Britain’s Muslim Takeaway Workers Are Suffering Islamophobic Attacks
Shortly after the Paris terrorist attacks, takeaway owner Mohammed Khalid was beaten outside his shop in Glasgow. He’s far from the only one—statistics from Muslim campaign groups show a rise in such Islamophobic abuse on fast food workers.
All photos by the author.
"What is it with bigots and curry? It's ironic how they hate Muslims but will happily eat our food," says Omar as he throws coriander into a pot.
We're in the kitchen of Omar's Glasgow takeaway on a busy Friday night. While four teenagers wait for their doner kebab and chips, he tells me that he has felt on edge for the past four months.
"With all the hype about Muslims being terrorists, I don't look forward to my job anymore because I know anything could happen," he says. "I've been working in the food trade for over 30 years. Food is my passion and I make a bloody mean curry, but racists don't see past my beard or skin color."
Omar isn't the only one who says that Islamophobia is having an impact on business. Around 14 hours after the Paris terrorist attacks in November, Mohammed Khalid was closing Caspian Fast Food in Fife with his wife and staff. Things were quieting down after the rowdy Saturday night when a large group of teenagers gathered outside.
After hearing a scuffle break out between one of his staff and the gang, Khalid rushed outside and was set upon by 15 people. In between the laughing and shouting by the crowd, they chanted one thing: "ISIS, go home."
"Obviously, there must've been a connection to the Paris attacks because it was just a day after what happened there," 53-year-old Khalid tells me. "When the violence was happening, my wife came out. She realized what was going on and she got pushed to the ground as well and while I tried to protect her, I got kicked in the face. My wife managed to pull me inside and as soon as I went inside, I phoned the police. It still gives me nightmares. I thought they would kill us."
Following the attack, Khalid lost vision in his left eye and was left so shaken that he decided to sell Caspian Fast Food after running it for 25 years.
When we meet, he is polite but very quiet and the scarring is still visible around his eye. He works every day in a mosque nearby to keep him occupied but the trauma is still fresh in his mind.
"I feel let down as a Muslim but I definitely don't blame the locals. I've been here that long, all of the locals know me by my first name. The kids that attacked me, they were all from Kirkcaldy," Khalid says, referring to a nearby town. "Had they been locals, it wouldn't have happened."
In the nine days following the Paris attacks, 64 hate crimes against Muslims were reported in Scotland. Leaders in Glasgow's Central Mosque issued a warning for Muslims not to go out unaccompanied but for most takeaways, it was business as usual.
I drive through the eerily derelict coastal town of Methil to meet the new owner of Caspian Fast Food. Muneer is setting up for the evening, busily arranging trays full of pakoras in the glass display counter.
"I don't always expect something to kick off on a Friday or Saturday night but you still prepare for it," he says. "You do get racist comments here. Friday or Saturday nights have been a bit rough, but we call the police. I don't think anyone should live in fear because that's what these racists want. You're being judged without even being spoken to by them. I should never feel scared in my own business."
With Caspian now open for the evening, the phone starts ringing with orders. A worker behind us rolls out naan dough before sticking it onto the wall of a specially built tandoor oven.
Though things have been relatively quiet since the attack, Muneer believes the media is to blame for anti-Muslim rhetoric.
"The media says these guys are terrorists. The words 'Muslim' or 'Islamic' don't need to be added to it," he says. "Islamophobia has always been here. Now though, it's more in the open. People can say it and do it more freely. Before, it used to happen maybe more discreetly, but nowadays it's completely different."
The TellMAMA (short for "Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks") project reported a rise in verbal and physical attacks towards food and beverage owners across the UK following the events in the French capital.
"We have seen that one of the core sectors that suffer anti-Muslim hatred include takeaways," founder Fiyaz Mughal tells me. "This is particularly the case on Fridays and Saturdays when people have drunk too much and whilst waiting for their takeaways, they abuse those serving them with racism that sometimes turns into anti-Muslim hatred and abuse. So this sector suffers such issues as the taxi driver industry does. After Paris, we have seen a rise in such incidents."
Though TellMAMA has recorded ten extreme cases of Islamophobic attacks since 2014, the numbers are likely to be higher as many victims are unwilling to report incidents to police.
"The British Crime Survey estimates that one in four people report hate crimes. This means that there is significant under-reporting. We know that police services, through agencies like TellMAMA, are reaching out to such businesses," adds Mughal. "Though police and crime commissioners can also do more in scrutinizing such work and in ensuring that it is made as easy as possible for people working in the food and service industries to report anti-Muslim prejudice."
Back at Caspian, Muneer tells me that he has grown up experiencing racism and finds ways of dealing with it.
"There are people who I believe are small minded, so narrow, that they cannot see any other direction," he says. "What they hear is what they believe. For us, it's what we see we believe. People are always going to be mistaken when they hear and react."
Aside from what Muneer describes as the "usual insults" and one angry customer who called the takeaway a few weeks ago demanding they stop using halal meat, Muneer says there hasn't been much trouble.
"As a food joint, our speciality is curry and people—no matter who or what they are—are always going to be hungry, so that keeps us going."
He flicks through the orders. It's going to be another busy night.
Read more on the MUNCHIES Guide to British Food.