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Stereotypes of Islam and Muslims in the West Term Paper

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Updated: Dec 10th, 2019


The daily occurrences where relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims are strained have become a critical issue in the recent past. This is coupled with the publicity that the Muslim community is usually given when it comes to Islam and the Muslim world, and their positions regarding controversial issues such as terrorist activities and militarization/armament programs. In this paper, I explore the stereotypes which exist against Islam and the Muslim community.

Stereotypes of Islam and Muslims in the West

The negative stereotypes against the Muslim community are thought to be worsened “by the considerable rise in scientific and media publications about Islam which took place in the last three decades” (Shadid 20-23). In addition, occurrences such as the Gulf War, the revolution in Afghanistan, the Rushdie affair and the Iranian revolution has served only but to increase these stereotypes (Shadid 20-23).

As Muslims continue to migrate to countries such as those of the European Union, the stereotyping of Muslims becomes a controversial and tense issue which should not be overlooked (Shadid 23-25). This is because it has dawned on the governments of Western Europe that their societies will be swollen with a considerable number of immigrating Muslims who’s cultural and religious backgrounds are different (Halliday 223; Hippler 27-50).

The contacts between different persons in such countries are mutually defined by stereotypes and prejudice. These occurrences have been evident in various reports, especially in the media where the Muslim community is depicted as being irrational, dangerous, primitive, fanatics and belligerent (Halliday 23-43).

The Muslim community in turn has detested such statements or stereotypical statements which is a result of generalization and simplification (Halliday 223; Hippler 27-50).

Therefore, such generalization can only be described as “lack of expertise which causes a surge in fantasy and emotional stereotyping that indicates faulty knowledge” (Pool 27). As such, the mutual contacts are characterized by emotions, which are a crucial requirement, especially on how the course of mutual relationships should be regulated (Pool 27-33; Halliday 223; Shadid 18-37).

The alleged generalization and stereotyping in Western European countries can be traced back from the 1980s. Until current times, the media content is rife with stereotypical remarks and statements regarding the Muslim community. The media has been at the fore front in highlighting the alleged danger of Islam, which has continued to warn the western world against the threat posed by Muslims.

Such warnings were instigated by journalists, scientists and politicians since the 1980s and this has continued until recent times, even without the presence of substantial evidence to back up such messages (Pool 27-33; Shadid 18-37). The public figures (mentioned above) have made statements which are almost stereotypical of Islam.

They include the Chairperson of the Club of Rome, the former secretary general of the North Atlantic Trade Organization (NATO), political figures in right-wing political parties especially in regions such as North America and Europe (Shadid 15). These vivid examples (and many others) indicate the enormity of the situation where the west perceives the Islamic community in a stereotypical fashion. Such occurrences have been regarded as underserved and baseless (Pool 27-33; Shadid 18-37).

According to Shadid there are rising numbers of people who continue to be aware of the stereotypical messages which have been passed across, and this continues to worsen the negative image of Muslims and Islam in western countries. This was evident after Shadid made analyses of various publications which analyzed the threat of Islam and the Muslim community to the western countries and fashion such stereotypical messages in the realm of myth (Shadid 18-37).

According to Shadid, the Islamic myth should be disregarded because of different reasons such as the non-existence of significant military action by the Islamic community against the west. This is contrary to encounters of Muslim immigrants in the west who have frequently been victimized and attached to terrorist actions, which are usually approaches pursued by extremists.

Such countries have stereotyped, rejected and even threatened to send these Muslim suspects out of their countries. Other allegations of prejudice such as the incompatibility of the Muslim culture with the European counterparts are usually a result of unfounded prejudice towards Islam and its followers (Shadid 21-27).

The Muslim culture in the west has been prejudiced, thus resulting to a heated debate, especially by human rights watch groups. E.g. polygamy, unveiling girls, and female circumcision which have been thought to have a negative influence on Islamic education especially regarding matters of religion.

Shadid pointed out the mythical character of the Islamic threat to the west by suggesting that it is a false assumption of the nations of western origin that minority populations (in the Muslim community) are more loyal to the nations at home (Muslim nations) than the nations to where they immigrated to (host countries). The assumption depicted above “was evident during the Rushdie Affair and the Gulf War” (Shadid 23).

According to Halliday, the perceived Islamic threat to the west is a lie and an illusion. Thus Halliday has pointed out the fact that the Islamic world which is perceived to be unified is non-existent. Furthermore, even if it were to exist, the military and economic power falls short of competing with the west (Halliday 15-20).

Several authors have pointed out that the nature of the hostility which is depicted by the western nations towards Islam can be regarded as that which is based on xenophobia, racism, and elements which are stereotypical.

According to Halliday, such a phenomenon is called anti-Muslimism, a term which underpins the kind of hostility which is depicted towards the Muslim community at large and not only to individual persons (Halliday 15). According to Shadid, anti-Muslim propaganda does not strictly entail elements which are religious, but depicts a mixture “spurious rhetoric and other ideologies that are murky” (Shadid 2).

According to Halliday, two types of anti-Muslimism are established. These variants are the strategic and populist anti-Muslimism. The strategic variant of anti-Muslimism has been thought to emanate from the United States. This variant is related to and worsened by issues such as nuclear weaponry, oil reserves and issues of terrorism (Halliday 23-50).

Halliday points out that this variant of anti-Muslimism accrued in the 1970s and is a result of crises in the Oil Producing and Exporting Countries (OPEC). Other issues which are underpinned in this variant include others such as hostages of the United States Team in Tehran, the 1993 incident where the world trade centre was bombed, and the Iranian attempt to produce atomic energy using uranium. Such issues depict how anti-Muslimism has been propagated by prejudiced media (Halliday 23-50).

According to Halliday, the populist variant of anti-Muslimism is found predominantly in Western Europe, although the strategic variant may also be present in Europe. The populist variant of anti-Muslimism has been thought to be predominant in Western Europe because of its re-emergence as a reaction to the ever increasing numbers of the Muslim community in the west. This issue is worsened by issues such as veiling of girls, assimilation, race and integration (Halliday 23-50).

Halliday’s perception of anti-Muslimism assumes that the populist variant of anti-Muslimism (which began in the 1980s) is entrenched in the general immigrant attitudes, especially in Western Europe. Such sentiments that are anti-Muslim have been evident in occurrences such as rejection of veiling and foundations of Islamic schools and mosques (Halliday 23-50).

According to Shadid, the duty to correct the mythical perceptions directed towards Islam and the Muslim community has not raised any concern amongst Islamologists and social scientists. This is because many of such leaders and experts derive their sources from predominant classical religious publications to understand and give explanations for the modern developments, especially in contemporary Muslim societies (Halliday 23-50).

According to Shadid, the ivory tower approach has depicted inability to comprehend the political ad socio-economic development. These issues cannot be explained by referring only to the Quran, views of Ulamas and the Sunna. It is inexorable that the above approach creates new stereotypes and cannot curb existing ones (Shadid 12-40).


According to Hippler, western countries have persistently assumed that western values are incompatible with those of Islam. This is by focusing on the areas of conflict between western and Muslim cultures, while ignoring the similarities which exist (Hippler 23-43). Hippler argued that such a phenomenon only occurs in cases where some people in the west are determined to maintain the negative image of Islam and the Muslim community (Hippler 23-43).

Works Cited

Halliday, Herman. Islam and the Myth of Confrontation: Religion and Politics in the Middle East, New York: Tauris Publishers, 1995. Print.

Hippler, Shamir. Foreign Policy, the Media and the Western Perception of the Middle East, New Jersey; Hampton Press, 1998. Print.

Pool, Ali. Framing Islam: An Analysis of Newspaper Coverage of Islam in the British Press, Hampton Press: New Jersey, 1987. Print.

Shadid, Ali. De islam in het Westen: onbekend enonbemind, New York: Tauris Publishers, 1999. Print.

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