What we mean, and don’t mean, by ‘Islamophobia’

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

Just two days after Donald Trump’s refugee ban targeted seven Muslim-majority countries, a white nationalist shot and killed six Muslims in a Canadian mosque. Bigotry is rising. But what exactly do we mean, and not mean, by the words “bigotry” and “Islamophobia”?

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

January 30, 2017

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

September 13, 2016

These words appear frequently in news and opinion pieces, and they need public definition. “Bigotry” and “Islamophobia” are defined in Fusion’s editorial guidelines:

“Bigotry” is hate and prejudice against a group. “Islamophobia” is hate, fear, and prejudice against Islam. But “Islamophobia” does not mean all critiques of ideologies in the faith are bigoted or phobic against believers.

This is a crucial distinction—between skepticism and bigotry—that may seem like a hard one, but it’s the distinction we have to make to separate all-too-real bigotry like Trump’s from thoughtful scrutiny of ideas and institutions. The media can be quick to label all skeptics of the faith “Islamophobic,” but by automatically branding skeptics “bigoted” and “Islamophobic,” we misrepresent or marginalize many of the very voices who fight for LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, and the empowerment of millions of people who hold ideas like patriarchy, misogyny, and faith itself up to scrutiny.

Pakistani British Muslim and human rights activist Maajid Nawaz on being called an Islamophobe.

By broad-brushing all critics of the faith “Islamophobic,” the label loses meaning, and we lose the plot as journalists. Fusion rejects bigotry; that’s our mission. We also defend critiques of ideas and ideologies when done with balance, evidence, conversation, and justice.


Broad-brushing views is harmful in any form. The only thing accomplished by loosely labeling skeptics “phobic” is endangering more voices. Calling all criticism of the faith “Islamophobic” creates an opening for truly bigoted voices like Donald Trump’s and the millions of bigots he emboldens.

Bigotry is growing. Reports of hate crimes are up horrifically. But voices of secular scrutiny are also growing. We must tell the two apart. We must use terms accurately.

Pakistani American human rights activist, feminist, humanist, and former Muslim Sarah Haider on Islam and the necessity of liberal critique.

This post is part of Fusion’s series on our house style guide, a living document spearheaded by copy editor Daniel King and crowdsourced from editorial staff across our teams for input on words’ accuracy. Reach us at styleguide@fusion.net.