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‘Institutional racism is something you cannot escape’: Azeem Rafiq testimony resonates with British Muslims

As Azeem Rafiq opens up about institutional racism in cricket, British Muslims say his experiences resonate with their own.

Former cricket player Azeem Rafiq broke down in tears on Tuesday during his powerful testimony speaking about experiences of racism at Yorkshire Cricket Club.

Speaking at a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport inquiry, Rafiq agreed with the sentiment that English cricket is “institutionally racist” and made shocking revelations that he and other Asian players were consistently addressed as “p***” and “elephant washers”. As a result of his experiences, Rafiq believes he “lost [his] career to racism”.

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The most chilling claim Rafiq made was that his teammates pinned him down and poured red wine down his throat when he was just 15.

Following his testimony, Rafiq told the BBC: “It’s really important the wider society listens to my experiences and we don’t let this moment go and we try to use this as a watershed moment for the future.”

The cricketer’s testimony has prompted widespread outrage across the country, but specifically amongst British Muslims who say they share his experiences of institutional racism and discrimination.

“I just saw lots of parallels to what I encountered in my last job,” said Fahad, 32, after watching Rafiq’s testimony. “It’s [a feeling of] sadness. But I’m glad someone like him managed to take it to a stage where people do start asking questions and getting answers. That’s one side of it, and the other side is disappointment … it brings up those feelings again.”

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“It was surprising to hear publicly, but the experiences he encountered were similar to what I’ve been through, things that I saw my dad go through,” Um E Aymen, 23, told The Big Issue. “It was a trigger for past memories … especially the incident [about having] red wine poured down his throat. I remember when I used to live in Derby, my dad had beer thrown at him by racists and would constantly get called ‘p***’.  It was just like listening to my dad speak.”

“The testimony made me sad and emotional,” added Huda, 24. “It reminded me of when I was bullied in my previous workplace. I felt very isolated and verbally abused. The constant stereotypes I received because of my headscarf took a toll on me.”

The three British Muslims also opened up to The Big Issue about racial discrimination they have faced in their own lives.

Fahad said: “I have recently left a job after being racially abused over a number of months. In my last role I was the marketing manager and the only person of colour in a managerial position. The same sort of thing that happened to Azeem [resonates] with me, such as the name calling.”

Fahad said he was repeatedly called “Rishi”, a reference to Chancellor Rishi Sunak. “When I raised to senior management it was passed off as banter,” he added.

“When doing my master’s degree, I had an incident where one of the guys in my college called me ‘p***’. When I reported it to the college no action was taken,” said Um E Aymen. “The whole committee was just white men who smirked and didn’t take it seriously. And they were like, ‘Wow, this is the first time it’s ever happened.’ It was completely ridiculous. This is not the first time someone has had a racist incident, and it’s also not the first time it has been reported.”

Huda said: “As a Black Muslim woman, institutional racism is something you cannot escape. In healthcare settings, the ‘strong black woman’ narrative is utilised to underplay my illness. When on public transport, people move to the next seat and it becomes scary to stand close to [the edge of] train platforms. You do not know what microaggression to expect in your workplace, the rude stares from police … it’s a never-ending list. You become numb to it.” 

Rafiq’s testimony has heightened public discourse around the issue of institutional racism and Islamophobia, and the three British Muslims feel there are lots of lessons people can take away from his ordeal.

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“It’s not okay to pass it off as banter. I think that is the biggest thing I can say,” said Fahad.

“One thing particularly with the Azeem Rafiq case is how intertwined Islamophobia is with racism. My mum wears a burqa and a hijab. When I was younger, two white men tried to rip off her burqa. I am a child seeing that—that is racism and islamophobia at the same time. Azeem Rafiq would not have had red wine forced down his throat if he was non-Muslim. That action happened because of Islamophobia and racism,” said Um E Aymen.

Huda said discrimination can also exist within minority communities. “I believe Muslims have it worse than non-Muslim people of colour. As Islam is often associated with suicide bombers and terrorists, Muslim women suffer because of this stereotype. As a Black Muslim, I have experienced isolation from Black communities, in addition to non-Muslims and people of colour.”

Following Rafiq’s testimony, over 1,000 people have come forward to report discrimination in cricket to the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC).

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