“Islamophobia” is an established term that denotes prejudice against, hatred towards, and fear of Islam and Muslims. At times Muslims are targeted because of their ethnic backgrounds, colours, cultures, or unwelcome migration in numbers to non-Muslim countries. But these forms of racism are not specific to Muslims, so they are not what Islamophobia is about. Some have tried to use this fact to dismiss the existence of Islamophobia as a distinct form of racism. But the reality is that Muslims are also targeted specifically because of their religion, and Islam as a religion and way of life is regularly attacked. This is why Islamophobia is a specific and real form of bigotry, discrimination, and persecution.
But the term “Islamophobia” has an inherent element of ambiguity, because different people, who include non-Muslims, understand the “Islam” in “Islamophobia” differently. Some refer to certain behaviours of Muslims as Islam, others cite various Islamic texts, and yet others combine different elements from the two. But it is only the Qur’an that unequivocally and uncontroversially defines Islam, not least because it is the one and only source of Islamic teaching that all Muslims accept as divinely inspired. Because of its unique position in defining Islam, those who promote Islamophobia have made the Qur’an the main target of the prejudice, hatred, and fear of their Islamophobic discourse. They realize that for Islamophobia to live up to its name, it has to take the form of “Qur’anophobia.” This is why the articulation of the concept of “Qur’anophobia” and the use of this term are critical for understanding and addressing the negative feelings and attitudes towards Islam that is called “Islamophobia.” Let me explain this in detail.
The disbelievers say: “Do not listen to this Qur’an and do distort it that you may win.” ( 41.26)
Islamophobia as a phenomenon is as old as Islam itself. The first generation of Muslims, including Prophet Muhammad, were the first to suffer the terrible consequences of the Islamophobia of non-Muslims in the Arabian Peninsula. The other target of Islamophobia was, of course, the Qur’an. When the Prophet was in Mecca in the first 12 years of his mission, the Islamophobes consisted of Arab idol-worshippers. These were later joined by Jews and Christians when the Prophet and his followers were forced to migrate to Medina to escape the persecution in Mecca. Two years after the migration to Medina, God instructed the Muslims to defend themselves against the ongoing violent persecution they were being subjected to:
Permission [to fight] has been granted to those against whom war is waged, because they are oppressed; and surely, Allah is well capable of assisting them [to victory] (22.39). [The permission is to] those who have been driven out of their homes without a just cause, only because they say: “Our Lord is Allah.” Had it not been for Allah repelling some people by others, then certainly cloisters, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which Allah’s name is much remembered would have been pulled down. And surely Allah will help him who helps His cause; surely, Allah is Mighty, Invincible. (22.40)
Verse 39 makes it clear that the permission was given to the Muslims to fight those who launched war against them. Verse 40 states equally clearly that the only reason for that persecution of the Muslims was their following a new religion that differed from the idol-worshiping of the Meccans and the religions of the Jews and Christians in Medina. The various authorities saw the new religion as a threat to their interests and positions. Once it appeared as soon as the Prophet spoke publicly about the revelations he was receiving, Islamophobia never stopped. In fact, the attitude to Islam in Europe throughout history has been mainly Islamophobic, although the intensity of Islamophobia has been on the rise in recent times.
As for the history of the term, its first attested use in print is in its French form “Islamophobie” in a book titled La politique musulmane dans l’Afrique Occidentale Française by Alain Quellien, published in Paris in 1910. Its context is criticism of how colonial France viewed the cultures of some of its African countries.1 It next appeared in a biography of Prophet Muhammad by Alphonse Etienne Dinet, a French painter who had converted to Islam and changed his first name to Nasr’Eddine, and Sliman Ben Ibrahim, also a Muslim. Dinet was involved in this book from 1913, which is when he formally announced his conversion to Islam, but the book was finished in 1916 and published it 1918. Here the term is applied critically to France’s treatment of its Muslim soldiers. When the book was translated into English, “Islamophobie” was not kept as is, but it was translated into “feelings inimical to Islam.” The English term “Islamophobia” is said to have appeared first in 1924, whereas the term “islamophobe” is also said to have been used in French over a decade earlier in 1912.2 The English term was later used only a few times until it entered into common English usage in November 1997 when a British commission chaired by Gordon Conway, the vice-chancellor of the University of Sussex, published its report titled “Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All.”
There is no question that the increase in Islamophobia has been fuelled by terrorist acts by Muslim individuals and groups, usually committed under the name of Islam, and by Islamophobes who take full advantage of this atrocious betrayal of Islam. Most people consider the fact that the terrorists are a small minority of the 1.6 billion Muslims clear proof that true Islam has nothing to do with terrorism. Others further support this view with knowledge that, throughout its long history, Islam not only tolerated but also protected and provided a safe haven for other religions. Then there are the authentic teachings of Islam which prohibit all forms of unjust violence.
Fair-minded people know that the main drivers of terrorism, Islamic or otherwise, are political and personal agendas not genuine religious teachings. Religious terrorists are often mobilized to commit atrocities by influential leaders who abuse religion to gain control over their followers and use them to pursue their personal goals. But to establish credibility among their followers, those false Muslim teachers must seek support for their incitement of violence and hatred in the two sources of Islamic teaching and law: The Qur’an and the Ḥadīth. But there are serious and fundamental differences between the role each may be forced to play.
The Ḥadīth records sayings and deeds of Prophet Muhammad. Some of these narratives can be and have been used to justify terrorism or, more specifically, killing people just for being non-Muslims. But the serious weakness in depending on such accounts to justify terrorism is that Muslim and non-Muslim scholars agree that many Ḥadīth narratives are unhistorical, attributing to the Prophet things he never said or did. This is why those preachers have to try to find support for their views in the Qur’an.
In order to show that the Qur’an supports unjustified violence, such as waging war against others simply for being non-Muslims, those who hold such views resort to misinterpreting and misrepresenting verses. As we shall discuss shortly, God has protected the Qur’an against change, but not against misinterpretation. There are four main ways of misinterpreting the Qur’an, which I have discussed in more detail in my article “Reasons For Misinterpreting the Qur’an.” This misinterpretation is done in four different but related ways, two of which are common in textual misinterpretation and misunderstanding and the other two are specific to the Qur’an:
1) Taking Verses Out of Context
2) Treating the Qur’an as a Collection of Disconnected Verses
3) Using Claims Form the False Doctrine of Abrogation
4) Using Wrong Extra-Qur’anic Information
These are the four methods used by Muslim terrorists to misinterpret and misrepresent the Qur’an to seek support from it for their crimes. Islamophobes then jump at the arguments of these misguided Muslims to declare that the Qur’an promotes terrorism. In doing so, adherents of Islamophobia ignore the obvious fact that the overwhelming majority of Muslim scholars and laypeople reject the methods and conclusions of the tiny minority that abuse the Qur’an. Some Islamophobes learn to apply those four methods themselves, so they do not need the terrorists to do their job for them. This is how Qur’anophobia is created.
Misinterpreting the Qur’an to accuse it of various things is uniquely dangerous and consequential, because it is the one and only source every part of is considered truly representative of the teachings of Islam. As I said earlier, the second source of Islamic teaching, the Ḥadīth, is controversial because the authenticity of many narratives has been attacked and rejected by various Muslim scholars. One cannot talk about “Hadithophobia” because Muslim themselves doubt the accuracy and authenticity of many Ḥadīth narratives. In fact, no Muslim scholar would accept all Ḥadīth reports, and every scholar would point to numerous sayings and actions attributed to the Prophet that they reject on the basis of the chain of transmission of the report or its substance.3
The situation with the Qur’an is in complete contrast to that of the Ḥadīth. All Muslim scholars and laypeople accept the Qur’an’s assertion that it is the unadulterated Word of God that He protected against any corruption or omission by people:
Verily, it is We who revealed the Remembrance [the Qur’an], and verily, We are its Guardian. (15.9)
Surely those who disbelieved in the Remembrance [the Qur’an] when it came to them [were wrong]; surely it is an impregnable Book. (41.41) Falsehood cannot come to it from anywhere; [it is] a revelation from One who is Wise and Praised. (41.42)
The absolute faith that the Muslims have in the Qur’an and its unique position in defining the religion has made it the favourite subject of attacks by critics of Islam. This is why when directed toward Islam itself rather than Muslims, Islamophobia often takes the form of “Qur’anophobia,” with all the fear, hatred, and prejudice targeted at the Qur’an. Islam can be undermined only if the Qur’an is shown to be flawed. Without this, Islam remains immune to the attacks of its critics, even when various Muslim individuals and groups can be legitimately condemned for engaging in terrorism or other illegal or immoral acts.
In the same way terrorists know that they must show that the Qur’an supports their claims, Islamophobes are increasingly aware of their need to attribute any flaws they accuse Islam of to the Qur’an itself. They know that in order to focus on Islam itself rather its believers — as any misbehaving believers can be said to be failing to represent the religion properly — Islamophobia must take the form of Qur’anophobia. An Islamophobe who would like to discredit Islam itself not only or necessarily its followers must become a Qur’anophobe.
Qur’anophobia is often promoted by two groups: atheists and fanatics of other religions. Both do all they can to show that any Muslim behaviour they dislike originates from the Qur’an. Misinterpretation and misrepresentation of the Qur’an using the methods I mentioned earlier is common among these critics. When it comes to terrible behaviours such as terrorism, they do not care that these are committed by a tiny minority of Muslims and that the overwhelming majority rejects these crimes. They ignore the fact that only the extremist minority reads the Qur’an as promoting unjustified violence. Their insistence that these are the true interpretations is driven by dogma. In the case of atheists, it is their rejection of the existence of the divine and the concept of revelation. In the case of religious fanatics, it is their attempt to promote their respective religions at the cost of Islam. These determined dogmatic endeavours are affectively attempts to force Muslims to abandon their faith. Their message to the Muslims boil down to something like this: it does not matter how you read the Qur’an, we want you to stop treating it as a divine text. This is nothing other than an attempt to interfere with a basic human right that all people have: the right to freedom of belief. Atheists, other believers, and all people have the right to demand that Muslims condemn any reading of the Qur’an that promotes hatred, injustice, and atrocities. But no one has the right to tell Muslims that because he thinks these distortions are proper interpretations of the Qur’an, they should abandon their divine book.
In exposing the reality of this Qur’anophobic stance, I often cite a simple fact about democracy. The overwhelming majority of people who believe in democracy see it as a system for the good of humanity, including establishing and maintaining peace. Yet devastating wars have been launched under the banner of spreading democracy. But no sensible person would argue that people should not believe in democracy to argue because it is inherently violent and must be abandoned!
Muslims today find the foundation of their faith being increasingly attacked by three minority groups of extremists that, ironically, hold diametrically opposed beliefs: Muslim extremists, fanatical believers of other faiths, and overaggressive atheists. While driven by different objectives and dogmas, these three groups of fanatics share the interest in misinterpreting and misrepresenting the Qur’an, albeit for very different reasons. Of course, in the same way most Muslims reject the views of extreme Muslims, most believers of other religions and atheists also at least accept that the Qur’an is open to interpretations and often note that the majority of Muslims reject any claim that the Qur’an promotes unjustified violence. Yet the voices that attack the Qur’an are getting louder and louder.
A quick search on Google shows that the term “Qur’anophobia” was used a couple of times in passing in the past, but I strongly believe that Muslims and those who oppose Islamophobia should use “Qur’anophobia” as a major term when debating Islamophobia. The articulation of the concept of Qur’anophobia is necessary to clarify the true nature of Islamophobia and deal with it. Putting aside the standard forms of racism that are driven by ethnicity, colour, and other factors, which various minority groups suffer from, Islamophobia is an attempt to demonise the Qur’an and, consequently, all its believers. It is “Qur’anophobia.”
1 Robin Richardson, Islamophobia or anti-Muslim racism – or what? – Concepts and Terms Revisited, 2013.
2 Abdoolkarim vakil, “Is the islam in islamophobia the same as the islam in anti-islam; or, when is it islamophobia time?” In Thinking Thru’Islamophobia Symposium Papers, edited by S. Sayyid, S. and AbdoolKarim Vakil, CERS e-working papers, 12. http://www.ces.uc.pt/e-cadernos/media/ecadernos3/Vakil.pdf
3 For more details on the Ḥadīth literature, see my article “The Meaning of ‘Ḥadīth.’”
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