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Islamophobia: A New Word for an Old Fear

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Imam Dr. Abduljalil Sajid is chairman of the Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony, UK.

"And they ill-treated them [believers] for no other reason except that they believed in Allah" (Al-Qur'an 85-8).

The term "Islamophobia" was first used in print in 1991 and was defined in the Runnymede Trust Report (the Runnymede Trust Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, 1997) as "unfounded hostility towards Islam, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims." The word has been coined because there is a new reality which needs naming -- anti-Muslim prejudice has grown so considerably and so rapidly in recent years that a new item in the vocabulary is needed so that it can be identified and acted against.

The term "Islamophobia" is, admittedly, not ideal. It was coined by way of analogy to "xenophobia" and can be characterized by the belief that all or most Muslims are religious fanatics, have violent tendencies towards non-Muslims, and reject such concepts as equality, tolerance, and democracy. It is a new form of racism whereby Muslims, an ethno-religious group, not a race, are, nevertheless, constructed as a race. A set of negative assumptions are made of the entire group to the detriment of members of that group. During the 1990s many sociologists and cultural analysts observed a shift in racist ideas from ones based on skin color to ones based on notions of cultural superiority and otherness.

Manifestations

In Britain as in other European or Western countries, manifestations of anti-Muslim hostility can be seen to include such features as verbal and physical attacks on Muslims in public places, 1 and attacks on mosques and desecration of Muslim cemeteries. It can be seen in widespread and routine negative stereotyping in the media and everyday discourse in ways that would not be acceptable if...