A recent poll by the Pew Research Center concluded that American Muslims are “decidedly American in their outlook, values and attitudes.” Yet despite such mainstream attitudes, American Muslims remain the subject of profound misunderstandings and deep mistrust. An August 2006 Gallup poll found that four in 10 Americans admit feeling prejudice toward Muslims. Nearly one in four expressed unwillingness to live next to Muslim neighbors.

This irrational fear, or Islamophobia, leads to discrimination against Muslims, the exclusion of Muslims from the sociopolitical process, guilt by association and even hate crimes. In 2006, American Muslims reported more than 2,000 incidents of alleged discrimination and more than 150 hate-crime incidents to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Since the 9/11 attacks, acts of discrimination and hate crimes have annually averaged double-digit growth rates.

In recent years, Islamophobia has gained currency in part because of a thesis advanced by Samuel Huntington – and eagerly embraced by neo-conservatives – that presents the inevitability of a “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West. This thesis makes simple and fatalistic assumptions that the West and Islam are monolithic and culturally exclusive.

In his book Lost History, Michael Morgan makes a powerful case that, far from being culturally exclusive, Islamic civilization “seeded the European Renaissance and enabled many aspects of the modern West and global civilization. It is a history that by the beginning of the 21st century had been forgotten, ignored, misunderstood, suppressed or even rewritten.”

This rewritten history has allowed those already predisposed to suspicion of Islam to create a climate of extreme prejudice, distrust and fear of Muslims. They fail to recognize that Islam is not monolithic. Muslims throughout their more than 1,400-year history have often successfully adapted to new realities, or else they and their faith could not have flourished in so many regions of the world spanning so many varied cultures. Islam shares common values with other major faiths, favors peacemaking over violence and unequivocally rejects killing innocent people, even in warfare.

Profound misunderstandings about Islam allow dismissal of any criticism by Muslims of American policy as reactionary and irrational. In the absence of American Muslim voices in policymaking circles, Islamophobia is becoming institutionalized, leading to tacit acceptance of discrimination against and profiling of Muslims. (MORE)

Parvez Ahmed is the chairman of the board for the Council on American Islamic Relations. He is also an associate professor at the University of North Florida. His e-mail address is


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