University of Cincinnati Law Review


Can a religion, over time and through its social and legal resignification, come to be a race? Drawing on Critical Race Theory (“CRT”), Critical Discourse Theory, the work of Karen E. and Barbara J. Fields and Cedric Robinson, this article argues that Islam has emerged as a race and Muslims as a racial group. To support the claim, Part I examines the theoretical basis for the argument. Applying the concept of “racecraft,” the article theorizes that racism produces both the racial group and race. As many have already argued, race is not based in biology; it is not a fact but rather an artifact of racism. The appearance or specter of race, moreover, is an assemblage that coheres in response to specific racism targeted at a population with shared characteristics. Thus, there is no reason to suppose that Islam could not be a race. Islamophobia as a specific form of racism produces the Muslim as a raced people and Islam as a race through racecraft—the tools and practices of racism. However, for racism to produce a subject racialized group, it must first make racial meaning of the group members’ shared attributes. Part II offers a genealogy of Islam-as-race, arguing that Islam has always been coded as a religion of color and categorically different from European, white, Christian civilization. It is the connection to Islam that has rendered the Muslim an alien. That is the substratum of Islam-as-race. In Part III, the article goes on to examine the racecraft that was deployed in the anti-sharia law panic of the 2010s and in the current anti-CRT panic. In this section, the article applies Critical Discourse Studies to the law to demonstrate how discourses of legitimation that support the differential treatment of Muslims and Blacks is produced. Finally, the article provides examples of material discrimination and its overlap in these communities. The article shows how racism’s rituals and tools are honed and sharpened against one community and then repurposed for use against another. The central claim throughout the article is that theorists of Islamophobia have not gone far enough. They have stopped short, preferring to refer to Muslims as “racialized” depending on analogies to other races or relying on the already ethnic differences of Muslims yet struggling to explain the role of religion in the racialization. These theories are unable to account for how white or white passing Muslims become racialized once they are outed or how Muslims evade racialization while non-Muslims sometimes do not. This article suggests that it is Islam that “races” them. We should now consider Muslims a racial group, Islamophobia as a form of racism, and Islam as a race.