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Islamophobia vis a vis Non-Muslimophobia
Political Issues
Dr Farhad Shafti


When I was kindly invited to attend the London Institute of South Asia (LISA) seminar on Islamophobia I was both pleased and surprised. I was pleased to have the opportunity to see activists and researchers on this subject and I was surprised because I wouldn’t consider myself as an expert in this particular field.

I was naturally anxious to read more about the concept of Islamophobia in the hope that as one of the speakers I could say a few words that at least made some sense. So after a brief research I came to the understanding that the Runnymede Trust (a registered charity in the UK that serves as a race equality think tank1) was the first or one of the early sources that defined and introduced the concept of Islamophobia. In particular I looked at the report by Runnymede Trust, titled “Islamophobia: a challenge for us all.”2 This was a follow up report to a consultation paper that was published by the same organization in February 1997 where the concept of Islamophobia was perhaps for the same time formally introduced to the public.

As an academic, I am interested in specifying and defining concepts rather than throwing them around with generic and vague definitions. I was impressed when I found a rather clear specification of what can be considered as features of  Islamophobia in the Runnymede Trust report. What made me even more interested was the fact that when I read those features I could see that in my view some of them existed more among Muslims rather than non-Muslims!

I therefore arrived at a concept that I would consider to be on the opposite spectrum to Islamophobia, where, Islamophobia features are existing among Muslims. Obviously I could not call that islamophobia, so with a bit of stretch of definition I chose the word Non-Muslimophobia for it. In fact, the word Islamophobia is also made by a stretch of definition. Normally any prejudicial attitude against Muslims or Islam is labelled as Islamophobia, no matter if it involves fear (phobia) or not. Likewise, I would call any prejudiced attitude against beliefs other than Islam and non-Muslims as Non-Muslimophobia, with the understanding that normally this does not involve fear (phobia).

In total the Runnymede Trust report identifies closed views on eight subjects related to Islam and Muslims as features of Islamophobia. Here I am quoting three of these subjects and will briefly explain how I see them equally (if not more) applied to the way that some Muslims see Islam, which then affects the way that they see non-Muslims. This does not mean that I do not find same ways of thinking among some Muslims about the other five subjects:

“Monolithic: Islam seen as a single monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to new realities.”

There are many Muslim scholars and well learned Muslims who do believe that our understanding of Islam may change and improve as time goes by. However, I can also think of some Muslims, including some scholars, who consider the understanding of Islam that is rooted in more than 14 centuries ago to be the only legitimate and correct understanding of religion and do not see the progressive thought of human beings to be in any position to affect our understanding of Islam.

This is while we can easily see how the Qur’an presented Islam in a way that it fully fitted with the requirements of the time and in this way also opened the door for revising the understanding of this religion and its content, as time changes.

“Separate: Islam seen as separate and other”

Many of our Muslim scholars are doing a tremendous job in trying to integrate Muslims and non-Muslims on the basis of their common values. However, I also see the line of thinking in Islam that considers Muslims to be the only nation that may reach salvation in the hereafter. It is extremely difficult for the followers of this line of thinking to not consider Islam to be “separate and other.” The common mistake among many Muslims in considering every non-Muslim to be an infidel (kafir) is one of the outcomes of this line of thinking. How at all is it possible to even start thinking about integration, if deep down I believe that those who I am supposed to integrate with are kafir and will end up in Hell? How on earth can I think of becoming friends with someone who I call with the same title that was given to the harshest enemies of the Prophet (sws), i.e. kafir?

This is while an intelligent student of the Qur’an can easily understand from the Book that the term kafir has a very specific and technical meaning that prevents one from applying it to someone who is simply a non-Muslim.

It is interesting that when the Qur’an instructs Muslims to enter into dialogue with the people of the book, the emphasis is on common values (look at 3:64). In many verses of the Qur’an common moral values are used as a basis for argument with those who did not fully believe in God. A devoted student of the Qur’an can only learn from this that even with a pure atheist we Muslims have a lot in common, let alone people of the book.

“Manipulative: Islam seen as a political ideology, used for political or military advantage”

Many Muslims have rightly understood the true essence and objective of Islam and are doing their best to share their understanding with others. However I also know some Muslims who consider establishing a so called Islamic state and eventually spreading the political domain of Islam over the world to be among the primary objectives of the religion of Islam.

This is while in the primary source of understanding Islam, the Qur’an, and under the light of the Qur’an, in the reliable Hadith, there is no instruction for Muslims in general to establish an Islamic state and to spread it to the rest of the world. In fact, the entire objective of the religion of Islam is specified to be purification of the soul (2:151, 91:9).




I believe the existence of the above misunderstandings among some Muslims is even more damaging to the minority Muslims than their existence among non-Muslims. In other words, in my view Non-Muslimophobia, as an internal problem, is causing more problems for Muslim minorities, compared to Islamophobia, that is an external problem.

Non-Muslimophobia and Islamophobia are two sides of the same problem. One contributes to the other one and increases its damaging effects. Some of the attitudes that result from the above misunderstandings among Muslims can easily serve as evidence to support the closed view about Islam among non-Muslims. Similarly, witnessing more Islamophobia can easily result in not very educated Muslims finding justification for the closed view on Islam that exists among some Muslims.

As a whole, we Muslims should try to adopt the same inclusive attitude that the Qur’an has not only adopted but in fact has firmly grounded in its narrative. The Qur’an does not hesitate in rejecting false beliefs, however, when there is an opportunity to appreciate common values, the Qur’an has never stopped to do so. This “conditional inclusivity” can be seen when the Qur’an refers to the prophets whose stories are in the Book as Muslims (2:132), and in fact even refers to everything as ones that have the attitude of Islam (3:83). I see the invitation of the Qur’an for its general addressees (including idolaters at the time) to think and to come back to moral values as the features of “conditional inclusivity” in the Qur’an. The beauty of this “conditional inclusivity” is seen when the Qur’an makes it clear that honest mistakes/beliefs will be forgiven by the Almighty (5:119). The pinnacle of this “conditional inclusivity” is when the Qur’an refers to nothing but ‘purification’ as the condition for salvation in the hereafter (91:9).

There are thankfully many Muslim writers and intellectuals who have written a lot on criticizing the western governments and the prejudicial attitude of a tiny minority of non-Muslims towards Muslims. Most of the time I have found myself in full agreement with these writings. However, I see a gap in this literature. To me, the voices of criticizing Muslims from within need to be more and stronger. This is an area that I have long been interested in contributing to. In fact, this, self-criticism, itself is a lesson that I learned from the Qur’an.

If we consider ourselves to be students and followers of the Qur’an, then among many other valuable lessons, two things that we can start to learn are “conditional inclusivity rather than non-conditional exclusivity” and “being self-critical more than else-critical.” I think both the above lessons can help to reduce Non-Muslimophobia among Muslims which then would help with dealing with and reducing Islamophobia among non-Muslims.

I would like to end this article with a statement that is narrated from Jesus (sws):

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? (Matthew 7:3)




1. Look at

2. The report can be accessed at

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