Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 42, Issue 4, pp 521–542 | Cite as

The Criminalization of Muslims in the United States, 2016

  • Sarah Beth KaufmanEmail author


The criminalization of Muslims—framing an Islamic religious identity as a problem to be solved using state crime control logic—is undeniably in process in the United States. Local, state, and federal statutes target Muslims for surveillance and exclusion, and media sources depict Muslims as synonymous with terrorism, as others have shown. This paper analyzes the public’s role in the criminalization of Islam, which I call “cr-Islamization.” Drawing on in-depth, qualitative interviews in a major Southwest city during the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, I detail how the majority of 144 politically, racially, and economically diverse interviewees talk about Muslims as a potential “racial threat,” using “fear of crime” language indicative of the mass incarceration era. This suggests that criminalization theory should be central to sociological studies of Muslims in the contemporary United States, and that criminalization rhetoric remains powerful, despite mainstream enthusiasm for criminal justice reform. I argue that criminalization’s power might reside in its ability to mutate in the “post-racial” era. The mechanisms supporting crimmigration, the criminalization of black Americans, and cr-Islamization are related but not identical. Muslims are religiously and racially subjugated, but more economically secure compared to other criminalized groups. This paper’s findings should prompt scholars to re-examine the relationships between racialization, criminalization, religious subjugation, and economic exploitation in the twenty-first century United States.


Muslims Racialization Criminalization Crimmigration Trump “Racial threat” Fear of crime 



This research was supported through grants from the Mellon Foundation and Trinity University and was conducted in collaboration with Drs. Habiba Noor and William Christ.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyTrinity UniversitySan AntonioUSA

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