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May 1, 2014

Islamophobia: An increasing and disturbing trend

By Dr. Farooq Hassan

Islamophobia, an increasing and disturbing trend today. Does Islamophobia really exist and how it was created and instilled?  What is the current status and debate of it? How do we rethink it in American context? What is the truth about American Muslims? Is the loyalty of American Muslims under suspicions? What are the forms and sources of it? Who is the beneficiary of it? How should a modern world, humanitarian organizations and faith community leaders act responsibly to overcome it? Pluralism can only prevail and flourish in the environment of truth. Truth and pluralism are inevitable for a healthy society. Pluralistic values and principles cannot take root and flourish in a society if there is an irrational fear, and bitterness among citizens. Surveys about Islam are generally based on Hollywood movies and other media presentations in which truth was twisted for people of the West. If other religions were portrayed likewise, it would result in the same kind of "phobia".

Can this anti-Islamic perception and behavior be justified when people are not aware about the true values of Islam such as love, bounty, generosity, justice and respect of all living beings? A serious social challenge occurs when members of a society have fear of others and spread prejudice against each other in many and various ways. Although anti-Muslim feeling really exists in the United States, it is also debated in different forums.

There are hundreds of articles, books and reports including seminars, symposiums and talk shows on (social) Media that display a broad spectrum of analyses of phenomenon of Islamophobia from a variety of angles in America and the West. Some writers think that Islamophobia and anti-Americanism are interrelated1 so both should be combated together.

Does Islam incite violence? In 2003, 43% Americans believed that “Islam does not teach respect for the beliefs of non-Muslims”2 Poll in 2004 shows that almost 4 in 10 Americans have an unfavorable view of Islam3 “Is America Islamophobic? This was the title of the cover page of “TIME” in August 2010. The report presented in this issue states, “46% of Americans believe Islam is more likely than other faiths to encourage violence against nonbelievers.”4 Franklin Graham, tells Islam is “a religion of hatred, it is a religion of war”5 Before 9/11, only 25% of Americans believed that Islam encourages violence, while 51 percent disagreed with that position; as of 2011, 40 percent say that Islam encourages violence, while 42 percent do not.6  Islam first came to the U.S with African slaves, refusing to eat pork, speaking Arabic, and calling God "Allah".7  Muslims may have reached before Columbus.8 Muhammad A. R. W. (1846-1916) was the first American convert to Islam.9 Albanian Muslims (in 1915) constructed the first mosque 10 Today the American Muslim community is also made up of many American-born, converted and immigrant Muslims. Muslims have delivered prayers to open sessions of the US Congress, their holidays have appeared on postage stamps, and their leaders meet with US Presidents of all era.

After 9/11 Americans vigorously debated the nature of Islam. Was Islam, as President George W. Bush argued, "a religion of peace"? Or was it, as the conservative political activist Paul Weyrich insisted, "a religion of war"? 11 Rev. Rod Parsley wrote in his book Silent No More (2005) that 'America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion (Islam) destroyed'; Islam was an anti-Christ religion based on the deception12. There are over 1,200 mosques in the U. S, and Islam is likely the religion of roughly 1 to 2 percent of the US population, or three to six million people.13 Muslims have settled all across the U.S. contributed constructively for the progress and prosperity of America, serving as Administrators, Doctors, Prof., Engineers and even the military of U.S.

Pluralism and Islamophobia both are new words having old concepts. Islamophobia denote a fear of Islam and Muslims or active hostility toward Muslims. 14  The term islamophobia has been primarily used in Europe (in1921), and popularized after 1997."15 The European term Islamophobia has now been adopted in America. What are the sources of Islamophobic trends? Who is to blame for negative image of Islam in the West? Allah says (4:79), “Whatever good you have is all from God and whatever evil all is from yourselves.” What are the motives behind it? Why is media so wrong about Islam?

Carl W. Ernst writes, “It is hard to say whether the organized networks of Islamophobia have in fact had the chief responsibility for pushing American opinion against Islam."16 He further says, “it is true that a small group of individuals are well- funded organizations are  responsible for manufacturing anti-Muslim propaganda.17  Esposito explained " that 7 foundations in the US have provided $ 42.5 million in support to Islamophobes and their websites over the last decade".18  Media can make you believe thing, which never happened. Jack Shaheen's 2005 book, Reel Bad Arabs describes how Hollywood has demonized Arabs and Muslims as the 'bad guys' in a series of popular movies.19 Shaheen reviewed 900 Arab Characters in films and found only a handful of positive or balanced representations.20Jocelyne Cesari writes, "Islam is portrayed as inherently violent. "21

What is the remedy and a way move forward? Have followers of any religion other than Islam ever experienced the same challenge of misperception and threat in the West?  Judaism was (mis-) perceived in nineteenth century and Christianity was (mis-) perceived in Roman Empire until  Constantine-1.

Despite the fact we are living in an out-of-balance world where Islamophobia has been industrialized and institutionalized, books on the potential Islamic threat to the West became best sellers, authors became rich and well-known figure over the night, some ex-Muslims also exploited the situation and gained a lot of material benefits.

Muslims should think about how they can align themselves energetically when others promote fear, hatred and anger on this earth. How can we combat misperception of Islam? What can we do so that people of the West may know about the humanistic and universal values of Islam. How much  is it needed?  By being in balance and transparent, this is the right time for the Muslim community to be self-assessed and to see that what are the genuine complains and apprehensions to the host country.

Muslims should try their best to improve the character, to diagnose the internal faults and weaknesses and to do this work as fairly and objectively as possible in order to remove the misperceptions. Muslims also require to pay attention on quality education and professional skills which can help in image building in the West because (mis-)perception is more important than fact. In contemporary context media is shaping religious and cultural understanding, we need competent journalists, lawyers, (social) media persons and expert movie makers in Hollywood for fair and responsible projection of Islam.

The religiosity of converts is an eye opener for born Muslims. Converts to Islam, are coming to play an important role in the public image of Islam in America, such as  Hamza Yousuf,  Zaid Shakir,  Suhaib Web, Nooruddeen Durkee. Things keep changing with the passage of time. There are examples of changing perceptions in American history regarding French(1754- 1776) 22, British  after Boston Massacre (1770), 23 American forces defeated the British (1781).24 The Spanish-American War (in 1898), 25 The Pearl Harbor's Japanese attack in 1941, Vietnam war (1965-1973) ,26 then Communist ideology. At the end of cold war, the West has focused on Islam and its prime and potential threat. Terrorist attack in 9/11, 2001, intensified it.

When relations between two communities move towards better directions, the language of communication also becomes better. At the time of crises Muslim reformers paid attention to internal reforms instead of cursing the people of other faiths and nations. At such a time  al-Ghazali (d.1111/505), contributed about 500 books27on different subjects, but did not write any book on the crusades although it happened during his life time. The Crusades began in 1095 A.D. and lasted for over a century and a half.  It is not enough to be nostalgic about the glorious past. Muslims have to prove their worth now. The son of the Prophet Noah had noble ancestor but he did not prove himself worthy of greatness so he was drowned with many others.

The tendency to blame and curse the culture, the time, technology and the present circumstances is not solution of the problems faced by Muslims. This attitude is against the spirit of Islamic teachings. Muslims must prepare for research-oriented intellectual defense and resistance on every front in which Islam is challenged. Rational and not emotional way of presentation of Islam is the need of the hour.

Instead of falling into endless conflict, we start a journey towards self-improvement and better development. Allah says (22:77), “And do good so that you may be successful.” Muslim should look at the reasons and causes of events instead on events itself. It is always important  how one reacts in certain situations, especially in difficult times. The mind can be trained to see and feel positive in any situation. Efficiency requires peaceful mindedness. Indeed an Amish's buggy travels along a road in Pennsylvania without any fear, whose dogmatic structure doesn't allow him to use many modern inventions.

It is said that the United States is one of the most religiously diverse nations on earth. To strengthen and deepening this claim, growing Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism must be combated together because these are anti-pluralistic notions that disrupt healthy and pluralistic society. All Muslims should not be punished because of some individuals. Freedom requires and demands responsibility. Religious freedom does not mean freedom from responsibility. If a community is misjudged by its host and its dreams live between fears and hope, what is likely to be its performance with this state of mind? Why do Sons of Abraham (Ibrahim) have monotheistic biases and approaches?


1. Mohammad Nimer.(2007). Introduction: Islamophobia and anti-Americanism are mutually Reinforcing, in Islamophobia and anti-Americanism: Causes and Remedies. ed. Mohammad Nimer. Maryland: Amana Publication p.18

2. Esposito, John L. (2010). The Future of Islam. New York: Oxford University Press  p. 180

3. Parvez Ahmed.(2007). Prejudice is Real and Exacts a Heavy Toll, in Islamophobia and anti-Americanism: Causes and Remedies. ed. Mohammad Nimer. Maryland: Amana Publication p.32 

4. Time August 30, 2010, report by Bobby Ghosh/Dearborn p. 23

5. Ibid  p.24

6. Carl W. Ernst.(2013). The Problem of Islamophobia, in  Islamophobia in America: The Anatomy of Intolerance.  ed. Carl W. Ernst. New York: Palgrave Macmillan p.3

7. Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know -And Doesn't, Stephen Prothero New York: HarperCollins (2007).   P.189

8. Edward L. Queen 11 and Stephen R. Prothero and Gardiner H. Shattuck,(2001) Encyclopedia of American Religious History.(2001). New York: Facts On File, Inc. p.344

9. Ibid   

10. Ibid 

11. Stephen Prothero.(2007). Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know-And Doesn't. New York: HarperCollins p.189

12. Book Review by Ahmad Gunny on Islam in the Eyes of the West: Images and Realities in an Age of Terror ed. Tareq Y. Ismael and Andrew Pippin(Abingdon: Routledge,2010) published in Oxford Journal of Islamic Studies Vol.23, Issue 2, May2012 p.277    

13. Stephen Prothero.(2007). Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know-And Doesn't. New York: HarperCollins p.187

14. William Wininger.(2007). Encyclopedia of Islam  in the United States. ed. Jocelyne Cessari. London: Greenwood Press Vol. 1 Pp. 348-349

15. Ibid

16. Carl W. Ernst.(2013). The Problem of Islamophobia, in Islamophobia in America: The Anatomy of Intolerance. p.7

17. Ibid p.9

18. The International Conference on Islamophobia: Law and Media in Istanbul,  organized by the Directorate General of Press and Information (BYEGM) and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) between September 12-13, 2013 at Grand Tarabya Hotel, Istanbul with the participation of Turkish Deputy Minister BulentArinc and the OIC Secretary General EkmelettinIhsanoglu and several international scholars. Retrived on Dec. 8, 2013

19.  Jamila Hussain.(2011). Islam Its Law and Society. Sydney: The Federation Press p.3

20. ibid

21.  Jocelyne Cesari.(2010). Introduction. Muslims in the West after 9/11: Religion, politics, and Law ed. Jocelyne Ceai  New York: Routledge Pp.2-3

22. The Student Encyclopedia of the United States.(2005). ed. William E. Shapiro Boston: Kingfisher p.26

23. Ibid

24. Ibid

25. Ibid p.680

26. Ibid p27

27. Hassan, Farooq. (2012). An Analytical Study of al-Ghazali’s Contribution to Usul al-fiqh (IJCRB) June Vol. 4, no 2.p.944

Dr. Farooq Hassan, Ph.D. is Fulbright Postdoctoral Visiting Researcher at ACMCU Georgetown University Washington D.C