Islamophobia Definition
| ɪzˌlaməˈfəʊbɪə | noun [mass noun]

Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness

Source: APPG on British Muslims report: "Islamophobia defined"


The proposed definition of Islamophobia can be illustrated by a range of examples rather than a list of essential features. These examples do not exhaust the phenomena but show the range of ways by which Islamophobia is experienced – from physical to verbal violence and intimidation, and from socio-economic discrimination and exclusion, to the entrenching of racism in our broader civic life:


Objections to the concept of Islamophobia have remained remarkably fixed over the years, continuing along familiar lines of dismissal despite growing evidence of its virulent spread. In many cases, these objections reprise the criticisms that were made in the past when measures against sexism, racism and homophobia began to be introduced. The FAQs provide a means of recognising where we are and move us beyond current impasses with the proposed definition.

Scientifically no population is a race. Races are not natural but come about by bundling together features such as appearances, attitudes, and behaviour and mapping them on to a population, and placing the resulting group in a racial hierarchy. Muslims are increasingly being treated as other populations regarded as different races. Despite Muslims being from diverse ethnic backgrounds, they are often racialised and discriminated against based on their name, their perceived cultural identity or beliefs. The Runnymede Trust in its 1997 Report popularised the term Islamophobia because it recognized that racism against Muslims was going unchallenged because Muslims were not considered to be a ‘racial’ group.

Muslimness is similar to commonly found expressions such as Jewishness or Englishness. It describes not so much any person or actual group than a family of overlapping and flexible features by which in a given situation something is seen as having the quality of being Muslim or one’s Muslim identity (very much like the way in which tea, or real ale, a stiff upper lip, and fish and chips are associated with being English). Such features can range from the names people use to the clothes they wear, from the languages they speak to the foods they eat – or don’t eat. They include associations based on habitats (“Tower Hamlets”) or habits (not socialising at the pub). These features are not fixed but rather historical and contextual – some are long enduring (“fanaticism”), others recent (“terrorism”). It is these many shades of targeted expression that Muslimness captures.

Like anti-semitism, racism and sexism, the term Islamophobia allows us to identify cruelties and injustices directed at expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness which otherwise would go unrecognised and thus unchallenged.

Although the term ‘Islamophobia’ has a far longer history than is usually recognised it came to prominence when the race equality think tank Runnymede Trust published its landmark report, ‘Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All’ in 1997 Although our understanding and use of the term has significantly moved on since then, twenty years of scholarship, policy and activism have lent the term wide credibility and currency. The new definition makes it more conceptually more robust and fit for purpose.

We have been accustomed to claims that “there is no such thing as Islamophobia” or boasts that “I am proud to be an Islamophobe” without an understanding of what that really means. Meanwhile, there has been a rise in recorded violence, abuse and discrimination against Muslims in the UK and in the West. It is important to identify what we are up against so that we can tackle the issue together.

Believing that greater clarity and consensus will better enable concerted action the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims sought to define Islamophobia following its year-long consultation across the UK. That definition has been endorsed by a cross section of Muslims and academics

Being critical of Islam or any religion does not automatically make you an Islamophobe. You are only an Islamophobe if you use the language of racism targeting expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness to express your views.

Like the terms xenophobia and homophobia, Islamophobia is used without being considered to be a description of a psychological condition.

The term “anti-Muslim hatred” does not incorporate the array of broader structural racial inequalities that Muslims face. Consider, for example, a Muslim facing discrimination at the workplace based on having the name “Muhammad”. This is not an example of hatred necessarily yet is clearly racism and Islamophobic.

Our focus is to advance an understanding of Islamophobia as a form of racism. Providing an exhaustive list here risks limiting the definition to such features identified in the list. Instead we hope that those who choose to adopt the definition take ownership and adapt their organisations’ existing policies and guidelines on racism to incorporate Islamophobia, seeking guidance from others, or taking advantage of best practice by other groups or societies.

No. Context is crucial. A good rule of thumb is to replace the word ‘Muslim’ in a statement with another minority – how does it look and sound?

Context, however, is not a matter of private intentions, it is public and social: it depends on not only what is being done or said, and who is doing or saying it, but also on the consequences of such doings and sayings.

The risk of Islamophobia is greater when the perpetrator is in a position of authority or influence and has a track record of making inflammatory statements (including politicians, someone writing in a national media outlet or those with significant following on social media).

Similarly (as long established discussions of comparable forms of racism have shown) the risk of Islamophobia will also be different depending on whether the perpetrator identifies as a Muslim, and how they comport themselves towards the expression of Muslimness.


Significant research and academic study underpins the understanding of Islamophobia in all its forms. The list of web links to other work is not exhaustive and the short bibliography below is only a selective list of publications informing one submission to the report. An expanded set of links and a fuller bibliography is envisaged in due course.

  • The Counter-Islamophobia Kit is a two year project is funded by the European Commission – Directorate of Justice, and brings together experts from across Europe.
  • The Bridge Initiative is a multi-year research project that connects the academic study of Islamophobia with the public square
  • The Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project (IRDP), an initiative of the Center for Race & Gender, focuses on a systematic and empirical approach to the study of Islamophobia and its impact on the American Muslim community.
  • Islamophobia a challenge for us all. Report of the Runnymede Trust Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, London: The Runnymede Trust, 1997
  • Malcolm D. Brown, ‘Conceptualizing Racism and Islamophobia’, in Jessica Ter Wal and Maykel Verkuyten eds., Comparative Perspectives on Racism, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000, pp. 73-90
  • Steven Vertovec, ‘Islamophobia and Muslim Recognition in Britain’, in Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad ed., Muslims in the West: From sojourners to citizens, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, pp.19-35
  • Islamophobia: issues, challenges and action. A Report by the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, London: Uniting Britain Trust – Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books, 2004
  • Matti Bunzl ed., Anti-semitism and Islamophobia: Hatreds Old and New in Europe, Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2007
  • Sayyid and AbdoolKarim Vakil, Thinking Through Islamophobia: Global Perspectives,New York: Columbia University Press, 2010
  • Chris Allen, Islamophobia, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2010
  • Sayyid, Racism and Islamophobia, International Centre for Muslim and Non-Muslim Understanding, University of South Australia, 2011
  • Barnor Hesse, ‘Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: The Postracial Horizon’, The South Atlantic Quarterly 111 (2011), 155-178
  • Brian Klug, ‘Islamophobia: A Concept Comes of Age’, Ethnicities 12:5 (2012), 665-681
  • David Tyrer, The Politics of Islamophobia: Race, Power and Fantasy, London: Pluto Press, 2013
  • Houda Asal, ‘La fabrique d’un noveau concept’, Sociologie 5:1 (2014), 13-29
  • Sayyid, ‘A Measure of Islamophobia’, Islamophobia Studies Journal, 2.1 (2014), 10-25
  • Steve Garner and Saher Selod, ‘The Racialization of Muslims: Empirical Studies of Islamophobia’, Critical Sociology 41:1 (2014), 9-19
  • Julian Hargreaves, ‘Half a Story?: Missing Perspectives in the Criminological Accounts of British Muslim Communities, Crime and the Criminal Justice System’, British Journal of Criminology 55:1 (2015), 19-38
  • Sayyid and AbdoolKarim Vakil, ‘Reports of Islamophobia 1997-2017’, ReOrient blogs 29.11.17: and UC Berkeley Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, 29.11.2017:
  • James Carr, Expressions of Islamophobia: Living with Racism in the Neoliberal Era, Abingdon: Routledge, 2018


A number of parliamentarians, groups and academics have endorsed this definition. Click through to see a full list.



This website has been set up to articulate the definition of Islamophobia, answer common questions and demonstrate the depth of research underpinning this work. If you would like to get in touch, please contact us using the contact-us form

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