“Islam is not a race” is code for “I don’t like brown people”

islamnotaraceFor real. Don’t use it.

The statement is technically true. So what? Almost every time I’ve seen it used, it’s been by someone who is just making an excuse to dismiss brown-skinned people.

So yeah… Islam is not a race, but paradoxically the phrase “Islam is not a race” often is racist.

If you mean to criticize the religion of Islam, then by all means, do so. (I do.) But every single time I’ve seen someone make the conversation about race, it’s been because that someone is a racist. The pattern often goes like this:

  1. Make some generalizations about immigrants who happen to be Muslims. Some hateful immigrant denigrating rhetoric.
  2. Get called out for it.
  3. Respond with “Islam is not a race”.

Obviously there are valid cases for making the mentioned statement, and if the context you’re thinking of isn’t the one described above, this isn’t about you. I generated the meme above after seeing the statement online yet again, and posted it to Facebook before writing this… and within ten seconds had to defend my meme. (Hours later I see someone called me retarded. I stand by my words.)

There’s a fine line between criticizing a religion and hating on people who practice that religion. Sometimes I cross it too. It’s an easy mistake to make. Even worse, religious beliefs can be so strongly held that when we question the beliefs (and not the believers), some people take offense anyway, because the belief is held strongly enough to be conflated with the person’s sense of identity.

So let’s not make things worse by hating on the people themselves, OK? You can criticize a religion like Islam without hating Muslims, and if they then accuse you of racism, you can still point out effectively that they are wrong and that you criticized the religion and not the people who believe in it, and you can do so without even stating “Islam is not a race”. In today’s post, Islam was the religion featured, in part because the phrase applies to that one, and it has become trendy to hate asylum seekers who mostly are Muslim. But the principle applies to other religions too.

5 thoughts on ““Islam is not a race” is code for “I don’t like brown people”

  1. Yes, it’s quite a lot a matter of how you identify yourself.

    Not many Swedes say, for example, I’m a Christian and (also) a Swede. They prefer not to mention their religious faith because it’s irrelevant information, kind of. It’s as irrelevant as mentioning you like the color yellow or love chocolate or prefer driving a Mercedes.

    When I ask muslim migrants how they identify themselves they usually tell me they are muslims and then add, maybe, they are Sunni or Shia, maybe from Syria, Iraq, Bosnia and so on.

    Of course it’s difficult to become integrated – and even more to become assimilated – in the Swedish society, if you don’t eat Swedish food, don’t dress like a Swede, don’t learn the Swedish language, don’t celebrate Swedish holidays, don’t respect Swedish manners and customs etc.


  2. Islam is an ideology with religious overtones. Therefore, Islam is no more a race than Christianity is a race. The phrase would make far more sense if changed to “Muslims are not a race”, which obviously they are not, anymore than Christians are a race.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s true, of course. But you’re missing the context. “Islam is not a race” is a statement always used by bigots right after they are called out for their bigotry, generally against immigrants or asylum seekers, people who happen to be Muslim.

      It’s not a valid defense because they weren’t really criticizing a religion in the first place. They weren’t even criticizing members of a religion for anything to do with their religious beliefs.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. If my [justified] criticism of Islam leads some people [Muslims] to berate me as a bigoted racist, then surely it it both reasonable & correct to point out the obvious, namely that Islam [the subject of my criticism] is not a race & therefore all suggestions of racism & bigotry are irrelevant.

    Liked by 1 person

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