CHAPTER: Islamophobia – Routledge Handbook on Christian-Muslim Relations

RoutledgeThis recently published collection – edited by my colleague here at Birmingham, David Thomas – duly includes a chapter by me, somewhat simplistically titled “Islamophobia”. While the handbook is fantastically broad, it comes with a whopping £175 (hardback) cover price. If you’re so inclined, then you can purchase a copy from Amazon here.

If you want to whet your appetite first, here’s a few paragraphs from my contribution.


…Whilst Islamophobia is a contemporary socio-political phenomenon, as Allen notes, many of the negative and stereotypical attributions that inform today’s Islamophobia thinking do not have their origins in the here and now, not least because they are irremovable and eternally fixed. In fact, many of the negative and stereotypical attributions that inform today’s Islamophobia somewhat surprisingly have their origins in historical settings where the religious and theological were far more relevant and resonant. This chapter seeks to explore this, to try and illustrate the role that historical notions of religion and religious enmity between Islam and Christianity continue to have in relation to the manifestation and expression of today’s socio-political Islamophobia. In doing so, this chapter begins by reflecting on the extent to which Islamophobia is – or indeed is not – a specifically contemporary phenomenon. From here, and having sought to explain the relationship between the contemporary and the historical, some consideration will be given to early religious and theological encounters and interactions between Islam and Christianity. Focusing on the stereotypes and attributions of Muslims and Islam that evolved out of these early encounters, the chapter will conclude by reflecting on how these continue to shape and inform today’s Islamophobia.
To do this, it is necessary to use – albeit reluctantly – some broad descriptors. The reluctance comes from the fact that they homogenise and simplify the myriad identities and differences that exist within what is being described or referred to, noted previously in relation to ‘Islam’ and ‘the West’. Given the constraints of this chapter, however, this is unavoidable. In recognising this, some explanation is called for. Thus, the term ‘the West’ can be taken as largely equivalent to the medieval ‘Christendom’, or in the current setting ‘Western Europe and North America’ (see Yemelianova 2002: 193). In this chapter, the West’s political and cultural tradition is one that is understood to have been shaped by Christianity.

Whilst the majority view among scholars is that Islamophobia is a largely contemporary socio-political phenomenon, there is some difference of interpretation. Ziauddin Sardar (1995), for instance, believes that contemporary manifestations of Islamophobia are little more than a re-emergence of what has occurred from time to time throughout history. As he puts it, ‘Islamophobia and prejudice against Muslims has a long memory and still thrives’, not least because it ‘resides so deeply in [the Western] historical consciousness’ (Sardar 1995: 7, 15). For him, the term (and also the phenomenon) has to be understood as necessarily transitory and used retrospectively to name, describe and conceive all historical expressions and manifestations of anti-Muslim, anti-Islamic sentiment, as well as points of conflict, confrontation and so on. He sees Islamophobia as characterising both historical and contemporary relationships and encounters between Islam and the West. Beverley Milton-Edwards (2002: 33) holds a similar view, that today’s Islamophobia is merely one part of an ever-constant and ever-present phenomenon. For her, this means that the contemporary and the historical are interchangeable and indistinguishable, where the expression and manifestation of Islamophobia today is exactly the same as it has always been. Thus, the backlash against Muslims evident after the 9/11 attacks would have been the same as it was, say, at the time of the Crusades, something which is difficult to comprehend given the completely different conditions and paradigms within which each occurred…

You can buy a copy here.


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