What is a phobia?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, it is a type of anxiety disorder due to persistent fear of an object or situation. It is a serious matter of concern, as it can cause considerable amount of distress and inability to function. With parallel concepts of the different types of phobias like xenophobia (prejudice against people from other countries), ‘Islamophobia’ seems a rather vague conceptualization. It seems to be more a form of racism, which targets people with muslim names or even muslim appearances. Although being muslim is a religious label and one that does not pertain to any race, the line between racism and religious discrimination is often blurred.1
What is islamophobia?
It is defined as an exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility towards Islam, that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civic life.2
Misinformation, bandwagon effect and baseless stereotypes have contributed to the rise of ‘Islamophobia’. The actual target of hostility is not the religion Islam, as much as it is the ‘muslims’. What is the difference between the two? Islam is a religion and muslims are the followers of Islam.
Islamophobia has increased in the past decade post the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center in the United States. Now, the West sees Islam and muslims as extremists who threaten the wellbeing of their targets. Islamophobia also threatens to restrict its targets, “self image, educational success, occupational attainment, mental health status and health status.” A 2010 study confirms some of these effects. This deadly radical community remains a threat to other Muslims as well as other nations. 3
Despite efforts by the White House and others to discourage Americans from pinning blame at the Muslim community after 9/11, the number of attacks against those who looked Muslim rose exponentially. Just days after September 11th, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh, was shot in Mesa, Arizona. The turban he was wearing was mistaken for a “muslim garment,” and the murderer was seeking revenge for the terrorist attacks. In the weeks and years that followed, many people who “appeared to be” muslim, became the targets of discrimination. 4
Media plays a big role here. 85% of mainstream newspapers treat muslims as a homogenous mass who are seen as a threat to the society. This indiscriminate religious tagging has demonized the entire community, because obviously not all muslims are terrorists.5 The media made baseless analysis that essentializes negative traits as an inherent part of all muslim’s moral makeup. But all muslims are not the same. Also, terrorist attacks carried out by non-Muslims never get the same amount of media coverage as they are not of popular rhetoric. But when there are extremist Muslims who indulge in violent acts in the name of religion, it is perfectly natural for the media to tie up “Islam” and “terrorism.”
What is the ratio of the extremist Muslims to the peaceful ones?
According to an article in CNN, the estimated number of muslims members who are a part of Islamic terrorist organizations is 1,06,000. A recent Pew Research Study places the number of muslims worldwide to be around 1.6 billion, which is 23% of the world’s population. Thus we can calculate the muslim population who are extremists to be 0.006625%. 6
Clearly, the extremists are just a minority compared to the peaceful muslims. It is this minority group, who are certainly barbaric, who are the issue of concern. It is them who promote unreasonable violence in the name of Islam. It is because of them that the muslim community is considered to be “inferior” to others and is excluded from the mainstream society. They are the ones who crave war and denounce freedom. They unite people against the injustice of western exploitation and oppression and encourage them to stand against it even at the cost of their life.
Researchers have begun to explore the kind of toll that Islamophobia can take on the mental and physical health of these innocent Muslims, and it is unsurprisingly harsh.
“Studies have shown that many muslims not only experience religious discrimination in their daily life but are fully aware of their devalued position in the society”, writes a group of Norwegian psychology professors in a 2012 study.7 Also, mosques are destroyed and surrounded by firearms, muslims are inappropriately questioned at airports and innocent people are killed for no reason.
Islam, as a religion, does not directly have anything to do with this brutal killing. However, the Holy Book of the Quran, is very sensitive and it is open to any kind of misinterpretation. It is easy to derive the meaning that you want to derive. Prophet Muhammad, according to the tradition, recited what the angel Gabriel revealed to him for his companions to write down and memorize. Muslims believe that the wording of the Quranic text available today corresponds exactly to that revealed to Muhammad in the years 610–632. But, in reality the book that contained information about the religion came out in public almost 150 years after the demise of the Prophet Mohammad. In those 150 years, it is unknown what was included in the religion of Islam, or what was made part of the Quran. There could have been possible adulteration. There is an actual science behind the understanding of Quran, called ‘tafsir’. In Islamic contexts, ‘tafsir’ is defined as the understanding and uncovering of the will of Allah which has been conveyed in the Quranic text, by means of the Arabic language and to one’s own knowledge because Quran is God’s word only in the Arabic text, so even the translations are regarded as mere interpretations. 8
Thus, there is no legitimate fixed interpretation of the Quran. The extremist Muslims interpret the text of their holy book in a way only to cause destruction for their benefit, thus fight in the name of religion. Islamic “terrorists” are able to legitimize their movement as an act permitted by the Quran because of religious sanctions that permit the use of violence as an act of defense and to preserve their muslim community.
These muslims further blindly follow their leaders in crime, consider peace as their loss and thus become natural enemies to the world. Bad faith and cruelty is all one can expect from such muslims. Due to this, anti-muslim hostility from other religions is also considered to be natural and fair.
“The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam.”- President Bush
Apart from terrorism, some people are simply averse to Islamic cultures. Islam is seen as the negation of civilization and progression, which is seen as primitive, sexist and irrational. Most of the countries feel that Islam doesn’t have any common values with their cultures and Islamists are unresponsive to change. While history is supposed to move ahead with the intent towards a more reasonable and secure future, there are no such signs of this with regard to Islam.9 Samuel Huntington in this theory ‘Clash of civilizations’ writes about the very incompatibility of a western catholic and Islamic state engagement.
Yes, Islam is different. But its exceptionalism is neither good nor bad. It is a completely different religion with a completely different founding and evolution which doesn’t follow a similar course compared to others. But all the religions are not the same and more importantly, why should they be? We must avoid casting judgment. We need to understand it and respect it, even if it runs counter to our hopes and preferences.10 That is the true sentiment of democracy- not uniformity, but solidarity. Islam is an Arabic word that means ‘peace’. Being islamophobic is the most paradoxical recourse to national security.
*9 Pg 11; Islamic Exceptionalism; St. Peters Press by Shadi Hamid
*10 Pg 5; Islamic Exceptionalism; St. Peters Press by Shadi Hamid
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