Naved Bakali’s book Islamophobia: Understanding Anti-Muslim Racism through the Lived Experiences of Muslim Youth was published in 2016, fifteen Islamophobiayears after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, were used as a catalyst to start the United States’ Global War on Terror. In this book, Bakali examines those fifteen years. Upon finishing Islamophobia, the reader will have a clear sense of the hostile global environment that Muslims are currently forced to navigate, even in countries like Canada, which have an international reputation for tolerance. More importantly, Bakali impresses upon the reader that present-day Islamophobia is not an individual problem, but a systemic one perpetuated by the narratives and policies that followed the events of September 11. By combining intimate, personal details from the lives of Muslims in multiple contexts with an engaging critical analysis of historical context, Bakali has produced a work that is both informative and compassionate, making it an excellent source for learning about one of the largest issues facing the world today.
Bakali has broken his book into two sections. The first, “Understanding Islamophobia: History and Context,” explains the historical context for Islamophobia as a concept. In this section, Bakali draws upon theories about race, gender, class, and religion to formulate an intersectional and complex vision of the mindsets and world events that precipitated the current climate of Islamophobia. In the second section, “Experiencing Islamophobia: Islamophobia in Practice,” Bakali explains how these ideas manifest in actions, focusing on specific problems like young Muslim women’s struggle to be granted the autonomy to choose whether to wear religious veils and Muslim men’s experiences with the presumption that they are violent and dangerous. Bakali concludes the book by connecting theory and practice, showing that prejudice against Islam is not harmless and that harmful actions are not without explanation.
The structure of Bakali’s book is a highly effective arrangement of its content, and its content is well-argued and informative. The book opens with a series of anecdotes about brutal attacks on young Muslims, which it then connects with the events of September 11, 2001. This opening sequence is very intelligent; it immediately garners sympathy for the Muslim victims of these attacks and contextualizes them using an event that has been institutionally co-opted to promote Islamophobia. Throughout the introduction to the book, Bakali continues to strike this fine balance between intelligent arguments and appeals to emotion, never veering too far into detachment or irrationality. By the end of the introduction, the reader already trusts Bakali to make strong arguments that are relevant and humane.
This primes the reader for Part One, in which Bakali begins by discussing the historical context for Islamophobia. Bakali’s history of Islamophobia makes it clear that this ideology did not originate in 2001, but developed over centuries of religious conflict and colonialism. By the time Bakali starts creating a working definition of Islamophobia, the reader has already been given enough historical facts about the phenomenon to have their own ideas, making the definition itself a useful framework for already-begun processes of critical engagement. Because Bakali’s definition describes Islamophobia as similar in structure and function to racism, he takes the opportunity to elucidate through the lens of Critical Race Theory, which creates a rich backdrop for the book’s discussion. Finally, Bakali concludes the section by reiterating the importance of theory in considering ideas like Islamophobia; without this context, the structural and institutional backing of instances of hate and violence are lost.
After explaining what Islamaphobia is, Bakali sets out to examine “why and how Islamophobia emerges in the post-9/11 context” and how it appears in the lived experiences of actual Muslims. In this section, Bakali spends some more time on theory, keeping his explanations just as accessible and effective as in the first part of the book; however, the most powerful part of this section is without question the one in which the author begins to discuss the studies he has conducted with ordinary Muslims in Canada. Although this portion of the book is still written formally and professionally, Bakali offers meaningful glimpses into the lives of actual Muslims, providing their names and backstories, and describing their sometimes horrifying experiences with Islamophobia in Canada. This part of the book is essential, as it supports Bakali’s argument that theories have real, human consequences and that the suffering experienced by Muslim communities does not exist without context.
“They think Muslims are like a monster,” says one study participant, Ahmad, “or some bacteria.” The pain of this statement is palpable. Here, Bakali does something truly innovative with his report of study findings: He creates a narrative, one in which the reader is naturally inclined to side with the protagonist, making what would otherwise be a purely theoretical text a critical examination grounded thoroughly in reality. These voices are real, and the reader recognizes them as such; this proves Bakali’s point and does the essential work of humanizing a population that is routinely dehumanized and demonized. Finally, Bakali concludes by stating that there are opportunities to challenge Islamophobia, and it is the responsibility of educators to take those opportunities.
Naved Bakali’s book Islamophobia: Understanding Anti-Muslim Racism through the Lived Experiences of Muslim Youth is an informative and emotional account of how the world reached its present position toward Islam. It is effective because it is intelligent, offering a balanced and complex examination of the historical context and theoretical underpinnings for Islamophobia that make the phenomenon impossible to overlook or underplay; however, what makes it most effective is its appeals to emotion. While many authors have the capacity to make emotional arguments that manipulate the reader, Bakali offers evidence that is straightforward and unvarnished. The effect is that the reader feels as though they are speaking directly to the people most impacted by Islamophobia; they are no longer abstract or distant. This undermines the “Otherness” that has increasingly become associated with Islam and humanizes a population that has been treated inhumanely for more than the fifteen years between 9/11 and the book’s publication. Bakali’s well-considered book is an excellent source for learning about Islamophobia and for pushing back against it.