Summary: This article discusses the origins and evolution of Islamophobia.
It firstly explains the context in which the seeds of the problem were planted. That is followed by the reasons for which Islam and Muslims historically became easy targets.
After that, three critical evolutionary phases, as well as illustrations, of Islamophobia were presented:
The First Crusade and Pope Urban II; “The Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri; and “Mahomet” by Voltaire.
The article is concluded with thoughts on Islamophobia at the present time.
The Story of Islamophobia
When Heraclius, the Byzantine Emperor (d. 641), met in Jerusalem Abu Sufyan, who was the leader of Makkah at the time and was yet to accept Islam, he enquired a great deal of information about Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
In doing so, he insisted that he wanted nothing but the truth. Regardless of Abu Sufyan’s personal perception of, and relationship with, the Prophet (peace be upon him) (Sahih Muslim).
This Heraclius’ position of curiosity, fervor and affability represented a pattern, which was similarly shared by the sizeable Christian community of Najran, a southwestern region in the Arabian Peninsula.
When the reputation and role of Negus, the King of Christian Abyssinia – who eventually became a Muslim himself – are added to the mix, one can easily understand why especially early Muslims had a positive perception about Christians. They were favored above pagans and nonbelievers. They were regarded as the People of the Book.
The feeling was reciprocal. The Quran affirms:
You will surely find the most intense of the people in animosity toward the believers (to be) the Jews and those who associate others with Allah; and you will find the nearest of them in affection to the believers those who say: ‘We are Christians’. That is because among them are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant (Al-Ma’idah, 5:82).
However, as the contacts between Islam and Christendom (Western and Eastern Christianity) intensified, the former was increasingly seen as a serious threat to the territorial and ideological integrity of the latter.
The relationships mainly from the side of Christianity were becoming more and more political, dogmatic and duplicitous, and less and less pure religious, reverential and humane.
This was coupled with the endless troubles that were besetting the Roman Empire and Christianity as its state religion.