Islamophobia: A Historic Timeline |

Islamophobia: A Historic Timeline

When addressing the topic of Islamophobia in the Muslim community, the tendency is to focus on current events. Some of the manifestations of Islamophobia today are anti-Muslim legislation in Western countries, rising hate crimes, and smear campaigns on mainstream and social media. These growing trends may give rise to the impression that an irrational fear of Islam and Muslims is something unique to the 21st century. However, Islamophobia is as old as Islam itself. Even Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, dealt with his share of Islamophobic attacks as soon as he began calling the people of his native Makkah to Islamic monotheism. 

Arguably, he even predicted that this tribulation would affect his followers until the end of times. Anas ibn Malik reported: 

“The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: ‘A time of patience will come to people in which adhering to one’s religion is like grasping a hot coal.’” 

(Sunan al-Tirmidhi)

Islamophobia is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “an intense dislike or fear of Islam, especially as a political force, as well as hostility or prejudice towards Muslims.” The term was first recorded in 1923 in an article in The Journal of Theological Studies, but its use was uncommon until the turn of the century.1 While it was not formalized as an expression until recently, the phenomenon was born in the heart of Arabia. The following is a timeline of Islamophobia starting from as far back as the lifetime of the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad ibn Abdullah, peace and blessings be upon him.  

Islamophobia in Makkah 

In a land in which the rule of law consisted of tribal systems and paganism was widely practiced, the unifying power of Islam was something unusual and intimidating. Abdullah ibn Mas’ud narrated: 

“The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: ‘Verily, Islam began as a something strange and it will return to being strange, so blessed are the strangers.’” 

(Musnad Aḥmad)

When Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, began preaching, the majority of his tribesmen rejected his message. Although he was known for his honesty and trustworthiness prior to his prophethood, the people of Makkah considered his message of monotheism a disturbance to their way of life. They feared losing their means of revenue (from housing the gods at the Kaaba), their power, and their prestige should this new religion flourish. 

At first, their attacks on the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and his followers were verbal, but little by little, they became physical. They spread disparaging propaganda through Arab orators and poets and used intimidation tactics to deter new converts. Their attitude was driven by the same sentiment Islamophobes of today feel towards Muslims – that somehow Islam is a threat to their livelihood or freedom. 

In the Quran, Allah mentions the Islamophobic incidents and provides comfort for the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, in the following verse:

“We know that you, [O Muḥammad], are saddened by what they say. And indeed, they do not call you untruthful, but it is the verses of Allah that the wrongdoers reject.” 

(Surah Al-An’am, 6:33)

Islamophobia in Madinah 

Islamophobia in Makkah eventually turned violent, with the constant persecution, torture, and even execution of Muslim converts. The situation was so dire, that groups of Muslims opted to flee Makkah and seek refuge in Abyssinia. When even the Prophet Muhammad’s life, peace and blessings be upon him, was in danger, migration was no longer an option, it became necessary. Jabir ibn Abdullah reported: 

“The Prophet would present himself to people and he said, ‘Is there a man who can take me to his people? Verily, the Quraish have prevented me from preaching the word of my Lord.’” 

(Sunan al-Tirmidhi)

Eventually, the believers were able to migrate to Madinah and start a new life, but the Islamophobia did not end there. In fact, negative attitudes towards the emerging community of Muslims continued, with fresh opponents like Jewish and hypocrite pseudo-Muslim tribal leaders along with the Quraishi polytheists. It was inevitable that the Muslims would face off with their antagonists. Battles like the one at Badr and Uhud ensued, followed by the threat of an invasion during the Battle of Khandaq or the Trench. The Quraish gathered a huge army of their allies with the intention of destroying the Muslims and halting the message of Islam forever. Al-Bara’ reported: 

“I saw the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, on the day of the battle with the confederates, while he was carrying so much earth for the trench that his stomach was covered in mud. The Prophet was saying, ‘O Allah, had You not guided us, we would not have given charity or performed prayer. Send tranquility upon us and make our stance firm if we encounter the enemy. Verily, they were the first to transgress against us. If they intend persecution, we have refused.’” 


The polytheists were unsuccessful, and after some time, the Muslims marched victoriously to conquer Makkah, changing the course of history forever. The famous companion and scholar, Ibn Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, said:

 “A man used to be persecuted for his religion, whether they killed him or tortured him, until the followers of Islam became plentiful and there was no longer persecution.”


Nevertheless, Islamophobia was always brewing close by.

Islamophobia in Christendom 

Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, sent letters to nearby kingdoms, addressing their respective rulers, and calling them to Islam. One of them was Heraclius, the leader of the Byzantines, who held onto the letter hoping to learn more about this new prophet. When he heard that a delegation from the Quraish was in his lands, he called them to his court and asked for the closest relative of the Prophet to step forward. That was Abu Sufyan, who at the time was a staunch enemy of Islam. Heraclius pressed him with different questions regarding the teachings and character of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and Abu Sufyan only answered with the truth. Once the interview was finished, Heraclius realized that Muhammad fit all the criteria for being the messenger of God. 

According to the hadith narrated by Abdullah ibn Abbass, may Allah be pleased with him, from Abu Sufyan, himself, Heraclius said: 

“If what you have said is true, he will very soon occupy this place underneath my feet and I knew it (from the scriptures) that he was going to appear but I did not know that he would be from you (from the Arabs), and if I could reach him definitely, I would go immediately to meet him and if I were with him, I would certainly wash his feet.'” 

Sometime after the delegation had gone, he gathered his officials and locked the gates of his palace. 

“Then he came out and said, ‘O Byzantines! If success is your desire and if you seek right guidance and want your empire to remain then give a pledge of allegiance to this Prophet (i.e. embrace Islam).’ (On hearing the views of Heraclius) the people ran towards the gates of the palace like onagers but found the doors closed. Heraclius realized their hatred towards Islam and when he lost the hope of their embracing Islam, he ordered that they should be brought back in audience.’ He reassured them that he was only testing their loyalty, and kept silent regarding what he knew.” 


Ibn al-Qayyim said that when Heraclius heard news of the Negus, the king of Abyssinia, becoming Muslim, he said:

 “By Allah, were it not for the sake of holding on to my kingdom, I would have done what he has done.” 

(Zaad al-Ma’ad, 3/694) 

Arrogance and fear of Islam and its hypothetical threat to their way of life drove the Byzantine resistance, much like the Islamophobia of today is credited for anti-Muslim policy in majority-Christian or secular nations. The encounter between the Quraish and the Byzantine Empire and their rejection of the Prophet’s invitation to Islam was a precursor to the Arab–Byzantine wars that took place between the 7th and 11th centuries. There was a constant battle for the dominion of lands north of Arabia, and eventually, Muslims conquered the Byzantine-controlled Levant, as well as Persia and the Coptic-Christian Egypt. 

The Crusades 

Whenever the mainstream media mentions the Arabic word for struggling, jihad, they define it as “holy war” – violent warfare in the name of religion. Typically, Muslims are wrongfully portrayed as being hostile towards Christians. However, the first religious group to call for a holy war was European Christians against Muslims. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the Crusades were organized to stop Muslim expansion, recapture former Christian lands, and claim the Holy Land for Christianity. The encyclopedia claims that many of the Crusader soldiers “believed that undertaking what they saw as holy war was a means of redemption and a way of achieving expiation of sins.” Thus, the Crusades were bloody attacks fueled by Christian zealotry, as well as hatred and fear of Islam and Muslims (aka. Islamophobia).

There were eight major Crusades between 1096 and 1291, but the Crusaders were not successful in capturing and keeping the Holy Land. Further north in what is now Turkiye, Byzantium continued their battle against Muslims, but rather than Muslim Arabs, they fought against the Muslim Turks that settled near their lands. The Byzantine Empire finally fell in the year 1453, when the Turkish Ottoman Empire, led by Mehmed II, was able to seize its capital, Constantinople. 

Islamophobia and the New World

When the Crusaders lost hope of reclaiming the former lands of the Christians in the Middle East and the Byzantine Empire fell, there was outrage in Europe. Political figures feared that the Muslim territories would continue to expand until all of Europe was engulfed. There was now Muslim presence in the Middle East, North Africa, the Mediterranean, Western, and Eastern Europe. The Ottoman Empire was a force to be reckoned with and became the most powerful empire of its time. Islamophobia was ubiquitous, and these desperate times called for desperate measures. 

Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy, only two years before Mehmed II conquered Constantinople. Therefore, he grew up during a time when Christendom was grieving the loss of their once-capital city. Historian Alan Mikhail wrote in his book, God’s Shadow: Sultan Selim, his Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World, “As both civilizational kin and territorial rival to Christianity, Islam was Christianity’s most imposing and lethal enemy.”2 It may be assumed that the resentment towards Muslims in the Christian world influenced Columbus’ life and his later voyages and conquests. He would eventually aid King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain in defeating and expelling Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula and request their aid for his first voyage in 1492. 

Mikhail stated, “In the decades around 1500, the Ottomans controlled more territory and ruled over more people than any other world power. It was the Ottoman monopoly of trade routes with the East, combined with their military prowess on land and on sea, that pushed Spain and Portugal out of the Mediterranean, forcing merchants and sailors from these 15th century kingdoms to become global explorers as they risked treacherous voyages across oceans and around continents – all to avoid the Ottomans.” He argues that it was the fear of Islam and Muslims that drove Europeans to the seas in search of trade routes – eventually leading to the discovery of the New World. 

During the shaping of what is now known as the West and the Modern World, there were plenty of manifestations of Islamophobia, beginning with the Spanish Reconquista (or Reconquest), the Inquisition, the repression of Islam amongst Africans during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and more. Unfortunately, Islamophobia found its way to the continents of North and South America and became ingrained in the psyche of many of its inhabitants until this very day. 

Modern Day Islamophobia 

The U.S. Counterterrorism Guide, created under the leadership of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), published a historic timeline of terrorists attacks affecting the United States and its global allies that began in the 1960’s. Although many acts of terror were committed by non-Muslim groups worldwide, there were also rebel guerrilla groups that emerged in countries like Palestine, Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, that were involved in terror operations. Since the majority members were Muslim by default (not necessarily by practice), Islam came to be blamed for their criminal activity. There was a lack of information about Islam as a major world religion, but an abundance of news headlines and propaganda depicting Muslims as barbaric insurgents. This negatively influenced public opinion and the situation worsened once violence found its way to the U.S. Some of the attacks carried out on American soil were vehicle bombs planted at Kennedy Airport, First Israel Bank and Trust Company, and the Israel Discount Bank in New York City in March 7, 1973; a hostage situation in Washington, D.C. involving a Muslim Hanafi group in March 9, 1977; and several attacks on U.S. embassies in Muslim countries in the late 70’s and early 80’s.3 

During the decades of the 1970’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s, American media was influenced by the international relations and politics of the time. Muslims became the new boogeyman in Hollywood films, where they were depicted as terrorists and misogynists. Through movies and television, Islam came to be known as a violent ideology not only at odds with the Western World but with the sole aim of destroying its concept of freedom. Movies like Delta Force, Not Without my Daughter, and True Lies portrayed Muslims as the “other,” foreigners who were backwards and hateful towards Americans. In the name of entertainment, a whole religion and its followers were maligned and public opinion was pitted against both. This was the birth of modern Islamophobia. 

In 2000, Former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, declared that the word Islamophobia was a term that needed to be used to “take account of increasingly widespread bigotry.”4  Orientalism had already set the stage for negative perceptions of adherents to Islam. Further anti-Muslim sentiment spread quickly after terrorist attacks occurred in New York on February 26, 1993, and September 11, 2001. Although both attacks were purportedly committed by Muslim extremists, the latter was the deadliest – with nearly 3,000 people losing their lives – leaving the nation shaken with fear and anger. "Never forget" became the slogan for American patriotism and an endless vendetta against Islam. 

Since then, Muslims have been publicly demonized by politicians, religious fanatics, and the mainstream media. The entire Muslim world was put on trial for the actions of a few. Falsehoods about Islam and Muslims continue to be perpetuated by the media; in daily news, imbalanced coverage of criminal acts labeled as terrorism by individuals who happen to have been born into Muslim families or who are Muslim by name, and the dearth of coverage of similar acts committed by whites or other races who are not Muslim. Movies, series, and television shows also continue to misrepresent Islam. Additionally, politicians and evangelical fanatics have built million-dollar organizations dedicated to spreading misinformation and demonizing Muslims worldwide. 

Throughout all this, Muslims have remained patient, finding solace in the timeless guidance of the Quran, in which Allah says:

“They want to extinguish the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah refuses except to perfect His light, although the disbelievers dislike it.” 

(Surah At-Tawbah, 9:32)

Although it may seem discouraging, it is important to recognize that Islamophobia has always existed for the Muslim community – even before the word was coined. Indeed, true believers have always been tested with rejection and persecution, starting with the Prophets and Messengers. Islamophobia may be here to stay, but as long as believers remain steadfast, the help of Allah is always near. He instructed in the Quran:

“Say, ‘Nothing will ever befall us except what Allah has destined for us. He is our Protector.’ So in Allah let the believers put their trust.” 

(Surah At-Tawbah, 9:51)

End Notes

1 Islamophobia. (2023, February 23). In Wikipedia

2 God's Shadow: Sultan Selim, His Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World  by Alan Mikhail. Liveright Publishing Corporation (2020). (1st ed., pp. 2, 90). 

3 Historic Timeline: National Counterterrorism Center. Retrieved March 7, 2023, from  (n.d.)

4 Secretary-General Kofi Annan, addressing headquarters seminar Wed, Confronting Islamophobia. United Nations, press release, 7 December 2004.

Wendy Díaz is a Puerto Rican Muslim writer, award-winning poet, translator, and mother of six (ages ranging from infant to teen). She is the co-founder of Hablamos Islam, a non-profit organization that produces educational resources about Islam in Spanish ( She has written, illustrated, and published over a dozen children’s books and currently lives with her family in Maryland. Follow Wendy Díaz on social media @authorwendydiaz and @hablamosislam

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