Although Islam is the second-most practiced religion in the world—with nearly two billion Muslim people worldwide—anti-Muslim sentiments remain, and experiences of Islamophobia and anti-Islamism are prominent perils globally.
According to the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, religious inclusion is one of the most unacknowledged elements of identity in the workplace. Moreover, addressing anti-Muslim sentiments, Islamophobia, and anti-Islamism remains noticeably absent from most workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts.
This resource is a call to action and toolkit to equip leaders to actively confront these issues at work and include anti-Islamism within the forms of inequity they seek to address. Further, this resource supports leaders in expanding their cultural competency and learning ways to better show up for their Muslim team members.
Content Warning (CW): This resource explores topics that may be emotionally distressing such as abuse, discrimination, violence, and imperialism.
- We use the terms Islamophobia and anti-Islamism because we do not wish to minimize, misrepresent, or generalize the Muslim experience. We use the term Islamophobia because it’s a commonly understood term. Islamophobia is defined as “an extreme fear of and hostility toward Islam and Muslim people, which often leads to hate speech, hate crimes, and social and political discrimination.” We also use the term anti-Islamism because the biases and marginalization that Muslim communities experience are systemic and more complex than the suffix “phobia” (irrational fear). Some feel that the term anti-Islamism better acknowledges the unique experiences of violence, discrimination, and oppression perpetrated against Muslim community members due to their faith.
- We do not include links relating to anti-Muslim sentiments, Islamophobia, and anti-Islamism because we do not want to amplify the violence. If anything in this resource is news to you, please conduct further research.
- We consider the West or Western nations as Europe, North America, and Oceania - the nations in the world primarily responsible for colonization and that frequently share similar economic and political systems (e.g. democracy). Therefore, it does not include Japan and the newly industrialized economies of Southeast Asia. Although, they share similarly high technological and living standards with these regions.
The History and Rise of Anti-Muslim Sentiment, Islamophobia, and Anti-Islamism
Although we continue to experience the evolution of Islamophobia, this form of oppression has existed for centuries. We can trace anti-Islamism back to the earlier days of white colonization when European Christian elites sought to control Islam's spread after the death of Muhammad, the founder of Islam. European Christians created political propaganda representing Islam as a “threat” as a tactic to maintain power. This led to Christians being called upon to undertake a “militaristic pilgrimage” in 1071—popularly known as the Crusades—to “free” Jerusalem from the Muslim armies. These Crusades continued through the thirteenth century. The Crusaders spread fantastical (inaccurate) stories of Muslim immorality, wealth, violence, and promiscuity. And these myths exacerbated the discrimination and hatred of Muslim peoples within European nations, contributing to their dehumanization and other-ing. These myths remained entrenched throughout Europe for centuries, and even as the misinformation took new forms, it continued to misrepresent Muslim communities and stoke fear in the hearts of many.
Stereotypes and Misinformation
One of the main drivers of Islamophobia is the entrenched stereotypes perpetuated through misinformation. One of the most pervasive and harmful stereotypes about the Muslim community, primarily perpetuated in global media, is that they are violent terrorists. It is unfair and inaccurate to generalize and other an entire religion based on the activities of a few extremists, especially when people with dominant identities that perpetuate terrorism and violence—namely, white men—are rarely stereotyped as representing their entire race, gender, or country.Not to mention, this stereotype dismisses the complex social, political, and economic systems of power from which acts of terrorism or violence arise.
Islam is also stereotyped as oppressive to women, with narratives of women being “forced” to wear the hijab as a commonly cited example. There’s a lot to unpack here. Certainly, there are Muslim women who experience forms of oppression. In fact, some may experience “triple discrimination” due to their gender, ethnicity, and faith - this is the intersectional nature of women’s experiences. But what’s even more important to highlight is that Muslim women’s experiences—in their own words— are often erased from this conversation. Muslim women may choose to wear the hijab for many reasons. For example, they may believe the hijab is a rejection of harmful beauty standards and imperialism.
Another stereotype about the Muslim community is that Muslim people are not also queer, transgender, non-binary, or nonconforming. Oftentimes, people in North America can act as if sexual and gender diversity only exists in the West, which is inaccurate and plays into false rhetoric used in some countries to enact state-sanctioned repression and violence against queer people. Further, it is often assumed that Muslim people who have non-dominant sexualities or genders will remain closeted, have unsupportive families, or not be able to reconcile their faith with their queerness. LGBTQIA2+ people can exist and thrive across all backgrounds, including among Muslim communities and those who practice Islam. There are a growing number of deliberately LGBTQIA2+ friendly mosques and Muslim communities seeking to challenge more traditional and exclusionary understandings of the faith and its teachings.
Lastly, Islam is stereotyped as being distinct or unrelated to other religions. However, Islam follows the same Abrahamic roots and monotheistic tradition as Christianity and Judaism. This understanding can help foster connection and solidarity between these religions instead of hostility and hate. It is also important to recognize how race and ethnicity are strongly intertwined with the experiences of religious oppression. For example, Christianity has historically and continually been prioritized within white identity. Conversely, Islam has often been rejected due to its geographical presence globally in locations of predominantly Black and Brown people.
International Conflicts and Encroachments
The stereotypes and misinformation in media and society are often used to justify international conflicts and encroachments by North American powers in predominantly Muslim countries. The two most prominent stereotypes—violent Muslim men and oppressed Muslim women—are strategically leveraged in certain circumstances to market vastly more complicated issues implicating a range of national interests as “altruistic actions” to “defend” and “rescue” Muslim women. This same critical lens on the status of women is rarely reflected inward, with the same people decrying inequities in predominantly Muslim countries not recognizing gender disparities or taking action domestically.
Even feminist movements contribute to this status quo at times when they fail to understand that veiling (when chosen freely) is simply another way of life and form of agency, even though it may differ from traditional ideas of “empowerment” and “liberation” for women in the Western world. In one of her most famous quotes, Indian scholar Gayatri Spivak summarizes this phenomenon as “white men saving Brown women from Brown men.”
Understanding these realities illustrates that violence and marginalization of national magnitudes are, in many ways, linked to the reproduction and dissemination of Muslim stereotypes.
What Can We Do?
As we noted, religious inclusion is one of the most unacknowledged elements of identity in the workplace. Muslim team members often have to navigate predominantly non-Muslim spaces that disregard their identities and experiences. It takes intentional and ongoing action to challenge the intense, pervasive, and increasing existence of Islamophobia and anti-Islamism in the workplace and even more of an effort for Muslim team members to feel fully supported.
We recommend engaging with Muslim Advocacy Organizations to enhance your understanding and hone your allyship, such as:
- Islamic Networks Group (ING)
- Islam in Spanish
- MuslimARC - Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative
- Muslim Space
- Pillars Fund
- Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
We also encourage checking out our actionable tips below!
Include Islamophobia in DEI Conversations
Leaders may be uncomfortable or unsure about how to address Islamophobia in their workplace. Some factors causing this could be a lack of understanding, prevalent misinformation, or their own internalized stereotypes about Islam, Islamic nations, and Muslim peoples.
For example, workplace leaders would benefit immensely from opportunities to cultivate greater awareness and appreciation of the nuances of Muslim practices, such as veiling, halal diets, or the Adhan (Call to Prayer). Otherwise, these leaders often end up unconsciously relying on stereotypes and not fully understanding the needs of their Muslim team members.
Unfortunately, with Muslim experiences frequently pushed to the margins of DEI conversations, many teams are feeling ill-prepared with how to go about fostering religious inclusion among their colleagues. Organizations should recognize this gap and start to address it by educating their team about common religious microaggressions in the workplace and offering learning experiences that explore how to act as an ally when encountering Islamophobia and anti-Islamism.
Moreover, taking a proactive approach to your own individual learning journey is essential in advancing Muslim inclusion. There are many Muslim women thought leaders that even the briefest level of engagement would shatter reductive representations and accelerate someone’s learning, such as:
When we centre the stories of actual Muslim people in DEI spaces and beyond, we come away with far more accurate and meaningful ideas about the diversity within the Muslim community and what we can do to level-up your inclusive leadership.
Move Beyond Crisis Responses
While important, crisis responses tend to only acknowledge overt forms of Islamophobia. If done thoughtfully, it can be helpful for workplaces to share communications and resources after traumatic events (check out Feminuity’s resource, Leading During Times of Political and Social Uncertainty, to learn about leading practices). Workplaces can do more by examining the systemic nature of anti-Muslim sentiments and behaviours within governmental policies, media, popular culture, and institutions.
Understand the Intersectional Nature of Muslim Identities
An intersectional framework helps us understand the diversity of the Muslim community. Some Muslim peoples are Arab; others are Asian, Latine, or white. Black Muslim people may face Islamophobia while simultaneously navigating anti-Black racism. (Délice Mugabo coined the term anti-Black Islamophobia to highlight the erasure of Black Muslim communities from dominant non-Black Muslim narratives and the specific type of racism and discrimination experienced by Black Muslim people.)
There are many Muslim people who are members of the LGBTQIA2+ community, even when popular culture can make it seem as if Islam and queerness are mutually exclusive. Further, Muslim people hold beliefs that span the entire political and social spectrum, even though Muslim communities are often reductively represented as conservative, zealous, or regressive.
Some Muslim peoples identify strongly with Islam, while others prefer to define their Muslim identity through the lens of culture, heritage, or ethnicity. Some Muslim people pray or wear the hijab, while others do not. Some Muslim peoples are disabled, and some Muslim peoples experience houselessness. Muslim communities are just as diverse and multidimensional as other social groups and faith communities.
Collect Meaningful Data from Muslim Team Members
Too often, Muslim peoples are not included in the analysis of demographic data collection. As we’ve outlined above, Muslim identity goes beyond religion or beliefs, so it is helpful to capture that data alongside other identity-based data, like sexuality, gender, ability, citizenship status, and race, as examples.
Whether through data or conversations, understanding more about people’s historical and present-day experiences of bias, discrimination, and oppression can help us make appropriate organizational changes.
Collaborate with Muslim Team Members
Beyond demographics, learn more about Muslim team members’ day-to-day experiences and ensure they are included in decision-making regarding policies, programs, and processes that affect them. This could mean creating a new policy or integrating it within existing anti-discrimination or anti-harassment policies to clearly state your organization's stance against bias, discrimination, and violence toward the Muslim community.
Some organizations have a Muslim Employee Resource Group (ERG) to provide a space for Muslim team members across cultural and religious diversities to find support and resources and advocate for their needs. When empowered and adequately funded, these ERGs can do much more for an organization. No matter the format, workplaces can create more sustainable support and change when they learn to intentionally integrate Muslim perspectives into their organizational policies, programs, and processes.
Acknowledge and Accommodate Muslim Holidays
Christian experiences and times of significance (e.g. Christmas) tend to be prioritized and centred in the North American context. Below, we listed some important dates for the Muslim community. Muslim team members may celebrate some or all of these holidays, depending on their personal level of observance and/or expression of their identity and spirituality:
- Laylat Al-Qadr
- Eid Al-Fitr
- Eid Al-Adha
- Eid al-Ghadir
- Mawlid An-Nabi
- Day of Arafah
- Islamic New Year
- World Hijab Day
Designing for Ramadan
One of the most significant observances in the Muslim community is Ramadan. With a pre-Ramadan build-up and post-Ramadan Eid celebrations, the month can be split into three sets of 10 days. At the end of Ramadan, the three-day Eid festival is a significant celebration (like Yom Kippur for the Jewish community), a time many Muslims will spend with family and friends.
There is no universal experience of Ramadan, and day and nighttime habits are likely to change for many throughout Ramadan. People may nap during the day or sleep at different times, so when possible, offer flexibility regarding meetings, working hours, and deadlines. Also, some team members may request leave during various parts of Ramadan; check-in to assess how your workplace can be as inclusive as possible with time off and important dates.
There’s so much that non-Muslim teammates can do to signal their understanding and support throughout Ramadan. In the resource, Eight Tips to Support Muslims at Work During Ramadan, Shagufta Pasta indicates that experiences of Ramadan can intensify through the month. Learn, ask, and find ways to support!
Feminuity’s resource, “An Inclusive Approach to Holidays, Observances, and Celebrations: A Guide to Celebrating and Observing Equitably in the Workplace,” focuses more on Ramadan and other vital dates year round!
Phew! That’s a lot, but it’s essential. Becoming more aware of the widespread and enduring existence of prejudice and marginalization of Muslim peoples is necessary for everyone in the workplace. The invalidation of Muslim identities, the acceptance of harmful stereotypes, the excuses for human rights violations, and the social narratives that dehumanize and vilify entire Muslim populations and nations are all ongoing phenomena. Workplaces should not underestimate their power to promote greater equity, inclusion, and empathy for the Muslim community and respond meaningfully to these realities.
If you need support, contact us to learn more about our workshop, Addressing Anti-Muslim Sentiment, Islamophobia, & Anti-Islamism: Supporting Muslim Team Members at Work, which expands on the content in this resource.
This resource is not meant to be a static guide, but rather a compilation and reflection of our learnings to date. Everything changes - from technologies and innovations to social norms, cultures, languages, and more. We’ll continue to update this resource with your feedback; email us at email@example.com with suggestions.
About the Authors
This resource was written collaboratively by members of the Feminuity team.
Give Credit Where Credit's Due
If you wish to reference this work, please use the following citation: Feminuity. "Addressing Anti-Muslim Sentiment, Islamophobia, and Anti-Islamism at Work”