Geography and the Public Space

In light of increased discrimination against Muslims in the public sphere, researchers have initiated discussions around the spatial aspects of Islamophobia. Perspectives to date have highlighted the way oppositions to Muslim bodies, sites, and institutions in public space are reflective of a deeper exclusion of Muslims from national belonging, and therefore the US, broadly. Earlier perspectives also note the way in which Muslim lives, identities, and sense of belonging vary across spaces and contexts across the Western world. Key works account for the way in which the spatial exclusion of Muslims surfaces in various experiences like racial profiling in airports, attacks in the street, or vandalism against Muslim sites of worship. The opposition to the presence of Muslim buildings such as mosques, or Muslim bodies in public space via verbal or physical attacks, highlight how Islamophobia excludes Muslims from accessing and taking ownership of spaces around the city. This is particularly exacerbated by Muslim symbols or visibility, such as a visible Muslim identity or an identifiable Muslim site. The contributions listed in this section highlight the need for deeper engagement in the spatial dimensions of Islamophobia and provide opportunity for researchers to address the intersection between Islamophobia, public space, and various social indicators like gender, race, and class.


Frequently Cited

Falah, Ghazi-Walid, and Caroline Rose Nagel, eds. Geographies of Muslim women: Gender, religion, and space. New York, NY: Guilford Press (2005)

This editorial collaboration between Professor Ghazi Walid-Falah from the University of Akron, Ohio and Professor Caroline Nagel from the University of South Carolina gathers a series of articles on the geographies of Muslim women and their everyday lives. With a central theme on how Islam frames the lives of Muslim women, it provides an explicitly geographical perspective that includes contexts such as Morocco, Somalia, Afghanistan, Britain, and the US. Three main themes structure its twelve chapters: gender, development and religion; geographies of mobility; and discourse, representation, and the contestation of space. Most of these chapters are based on case studies outside the general boundaries of Arab culture, which is most commonly associated with Islam. Collectively, they provide trenchant feminist critiques of policies and practices as well as discursive representations, such as media images, that impact Muslim women in various geographies around the world. This book therefore intersects the subjects of gender and space with Islam and explores the way in which Muslim women’s lives and experiences differ greatly across and within local contexts. Namely, it emphasizes the spatiality of the social relationships that produce gender in various international contexts. Focusing on Islamophobia, the final chapter critiques the way in which the representations of Muslim women in American media influence both cultural perceptions of Muslims, and geographical relationships between the Muslim world and the West. Specifically, Nagel draws attention to the way images of the Muslim woman are connected globally between debates in Europe and the US, particularly when problematizing the headscarf and the ability for Muslims to assimilate or belong in both Europe and the US. The geographical perspectives in this book provide rich empirical insights into gender, space, and Islam, while capturing the complexity and diversity of Muslim women’s experiences across a variety of geographical contexts.

Critical Insight

Cainkar, Louise. "Space and place in the metropolis: Arabs and Muslims seeking safety." City & Society 17, no. 2 (2005): 181-209.

Louise Cainkar, a sociologist and Associate Professor of Social Welfare and Justice at Marquette University in Milwaukee, depicts experiences of Islamophobia among the Arab American through a unique photo essay that captures the evolution of this community over the last 100 years and the significant impact of 9/11 on increasing attacks and vandalism against Muslim sites. The article aims to document the struggle of Arab Americans in locating safe spaces in Chicago. By visually representing the role of Arab and Muslim communities in the last 100 years of urban life in Chicago, this ethnographic research highlights the impacts of the 9/11 attacks on Arab Muslims in metropolitan Chicago, including attacks on persons and property. The research firstly highlights the long-standing history of racialization and othering of Arab Americans as “non-white invaders” in Chicago, despite their racial categorization as “white” for legal purposes. Further, in drawing on photographic evidence of mosque vandalisms, as well as protests to mosque development, the article draws our attention to the spatialized aspects of Islamophobia, including the greater occurrence of property attacks in suburban locales of Chicago where Arabs and Muslims are a visible minority. Additionally, the article provides early commentary on the gendered impacts of Islamophobia, emphasizing the particular vulnerability of women to personal attacks in the public space. This photo essay provides an engaging historical overview of the Arab and Muslim communities in Chicago, and creatively illustrates the increased racialization of these communities post-9/11 that have led to the various hate crimes and experiences of Islamophobia documented by Cainkar.

Recent Perspectives

Considine, Craig. "The Racialization of Islam in the United States: Islamophobia, Hate Crimes, and “Flying while Brown”. Religions 8, no. 9 (2017): 165.

Craig Considine, a Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Rice University, reveals how the racialization of Muslims interact with Islamophobic discourses and incidents in the United States, particularly in the experiences of brown bodies traveling through airports around the nation. The article begins with a comprehensive overview of Islamophobia in the US, including the rise of Islamophobia during the War on Terror and the expansion of institutionalized Islamophobia via the “Islamophobia industry,” as well as various policies and initiatives at the state and federal level. It then explains the study methodology of news media content analysis, followed by a critical examination of the intersectionality of race and Islamophobia. Finally, the findings of the study are presented, highlighting the way in which the racialization of Muslims—via stereotypes, symbols, and images associated with Muslims and Islam—has led to an increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes, and discrimination against those “flying while brown.” In focusing particularly on research-based evidence and current events that point to the racialization of Islam, the author reveals the way in which brown bodies, both Muslim and non-Muslim, are targeted with such racialization as they travel in various public spaces. It situates these incidents of Islamophobia within a history of racial profiling against Muslim citizens, particularly South Asians in the post-9/11 era, and connects this history to contemporary examples of discrimination against Muslims traveling with domestic airlines in the US. These examples include heightened security screening on the belief that ethnicity or national origin increases passengers’ risk of carrying out an act of terrorism and the removal of Muslims and passengers who others perceive to be Muslim from domestic airlines. This paper sheds light on the way in which racism against racialized Muslims and non-Muslims in the US plays out at the social/interactional as well as institutional level, to ultimately control and limit the way in which these brown bodies occupy public and private spaces.

Reading List