A decolonial approach of Islamophobia

Sandew Hira

What is the difference between a decolonial approach of Islamophobia and the dominant analysis of the phenomenon. I will give a short try at clarifying the different positions on the debate on Islamophobia. There are more decolonial approaches possible. This is one of them.


The first difference is on how Islamophobia is defined. An example of a dominant definition is this: “Islamophobia is a contemporary form of racism and xenophobia motivated by unfounded fear, mistrust, and hatred of Muslims and Islam. Islamophobia is also manifested through intolerance, discrimination, unequal treatment, prejudice, stereotyping, hostility, and adverse public discourse. Differentiating from classical racism and xenophobia, Islamophobia is mainly based on stigmatization of a religion and its followers, and as such, Islamophobia is an affront to the human rights and dignity of Muslims.”[1]

From my decolonial perspective I would define Islamophobia as “a system of institutions that produces, maintains and perpetuates knowledge, attitudes and practices that promotes the theory and practice of the superiority of the west and the inferiority of the Muslim community.”

The differences in analysis

The common elements in the definitions are the acknowledgement of certain attitudes (intolerance, prejudice, fear, mistrust, hatred of Muslims and Islam) and practices (discrimination, unequal treatment, hostility).

The differences in analysis are:

  1. The dominant approach takes the interaction between people as its starting point: fear, mistrust, prejudice etc. My decolonial approach takes the role of institutions in knowledge, attitudes and practices as its starting point.
  2. The negative attitudes and practices towards Muslims are not necessary linked to superiority-inferiority in the dominant analysis. In my decolonial approach it is fundamental to understand the theory and practice of islamophobia.
  3. The dominant approach is a-historical. It looks at the contemporary practice of hate and fear and does not position it in the historical colonial setting as a decolonial approach would do.

The perspectives for struggle

The perspectives for fighting Islamophobia are different in both approaches. In the dominant approach the struggle is about creating better understanding and fighting policies that promotes unequal treatment. In the decolonial approach it is about identifying the institutions that produce, maintain and perpetuate knowledge, attitudes and practices and fighting their theory and practices.

In the decolonial we try to identify these institutions in five dimensions and analyse their functions in promoting Islamophobia (knowledge, attitudes, practices):

  • Economy: what institutions function in the labour market, housing, finance and promotes Islamophobia.
  • Social relations: what institutions organize social relations in such a way as to promote Islamophobia?
  • Politics: what political institutions are using relationship of power to promote Islamophobia?
  • Culture: what cultural institutions (media, educational institutions, cultural organizations) promote Islamophobia?
  • Geography: how is Islamophobia in on part of the world related to islamophobia in other parts of the world.

One big part of the struggle is the identification of these institutions, the analysis of the mechanisms of their functioning in the production, maintenance and perpetuation of knowledge, attitudes and practices of Islamophobia.

The other part is to devise strategy and tactics to demolish or change these institutions.

[1] Definition by Umut Topcuoglu in: ICLA (2013): What Does “Islamophobia” Mean?. Warsaw. HDIM.NGO/0537/13, 3 October 2013.

Decolonial International Network