Islamophobia and decolonising sociology

Islamophobia, when acknowledged as a form of racism, is habitually thought to be limited to the west with questions of identities, personal prejudice, securitisation and governance often dominating the conversation. Further, throughout academic literature, much work remains ahistorical where the entanglements of anti-Muslim racism with what Quijano had termed the global ‘colonial matrix of power’ of the ‘modern’ world often go unexplored. Nevertheless, more recently, some work has begun to identify Islamophobia’s global nature, and, to a lesser extent, its presence within Islamic communities (Hafez and Bayrakli 2019).

Seeking to engage this emerging conversation, my work over the past years has sought to specifically document, explore, and theorise Islamophobia as a form of racism within the Arab world, addressing a significant gap across fields and theorisations. For my PhD, this has specifically been through a study of the Muslim hijabi’s lived experiences in Lebanon, where I have sought to explore how a practice of listening to invisibilised communities can improve our understanding of secular modernity’s erasure of non-western religious practices and, consequently, entangled epistemologies and cosmologies.

In this respect, the first analysis chapter of my dissertation takes the experienced marking of the hijabi to explore and conceptualise her ‘social form’ (Grosfoguel 2016) as a ‘belated Arabo-Islamic difference in excess’. Framing this chapter within a larger critique of the sociology of religion’s engagement with modernity/coloniality, I entered the Peter B Clarke Memorial Essay Prize with a submission titled ‘Sociology of Religion, Modernity and Decolonial Theory: A Call from Lebanon’.

In the essay, I argued that the sociology of religion requires a systematic decolonisation — for a shift in its engagement with secular modern structures of hierarchy and exclusion around religion and religious practice — if it is to engage and think alongside the lived experiences of those whom modernity has long subalternised and aggressed. In this sense, I argued for the need to research and listen to religious lived experiences of subalternisation that are often invisibilised in the sociological mainstream to understand how different markers of hierarchy entangle and intersect to wound and negate the humanity of modernity’s Others.

Gaining the prize, and receiving the award committee’s feedback on the essay, I have since managed to develop the writing of both the chapter on which the essay was based as well as other chapters of my dissertation for a better conversation and engagement with the discipline and its gatekeepers. Additionally, winning the competition offered me the opportunity to liaise with the Journal of Contemporary Religion. The immense challenge, support and stimulation I have received there as the essay was pursued and transformed into a peer-reviewed article publication have greatly contributed to the development of both my PhD and my wider training. Furthermore, having now completed writing, the stimulating and elaborate feedback offered has helped me explore potential future research trajectories, helping to give shape to my post-doctoral pursuits. Eventually, in addition to the visibility it offered, the award was a stimulating and invaluable recognition of both my work’s merit and of the wider need to decolonise sociology. I’m glad the BSA and Socrel are strongly committed to this project.

Ali Kassem is a doctoral candidate at the University of Sussex. He was chosen as winner of the 2019 Peter B Clarke Memorial Essay Prize, which is awarded to a postgraduate member of Socrel.


Bayrakli, Enes and Farid Hafez, eds. Islamophobia in Muslim Majority Societies. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2019.

Grosfoguel, Ramon. “What is racism?” Journal of World-Systems Research, 22 (1), 2016: 9–15.



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