Understanding Gendered Islamophobia | Facing History & Ourselves
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Understanding Gendered Islamophobia

Students learn how Islamophobia intersects with misogyny and the impact that this has on the treatment of Muslim women.


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 fourth 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.

In this lesson, students explore what gendered Islamophobia is and how it manifests. In the first part of the lesson, students reflect on identity; learn about intersectionality; and discuss gendered Islamophobia case studies to better understand how Islamophobia impacts women. In the second part of the lesson, students reflect on and discuss clothing and choice; consider how the religious clothing Muslim women wear is portrayed as oppressive; and read Muslim women’s views of religious clothing, before completing an Exit Card capturing how the lesson has impacted their thoughts and feelings. 

Giving students the opportunity to reflect on identity is an important step before introducing students to intersectionality, which highlights how people’s different social identities can mean they experience several forms of discrimination simultaneously. Learning about intersectionality can help students understand how Muslim women are targeted in different ways from Muslim men: they can experience gender oppression, in addition to religious and racial oppression. Furthermore, sharing relevant case studies helps students see how gendered Islamophobia manifests and the human impact of such discrimination. 

Moreover, inviting students to reflect on clothing and choice is a useful way of helping them connect with the importance of allowing people to choose what they wear and critically consider the problematic way in which Muslim women are targeted on account of religious clothing; hearing from Muslim women about their views on religious clothing highlights the diversity within the Muslim community and, importantly, foregrounds the voices of Muslim women, who are often excluded from debates on religious clothing; and giving students the chance to complete an Exit Card allows teachers to learn about how the content of the lesson has impacted them.  

We recommend that you do preparatory work on discussing Islamophobia and Islamophobic tropes by teaching at least the first two lessons Confronting Islamophobia and Exploring Islamophobic Tropes if you have not already done so.  

We also recommend that you revisit your classroom contract before teaching this lesson. If you do not have a class contract, you can use our contracting guidelines for creating a classroom contract or another procedure you have used in the past.

  • What is identity and what is intersectionality?
  • What is gendered Islamophobia and how does it manifest? 
  • What are Muslim women’s views on religious clothing?
  • Students will learn what intersectionality is.
  • Students will understand how Muslim women are targeted by Islamophobia. 
  • Students will explore Muslim women’s views on religious clothing.

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

  • 2 videos
  • 4 handouts
  • 1 classroom-ready PowerPoint

In the UK, Muslim women (and women perceived as Muslim) face disproportionate levels of discrimination due to their intersecting social identities and the related systems of oppression: they can be discriminated against on account of gender, ethnicity and/or religion. This discrimination impacts their daily lives and opportunities. In the world of work, for example, one in eight Pakistani women are asked about marriage and family aspirations in job interviews compared to one in thirty white women, 1 while 50% of women wearing the hijab feel they have ‘missed out on progression opportunities because of religious discrimination’. 2 They also face more street harassment: in 2018, Muslim women were targeted in 58% of Islamophobic incidents. 3 The verbal and physical violence women face includes insults, being spat at and/or having their hijab pulled off. 

Muslim women are also targeted on account of the Islamophobic tropes in circulation. One of the most common tropes in circulation alleges that Muslim women are oppressed, need to be protected from Muslim men, and that Islam is a uniquely misogynistic and patriarchal religion. Tied into this trope is also the belief that Muslim women are submissive. While these ideas are not new – they have been in circulation since the emergence of Islam in the seventh century – the increased animosity towards Muslims and Islam, combined with constant media coverage and the widespread use of social media, means these ideas have gained further reach and prominence. 

Moreover, in recent decades, many people have seized upon society’s greater awareness of gender discrimination and of feminism to critique Islam, attacking the religion in the name of gender inequality. As the lecturer and writer Naaz Rashid notes, ‘[e]veryone is a feminist when it comes to Muslim women’. 4

Rashid further explains, 

The issue of gender rights notably brings together Islamophobia from across the political spectrum, including both its far-right and its liberal forms. Liberal Islamophobia assumes that Muslim communities and ‘culture’ are inherently against certain liberal values (which are frequently seen as the exclusive preserve of the ‘west’) such as democracy, human rights, free speech, and gender and sexual equality. This narrative is also reflected in far-right anti-Islam sentiments. 5

In the present day, a key part of the narrative concerning gendered oppression in Islam revolves around what women wear, notably the use of garments that include face veils, such as the niqab or the burqa, and head coverings, such as the hijab. These garments are seen as evidence that women are oppressed and/or submissive and, to some people, are symbols that Islam is a patriarchal and backward religion. 

These religious garments are also regarded as evidence of the danger that Islam poses to Western society, both fuelling and feeding off the Islamophobic tropes that allege Muslims are trying to take over the West and trigger its Islamisation, and that Islam is culturally incompatible with liberal Western democracies. 

As outlined in the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims’ report Islamophobia Defined: The inquiry into a working definition of Islamophobia,

Muslim women are feared, and seen as the ‘enemy within’ because they are viewed as not in [line] with the western ideal of womanhood (Perry: 2014). Here, the symbolism of the veil (hijab and/or niqab) is crucial, as it is not only taken as a sign of submissiveness but also as a sign of Islamic aggression (Perry: 2014). Covered women are thus represented as ‘agents’ of terrorism (Perry: 2014) and as warrior terrorists alongside male counterparts who are ready to wage war on the West (Perry: 2014). 6

Women in these garments are subsequently depicted, and viewed, as a threat, while, somewhat contradictorily, being viewed as women who need to be saved. 

As the European Network Against Racism (ENAR)’s report Forgotten Women: The Impact of Islamophobia on Muslim Women highlights

Media and public opinion often express stereotypical views of Muslim women, often depicted through a binary representation – oppressed or dangerous –, and do not consider Muslim women as active agents. News stories either refer to violations of women’s rights or use their image, especially when wearing religious clothing, to illustrate views framing Islam as a problem. 7

Often, stories about Muslims or Islam are accompanied by images of women wearing a full-face veil, whether such images are relevant or not. Images of Muslim women in religious clothing are also used for negative news stories, which was particularly evident at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 8 The overuse of such images reinforces the trope that alleges Islam oppresses women in the minds of non-Muslims and singles out Muslims as different, ‘other’ and a group to be feared. 

As Đermana Šeta, European research team coordinator for ENAR’s Forgotten Women project, notes, the negative attention Muslim women receive ‘contributes to creating a fertile ground for discriminatory practices and violence on the ground’. 9  

Teaching students about the role that gender discrimination plays in the treatment of Muslim women and how Muslim women are targeted on account of their religious dress can help both tackle gender discrimination and challenge the limited views of Islamic dress in society. 

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

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

The Gendered Islamophobia Case Studies (Versions One and Two) used in Part 1 of the lesson contain racist, misogynistic 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

There are two versions of these case study collections. In the first version, some racial and misogynistic slurs have been removed from Case Study 3: Layla’s story. While we do not want to sanitise the gendered Islamophobia Muslim women face, the decision to include two versions was made to support teachers in adapting the content to the needs/age/maturity of their students. Please review both sets to decide which version is appropriate for your students.

This lesson has two 50-minute parts. Part 1 teaches students about intersectionality and gendered Islamophobia, while Part 2 explores how the Islamophobic trope that alleges Islam oppresses women is often focused on the religious clothing of Muslim women. While we encourage teachers to teach both parts, if you are pushed for time teaching this unit, then you might wish to teach only Part 1.

Intersectionality describes the way in which social identities (e.g. gender, race, sexual orientation, disability and class) and related systems of oppression overlap or ‘intersect’ in a way that means people experience discrimination on multiple levels. 

Add this term to your Word Wall, if you are using one for this unit, and provide necessary support to help students learn these words as you teach the lesson.

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.

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Lesson Plans

Activities: Part I

Explain to students that today they will be learning about gendered Islamophobia: Islamophobia that targets women. In the UK, the majority of victims of street-based hate crimes against Muslims are women. To begin, they will reflect on identity as a means of better understanding the unique discrimination Muslim women experience and how it is connected to different aspects of their identity.

Ask students to choose one or more of the following prompts to explore in a journal reflection: 

  1. What is identity?
  2. What different factors make people who they are? 

Then, lead a short class discussion capturing students’ ideas on the board. You might choose to do a mind map for ‘identity’, collecting all the different factors that make people who they are. If helpful, highlight the following factors: 

  • Religious/spiritual affiliation
  • Culture, race, or ethnicity
  • Appearance/style
  • Language or nationality
  • Hobbies/interests
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Beliefs and values
  • Group/organisation/community membership
  • Personality traits
  • Place
  • Socio-economic class
  • Work

Next, invite students to do a private journal reflection in response to the following questions: 

  1. ​​Note down 7–10 features of your identity.
  2. What parts of your identity do you choose for yourself?
    • What parts of your identity are determined for you by other people or by society?
  3. Have you ever been expected to behave a certain way and/or been treated differently due to aspects of your identity? 
    • What happened? 
    • How did the situation make you feel? 

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.

As this topic is potentially sensitive for some students, reiterate that they do not need to share it if they do not want to do so.

Inform students that they will explore a concept called intersectionality to help them understand why women are more likely to be the victims of Islamophobia. Show students from 4:54 to 11:33 of professor, scholar and writer Kimberlé Crenshaw’s TED talk The Urgency of Intersectionality, inviting them to reflect on the following questions as they watch the talk excerpt: 

  1. Why did Kimberlé Crenshaw coin the term intersectionality?
  2. What does intersectionality mean? 
  3. What different systems of oppression are there in society that can intersect?
  4. Do you find the metaphor of the intersection helpful? Why or why not?

After students have watched the video, lead a short class discussion and then share the following definition of intersectionality, inviting students to write it into their books:

Intersectionality describes the way in which social identities (e.g. gender, race, sexual orientation, disability and class) and related systems of oppression overlap or ‘intersect’ in a way that means people experience discrimination on multiple levels.

Explain to students that gendered Islamophobia is Islamophobia that targets women, impacting how they are treated in the UK. In the world of work, for example, one in eight Pakistani women are asked about marriage and family aspirations in job interviews compared to one in thirty white women, 1 while 50% of women wearing the hijab feel they have ‘missed out on progression opportunities because of religious discrimination’. 2 In 2018, Muslim women were targeted in 58% of Islamophobic incidents. 3 In the street, the verbal and physical violence women face includes insults, being spat at or having their hijab pulled off. Muslim women can be discriminated against as a consequence of their gender, ethnicity and religion. 

Inform students they will be learning more about how Islamophobia impacts women by reading some case studies. Divide students into groups and distribute your chosen version of the handout The Gendered Islamophobia Case Studies (Versions One and Two) asking students to read the text and answer the accompanying connection questions. There are three case studies, so some groups will need to have the same case studies.

Finally, lead a short class discussion using the following questions as prompts: 

  1. What overlapping social identities intersect in each of the case studies? 
  2. How do these social identities impact the treatment and opportunities of the women?
    • Which systems of oppression do they link to? 
  3. Which, if any, Islamophobic tropes are referred to by the perpetrators?  
  4. How does the content of these case studies make you think/feel?

Next, ask students to reflect on the following questions: 

  1. What is intersectionality? 
  2. Which different oppressions might intersect when it comes to Muslim women? 
  3. Why is it important to keep intersectionality in mind when reflecting on an individual’s experiences of oppression?
  4. What can be done to tackle gendered Islamophobia? 

If there is time, field answers from the class or check their responses in their books after the lesson to check for understanding.

Activities: Part II

Inform students that a large amount of gendered Islamophobia revolves around religious dress, and that before exploring this in further depth, they will reflect on clothing and choice. Distribute the handout Clothing and Choice: Anticipation Guide or project the following prompts on the board (it is worth asking students to think beyond school uniform, so that this does not become their sole focus): 

  1. Complete the following sentence: ‘An item of clothing that is important to me is … because ...’
  2. On a scale of 1–5, 1 being strongly agree and 5 strongly disagree, how far do you agree with the following statements? 
    • There should be laws on what clothes people can and cannot wear. 
    • Clothes are an important form of self-expression. 
    • People are responsible for other people’s responses to the clothes they wear. 
    • People are not defined by the clothes they wear.
    • Feminine presenting people face more criticism for their clothing choices than masculine presenting people.
  3. Choose one or two statements and explain your view. 

Lead a short class discussion, inviting students to share their responses with the class. Alternatively, you may choose to allow students to share their views on some of the statements using the Barometer teaching strategy or the Four Corners teaching strategy, inviting students to take a position in the room according to how far they agree with a chosen statement. You can then ask students to explain why they have stood where they have. Please note, this will require advance preparation as you will need to make signs labelling different parts of the room to represent different levels of agreement (i.e. strongly agree/strongly disagree). 

Debrief the activity with the class by facilitating a whole-group discussion based on the following questions:

  1. On which statements was there the most agreement/disagreement in the class?
  2. What did the responses suggest about clothing and choice? 
  3. What did the responses suggest about how people respond to the clothes of others? 
  4. What did the responses suggest about how different genders are treated?

Explain to students that in the West, the Islamophobic trope that alleges women in Islam are oppressed is often related to what women wear. To explore this further, show students the Get the Trolls Out! video Islamophobic Narratives: Oppression of Women.

Once students have watched the video, ask them to discuss the following questions in pairs before inviting some students to share their responses with the class: 

  1. How does the media present the religious clothing of Muslim women?
    • What are the dangers of such representations? 
    • What narratives do they fuel?  
  2. How does creating laws on what women cannot wear impact them? 
  3. Why is it important to hear from Muslim women about religious clothing?
  4. What stories about Muslim women are often missing from the media/history lessons? 
    • What impact might this absence have on people’s impressions of Muslim women?

Explain to students that women are often targeted on account of the clothes they wear. As the Pew Research Center highlights, ‘[r]eligious restrictions around the world often target women, who in many countries face censure because their clothing is considered too religious – or not religious enough’. 1 Women’s religious head coverings are regulated in sixty-one countries. 2 This regulation, depending on the country, controls women on what they can wear or what they cannot wear. In France, it is illegal to wear face coverings anywhere, burkinis in public pools and hijabs in educational institutions; 3 in one state in India, it is illegal to wear hijabs in schools; 4 while in Iran, all women are required by law to wear a head covering; 5 and in Afghanistan, all women are required by law to wear a burqa. 6

These laws that dictate what women can and cannot wear often ignore the voices of Muslim women. Their voices are also regularly left out of debates on the topic. 

Explain to students that they will now read texts outlining some Muslim women’s different perspectives on religious clothing. Divide students into groups and distribute the excerpt collections between groups from the handout Muslim Women’s Views on Religious Clothing. Ask students to read the excerpts and then answer the following questions: 

  1. In the article excerpts, what reasons do women give for wearing religious clothing? 
    • For not wearing religious clothing? 
  2. What does the diversity of views highlight about Muslim women and their relationship to Islam?
  3. How are the writers’ choices connected to gender? 
  4. How, if at all, has hearing directly from Muslim women shaped/changed your view on religious clothing? 
  5. Why is it important that women have the right to choose what they wear? 
    • Why does limiting women’s choices erode their rights?

After students have finished discussing the questions, invite students from different groups to share their responses with the class.

Finally, you might wish to give your students an opportunity to privately share their thoughts on the content covered in the lesson in an Exit Card

  1. I came in thinking/feeling …
  2. I am leaving thinking/feeling ...

Collect in the Exit Cards to check how the lesson content has impacted students’ thoughts and feelings. 

Extension Activities

Writers please insert teacher-facing instructions for this activity here.At the root of intersectionality is an understanding that different social identities can overlap and lead to unique forms of discrimination. To help students further connect with the concept of identity, ask students to complete an identity chart in their books (or using the Starburst Identity Chart handout). Encourage them to think about both the way they view themselves (signalling this with arrows pointing away from their name) and how others might view them (signalling this with arrows pointing towards their name).

After students have spent at least five minutes completing their identity charts, encourage them to share the elements of their identity charts that they feel comfortable sharing with a partner. They do not need to show their partners their charts; they can keep it hidden and talk about it. One student should share their chart for two minutes, while the other student actively listens, and then they should switch around.

Introduce students to the perspectives of more Muslim women by sharing some or all of the following resources: 

On Gender:

On Religious Clothing:

After students have engaged with the resource(s), encourage them to reflect on what they have learnt using the Connect, Extend, Challenge teaching strategy. 

To help students learn more about violence against women and gender inequality in the UK, share the content in Activity 4 of our lesson Responding to Violence Against Women and Gender Inequality in the UK.

To help students learn more about laws concerning Muslim women’s clothing around the world and the 2022 protests in Iran, consider sharing one or more of the following articles:

Materials and Downloads

Resources from Other Organisations

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

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