Uploaded on April 8, 2024
The United Nations in 2022 declared March 15 as International Day to Combat Islamophobia. Now it has decided to have a special envoy onboard to initiate specific actions to combat Islamophobia. DR MOHAMMAD MANZOOR ALAM hopes the decision will go a long way towards addressing the problem.
Islamophobia is not the figment of an Islamist’s imagination. Nor is it specific to a particular country on earth. It is  a toxic everyday reality for large sections of the Muslim communities living across the world. They witness it online and offline.
Islamophobia manifests itself in multiple forms that include hate speech against Muslims and the religion they profess. It also includes violence against Muslims as well as discrimination against them in fields of education, healthcare, employment, immigration, citizenship, etc.
The world has witnessed an uptick in Islamophobic incidents following the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel and subsequent bombardment of Gaza by Israel. On October 14 last year, an Illinois man stabbed a 6-year-old Palestinian-American Muslim boy Wadea Al-Fayoume and his mother Hanaan Shahin. The boy succumbed to his injuries while his mother was hospitalised. The law enforcement deemed it a hate crime and charged as such.
In his message for 2024, Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres said: “The International Day to Combat Islamophobia occurs at a time when we see a rising tide of anti-Muslim hate and bigotry in many parts of the world. … Institutional discrimination and other barriers are violating the human rights and dignity of Muslims. Divisive rhetoric and misrepresentation are stigmatizing communities. Online hate speech is fuelling real-life violence.”
Dr. Rania Awaad, a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine, wrote on November 16, 2023, in “Islamophobia, an irrational fear and hostility towards Islam and Muslims, has deep roots that can be traced back to Western colonialist archetypes of the ‘uncivilized other’. By diminishing the complexity of individuals and essentializing Islam, these colonial powers created a seedbed for the dehumanization and generalization of people today perceived to be Muslim…. And perhaps most importantly, these kinds of hate crimes and the rise of Islamophobia have extensive, negative mental health impacts on Muslim communities in the U.S. and around the world.”
Islamophobia has become a global phenomenon, thanks to media that has been playing a powerful role in fuelling the scourge. Dr. Awaad writes: “This, too, is not a new phenomenon. What began as diaries and travelogues of Europeans claiming license and authority to represent the Muslim and Arab world to the West—all while justifying colonialism and fuelling imperial expansion—has been replaced by a new medium: the modern media machine.” She further writes: “Sensationalized stories that sow seeds of paranoia and cement the “other” as someone that must be feared and even eliminated, are not innocently relaying information. Rather they are perpetuating biased narratives about minority communities.”
It has been reported that experiencing Islamophobic attack and the apprehension of going through such an attack can have a debilitating effect of one’s mental health. Dr. Awaad says: “The unpredictability of the time, place, and circumstances of Islamophobic incidents puts many Muslims in a nearly continuous state of hypervigilance.” She writes: “Discrimination due to Muslim identity is associated with a greater number of depressive symptoms, fear and anxiety, lower self-esteem, and overall psychological distress.”
On an interpersonal level, Muslims who have faced discriminatory interactions are more likely to suffer from continuous anticipation of harassment that makes them vulnerable to psychosocial problems. “This anticipatory fear in the public arena often results in social marginalization that deprives Muslims of the health-promoting effects of social engagement.”
On a social level, Islamophobic incidents which target Muslims in one part of the country “perpetuate a sense of insecurity and could result in trauma by proxy” for Muslims in other parts of the country.
On a policy level, legislating a law that goes against the grain of the Muslim Personal Laws and discriminates against Muslims contribute to growing Islamophobia.
Keeping in the view the rising tide of Islamophobia, the United Nations General Assembly in 2022 took a step in the right direction by adopting a resolution proclaiming March 15 as International Day to Combat Islamophobia. The resolution was introduced by Pakistan and sponsored by 57 members of the OIC, and eight other countries, including China and Russia.
That the United Nations is serious about addressing the problem of growing Islamophobia is evident from the fact that as a follow-up it has decided to appoint a special envoy to initiate specific actions to combat Islamophobia. I hope this decision will go a long way in grappling with the scourge of Islamophobia all over the world.
In his message the UN Secretary-General also said: “Together, let us commit to promoting mutual respect and understanding, foster social cohesion, build peaceful, just and inclusive societies for all.” I think we can all say amen to that!


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