Avoiding Anti-Muslim Tropes While Discussing Afghanistan

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, yesterday urged elected officials and media outlets not to engage in anti-Muslim tropes or misuse Islamic terms when commenting on the crisis in Afghanistan. CAIR also asked the Biden administration to do everything possible to welcome Afghan refugees to the United States while protecting Afghan civilians in Kabul amid the evacuation of American citizens.  

SEE: CAIR Calls on Biden Administration to ‘Do Everything Possible’ to Welcome Afghan Refugees, Protect Afghan Civilians

Yesterday, Taliban forces took Kabul and President Biden sent an additional 6,000 troops to assist in evacuating American personnel from the country. Afghan refugees are flooding into neighboring countries seeking safety from the ongoing violence and instability.  

Reporters and politicians have misused Islamic terminology such as “sharia” and “jihad” when referring to the Taliban. Ill-defined hot-button pejorative terms like “Islamist” and “jihadist” have also widely been used.

In a letter to members of Congress, CAIR Government Affairs Director Robert McCaw said:

Over the past several days, CAIR has been watching with great concern as the situation in Afghanistan devolves following the collapse of the Afghan government, the ongoing evacuation of American personnel and a flood of Afghan refugees. 

Amid these difficulties, we have been heartened by the many voices inside and outside of Congress who have called on our nation to open our doors to Afghan refugees and provide humanitarian assistance to those in need. However, we have also been concerned by those who have used recent events as an opportunity to target refugees, American Muslims and even Islam itself. 

Former White House adviser Stephen Miller has claimed that welcoming Afghan refugees will harm America. A prominent reporter misconstrued chants of “God is Great” in Arabic as “Death to America.” A member of Congress has publicly and unnecessarily claimed that he and residents of his district will ensure that Islamic law never comes to America. Perhaps most glaringly, numerous reporters and politicians have used inappropriate Islamic terminology to refer to the Taliban. 

If your congressional office plans to comment on the unfolding situation in Afghanistan, we encourage you to avoid misusing sacred Islamic terms that are often misappropriated by extremists, such as “Sharia” and “jihad.”  

For Muslims, the word “Sharia” represents the divine law contained in the Quran and Hadith, or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings be upon him).  

The word can be translated as “the way to water.” Much like canon law for Catholics and halacha for Jews, Sharia is a source of guidance to Muslims on a wide variety of topics, from how to pray, to charitable giving, to banking, to governance in Muslim nations. Interpretations of Sharia vary, and no one should automatically describe all of the Taliban’s ideology or its behavior as “sharia,” much less the definitive manifestation of Islamic law.


Please feel free to email atekelioglu@cair.com with concerns/perspectives on this. Please also reach out if you are an Afghan-American and/or have impacted family abroad so we can work with you in getting your voice to the local and national media. 

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