I am a Muslim and Asian Woman in the United Kingdom

Living Comfortably in an Uncomfortable Situation


  • Nur Hafeeza Ahmad Pazil Universiti Sains Malaysia




Intersectional identities, Muslim, Asian, Discrimination, Xenophobia, Islamophobia


Utilizing an autoethnographic stance and method, this article is based on my experiences as a Malaysian postgraduate student in the United Kingdom. I draw upon my memories of dealing with Islamophobia and xenophobia while living there, as a Muslim and Asian woman. Anti-Asian sentiment and xenophobia can be experienced in many forms, ranging from feelings of discomfort to verbal insults and direct confrontation. As a visible Muslim and Asian woman, I reflect upon my own experience as a victim of verbal abuse on different occasions. This article offers an intersectional perspective taking into account interconnected and overlapping factors, such as gender, ethnicity and religion, to examine the multi-layered issues and challenges as an international student. I highlight the challenges in expressing and negotiating my intersectional identities while living temporarily abroad. Therefore, this article is important to raise awareness about Islamophobia as well as inadvertent or deliberate xenophobia towards Asian communities.

Author Biography

Nur Hafeeza Ahmad Pazil, Universiti Sains Malaysia

NUR HAFEEZA AHMAD PAZIL, PhD, is a Senior Lecturer in School of Social Sciences at Universiti Sains Malaysia. Her major research interests lie in the area of friendship and personal relationships, social media, gender practices and international students.


Abdelkader, E. (2017). A Comparative Analysis of European Islamophobia: France, UK, Germany, Netherlands, and Sweden. UCLA Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law, 16(1), 29–63. https://doi.org/10.5070/n4161038735 DOI: https://doi.org/10.5070/N4161038735

Adams, T. E., Ellis, C., & Jones, S. H. (2017). Autoethnography. The International Encyclopedia of Communication Research Methods, 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118901731.iecrm0011 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118901731.iecrm0011

Alazzi, K., & Al-Jarrah, A. (2016). Southeast Asian International Students Adjusting to Jordanian Universities: Views from the Field. Journal of College Student Development, 57(6), 730–741. https://doi.org/10.1353/csd.2016.0071 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/csd.2016.0071

Ali, A. I. (2014). A threat enfleshed: Muslim college students situate their identities amidst portrayals of Muslim violence and terror. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 27(10), 1243–1261. https://doi.org/10.1080/09518398.2013.820860 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09518398.2013.820860

Ali, A., Xiaoling, G., Sherwani, M., & Ali, A. (2017). Factors affecting Halal meat purchase intention: Evidence from international Muslim students in China. British Food Journal, 119(3), 527–541. https://doi.org/10.1108/BFJ-10-2016-0455 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/BFJ-10-2016-0455

Anderson, D. L. (2020). Muslim international students in the United States: A phenomenological inquiry into the experience of identities. Journal of International Students, 10(2), 320–338. https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v10i2.965 DOI: https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v10i2.965

Bilecen, B. (2014). International Student Mobility and Transnational Friendships (1st ed.). Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137405258 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137405258_1

Bochner, A. P., & Ellis, C. (2016). Evocative autoethnography: Writing lives and telling stories (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315545417 DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315545417

Bonner, A., & Tolhurst, G. (2002). Insider-outsider Perspectives of Participant Observation. Nurse Researcher, 9(4), 7–19. https://doi.org/10.7748/nr2002. DOI: https://doi.org/10.7748/nr2002.

Brock, C. H., Borti, A., Frahm, T., Howe, L., Khasilova, D., & Ventura-Kalen, K. (2017). Employing Autoethnography to Examine Our Diverse Identities: Striving Towards Equitable and Socially Just Stances in Literacy Teaching and Research. International Journal of Multicultural Education, 19(1), 105–124. https://doi.org/10.18251/ijme.v19i1.1258 DOI: https://doi.org/10.18251/ijme.v19i1.1258

Brown, L. (2009). International Students in England: Finding Belonging through Islam. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 29(1), 57–67. https://doi.org/10.1080/13602000902726772 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13602000902726772

Brown, L., & Jones, I. (2013). Encounters with racism and the international student experience. Studies in Higher Education, 38(7), 1004–1019. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2011.614940 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2011.614940

Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats. (2018). British Muslims: Demography and Communities. https://crestresearch.ac.uk/download/2331/18-011-01-british-muslims-communities.pdf

Chen, B., Tabassum, H., & Saeed, M. A. (2019). International Muslim students: Challenges and practical suggestions to accommodate their needs on campus. Journal of International Students, 9(4), 933–953. https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v9i3.753 DOI: https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v9i3.753

Coleman, J. A. (2015). Social circles during residence abroad: What students do, and who with. In Mitchell, Rasmond, N. Tracy-Ventura, & K. McManus (Eds.), Social interaction, identity and language learning during residence abroad (Vol. 4, pp. 33–52). European Second Language Association.

Collins, P. H., & Bilge, S. (2016). Intersectionality (1st ed.). Polity Press.

Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6), 1241–1299. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/1229039

Dimandja, O. O. (2017). “We are not that different from you”: A Phenomenological Study of Undergraduate Muslim International Student Campus Experiences (Publication No. 10279921) [Doctoral Dissertation, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs]. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.

Ellis, C. (1999). Heartful Autoethnography. Qualitative Health Research, 9(5), 669–683. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/104973299129122153

Ellis, C., Adams, T. E., & Bochner, A. P. (2011). Autoethnography: An Overview. Historical Social Research, 36(4), 273–290. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.12759/hsr.36.2011.4.273-290

Gariglio, L. (2018). Doing (Prison) Research Differently: Reflections on Autoethnography and ‘Emotional Recall.’ Oñati Socio-Legal Series, 8(2), 205–224. https://doi.org/10.35295/osls.iisl/0000-0000-0000-0932 DOI: https://doi.org/10.35295/osls.iisl/0000-0000-0000-0932

Geeraert, N., Demoulin, S., & Demes, K. A. (2014). Choose your (international) contacts wisely: A multilevel analysis on the impact of intergroup contact while living abroad. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 38, 86–96. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijintrel.2013.08.001 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijintrel.2013.08.001

Gilks, M. (2020). The security-prejudice nexus: “Islamist” terrorism and the structural logics of Islamophobia in the UK. Critical Studies on Terrorism, 13(1), 24–46. https://doi.org/10.1080/17539153.2019.1650874 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17539153.2019.1650874

Gomes, C., Berry, M., Alzougool, B., & Chang, S. (2014). Home Away from Home: International Students and their Identity-Based Social Networks in Australia. Journal of International Students, 4(1), 2–15. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v4i1.493 DOI: https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v4i1.493

Guest, M., Scott-Baumann, A., Cheruvallil-Contractor, S., Naguib, S., Phoenix, A., Lee, Y., & Al-Baghal, T. (2020). Islam and Muslims on UK University Campuses: perceptions and challenges. https://eprints.soas.ac.uk/33345/1/file148310.pdf

Handani, N. (2021). Product Awareness of International Muslim Students in South Korea about the Importance of Halal Food. Research Horizon, 1(1), 1–6. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.54518/rh.1.1.2021.1-6 DOI: https://doi.org/10.54518/rh.1.1.2021.1-6

Hotta, J., & Ting-Toomey, S. (2013). Intercultural adjustment and friendship dialectics in international students: A qualitative study. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 37(5), 550–566. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijintrel.2013.06.007 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijintrel.2013.06.007

Hussain, R. B. M. (2012). Ethno-religious Identity and Border Crossing in the Malay World. The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, 6(6), 41–51. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.18848/1833-1882/CGP/v06i06/52092 DOI: https://doi.org/10.18848/1833-1882/CGP/v06i06/52092

Leong, P. (2015). Coming to America: Assessing the Patterns of Acculturation, Friendship Formation, and the Academic Experiences of International Students at a U.S. College. Journal of International Students, 5(4), 459–474. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v5i4.408 DOI: https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v5i4.408

Lim, S. S., & Pham, B. (2016). “If you are a foreigner in a foreign country, you stick together”: Technologically mediated communication and acculturation of migrant students. New Media & Society, 18(10), 2171–2188. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444816655612 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444816655612

MacLean, S. (2016). Alcohol and the Constitution of Friendship for Young Adults. Sociology, 50(1), 93–108. https://doi.org/10.1177/0038038514557913 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0038038514557913

Maundeni, T. (2001). The Role of Social Networks in the Adjustment of African Students to British Society: Students’ perceptions. Race Ethnicity and Education, 4(3), 253–276. https://doi.org/10.1080/13613320120073576 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13613320120073576

Nasirudeen, A. M. A., Koh, J. K. W., Lau, A. L. C., Seng, L. L., & Ling, H. A. (2014). Acculturative Stress among Asian International Students in Singapore. Journal of International Students, 4(4), 363–373. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v4i4.455 DOI: https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v4i4.455

Ngow, V. (2013). Why don’t UK students make friends with those from overseas? The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/education/mortarboard/2013/apr/11/why-arent-brits-making-friends-with-overseas-students

Nielsen, K. (2014). Study abroad: perspectives on transitions to adulthood [Doctoral Dissertation, University of Sussex]. US Campus Repository. http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/47901

O’Loughlin, J. (2010). Inter-ethnic friendships in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina: Sociodemographic and place influences. Ethnicities, 10(1), 26–53. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468796809354153 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1468796809354153

Pazil, N. H. A. (2018). Friendship and Intimacy: Exploring Malaysian Students’ Experiences of Living Temporarily Abroad. Lancaster University.

Pazil, N. H. A. (2019). Familiarity as a Family : Close Friendships Between Malaysian Students and their Co-National Friends in the UK. Journal of International Students, 9(3), 896–911. https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v9i3.732 DOI: https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v9i3.732

Poynting, S., & Mason, V. (2007). The resistible rise of Islamophobia: Anti-Muslim racism in the UK and Australia before 11 September 2001. Journal of Sociology, 43(1), 61–86. https://doi.org/10.1177/1440783307073935 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1440783307073935

Prazeres, L. (2016). Challenging the comfort zone: self-discovery, everyday practices and international student mobility to the Global South. Mobilities, 12(6), 908–923. https://doi.org/10.1080/17450101.2016.1225863 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17450101.2016.1225863

Saidin, K., & Yaacob, A. (2016). Insider Researchers: Challenges and Opportunities. International Seminar on Generating Knowledge Through Research, 1, 849–854. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.21070/picecrs.v1i1.563 DOI: https://doi.org/10.21070/picecrs.v1i1.563

Sandel, T. L. (2014). “Oh, I’m Here!”: Social Media’s Impact on the Cross-cultural Adaptation of Students Studying Abroad. Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, 43(1), 1–29. https://doi.org/10.1080/17475759.2013.865662 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17475759.2013.865662

Smith, R. A., & Khawaja, N. G. (2011). A review of the acculturation experiences of international students. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 35(6), 699–713. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijintrel.2011.08.004 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijintrel.2011.08.004

Stacey, V. (2021). Non-EU international students drive UK enrolments in 2019/20 – HESA. The Pie News. https://thepienews.com/news/non-eu-international-students-drive-uk-enrolments-in-201920-hesa/?mc_cid=0cc2d0cdeb&mc_eid=5f134a342d

Sung, C. C. M. (2021). International students’ negotiation of identities during transnational studies in Hong Kong: the role of language. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 51(5), 764–781. https://doi.org/10.1080/03057925.2019.1674635 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/03057925.2019.1674635

Swami, V., Arteche, A., Chamorro-Premuzic, T., & Furnham, A. (2010). Sociocultural adjustment among sojourning Malaysian students in Britain: A replication and path analytic extension. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 45(1), 57–65. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-009-0042-4 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-009-0042-4

Tummala-Narra, P., & Claudius, M. (2013). A Qualitative Examination of Muslim Graduate International Students’ Experiences in the United States. International Perspectives in Psychology: Research, Practice, Consultation, 2(2), 132–147. https://doi.org/10.1037/ipp0000003 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/ipp0000003

Weiss, M. L., & Ford, M. (2011). Temporary Transnationals: Southeast Asian Students in Australia. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 41(2), 229–248. https://doi.org/10.1080/00472336.2011.553042 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00472336.2011.553042

Zempi, I. (2017). Researching victimisation using auto-ethnography: Wearing the Muslim veil in public. Methodological Innovations, 10(1), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1177/2059799117720617 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/2059799117720617

Zempi, I. (2020). Veiled Muslim women’s responses to experiences of gendered Islamophobia in the UK. International Review of Victimology, 26(1), 96–111. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269758019872902 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0269758019872902

Zempi, I., & Awan, I. (2017). Doing ‘dangerous’ autoethnography on Islamophobic victimization. Ethnography, 18(3), 367–386. https://doi.org/10.1177/1466138117697996 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1466138117697996




How to Cite

Pazil, N. H. A. (2022). I am a Muslim and Asian Woman in the United Kingdom: Living Comfortably in an Uncomfortable Situation. Journal of International Students, 12(S2), 158–174. https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v12iS2.4176

Most read articles by the same author(s)