of belonging and leading to long-term trauma. 

As Imran Awan, the academic and Islamophobia expert, and Irene Zempi, the academic and criminologist, explain, 

[T]here are distinct emotional effects associated with [being a victim of Islamophobic hate crime], including feelings of fear, insecurity, anxiety, vulnerability, isolation and depression. Given that they are targeted because of the ‘visibility’ of their Muslim identity … victims are unable to take comfort in the belief that what happened to them was simply random and ‘could have happened to anyone’. Rather, they are forced to view this abuse as an attack on their Muslim identity, and this has severe implications for their levels of confidence and self-esteem as well as their feelings of belonging and safety in the UK. 1

They continue,

As a result, some individuals might suffer from depression, eating disorders, sleep pattern disturbances including insomnia and nightmares, flashbacks, and memory lapses. The continual threat of abuse can be emotionally draining for victims, who not only relive past incidents but also feel the need to be constantly on the alert. 2  

Secondly, Islamophobia creates societal division, impacting integration and community cohesion. As Awan and Zempi explain, ‘the threat of being attacked, [means] many actual and potential victims choose to retreat to their “own” communities and as a result become reclusive’. 3 Not only does this impact the opportunities available to Muslims, it also, they continue, ‘isolates and excludes Muslims, thereby creating fear, resentment and mistrust of the “Muslim Other”’. 4 This separation furthers social division as it can mean Muslims and non-Muslims lose opportunities to share experiences and increase their understanding of each other. 

Finally, Islamophobia is deeply concerning as it is dangerous for democracy and makes society less safe for everyone. If Islamophobia is allowed to flourish unchallenged, it puts Muslim lives at risk, paves the way for oppression of other marginalised communities, and threatens the fabric of society. 

As Holocaust survivor Marian Turski notes, 

Democracy hinges on the rights of minorities being protected. 5

When minorities are attacked and denied rights, there is a tear in the social contract, which opens the doors for the rights of everyone to be called into question, for everybody’s rights to be at risk. 

Moreover, research by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) has shown that those who hold Islamophobic views are also more likely to support authoritarianism: not only do they support state policies that take rights away from Muslims, they are also, as Dalia Mogahed, the Research Director at the ISPU highlights, ‘more likely to approve of curtailing freedom of the press and suspension of checks and balances in the wake of a terrorist attack’. 6  

Mogahed goes on to explain that those holding Islamophobic views are also more likely to support ‘deliberate attacks on and killing of civilians by a military, considered a war crime, and also by a small group or an individual, usually called “terrorism”’. 7  

Islamophobia thus makes the world less safe for everyone and puts democracy at risk. The propensity for Islamophobia to lead to far-right terrorism is evident in the 2022 terrorist attack on the immigrant centre in Dover – the terrorist posted Islamophobic content online before he carried out the attack. 8 The risks are real. Far-right terrorism in the UK is on the rise, 9 while in the US far-right terror poses a bigger threat than Islamic extremism. 10  

Islamophobia must be challenged first and foremost because it harms Muslims and entire Muslim communities, leaving Muslims to live in fear and at risk of attack. Moreover, as highlighted above, when Islamophobia is left unchecked, there are additional consequences for everyone in society: it impacts community cohesion, and puts democracy and lives at risk.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this lesson, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

The sixth case study included in the Contemporary Islamophobia Case Studies handout used in Part 2 of the lesson contains racist and dehumanising language. While this language has not been printed in full, students will understand what terms are being referred to. We recommend you revisit your classroom contact to help students approach this material maturely, and that you prepare your students to discuss the material in a thoughtful and respectful manner. If helpful, please see our lesson on Addressing Racist and Dehumanising Language in our unit Discussing Race and Racism in the Classroom.

When discussing contemporary Islamophobia, the Israel-Palestine conflict is deeply relevant: any intensification in the Israel-Palestine conflict leads to an increase in Islamophobic attacks (the same is true when it comes to antisemitism). 1 In the Contemporary Islamophobia Case Studies explored in the second part of the lesson, there is an example of an Islamophobic attack linked to the conflict. If your students want to, or would benefit from discussing this conflict in further depth, please see our suggested approaches on Discussing the Israel-Palestine Conflict in the Classroom.

This lesson has two 50-minute parts. Part 1 considers the impact Islamophobia can have on Muslims’ sense of belonging and explores how to create an inclusive society. Part 2 then focuses on the act of upstanding and what students can do to challenge Islamophobia. While we encourage teachers to teach both parts, if you are pushed for time teaching this unit, then you might wish to skip to Part 2.

Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides. The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lesson plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching each lesson. The PowerPoints include basic content and student-facing prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.

Save this resource for easy access later.

Save resources to create collections for your class or to review later. It's fast, easy, and free!
Have a Workspace already? Log In

Lesson Plans

Activities: Part I

Explain to students that in this lesson they will be reflecting on the impact Islamophobia has on people’s sense of belonging and their ability to integrate into communities. First, ask them to respond in their journals to the following questions, letting them know that they will not be required to share any of their responses:

  • Think about a group you belong to and in which you feel a strong sense of belonging. It might be your family, a team, a faith community, a club, a classroom, an online community, or some other type of group.
    • How did you become a member of that group? 
    • What do you gain by belonging to that group? 
  • Have you ever been in a situation in which you have felt like you have not belonged, or in which you have been ‘othered’?
    • What was happening? 
    • How did the situation make you feel? 
    • What were the consequences? 

Before having volunteers share their ideas, acknowledge that it can be hard to share our ideas with others, and then model risk-taking by sharing something from your journal reflection with the class.

Explain to students that they will reflect on the impact that Islamophobia and Islamophobic hate crimes have on Muslims’ (and those perceived to be Muslim) sense of belonging. Share the following information with students, inviting them to discuss the questions using the Think, Pair, Share strategy: 

As Imran Awan, the academic and Islamophobia expert, and Irene Zempi, the academic and criminologist, explain, 

Given that they are targeted because of the ‘visibility’ of their Muslim identity … victims of [Islamophobic hate crimes] are unable to take comfort in the belief that what happened to them was simply random and ‘could have happened to anyone’. Rather, they are forced to view this abuse as an attack on their Muslim identity, and this has severe implications for their levels of confidence and self-esteem as well as their feelings of belonging and safety in the UK.

[Moreover,] hate crimes are ‘message crimes’ whereby a message of hate, terror and vulnerability is communicated to the victim’s broader community. … [I]ncidents of anti-Muslim hate crime send out a terroristic message to the wider Muslim community. [...] 

[A]nti-Muslim hate crime [also] affects wider society on the basis that it isolates and excludes Muslims, thereby creating fear, resentment and mistrust of the ‘Muslim Other’. The separation of communities based on this dichotomy promotes a situation where both Muslims and non-Muslims live in fear of each other, [...] [and] contributes to a lack of shared experiences, with little opportunity for the emergence of shared values. 1  

  1. How do Islamophobic hate crimes impact:
    • The victim?
    • The wider Muslim community? 
    • Society?
  2. How does Islamophobia impact community cohesion, which is often viewed as being rooted in a common sense of belonging and shared values? 
  3. Often when community cohesion is discussed, the onus is on the Muslim community to integrate. 
    • Why might Islamophobia make it difficult for Muslims to integrate? 
    • Whose responsibility is it to build a common sense of belonging and shared values?
  • 1Awan and Zempi, ‘Impacts of anti-Muslim Hate Crime’, pp. 37–8.

Explain to students that they will be reflecting on integration. Share the following text from Roots of the Future: Ethnic Diversity in the Making of Britain by Mayerlene Frow: 1

Ethnic diversity is nothing new in Britain. People with different histories, cultures, beliefs and languages have been coming here ever since the beginning of recorded time. Logically, therefore, everyone who lives in Britain is either an immigrant or a descendant of an immigrant. Most of us can probably trace the immigrants in our own personal histories if we go back far enough.

People have come to Britain for many different reasons: some came peacefully as settlers, others were hostile invaders. Thousands arrived as refugees from wars, famines, or civil and religious persecution in their own countries. Some were invited by the monarch or the government to settle here because they had particular skills that were in short supply in Britain. Some were brought here against their will, as slaves or as servants. Throughout the ages, Britain has been a magnet for those seeking a better life, in much the same way as Britons have emigrated, in large numbers, to other parts of the world. International movement has always been a normal part of life…

Then, explain that, despite this history, increasing levels of intolerance to migrants (often triggered by economic downturns) created community divisions in the face of increasing levels of migration in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It is therefore important to reflect on integration and on how to create communities in which everyone has a sense of belonging. 

Divide students into groups and distribute the handout Three Parables for Integration, asking students to read the text and then answer the following connection questions:  

  1. Sacks offers three parables as metaphors for types of integration. What is the moral he is trying to teach? 
  2. Have you been a guest at someone’s home? At a hotel? 
    • What is the difference between being a guest at someone's home and a guest at a hotel?
    • Do any of these models of integration represent how Muslims are treated in your community? 
  3. Why do you think Sacks advocates for the third parable, the home we build together
    • What does he see as the advantages of that model? 
  4. Why does Sacks believe the third model ‘won’t always be easy’?
    • Do you agree? 
    • What can be done either by host communities or newcomers to foster integration? 
  5. How do these parables relate to what you have learnt about Islamophobia? 
  6. What do you think can be done to foster greater community cohesion, often seen as a common sense of belonging and shared values? 
    • Whose responsibility is this?
    • What role can your school play?
    • What role can you play?
  • 1Mayerlene Frow, Roots of the Future: Ethnic Diversity in the Making of Britain (London: Commission for Racial Equality, 1997), p. 9.

Finally, ask students to journal on the following prompt: 

Nations, similar to individuals, have identities. Some people believe that those identities are derived from a shared language, ethnicity, or even pseudo-scientific ideas like ‘race’. Others point to common historical experiences. Sociologist Benedict Anderson believes a nation is 

‘an imagined political community. … It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives an image of their communion.’ 1

  1. What do you think can be done to create ‘an imagined political community’ in which everyone living in the UK feels a sense of belonging?
  2. What are the potential barriers to this? 

Invite some students to share their thoughts with the class.

  • 1Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London and New York: Verso, 1991), 577.

Activities: Part II

Explain to students that in this lesson they will be reflecting on contemporary Islamophobia, the impact that it has and what steps people can take to counter it. 

Share the following information with students:

Spikes in Islamophobia often occur after terrorist attacks in which misguided individuals harm others in the name of Islam. Despite the fact that these individuals are an extremist minority misappropriating Islam for their own political ends, Muslims around the world are targeted as a consequence. 

In Australia in 2014, when a gunman in possession of a flag referencing Islam held people hostage, Australians came together to prevent an Islamophobic backlash. People began wearing stickers and signs on their clothing and bags stating ‘I’ll ride with you’ and sharing the tag #illridewithyou to offer Muslims, who were fearful of being targeted by Islamophobic hate, company on public transport. This movement was sparked by a social media post shared by a train passenger, who explained she saw a woman remove her hijab, seemingly out of fear of being targeted, and subsequently offered to walk with her in solidarity.

In the space of four hours, 150,000 people had used the tag #illridewithyou to challenge Islamophobic bigotry and to offer companionship for Muslims who may have been hesitant to travel alone. 1  

  1. What does this example highlight about the power of small acts?
  2. What does it teach us about the role we all play in standing up against hate, bigotry and injustice? 
  3. Can you think of an act of solidarity that you have seen and/or experienced? What was it? What impact did it have?  

You might have students discuss their responses using the Think, Pair, Share strategy, or briefly hear a few students’ thoughts as a whole group. 

Explain to students that they will now watch a video about an Islamophobic attack on a school in Newcastle and learn a bit about the responses of the Muslim community attacked and other religious figures. This was the first attack on Bahr Academy of three that occurred in 2019. In the first two attacks, the school was vandalised, while in the last attack that year it was sent hate mail.

Play the video UK Islamophobia: Muslim School Vandalised

Then, discuss the following questions:

  1. How did the attack impact the Muslim community?
  2. What is the school principal Mufti Muhammad Abdulmuheet’s response towards the attackers?
  3. How do other faith leaders respond to the attack? 
    • What is powerful about this response? 
    • How do you think it made those attacked feel? 
  4. What does this example show about the power of integration? 

Inform students that Muslims are often repeat victims of Islamophobic hate crimes and that, in addition to potentially causing physical injury, this abuse takes an emotional toll, causing feelings of fear, insecurity, anxiety and vulnerability, among others. Moreover, the threat of a repeat attack also means victims might remain on constant alert.  1

Explain that they will now work in groups to reflect on ways that we as individuals and as a society can respond to Islamophobic incidents. Each group will be given a case study to read on an Islamophobic incident and will consider what could have been done after the incident to show solidarity with those attacked, and what could be done to prevent future such incidents occurring. Students may find some of the questions difficult as there is no quick fix to Islamophobia, but reflecting on what steps can be taken in order to tackle this hatred can help students understand what it takes to be an upstander, and how we can collectively build a more caring and compassionate society. 

Divide students into groups of four or five and give each group one of the case studies from the handout Contemporary Islamophobia Case Studies

After students have finished discussing the case studies in their groups, invite each group to share the summary of their case study. Then, discuss the following questions as a class:

  1. Is there anything that you found particularly surprising or troubling in the content you read and/or the summaries you heard?
  2. How do you think acts of hate, such as targeted verbal abuse, graffiti or trolling, impact communities? 
    • How could they make it more likely that people will commit violent acts?
  3. How can people challenge Islamophobia? What steps can they take to show that they do not tolerate such prejudice, hate and division on the streets and online?
  4. What did reflecting on how we can respond to Islamophobic incidents teach you about the acts of upstanding and of showing solidarity with those who are discriminated against? 
  • 1Awan and Zempi, ‘Impacts of anti-Muslim Hate Crime’, p. 37.

Ask students to journal in response to the following questions:

  1. What is one of your key takeaways from having studied this unit on contemporary Islamophobia?
  2. What do you think you can do personally to challenge Islamophobia?

If there is time, you might invite some students to share their responses from one or both of the questions with the class. 

Extension Activities

To help students understand how else contemporary Islamophobia manifests, share one of the following resources: 

After having discussed the resource(s), have students complete a Connect, Extend, Challenge activity.

Distribute the handout A Mosque in Clitheroe to students. After students have read it, ask them to discuss the connection questions. You might then also ask them to consider how this case study relates to the content they have learnt in the unit. 

Please note, this case study contains an instance of racist and dehumanising language. Please review it before you decide to share it with students. 

Materials and Downloads

Resources from Other Organisations

These are the resources from external sources used in this lesson’s activities. 

You might also be interested in…

Unlimited Access to Learning. More Added Every Month.

Facing History & Ourselves is designed for educators who want to help students explore identity, think critically, grow emotionally, act ethically, and participate in civic life. It’s hard work, so we’ve developed some go-to professional learning opportunities to help you along the way.

Most teachers are willing to tackle the difficult topics, but we need the tools.
— Gabriela Calderon-Espinal, Bay Shore, NY