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Why anti-Muslim hatred has grown, and how to counter it

The main cause of anti-Muslim hatred today is terrorism committed by Muslims. It is best countered by Muslims promoting universal values in alliance with others.


Posted 15 October 2019

The Islam & Liberty Network is a think tank based in Kuala Lumpur which I chair. They recently asked me for a 1,200 word opinion piece for their website suggesting the topic "Islamophobia: why it has become a growing concern and how Muslims should respond?"

ILN published it on 1 October and you can read it on the ILN website at the above link. I have also reproduced it below, after adding a few more sub-headings and the text of Article 18 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In passing, although I avoid using the term Islamophobia, I did want to distract readers from the main message so for the purposes of the international readership I simply defined Islamophobia as hostility towards Muslims because they are Muslims.

Islamophobia: why has it become a growing concern and how should Muslims respond?

Mohammed Amin is Chairman of the Islam & Liberty Network Council. He is writing in a personal capacity.

Sadly, humans have a long history of disliking, possibly hating, possibly mistreating people who are not like them. We define groups, that we then regard as “other people who are not like us” using three broad approaches:

  1. Biological differences such as skin colour, categorising people into “races.” These can be broadly defined such as “white people” despising “black people” or very narrowly defined such as Zulus in South Africa being hostile to Xhosas in South Africa.
  2. Cultural differences such as language, mode of dress, or dietary habits.
  3. Religious differences.

This article considers Islamophobia. As the definition of this word is controversial in the UK, for this article, I define it as hostility towards Muslims because they are Muslims.

Why is Islamophobia rising?

Religious hatred has a long history in many parts of the world. For example, for centuries Christian Europe was riven by religious wars between Catholics and Protestants. In Spain, there was conflict until the Christians reconquered Spain and expelled all Muslims and all Jews.

More recently, there are several broad reasons for the rise of Islamophobia. The relative weight of these reasons varies over time and over geography.

In the United Kingdom, in the late 1980’s, Islamophobia was sparked by the reaction of British Muslims to the publication of “The Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie. Non-Muslim Britons were understandably appalled to see books being burned in the street, which was reminiscent of book burning in Nazi Germany, and even more appalled by calls for the death of Mr Rushdie.

More recently, the world has watched with horror Muslim groups such as ISIS butchering other Muslims in Iraq and Syria, as well as enslaving women from non-Muslim groups such as the Yazidis. When terrorists from groups such as ISIS and previously Al Qaeda kill large numbers of people in the USA starting with 9/11 or in Spain, France, Britain and Germany, there should be no surprise that many of the citizens of these countries develop Islamophobic sentiments.

Quite separately, Islamophobia is also driven by a rapid increase in the immigrant Muslim population of certain localities. Research on intolerance shows that it is not the absolute level of ethnic or religious diversity that leads to hostility but rather the pace of change. If a locality has a particularly rapid rate of inward migration, the original residents often develop hostile attitudes towards the incomers.

Finally, and most depressingly, Islamophobia is sometimes deliberately whipped up by politicians for political purposes. We can see this in India with the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi promoting a narrative that the only authentic Indians are Hindus and that all other religious groups, particularly Muslims, are not true Indians and therefore should be regarded with suspicion and often with hostility.

How should Muslims respond?

The most important strategic requirement is a clear vision of the desired goal.

In my opinion, the key goal is a society in which every individual:

When it comes to religion, every individual in society should have the religious freedom rights which are set out in Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 18.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

It is a vital point that none of the above strategic goals are specific to Muslims.

Politically, it should never be a case of Muslims seeking rights for themselves as Muslims; but rather Muslims and non-Muslims together seeking to ensure that the human rights of all citizens are respected.

Instead of a minority seeking rights from a majority, it should be a case of everyone in society who values equality, freedom and non-discrimination acting together to ensure that those in society who promote bigotry are defeated.

This leads to several tactical requirements.


Political parties specific to Muslims are a complete dead-end. Their very existence helps Islamophobic bigots to promote anti-Muslim hatred. Instead, Muslims should join those broad, inclusive political parties which emphasise equality and human rights.

The same point applies to non-governmental organisations (“NGOs”). It is far more useful for Muslims in Britain (for example) to support an organisation such as Liberty (previously called the National Council for Civil Liberties) which advocates for civil rights for all citizens than it is for Muslims in Britain to support an organisation such as the Islamic Human Rights Commission.


When campaigning, Muslims should not lobby for rights which appear to be Muslim-specific. For example, instead of campaigns to protect halal slaughter, the campaigns should be conducted jointly with the Jewish community to protect religious slaughter generally, covering both halal and kosher slaughter. I am not aware of any rights that Muslims may be seeking which are not also rights that some other group also wishes to secure.

The key strategies for Muslims

It is also essential for Muslims not to defend the indefensible. Doing so ends up promoting Islamophobia.

As a concrete example, I recently had a private conversation with an individual from a Muslim NGO in the UK. This individual found it impossible, even in a private conversation with me, to condemn the Taliban of Afghanistan. Virtually every non-Muslim in Britain, and I believe the overwhelming majority of British Muslims, regard the Taliban as a completely unacceptable organisation of bloodthirsty killers.

Even when the Taliban is not a direct subject of discussion, non-Muslims who deal with this individual are likely to become aware of the attitudes that he holds, and in turn that will make him a far less effective advocate for the human rights of all British citizens including Muslims. Indeed, it is quite possible that interaction with him may well encourage people to develop Islamophobic attitudes.

The very best thing that Muslims can do to counter Islamophobia is to become model citizens.

This requires them to be highly educated, economically successful, generous in donating money for causes that will help the whole of society (as opposed to purely Muslim causes such as mosques or charities operating exclusively in Muslim majority countries).

It also requires them to actively engage with their non-Muslim fellow citizens.

If you live in a diverse society, ask yourself how many organisations you belong to that are not Muslim-specific. Ask yourself how many non-Muslims you have had conversations with during the last week, excluding purely work-related conversations. Ask yourself when you last went on holiday with a non-Muslim friend.

Related pages on my website

I recommend reading the following pages which cover similar points.

My definition of Islamophobia
I think the word Islamophobia cannot be rescued after 22 years of poor quality definitions. However most Muslims and many other people don't want to let the word go. The Government has committed itself to coming up its own definition of Islamophobia. Accordingly, I have supplied one. This definition is intended as a complete replacement for all previous definitions.
Why do we attend other faiths religious events?
Shared religious beliefs is only a small part of the answer. I believe the main reason is that attendance demonstrates your respect and love for other believers as fellow human beings.
Integration advice for individual French (and British) Muslims
Governments are responsible for making their countries fairer, and for countering discrimination. However, regardless of the performance of governments, individuals need to make the best of their lives. My six decades of experience of living in the UK have taught me much about what it takes to succeed without compromising one's personal integrity. This page is aimed at both French and British readers.
Reducing antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred in Britain
My talk in Bradford on 2 April 2016 to a mainly Muslim audience. Members of groups suffering hatred often focus only on their own troubles. Accordingly I began by explaining to the audience that in Britain the rate of antisemitic attacks far exceeds that of anti-Muslim attacks. Then I outlined what individual Muslims should be doing to reduce anti-Muslim hatred. There are also actions that Muslim groups should be taking.
Classifying bigotry accurately matters
The term "racism" is often used to refer to religiously based prejudice or hatred. That is wrong, since religious groups are generally not biologically defined. Instead the neologism "religionism" is a more accurate term. Using language precisely matters, since the sloppy use of language inevitably leads to sloppy thinking.
Anti-Muslim prejudice: some causes and counter-strategies
There are several sources of anti-Muslim prejudice, including the behaviour of many Muslims and their choices regarding language. Muslim organisations often also display poor media skills. Muslims need to work with allies in countering prejudice which is bad for all of society.
Choose words that unite people
Every day, we influence others when we speak with them. The words we choose to use can divide us from other people, or bring us together. I give some specific examples.


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