Controversy about Islamophobia: a brief review of literature
Posted on June 8th, 2017

By Rohana R. Wasala

The argument that there is no Islamophobia as such seems to be gaining credence.  If, as Muslims claim, theirs is the world’s fastest growing religion (Wikipedia), how can there be any? But it is a fact that many people, particularly non-Muslims, make negative comments on some central aspects of Islam. The internet is awash with such criticisms. There is a fair amount of print literature also about the subject. Not all criticisms of Islam are credible, but most apparently merit attention. Instead of flatly dismissing all these criticisms as manifestations of Islamophobia (which is a demonstrable myth, and a bit outdated one at that), won’t it be good to meet those criticisms rationally and try to dispel misconceptions, if any, that at present threaten humanlike peaceful co-existence between Muslims and non-Muslims? Who are the most eligible to contribute to such debates? Muslims themselves, of course, including former Muslims.

TROP (thereligionofpeace website) says: It’s far easier to act as if critics of Islam have a problem with Muslims as people than it is to accept the uncomfortable truth that Islam is different” (where, I think, ‘people’ should be stressed, and where ‘different’ should not be read as ‘bad’ or ‘inferior’).  Similarly, it seems far easier for defenders of Islam to create a chimera named Islamophobia as a quixotic target for evasive attacks than to try to explain away the elements in their faith that non-Muslims find strange if not exactly fearful, or find it difficult to square with reason, through rational debate. The common humanity of Muslims and non-Muslims is an incontrovertible fact. It is also equally certain that humanity is older than any religious faith.

A phobia is an irrational fear of something.  There are hundreds of different phobias that people could succumb to. The English language has specific names for them. For example, some people may have a fear of washing or bathing, and this is called ablutophobia; if someone is unnecessarily fearful of going up or down a lift as it involves being in an enclosed space, they may be suffering from claustrophobia or the baseless fear of confined places; the pointless fear of travelling by air is named aerophobia; arachnophobia is the fear of spiders, and so on. Phobias are unhealthy, and are worth trying to overcome if possible. But fear itself is not necessarily unhealthy. Fear is a natural emotional response to real or perceived danger, that induces behavioral changes in us that are required so as to ensure our self-protection. It works at the rational conscious level as well as the instinctive level. Fear of being attacked by wild animals, for example, encourages us to be particularly watchful when we are walking through a jungle known to be infested with predators. Fear of terrorist attacks in a locality where there is a likelihood of such attacks is not irrational; neither is fear of terrorism itself. So, if we adopt certain behaviours  that exhibit fear of something that we have reason to dread, for example dengue, we should not be criticized as being afflicted with a particular kind of phobia. Fear of contracting dengue is useful besides being rational, because it leads us to devise ways to protect ourselves and others from the disease. The difference between a phobia (an unfounded fear of something)  and a natural  healthy fear (of something harmful or threatening) is that whereas a phobia may be reasoned out, or successfully  treated, the other cannot.

‘Islamophobia’ is a word coined on the analogy of the phobia concept explained above. So, it may be broadly interpreted as an irrational fear of Islam. The term Islam primarily refers to the religion of Muslims established by their prophet Muhammad (570-632 CE). But, in the context in which we are applying it here, it also implies the global Muslim community, their culture, and the countries where

they dominate. Islamophobia must therefore be seen as an irrational fear of the religion of Islam and its followers. However, if there really is such a thing as ‘Islamophobia’ as alleged, we should hope that it would stand a good chance of being reasoned out, or otherwise overcome, and that those allegedly afflicted with it – the ‘Islamophobes’ – would be cured of their phobia to their benefit. However, the problem is not that simple. Any religion is invariably viewed as a force for peace, compassion, hope, humanity, and morality. Why would a religion, in this case Islam, induce a so-called phobia among people outside its pale (assuming for a moment that it is real)? (It is reasonable to assume that any ‘fear’ of Islam, whether rational or irrational, could arise only among people who are non-Muslims or  Muslims who are contemplating leaving Islam, an unlikely event, though, given that apostasy is a capital offense in that religion).

World’s major religions are of two types: faith-based Abrahamic religions (e.g. Judaism) and intellect- based Dharmic religions (e.g. Jainism). Abrahamic religions are so called because they can all be historically traced to the same spiritual source, the prophetic figure called Abraham, the ancestor of Israelites.  Judaism is the oldest Abrahamic religion which probably originated in the 7th century BCE. Christianity emerged in the 1st century CE, the youngest Islam had its beginnings in the 7th century CE, that is, about a millennium and a half after its oldest ancestor.  Numerically, the  three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam dominate the religious world today. Judaism is the oldest known version of Abrahamism (which is belief in the God of Abraham ‘the one God, creator of the universe’). It is the same God of Abraham, Jesus and Muhammad (respectively Yahweh of the Jews, God of the Christians, and Allah of the Muslims). According to the Wikipedia, in terms of the 2005 estimates, 54% of the world population (3.6 billion) were followers of the three major Abrahamic religions, whereas only 32% (2.2 billion) were of other religions; another  12% (800,000) were without any religion, and the rest others ; Judaism claimed a megre 0.2%. The same source indicates that 33% of the world community were Christian to 21% Muslim in 2005. So, these two faith-based Abrahamic religions are professed by more than half of the world population.

All religions are essentially  philosophical, that is, they are based on characteristic conceptions of the world/universe that shape the basic assumptions of the pioneers of those religions about such things as the nature of human  knowledge, life, reality, and existence, etc.; religions  also derive, from their philosophies, moral principles for the guidance of their adherents’ ethical conduct, whose ultimate aim is the achievement of a particular ‘spiritual’ end/highest state of happiness/summum bonum.  ‘Spirituality’ is the raison d’être of any religion. However, religions differ among them both in terms of their specific worldviews and their ethical teachings and practices. People who profess different religions are divided on the basis of their different religious beliefs and prescribed modes of conduct. It is also usual for adherents of the same religion to create internal divisions based on different interpretations of its important concepts. These are facts of common knowledge and I think there is no need to give examples to illustrate them.

The monotheistic religion of Muslims is based on the principle of absolute submission to Allah, the one supreme god. They believe that the main Islamic scripture the Quran contains the direct word of Allah as revealed to their prophet Muhammad through the angel Jibreel (Gabriel in the Christian Bible). Sunnah is the orally transmitted record of his teachings, deeds and sayings or collectively called ‘al ahadith’ (plural of the Arabic noun ‘hadith’)  of the Islamic prophet (sometimes translated into English as ‘traditions’). The Arabic word sunnah literally means habit or usual practice. The Quran and the Sunnah are the two main sources of the Islamic ideology and the Islamic law. The Islamic law is called the sharia (‘the pathway to be followed’). For Muslims, the sharia (al sharia/assharia) embraces the totality of their religion. Muslims believe that prophet  Muhammad set the example of a perfect Muslim. Following is a very brief dispassionate look at this vital aspect of Islam:

By reading the Quran and the Sunnah from which the Islamic legal system derives, we may get some idea about why non-Muslims may find many of its aspects different from their own concept of what legal principles should be that claim divine sanction. Of course, devoted Muslim believers find the same tenets quite normal and justifiable. It is possible that the severity of the punishments meted out under sharia  for specified offences is meant to deter such offences, so the need for inflicting the same punishment is minimized. For example, sharia’s punishment for theft is for the thief to have his or her right hand cut off at the wrist. Probably, this worked as an effective deterrent in medieval times. But  many civilized societies today do not accept a cruel punishment like that for theft as humane. Blasphemy (criticizing any part of the Quran) is punishable by death, as is apostasy. Denial of Muhammad’s prophethood is also a capital offence. From the point of view of non-Muslims who believe in gender equality, the sharia law that says that at a trial a woman’s evidence carries only half as much weight as a male’s does not represent justice. When, under sharia, a charge of rape is brought against a man, the victim woman must produce four male witnesses to prove her case. It is her voice against the four males’. In non-Islamic societies, this would be generally condemned as misogynistic discrimination against women.

One of the many unique features of Islam that make it so different from other faith systems is the close identity between it and its founder: His character, words and deeds are the perfect embodiment  or the normative example of the doctrine. The limits of interpretation possible or permissible of the ethical content of Islam have for ever been decided by  Muhammad. Muslims believe that the things written in the Quran are the unalterable word of Allah revealed to Muhammad. It is said that Winston Churchill used to refer to Muslims as Mohammedans (followers of Mohammed). It is an accurate description. The close mutual identity between the prophecy and the prophet, and the unshakeable belief in the divine origin of the Quran mean that the religion of Islam has remained unchanged and unchangeable over time unlike other Abrahamic religions.

From a neutral point of view, it appears that Muslims are not obliged to be perfectly honest to non-Muslims whom they call kafiroon (Arabic: plural of kafir, meaning  infidel or unbeliever/disbeliever) in circumstances that are detrimental to the Islamic cause. The complex principle of taqiyya (prudence, fear, caution in Arabic) is criticized by non-Muslims because, they say, it allows the Islamic faithful to tell lies to non-Muslims (the infidels) in order to serve the goal of advancing Islam/the cause of Allah. But Muslim scholars tell us that ‘taqiyya’ is not as simple as that.

Surah III.54 of the Quran is:

And (the unbelievers)

Plotted and planned,

And God too planned,

And the best of planners

Is Allah.


Surah XVI.106:

Anyone who, after accepting

Faith in God, utters unbelief,-

Except under compulsion,

His heart remaining firm

In Faith – but such as

Open their breast to Unbelief, –

On them is Wrath from God,

And theirs will be

A dreadful Penalty.

Both verses above  are from the late Pakistani Quranic scholar Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s authoritative English translation of the Quran, whose first edition came out in 1934. In his commentary on the Arabic word ‘makara’ in the original of the first verse (Surah III.54), he says: ‘The Arabic makara has both a bad and a good meaning, that of making an intricate plan to carry out some secret purpose. The enemies of God are constantly doing  that. But God – in whose hands is all good – has His plans also, against which the evil ones will have no chance whatever’. To explain the meaning of the second verse (Surah XVI.106) Abdullah Yusuf Ali refers to the case of a Muslim who recanted his faith while being subjected to torture at the hands of enemies, but he never wavered in his belief; he came to Muhammad at once and told him what had happened. The prophet consoled him and confirmed his faith. Abdullah Yusuf Ali points out that there is no permission in this for a believer for weakness or dissembling when tortured or persecuted. But a commentator representing the research oriented website (TheReligionofPeace) quoted at the top of this essay, says about the same verse that it ‘establishes that there are circumstances that can “compel” a Muslim to tell a lie’.

Another example of the practice of Taqiyyah quoted in the same site is from Hadith and Sira :

The Prophet said, War is deceit”. The context of this is thought to be the murder of Usary ibn Zarim and his thirty unarmed men by Muhammad’s men after he guaranteed him safe passage.

Taqiyyah makes it difficult for a non-Muslim to have a fair debate with a Muslim even about a mundane topic, unless the latter decides not to gain an ‘undue’ advantage over his opponent by misapplying the taqiyya principle. (The problem in this context is that there’s hardly likely to be any agreement between the two debating sides about what is due or undue.) Yet this is what usually happens, for example, in TV debates between Muslim and non-Muslim antagonists. I have never seen a Muslim minister accepting defeat  or moderating his stance in an argument with a Buddhist monk, even when confronted with overwhelming evidence against his  position.

Abdur-Rahman Muhammad is a former member of the International Institute for Islamic Thought  based in Northern Virginia, a front organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, which itself was founded by the Egyptian Hasan Al-Banna in 1928. Al-Banna was an admirer of Adolf Hitler. The motto of the Muslim Brotherhood is: Allah is our goal. The Prophet is our leader. The Quran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest aspiration.” Abdur-Rahman  Muhammad was present when the neologism ‘Islamophobia’ was proposed and adopted. However, following is how he characterizes the concept of Islamaphobia now, according to Claire Berlinski, Moderate Muslim Watch: How the Term ‘Islamophobia’ Got Shoved Down Your Throat,” Ricochet, November 24, 2010: This loathsome term is nothing more than a thought terminating cliché conceived in the bowels of Muslim think tanks for the purpose of beating down critics”. This is quoted by David Horowitz and Robert Spence in their book ISLAMOPHOBIA – Thought Crime of the Totalitarian Future”, Sherman Oaks, US, 2011. Such a judgment from an ex-Muslim (of Abdur-Rahman Muhammad’s caliber at that) needs special attention, but need not be accepted as final. The best thing for us to do is to read the Quran and the Hadith for ourselves and also evaluate what others say about these, and finally try to make up our minds about the issue.

2 Responses to “Controversy about Islamophobia: a brief review of literature”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    Islamophobia is BAD. UNBELIEVERPHOBIA is worse.

    We have a RIGHT to be UNBELIEVERS and we are PROUD of it. NO ONE can treat us any different just because we are PROUD UNBELIEVERS.

    I REJECT Allah.
    I REJECT the prophet.
    I REJECT Jihad.
    I REJECT dying for Allah.

    And I am entitled to the same rights of those who think different.

  2. Ancient Sinhalaya Says:

    What is wrong with these two-legged creatures who support mussies? Haven’t they got any brain cells in their heads? xxxxlam the fastest
    growing religion! Of course, it is growing fast since they are breeding too fast! Why can’t these brainless guys
    comprehend this simple truth. Are mussies’ children going to be christians, Buddhists or hindus? Does any of these
    Einsteins know the answer?

    Mussies have BABY MACHINE WIVES (in some cases up to seven). They are mostly parked at home and keep
    churning out lorry loads of mussie babies. Then these brainless morons think it is the fastest growing religion. xxxxlam isn’t just
    the religion of utter peace (peace activities taking place currently in syria, iraq, libya, afganisthan, pakesthan, uk, france, iran etc. etc) it is also the FASTEST BREEDING RELIGION.

    This is the dirty old trick mussies used in old Buddhist iran, afganisthan, pakesthan, bangladesh, maldives,
    malayasia and indonesia. BREED, BREED AND OUTNUMBER. Modern day Einsteins can’t figure out this simple truth since they have empty heads!

    Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is accepted to be true by the world over. It says life started on the planet
    in the most primitive form and evolved to be what we are today. It took millions of years. Does anybody on the
    planet who can dispute this theory?

    So no creator god. No messenger. Charles Darwin proved it beyond anybody’s doubt. With this theory all the religions should have disappeared from the planet. But what is happening? Unreligions are destroying the only true religion on the planet today. Mad world? No HONEST person can dispute it?

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