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The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding and the British Council have collaborated to produce five policy briefs on issues relevant to understanding the lives of Muslims and Islam in the West. The papers use history and academic research to shed light on some common misunderstandings of Islam and explain relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in an alternative framework to Samuel Huntington’s ‘clash of civilizations’ theory. This series aims to provide policymakers and opinion leaders with historically and academically sound knowledge, arguments, and language to explain current events and policies that affect Muslim communities in the United States or abroad.


Language Matters: Talking About Islam and Muslims

by Mohammad Fadel


Despite the passage of more than ten years since the horrific events of September 11, 2001, the American public discourse with respect to Islam and Muslims has taken an increasingly negative turn. At the same time, however, the seeds of the corrosive public discourse that eventually produced the paranoid hysteria about Islam on the right were already being sown via a systematic campaign based on lies, misinformation, half-truths, and gross caricatures of medieval Islamic teachings, many of which do not reflect modern Muslim beliefs or practices. As a result, otherwise obscure legal and theological terms (e.g., taqiyya, dhimma, and khilafa) have entered the common parlance of the American right as signifiers of the “threat” that Islam poses to the American republic. This position paper will discuss how the media uses these and other controversial terms, and then provide a scholarly discussion of each, in the hope that fair-minded people will be able to draw on this paper as a resource to help change the public discourse regarding Islam. It will conclude with a discussion of the democratic ethics that apply to public discussions of democracy.


by Kathleen Foley


Since the firestorm that erupted following the proposal of the Park 51 development—the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”—in Manhattan in 2010, mosques have come to symbolize controversy and division for many Americans. Since that time, mosque developments nationwide have faced resistance from neighbors as well as municipal officials and have been the focus of intense media scrutiny. One might have the sense that mosque development is inherently controversial and that mosques—and perhaps even Muslims themselves—are incompatible with American ideals and American communities. Many myths have emerged regarding mosques in the United States, including that they are sources of radicalization among American Muslims, that they are led by extremist clergy, and that they host practices that border on the occult. None of this could be further from the truth. This paper dispels these and other misconceptions about mosques by providing facts about their organization and funding, about the faith communities who use them as well as how they use them, and about ways mosques are emerging as centers of interfaith activity and community building in neighborhoods.

The Muslim “Veil” Post-9/11: Rethinking Women’s Rights and Leadership

by Sahar Aziz


In the post-9/11 era, Muslim women donning a headscarf in the United States find themselves trapped at the intersection of bias against Islam, the racialized Muslim, and women. In contrast to their male counterparts, they often face unique forms of discrimination not adequately addressed by Muslim civil rights advocacy organizations, women’s rights organizations, or civil liberties advocates. From the outset, it is worth emphasizing that there is no singular, unitary “Muslim woman” that can represent the experiences and grievances of the diversity of women who identify as Muslim. These women come from various racial and ethnic backgrounds, hold diverse political viewpoints, and adopt beliefs ranging from staunch secularism to religious orthodoxy. That said, their Muslim identities often subject them to common adverse experiences because they are falsely stereotyped as meek, powerless, oppressed, or, after 9/11, as sympathetic to terrorism. Muslim women of all races and levels of religiosity face unique forms of discrimination at the intersection of religion, race, and gender because the September 11th terrorist attacks transformed the meaning of the Muslim headscarf.

Islamo-Christian Civilization

by Richard Bulliet

The phrase “Islamo-Christian civilization” first appeared in 2004 in the book The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization by historian Richard W. Bulliet. It was coined with a two-fold purpose. First, in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it was proposed as a way of focusing on the shared history and characteristics of the Islamic and Christian religious communities, rather than on past and current episodes of enmity between them. It followed the pattern of “Judeo-Christian civilization,” a phrase that came into vogue in the 1950s as an oblique avowal of the post-Holocaust mood of interfaith reconciliation in Europe and America. Second, it was proposed as a way of encouraging historical and conceptual investigation of the great extent of overlap and parallel growth between the two religions that had manifested itself in myriad ways over many centuries. It took as an axiom this notion: The greater the recognition of a sibling relationship between Islam and Christianity, the better the prospects for peaceful coexistence in future years.


The Mosque and the State: After The Arab Spring

by Nader Hashemi

Nader Hashemi offers an alternative to the conventional analysis of the relationship between Islam and democracy generally found in popular and intellectual debates in the West. He attempt to provide a critical analytical framework to examine the relationship between Islam and democracy historically, comparatively and dispassionately.




The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) is an independent nonprofit public policy research organization. Our mission is to provide expert analysis, insight and context to critical issues facing our nation, with an emphasis on those issues related to Muslim communities in the U.S. and abroad.


The British Council i
s the UK’s international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and build
trust between them worldwide. We work in over 100 countries in the arts, education, society and English. The Our Shared Future project, based in the US, aims to improve the public conversation about Muslims and intercultural relations in the US and Europe. Our Shared Future is supported in large part by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
www.britishcouncil.org | www.oursharedfuture.org