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My definition of Islamophobia

At its simplest, Islamophobia is hostility towards Muslims. Some people attack Islam as a disguised way of attacking Muslims.


Posted 31 July 2019

I have written about the word Islamophobia on several occasions, as listed at the bottom of this page.

Despite my advocating abandoning the word, most people want to retain it, and the Government has now committed to coming up with its own definition. Accordingly I made minor grammatical modifications to my definition of antimuslimism, and earlier this month published a definition of Islamophobia on the Conservative Home website.

You can read it below.

Mohammed Amin: I don’t like the term “Islamophobia”. But since we’re stuck with it, here’s my own definition.

Until his recent expulsion, Mohammed Amin MBE was Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum . He is writing in a personal capacity.

As explained previously, I consider that 22 years of poor-quality definitions of Islamophobia have made the word incapable of being rescued.

However, in Parliament during May, James Brokenshire committed the Government to coming up with its own definition. To save it work, I am supplying one.

In my view, the key goal of any new definition must be to make it clear that, like antisemitism and homophobia, Islamophobia is about how you treat other people, and not about your views regarding an abstract noun (Islam).

I have intentionally used the structure of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, since it has become an industry standard. I have also added some emphasis, as there are certain words in the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition which many people regularly ignore or forget about.

The definition of Islamophobia

The definition below is intended as a complete, self-contained, replacement for all previous definitions. Accordingly, any commentaries on those earlier definitions should be ignored when construing this definition.

“Islamophobia is a negative perception of Muslims, which may in extreme cases be expressed as violence toward Muslims, and in less extreme cases as hatred of Muslims, discrimination against Muslims, and abusive language against Muslims.

Rhetorical and physical manifestations of Islamophobia may be directed toward Muslim individuals.

They may also be directed against non-Muslim individuals either because they are wrongly believed to be Muslims or because they are considered sympathetic to Muslims.

They may also be directed towards the property of such Muslim or non-Muslim individuals, or towards Muslim community institutions and religious facilities.”

Guidance on the use of the definition

The following examples may serve as illustrations.

Manifestations of Islamophobia might include extreme, and repetitive attacks upon the religion of Islam, asserting that it is a uniquely violent religion, or that Muslims have historically sought to exterminate all non-Muslims or sought to compel all non-Muslims to convert to Islam.

However, criticism of Islam similar to that levelled against any other religion, including asserting that Muhammad created the Quran from available extant sources, or other academically argued challenges to the history or theology of Islam, cannot be regarded as Islamophobic. Nor is it Islamophobic to point out that at specific times in specific places some Muslim rulers have practiced forced conversion.

Islamophobia frequently charges the generality of Muslims today with seeking to harm humanity, or with seeking to impose Islam on others. It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Contemporary examples of Islamophobia in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

  1. Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Muslims in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
  2. Making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Muslims such as the claim that Muslims wish to take over countries into which they have immigrated by demographic expansion.
  3. Accusing Muslims as a category of religious people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Muslim person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Muslims.
  4. Denying the fact, scope, or intentionality of genocides where Muslims are the victims as in the case of Srebrenica or more recently in the case of the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar.
  5. Accusing Muslim citizens of being more loyal to Muslim majority countries, or to the alleged priorities of Muslims worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
  6. Applying double standards by requiring of Muslims a behaviour not expected or demanded of other religious groups.
  7. Using the symbols and images associated with terrorists who are Muslims (e.g. swords dripping blood, images of Jihad) to characterize Muslims generally.
  8. Holding Muslims collectively responsible for the actions of terrorist groups such as ISIS or Al Qaeda.
  9. Seeking to demonise the Prophet Muhammad by using abusive language such as “paedophile”. (Simply pointing out the widely believed age of Aisha at the time of her marriage is not Islamophobic, as many Muslims also believe that she was very young when she was married. It is the type of language used, and an obsession with this issue, that is an indicator of probable Islamophobic attitudes.)

Islamophobic acts are criminal when they are so defined by law. For example, Austria has a blasphemy law which has been used to convict someone of anti-Islamic blasphemy.

Criminal acts are Islamophobic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property – such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries – are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, Muslim or linked to Muslims.

Islamophobic discrimination is the denial to Muslims of opportunities or services available to others and is illegal in many countries.

I am not expressing a view in this article about under what circumstances, if any, Islamophobic acts or discrimination should become criminal acts: that will be for a later piece which I hope Conservative Home will carry.

Conservative Home readers' comments

The Conservative Home website periodically deletes all comments as part of its housekeeping. Until then, they can be read below the original column on Conservative Home.

While some engaged properly with the subject, there were many pieces demonstrating anti-Muslim bigotry, and I assume that the comments deleted by the administrator were worse. They illustrate the poor image of Muslims and Islam with many Conservative Party members and Conservative Home readers.

I published a consolidated response to the comments, which is reproduced below. Even without reading the comments, my response below will help you to avoid some common misunderstandings about the definition.

It was not practical for me to respond to comments as they arose. However, I do read the comments, and am posting this consolidated response with the comment count standing at 128.

I regard the comments as falling into distinct categories.

  1. Ad-hominem attacks on me. – These need no response.
  2. Comments where the writer is reacting to an old definition of Islamophobia, normally the 1997 Runnymede definition. – My article makes it clear that the definition I propose is a complete replacement for all earlier definitions. Accordingly, all of these comments miss the point of the article.
  3. Assertions of the importance of being free to criticise any religion. – I agree with the freedom to criticise any religion, including Islam. However, as the explanatory examples above aim to show, sometimes criticism of Islam is made in a manner that clearly shows that the critic actually has an animus against Muslims as people. This mirrors the situation when criticism of Israel is made in a manner that reveals an animus against Jews, which is why certain criticisms of Israel are prima-facie evidence of antisemitism.
  4. Many commenting contend that Islam has a uniquely violent history or character. – Such comments demonstrate an ignorance of history, including ignorance of European history. My definition states that the expression of such views is prima-facie evidence of an animus against Muslims.
  5. Whataboutery” – This of course merits no response.
  6. Commission of the etymological fallacy. – The definition of Islamophobia is whatever it is, in this case my definition in the above article. Attempting to use the component parts of the word, such as “phobia”, in an attempt to understand what the word Islamophobia means, is the etymological fallacy. Those commenting along such lines are misdirecting themselves and need to learn what the word “definition” itself means!
  7. Desire for an alternative word. – I start the article by linking to previous writings explaining why I also don’t like the word Islamophobia. However if the Government is going to use it, which it clearly is, it needs a definition.
  8. Comments attacking all religion generally. – Religion does not need me to defend it.

My previous writings on Islamophobia

The items below are listed in chronological order, with the oldest first.

Islamophobia – a trap for unwary Muslims
Many Muslims use the word "Islamophobia" as if it meant "hatred of Muslims." However it does not; the word Islamophobia has a distinct established meaning. Accordingly, when Muslims complain about Islamophobia when they intend to complain about anti-Muslim hatred, they are making a mistake. Complaining about Islamophobia makes it easy for people who really do hate Muslims to claim the moral high ground of defending freedom of speech. Instead, Muslims need to be focused and complain about what matters, which is anti-Muslim violence and anti-Muslim hatred.
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.
Criticising Islam as disguised anti-Muslim hatred
People are free to criticise religions, but they should not denigrate their fellow human beings. Unfortunately, sometimes people motivated by anti-Muslim hatred cloak their language under a veneer of criticising Islam. It is hard to lay down general rules to distinguish between honest criticism of a religion and disguised hatred of its adherents. However, in specific instances the two are often quite easy to tell apart. I also discuss the distinctions between speech which is criminal, or socially unacceptable, or politically unacceptable.
Why I avoid using the word Islamophobia
Anti-Muslim hatred is wrong because it denies people their human right to be judged as individuals, and not as part of some allegedly homogeneous religious group. Many use the word "Islamophobia" as if it were an exact match for "Anti-Muslim hatred". It is not. Islamophobia has various definitions, mostly concerning people's attitude to Islam. Sometimes however people criticise Islam as a disguised way of expressing anti-Muslim hatred.
Defining and promoting the word "antimuslimism"
I have previously explained why "Islamophobia" is not a useful one-word way to refer to anti-Muslim violence, hatred, bigotry and discrimination. A new word with no historical baggage is required instead. I propose using the new word "antimuslimism" and offer a definition modelled on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance antisemitism definition.
The word Islamophobia should be abandoned
Many Muslims want a single word to cover a range of anti-Muslim behaviours. In 1997, Runnymede promoted a definition of Islamophobia that was severely flawed, because it conflated certain attitudes to Islam and anti-Muslim behaviour. There have been many attempts since then to produce an improved definition of Islamophobia. Quite apart from their individual problems, no revised definition can erase the presence in the public square of Runnymede's awful 1997 definition. Accordingly, the word Islamophobia cannot be rescued, and should be abandoned. Attempts to salvage it harm Muslims by distracting attention from real anti-Muslim behaviours.


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