The Oxford English dictionary describes Islamophobia as an ‘intense dislike or fear of Islam.’ In general, Islamophobia is a term used to describe irrational hostility, fear, or hatred of Islam, Muslims, and Islamic culture. This term was derived by the French word, ‘Islamophobie,’ coined by French author Alain Quellien in 1910 to condemn the conduct of French colonial administrators towards their Muslim subjects. Another study “The Search for Europe” by Professor Emeritus Bichara Khader says that “Islamophobia in Europe and the US is often linked to migrants from Muslim countries that are seen as a threat to western culture and security.” Islamophobia as a proper term was published in a report by the Runnymede Trust in 1997 titled; “Islamophobia: A challenge for all of us.” In 2004, UN organised a conference “Confronting Islamophobia” which was addressed by Secretary General Kofi Annan. In past two decades, Islamophobia has been powered by public concerns over immigration and the amalgamation of Muslim minorities into majority cultures in Europe. Islamophobia existed in principle before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but it increased in frequency and regularity during the past decade.  In Nov 2020, the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers in its 47th session, unanimously adopted a resolution moved by Pakistan and Turkey to observe March 15 as the “International Day to Combat Islamophobia.” On 15 March 2021, for the first time the “International Day to Combat Islamophobia” was observed across the globe. UN Secretary General (UNSG) on that day quoted a report of Human Rights Council noting that suspicion, discrimination and outright hatred towards Muslims had risen to “epidemic proportions.” Pakistan submitted a six-point agenda in the UN against anti-Islamic narratives in June 2019. PM Imran Khan is also very concerned on this issue and recently wrote an open letter to Muslim heads of states and advised Muslim countries to adopt a “collective” strategy to contain the rising tide of Islamophobia in the world.    

In late 2009, the largest party in the Swiss Parliament put to referendum a ban on minaret construction. According to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a US think tank, among the total global terrorist attacks, about 85% of them occurred in Islamic countries. The aftermath of Islamophobia’s notion was evidently witnessed during the refugee crisis resulting from Arab Spring specifically during and after civil war of Syria. 

The recent episode of French President Emmanuel Macron’s allegations on French Muslims of “separatism,” and describing Islam as a “a religion in crisis” was highly condemned by entire Muslim Ummah. Islamophobia in West exhibits itself through distinct attitudes and conducts, physical or verbal attacks on property, places of worship, and people especially those who demonstrate a visible appearance of their religious personality such as women wearing the hijab or niqab. Stigmatise Muslims as an extremist group and denial of positive contributions of Muslims to the communities and countries in which they live. The financial crisis in the West act as an opportunity for far-right forces to blame Muslims for the economic sufferings, which stemmed in violence against Muslims as well. 

In an environment of swiftly growing multiplicity in Europe, Muslim minorities have been described as non-belonging, imperfect and considered separate from the rest of the society. The Muslims living in European Union from generations are presented as threats to European way of life. The increase of right wing politics in Europe and West has raised serious consequences for the innocent Muslims. The 9/11 terrorist attacks radically changed the public opinion of Western countries towards Muslims. Huge number of western media reports after 9/11 specifically underrepresented Muslim views and negatively depicted Islamic culture. According to 2016 Gallup survey, 52% Americans and 48% Canadians agree that the West does not respect Muslim societies. 

The 2017 EU Minorities and Discrimination Survey found that on average, one in three Muslim respondents faced discrimination and prejudice in the previous 12 months. Discrediting, leads to radicalisation, and this “venomous cycle” continues to create increasing space for hardliners on all sides. Muslims across the West faced intensive campaigns and public discourses disseminating fear of Islam, and through significant number of incidents targeting Muslims, mosques, Islamic wears, and Islamic most revered figures. The Muslims are considered as the enemy and Islam as a threat due to misuse of name Islam by extremists to justify their terrorist acts. It rests in the mind and it echoes in attitudes, and exhibited through violent actions, such as burning mosques, damaging properties, abusing women wearing scarf, or insulting Prophet (PBUH) or sacred symbols of Islam. The amount of the discriminations and Islamophobic incidents committed against European Muslims remain under-documented and under-reported due to strong hold of white supremacists in West.  

Peaceful co-existence, interfaith harmony and mutual respect can be attained when everyone has a broad space to go through the beliefs and rituals of their religions freely and securely. OIC should launch an English language television channel and international newspaper dedicated to confronting Islamophobia and removing “misperceptions” about Islam. This initiative will offer Muslims a dedicated media presence to help in “setting the record straight” on Islam and reconstructing new positive and realistic narratives around Muslims. The discoveries, contributions, innovations and efforts for international peace by Muslims across the globe should be shared from this platform. 

Muslim states need to play their individual and collective role in assuring the West that Islam does not pose any threat to western/non-Islamic values. Muslims know how to live in peace and harmony with other states and communities. Collective response of Muslim countries should be based on the reasons behind anti-Muslim feelings in rest of the world. Muslim states should make an endeavour to dispel negative perceptions, which have been created about Islam and Muslims through scholarly debates. Scholars both from Muslim countries as well as from Muslim diaspora in West should collectively contribute for the cause so that the world remains safe for Muslims as well as for remaining populations.  

 

Sheikh Fakhar-e-Alam