The Islamophobia Charade ; American Muslim Leaders Just Don’t Get It

One of the most perplexing dilemmas faced by Muslim Americans is what is seen as the rising tide of anti-islamic sentiment. It tops the agenda of virtually every mosque, Islamic center, and Muslim political or religious organization in the country.
Whether or not the negative views of Islam and Muslims held by some Americans amounts to a civil rights crisis of the magnitude that some American Muslim leaders claim, is doubtful. When Americans think about civil rights, we summon the images of blatant discrimination, such as, denial of housing, employment, and education. We don’t usually think of name calling and negative sentiment as a civil rights issue.
Nevertheless, many Muslim American leaders and organizations have declared fighting islamophobia as the number one priority for Muslim Americans, and to make matters worse ; they are trying to sell it to the rest of us. Quite frankly, I’m just not buying it.
Even if, for the sake of argument, how others view me as a Muslim, and their view of my religion really made a difference in whether or not I can practice my Islam, using Islamophobia as a one size fits all categorization for every anti -Muslim sentiment or perception, is not an intelligent and practical way to address the issue.
Although some of the hysteria and fear baiting rhetoric articulated by critics of Islam or Muslims goes a little overboard, the general concerns about the unyielding and uncompromising dogma of modern political Islam, the threat of islamic extremism, and it’s potential to germinate within the ranks of American Muslim youth, are not totally unfounded, nor are they purely irrational.
The potential for extremism and fanaticism exists within in every religion group, Islam is no exception. The numerous injunctions found in Shariah law against religious extremism and fanaticism confirm conclusively, the potential for it. Because of that, and because this is a free country where people can think what they want, it should come as no surprise for American Muslims, that there is concern about Islamic extremism and the radicalization of Muslim Americans.
What I find hardest to understand is the approach that we as Muslim Americans are taking in addressing this issue. If we want to insist upon making islamophobia our number one obsession, then the least we can do is come up with an approach that makes sense.
The clinical definition of a phobia is the morbid and irrational fear of something. Thus, given the numerous examples of suicide bombings, Muslim on Muslim killings, denial of rights, sectarian warfare and hoswtility, and the senseless butchering perpetrated around the globe in the name of Islam, notwithstanding the events of 9/11, and the failed terrorism plots on U.S. soil since then, for anyone to say that concern for the potential of Islamic extremism to occur in the united states is irrational, is itself irrational, especially since there are over 2 million Muslims in the united states, many of them coming from the same parts of the world where religious extremism is common.
So it is a mistake in my view for American Muslims to categorize every and all suspicion or criticism of Islam and Muslims as simply the result of islamophobia. To do so, only serves to perpetuate the view that many Americans have of Muslims as irrational people, who cannot be trusted . This makes our fight against islamophobia using our current tactics, a winless and counterproductive campaign. Secondly, there is not a single issue upon which all Americans have the same exact view or opinion. This is a democratic republic; we do not think nor do we behave as a tribe. So for Muslims to assume that somehow we will convince every American leader, politician, academic, group or lay person to not have a criticism, hatred, suspicion or concern about Muslims in America is not only absolutely implausible, it is borderline insanity.
The obsessive American Muslim campaign against islamophobia and the questionable tactics we are employing to that end, says a lot about who we are as a people of faith. It implies that we reject our own religious axioms of being able to withstand criticism, hatred, and accepting that not everyone will share our point of view. It also says that we have very little spiritual fortitude.
The Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon Him ) and the earlier followers of Islam were relentlessly persecuted, tortured, hunted down and killed, and even totally boycotted by the Meccans because of their religion and their beliefs. Yet the Prophet (may peace be upon Him ) never referred to opposition to Islam as islamophobia or complained about being unpopulur, nor did he seek public approval for his Islam. He accepted the opposition that one encounters to their faith as one of the tests of faith.
By all accounts, Muslims who have emigrated to the United States seem to have done pretty well for themselves. American Muslim immigrants are amongst the best educated, highest earning, and most upwardly mobile demographic groups in the U.S. Thus, I cannot help but to ask the question ; just what is it that makes fighting islamophobia such a high priority for Muslims living in America?
It’s not like we’re saying ; stop killing us, stop denying us jobs and housing, stop denying us education and health care, and stop torturing us just because we are Muslim. What we seem to be saying is; we’re doing okay in our pursuit of the American dream, we just don’t like criticism of Islam or Muslims because it bruises our ego and suggests that perhaps we need to take a hard look at ourselves. Unfortunately we as American Muslims, are not quite ready to do that. The Quran states ; “God will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” Perhaps it is time for Muslims living in America to start looking in the mirror, or better yet ; spend more time and effort in practicing Islam than defending Islam. If we do that, we may start finding real answers to the questions surrounding islamophobia, and might even learn something about ourselves. Imam Luqman Ahmad

Imam Luqman Ahmad has been the Imam of a northern California Mosque for the last 15 years, he is also an executive committee member of the North American Imam’s Federation. He can be reached at :

15 responses to “The Islamophobia Charade ; American Muslim Leaders Just Don’t Get It”

  1. Bismillah.
    As Salaam ‘Alaikum, Imam Luqman.

    Thank you. I’m eye-to-eye with you on each point.


  2. Quaiser Abdullah Avatar
    Quaiser Abdullah

    Assalaamu ‘Alaikum…

    I agree with the general sentiments of the article. The “Islamophobia wolf cries” are started to fall on deaf ears. In the past, I used to post some of these issues as point to note, however, not each act in which a Muslim “feels” he is wronged, is a sign of discrimination.

    I think there are agencies – internal and external – through which we should go (and have gone in the past) to address the individual grievances that we face, that may seem discriminatory. That is the individual’s right. We also should be wary of the growing tide of fear (not totally irrational) that is sweeping – AND informing – the opinions of non-Muslims. At the same time, I do agree with you, we cannot let ‘this’ be our reason for being and our reason for existence.

    The number of people who are legitimately discriminated against in the US, far outnumber the Muslims. We are reaping what we have sown for decades. As you mentioned in this post or another, American Muslim leaders have spoken in anti-American lingo prior to 9-11. This went on for years. We are only 9 years after 9-11. It is surprising that Islam is seen as a “strange” religion when WE have been the architects of making it a strange religion? This is notwithstanding the off-quoted hadith with states that Islam started as something strange and will end as something strange. This is the not spirit in which the comment was made. We said it was different and wanted to set ourselves apart and above. Now it is being treated as “different.”

    We are reaping what our own hands have sown.


  3. Asalaam Alaikum,

    Thank you for this piece and for having thinking independently.

    I do believe some credit is due and a need exists for Muslims to advocate for our rights. Like everyone else in this nation we should not accept second class citizenship. My problem with the Islamophobia term, is the way its use and misuse shape our own self image and our relationships with others.

    Please see my series on Islamophobia, parts 1 and 2 are published and part 3 will be soon Insha’Allah.



  4. As-Salaamu `Alaykum,

    The problem is not with people who are anti-Muslim bigots saying isolated comments. We all know that there will always be perpetual tension between haqq and baatil. And we also know that many “immigrants” miss the days pre 9/10/01 when many of them believed that they had almost achieved “Whiteness.”

    The problem related to Islamophobia now is organized campaigns by people with anti-Muslim agendas that are shaping governmental policies that are making Muslims irrespective of class and ethnicity (and all Americans in fact potentially) targets to be spied on, entrapped and unjustly imprisoned (sometimes leading to someone being killed over a bogus case such as what happen to Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah). When we now have the Department of Homeland Security head stating directly that “high threat” zones for terrorism directly coincide with the number of masajid in a city and that the feds can send informants into masajid without predication, we all should be very considered. It is COINTELPRO remixed, and Islamophobia has influenced the political discourse whether you agree or not.


    However, I do agree with the statement that crying wolf regarding Islamophobic incidents has been overused. Whether it’s some foolish mufti in Sudan saying that a school teacher should be killed for letting kids name a teddy bear “Muhammad” to the Pakistani governor being murdered for only suggesting that the “anti-blasphemy” law be changed, Americans are constantly seeing things to make them scared of us. So I don’t blame Sally Sue or even Rev. Chicken Wing over being uneasy about us. They have a right to be uneasy about us if they don’t have a personal relationship with us.

    The responsibility is on us to get out into the broader society more, so that they can see a living alternative narrative in comparison to the confusion that is demonstrated in the Muslim world daily that makes Americans scared of us.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this though I disagree slightly.



  5. Part of the problem is less-than-effective PR strategic thinking on hte pat of Muslim institutions. By postioning the counterarguments as “us vs. them” it furthers the divide and separation. The generic”Islam Is A Religion Of Peace” ( what I call “IIAROP” ) press release such groups dole out as a response to every Islamic crisis or event is miraculously ineffective, since there is no real account of either specificity nor accounts and stories of American Muslims.

    Another problem is that the global ummah as a whole tends to isolate and insulate itself, and we dont really engage with our non-Muslim neighbor. Muslims are feared because we don’t take the responsibility to let the world know any other kind of Muslim other than the jihadists that make the news. “Verily, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.”

    I encourage every Muslim who embraces America to stop isolating and participate! get on your school board, your PTA, run for city council, invite a neighbor to dinner, lend him a lawn mower, do some civic engagement so that bit by bit we’re known primarily as engaged and active concerned citizens first and foremost– who just happen to be Muslims.


  6. Kamilah Sayyidi Avatar
    Kamilah Sayyidi

    I also agree with the sentiments of this article. However, I hate to hear our leaders continue to take responsibility for 9/11 when even the secular world are starting to believe it was an inside job:

    Moreover, I hate when leaders exploit our problems for a penny. We do need some real solutions, as Imam Luqman said ” If we want to insist upon making islamophobia our number one obsession, then the least we can do is come up with an approach that makes sense.”

    Instead of globe trotting giving conferences on the Eradicating Islamophobia, we need real work within each Masjid or Community Center. There is a social crisis the Muslims all over the US are in. We have allowed Riba, Greed, Lust, Jealousy, Racism, Sexism, etc destroy the fabric of our communities. We need some serious work on the diseases of the heart. Our Masjids are still being financed by Liquor stores and Interest, our Islamic schools still teach a Secular Faithless Curriculum complete with the whole series of “Harry Potter”, Spousal abuse and divorce rivals the non-Muslim population, and the only a small percentages of our doctors provide families without insurance limited health exams. Some of these problems immigrated with the Muslim immigrants and our problems here reflect a more global issue. When Bay Watch is the number one show in Saudi Arabia, African- American who go to Syria to study can’t even get an apartment due to the color of their skin, cities like Dubai are built on Greed and Interest, and all these abuses of immigrant housekeepers in the news recently makes arguing that Islam is a religion of Peace and Beauty hopeless. Islam IS a Beautiful religion, but Muslim have not let Islam beautify them. We do have internal work to do and I don’t buy it either.


  7. Yes, we should not complain. but to dismiss the rhetoric against Islam, Muslims, & American Muslims does not reflect reality. Just ask any person younger than 30 and you will find an identity crises due to the heated rhetoric on American Muslims. It is not difficult to separate/minimize our feelings when the attacks are on Muslims overseas, but when American Muslims are attacked it is becomes difficult not to be effected emotionally and psychologically. It is important not only to spend time with our friends who happen to be physicians, engineers, & businessmen, but spend time with our high school & college students.


  8. […] a 2011 column, Ahmad called it “a mistake in my view for American Muslims to categorize every and all […]


  9. […] a 2011 column, Ahmad called it “a mistake in my view for American Muslims to categorize every and all […]


  10. […] a 2011 column, Ahmad called it “a mistake in my view for American Muslims to categorize every and all […]


  11. As-salamu alaykum wa rahmatUllah wa barakatuh,

    A linguistic break-down of English words doesn’t always give you a glimpse into what the word actually means. Islamophobia isn’t a word meaning “fear of Islam” but the environment of Anti-Islam and Anti-Muslim sentiment that is being fostered by a small group of right-wing trazillionaires. Just because a section of the Muslim population in the US is obsessed with combating “Islamophobia”, and as you quite rightly point out, in a poor manner, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Fox News alone is proof of the existence of this “Anti-Muslim-Network-ia” or what-have-you.

    That being said, your advice for how to condition ourselves to the actual realities, based on our faith, and our tradition, is spot on. That is the way to deal with this. No amount of money or conspiracy to foment hatred can possibly stand against God, his Emissary, and the example he left us for dealing with not just unjust criticism, but even overwhelming, torturous, and oppressive criticism followed up by action to harm or destroy.

    “And [remember, O Muhammad], when those who disbelieved plotted against you to restrain you or kill you or evict you [from Makkah]. But they plan, and Allah plans. And Allah is the best of planners.” – Al Qu’ran 8:30 –

    As we say in American, “actions speak louder than words”, and “lead by example”. If we truly embody the etiquette and character of our Exemplar and Master, RasulAllah, sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, then no amount of money, or press, or Social Media Comments will convince people that we’re anything but righteous and good.


  12. Reblogged this on The Lotus Tree Blog and commented:

    I wrote this blog post in January of 2011, and as of November of 2015, five years later we are still stuck in the same predicament that we were then. I would rather that my predictions were wrong. Sadly, they weren’t. Read it for yourself. I reblogged it without changing a single word.


  13. Imam,
    (If I have addressed you incorrectly it is not due to any reason but ignorance of how to do correctly)
    Thank you for your blog. Why cannot we have educated Imams in Australia who can communicate like you? Last week our so called Grand Mufti appeared on national television and, after 25 years living and preaching in Australia, he proved that he still cannot speak, or chooses not to speak, English in public. If the grand mufti of Australia cannot communicate in the native language of his chosen country how can he even communicate with those of his own flock? Australians cannot believe such ignorance from a public leader. We were looking for a reason why a gun was given to a youth in a mosque to kill a policeman, any policemen. (He was successful in murdering an accountant who worked in a police station.) We waited for an answer but from him came nothing. Even his interpreter was an ignorant.
    Why does a country with a robust commonwealth, just like the USA, import the ignorant from foreign 3rd world Islamic climes to preach to muslims in Australia?
    How can there be any acceptance of a religion which is determined to look backwards to the dark ages from which all religions have come?
    I look to you for comment on this vexing problem.


  14. […] against the Jewish people? Does he think that it presents less of a complication than “Islamophobia,” a fabricated term designed to portray murderous Islamist extremists as victims and to […]


  15. […] against the Jewish people? Does he think that it presents less of a complication than “Islamophobia,” a fabricated term designed to portray murderous Islamist extremists as victims and to […]


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