Crimes against Muslims, adherents of the Islam religion, surged recently in the United States. The FBI reported a 67% increase in hate crimes against U.S. Muslims in 2015 alone.
Half of U.S. Muslims experienced one or more instances of discrimination based on their religion in the last year, according to a 2017 survey conducted by the non-partisan Pew Research Center.
I am taking a class at Wake Forest Divinity School in which we are studying how Islamophobia is one of the main causes of such crime and discrimination.
Islamophobia includes the hatred or fear of Muslims due to their religion. It also includes hostility towards Muslims and discrimination or exclusion of Muslims on the basis of religion.
This post provides a brief description of the Islam religion and Islamophobia.
Some Basics of Islam
Islam has over 1.8 billion adherents worldwide, approximately 1 in every 4 people on the planet. These adherents are called Muslims. The words Islam and Muslim indicate a surrender or submission to God, as Islam means “surrender” or “submit” and Muslim means “one who submits.”
Muslims worship the “God of Abraham,” calling that god the Arabic word for god, Allah.
There are many similarities between Islam and Christianity and Judaism. All three believe there is only one god. Christians and Jews also worship the “God of Abraham.” Many of the prophets of the Bible are considered prophets in Islam, including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Solomon.
Islam also think of Jesus as a great prophet. He is the most-mentioned person in the Qur’an. In Islam, as in Christianity, Jesus is venerated. He is generally viewed as someone who was virgin-born, a worker of miracles, and a great teacher. He had disciples, was sent by Allah, ascended to heaven, and will descend from heaven in the last days.
There are significant differences between Islam and Christianity, of course, including that Islam does not view Jesus as the son of God or as divine. This view is shared by Judaism and all other non-Christian religions.
Muslims consider the Prophet Muhammad, who was born almost 600 years after Jesus, as the last and greatest prophet in a line of prophets (including those mentioned above). He lived in Mecca and Medina, in modern-day Saudi Arabia.
Muslims view Muhammad as a messenger of Allah. They generally do not believe Muhammad was divine, but believe that he was a miracle-worker, an inspired teacher, and a messenger of God.
They believe that Muhammad provided the recitations that make up the Qur’an, Islam’s holy book, which Muslims believe to be a revelation from God and God’s exact words. They believe God spoke to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel (an angel who appears in the Bible) and that the Qur’an records those words. Qur’an means “recitations.”
The Five Pillars
Islam’s general view is that there are five basic acts required of a person for that person to be in the good graces of Allah. They are:
1) A declaration that “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God”;
2) Five daily prayers;
3) Required regular giving;
4) Annual fasting during the month of Ramadan; and
5) A one-time pilgrimage to Mecca.
These are known as the “Five Pillars of Islam.”
Like there is disagreement among Christians about the requirements to be in the good graces of God, there is disagreement among Muslims about the particular make-up of the pillars, additional requirements, the extent of some of them, and other aspects. There are variations in beliefs among Muslims regarding many aspects of faith. I have attempted to describe the general view.
Muslims in the U.S.
Muslims make up about 1 in every 100 people in the United States. Over 80% of them are U.S. citizens, with half of that number born in the U.S. 92% say they are “proud to be an American,” according to a recent survey by Pew Research, a non-partisan organization.
The survey went on to report that the same percentage of U.S. Muslims say they are very or somewhat concerned about extremism in Islam’s name (about 80%) as the percentage of the U.S. general public who say they are so concerned.
Also, the level of religious commitment of U.S. Muslims is about the same as U.S. Christians. About 90% of each group say religion is very or somewhat important to them.
Two-thirds of U.S. Muslims say that being a good parent is one of the most important things in their lives, the same percentage as the U.S. general public, per the survey.
Characteristics of Islamophobia
One of the textbooks that we are reading for our class, The Fear of Islam by Todd H. Green, describes eight views that fuel Islamophobia, the hate and fear of Muslims and the Islam religion:
- Islam is monolithic and unchanging. Most all Muslims think the same way, so you can tell a lot about the religion’s true intentions by the actions of a few. For example, terrorism or other bad acts carried out by one group of Muslims in the name of Islam reflects how all Muslims think and feel. ISIS is just the tip of the iceberg and reflects what and how most Muslims really think.
- Islam is extremely different from Christianity and Judaism. Its practices and objectives are exotic and utterly distinct. There is no relationship between Allah and God. Islam is “the other” and is deliberately opaque. Focus on the differences and do not try to understand the commonalities because those are facades.
- Islam is inferior to other religions, including being barbaric, irrational, and sexist. It is a religion of a backward and barbaric place and people. Nearly all Islamic women are treated harshly and with many restrictions. The teachings from Islam today are exactly the same as they were in the 7th century, at least that is what true Muslims think.
- Islam is the enemy. Islam teaches and requires hostility, violence, and aggressiveness of its members and its objective is to conquer the West. The religion requires Muslims to kill Christians when they can get away with it. It is going to take over and insist on laws directly from Qur’an.
- Islam is deceptive and manipulative. Muslims will lie to infiltrate the West and use a faux religion as a means to gain political and military power over the West.
- Discrimination against Muslims is justified. If we do not discriminate based on their adherence to Islam, such as by prohibiting the construction of mosques, screening them at airports, prohibiting them from entering our country, etc., then they will take us for chumps and overrun and overpower us.
- Muslim criticisms of the United States and the West are unjustified and properly ignored. What can backward people and countries tell us? All or nearly all of our actions in the Mid-East have been for noble and appropriate reasons.
- Anti-Muslim statements and discussion are natural and acceptable. Prejudiced and bigoted statements about Islam and Muslims should be accepted because they protect us and reflect reality.
Professor Green goes on to explain that these views are all unjustified by the facts, but persist nevertheless.
Can any of these views possibly be true? Are they justified in light of history? Or justified for some other reason?
What would the result of applying the same analysis to Christianity reveal?
Should Christians sit silent in the face of Islamophobia? Or sit silent in the face of increasing hate crimes and discrimination against Muslims?
At least some people in the U.S. are not sitting silent. In 2007, 32% of Muslims reported that someone expressed support for them because they are a Muslim, and this increased to 49% in 2017, per Pew Research.
Are Christians speaking up? Against Islamophobia? Or for it?
(The picture is one I took of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem in January 2017.).
Sources & Notes
Daniel W. Brown, A New Introduction to Islam, West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell (2nd ed. 2009).
Todd H. Green, The Fear of Islam, Minneapolis: Fortress Press (2015) (the characteristics of Islam described in this post are quoted, paraphrased, and expanded versions of Professor Green’s “features of Islamophobia” at pages 12-19 of his book).
Also see Mahmoud M. Ayoub, Islam: Faith and History, Oxford: Oneworld Publications (2004); William E. Shepard, Introducing Islam, New York: Routledge (2d ed. 2014).