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Community leaders across the UK have sounded the alarm over rising hate crime, while research by Liverpool Hope University shows a decline at the GCSE level of students taking Religious Studies (RS). The research shows that between 2017-2018, the number of GCSE students taking the subject dropped from 254,000 to 229,000. At the secondary school level, fewer than half of the institutions offer the subject. A large number of those who study religious studies are in faith schools, with estimates pegging those in non-faith schools taking RS at 30 percent.

It’s a worrying trend that has seen campaigners advocating for the subject to be taught in schools, especially to ensure teenage students understand the different faiths that exist. This understanding, community leaders believe, will help those over the age of 14 appreciate the diversity of faith communities. Leaders reason that more knowledge and awareness will help counter ignorance, which is a strong factor behind many hate crimes motivated by religion.

Between 2016 and 2018, England and Wales experienced a 40 percent rise in religiously motivated hate crimes, with more than half of the reported incidents involving Muslims. Many see the link between the rise in hate crimes and the drop in RS studies as a cause for concern.

The Liverpool Hope University report also stated that the drop in students had been experienced for the third straight year, underpinning what Fiyaz Mughal, founder of Faith Matters and Tell MAMA (a national hate crime project), called a ‘sad’ situation, especially at a time when the community needed more understanding of diverse identities.

Mr Mughal’s extensive work and experience in hate crime monitoring and understanding religions saw him receive the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2009. He is dedicated to working with communities in the UK and bringing about cohesion between different faiths.

A Focused Approach for a Troubled Past

Anti-Muslim rhetoric used as fuel for crimes and terrorist acts is an unfortunate part of the UK’s history. As past terrorist acts on London Bridge and in Manchester and Westminster revealed, there are those within society who will use anti-Muslim sentiment as motivation for sinister attacks on the public.

These individuals and groups will go to great lengths to play on anti-Muslim prejudice to build support within Muslim communities and manipulate those with genuine concerns against hate crimes into becoming sympathetic to their deadly causes.

The end result is that rather than give hope and encourage more positive discourse, these Islamist groups end up fuelling hate and divisiveness. They preach Islam as a more superior religion to any other and, in effect, portray that what they do is justified in the name of defending the religion.

Unfortunately, the government’s efforts to respond to have not borne much fruit. Its counter-extremism strategy (the Prevent programme) towards Islamist groups was underwhelming, leaving many to question whether it would step up and address the matter seriously.

Countering religious extremism is one of the serious challenges for the UK. While the majority of its citizens are peace-loving and law-abiding, a handful of radicals exist who pose a threat. The threat of terrorist attacks is real and has to be countered, and any attempt to seal off Islamic communities from the rest of society is another form of extremism that all must be aware of and work towards eradicating.

At the forefront of the fight against extremism is the government, whose efforts the public needs to know are sincere, focused and devoid of political interference. Society, regardless of religious affiliation, needs to know that the government is committed to rooting out extremism and ensuring a safe future for all faiths.