Muslim Victimization in the Contemporary US: Clarifying the Racialization Thesis

  • Sarah Beth KaufmanEmail author
  • Hanna Niner


This article draws on in-depth, qualitative interviews with Muslim and non-Muslim Americans in 2016 to specify how Muslim “racialization” is shaped by the racial politics of the United States (US). Anti-Muslim bias is not experienced by religious Muslims as a whole, but by people whose bodies are read to be affiliated with the Islamic religion—often erroneously—because of their perceived racial characteristics. Self-identified black, white, and Hispanic Muslims with no visible markers of their religion do not experience anti-Muslim harassment, while non-Muslim Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs who embody an imagined “Muslim look,” cope with fear and aggression from strangers on a daily basis. These findings are notable for two reasons. First, our respondents demonstrate how racialized religion is mutable: they are active in constructing how Islam is read on their bodies in public. Second, our findings demonstrate how hate crime categorization in the US obscures the role that racism plays in religious victimization. We urge scholars who study anti-Muslim acts to include non-Muslims in their analyses, and advocate for the re-conceptualization of identity-based hate crime categories. Excavating the corporeality of criminal victimization in particular can help to understand the ways in which biases are experienced in the contemporary US.



The authors are grateful for the support of Trinity University, especially the Mellon Initiative 2016, led by Ruben Dupertuis; the Department of Communication; and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. The research would not have been possible without the brilliant collaboration of Drs. Habiba Noor and William Christ.


This study was funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation, as a Trinity University Summer Undergraduate Research Institute.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no additional conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyTrinity UniversitySan AntonioUSA

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