Islamophobia is, literally, "fear of Islam" though the term can be used for a variety of purposes, like: fear or hatred of Islam and Muslims, and is often used to criticize people opposed to Islam.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first known use of the term Islamophobia was in 1976, though it has become more frequently used since the 1997 publication of Islamophobia: A Challenge For Us All by the Runnymede Trust, a left-wing UK think tank that focuses on race and racism.  However, according to former Imam Abdur-Rahman Muhammad in a Daily News article, the term Islamophobia was conceived in Muslim think tanks for the purpose of "beating down critics." 
The Runnymede Trust defines Islamophobia as having the following characteristics:
- 1) Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change.
- 2) Islam is seen as separate and “other”. It does not have values in common with other cultures, is not affected by them and does not influence them.
- 3) Islam is seen as inferior to the West. It is seen as barbaric, irrational, primitive, and sexist.
- 4) Islam is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism, and engaged in a Clash of Civilizations.
- 5) Islam is seen as a political ideology, used for political or military advantage.
- 6) Criticisms made of 'the West' by Islam are rejected out of hand.
- 7) Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.
- 8) Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural and normal.
Liberals use the term Islamophobia often as a way to demonize their opposition. But true Islamophobia is often espoused by the defenders of Islam. Politically correct attitude of liberals demand concerns for Muslim sensitivity, a fear of offending Islam, demand concessions for Islam over other religions, obfuscate or whitewash Muslim beliefs as to minimize their true intentions. Liberal Islamophobia is not an irrational fear of Muslims but rather a fear of offending Muslims.
Examples of Islamophobia
In a May 2001 interview, British politician Nick Giffen stated "Muslims are the biggest problem at present, for several reasons, because they have the highest birth rate, which means their communities need living space - that's what the ethnic cleansing is about. They have political corruption in their own countries, and when they have a chance to get council places they are there for graft. Most important of all is that Islam is an aggressive religion." 
On September 15, 2001, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh man (known for wearing distinctive beards and turbans) was mistaken for a Muslim and murdered at a gas station in Mesa, Arizona. His murderer, Frank Silva Roque, was convicted and initially sentenced to death, but this was commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole by the Arizona Supreme Court. 
Criticism of the concept of Islamophobia
Kenan Malik, a British writer, has criticized the concept of Islamophobia, calling it a myth. He argues that the charge of Islamophobia is leveled against those who criticize Islam or Muslims in any way (even when those criticisms may be legitimate) to serve as a "chilling effect."
Rowan Atkinson, a British comic-actor has likewise stated that although criticizing another person based on their race is ridiculous and irrational, criticizing another's religion, which is a voluntary belief, is a right. He further stated that laws should not be created which protect certain types of ideas from criticism and not others.
Stephen Schwartz, an American writer and critic of Wahabbism, has stated that although the charge of Islamophobia is sometimes leveled too quickly against an opponent, that it is still a real phenomenon, which he defines as:
- 1) Attacking the entire religion of Islam as a problem for the world;
- 2) Condemning all of Islam and its history as extremist;
- 3) Denying the active existence, in the contemporary world, of a moderate Muslim majority;
- 4) Insisting that Muslims accede to the demands of non-Muslims (based on ignorance and arrogance) for various theological changes, in their religion;
- 5) Treating all conflicts involving Muslims (including, for example, that in Bosnia-Hercegovina a decade ago), as the fault of Muslims themselves;
- 6) Inciting war against Islam as a whole.
Daniel Pipes argues that the word Islamophobia conflates "fear of Islam and fear of radical Islam" and is used to suppress all criticism of Islam including radical Islam. Even moderate Muslims who critically examine the excesses of fellow Muslims are labeled Islamophobes. The term is used to make Muslims another victim-group. Paul Jackson in his study of anti-Islamic politics in the UK, criticizes the Runnymede criteria as lacking in distinctions. He points out the term prevents justifiable examination of jihadi groups.
David Horowitz and Robert Spencer wrote that accusations of Islamophobia are a PC thought crime used by liberals against conservatives.
- "Dutch anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders goes on trial", BBC News Europe, 2010-10-04.
- Michelle Malkin (2006-06-12). The Trial of Oriana Fallaci.
- Ned May (2011-11-30). The Political Persecution of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff. Front Page Magazine.
- Jennifer C. Kerr. "Anti-Muslim Discriination On Rise", CBS News, 2009-05-18.
- "‘Rise’ in Muslim discrimination", BBC News, 2004-12-16.
- "Interfaith group deplores anti-Muslim violence", 2001-10-05. Retrieved on 2012-05-13.
- Jim Lobe (2006-10-10). Big Jump in Hate Crimes Against Muslims Documented.
- ‘Far right aims to gain foothold in Oldham’, Jeevan Vasagar, May 30, 2001 The Guardian"
- Daniel Pipes (Oct 25, 2005). Islamophobia?.
- Paul Sheehan. "Islamophobia is a fabrication", March 30, 2009.
- Paul Jackson. The EDL.
- David Horowitz and Robert Spencer. Islamophobia: Thought Crime of the Totalitarian Future.