A Look at Islamophobia through the Eyes of Muslims | SoundVision.com

A Look at Islamophobia through the Eyes of Muslims

By a wide variety of measures, instances of Islamophobia are on the rise across the globe. Negative impacts from this discriminatory practice have been documented by the United Nations, the European Union, and various nongovernmental organizations worldwide. Instances of faith-based hate and violence have become part of our daily news feeds and those events are heavy on the minds of Muslims, young and old. A new report published by the University of California Berkley called Islamophobia through the Eyes of Muslims: Assessing Perceptions, Experiences, and Impacts opens a lens into the extent of the problem and how individual Muslims think about it and respond to it. It is a must read for all of us.


Though the term Islamophobia is now used widely, it is important to understand the phenomenon it describes has historic baggage. The term was coined in the early 1900s, describing the mistreatment of Muslims in North Africa by French colonialists. While the instances of faith-based hate and injustices may not be new, in the U.S. negative representations of Muslims gained the widest traction after the bombing of the World Trade Centers in New York City on September 11, 2001. They peaked again after the election of President Barak Obama and have grown steadily since, especially fueled by the white-supremist narrative spewed by President Donald J. Trump and those who support him.

Negative representations of Muslims are a type of racism and result in discriminatory practices and policies, exclusion, and increased violence. The Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkley looked deeper into the matter, one that had been studied for years. On the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, they offered a new perspective. Rather than simply analyzing media messages, documenting negative statements from political operatives, and detailing the organizational infrastructure of the billion-dollar industry that fuels the demonization of Muslims and Islam, they listened to first-person accounts and reported on the collective experiences and responses of Muslims themselves. 

Who participated in the survey? 

Islamophobia through the Eyes of Muslims is a national survey that was administered between October 14 and November 2, 2020. A total of 1,123 Muslims participated and care was taken to ensure that they were a diverse and representative group of the nearly 3,500,000 Muslims living in the U.S.

  • More than two-thirds were between the ages of 30-49 and there were slightly more men (51%) that women among the respondents. 
  • There was a diverse representation in terms of ethnic background and nation of origin: 70% identified as South Asian, 36% as Arab, 25.2% African American/Black, and 9% as Afro-Arab.
  • Nearly half (49%) were native English speakers, with 83% speaking another language besides English in the home. 
  • A total of 61% of the participants were foreign-born, though the statistic varied when age was also considered. For the 18-29 age group, 77% were born in the U.S. 
  • Nearly a third of the total group had lived in the U.S. for 21-40 years and they resided in 42 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Most (91%) were college graduates; 4% identified as students. 
  • Almost two-thirds (64%) were employed, with 10% being self-employed. More than half (67%) earned an annual income between $25,001 and $200,000.

What did the survey reveal? 

The striking results describe the prevalence of Islamophobia and how it impacts daily life for Muslims living in the U.S.

  • Nearly all the respondents (97.8%) believe that Islamophobia exists in the U.S. 
  • Most (95%) also agree that it is a problem, with 61% assessing it to be a “very big” problem (younger participants, women, and U.S. born participants are more likely to consider it a “very big” problem).
  • Almost three-quarters (74%) believe that women are more at risk of experiencing Islamophobia.
  • Over two-thirds (68%) have personally experienced Islamophobia in their lifetimes and among these, 76% reported experiencing an instance within the last twelve months (October 2019-2020).
  • More than half (55%) have personally encountered an incident but did not report it to the authorities; two-thirds (66%) of those did not know where to report it.
  • More than a third (39%) believe that all age groups of Muslims are equally at risk of experiencing Islamophobia.
  • Almost two-thirds (63%) report that they themselves or family members, friends, or community members, have been affected by “federal and/or state policies that disproportionately discriminate against Muslims.”
  • In accessing the social impacts of Islamophobia, almost a third (33%) at some point in their lives have hidden or tried to hide their religious identify. Notably, more U.S.-born participants (40%) had done so.
  • Related to the psychological and emotional impacts, most (94%) responded that Islamophobia “affects their emotional and mental well-being.”
  • Despite these challenges, nearly all (99.6%) report that they socialize with non-Muslim groups; 51.5% reported “very often socializing with non-Muslim groups.”
  • Yet, 79% said that Islamophobia prevented them from building social connections with non-Muslims.
  • Most participants agree (97%) that racial prejudice is a major problem in the U.S.
  • Almost all (97.5%), agree that the U.S. mainstream media’s portrayal of Muslims is unfair.

What can we do with this information? 

Muslims play essential roles in the fabric of our country. We have been represented in every social, educational, professional, and political realm, and will continue to call the United States home. The details of the Islamophobia through the Eyes of Muslims survey are critical to understanding all the experiences of our daily lives – the promising and the problematic, the hopes and the fears. They are not new to the Muslim community but can provide additional data that can be used to develop appropriate responses to the rise of this societal problem. The details of our experiences in the past and the prospect for our future success need to be promulgated far and wide.

In addition, it is important to recognize that Muslim women are the primary targets of faith-based hate and Islamophobic incidents and that Muslims largely do not report the extent of their suffering. These facts should also set the stage for the Muslim community to advocate for strategies and take action to combat Islamophobia at the public policy, educational, and civil society levels. We cannot simply wait for others to work on our behalf. There is too much at stake for all of us.

Zahirah Lynn Eppard is the managing editor of the Muslim Home parenting newsletter project. As Sound Vision’s Director of Religious Education, she has also spearheaded the production of more than 450 online classes serving children ages 3-12 in the Adam’s World and Colors of Islam Clubs. Eppard has also worked in the field of education as a teacher, homeschooler, and Islamic school principal, as a marital and crisis intervention counselor, and as a lobbyist, and social justice activist. She lives with her husband and six children in Maryland.


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