I wonder what people think of when they hear of the word “islamophobia”. Does it remind them of a fear of extremism? Or does it recall a dislike of people with head scarfs and modest dressing? Islamophobia is, quite simply, a fear or hatred towards Islam – which has intensified exponentially in the past few years in the West, as terrorists have used the religion to justify killing people.

I recently read an article about British Olympic sprinter Dina Asher-Smith, who spoke about why she turned down ‘every single request to talk in public about racism and Black Lives Matter’ – because she didn’t want to debate whether something she experienced on a daily basis was real. That struck me, and it occurred to me that many people of religious and ethnic minorities feel the same way. Islamophobia is real, there is no denying that, yet the media continues to commit to vilifying an entire religion based on the actions of a few.

The bomber of the Manchester Arena attack in 2017 was a Muslim born and raised in the UK. In the aftermath of the attack, Islamophobia incidents surged by 500% in Manchester, with no justification for attacking Muslims who had nothing to do with the incident.

Growing up in the UK, I have seen attitudes shifting towards Islam over the years. After the Manchester Arena attack, my parents wouldn’t allow me on public transport, given the hostile environment groups of Islamophobes had established in the city. A popular game surfaced, named “hit a Muslim”, where people would score points for throwing things at Muslims.

I asked my mother why Muslims were being targeted. She said that, just like the “enemy” used to be Jews, in the Second World War, then the Irish, because of the IRA, it was now Muslims, because of terrorists using Islamic phrases. “Allah hu Akbar” means “God is the greatest”, which Muslims say on a daily basis when praying. It isn’t a violent phrase that incites hatred – it’s a declaration of faith.

Many people think Islamophobia is a myth or a debate, and this can be reflected in legislation. France, for instance, is a great example of how democracy is being manipulated to infringe religious rights: banning the burqa, an expression of faith, exposes the country and its media as anti-Islamic, especially since masks that cover the face as a burqa are allowed and widespread.

Thus also showed in the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty, where French President Macron not only refused to condemn the caricatures, but displayed them in defiance.

A friend told me this is comparable to an anti-Blackness incident: if someone used the n word and the President defended this action appealing to freedom of expression, displaying the n word in defiance. This is undoubtedly wrong, because it is offensive to Black people; in the same way, these caricatures are offensive to Muslims, as they are forbidden in Islam.

Islamophobia is a major issue in British politics too, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson having previously said that Muslim women in burqas ‘looked like letterboxes’. During the Conservative Party leadership bid, Sajid Javid and Boris Johnson pursued an inquiry investigating Islamophobia within the Conservative Party; over a year later, there is nothing to show for it. A separate report by MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development) showed that 9 out of 22 Cabinet Ministers had exhibited Islamophobia, which equates to 40% of Johnson’s Cabinet – making it clear that there is a structural issue of Islamophobia at play at the highest levels of the country.

Islamophobia is an excuse to persecute an entire religion and restrict their freedom. This generation of young Muslims will grow up disillusioned, seeing the way we are discussed in the media: this increases the chances of a ‘them vs us’ mentality, which is destructive to building a diverse and accepting society. We need to celebrate our differences instead of using them to create divisions. Muslims are everyday people, living their lives in society.

No religion preaches hatred and violence: it is always the actions of a few that tarnish the reputation of the majority. It is on our society to change this view of Islam being the root of all evil. Muslims are not terrorists just like Jews are not terrorists. Religion doesn’t breed terrorism, individuals use the religion as an excuse to do unimaginable acts of terror.