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Blog post

How do female Muslim teachers manage the challenges of homogenisation and stereotyping in an educational context?

Uzma Asif, Senior Lecturer in Education at Manchester Metropolitan University


This blog post is based on my doctoral research. I look at identity and belonging in education; how female Muslim teachers (FMTs) respond to stereotypes in the classroom; and the normalisation of and increasing diversity of Muslim women’s experience. The research is contextualised with FMTs based in secondary school settings in the north-west of England.

As a Muslim woman and an educator, I was well positioned to work with FMT participants to investigate the impact of the prejudices and stereotypes against Muslim women. The stereotypes around Muslim women include the Western mainstream perception that Muslim women are oppressed (Bullock, 2007). Negative constructions of Islam through slanderous imagery or stereotypes provide motivation for the victimisation of Muslims in Western nations (Perry, 2014). Post 9/11 attacks, stereotypical images of Muslim women as oppressed (Abu-Lughod, 2013), were taken up by the media and connected to a cultural rescue mission by the West. Media representations of Muslims are loaded with associations of immorality, irresponsibility and inferiority (Alsultany, 2012; Schmuck et al., 2017).

Scholarly attention with regards to the othering and stereotyping of Muslim women includes Van Es (2019), who describes how stereotypes can be internalised, subverted or appropriated by the stereotyped people, which raises questions around the perceived Western ideal of a Muslim woman. While not all Muslim women project the same image in terms of visible markers of ‘Muslimness’ (Bullock, 2007; Khan, 2020), wearing the hijab is seen as a symbol of fundamentalist Muslim violence in the West.


Muslim women practise their religion in different ways, so the homogenisation of the category ‘Muslim women’ has implications for female Muslim teachers in education. My data shows there are multiple ways of being a Muslim woman, and it adds to the voice of the ‘ordinary’ (Nyhagen, 2019, p. 3) Muslim woman. FMTs navigate stereotypes to generate self-regard and more-complicated understandings of being British and Muslim. The issues are at times created by the prejudices in the system itself and are structural and intrinsic in nature. As subject-agents, FMTs must navigate systemic prejudices and unearned disadvantages to become self-determined. FMTs generate self-regard in complicated ways that cannot be narrowly contained or easily explained by Western or orthodox ways of being and knowing. FMTs feel they are placed under unsolicited scrutiny by pupils and colleagues which leads to professional tension.

‘Female Muslim teachers generate self-regard in complicated ways that cannot be narrowly contained or easily explained by Western or orthodox ways of being and knowing.’


More needs to be done for FMTs in education – they construct identities by virtue of exclusion. This contradicts democratic values, the foundations of which are equality and acceptable difference. The idea of responsibility is important here, where does responsibility lie? Should initial teacher education address these issues more specifically to prepare teachers for diverse settings and a permeation of cultural and religious sensitivity? The ethos in schools should be more inclusive, positive and respectful to reduce the pressure felt by FMTs to defend and blend in – does responsibility here lie with senior leaders and policymakers? In each case the wider questions raised are whether hostility towards Muslims is about the religion itself, or is it about indications of culture, race and belonging in British educational settings and the long-term implications of a culture of normalisation, ignorance and discrimination?

I conclude that some female Muslim teachers actively pursue teaching to challenge negative stereotypes around Muslims; FMTs face pressure to adapt to their settings from both students and staff; FMTs have a potentially transformational role in challenging the stereotypes of Muslims with Britain’s multicultural youth. This is further reinforced by my current experience of working with Muslim trainee teachers in my role as a PGCE tutor in higher education in the UK.


Abu-Lughod, L. (2013). Do Muslim women need saving? Harvard University Press.

Alsultany, E. (2012). Arabs and Muslims in the media: Race and representation after 9/11. New York University Press.

Bullock, K. (2007). Rethinking Muslim women and the veil challenging historical & modern stereotypes (2nd ed.). International Institute of Islamic Thought.

Khan, M. (Ed.) (2020). It’s not about the burqa: Muslim women on faith, feminism, sexuality and race. Picador.

Nyhagen, L. (2019). Contestations of feminism, secularism and religion in the West: The discursive othering of religious and secular women. Nordic Journal of Religion and Society, 32(1), 4–21. 

Perry, B. (2014). Gendered Islamophobia: Hate crime against Muslim women. Social Identities, 20(1), 74–89. 

Schmuck, D., Matthes, J., & Paul, F. H. (2017). Negative stereotypical portrayals of Muslims in right-wing populist campaigns: Perceived discrimination, social identity threats, and hostility among young Muslim adults. Journal of Communication, 67(4), 610–634. 

Van Es, M. A., (2019). Muslim women as ‘ambassadors’ of Islam: Breaking stereotypes in everyday life. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, 26(14).