Islamophobia is a public health issue

The Supreme Court heard arguments this week on the third version of the Trump administration’s ban on travel from seven countries, most of them predominantly Muslim. The “Muslim ban” that brought out thousands to airports in protest in 2017 was coupled with a rise in Islamophobia and hate crimes toward Muslims. Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim in the US are subject to travel bans, harassment on college campuses, racial profiling and increasing violent attacks.

A new research review from ANSIRH, Stony Brook University and UCLA shines a light on a hidden consequence of this intensifying Islamophobia: it undermines health equity.

Little is known about how discrimination impacts the health of Muslims. The review of studies from North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand identified poor health outcomes in key areas:

Mental health. Studies showed consistent relationships between experiences of discrimination and poor mental health among Muslims and Muslim-like populations. Experiencing discrimination was linked to higher levels of psychological distress among men.

Physical health. There is limited published evidence on relationship between Islamophobic discrimination and specific health outcomes. Researchers did identify an increased rate of preterm births and low birth weight among women with Arabic names in California who gave birth within 6 months after 9/11 relative to year before. In the United Kingdom, researchers also found that Pakistanis and Bangladeshis had worsening blood pressure, cholesterol, and self-rated health after 9/11, arguing that this was attributable to anti-Muslim discrimination.

Health care-seeking behavior. Religious discrimination played a role in how Muslim & Muslim-like populations accessed health care. Women who wore the veil reported more discrimination in healthcare settings than women who did not.

This review advances the understanding of racism and health by examining racialization of religion and Islamophobia as a form of discrimination, but there is much more work to do to fully understand the impact of Islamophobia on public health. More rigorous studies are needed, including looking at factors like immigration status, religious attire and how Muslim identity interacts with African American identity. This research review provides a resource to policymakers, researchers, and practitioners to shape future research and policy. Tackling Islamophobia as a public health issue is essential to the goal of health equity and the fundamental right of health for all.